We’ve been talking about how to decide which church to join. Since this is a website by Mormon people, naturally we’re hoping you choose us. If you’ve started looking into the Mormon religion, one of your first questions might be “What is the Book of Mormon?”
Some people think it is the Mormon Bible, but it isn’t. Mormons use the King James translation of the Bible in English and other translations in other languages. The Book of Mormon is more like a companion book. Just as the Old Testament and the New Testament are really two books we use together, the Book of Mormon is a third book we use to help us learn about God and Jesus Christ.
The subtitle on the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to help show people that Jesus is real. After all, without it we only have the word of a small group of people who lived in Israel. But the Book of Mormon adds a testimony from somewhere in the American continent. It teaches that Jesus appeared there sometime after His death. When people on two distant continents saw Him, it helps to prove to the world He is real.
If you’re a teenager, you might be interested to know the book starts with a teenage boy named Nephi. Nephi grew up pretty comfortably. His dad made a lot of money and he had a pretty good life. Then his dad become a prophet and started telling Jerusalem to repent or it would be destroyed.
So, you can guess how well that went over, right? I’m guessing Nephi’s friends weren’t too thrilled with his dad’s new job. Then, when his dad, Lehi, was in danger, God told Lehi to abandon all his wealth and take his family into the wilderness to a new continent.
How would you feel about that if your dad told you to leave your family, friends, and possessions to go off to a new country? They could only take what was necessary to stay alive?
Two of Nephi’s older brothers whined like crazy, but Nephi and his next oldest brother, Sam, trusted their dad and God and didn’t complain. This set a pattern for the rest of Nephi’s story. In time, Nephi’s two oldest brothers would become so wicked they would even try to kill Nephi and Sam. The two younger brothers would end up, after their parents died, taking their family and friends and moving away.
Over the next few centuries, the two groups became known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. Most of the time, but not always, the Nephites remained the good guys and the Lamanites (named after Nephi’s oldest brother) would be the bad guys. Eventually, the Lamanites would kill all the Nephites but one.
Before that happened though, the prophets and their followers knew that someday the Son of God would be born back in Bethlehem. Nephi and others had visions that showed them Jesus’ life. They knew that sometime after His death, Jesus would come to visit them.
Of course, there were some people who didn’t believe this and who wanted to kill the believers. They threatened to kill them if the signs the prophets had given didn’t happen by a certain date. That must have been pretty scary for the believers, but God sent the signs just in time and the non-believers were killed. When Jesus appeared to them, there were only people who were worthy to see the risen Christ. He stayed with them for several days, teaching them and helping them organize their church. They loved Him and they recorded the visit to testify to those who would read the book in modern times that Jesus was the Christ.
The Book of Mormon is a lot like the Bible. It has stories and sermons, all designed to help us learn more about God and Jesus Christ. Both books lead us to Jesus Christ. However, there are a few differences.
The Bible was not written as a single book. Many years after the Bible ended a group of people got together, gathered up all the religious writings they could find, and then decided which ones would be included in the book. The Book of Mormon, however, was collected as a single book. Each section was written by a prophet. When he died, the next prophet took the record and added to it. Occasionally new records were found and included, but always by the prophet who found them. Near the end of the story, a prophet named Mormon abridged the records. That means he went through them, took out what wasn’t important or was repeated too often so the records would be shorter and more manageable. He was killed during a great war before he finished, so his teenage son, the last remaining Nephite—the only good person left in his own part of the world—finished the job and then hid the records before escaping the Lamanites, who were out to kill him.
You might have noticed the Book of Mormon starts and ends with a teenager. There are other teenagers and young adults included in the book.
The other way the two books are different is that the Bible was written for the people who lived in that time and place. The Book of Mormon was written for us. The ordinary people did not have that record. The prophets were instructed by God to include only the information we would need in modern times and they were shown our time so they would understand it. This makes the Book of Mormon, in some ways, more relevant to us. The Law of Moses no longer in practice, but what is in the Book of Mormon is for us. Although the Book of Mormon was written in Biblical times, it is meant to show us how to live, not how the ancient Israelites were to live. Many people find it somewhat easier to read and also find it more relevant.
This does not mean the Bible isn’t important. It is very important to know about God’s dealings with man in early times and there are important guidelines for today’s life included in it. It is the best source for learning about Jesus’ life on earth. It helps us understand the relationship between God and man and the role of prophets. The people in the Bible offer heroes and role models for our time.
The best way to understand God is to read both book as a unified document. Read them both and look in both for clues to how you should live your life.
Okay, two more articles in this series. The next one is on what to do if you’ve been praying about the Mormons and aren’t getting an answer. The last one is about what your life would be like if you became a Mormon.