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

Table of Contents

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.

Notes