The Promise of Prosperity

Its Meaning and Relevance

Devon Cook

DeVon Cook, "The Promise of Prosperity: Its Meaning and Relevance," Religious Educator 24, no. 3 (2023): 45–63.

DeVon Cook ( is a visiting professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

woman in a field of wheatWhile prosperity in the context of the Book of Mormon can include material blessings and financial success, it extends beyond financial blessings. The concept of prosperity includes guidance, protection, a closer relationship with God, and receiving revelation to help us survive spiritually today. Photo by Elena Neveditsyna,

Keywords: prosperity, happiness, joy, obedience, commandments, Book of Mormon

As religious educators, we have a responsibility to teach the doctrine “not so plainly that [students] can just understand, but [we] must teach the doctrines of the Church so plainly that no one can misunderstand.”[1] The concept of prosperity in the Book of Mormon is one of those doctrines that must be taught to youth and young adults in a way they don’t misunderstand what it means. Religious educators can help expand students’ understanding of prosperity lest they inadvertently reduce prosperity to mere financial success. If students always equate prosperity in the Book of Mormon with financial blessings, it could be damaging to their faith. For example, if a teacher were only to teach that people in the Book of Mormon prospered financially because of obedience to the Lord’s commandments, it could weaken the faith of students who feel they have been obedient but are not seeing financial blessings either personally or within their families. In addition, students might try fraudulent activity to achieve financial prosperity. By helping students expand their understanding of the meaning of prosperity in the Book of Mormon, not only do we help them see a variety of different principles about prosperity that could be applied to their lives but we also help strengthen their faith in and deepen their conversion to Jesus Christ as we point out numerous ways the Lord blessed the Nephites to prosper and can help us prosper today.

The word prosper comes from the Latin prosperare, which means “cause to succeed, render happy” or “according to expectation, according to one’s hope.”[2] The definition of the word in Joseph Smith’s day was “to grow or increase; to thrive; to make gain.”[3] These definitions help us see that prosperity does not always equate to wealth or temporal blessings. Today the definition of prosper includes “succeed in material terms; be financially successful,”[4] which could cause some to always equate prosperity in the Book of Mormon with financial success. The prosperity promise was first made to Nephi because of his “great desires to know of the mysteries of God” (1 Nephi 2:16). The promise is, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise” (1 Nephi 2:20). When the Lord promised Nephi he would prosper, what did he mean? Success? Happiness? Succeeding materially and financially? The purpose of this paper is to review the promise of prosperity in the Book of Mormon and to analyze, define, understand, and seek to apply its meaning. This paper will also draw a comparison of the Lord’s promise of prosperity in the Book of Mormon with a dangerous modern religious concept known as the prosperity gospel, an exclusive belief that if you have faith, God will bless you with health, wealth, and abundance and that if you do not have health, wealth, and abundance, it is because you do not have enough faith. If religious educators can expand their understanding of the Lord’s intent when making this promise, it will inspire both them and their students to exercise greater faith in Jesus Christ, leading to true prosperity in their lives because of keeping God’s commandments.

Prosperity Usage in the Book of Mormon

The prosperity promise in the Book of Mormon is reiterated or alluded to by ten different authors from generation to generation.[5] The word prosper or one of its related terms appears eighty-three times in the Book of Mormon, and the promise of prosperity is woven throughout the entire narrative, being mentioned explicitly in ten of the books and implied in those books where the word prosper is not mentioned (see table 1).[6] To understand the prosperity promise, I will analyze how prosperity is linked to keeping God’s commandments, how prosperity is linked to riches or wealth, what various meanings of what prosperity looked like for the Nephites within the context they were used, and how to reconcile faith when it appears the wicked are prospering.

Because the Lord gave the promise of prosperity on the condition that the Nephites would keep his commandments, it is important to note how often the text cites this conditional statement. There are twenty explicit verses (24 percent of the eighty-three references) in the Book of Mormon where the terms commandment and prosper or related terms are included together (see table 2). Of the sixty-three remaining instances, fifty-six (67 percent) imply that keeping the commandments, having the Spirit, or divine approval is a condition of prosperity, even though the word commandment is not specifically mentioned. Thus, 76 (91 percent) associate prosperity with obedience in some form.[7] This association of prosperity with some form of divine favor for keeping the commandments is a strong indicator that when prosperity is mentioned, it almost always is a result of obedience to keeping the commandments. The prophet record keepers repeated this specific promise throughout the Book of Mormon, spanning 950 years from the first time the Lord makes the promise with Nephi (1 Nephi 2:20) until Mormon cites the promise for the last time (3 Nephi 5:22).[8] This connection emphasizes the importance of obedience and reveals that prosperity is conditional on following God’s commandments.

Different Examples of Nephite Prosperity

Because we do not have access to the original Reformed Egyptian text, it is impossible to do a textual analysis of the word Nephi used that was translated as prosper in English. Thus, we need to look at the context in which the word is used in the text itself to determine what the Lord might have had in mind when making that promise. This section will address a selection of six scriptures that contain a promise of prosperity and will identify different meanings for both the Nephites and for us today.

Prosperity means wealth

As defined in the introduction, one of the possible modern meanings of the word prosper is to succeed in material terms or be financially successful. Of the eighty-three times prosperity is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, only nine verses, or 10 percent, specifically associate prosperity with riches or wealth (see table 3). This small sample surely indicates that the Lord did not intend to connect riches with prosperity in each instance; however, it appears that the Lord occasionally blessed the Nephites with wealth or riches because of obedience to his commandments. Of special note is Alma 1:29–31, where Mormon describes the prosperity of the church in Alma the Younger’s day. Here Mormon includes an important principle that helps us see why the Nephites might have prospered financially, “And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need. And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church” (Alma 1:30–31). The Nephites were prospering financially because they were obeying a principle taught earlier by Jacob, “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:18–19). It appears that the Lord occasionally blessed the Nephites with financial prosperity because of obedience, especially as they lived the principle taught by Jacob.

Prosperity means direction

The Lord’s initial promise to Nephi was “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands” (1 Nephi 2:20; emphasis added). The Lord’s focus was on leading the Nephites to a promised land without explicitly mentioning material riches or worldly prosperity. Today, while we may not embark on physical voyages across vast oceans, we symbolically navigate the challenges of mortality. By diligently obeying the Lord’s commandments, we can avoid being “driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her” (Mormon 5:18). This metaphorical journey underscores the significance of faithfully following the path the Lord has marked for us. Elder Lowell M. Snow of the Seventy emphasized the symbolic nature of this journey, highlighting that “the Lord provides direction for our journey according to the faith, diligence, and heed we give to that direction. He is not likely to reveal new paths if we have not faithfully followed Him along those He has already marked. Provident prospering along the way comes to those who diligently follow inspired counsel.”[9] The connection between prosperity and material wealth is not explicitly mentioned in this first promise, allowing for a broader understanding of prosperity that encompasses spiritual guidance and blessings along the symbolic voyage of mortality toward our own promised land of eternity.

Prosperity means protection

Before his passing, Lehi gathered his family and prophesied concerning the promised land they had inherited. Among his prophecies, Lehi declared that his descendants would never be brought into captivity unless they transgressed. He also revealed that at that time, other nations had no knowledge of the land they possessed. Lehi continued his prophecy by saying, “Inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever” (2 Nephi 1:9). Beyond material wealth or abundance, Nephite prosperity meant protection and security from other nations who sought to take away their lands and inheritance. The Lord promised to safeguard them, ensuring that no external forces would disturb or take away what he had given them. This divine protection would grant them the ability to dwell safely in the land indefinitely if they obeyed his commandments. While our challenges may differ from those faced by the Nephites, we still encounter various trials, adversities, and threats in our lives. Just as the Nephites were promised safety from external forces, we too can find solace and reassurance in the Lord’s promises of protection. Through our faithfulness and obedience to God's commandments, we can seek divine guidance, strength, and safeguarding against the adversary, who seeks to rob us of our divine inheritance.

During his speech, King Benjamin reemphasized the promise of prosperity and gave yet another insight into how the Nephites could prosper by being protected if they kept the commandments. He said, “As ye have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father, and have prospered, and have been kept from falling into the hands of your enemies, even so if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you” (Mosiah 2:31; emphasis added). In this context, the Lord did not say he would bless the Nephites with wealth or riches but that he would protect them from their enemies. For us, this could mean that as we are obedient to God’s commandments, we receive strength to overcome the adversary and his temptations. This promise also teaches us that the Lord has greater power than Satan. As religious educators, we have been tasked to help students deepen their conversion to Jesus Christ because relying on Christ and his power is the only way we can receive power over the adversary.

Freedom from Want paintingProsperity goes beyond material blessings and encompasses the profound spiritual experience of being in the Lord’s presence and enjoying the companionship of his Spirit. Detail from Freedom from Want, by Norman Rockwell

Prosperity means having the Spirit

As part of his final prophecy, Lehi expressed great anxiety and deep concern for the spiritual well-being of his family and their ability to receive the promised blessings of prosperity. In his version of the prosperity promise, Lehi introduces a negative consequence that was not explicitly given to or explained by Nephi. This negative iteration of the promise could suggest Lehi’s deeper understanding, additional revelation he received, or a deliberate emphasis on the consequences of disobedience. Lehi quotes the Lord as follows: “Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 1:20; emphasis added). Here the Lord introduces the concept of a curse or separation from his presence because of disobedience. This negative form of the prosperity promise highlights the serious consequences that come with rebellion against the Lord’s commandments and straying from the path of righteousness. It serves as a reminder that disobedience distances us from God and hinders our access to his blessings and guidance. Applying logical reasoning to this aspect of the promise, we can deduce that since disobedience results in being cut off from the Lord’s presence, obedience to his commandments will bring us closer to him. Prosperity, in this sense, goes beyond material blessings and encompasses the profound spiritual experience of being in the Lord’s presence and enjoying the companionship of his Spirit. It signifies a deep connection with the divine, a sense of inner peace, and the ability to receive personal revelation and guidance. Lehi’s words suggest that prosperity is not measured by external circumstances but by our relationship with the Lord. When we strive to keep his commandments, we align ourselves with his will and invite his Spirit into our lives. As a result, we experience the blessing of his presence, which ultimately leads to a more profound and enduring form of prosperity that transcends temporal wealth or success.

Prosperity means receiving revelation from the Lord

Mormon describes the preparation the Nephites are making to go to battle against the Lamanites, emphasizing what had been taught among the Nephites, that the Lord “would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger” (Alma 48:15; emphasis added). In this instance, prosperity does not equate with wealth or riches, but during times of war the Lord would either warn the Nephites to flee or help them prepare to meet the Lamanites, depending on the circumstances. In our day, the Lord can help us prosper by warning us of things we should avoid or to help us prepare to face a challenge. Obedience to the Lord’s commandments entitles us to receive revelation to guide us. This is something both we and our students need to understand. As President Russell M. Nelson has warned, “in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”[10] We are constantly faced with challenges and need to have the Spirit to guide us in the direction we should take.

Prosperity means a combination of different blessings

In the eighty-fifth year of the reign of the judges, the Nephites were “ripening for destruction” (Helaman 11:8) after more than five years of wickedness had prevailed among them. Mormon then gives this sad warning:

And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him. Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity. (Helaman 12:1–2)

This verse summarizes several of the previous definitions of prosperity the Lord had given the Nephites. He prospered them in their material possessions (flocks, herds, gold, silver, and so forth); he delivered them out of the hands of their enemies; he softened the hearts of the Lamanites so they didn’t declare war against them. But despite all that the Lord had done for them, they still hardened their hearts against him. This serves as both an important lesson and a stern warning for us today. We learn the Lord is merciful to his people and he wants to bless and prosper them in a variety of different ways, but as he does, they tend to disregard his mercy and turn against him. We need to ensure that our prosperity does not lead to us trampling the Lord and his commandments during our time of prosperity. But if it does, the Book of Mormon reminds us of the importance of repentance and that the Lord’s mercy is extended to those who do repent, allowing them to prosper once again.[11]

Disobedience and Prosperity

The prophets Job, Jeremiah, and Malachi all wondered why the wicked prosper.[12] In discussing the promise of prosperity, we need to look at times when it appears that those who are not obeying the Lord’s commandments seem to be prospering. Not understanding this concept can be very damaging to the faith of our students. They likely see others who seem to be free from church responsibilities and obedience to the Lord’s commandments living what seems to be an enviable prosperous lifestyle. During these times, let’s understand what the Lord means by prosperity so we can help our students see that the Lord’s promises are always fulfilled.

A good scriptural example is the narrative of King Noah, who “built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things” (Mosiah 11:9). From this, it appears that King Noah was prospering financially, yet Noah had “placed his heart upon his riches” (Mosiah 11:14) and “did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart,” which consisted of many things that were “abominable in the sight of the Lord” (Mosiah 11:2). Without understanding exactly what it means to prosper, our students might wonder how someone so wicked could be so financially prosperous. However, as we use the previous definitions of prosperity from this paper, we see that King Noah was not truly prospering because he was cut off from God’s presence to the point that the Lord had to send the prophet Abinadi to preach repentance to the people and to “turn [them] unto the Lord their God” (Mosiah 11:23). King Noah also did not prosper because he was not warned by the Lord when his enemies were approaching. While fighting for his life against Gideon, Noah climbed upon a tower he had built to overlook the land and noticed the Lamanites “were within the borders of the land” (Mosiah 19:6) ready to attack his people without their knowledge. Compare this with Alma, King Noah’s former priest who had repented and fled from the wicked king. Because of their righteousness and obedience to the commandments, Alma’s people were “apprised of the coming of the king’s army” (Mosiah 18:34) to attack them, and thus prospered by being warned to flee. Finally, Noah fell into the hands of his enemies, and they had power over him when they put him to death (see Mosiah 19:20). Thus, thinking that King Noah was prospering simply because he was financially successful is erroneous.

A parable by President Boyd K. Packer helps us apply this correct understanding today. President Packer told a story about two farmers, one who worked on his fields on Sundays, and one who didn’t because he said he wanted to receive blessings from the Lord for keeping the Sabbath day holy. After looking over the two fields, the farmer who worked on Sundays said to the other, “Look at my field. It is beautiful, the grain is tall, the heads are full of wheat, and your field shows little signs of neglect. You haven't tended yours as well as I've tended mine. Look at my harvest compared to yours. What do you say now about the blessings you thought you were earning?” To this the other farmer thought for a few minutes and replied, “The Lord doesn't balance his books in October.”[13] The fact that someone seems to be successful financially in this life is not an indication of the Lord’s blessings because “the Lord doesn’t balance his books in October.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reinforced this truth by teaching, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.”[14]

The Lord answered the questions posed by Job, Jeremiah, Malachi, and anyone else who asks a similar question with the parable of a certain rich man whose ground brought forth plentifully. The man, having run out of room to store his plentiful harvest decided to build more and greater barns to store his surplus. However, that night the man died leaving all his excess behind. It is important to note that the man himself didn’t produce the surplus harvest, but the ground, which was created by the Lord because “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). We are simply stewards of the material resources the earth produces until our “soul is required” of us too (see Luke 12:15–22). It may be true that some people who do not keep the commandments appear to prosper in this life, but by keeping an eternal perspective, we will see that material possessions are temporary, and true riches are those which are given after this life.

Prosperity Gospel

As mentioned, the prosperity gospel is a modern religious belief that if you have faith, God will bless you with health, wealth, and abundance; and if you do not have health, wealth, and abundance, it is because you do not have enough faith. By including a discussion here, this paper provides a contextual framework to understand how the concept of prosperity has been interpreted and applied in modern religious discourse. It can also help illustrate the differences and similarities between the promise of prosperity in the Book of Mormon and the false doctrine espoused by the prosperity gospel.

The doctrine of the prosperity gospel seems to stem from the misinterpretation of several verses of scripture.[15] For example, in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul says, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” Taken out of context, this verse appears to teach that Christ suffered so that we could become wealthy. In context, however, Paul is teaching the Corinthians that because Christ sacrificed so much for us, we should divest ourselves of monetary greed in the service of God. This is plain from the verses that follow, where Paul asks the Corinthians to give their abundance to those who are in need (see 2 Corinthians 8:14). Prosperity gospel preachers also love to cite the story of Abraham and how God’s covenant with Abraham promised him wealth, indicating that the meaning of “multiply thee exceedingly” and “exceeding fruitful” (Genesis 17:2, 6) implies material possessions, and that by giving Abraham land, God is proving that material possessions are not only part of the covenant, but that the covenant guarantees wealth. Regarding the Abrahamic covenant, Kenneth Copeland says, “Since God’s Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!”[16] Restoration scripture has clarified that God’s covenant with Abraham refers to his posterity, priesthood, and blessings of salvation for taking the gospel to the world (see Abraham 2:8–11).

The most comprehensive study aimed at the prosperity gospel comes from Kate Bowler, who defined prosperity gospel as a “theology of excess which separate[s] the faith filled few from the poverty of the masses”[17] indicating that those who truly have faith will be blessed with material excess, while those who do not are seemingly punished financially for their lack of faith. While it is difficult to trace the exact beginnings of the prosperity gospel, it appears to have started with the evangelist Essek William Kenyon, a pastor and radio evangelist who preached in late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Calling his beliefs “dominating faith,” Kenyon believed that it was a Christian’s rightful use of divine principles that would unlock God’s “treasury of blessings.”[18] The prosperity gospel continued to grow throughout the early twentieth century with televangelist Oral Roberts, “a major architect of the Prosperity Gospel” and his “shrewd ability to anticipate the new frontiers for ministry in radio, television, and education.”[19] This lead to the explosion of televangelism in the late 1970s and 1980s, headlined by televangelists like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, who sought to convince believers to “calculate their conviction according to their wallets.”[20] Two additional quotes serve to summarize the attitudes of those who subscribe the prosperity gospel movement. Kenneth Copeland teaches, “The gospel to the poor is that Jesus has come and they don’t have to be poor anymore!”[21] and Kenneth’s wife Gloria compared poverty to sickness by stating, “You should refuse lack just as quickly as you refuse sickness.”[22] Today, prosperity gospel churches are led by wealthy, charismatic preachers and attended by thousands of people each week.[23]

The prosperity gospel is very popular among global evangelical Christians as is illustrated by a Pew Research Center survey done in 2006. The survey asked Christians in ten different countries if they believed that “God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith.”[24] The average response was 79 percent in the affirmative. The survey then asked if Christians believed that “God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.”[25] The average response was 68 percent in the affirmative. In the United States, Lifeway Research conducted a similar survey and found that the number of Protestant churchgoers who believe “God wants me to prosper financially” increased from 69 percent in 2017 to 76 percent in 2022.[26] Despite its popularity, “the combination of aggressive requirements regarding tithing by congregants, who are often already struggling financially, and the relative affluence (and in some cases the extreme wealth) of church leaders”[27] is a cause for controversy among the prosperity gospel churches and nonmembers. This is just one of the problems with the prosperity gospel, the stark contrast of the visibly wealthy leaders to the average congregant. Costi Hinn, who himself was part of the prosperity gospel movement but who has since withdrawn, has written against the movement, using very strong language against those leaders who preach it. Costi, whose uncle Benny Hinn is still part of the movement, said that while prosperity gospel preachers are making millions of dollars from their congregants, they are “confirming [their] reservation in hell for deceiving the poor and the sick” and are nothing more than “another con artist who’s found a way to sell [their] scheme to desperate bidders.”[28] Another observer has characterized the prosperity gospel as “siphoning money away from the pockets of gullible followers towards the bank accounts of rapacious preachers, and that it does so by making outrageous and fraudulent claims about the possibility of acquiring wealth or health through tithing or giving donations.”[29] Showing just how polarizing prosperity gospel thinking is, the Harvard Divinity Schools says “at best it is considered to offer the poor a means of imagining and reaching for better lives (at times accompanied by sound financial advice), and at worst is criticized as predatory and manipulative, particularly when churches or pastors require heavy tithing.”[30] It is important to note in this statement, the absence of anything related to the actual gospel of Jesus Christ (faith, repentance, covenants and ordinances, and enduring to the end). While the gospel of Jesus Christ does have the aim of reaching for a better life, it comes through believing and living what Christ taught, not simply hoping that believing in something will lead to material wealth; Jesus Christ also offers so much more than sound financial advice.

Some have argued that the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only align with the prosperity gospel but surpass it, going so far as to say that our gospel “entails an ethos of accumulation that makes the so-called prosperity gospel seem listless by comparison. ‘Mormonism is the Protestant ethic on steroids.’”[31] However, the doctrine of prosperity taught in the Book of Mormon and by the Church differs from the theology of the prosperity gospel because personal wealth is not the end goal. What we do see is a concept taught by Elder M. Russell Ballard in the April 2012 general conference. After referencing a study that showed the gap between the rich and poor and the impact on marriage and education, Elder Ballard said, “The real question, of course, is about cause and effect. Do some sectors of our society have stronger values and families because they are more educated and prosperous, or are they more educated and prosperous because they have values and strong families? In this worldwide Church we know that it is the latter. When people make family and religious commitments to gospel principles, they begin to do better spiritually and often temporally as well.”[32] This statement is a far cry from what is taught in the prosperity gospel. In fact, Ned Hill, former dean of the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, said, “I hope our people don't believe [that righteousness breeds riches]. We don’t teach it. . . . We do teach them that being blessed with material wealth and talents means that you have serious obligations to share what you have with others.”[33] This aligns very well with the principle cited earlier in Jacob 2:18–19, that God will occasionally bless his people with wealth on the condition that they will use those resources to bless others. Finally, rather than teaching that faith and obedience demands material blessings from God, President Nelson taught, “Obedience paves the way for a joyful life for you today and a grand, eternal reward tomorrow.”[34] Note that President Nelson does not say that obedience paves the way for a material life but a joyful life and that the real reward comes after this life.

The prosperity gospel can be an enticing concept to people who want or need wealth, but it poses a threat by seeking to inherently tie obedience to the Lord’s commandments with financial blessings. In truth, riches and wealth belong to God and are his to give according to his will (see Ecclesiastes 5:19; Doctrine and Covenants 38:16–18). Elder D. Todd Christofferson warned about the danger of thinking that obedience to God yields specific outcomes on a fixed schedule as if God works like a “cosmic vending machine.”[35] We do a disservice to our students if we tie prosperity in the Book of Mormon or in our own lives solely to financial blessings in the same way as is done by those who adhere to the prosperity gospel theology.


The promise of prosperity in the Book of Mormon is a significant aspect of the narrative as illustrated by the number of times prosper and its various terms appear throughout the text. The consistent reiteration of the prosperity promise from the first prophets in the Book of Mormon (Nephi/Lehi) to the last (Mormon) spans nearly a thousand years. While prosperity in the context of the Book of Mormon can include material blessings and financial success, it extends beyond financial blessings. The concept of prosperity includes guidance, protection, a closer relationship with God, and receiving revelation to help us survive spiritually today. By limiting the definition of prosperity to financial success, we may inadvertently damage our students’ faith in God when they either don’t see those promised blessings for themselves when they are obedient or when they see those who do not keep the Lord’s commandments prospering financially. This could cause students to succumb to the prosperity gospel mentality, that the Lord is bound to give them what they need in the form they want it, rather than what the Lord wants to give according to his wisdom and timing, or that it is our right to receive financial rewards, especially if we are not going to bless the lives of others as a result of that blessing. It is important to understand that prosperity has many different meanings, and seeking to understand the Lord’s intent behind the promise of prosperity in the Book of Mormon can inspire religious educators, as well as our students, to exercise greater faith in Jesus Christ as we strive to receive the many blessings of prosperity he promises to give us, according to his will and our obedience to his commandments.


Table 1.

prosper581 Nephi 2:20; 1 Nephi 4:14; 1 Nephi 13:15; 1 Nephi 13:20; 2 Nephi 1:9; 2 Nephi 1:20; 2 Nephi 4:4; 2 Nephi 5:11; 2 Nephi 5:13; Jarom 1:9 (twice); Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7; Mosiah 1:17; Mosiah 2:22 (twice); Mosiah 2:31; Mosiah 7:29; Mosiah 9:9; Mosiah 10:5; Mosiah 12:15; Mosiah 14:10 Mosiah 21:16; Mosiah 23:19; Mosiah 23:20; Mosiah 26:37; Mosiah 27:7; Alma 1:31; Alma 9:13; Alma 34:24; Alma 36:1 Alma 36:30; Alma 37:13; Alma 37:43; Alma 38:1; Alma 45:8; Alma 48:15 (twice); Alma 48:25; Alma 50:18; Alma 50:20; Alma 62:48; Alma 62:51; Helaman 3:20; Helaman 3:26; Helaman 4:13; Helaman 4:15; Helaman 11:20; Helaman 12:1; Helaman 12:2; 3 Nephi 6:4; 3 Nephi 22:17; 4 Nephi 1:7; Ether 6:28; Ether 7:19; Ether 7:26; Ether 9:16; Ether 10:16
prospered10Mosiah 2:31; Mosiah 2:36; Mosiah 12:15; Mosiah 25:24; Alma 9:22; Alma 30:17; Alma 59:3; 3 Nephi 5:22; 4 Nephi 1:18; Ether 10:28
prospereth12 Nephi 28:21
prospering13 Nephi 6:5
prosperity102 Nephi 1:31 (twice); Mosiah 27:9; Alma 49:30; Alma 62:49; Helaman 3:24; Helaman 3:25; Helaman 3:36; Helaman 12:2; 4 Nephi 1:23
prosperous31 Nephi 20:15; Alma 1:30; Alma 50:17

Table 2.

ReferenceCommandment/Prosperity Language
1 Nephi 2:20"And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise.”
1 Nephi 4:14“Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.”
2 Nephi 1:9“Insamuch as [they] . . . keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land.”
2 Nephi 1:20“Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.”
2 Nephi 4:4“Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.”
Jarom 1:9“Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.”
Omni 1:6“Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not prosper in the land.”
Mosiah 1:7“. . . keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land.”
Mosiah 2:22“He has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land.”
Mosiah 2:31“As ye have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father, and have prospere.”
Alma 9:13“Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land.”
Alma 36:1“Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.”
Alma 36:30“Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.”
Alma 37:13“If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.”
Alma 38:1“Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.”
Alma 48:15“If they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land.”
Alma 48:25“If they should keep his commandments they should prosper in the land.”
Alma 50:20“Inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land.”
Helaman 3:20“He did observe to keep the statutes, and the judgments, and the commandments of God; and he did do that which was right in the sight of God continually; and he did walk after the ways of his father, insomuch that he did prosper in the land.”
3 Nephi 5:22“Insomuch as the children of Lehi have kept his commandments he hath blessed them and prospered them according to his word.”

Table 3.

ReferenceRiches/Wealth Prosperity Language
Mosiah 2:27“And the Lord did visit them and prosper them, and they became a large and wealthy people.”
Alma 1:31“And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church.”
Alma 9:22“having been kept and preserved until now; and they have been prospered until they are rich in all manner of things”
Alma 50:18“And they did prosper exceedingly, and they became exceedingly rich; yea, and they did multiply and wax strong in the land.”
Alma 62:48“And the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. And they began to grow exceedingly rich.”
Helaman 3:36“. . . exceedingly great riches and their prosperity in the land; and it did grow upon them from day to day.”
4 Nephi 1:23“they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ”
Ether 6:28“the people began to prosper; and they became exceedingly rich”
Ether 9:16“the house of Emer did prosper exceedingly under the reign of Emer; . . . they had become exceedingly strong, insomuch that they became exceedingly rich.”


[1] Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” in Charge to Religious Educators (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1994), 119; emphasis in original.

[2] Etymology Online, s.v. prosper,

[3], accessed September 29, 2023.

[4] “Prosper.” Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press., accessed via Oxford Dictionaries Online on September 29, 2023.

[5] For more information about the authors and engravers of the Book of Mormon, see Wayne A. Larsen and Alvin C. Rencher, “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982), 157–88. The authors who mentioned the “prosperity promise” were: Nephi1 (2 Nephi 5:11), Lehi (2 Nephi 1:9), Jarom (Jarom 1:9), Ammaron (Omni 1:6), King Benjamin (Mosiah 2:22), Limhi (Mosiah 7:29), Zeniff (Mosiah 9:9), Alma2 (Alma 36:1), Mormon (Alma 48:15), Moroni2 (Ether 7:26). Each of these authors quoted or alluded to the initial promise given by Jesus Christ himself in 1 Nephi 2:20.

[6] The books in table 1 include the word prosper, and the prosperity promise. The following books do not contain the word prosper but do include the implied concept of the prosperity promise. Jacob: Jacob tells the Nephites the hand of providence has been upon them and they will obtain riches if they seek for them after obtaining a hope in Christ and if they will use them to do good (Jacob 2:13–19); Enos: Enos receives a promise from the Lord that he will visit the Nephites and either bless or curse the land according to their diligence in keeping the commandments (Enos 1:10); Words of Mormon: Mormon writes that because of King Benjamin, “a holy man,” the Nephites were able to withstand the attacks of the Lamanites and establish peace in the land (Words of Mormon 1:17–18); Mormon: the prophet Mormon mourns the destruction of the Nephite civilization and cries out that it would not have happened if they would not have rejected Jesus (Mormon 6:17–19); Moroni: in a letter to his son Moroni, Mormon writes that he fears the Lamanites will destroy the Nephites because they do not repent and if they will not repent they will perish (Moroni 9:3-4, 22).

[7] Of the verses in table 1 that contain the word prosper, only the following seven verses do not imply keeping the commandments, having the Spirit, or divine approval as a condition of prosperity: 2 Nephi 28:21; Mosiah 10:5; Mosiah 12:15; Alma 30:17; Alma 34:24; 3 Nephi 22:17; and Ether 7:19.

[8] While it is not completely known in what year Mormon was abridging 3 Nephi 5, it is estimated to take place between AD 327 and 350 when Mormon obtains the plates of Nephi (see Mormon 2:17 and the chapter heading to Mormon 2). The span of years also does not include the promises made to the Jaredites. While the Lord did not use the same language with brother of Jared as he did with Nephi, the Lord does indicate that to possess the land of promise, the Jaredites (and anyone else who should possess the land) must serve God or be swept off (Ether 2:8–9). If we were to include the promise made with the Jaredites, the prosperity promise spans approximately 2,700 years from approximately 2,400 BC to AD 350.

[9] Lowell M. Snow, “Compass of the Lord,” Ensign, November 2005, 97.

[10] Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2018, 96.

[11] For an account of how the Nephites were able to prosper again by repenting after falling into transgression, see Helaman 4:11–15.

[12] Job asked, “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? . . . They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave” (Job 21:7, 13). Jeremiah pondered, “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously” (Jeremiah 12:1). Malachi stated, “And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up, yea they that tempt God are even delivered” (Malachi 3:15).

[13] Boyd K. Packer, Mine Errand from the Lord (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008), 193.

[14] Jeffrey R. Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” Ensign, November 1999, 38; emphasis in original.

[15] For a small sample of scriptures that have been misinterpreted to promote the prosperity gospel see 2 Corinthians 8:9; Malachi 3:10; Mark 10:30; John 10:10; Galatians 3:14; and James 4:2.

[16] Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1974), 51.

[17] Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Oxford Press, New York, 2013), 226.

[18] Bowler, Blessed, 15.

[19] Bowler, Blessed, 49.

[20] Bowler, Blessed, 78.

[21] Kenneth Copeland, Poverty: The Choice Is Yours (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1985), 10.

[22] Gloria Copeland, “God Wants You to Prosper, as Your Soul Prospers,” Charisma, September 1980, 41.

[23] Lifeway Research and the Hartford Institute for Religion conducted a study that identified the largest “megachurches” in the United States. The three largest are Life.Church in Edmonton, Oklahoma (85,000 weekly attendants); Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama (60,000 weekly attendants); and Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas (45,000 weekly attendants), According to LinkedIn, the top three wealthiest leaders of the Prosperity Gospel movement globally are Kenneth Copeland ($760 million net worth), David Oyedepo ($150 million net worth), and Joel Osteen ($100 million net worth)

[24] Pew Research Center, “Spirit and Power: A10-Country Survey of Pentecostals,” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, October 2006), 30.

[25] Pew Research Center, “Spirit and Power: A10-Country Survey of Pentecostals,” 30.

[26] Lifeway Research, “Protestant Churchgoer Views On the Prosperity Gospel.”

[27] Daniel Jordan Smith, “The Pentecostal Prosperity Gospel in Nigeria: Paradoxes of Corruption and Inequality,” Journal of Modern African Studies 59, no. 1 (March 2021): 104.

[28] Costi W. Hinn, “Why I Used to Believe in the Prosperity Gospel like Kenneth Copeland Believes,” Religious News Network, June 6, 2019.

[29] Smith, “The Pentecostal prosperity gospel in Nigeria”, 105.

[30] Glossary of Terms, Harvard Divinity School, s.v. “The Prosperity Gospel,”

[31] Chris Lehman, “Pennies from Heaven: How Mormon Economics Shape the G.O.P,” Harper’s Magazine, October 2011. This quote originates from Mark Skousen, nephew of Cleon Skousen, but the author makes every effort to make it appear that, from the beginning, Joseph Smith set out to gain wealth and incorporated it into the doctrine of the Church, which he believes persists today. For an excellent rebuttal to the Harper’s article, see Hal Boyd, “Mormon Gospel Not Money Gospel: A Reply to New Essay on Mormonism from Harper’s Magazine,” Deseret News, September 26, 2011.

[32] M. Russell Ballard, “That the Lost May Be Found,” Ensign, May 2012, 98; emphasis in original.

[33] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Mormon Views of Wealth, Welfare and the economy,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 6, 2012.

[34] Russell M. Nelson, “Think Celestial!” Liahona, November 2023, 118; emphasis added.

[35] D. Todd Christofferson, “Our Relationship with God,” Ensign, May 2022, 78.