Hey guys! So the Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, made two sets of metal plates that generations of Nephite leaders would use to document Nephite history. We call these records the large plates of Nephi and the small plates of Nephi. A later Nephite prophet by the name of Mormon took the large plates of Nephi and wrote an abridged, or shortened version of the large plates, on another set of plates, known as the plates of Mormon. Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates included the books we know today as the books of Lehi, Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3rd and 4th Nephi.
Before Mormon passed his record down to his son Moroni, among all of the ancient records he had access to, he discovered the small plates of Nephi. He saw that they covered essentially the same time period as the Book of Lehi he’d already abridged from the large plates, but he really liked what was included in Nephi’s small plates. So Mormon takes the plates of Mormon, the small plates of Nephi, and another sealed record, and combines them into one set of plates. He gives them to his son, Moroni, who later buries them.
This is the record the young Joseph Smith recovered and translated some 1400 years later. With Martin Harris as his main scribe in 1828, Joseph starts translating Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi. They get through the Book of Lehi, and then Martin Harris loses the manuscript. It’s what happened next in the translation that we’re going to talk about today.
Alright, so Martin Harris losing Mormon’s abridgment of the Book of Lehi came as no surprise to God. This was one of the reasons He’d inspired Mormon to include the small plates of Nephi in his record. Instead of re-translating the lost record, Joseph translated the unabridged small plates of Nephi, which covered events from the same time period. But, instead of starting the translation with the Book of 1st Nephi in the small plates, from the available evidence, it looks like Joseph picked up where he and Martin had left off after the Book of Lehi, with the Book of Mosiah, in Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates. They went from Mosiah through Moroni (the last book in the Book of Mormon) and translated the small plates last, even though they chronologically appear at the beginning of the Book of Mormon — 1st Nephi through Words of Mormon. Now, why do scholars believe this is how it went down? Well, for multiple reasons:
Oliver Cowdery started as Joseph’s scribe on April 7th, 1829, but by May 15th they had already translated through the middle of the book of 3rd Nephi. Yet the translation was not complete until about June 30th. If they started in April with 1st Nephi instead of Mosiah, then at the rate they were going, they would have finished the translation long before June 30th. But if they started in Mosiah, the June 30th conclusion makes more sense.
Also, in early June, Joseph moved the translation project from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, where the translation would conclude. While there, some of the Whitmers helped out as scribes for this final month of translation. In the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the handwriting of John Whitmer shows up in 1st Nephi, suggesting that the small plates portion was what Joseph translated the last while in Fayette.
Also, copyright records confirm that the title page of the Book of Mormon (found probably at the end of the Plates of Mormon) was already translated by June 11th, 1829, even though, again, the translation project wasn’t complete until about June 30th — suggesting once more that after translating the Plates of Mormon, they translated the small plates of Nephi.
Now, as sort of a side note, another interesting thing to consider is that in the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, Mosiah chapter 1 was originally marked as Mosiah chapter 3. At some point, Oliver changed the 3 into a 1. Also, at the beginning of every other book abridged by Mormon, he opens with a summary line or paragraph of what the book is about. But in the Book of Mosiah, there is no introductory paragraph. Point being: It’s possible that the pages that Martin Harris lost not only contained the entire Book of Lehi, but also the first two original chapters of the Book of Mosiah.
But anyway, why is this Mosiah-first translation chronology important? Well, it’s information that adds yet another layer of complexity to the history of the Book of Mormon translation process. Later Nephite leaders had, quoted from, and frequently alluded to earlier records, like the small plates of Nephi. For example, in Mosiah 10 we get a bunch of brief plot references to events from the life of Nephi and his brothers. These kinds of allusions to the small plates happen over and over again in later records. If Joseph Smith was a fraud, he would have been making all of these references early in the translation to events he hadn’t yet written down but that he would have to remember to write later on, as they would need to come first in the chronology of the story for those references to make sense.
And there’s no indication that Joseph had a pre-written manuscript, notes, or reference materials of any kind to aid him in the dictation process. I have yet to hear a naturalistic theory of how this book came into being that makes sense and accounts for the available evidence. And we’ve talked about a lot of those theories in past videos. Personally, the easiest explanation for me to believe is that Joseph was telling the truth and that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God.
Of course, this logic does not by any means prove that the Book of Mormon is true. A testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon will ultimately come from God through the Holy Spirit. If you are looking for that witness, don’t forget to sincerely read and pray about this book. Give it a shot, and come to your own conclusions. But either way, I hope you learned something from this video. For more info on this topic, check out the resources in the YouTube description, and have a great day!
- “Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” by John Welch (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3yiY9dM
- “The Small Plates of Nephi and the Words of Mormon,” by (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3DcdBvV
- “Book of Mormon Plates and Records,” via the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3jcBQ52
- “Positivism and Priority of Ideology in Mosiah-First Theories of Book of Mormon Production,” by Alan Goff (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3musjZw
- “The Book of Lehi and the Plates of Lehi,” by David E. Sloan (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3ybX7QU
- “How Does the Mosiah-First Translation Sequence Strengthen Faith?” by Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/3kpI80P
- “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” by John Welch: https://bit.ly/3zeBAYY
- “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript,” by Dean Jessee (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3gwRuH0
- John Whitmer’s handwriting in the original manuscript of 1 Nephi (Joseph Smith Papers Project): https://bit.ly/2Wm80SI