Why the best part of the Book of Mormon is so short
“The crowning event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ among the Nephites soon after His resurrection.” This marvelous event was followed by 300 years of idyllic peace. Of those righteous Nephites, the Lord proclaims that none were lost. The closest thing they had to a fight was a disagreement about what to name the Church. Every time I read through those beautiful chapters in Third Nephi, I don’t want to leave because I know what comes next:
The Savior will ascend into Heaven. We’ll have a few verses covering a few hundred years of utopian peace with zero details. And then the Book of Mormon turns into the plot of Star Wars Rogue One: the entire civilization is engulfed in wars and destruction, the bad guys win, and everyone you you loved dies. But you’re supposed to be happy that at least the records were saved so the good guys have a chance in the future.
The “best part” by the numbers
The Book of Mormon is 531 pages. Christ first manifests Himself on page 428. His last recorded personal ministration is page 463. That’s 17 chapters. 35 pages. 6.59% of the Book of Mormon in total. And that 17 chapter span includes 3 whole chapters where Christ just quotes chapters of Isaiah and Malachi. The following 300 year utopia that Christ’s ministry ushered in occupies just 4 pages. By contrast, the Book of Mormon contains 16 dreaded “compare Isaiah” chapters, dozens of chapters on the 15 or so recorded wars, and a ton of Jaredite genealogy. The “best part” of the Book of Mormon is practically not there at all.
The Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” And Christ’s appearance is the “crowning event.” So you would think that Mormon would have set aside a little more space for it, wouldn’t you? Especially when at the end of the book, he and Moroni seem surprised to have some plates leftover?
Possible reasons the best part is so short
Why would Mormon leave us hanging like that? Maybe Christ’s visit, important as it was, just wasn’t enough content to make the cut? I mean, as far we know, He only visited for a few days, right?
Nope. Although Christ’s initial visit to the Nephites only lasted three days, that wasn’t the last time they saw Him:
The Lord truly did teach the people, for the space of three days; and after that he did show himself unto them oft, and did break bread oft, and bless it, and give it unto them.
And during the many days, He gave them a lot to chew on. He “did expound all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory.” He “expounded all the scriptures unto them.” He “did expound all things unto them, both great and small.” Mormon records that he only recorded “a lesser part of the things which [Christ] taught the people,” and that “there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people.” So the reason Mormon cut the ministration chapters so short was not a lack of source material.
OK, so maybe since Mormon was the chief historian and military captain of the Nephites, he just had a natural preference for war and history and used up too much space on that. No, more than anything else, Mormon was a prophet. He tells us that he intentionally omitted a lot of the war and wickedness of his people because he was just so sick of it. So he didn’t skimp on the “good stuff” because he wanted to, either.
This is why we can’t have nice things
So why did Mormon give us so little? Mormon gives this excuse for not writing more of Christ’s teaching:
I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people. Therefore I, Mormon, do write [only] the things which have been commanded me of the Lord.
OK, as far as excuses go, that one is pretty good. But here’s the cool part. This is not one of those commandments where the Lord doesn’t explain Himself. Mormon records the reason a few verses later:
If ye had all the scriptures which give an account of all the marvelous works of Christ, ye would, according to the words of Christ, know that these things must surely come.
The way I read this, if we had the whole account, there wouldn’t be any debate about DNA or horses or anachronisms. It wouldn’t be a struggle to defend the truth that we are Christians. We wouldn’t have to hunger and pray and seek in order to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Like the words of the prophet Nephi, the message Book of Mormon would be so powerful and convincing that it would be literally impossible for anyone to disbelieve it. There would be no room for doubt or faith, so God instructed His prophets to omit some details. The gaps must exist so He could “try the faith” of His people.
A few years after I originally wrote this article, the amazing Taylor and Tyler made a video talking about this very question. Definitely worth a watch (at the end of the post).
More good things to come
The good news is that when we exercise faith, those gaps don’t close us off to the “good stuff.” Mormon records this promise about the Book of Mormon:
And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
So, as we faithfully receive and study the Book of Mormon, we will receive “greater things” than the Book of Mormon. Take a moment and let that sink in. The Book of Mormon is “the most correct of any book on earth” such that “a man will draw nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.” It’s the keystone of our religion and the evidence of the message of the Restoration. The Book of Mormon changes lives. It’s powerful (hence the title of this blog). It’s hard to imagine how something could be greater than that, but I’m eager to find out.
So what kind of “greater things” can we expect to find? What will those “greater things” be? The most dramatic interpretation could be new scripture. We know the canon is not closed. We believe God will “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
But you gotta want it
So, when will we see more revelation and books of scripture? In keeping with Mormon’s promise, we have to wait until we’re fully appreciating the scriptures we already have. Christ had some “words” for the Saints of this dispensation along these lines:
You have treated lightly the things you have received–
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.
I think when we as a Church develop a true love for the Book of Mormon and a hunger for its teachings, we will be more prepared for the additional light and knowledge God wants to give us. But God will not reveal additional scripture until we all in general are ready, and not a moment before.
Greater things… right now
But we don’t need to wait for Pres. Nelson to announce a new section of the Doctrine & Covenants before we can realize Mormon’s promise of “greater things” being revealed to us. That’s one of the cool things about God: He’s really good about doing “great things” with “small and simple means.” He turned Satan’s efforts to tempt Eve and turned it into a pillar of the Plan of Salvation. He turned a tongue-tied Egyptian prince into the mighty prophet who delivered Israel. He turned an anti-Chrisitan lawyer into a might missionary for Christ on the road to Damascus. He turned a 14-year old farm boy into the Prophet who has “done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” He is really good at doing marvelous things with existing materials.
The first few times I read the Book of Mormon, I thought it was really boring. But as I started becoming familiar with the people, learning the history, and making connections, I started to experience Pres. Benson’s promise that the power of the Book of Mormon would flow into my life. I love this book. And a good chunk of what I love and the lessons I’ve learned from the Book of Mormon are not things that were spelled out explicitly on its title page. They’ve come from the way a verse was worded. They’ve come from thinking about what Mormon did (or did not) choose to write the way he did. They’ve come from the moments when a verse triggers a spiritual flood of other verses I had never thought were related before.
Some of those insights are blog-worthy and I write about them here. Others are more personal revelations, and I keep them close to my heart. But all of them are treasured insights to me and fully fit my definition of the “greater things” God promises to reveal to us as we study His word and seek His will.
So if you ever read the scriptures and think “why is this so sparse?”, try reading it again :)
Here is that awesome Taylor/Tyler video I mentioned earlier: