Nephi's Messiah

Tanner A. Barratt

Tanner A. Barratt, "Nephi's Messiah," Religious Educator 23, no. 3 (2022): 126–135.

Tanner A. Barratt ( is a practicing dentist in southern Oregon. He received his B.S. from Brigham Young University and his D.M.D. from the University of Louisville.

painting of ChristToday we have the opportunity to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. We have the opportunity to respond to him when he calls us by name.

The Book of Mormon powerfully testifies of Jesus Christ. He is mentioned every 1.7 verses and by scores of different names.[1] Among the many names by which Jesus is identified in sacred writings, the name by which we most commonly know him is Jesus Christ. The word Christ is Greek in origin and means anointed one. It is interesting to note that, just like the Greek word Christ, the Hebrew word Messiah is translated as anointed one. Even though these two titles have the same definition, they present themselves differently in the Book of Mormon.

Critics of the Book of Mormon have attacked it and Joseph Smith for the use of a Greek word such as Christ in a book that itself proclaims to have been written in reformed Egyptian. “And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record” (Mormon 9:33). Joseph Smith said, “There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of God, translated the Book of Mormon.”[2] When the name Christ was revealed to Jacob (see 2 Nephi 10:3), it may have been a word familiar to the Nephite people that Joseph later translated as Christ, or perhaps the angel really did bring the Greek name to the Hebrew-speaking people. Throughout the remainder of the text, angels, prophets, and the Savior himself introduce the name Christ not as a title but as the revealed name of the prophesied Messiah.

The word Messiah appears thirty times throughout the small plates of Nephi. However, in Mormon and Moroni’s abridgments of the large plates of Nephi and in the plates of Ether, the word Messiah appears only twice. The term Christ is entirely absent from 1 Nephi and isn’t introduced until 2 Nephi 10 by the prophet Jacob. After this point, “Christ” rapidly takes the place of “Messiah” as the preferred name of the Savior. Before 2 Nephi 10, where Jacob delivers his revelation concerning the name of Christ, the Lord is overwhelmingly referred to as the Messiah. The term Messiah appears thirty-two times in the Book of Mormon, and twenty of those instances precede 2 Nephi 10. However, after Jacob reveals the name Christ, the term Messiah quickly disappears from the sacred records. After 2 Nephi 10, Nephi uses the name Messiah just nine more times in his writings, Jarom uses it once, and the name appears just twice outside the small plates of Nephi. In contrast, in and after 2 Nephi 10 the name Christ appears fifty-three times in the small plates alone. The small plates are an excellent source to consider when investigating the language of the people, because these plates were never abridged. Outside the small plates, the name Christ is used 345 times while the name Messiah is used only twice. This abrupt change may be attributed to the prophetic delivery of the name of Christ to the prophets by angels and even by Christ himself.

It is useful to understand that, while 1 Nephi is generally an abridgment of Lehi’s records and portions of the brass plates, records kept after 2 Nephi 5 are written in real time.[3] From the text we learn that the name Christ appears to be unknown to the people before 2 Nephi 10. While Nephi was compiling the stories, doctrine, and sermons recorded in the book of 1 Nephi, the name of Christ had not yet been revealed. Jacob’s sermon in 2 Nephi 9 was a powerful declaration of the power of the Atonement, and in 2 Nephi 10, Jacob continued his sermon from the previous day by declaring that “it must needs be expedient that Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—should come among the Jews” (verse 3). After Jacob’s revelation, Nephi consistently referred to the Savior as Christ. This name is used fifty-three times in 2 Nephi and twenty-seven more times in the book of Jacob. Nephi didn’t simply adopt the name Christ in his writings; he himself later declared that “according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (2 Nephi 25:19). This is the first time the name Jesus Christ appears in the text. The full name of Christ was now fully revealed. However, the Nephite record keepers seemed to forget this sacred revelation over time. After the book of Enos, the name Christ nearly disappears from text. Jarom refers to the Messiah once, but from the time of Jarom in 420 BC to the time of Abinadom just before 130 BC, the name Christ never appears in the records. This family line, and a portion of the Nephite civilization, fell into an apostasy of sorts.[4]

The last of Jacob’s descendants to receive the small plates was Amaleki, who was a righteous follower of Christ during the time of Mosiah. In his final words, Amaleki used the name Christ. It is possible that Amaleki possessed the only records that contained the name of Christ, and he may have found the name of Christ in the writings of his ancestors. He pled for all men to “come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel” (Omni 1:26). This is the only textual occurrence of the name of Christ in the three-hundred-year period represented in this section of the small plates. Sadly, there are only forty-five verses that cover this three-hundred-year span. This is perhaps partially the result of Martin Harris’s loss of the 116 pages of the original Book of Mormon manuscript that contained the abridgment of the events from Nephi to Mosiah from the large plates. After Amaleki’s final testimony, he passed the records to King Benjamin, who was the next person to receive a revelation concerning the name of the Savior.

The small plates come to an end, and the text picks up in the large plates with King Benjamin at the coronation ceremony for his son Mosiah. King Benjamin gathered all his people together to share with them his last words and council. The king told his people that during the previous night, an angel had awakened him from sleep. The angel had instructed King Benjamin to share words that would bring great joy to his people. The king described the coming of the “Lord Omnipotent” who would come to earth and take upon himself the sins of the world (Mosiah 3:5–7). Benjamin declared that the angel told him that the Lord would be called “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8). Benjamin proceeded to use the name Jesus Christ twelve times in his sermon.

The people of King Benjamin were so touched by his words that they fell to their knees and begged for mercy through the atoning blood of Christ. It is interesting to note that the people proclaimed belief in “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things” (Mosiah 4:2; emphasis added). They used the same terminology that the angel had used in his appearance to King Benjamin. They now knew Christ by the name which King Benjamin had revealed to them. Belief in Christ grew in the hearts of the people into a desire to make covenants, and they subsequently entered into a covenant to be called the “children of Christ” (Mosiah 5:7–8). King Benjamin emphasized the importance of taking upon themselves the name of Christ. He stated, “Whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God” (Mosiah 5:10).

During the reign of King Benjamin but before the coronation of his son Mosiah, a group of people traveled to the land of Nephi to attempt to re-inherit the land of their fathers. This group was led by a man named Zeniff, who described himself as “over-zealous” in this desire (Mosiah 9:3). Zeniff and his followers found the land of Nephi and made a deal with the king of the Lamanites to settle in the land. They enjoyed a period of peace and grew and prospered in the land, but eventually the Lamanites tried to retake the land and all its wealth. Zeniff and his people had sufficient obedience and faith to trust in God, and they withstood the Lamanites. Years later, they withstood another attack by the Lamanites, again trusting in God to preserve them. Throughout Zeniff’s records of this time period, there is no mention of the name of Christ. This may be because this period predates the time of King Benjamin’s sermon in which he revealed the name of Christ to his people. Zeniff’s people may not have had an angel come to them to deliver the revelation that the Messiah would be named Christ.

After Zeniff died, his wicked son Noah took over and led the people into wickedness. God sent Abinadi to the people to call them to repentance. After one failed attempt and two years of silence, Abinadi returned and tried again to preach repentance. He was imprisoned and given a trial before King Noah and his priests. Abinadi taught the priests about the law of Moses, the Savior, and the Atonement. He taught them that God would come among the children of men, die, and be resurrected. He declared: “And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ—for so he shall be called” (Mosiah 15:21–24; 16:6–8, 13–15). From this point in the record until the end of his preaching, Abinadi used the name of Christ eight more times, tying it unequivocally to the One who had power to redeem and resurrect. Noah and his priests would not accept this Christ who would come down among the children of men, and they put Abinadi to death (see Mosiah 17:7–8).

The book of Ether describes another ancient group of people who came to know the name of Christ through revelation. It is more difficult to identify the use of the name Christ in the records of this group of people because Moroni interjected his own thoughts and words throughout the text.[5] The account begins in the Old World, where Jared and his family lived. The brother of Jared spoke to God on behalf of his family and his brother’s family. After the brother of Jared and his family escaped the land of Babel, the brother of Jared had a falling away when he “remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord” for approximately four years—an omission that earned him a three-hour chastisement from God (Ether 2:13–14).

After his visit with the Lord, the brother of Jared repented and received revelation to construct the barges that would be used to sail to the promised land. The brother of Jared could not figure out how to get light into the barges. He sought the help of God and solved the problem by bringing sixteen clear stones for God to touch and thereby turn into a light source. He saw the hand of God, and then, after demonstrating that he had appropriate faith, he saw Jesus Christ. The Lord announced himself by saying, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life” (Ether 3:14). Chronologically speaking, the brother of Jared was the first person in the Book of Mormon to learn the name of Jesus Christ. This experience is also unique because the revelation is given by Jesus Christ himself rather than by an angel.

A highlight of the Book of Mormon occurs when the Savior visits the people in the Americas in 3 Nephi 11. As a result of wickedness and apostasy, these people saw their cities and the inhabitants therein destroyed by earthquakes, fires, and other natural disasters. The people who remained were encompassed by darkness and misery. Waiting in this darkness, the survivors heard a voice that declared, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name” (3 Nephi 9:15). When the darkness lifted and the people began to rebuild what had been destroyed, they heard the voice of the Father declaring to them, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3 Nephi 11:7). Jesus appeared to them and proclaimed, “I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:10; emphasis added). For over six hundred years, prophets had proclaimed the name of the Messiah—Jesus Christ—and when the Savior appeared and introduced himself, they knew the name by which he was called.

Angels proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ are not unique to situations in the Book of Mormon. The New Testament records that the angel Gabriel came to Mary to deliver news that would transform the world. She received direction regarding her calling to be the mother of the Son of God as well as the name by which he should be known. “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The news of the miraculous conception was also delivered to Mary’s betrothed, Joseph, who was instructed not to fear but to move forward with the marriage. At this time, Joseph was also told what the name of the Son of God should be: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

The words Christ and Messiah are used more frequently in 2 Nephi 25 than in any other chapter of the Book of Mormon. In this chapter, the word Christ appears seventeen times and the word Messiah appears eight times. This is also the only chapter in the Book of Mormon in which the words Christ and Messiah appear in the same verse. This occurs twice, in verses 16 and 19. Nephi very clearly used the term Messiah to indicate “the anointed one.” He was describing, generally, a God who would redeem the people from their sins.[6] In expanding on this, Nephi used the name Christ to identify a specific individual. Verses 16 and 19 demonstrate this beautifully:

They shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind—and when that day shall come that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah. . . .

. . . The Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Emphasis added)

These verses demonstrate how the Savior would be called Christ and would act as the Messiah. After Nephi was blessed to learn the name of the Savior Jesus Christ, he used the word Messiah just one more time, in 2 Nephi 26:3. After that reference, Nephi strictly used the name Christ, which was revealed to him and his brother Jacob.

The importance of distinguishing between the names of the Savior was further demonstrated in the publication of the second edition of the Book of Mormon. The presence of errors in the first edition of the Book of Mormon weighed heavily on Joseph Smith’s mind. In 1833, Joseph wrote to W. W. Phelps that “as soon as we can get time, we will review the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon after which they will be forwarded to you.”[7] Joseph wanted to go back to the original printer’s manuscript to correct any errors. In 1837 he and Oliver Cowdery made over a thousand changes to the Book of Mormon manuscript.[8] One significant change was made to 1 Nephi 12:18. The first edition read “And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God” (emphasis added).[9] The name Jesus Christ was changed in the second edition to Messiah.[10] Joseph identified this phrase in the original manuscript and changed it. The name of Jesus Christ did not belong in this early verse, because it does not appear that the name of Christ was known to the Nephites until Jacob’s sermon in 2 Nephi 10. Joseph’s corrections to the original 1830 printer’s manuscript appear in his notes from 1837.[11]

Throughout the history of the world, the Savior has been known by many different titles and names. The men and women of the Old Testament referred to him as “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). During the mortal ministry of the Savior, men and women called him Jesus of Nazareth. In the Book of Mormon, people learned the name of Jesus Christ on at least six documented occasions, sometimes from angels through prophets and sometimes through Christ himself. Today we have the opportunity to take upon ourselves his name in the covenants we make. We have the opportunity to respond to him when he calls us by name. “Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ” (Alma 5:38; emphasis added). Through reading the Book of Mormon, listening to modern-day prophets, and heeding the Holy Spirit, we too can know that Jesus is the Christ.

printer's manuscriptFigure 1. Facsimile of the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, showing Joseph Smith’s change of the name Christ to the name Mosiah (his spelling of Messiah; see note 11).


[1] See Susan Easton Black, Finding Christ through the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 16–18.

[2] Joseph Smith, “Letter to Editor, circa 20 May 1843,” 194, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[3] It was revealed to Nephi two separate times that he was to compile plates. In approximately 589 BC, when Nephi’s family had just settled the land of Lehi, Nephi received the commandment to compile the large plates (see 1 Nephi 19:1). Nephi called these plates the record of his father. He says in verse 2 that he didn’t know at the time that he would also be constructing the small plates. In 2 Nephi 5:30–31, Nephi received a new commandment to construct other plates, known as the small plates of Nephi. This occurred in approximately 569 BC, when Nephi’s family had relocated to the land of Nephi. If Nephi started the construction of the small plates in 569 BC, we can assume that everything before 2 Nephi 5 was written from memory (or from the large plates) and that everything after 2 Nephi 5 was recorded in real time.

[4] The apostasy of each man is evident in his writings as each describes his purpose for keeping the record. Jacob, who received the record from Nephi, wrote the things that were “most precious” (Jacob 1:2). Enos received them from Jacob with the same instructions that Nephi gave to Jacob (see Jacob 7:27; cf. Jacob 1:1–4). From this point forward, however, evidence of spiritual purpose declines in each successive record. Jarom wrote so “that our genealogy may be kept” and for the “benefit of our brethren the Lamanites” (Jarom 1:1–2). Omni wrote to “preserve our genealogy” (Omni 1:1). Amaron wrote “the things whatsoever I write” (Omni 1:4). Here we begin to see prophecies fulfilled concerning the destruction of the Nephite people because of their wickedness (see Omni 1:6–7). Chemish wrote “according to the commandments of our fathers” (Omni 1:9). Abinadom stated that he knew of no revelation that hadn’t already been written (see Omni 1:11). Omni 1:12 records that Mosiah was “warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi” and take with him as many people as would follow the voice of the Lord. After the Nephites fled the land of Nephi, Lamanites moved in to inhabit the land.

[5] The name Christ appears in Ether 2:12 when Moroni describes to whom, and under what conditions, the Lord will entrust the promised land. He proclaims that the nation that shall possess the land will “serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). This is the first occurrence of the word Christ in the book of Ether, and Moroni must have felt it important to explain to the reader who Christ was. The name Christ was not used by the brother of Jared or by his people until Christ revealed himself to the brother of Jared.

[6] The word Messiah appears five times in 2 Nephi 25:18, the most occurrences of this word in any single verse of the entire Book of Mormon. In this verse, Messiah is preceded by true, a, false, one, and that. Each of these words is used as an adjective to define traits of the Messiah. They are describing the way this person shall appear. On the other hand, Christ is used as a name throughout 2 Nephi 25. Verse 16 counsels us to “believe in Christ.” Verse 26 confirms that “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ.” Nephi repeatedly used Christ as the name of an individual rather than the more symbolic term Messiah.

[7]“Letterbook 1,” 45, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[8] See George Horton, “Understanding Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, December 1983, 26.

[9]“Book of Mormon, 1830,” 28, The Joseph Smith Papers,; see “Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, circa August 1829–circa January 1830,” 19, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[10] See “Book of Mormon, 1837,” 30, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[11] “Printer’s Manuscript,” 19, The Joseph Smith Papers, Joseph and Oliver used the printer’s manuscript and the first edition of the Book of Mormon to make all the changes that occurred in the 1837 second edition of the Book of Mormon. In the printer’s manuscript in 1 Nephi 12:18, the name Jesus Christ was crossed out and changed to the word Mosiah. This was published in the 1837 edition as the word Messiah. Royal Skousen explains that Joseph pronounced the s consonant in such a way that Messiah and Mosiah were homophonous. He intended to have the word Messiah written, as was printed in the 1837 edition. Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, pt. 1 (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2014), 259, https://www.