Why study this book?
Through a study of Words of Mormon, students can increase their faith that “the Lord knoweth all things” (Words of Mormon 1:7) and that He guides His servants to bring about His purposes. As a historical account, the book serves as a bridge between the small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi–Omni) and Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi (Mosiah–4 Nephi). It can help students better understand which records Mormon abridged as he compiled the Book of Mormon. It also introduces students to the faith and accomplishments of King Benjamin.
Who wrote this book?
Mormon wrote this book. He was a prophet, a record keeper, and the abridger and compiler of the Book of Mormon. He was also a righteous father and a military leader among the Nephites. The prophet Moroni was his son.
To whom was this book written and why?
Mormon addressed a future audience, with hope that his writings and the writings of his son Moroni “may profit them” (Words of Mormon 1:2). Specifically, he wrote for the benefit of the Lamanites. Of them he said, “My prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people” (Words of Mormon 1:8).
When and where was it written?
Mormon wrote this book in about A.D. 385, after having “witnessed almost all the destruction of [his] people, the Nephites” (Words of Mormon 1:1). Mormon did not record where he was when he wrote this book.
What are some distinctive features of this book?
This short book interrupts the chronological order of books at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. Mormon wrote it more than 500 years after Amaleki concluded the book of Omni. In this book, Mormon briefly explains his compilation and abridgment of the records of his people. To understand his explanation, it is helpful to remember that the Lord commanded Nephi to make two sets of plates for a “special” and “wise” purpose (see 1 Nephi 9:3, 5). One set of plates, often called the large plates, contained the secular history of the Nephites, while the other set, often called the small plates, contained a sacred record of the Nephites’ preaching, revelations, and prophecies (see 1 Nephi 9:2–4; Jacob 1:3–4).
Mormon discovered the small plates of Nephi after he had already made an abridgment of part of the large plates (see Words of Mormon 1:3). Guided by the Spirit of the Lord, Mormon included the small plates with his abridgment of the large plates. He did this “for a wise purpose,” according to the Lord’s will (see Words of Mormon 1:4–7).
Many years later, one reason for this inspiration became apparent. When Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon, he started with Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi—the secular history. Martin Harris, who was the Prophet’s scribe for this portion of the translation, lost 116 pages of the manuscript. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that wicked men had obtained those pages and changed the words (see D&C 10:8–10). If Joseph had translated the same material again, those men would have claimed that he was not a prophet because he could not translate the book the same way twice (see D&C 10:11–19). The Lord told Joseph not to translate that part again but to translate the small plates of Nephi that Mormon had included with his abridgment of the large plates (see D&C 10:30–45). Thus, Words of Mormon helps us see how the Lord prepared a way to frustrate the plan of wicked men and to include scripture that not only covered the same time period as the lost manuscript but provided “greater views upon [the Lord’s] gospel” (D&C 10:45). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Obviously it would be exciting if someone were one day to find the lost 116 pages of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. But whatever those pages contain, it could not be more important or more fundamental to the purpose of the Book of Mormon than the teachings … recorded on the small plates” (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon , 35–36).
In addition to sharing insights about the compilation of his people’s sacred records, Mormon provided a brief description of the service of King Benjamin (see Words of Mormon 1:10–18). This description helps to connect the small plates of Nephi with Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates. King Benjamin is mentioned at the conclusion of the book of Omni, which is the final book in the small plates (see Omni 1:23–25). The book of Mosiah, the first book in what we have of Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates, begins by relating the close of King Benjamin’s reign and ministry (see Mosiah 1:1, 9).