Today I read the most amazing blog post, courtesy of our friends at First Thoughts. A seminarian named Sarah Wilson thought to abbreviate the Bible by selecting just one representative verse from each book, resulting in a breathtaking tour through the highlights of scripture. Her method was basically to find the verse in each book that best represented the majority of the material. Please read it here.
What a great exercise!
My own first thought was to adapt her list for an LDS audience, but I quickly saw that that was pointless. I already agree with virtually all of her choices. Truly, she has a solid grasp of the text, and has produced a universally valuable list.
I wanted to do the same for the Book of Mormon.
My selections are below, with notes on my reasoning at the bottom:
1 Nephi “And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” 1:20
2 Nephi “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” 25:26
Jacob “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. 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.” 2:35
Enos “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.” 1:4
Jarom “Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.” 1:11
Omni “And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord; and they were led by many preachings and prophesyings. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla.” 1:13
Words of Mormon “And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them.” 1:2
Mosiah “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” 3:19
Alma “And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.” 4:19
Helaman “Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.” 12:2
3 Nephi “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do.” 27:21
4 Nephi “There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” 1:17
Mormon “O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!” 6:17
Ether “For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance lest they should be destroyed, saying unto them that by faith all things are fulfilled.” 12:3
Moroni “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” 10:32
1 Nephi. The two elements of this verse are a perfect microcosm of the book as a whole: first, Nephi tells us that his father was the target of brutal opposition. There aren’t many chapters of 1 Nephi that don’t revolve around the disciples of God facing violent persecution when they dare to step outside the mainstream. In the second half of the verse, Nephi promises that his text will demonstrate the consistent, reliable nature of God’s deliverance of the faithful. Indeed, there are also several significant deliverance scenes in the book as well. 3:7 was tempting to choose here, of course, but as important as Nephi’s stoic obedience is, it isn’t as important as the opposition/deliverance theme. In fact, when Lehi says in 2 Nephi 2:11 that “there is an opposition in all things,” he doesn’t seem to be prophesying as much as simply summarizing his family’s recent history.
2 Nephi. This is a complicated book. It begins with a series of patriarchal blessings, continues with Jacob’s masterful doctrinal discourse on the Atonement, continues with a long segment of Nephi copying Isaiah’s warnings to the wicked, and concludes with a sermon containing Nephi’s reflections, prophecies, and thoughts about the spiritual life. What golden thread could possibly run through all of this? Actually, this was a surprisingly easy one. Now that he has the narrative background out of the way from his first book, Nephi can here dwell more on his prophetic knowledge of Christ. This is a thoroughly Christological work. His exuberant declaration quoted above is the quintessential Nephi here.
Jacob. This was hard. Jacob says quite a bit about prophetic callings and ministry, but the most salient feature of his own character is his anxious sensitivity. I considered using the staggeringly emotional 7:26, but that doesn’t do the whole book justice. The verse I chose here best encapsulates both his tender concern for the suffering of others as well as his own tendency towards melancholy.
Enos. This verse is the impetus for all the growth and blessings that follow. This one was obvious.
Jarom. Jarom’s major concern in this short book is the work of the ministry. This verse best reflects that.
Omni. Though several authors make brief records here, and there are a few powerful verses declaring devotion to Christ, this verse is the major action of the book, and also is an example of the recurring exodus motif.
Words of Mormon. At first, I wanted to find a verse about the editing and record keeping of the Book of Mormon, but the pathos of this verse won me over. Mormon’s mix of grief and hope, heightened by his historical acumen, is palpable.
Mosiah. This was hard for a while, as I found three major strains of thought that each demanded respect: discipleship, deliverance, and atonement. However, as I reviewed Benjamin’s address–an epoch-marking event in Nephite history–I saw and remembered this verse, which is from the most doctrinally dense (and therefore inspiring) part of the speech; it’s one of the Book of Mormon’s most penetrating explications of the Atonement, and also alludes to the requirements of discipleship and promises of deliverance so richly developed throughout the rest of Mosiah.
Alma. Alma is the longest, most literate book in the Book of Mormon. I was worried about this one: how would I ever find one verse to represent it? The first two thirds mostly concern the ministry of Alma the Younger, but in many settings. It also includes a long reference to the missionary work of Ammon. These dozens of chapters cover a huge array of events and doctrines. And then there’s the last third: the war chapters. What was I to do? But there is one word that actually dominates the book of Alma thematically, and that word is conversion. As I reviewed the book, this verse, which is where Alma steps down from his secular, executive post to serve as an itinerant preacher, jumped out at me. This one verse brilliantly describes the prophet’s motives, which are repeated often throughout the book, and becomes the basis of a ministry that changes the Nephite world. The rest of the book could well be said to grow out of this verse. (I also considered 31:5, which is similar.)
Helaman. This was one of the easiest ones. Helaman is all about a society in decay. I started off looking for something from Samuel about the rejection of prophets in favor of worldly ease and acceptance (13:26 especially), but almost immediately changed my mind for the thesis statement from Mormon’s scintillating evisceration of human folly in chapter 12.
3 Nephi. Of course the verse for this book would have to come directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ, from his personal ministry here. I wanted a summary of his gospel ordinances at first, but ultimately thought that this explanation of the expectation of direct discipleship was the best choice.
4 Nephi. Easy. What verse better describes the harmony of this Christ-centered society than this?
Mormon. I began this book by looking for narratives of the nation rejecting God, but found my paragon not in the plot but in this passionate, spontaneous lament.
Ether. The brother of Jared’s powerful vision in chapter 3 almost distracted me, but the sad fact is that this massively glorious story is an exception in Ether, which is mostly a whirlwind survey of a society killing itself. Moroni edits it to make that apparent, and overtly tells us so (8:26). The verse chosen here, from the ministry of Ether at the very end of their civilization’s death spiral, communicates the basic thought most meaningfully: turning away from God will only result in chaos, violence, darkness, and death.
Moroni. The famous invitation in 10:4 really isn’t the most representative verse here. I almost chose 7:16 (the Spirit of Christ is given to everyone to help judge between good and evil), which better relates the majority of Moroni’s material, but this invitation right at the end of the Book of Mormon, quoted above, is the final statement from the book overall to the reader, a visionary promise of taking the text and applying it to our own spiritual lives, and being endlessly blessed by it. What better way to end the Book of Mormon, or at least a summary of it?