Have you ever wondered about the structure of the Book of Moroni in the Book of Mormon? Is that book a hodge podge of various topics, a veritable pot pourri of gospel subjects? There are valuable lessons to be learned in Moroni, but does the book have a coherent structure or central theme?
We recently discussed a theme that runs throughout the Book of Moroni: the role of the Holy Ghost. We published our findings in the Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship (Volume 57, May 2023). In this brief article, we will summarize our finding that the Book of Moroni is built around this central theme.
Moroni lived the final 36 years of his life alone, but during his wanderings, he had one constant companion–the Holy Ghost. In his isolation, he developed a deep appreciation of the Holy Ghost and the role it plays in our mortal and immortal lives. His understanding of and love for the Holy Ghost is apparent in the materials he compiled to create the Book of Moroni.
After the introduction in chapter one, each successive chapter focuses on some function of the Holy Ghost that brings us into communion with heaven and allows us to be one with Christ and Heavenly Father. Chapter two focuses on the conferral of the Holy Ghost and can be viewed as an announcement of the Book of Moroni’s theme: the transformation of fallen mortals through the ministrations of Christ and the Holy Ghost. Chapter three focuses on the conferral of the priesthood on worthy men. Those who ordain these men to the priesthood do so “by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was in them” (Moroni 3:4).
Chapters four and five talk about the proper administration of the sacrament. Once properly ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost (chapter three), worthy males bless the sacrament. The Holy Ghost, being a spirit, dwells within us, something the Father and Son cannot do, since they have bodies. And yet, when we partake of the sacrament bread, we symbolically eat the body of Christ which, like the Holy Ghost, does become a part of us. Thus, the Son, like the Holy Ghost, becomes one with us, empowers us to be one with God, and enables us to keep Christ’s commandments (chapter five).
Chapter six, the longest of the first six chapters, focuses on membership in Christ’s church. During baptism, new members are “wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 6:4). Further, affairs of the church are to be conducted “by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.” (Moroni 6:9).
This brings us to chapter seven, the longest chapter in the Book of Moroni, and to the heart of the matter. This chapter develops the theme that the proper goal of this earthly life is to become like God. The agent of this transformation is the Holy Ghost. We particularly focus on three phrases in Moroni 7:44-48: “cleave unto charity,” “possessed of it” and “that ye may be filled with this love.”
Cleave unto Charity. In Moroni 7:46, Mormon implores us to “cleave unto charity.” In scripture, the word “cleave” usually means to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly to some person, such as a spouse (e.g., Gen. 2:24) or the Lord (e.g., Deut. 4:4). Here, the being we are urged to cleave to would seem to be the Holy Ghost. The text links charity to the visitation of the Holy Ghost. In Moroni 7:44, Mormon teaches that if a man is “meek and lowly in heart and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must have charity.” Mormon reiterates this idea in his Chapter eight sermon: “because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love [charity]…” (Moroni 8:26). Thus, having charity means that one is filled with the Holy Ghost: we cannot have the one without the other.
The potential intimacy of this cleaving is worth comment. When we physically cleave to someone, we get as proximate to that person as possible. Hence, one aspect of cleaving to one’s spouse is to metaphorically become one flesh through sexual relations. With human beings, being one flesh is metaphorical because we never fully integrate ourselves into another person and literally become “one flesh.” But cleaving to the Holy Ghost is different. By its very nature, the Holy Ghost penetrates us more fully than any physical thing ever could, being in and through us. What physical cleaving attempts but fails to fully achieve, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost does achieve. When we cleave to and become one with the Holy Ghost we also become one with God and Christ. In that state, we may experience the pure love of God and Christ not as the object that is loved but as the subject that purely loves others as the Father and Son love them.
Possessed of Charity. In Moroni 7:47, we read, “charity is the pure love of Christ, and … whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (Moroni 7:47).” We often read this as “whoso possesses charity, it shall be well with him.” While this is a possible meaning of the phrase, in the article, we suggest that Moroni’s main point is not that we possess charity but, rather, that charity possesses us. Or more precisely, the Holy Ghost, the bearer of charity, the pure love of Christ, possesses us.
The Book of Mormon talks about the two types of spirits that can possess us in this life: the spirit of the Devil and the Holy Ghost. In Alma 34:34-38, we read:
…for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his … because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell. … And now, my beloved brethren, I desire that ye … contend no more against the Holy Ghost, but that ye receive it, and take upon you the name of Christ… (emphasis added; see also Alma 40:13).
Being Filled with Charity. The goal of this life is beautifully articulated in Moroni 7:48.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love [charity], which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
We are to pray with all the energy of heart to receive the gift of charity, to be possessed of and then possess it, so that we may become the children of God, be like him, have hope, and be pure even as he is pure. Then like Nephi, we may say, “He hath filled me with his love…” (2 Nephi 4:21, emphasis added; cf. Mosiah 2:4; 3:19; 4:12; Alma 13:28; 38:12; Moroni 8:26).
In summary, the three phrases in Mormon’s discussion of charity in Moroni 7:44–48, “cleave unto charity,” “possessed of it,” and “that ye may be filled with this love,” enlarge our understanding of how the Holy Ghost operates in our lives. We cleave unto charity by allowing ourselves to be possessed of and be filled with the Holy Ghost, which, when it is in us, fills us with charity. When we cleave unto the Holy Ghost and are possessed of it, we become one with Christ and the Father, see them as they are, and become like them.
In Chapter 8, Moroni quotes Mormon who is concerned that some want to exclude from Christ’s grace unbaptized children (Moroni 8:7). Being one with Christ through the power of the Holy Ghost, Mormon speaks the words that Christ himself would speak: “I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation. … Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in [me] because of [my] mercy” (Moroni 8:17, 19).
After the spiritual heights of chapters seven and eight, chapter nine seems very dark, as we witness the complete collapse of Nephite and Lamanite society, societies where “they are denying the Holy Ghost” which has “ceased striving with them” (Moroni 8:28-29). Both societies have degenerated into utter depravity and no longer follow Christ and receive the Holy Ghost. Both peoples engage in ritual evil, including cannibalism (see Moroni 9:8 and 10).
These instances of literal cannibalism, inspired by Satan, are the antitype or opposite of the sacrament, what anthropologists would call the spiritual or ritual cannibalism described by Moroni in chapters four and five. In the sacrament ritual, the Savior underscores his sacrifice to save us by having us symbolically eat his body and drink his blood as a token of our faith. The suffering symbolized in the sacrament was fully and voluntarily borne by the Savior. It is the ultimate example of charity, of love and grace, that if received, transforms us into pure and holy inhabitants of heaven. In the Satanic anti-sacraments of the Lamanites and Nephites, all suffering is involuntary and inflicted on others. Satan’s sacrament entails no self-sacrifice, no self-giving on his part. It is wholly grounded in hatred for and the suffering of others. And it transforms those who participate in it into inhabitants of hell.
In chapter ten, Moroni exhorts us to receive the Book of Mormon, to “ask God the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.” If we “ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto [us], by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4). And having received this testimony through the Holy Ghost, we qualify ourselves to receive gifts Moroni describes: wisdom, knowledge, the power to heal and work mighty miracles, to prophesy, to consort (as God consorts) with angels, to speak and understand all languages (Moroni 10:9–16). And chief among the divine gifts, we qualify ourselves to receive is charity, the pure love of Christ, without which we “can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God” (Moroni 10:20–22).
Thus, the Book of Moroni is not a hodge podge of unrelated topics. The Holy Ghost is a connecting thread that runs throughout the book. When we cleave unto the Holy Ghost and are possessed of it, we become one with Christ and the Father. The opposite is also true. When we cleave unto and are possessed of the Devil, we become one with him and are filthy as he is filthy. Two paths are open to us. It is vitally important that we make the choice Moroni urges us to make as he concludes the Book of Moroni — the choice to be “sanctified in Christ by the grace of God [and] become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:22).
We discuss these ideas in much more depth and detail in our Interpreter article. We encourage you to check it out.
Newell D. Wright is a professor of marketing at North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND. Val Larsen is a professor of marketing at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.
 Newell D. Wright and Val Larsen, “The Holy Ghost in the Book of Moroni: Possessed of Charity,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 57 (2023): 53-76, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/the-holy-ghost-in-the-book-of-moroni-possessed-of-charity/.
 While other forms of cannibalism may be unethical, ritualistic cannibalism, in which the human and divine come into relation, supersedes any moral rule against cannibalism.” Lucilla Pan, “Cannibalism and the Eucharist: The Ethics of Eating the Human and the Divine,” SOPHIA: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions 61, no. 4 (2022), https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-022-00928-x. For profound thoughts from a faithful Christian on the ritual cannibalism of the sacrament, see James R. Wheeler, “The Shocking Nature of Holy Communion” (sermon), Saint John’s Episcopal Church, August 19, 2018, https://stjohns-stamford.org/sermon-archives/shocking-nature-holy-communion-august-19-2018/.