Textual and Linguistics Issues

Textual and Linguistics Issues

“And It Came to Pass”

Since space on the plates was so precious (Jacob 1:1; Jarom 1:2, 14; Omni 1:30), why was the expression “and it came to pass” used so often, taking up so much space in the record?

Mormon Gold PlatesThe Hebrew expression rendered “and it came to pass” in English is also found in the Bible. It is a necessary part of the Hebrew language, where it comprises only four letters linked together wyhy, meaning “and it happened.” The letters representing w and y are the smallest in the Hebrew alphabet. The Nephites, who used Egyptian characters to keep the record contained in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:32-34), may have used an abbreviation for this and other common expressions, thus taking even less space on the plates. (Read More)

Egyptian Writing

The Book of Mormon was supposedly written in Egyptian script by Israelite prophets (1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:32-34) but no worshiper of Israel’s God would have written in this pagan language.

This assumption made by modern critics is disproven by archaeological findings of ancient Hebrew texts that employ Egyptian script. A number of other early documents have Hebrew and related texts written in Egyptian characters. One such document, found in Egypt and written in Egyptian demotic characters, actually is a transliteration (i.e., a phonetic copy, not a translation) of an Aramaic text rather than Egyptian, and includes a portion of Psalm 20 from the Bible.  (Read More)

Error-Free Book of Mormon

Since Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon by divine means, the urim and thummim, it should be error-free. Yet it contains many grammatical errors and required changes in subsequent editions.

Because Joseph dictated the text to his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, and the text was typeset by a nonbeliever at the E. B. Grandin printing establishment, it is not always possible to know at what point modern errors crept in. That there could be errors in the original text of the Book of Mormon was acknowledged by its writers. In the preface (title page) to the text, Moroni wrote, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God.” Other passages that suggest that there may be errors include 3 Nephi 8:2; Mormon 4:11; 8:12; 9:31, 33. (Read More)

Most Correct Book

Joseph Smith declared that the Book of Mormon was “the most correct of any book on earth” (History of the Church 4:461). If this were so, why have there been over four thousand changes to the book since it was first published in 1830?

Correctness need not refer to the translation, the grammar, or the spelling, only to the content, notably the doctrine. No one language can adequately express all the nuances intended by the original. Anyone who knows a foreign language can attest that there is no one-to-one correspondence between words in two different languages.

Joseph Smith’s full statement reads, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church 4:461). Since the context of the prophet’s remarks was “abiding by [the] precepts” found in the Book of Mormon, it is clear that he was speaking about its teachings rather than its language or history. (Read More)

Fulness of the Gospel

The Book of Mormon is said to have “the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” or “the fulness of the everlasting gospel” (D&C 20:9; 27:5; 135:3; Joseph Smith History 1:34), yet it does not mention such key s as Mormon doctrinebaptism for the dead, eternal marriage, and exaltation, so it can’t contain the “fulness of the gospel.”

If the term “gospel” meant all truth from God, as both Latter-day Saints and other Christians most often use it, that criticism would be valid. But the restored Church teaches that we do not possess all truth, which only God possesses. Were it otherwise, we would have no need of living prophets and no need to declare that “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 9).

Since it is impossible for us to possess all of God’s truth in mortality, we must look for another meaning for “fulness of the gospel” based not on how the term “gospel” is commonly used, but on how the Lord uses the term. In the scriptures restored or revealed to Joseph Smith, the term “gospel,” an old English word meaning “good news,” specifically refers to the atonement of Christ. (Read More)

KJV Language of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon was supposedly translated from Reformed Egyptian, a now unknown language.  Yet Smith translated this language into the same words and phraseology of King James English, which did not exist until at least 1,000 years after Moroni died.

Ironically, the King James version (KJV) itself reflects an earlier stage of the English language. Its translators, though referring to the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testament, relied heavily on previous English translations of the Bible, resulting in the fact that much of the language of their Bible can be traced to Tyndale or even to Wycliffe. Moreover, because most nineteenth-century Americans used the KJV, it is likely that had Joseph Smith tried to use a style other than that of the current Bible in the Book of Mormon, his contemporaries would have rejected it as unscriptural in its language. (Read More)

KJV Errors in the Book of Mormon

When quoting passages from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith relied on the English King James version (KJV) of the Bible. Since Nephi would have relied on the Isaiah passages on the brass plates of Laban, doesn’t Joseph Smith’s use of the KJV suggest that he did not really translate from an ancient record? In relying on the KJV translation, he even preserved some of the mistakes made by its translators.

It is likely that the prophet would also have been criticized had his translation of the Isaiah passages read differently from that of the KJV, which was the Bible most commonly used in his day. Employing KJV language made it possible to correlate Book of Mormon quotes with those of the biblical Isaiah already available to readers. Virtually every Old Testament quote in the New Testament, including passages from Isaiah, is drawn not from the Hebrew text, but from the Greek Septuagint (abbreviated LXX), translated in the second or third century BC. Even when the Septuagint is an incorrect translation, it is used by the New Testament writers. Similarly, when Joseph Smith dealt with the Bible quotes in the Book of Mormon, he relied on the most widely-used English translation of the day, the KJV, even when it contained errors. (Read More)

Greek Names in the Book of Mormon

Since the Book of Mormon is said to have been written by people who fled ancient Israel, why does it contain such Greek names as Timothy (3 Nephi 19:4, known from the New Testament), Lachoneus (3 Nephi 1:1 etc.), Antipas (Alma 47:7-10, known from Revelation 2:13), and Pachus (Alma 62:6-9)?

Prof. Cyrus Gordon demonstrated that there were contacts between the Greeks and peoples of the ancient Near East as early as the second millennium BC. As a result of this contact, a Greek (Ionian) name, Nikomed, shows up as that of a 13th-century BC king of the ancient Syrian town of Ugarit, where a language closely related to Hebrew was spoken and written. (Read More)

Too Many Plates?

It makes no sense that the Nephites should have so many sets of plates containing the same history. According to the Book of Mormon, Mormon abridged the Nephite history from the large plates of Nephi, while the small plates of Nephi overlap the history covered by both the large plates and Mormon’s abridgment (represented by the 116 lost pages). Lehi’s genealogy is said to be found not only on the brass plates, but in Lehi’s own book as well as in the larger account prepared by Nephi (1 Nephi 3:3, 12; 5:14, 16; 6:1; 19:2; Alma 37:3).

There is nothing unusual or suspicious in this. The Bible has many examples of such parallel histories. Most of the stories in the books of Samuel and Kings (which, the majority of scholars agree, are a single history) are repeated in Chronicles, a post-exilic attempt to rewrite the history. Moreover, we are frequently reminded in Samuel and Kings that the information contained therein originally came from the chronicles of David, of the kings of Judah, and of the kings of Israel, as well as from records kept by various early prophets whose works have been lost to us. Parts of Jeremiah and Isaiah repeat some of the history from 2 Kings, and the genealogies at the beginning of 1 Chronicles repeat information recorded earlier, mostly in Genesis. Parallel histories are nothing new to the world of holy writ. (Read More)

Changes to Book of Mormon

Since its original publication in 1830, more than 4,000 changes have been made to the text of the Book of Mormon. If it is truly the word of God, there should be no need for modification.

The majority of the roughly 4,000 changes made in later editions of the Book of Mormon were in punctuation.  Oliver Cowdery added very little punctuation to the manuscript when dictated by Joseph Smith, and the punctuation in the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon was made by the typesetter and later revised by editors such as Orson Pratt and James E. Talmage.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints always acknowledged changes that were made to the published Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith noted, in 1837, that he was correcting “errors which escaped notice in the first edition” of the Book of Mormon (History of the Church 4.494-5, 541).  The current (1981) edition, on the prefatory page entitled “A Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon,” contains the following statement:  “About this edition: Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon.  This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”  Prior to and at the time of appearance of the 1981 publication, the official LDS Church magazine, The Ensign, carried articles noting some of the changes and why they were being made. (Read More)


The term “methought” in 1 Nephi 8:4 and Alma 36:22 was borrowed from Shakespearean literature and should not appear in a translation from an ancient text.

Shakespeare wrote in the English of his day, which is close to the English of the King James version (KJV) of the Bible. Though the word “methought” is not found in the Bible, it is a perfectly valid English expression given that Joseph Smith deliberately imitated KJV English in his translation of the Book of Mormon. (Read More)

A Quote from Shakespeare?

Lehi spoke of himself as “a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return” (2 Nephi 1:14). This seems to be borrowed from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, lines 78-80: “But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveller returns.” If Joseph Smith did not quote directly from Shakespeare, he may have borrowed from Josiah Priest’s 1825 book The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed, page 469, which paraphrases Shakespeare in a form nearly identical to the version found in the Book of Mormon: “from whence no traveler returns.”

It is more likely that both Shakespeare and Lehi borrowed from a more ancient text. For example, the Old Testament prophet Job declared, “Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death” (Job 10:20-21). “When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return” (Job 16:22). (Read More)