What is in the Book of Mormon is There for a Purpose
by Raymond C. Treat
The principle stated in the title, "What is in the Book of Mormon is There for a Purpose," is a very important principle to understand about the Book of Mormon. The dictionary tells us that a principle is a general truth on which other truths depend. The recognition of the "purpose principle" is the recognition of a general truth about the Book of Mormon which in turn will lead to other truths. If we ask the question, "Why has this particular information been included?" every time we study a portion of the Book of Mormon we should receive insights that otherwise might be missed.
How do we know that what is in the Book of Mormon is there for a purpose? Because major writers of the Book of Mormon tell us they were directed by God as to what to put in the Book of Mormon and what to leave out.
The chart "The Contents of the Book of Mormon Were Divinely Controlled" (Figure 1) is designed to illustrate this point. The chart gives us information about three major Book of Mormon writers-Nephi, Mormon and Moroni. In each case these writers were told both what to put in the Book of Mormon and what to leave out.
For all practical purposes two of these three writers, Mormon and Moroni, controlled the contents of the entire Book of Mormon. Mormon was directed to add the entire contents of the small plates of Nephi to the Book of Mormon.
The small plates of Nephi make up the books of First and Second Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom and Omni. The book, Words of Mormon, was written by Mormon. The books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman and Third and Fourth Nephi were abridged by Mormon. The fourth and last chapter of Mormon's book was written by his son Moroni. He also wrote his own book and abridged the book of Ether. This accounts for all of the 15 books in the Book of Mormon.
The Lord's instructions to Nephi, who is responsible for about 82 percent of the contents of the small plates of Nephi, strengthen the case even further that the contents of the Book of Mormon were indeed divinely controlled. They also give validity to the principle that what is in the Book of Mormon is there for a purpose.
Some additional information about the Book of Mormon that is related to the purpose principle should be mentioned. The Book of Mormon as we have it represents less than one percent of what could have been included (Figure 2).
This information was already in written form for Mormon and others to use. Therefore, our appreciation of how much direction ion they 1 receive what to put in and what to leave out is increased when we realize that they had such a large volume of material from which to draw.
Mormon tells us (Words of Mormon 1:8) that the records available to him represented more than one hundred times more information than his abridgment which we call the Book of Mormon. We know this because Mormon was writing about a period several hundred years before his time, therefore, he was taking his information from written records and not from first-hand observation.
In one case, the information available to Mormon from the large plates of Nephi was there as a result of a commandment that Jesus himself gave during his appearance in the land of Bountiful (3 Nephi 10:39-41):
And Jesus saith unto them,
How be it that ye have not written this thing,
That many saints did arise and appear unto many and
did minister unto them?"
And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this
thing had not been written.
And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should
Therefore, it was written according as he commanded.
Why was this included in the Book of Mormon? Mormon includes this account of Christ correcting hi's omission from the large plates because he wanted to affirm to us the divine control of the contents of the large plates and hence, of his abridgment.
Making Use of the Purpose Principle in Study
How can we make use of the purpose principle in our study of the Book of Mormon? As mentioned above, regardless of whatever information we are studying, we should ask the question, "Why is that information in the Book of Mormon?" Once we realize that the contents of the Book of Mormon were divinely controlled, this question becomes one of the most important questions we can ask as we study the Book of Mormon. Because the Lord has more to teach us, the knowledge of which questions to ask is an important key to further spiritual growth.
This is especially true when we begin to realize how important the Book of Mormon is in the Lord's plan for these last days. For example, the Book of Mormon is considered to be the only material evidence of the coming forth of the Restoration. As such it is the introduction to the Restoration. The Restoration is a reestablishment of the Lord's plan (Zion) for the salvation of the world; therefore, the Book of Mormon is literally the introduction to Zion. Since Zion represents a level of spiritual enlightenment beyond what is currently available, the Book of Mormon becomes an introduction to this further spiritual enlightenment. Only by realizing that this question, "Why is this in the Book of Mormon?" is an important question to ask and then asking it can we put ourselves in a position to receive an answer. Let us look at some examples of questions asked.
The Eight Tribes (Figure 3)
When we think of Book of Mormon peoples we normally think of two groups, the Nephites and the Lamanites. However, Jacob 1:13-14 gives another picture:
Now the people which were not Lamanites, were
Nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites,
Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and
But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these
But I shall call them Lamanites they that seek to destroy
the people of Nephi;
And they which are friendly to Nephi, I shall call
Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the
reigns of the kings.
Why is this information in the Book of Mormon? The first step in answering this question is to determine what these verses are actually saying. We are told here that the Book of Mormon people called themselves by seven different tribal names-four tribes under the Nephite label and three tribes under the Lamanite label. This is unusual information, because we usually think of Book of Mormon peoples only in terms of Nephites and Lamanites, as the Book of Mormon itself does.
Why are we told about seven tribes? Is this information significant or not? One question that needs to be answered is, "Are these tribes mentioned anywhere else in the Book of Mormon or is this the only reference?" A Book of Mormon concordance readily provides the answer. These seven tribes are mentioned two other times:
And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people
which were called the Nephites, and they were true
believers in Christ;
And among them were they which were called by the
Lamanites, Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites;
Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true
worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three
disciples of Jesus which should tarry,) were called
Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and
And it came to pass that they which rejected the gospel,
were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites;
And they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did
willfully rebel against the gospel of Christ.
4 Nephi 1:40-42
And it came to pass that in this year, there began to be a
war between the Nephites, which consisted of the
Nephites and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and
And this war was between the Nephites and the
Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the
Now the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the
Ishmaelites were called Lamanites, and the two
parties were Nephites and Lamanites.
We therefore have three references to the seven tribes. Our newly discovered information seems to be growing in importance.
What else can we learn from these references? By reading the verses just preceeding each reference we notice that dates are given. The date of the Jacob reference is about 544 B.C. The reference in Fourth Nephi is dated at A.D. 231 and the Mormon reference is about A.D. 322. By looking at the time line in Figure 3 we can see that these seven tribes are in existence throughout most of the Nephite period.
One possible exception is during the Golden Age. We are told that in about A.D. 100:
There were no robbers, nor no murderers,
Neither were there Lamanites, nor no manner of ites;
But they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to
the kingdom of God.
4 Nephi 1:20
Except for the two references to the seven tribes after the Golden Age we would have to believe that the seven tribes ceased to exist and that only the Nephites and the Lamanites remained. Because we do have the two references we know the seven tribes did continue after the Golden Age until the four tribes under the Nephite label were destroyed by the Lamanites in A.D. 385. It is possible that during the Golden Age the members of the seven tribes ceased to think of themselves primarily as being members of one tribe or another but possibly they continued to live together in tribes as they had done before the Golden Age. Nevertheless, we have learned so far from our simple purpose principle question that instead of only two tribes living during Nephite times we now have seven tribes.
To make the history complete we have to add one more tribe, the Mulekites. As you will recall, it was King Mosiah who first discovered the people of Zarahemla (Mulekites). He had been warned by the Lord to flee from the land of Nephi, which was a highland area, and was led with his people down into the land of Zarahemla, which was a lowland area, where they met the people of Zarahemla. This history is related in Omni 1:19-34. We are told that the people of Zarahemla were taught the language of Mosiah and that they were united with the people of Mosiah and accepted Mosiah as their king. From this account we would expect that the people of Zarahemla would have lost their identity as a separate tribe and would have become a part of the people of Mosiah. Such was not the case, however:
Therefore, he had Mosiah brought before him;
And these are the words which he spake unto him,
"My son, I would that ye should make a proclamation
throughout all this land among all this people, or the
people of Zarahemla and the people of
Mosiah, which dwell in this land,
That thereby they may be gathered together."
We see from this verse that the people of Zarahemla are considered as a separate group. This verse would be dated at least a generation after the first Mosiah was accepted as king by the people of Zarahemla. In this verse King Benjamin, the son of the first Mosiah, is speaking to his son Mosiah, who is soon to take over as king.
The identification of the "no eraser" in this verse adds further emphasis to the idea that the people of Zarahemla were a separate tribe. That is, the phrase "among all this people" had to be clarified by the phrase "or the people of Zarahemla, and the people of Mosiah," otherwise it would have been misunderstood to mean just the people of Mosiah (see "More 'No Erasers' in the Book of Mormon" pp. 197-200 of Recent Book of Mormon Developments vol. 2, for more on "no erasers").
There is another verse which also supports the idea that the people of Zarahemla continued as a separate tribe:
And also all the people of Zarahemla,
And they were gathered together in two bodies.
In this verse it is very clear that the people of Zarahemla were a separate group.
The next verse, dated a little over one hundred years later, tells us that the people of Zarahemla (the seed of Zedekiah) are still identified as a people:
And now, will you dispute that Jerusalem was not
Will ye say that the sons of Zedekiah were not slain, all
except it were Mulek?
Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are
with us, and they were driven out of the land
If we would ask of each of the above three quotes, "Why is this information in the Book of Mormon?" we would come to the conclusion that the Lord wanted us to know that the Mulekites (people of Zarahemla) kept their identity as a separate tribe, making in all, eight tribes.
Why is this information about eight tribes in the Book of Mormon? The answer, no doubt, is related to archaeology and geography. It means that there should be eight identifiable regional patterns in the archaeological record of the area where the Nephites, Lamanites and Mulekites lived (the Maya area) during the time period in question. It is very likely that each tribe would have developed its own style or variation of style in ceramics, architecture, dress, politics, in written and spoken language and possibly in other areas.
Even in the United States, where mass communications and ease of travel have worked against regional differences, it is still easy, in many cases, to tell where a person is from just by the way he speaks. The southern accent or Brooklyn accent are two good examples.
The identification of these eight regional patterns from archaeological evidence would also give us the geographical location of these regions. It is easy to see that knowing where these eight regions are located would be very helpful in our ongoing efforts to obtain a complete Book of Mormon geography.
It should be mentioned that one of the trends in Maya archaeology today is to study regions as opposed to focusing attention on a single large site. Archaeologists now recognize that proper understanding of an entire region is necessary to understanding the large site that dominates the region.
There is a massive amount of information pertinent to the identification of the possible eight regions, especially from ceramics and architecture. Regional dress styles have been documented, and there are regional styles of hieroglyphic writing. Much progress has been made in identifying political regions. At the present time there are at least thirty distinct Mayan languages. Our understanding of the development of these languages is constantly improving. It almost goes without saying that a great deal of Book of Mormon history has been preserved in the patterns of these present-day Mayan languages (see "Mesoamerican Linguistics" pp. 133-136, of Recent Book of Mormon Developments vol. 2).
There is one other bit of information which should be mentioned. The Mulekites or people of Zarahemla were originally from the tribe of Judah whereas the Nephites and Lamanites were originally from the tribe of Manasseh. This difference could help in some way to distinguish the Mulekites from the other seven tribes.
It is difficult to say how long it will be before we can begin to talk confidently about the location of the eight Book of Mormon tribes at any given time period. We do believe, however, that it is not a matter of "if," only "when," because our belief is based on the principle that what is in the Book of Mormon is there for a purpose.
Two further comments about tribes should be made. Because there were four tribes under the Nephite label, we would expect that these four tribes would have been destroyed by the Lamanites in A.D. 385, leaving the four other tribes. Therefore, we would expect to find four regional patterns after this time. The identification of these four regional patterns would be easier because they would be dated later in time.
Finally, the use of the word "tribe" in this discussion is not the same as it is used in anthropology. In anthropology, tribal size is in the hundreds. Populations of the eight Book of Mormon tribes at various times would have numbered in the tens and hundreds of thousands. Populations of these sizes would have been necessary to produce the kinds of regional patterns referred to here (for more on Book of Mormon populations see Recent Book of Mormon Developments, vol. 1, 1984: 30-33).
Mormon's Hidden Message
Mormon's hidden message, found in Alma 13:68-14:1, has already been discussed (see "Mormon's Hidden Message" pp. 141-143). To briefly summarize, Mormon gives us in Alma 13:68-80 the basic geographic framework for the entire Book of Mormon. This information was not on the large plates of Nephi, which Mormon was abridging, but was inserted by Mormon. Why was this information included in the Book of Mormon? The only possible purpose is that the Lord intends for us to have a complete Book of Mormon geography. The inclusion of this basic geographic framework lends further credence to our belief that the eight regional patterns will be helpful to Book of Mormon geography.
The Almost 400 Verses
The purpose principle can also be applied to the almost 400 verses dealing with geography in the Book of Mormon. Why are they there? Because we believe there is no "filler" in the Book of Mormon we again conclude they were provided so that eventually we would have a complete Book of Mormon geography.
Many people criticize the Book of Mormon because of the amount of space devoted to wars. Some believers even use this as an excuse not to study the Book of Mormon. However, the application of the purpose principle demonstrates that the accounts of wars have a purpose-to provide us with geographic information.
In addition, the descriptions of the fortifications constructed by Chief Captain Moroni have provided us with one of the best archaeological confirmations that the Book of Mormon is an accurate historical document. The fortifications from the site of Becan, located in the Maya lowlands, perfectly match the Book of Mormon descriptions (see Recent Book of Mormon Developments, vol. 1, 1984:25-26). Besides Becan, fortifications are known for other Maya cities such as the massive sites of Tikal and El Mirador.
The eight tribes, Mormon's hidden message and the almost 400 verses provide us with a threefold answer that whatever is in the Book of Mormon of a geographic nature is definitely there for a purpose.
It should also be mentioned that another important purpose for the inclusion of warfare in the Book of Mormon is that the physical warfare is a type to teach us about spiritual warfare.
The Parable of Zenos
There are many other illustrations of the purpose principle in the Book of Mormon in addition to those dealing with geography. The parable of Zenos, found in the third chapter of Jacob, is an excellent example. Why is this parable in the Book of Mormon? Maybe we do not know the full answer to this question yet but this parable is no doubt the source which is alluded to in the Bible when Paul talks about an olive tree (Romans 11:16-24).
The inclusion of this parable in the Book of Mormon may someday soon be the means to help many people accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God. The parable was, of course, taken from the plates of brass, which are now in Mormon's library in Hill Cumorah.
Another possible reason why this parable was included in the Book of Mormon was as an aid to assist us in understanding God's plan for the restoration of the house of Israel.
The 158 Years
The Book of Mormon covers about 2,800 years of history. Yet, about 60 percent of the entire book is devoted to a period of only 158 years. The 158-year period begins with the first chapter of Mosiah which is dated at 124 B.C. and ends with the appearance and teachings of Christ (A.D. 34) in Third Nephi. What kind of answer would we receive if we applied the purpose principle to this part of the book? In other words, why are we given all this detail about this particular 158 year period when we are told so little about most of the remainder of the 2,800 year history? One possible answer is that this information was given as a type and a shadow for the kinds of conditions that would exist on the earth prior to the coming of Christ in our day (see "158 Years: A Type For Our Day" pp. 209-211 of Recent Book of Mormon Developments vol. 2).
Many more examples could be given, such as the words of Isaiah, but enough have been cited to illustrate the principle that what is in the Book of Mormon is there for a purpose. The next time you study the Book of Mormon, remember to ask the question, "Why is this in the Book of Mormon?"
This article taken from Recent Book of Mormon Developments vol. 2 p. 172-178