The Book of Mormon purports to recount a history of the early peoples of the American continents, raising intriguing possibilities about the background of cultural phenomena ranging from the widespread democratic tendencies of indigenous peoples to such specifically quirky practices as “burying the hatchet.” The book speaks hauntingly to the American experience, since promises and warnings made to the early inhabitants apply forcefully to modern society, as when the Nephites are repeatedly enjoined to keep the land a land of liberty or face disaster. Through its reiterative cycle of righteousness leading to success, followed by pride triggering wickedness and disaster, each contributor to the Book of Mormon urges readers to repent or suffer the drastic consequences.
The function of the book, however, extends beyond its complex narrative of cultural descriptions, epic journeys, stirring battles, harrowing threats, thrilling escapes, and dramatic conversions. The Book of Mormon itself declares (on its title page) its primary purpose to be “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” The book is clearly, as its subtitle insists, intended as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Christ is central to the book.
Though its characters are of Jewish provenance (Isaiah is quoted extensively), the book’s concerns reach beyond the Old Testament to focus on Christian insights. The climax of the book is 3 Nephi, the coming of Jesus himself to these “other sheep” of his fold (3 Nephi 15.17, 21). His personal appearance on the American continent, particularly when he allows his scars to be touched or when he blesses the Nephite children, is reminiscent of the moving moments of the New Testament.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons, use the Book of Mormon as a companion to the Holy Bible, adhering to the church structure and doctrinal principles described in the book. They find in its journey motifs, struggles between good and evil, and direct theological doctrine on spiritual principles pertinent to modern lives. Mormons believe the Book of Mormon, like the Bible, its own best witness: Any reader can gain confirmation of the book’s truth by asking God about the record.