Question: Why do some New Testament phrases appear in the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Why do some New Testament phrases appear in the Book of Mormon?

Critics who suggest that Joseph Smith copied phrases from the New Testament do nothing to explore how common such phrases were in the preaching, writing, and speaking of Joseph's day

Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner present many examples of supposed "borrowing" of New Testament phrases by the Book of Mormon. When lined up in a list (without the text to compare) these can seem impressive. When the small amount of text which some have in common is seen, however, they become less convincing.

Furthermore, the Tanners do nothing to explore how common such phrases were in the preaching, writing, and speaking of Joseph's day. As discussed on the main page, many modern speakers use Shakespearean terms every day without realizing it. Some biblical phrases were simply part of the vocabulary of Joseph's day.

Google Books allows us to search many publications from the 19th century. It provides an estimate of how common these phrases were in religious and other discussion. This analysis is not to claim that Joseph read these books, but simply that these phrases were in common, frequent use for religious discussions. Since he had attended many sermons and meetings, it seems unlikely that he would not have been exposed to them over and over again. Furthermore, they were likely part of the "common language" of his era--some approach the status of cliches that one would use almost without thinking, or even knowing its source.

Analysis of specific examples

List New Testament Book of Mormon Comments


1 John 1:3

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

1 Nephi 1:18

18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.

  • This is a fairly trivial phrase; there are multiple examples in 19th century and modern works of the phrase "I have seen and heard":
  • Candice Player and Susan Eaton, "Things I Have Seen and Heard: How Educators, Youth Workers and Elected Leaders Can Help Reduce the Damage of Childhood Exposure to Violence in Communities," off-site
  • Minnie Myrtle, "Strange Things I Have Seen and Heard" and other pieces from The Myrtle Wreath or Stray Leaves Recalled (N.Y.: Charles Scribner, 1854). off-site
  • " that I have seen and heard, I am in a hurry to get back, and tell my relatives the straight of it." - Isaac V. D. Heard, Henry Benjamin Whipple, History of the Sious War and Massacres of 1862 and 1863 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, Franklin Square, 1865), 165. off-site
  • "Because of that which I have seen and heard since my return..." - General Douglas MacArthur; cited in Edward T. Imparato, General MacArthur Speeches and Reports 1908–1964 (Turner Publishing Company, 2000), 205. off-site
  • "...things that can be both seen and will be open to us to say that the 'common thing' can be both seen and heard...." David Bostock, Plato's Theaetetus (Oxford University Press, 1991), 112.


John 11:50

Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.

1 Nephi 4:13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

  • Google Books shows:
    • even though "one man should perish" is not the biblical phrase, 6 works used it before June 1830. off-site This includes a translation of Dante's Inferno.
    • nearly 250 works use "perish" in close association with "one man should." off-site



1 Nephi 11:22

And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.

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Rev 7:14

And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

1 Nephi 12:11

And the angel said unto me: Look! And I looked, and beheld three generations pass away in righteousness; and their garments were white even like unto the Lamb of God. And the angel said unto me: These are made white in the blood of the Lamb, because of their faith in him.

  • This was an exceedingly well-known phrase in the religious discussion of Joseph's day.
  • Google Books shows:
    • over 600 books or magazines published before June 1830 are available on Google Books. off-site


1 Cor 3:15

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

1 Nephi 22:17

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

  • Google books shows:
    • 55 works using the phrase "saved as by fire" before June 1830 off-site
    • over 550 works using the phrase "as by fire" and "saved" before June 1830 off-site
    • 10 Methodist works alone used the phrase "as by fire" before June 1830–and we know that Joseph was initially attracted to Methodism. This phrase was likely a frequent part of Methodist preaching at the time. off-site


Romans 7:24

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

2 Nephi 4:17

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

  • Google Books shows:
    • over 650 uses of "wretched man that I am" before June 1830 off-site
    • 11 of these uses are in Methodist publications off-site


Rev 20:13

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

2 Nephi 9:12

And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.

  • Google Books shows:
    • nearly 400 uses of "delivered up the dead" before June 1830 off-site


Rev 22:11

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.

2 Nephi 9:16

And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.

  • Google Books shows:
    • 250 works used "righteous still" and "filthy still" before June 1830 off-site


Heb 12:2

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

2 Nephi 9:18

But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.

  • Google Books shows:
    • over 600 uses of "despised the shame" before June 1830 off-site
    • 6 uses in Methodist publications off-site


Romans 8:6

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

2 Nephi 9:39

O, my beloved brethren, remember the awfulness in transgressing against that Holy God, and also the awfulness of yielding to the enticings of that cunning one. Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal.

  • Google Books shows:
    • over 600 uses of "carnally minded is death" before June 1830 off-site
    • 4 uses are in Methodist publications off-site


Gal 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

2 Nephi 10:16

Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.

  • Note that instead of "nor," "and" is used; thus only a few contrasting words are in common.
  • Despite differing in this way from the Bible text, Google Books still finds
    • over 50 examples before June 1830 which mention both phrases "bond and free" and "male and female" off-site
    • there are even 7 hits for all of "bond and free," "male and female," and "Jew." off-site


Acts 4:12

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

2 Nephi 25:2

And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.

  • Google Books shows:
    • even a search of the Book of Mormon's phrase "none other name given under heaven" (which is not found in the Bible) finds over 60 works that use this version of it before June 1830. off-site


John 1:29

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

1 Nephi 10:10

And after he had baptized the Messiah with water, he should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world.

2 Nephi 31:4

Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.

  • This is a classic scriptural text, probably known to most Christians.
  • Google Books shows:
    • 2 uses of the exact Book of Mormon phrase in books published before 1830. off-site Clearly, this is a typical way of talking about such things, even when the text is not quoted exactly.
    • nearly 200 use the phrases "lamb of God" and "take away the sins of the world." off-site


1 Cor 15:58

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Mosiah 5:15

Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.

  • Google Books shows:
    • 27 uses of "steadfast and immovable always abounding" in pre-June 1830 works. off-site


1 Cor 15:55

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Mosiah 16:7

And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.

  • That death has a sting is a commonplace; it is and was a frequent expression which hardly requires direct borrowing from the Bible.
  • Google Books shows:
    • over 1000 books using both "death" and "sting" before June 1830 off-site
    • over 20 of these references were in Methodist works off-site


John 5:29

And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

Mosiah 16:11

If they be good, to the resurrection of' endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation—

  • This is a trivial example—one hardly needs to copy from the Bible to compare the ideas of the good being resurrected to life and the evil to damnation. The phraseology is not even that close.


Gal 5:1

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Alma 58:40

But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.

  • This is another exceedingly common expression.
  • Google Books shows:
    • over 150 uses of the biblical phrase "stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith." off-site
    • over 350 uses of the altered phrase (missing "therefore") "stand fast in the liberty wherewith." off-site
    • even the altered Book of Mormon phrase "stand fast in that liberty wherewith" has nearly 50 hits. off-site
    • Together, these make up at least 550 separate uses.


John 3:7

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

Mosiah 27:25

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

  • Once again, this is a very common pairing in the writing of the time.
  • Google books shows:
    • over 580 works use the terms "marvel not" and "born again" together. off-site


2 Cor 6:17

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

Alma 5:57

And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;

  • The critics fail to point out that both 2 Corinthians and Alma are may be alluding to an Isaiah text or similar Old Testament-era idea:
Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD (Isaiah 52:11).
  • Google Books shows:
    • Even though the precise phrases "wicked" and "come ye out from" are not in the biblical verse, they are still used together in 10 pre-June 1830 works off-site


Hebrews 12:1

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Alma 7:15

Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.

  • Google Books shows:
    • nearly 450 entries before June 1830 use the phrases "lay aside every" and "easily doth beset" off-site
    • almost all (432) of the above also use the phrase "sin" in conjunction with the other two phrases off-site
    • the non-biblical construction "lay aside every sin" is still used 9 times. off-site


Luke 7:9

When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

Alma 19:10

And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites.

  • This example is trivial—it consists only in saying that the speaker has not found such "great faith" among a certain group. It is difficult to know how else one would translate this without intentionally trying to avoid the biblical usage or something close to it.


John 3:14

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

Helaman 8:14

Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.

  • This phrasing is, once again, incredibly common.
  • Google Books shows:
    • over 480 items use "lifted up" and "serpent in the wilderness even so" before June 1830. off-site