CES Letter Mormon: Was the Book of Mormon Copied from the Bible? (Part 1)

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

As many of you know, I have done several videos on the last days’ apostasy. Part of that includes hearing what non-believers and former members of the Church say about certain issues. In reality, I don’t hear many new issues; these people find the issues that are discussed are nearly always the same issues people have been talking about for decades and sometimes centuries. This is applicable even to the CES Letter. What does happen is that there are some new events or something in pop culture that puts a spotlight on these very old issues. For example, many of you will remember when the show Big Love premiered in March of 2006 and how it put polygamy on the forefront of people’s minds. More recently, “Under the Banner of Heaven” had a similar effect, yet the subject of polygamy and the doctrine, policies, and so forth haven’t changed in a very long time. In fact, the practice of plural marriage ended in 1890 over 130 years ago, although some rogue members of the Church continued practicing it for a bit of time after that. And, of course, there were other religions that broke off, and some still practice it to this day. Yet, polygamy is still associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some years ago, I was at a corporate team-building event, and I was the only member of the Church, and everybody knew that I was LDS. They wanted to play the game “Two Truths and a Lie,” where you say three things about yourself, and everybody has to guess which two things are true and which one is the lie. When it came to my turn, I gave these three details about myself: number one, I was born with nine toes; number two, I am a polygamist; and number three, every year since I was 13, I do a standing back tuck on my birthday. Some guessed the nine toes to be a lie, and others about my birthday ritual, but everyone believed that I was a polygamist just because I was LDS. So these prejudices and bigoted views are highly ingrained in society and pop culture. I use this to illustrate how some subjects seem to never change. However, there is one topic from church history that has morphed quite a bit recently.

In times past, critics of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Church, and the Book of Mormon would claim that Joseph Smith could not and did not write the Book of Mormon. I say it that way because they certainly don’t believe that he translated it or that it is from God. Yet, we have the book, and so it must have come from somewhere. It is well known that Joseph only had a third-grade education and didn’t have the education, background, or the skill to write the Book of Mormon. So someone else must have written it. Some people attributed this to perhaps Sidney Rigdon, as he was a well-educated gospel scholar and a Christian minister. Others have similarly been identified as potential authors of the Book of Mormon as well. But in recent years, and especially since the release of the Joseph Smith papers, as well as many other research projects both within and outside of the Church, it is clear to both supporters of Joseph and those against Joseph that it was indeed Joseph that brought forth The Book of Mormon. It is extremely clear when and how the Book of Mormon came about. Joseph Smith produced the writings in under 90 days, and due to known travel that happened during this time, it was likely very close to 68 days. There is no doubt that it was Joseph Smith, and now the narrative has changed to Joseph Smith being a fraudster. They don’t know how he did it, but those unbelievers do now concede that he brought forth The Book of Mormon; they just don’t believe him to be a prophet.

As a result of this shift by apostates, there’s emphasis on what they consider their main evidence that Joseph was a fraud. This evidence can be seen in the Mormon CES Letter for example. The new rhetoric is interesting. Take a listen to one very recent example of apostates talking about this: “So, the Book of Mormon is incredibly important to this story because it was the main validator for Joseph Smith in those early days and continues to be a foundational part for believers in the LDS Faith. That’s because Joseph Smith wasn’t religious or educated, and now suddenly, he’s writing this Bible-like book in a few months. And yes, this book is definitely full of full-blown copy and paste jobs from the Bible.”

Indeed, there are chapters in The Book of Mormon that, at first glance, appear to be direct copies from the Bible. The Isaiah chapters in 1 and 2 Nephi, for example. There are also chapters in 3rd Nephi that could appear to be copies of The Sermon on the Mount and other scriptures from the Old and New Testaments. So the idea by the apostates is that, to create the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith decided to take a shortcut and just copy stuff so he wouldn’t have to create all of this from scratch and make new content. The interesting thing is there are many differences between the version of these chapters in The Book of Mormon and what is found in the Bible. And some of those differences are extremely strong support for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith being a prophet of God. But I’ll get to those in a minute. First, let’s look at the numbers.

Remember that the apostates claim large portions of the Book of Mormon are a copy-paste job. The Book of Mormon has 531 pages, 239 chapters, and a total of 6,604 verses. 22 chapters do somewhat mirror those found in the Bible, and, in fact, 477 verses are in those 22 chapters. So, I don’t know what you consider being a “full-blown copy-paste job,” but, in reality, 7% of the Book of Mormon could be seen as being copied from other scripture. I was surprised it was actually that high, but at the same time, I don’t consider 7% full of full-blown copy-paste jobs. There are some individual or small sets of verses scattered throughout the Book of Mormon, but adding those doesn’t materially change the numbers. To be specific, here are the chapters that can be found in the Bible: 1 Nephi 20 and 21, which is Nephi’s inclusion of Isaiah 48 and 49; then 2 Nephi is about half Isaiah again, with chapters 12-24 and then chapter 27 being Isaiah 2-14 and Isaiah 29; then The Sermon on the Mount, which is touched on in the CES Letter, is 3 Nephi 12-14, which is quite similar to Matthew 5-7; 3 Nephi 22 can be compared with Isaiah 54, and 3 Nephi 24 and 25 can be compared with Malachi 3 and 4. Everything else in the Book of Mormon, the other 93%, the 6,100 plus verses, is original text that either Joseph wrote as a con man or brought forth through the gift and power of God as a prophet. Those are the only two options. There are no others. So you need to decide which one you want to believe.

But here’s the interesting thing: those chapters and verses that can be found in both the Book of Mormon and the Bible are not identical. If Joseph was a fraudster, why would he have not copied them exactly? Let me give you some of my favorite examples. One of my favorite bits of evidence that a prophet of God brought forth a scripture is The Lord’s Prayer. It is found in Matthew 6:9-13. I’m going to leave the verse numbers on here so you can mark these in your scripture. It says, “After this manner, therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed Be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” It is likely that Joseph, with his dedicated reading of the Bible, would have had this memorized. It is also likely that others in his family and the pastors and preachers in the area would have all had this memorized. I have known people that don’t spend much time at all reading the scriptures or at church, but they have the Lord’s Prayer memorized. Here is the interesting thing: the Lord’s Prayer in the Book of Mormon, in 3 Nephi, chapter 13, is different from the New Testament version. It says, “After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Did you notice the difference? The Book of Mormon version doesn’t have the phrase “thy kingdom come.” Why in the world would Joseph not include something like that if he’s a con man? He should have copied it exactly, being something that everybody knows and even has memorized. Although sources like the CES Letter allude to and claim that he was a con man, he wasn’t a con man; he was a prophet who brought forth The Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. So why would the Lord’s Prayer be different? What is the difference in the timing between these two events?

The Sermon on the Mount from the New Testament happens at the beginning of Christ’s mortal ministry. The 3 Nephi version happens after Christ was crucified, resurrected, and then visiting the Americas. It was after the Lord Jesus Christ had brought forth the kingdom to the Earth; he had brought the authority of God in the form of the priesthood and given it to his Apostles, including the events on the Mount of Transfiguration, all of which happened after the Sermon on the Mount and before the account in the Book of Mormon. So, Christ, when teaching the Nephites how to pray, would have naturally eliminated the phrase “thy kingdom come” because it had already come. Christ had already brought forth the kingdom. Was this a lucky guess by a con man, Joseph Smith, or evidence of the divine mission of a prophet bringing forth Latter-Day scripture?

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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