1st Nephi

a brief theological introduction

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents . . .”

So begins the first book in the Book of Mormon, as the prophet Nephi brings us through the wilderness to a promised land where his family fractures rather than flourishes. But in spite of that tragedy, Nephi points us to the hope he found in his father’s inspired dream for the future. And driven by his father’s fears and faith, he sought and received his own revelations about how his people might someday find redemption—and might ultimately help bring about the redemption of Israel and the entire human family.

In this brief theological introduction, philosopher and theologian Joseph M. Spencer investigates the central themes and purposes of a book he calls a “theological masterpiece.” What was Nephi trying to accomplish with his writings? How can readers today make better sense of Nephi’s words? What can an ancient seer offer readers in the twenty-first century? Spencer introduces a Nephi for our moment, a complex prophet with an urgent message for a world in turmoil.


"Buy this book and read it. It’s a powerful addition to the resources we have for understanding the Book of Mormon. It will challenge and enlighten and uplift."

"It’s a pleasure to read scriptural commentary by someone who thinks critically while simultaneously loving holy text. Joseph Spencer’s excellent companion to 1 Nephi fills both these categories."


Exponent II

"Spencer starts by taking the text as a whole and allows it to funnel him towards its message—one that probably wouldn’t be at the top of mind for even avid readers of 1 Nephi."

Christopher D. Cunningham

Public Square Magazine

"With the love and unrelenting inquisitiveness of a disciple-scholar, Spencer links together parts of the narrative which previously seemed unrelated, showing us a dazzling bigger picture."

"A powerful, compelling, and rich introduction to the book I thought I knew...It invites every reader to consider how Nephi’s perspective should shape our own personal and collective ministry."

“Spencer’s approach to the text is compelling and refreshing. 1st Nephi will never be the same for me after the questions and insights he raises throughout this book.”

"My copy is heavily marked up and littered with sticky notes, pointing to new insights and areas for further study."

"Joseph Spencer makes us look deeper...Instead of re-telling the 1 Nephi stories for the billionth time, he takes us by the academic hand and leads us around another way."

Robert Wheadon

LDS Apologist Now

About the Author

Joseph M. Spencer

Joseph M. Spencer is assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He earned a PhD in philosophy at the University of New Mexico and has published extensively on Latter-day Saint scripture and theology in BYU Studies Quarterly, the Journal of Philosophy and Scripture, and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies where he serves as editor. Spencer is co-editor of the book series Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture. His other books include Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah and For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope.

Table of Contents

  • Series Introduction
  • Introduction
  • Part I: The Theological Project of Nephi

    Occasion and Structure
  • The Remnant of Israel
  • The God of Israel
  • Part II: The Theological Questions

    Laban's Death
  • Laman and Lemuel
  • The Women
  • Conclusion
  • Backmatter

    Further Reading
  • Endnotes
  • Editions of the Book of Mormon
  • Index
  • Colophon
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Publication Information

  • Subject: Book of Mormon
  • Publication Month: March
  • Publication Year: 2020
  • Language: English,
  • ISBN 13: 978-0-8425-0007-4
  • Page Count: 148
  • Illustration(s): 13
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Price: $ 9.95
  • Imprint: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

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The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)