Continuing my New Testament series, let’s talk about 1 Corinthians, another authentic letter of Paul from the mid-50s. Corinth is located right on the isthmus of Corinth (see image at top of post). It was a port city, a crossroads of peoples and cultures, and (like any port city) kind of a wild place. I recall one NT commentator saying Corinth was the California of the Roman world.
In Marcus Borg’s timeline for the chronological order of NT books, 1 Corinthians is the third NT text that we have, after 1 Thessalonians and Galatians. It’s also the second-longest of Paul’s letters, Romans being the longest. Like Galatians, this is an “occasional letter,” meaning it is responding to particular questions or issues that give rise to the letter. Mormons will be familiar with 15:29 (baptism for the dead) and the discussion of the resurrection in the rest of the chapter (sun, moon, and stars).
But everyone knows Chapter 13, talking about what Paul called “a more excellent way”: charity or love. Even people who don’t know the Bible know the words “charity suffereth long and is kind.” Even Mormon, on a different continent, with no conceivable access to Paul’s letters, knew Paul’s chapter on charity. He penned an entire chapter of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 7) riffing on Paul’s discussion of faith, hope, and charity. Which raises the interesting question:
How Did Mormon Quote Paul?
I’ll bet a lot of Mormon readers just schmooze their way through Moroni 7 without even asking themselves that question. It’s a question that needs to be asked, just like the issue of how passages from Second Isaiah and Malachi and pretty much the entire Sermon on the Mount find their way into the Book of Mormon. The obvious answer, the simplest answer, and a perfectly acceptable explanation for non-LDS and for some LDS, is that Joseph Smith simply quoted (with some modification) those passages while translating or composing or dictating the Book of Mormon text. It only becomes a puzzle for those who (1) accept or insist on an ancient origin for the Book of Mormon, coupled with a divine translation theory that actually translated an ancient text into English (about 2 out of 3 active Mormons), and (2) recognize the modified KJV Bible quotations as an issue that needs to be addressed (about 1 in 20 active Mormons).
First, let’s quote KJV 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth …
Vaunteth? Hopeth? Endureth? Did anyone actually ever talk this way?
Anyway, here’s Moroni 7:45-46, almost an exact parallel, albeit with a few of the KJV phrases omitted:
And charity suffereth long, and is kind,
and envieth not,
and is not puffed up,
seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil,
and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth,
beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren,
if ye have not charity, ye are nothing,
for charity never faileth.
This is not an acknowledged quotation, in the sense that the text of Moroni 7 mentions Paul or 1 Corinthians as the source of the quotation. The LDS edition of the Bible cites 1 Corinthians 13 as a reference in the footnotes, of course. In Thomas Wayment’s The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints rendition of 1 Corinthians, he gives the following laconic footnote for 1 Cor. 13:2-7: “Quoted in Moroni 7:44-46.” That, with no further explanation or discussion, is what you say to a general Mormon audience, I guess.
And just a quick aside about Moroni 7: it has some beautiful and inspiring passages.
- The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil … (v. 16).
- Search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ (v. 19).
- Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ … (v. 48).
Remember that Paul’s discussion of charity or love in Chapter 13 is part of his discussion of spiritual gifts in Chapters 12-14. Paul presents his discussion of these gifts (wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting such speech) as gifts of the Spirit, with no reference to priesthood. Priesthood is a concept which plays little or no role in Paul’s theology. Christianity as presented by Paul seems to work just fine without any priesthood. Quite a contrast to LDS doctrine, where Priesthood is the source of everything.
Here are just a few quick references to other topics covered in 1 Corinthians (quotations from NRSV):
- It’s clear from this discussion of divisions in the congregation at 1:10-17 that baptism was the means of entrance into formal membership in the congregation by this time.
- Paul quite clearly thinks that “wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God,” listing “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” in that category (6:9-10). So much for cheap grace.
- Chapter 7: Paul’s surprisingly reasonable and pragmatic advice on sex and marriage. Read the NRSV version. Think how much solace this statement would bring to the Mormon half of what LDS call a “part-member family” if it were emphasized in LDS discussions: “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (7:14).
- Chapter 8: Paul’s surprisingly reasonable and pragmatic advice on food and meat offered to idols, a very pressing issue for early Christians. I think if you played bishop roulette and ended up with Paul as your bishop, that would be a win.
- At 11:2 and 11:9: Christ is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman. This section seems to be echoed in the similar LDS temple ordering of hierarchy. The whole discussion in 11:2-16 seems like a reflection of Jewish and Roman cultural norms for men and women, like who can have long hair and whether a woman’s head needs to be covered. It’s odd that Paul could manage to jettison a lot of Jewish life regulations (parts of “the Law”) as almost irrelevant yet get really caught up in these distinctions he pressed in 11:2-16.
- Chapter 14: about speaking in tongues (glossolalia). This was really big in the early LDS Church. Brigham Young was a big fan. But it slowly faded away from LDS practice over the course of the 19th century.
- 15:3-11 is Paul’s short summary of the life of Jesus, along with a few rather interesting claimed resurrection appearances. As short as this discussion is, it’s the longest discussion Paul gives in his letters of the life of Jesus. The gospels and their long narrative about the life of Jesus came later. The life of Jesus, as far as we can tell from Paul’s letters, was not a reference point for doctrine or practice at this stage of the Early Church.
That’s what I’ve got today, folks. 1 Corinthians is a long letter, but it’s fairly straightforward in terms of its discussion. Just wait for Romans, a long and very challenging letter.
What do you make of Mormon quoting Paul?
What’s your most favorite or least favorite discussion by Paul noted above or elsewhere in 1 Corinthians?
Marcus J. Borg, The Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written, HarperOne, 2012.
Thomas A. Wayment, The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, revised edition, Greg Kofford Books, 2022.
Marcus J. Borg’s List of NT Books in Chronological Order (with links to earlier posts)
What do I make of the quotation? To me, it’s a strong argument for Joseph Smith’s authorship. You can try to justify the Isaiah quotes, and Christ repeating His key messages, but Mormon following the same structure as Paul is lazy plagiarism.
As a teen, my mother encouraged our family to treat each other as nicely as we treated our friends. I used “charity seeketh not her own” to explain to my mother why I didn’t need to be kind to my siblings.
There are good explanations (IMO) other than plagiarism–and some of them even more elegant when considering the entirety of the Book of Mormon text. But often the first hurdle to get over is being willing to engage ideas that may look wild or overly complex at first glance but become more straightforward and possess greater explanatory power as we learn more about them.
OMG, the Church is a fraud!! Here’s the universal problem with these kinds of what I call “oh-s0-rational” views of the LDS and other religions generally: Faith is not rational or scientific. Never has been. Faith is based upon the supernatural. Why is this hard for critics of faith to understand? Is it because otherwise rational people have faith? Is it because otherwise rational people hold positions of power in society…and “control your body” based upon their faith? I don’t really care.
But I do care about defending my faith against otherwise decent people who somehow wake up just mean every morning, and under the cloak of rationality and reasonableness write 0bvious-f-ing-material as if they are the first people to ever think of it. Here is my faith-based response to the feigned question posed in this post: If you had faith, you would know that an omniscient God, from beginning to end, “associates” with his mortal faith leaders throughout eternity…all of them knew each other and of each other. All of God’s children did. And yet, everyone crossed a earthly veil that messed with memory but not that much for those leaders through another not-so-rational mystery called revelation.
I remember writing something for a congressional boss who was a person of faith but not LDS…I wrote that Moses knew of Jesus. He said I get why you say it but the Bible doesn’t say it, so let’s edit that. Really? A person of faith thought Moses did not know of Jesus, regardless of a BoM interpretation? Now think how that ignorance sounds coming from a person of little or no faith to a person of faith. You don’t think that Mormon and Paul didn’t know each other? You don’t think the universal Gospel of Jesus Christ wouldn’t cross the minds and lips of God’s mortal servants regardless of era? Good grief. Now I know why this blog post is titled Wheat and Tares.
Corinth was part of the Greek heartland. Mentioned extensively by Herodotus and Thucydides, Greece’s and the world’s first investigative historians, Corinth was an integral part of Classical Greece, its economy, its politics, and its underlying identity. It was different from historically peripheral areas of Classical Greece such as Thessaly. The city was completely destroyed by the Roman Republic in 146 BC and rebuilt by Caesar in 44 BC (in this instance the Republic was the bad guy and Caesar the good guy). The city was witnessing a new restored glory when Christianity arose there. Paul’s two epistles to the Corinthians are a testament to Christianity being largely a Greek religion. Christianity’s first layer was Israelite, but its second layer was Greek. The Greeks did more to propel and propagate the burgeoning religion than any other group, even implanting within the Gospels, the four foundational texts of the religion, the Book of John, thus sealing in Christianity’s Hellenistic character. And Hellenism survived, where ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian culture did not, in large part due to its infusion with early Christianity. Many of Christianity’s early leading thinkers were fond of Hellenism and Classical Greek thinking. Augustine of Hippo was deeply influenced by Plato in his thought. I think that this has to do with the fact that the New Testament was Hellenized. Elements of traditional Greek religion survived within it. Jesus was Logos in the Book of John. The Greeks made it so.
On Corinthians in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith wanted to make the Book of Mormon like the Bible. The early part stresses themes of the Old Testament and the Law of Moses, while the later part after Jesus comes is made to appear more like the New Testament. The Book of Mormon is replete with verbatim text as very similar ideas and phrasing from the KJV. Joseph Smith had an extraordinary memory and familiarity with the KJV and spread its seeds throughout the BOM when he imagined it and dictated it to a scribe. New Testament passages are found as early as the very first chapter of 1 Nephi:
Gal. 6:11: I have written unto you with mine own hand
1 Nephi 1:3: the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand
Rev. 1:16: his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength
1 Nephi 1:9: his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day
Rev. 10:1-2, 8: And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book open…And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel
1 Nephi 1:9-11: And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.
Rev. 15:3: Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty
1 Nephi 1:14: when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty!
Rom. 1:21: became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened
1 Nephi 2:11: the foolish imaginations of his heart.
Mark 3:5: being grieved for the hardness of their hearts
1 Nephi 2:18: being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts
1 Cor 15:54-55, 58: So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord
1 Nephi 2:10: firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord
2 Tim. 1:6: I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God
2 Peter 1:13: to stir you up by putting you in remembrance
2 Peter 3:1: I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance
1 Nephi 2:24: to stir them up in the ways of remembrance
Joseph Smith was a plagiarist extraordinaire.
On the issue of this “faith, hope, and charity” in Moroni 7, I like to take a broader perspective. If I run across something I did not expect, I pause to consider, “What should I expect?” That is implicit in removing the beam from our own eye first. “Then shall ye see clearly.”
We don’t have Paul’s library, and we don’t know if we have positively identified every time that he was quoting either written or oral sources. Paul tells us that after he call, he spent three years in Arabia (Gal 1:17), and came back with a rather different understanding of his faith than he had before. Nibley cited several scholars that argued that Pauls’ hymn to charity was a traditional quotation, rather than an original, copyrighted composition. It’s a reasonable possibility.
We don’t have Mormon’s complete library and sources either. But it is worth remembering of Mormon that “I was visited of the Lord and I tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:15) and or Moroni “that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face” (Ether 12:39). So neither the Book of Mormon authors nor the editors nor the translator who gave us the version we have can be assumed to be participating in a double-blind test, isolated from any exposure to language and ideas that we find in the New Testament, or without access to important non-biblical writings that we do not have. Recall that when the risen Jesus visits the Nephites takes a role not only as a provider of words (3 Nephi 11‒28) but also in some respects as an editor of their records (3 Nephi 23:6‒14). That is, he directly and openly states to the Nephites, “Behold, other scriptures I would that ye should write, that ye have not.” It does not strike me as a stretch to consider that in his intimate interactions with Mormon and Moroni that this kind of issue could not, or would not come up. Jesus could be a common source, unless a person wants to argue that Jesus could not have possibly known anything Paul said, because, he died before Paul was born, and it stands to reason, therefore out of the picture.
“I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also” (2 Nephi 29:8).
Then there are translation factors. It helps to consider 1828 definition of translation in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.
TRANSLATE, verb transitive [Latin translatus, from transfero; trans, over, and fero, to bear.]
1. To bear, carry or remove from one place to another. It is applied to the removal of a bishop from one see to another.
The bishop of Rochester, when the king would have translated him to a better bishoprick, refused.
2. To remove or convey to heaven, as a human being, without death.
By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death. Hebrews 11:15.
3. To transfer; to convey from one to another. 2 Samuel 3:10.
4. To cause to remove from one part of the body to another; as, to translate a disease.
5. To change.
Happy is your grace,
That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style.
6. To interpret; to render into another language; to express the sense of one language in the words of another.
The Old Testament was translated into the Greek language more than two hundred years before Christ. The Scriptures are now translated into most of the languages of Europe and Asia.
7. To explain.
Nothing there requires a successful translation to be completely original or to ignore existing translations, or even to be perfect. Indeed, D&C 1 declares that the revelations are “were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.” Of one of his own translations, Joseph Smith in D&C 128:18 says I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands.” The New Testament includes several notable translator anachronisms (the lighted candle and the bushel) which do not discredit the New Testament because they are one of the things that happens when writing from one culture must be translated into the understanding and concepts and vocabulary of another culture. A translation that does not communicate across cultures does not succeed.
Rather than just declare that Joseph Smith plagiarized the Sermon on the Mount, John W. Welch has written several detailed books showing that that are significant differences and crucial insights to be found in the Sermon at the Temple. There is much more going on than simple borrowing, so much more that a glib claim of borrowing that does not address what Welch has uncovered (first published in 1990), including his detailed examination of how much of the Sermon on the Mount has Jewish roots, is irresponsible. Welch’s Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount so impressed Margaret Barker that she had him write The Sermon on the Mount in Light of the Temple for the Society for the Study of the Old Testament Study Series. Welch offered an amazing presentation at the Mormonism and the Temple: Examining and Ancient Religions Tradition, for which you can find a pdf at the Academy for Temple Studies at Logan.
I noticed historically, several supposed “anachronisms” like the claimed Hamlet quote in 2 Nephi turn out to fit much more profoundly in the Ancient Near Eastern setting that the Book of Mormon claims for itself. Robert F. Smith has done an excellent paper on this. Twenty three years ago, I personally found that I could find reasonable Old Testament and Enoch precedent for New Testament passages that Blake Ostler suggested as Jacob reinterpreting KJV snippets into a New Synthesis. More recently, I noticed that Nicholas Frederick, who recently has built his reputation on seeing New Testament phrases throughout the Book of Mormon, indicated that “the task of identifying New Testament parallels within the Book of Mormon has largely been taken up by those hostile to the Book of Mormon, such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner” (Nicholas J. Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: A Proposed Methodology,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24/1 (2015), What Frederick did not notice in in that 2015 study, under the New leadership at the Maxwell Institute, was that John Tvedtnes and Matt Roper, both individually and collaboratively, had dealt with the Tanner’s work in detail in the old Review. He has since granted footnotes acknowledgement of the existence their work, but not of the significance of their findings that where the New Testament phrasing the Tanners had cited had Old Testament verbal and conceptual equivalents which they must have suppressed from their results, base on the computer media they used at the time. It’s certainly legitimate to consider the intertextuality and translation issues involved. Frederick and others are doing significant work on the intertextuality front, but let’s not oversimplify the problem to single issues for hugely complex problems with hundreds of volumes and thousands of authors and a wide range of expertise required. Nor suppose that Joseph Smith ought to have been raised in complete isolation from the Bible, so that his translation was completely and utterly original, as though he was participating in a formal double-blind test. Obviously, Joseph was not participating in that kind of exercise, and the New Testament language was not a resource he either could have, or should have ignored in the Book of Mormon translation. Even apart from the issue of what Mormon and Moroni and other Book of Mormon authors has available, and the question of what might be behind the language in the New Testament (such as 1 Enoch and ideas in the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.)
All paradigm choice involves deciding “Which problems are more significant to have solved?” and “Which paradigm is better?” Part of “better” is comprehensiveness and coherence. A viable explanation of the Book of Mormon, to be persuasive to me, at least, should explain all of it, all of the details of Jerusalem 600 BCE, the journey across Arabia to Nahom and Bountiful, all of the geographic and cultural details in Sorenson, Wright, Gardner, Stubbs, and others, including the recent LiDAR, all of the complexities that Welch and Parry, and Bowman, and literally hundreds of others with a wide range of kinds of different expertise have accumulated, especially in the past 70 years or so, including me. Kuhn comments that the same things that one person sees as a puzzle to solve within a paradigm, another can see as a decisive anomaly. My own experience over 50 years of exploring claims of decisive anomaly in the Book of Mormon language, leaves me with great deal of justified hope, and a sense that such things are legitimate to puzzle over, but do not constitute bubble popping crucial experiments that comprehensively explain the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon rewards careful, wide ranging study much more than it rewards “seeking to make a man an offender for a word.”
The argument is from Kevin’s comment: what’s the big deal about words from one text appearing in another text, such as the KJV appearing in the Book of Mormon. After all the Pauline epistles likely had words of narratives taken from different writers and orators in them and that shouldn’t make us dismiss the epistles as illegitimate.
1) If Paul took from other written and oral narratives to inform the narrative in his epistles, these would have been from the Christian/Jewish/Greek peoples.
2) The appearance of other non-Paul-originated narratives in the Pauline epistles does not undermine the fact that the narrative of the epistles was constructed in the Eastern Mediterranean in the first century.
3) The narrative of the epistles reflects the cultural knowledge of early Christianity in the 1st century. No one disputes that.
4) I don’t have to believe in the supernatural to accept the claim that Paul took from other sources to create his epistles.
1) If the KJV is appearing in a text that is claimed to have been composed in the pre-Columbian Americas, then how exactly would that have appeared? There is no known transfers of cultural knowledge from the Near East to the pre-Columbian Americas. The appearance of such text in the Book of Mormon should cause us to seriously doubt all claims to the Book of Mormon’s ancient origins.
2) There is no evidence that anyone in the pre-Columbian Americas composed any Christian or Jewish texts, let alone have known about the Bible.
3) The narrative of the Book of Mormon reflects the cultural knowledge of nineteenth-century upstate New York overwhelmingly. There is no evidence that it reflects the cultural knowledge of the pre-Columbian Americas.
4) In order to accept the claim that there was a transfer of Bible texts to the pre-Columbian Americas by a resurrected or pre-resurrected Jesus who visited the Americas by sky travel, I have to accept all kinds of supernatural extraordinary phenomena.
Bottom line: this is a really, really bad comparison. Mealymouthed.
The Book of Mormon text itself is fraught with connections with the ancient world of the Israelites–or so it claims. And therefore (according to those claims) has common ancient roots with Paul’s world. And so, a translation from the ancient language(s) of the Nephites into a language that would be understood by 19th century Americans could easily include KJV style dialect. It’s more about whither the translation goeth than from whence it cometh.
Of course, if you insist that the existence of Book of Mormon itself must be proved by empirical means before there can be any fruitful discussion on the viability of its translation–then that’s a different argument, albeit related.
I appreciate your comment.
Let’s say Joseph Smith wanted to create an American Bible and the Book of Mormon is what he produced. If this is what he did it is one of the most amazing works of authorship in American history.
First, Joseph Smith had to acquire a keen insight of the text of the Old and New Testaments, including cultural and geographical references. Whether or not you agree with Nibley’s defense given in “Lehi in the Desert” you must respect the text of First Nephi tells a plausible story. The main complaint I know of is Joseph Smith has Nephi and Jacob quoting Isaiah. Silly Joseph. All he needed to do is write that Isaiah sourced those prophecies from Zenos or some other Old World prophet not mentioned in the Bible
Next, Joseph Smith had to create a complex New WorLd geography that is internally consistent. The Book of Mormon talks of many cities, rivers, waters and wilderness with near perfect consistency. A lazy writer would utterly fail this test. A lazy writer would also have avoided the complexity of interconnected stories told in the Book of Mormon. Why would a plagiarist have created such a complex novel with many moving parts if he didn’t need to?
Third, the Book of Mormon contains multiple sermons and stories that uniquely expound on the Christian doctrine of Salvation. The doctrines covered are theologically profound, internally consistent and also biblically consistent. Yes, Ether 12 and Moroni 7 reflect the New Testament themes written by Paul and also John. But the organization of the Book of Mormon text is original. At worst these chapters are a fantastic sermons on Faith, Hope & Charity. Why complain about that?
But who did Joseph Smith copy for Lehi’s discourse on Agency? Who did he copy for king Benjamin’s sermon? Who did he copy for Alma’s teachings on the spirit world , the resurrection and the atonement of our sins? Perhaps Joseph Smith picked up on the sermons of preachers in the area. But he still had to write it out in his own words. There was no Internet in 1830, no tape recorders, no copy and paste of college essays.
And a funny thing about the theology presented in Book of Mormon. The Christian doctrines of the “Second Coming” and the “Millennium” have very brief mention. If Joseph Smith was writing the Book of Mormon in response to the religious fervor of his day, why weren’t these themes more prevalent in the Book of Mormon? Church history shows these themes were very relevant to Joseph Smith at that very time he was publishing the Book of Mormon, but the Book of Mormon does not emphasize them. In fact the Book of Mormon tells a story of Jesus NOT coming – the Jaredites perished and the Nephites ultimately perished. The appearance of Jesus in 3 Nephi is not to save the righteous, but to teach them.
I’ve scarcely scratched the surface of what a remarkable book the Book of Mormon is. It stands by itself for what it is which is a witness of God’s love for all people, his plan of salvation for us, and the many ways God will intercede in our lives to bless us with his grace, mercy and justice.
Jack, you are the man! You show up – topic after topic – giving clear, alternate explanations to the basic flow of the discussion. And what do you get for your trouble? More stones and arrows cast your way than Samuel the Lamanite! Pat Benatar may have counselled not to use “sex as a weapon”, but using thumb’s down as a weapon is certainly the preferred choice of the Bloggernacle. My guess is that most of them do not read your entrees, they just immediately show their disapproval whenever they see your name. A wise man recently said “I am greatly concerned that so many people seem to believe that it is completely acceptable to condemn, malign, and vilify anyone who does not agree with them”. But then, it is the nature and disposition of almost all…
Thanks, rickpowers. I’m glad to know that my explanations are clear–to you at least. I’ve wondered about that at times.
Re: Downvotes: Funny thing is–I’ve actually grown rather fond of some of my downvoters. 😀
I just want to say I don’t really care how Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. I don’t need any claims of “truth” or historicity to make it’s message precious to me.
Joseph Smith was a fallible man. He used the language and knowledge he had to create an amazing inspiring work, full of the Spirit of God. That’s good enough for me.
“But who did Joseph Smith copy for Lehi’s discourse on Agency? Who did he copy for king Benjamin’s sermon?”
First, the Book of Mormon never mentions the word agency. You’ll have to be more specific. Who did Joseph Smith copy for King Benjamin’s sermon? For one Joseph Smith copied the title “king” and the name Benjamin straight out of the Old Testament. On the actual sermon, here are some sources for the text just to name a few. There are actually quite a few more than what I’ve listed, but this will give you a sense of just how influenced King Benjamin’s speech is by mostly the New Testament, conceived of well over a hundred years after King Benjamin was said to have lived and in a land 10,000 miles away from where he was said to have lived. Again, this just shows how much Joseph Smith relied on the KJV to construct the text of the Book of Mormon. Actually there are lots of Corinthians references in King Benjamin’s speech, so this is relevant to the OP:
Luke 17:10: when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants
Mosiah 2:21-22: if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments
1 Cor. 1:8: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ
Mosiah 2:27: that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God
1 Kings 2:6: let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace.
Mosiah 2:28: I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace
Matt. 25:46: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment
Mosiah 2:33: he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment
1 Cor 11:29: For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself
Mosiah 2:33: the same drinketh damnation to his own soul
Acts 13:10: enemy of all righteousness
Mosiah 2:37: an enemy to all righteousness
Acts 7:48: the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands
Acts 17:24: he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands
Mosiah 2:37: the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.
Matt. 3:12: with unquenchable fire
Mosiah 2:38: which is like an unquenchable fire
Luke 2:10: And the angel said unto them,…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people
Mosiah 3:2-3: an angel from God. And he said unto me:…behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
Rev. 19:6: the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Mosiah 3:5: the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth
Matt. 11:18: they say, He hath a devil
John 10:20: And many of them said, He hath a devil
Mosiah 3:9: and say that he hath a devil
Matt. 26:28: For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins
Mosiah 3:13: whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins
Acts 4:12: Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
Mosiah 3:17: there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ
John 5:30: I judge: and my judgment is just
Mosiah 3:18: For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just
1 Cor. 2:7, 11, 14: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world…For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.…But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Mosiah 3:19: For the natural man is an enemy to God,…unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man
1 Cor. 1:8: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ
Mosiah 3:21: when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God
Rev. 20:13: death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works
Mosiah 3:24: shall be judged, every man according to his works
Rev. 14:10-11: he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone…and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night
Mosiah 3:27: And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever
“The main complaint I know of is Joseph Smith has Nephi and Jacob quoting Isaiah.”
The issue is the quoting of Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah chapters 40-55), written around 538 BCE, by people who carried Tanakh inscriptions on brass plates with them on their journey from Jerusalem to the Americas in the year 600 BC. How would they know about Deutero-Isaiah describing the experiences of the Israelites in exile? Oh right, I forgot, magical revelations. If the revelations are so plentiful, then why did God even have a Book of Mormon? Why not just make the revelations more abundant and more apparent to the chosen servants the modern prophets to clear up difficult-to-understand issues? The Mormon God is one tricky guy, always trying to test our faith by having us believe all sorts of seemingly implausible and impossible stuff.
A Disciple, forgive me for jumping in.
John W, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon contain the fulness of the everlasting gospel–and so there is going to be overlap in their teachings. The KJV — or Early Modern English — that is employed in the translation need not be any more than a “familiar voice” applied to the receiving language in order to make the text accessible to 19th century Latter-day Saints. Though–yes–there are certainly instances when long passages are quoted from writings found in the Bible–and those (with good reason) tend to stay very close to the KJV translation.
That said, there are elements in King Benjamin’s address that are not found in the Bible–or are not so explicitly stated. Blood coming from every pore because of the Savior’s anguish over our sins. The salvation of little children–they are “alive in the Christ.” The salvation of those who have no law. The explanation of the lake of fire and brimstone being an exquisite remorse of conscience. The children of Christ actually being called by his name as if it we’re their own. And so forth.
Your comment is a good reminder that the Lord is more concerned with our efforts to live by the precepts found in the Book of Mormon than with anything else–including its historicity.
Even so, I can’t deny the witness of those to whom Jesus ministered when he visited the Nephites.
Jack, yes there are subtle nuanced differences between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Between Corinthians and Moroni and Mormon, there are subtle differences for sure. Joseph Smith was fully capable of adding these differences in there. He was a clever guy. But there is no doubt that the KJV New Testament informs a lot of the Book of Mormon text. To maintain that the BOM is a historical text, as Joseph Smith and his successors up to the present have maintained it to be, the appearance of the KJV NT makes this an impossibility. A reality that clearly undermines the idea that the Book of Mormon is ancient. A long string of evidence that pristinely shows the 19th-century origins of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s hand in it, Smith most evidently being an aficionado of the KJV, having memorized passages of it at great length and having tried since boyhood to figure out, like many in his environment, how exactly the Native Americans fit into the picture of the world as painted by the Bible. You can view the Book of Mormon as inspirational, as the fullness of the gospel, as a guide to Christ, as an impressive piece of literature. There is nothing ancient about it, apart from the parts of the KJV and Apocrypha that were copied and spliced into it. What’s interesting is that apologists have focused mostly on links between the ancient Near East and the Book of Mormon when the Book of Mormon barely takes place in the Near East. Just the first few chapters of 1 Nephi are in a Near Eastern setting. Most of the BOM takes place in the Americas. And yet, the apologists have virtually no significant parallels that they draw between any of the many different ancient pre-Columbian American cultures and the Book of Mormon. Why? Because there are none. The ancient Semitic parallels that the apologists have long drooled over, such as Hebraisms, are there because so much of the BOM text is derived from the KJV. Ancient Americans didn’t write histories, philosophy, and theology on plates of gold. They didn’t practice the material culture that is described in the Book of Mormon. They most certainly didn’t practice Christianity and Judaism. And everything we know about the culture and religion of the ancient Americans is in stark contrast to what is described in the Book of Mormon.
John W writes that Joseph Smith was “a clever guy”.
More than that JW. For JS to author the BoM he had to be a genius. For as you detail, JS had to not only have the KJV bible memorized, he had to know how to draw from it to produce an original Christian theology, distinct from what was being preached in his day. The novelty of Mormonism being it allows for both the doctrine of grace and the doctrine of personal accountability for sin to coexist, and it does this by tying in Old Testament and New Testament concepts of covenants, sacrifice and atonement.
The great question is this: Did JS come up with this on his own or was he inspired of God? Millions will witness JS was doing God’s work for the fruit of their reading the BoM is to receive the Spirit and be drawn closer to God. Note that a particularly clever trick of JS is to have the BoM teach the standard of what is good and true is that the words draw a person to Christ. That if you believe the Bible you will believe the BoM and if you believe the BoM you will believe the Bible. The BoM is riding on the coattails of the Bible! Clever indeed.
The more profound question is what does the existence of the BoM reveal about the nature of God and how God works through men and women? We must consider that JS sincerely believed the story he told of plates and angels. This story brought JS considerable hardship and no financial reward. Not much cleverness in that
Perhaps JS made it up and God was fine using the context JS created – a delusion really – to have a “second” bible produced. If so that should make us seriously ponder the nature of God and that God must work through delusional people to do his fictional work. This would give new meaning to the label “Crazy Christians”.
Or maybe God thinks the idea of ancient records is important. So God inspired JS to have the inspirations he had, even if they were not literally real. But ultimately God can only work with what people bring to the table and so the BoM is a derivative of the KJV because that is the familiarity JS possessed. This theory imagines a manipulative God who makes people crazy in order to accomplish God’s work.
What is fascinating about the theories that suppose God is working through crazy people is that Mormons in particular are some of the most level headed, pragmatic people around! How could a religion built on craziness prove so attractive to hard working, productive people?
The third option is the angels and plates were real to Joseph Smith. JS sought to make sense of what he experienced and the product was the BoM and the religion JS established / reestablished. This theory asks that we don’t view JS as crazy, but accept that God is quirky – that God works in mysterious ways.
And that is where my faith is at. JS was an instrument in God’s hands to do a marvelous work and what JS experienced was as real as anything that can experienced in life. The works of God can be both plain and complicated. I don’t understand why that is. I suppose it is to keep me humble and on my toes. If faith was simple and easy it wouldn’t be faith.
I absolutely love the comparison of Corinth to California. That is a very useful comparison with obvious illustrative value. I know some people tend to hate on California, but it’s such a fascinating place, especially as, like the deep South, it seems to be taking climate change on the chin. And like Alaska and Texas, it has such a powerfully embedded sense of self and economy that it is almost its own country. But given how robustly cosmopolitan places like California can be, it’s fascinating to think of Paul trying to craft a meaningful message for a similar audience in Corinth. I love places where only a fool would make the assumption that everyone in the room thinks like he does. Thanks, Dave B. I’m really enjoying this new series of yours!
Thanks for the comments, everyone. I think this post gets the award for “longest average comment in response to the opening post.” Also, let me say that I never even look at the thumbs up, thumbs down tallies for various comments.
Kevin C., thanks for weighing in. Your perspective is always interesting. But if you’re going to call me irresponsible for not taking John Welch’s thinking about 3 Nephi’s version of the Sermon on the Mount as a starting point for discussion on that text, I’ll call you irresponsible for not taking Kirster Stendahl’s excellent article (it was a paper delivered at BYU) on the 3 Nephi version of the Sermon on the Mount as a starting point for discussion.
Paul Mero, you seem to go ballistic anytime someone challenges your rather narrow and ultra-orthodox construction of LDS history and doctrine. Perhaps you are unaware that plenty of mainstream LDS scholars are willing to entertain theories about Book of Mormon translation (that is, the process by which Joseph formulated words in his mind and dictated the BoM text to his scribes) that accounts for the many biblical “borrowings” and 19th-century influences on the resulting text. That’s something that needs to be grappled with, not shouted at. Perhaps coming from a political background rather than an academic one is part of your method — just shouting at people who disagree with you or who pose reasonable questions about your unreasonable beliefs. Of course, most essential religious beliefs are, to some degree, unreasonable. But most religious people don’t react with the vehemence you do around people who don’t share their particular religious beliefs.
Jack, keep trying. Sooner or later someone will agree with you. But your comments are always welcome.
John W., thanks for taking the other side of the argument. Not that I was hoping for the discussion thread to be another chapter in the Book of Mormon wars. It just shows what a tender issue this is for those who follow the thinking of Book of Mormon apologists that I can’t point out the blatant parallels between Moroni 7 and 1 Corinthians 13 without eliciting well traveled, scripted responses. Like most arguments, they are persuasive to some and not to others.
lws329, thanks for your comments. At the end of the day, “that’s good enough for me” is where almost everyone ends up with religious discussions and issues, whether they admit it or not. Like philosophical questions and discussions, there is never a final answer to religious discussions that resolves the inquiry, just a continuing (and often enlightening) discussion that hopefully leaves most participants better informed. It’s always nice to know how other people think.
A Disciple, the idea that Joseph Smith was a religious genius, which is the position of secular critic of Mormonism Harold Bloom, is a lot less extraordinary than the idea that Christian and Israelite communities existed in the pre-Columbian Americas and that Jesus himself visited these communities. The idea that these communities actually quoted from a narrative that had not even yet been conceptualized and would only emerge as the New Testament hundreds of years later in a land 10,000 miles away is even more far-fetched. If we apply Occam’s Razor to figure out authorship, the simplest explanation that is most consistent with the evidence and based upon the fewest number of assumptions is that Joseph Smith constructed the Book of Mormon himself through a combination of his imagination and the KJV, with perhaps some reliance on the Late War, First Book of Napoleon, and View of the Hebrews. Joseph Smith did, afterall, construct the Doctrine and Covenants, which is fairly impressive.
Also on memorizing parts of the KJV, I have no doubt that Joseph Smith had an extraordinary memory. Bear in mind that throughout the Muslim world that thousands upon thousands of people have memorized the Quran in its entirety, many people memorizing it in a language that is not their own. People do memorize long texts. It is fully possible. Some people are capable of memorizing texts without hearing or reading them that much. I think this was Joseph Smith. He would hear a passage from the KJV only a few times and it would stick in his memory.
Let’s also remember that the Pauline quotes in the BoM are accompanied by quotes from The Late War (which John W briefly mentioned). So the argument that God revealed the words of Paul’s epistles to Mormon also implies that God revealed the words of The Late War to Mormon as well—a curious thing for God to do unless he wanted to deliberately confuse his children.
To A Disciple’s point about how the story of the BoM’s divine origin “brought JS considerable hardship and no financial reward,” I beg to differ. Joseph tried all kinds of risky behaviors in his life to attract followers, community, wealth, and eventually political power. Some of these gambles didn’t pay off (like using a seer stone—the same one he would use to dictate the BoM—to find nonexistent buried treasure or founding the Kirtland Safety Society) while others paid off enormously. I’m not saying ambition and avarice were his only motivations, but by the end of his life he was not only a church president but a mayor and lieutenant general with thousands of followers, a mansion, a legion, and a harem of wives. Clearly he had his reasons for sticking to his story, regardless of whether it was true.
Some scholars would say that Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” has far more in common with the Book of Mormon than the Late War or the Spaulding Manuscript or anything else to which the BoM’s text has been attributed. But the problem is, as I’m sure you’re aware, Leaves of Grass was written in 1855–at least 25 years after the Book of Mormon was published.
So what we have at the very least (IMO) is the vernacular of the Book of Mormon being a product of its time–which is perfectly reasonable. And then to carry things a bit further–it is also quite possible that the Book of Mormon came forth in a time when the hearts and minds of many people were primed by the spirit of inspiration to receive it. There was “something in the air” (so to speak) that capture people’s imagination–something having to do with many of the themes that are found in the BoM.
That said, I’m of the opinion that the Lord had been preparing the world for the restoration for some time before Joseph Smith emerged from the woods. And so it’s no surprise (to me) that a lot of folks were having thoughts, ideas, feelings, and even revelations, that would make sense within the framework of the restoration. Even so, however parallel some of those ideas may have been to the Book of Mormon, it think we also have to keep in mind that there are many unexpected elements in the text as well–elements that we take for granted today because of our familiarity with it that were revolutionary at the time the BoM was published.
And so, we should be willing to measure the Book of Mormon, not only by what it has in common with other writings of its time, but also by the way in which it differs from those writings–which in many instances is so different as to be almost unheard of.
For J.R. Tolkien to author the Lord of the Rings he had to be a genius. For Shakespeare to author Romeo and Juliet he had to be a genius. For Leo Tolstoy to author War and Peace he had to be a genius. For Cervantes to author Don Quixote he had to be a genius. For Anne Frank to author her diary she had to be a genius. For George Eliot to author Middlemarch she had to be a genius. For anyone anywhere to author anything they had to be a genius.
Jack, I think the argument that the Late War and First Book of Napoleon influenced Joseph Smith’s verbiage to some degree is convincing. Those are books that would have been available to him at that time. A View of the Hebrews could have influenced Joseph Smith’s ideas to some degree as well. As Jeff Lindsay points out in his mockery of plagiarism arguments by pointing out the similarities (extremely weak similarities) between the Book of Mormon and Leaves of Grass, I’m willing to accept a degree of coincidence in the similarities between the three aforementioned books and the BOM. It could have been that Joseph Smith didn’t actually know about those books at all, although I find that unlikely. What isn’t coincidental at all is the amount of the KJV in the Book of Mormon. That is obvious plagiarism that cannot be ignored. Furthermore, there is no coincidence in the similarities between the so-called Civil War “prophecy” and the Painesville Telegraph opinion piece written 4 days before Joseph Smith’s “revelation.”
One thing I find ironic after reading through Jeff Lindsay’s mockery of plagiarism claims is that he desperately wants to dismiss the parallels between Late War et. al. as coincidence all while he and his apologist partners in crime Nick and ridiculous those who dismiss the NHM inscription in Yemen as coincidence. Of course it’s coincidence and an egregious overstatement of significance. Besides, the fact that Nahum is a book in the Bible and that we know just how much Joseph Smith copied from the KJV to create the Book of Mormon nullifies the significance of NHM completely. But if you dismiss NHM as coincidence, the apologists will begin hyperventilating.
What apologists are forced to swallow as coincidental in terms of the parallels between the Book of Mormon and 19th-century Northern US culture are infinitely more weighty and numerous than what skeptics are forced to accept as coincidence in terms of parallels between the ancient Near East and ancient Americas and the Book of Mormon. Lindsay’s a crank.
*mock and ridicule not Nick and ridiculous
Ultimately, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. Much of our disagreement (IMO) boils down what we believe (respectively) vis-a-vis different ways of knowing–and that’s not an easy gap to bridge.
But let me say this much–the Painesville Telegraph piece is nowhere near as specific as Joseph Smith’s prophecy. And I think the reason that JS gave the prophecy was precisely because there were questions and concerns about what was going on in the South.
Re: Nahom: It isn’t just a bit of evidence found on an altar. It’s evidence that ties together various lines of evidence into one highly complex matrix of evidence. Taken all together it is practically irrefutable.
And just sos ya knows–I think Jeff Lindsay is brilliant. But I suppose that’s one of those things we’ll have to agree to disagree on.
“the Painesville Telegraph piece is nowhere near as specific as Joseph Smith’s prophecy”
The Civil War prophecy in D&C 87 makes arguably 20 predictions. Four of these were correct: 1) there was a rebellion in South Carolina, 2) this rebellion would “terminate in the death and misery of many souls,” 3) the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States (although in the actual Civil War five Southern states, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, with West Virginia breaking off from Virginia in 1863, were part of the Union), and 4) the South called upon Great Britain, although not against other nations, but against the Northern States.
The Painesville Telegraph piece showed that people in the same environment of Joseph Smith were panicking about the Nullification Crisis turning into a civil war, and the piece actually uses the term civil war, and the crisis spreading to other southern states, such as Georgia. This greatly undermines the significance of Section 87.
There’s been a lot written on Joseph Smith’s prophecy–and there are good explanations for all of the events he predicted.
I think there’s debate over what people really believed would happen 30 years prior to the war. My guess is that, while some folks had concerns about political strife and whatnot, most of them did not anticipate how horrific it would end being.
As a lazy learner, I greatly appreciated both sides of the discussion in these comments and learned a lot. I respect those that can look beyond first impressions and dive into historical context. Thank you all for presenting the information in straightforward way.
@Jack – “both the Bible and the Book of Mormon contain the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”
I have a question – what does that even mean exactly?
Despite having so called prophets and apostles leading the church there have been a heck of a lot missteps and they don’t seem to have all the answers. Gender inequity, racism, unethical money management, polygamy… I could go on and on. If the church had all the answers and it made sense to all of us then there’d be a large number of us that wouldn’t feel a need to hang around this blog. So enjoy your self assurance – it’s probably a comfort to you.
In my opinion the fulness of the gospel as found in the scriptures is all of the doctrine and teachings necessary to get us on the high road to eternal life.
That said, there must also be the authority of the priesthood to make the pertinent ordinances efficacious.
In spite of whatever failings some may see in the church it does a splendid job of providing the necessary doctrine and ordinances to get us on that road. Thanks be to God.
Couple of responses to this as I’ve run into similar comments before and they always bug me…
“The Book of Mormon talks of many cities, rivers, waters and wilderness with near perfect consistency. A lazy writer would utterly fail this test. A lazy writer would also have avoided the complexity of interconnected stories told in the Book of Mormon.”
–As someone who writes fantasy novels, creating an entire alternate world with geography, customs, peoples, etc. isn’t all that difficult. Some people can intuitively build super complex worlds very easily; others have to work harder. For a creator that is living in their fantasy world (in their own head) for any length of time (and JS had years to do so before producing the BoM), this isn’t the hard part of writing a book. It’s way more the fun part.
“Why would a plagiarist have created such a complex novel with many moving parts if he didn’t need to?” Set aside the plagiarism bit (as no one is suggesting JS plagiarized the entire thing) and go ask Tolkien or Ursula LeGuin or C.S. Lewis or Ann McCaffrey. (or Brandon Sanderson, although the pre-computers, pre-internet writers are better comparisons.) Personally, I do it because the creative processes is so incredibly rewarding and stories/worlds are living creatures on their own (certainly the money for me is not worth it, although Brandon gets to say otherwise.)