4 Nephi-The Second Great Abbreviation
The Book of Mormon record comes to us in three main sections. The first from 1 Nephi to Enos establishes the beginning of the story. The next 290 years is abbreviated into two small books, Jarom and Omni. The middle section, from Mosiah to 3 Nephi, is separated from the ending by the abbreviated history known as 4 Nephi. While Jarom and Omni cover 290 years in 45 verses, 4 Nephi covers 286 years in 49 verses. As these two sections demonstrate, the point of the Book of Mormon is not to be an exhaustive history. In only 49 verses, Mormon takes us from complete, uniform righteousness to near complete apostasy. The many causes of this wicked metamorphosis do not require exhaustive elaboration for they are the same things which had previously plagued the Nephites: riches, pride, class distinctions, false doctrines, secret combinations, and willful rebellion.
Spencer J. Condie
"One question often raised about Mormon's abridgement is, why is 4 Nephi such a brief book, with only four pages covering a period of 285 years? A corollary question is, if, during the first 166 years after the visit of Christ to the Nephites, 'there could not be a happier people' (4 Nephi 1:16), why do we not have a much more detailed record of their recipe for righteousness?
"A partial answer may be found in the fact that 3 Nephi does contain this recipe for righteousness. Fourth Nephi then records the natural consequences of righteousness, as 'they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God,' and 'there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people' (4 Nephi 1:3, 12, 15)." (Heroes From the Book of Mormon, p. 172-3)
4 Ne 1:2 in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted
Obviously, not all of the population was present for Christ's visit to the Nephites. Many had to be taught the gospel, invited to repent, and were baptized (see v. 1). Presumably, the overwhelming majority were personal witnesses of the risen Lord and helped in the missionary work from AD 34 to AD 36 which resulted in the conversion of every soul.
It is not by coincidence that the Nephites were all converted and had no contentions among them prior to them having all things common among them. Division, contention, and pride are the collective antithesis of a Zion community. All three had to be rooted out for Zion to prosper. The attempts to establish Zion among the early saints were hampered by just this problem. Of the early saints, the Lord said, they...are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them; And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom (DC 105:3-5).
Marion G. Romney
"The time will come when the joyful living which prevailed among these Nephites and the people of Enoch will prevail upon the whole face of this earth. It will come when people do as these people did-become 'converted unto the Lord.'" (BYU Speeches of the Year, 1960, p. 9)
Spencer W. Kimball
"[As a guide to becoming a Zion Society] First, we must eliminate the individual tendency to selfishness that snares the soul, shrinks the heart, and darkens the mind....Second, we must cooperate completely and work in harmony one with the other. There must be unanimity in our decisions and unity in our actions...Third, we must lay on the altar [of] sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord. We begin by offering a 'broken heart and contrite spirit.' We follow this by giving our best effort in our assigned fields of labor and callings. We learn our duty and execute it fully. Finally we consecrate our time, talents, and means as called upon by our file leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit." (Conference Report, Apr. 1978, p. 123 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 466)
4 Ne 1:2 every man did deal justly one with another
"We need to learn, practice, study, know and understand how angels live with each other. When this community comes to the point to be perfectly honest and upright, you will never find a poor person; none will lack, all will have sufficient. Every man, woman, and child will have all they need just as soon as they all become honest. When the majority of the community are dishonest, it maketh the honest portion poor, for the dishonest serve and enrich themselves at their expense." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 232 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 467)
4 Ne 1:3 they had all things common among them
Obviously, when the scriptures speak of having 'all things common,' it refers to the law of consecration. Many assume that the Nephite version of consecration and the United Order as practiced in this dispensation are virtually the same thing. However, under the United Order, property was not "commonly" owned. Bruce R. McConkie said, "The United order is not a communal system; it is not one under which all things are held in common. Rather, after a person has made his consecration, the Lord's agent forthwith reconveys to the donor 'as much as is sufficient for himself and family' (DC 42:32)." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 813). Under such a system, the member of the United Order is a steward over his own property (DC 42:32).
In contrast to the stewardship concept of the United Order, the early saints in the Old World did not claim ownership of any property. Truly, the bed they slept on belonged to the group, the clothes they wore belonged to the group, the furniture they used belonged to the group, for not one of them said...that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common (Acts 4:32). This version of the law of consecration would require more humility, charity, and purity than the way the United Order was practiced. Presumably, the Nephites practiced this version of the law of consecration, for they had all things common among them. "The lesson of 4 Nephi suggests that...only the law of consecration will do away with 'money and private property,' which are the 'insuperable obstacles to the achievement of utopia.'" (Don Norton in Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley, xvii)
Marion G. Romney
"Becoming a people which is collectively pure in heart is not an impossible dream or an idealistic goal...When we reach the state of having the 'pure love of Christ,' our desire to serve one another will have grown to the point where we will be living fully the law of consecration. Living the law of consecration exalts the poor and humbles the rich. In the process, both are sanctified. The poor, released from the bondage and humiliating limitations of poverty, are enabled as free men to rise to their full potential, both temporally and spiritually. The rich, by consecration and the imparting of their surplus for the benefit of the poor, not by constraint, but willingly as an act of free will, evidence that charity for their fellowmen characterized by Mormon as 'the pure love of Christ.' (Moro. 7:47.) This will bring both the giver and receiver to the common ground on which the Spirit of God can meet them.
"It is the mission of the Church of this last dispensation to develop another people who shall live the gospel in its fulness. This people are to become 'pure in heart,' and they shall flourish and be blessed upon the mountains and upon the high places. They shall be the Lord's people. They shall walk with God because they shall be of one heart and one mind, and they shall dwell in righteousness, and there shall be no poor among them." (Conference Report, Nov. 1981 Ensign, "Living Welfare Principles")
4 Ne 1:10 the people of Nephi...did multiply exceedingly fast
Two of the biggest reasons why population explosions remain in check are warfare and disease. Among the Nephites and Lamanites, the former was particularly limiting. After Christ's ministry, the warfare and disease were both removed, for there was no contention (v. 13) and the disciples did heal the sick (v. 5). The result was a population explosion that would have easily replaced the many slain for their wickedness (3 Ne 8-9).
4 Ne 1:11 they were married...and were blessed according to the multitude of promises
Those of us familiar with the ordinance of temple marriage may wonder what kind of marriages were performed among the Nephites after Christ's ministry. Mormon is intentionally silent about any new temple ordinances, but in this verse he hints that the marriages performed were according to a new order. First, he speaks of nondescript "promises" which could include the promises given to those entering the covenant of eternal marriage. Second, Mormon begins the next verse with a comment about how things were no longer done according to the Law of Moses. The new and everlasting covenant of marriage is contrasted, in his mind, with the old law with its performances and ordinances. Although it is possible to read too much into the scriptures, this interpretation seems natural and appropriate. The Book of Mormon often references temple doctrines but does so in a very subtle way.
4 Ne 1:15 there was no contention in the land
"A striking feature of Mormon's description of Zion in 4 Nephi is the total lack of contention in the land, which he mentions no less than four times (see vv. 2,13,15,18). This surely must have been due to the complete unity of a civilization in which there were neither Nephites, Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites, but all were one in Christ (see v. 17) because the love of God dwelt in their hearts (see v. 15).
"Mormon was something of an expert on contention or civil strife, having read much about it in the records of Alma, Helaman, and Nephi, and having experienced it firsthand during his lifetime. The complete harmony and total unity of the people living in the society which had witnessed the Savior's visitation surely must have been a stunning development in Mormon's panoramic view of Nephite history." (Andrew Skinner, Ensign, Sept. 2000, p. 59)
Dallin H. Oaks
"In those brilliant generations that followed the appearance of the resurrected Christ in the New World, 'there were no contentions and disputations among [the people], and every man did deal justly one with another' (4 Ne. 1:2). Fourth Nephi records: 'Surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God' (4 Ne. 1:16). We should be striving to regain that condition. As modern revelation declares: 'Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness' (D&C 82:14). One of the ways prescribed to achieve that increase is 'every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God' (D&C 82:19)." (Conference Report, Nov. 1986 Ensign, "Brother's Keeper")
4 Ne 1:16 surely there could not be a happier people
If man is that he might have joy, then the goal of society should be the same. Society's very existence should serve the purpose of producing a collective joy and happiness. How is this attainable? It is the natural result of uniform obedience to the laws of God. The Lord would love for us be this happy all the time if we would just be obedient. He doesn't play favorites. If the Nephites were that happy and blessed, it was because they deserved it. If we are not, we know who to blame. Elder Theodore Tuttle stated, "Now, this blessed condition is attainable today, but it is attainable only upon the basis of accepting God as Father and all men as brothers and living the plan of salvation...This plan is bringing about a true brotherhood in this day and it is up to you and me to make it function even more perfectly." (Conference Report, Apr. 1959, p. 48)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"What a glorious time that must have been when everybody was happy, when everybody was at peace, when everyone loved his neighbor as himself, and above all he loved God, because we are informed here that the thing which brought about this condition of happiness was the fact that the love of God was in the hearts of the people. There never will be a time of peace, happiness, justice tempered by mercy, when all men will receive that which is their right and privilege to receive, until they get in their hearts the love of God." (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:320)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Thus the relevancy of 'love thy neighbor,' if practiced 'here and now,' one day will demonstrate how it will be applied in the coming 'there and then'-in a neighborhood as wide as the universe!" (If Thou Endure It Well, p. 98)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Insofar as a family can become a little Zion, it must stretch toward these same dimensions in its life." (That My Family Should Partake, p. 107)
The First Presidency
"Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities." ("The Family: A Proclamation to the World")
4 Ne 1:17 neither were there...any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God
Russell M. Nelson
"Throughout the world...strident voices are engaged in divisive disputation and name-calling. Often demeaning nicknames are added to-or even substituted for-given names. Unfortunately, terms of derision obscure the true identity of children of the covenant...When the Nephites were truly righteous, they avoided divisive nicknames....'There were no...Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God' (4 ne 1:17). That lesson from history suggests that we also delete from our personal vocabularies names that segregate..." (Ensign, May 1995, p. 34 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 468-9)
Elder Anthony W. Ivins
"We have not succeeded, during the past century, in accomplishing that which was accomplished by the Nephites, notwithstanding the great results which have come from our efforts. The people have not yet all been converted to the Lord. We have not reached that condition, which I sincerely believe that we must some time reach, when we are united in temporal things, as were the Nephites. We have not reached a condition where there is no envy, nor strife, nor malice, nor whoredoms, nor any manner of lasciviousness among the people. We have not reached a condition that we are in one the children of Christ, as the Lord would have us to be." (Conference Report, Apr. 1920, p. 113)
4 Ne 1:19 Nephi, he that kept this last record, died, and his son Amos kept it in his stead
"The above-named Nephi (son of the Nephi of the Twelve) died A. D. 110, having kept the record seventy-six years. His son, Amos, kept it in his stead, for the long period of eighty-four years. It is evident that through righteousness the lives of these men were greatly prolonged. There was still peace in the land, save that in later years a small number of people revolted from the church, and resumed the name of Lamanites. Amos died A.D. 194." (A Book of Mormon Treasury, p. 111)
4 Ne 1:20 a small part of the people...had revolted from the church
Jeffrey R. Holland
"But then, in the 184th year after Christ's birth, exactly 150 years after his ministry in the New World, 'a small part of the people . . . revolted from the church.' That was the beginning of the end of Nephite society. It took several years to happen, and several pages of Book of Mormon history to record it, but those words marked the end of the great Christian epoch in the New World of which so many prophets had dreamed and prophesied and for which so many had died. With that phrase, the saga we know as the Book of Mormon began drawing to a close.
"After two hundred years, the movement away from the Zionlike principles of Christ's teachings was inexorable." (Christ And The New Covenant, p. 315)
4 Ne 1:20 there began to be Lamanites again in the land
"A few that were weary of the uninterrupted bliss, the perfect harmony, the universal love, that everywhere prevailed, seceded from the Church and took upon themselves the title of Lamanite, which ill-boding name had only been known to the Nephites in tradition for more than 100 years.
"It may be asked, 'How was it possible that men and women should withdraw from such a holy order or society where all was perfect peace; where every man dealt justly with his neighbors; where none afflicted wrongs and none suffered from injustice done them; where angels ministered to the children of mortality, and heavenly revelations were their constant guides?'
"If the inquirer will answer why Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, in Heaven itself, rebelled against the Almighty Father and led astray one-third of the angelic hosts, we will reply by saying that he, Satan, tempted the dissenting Nephites with the same spirit of rebellion to the Divine Power and that he succeeded in ensnaring them and leading them away captive to his will." (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 7, p. 249-50)
4 Ne 1:24 in this two hundred and first year there began to be...pride
"Here the insidious nature of pride is laid bare, and its destructive effects on Zion are seen in an unmistakable way. Pride destroys unity and promotes selfishness. 'Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.' Pride seeks to create divisions among people purely for the sake of self-interest, that some may place themselves above others and exploit them. President Ezra Taft Benson stated: 'It was essentially the sin of pride that kept us from establishing Zion in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was the same sin of pride that brought consecration to an end among the Nephites.
"'Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.'" (Andrew Skinner, Ensign, Sept. 2000, p. 60)
4 Ne 1:27 many churches ...did receive all manner of wickedness
Certainly, there is a latter-day parallel. We currently see a trend among many churches to loosen their standards in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience. Homosexuality is no longer condemned because that might drive away some homosexuals. Other sexual sins must be allowed so as not to offend those in the congregation who may be guilty of such. Sometimes, these churches have received all manner of wickedness as if in a popularity contest. However, such "open-minded" doctrine amounts to nothing more than flattery with a flaxen cord (2 Ne 26:22). Inevitably, their attempts to loosen standards only allow Satan to tighten his grip.
On the other hand, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to take a hard line against sin. One would think that such "closed-mindedness" would drive people away. Yet, while condemning all manner of wickedness, this church is not losing its members, but gaining them by the thousands. The congregations steadily enlarge and the baptisms continue. Such success is dependent not on the loosening of standards but to holding fast to standards of righteousness, hereby proving that the only kind of popularity we should seek is popularity with God.
4 Ne 1:32 they did cast them into furnaces of fire
See commentary for 3 Ne 28:21-22.
4 Ne 1:34 the people did harden their hearts
"What should these people have done when they witnessed the miracles? They should have done the same thing their ancestors did in reaction to the miracle of Jesus' visit, the same thing we should do in response to a miracle - repent. But these people did not repent; instead, they despised the righteous because of the miracles that were wrought among them. The record states that 'the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity' (4 Nephi 1:34). Mormon emphasized, 'they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did willfully rebel against the gospel of Christ' (v 38). He further states that even 'the people who were called the people of Nephi began to be proud in their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, and become vain like unto their brethren, the Lamanites' (v 43). Thus we can trace the sad consequences of failure to repent and to stay close to the Lord. The Nephites lost the Spirit that had provided them with unity and glorious feelings of charity." (Alvin C. Rencher, Book of Mormon Symposium Series, 4 Nephi - Moroni, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 272)
4 Ne 1:38 they did willfully rebel...and they did teach their children that they should not believe
Bruce R. McConkie
"Thus, apostasy, rebellion, wickedness, and great abominations of every manner and form overran the Nephite people and became part of their worship. Satan, in other words, was setting up his church again among them. And he did the same thing, in manner and form, in the Old World when the descendants of the saints of Jesus' day began to depart from the revealed moorings.
"With apostasy comes war and destruction; and so, continuing the divine chronology, Nephi was shown the destruction of the people who bore his name, and the dwindling in unbelief of his Lamanite kin, until they became 'a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.' (1 Ne. 12:13-23.)" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:550)
4 Ne 1:42 the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations
"Without question Satan was at the very heart of the secret combinations which destroyed once and for all, without hope of recovery, the Zion society of the Nephites. He alone inspires the hearts of wicked men to secretly combine against righteousness (Helaman 6:26). And he concocts and administers the oaths and covenants of his kingdom. However, Satan could not have made any inroads without the initial overtures of the people themselves. Joseph Smith taught that 'the moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181). The people of 4 Nephi, guilty of this revolt or rebellion, consciously rejected light and truth." (Andrew Skinner, Book of Mormon Symposium Series, 4 Nephi - Moroni, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 299)
4 Ne 1:46 there were none that were righteous save it were the disciples of Jesus
"From the first, according to the apocalyptic concept of history, men have chosen the darkness rather than the light. This teaching receives great emphasis in the Book of Mormon, where a constantly recurring event is the apostasy of God's church from the way of righteousness. Such general apostasies are described in Alma 62:44-46; Helaman 4:11-12, 21-23; 3 Nephi 7:7; 4 Nephi 1:27-31, 38-46. Behind this is the general weakness of the human race and 'the nothingness of the children of men' (Helaman 12:4-7), which make this world inevitably the kingdom of darkness and the dominion of Satan, 'which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men' (Alma 28:13)." (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, p. 205)
4 Ne 1:46 they...did traffic in all manner of traffic
"Such an economic order in which everyone was busy trafficking and getting rich was not, according to 4 Nephi, a free society. It was only under the old system, he tells us, that 'they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift' (4 Nephi 1:3)." (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, p. 398)