Category:Book of Mormon/Elements/Jesus Christ/Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon

Parent page: Book of Mormon/Elements/Jesus Christ

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]

The Lord's requirement of secrecy in Matthew 7: and 3 Nephi 14:

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord required his hearers to keep some holy things secret: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6; 3 Nephi 14:6). For most readers "the original meaning [of this saying] is puzzling." One renowned scholar has concluded in frustration, "The logion [saying of Jesus] is a riddle." For virtually all interpreters of the Sermon on the Mount, this requirement of secrecy seems badly out of place in the narrative or is hard to explain.

The emphasis in these parallel passages is clearly on withholding and protecting certain things because of their sacred nature. Drawing on Logion 93 in the Gospel of Thomas, which was first discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, Georg Strecker identifies the holy thing in Matthew 7:6 as "gnostic secret knowledge." If this is correct, the implication is that Jesus gave his hearers something that he required them to keep sacred and confidential—an implication consistent with some other interesting conclusions of Joachim Jeremias regarding the existence of sacred, secret teachings and practices in primitive Christianity. Similarly, Professor Hans Dieter Betz finds it most likely that Matthew 7:6 refers to

an esoteric saying that the uninformed will never be able to figure out. Finding the explanation is not a matter of natural intelligence but of initiation into secrets. . . . In other words, we are dealing with some kind of secret (arcanum). Indeed, the language reminds us of arcane teaching (Arkandisziplin) as it was used in the Greek mystery religions and in philosophy. . . . Originally, then, the [Sermon on the Mount] was meant to be insiders' literature, not to be divulged to the uninitiated outsiders. . . . Remarkably, Elchasai used the same language: "Inasmuch as he considers that it would be an insult to reason that these great and ineffable mysteries should be trampled under foot or that they should be handed down to many, he advises that they should be preserved as valuable pearls saying this: Do not read this word to all men and guard carefully these precepts because all men are not faithful nor are all women straightforward."

Such a requirement of secrecy is a common feature of rituals and temple ordinances. Indeed, the first-century Christian Didache, discovered in 1873, associates the saying in Matthew 7:6 with a requirement of exclusivity, specifically the prohibition not to let anyone "eat or drink of the Eucharist with you except for those baptized in the name of the Lord" (see Didache 9:5 and 14:1–2, which connect Matthew 5:23–25 and the observance of the sacrament). Accordingly, Betz concludes that "the 'holy' [mentioned in Matthew 7:6] could be a ritual." Whenever sacred knowledge is given to recipients, it becomes a string of precious pearls of great price, revelations for which one will sell all that one has in order to obtain, and one keeps this knowledge hidden to protect it (see Matthew 13:44–46). Indeed, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible confirms that Matthew 7:6 is exactly concerned with the requirement of keeping certain sacred things secret. It adds: "The mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves. . . . For the world cannot receive that which ye, yourselves, are not able to bear" (Matthew 7:10–11 JST; on the plural, "holy things," compare the Gospel of Thomas 93).

It is significant that only in recent decades have biblical scholars begun to appreciate the likely setting of this cryptic saying in the Sermon on the Mount, seeing in it some reference to holy things imparted by Jesus to his faithful followers. Yet this is precisely the setting in which these words had already appeared in 1829 in 3 Nephi 14, namely, when the glorious Son of God appeared to a righteous body of saints, bestowed upon their leaders priesthood powers, taught the people exalting principles, gave them commandments, and put them under covenant to keep those commandments, all of which was conducted in a sacred temple precinct. A sense of awe and holy silence surrounds much of the account of the glorious events on these occasions (see, for example, 3 Nephi 28:14). Thus the new understanding of the ancient meaning of Matthew 7:6 makes its explicit appearance in a temple context in the Book of Mormon perfectly but unexpectedly appropriate.[2]


  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.
  2. 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.

Pages in category "Book of Mormon/Elements/Jesus Christ/Sermon on the Mount"

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