While studying the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ this week, I was impressed again by Heavenly Father’s ability to plan and prepare for events hundreds and thousands of years before they happen. Almost every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knows how the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon transcript were lost and not re-translated.
Martin Harris had served for a brief time as scribe for Joseph Smith as he translated the words from the gold plates, and he desired to share the information with his wife. Joseph asked the Lord if he should let Martin take the manuscript. The Lord said no. Martin begged Joseph to ask again, and the answer was still no. Martin pleaded again, and the answer came back yes. Joseph reluctantly allowed Martin to take the manuscript home with him. There it became “lost” or was stolen.
When Joseph realized what had happened, he went to the Lord with the problem and was thoroughly chastised for not taking the first “no.” Joseph went through a period of repentance and then was allowed to translate once again. When the Lord restored the power to translate, He told Joseph that “wicked men have taken them from you” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:8). He said that “Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written….” (v. 10) and the men “had altered the words” v. 11) in an effort to “destroy this work” (v. 12).
The Lord continued telling Joseph that the men were working under the influence of Satan to stop the Lord’s work. “For, behold, they shall not accomplish their evil designs in lying against those words. For, behold, if you should bring forth the same words they will say that you have lied and that you have pretended to translate, but that you have contradicted yourself (v.31).” So, Joseph did not re-translate the pages but moved forward with the work from that point. He discovered that much of the same information that was on the 116 pages of manuscript was in the work he was then translating, plus much more. He then realized that the Lord had prepared for the mistake many hundreds of years previously.
Nearly six hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Nephi was commanded to make a second set of records. He wrote in 1 Nephi 9:5 that he did not know why the commandment was given, but he did understand that it was “for a wise purpose.” The first set is known as the large plates of Nephi, and the second set is known as the small plates of Nephi. The small plates covered the period of 600-130 B.C., and the 116 pages of manuscript covered the exact same period of time. The large plates contained more of the history and temporal information; the small plates contained more prophecy and sacred teachings.
When Mormon was compiling his records nearly a thousand years after Nephi, he made an abridgement of the information on the large plates. Then he found the small plates among the many records in his possession and felt impressed to simply include them.
“And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.
“And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; ….
“Wherefore, I chose these things to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; ….
“But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.
“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (Words of Mormon 1:3-7).
Like many members of the Church, I thought I knew the wise purpose for including the small plates of Nephi; however, I learned from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that there was a wiser purpose for the inclusion than simply compensating for the loss of the 116-page manuscript.
“But it strikes me that there is a wiser purpose than that…. The key to such a suggestion of a wiser purpose is in verse 45 of Doctrine and Covenants section 10. As the Lord instructs Joseph … he says, `Behold, there are many things engraven upon the [small] plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel’ (emphasis added).
“So, clearly, this was not … tit for tat, this for that – you give me 116 pages of manuscript and I’ll give you 142 pages of printed text. Not so. We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so. It was for a wiser purpose. We do not know exactly what we missed in the 116 pages, but we do know that what we received on the small plates was the personal declarations of three great witnesses [Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah], three of the great doctrinal voices of the Book of Mormon, testifying that Jesus is the Christ….
“In fact, I think you could make a pretty obvious case that the sole purpose of the small plates was to give a platform for these three witnesses” (“A Standard unto My People” [Church Educational System symposium on the Book of Mormon, Aug. 9, 1994], 9-10; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121-122, pp. 134-135).
We know from the scriptures that Nephi made the small plates for a wise purpose, and Mormon included them in his record for a wise purpose. We know from Elder Holland that there was a wiser purpose than the one known by many of us for numerous years. The wiser purpose, as explained by Elder Holland, was to include the testimonies of Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah.
My first thought after reading Elder Holland’s words was to ponder “the doctrine of Christ” that I wrote about previously. We might not have known this doctrine so plainly and so clearly without the small plates. You may remember, Nephi taught “the doctrine of Christ” in the last pages of his writings and near the time of his death. Without this great doctrine, we may not have had Article of Faith #4, which explains the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. We would have missed out on much if Nephi and Mormon had not followed the promptings of the still, small voice. I am grateful to have the witnesses of Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah.
My second thought was to wonder if I am being impressed to do things “for a wise purpose” that I know not. I hope I am responsive enough to the promptings of the Spirit to accomplish all that is required of me. I do not know all things, but the Lord does. I know He can prompt me to do “wise” things in order to further His work here.