Deutero-Isaiah and the Book of Mormon

Students of the Book of Mormon (BM) have recognized the problem of having explicit and lengthy quotations of Isaiah chapters 40-55 since at least the days of B. H. Roberts.[1] The issue has not been known widely within Mormonism itself, and neither have the reasons been fully (or accurately) explained for a Mormon audience until only recently. In this introductory blog post I would like to explain some recent developments on the question, as well as point out some serious methodological flaws in prior, and some very recent, literature on this topic. I hope to provide ways of approaching the question of Isaiah in the BM that take more of the available data into account and shift the focus onto the wider problem of the King James Bible’s (KJV) influence on the full text of the BM.

This issue has most recently been brought into discussion because of an essay written by Dr. Kent P. Jackson of the Religious Education department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The essay, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” is included in a book that is meant to provide answers for Mormons on difficult topics in Mormonism’s history and teachings. Dr. Jackson follows those who went before him in discussing the composition of the book of Isaiah by pointing out a few of the arguments that scholars have made for the disunity of the separate sections, Isa. 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66.[2] Chapters 40-66 were written post-586 BCE, and therefore could not have been available to Nephi on his “plates of brass.”[3] The issue that has previously been pointed out since B. H. Roberts is that chapters in 40-55 (Deutero-Isaiah) have been extensively and explicitly quoted in the BM. For example, 1 Ne. 20-21 quotes Isa. 48-49, 1 Ne. 22 and 2 Ne. 6 quote some of Isa. 49 and 52, and 2 Ne. 6:16-8:25 quote Isa. 49:24-52:2. This is only a small portion of the very heavy use of Deutero-Isaiah in the BM.

One of the major flaws in past research has been to assume that the use of Isa. 40-55 is the only relevant information in determining, for a Mormon audience, whether or not one should follow the arguments scholars have made on the compositional history of the book of Isaiah. The issue is that Isa. 40-55 is not the only material found in the KJV that had a major impact on the writing of the BM. Indeed, thousands of verses had a significant impact on the BM, but in no study that I am aware of has this been taken into account.

For example, the book of Malachi would not have been available to any pre-exilic Judahites. It was likely written between 500-450 BCE, but it was used throughout the text of the BM. 1 Ne. 22:15 directly quotes Mal. 4:1 with a citation formula, and Ether 9:22 alludes to Mal. 4:2-3 in a way that betrays the author’s knowledge of later Christian interpretations of that Hebrew Bible passage. The confusion between “Sun” in Mal. 4:2 and “Son” in Ether 9:22 could only have happened by reading the English translation of Mal. 4:2. In Hebrew “sun” is shemesh and “son” is ben. The similarity between the two words is only found in the English.

The direct quotations of Mal. 3-4 in 3 Ne. 24-25 were also obviously copied directly from a bible during the production of that section of the BM. The KJV of Malachi and the BM version (the 1830 edition and earliest manuscripts) of Malachi agree 99.2%, the texts only diverge from one another in eight places. Five of these are due to variants in the versions of the BM, and of the remaining three one of them is likely not a variant,[4] another changes a singular to a plural, and the last represents a Christianized reading of Mal. 4:2. Other post-exilic (post-539 BCE) Judean literature also influenced the BM, but that will have to wait for a future post.

The BM knew not only exilic and post-exilic texts later included in the KJV, but it also shows knowledge of New Testament (NT) texts throughout the entire narrative. For example, 1 Ne. 10:7-10 the text describes a vision in which Lehi sees into the future and views the activities of John the Baptist. The verses are dependent primarily on John 1:26-29, 33, and secondarily use language from Matt. 3:3, 11 and other KJV texts. The concepts and language from KJV of John 1 are embedded into the text of the BM. Other examples could include the use of language and imagery from Matt. 8:12 in Alma 40:13:

Matt. 8:12:
“But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Alma 40:13:
“And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, which are evil; for behold, they have no part nor portion of the spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works, rather than good; therefore the spirit of the Devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house; and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and this because of their own iniquity; being led captive by the will of the Devil.”

The language and imagery from Alma 40:13 is also dependent on 2 Tim. 2:26 in the last line, and the addition of “wailing” to the text of Matt. 8:12 is likely influenced by Rev. 18:15 and 19. There are literally thousands of like examples throughout the BM that need to be accounted for when discussing whether or not the biblical texts could have been available to the author(s) of the BM. Further study is needed to resolve these issues, but any study that ignores the impressive amount of influence from other KJV texts than Isaiah is not looking at the entire picture. Not only is this methodologically flawed, but this does not prepare an author or their readers for the real amount of influence that the KJV has had on the BM.

This blog post has only meant to act as a primer to future study, and a corrective to past studies. Although there have been important points made in prior research, the fact that the amount of influence (most of which is not discussed in this post at all) from other KJV texts is not included in their studies casts doubt on their conclusions. In order to provide the best answers to important questions such as these the largest amount of data needs to be included in order to present the most informed answers. Unfortunately, Dr. Jackson’s (and many others’) studies do not represent what I am calling for here, and we will hopefully see more of that line of inquiry in the future.


[1] See B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God (3 vols.; Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909), 3:449-460.

[2] The compositional history is much more complicated than this, as Dr. Jackson recognizes in his essay. The composition is much more complicated, though, than his recognition of the addition of Isa. 36-39 from 2 Kings.

[3] See especially 1 Ne. 19:21-22 and 22:1 in the BM.

[4] See Colby Townsend, “‘Behold, Other Scriptures I Would that Ye Should Write’Malachi in the Book of Mormon,” 12; accessed on May 20, 2016: https://www.academia.edu/8726590/_Behold_Other_Scriptures_I_Would_that_ye_Should_Write_Malachi_in_the_Book_of_Mormon.

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