Hey guys, so if you’ve read the Book of Mormon, you might notice that some verses contain text that is similar to or perfectly matches text from the Bible. So in this video, we’re going to explore some of the theories explaining why that is. We’ve got a lot to get to, so let’s do it.
Alright, so in the words of Grant Hardy, “Despite Joseph Smith’s assertion that he had translated the Nephite record ‘through the gift and power of God’ … there is still no consensus among Latter-day Saints as to how exactly he produced the Book of Mormon.” So since we don’t know the mechanics of the translation, we can’t say for sure why every Bible reference shows up where it does. But there are lots of theories out there for you to consider. We’ll go through several in this video, but at the end of the day here’s what makes the most sense to me:
While the Nephites and Lamanites had access to sacred scripture, Ezra Taft Benson wrote that ultimately, “The Book of Mormon … was written for our day … It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.”
Now, just as the Book of Mormon was written for our day, I also believe it was translated for our day. Translated by who? Well, Joseph Smith said it was translated by the gift and power of God. Don Bradley points out that “The Lord, in [Doctrine and Covenants 84], refers to ‘the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given’ as ‘that which I have written…’ affirming the texts’ authority by identifying himself as their author, he having spiritually written them as they appeared on the seer stone.”
So, if God is the translator giving Joseph Smith the text, then what can we learn from that? Well, the Book of Mormon itself teaches that “the Lord God… speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” It’s for this reason that Brigham Young taught years after the Book of Mormon’s publication, “Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write [the Book of Mormon] … in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation.”
Also, remember that one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to testify of the Bible. “For behold, this [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [the Bible]…”
Now, anyone who has worked in translation understands that there’s not always one right way to translate something. So if God, as the translator, chose to incorporate Biblical language throughout His translation, perhaps to more effectively testify of the Bible, then I have no problem with that. That said, here are some other theories that may also come in handy:
Because the Book of Mormon is translated into King James-style English, we should totally expect there to be some natural coincidental overlap in phraseology. This could account for some similarities. Others are obviously not coincidental. For example, the Book of Mormon openly quotes the words of Old Testament Isaiah extensively. Most Old Testament references aren’t an issue because the Nephites had access to those scriptures in the Brass Plates. And remember that even some New Testament passages that show up are actually references to the Old Testament. For example, Jacob 1 looks like Hebrews 3, but Hebrews 3 is actually a reference to Psalm 95, which the Nephites probably had on the Brass Plates.
Some people believe that when Joseph came to portions of scripture he recognized as biblical, he just dictated to his scribe from a Bible, which would account for some KJV translation errors that show up in the Book of Mormon. That said, there’s no evidence that Joseph ever had a Bible present during the translation. Personally, I just think God revealed the KJV text, even with the errors, as it was “sufficiently plain to suit [His] purpose as it stands.” But I could be wrong.
Some Bible references can be explained by the simple fact that they both came from the same divine source. For example, Christ’s New Testament Sermon on the Mount shows up during Christ’s visit in the Book of Mormon. This makes sense, considering it’s Christ who gave both speeches. 2 Nephi 29 teaches, “Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another.”
Just as the Lord taught the same gospel on different continents at different times, it’s also possible he gave the same revelations to different prophets on different continents at different times. For example, in 1 Nephi 14, Nephi has a vision of the future New Testament apostle John. An angel tells Nephi, “the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen….”
Here’s another possibility: Much of the Book of Mormon was edited and abridged by the prophets Mormon and Moroni. As later Book of Mormon prophets, they would have had access to Christ’s New Testament teachings in 3 Nephi. It could be that these prophets incorporated New Testament/3 Nephi phraseology in their edits and interpretations of earlier records because they were already familiar with them. For example, Mormon may have used phraseology from 3 Nephi 13:25 (also found in Matthew 6:25) in his interpretation of Alma 31:37. This could also explain why Christian phraseology appears in super-ancient works like the Book of Ether.
Now, some people are nervous that these Biblical parallels are evidence that Joseph Smith simply plagiarized from the Bible to create the Book of Mormon. So I went online looking for the longest list of parallels I could find, and without regard for the strength of the parallels or repeated parallels, I did the math. Worst case scenario, generously, we’re talking about roughly 14.6% of Book of Mormon verses resembling or matching Bible verses in some way. If you remove the very obvious and intentionally included Isaiah and Sermon on the Mount verses from the list, that number drops to about 6.4% of total Book of Mormon verses. To give that some context, non-Latter-day Saint Bible scholar Roger Nicole asserted that, “without exaggeration … more than 10 percent of the New Testament text is made up of citations or direct allusions to the Old Testament.” So, if God is giving us a modern translation for our day that testifies to the Bible as the New Testament testifies to the Old, then His incorporation of established scripture in the Book of Mormon seems fairly standard.
Of course, you’re free to come to your own conclusions. We’ve looked at some Latter-day Saint perspectives in this video, but if you think Joseph Smith was just an incredibly well-versed fraud, that’s fine. If you want to dive deeper into this subject and explore some of the theories that we didn’t get to today, check out the links in the description, and have a great day.
- Book of Mormon Central has addressed this topic extensively in an awesome 9-part series, which was extremely helpful for me in my research on this subject. Big shout-out to them because a lot of the information presented in this video is just a summary/repackaging of their research. Links:
- From Latter-day Saint scholar Michael R. Ash (see pgs. 21-25): https://bit.ly/2ISqe7P
- ”Was Joseph Smith Guilty of Plagiarism?” by John Tvedtnes (this article highlights the fact that many accusations against the Book of Mormon are the same kind of accusations made against the Bible by unbelievers): https://bit.ly/2HnzRue
- Tvedtnes also wrote on this topic in these sources: https://bit.ly/2HgWgda / https://bit.ly/2HgKKOB
- Why does Malachi 4:1 show up in 1 Nephi 22:15? See Footnote #1 in this link from Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/3jchQwg
- A list of parallels between the Bible and Book of Mormon: https://bit.ly/31IAvtV
- “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: A proposed Methodology,” by Nicholas J. Frederick: https://bit.ly/35ERy0U
- From Brian Hales on this subject: https://bit.ly/34sLpWe
- Video/Transcript from Latter-day Saint Q and A: https://bit.ly/31IMCqN