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Missionaries are handing out copies of the Book of Mormon all over the world, even as you read this. So what is this book? If it’s given out for free, why do so many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints count their Book of Mormon as one of their most valuable possessions? What kind of book can cause so many readers to change their lives, their minds and their hearts? What kind of book can answer life's seemingly unanswerable questions?
The Book of Mormon is the word of God, like the Bible. It is Holy Scripture, with form and content similar to that of the Bible. Both books contain God's guidance as revealed to prophets as well as religious histories of different civilizations. While the Bible is written by and about the people in the land of Israel and surrounding areas, and takes place from the creation of the world until shortly after the death of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon contains the history and God’s dealings with the people who lived in the Americas between approximately 600 BC and 400 AD. The prophets in the Book of Mormon recorded God's dealings with His people, which were compiled by a prophet named Mormon onto gold plates.
Before these faithful Christians perished, their record was safely hidden away. Joseph Smith obtained these ancient records in 1827, and with the gift and power of God Joseph was able to translate the ancient writings into what we have today. The Book of Mormon, along with the Bible, testifies that Jesus Christ is our divine Redeemer and that by living according to His gospel we can find peace in this life and eternal happiness in the life to come.
When Joseph Smith was 21 years old, an angel named Moroni gave him the ancient records. Joseph had little formal education and was unfamiliar with the ancient language written on the metal sheets of gold, but he was able to translate them because God gave him the gift and power to do so. The translation took less than three months, and in 1830, 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were published in Palmyra, New York. God chose Joseph as a prophet, seer, revelator and translator to restore The Church of Jesus Christ in modern time, and the Book of Mormon was essential to this restoration. Joseph Smith was given an extraordinary calling, and because he kept himself worthy of the blessings of heaven, he was able to bring the Book of Mormon to the world.
We believe that having faith in Jesus Christ is the first step in understanding the gospel and receiving the eternal happiness that God our Heavenly Father wants for us. But where does that faith come from? How can we come to believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior if we don't know who He is or what He did? We can develop faith in Jesus Christ by reading about Him in the scriptures and praying to know if what we've read is true.
The title page states that the Book of Mormon’s purpose is to convince all of us "that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations." It was written to help us develop a true knowledge of Jesus Christ and His mission on earth. The Book of Mormon reaffirms what we learn from the Bible, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth to help us overcome our sins. The people in the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and the Lamanites, recorded their testimonies of Jesus Christ. Many of the prophets who wrote the records that make up the Book of Mormon saw Christ personally, just as happened with the Apostle Paul, which he recorded in the Bible (see Acts 9:3-6). The climax of the book is when Jesus appeared to all the Nephites soon after He was resurrected. He blessed them, taught them his gospel and said,
Some people think that because we read the Book of Mormon, we don't read the Bible. That's just not true. It's like saying that we don't eat oranges because we eat apples. Both are good fruit! The Book of Mormon is not a replacement for the Bible. In fact, because the Book of Mormon and the Bible both contain the gospel of Jesus Christ as it was revealed to different civilizations, studying them together can clarify some concepts that are difficult to understand. The Book of Mormon tells us to read the Bible and affirms that its message is true (Mormon 7:8-10). And in the Bible, Jesus told His apostles, "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10:16). Christ visited these "other sheep" in the Americas after He was resurrected, teaching the same message to the Nephites that He taught to the people of Israel. The Book of Mormon makes it clear that Jesus Christ's message and His atonement are not for one group of people at one time. They are for everyone, everywhere, from the beginning of the earth to the end. Having the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ reminds us that He is mindful of every one of us.
Most of us have some hard questions in the back of our minds — the kind no one else can really answer for us. Some are far-reaching questions about the nature of our existence like the following:
As we read the Book of Mormon, we learn about the gospel and God’s Plan of Happiness. A knowledge of these things puts our questions in an eternal perspective. From the scripture that says this life is "a time to prepare to meet God," for example, we learn that we will continue to exist after we die, and that by keeping the commandments we can return to heaven (Alma 12:24). We also learn that repentance, forgiveness and the covenant to serve others are essential to our eternal salvation. Any of these questions of the soul can be answered by applying the gospel of Jesus Christ as it’s written in the Book of Mormon.
Some descriptions of God make Him sound abstract and unapproachable, or angry and vengeful, but we learn in the Book of Mormon that "God is mindful of every people" (Alma 26:37) and that like the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, we can be "encircled about eternally in the arms of his love" (2 Nephi 1:15).
Though we might not get to speak with God face-to-face in this life, He has given us the scriptures to help us draw closer to Him. Of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith said, "a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." We get nearer to God by building faith in Him, and we build faith in Him when we learn about His plan and keep His commandments.
The Book of Mormon teaches us God's plan and shows us how those who live according to His counsel are blessed in this life and the next. When we read prayerfully, the Holy Ghost can teach us, deep in our hearts, that the words in the Book of Mormon are a message to us from our Heavenly Father, sent to help us through this life.
Of course it's one thing to read the Book of Mormon and another to believe deep in our hearts that what it says is true. This sincere belief, or testimony, in the truth of the Book of Mormon comes when God sends His Spirit to confirm the truth of what we read. We can feel this confirmation when we study the Book of Mormon with diligence and faith, as we are promised in the following scripture:
God's method is simple: we read the Book of Mormon; we pray and ask Him to tell us that what we've read is true and He answers us through feelings of peace and assurance given by the Holy Ghost. First of all, we have to study the Book of Mormon diligently, applying its principles to our own lives and doing our best to understand the lessons that God wants us to learn. Second, we have to pray "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ." We need to hope and believe that God will answer us, and we may have to pray more than once. Last, we need to be willing to accept the answer when it comes, however it may come. Believing that the Book of Mormon really contains the word of God means that we will be willing to live up to the standards of faith and obedience He describes in it. God has promised that He will bless us with much more than it takes to live up to His high standards.