Book of Mormon/Alleged biblical textual anachronisms

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Alleged biblical textual anachronisms in the Book of Mormon

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Question: How can text from the New Testament appear in the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon claims to be a "translation," and the language used is that of Joseph Smith

It is claimed that the Book of Mormon cannot be an ancient work because it contains material that is also found in the New Testament. In fact, in the Book of Mormon, Jesus quotes a paraphrase of Moses' words found in Acts 3:22-26. However, all these parallels demonstrate is that:

  1. the Book of Mormon translation language is closely based in KJV English; and
  2. King James phrases were exceedingly common in the speech and writing of Joseph's day.

Neither of these is news, and neither can tell us much but that the Book of Mormon was translated in the nineteenth century.

The Book of Mormon claims to be a "translation." Therefore, the language used is that of Joseph Smith. Joseph could choose to render similar (or identical) material using King James Bible language if that adequately represented the text's intent.

Only if we presume that the Book of Mormon is a fraud at the outset is this proof of anything. If we assume that it is a translation, then the use of Bible language tells us merely that Joseph used biblical language.

If Joseph was a fraud, why would he plagiarize the one text—the King James Bible—which his readers would be sure to know, and sure to react negatively if they noticed it? The Book of Mormon contains much original material—Joseph didn't "need" to use the KJV; he is obviously capable of producing original material.

Furthermore, many of the critics examples consist of a phrase or a concept that Joseph has supposedly lifted from the New Testament. This complaint, however ignores several factors.

Chief among the difficulty is that the critics seem ignorant or unconcerned about the extent to which the language of the King James Bible dominated preaching, common speech, and discussion of religious and non-religious topics in Joseph Smith's day.

In a Bible-based culture like Joseph Smith's, Biblical phrases are simply "in the air," and are often used without an awareness of where they come from (this is especially true for those whose literary exposure did not extend much beyond the Bible—like Joseph). By analogy, many modern authors or speakers will use phrases like the following, completely unaware that they are quoting Shakespeare!

Common phrases originally from Shakespeare

List Phrase Shakespeare Reference

*

"All's well that ends well"

  • All's Well That Ends Well
  • Title of play

*

"As good luck would have it"

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor

*

"Bated breath"

  • The Merchant of Venice

*

"Be-all and the end-all"

  • Macbeth

*

"Beggar all description"

  • Antony and Cleopatra

*

"Brave new world"

  • The Tempest

*

"Break the ice"

  • The Taming of the Shrew

*

"not budge an inch"

  • The Taming of the Shrew

*

"Dead as a doornail"

  • Henry IV, Part II

*

"Devil incarnate"
  • Titus Andronicus

*

"Fool's paradise"

  • Romeo and Juliet

*

"For goodness' sake"

  • Henry VIII

*

"Full circle"

  • King Lear

*

"Good riddance"

  • Troilus and Cressida

*

"Household words"

  • Henry V

*

"Heart of gold"

  • Henry V

*

"In...a pickle"

  • The Tempest

*

"Lie low"

  • Much Ado About Nothing

*

"Love is blind"

  • Henry V
  • The Merchant of Venice

*

"Melted into thin air"

  • The Tempest

*

"Naked truth"

  • Love's Labours Lost

*

"I have not slept one wink"

  • Cymbeline

*

"One fell swoop"

  • Macbeth

*

"Play fast and loose with"

  • King John

*

"We have seen better days"

  • As You Like It
  • Timon of Athens

*

"The short and the long of it"

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor

*

"Too much of a good thing"

  • As You Like It

*

"Wear my heart upon my sleeve"

  • Othello

*

"What the dickens"

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor

*

"The world's my [mine] oyster"

  • Henry IV, Part 2

Would we accuse someone who used these phrases of "plagiarizing" Shakespeare? Hardly, for they are common expressions in our language—most people are probably unaware that they even come from Shakespeare, and most have probably not read the plays at all. In a similar way, some biblical phrases and vocabulary were likely part of Joseph Smith's subconscious verbal world. It would be strange if it were otherwise.

There are related issues to which the critics pay little attention

  • often the relation between the texts is not that close; only a few words are used that are the same. It is sometimes hard to see how there would be a different way of discussing the same sort of issue. Even if one believes Joseph forged the Book of Mormon, it seems more plausible that these cases are just a coincidence, or a case where one is almost "forced" to use the same type of language (e.g., 1 Nephi 1:18, Alma 19:10, Mosiah 16:7).
  • some phrases which approximate the New Testament are quite famous, classic renderings in the King James. Such phrases might be used almost instinctively or subconsciously when translating (e.g., 1 Nephi 12:11, 2 Nephi 4:17). Even academic translators sometimes struggle to avoid using the type of scriptural language with which they are very familiar—it can take a real effort to give a different rendering than one that is well known.
  • the Book of Mormon never hides its intent to use King James style English. It is not surprising, then, that there are parallels in language and vocabulary. The translation may even intend to call to mind these biblical verses or phrases, since the Book of Mormon is intended to complement the Bible
  • Joseph is clearly able to produce huge amounts of text that do not rely on the KJV at all. Why, if he wants to produce a believable forgery, does he adapt the occasional well-known phrase that could be noticed by even a relatively casual Bible reader? The critics require Joseph to be clever enough to produce independent text, and yet foolish enough to betray his dependence on the Bible.
  • Often, although the wording may be similar, the concept being explored is expanded, or the context is substantially altered in the Book of Mormon. The critics seem to think that Joseph flips through the Bible to find something, but the Book of Mormon certainly extends and adapts this material dramatically. The "copying" model seems more complex than needed, as it has Joseph taking small snippets of text from the Bible and other sources and somehow weaving it into the Book of Mormon text. Yet, eyewitnesses do not describe anything like this process; it is not even clear that Joseph owned a Bible during the Book of Mormon translation.


Question: How can 1 Nephi 22:15 in the Book of Mormon quote Malachi 4:1 hundreds of years before Malachi was written?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #218: Why Did Jesus Give The Nephites Malachi's Prophecies? (Video)

The translation language may resemble Malachi, but the work is not attributed to Malachi

If Joseph was a fraud, why would he plagiarize the one text—the King James Bible—which his readers would be sure to know, and sure to react negatively if they noticed it? The Book of Mormon contains much original material—Joseph didn't "need" to use the KJV; he is obviously capable of producing original material.

The Book of Mormon claims to be a "translation." Therefore, the language used is that of Joseph Smith. Joseph could choose to render similar (or identical) material using King James Bible language if that adequately represented the text's intent.

The translation language may resemble Malachi, but the work is not attributed to Malachi. Only if we presume that the Book of Mormon is a fraud at the outset is this proof of anything. If we assume that it is a translation, then the use of Bible language tells us merely that Joseph used biblical language.

Joseph used entire chapters (e.g., 3 Nephi 12-14: based on biblical texts that he did not claim were quotations from original texts (even Malachi is treated this way by Jesus in 3 Nephi 24-25:. If these are not a problem, then a resemblance to biblical language elsewhere is not either, since that is simply how Joseph translated.


Question: Is Nephi's mention of Jeremiah being put into prison anachronistic, since Jeremiah would not have been in prison at the time that Lehi left Jerusalem?

Jeremiah was imprisoned on more than one occasion

It is claimed that Nephi's mention of Jeremiah being put into prison (1 Nephi 7:14) is anachronistic, since Jeremiah would not have been in prison when Lehi left Jerusalem. However, Jeremiah was imprisoned on more than one occasion; the Biblical account and the Book of Mormon account are not in contradiction.

Jeremiah was put into prison at least twice during Zedekiah's reign: once soon after Zedekiah ascended the throne (see Jeremiah 37:1,15.)

Jeremiah was released at some point, and again able to preach. He was later put into prison again. (See Jeremiah 38:1-6,13,28.)

The book of Jeremiah is not in strict chronological order; care must be taken with each event to be certain that we understand the proper timing for a given account.


Question: Why is the Holy Ghost mentioned so many times in the Book of Mormon prior to the time of Christ?

It is interesting to note that the same question arises about Satan in the Old Testament

Why is the Holy Ghost mentioned so many times in the Book of Mormon prior to the time of Christ (e.g., 1 Nephi 10:17) and yet in the Old Testament there is hardly any mention of the Holy Ghost, especially with regard to his mission of bearing witness of the truth?

The typical answer Biblical students give for this is the evolving understanding of doctrine from the Old Testament to the New Testament

It is interesting to note that the same question arises about Satan in the Old Testament. There is very little information about Satan outside of the first two chapters of Job. Students of the Bible have observed that Satan is much more prevalent and "real" in the New Testament. The typical answer Biblical students give for this is the evolving understanding of doctrine from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Some who are more skeptical say that the New Testament period was perhaps more influenced by spiritual beliefs in devils and spirits than the earlier period.

For Latter-day Saints this reinforces our belief that many plain and precious things were not adequately handed down to us from ancient times

But for Latter-day Saints there is a different perspective. We know that the knowledge of both Satan and the Holy Ghost has been part of gospel teaching from the time of Adam down. The fact that both are poorly represented in the Old Testament reinforces our belief that many plain and precious things were not adequately handed down to us from ancient times (see 1 Nephi 13:26–40). This was one of the great necessities for the Restoration—to restore the "fulness" of the doctrines and principles of the gospel, because they were not adequately transmitted into our time. The Book of Mormon in its plainness and simplicity, and uncorrupted nature, shows us a clearer picture of what was understood and believed about both Satan and the Holy Ghost by inspired prophets.

Even with these textual losses, the concept of Spirit of the Lord as an independent entity does appear in a handful of passages, including Genesis 1:2; 2 Samuel 23:2; Isaiah 40:13; 48:16; and 59:19.

Similar criticisms are leveled at the Book of Mormon and the Church, because the Book of Mormon reveals the name of Jesus Christ prior to his birth. Again, the answer is, inspired prophets knew a great deal, unfortunately it wasn't adequately transmitted to us before the recovery of the Book of Mormon.


Question: Why does part of the longer ending of Mark show up in the Book of Mormon

For many years the so-called “longer ending of Mark” has had its authenticity disputed

Some critics have focused on the appearance of language from the longer ending of the Gospel According to Mark in the Book of Mormon. Mormon writes:

For behold, thus said Jesus Christ, the Son of God … : Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned; And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover; (Mormon 9:22-24)

The wording here is virtually identical (except for one word) to the Gospel of Mark where it is written:

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.


16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.(Mark 16:15-18)

These verses from Mark are from the “longer ending of Mark”. Scholars have believed that this part of the Gospel was not original to it and added at a later time by editors. Thus, the question becomes: if these words weren’t actually spoken by Jesus, then why would he repeat them to the Nephites and why would they then show up in the Book of Mormon?

Believing that the longer-ending is authentic to Mark’s gospel is a defensible position

As Book of Mormon Central has written:

But before jumping to conclusions about the authenticity of either Mark 16:15–18, or Mormon 9:22–24, there are several considerations to keep in mind. First, in recent years, several scholars have argued that the text in Mark 16:9–20 is indeed an authentic part of the Gospel of Mark.[1] These scholars note that many other early New Testament manuscripts contain these verses,[2] and bring a wide array of additional evidence together, making a credible case for the early inclusion of the long ending in Mark’s gospel.[3] Because the textual evidence is extremely complex,[4] legitimate questions about the history of the long ending of Mark remain, but the possibility that it was an original part of the Gospel of Mark is a defensible position to take.[5]

It is also significant that several scholars who reject Mark 16:9–20 as part of the original Gospel of Mark nonetheless believe that the long ending pre-existed its attachment to Mark.[6] This means that even if it was not originally part of Mark’s gospel, it likely stands as an early, independent witness of the resurrection containing the authentic teachings of the Savior’s post-resurrection ministry.[7]

Another important detail to keep in mind is that even among those who reject the authenticity of Mark 16:9–20, there is considerable debate about how the Gospel of Mark originally ended. Some believe it ended as a dramatic cliff-hanger at Mark 16:8.[8] Others, however, argue that there is another “lost ending” or two.[9] It is impossible to know exactly what such other endings would have said, but N. T. Wright argues that it most likely would have been similar to the current ending, including a commission similar to that in Mark 16:15–18.[10].[11]

Thus, on the grounds that this teaching is based in the authenticity of the longer ending, this doesn’t propose a significant problem for the Book of Mormon. However, they note that this problem doesn’t have to hinge on its authenticity:

It important to recognize, however, that even though the English translation of Mormon 9:22–24 was possibly influenced by the King James translation of Mark 16:15–18, Moroni’s source was not the Gospel of Mark.[12] Rather, Moroni was drawing on the teachings of Christ recorded among the Nephites (Mormon 9:22). Thus, the authenticity of the words of Jesus in Mormon 9:22–25 is not ultimately dependent on the authenticity of the “long ending” of Mark. Indeed, belief in the authenticity of these words in the ending of Mark may, on the other hand, benefit from the testimony of the Book of Mormon. [13]


Question: Who wrote the book of Revelations?

Critics of Mormonism claim that since a Johannine community likely authored the book of Revelation as we have it in its current form that this is evidence Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon

Some secularist critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim that the authorship of the book of Revelation is evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. The authorship of the book of Revelation is described in the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible:

The author of the book of Revelation identifies himself by name as John (1.1,4,9; 22.8). This distinguishes Revelation from other Jewish and Christian apocalypses, which are pseudonymous, that is, written in the name of some revered figure from antiquity (e.g., Apoc. Bar., Apoc. Zeph.). While some ancient authorities (e.g., Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 81.4) suggested that this author is the apostle John, the son of Zebedee (see Mk 3.17), internal evidence from the book itself is inconclusive. Among ancient interpreters, Dionysius of Alexandria maintained that Revelation could not have been written by the same John to whom the Gospel according to John was attributed.

The author’s familiarity with the Jerusalem Temple and its rituals and furnishings, the depth of his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible (of the 405 verses in Revelation, some 275 include allusions to passages in the Hebrew Bible, or to its Greek translation, the Septuagint), as well as his adoption of a literary genre that was familiar in late Second Temple Judaism, combine to suggest that the John of Revelation may have been a Jewish Christian who fled to the Diaspora as a consequence of the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans (66–73 Ce). His selfidentification to the “seven churches that are in Asia” (1.4) as “your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance” (1.9) suggests that he was well known to his audience, probably because he exercised a prophetic ministry among them (see 22.9). He mentions the twelve apostles as figures from the past (21.14), and does not refer to himself as one of them. This makes an identification of the John of the book of Revelation with the apostle of that name highly questionable, as is any connection of the John of the Revelation with the Gospel according to John or with the Letters of John.[14]


Latter-day Saint New Testament scholar Thomas Wayment (PhD New Testament Studies, Claremont Graduate University) writes:

The author of the book of Revelation formally introduces himself as John (Revelation 1:1). Based on the contents of the book, the author was also a Christian prophet who intentionally shared the contents of a spectacular vision relating to seven churches in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Tradition asserts broadly that John is to be identified with John the son of Zebedee (Matthew 10:2) and that the same author also wrote the Gospel of John and 1–3 John. Based on the style and substance of the writing, it is clear that the author was a native Hebrew/Aramaic speaker who probably moved to western Asia Minor and wrote his book in Greek to the churches in that region. The language is simple, revealing the words of an individual who had not been trained in Greek. From a scholarly perspective, it seems almost impossible to suggest that the same person wrote the Gospel of John, 1–3 John, and Revelation in the same way. More than likely, all of these compositions have historical connections to the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, though he did not write them personally. They all share ideas and concepts, but they were likely written at different times by different people.[15]

Scholars generally agree that it is more likely that someone other than John son of Zebedee wrote Revelation while not ruling out the possibility that he did[16]

The prophet Nephi writes in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 14:20-27):

20 And the angel said unto me: Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

21 Behold, he shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea, and also many things which have been.

22 And he shall also write concerning the end of the world.

23 Wherefore, the things which he shall write are just and true; and behold they are written in the book which thou beheld proceeding out of the mouth of the Jew; and at the time they proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, or, at the time the book proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, the things which were written were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men.

24 And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see.

25 But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.

26 And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel.

27 And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John, according to the word of the angel.

Option #1 - John the son of Zebedee wrote or spoke what we have in Revelation

The first option that we might have for reconciling this is to say that John the son of Zebedee wrote or spoke what we have in Revelation and then a member of a Johannine community/discipleship used the material, preserved/kept in either written or oral form, and thus composed the book. As Wayment observed, the material more than likely has connections to John son of Zebedee.

Thus, the content of the book of Revelation may be a composite of teachings written down by John which his followers kept (in either written or oral form), preserved, and taught from and one of these Johannine community members may have composed the book as we have it today.

Option #2 - There was an apostle named John that wasn't the son of Zebedee

Less likely than the first option is that another person named John authored the Gospel but that that person wasn't John the son of Zebedee. Some may object to this using v 20 of Nephi's vision. One way to respond might be that John may have been an apostle that wrote after John son of Zebedee passed away. The author of Revelation does identify himself as John.

Another way to make this work would be to see if the addition of "twelve" in v 20 is a translator's gloss from Joseph Smith. Though this is weakened when seen "twelve apostles" are mentioned in Chapter 11.

This option is possible but not probable and not the most attractive. Either way, we can see that the scholarly perspective on the authorship of the Revelation of John doesn’t need to have an impact on the Book of Mormon.

Notes

  1. See Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014); David W. Hester, Does Mark 16:9–20 Belong in the New Testament? (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015). See also, David Alan Black, ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2008), which presents views from scholars on both sides of the debate.
  2. Notably Codex Bezae (about 400 A.D.), Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi (fifth century). The long ending of Mark was also known to second-century Christian writers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and others.
  3. For a summary of these arguments, see Jeff Lindsay, “The Book of Mormon Versus the Consensus of Scholars: Surprises from the Disputed Longer Ending of Mark, Part 1,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25 (2017): 283–321.
  4. While some of the most ancient copies end the book at the close of verse 8 in the King James Version, others (as does the KJV) append the text found in verses 9–20 right after the ending of verse 8. One adds, after verse 8, a statement about the women reporting to Peter and to the other apostles what they had seen, as well as a comment about Jesus sending the apostles forth to proclaim the sacred and imperishable eternal salvation, before giving the text found in verses 9–20. One quite early source, Codex Washingtonianus (fouth-fifth century), includes a substantial addition after verse 14, mentioning “this age of lawlessness and unbelief,” “Satan,” and “unclean spirits,” and how to obtain the “true power of God” to limit the authority of Satan, and how sinners can “return to the truth and no longer sin,” to inherit the “imperishable glory” which is in heaven; interestingly not unlike Moroni’s words “unbelieving,” “power of God,” and “redemption of man” in Mormon 9:6, 13.
  5. See Thomas A. Wayment, “The Endings of Mark and Revelation,” in The King James Bible and the Restoration, ed. Kent P. Jackson (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2011), 77–81.
  6. Julie M. Smith, The Gospel according to Mark, BYU New Testament Commentary (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2018), 871–874. These words may have existed independently as memories of words spoken by Jesus during his Forty-day Ministry.
  7. See N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 618–619; Smith, The Gospel according to Mark, 874.
  8. Julie M. Smith, The Gospel according to Mark, BYU New Testament Commentary (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2018), 871–874..
  9. See note 6. See also Robert H. Stein, “The Ending of Mark,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 18, no. 1 (2008): 79–98; Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, 222–227.
  10. Wright, Resurrection of the Son, 619–624. Mann, Mark, 673 mentions that one scholar has actually argued that Mark 16:15–18 was part of the original, now lost ending of Mark, though Mann himself rejects that view.
  11. See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Part of the Long Ending of Mark Show Up in the Book of Mormon? (Mormon 9:24),” KnoWhy 522 (June 26, 2019) Accessed 27 June 2019
  12. It is unreasonable to believe, and there is no evidence, that Joseph either opened a Bible to the ending of Mark and read these words, or had memorized them, and then wove them smoothly into the flow of the translation of Mormon 9.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Jean Pierre Ruiz, “The Revelation of John” in The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible Fifth ed. (ed) Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, Pheme Perkins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) 1805.
  15. Thomas A. Wayment, “The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints” (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2019) 455.
  16. See commentary in Ian Boxall, "The Revelation of Saint John" in Black's New Testament Commentary (Ada: Baker Academic Press, 2009)