Evidence #80 | September 19, 2020

Small Plates Pattern

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Scripture Central


Jacob and his posterity consistently adhered to a set of instructions given by Nephi which pertained to keeping records on the Small Plates.

The books of 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni were engraved onto a record known as the Small Plates.1 In 1984, John W. Welch observed that after Jacob’s writings, the keepers of the Small Plates generally “do not appear eager to write, nor do they seem to have much to say. It is interesting, however, that they manifest a strong sense of duty about writing what little they do.”2 Welch proposed that their peculiar approach to record keeping comes from a “specific command given by Nephi to their father Jacob and that all eight writers were meticulous in seeing that this duty was fulfilled.”3 

Nephi’s instructions, recorded in Jacob 1:1–4, can be summarized into the following points:

  1. A record is to be kept on the small plates by way of commandment (Jacob 1:1–2).
  2. The record must be personally written (Jacob 1:2).
  3. The record must be preserved (Jacob 1:3).
  4. The record must be handed down within the lineage of Jacob from generation to generation (Jacob 1:3). 
  5. The record should include: (a) a few things which the writer considered most precious, (b) sacred preaching, and (c) great revelations or prophecies (Jacob 1:4). Welch stressed the important caveat, “The record keeper was only expected to record these things ‘if there were’ such things to be found in his lifetime.”4
  6. The record was only to lightly cover the history of the people of Nephi (Jacob 1:2).
  7. The words on the record “were to be written as much as it were possible for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people” (Jacob 1:4).5

How familiar were the writers of the Small Plates with these specific guidelines and how well did they adhere to them? The following chart can help shed some light on these questions:

Adherence to Nephi's Command
By way of commandmentJacob 1:8Jacob 7:27Jarom 1:1Omni 1:1Omni 1:3Omni 1:9Omni 1:10–11Omni 1:12
Personally WrittenJacob 3:14Enos 1:1, 11, 17, 19Jarom 1:1–2Omni 1:1–3Omni 1:4, 9Omni 1:9Omni 1:10Omni 1:12
PreservedJacob 7:27Enos 1:13–18Jarom 1:14Omni 1:3Omni 1:8Omni 1:9Omni 1:11Omni 1:30
Handed DownJacob 7:27Jarom 1:1Jarom 1:15Omni 1:3Omni 1:8Omni 1:10Omni 1:12Omni 1:25
Includes Few most precious thingsJacob 5:61, 74Enos 1:2–8Jarom 1:1    Omni 1:25
Has sacred preachingJacob 2–3Enos 1:23, 26Jarom 1:7, 11    Omni 1:13, 25
Contains revelation/prophecyJacob 4–6; esp. 4:4–14Enos 1:19, 23, 26Jarom 1:2, 4, 10 Omni 1:6 Omni 1:11Omni 1:13, 25
Light on HistoryJacob 1:9–16; 3:13Enos 1:20–21Jarom 1:5–13Omni 1:3Omni 1:5 Omni 1:10Omni 1:12–29
Writing for the sake of Christ

Jacob 4:11–12;

6:8–9; 7:6, 11, 14, 19

Enos 1:8, 26–27Jarom 1:11Omni 1:2?   Omni 1:25–26
Writing for the sake of the peopleJacob 1:19; 7:21–23Enos 1:9–11Jarom 1:2, 12Omni 1:2  Omni 1:10Omni 1:26

While not every author fully satisfies or draws attention to every criterion, they collectively do an impressive job of carrying out Nephi’s directives.6 For instance, the record was indeed kept by Jacob’s posterity, being passed down from father to son or from son to brother “from generation to generation” (Jacob 1:3). These writers also consistently kept their contributions short, especially if they didn’t have much to report on by way of prophecies of revelations.

Abinadom, for example, wrote that his brief entry was “sufficient” because he knew of no “revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy” (Omni 1:11 see also Jarom 1:2Omni 1:25). A careful reading of the language used by these authors reveals that even in their brief comments, they consciously “echo the instructions of Nephi in many respects.”7  Welch concluded, “the textual evidence is persuasive that the command of Nephi was followed by Jacob and his descendants as they wrote the books of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni.”8 

Modern readers of the Book of Mormon might easily miss the specific instructions given by Nephi and wonder why Jacob and his posterity were so terse or narrowly focused in their contributions to the Small Plates. However, Nephi’s instructions would surely have been emphasized more explicitly and considered more personally by those who actually carried them out and passed them down from generation to generation. This peculiar and subtly consistent pattern of record keeping can therefore be naturally and adequately explained by the book’s account of its own production.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Do the Authors on the Small Plates Follow a Pattern? (Jacob 7:27),” KnoWhy 74 (April 8, 2016).

John W. Welch, “The Father’s Command to Keep Records in the Small Plates of Nephi,” FARMS Preliminary Report (September 1984), 1–12.

See chart in Evidence Summary.

See chart in Evidence Summary.

Small Plates Pattern
Book of Mormon

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