PROVO, Utah — Many purposes for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon are identified in its text, but the central purpose, “to the convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God,” is found on its title page, Shon D. Hopkin, assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, pointed out Oct. 24 at the 44th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on the university campus.
He discussed each of the components in turn of that stated purpose.
“What does the Book of Mormon mean when it says Jesus is the Christ?” he asked.
“The text contains approximately 100 different titles for Jesus in some 530 pages,” he said. “That is significant. It uses the given name Jesus approximately 70 times in those 530 pages and the title Christ almost 400 times.”
He noted that Christ is the Greek equivalent of the word derived from the Hebrew, Messiah. He said the writings in the Book of Mormon are clear about the kind of messiah the people should expect.
Unlike Jews in Jerusalem, “the Nephite prophets knew their Messiah not as a powerful leader who would restore their political hopes, but as the Redeemer, as the Savior of the world,” he said. “They placed their future hopes for salvation squarely in Him. The Book of Mormon prophets desired not simply to testify that Jesus is the Christ. They wanted those who heard and read their words to know that Jesus the Messiah would save them from their sins — would save us from our sins if we put our trust in Him.”
Brother Hopkin said there is reason why the Nephite teachings are so much more pointed and clear than those in the Old Testament.
“Nephi explained … that he saw the loss of many plain and precious things from the Biblical record, that there would be a loss in the transmission of those records from person to person, from generation to generation,” he said, alluding to the visions the prophet Nephi experienced.
“Perhaps the greatest influence on the Christ-centered teachings of the Book of Mormon, though, is the book’s future-oriented nature,” he said. “This point cannot be over-emphasized: The book looks to the future and talks primarily to future audiences. The main Nephite prophet writers of the Book of Mormon — Nephi, Mormon and Moroni — saw our day and wrote directly to modern readers, anticipating their most pressing needs, the best ways to reach them, how to talk to them.”
He addressed the question of what the Book of Mormon means by “Jew and Gentile.” Brother Hopkin said the term Jews refers to the Jews at Jerusalem and their descendants who would reject Jesus as the Messiah and would be scattered in all the world.
The Gentiles are those led by God to the Americas and “they are those who would persecute or will persecute the descendants of the Jews and the descendants of the Lamanites, who would live in a day of wickedness and apostasy and would receive the fullness of the gospel and carry the Book of Mormon to others."
He said the three groups together — Jews, Gentiles and the descendants of the Lamanites and Nephites — together constitute all mankind.
Brother Hopkin said many Bible scholars today reflect in their writings that the identity of Jesus is becoming obscured, some suggesting he was a simple peasant reformer, a “cynic philosopher,” or a magician.
“These are intelligent people who are looking at the text and saying, ‘We’ve got challenges here; how do I understand what is going on?’ ” Brother Hopkin said. “The Book of Mormon fills that gap. Its message was designed by ancient authors to provide precisely the type of support for you and I and the world to clarify and strengthen the Biblical message of Jesus as the divine Son of God.”
Brother Hopkin declared, “There is no space in the Book of Mormon for any debate over His identity. He is the Son of God; He is the Savior of the world. He is not a mighty war hero, he is not a magician, he is not a peasant revolutionary, he is not a philosopher or simply a great moral teacher, although He may have portions of all of those things.
“Book of Mormon prophets learned of Jesus’ identity through vision and revelation. Their witness would either be believed or disbelieved by future readers, but their witness leaves no room to be misunderstood.”