Source:Echoes:Ch11:1:Textual variant in Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi

The Absence of Without a Cause from the Savior's Words in 3 Nephi 12:22

The Absence of Without a Cause from the Savior's Words in 3 Nephi 12:22

While studying at Oxford in the early 1970s, I became aware of an interesting textual variant in the New Testament. In a well-known passage in the Sermon on the Mount, the King James translation of Matthew 5:22 reads, "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause [eikei] shall be in danger of the judgment" (emphasis added). Yet the phrase without a cause is absent in most of the best and earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.2 Joseph Smith could hardly have guessed that this phrase did not originally belong in this passage, because textual criticism of the Bible was scarcely in its infancy in America in 1829. And yet, significantly, the parallel text in the Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon agrees with those early manuscripts, precisely lacking the phrase without a cause (3 Nephi 12:22).3

While lacking unanimous consensus among the manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount (a situation not unusual), the absence of the phrase without a cause is notably evidenced by the following manuscripts of Matthew: the papyrus fragment known as p67, Codex Sinaiticus (original hand), Codex Vaticanus, some Greek minuscules (scriptural texts written in lowercase Greek letters), the Latin Vulgate (Jerome mentions that the phrase was not found in the oldest manuscripts known to him), the Ethiopic texts, and the Gospel of the Nazarenes. Moreover, the phrase is missing in writings of Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and other early church fathers who quoted the New Testament scriptures as they knew them. In the field of New Testament textual criticism, one may generally count as compelling any reading that is supported by "the best Greek MSS—by the AD 200 p64 (where it is extant) and by at least the two oldest uncials, as well as some minuscules, [especially if] it also has some Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and early patristic support."4 A survey of the manuscripts supporting the original absence of the phrase without a cause in Matthew 5:22 shows that the shorter reading meets that criterion. Yet Sinaiticus and the most important manuscripts of the New Testament were not discovered until after Joseph Smith was dead.

I also find it interesting that this textual difference in the Greek manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount has a significant impact on this verse's meaning. It is much more severe to say, "Whoever is angry is in danger of the judgment," than to say, "Whoever is angry without a cause is in danger of the judgment." The first discourages all anger; the second permits anger as long as it is justifiable. The former is more like the demanding sayings of Jesus regarding committing adultery in one's heart (see Matthew 5:28) and loving one's enemies (see v. 44), neither of which offers the disciple a convenient loophole of self-justification or rationalization. Indeed, as Wernberg-Moller points out, the word eikei may have been added to Matthew 5:22 in an effort to reflect a Semitic idiom that does not invite allowance for "just" anger in certain circumstances at all, but actually "echoes some Aramaic phrase, condemning anger as sinful in any case" and "alluding to . . . the harbouring of angry feelings for any length of time."5 If correct, Wernberg-Moller's interpretation offers a second reason supporting the claim that the Book of Mormon accurately reflects the original sense of Matthew 5:22.

In my estimation, this original reading preserved in the Book of Mormon since 1830 is very meaningful. The absence of without a cause has important moral, behavioral, psychological, and religious ramifications. Moreover, 3 Nephi 12:22 is the main place in the account of the Sermon at the Temple (3 Nephi 12–14) where a significant textual change from the parallel account in the King James Version of Matthew 5–7 was needed and delivered by Joseph Smith. As far as I have been able to determine, no copy of the Greek New Testament present in the United States before 1830 made any reference to this variant reading. No scholars in the world of Joseph Smith seem to have been even remotely aware of this apparently late insertion in the Greek that actually weakens the text of the Bible. Yet in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith offered the world this stronger wording, reflecting the original meaning of the Savior.[1]


  1. John W. Welch, "A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 11, references silently removed—consult original for citations.