Mosiah 8:3 — LeGrand Baker — true and living church
3 And he also rehearsed unto them the last words which king Benjamin had taught them, and explained them to the people of king Limhi, so that they might understand all the words which he spake.
This is important because it suggests to us much about the religious beliefs of the Nephites before Alma organized his church. What it suggests is that the Nephites had an open canon of scripture – strong evidence of a “true and living church.”
The surest evidence of a dead religion is a closed canon. We don’t know what the Nephites used for scripture besides what was contained on the Brass plates, and we are not even sure about that. But there are several suggestions in the Book of Mormon that they added to their scriptures just as one would expect if the church was led by a living prophet. This statement in Mosiah is one of those evidences. Another is the Saviour’s wondering why the words of Samuel the Lamanite had not been recorded. Perhaps the most important evidence is what Mormon wrote just before he died: “… behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.” (Mormon 6:6) It is apparent that to Mormon and others, the Nephite ecclesiastical history-sermons, stories, testimonies- were sacred scripture.
One finds the same thing in the New Testament. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s writings along with “the other scriptures.” Back in chapter 2, he had already given us some clue about what those other scriptures are. There he reproduces in part the short epistle of Jude, Jesus ‘ younger half brother, quoting it as one would quote scripture. The fact that Matthew and Luke relied so heavily on the Gospel of Mark not only testifies that it was highly regarded in the church, but implies that it may have had the status of scripture even before the other two gospels were written.
A good, but not absolute, indication of what was in the Jewish canon is the Septuagint, a Greek translation made by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, about 250 B.C. However, it is instructive to note that the Jewish canon of scripture seems to have remained open until two decades after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D, when a council of Jewish scholars met in a town near Joppa to decide what could and could not be considered as scripture. There is much we do not know about the Jewish canon. The five books of Moses, called the “law,” had apparently been the backbone of the canon ever since they were written, but their history is much obscured. All one has to do is compare the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price with the beginning of Genesis to discover that somewhere in the past someone has taken major liberties with what Moses wrote. Most scholars believe that occurred after the Babylonian captivity, when the history books, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles were also written. For that reason, we cannot be at all sure what “the Law of Moses” was on the Brass Plates, since the Nephite scriptures were taken from Jerusalem before the Babylonian captivity.
The histories (except Chronicles), along with the writings of the twelve minor prophets and Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were referred to in the New Testament as “the Prophets.” Some scholars suggest these became accepted as scripture after the Babylonian captivity, however, it is apparent from the Book of Mormon that Isaiah’s writings, and the writings of Jeremiah (who was a contemporary of Lehi) were considered to be scripture even before the Babylonian captivity.
When the New Testament writers spoke of “the Law and the Prophets” those are the books they were talking about.
The remainder of the Old Testament books (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc.) were called the other writings, or simply the “Writings.” Jewish scriptures are still divided into those three groups: Law, Prophets, and Writings.
It is apparent that the Writings were also included in the Jewish canon at the time of the Saviour. One evidence is that fragments or full copies of every book in the Old Testament (except Ruth) have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. But the most important evidence is the Saviour’s statement to the Twelve, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” By that we understand that the resurrected Christ accepted at least the Law, Prophets, and Psalms as scripture.
Early Christians, as well as the Jews, also accepted some books as scripture which we do not have in our present canon. At least one evidence of this is Jude’s quoting from the Book of Enoch. (Jude 1:14-15 quotes Ethopic Enoch 1:9 )