The Book of Mormon is said to contain the "fulness of the gospel" of Jesus Christ (D&C 20:9; 27:5; 42:12; 135:3; Joseph Smith—History 1:34). Some readers are puzzled by this claim because the book does not mention or elaborate on certain revealed truths—details concerning salvation for the dead and the three kingdoms of glory, for instance—that they consider to be vital components of the teachings of the restoration.
In order to understand what the scriptural phrase "fulness of the gospel" means, we must first know what is meant by the term gospel. While some people use the term in a broad sense to include all revealed teachings and truth, the scriptures employ the term in a more restricted sense to refer to the good news of Christ's atonement and resurrection—his triumph over sin and death that opened the door of salvation to mankind. This particular definition is found in the Book of Mormon as well as in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price (see, for example, 3 Nephi 27:13—21; D&C 76:40—42; Abraham 2:11).
The Book of Mormon also equates the reception of the fulness of the gospel with "com[ing] to the knowledge of the true Messiah" (1 Nephi 10:14; see also 15:13—14; 3 Nephi 20:30—31; D&C 19:27). Coming to Christ is possible through "obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel," with "the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel" defined as faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Articles of Faith 1:3—4). This parallels part of the Savior's definition of the gospel in 3 Nephi 27, where the declaration "this is my gospel" (v. 21) refers at least in part to the preceding verse, which speaks of repentance, baptism, and sanctification "by the reception of the Holy Ghost" (v. 20; compare D&C 39:6).
The Book of Mormon can quite properly be said to contain the fulness of the gospel because it contains the most lucid explanation of the atonement of Christ found anywhere and explains in plain detail the means by which one can come unto Christ to partake of that atonement (see especially 2 Nephi 2; 9; Mosiah 15; Alma 34; 42).
Although the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel in the scriptural sense of that phrase, it does not contain nor purport to contain all revealed knowledge. In addition to teaching the gospel message and the associated "great plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8) in plainness and clarity, Book of Mormon prophets invite us to look forward to additional precepts, teaching, truths, and even scriptures to be revealed in the Lord's due time, "line upon line," through God's prophets by means of the Holy Ghost (see 2 Nephi 27:10—11; 28:29—30; 29:8—14; 30:17—18; 3 Nephi 26:6—11; Mormon 8:12; Ether 4:13—16).
This Research Report was prepared by the FARMS Research Department and is based on the latest available scholarly research. It is subject to revision as more information on the subject becomes available. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the position of FARMS, Brigham Young University, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Report last updated August 2000
Reynolds, Noel B. "The Gospel as Taught by Nephite Prophets." BYU Studies 31/3 (1991): 31—50.
Reynolds, Noel B. "The Gospel as Taught by Nephite Prophets." In Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, 257—59. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992.
———. "The True Points of My Doctrine." Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 26—56.