Those not of our faith challenge the need for the Book of Mormon, maintaining that the testimony of the Bible is sufficient. "What does the Book of Mormon teach about Christ that we don't already know?" they ask. The answer is: Plenty, and it may well be correct to say that none of its prophets add more to our understanding of the ministry of Christ than Lehi's son, Jacob.
One of the "plain and precious" truths that the Book of Mormon restores to us - something that we could not know if our understanding was confined to the Bible - is that the resurrection is the inseparable union of body and spirit. (See Alma 11:43-45.)It is from the revelations of the Restoration that we learn that as long as the body and spirit are separated we cannot receive a "fulness of joy." (D&C 93:34.) One of the primary purposes for which we came into this mortal sphere was to obtain a body, one that, because of the grace of Christ in breaking the bands of death, will be ours throughout eternity.
Jacob adds measurably to our understanding of this principle. He explains that if it were not for the atonement of Christ our bodies would return to mother earth "to rise no more," and our spirits would become subject to the devil who would have all power over us. That is to say, we would all become children of Perdition. (See 2 Ne. 9:8-9.)
If it were not for Christ's atonement, our spirits, tainted with sin and having no way to cleanse themselves from its effects, would be subject to the author of sin. Thus we would be citizens of his kingdom, he would be our king, and we would be compelled to worship him. In such a kingdom there could be no light, no truth, and no agency. Freedom would simply be unknown.
Thus we understand that the grace of Christ extends to the saving of both the body and the spirit in an inseparable union that enables us to experience a "fullness of joy." This understanding - the depth of our peril had there been no atonement and the breadth of the blessings extended to us because of the atonement - grows out of Jacob's powerful testimony of Christ in 2 Nephi 9.
Because of the "plain and precious" things taken from the Bible, the traditional Christian world is without the understanding that the faithful Saints in the Old Testament times knew of Christ and that they worshiped the Father in His name. This knowledge changes our whole perspective and appreciation of the Old Testament.
Not having this understanding, the sectarian world has concluded that the Old Testament represents a progressive or evolutionary revelation. This revelation eventually led up to the ministry of Christ when God was made manifest through Christ. The testimony of the Book of Mormon prophets stands in sharp contrast to this. The testimony of Jacob, had it been found in some ancient manuscript acceptable to scholars, would revolutionize their whole perception of the Old Testament and its meaning. Consider the excitement that it would cause if these words of Jacob had been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Nag Hammadi texts:
"For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
"Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." (Jacob 4:4-5.)
One of the great purposes of the Book of Mormon is to testify to the Jews that the purpose of the law of Moses was to teach of Christ. To tell the story of Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice without understanding that it is a type and a shadow of the atoning sacrifice of Christ is to miss the point and the purpose of the story. It is like celebrating Christmas without reference to Christ or holding the paschal feast without the paschal lamb. This, however, could be no different than studying the Old Testament without the knowledge that from the time of Adam the covenant people had taken upon themselves the name of Christ.
The texts that Joseph Smith restored to the Old Testament constitute a perfect confirmation of Jacob's testimony. For instance, Joseph Smith restores to us the account of an angel appearing to Adam to inquire why he was offering sacrifices. Adam confessed that he did not know why he was doing so, other than the fact that God had commanded him to do so. The angel then explained: "This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son forevermore." (Moses 5:7-8.)
Joseph F. Smith, describing the faithful Saints of the Old Testament times, affirms these same truths. He described those to whom Christ preached between His death and resurrection as "an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality; and who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer's name." (D&C 138:12-13.)
This means that the grace of Christ and the message of salvation was not limited to the relative few who heard from Christ or His disciples or the relatively few who have been privileged to hear it since. It assures us that in Old Testament times "an innumerable" host enjoyed the blessings of the gospel. Surely, it would be difficult to exercise faith in a God who had no provision to save the greater part of His own creation. Coupled with the doctrine of the redemption of the dead, which provides for the teaching of the gospel in the spirit world and the performance of vicarious ordinances in our temples, the Latter-day Saints can worship a truly just and merciful God. Frankly, without such knowledge the gospel of Jesus Christ makes little sense.
We can learn much about Jacob's testimony of Christ from his confrontation with Sherem, a classic anti-Christ. Significantly, Sherem professed a belief in both the law of Moses and the scriptures. He argued that Jacob was perverting the law by testifying that it was a witness of Christ and that the people of that day could receive revelation. (See Jacob 7:6-7, 10.) Jacob's response to this voice of darkness was to say that to understand scripture and to truly believe scripture is to believe in Christ, for "none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ." (Jacob 7:11.) Surely, all scripture testifies of Christ and stands as a witness that the principle of revelation was intended to be ongoing. No one who truly had the Spirit of God could testify otherwise.
Jacob also has some very significant things to say about how the testimony of Christ and His prophets would be lost to the Jews. They would, he said, "despise the words of plainness," "kill the prophets," and seek for "things they could not understand." This proves to be an apt pattern for the apostasy of both ancient Israel and the church established by Christ in the meridian of time. History provides us with two classic illustrations of how the "words of plainness" were despised by the Jews of antiquity. The first is the Septuagint or the translation of the Bible into Greek. The second is the kind of interpretation that was placed on the Bible by Philo and other ancient teachers.
Having rejected the warnings of Jeremiah, Lehi and others of the prophets, Jerusalem was destroyed and many of the people of the Southern Kingdom led away into captivity. In order to survive in their new homes, the Jewish people were forced to speak Greek. In the course of a few generations, the knowledge of Hebrew was lost to them and they could no longer read the scriptures in their synagogues.
A response to this problem was the creation of translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. This translation strongly reflects the Greek thought and world view of translators. In it we see text after text altered in such a manner as to free the people from the anthropmorphic form (having human shape) and comprehensible God of their fathers, in order to adopt the God of the philosophers and thereby become respectable. Philo, a Jewish philosopher in the third century before Christ, wrote volume after volume in which he gave allegorical interpretations to that which had always been thought to mean what it said. Thus the faith of the Jews was made to conform to the teachings of the great Greek philosophers.
In the course of generations, the plainness of the gospel became an incomprehensible mystery; as Jacob prophesied, the Jews became blinded "by looking beyond the mark." Thus God took "his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble." (Jacob 4:14.)
Precisely the same pattern was followed by the meridian Church. First, they "killed the prophets," as Christ prophesied they would. We read this in the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew: "Take heed," he said to the Twelve, "that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name saying - I am Christ - and shall deceive many; then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you." (Joseph Smith - Matthew 1:5-6.)
Then these false Christs, false witnesses of Christ, embarrassed by the plainness and simplicity of the doctrine of the original church, sought to give it respectability, as their Jewish counterparts had done, by making it conform to the teachings of the philosophers. Origen, one of the so-called apostolic fathers, following the pattern of Philo, wrote at length to persuade the Christian world that God was an incomprehensible and incorporeal being. Thus once again the testimony of the Lord's anointed was replaced by the teachings of those who sought to "look beyond the mark."
In the testimony of Jacob we find a sure and certain voice proclaiming Jesus Christ to be the Only Begotten Son of God and to be the only "sure foundation" upon which we can build. From his testimony, and that of his fellow prophets in the Book of Mormon, we learn truths that we would not otherwise know. We learn that the grace of Christ extends to conquering the twin monsters of death and hell, that we might be freed from the dominion and power of the adversary, and that through the inseparable union of body and spirit we might obtain the "fulness of the Father" or a "fulness of joy."
Through his testimony we learn that the knowledge of Christ was had by the ancient Saints and that they too will enjoy all blessings that flow from the redeeming power of Christ. From his testimony we also know the dangers of looking beyond the mark and tampering with the plainness, simplicity, and purity of the gospel plan.