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Why are chapters 12 – 24 in 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon? They are hard to understand. What meaning can be obtained by reading them? Why are they present?
ANSWER FROM FAIRMORMON VOLUNTEER MICHAEL HICKENBOTHAM:
I assume you realized these chapters contain 12 Isaiah chapters (Isaiah 2-14) with some slight modifications. These are part of 21 chapters of Isaiah found throughout the Book of Mormon. A few years back I thought about why so many chapters of Isaiah were included in the Book of Mormon and after researching the subject, I wrote the following:
Some Book of Mormon critics today question the need for so many similar verses in both the Book of Mormon and the Bible. They often assert that many Book of Mormon verses were copied from the King James Bible making it a fraud. While this might appear to be true to the casual Book of Mormon reader, a closer look at these duplicate texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity.
The 21 chapters of Isaiah which are quoted (Chapters 2-14, 29, and 48-54) either partially or completely, represent about one-third of the book of Isaiah, but less than two and one-half percent of the total Book of Mormon. We also find that more than half of all verses quoted from Isaiah (234 of 433) differ from the King James version available to Joseph Smith (see Book of Mormon note to 2 Nephi 12:2). The Book of Mormon apparently follows the King James (Masoretic) text when it conveys the original meaning. We often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern texts disagree (see also Vestal and Wallace, Firm Foundation of Mormonism, pp. 70-72). One verse (2 Nephi 12:16), is not only different but adds a completely new phrase: “And upon all the ships of the sea.” This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which had not been translated into English in Joseph Smith’s day (Gilbert Scharff, The Truth About the God Makers, p. 172; see also Hunter & Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, pp. 100-102; Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, pp. 129-143). It is also significant that the chapters of Isaiah actually quoted in the Book of Mormon (chapters 2-14 and 48-54) are those which modern scholars widely agree correspond closely to the original Isaiah collection and therefore would have been the most likely to have existed in Lehi’s day (Ibid., pp. 142-143). Could Joseph Smith have known this? If Joseph or anyone else actually tried to plagiarize the Book of Mormon, critics have failed to show the source of the remaining 93% (when all similar texts are removed). A 100% non-biblical book of scripture wouldn’t have been much more difficult to produce.
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 (Jay P. Green Sr., The Interlinear Bible, Hebrew-Greek-English, p. 975).
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 (LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 707). 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).
It is clear that the writings of Isaiah held special significance for Jesus Christ and Nephi (see 2 Nephi 11:8, 25:5; 3 Nephi 20:11, 23:1-3). Isaiah’s prophecies might also have been quoted frequently because they were largely concerned with latter-day events. Isaiah wrote about the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith (see Isa. 49), the gathering of Israel in the last days (Isa. 18), the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (Isa. 29), wickedness in the last days (Isa. 33), and the Savior’s second coming, and the millennium (Isa. 13, 26, 27). While he also wrote about the Savior’s first coming (Isa. 32:1-4) and events in his own time (Isa. 20, 23), most of what he wrote about is yet to be fulfilled (Bruce R. McConkie, Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah, Ensign, Oct. 1973, pp. 78-83, see also Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide, 3, p. 26).
When one considers that New Testament writers literally quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah (LDS Bible Dictionary, pp. 756-759) 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.
If critics are making an accusation of plagiarism then they are by the same logic indicting their own Bible. Close examination of the Old Testament reveals many passages which are copied nearly word for word including grammatical errors. Micah, who lived hundreds of years after Isaiah, prophesied word for word in Micah 4:1-3 what Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 2:2-4 without once giving him credit (see A. Melvin McDonald, Day of Defense, p. 49). We also find the genealogy from Genesis 5:10-11, 36 repeated in 1 Chronicles, much of the history in Samuel and Kings is repeated in Chronicles, and that Isaiah 36:2 through 38:5 is the same as 2 Kings 18:17 through 20:6. Although Old Testament scripture was often quoted by Old and New Testament writers without giving credit, the Book of Mormon most often makes it clear from whom passages were quoted. There was obviously no intent to plagiarize in either case but to find fault with the Book of Mormon you must equally fault the Bible, otherwise you are using a dual standard to judge.
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 (Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, p. 128).
Some have also 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 (Ex. 6:3; Ps. 83:18; Isa. 12:2; 26:4) and was also in common use in Joseph Smith’s day (D&C 109:34, 42, 56, 68; 110:1-3; 128:9; Teachings, pp. 220, 221, 250-251). 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?
Now as to why those specific chapters were quoted, I can offer the following observations. Nephi himself explains why he included these chapters in 2 Nephi 11:2-4:
2 And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.
3 And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.
4 Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.
Remember that the Book of Mormon is a second witness (a third scriptural witness if the Old Testament and New Testament are separated) after the Bible of the Jesus Christ. Those chapters of Isaiah contain many prophecies of Jesus Christ and Nephi is trying to help his people understand that the Savior would come.
In 1 Nephi 19:8, Nephi explained that the Savior would come in 600 years:
8 And behold he cometh, according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem.
This portion of 2nd Nephi is trying to prove to Nephi’s people that Isaiah also prophesied of the coming of Christ.
Read 2 Nephi 12:12; 16:1; 17:14; 18:14; 19:6; 20:12; 21:1-2, 10-13; 22:2, 6; 23:6 then read chapter 25 where Nephi explains again why he quoted these chapters. See especially verses 1, 5-7,10-20, and 23-29. It’s all about the coming of Jesus Christ and proving to Nephi’s people that he would come in 600 years from the time they left Jerusalem.
I hope that helps,