Second Book of Nephi

by Terry B. Ball

The Second Book of Nephi (2 Nephi) is a work written about 550 B.C. by the same author who wrote 1 Nephi and included it on his small plates. The second book contains four prophetic discourses and treatises from three Book of Mormon prophets, Lehi, Jacob, and Nephi1, as well as substantial excerpts of the prophecies of Isaiah from the brass plates. Additionally, 2 Nephi briefly records the difficult transition from the founding generation of Lehi's colony to the succeeding generation in their new homeland.

The first segment of the book consists of Lehi's admonitions and testament to his posterity before his death (1:1-4:11). He directed his opening words to his older sons, Laman, Lemuel, and Sam, as well as to the sons of Ishmael. He reminded them of God's mercy in leading them to a Promised Land, taught them concerning the covenant of righteousness that belongs to the land, warned of the loss of liberty and prosperity that will follow disobedience to God, and urged them to become reconciled to their brother Nephi as their leader (1:1-27).

Following this admonition, Lehi pronounced specific blessings on all of his descendants, either as individuals or as family groups. His blessings contain prophecies and promises concerning the future of each individual or group in the covenant land and are followed by counsel "according to the workings of the Spirit" (1:6). His instructions to his youngest sons, Jacob and Joseph, are doctrinally significant. He spoke to Jacob concerning God's Plan of Salvation for his children, teaching principles that are fundamental to understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the doctrine of redemption through the Messiah, the necessity of opposition and agency, the role of Satan, and the importance of the Fall of Adam and Eve (2:1-30). Lehi taught his son Joseph concerning the prophecies of his ancestor Joseph of Egypt, who foretold the latter-day mission of another Joseph (the Prophet Joseph Smith) and of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (3:1-25).

Nephi1, son of Lehi, is author of the next section, the only historical segment in the record (4:12-5:34). After recounting the death of Lehi and the subsequent rebellion of Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael (4:12-13), Nephi noted that he was keeping two records: the large plates on which he wrote his people's secular history and the small plates on which he recorded "that which is pleasing unto God," including many excerpts from the plates of brass (4:14-15; 5:29-33).

As Nephi wrote of his delight in pondering the scriptures and "the things of the Lord," he was moved to compose a beautiful psalm (4:16-35). In these verses, much like the biblical psalmist, Nephi used inspiring imagery and poetic parallelism to praise God for his goodness, to lament his own weaknesses, and to declare his devotion to the Lord.

Nephi closed this segment by telling of the partitioning of Lehi's posterity into two distinct peoples, the Nephites (the believers) and the Lamanites (the unbelievers). He described the theological, cultural, and geographical divisions that developed between the brother nations, lamenting that within forty years of separating they were at war one with another (5:1-34).

A sermon by Jacob constitutes the third entry in 2 Nephi (chaps. 6-10), followed by the fourth and final part, a long written discourse from Nephi (chaps. 11-33). Quoting substantial portions of Isaiah, both Nephi and Jacob emphasized two major themes: the history and future of God's covenant people, and the mission of the Messiah. For his discourse on these topics, Nephi first quoted the text of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-24 and then commented on them in chapters 25-30, incorporating portions of Isaiah 29 in his discussion. Jacob quoted Isaiah 50:1-52:2 in chapters 7-8. Apparently, Joseph Smith put these quotations from Isaiah in King James English, but with many variant readings reflecting the Nephite source.

Citing and reflecting on Isaiah, Jacob, and Nephi focused on such events as the Babylonian captivity and return (6:8-9; 25:10-11); the apostasy, scattering, and oppression of the house of Israel; and the latter-day gathering of their descendants, their restoration by conversion to the gospel of Christ, and the establishment of Zion—themes that concerned them because of their own Israelite ancestry (6:6-18; 8:1-25; 10:1-25; 25:14-17; 26:14-30:18). They further prophesied the destruction of the wicked before the second coming of the Savior followed by the subsequent era of peace (12:1-22; 21:1-24:3).

In their discourses, Jacob and Nephi taught of the Messiah's earthly ministry, rejection, and crucifixion (6:9; 7:1-11; 9:1-54; 10:3-5; 17-19) and his gospel fundamentals of faith, repentance, baptism, and obedience (9:23-24; 31:1-21; see Gospel of Jesus Christ); they then prophesied his baptism, atoning sacrifice, and resurrection, followed by his ministry among the Nephites, his ultimate second coming, and the final judgment (9:5-27; 26:1-9; 31:4-12).

In chapter 29, Nephi made special mention of the Lord's desire that the Book of Mormon be used as "a standard" by his people, along with the Bible (29:2), noting that other books will come forth. In closing the record, Nephi testified that the words therein are the words of Christ, the words by which readers shall be judged (33:10-15).

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Jackson, Kent P., ed. Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7, pp. 86-174. Salt Lake City, 1987.

McConkie, Joseph Fielding, and Robert L. Millet. Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, pp. 182-376. Salt Lake City, 1987.

Nyman, Monte S., and Charles D. Tate, eds. The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure. Provo, Utah, 1989.