Question: Did Joseph Smith crib language from the New Testament to produce the Book of Moses?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith crib language from the New Testament to produce the Book of Moses?

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Introduction to Question

The Book of Moses appears to use many phrases that come uniquely from the New Testament in the Holy Bible. The following occurences of New Testament language and concepts reflected in the Book of Moses were documented by Dr. David M. Calabro—a Latter-day Saint and Curator of Eastern Christian Manuscripts at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University.[1]

Phrase Location in Book of Moses Location in New Testament
"Only Begotten" and "Only Begotten Son" Moses 1:6, 13, 16, 17, 19, 21, 32, 33; 2:1, 26, 27; 3:18; 4:1, 3, 28, 5:7, 9, 57; 6:52, 57, 59, 62; 7:50, 59, 62 John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Hebrews 11:17; 1 John 4:9
"transfigured before" God Moses 1:11 Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2
"get thee hence, Satan" Moses 1:16 Matthew 4:10
the Holy Ghost "beareth record" of the Father and the Son Moses 1:24; 5:9 1 John 5:7
"by the word of my power" Moses 1:32, 35; 2:5 Hebrews 1:3
"full of grace and truth" Moses 1:32, 5:7 John 1:14; cf. John 1:17
"immortality and eternal life" Moses 1:39 Both terms are absent from the Old Testament but are relatively frequent in the New Testament: immortality occurs six times, all in Pauline epistles; eternal life occurs twenty-six times in the Gospels, Pauline epistles, epistles of John, and Jude; "eternal life" also appears elsewhere like in Moses 5:11; 6:59; 7:45.
"them that believe" Moses 1:42; 4:32 Mark 16:17; John 1:12; Romans 3:22; 4:11; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 14:22; Galatians 3:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 10:39; the contrasting phrase “them that do not believe” also appears (Rom. 15:31; 1 Cor. 10:27; 14:22)
"I am the Beginning and the End" Moses 2:1 Revelation 21:6; 22:13
"Beloved Son" as a title of Christ Moses 4:2 Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35; 2 Peter 1:17; the phrase "beloved son" appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 20:13; 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 1:2) and in the Greek Septuagint of Gen. 22:2, but it is absent from the Hebrew and KJV Old Testament.
"my Chosen," as a title of Christ Moses 4:2; 7:39 Compare "chosen of God" in reference to Christ in Luke 23:35 and 1 Pet. 2:4
"thy will be done" Moses 4:2 Matthew 6:10; 26:42; Luke 11:2
"the glory be thine forever" Moses 4:2 Compare Matthew 6:13 - “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever;” note the proximity of this phrase to “thy will be done” both in Moses 4:2 and in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9–1.
"by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that [Satan] should be cast down" Moses 4:3 Compare Revelation 12:10 - “Now is come . . . the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down”; note that the Hebrew title Satan means "accuser"
"the devil" Moses 4:4 Sixty-one instances in the New Testament, translating the Greek word diabolos
"carnal, sensual, and devilish" Moses 5:13; 6:49 James 3:15 "earthly, sensual, and devilish"
"Satan desireth to have thee" Moses 5:23 Luke 22:31 "Satan hath desired to have you"
"Perdition," as the title of a person Moses 5:24 Compare "the son of perdition" in John 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; the word perdition as an abstract noun meaning "destruction" (translating the Greek word apoleia) occurs elsewhere in the King James version of the New Testament (Philippians 1:28; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 17:8, 11)
"the Gospel” Moses 5:58, 59, 8:19 Eighty-three instances in the New Testament; the word gospel, irrespective of the English definite article, occurs 101 times in the New Testament but is not found in the Old Testament.
"holy angels" Moses 5:58 Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Acts 10:22 (singular "holy angel"); Revelation 14:10
"gift of the Holy Ghost" Moses 5:58; 6:52 Acts 2:38; 10:45
"anointing" the eyes in order to see Moses 6:35 – "anoint thine eyes with clay, and wash them, and thou shalt see" Compare John 9:6–7, 11 (Jesus anoints the eyes of a blind man with clay and commands him to wash in the pool of Siloam, and he "came seeing"); Revelation 3:18 (the Lord tells the church in Laodicea, "anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see"); these are the only passages in the Bible that refer to anointing the eyes
"no man laid hands on him" Moses 6:39 John 7:30, 44; 8:20
"my God, and your God" Moses 6:43 John 20:17
"only name under heaven whereby salvation shall come" Moses 6:52 Acts 4:12
collocation of water, blood, and Spirit Moses 6:59-60 1 John 5:6, 8
"born again of water and the Spirit"; "born of the Spirit"; "born again"; "born of water and of the Spirit"; "born of the Spirit" Moses 6:59, 65 John 3:3, 5-8
"the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" Moses 6:59 Matthew 13:11. The phrase "kingdom of heaven" is absent from the Old Testament; in the New Testament it is found only in Matthew (thirty-two occurrences), but it is frequent in rabbinic literature
"cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten" Moses 6:59 Compare 1 John 1:7 ("the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin")
"the words of eternal life" Moses 6:59 John 6:68
eternal life "in the world to come" Moses 6:59 Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; the phrase “the world to come” is absent from the Old Testament but occurs five times in the New Testament; other than the two just quoted, see Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 2:5; 6:5
"by the Spirit ye are justified" Moses 6:60 Compare 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Timothy 3:16
"the Comforter," referring to the Holy Ghost Moses 6:61 John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7
"the inner man" Moses 6:65 Ephesians 3:16; Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16
"baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost" Moses 6:66 Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16
"they were of one heart and one mind" Moses 7:18 Compare Acts 4:32
"in the bosom of the Father," referring to heaven Moses 7:24, 47 John 1:18 (note that JST deletes this phrase in this verse, perhaps implying that it entered the text sometime after its original composition)
"a great chain in his hand" Moses 7:26 Revelation 20:1 (here the one holding the chain is an angel, unlike Moses 7:26, in which it is the devil)
commandment to "love one another" Moses 7:33 John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 1:5
"without affection" Moses 7:33 Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3
"the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world" Moses 7:47 Compare Revelation 13:8 – "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," as a noun phrase); the term "the Lamb" is used as a title of the Messiah only in the New Testament and is distinctively Johannine (John 1:29, 36; twenty-seven instances in Revelation), and the words lamb and slain collocate only in Revelation 5:6, 12; 13:8.
"climb up" by a gate or door, as a metaphor of progression through Christ Moses 7:53 John 10:1

This article seeks to present some views as to why the Book of Moses reflects a lot of New Testament language and concepts.

Response to Question

There are a few possibilities as to why this language appears. These possibilities are not all mutually exclusive. We'll lay out those possibilities. The strengths and weaknesses of those theories will perhaps be readily apparent.

”After the Manner of Their Language” – Doctrine & Covenants 1:24

The first possibility to consider is that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Moses into a vernacular that was comprehensible to his 19th century audience. Joseph's contemporaries were steeped in biblical language and used it in common, everyday parlance. The language of the New Testament can be used to describe correlative theological issues.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:24 informs us that this is something that is part of the nature of revelation: to use the language of the agent receiving revelation so as to increase that agent's understanding and communicate effectively.

24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.[2]

An Early Christian Context for the Creation of the Book of Moses

Another possibility is that the Book of Moses was originally written in an Early Christian context. That would place the composition of the Book of Moses in the 1st and 2nd century AD (about 1900 to 1800 years ago). David M. Calabro has recently outlined and defended this theory.[3] Calabro theorizes that the Book of Moses can still preserve actual events from the life of the actual, ancient Moses while appropriating the story for a Christian context and fitting it with Christian language. Thus, Joseph Smith can actually be restoring lost understanding of Moses and we can easily account for the New Testament language.

One potential weakness of this theory is that it disrupts the current understanding of most Church members about the Book of Moses: that it represents a restoration of Moses' writings in Genesis. However, Joseph Smith does not seem to have left a detailed account of what the Book of Moses represents. All the author can locate is the generic statement from Joseph that the Joseph Smith Translation represents, in some form, a restoration of "many important points touching the salvation of men, [that] had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled."[4] Also, Dr. Calabro's theory actually does embrace the notion that the Book of Moses preserves actual events from Moses' life as well as his teachings.

What I Speak Unto One Nation I Speak Unto Another

Speaking in reference to the Bible, the Book of Mormon has God announce that "I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two enations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also."[5]

It is certainly possible that the same concepts were revealed to Moses with similar language as that used in the New Testament.

A Pre-Christian Context for the Creation of the Book of Moses

The Book of Moses could have actually been written in years preceding the coming of Christ and New Testament authors could have been echoing language first used in the Book of Moses. Latter-day Saint author Jeff Lindsay and former BYU professor Noel Reynolds have theorized that the Book of Moses influenced the language of the Book of Mormon.[6] It's at least possible that this could extend to the New Testament.

Conclusion

Clearly, there is no reason to immediately assume that the presence of New Testament language in the Book of Moses rules out the possibility of it being authentically ancient and a legitimate source of information about events in the life of the historical prophet Moses.

Notes

  1. David M. Calabro, "An Early Christian Context for the Book of Moses," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47 (2021): 187–91.
  2. See also 2 Nephi 31:3
  3. Calabro, "An Early Christian Context."
  4. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), 10–11.
  5. 2 Nephi 29:8
  6. Jeff Lindsay and Noel B. Reynolds, "'Strong Like unto Moses': The Case for Ancient Roots in the Book of Moses Based on Book of Mormon Usage of Related Content Apparently from the Brass Plates," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 44 (2021): 1–92; Noel B. Reynolds, "The Brass Plates Version of Genesis," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 63–96.