Part One: Introduction and examples of internal consistency
One fact regarding the Book of Mormon is beyond dispute — its text is in our possession. Aside from that, perhaps every other aspect of the book is debated, including how we got the text.
The purpose of this series is to highlight one particular feature of the Book of Mormon– its internal consistency. Regardless of one’s beliefs about how the text came into existence, it is important to recognize the extent of internally consistent details, which range from geography to timeline to editorial promises.
Our attempt to create a comprehensive list of these details serves to illustrate that the text was carefully prepared rather than the product of some spontaneous process. In other words, the author had notes and time to carefully construct this complex, internally-consistent narrative.
This is certainly not the only factor one must consider when contemplating the origin of the text, but it is an important factor to consider.
Reading the Book of Mormon with this objective in mind has been interesting, to say the least. For the most part, our focus has been on listing specific details related to events, individuals, and geography, rather than doctrinal details. (It should be noted that many interesting doctrinal consistencies can also be found in the text, but are not included on our list.) In general, the list is ordered based on the consensus opinion of scholars regarding the order of dictation. In other words, our list starts with Mosiah and proceeds through Words of Mormon.
While producing a list like this, some basic guidelines were needed to distinguish between details that are “remarkable” and those that aren’t. For example, the header for the book of First Nephi explains that Nephi is a son of Lehi. This detail is encountered frequently in the text, as early as 1 Nephi 1, and is not very remarkable. In contrast, the header also makes mention of “the course of their travels,” “com[ing] to the great waters,” and how Nephi confounded his brothers after they rebelled against him while building a ship. These details are not encountered again until 1 Nephi 16-18 and add to the complexity of the book. When references to certain events are made, they must match the description of the same events to remain consistent. This is something we encounter all throughout the Book of Mormon. For the purposes of inclusion on our list, we considered the following factors:
- How often is the detail mentioned? (Details which are mentioned a small number of times are more likely to be on our list than details which are mentioned frequently.)
- How subtle is the detail? (Subtle details would be harder to remember than details which are overt, and are thus more likely to be included on our list.)
- How far apart are the internally consistent details? (Details which are far apart would be harder to keep track of and are more likely to be included than details which are mentioned very close together.)
We believe each reader of the Book of Mormon could benefit from taking the time to review these details and considering them individually. Please don’t take our word for it. As you study these details, individually and collectively, ask yourself which theory best explains the origin of the text.
Even from our perspective as life-long believers, we can attest to the fact that producing this list has deepened our appreciation of the Book of Mormon, and made it easier to give its words our careful attention.
List of internally consistent references
With this introduction out of the way, let’s get to the list of details in the Book of Mormon text that are internally consistent with other parts of the text. This part covers only four examples from the Book of Mosiah. We’ll begin with an example that is simple in terms of content, but impressive based on the span.
1. Mosiah 1:1,10 to Omni 1:12-14, 19, 23 — The people of Mosiah
Soon after the loss of the 116 pages, at the start of Joseph Smith’s dictation, we come across a strange passage:
1 And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days. …
10 Therefore, he had Mosiah brought before him; and these are the words which he spake unto him, saying: My son, I would that ye should make a proclamation throughout all this land among all this people, or the people of Zarahemla, and the people of Mosiah who dwell in the land, that thereby they may be gathered together (Mosiah 1:1,10)
In these verses, we learn that the king of the land of Zarahemla is called Benjamin, and that he reigns over two groups of people. We don’t know why or how this came to be…yet. Benjamin wants his son Mosiah to make a proclamation to the people. Notice that Benjamin refers to them as “the people of Zarahemla and the people of Mosiah.” Why? Mosiah has not started reigning yet, so it would be weird to ask Mosiah to send a proclamation to “the people of Mosiah.” Why not call them “your people?” In Mosiah 2:11, we are told that Benjamin’s father is the one who consecrated him to be the ruler over these two peoples, but we still don’t learn much more for a long time.
In fact, we don’t get an explanation for these matters until the Book of Omni, near the very end of the dictation process. Finally, the background for the land of Zarahemla and the two peoples who live there is finally given to us.
12 …Behold, I will speak unto you somewhat concerning Mosiah, who was made king over the land of Zarahemla…
13 …and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla.
14 And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews…
19 And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king…
23 Behold, I, Amaleki, was born in the days of Mosiah; and I have lived to see his death; and Benjamin, his son, reigneth in his stead.
From this example, we learn that Mosiah was Benjamin’s father and that he discovered the land of Zarahemla. “The people of Zarahemla” and “the people of Mosiah” in Mosiah 1 is therefore consistent with Omni and helps us realize that the Mosiah passage quoted refers to King Benjamin’s father, not his son. Having read the Book of Mormon several times, we know this already. But that is only because we read Omni right before we read Mosiah. When we consider the order of dictation, we realize the explanation came long after the initial details.
2. Mosiah 4:2, 5:2-5 and multiple verses in Mosiah 2-3 — The people repeating details from King Benjamin’s speech
At two points during and immediately following King Benjamin’s speech, we read about his people’s response. Each time they refer to specific things he has said in his speech. In Mosiah 4:2 they say
2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth (2a). And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ (2b) that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things (2c); who shall come down among the children of men (2d). (Mosiah 4)
The people are using the same expressions that King Benjamin used:
2a: Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth (Mosiah 2:25)
2b: the atoning blood of Christ (Mosiah 3:18)
2c: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things (Mosiah 3:8)
2d: shall come down from heaven among the children of men (Mosiah 3:5)
The same thing happens again in Mosiah 5:5
5 And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment (2e.1), as has been spoken by the angel (2f), that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God (2e.2).
This is referring to Mosiah 3:25-26
endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls. Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God
In Mosiah 3:2, we learn that these words were given to King Benjamin by an angel.
3. Mosiah 5:11 and Mosiah 1:11-12 — Giving a new name
In this verse, King Benjamin states
And I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name that I said I should give unto you that never should be blotted out, except it be through transgression
He refers to what he said in Mosiah 1:11-12. Notice the same wording.
11 And moreover, I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I do because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord.
12 And I give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression.
4. Mosiah 6:4 and Mosiah 29:46 — Control of the timeline
Consider the subtle details regarding the timeline, both in terms of King Mosiah’s age and the number of years since Lehi left Jerusalem.
Mosiah’s reign begins in the thirtieth year of his age, and this is connected to the 476th year after Lehi left Jerusalem in Mosiah 6:4. Then in Mosiah 29:46, apparently 33 years later: “And it came to pass that Mosiah died also, in the thirty and third year of his reign, being sixty and three years old; making in the whole, five hundred and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.”
The math here is consistent, because Mosiah starts reigning at age 30, and 30 + 33 = 63 (the age of his death). Also: 476 years since Lehi left Jerusalem + 33 = 509.
End of Part 1
These four examples are good illustrations of the concept of internal consistency. Some references are far apart and some are close together. Typically they are quite subtle, drawing no attention to themselves. This feature requires us to pay attention as we read in order to notice them. Individually, only a few of the items we’ll outline in this series stand alone as impressive examples of the complexity of the Book of Mormon, however as dozens upon dozens of examples are added, it will become easier to see how much careful attention and preparation went into the production of this intricate text.
Because of the length of our list, we considered various ways to visually represent these references and settled on a relatively simple arc diagram. Figure 1 displays the chapters included in our examples and how the references are linking them. The first example contains a detail that links Mosiah 1 (the first chapter in the dictation sequence) to Omni (the penultimate chapter in the dictation sequence). The index on the left hand side of the figure represents the chapter number in the dictation sequence.
In the next part, we’ll continue building our list of internally consistent references in the Book of Mormon text, and we’ll also continue to build these examples into this arc diagram.
Jeff Markham has been an avid student of the Book of Mormon his entire life. He recently joined the FairMormon group. He has practiced radiology in the Dallas, Texas area since 2011, having obtained his undergraduate education at Brigham Young University (B.S. in 2000), a medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA (M.D. 2005), and post-graduate training in diagnostic radiology and neuroradiology at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, TX. He served as a full-time missionary in the Germany Hamburg Mission from 1996-1998. His favorite callings include teaching primary and early morning seminary. He lives in the Dallas area with his wife and children. He blogs at BookofMormonNotes.com.