The New Testament in the Book of Mormon: A Primer

One of the points I made in a previous post was that, besides Deutero-Isaiah, Malachi, and other post-exilic Judean writings, the New Testament (NT) was also heavily used all throughout the Book of Mormon (BM). I will share a couple of brief notes below that I think are worthy of note to take into consideration to what extent the NT influenced the BM. The reason for this should be obvious, especially for those who have read my last post: the NT was not available to any of the Nephite authors.

According to the text Jesus gives some of the Nephite leaders a version of his Sermon on the Mount (see 3 Nephi 12-14) found in Matt. 5-7. The fact that the BM version of the Sermon has such a high quantity of verbal parallels is not the only piece of evidence that the BM version is in fact dependent on KJV Matt. 5-7 (and not independent of Matt. 5-7 or dependent on the Sermon as found in Luke 6). The Sermon on the Mount, and almost every other chapter of Matthew,[1] has influenced parts of the BM that are, according to the text, chronologically prior to Jesus’s visit to the Nephites in Bountiful. These authors would not have had the gospel of Matthew in any form, so these parallels will need to be explained in future work. I will lay out some of the details in a future post on Matthew in the BM.[2]

As noted by Philip Barlow, Kenneth Jenkins’s computer analysis showed back in 1983 (although largely ignored since then except by Barlow) that over “fifty thousands phrases of three or more words, excluding definite and indefinite articles, are common to the [King James] Bible and the Book of Mormon.”[3] Among these phrases are many that are found only in the NT, and very often only in a single verse in the NT. Some of these are fascinating in the form in which they are quoted in the BM. For example, in Mosiah 16:3 we find a description of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the effects it had on mankind afterward. In the verse we find a NT phrase: “which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.” In James 3:15 we find the phrase “earthly, sensual, devilish,” and note that this language has been mixed with Gen. 3:5, “knowing good and evil.” The BM has the phrase from James 3:15 in a different form than it is found in the 1769 edition of the KJV, and has “carnal” in the place of “earthly.” This form is found in Christian literature of the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a quotation from James 3:15, evidence that this was a popular form of the verse contemporary to the production of the BM.[4]

Several other examples could be given, including the use of the titles for Satan “old serpent” (2 Ne. 2:18; Mosiah 16:3) from Rev. 12:9 and 20:2 and “father of all lies” (2 Ne. 2:18; Ether 8:25; and “father of lies” in 2 Ne. 9:9) from John 8:44, but this post is meant be a primer for other posts to come.[5]  These points are important to keep in mind when discussing the use of the KJV in the BM, and will be important to include in any future work on the Bible in the BM because they are not exceptions to the rule. In large part, this is representative of the entire text of the BM and its use of the KJV.

[1] In my analysis of the influence of the KJV on the BM I have identified at least one 6-8 word phrase in all chapters of Matthew except 14 that has influenced at least one, and sometimes several, passages in the BM.

[2] See also Stan Larson, “The Historicity of the Matthew Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi,” in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 115-163; for a different perspective responding to Larson’s paper see Royal Skousen, “Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon,” in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994), 121-144. My analysis of Matthew in the BM is not dependent on either of these papers, but needless to say my approach and conclusions are much nearer to Larson’s than it is to Skousen’s.

[3] Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Updated Edition; New York City: Oxford University Press, 2013), 28; citing Kenneth Jenkins, “Common Phrases Between the King James Version and the Book of Mormon” (3 vols.; 1983; housed in the FARMS Collection BYU), although there is no “FARMS collection” at BYU, either at the Harold B. Lee Library or the Neal A. Maxwell Institute (the latter would be the first place to inquire about the study).

[4] For example, “His affections became carnal, sensual, and devilish. Eh. ii. 1-3. James iii. 15,” in Anonymous, Extracts from Ancient and Modern Authors, arranged so as to form a history or description of Man, in his natural, moral, and spiritual character: embracing nearly all the most important subjects of the Christian Religion. (London: E. Bridgewater, 1828), 207; and, “As the understanding is dark, and the will perverse, so the conscience is polluted, and full of dead works; and all the affections are in sad disorder; placed upon earthly objects, being carnal, sensual, and devilish,” in Thomas Taylor, Sixteen Lectures upon the Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia, recorded in the Second and Third Chapters of Revelations. (Bristol: R. Edwards, 1800), 65.

[5] Besides being found in the NT, both of the phrases “old serpent” and “father of all lies” are found in Christian literature of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s