As one begins to discover the covenants in the Book of Mormon, in both their literal historic setting and in their prophetic spiritual patterns, he will also begin to discover the real story contained in the pages of the book. And as readers come to know the truth of the story contained therein, they will also come to know the truth of the Christ-centered covenants.
Nearly 2600 years ago, the prophet Nephi quoted to his brothers the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the covenant relationship of the Lord with the House of Israel. Afterward, they asked him an intriguing question: "What meaneth these things which ye have read? Behold, are they to be understood according to things which are spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh?" (1 Nephi 22:1)
Nephi answered them with the following: "Wherefore, the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual." (1 Nephi 22:3)
One might wonder, Why did Nephi give such a response? Is there truly a reason why Isaiah's prophecies would need to be acted out both in the temporal history of mankind and also in the spiritual life of man? Nephi, himself, provides a clue: "Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for . . . all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him." (2 Nephi 11:4)
While the Book of Mormon is a history, full of geographical, cultural, and chronological statements, and although Mormon said that he was "commanded" by the Lord to write what he did (3 Nephi 26:12), did the Lord have a purpose in such temporal details being recorded in the text? The Lord has said: "And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations." (D&C 52:14) "And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual . . . : all things bear record of me." (Moses 6:63)
If, according to the title page of the Book of Mormon, we are promised that the verses contained therein will eventually help lead to the "convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ," and if Nephi did not "write anything upon plates save it be that [he thought] it be sacred" (1 Nephi 19:6), then perhaps the historical and cultural references within the text might provide a fascinating, even divine perspective to the intended message of the book.
With the help of a prophetic blessing of the prophet Ezra Taft Benson to those who would read the Book of Mormon, and with an ever increasing flow of articles and books dealing not only with gospel perspectives, but cultural and historical perpsectives as well, the things of the Book of Mormon can now be appreciated and studied as Nephi intimated to his brothers that scriptures should be, in both a "temporal" and a "spiritual" covenant setting. Towards that end, my work has led me to the development of Step by Step through the Book of Mormon, which consists of three companion study texts:
1. The Covenant Story, which highlights pertinent historical, cultural, and covenant verses in the Book of Mormon text such that (a) the reader becomes aware of the multiple historical and cultural phrases that give substance to the truthfulness of the book; and (b) the reader is helped in understanding the book's covenant setting and the Lord's covenant way.
2. A Collection of Cultural Commentary, which correlates the text with pertinent cultural comments, and indexes current comments, maps, and illustrations from available published books and articles.
3. A Collection of Cultural Illustrations, which contains an ongoing and updated collection of current maps, charts, and illustrations that give understanding to the commentary and provide an invaluable resource for teaching those concepts.
Using this system, a student or teacher of the Book of Mormon can have ready access to those cultural ideas that will lead them towards a deeper understanding of the book's divinely planned and divinely recorded covenant setting.
By giving this study system to the readers of the Book of Mormon, I hope to convey to them a world of understanding that has greatly enhanced my testimony of that book, and has deepened my wonder and appreciation for the Lord's "new covenant" (D&C 84:57).
Alan C. Miner