Book of Mormon Helps Us Understand the Bible
One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to lend support to the Bible. About four centuries after the coming of Jesus Christ to visit the Nephites in the New World, Mormon wrote, “this [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [the Bible]; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also” (Mormon 7:9).
In this article, we shall examine some of the ways in which the Book of Mormons helps us to understand the Bible.
Jesus is the Son of God
The first way in which the Book of Mormon supports the Bible is in testifying that the Bible is correct in declaring that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Nephi, who had come from Jerusalem to the Americas six centuries before Christ, wrote that “according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (2 Nephi 25:19). More than four centuries later, one of Nephi‘s descendants, a king named Benjamin, prophesied of the coming of the Savior: “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary” (Mosiah 3:8). Alma, a prophet of the next generation, also declared that “the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:9-10). Four centuries after Christ came to teach the Nephites, Mormon, wrote, “Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God” (Mormon 7:5).
The Book of Mormon makes it clear that the prophecy of the servant of God in Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 14-15). It also tells us that when Abraham was “obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac,” this was “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5).
Prophets Not mentioned in the Bible
The Book of Mormon prophet Helaman wrote that “all the holy prophets” of ancient times had testified of Christ to come (Helaman 8:16). He mentions the biblical prophets Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and mentions other prophets named Zenos, Zenock, Neum (Helaman 8:17-20). Several Bible passages mention prophets whose writings were lost in antiquity (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 13:22; 20:34; 26:22; 33:18-19). From the Book of Mormon, we learn that there were other prophets whose writings are no longer extant. This agrees with statements by some of the early Church Fathers of the first centuries after Christ, such as Eusebius, Augustine, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Justin Martyr, who sometimes quoted prophetic books that are no longer in our modern Bible.
Jesus’ “Other Sheep”
While at Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). But, he declared, “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). The Book of Mormon tells us that these other sheep were the Nephites, whose ancestors had come from Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ. When he appeared to the Nephites after his resurrection, Jesus told them, “ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (3 Nephi 15:21).
The Sermon on the Mount
One of Christ’s most well-known sermons, the sermon on the mount, is recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7. According to the Book of Mormon, he delivered this same message to the Nephites in the New World, but with a few changes (see 3 Nephi chapters 12-14). These changes give us insights into the meaning of his teaching. One of these changes is found in the beatitudes. Matthew 5:6 has Christ telling his disciples, “Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” The Book of Mormon version says “for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
After warnings about sexual temptation in Matthew 5:27-28, verses 29-30 contain enigmatic statements about cutting off one’s right eye or right hand if it offends. This may have been an idiomatic or symbolic expression that meant something to Jesus’ audience, but which we no longer understand. These expressions would probably have meant nothing to the Nephites, who lived across the ocean. So the Book of Mormon has Christ telling them, “Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things [temptations] to enter into your heart; for it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell” (3 Nephi 12:29-30). Thus, we learn that Christ was saying that we should resist sinful temptations.
In Matthew 6:25-34, Christ says not to concern oneself with food, clothing and shelter. This is strange counsel for mothers and fathers who have to care for not only themselves, but for their children. Was the Savior really saying that we should not go get a job and buy the necessities of life? Again, the Book of Mormon clarifies this situation by explaining that Jesus addressed these specific words to a select group of twelve disciples, whom he was sending out to preach the gospel (see 3 Nephi 13:25-34). Viewed in this light, it is likely that the words in the sixth chapter of Matthew were addressed only to the twelve apostles, not to all of Christ’s followers. It was while traveling in the service of God that the twelve were not to concern themselves about mundane matters, but to work to build up the kingdom of God.
The Book of Mormon contains nearly 500 verses that are quoted from the biblical prophet Isaiah. About 70 of these are paraphrases. Of the remainder, half agree with the Bible reading and the other half vary from the Bible text. While some of these differences are insignificant, 234 of them improve our understanding of the Bible. Many of these are supported by different Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) or by very early Bible translations, such as the Septuagint, which is the Greek version of the Old Testament produced in the second century B.C.
For example, Isaiah 2:16 contains the words “and upon all the ships of Tarshish,” while the Book of Mormon, when quoting this passage, reads, “and upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish” (2 Nephi 12:16). The additional line is not found in the Hebrew text of Isaiah. But the Septuagint reads, “and upon every ship of the sea” in place of “and upon all the ships of Tarshish.” The Book of Mormon preserves the reading of both the Hebrew and the Greek texts, which suggests that the Hebrew could have dropped one line while the Greek dropped a different line. The two lines together form a parallelism, which is a poetic feature found throughout the Bible and which is especially prominent in the writings of the prophet Isaiah.
When 2 Nephi 23:22 cites Isaiah 13:22, it adds the following phrase to the end of the verse: “For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.” Different versions give partial support to the Book of Mormon addition. The Septuagint adds, “quickly shall it be done, and shall not be delayed,” while one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QIsa) adds “more (still, yet).” It is possible that the standard Hebrew text dropped this verse ending by a process known as haplography. The portion added in the Book of Mormon passage would begin with the Hebrew word KY, “for,” which happens to be the initial word in the next verse (Isaiah 14:1 = 2 Nephi 24:1). An early Hebrew scribe evidently let his eye skip from the first occurrence of this word to the second and left out the entire passage, which was kept in the Book of Mormon version. Moreover, Isaiah 14:1 is not a logical successor to Isaiah 13:22 without the Book of Mormon addition, which introduces the subject of the Lord’s mercy toward Israel.
There are many other examples of such variants in the Isaiah text that are clarified by the quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, but these will suffice to demonstrate that one ancient scriptural text can sometimes be used to help understand another.
Higher and Lesser Laws
To the Galatians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Wherefore then serveth the law [of Moses]? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise was made” (Galatians 3:19). This suggests that the law of Moses was superimposed atop something else the Israelites had received from God–presumably something that was part of a higher law. Because the ten commandments are authoritatively cited as the word of God in the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon, they must be part of the higher law that remained even under the covenant made at Sinai. They would therefore not be part of the lesser “handwriting of ordinances” of which Paul said that Christ “took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:14).
Christ told the Nephites, “in me is the law of Moses fulfilled” (3 Nephi 9:17; see also 3 Nephi 12:18-19, 46; 15:4-5, 8). But he seems to have suggested that only the lesser portion of that law had been fulfilled when he said, “Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled” (3 Nephi 12:19). The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi, while noting that salvation does not come by the law of Moses, indicated that it was, nonetheless, important to keep the commandments that were part of that law (Mosiah 12:31-33; 13:27-30; see also Alma 25:16).
In order to understand this subject, we must note that the law of Moses was comprised of three divisions, the commandments (sometimes called “law” or “testimonies”), the statutes (sometimes called “ordinances”), and the judgments. These same three divisions of the law are listed in the Book of Mormon, where the word “performances” sometimes is substituted for “judgments.” From some of the Book of Mormon passages (Alma 30:3; 2 Nephi 25:24-25, 30; 4 Nephi 1:12), we learn that it was the statutes and judgments (or ordinances and performances) that would be done away in Christ, while the commandments would remain as part of the higher law that Christ revealed during his ministry. Thus, the Book of Mormon explains which part of the law of Moses was added, as Paul says, because the Israelites sinned.
From the things we have discussed here, it can be seen that the Book of Mormon lends support to the Bible and helps us to understand some difficult passages in the Bible. We have looked at only a few of those passages in this brief article.
The Book of Mormon also makes the point that the Bible is not the only volume of scripture inspired by God. Through the prophet Nephi, the Lord spoke to us in these latter days: “Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written” (2 Nephi 29:10). The Book of Mormon is one of the other books that God has given us to help us understand his will.
. For a thorough study of Jesus’ sermons in the Old and New Worlds, see John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount (Salt Lake City: Deseret and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990).
. For a book-length report, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon” (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies report No. TV‑81, 1983). For a brief article on the subject, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon,” in Monte S. Nyman (ed.), Isaiah and the Prophets (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young Univ., in cooperation with Bookcraft, Inc., Salt Lake City, 1984), 164-177.
. In the Bible, see Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 13-14; 5:28; 6:20; 26:17; 28:45; 2 Kings 17:34, 37; 2 Chronicles 19:10; 29:19; 33:8; 34:31; Nehemiah 9:13-14; 10:30; Jeremiah 32:11.