Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/King James Bible

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    The Book of Mormon contains passages from the King James Bible

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Question: Does the Book of Mormon plagiarize the King James Bible?

The Book of Mormon emulates the language and style of the King James Bible because that is the scriptural style Joseph Smith, translator of the Book of Mormon, was familiar with

Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that major portions of it are copied, without attribution, from the Bible. They present this as evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon by plagiarizing the Authorized ("King James") Version of the Bible.

Quotations from the Bible in the Book of Mormon are sometimes uncited quotes from Old Testament prophets on the brass plates, similar to the many unattributed Old Testament quotes in the New Testament; others are simply similar phrasing emulated by Joseph Smith during his translation.

Critics also fail to mention that even if all the Biblical passages were removed from the Book of Mormon, there would be a great deal of text remaining. Joseph Smith was able to produce long, intricate religious texts without using the Bible; if he was trying to deceive people, why did he "plagiarize" from the one book—the Bible—which his readership was sure to recognize?

Question: Were the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon simply plagiarized from the King James Bible?

Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah

If a Christian is making an accusation of plagiarism, then they are, by the same logic, indicting the Bible which they share with us. Close examination of the Old Testament reveals many passages which are copied nearly word for word including grammatical errors. Micah, who lived hundreds of years after Isaiah, copies word for word in Micah 4:1-3 from Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 2:2-4 without once giving him credit.[1] We also find the genealogy from Genesis 5:10-11,36 repeated in 1 Chronicles, much of the history in Samuel and Kings is repeated in Chronicles, and Isaiah 36:2 through Isaiah 38:5 is the same as 2 Kings 18:17 through 2 Kings 20:6.

Although Old Testament scripture was often quoted by Old and New Testament writers without giving credit, Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah. Indeed, much of 2 Nephi may be seen as an Isaiah commentary. Of course, Nephi and Jacob do not specify chapter and verse, because these are modern additions to the text (as Joseph Smith somehow knew). It is ironic that critics of the Book of Mormon find fault with its "plagiarism," even though its authors typically mention their sources, while they do not condemn the Bible's authors when they do not.

Finally, it is obvious that the use of King James language for passages shared by the Bible and the Book of Mormon allows the Book of Mormon to highlight those areas in which the Book of Mormon's original texts were genuinely different from the textual tradition of the Old World which gave us the Holy Bible.

A closer look at these duplicate Isaiah texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity

Some critics question the presence of verses from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. They often assert that many Book of Mormon verses were copied from the King James Bible, which in their view, makes it a fraud. While this might appear to be true to the casual Book of Mormon reader, a closer look at these duplicate texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity.[2]

The 21 chapters of Isaiah which are quoted (Chapters 2-14, 29, and 48-54) either partially or completely, represent about one-third of the book of Isaiah, but less than two and one-half percent of the total Book of Mormon. We also find that more than half of all verses quoted from Isaiah (234 of 433) differ from the King James version available to Joseph Smith.[3] The Book of Mormon apparently follows the King James (Masoretic) text when it conveys the original meaning.

We often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern texts disagree.[4] One verse (2 Nephi 12:16), is not only different but adds a completely new phrase: "And upon all the ships of the sea." This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which was first translated into English in 1808 by Charles Thomson. [5] Such a translation was "rare for its time."[6]

It is also significant that the chapters of Isaiah actually quoted in the Book of Mormon (chapters 2-14 and 48-54) are those which modern scholars widely agree correspond closely to the original Isaiah collection and therefore would have been the most likely to have existed in Lehi's day.[7] Could Joseph Smith have known this? If Joseph or anyone else actually tried to plagiarize the Book of Mormon, critics have failed to show the source of the remaining 93% (when all similar texts are removed). A 100% non-biblical book of scripture wouldn't have been much more difficult to produce.

Hugh Nibley: "As to the 'passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,' we first ask, 'How else does one quote scripture if not bodily?'"

LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote the following in response to a letter sent to the editor of the Church News section of the Deseret News. His response was printed in the Church News in 1961:[8]

[One of the] most devastating argument[s] against the Book of Mormon was that it actually quoted the Bible. The early critics were simply staggered by the incredible stupidity of including large sections of the Bible in a book which they insisted was specifically designed to fool the Bible-reading public. They screamed blasphemy and plagiarism at the top of their lungs, but today any biblical scholar knows that it would be extremely suspicious if a book purporting to be the product of a society of pious emigrants from Jerusalem in ancient times did not quote the Bible. No lengthy religious writing of the Hebrews could conceivably be genuine if it was not full of scriptural quotations. quote another writer of Christianity Today [magazine],[9] "passages lifted bodily from the King James Version," and that it quotes, not only from the Old Testament, but also the New Testament as well.

As to the "passages lifted bodily from the King James Version," we first ask, "How else does one quote scripture if not bodily?" And why should anyone quoting the Bible to American readers of 1830 not follow the only version of the Bible known to them?

Actually the Bible passages quoted in the Book of Mormon often differ from the King James Version, but where the latter is correct there is every reason why it should be followed. When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext? Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original? Do they give their own inspired translations? No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so? Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament. When "holy men of God" quote the scriptures it is always in the received standard version of the people they are addressing.

We do not claim the King James Version of the Septuagint to be the original scriptures—in fact, nobody on earth today knows where the original scriptures are or what they say. Inspired men have in every age have been content to accept the received version of the people among whom they labored, with the Spirit giving correction where correction was necessary.

Since the Book of Mormon is a translation, "with all its faults," into English for English-speaking people whose fathers for generations had known no other scriptures but the standard English Bible, it would be both pointless and confusing to present the scriptures to them in any other form, so far as their teachings were correct.

What is thought to be a very serious charge against the Book of Mormon today is that it, a book written down long before New Testament times and on the other side of the world, actually quotes the New Testament! True, it is the same Savior speaking in both, and the same Holy Ghost, and so we can expect the same doctrines in the same language.

But what about the "Faith, Hope and Charity" passage in Moroni 7:45? Its resemblance to 1 Corinthians 13:] is undeniable. This particular passage, recently singled out for attack in Christianity Today, is actually one of those things that turn out to be a striking vindication of the Book of Mormon. For the whole passage, which scholars have labeled "the Hymn to Charity," was shown early in this century by a number of first-rate investigators working independently (A. Harnack, J. Weiss, R. Reizenstein) to have originated not with Paul at all, but to go back to some older but unknown source: Paul is merely quoting from the record.

Now it so happens that other Book of Mormon writers were also peculiarly fond of quoting from the record. Captain Moroni, for example, reminds his people of an old tradition about the two garments of Joseph, telling them a detailed story which I have found only in [th' Alabi of Persia,] a thousand-year-old commentary on the Old Testament, a work still untranslated and quite unknown to the world of Joseph Smith. So I find it not a refutation but a confirmation of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon when Paul and Moroni both quote from a once well-known but now lost Hebrew writing.

Now as to [the] question, "Why did Joseph Smith, a nineteenth century American farm boy, translate the Book of Mormon into seventeenth century King James English instead of into contemporary language?"

The first thing to note is that the "contemporary language" of the country-people of New England 130 years ago was not so far from King James English. Even the New England writers of later generations, like Webster, Melville, and Emerson, lapse into its stately periods and "thees and thous" in their loftier passages.

∗       ∗       ∗

Furthermore, the Book of Mormon is full of scripture, and for the world of Joseph Smith's day, the King James Version was the Scripture, as we have noted; large sections of the Book of Mormon, therefore, had to be in the language of the King James Version—and what of the rest of it? That is scripture, too.

One can think of lots of arguments for using King James English in the Book of Mormon, but the clearest comes out of very recent experience. In the past decade, as you know, certain ancient nonbiblical texts, discovered near the Dead Sea, have been translated by modern, up-to-date American readers. I open at random a contemporary Protestant scholar's modern translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what do I read? "For thine is the battle, and by the strength of thy hand their corpses were scattered without burial. Goliath the Hittite, a mighty man of valor, thou didst deliver into the hand of thy servant David."[10]

Obviously the man who wrote this knew the Bible, and we must not forget that ancient scribes were consciously archaic in their writing, so that most of the scriptures were probably in old-fashioned language the day they were written down. To efface that solemn antique style by the latest up-to-date usage is to translate falsely.

At any rate, Professor Burrows, in 1955 (not 1835!), falls naturally and without apology into the language of the King James Bible. Or take a modern Jewish scholar who purposely avoids archaisms in his translation of the Scrolls for modern American readers: "All things are inscribed before Thee in a recording script, for every moment of time, for the infinite cycles of years, in their several appointed times. No single thing is hidden, naught missing from Thy presence."[11] Professor Gaster, too, falls under the spell of our religious idiom. [A more recent example of the same phenomenon in the twenty-first century is discussed here.]

By frankly using that idiom, the Book of Mormon avoids the necessity of having to be redone into "modern English" every thirty or forty years. If the plates were being translated for the first time today, it would still be King James English!"


  1. See A. Melvin McDonald, Day of Defense (Sounds of Zion Inc., 2004[1986]), 49. ISBN 188647253X.
  2. See Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),193–196. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786(Key source)
  3. See Book of Mormon note to 2 Nephi 12:2
  4. See also Kirk Holland Vestal and Arthur Wallace, The Firm Foundation of Mormonism (Los Angeles, CA: The L. L. Company, 1981), 70–72. ISBN 0937892068.
  5. The implications of this change represent a more complicated textual history than previously thought. See discussion in Dana M. Pike and David R. Seely, "'Upon All the Ships of the Sea, and Upon All the Ships of Tarshish': Revisiting 2 Nephi 12:16 and Isaiah 2:16," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 12–25. off-site wiki For earlier discussions, see Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 172. Full text FairMormon link ISBN 088494963X.; see also Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon (Kolob Book Company, 1964),100–102.; Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988),129–143. ISBN 0875791395.
  6. "Thomson's Translation," Wikipedia (accessed 11 Feb 2015) off-site
  7. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988),142–143. ISBN 0875791395.
  8. Church News, 29 July 1961: 10, 15. Reprinted in Hugh W. Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (Vol. 8 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989), 214–18. ISBN 0875791794. [Nibley's first edition of Since Cumorah cites such sources as R. Reitzenstein, in Nachrichter v. d. kgl. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Gottingen (1916): 362, 416, and 1917 Heft 1, pp. 130-151, and Historische Zeitschrift 116 (DATE?), pp. 189-202. A von Harnack, in Journal of Biblical Literature 50 (1931), pp. 266ff; cf. Alf. Resch, "Der Paulinismus u. die Logia Jesu," in Texte u. Untersuchungen. N. F. 13 (1904).]
  9. Nibley is responding to Wesley P. Walters, "Mormonism," Christianity Today 5/6 (19 December 1960): 8–10.
  10. Nibley is quoting Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Michigan: Baker, 1955; reprinted 1978), 1:397.
  11. Nibley is quoting Theodore H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 136.

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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