Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/King James Bible

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The Book of Mormon contains passages from the King James Bible

Summary: Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that major portions of it are copied, without attribution, from the Bible. They present this as evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon by plagiarizing the Authorized ("King James") Version of the Bible.

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Question: Does the Book of Mormon plagiarize the King James Bible?

The Book of Mormon emulates the language and style of the King James Bible because that is the scriptural style Joseph Smith, translator of the Book of Mormon, was familiar with

Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that major portions of it are copied, without attribution, from the Bible. They present this as evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon by plagiarizing the Authorized ("King James") Version of the Bible.

Quotations from the Bible in the Book of Mormon are sometimes uncited quotes from Old Testament prophets on the brass plates, similar to the many unattributed Old Testament quotes in the New Testament; others are simply similar phrasing emulated by Joseph Smith during his translation.

Oddly enough, this actually should not lead one to believe that Joseph Smith simply plagiarized from it. Using the Original and Printer's Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint scholar Royal Skousen has identified that none of the King James language contained in the Book of Mormon could have been copied directly from the Bible. He deduces this from the fact that when quoting, echoing, or alluding to the passages, Oliver (Joseph's amanuensis for the dictation of the Book of Mormon) consistently misspells certain words from the text that he wouldn't have misspelled if he was looking at the then-current edition of the KJV.[1]

Critics also fail to mention that even if all the Biblical passages were removed from the Book of Mormon, there would be a great deal of text remaining. Joseph Smith was able to produce long, intricate religious texts without using the Bible; if he was trying to deceive people, why did he "plagiarize" from the one book—the Bible—which his readership was sure to recognize? The Book of Mormon itself declares that it came forth in part to support the Bible (2 Nephi 29). Perhaps the inclusion of KJV text can allow us to know those places where it is engaging the Bible rather than just cribbing from it. If we didn't get some KJV text, we might think that the Nephites were trying to communicate an entirely different message.

A Proposed Scenario

When considering the the data, Skousen proposes as one scenario that, instead of.Joseph or Oliver looking at a Bible (which is now confirmed by the manuscript evidence and the unequivocal statements of the witnesses to the translation to the Book of Mormon that Joseph employed no notes nor any other reference materials), that God was simply able to provide the page of text from the King James Bible to Joseph's mind and then Joseph was free to alter the text as would be more comprehensible/comfortable to his 19th century, Northeastern, frontier audience. This theology of translation may feel foreign and a bit strange to some Latter-day Saints, but it seems to fit well with the Lord's own words about the nature of revelation to Joseph Smith. Latter-day Saints should take comfort in fact that the Lord accommodates his perfection to our own weakness and uses our imperfect language and nature for the building up of Zion on the earth. It may testify to the fact that God views us not only as creatures but as Gods ourselves--with abilities that can be used effectively to call others to repentance and literally become like Him.

Additional Resources

Learn More About Parts 5 and 6 of Volume 3 of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon

Royal Skousen, "The History of the Book of Mormon Text: Parts 5 and 6 of Volume 3 of the Critical Text"

Standford Carmack, "Bad Grammar in the Book of Mormon Found in Early English Bibles" Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 36 (2020).

Stan Spencer, "Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader" Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020).


Question: Were the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon simply plagiarized from the King James Bible?

Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah

If a Christian is making an accusation of plagiarism, then they are, by the same logic, indicting the Bible which they share with us. 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, copies word for word in Micah 4:1-3 from Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 2:2-4 without once giving him credit.[2] 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 Isaiah 36:2 through Isaiah 38:5 is the same as 2 Kings 18:17 through 2 Kings 20:6.

Although Old Testament scripture was often quoted by Old and New Testament writers without giving credit, Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah. Indeed, much of 2 Nephi may be seen as an Isaiah commentary. Of course, Nephi and Jacob do not specify chapter and verse, because these are modern additions to the text (as Joseph Smith somehow knew). It is ironic that critics of the Book of Mormon find fault with its "plagiarism," even though its authors typically mention their sources, while they do not condemn the Bible's authors when they do not.

Additionally, the Church has made clear in the 1981 and the 2013 editions of the Book of Mormon [3] in footnote "a" for 2 Nephi 12:2 that: "Comparison with the King James Bible in English shows that there are differences in more than half of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, while about 200 verses have the same wording as the KJV"[4] Thus it doesn't appear that the Church is afraid of having its members understand the similarities and differences between the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Finally, it may be that the use of King James language for passages shared by the Bible and the Book of Mormon allows the Book of Mormon to highlight those areas in which the Book of Mormon's original texts were genuinely different from the textual tradition of the Old World's which gave us the Holy Bible of today.

A closer look at these duplicate Isaiah texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity

A closer look at these duplicate texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity.[5]

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.[6] Perhaps it may be said that the Book of Mormon follows the King James (Masoretic) text when the original meaning is closer to how the King James renders the passages in question.

Additionally, we often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern renderings of the text disagree.[7] 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 was first translated into English in 1808 by Charles Thomson. [8] Such a translation was "rare for its time."[9] The textual variants in the two texts have theological import and ancient support. John Tvedtnes has documented many in this study of the Isaiah variants in the Book of Mormon. A critic, David Wright, responded to Tvedtnes and Tvedtnes’ review of that critic’s response can be found here.

Accounting for the Rest of the Book of Mormon

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.

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah"

Paul Y. Hoskisson,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (2016)
The brass plates version of Isaiah 2:2, as contained in 2 Nephi 12:2, contains a small difference, not attested in any other pre-1830 Isaiah witness, that not only helps clarify the meaning but also ties the verse to events of the Restoration. The change does so by introducing a Hebraism that would have been impossible for Joseph Smith, the Prophet, to have produced on his own.

Click here to view the complete article


Question: Does Helaman 12:25-26 quote John 5:29?

We must remember that the speaker in this case is Mormon, who was writing more than three centuries after Jesus Christ, and who had access to a large variety of Nephite records

Some claim that Helaman 12:25-26 quotes John 5:29 [10]:

And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord. [26] Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen. (Helaman 12:25-26)

It is claimed that the "reading" referred to is from John:

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.(John 5:29:{{{4}}})

The problem with this is that Helaman 12:26 doesn't quote John, but at best paraphrases. The issue is over the word "read" that is used to force the connection. We must remember that the speaker in this case is Mormon, who was writing more than three centuries after Jesus Christ, and who had access to a large variety of Nephite records.

For example, the following Book of Mormon verses are potential sources for these ideas:

3 Nephi 26:5

If they be good, to the resurrection of everlasting life; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of damnation....

Mormon had access to this text, and it approximates that used in Helaman quite closely. (Remember that many who criticize the Book of Mormon on this point claim that Helman is speaking pre-Jesus Christ, rather than the editor Mormon, who is post-Jesus and thus post-3 Nephi.)

Other options include those listed below.

1 Nephi 14:7

For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.

2 Nephi 10:23

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.

Alma 22:6

"And also, what is this that Ammon said—If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day?"

While Mormon in Helaman doesn't use the "resurrection of life" and "resurrection of damnation" that is found in John, it does use the "shall be cast off" and "the last day". Now it isn't exact either, and its quite likely that it isn't a direct quote of this passage.

2 Nephi 2:26

Another source of this teaching in the Book of Mormon comes in 2 Nephi 2, in particular in verse 26:

"And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given." (2 Nephi 2:26)

Mormon also uses this passage when he writes in Words of Mormon 1:11:

"And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written."

Other teaching from Christ's era?

Given that Mormon is writing well after Jesus' visit to the Nephites, it is also possible that he is citing another Christian text from that period--it would be logical for Jesus to teach something similar to John 5:29 among the Nephites, though as we have seen there were ample other pre-crucifixion texts available to the Nephites as well.

Summary

Since we have this idea present in Alma 22:6 (the missionary Aaron quoting Alma the Younger), it seems likely that this was an idea that was taught commonly among the Nephites. This is confirmed by the other passages cited. So whether or not we have the source in one of these passages that the Book of Helaman is referring to, we can see how the passage in Helaman reflects a Nephite theology and need not be a New Testament theology introduced anachronistically.

Ultimately, the idea is not a particularly complex one, and could easily have had multiple sources or approximations. Mormon need not be even citing a particular text, but merely indicating that one can "read" this idea in a variety of Nephite texts, as demonstrated above.

Thus, the claim of plagiarism seems forced, since there are Nephite texts which more closely approximate the citation than does the gospel of John, and a precise citation is not present in any case.


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.

Oddly enough, the high quantity of New Testament/Book of Mormon intertextuality should not lead one to believe that Joseph Smith simply plagiarized from the King James Bible. Using the Original and Printer's Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint scholar Royal Skousen has definitively shown that none of the King James language contained in the Book of Mormon could have been copied directly from the Bible. He deduces this from the fact that when quoting, echoing, or alluding to the passages, Oliver (Joseph's amanuensis for the dictation of the Book of Mormon) consistently misspells certain words from the text that he wouldn't have misspelled if he was looking at the then-current edition of the KJB.[11]

A Proposed Scenario

When considering the the data, Skousen proposes that, instead of.Joseph or Oliver looking at a Bible (which is now confirmed by the manuscript evidence and the statements of the 6 witnesses to the translation to the Book of Mormon), that God was simply able to provide the page of text from the King James Bible to Joseph's mind and then Joseph was free to alter the text as he pleased. In those cases where the Book of Mormon might simply be alluding to or echoing the text, the Lord may have simply given the translation as would be more comprehensible/comfortable to his 19th century, Northeastern, frontier audience. This theology of translation may feel foreign and a bit strange to some Latter-day Saints, but it seems to fit well with the Lord's own words about the nature of revelation to Joseph Smith. The Lord speaks to his servants "after the manner of their language, that they may come to understanding" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:24). Latter-day Saints should take comfort in fact that the Lord accommodates his perfection to our own weakness and uses our imperfect language and nature for the building up of Zion on the earth.

Book of Mormon Central's 9 Part Series on New Testament Language in the Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon Central has produced a 9 part series exploring this criticism in depth. This is the latest take on New Testament - Book of Mormon Intertextuality and will prove the most beneficial.


Question: Did Joseph Smith use characters from the Bible as templates for the characters in the Book of Mormon?

This article is still under construction. We welcome your suggestions for improving the content of this FairMormon Answers Wiki article.

Introduction to Question

Critic Fawn Brodie claimed the following in her book No Man Knows My History: the Life of Joseph Smith

Passage forthcoming.[12]

So how can we reconcile this? Did Joseph Smith actually use chracters from the Bible as templates for the Book of Mormon characters?

This article seeks to answer this question.

Response to Question

Book of Mormon Central on Type-Scenes

Book of Mormon Central has produced an excellent article that may explain this type of “plagiarism” in the Book of Mormon. That article is reproduced in full, including citations for easy reference, below:

In Genesis 24, Abraham sent his servant to a foreign land to find a wife for Isaac. When he got there, he met a girl named Rebekah at a well, she drew water for him, she ran off to tell her family about it, and later she and Isaac were betrothed. Something similar happened to Jacob. He went to a foreign land to find a wife, he met Rachael by a well, he drew water for her, she ran to tell her family, and Jacob and Rachael were betrothed (see Genesis 29). As with all true stories, the author could have told these stories in many different ways.[13] However, the reason these two stories are so similar is because they are both based on the same pattern, called a type-scene.[14]
A type-scene is an ancient storytelling technique where certain kinds of stories are told in certain ways.[15] The ancient audience expected that when a main character got engaged, for example, he would journey to a foreign land, encounter a woman at a well, and draw water from the well.[16] Then the woman would rush home to tell the family, and the man and the woman would be betrothed.[17] However, each time the storyteller applied this type-scene to a new character, they would change the story slightly. This allowed the type-scene to fit each character’s historical circumstances, but also gave insights into the personalities of each character in the story.[18]
For instance, biblical scholar Robert Alter noted that “it is only in [Isaac's] betrothal scene that the girl, not the stranger, draws water from the well.”[19] This fits well with what we see Rebekah doing later, when she took “the initiative at a crucial moment in the story in order to obtain the paternal blessing for her favored son, Jacob.”[20] Ultimately, “Rebekah is to become the shrewdest and the most potent of the matriarchs, and so it is entirely appropriate that she should dominate her betrothal scene.”[21] The more these stories differ from the basic type-scene, the more one can expect that the characters in the scene will turn out differently than expected.[22]
Alan Goff has pointed out a radically different, but still recognizable, version of this type scene in Alma 17.[23] Just as in the classic type-scene, Ammon went to a foreign land, but in this case, he went to preach the gospel (Alma 17:12).[24] Although Ammon did not meet a woman there, the king offered Ammon his daughter in marriage, but he declined (v. 24).[25] Shortly thereafter, Ammon went to the waters of Sebus, rather than a well, to water the flocks (v. 26).[26] Finally, instead of the woman returning to tell the family about the presence of a potential suitor, the servants returned to the king with the arms of the would-be sheep rustlers (v. 39).[27]
The differences between the basic type-scene and the Ammon story teach us much about Ammon and how we can be like him. Instead of going to a foreign land to find a wife, Ammon went to a foreign land to preach the gospel. When he got there and was offered the hand of the princess, he declined, stating that he wished to work for the king of the Lamanites instead. In addition to simply drawing water for the flocks, he saved them at the peril of his own life. Finally, those present at the watering of the flocks returned to tell the king not about Ammon as a potential suitor, but about the power of God that was with him.
The Ammon story takes the type-scene, in which the hero is simply trying to find a wife, and turns it on its head. Everything Ammon does in the story is done for selfless reasons. The last part of the type-scene, in which the hero becomes betrothed, is conspicuous by its absence. Ammon does not become betrothed at the end of the story because that was not his purpose in traveling to the land of the Lamanites. He went to the Lamanites to preach the gospel and remained focused on that goal the entire time he was in Lamanite lands.
It is easy for us to become so focused on ourselves and our own needs that we rarely think about those around us. Mormon’s masterful reworking of this type-scene reminds us all of the importance of putting others first. If we will all replace selfishness with selflessness, like Ammon did, we can be a true force for good in the lives of those around us and have the power of God with us in our lives, like Ammon did.

So how then does this literary device then work with different characters in the Book of Mormon? Let’s take the claims one by one.

[Analysis forthcoming]

Conclusion

The presence of similarities does not seem to do anything to belief in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. More research is sure to be forthcoming on the type-scene in the Book of Mormon and readers are encouraged to pay attention for the arrival of that literature.


Hugh Nibley: "As to the 'passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,' we first ask, 'How else does one quote scripture if not bodily?'"

LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote the following in response to a letter sent to the editor of the Church News section of the Deseret News. His response was printed in the Church News in 1961:[28]

[One of the] most devastating argument[s] against the Book of Mormon was that it actually quoted the Bible. The early critics were simply staggered by the incredible stupidity of including large sections of the Bible in a book which they insisted was specifically designed to fool the Bible-reading public. They screamed blasphemy and plagiarism at the top of their lungs, but today any biblical scholar knows that it would be extremely suspicious if a book purporting to be the product of a society of pious emigrants from Jerusalem in ancient times did not quote the Bible. No lengthy religious writing of the Hebrews could conceivably be genuine if it was not full of scriptural quotations.

...to quote another writer of Christianity Today [magazine],[29] "passages lifted bodily from the King James Version," and that it quotes, not only from the Old Testament, but also the New Testament as well.

As to the "passages lifted bodily from the King James Version," we first ask, "How else does one quote scripture if not bodily?" And why should anyone quoting the Bible to American readers of 1830 not follow the only version of the Bible known to them?

Actually the Bible passages quoted in the Book of Mormon often differ from the King James Version, but where the latter is correct there is every reason why it should be followed. When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext? Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original? Do they give their own inspired translations? No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so? Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament. When "holy men of God" quote the scriptures it is always in the received standard version of the people they are addressing.

We do not claim the King James Version of the Septuagint to be the original scriptures—in fact, nobody on earth today knows where the original scriptures are or what they say. Inspired men have in every age have been content to accept the received version of the people among whom they labored, with the Spirit giving correction where correction was necessary.

Since the Book of Mormon is a translation, "with all its faults," into English for English-speaking people whose fathers for generations had known no other scriptures but the standard English Bible, it would be both pointless and confusing to present the scriptures to them in any other form, so far as their teachings were correct.

What is thought to be a very serious charge against the Book of Mormon today is that it, a book written down long before New Testament times and on the other side of the world, actually quotes the New Testament! True, it is the same Savior speaking in both, and the same Holy Ghost, and so we can expect the same doctrines in the same language.

But what about the "Faith, Hope and Charity" passage in Moroni 7:45? Its resemblance to 1 Corinthians 13:] is undeniable. This particular passage, recently singled out for attack in Christianity Today, is actually one of those things that turn out to be a striking vindication of the Book of Mormon. For the whole passage, which scholars have labeled "the Hymn to Charity," was shown early in this century by a number of first-rate investigators working independently (A. Harnack, J. Weiss, R. Reizenstein) to have originated not with Paul at all, but to go back to some older but unknown source: Paul is merely quoting from the record.

Now it so happens that other Book of Mormon writers were also peculiarly fond of quoting from the record. Captain Moroni, for example, reminds his people of an old tradition about the two garments of Joseph, telling them a detailed story which I have found only in [th' Alabi of Persia,] a thousand-year-old commentary on the Old Testament, a work still untranslated and quite unknown to the world of Joseph Smith. So I find it not a refutation but a confirmation of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon when Paul and Moroni both quote from a once well-known but now lost Hebrew writing.

Now as to [the] question, "Why did Joseph Smith, a nineteenth century American farm boy, translate the Book of Mormon into seventeenth century King James English instead of into contemporary language?"

The first thing to note is that the "contemporary language" of the country-people of New England 130 years ago was not so far from King James English. Even the New England writers of later generations, like Webster, Melville, and Emerson, lapse into its stately periods and "thees and thous" in their loftier passages.

∗       ∗       ∗

Furthermore, the Book of Mormon is full of scripture, and for the world of Joseph Smith's day, the King James Version was the Scripture, as we have noted; large sections of the Book of Mormon, therefore, had to be in the language of the King James Version—and what of the rest of it? That is scripture, too.

One can think of lots of arguments for using King James English in the Book of Mormon, but the clearest comes out of very recent experience. In the past decade, as you know, certain ancient nonbiblical texts, discovered near the Dead Sea, have been translated by modern, up-to-date American readers. I open at random a contemporary Protestant scholar's modern translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what do I read? "For thine is the battle, and by the strength of thy hand their corpses were scattered without burial. Goliath the Hittite, a mighty man of valor, thou didst deliver into the hand of thy servant David."[30]

Obviously the man who wrote this knew the Bible, and we must not forget that ancient scribes were consciously archaic in their writing, so that most of the scriptures were probably in old-fashioned language the day they were written down. To efface that solemn antique style by the latest up-to-date usage is to translate falsely.

At any rate, Professor Burrows, in 1955 (not 1835!), falls naturally and without apology into the language of the King James Bible. Or take a modern Jewish scholar who purposely avoids archaisms in his translation of the Scrolls for modern American readers: "All things are inscribed before Thee in a recording script, for every moment of time, for the infinite cycles of years, in their several appointed times. No single thing is hidden, naught missing from Thy presence."[31] Professor Gaster, too, falls under the spell of our religious idiom. [A more recent example of the same phenomenon in the twenty-first century is discussed here.]

By frankly using that idiom, the Book of Mormon avoids the necessity of having to be redone into "modern English" every thirty or forty years. If the plates were being translated for the first time today, it would still be King James English!"


Notes

  1. Interpreter Foundation, "The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon," <https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-history-of-the-text-of-the-book-of-mormon/> (25 January 2020).
  2. See A. Melvin McDonald, Day of Defense (Sounds of Zion Inc., 1986; 2004), 49.
  3. These were the only editions consulted for this point. More editions may render the same however the author did not have access to them at this time.
  4. See page 81 of either edition of the Book of Mormon
  5. See Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort Publisher, 2004),193–196. (Key source)
  6. See Book of Mormon note to 2 Nephi 12:2
  7. See also See also Kirk Holland Vestal and Arthur Wallace, The Firm Foundation of Mormonism (Los Angeles, CA: The L. L. Company, 1981), 70–72.
  8. The implications of this change represent a more complicated textual history than previously thought. See discussion in Dana M. Pike and David R. Seely, "'Upon All the Ships of the Sea, and Upon All the Ships of Tarshish': Revisiting 2 Nephi 12:16 and Isaiah 2:16," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 12–25. off-site wiki For earlier discussions, see Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 172. Full text FairMormon link ISBN 088494963X.; see also Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon (Kolob Book Company, 1964),100–102.; 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),129–143. ISBN 0875791395.
  9. Wikipedia, "Thomson's Translation," <http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomson%27s_Translation> (11 February 2015).
  10. Making Life Count Ministries, Inc., "Proof the Book of Mormon Isn't True," (PDF on-line, no date), 1.
  11. Interpreter Foundation, "The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon," <https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-history-of-the-text-of-the-book-of-mormon/> (25 January 2020).
  12. Passage forthcoming.
  13. For a concrete example of this in the Book of Mormon, see Book of Mormon Central, “Why Are there Multiple Accounts of Joseph Smith's and Alma's Visions? (Alma 36:6–7),” KnoWhy 264 (January 20, 2017).
  14. For an introduction to type-scenes, see Michael Austin, “How the Book of Mormon Reads the Bible: A Theory of Types,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 26, (2017): 51–53. For one perspective on how type-scenes are a subtle witness for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, see Alan Goff, “Uncritical Theory and Thin Description: The Resistance to History,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7, no. 1 (1995): 187–190.
  15. For a few examples other examples of type-scenes in the Book of Mormon, see Richard Dilworth Rust, “Recurrence in Book of Mormon Narratives,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 1 (1994): 42–43.
  16. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011), 62.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid., 63.
  19. Ibid., 64.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. For one example of this, see Ibid., 70.
  23. Alan Goff, “Reduction and Enlargement: Harold Bloom’s Mormons,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5, no. 1 (1993): 105.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. For more context on this story, see Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 4:275–276.
  28. Church News, 29 July 1961: 10, 15. Reprinted in Hugh W. Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (Vol. 8 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989), 214–18. ISBN 0875791794. [Nibley's first edition of Since Cumorah cites such sources as R. Reitzenstein, in Nachrichter v. d. kgl. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Gottingen (1916): 362, 416, and 1917 Heft 1, pp. 130-151, and Historische Zeitschrift 116 (DATE?), pp. 189-202. A von Harnack, in Journal of Biblical Literature 50 (1931), pp. 266ff; cf. Alf. Resch, "Der Paulinismus u. die Logia Jesu," in Texte u. Untersuchungen. N. F. 13 (1904).]
  29. Nibley is responding to Wesley P. Walters, "Mormonism," Christianity Today 5/6 (19 December 1960): 8–10.
  30. Nibley is quoting Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Michigan: Baker, 1955; reprinted 1978), 1:397.
  31. Nibley is quoting Theodore H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 136.