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.

Notes