1 Nephi 9, along with chapter 6, help to identify the several sets of plates from which the first 141 pages of the Book of Mormon derives.
- The large plates of Nephi–a full secular history of the Nephite people–abridged by the prophet Mormon into a smaller account–the first part of Mormon’s abridgement, from 600 BC until the time of King Benjamin, was translated by Joseph Smith into 116 manuscript pages.
- The small plates of Nephi–a smaller religious history of the same time period, ending with King Benjamin’s reign–inserted whole into Mormon’s collection of plates–translated by Joseph Smith and now comprising the first 141 pages of the Book of Mormon.
- The plates of Lehi–containing Lehi’s record of his ministry–contains many things not found elsewhere–abridged by Nephi and included as a short account in the small plates now comprising the first 8 chapters of the Book of Mormon.
- The brass plates of Laban–included genealogy, the Books of Moses, and other Old Testament writings–included in the plates of Lehi–not included by Nephi in his record–referred to and quoted throughout the Book of Mormon.
I didn’t realize that there were two distinct theories of the sequence of the translation of the Book of Mormon. The first is called the “Small Plates First” theory. It postulates that after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages, Joseph Smith and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, went back and translated the Small Plates of Nephi. Then they continued translating the remainder of the Book of Mormon. The second theory, called the “Small Plates Last” theory surmises that after the 116 pages were lost, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery continued on with the translation of the Book of Mormon in sequence. They did not translate the Small Plates of Nephi until after the remainder of the Book of Mormon translation was finished.
Shirley R. Heater has written an article titled, “History of the Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon,” written from the point of view of the “Small Plates first” theory. Elden Watson has done a defense of the “Small Plates Last” theory. Watson also states that, “in the Small Plates Last theory, 2 Nephi 27:12-13 reveals the need for three witnesses to the Book of Mormon within five days of the completion of the translation, while in the Small Plates First theory Ether 5:1-5 reveals the need for three witnesses to the plates which are being translated within five days of the completion of the translation. It is just possible that the Lord prepared for two scenarios, one in which the 116 pages would be lost, and another in which they would not be lost, thus allowing someone, perhaps the individual who stole the manuscript pages, some personal agency in the course he would persue. One possible explanation is that success of the Lords plan must necessarily be independent of foreknowledge that some specific individual will committ a particular sin. This would allow the sinner to be appropriately judged instead of being able to claim that he had to commit the sin or the Lord’s plan would have failed.”