Since it was first published in English in 1830, the Book of Mormon has been fully translated into 87 languages, and printed copies have totaled more than 169 million. It has been described as the “keystone” of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the beginning, Church members have accepted it as scripture.
This doesn't mean the Book of Mormon replaces the Bible as scripture for members of the Church. The Bible and the Book of Mormon are used side by side in their preaching and personal study.
Latter-day Saints also consider the Book of Mormon to be a record of great ancient-American civilizations. According to the record, one of these civilizations stemmed from a man named Lehi who left Jerusalem with his family around 600 B.C. They traveled to the sea, built a boat and continued over sea to the Americas.
Following the party’s arrival in the New World, growing disharmony caused family groups to fragment into clans that evolved eventually into two opposing nations. Conflicts ensued during the recorded 1,000 years, leading to the eventual demise of one of these nations.
Within the context of this story is a series of prophecies and testimonies about Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, including, strikingly, a visit by the risen, resurrected Jesus to the people in the New World.
The Book of Mormon records that during Christ's ministry to the people of ancient America, He established His church, as in the Old World.
According to the record, the people lived in unity and prosperity for nearly 200 years following Christ's visit.
Then, over time, many people began to abandon Christ's teachings. Wickedness prevailed among them, and a war of extermination resulted in the destruction of an entire nation.
The Book of Mormon tells how these events were meticulously recorded on metal plates. The responsibility for maintaining and adding to this record, begun by the first people who left Jerusalem, was passed along from generation to generation.
One of the last record-keepers was an ancient American prophet named Mormon who abridged the centuries of records into a more concise account on gold plates.
This abridged record was passed from Mormon to his son Moroni (pronounced Mo-RONE-eye), the last known survivor of his nation, who, near the end of his life, buried the plates in a hillside located in what centuries later became upstate New York.
Latter-day Saints believe that it was to this hillside, today called the Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York, that Moroni returned in 1823 as an angel to lead the teenage boy Joseph Smith to the hidden plates. Joseph Smith later founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Early Church history records that Moroni eventually gave temporary custody of the gold plates to Joseph Smith, who permitted three men to see them and another eight men to handle them. These witnesses' written testimonies follow the Book of Mormon's introduction.
Joseph translated the plates in about three months after which he returned them to the angel Moroni. The Book of Mormon was first published in English in New York in 1830.
In 1851 the Book of Mormon was translated into Danish, its first translation to a non-English language. And in 2000, the Church achieved a milestone, bringing the total number of translations of the Book of Mormon to 100, including English. The book is published in its entirety in 81 non-English languages, with selections of it published in another 25 languages.
To help clarify and emphasize the purpose of the Book of Mormon, a subtitle was added in 1982. The full title reads, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
In addition to translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith recorded other revelations he received from God. Many of these revelations are found in two other books of modern-day scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.