Two Sets of Plates
After summarizing his father’s record, Nephi takes a moment to tell us about the different sets up plates he was making. He was making two sets of plates – what he calls the “large plates” and “small plates“.
The large plates were kept by different authors throughout Nephite history, all the way down to the time of Mormon. At this time, almost 1,000 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, Mormon abridged these large plates into one succinct record of the 1,000 years of Nephite history. Most of The Book of Mormon is Mormon’s abridgment of these large plates.
The small plates covered only about the first few generations after Lehi left Jerusalem. They were not abridged by Mormon, but instead are firsthand accounts. Nephi and his brother Jacob are the primary writers on the small plates.
Nephi describes his plates, saying,
“And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people…. Wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people.”
But why have two sets of plates? Nephi didn’t know, except that,
“I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates, for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people…. Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.
“But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men” (see 1 Nephi 9).
Mormon echoed this idea as he compiled the final records for The Book of Mormon. He writes,
“And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi… I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.
“And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ….
“But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record [the abridgment of the large plates], for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.
“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (see Words of Mormon 1:3-7).
But why have two sets of plates? Did we ever learn why?
Martin Harris and the First 116 Pages of Manuscript
In 1828 the Prophet Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon and had finished 116 handwritten pages. Martin Harris, Joseph’s scribe, pled several times to be allowed to show the translation to his family. The Lord at first said no, but finally gave permission if Martin would promise to show them only to a chosen few. Martin Harris broke his promise and the 116 pages were lost.
Did the Lord know that this would take place? Of course he did. God even provided for such an event… with the commandment to have two sets of plates.
Joseph had been translating from the abridgment of the large plates. After the theft of the manuscript, Joseph translated instead from the small plates, which covered the same time period and preserved a more spiritual record of the ministry during this time. In response to this incident, the Lord told Joseph,
“The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught…. Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men” (See Doctrine and Covenants 3:1,3).
Why not just retranslate the material in the 116 pages? The Lord told Joseph,
“Behold, Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands. And behold, I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written; and, on this wise, the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work; for he hath put into their hearts to do this, that by lying they may say they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate….”
And those wicked men and women would say,
“And if God giveth him power again, or if he translates again, or, in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them; therefore they will not agree, and we will say that he has lied in his words, and that he has no gift, and that he has no power“ (see Doctrine and Covenants 10:10-19).
Because of this evil plan, the Lord told Joseph,
“Behold, I say unto you, that you shall not translate again those words which have gone forth out of your hands; for, behold, they shall not accomplish their evil designs in lying against those words….
“And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi; yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.
“And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—
“Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work” (see Doctrine and Covenants 10:30-45).
Joseph was heartsick at the loss of the manuscript, but through this experience he learned a valuable lesson about obedience and how impossible it is for the wicked to prevent Heavenly Father from accomplishing His work.
The Works of God Cannot Be Frustrated
A downloadable WMV or MP4 file can be found here; the video is entitled “The Works and Designs of God”.