NEW intro (MSH paper, Wise Purposes)

In several places in the Book of Mormon, authors pause to explain why they are writing their book. Sometimes they seem to be confident about why they are writing, and other times, they admit that God has something planned that they don’t fully understand. Nephi and Mormon call these unknown plans “wise purposes.”

In the Doctrine and Covenants, God pauses to explain to Joseph the wisdom of bringing forth the Nephite plates. This is especially true in D&C 3 and D&C 10, where God is upbraiding Joseph for the loss of the 116 pages. Despite the tragedy, God has a plan to move forward. As God explains his plan, he says, “I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.”

The words “wise purposes” from the Book of Mormon, and the words “my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil” from the D&C are often brought into relationship to explain each other. Today I will start by reviewing that standard reading, using the scriptures most often cited in those discussions. Second, I will suggest an alternative reading of these same verses. Third, I will look at how each of these readings offers a different interpretation of how God’s wisdom is greater than the devil’s cunning.



Part 4 – God’s wisdom includes fulfilling promises **keep working**

This reading of the purposes of the small plates is, I think, helpful in thinking about wisdom in D&C 10.

God’s wisdom is put into relation with the devil’s cunning. At first, it may seem that God is saying he is smarter than the devil; that whatever amount of cunning he has, God always has more. But what if we weren’t trying to relate two things in a hierarchy? What if wisdom is one kind of thing, and cunning is another? And whatever it is that is God’s wisdom, isn’t of a higher sort or on a higher plane or simply outside of the same system as the devil’s cunning? We might say that My family is greater than this expensive boat, but I don’t really mean that my family is much better boat. My family is greater because

Fulfilling promises **write still**

3 Ne 5


D&C 10!!!!!!!!!!!!

D&C 3!!!!!!!!!!!!


The small plates inclusion fulfilled the promises to the fathers.

Abrahamic Covenant **keep working**

Mormon’s yearning for his brethren captures something very important, I think. Mormon is willing to include the small plates for whatever private reasons God may have, but he hopes, he prays, that it may have something to do with restoring his brethren to their God. This yearning and this type of prayer can be found elsewhere in the Book of Mormon.


And apparently beyond Enos, his fathers prayed for the same thing. Jacob? Nephi? Lehi? We don’t have specific record of these prayers, but we know of their own exortations and yearnings for their family members.

And their prayers were heard.

Perhaps we could add that long before Lehi, Joseph of Egypt forsaw his descendents needing a book and a seer to translate it, and that “the words which he shall write shall be the words which are expedient in my wisdom should go forth unto the fruit of thy loins.”

And Abraham himself was promised that God would remember his seed, continuing to reach out to them, and preserve remnants……


Changing Vision of the Purpose of the Small Plates

The first reference we have to the purpose of the small plates comes in 1 Nephi 9:5: “Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.” Nephi says nothing more about the purposes here, but in 1 Nephi 19:3, he says, “the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.” While Nephi is unsure of all of God’s purposes, he at least knows that the small plates will be used to instruct current and future Nephties.

Jacob doesn’t say much about the purposes, nor does Enos. By Jarom’s day, the purposes were understood this way: “Now behold, I, Jarom, write a few words according to the commandment of my father, Enos, that our genealogy may be kept … and … these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites.” Note that we’ve switched from having the Nephites as the intended audience to the Lamanites. Also, genealogy has become important here, whereas Nephi only copied his genealogy onto the large plates. And Jacob, Enos, and Jarom don’t seem to have any sense of God using these plates for unknown, wise purposes.

By the time Mormon discovers these plates, he is well on his way to finishing his abridgment of the large plates. As recorded in the Words of Mormon, Mormon feels to include the small plates in their entirety alongside his abridgment. He says, “And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me…And my prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people.” Mormon admits that he does not know God’s purpose, but then quickly adds a prayer concerning his brethren — as if to say “I don’t why God is doing this, but I sure hope it’s to bring my brethren back.”

MSH paper on wisdom, intro

In accordance with this year’s theme, I have chosen to look at D&C 10:43. To review, D&C 10 records God’s explanation that those who possess the “lost 116 pages,” as we call them today, are planning to alter them and prove that Joseph is a fraud. As is well known, God replaces these missing pages not with a retranslation, but by repurposing the small plates. Now. Verse 43 itself reads, “I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.”

Much has been written on this verse. It gives hope to those who worry about the evil in the world. It boosts confidence in God’s foreknowledge. And it’s always pleasant to review the stories where the good guy’s intelligence is unquestionably greater than the bad guy’s. 🙂


However, I think this word “greater” gets us a little distracted. Surely, God’s wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. But, what exactly do wisdom and cunning have to do with each other? That is, have we thought through what brings these two into relation? Is wisdom simply a higher form of cunning? (*Mosiah 24:7) Is wisdom superior intelligence? Is it synonymous with God’s foreknowledge? My questions would likely be answered with a simple “Yes.” Or, “Karen, it doesn’t really matter — what matters is that God is shown to be greater than the devil.”

In a sort of foil-like reversal, Latter-day saints are set on proving God’s superiority, much like the holders of the 116 pages were set on proving Joseph’s dishonesty. And this can sometimes result in a one-track interpretation, when we study verses in the Book of Mormon that talk about the “wise purposes” of the small plates. For example, one commentary says, “The Lord in His omniscience had the second record, the small plates, cover the exact time period that was covered in the stolen 116 pages… The loss of the manuscript clearly demonstrates why the Lord commanded Nephi to write the small plates and why Mormon was inspired to include them.”

While undoubtedly a crucial use of the small plates in the end, it seems like an insufficient summary of the “wise purposes” of the small plates.

In what follows, I will look at verses in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants that discuss “wisdom” or “wise purposes” in relation to the small plates. By doing so, I hope to provide robust interpretation of how God’s wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.


D&C 10:21 similar to Laman and Lemuel

21 And their hearts are corrupt, and full of wickedness and abominations; and they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil; therefore they will not ask of me.