“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept. 1985, 17–19
Daniel H. Ludlow, director, Correlation Review. Jesus Christ himself defined the word gospel to the Nephites: “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.” The Savior then reviewed for the Nephites the facts of the Atonement, including the need to repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. (See 3 Ne. 27:13–22.)
Gospel means “good news”—the good news that Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. Through his perfect, sinless life and his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, Jesus Christ atoned for the original transgression of Adam and Eve and made it possible for us to be redeemed from spiritual death, which is the consequence of sin. Also through his atonement, including his crucifixion and resurrection, he has saved us from the permanent effects of physical death.
In addition to these aspects of the Atonement, which apply to all mankind, the “good news” also includes things that we must do in order to reenter God’s presence. Peter mentioned some of these principles when he and other Apostles were asked on the day of Pentecost, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” His reply was “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:37–38.)
Peter’s answer parallels our fourth article of faith: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
One of the best summary statements of the gospel was given by the Savior to the Nephites:
“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do.” (3 Ne. 27:19–21.)
The essentials of the “fulness of the gospel” are contained in this one brief statement of the Book of Mormon, although they are also discussed in greater detail throughout this sacred scripture. In these verses, the Book of Mormon clearly emphasizes and explains the doctrine of the Atonement and the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel. (See the many references to these topics in the Index of the Book of Mormon.) If these are observed, a person may regain the presence of God in the celestial kingdom. Thus, the Book of Mormon can appropriately be said to contain the fulness of the gospels—the “good news”—even though it might not discuss all the ordinances necessary for exaltation.
Now let’s look at the second part of the question—why the Book of Mormon doesn’t contain information on all the doctrines of the Church.
An effective author has an audience and a purpose in mind as he prepares his material. Thus, it is important to understand the purpose of the authors of the Book of Mormon in order to understand why it contains what it does and why it doesn’t contain other information.
The four major writers (engravers and/or compilers) of the Book of Mormon are Nephi (117 pages), Jacob (19 pages), Mormon (338 pages), and Moroni (50 pages). All four of these authors were personal witnesses of Jesus Christ. Nephi and Jacob were visited by the premortal Jesus Christ (see 2 Ne. 11:2–3), and Mormon and Moroni were visited by the resurrected Jesus Christ (see Morm. 1:15; Ether 12:22–39). Moroni also provides us with the testimony of the brother of Jared concerning the premortal Christ. (See Ether 3:9–16.) Thus, the writings of these four brethren constitute a strong witness for the divinity of Christ.
All four of these authors indicate that the major purpose of their writings is to lead people to Christ. Some of them also indicate that they intend their writings to serve as a second witness of the teachings of the Bible (the “record of the Jews”). At no time do any of them indicate that they will include all the teachings and ordinances of the gospel. In fact, they frequently mention they will include only those things which are necessary to a belief in Christ or those things which they have been inspired or commanded to write. (See 1 Ne. 19:2; 2 Ne. 28:2; 2 Ne. 31:1; 2 Ne. 32:7; Jacob 1:19; 3 Ne. 26:12; 3 Ne. 30:1; Morm. 5:9–13; Morm. 8:1; Ether 8:20; Ether 13:13.)
As brief examples, note the following statements of these four authors concerning their knowledge of Christ:
Nephi: “We labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ. …
“We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Ne. 25:23, 26.)
Jacob: “For this intent have we written these things, that they [the readers] may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.” (Jacob 4:4.)
Mormon: “Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God. …
“Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.
“For behold, this [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [the Bible]; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.” (Morm. 7:5, 8–9.)
Moroni: “I exhort you to remember these things; … for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man? …
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him. …
“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.” (Moro. 10:27, 32–33.)
These four writers also understood that their writings would come forth in the last days during a period of unbelief, when the true Church had been taken from the earth. (See 2 Ne. 25:3–23; 2 Ne. 26:16–24; Jacob 4:4, 13–16; Morm. 8:25–35; Moro. 10:24–34.) Thus, their stated purpose was to help lead us to Christ and to the true Church, rather than to provide all the teachings and ordinances of the gospel that we might receive after becoming members of the Church.
Explaining some of the procedures he followed during the abridgement of the plates, Mormon indicated that it wasn’t possible to record everything: “I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.” (W of M 1:5.) However, he and the other major writers of the plates were faithful to their express mission of testifying of Jesus Christ.
The Lord has indicated that he works with his children by providing them information “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” (2 Ne. 28:30.) Thus, even on 6 April 1830, when the Church was restored in this dispensation, many of the ordinances we now have were not available to the early Church members. For example, the revelations providing much of the information on the topics mentioned in the question were not received until later:
1. A wealth of information on the three degrees of glory is contained in section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 76], which was not received until 16 February 1832.
3. Teachings pertaining to the pre-earthly existence of spirits were not given by the Prophet Joseph Smith until well after the establishment of the Church. Some of his most significant statements on this subject were made at the April conference of the Church in 1844. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, pp. 342–62.)
When Jesus Christ was on the earth, he also experienced the gospel “line upon line”: “He received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
“And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.” (D&C 93:13–14.)
Concerning this principle of learning line upon line and precept upon precept, the Lord has said:
“I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. …
“And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.” (D&C 93:19, 27.)
These principles are consistent with the concept of a living prophet who is entitled to receive the mind and will of the Lord by the power of the Holy Ghost for the members of the true Church. (See D&C 68:4.) This idea is also expressed in our ninth article of faith: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
These teachings and doctrines are in accord with the statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith that the principles of the gospel are “according to the Holy Scriptures, and the Book of Mormon; and the only way that man can enter into the celestial kingdom.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 16.) The fulness of the gospel as contained in the Book of Mormon means that it contains those instructions a person needs to observe in order to be worthy to enter the presence of God in the celestial kingdom.