A Book of Mormon Synopsis: The Small Plates

moroniThe Book of Mormon is a record of a people that lived in the Americas between 600BC and 400AD as well as their origins, lives and religion. The record, written on gold plates, was given to Joseph Smith and he was given the ability to translate it from the original language, reformed Egyptian.

The Book of Mormon starts with a title page and introduction to familiarize the reader with the book’s purpose and history. As the title page states, the Book of Mormon was written as a witness and testament that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God and that He manifests Himself unto all nations. The final paragraphs of the introduction contains an invitation to read the book and a promise that if one will read it, ponder over the words, and pray to God, asking if the book is true, then an answer will be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. After this invitation, the testimonies of the eight witnesses, the three witnesses and Joseph Smith are given.

The book then begins. Its format is similar to the Bible, in that there are individual books within the greater book and these are divided into chapters and verses. The first book was written by a man named Nephi living in Jerusalem around 600BC and is taken from a record mentioned in the book called the Small Plates of Nephi. The small plates were like a journal that Nephi kept and was passed on in the family for generations. In it, he and others recorded prophecies, teachings and “a few of the things which [they] considered to be most precious.” (Jacob 1:2) Nephi made other plates, the large plates, on which he wrote the daily goings-on of his people. That book was passed down from king to king and was eventually abridged by a prophet named Mormon. That abridgment comprises most of the Book of Mormon. The first part, however, is taken directly from the small plates.

lehiNephi tells the story of his father, Lehi, and his vision. Much the same way that Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were called to be prophets, Lehi sees a vision of God, learns of His gospel and is sent among the people to warn them of their wickedness and the impeding doom of the city. Predictably, he is rejected by the people and threats are made on his life (Jeremiah is probably in prison at this time) so the Lord commands him to take his family and absquatulate into the desert. Nephi records their experiences, trials and the things they learn about Christ and His gospel as they travel eight years through the desert from Jerusalem to an unknown point on the Arabian coast where they build a boat, according the Lord’s directions, and cross the ocean to the promised land.

shipSome time after arriving, Lehi gives his dying words to his children and grandchildren and passes away. It didn’t take long for Nephi’s oldest brothers, Laman and Lemuel, to try and kill Nephi. They had been complaining, rebelling and plotting Nephi’s death since they left Jerusalem because they did not believe that Lehi had a vision nor did they believe in God all that much. Nephi took his wife, kids and anyone else who would listen away from Laman’s group so they could live peacefully and worship God. From that time until the very end of the book, the two main groups are referred to as Nephites and Lamanites.

Nephi spends the rest of his book writing down a few of his thoughts and feelings, but mostly prophecies and teachings and many words of the prophet Isaiah. Nephi then passes the metal plates he used to write on, to his brother Jacob and dies. Jacob continues to write and records a few of his sermons to the people and passes them to his son, Enos. The tradition continues for several generations, each of them writing a little until one man, who had no children, passes the plates on to the king, a righteous man named Benjamin. By this time, over 450 years had passed since Lehi and his family had left Jerusalem.

During the time that this record was kept, the Nephites and Lamanites fought against each other and had several wars. At one point, the Nephite king, Mosiah, was warned by the Lord to leave their lands and go north. He took as many people with him as would listen and left their city to find a new place to live. Mosiah was led by the Lord and found an entire city of people called Zarahemla. Their history is largely unknown except that they were originally led by Mulek out of Jerusalem when Babylon invaded Jerusalem in 585 BC. The two groups merged and Mosiah, followed by his son Benjamin, became their king. This marks the end of the small plates.

talk_of_christ1The most remarkable thing about these writings is how much Nephi and his descendants knew about the coming Messiah.  Nephi was shown the birth of Jesus in a vision and understood the miraculous power of the atonement.  He writes, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 2:26).  We share this book with you, and with the whole world for the same purpose.  Please take the opportunity to read it for yourself.

Part 2 and part 3 are continuations of this synopsis.

A New Years’ Resolution

Happy New Year!About this time of year, many people get excited about the new year. A new year can be a new beginning and an excellent point to check life’s milestones, past goals and access one’s personal situation in life. It doesn’t necessarily take a new year to do this, but it seems like a good time to start anew. Coming up on this new year, I have heard and listened to a few people talk about their resolutions and others (at church, for example) speak about how best to go about fulfilling those resolutions because, let’s face it, everyone has had goals that were never completed and that were eventually discarded. This year, I’m thinking about a new approach.

Whether it is dieting, taking up a new hobby, catching up on reading or starting an exercising routine, change can be difficult. Getting into the habit can be the hardest part and discouragement can often take place soon after beginning and possibly soon before ending for good.

But how about this for a new years’ resolution: a surrendering of one’s will completely and wholly to the Lord. That’s a worthy goal, is it not? It goes along with Christ’s injunction, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). Should we find ourselves lost in the cause of Christ, our will being given to Him, we will find our life, that is, eternal life. No doubt He has our best interests in mind and would not lead us astray; why not follow Him?

More practically, however, we find ourselves less able to follow through with this than often we would like. Why is that? What prevents us from keeping in line with His teachings? Often, I find myself thoroughly dedicated at one moment, but then find my resolve slipping and my condition back to what is once was. Yes there are temptations but ought not we to be able to overcome such?

The rich young rulerThere are a few reasons for this, and I’d like to address one in particular. I have found in my own life, that even though my desire to improve is pure and my resolve strong, there are weaknesses because I am not thorough enough and there is usually something else in which I allow myself indulgence. How can I receive full strength from the Lord in breaking a bad habit when I willfully allow myself to continue in other habits. Maybe those habits aren’t even so bad. A bit of impatience toward a stranger. A little dishonesty. Or even just a few hours wasted in front of a TV or computer, time that could be spent being more productive. Moreover, the pride in me says that I can do these things and nothing bad will come of it because they are so small and insignificant. The temptation to keep doing these things is there while I make an attempt with my new resolution and I am weakened because my will isdivided. My new years’ resolution then is to be undivided.

If you want to apply this principle in your life, go ahead! The way is clear for anyone to do so. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have taken on a covenant, or a promise with God, that we will be willing to take upon ourselves Christ’s name, keep His commandments and always remember Him. There is no division or conditions in those words. Submit our will to adopt His name, keep the commandments, always remember Him. That is my goal this year and I invite everyone to do the same. Really and truly apply the phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?” in your life. Is it a sacrifice? Indeed it is. But it is worth every bit.

Tithing and Unpaid Clergy

Q. Do [Latter-day Saints] give part of their earnings to the Church?

"Tithe" means "tenth"

Yes. One of the main principles of Christ-like living is sacrifice. We give of ourselves to help lift others and for the ultimate betterment of self. Former President and Prophet Ezra Taft Benson taught,

“Sacrifice is truly the crowning test of the gospel. Men are tried and tested in this mortal probation to see if they will put first in their lives the kingdom of God. (See Matt. 6:33.) To gain eternal life, they must be willing, if called upon, to sacrifice all things for the gospel. ‘If thou wilt be perfect,’ Jesus said to the rich young man, ‘go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me'” (Matt. 19:21).

Sacrifice comes in many forms: serving as a missionary, providing a meal for a widow, helping a neighbor roof his house, giving voluntary service to the Church, working at a local food pantry, etc. But you asked about money, so that is where I will focus my thoughts.

What Tithing Is
We give ten percent of our income to the Lord, knowing that He truly gave us all of it to start with. (‘Tithe’ comes from an old word meaning ‘tenth’). We are given a very specific –and shockingly reliable– promise from Malachi:

grapes“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts” (see Mal. 3:8–12).

If you live the law of tithing, you will understand what it means to have blessings pouring out of heaven such that you cannot receive them all. But this is something (like all principles of the gospel) that must be lived to be understood. You can know if it’s right to pay tithing by paying tithing (see John 7:17).

Where Tithing Goes
It’s important to note that tithing money is sacred. It is ‘consecrated,’ meaning it is set apart to the Lord and must be used judiciously. The money goes toward maintaining Church operation, such as

  • Constructing temples, chapels, and other buildings.
  • Funding day-to-day Church function.
  • Funding the missionary program.
  • Preparing materials used in Church classes and organizations.
  • Performing temple work, family history, and many other important Church functions.
  • Education (Church-owned universities, seminaries, and Institutes of Religion).

You may have noted (I hope with dismay) that the list above does not include giving to the poor and the sick and widows of the world. While tithing does play a role, there are separate funds (fast offerings and humanitarian aid) that primarily fill these needs. We will talk about these other programs in upcoming articles.

Tithing does not pay Church leaders. Nobody acquires wealth at the hands of a Mormon congregation. Bishops, stake presidents, and all other leaders in the Church serve willingly without wages, aside from rich, spiritual blessings. They follow the example of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon who taught that, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God” (see Mosiah 2:17). They support themselves by working in their chosen professions during the week. My dad is a bishop, but on weekdays he also works as a high school counselor. The bishop of my congregation in Logan, UT is an orthopedic surgeon. They both pay tithing too.

Your tithing donation will never be published.Privacy
Tithing is a private matter. We do not pass around a collection plate and we do not publish last week’s earnings in the bulletin. (This really shocked me when I visited a particular non-LDS church service one Sunday). We write out our tithing checks and seal them inside a gray envelope. Then we discreetly hand it or mail it to our bishop. There need not be any pomp for hefty donations nor shame for measly ones. The Lord requires the same from everyone: ten percent. Giving any more or any less is not tithing.

If you have never paid tithing, I encourage you to do it. You can obey this law even if you haven’t been baptized. There is lasting satisfaction in knowing you are supporting the Lord’s work and keeping His law. It is a true token of your faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the blessings that result will help you feel His love for you.