Question: Why are many of the quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon identical to those in the King James Bible?

Table of Contents

Question: Why are many of the quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon identical to those in the King James Bible?

Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating

There are several problems with the idea that Joseph simply copied passages from the Holy Bible.

1) Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating. Recalled Emma, in a later interview:

I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for [Joseph] I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat , with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
A. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A. If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.[1]

Martin Harris also noted that Joseph would translate with his face buried in his hat in order to use the seer stone/urim and thummim. This would make referring to a Bible or notes virtually impossible:

Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine...[2]

2) It is not clear that Joseph even owned a Bible during the Book of Mormon translation. He and Oliver Cowdery later purchased a Bible, which suggests (given Joseph's straitened financial situation) that he did not already own one.[3]

3) It is not clear that Joseph's Biblical knowledge was at all broad during the Book of Mormon translation. It seems unlikely that he would have recognized, say, Isaiah, had he encountered it on the plates. Recalled Emma Smith:

When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. .?. . When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, "Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?" When I answered, "Yes," he replied, "Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived." He had such a limited knowledge of history at the time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.[4]

Emma also noted that

Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and wellworded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, . . . it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else.[5]

And, if Joseph was merely inventing the Book of Mormon story, he picked some of the more obscure and difficult Bible passages to include.

4) If Joseph was forging the Book of Mormon, why include Biblical passages at all? Clearly, Joseph was able to rapidly produce a vast and complex text that made no reference to Biblical citations at all. If Joseph was trying to perpetrate a fraud, why did he include near-verbatim quotations from the one book (the Holy Bible KJV) with which his target audience was sure to be familiar?

The differences in wording between the KJV and the Book of Mormon highlight the areas in which there were theologically significant differences between the Nephite versions and the Masoretic text

Even academic translators sometimes copy a previous translation if it serves the purpose of their translation. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided previously unknown texts for many Biblical writings. However, in some translations of the DSS, approximately 90% is simply copied from the KJV.

Surely we are not expected to believe that the DSS translators dropped back into King James idiom and just happened to come up with a nearly identical text! They, in fact, unabashedly copied the KJV, except where the DSS texts were substantially different from already known Hebrew manuscripts.[6]

Why was this done? Because, the purpose of the DSS translation is to highlight the differences between the newly discovered manuscripts and those to which scholars already had access. Thus, in areas where the DSS manuscripts agree with the Biblical texts that were already known, the KJV translation is used to indicate this.

This is not to argue that there may not be a better way to render the text than the KJV—but, it would be counterproductive for the DSS committee spent a lot of time improving on the KJV translation. A reader without access to the original manuscripts could then never be sure if a difference between the DSS translation and the King James (or any other) translation represented a true difference in the DSS text, or simply the choice of the DSS translators to improve existing translations.

The situation with the Book of Mormon is likely analogous. For example, it is possible that most of the text to which the Nephites had access would not have differed significantly from the Hebrew texts used in later Bible translations. The differences in wording between the KJV and the Book of Mormon highlight the areas in which there were theologically significant differences between the Nephite versions and the Masoretic text, from which the Bible was translated. Other areas can be assumed to be essentially the same. If one wants an improved or clearer translation of a passage that is identical in the Book of Mormon and the KJV, one has only to go to the original manuscripts available to all scholars. Basing the text on the KJV focuses the reader on the important clarifications, as opposed to doing a new translation from scratch, and distracting the reader with many differences that might be due simply to translator preference.

Since there is no such thing as a "perfect" translation, this allows the reader to easily identify genuine differences between the Isaiah texts of the Old World and the Nephites.

Bible text itself quotes extensively from past scripture

When considering the presence of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, it is also interesting to note that one Bible scholar has found that the four gospels attest to the fact that Jesus Christ and the apostles consistently quoted scripture. He calculated that over "ten percent of the daily conversation of Jesus consisted of Old Testament words quoted literally" and nearly 50% of the Lord's words as quoted by John were quotations from the Old Testament.[7]

When we consider the fact that Isaiah is the most quoted of all prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet, it should not surprise us that both the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants also quote Isaiah more than any other prophet.[8] The Lord told the Nephites that "great are the words of Isaiah," and the prophet Nephi confessed, "my soul delighteth in his words... for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him" (2 Nephi 11:2).

New Testament writers literally quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah

It is clear that the writings of Isaiah held special significance for Jesus Christ and Nephi (see 2 Nephi 11:8, 2 Nephi 25:5; 3 Nephi 20:11; 3 Nephi 23:1-3). Isaiah's prophecies might also have been quoted frequently because they were largely concerned with latter-day events. The Saints understand Isaiah to have foretold the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith (see Isaiah 49:), the gathering of Israel in the last days (Isaiah 18:), the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (Isaiah 29:), wickedness in the last days (Isa. 33), and the Savior's second coming, and the millennium (Isaiah 13:, Isaiah 26:, Isaiah 27:). While he also wrote about the Savior's first coming (Isaiah 32:1-4) and events in his own time (Isaiah 20,23:), most of what he wrote about is yet to be fulfilled.[9]

When one considers that New Testament writers literally quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah[10] it should not surprise us that Book of Mormon writers did likewise. After all, these writings were part of the old world scriptures brought with them to the new world 1 Nephi 19:22-23). If the prophets of the Book of Mormon had not quoted Isaiah we might have questioned the authenticity of their words. That they did quote him extensively shows that they understood his writings as did Jesus and other apostles and prophets.

Paul has been cited as the most original of all New Testament writers but investigations of his epistles show that Paul often quoted from classical writers, orators, dramas, law courts, sports commentaries, and ancient religious rites. Even the well-known Pauline formula of "faith, hope, and charity," which appears also in the Book of Mormon, has been traced to Babylonian writings.[11]

Analysis of Specific Passages

2 Nephi 14:5

Walter Martin claims that Isaiah 4:5 is followed (mistakenly) by (2 Nephi 14:5). The phrase "For upon all the glory shall be a defense" should actually be "For over all the glory there will be a canopy."

Martin ignores that as translation literature, the Book of Mormon may well follow the KJV when the documents upon which the KJV is based match those of the Nephite text. Book of Mormon variants likely reflect only theologically significant changes not available in the Old World textual tradition.


2 Nephi 22:2

Some have questioned the use of the name JEHOVAH in 2 Nephi 22:2 and the use of some italicized King James Version words in the Book of Mormon. It seems clear that Joseph Smith was led to translate many passages as they appear in the King James Bible and made changes specifically by exception. Use of the proper name "Jehovah" which is an anglicized form of the Hebrew Yahweh, was common in the Bible[12] and was also in common use in Joseph Smith's day.[13] Although the name Jehovah is of more recent origin than the original Book of Mormon plates, it does not mean this name could not properly be used in translating a more ancient Hebrew title denoting the eternal I AM. Why should Joseph Smith be criticized for using the same name that King James scholars used?


Notes

  1. Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (Oct. 1879): 51
  2. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887), 12; cited frequently, including by Neal A. Maxwell, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign (January 1997), 34–41. off-site
  3. John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 326–372. off-site
  4. Emma Smith to Edmund C. Briggs, "A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856," Journal of History 9 (January 1916): 454.
  5. Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (Oct. 1879): 51
  6. “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, (1 Oct. 1879): 290.
  7. Jay P. Green Sr., The Interlinear Bible, Hebrew-Greek-English (Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1995), 975. ISBN 1878442821. ISBN 1565639774.
  8. See LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "{{{article}}},", 707. off-site
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah," Ensign (October 1973), 78–83. off-site.
  10. LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "{{{article}}},",756–759. off-site
  11. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 128. ISBN 0875791395.
  12. See Exodus 6:3; Psalms 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:4.
  13. See such scriptural examples as DC 109:34,42,56,68; DC 110:1-3; DC 128:9. See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 220, 221, 250–251. off-site