When Mormon says, “I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people” (Words of Mormon 1:5), we might ask, What criteria did he use for including what he did and excluding so much else? He must have followed clear guidelines in so important a task. When his reference to “less than a hundredth part” occurs five additional times in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 3:13; Helaman 3:14; 3 Nephi 5:8; 26:6; Ether 15:33), then we have a pattern that is telling us something.
Because Nephite record keeping begins with, and takes its cue from, Nephi, his guidelines are the key to what comes after. He says, “I Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these [small] plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known to the Lord” (1 Nephi 19:3; cf. 1 Nephi 9:2–6). The large plates of Nephi, therefore, contain “the more particular part of the history of my people,” whereas the small plates contain the “more sacred things,” which are “of great worth” (1 Nephi 19:5, 7; 2 Nephi 5:33).
We must not suppose, however, that Nephi remained entirely ignorant of the Lord’s “wise purposes” in making his second record on the small plates, especially after he had seen our day. He knew that his writing would reach the Gentiles in the latter days, and that these would make it known to his and his brothers’ descendants (1 Nephi 13:35–42).
Nephi also knew that, according to the principle of “what has been shall be” (cf. 3 Nephi 23:3), the prophet Isaiah predicted nothing concerning the last days except he based it on something ancient. He was thus familiar with Isaiah’s prophecies of a new exodus out of Babylon, a new wandering in the wilderness to Zion, a new conquest of the Promised Land, a new building of the temple, and so forth. Considering his learning in the “manner of the Jews” and his divine calling, Nephi knew how prophets prophesy and what constitutes scripture.
In writing the “more sacred things” of his people’s history, therefore, those that would be “of great worth” to his readers in the last days, Nephi too follows the principle of selectively choosing events and incidents that could serve as a type or be typical of what he had seen in vision would occur in the last days. For example, Lehi’s exodus from Jerusalem could be a type of a latter-day exodus of the Lord’s people out of Babylon, Lehi’s wandering in the wilderness to the Promised Land a type of a latter-day wandering in the wilderness to Zion, Nephi’s building a temple in the Promised Land a type of a latter-day temple in the New Jerusalem, etc., thus following Isaiah’s prophecies as closely as possible.
Later Book of Mormon writers also possess this typological world view that is common to prophets of God. They speak of “types” in the past that prefigure the future (Alma 25:10; 33:19). They describe particularly those things they know will have a sequel or second fulfillment in the last days. They understand that the dramatic conversion of the Lamanites by the sons of Mosiah with the aid of sacred records could be the type of a future conversion of the Lamanites in the Lord’s day of power with the aid of sacred records still to come forth (Alma 37:8–9, 18–19; cf. Jacob 3:6; 6:2). They discern that the destruction of the Jaredites and Nephites because of secret combinations could be the type of a future destruction of the unrepentant Gentiles, followed by the Lamanites’ new conquest of the Promised Land (Mormon 5:22–24; Ether 2:11; 8:23; cf. 3 Nephi 20:14–17). The prophet Ether, too, who had seen the end from the beginning, taught that Joseph’s dwelling in Egypt was a type of Lehi’s descendants’ dwelling in America (Ether 13:6–8).
When Mormon included the small plates of Nephi with his own abridgment of Nephite history down to the reign of King Benjamin, and “chose these things [the small plates], to finish my record upon them,” he repeats, “I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me” (Words of Mormon 1:5, 7). He knows that the principle of “liken[ing] all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning,” which Nephi had taught (1 Nephi 19:23), would surely be applied by his latter-day readers. Those for whom the Book of Mormon was intended—the Gentiles and the house of Israel—would be alerted to that idea by Nephi’s words and liken the scriptures Mormon was now writing to themselves.
Mormon comments elsewhere, “There had many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous” (3 Nephi 5:8). In making his record, however, he confines himself to fulfilling the faith and prayers of “those who have gone hence, who were the holy ones.” He does this by writing particularly those things that will enable his people who live in the last days to “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; 3 Nephi 5:14).
Moroni, too, bearing in mind “the welfare of the ancient and long dispersed covenant people of the Lord,” considers the Book of Mormon “of great worth” to them for the same reasons (Mormon 8:14–16). The restoration of the Lamanites or the house of Israel in the last days, however, would involve their participating in events similar to those in which their ancestors had participated. Those past events, as a pattern or type of the future, would then be depicted for them, in large part, in the Book of Mormon.
As a footnote, if one were to write a scriptural history of the events surrounding the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, what things might one include? (Not squabbles over spilt milk or how many wives Brother So-and-so had.) Might they include, for example, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon as a type of additional records to come forth? The building of the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples as a type of temples to be built in the New Jerusalem? Zion’s Camp as a type of a future Zion’s Camp to redeem the New Jerusalem? Knowing that all of history works on the principle of “what has been shall be,” or that history repeats itself, could not we, from a scriptural standpoint, regard even our restoration history as a type of things to come?
See The Last Days, 127–31.