[This article includes excerpts from The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in the Book of Mormon by Valiant K. Jones (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc.). Used by permission. See www.valiantjones.com.]

The title page of the Book of Mormon says that the book was written to help us know the covenants of the Lord and to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God. I propose that, underlying these two main themes, the early part of the Book of Mormon contains a sacred pattern of subthemes that outline the instructions and covenants that we should follow as covenant children of God. They include:

1 Nephi:  Obedience and Sacrifice
2 Nephi:  The Gospel
Jacob:  Chastity
Enos:  An Order of Prayer
Jarom:  Family History
Omni (and King Benjamin):  Consecration

I call these the covenant path themes of the Small Plates of Nephi, although they extend just slightly beyond that to include the sermon of King Benjamin who was a contemporary of Amaleki, the final author of the book of Omni. Studying these subthemes in the sacred Small Plates portion of the Book of Mormon will help us incorporate the book’s primary themes of Christ and covenants into our lives and prepare us to return to God’s presence.

Many Latter-day Saints will recognize that these covenant path themes are reflected in the covenants, rites, and focus of the temple endowment. Elder David A. Bednar has stated, “We may discuss the basic purposes of and the doctrine and principles associated with temple ordinances and covenants. . .Information . . . is available about following the Savior by receiving and honoring covenants to keep the law of obedience, the law of sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration.”[1]

Let us now examine each of the books of the Small Plates of Nephi and consider whether the proposed covenant path themes are indeed present.

1 Nephi: Obedience and Sacrifice

Early in the book, we read Nephi’s faithful declaration of obedience: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). Nephi’s example of obedience without fear or hesitation was constant from the day his family left Jerusalem. Alongside this, his family experienced sacrifice of epic proportions as the entire group abandoned their riches and the comforts of their home in Jerusalem, traveled through the desert wilderness of the Arabian Peninsula while subsisting mostly on raw meat, and then braved a fierce ocean voyage in ships of their own making before finally arriving in their new promised land. In addition, Nephi experienced a lot of personal sacrifice as he suffered extensive abuse and assaults on his life at the hands of his two oldest brothers. Truly, sacrifice defined much of the family’s journey, and obedience was a standard of Nephi’s life.

Nephi and many of his family were willing to make personal sacrifices because they first chose to be obedient to God. Whether the command was to go and get the plates, or to depart into the unknown wilderness with limited provisions, or to build a ship and embark upon the deep and unknown sea, Nephi obeyed with unquestioning faith that he could accomplish what the Lord had commanded. On the other hand, his older brothers exhibited counter-examples of murmuring rebellion and disobedience. Obedience and sacrifice are the covenant path themes of the book of 1 Nephi.

2 Nephi: The Gospel

Before we consider whether the theme of the gospel is prominent in 2 Nephi, we must first understand what is meant by the term. Many scriptures give insight on the meaning of the gospel, but several are especially noteworthy because they include succinct, dictionary-like declarations of “this is my gospel” or similar wording (see 3 Nephi 27:13-21; D&C 33:11-12; D&C 39:5-6; D&C 84:26-27; D&C 76:40-42, 50-53, 70). In addition, some scriptures describe “the doctrine of Christ” or “my doctrine,” which are synonyms for the gospel of Jesus Christ (see 3 Nephi 11: 32-39; Hebrew 6:1-2). A study of these scriptures shows some patterns. First, the most extensive of the passages bear witness to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and His atoning role in our Final Judgment and eternal reward. Second, all of the passages consistently refer to the first principles of the gospel: faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost.

With that background, consider 2 Nephi. The two parts of the gospel just described are exactly what we find therein. First, in the early chapters of 2 Nephi we find some of the most beautiful and doctrinally rich teachings on the Resurrection and Atonement of Jesus Christ in all of Holy Writ—particularly in chapters 2 and 9. Other parts of the book, such as chapter 25 and the writings of Isaiah, similarly testify of Christ and His Atonement. Second, at the end of the book, in chapters 31-33, we find an explanation of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel in Nephi’s presentation of the doctrine of Christ that rivals all other scriptural definitions of the gospel in scope, clarity, and literary beauty. Thus, both parts of the gospel are strongly emphasized in 2 Nephi, making the gospel a clear theme of the book.

As part of the gospel or the doctrine of Christ, 2 Nephi teaches about the plan of salvation and purpose of life, including the Creation and the Fall. It confirms that the gospel is centered on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, including His Resurrection and the Judgment where He will declare that those who have followed the law of the gospel are redeemed from sin. This law assures salvation for those who follow the path of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

These teachings parallel the instructions that Jesus gave to the ancient Nephites when he appeared to them after His Resurrection. At that time He declared that the law of Moses was fulfilled, and He outlined a new law that must be followed in order to be saved.[2] This is the law of the gospel. It is the covenant path theme of the book of 2 Nephi.

Jacob: Chastity

Chastity is certainly a prominent topic in the book of Jacob. No other book of scripture covers this topic so extensively in a single sermon, encompassing chapters 2 and 3 of that book. Other chapters in the book of Jacob testify of Jesus Christ and of His covenants with Israel—the two main purposes for the Book of Mormon—but next to these, chastity stands out as the most prominent subtheme of Jacob. Consider these teachings:

For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. . . . And I will not suffer . . . that the cries of the fair daughters of this people . . . shall come up unto me against the men of my people. . .. For . . . they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old . . . . And now behold, . . . ye have come unto great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done. . . . Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds. (Jacob 2:28-35)

Jacob taught that keeping the law of chastity brings blessings to our nations, our families, and to us. It is prerequisite to receiving power from Christ and is an essential step on the covenant path back to God. Chastity is the covenant path theme of the book of Jacob.

Enos: An Order of Prayer

Enos wrote, “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens” (Enos 1:4). Enos’s prayer began with a focus on himself, but like the concentric circles that form when a pebble is tossed into a still pond, his prayer spread outward to supplication for his family and fellow Nephites, then to the unbelieving Lamanites, and finally to the future surviving descendants of Father Lehi. There was such a systematic structure in Enos’s prayer that we might say that he gave us an example of an “order of prayer.”

The experience of Enos appears to be a type for temple prayers. In holy temples, most of which are adorned with scenes of nature such as in Enos’s forest, we set aside our worldly concerns and pray unto God for our own souls and for others in need of blessings. Rarely, if ever, will any of us pray all day and into the night for someone, like Enos did, but when we enter names on temple prayer rolls, supplications will continue in behalf of those persons all day and into the night.

Enos was inspired by the Holy Ghost in what he prayed for. He followed a pattern that President Russell M. Nelson described when he said, “Jesus taught us how [to pray]. We pray to our Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost. This is the ‘true order of prayer,’ in contrast to ‘vain repetitions’ or recitations given to ‘be seen of men.’ ”[3] An order of prayer is the covenant path theme of the book of Enos.

Jarom: Family History Research

Nephi and Jacob and Enos each introduced themselves by saying something about their families. Jarom did this as well, beginning his book with, “Now behold, I, Jarom, write a few words according to the commandment of my father, Enos.” Then Jarom continued by using a word that his predecessors had not used in their opening verses, writing, “that our genealogy may be kept” (Jarom 1:1; emphasis added).

Jarom’s use of the word genealogy in the first verse of his book marks a shift in the narrative on the Small Plates. Jarom saw himself more distant from the first fathers, writing that “two hundred years had passed away” (Jarom 1:5) since Lehi had left Jerusalem. So, while Jarom did write about his father, the early Book of Mormon prophets would have only been known to him through oral stories and the records they left. Yet these other men were part of his genealogy—his family history.

A unique characteristic of Jarom’s record is that it says very little. Perhaps the most important thing that emerges from the book of Jarom is that it documents that Jarom lived. The record is brief, and it appears that Jarom’s life was not as remarkable as his direct ancestors, but his life obviously mattered to his son, Omni, and to others he lived with. His life also mattered to God. The key message apparent in Jarom’s short book is that every member of our family tree matters to God, and each should also matter to us, their descendants. We should search them out in our family history and see that their temple work is done. The covenant path theme for the book of Jarom is genealogy or family history research. That theme seems to continue through the early authors of the book of Omni as well.

Omni & King Benjamin: Consecration

At the end of the book of Omni, Amaleki, extended this invitation: “Come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him” (Omni 1:26; emphasis added). What a beautiful description of consecration! However, Amaleki gave us some clues on where to look for more on this topic—in the life and teachings of the most prominent leader of his day, King Benjamin.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote of this king:

Benjamin is such a superb example of consecration. He did things with the “faculty of his whole soul” (Words of Mormon 1:18). . . . No wonder Benjamin urged us to be sufficiently consecrated to give all that we “have and are” (Mosiah 2:34). How appropriate that his sermon was given near a temple. . . . In King Benjamin’s consecration, there was no holding back, and it must become the same with us.

The spirit of consecration pervades the lines of King Benjamin’s speech as he urges followers, for instance, “to render to [God] all that you have and are” (Mosiah 2:34), thus touching a raw and reminding nerve in each of us insofar as we hold back some of ourselves.[4]

King Benjamin taught many principles that apply to the law of consecration. He declared, “When you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17), and he emphasized our perpetual indebtedness. He taught his people about the life, mission, and Atonement of Jesus Christ so that they would be motivated to consecrate their lives to Him through obedience. He encouraged them and us to put off the natural man by acquiring the characteristics of saintliness which are also characteristics of consecration. He also taught that we should meet the needs of our families and succor the poor. These are all important aspects of consecrating our souls to Christ and to the building up of His kingdom. Consecration is the covenant path theme of the combined writings of Amaleki, in the book of Omni, and King Benjamin, in the first six chapters of the book of Mosiah.

Follow the Covenant Path

Based on this brief review, the Small Plates of Nephi do indeed outline doctrines and principles that parallel the covenants, rituals, and focus of the temple endowment. With this perspective, we can see that the Book of Mormon bears witness of the temple and the temple bears witness of the Book of Mormon. Even the order in which the covenant topics are presented is aligned. The link shows that God, the Master Designer, is the originator of both.

By studying each book of the sacred Small Plates of Nephi through the lens of its covenant path theme, we can learn more about the promises we make in the temple endowment and how to adhere to the covenant path. We can look for similar covenant instructions throughout the entire Book of Mormon. By doing so, we will fulfil a charge recently given by President Russell M. Nelson: “Study and pray to learn more about the power and knowledge with which you have been endowed—or with which you will yet be endowed.”[5]

Nephi described a vision he saw of our day: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Nephi 14:14; emphasis added). As the covenant people of the Lord who are today scattered upon all the face of the earth, we become armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory when we go to the temple and enter into covenants with Him and then keep those covenants. We are further strengthened when we study the topics of our temple covenants in the scriptures.

I believe that the Book of Mormon has been specially designed by God to help us understand and keep our covenants. Studying it in this light will help us follow the admonition of President Nelson to “Keep on the covenant path”[6] so we can eventually enter into God’s presence.

[Valiant K. Jones is the author of The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in the Book of Mormon. For more information, see www.valiantjones.com.]

[1] David A. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign, May 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2019/05/prepared-to-obtain-every-needful-thing?lang=eng. Formatting modified.

[2] See 3 Nephi 9:15-22. Further guidance on how to live this new law in a higher way is given in the Sermon at the Temple, 3 Nephi 12-14.

[3] Russell M. Nelson, “Sweet Power of Prayer,” Ensign, May 2003, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2003/05/sweet–power–of–prayer?lang=eng .

[4] Neal A. Maxwell, “King Benjamin’s Sermon: A Manual for Discipleship,” King Benjamin’s Speech “That Ye May Learn Wisdom”, editors John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, 1998, https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1087&index=1.

[5] Russell M. Nelson, “Go Forward With Faith,” Ensign, May 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/05/57nelson?lang=eng.

[6] Russell M. Nelson, “As We Go Forward Together,” Ensign, Apr. 2018, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2018/04/as–we–go–forward–together?lang=eng.