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Unique Insights on Christ from the Book of Mormon

TitleUnique Insights on Christ from the Book of Mormon
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1988
AuthorsScharffs, Gilbert W.
Issue Number12
Date PublishedDecember 1988
KeywordsAgency; Atonement; Faith and Works; Grace; Jesus Christ - Jehovah; Plan of Salvation; Priesthood; Testimony

The Book of Mormon features many unique insights concerning Jesus Christ and his gospel that are not contained in the Bible. They include specific teachings about Christ’s Atonement, the plan of salvation, the Lord’s relationship to mankind, free agency, the necessity of grace and works, affirmation of the truthfulness of the Bible, Jesus’ eminent position as Jehovah, his priesthood, and his latter-day work. The Book of Mormon witnesses that Jesus is the Christ.


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Unique Insights on Christ from the Book of Mormon

By Gilbert W. Scharffs

Thank you for the Book of Mormon. I do not believe it was inspired by God or that it leads us to the gospel of Christ. But I appreciate having it as a reference in my study of non-Christian religions.

This sentence was part of a letter my wife and I received from a woman in the midwestern United States. Someone had given her a copy of the Book of Mormon with our family picture and testimony on the inside front cover. When I responded to her letter by telephone, we had a pleasant conversation and I asked if I might write and explain to her what the Book of Mormon is all about. She agreed, and I wrote her concerning the book, including many of the concepts about Jesus Christ listed in this article.

Actually, I’ve been working on this list most of my life. As a missionary, I knew half a dozen ways the Book of Mormon adds to our knowledge of Christ. Since then, each time I have taught or read the Book of Mormon during the last thirty years, the list has grown longer. I expect the list to continue growing each time I reread that book of scripture from ancient America.

Nephi had a vision of the last days in which he learned that there were “many plain and precious things” taken away from the Bible. (1 Ne. 13:28.) I am convinced that the Book of Mormon not only testifies of Jesus Christ but also restores some of those plain lost truths about him. Not only does it confirm the doctrines we learn about Christ in the Bible, but it also adds to and amplifies them.

Added Insights on the Atonement

1. Our Redeemer’s atonement reaches those who die without law, including little children who die without baptism. Many Christians not only exclude non-Christians from the effects of the Atonement, but they also believe that unbaptized children are lost. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught that, because of the mercies of Christ, where no law is given there is no condemnation. (See 2 Ne. 9:25.) King Benjamin recalled an angel’s explanation that Christ’s “blood atoneth for the sins of those who have … died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.” (Mosiah 3:11–12.)

Thanks to a letter from Mormon to Moroni, we learn that “little children need no repentance, neither baptism. … But little children are alive in Christ.” (Moro. 8:11–12.)

2. Christ’s death on the cross brought about a universal resurrection for all mankind, regardless of a person’s belief or performance. Much of Christianity believes that the effects of Christ’s atonement are limited. Many people teach that belief in Christ is necessary for resurrection. Others believe that baptism and other sacraments are needed for resurrection. However, Jacob clearly taught that Christ “suffereth [the Atonement] that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before [Christ] at the great and judgment day.” (2 Ne. 9:22; italics added.) Moroni wrote, “Because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, … all men are redeemed, … which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep.” (Morm. 9:13.) This is a significant contribution to understanding the Christian theology of justice and mercy.

3. The Lord’s atonement brought about a physical resurrection, not just a spiritual one. Many believe that the resurrection of mankind through Christ’s atonement does not include the physical body. Biblical translations on the subject differ, leading to confusion. For instance, Job 19:26 in the King James Version reads, “After my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” In the Anchor Bible, it reads, “Even after my skin is flayed, without my flesh I shall see God.”

There is no ambiguity in the Book of Mormon. Shortly after the death of his father, Lehi, Jacob taught that “in our bodies we shall see God.” (2 Ne. 9:4.) Much later, Amulek taught that “the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death. … The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame.” (Alma 11:42–43.)

4. So great was Christ’s suffering that blood came from every pore. The Book of Mormon clarifies a much-disputed New Testament passage concerning the extent and nature of Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44.)

Many Christians conclude that this verse compares the sweat to drops of blood, treating the incident figuratively. Such people feel that Jesus did not actually sweat blood as he suffered.

However, King Benjamin clearly described the angel’s account of the suffering that Christ would undergo: “He shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer … for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.” (Mosiah 3:7; italics added.)

5. One reason for Christ’s atonement was to appease justice. This concept is well-known, yet only the Book of Mormon clearly teaches that the Savior’s atonement “satisfied the demands of justice.” (Mosiah 15:9; see also Alma 42:15.) Alma asked, “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit.” (Alma 42:25.) In other words, in order that we be granted mercy if we follow his teachings, Jesus offered himself as payment for our sins so that the requirements of justice could be met.

6. Christ’s atonement was part of an eternal plan that included the fall of man. Many Christians think of the Fall as a great tragedy and believe that Adam and Eve were wicked sinners and that the Atonement was necessary only to compensate for their mistake. This interpretation is understandable because of the incomplete biblical account.

Fortunately, the Book of Mormon clarifies the relationship between the Fall and the Atonement. Lehi explained, “If Adam had not transgressed … he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things … must have remained in the same state” forever. Consequently, Adam and Eve “would have had no children.” (2 Ne. 2:22–23.) He also explained that there would be no joy because there would be no sorrow, no righteousness because there would be no evil. Ultimately, there would be no chance for eternal life. (See 2 Ne. 2:11–27.)

“From the foundation of the world,” long before the Fall, the Savior was prepared for his mission of redemption. (Ether 3:14.) The Fall brought opposition and the opportunity to make choices; the Savior’s atonement enabled us to make choices that lead to eternal life. (See 2 Ne. 2:27.)

The Bible never refers to the fall of Adam and Eve and the atonement of Christ as part of a plan. By contrast, the Book of Mormon often uses such expressions as “the plan of our God” (2 Ne. 9:13), “the eternal plan of deliverance” (2 Ne. 11:5), “the plan of redemption” (Alma 12:25), and “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). The expression “plan of salvation” was first used in the scriptures by Jarom. (Jarom 1:2.)

7. Without the Savior’s atonement, all the earth’s inhabitants would come under Satan’s control. The power that Satan can exercise over men and women is not clearly explained in the Bible, so one of the purposes for the Atonement is never clarified in it. However, Jacob taught, “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to … the devil.” (2 Ne. 9:8.)

Mormon recorded Abinadi’s explanation that the devil would have power over mankind because the Fall “was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.” (Mosiah 16:3.) The next several verses go on to say that the Atonement allows people to escape the devil’s dominion. (See Mosiah 16:4–12.)

Added Insights on the Relationship of Jesus Christ to Mankind

8. The Lord’s love extends to all races and people. The Bible indicates that the Lord extends the gospel covenants to all nations, but the Book of Mormon takes the issue of race head-on and resolves any confusion about whether the Lord loves one people above another. Nephi taught, “[The Lord] inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Ne. 26:33.)

9. The Savior’s influence is so great that it enlightens man’s conscience. Most people recognize that human beings have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, but many wonder what the conscience really is. Moroni recorded that his father, Mormon, taught, “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” (Moro. 7:16.) The fact that man’s conscience is enlightened by the Spirit of Christ gives a new dimension to the role of and office held by the Lord Jesus Christ.

10. To become committed followers of Christ, we must have the option to reject him. How difficult is it to choose something if there is no other choice available? Agency is crucial to true allegiance. Lehi said, “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery. …

“The Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (2 Ne. 2:11–16.)

11. The strength and freedom of America depend on its inhabitants serving Jesus Christ. One of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is that the inhabitants of the Americas must serve the Lord to prosper. Moroni explained that “whatsoever nation shall possess [the promised land of the Book of Mormon peoples] shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.” (Ether 2:12.)

The Book of Mormon shows us how rebellion against Christ’s teachings destroyed two earlier American civilizations. The modern-day people of this promised land must remember that, if they refuse to follow the Lord, they, too, will be destroyed.

12. The source of real freedom for any person or nation is Jesus Christ. In 1986, when the United States observed the one hundredth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, not once did I hear any commentator speak of freedom as a gift from Jesus Christ. Not once did I hear someone quote the words of Paul: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:17.)

The Book of Mormon asserts this principle more fully. King Benjamin taught, “Ye are born of [Christ] and have become his sons and his daughters.

“And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free.” (Mosiah 5:7–8.)

This kind of freedom comes through the Savior in two ways: (1) by our Redeemer overcoming death so that we will live again, and (2) by his overcoming the enslaving effects of sin so that we can accept and follow him. Lehi taught, “Wherefore, men are free … to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator.” (2 Ne. 2:27.)

13. Both the grace of Jesus Christ and good works (of which Christ is the primary model) are necessary to the plan of salvation. Latter-day Saints need not wonder about the emphasis many Christians put on grace, sometimes to the exclusion of good works. The Book of Mormon teaches that both are crucial. It mentions, for instance, the term grace thirty-two times. In speaking to his son Jacob, Lehi pointed out how critical grace is to salvation: “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life.” (2 Ne. 2:8.) Nephi also taught “that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Ne. 25:23.)

Relying upon the mercies of Christ, though, in no way lessens the importance of good works. Jesus Christ instructed his disciples in the Americas to do his works: “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. …

“Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” (3 Ne. 27:21–22.)

In either case, Jesus Christ is at the center, whether we consider God’s grace—all that he has done for us that we cannot do for ourselves—or God’s works, which we must emulate.

Added Insights about the Biblical Record of Jesus Christ

14. The Book of Mormon affirms the basic accuracy of the Bible concerning Christ. The record of the Jews is under attack on many fronts. Not only do many belittle the claims of the Bible concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, but many attack the authorship and historical accuracy of many of its books. Yet the Book of Mormon supports the authenticity of the Bible. It affirms the ministry and teachings of Christ as given in the Bible and even verifies that Isaiah, Malachi, and John wrote the books that appear under their names.

15. The God of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. Christ’s power extends far beyond what most people realize. A great many people do not know that the God spoken of in the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. His name does not appear in today’s versions of that ancient record.

To the inhabitants of America, Jesus declared, “I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel.” (3 Ne. 15:5.) Jacob taught that their forefathers in Palestine “believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name.” (Jacob 4:5.) Nephi taught, “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” would be lifted up on the cross. (1 Ne. 19:10.)

16. Jesus Christ’s premortal spirit looked like his mortal body. The debate on the nature of Jesus Christ before he acquired his mortal body is still unsettled among most Christians. Some even wonder whether Jesus Christ existed before his birth on earth. Yet, more than two thousand years before his mortal ministry, Christ appeared to a Book of Mormon prophet known as the brother of Jared and declared: “This body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit. … and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.” (Ether 3:16.)

Many of the prophets in the Old Testament who saw Jehovah used terms such as “face to face,” to describe him. The incident with the brother of Jared shows that these terms were not figurative. (See Ex. 33:11; Isa. 6:1.)

17. The areas of the Savior’s earthly ministry included more than Palestine. Jesus’ dominion extends to the entire world. The New Testament verse in which Christ proclaims, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice” (John 10:16) is confusing to many. In America, the Savior stated, “Ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.” (3 Ne. 15:21.) Christ then said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this land,” which he would yet visit. (3 Ne. 16:1.)

18. The Book of Mormon teaches us more about baptism. Since baptism is for the remission of sins, some wonder why the Savior, who was without sin, had to be baptized. The gospel of Matthew says only that it was “to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15.) Since our Lord is holy, why was he baptized? Nephi said that Jesus was baptized to witness his obedience to the Father and to show us what we must do to be saved. (See 2 Ne. 31:5–9.) The Book of Mormon also makes it clear that baptism was practiced long before the Savior’s mortal ministry. (See Mosiah 18:14.)

19. Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount receives some clarification in the Book of Mormon. The Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Bible is magnificent, but the account is unclear in some places. The Book of Mormon clarifies a few of those places. For example, Matthew 5:3 and 5:6 [Matt. 5:3, 6] read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Third Nephi 12:3 and 12:6 [3 Ne. 12:3, 6] add “who come unto me” to the phrase “poor in spirit” and “with the Holy Ghost” to the phrase, “they shall be filled.”

20. Jesus Christ has an eternal priesthood that can be shared with man. In the four Gospels, the concept of the Savior’s power and authority is not clearly associated with the idea of a priesthood like that which the priests and Levites possessed. The epistle to the Hebrews discusses Jesus Christ as the “great high priest,” yet it barely touches upon his authority as the means whereby his disciples might govern the Church. (See Heb. 4:14–5:10.)

In the Book of Mormon, Alma explains much more about the high priesthood. The Lord ordained priests to teach the people, and these priests were ordained after the order of the Son of God, so that the people “might know in what manner to look forward to [the] Son for redemption.” (Alma 13:2.) The high priesthood existed from the foundation of the world, prepared from eternity for those worthy to receive it. (See Alma 13:1–12.) The Book of Mormon also states that Melchizedek had a father, clarifying Hebrews 7:3 [Heb. 7:3], which declares that he was without father and mother. (See Alma 13:18.)

Added Insights about the Lord’s Work in the Last Days

21. Christ is the source of continual revelation yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Most Christian sects believe that there is no revelation from Deity today as there was in biblical times. Mormon, however, was emphatic that revelation continues. (See 3 Ne. 29:6.) So was Moroni, who wrote: “I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations. …

“He that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ.” (Morm. 9:7–8.)

22. The Book of Mormon prophesies that the Savior would restore his church in our day. The Bible predicts the Restoration, but the Book of Mormon gives more details concerning the Lord’s work in the latter days. Lehi declared that “the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing them out of darkness unto light.” (2 Ne. 3:5.) Several prophets wrote that the Book of Mormon itself would be part of the Restoration. (See 2 Ne. 27; Ether 5.)

23. Jesus declared that his church must bear his name. The Bible does not name Christ’s church. Today, hardly any of the titles of the Christian churches include the name Jesus, and the titles of only a few groups include the name Christ. The twelve disciples whom the Savior chose to lead his church in the Americas engaged in mighty prayer and fasting to learn what to call the church. The Savior answered, “How be it my church save it be called in my name?” (3 Ne. 27:8.)

24. The Messiah has not forgotten the Jews. I recall a Jewish professor, Harris Lenowitz, mentioning that, overall, the Latter-day Saints, treat the Jews very kindly. He added, “But I’m worried. Mohammed treated us kindly at first. So did Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in the late 1400s. The same with Martin Luther two centuries later. But when the Jews wouldn’t convert, these leaders and their people turned on us. I’m worried that the same could happen again with the Mormons.”

Of course, we noted that such a thing would go against a fundamental principle of the Church: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (A of F 1:11.)

We then discussed the promises in the Book of Mormon concerning the Jews. In 3 Nephi 29, Mormon wrote about the House of Israel, the Jews in particular, when the Book of Mormon shall become available. The Lord will begin to fulfill his covenant with them concerning their restoration to their lands of inheritance. (3 Ne. 29:1.) He says that we “need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel.” (3 Ne. 29:2.) Mormon taught that “the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.” (3 Ne. 29:3.) Mormon finished by writing, “Ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.” (3 Ne. 29:8.)

As Latter-day Saints, we know that the Lord will do his own work among the Jews; we need not be overly concerned about their conversion. (See D&C 45:48–53.)

25. The Book of Mormon is a latter-day witness that Jesus is the Christ. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Cor. 13:1.) The Bible emphatically testifies of Christ, and the Book of Mormon adds its persuasive testimony to that of the Bible. Every major prophet in the Book of Mormon prophesied of the Savior and taught of him. The testimonies of three additional biblical prophets, unknown in today’s Bible, are also recorded in the Book of Mormon. (See 1 Ne. 19:10.) The Book of Mormon records the Savior’s visit to the American continent and records his teachings there. The Savior himself capsulizes the testimony of the Book of Mormon prophets concerning who he is:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.

“And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.” (3 Ne. 11:10–11.)

How much would we really know about Jesus Christ without the Book of Mormon? Would we be “carried about with every wind of doctrine,” “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”? (See Eph. 4:14; 2 Tim. 3:7.) In his great intercessory prayer, the Lord said to the Father, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Book of Mormon prophets and to Joseph Smith for helping us to know Jesus Christ better, that we might have an opportunity for eternal life.

Gilbert W. Scharffs is an instructor at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah.