Literary Dependence in the Book of Mormon: Two Studies
Literary Dependence in the Book of Mormon: Two Studies
Literary Dependence on the Bible — Part 1b
First Visit of Jesus
The Gospel According to John records a time after Christ's resurrection when Thomas, one of Jesus' twelve apostles, expressed unbelief and wished to thrust his hand into the side of the resurrected Jesus to verify the resurrection. Jesus then appeared to the apostles with Thomas present and told him, "reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side." Thomas, now convinced, answered "My Lord and my God" (John 20:24-29). Third Nephi expands upon this event from John's Gospel, reporting that some twenty-five hundred people (3 Ne. 17:25) filed by "one by one" and touched the crucifixion wounds of Jesus' side, hands and feet and exclaimed, "Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God!" (11:17; see also 19:18).
Jesus gave authority to baptize to the twelve disciples whom he commissioned on that day. Because Third Nephi presents Jesus as commanding that there should be no more disputations among the people, a baptismal prayer was given which reflects the words of Matthew's gospel: "Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen" (11:25, emphasis added; cf. Matt. 28:19). After clarifying that such baptism should be by immersion ("And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water" 11:26), Jesus again utters the words of John 14:11 "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (11:27).
The doctrines that are reported to have been taught by Jesus to his twelve disciples in the New World are couched in the language of the New Testament, which had not as yet been written. They include the following:
- Jesus "commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent" (11:32; cf. Acts 17:30).
- Repent and believe in Jesus, "And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; ... And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned" (11:33-34; cf. Mark 16:16). Here Third Nephi uses words from the ending of Mark that are recognized as not belonging in the original biblical text.
- Whoever believes in Jesus believes in the Father and he will be visited "with fire and with the Holy Ghost" (11:35; cf. Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16).
- Jesus declares "the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one" (11:36, 27; cf. John 10:30).
- A person must "become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God" (11:38; cf. Luke 18:16-17; Mark 10:14-15; Matt. 18:3; 19:14).
In reporting the words of Jesus' commissioning of the disciples, the Book of Mormon again draws upon the wording of the as-yet-unwritten New Testament.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them (11:39-40, emphasis added; cf. John 7:16-17; Matt. 7:24-27; 16:18; parallel text in Luke 6:47-49).
Jesus, after promising the multitude that he would baptize them "with fire and with the Holy Ghost" (12:1), says to the twelve disciples:
Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins (12:2, emphasis added; cf. Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 2:38).
The Third Nephi text next moves to an even heavier dependence upon the New Testament material, attributing to Jesus a retelling of the discourse known as "The Sermon on the Mount" (as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew). However, these words, which in Matthew belong in a pre-resurrection Jewish/Palestinian setting, are cast into a post-resurrection Nephite context in which the law of Moses is considered already fulfilled. The sermon in Third Nephi has textual material in it (starting with Matthew, chapter 5, verse 3) which makes sense if Jesus is speaking to first century Jewish religious leaders in Palestine, but is incongruous in the putative Nephite context of a different culture and language. Nevertheless, the material is presented with the same concepts and vocabulary as recorded in Matthew. Only the most obvious disparities were eliminated from the Third Nephi text, such as the deletion of the reference in Matthew 5:20 (3 Nephi 12:20) concerning scribes and Pharisees.9 The time frame has also been altered to make the material fit into the period after the resurrection of Jesus (compared to Matthew's account, in which Jesus delivered the sermon before his death and resurrection). Otherwise the text of Matthew has remained mostly unchanged.
In keeping with this shift, Third Nephi presents Jesus as adding that "the law is fulfilled," "Come unto me and be ye saved" and "except ye shall keep my commandments ... ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (12:19-20). To the text of Matthew 5:21, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time," is added "and it is also written before you" (12:21). The added words shift the meaning of Jesus' words away from the original sense they have in Matthew's gospel.
The next verse presents a similar problem of making words that have a distinctive Palestinian setting but lack any significant meaning to New World people. That verse, taken almost verbatim from the King James Version of Matthew except for the deletion of the words "without a cause," reads:
But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire (3 Ne. 12:22).
The use of the Aramaic word Raca [raka], a term of opprobrium, would be meaningless to New World people who are depicted as speaking either Hebrew or reformed Egyptian. A further disparity lies in the phrase "shall be in danger of the council." In the Gospel account the reference is to the Jewish governing body, the Sanhedrin, a term which would have no historical point of reference in a New World context.
Finally, it is significant that the three words deleted from this verse in Third Nephi ("without a cause") are the same words that the commentaries of Joseph Smith's day had noted were lacking in some early Greek manuscripts. The questionable status of this phrase was therefore well known before work on the Book of Mormon had begun and may have influenced its deletion.10 It is also possible that the deletion of the three words may have occurred since people normally would be angry with a cause.
The words of Matthew 5:27, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery," are rendered in Third Nephi as "Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery" (12:27). The oldest Greek text of Matthew does not contain the words "by them of old time." New Testament papyrus fragment number 64, which includes this portion of the Sermon on the Mount and is dated about 200 C.E., contains no such words. The inclusion of these words in Third Nephi shows its dependence on the rendering of this text in the King James Bible rather than being an independent testament of Jesus Christ.11
The deletion of "neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King" from the following text removes it from its New Testament setting.
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King (Matt. 5:34-35).
The Book of Mormon revises this text to read:
But verily, verily, I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool (3 Ne. 12:34-25).
For Third Nephi to have included the reference in Matthew 5:35 to Jerusalem, "the city of the great King" (wording derived apparently from Psa. 48:2), would have revealed the Old World setting of the passage.12
After these departures from Matthew, the text in Third Nephi closely follows Matthew's wording in 5:39-42, 44, with but a few words different (cf. 3 Ne. 12:39-42, 44). There is an omission of the words "and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" in verse 45, while Paul's words from 2 Corinthians, "Old things are done away, and all things have become new" are placed on Jesus' lips (12:47; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).
The main body of this material in Third Nephi is derived directly from the gospel of Matthew, since parallel texts in Mark or Luke are ignored for Matthews's wording. While it is true that, except for the words "should be cast into hell" (12:30), Matthew 5:29-30 is omitted from the Third Nephi account without any obvious reason, nevertheless the sequence found in Matthew is closely followed. These teachings of Jesus are found in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, but scattered throughout the narratives rather than grouped topically as Matthew records them. Several textual problems are contained within this chapter that make these words out of place in a New World setting.13
Third Nephi 13 continues the presentation of the Sermon on the Mount taken from Matthew chapter 6, but places it upon the lips of Jesus as his teaching to the Nephites. This chapter is copied into Third Nephi with very few textual differences from its printing in the King James Bible. Compare the following: 3 Nephi 13:3-9 with Matt. 6:3-9; 3 Nephi 13:11-24 with Matt. 6:12-24; 3 Nephi 13:25 (part)-29 with Matt. 6:25-29 and 3 Nephi 13:33 with Matt. 6:33.
In this section, the familiar version of what is known as "The Lord's Prayer" is quoted from Matthew, with two phrases deleted in the Third Nephi version. The phrases omitted are (1) "Thy kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10), and (2) "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11). The first phrase is also found in Luke 11:2 and the second phrase appears as "Give us day by day our daily bread" in Luke 11:3. It is not apparent on the surface just why these phrases were omitted since Joseph Smith later included them in his Bible revision.14
While the deletion of the two phrases may have no significance, it is of great importance to note that the closing of Matthew 6:13 (King James Version) — "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen" — is included in the Third Nephi text. This is widely recognized as a late addition to the Matthean text, since the doxology is missing from the most reliable Greek manuscripts, such as the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (both transcribed during the fourth century). Other manuscripts of Matthew give a variant form of doxology, indicating that this ending was an addition to the Lord's Prayer. Biblical scholars have concluded that the evidence indicates that the doxology became attached to the Matthean text from a liturgical use of the prayer in the early worship services of the Christian churches.15 Various endings were added to the Lord's Prayer perhaps as early as the second century, and even where the doxology occurs it does so with several variations. It was not until the fourth century that this doxology became fixed and standard in manuscripts of Matthew.16
Since this doxology was added to some New Testament manuscripts in the Old World in the fourth century, it is highly improbable that this identical wording was spoken by Christ in America shortly after His resurrection. A more plausible explanation is that Joseph Smith copied these words from the King James Bible, in ignorance of the textual history, rather than having been spoken by Jesus in the New World. This then would be but another example of the late textual material anachronistically placed into an earlier time-frame in Third Nephi..
One Latter-day Saint scholar has attempted to account for the obvious borrowing of the Third Nephi sermon from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:
We recognize the fact that no two independent translators would be likely to translate a large portion of the Sermon word for word the same. That Joseph Smith used the King James version when he came to familiar scripture on the Gold Plates we shall not deny. As long as the Sermon in the familiar rendering of Matthew 5-7 agreed substantially with the Nephite version the prophet used it word for word; otherwise he corrected it to conform with the text before him on the metal plates. In this respect Joseph Smith did only what many translators would have done.17
However, this suggestion that the likeness of the text in Third Nephi was because the King James rendering of Matthew was used when it "agreed substantially with the Nephite version" will not stand. There is no evidence to support this, and including this late fourth century doxology in the Third Nephi text rules out such an explanation. To hold such a conclusion would mean that Jesus taught to the first century Nephites a doxology that would incorrectly be added in the fourth century to his words in Matthew in the fourth century.
In chapter 14 of Third Nephi the text again follows almost verbatim what is found in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew 7:1-17 is here quoted from the King James New Testament (some of which had been previously paraphrased by Jesus in Third Nephi).
If there is still doubt that the author of Third Nephi has borrowed the text of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, it should be dispelled when even words clearly composed by Matthew, and not attributable to Jesus, are brought over into the Third Nephi account. The Third Nephi text follows Matthew so closely that it even borrows Matthew's transitional phrase: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings" (Matt. 7:28; cf. 3 Ne. 15:1). The Third Nephi text claims to have been written in pre-Columbian America long before Matthew composed his account. Yet the Third Nephi writings clearly are based upon a text written somewhere in the Ancient Near East years after Jesus' resurrection.
Chapter 15 of Third Nephi presents Jesus as acknowledging that he was presenting the same material he had taught in Palestine, for it reports him saying, "Behold, ye have heard the things which I taught before I ascended to my Father" (15:1). However, the text understandably does not mention that this material was derived from the Gospel of Matthew before Matthew had ever recorded it..
The Gospel of Matthew was not the only source for the words of Jesus in Third Nephi. Jesus opens chapter 15 explaining in Paul's words from 2 Corinthians that "old things had passed away, and that all things had become new" (a statement borrowed from 2 Cor. 5:17; cf. 3 Ne. 12:47). He adds, "the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me. Behold I am the law, and the light" (15:8-9). Next, Jesus tells the twelve American disciples that they are to be a light to these American Israelites "who are a remnant of the house of Joseph" (15:12), that America is to be the land of their inheritance (v. 13) and that their Jewish brothers at Jerusalem do not know of their existence (v. 14).
Furthermore, Jesus declares that he has not made known to the Jews in the Holy Land the existence of "the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land" of Palestine (v. 15). Thus all ten tribes, including the segment descended from Joseph through Manasseh and Lehi (the original leader of the American colony, Alma 10:3), are depicted as completely lost and unknown to the Jews of Jesus' day.
At this point the Gospel of John provided another fruitful source for the words and prayers that are written in Third Nephi. Jesus is represented to have uttered words found in John's Gospel:
That 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 (15:17; also 15:21; compare with John 10:16, John only).
The Third Nephi passage depends upon the King James Version of John. Third Nephi proceeds to give its own unique explanation of what Jesus meant by "other sheep," namely the Nephites and the lost tribes. It has Jesus saying that he hinted of the continued existence of this lost group of Israelites by telling the Jews in Palestine that he had "other sheep ... which are not of this fold," but the Jews thought he meant the Gentiles (vv. 21-22). However, he explains the Gentiles will never personally "hear my voice" but will learn of Christ only "by the Holy Ghost" (v. 23). Rather than referring to the Israelites of America, this verse does not refer to any specific group other than non-Jews or Gentiles.
In the next chapter (chapter 16), Jesus adds that he is leaving to visit these "other sheep, which are not of this land [America], neither of the land of Jerusalem" so they may hear his voice, be numbered among his sheep and thus produce "one fold and one shepherd" (vv. 1-3). These American Israelites are told that they are to jot down this information Jesus has shared with them just in case the Jews fail to inquire by the Holy Ghost about their existence and the existence of "the other tribes whom they know not of" (v. 4).
The knowledge given here is supposedly of importance since the Gentiles will later use it to reach the remnant of the American Hebrews who have been scattered over the continent because of their unbelief. Through this effort and knowledge, they may "be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer" (v. 4). However, the Gentiles themselves should beware, or they will face rejection by God after they have scattered and mistreated these descendants of Israel so they have "become a hiss and a byword among them." If they fall into all kinds of sins and reject "the fulness of my gospel" (contained in the Book of Mormon), then the Lord will take that fulness from them and bring it to the house of Israel (the American Indians) and the Gentiles will no longer have power over the Indians (vv. 6-12).
However, if the Gentiles repent, they will be numbered among the house of Israel. But if they remain stubborn, then the Indians will "tread them down," for "this land" (America) is divinely marked to be the inheritance of these sons of Israel (vv. 13-16).
After expounding this unique eschatological interpretation of John 10:16, Jesus' words continue to pick up phrases from John's Gospel. In chapter 17, Jesus declares that he would "go unto the Father" (cf. John 14:28) and also show himself "unto the lost tribes of Israel" (v. 4). The multitude "did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them" (v. 5). Then "the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him" (v. 9). They did "bow down at his feet, and did worship him [Jesus]; and as many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears" (v. 10). Their little children were brought to Jesus, reported Third Nephi, and "Jesus groaned within himself" (v. 14; cf. John 11:33) and prayed great and marvelous things. Then he beheld the multitude and said: "Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full" (v. 20) then "he wept" (v. 21; cf. John 11:35).
Jesus next "took their little children, one by one, and blessed them" (v. 21) and prayed for them (see also Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17).
The disciples in chapter 18 were then commanded to bring the sacramental bread and wine to be blessed. For the bread, Jesus is reported to have said "this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you" (v. 7) and for the wine, "ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you" (v. 11; cf. Luke 22:19-20; Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24 and 1 Cor. 11:23-26).
Third Nephi then continues by presenting Jesus as uttering the following words:
And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock. But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them (vv. 12-13; cf. Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49; Matt. 16:18).
According to Third Nephi, Jesus reportedly said concerning prayer: "ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" (v. 18; cf. Luke 22:31). To the disciples he further is reported to have said that they should "not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it" (v. 28). Jesus here is basically following the instructions which Paul some twenty years later would issue in his Epistle to the Corinthians, which state:
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body (1 Cor. 11:27-29; cf. 3 Ne. 18:28-29).
After further instructions, Jesus "touched with his hand the disciples whom he had chosen, one by one" (v. 36) and gave them power to give the Holy Ghost (v. 37).
In chapter 19 of Third Nephi, it is explained that Jesus ascended into heaven after His supposed first visit. Echoing the appointment of the twelve apostles in Palestine, the names of the twelve Nephite disciples are recorded in the Book of Mormon in the following manner:
And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was gathered together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas, and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen, and Kumenonhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah, and Isaiah - now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had chosen (19:4).
The twelve disciples of Third Nephi, like the New Testament twelve apostles, were listed with two sets of brothers and with two disciples that have the same name, e.g., in Third Nephi, "Jonas" (see Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13).
Nephi, one of the twelve disciples, then "went down into the water and was baptized. And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen" (vv. 11-12). This, and other passages emphasizing immersion as the proper mode of baptism, assumes the existence of some conflicting mode such as pouring or sprinkling. The Nephite doctrinal disputes resemble those in Joseph Smith's day.
Second Visit of Jesus
On Jesus' second visit, the multitude knelt down and the disciples "did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God" (19:18; cf. John 20:28). Jesus departed and went to pray by himself. The prayer that Third Nephi records is very similar to the high-priestly prayer of Jesus in the Holy Land, recorded only in the Gospel of John.
Compare the prayer in Third Nephi (19:20, 23, 28-29) and the one written in John's Gospel (17:1, 6, 9-10, 20-21). Even the ending is identical with the words written by John: "And when Jesus had spoken these words" (19:30) — "When Jesus had spoken these words" (John 18:1).
These prayers of Jesus in Third Nephi seem clearly based upon the Gospel of John. The Jesus presented in Third Nephi is not unique to the Third Nephi text, but is taken right out of the New Testament, even down to borrowing the gospel writers words and phrases. This use of details from John's Gospel is still another example of textual borrowing in the Third Nephi account.
In chapter 20 of Third Nephi, it is related that Jesus gave all those assembled to hear him both bread and wine, but "there had been no bread, neither wine, brought by the disciples, neither by the multitude" (v. 6), a story that seems close to that of the feeding of the five thousand when there was a need for the sharing of food (Matt. 14:14-21; Mark 6:34-44; Luke 9:11-17 and John 6:5-14). That this is sacramental bread and wine is indicated in verse 8.
It is explained, as Jesus' discourse continues in chapter 21, that the Gentiles shall assist the Indians ("the remnant of Jacob") and any other Israelites that might be willing to join in ("as many of the house of Israel as shall come") to "build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem" (21:23) These Gentiles will also assist the Indians scattered across the face of the land in coming to this "New Jerusalem" (v. 24). Then the power of heaven and Jesus himself will come down among them (v. 25). Earlier, the land of America itself was to be "a New Jerusalem" (20:22), but this now was to be a specific city. Third Nephi, however, had this New Jerusalem not "coming down from God out of the heaven" as predicted in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:2; see also Rev. 3:12), but simply that "the power of heaven come down" and Jesus promises to "be in the midst" (3 Ne. 21:25).
In chapter 23 Jesus adds to the Nephite record textual material from the New Testament about the graves opening at the time of Christ's resurrection — material that is otherwise found only in the Gospel according to Matthew. These words were reported to have been spoken years earlier by an American prophet named Samuel as a prediction of what would happen at the time of Christ's death. This resurrection event is supposed to have taken place in America, but it is like what is recorded in Matthew, even to the wording used. Compare Helaman 14:25; 3 Nephi 23:9, 11 with Matt. 27:52-53.
As Jesus continued his discourse, other New Testament phrases appear. Reflecting Peter's words, Third Nephi related that Jesus "did expound all things ... yea, even all things which should come upon the face of the earth, even until the elements should melt with fervent heat" (26:3, emphasis added; cf. 2 Peter 3:10, 12). In a paraphrase of John 5:29 the writer has Jesus saying, "If they be good, to the resurrection of everlasting life; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of damnation" (26:5; see also Mosiah 16:11 and Helaman 12:26).
Like the New Testament words of Jesus, the Third Nephi multitude even saw that their children "yea, even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things" (26:16; cf. Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21). Furthermore, the response to Jesus' discourse was impressive, for many were baptized and "they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ" (v. 21).
Third Visit of Jesus
During the third visit of Jesus in Third Nephi, the record claims that Christ came to settle a dispute among the people concerning the name of the church.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing? Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day. Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name (27:4-7).
This concern regarding the proper name of the church was an issue during the 1820s. This may have influenced its inclusion as words Christ would have said.
The remainder of Jesus' discourse during his third visit reflects the same dependence upon the language and thought of the New Testament. Jesus taught that he "had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me" (27:14; cf. John 12:32). After assuring them that "whatsoever things ye shall ask the Father in my name shall be given unto you" (v. 28; cf. John 15:16), Jesus then exhorts them, drawing ideas and wording from Matthew chapter 7 (compare 27:29 with Matt. 7:7-8 [identical wording also in Luke 11:9-10] and 27:33 with Matt. 7:13-14).
Jesus finally asked the twelve disciples, "What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?" (28:1; cf. John 21:20-23, only in John). Nine of the American disciples desired that they live "unto the age of man" (v. 2) and Jesus said to them "after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom" (v. 3). To the remaining three disciples he said, borrowing language from 1 Corinthians:
Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me. Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death ... but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality (vv. 6-8; cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-53).
The three disciples were to "bring the souls of men unto" Jesus "while the world shall stand" (v. 9). Then Jesus "touched every one of them with his finger save it were the three who were to tarry, and then he departed" from his third and final visit among the American Israelites (v. 12).
Third Nephi records the following regarding the three disciples who were to tarry on the earth:
Behold, I was about to write the names of those who were never to taste of death, but the Lord forbade; therefore I write them not, for they are hid from the world (28:25).18
And they are as the angels of God, and if they shall pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus they can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good (28:30).19
The clear conclusion of this examination is that the King James Version of the New Testament text was used extensively in the composition of the book of Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon. The Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus during his ministry in the Old World was used to flesh out the idea that Christ had appeared to the ancient inhabitants of America. Other teachings of Jesus were adapted from different texts in the New Testament to provide content for an appearance of Jesus during the three day period that Third Nephi claims for the New World visitation of the resurrected Jesus.
This documentation of extensive textual borrowing from the New Testament writings indicates there is a serious problem in accepting Third Nephi as an accurate account. If Jesus appeared in the New World as the Book of Mormon would have us believe, then the textual problems it contains lead to the conclusion that it is not an accurate record of that event.
9. The Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew was used in Third Nephi to document the teachings reportedly spoken by Jesus in America. See Richard P. Howard, Restoration Scriptures: A Study of Their Textual Development (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1969), 98; (2nd edition, 1995), 84.
Krister Stendahl's analysis of "The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi" published in Reflections on Mormonism, Judaeo-Christian Parallels (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978), 139-54, argues that the Book of Mormon text of the Sermon on the Mount is not a genuine translation from an ancient language but is Joseph Smith's nineteenth century targumic expansion of the English King James text. Stendahl's study has been reprinted in Meanings: The Bible as Document and as Guide (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 99-113.
10. In the commentary on Matthew by Adam Clarke, published as early as 1818 (1825 edition used), comes the following regarding the words "without a cause" in Matt. 5:22: "... without a cause, is wanting in the famous Vatican MS. and two others, the Ethiopic, latter Arabic, Saxon, Vulgate, two copies of the old Itala, J. Martyr, Ptolomeus, Origen, Tertullian, and by all the ancient copies quoted by St. Jerom[e]. It was probably a marginal gloss originally, which in process of time crept into the text" (Clarke's Commentary 1:71).
The phrase is also deleted in Joseph Smith's revision of Matthew in 1831. See New Testament MS #1, p. 10, RLDS Archives, in The Holy Scriptures (Independence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1991), published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Matthew 5:24. This revision is referred to variously as the Inspired Version (I.V.), Joseph Smith Revision (JSR) and Joseph Smith Translation (cited hereafter as JST).
11. In the manuscript of Joseph Smith's revision, New Testament MS #1, p. 10, the words "them of old time" were written and then crossed out in the manuscript and the text as printed in 3 Ne. 12:27 is written out. The Book of Mormon follows the King James Version and in his revision of the New Testament Joseph Smith used both the KJV and Third Nephi.
12. In 3 Nephi 12:23 the wording in Matthew 5:23 about bringing "thy gift to the altar" was also removed from the text of Matthew when placed in the Third Nephi record, possibly also to eliminate any Palestinian reference.
13. As has been stated, many of the changes made in Third Nephi from the King James Matthew are also retained by Joseph Smith when he produced his revision. The following verses in both texts are basically the same: 3 Nephi 12:3-13; compare with Matt. 5:5-15 (JST). When material was added which was not in the Matthew account to the Third Nephi version, these words were used in the Bible revision. See for example: 3 Nephi 12:2 with Matt. 5:4 (JST) and 3 Nephi 12:29-30 with Matt. 5:31 (JST).
14. The omission of the first phrase cannot be attributed to the theological terminology implied in "Thy kingdom come" for the exhortation of Jesus "But seek ye first the kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33; cf. Luke 12:31) is found in 3 Nephi 13:33.
15. See Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956), 103.
16. In Joseph Smith's revision for the parallel text of the Lord's prayer recorded in Luke 11:4 (JST) he added (after "but deliver us from evil") a part of the doxology added to Matthew - namely, "for thine is the kingdom and power. Amen."
17. Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 112.
Mark E. Petersen, in a speech delivered on 1 October 1977, asked: "Are we to say that the unlearned Joseph Smith had the audacity or the skill to rewrite the Savior's sermons and insert King James Version passages in them, thinking to improve on what Jesus said?" (Ensign 7 [November 1977]:12-13; also in Those Gold Plates! (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 50, see also 52-56.
The evidence does indicate that the sermons in Third Nephi are in part based upon the KJV New Testament. Stan Larson states: "the historicity of the BOM [Book of Mormon] text of the sermon on the mount has not been verified by modern MS discovery" (Trinity Journal 7 [Spring 1986]:39). For a view of one who maintains that the King James Version was not used, see the comments on Stan Larson's article made by John W. Welch in The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990), 148-63.
18. Oliver B. Huntington recorded the names of those three Nephites in his Diary: "Feb. 16, 1895 I am willing to state that the names of the 3 Nephites who do not sleep in the earth are Jeremiah, Zedekiah and Kumenonhi" (Typescript of the Diary of Oliver B. Huntington, 3:267, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah).
19. This later led to an extensive body of Mormon folklore about the sighting of these three immortal messengers in various Mormon communities. See Hector Lee, The Three Nephites: The Substance and Significance of the Legend in Folklore (New York: Arno Press, 1977) and William A. Wilson, "Freeways, Parking Lots, and Ice Cream Stands: The Three Nephites in Contemporary Society," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 21 (Autumn 1988):13-26.