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The “Fiery Darts” in Ephesians 6:16 and in the Book of Mormon

The “Fiery Darts” in Ephesians 6:16 and in the Book of Mormon

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In a short article on the Mormon website Interpreter, Stephen O. Smoot argues that an apparent case of the Book of Mormon borrowing from the New Testament is in actuality wording that authentically derives from the ancient Near Eastern culture. The text in question uses the expression “the fiery darts of the adversary” (1 Ne. 15:24), which Smoot argues only seems to be related to the Apostle Paul’s reference to “the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16).1 Here are the two texts:

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (Eph. 6:16 KJV)

And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. (1 Ne. 15:24)

Since the precise expression “fiery darts” found in 1 Nephi 15:24 occurs in Ephesians 6:16 and nowhere else in the KJV, Smoot admits that one might suppose that the Book of Mormon text is here in some way dependent on the KJV of the New Testament. Such dependence would lead to the conclusion that the wording of 1 Nephi 15:24 is the result of Joseph Smith’s knowledge of the KJV. “Did Joseph Smith imitate (or, as critics would suggest, plagiarize) either consciously or unconsciously the language of the King James Version in this Book of Mormon passage, or is more going on here?”2

The Argument for the Statement’s Ancient Near Eastern Background

In order to show that the expression in 1 Nephi 15:24 reflected Nephi’s ancient Near East cultural background, Smoot cites Psalm 7:13, which in Hebrew and in modern English versions, but not in the KJV, uses an equivalent expression:

He [God] has prepared his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts. (Ps. 7:13 NRSV)

Smoot’s point might have been strengthened by noting that other contemporary versions use the same expression “fiery shafts” (NASB, ESV, and even the NKJV) or similar expressions (“flaming arrows,” NET, NLT; “arrows with fire,” NJB, HCSB). Smoot correctly argues that the KJV rendering “against the persecutors” was a misunderstanding of the Hebrew lĕdôlĕqiym as “persecutors.”3 Moreover, as Smoot also notes, the Greek term translated “darts” in Ephesians 6:16 KJV, belē, means “arrows” and is the same Greek word used in Psalm 7:13 in the Septuagint translation.4 Here again, the point may be strengthened by citing modern versions that use the term “arrows” in Ephesians 6:16 (“flaming arrows,” HCSB, NAB, NASB, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV). The expressions in Ephesians 6:16 and Psalm 7:13 thus are functionally equivalent, although in Greek ta belē, “the arrows,” are the only words the two texts have in common (“flaming” translates pepurōmena in Eph. 6:16 and kaiomenois in Ps. 7:13 LXX).5

Smoot concludes:

Although one might still argue that the Book of Mormon’s English rendering of “fiery darts of the adversary” is an imitation of kjv Ephesians 6:16, there’s no controversy in proposing that the phrase would have been accessible to Nephi, who could have used a similar phrase on the plates that Joseph Smith could eventually have rendered into the equivalent KJV idiom of his day.6

I agree that the expression would have been available to Nephi, had he existed. However, the question remains whether its presence in 1 Nephi 15:24 is better explained as owing to the ancient Near Eastern background of Nephi or to the modern Anglo-American Christian background of Joseph Smith. Since Nephi’s historical existence is in other respects dubious while Joseph Smith’s historical existence and knowledge of the New Testament are historically certain, the burden of proof is clearly on the claim that Nephi drew the imagery from his ancient Near Eastern culture. In order to establish the plausibility of this claim, one must go deeper than looking at a single expression of two or three words. We agree that it may be going beyond the evidence to conclude definitively or confidently that 1 Nephi 15:24 derives from Ephesians 6:16 on the basis of the two words “fiery darts” alone. However, it is far more reckless to conclude that 1 Nephi 15:24 translates an ancient text merely on the basis of an ancient Hebrew equivalent to the two words “fiery darts.” What is needed is a broader and more contextually based analysis of the issue.

The Unhistorical Demonology of the Book of Mormon

First, as Smoot concedes, the reference to “fiery darts” in 1 Nephi 15:24 cannot be an allusion to Psalm 7:13, since in the psalm those “fiery darts” come from God, not from the adversary (the devil).7 In fact, the imagery of the devil or any other evil spirits shooting arrows (flaming or not) occurs nowhere in the Old Testament, though the imagery of God shooting arrows appears in many other places (Num. 24:8; Deut. 32:23, 42; 2 Sam. 22:15 = Ps. 18:14; 2 Kings 13:17; Job 6:4; Ps. 21:12; 38:2; 45:5; 64:7; 77:17; 144:6; Lam. 3:12-13; Ezek. 5:16; Hab. 3:11; Zech. 9:14).

More generally, demonology was not significantly developed among the Israelites in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. The notion of evil spirits was, of course, pervasive, but there is little evidence of reflection or revelation concerning the devil as the leader of the evil spirits and the archenemy of God and his people. Various elements of what eventually developed as a clear doctrine of the devil can be seen here and there in the Old Testament (e.g., the serpent in Gen. 3, the Satan in Job 1-2),8 but the actual development of these ideas historically came after the Babylonian Exile. While it is a mistake to claim that the Old Testament lacks any knowledge of the devil, it is also a mistake to deny that the Old Testament has far less to say about the devil than the New.9 Even in the Apocrypha, Jewish literature dating in the two or three centuries prior to the coming of Christ, there are barely any references to the devil and no developed doctrine of Satan or demonology.10

By contrast, the Book of Mormon opens with a well-developed doctrine of the devil. The term devil occurs 12 times in 1 Nephi alone, and the name Satan appears 3 times as well. The title the adversary used in 1 Nephi 15:24 also occurs in Alma 12:6. In all, the title the devil occurs 93 times in the Book of Mormon, and Satan occurs 26 times. Thus, just in terms of the language used and the frequency of references to the devil, there is no development or increase from the time of Nephi forward. In fact, the Book of Mormon presents a more developed doctrine of the devil than does the New Testament—and it does so toward the beginning of its major narrative, in a speech attributed to Lehi in the sixth century BC:

And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon. And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God. And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil. (2 Ne. 2:14-18)

We see here a highly developed doctrine of the devil, laid out as a theological commentary on parts of the account in Genesis 1-3 but drawing freely on New Testament materials and going beyond them to articulate the conventional post-biblical doctrinal inference of the origin of the devil as a fallen angel (something the Bible never explicitly states, though it is implicit). Thus, the text describes Eve’s tempter as “that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies,” a description that combines language from Revelation 12 and John 8:44.

…even that old serpent, which is the Devil, which is the father of all lies… (2 Ne. 2:18)
And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan…. (Rev. 20:2; see also 12:9)
Ye are of your father the devil…for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)

The highly developed doctrine of Satan in the early narrative of the Book of Mormon is historically implausible. The presence of such a doctrine in a supposedly sixth-century BC setting is simply not consistent with the evidence of the biblical literature. It is, however, an eminently reasonable conclusion that the demonology of the Book of Mormon is dependent on the New Testament, as the clear verbal parallels to texts in John and Revelation show. Given this evidence, it follows that it is far more likely that the reference in 1 Nephi 15:24 to “the fiery darts of the adversary” derives from Ephesians 6:16 than from the Near Eastern culture of the late Iron Age.

“The Fiery Darts of the Adversary”

The evidence for the dependence of 1 Nephi 15:24 on Ephesians 6:16 goes beyond the two words “fiery darts,” as significant as that evidence is.

First of all, the immediate verbal parallel consists of a five-word sequence, “the fiery darts of the,” and not just the two words “fiery darts.” That is a fairly substantial verbal parallel, particularly given the unusual expression in the middle, and probably enough to warrant the conclusion that there is a likely or probable literary relationship of some kind between the two texts.

Second, the full expression “the fiery darts of the adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24 is parallel in thought to the expression “the fiery darts of the wicked” in Ephesians 6:16. Smoot correctly observes that the Greek expression Paul used was tou ponērou or “the evil one,” as it is translated in the NRSV.11 Here again, Smoot’s point could be strengthened by noting that this is how most contemporary English versions translate the term here (ESV, NASB, NET, NIV, and others; even the NKJV has “the wicked one”). Smoot suggests that this correct understanding of Ephesians 6:16 would actually pose a difficulty for critics of the Book of Mormon, since even if the language of Ephesians 6:16 was used in 1 Nephi 15:24 one must explain how Joseph got this part right: “If one is going to suggest that Joseph Smith was simplistically cribbing from the KJV, one must account for the change in 1 Nephi 15:24 that brings the text closer to the underlying Greek than what is rendered by the KJV.”12 In actuality, there is no difficulty here at all.

The context of Paul’s statement makes it clear that “the wicked” here refers to the devil, since the passage begins with Paul urging believers to “put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11 KJV). The next verse even denies that the believers’ enemies are other human beings: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (6:12). If the enemies are wicked spiritual beings, obviously the enemies’ weapon—the “fiery darts”—must be employed by the devil and his minions. Anyone familiar with the passage would have no trouble reaching this conclusion.

Moreover, it was widely understood in Joseph Smith’s culture that “the wicked” in verse 16 referred specifically to the devil. One sees this identification, for example, in the popular Methodist commentaries in use by preachers and evangelists in Joseph’s day.13 Joseph need never have cracked open a commentary to have understood this point; he might have understood it from the context, as explained above, or heard the point made in sermons he attended.

Even the specific use of the title “the adversary” in this context has clear precedent in Joseph’s religious environment. For example, in one of his sermons, Yale College President Timothy Dwight paraphrased Ephesians 6:16 referring to faith as “the shield, with which we become able to quench all the fiery darts of the adversary.”14 The italicized words in this statement represent Dwight’s quotation of Ephesians 6:16, showing him substituting “the adversary” in place of “the wicked.” More than half a dozen other works published before the Book of Mormon show precisely the same paraphrase of Ephesians 6:16, “the fiery darts of the adversary.” These include one work dating just half a century after the KJV and two works published in 1829, the same year Joseph dictated the manuscript of the Book of Mormon.15

Smoot’s question about how Joseph could have come up with this particular paraphrase of Ephesians 6:16 is therefore easily answered. It is neither necessary nor accurate from a critical perspective to claim that Joseph was “simplistically cribbing from the KJV,” as Smoot puts it. That is, Joseph was not copying from the KJV when composing 1 Nephi 15:24. He likely did not consult Ephesians 6 at all, though of course it is possible that he had read it at some point not long before his dictation of the passage. He appears to have alluded to Ephesians 6:16 using the word “adversary” in place of the KJV “wicked” in the same way that other English-speaking Christians had done before and at the same time. Again, Joseph need not have read any of those other publications; we may assume that most likely he did not. Rather, “the fiery darts of the adversary” was a specific rewording of the KJV translation of Ephesians 6:16 that had been in use for about two centuries and was thus part of the linguistic stock of Joseph’s culture.

That 1 Nephi 15:24 is dependent on Ephesians 6 is confirmed by the references in that same verse of 1 Nephi to “the word of God.” Compare the following two texts:

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:16-17 KJV)

And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. (1 Ne. 15:24)

It should be noted that the expression “the word of God” occurs elsewhere in the KJV (45 times, to be precise). If this were the only parallel between 1 Nephi 15:24 and Ephesians 6, it would be inconsequential. However, the conjunction of this verbal parallel with the distinctive one already examined makes it quite consequential, since the expression “the word of God” is not something that appears pervasively in the Bible. In fact, Ephesians 6:17 is the only place in Ephesians where this expression occurs, and one of just twelve places in the Pauline epistles where it is found.16

The fact that 1 Nephi 15:24 contains not just one, but two significant verbal parallels to Ephesians 6:16-17 really clinches the matter. Within the space of 25 words, 1 Nephi 15:24 contains verbal parallels to a sequence of 6 words (counting “adversary” as a stock substitute for “wicked”) and another sequence of 4 words that appear together within the space of 24 words in Ephesians 6:16-17. This double parallel is simply too substantial to be a coincidence.

Ephesians 6 in the Book of Mormon

Finally, the evidence shows that the dependence of 1 Nephi 15:24 on Ephesians 6:16-17 is not an isolated occurrence in the Book of Mormon. Indeed, there are numerous other places in the Book of Mormon where New Testament texts are appropriated to even greater extents. Here are just a few of the simplest and most glaring examples: 

Book of Mormon New Testament Parallel
1 Nephi 3:20 Acts 3:21
1 Nephi 5:8 Acts 12:11
1 Nephi 22:9 Acts 3:25
2 Nephi 9:39 Romans 8:6
Alma 5:51-52 Matthew 3:2, 10
Alma 9:15 Matthew 11:24
Alma 12:14 Revelation 6:16
Alma 41:11 Acts 8:23
3 Nephi 20:23-27a Acts 3:22-26
3 Nephi 26:3 2 Peter 3:10
Mormon 8:31 Acts 8:23
Mormon 9:22-24 Mark 16:15-18
Ether 4:18 Mark 16:16-17a
Moroni 7:44-48 1 Corinthians 13:3-8, 13; 1 John 3:1-3
Moroni 10:8-17 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

The numerous and intensive verbal parallels between the Book of Mormon and the New Testament (in the KJV) constitute a powerful and really insurmountable cumulative case for the literary dependence of the Book of Mormon on the New Testament. In this light, it becomes all the more unrealistic to deny that the verbal parallels between 1 Nephi 15:24 and Ephesians 6:16-17 are evidence of such literary dependence.

The case becomes even tighter, however, when one considers the fact that the Book of Mormon repeatedly contains verbal parallels to the same short book of Ephesians (e.g., 2 Ne. 25:23, cf. Eph. 2:8; Mosiah 18:21, cf. Eph. 4:2-5) and even to the same chapter of Ephesians. The following are the most notable such parallels to Ephesians 6:

Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness…. behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God… (2 Ne. 1:23, 26)
Put on the whole armour of God…. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God…having on the breastplate of righteousness…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:11, 13-14, 17)

I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord… (Enos 1:1)
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4)

Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle against the Lamanites…. And God did hear our cries and did answer our prayers; and we did go forth in his might. (Mosiah 9:17, 18)
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (Ephesians 6:10)

As it turns out, then, there are at least four separate parallels or allusions to Ephesians 6 alone in the Book of Mormon, found in four different books (1 and 2 Nephi, Enos, and Mosiah), three of which allude to the same unit of text in Ephesians 6:10-18 (1 Ne. 15:24; 2 Ne. 1:23, 26; Mosiah 9:17, 18). Now the evidence must be considered so strong as to put the matter beyond reasonable doubt. The literary dependence of the Book of Mormon on Ephesians 6 (and specifically in the KJV) should be considered a proven fact.

Conclusion

The verbal parallel between 1 Nephi 15:24 and Ephesians 6:16 has been shown to constitute definitive evidence of literary dependence of the Book of Mormon on the New Testament in the KJV. Moreover, this dependence cannot be explained merely as the use of KJV language or wording adapted as a serviceable rendering of an authentic ancient statement by the sixth-century BC prophet Nephi. This explanation fails for two reasons.

First, the “KJV language” explanation ignores the double allusion of 1 Nephi 15:24 to Ephesians 6:16-17. This explanation also fails to consider the broader literary dependence of the Book of Mormon on the New Testament, including whole passages, some of which were cited above.

Second, the demonology or doctrine of the devil expressed in 1 Nephi 15:24 is historically anachronistic. Again, this problem is part of a larger phenomenon. The Book of Mormon attributes to Jews of the sixth century BC a demonology far more developed than anything in Judaism before the time of Christ and even more developed than anything found in the New Testament. In other words, 1 Nephi 15:24 is not merely verbally dependent on the New Testament, but it is conceptually dependent on it as well, and in a larger context of the theological development of demonology in Christian thought reflected in the Protestantism of Joseph Smith’s day.

In short, the “fiery darts” of 1 Nephi 15:24 is part of a larger constellation of evidence that demonstrates that the Book of Mormon is not a translation of an authentic ancient scripture. It is, rather, a modern fiction created in the early nineteenth century that made liberal use of New Testament texts to attribute an explicitly Christian belief system to its pre-Christian characters.

 

NOTES

1. Stephen O. Smoot, “The ‘Fiery Darts’ of the Adversary in 1 Nephi 15:24,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 5-9. The article was actually posted December 18, 2015.

2. Ibid., 5.

3. Ibid., 6.

4. Ibid., 6-7.

5. Similar imagery in different words appears in Psalm 76:3, where the language appears to refer to literal bows with flaming projectiles (implicitly arrows).

6. Ibid., 8.

7. Ibid. Likewise, Ephesians 6:16 does not allude to Psalm 7:13, even though they use the same imagery in this one element.

8. Satan is mentioned by that name or title only in three passages of the Old Testament (1 Chron. 21:1; Job 1:6-2:7; Zech. 3:1-2). Ps. 109:6 probably should be translated “an accuser.” The term the devil appears nowhere in the Old Testament. The KJV uses the plural devils four times to translate terms referring to demons as the objects of idolatrous worship (Lev. 17:7; Deut. 32:17; 2 Chron. 11:15; Ps. 106:37). The term evil spirit(s) appears seven times (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14-16, 23; 18:10; 19:9).

9. See further Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr., Sense and Nonsense about Angels and Demons (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 107-109.

10. The Apocrypha uses the term the devil three times (Tobit 6:7, 17; Wisdom 2:24) and the expression “the satan” (ton satanan) just once, where it probably means one’s human adversary (Sirach 21:27 NAB, NRSV). Only Tobit refers to evil spirits (Tobit 3:8, 17; 6:7, 15; 8:3). In short, were it not for the book of Tobit, the Apocrypha would contain only one clear reference to the devil or evil spirits.

11. Smoot, “Fiery Darts,” 8 n. 12.

12. Ibid.

13. E.g., John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, 12th ed. (New York: Carleton & Porter, orig. 1754), 503; Joseph Benson, Commentary of the Old and New Testaments (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1857 [orig. 1815]), 277; Adam Clarke, The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (New York: A. Paul, 1823), 428, and many others.

14. Timothy Dwight, Theology Explained and Defended: In a Series of Sermons (Middletown, CT [for Yale College]; reprinted, London: William Baynes, 1819), 2:657-58 (Sermon 69).

15. E.g., Henry Smith, The Sermons of Mr. Henry Smith (London: T. Mabb, for John Saywell, 1657), 797; John Gerhard, The Christian’s Support under All Afflictions: Being the Divine Meditations of John Gerhard, D.D., trans. by Thomas Rowell, 3rd ed. (London: Bettesworth and Hitch, Longman and Wood, 1739), 183; Thomas Brown, The Self-Explanatory History and Life of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (London: Richard Evans, 1814), 99; F.Z., “The Importance of Missionary Reading,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Herald 15/9 (Sept. 1819): 401 (published in Boston); “Obituary: Mrs. Mary Stiff,” The Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle 7 (London: Frederick Westley and A. H. Davis, April 1829): 160; Marcus Smith, An Epitome of Systematic Theology (New York: Jonathan Leavitt; Rensselaerville, NY: C. G. and A. Palmer, 1829), 242 (Marcus Smith was a Presbyterian pastor in a church less than 200 miles east of Joseph’s home).

16. Rom. 9:6; 10:17; 1 Cor. 14:36; 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; Eph. 6:17; Col. 1:25; 1 Thess. 2:13 [bis]; 1 Tim. 4:5; 2 Tim. 2:9; Titus 2:5. If one counts Hebrews, as Mormons generally would do, one may add three more occurrences (Heb. 4:12; 11:3; 13:7).