Mosiah 3:18-19—Ancient Chiasmus or Modern Composition?
Mosiah 3:18-19—Ancient Chiasmus or Modern Composition?
Mormon scholar John W. Welch has led the way in arguing that chiasmus in the Book of Mormon serves as “evidence corroborating” its authenticity as an ancient text of “Israelite origins.” While he acknowledges that additional research needs to be done and proper methodological controls observed, he concludes, “For the time being, chiasmus offers good evidence that the Book of Mormon is strongly plausible in its claim of Israelite origin.”1
One passage that Welch has cited as an example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is the following text:
18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. 19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless2 he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:18-19)
Welch arranges the above text into the following chiasmus outline3:
Outlined in this way, Mosiah 3:18-19 appears to be an impressive instance of chiasmus. However, judged by criteria that Welch himself has set forth for testing the strength of a proposed chiasmus, Mosiah 3:18-19 turns out to be at best a very weak example.
Boundaries of the Proposed Chiasmus
Welch has made the excellent point that a chiasmus is weak and even dubious if it does not correspond to a natural literary unit:
A chiasm is stronger if it operates across a literary unit as a whole and not only upon fragments or sections which overlap or cut across organizational lines intrinsic to the text…. To the extent that the proposed structure crosses over natural boundaries, unnaturally chops sentences in half, or falls short of discernible boundaries in the text as a whole, the more dubious the suggested chiasm becomes.4
If we apply this criterion to Welch’s “suggested chiasm” in Mosiah 3:18-19, a problem immediately becomes apparent, since his chiasmus begins in the middle of a sentence. The passage begins with the following words:
For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls….
The next word, “except,” is clearly not the beginning of a distinct literary unit and is not even the beginning of a sentence. In this instance, the proposed chiasmus “unnaturally chops” the sentence “in half.” This is just what Welch says a good chiasmus should not do. The problem remains even if we re-punctuate the text in order to begin the sentence with the words, “But men drink.”
The proposed chiasmus also ignores the last third of the second sentence, in effect cutting off or making irrelevant the 28 words that follow the word humble in verse 19:
…patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
The omission of so many words at the end of the sentence from the proposed chiasmus severely undermines its credibility as an authentic literary feature of the text.
Dominant Elements of the Proposed Chiasmus
Another criterion set forth by Welch is that a strong chiasmus is based on “the dominant nouns, verbs, and distinctive phrases in the text,” as opposed to “relatively insubstantial or common words and ideas in the text.”5 His proposed chiasmus in Mosiah 3:18-19 does fairly well in this regard except for its two central lines, where the parallel words are “has been” (F) and “will be” (Fʹ). This problem may not be fatal, but it does weaken the case for a deliberate chiasmus to some extent.
Center of the Proposed Chiasmus
While the weakness of the key words in the central lines of Welch’s proposed chiasmus is not by itself fatal, when combined with another problem for these central lines the case for the chiasmus becomes very weak indeed. According to Welch, in a strong chiasmus there is “a well-defined centerpiece or distinct crossing effect”—a clear “reversal at the center point.”6 Alternatively, the center line or lines of the chiasmus will constitute “its focal climax.”7
This criterion would seem to be another reason to question the proposed chiasmus in Mosiah 3:18-19. The lines “and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever,” just do not constitute a clear pivot point in the text. Nor can these lines be said to express the main, central, or climactic point of the passage. Instead, they simply round out the description of the “natural man” who is at enmity with God.
The combination of this point and the previous point about the weakness of the verbal “parallel” of the verbs has been and will be severely weakens the proposed chiasmus at what should be its strongest point, its center. A third point can be made: in actuality these two “lines” go with the preceding line as follows:
Notice the progression of three tenses of the be verb: “is…has been…will be.” The natural man’s enmity with God is said to be present, past, and future. That this threefold temporal reference is deliberate is confirmed by the fact that it appears elsewhere within the proposed chiasmus: “salvation was, and is, and is to come” (3:18). Separating the clauses in the way that the proposed chiasmus does, such that the second and third clauses (“has been…will be”) are parallel to each other but not to the first (“is”), is a mistake.
Parallels in the Proposed Chiasmus
The basic components of any proposed chiasmus are the verbal or conceptual units that are duplicated or set in clear contrast at positions in the text equidistant from its center. The more these parallel units are verbally or thematically related, the stronger the case for a chiasmus. This is one way of restating Welch’s criterion that a strong chiasmus will feature “inverted parallel orders” are “are objectively observable in the text.”8
Some of the parallels in Welch’s proposed chiasmus in Mosiah 3:18-19 certainly qualify. For example, the parallel between “through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” and “through the atonement of Christ the Lord” is obvious and undeniable. However, at least one pair of lines set in parallel form a very weak parallel. Line E, “is an enemy to God,” is set parallel to line Eʹ, “unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.” Whereas the two references to “Christ the Lord” are an obvious verbal match, the references to “God” and “the Holy Spirit” are not a verbal match at all. Of course, theologically in the Book of Mormon the Holy Spirit is God or one God with the Father and the Son, but what one expects in this proposed chiasmus is a verbal parallel comparable to the one for Christ. Failing that, one would expect titles that are both understood to refer specifically to the Holy Spirit even if by a different designation. So, for example, references to “the Holy Spirit” and “the Comforter” would be obviously and objectively parallel, as would references to “God” and “the Father” or “Christ the Lord” and “Jesus.”
Moreover, thematically the notion of being God’s “enemy” does not parallel the idea of “yielding” to the Holy Spirit’s “enticings” in an objective or clear fashion. One can imagine all sorts of contrasting statements that might have been used, such as “unless he is reconciled to the Father” or “unless he comes to have peace with God” or perhaps “unless he surrenders to the Holy Spirit.” As it stands, these lines are another very weak link in the proposed chiasmus outline.
Repetitions that Do Not Fit the Proposed Chiasmus
Welch correctly states that a proposed chiasmus is weakened by what he calls “mavericks,” by which he means verbal elements similar or identical to elements used to identify the chiasmus but that “appear extraneously outside the proposed structure.”9 The issue here is whether the apparently parallel elements are structurally paired in the text or are instead simply two of a larger number of occurrences of the same element being repeated in the text.
With regard to Mosiah 3:18-19, there is at least one instance of such an “extraneous” element within the same sentences as those in which the proposed chiasmus is found. Welch’s second and second-to-last chiastic lines are built on the similar expressions “become as little children” (v. 18) and “becometh as a child” (v. 19). However, the phrase “as a child” occurs a second time in verse 19, in the part of the sentence that Welch’s analysis ignores. Moreover, a thematically related reference to “little children” occurs shortly thereafter: “none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children” (v. 21).
Other elements of the proposed chiasmus also appear in the surrounding verses. Perhaps the most striking is the following parallel:
salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent (v. 17)
salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent (v. 18)
This is a significantly more sustained verbal parallel than any of the six parallels used as the basis for Welch’s chiastic outline of verses 18-19. The two lines here have ten words in common, as compared to the seven words in common in lines C and Cʹ in Welch’s outline (“through the atonement of Christ, the Lord”). When the strongest parallel to a line of a supposed chiasmus comes a few lines before the chiasmus, that’s a serious problem. Such extraneous “parallels” make it far more likely that the text is simply repetitious, rather than having been constructed to form a chiasmus. A careful reading of the entire chapter of Mosiah 3 confirms that there is a fairly high degree of repetition of the themes and words found in verses 18-19 (see the table below).
|Proposed Chiasmus (Mosiah 3:18-19)||Repetitions in Mosiah 3 Outside the Proposed Chiasmus|
|except they humble themselves and become as little children (v. 18) and becometh as a child (v. 19)||even as a child doth submit to his father (v. 19)
none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent (v. 21)
|salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent (v. 18) through the atonement of Christ the Lord (v. 19)||his blood atoneth for the sins (v. 11)
salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 12)
except it were through the atonement of his blood (15)
the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins (v. 16)
there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent (v. 17)
|For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam…putteth off the natural man (v. 19)||those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam (v. 11)
he rebelleth against God (v. 12)
as in Adam, or by nature, they fall (v. 16)
that Adam should fall (v. 26)
The Cumulative Case against the Chiasmus
Any one of the criteria discussed above, all of which were taken from Welch’s own article on criteria for testing the strength of a chiasmus, shows a significant problem with identifying Mosiah 3:18-19 as a chiasmus. In this article, we have shown that this proposed chiasmus is weak when tested against five of Welch’s criteria:
(1) natural boundaries
(2) dominant elements
(3) a pivotal or climactic center
(4) objectively identifiable verbal and thematic parallels
(5) lack of extraneous repetitions of the parallel elements
The proposal’s failing to meet one or two such criteria would be significant enough. What we have presented here is a cumulative-case argument showing that the proposed chiasmus fails to meet at least five of the criteria for a strong chiasmus. In a cumulative-case argument, the individual points or data gain a far higher degree of evidential value than would be the case merely by adding them together. The reason this is so is that the five criteria address different types of evidences pertaining to whether the text is a chiasmus. For example, finding four extraneous elements instead of two would be simply a matter of having additional examples of the same type of problem, whereas finding that the proposed chiasmus does not fit the text’s natural boundaries and has extraneous elements and lacks a pivotal or climactic center, and so on, is a matter of identifying different types of problems. Different types of evidence, then, converge toward the same conclusion from different angles, providing a much weightier argument than one that cites several examples of the same type of evidence.
In concluding that Mosiah 3:18-19 is not a strong example of chiasmus, we are not ignoring or disputing the presence of the clear parallels that are in those verses. As stated explicitly earlier in this study, there are indisputable parallels within the passage. The question is whether these parallels are employed consistently in a clear, definite pattern of literary arrangement to form a strong example of chiasmus. The evidence presented here shows that this question should be answered in the negative.
If Mosiah 3:18-19 is not a strong chiasmus, then any attempt to cite its supposed chiastic structure as evidence of its being part of an ancient Hebraic text must be judged invalid. Even is one assumes that the use of strong chiasmus is distinctively characteristic of ancient Hebraic literature—a dubious assumption—if the proposed chiasmus is not a strong one then its value as evidence for the Book of Mormon’s authenticity is nil.
Even if Mosiah 3:18-19 is not a strong or convincing example of chiasmus, this negative finding does not in and of itself count against the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. However, there is actually evidence in the text that it is a modern creation—and this evidence is really far more powerful than the proposed chiasmus outline.
There are three distinct lines of evidence for the modern origins of the text:
(1) statements addressing issues of distinctly modern concern
(2) anachronistic descriptions of the coming of Jesus Christ
(3) material clearly dependent on the New Testament (in the King James Version)
We will briefly consider each of these three lines of evidence.
Modern Issues in the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is full of passages that address popular concerns that were current in Joseph Smith’s day. A partial list of such issues would include the integrity and closed canon of the Bible, the necessity of baptism for salvation, the Trinity, the use of expensive clothing, paid clergy, divine election, universalism, atheism and skepticism, the intermediate state, monarchy, church names, and whether miracles and revelations had ceased (e.g., 1 Ne. 13-14; 2 Ne. 25-26, 29, 31; Mosiah 18; Alma 30-31, 40, 51; 3 Ne. 27; Mormon 8-9). Some of these issues remain popular questions today and others not, but even those that remain matters of concern are now often framed very differently. On the other hand, the Book of Mormon does not address the burning issues that have dominated Christianity since the publication of the Book of Mormon, such as higher criticism of the Bible, the theory of evolution, liberal theology, Communism and other forms of totalitarianism, religious pluralism, the New Age movement, feminism, abortion, and homosexuality. That is, the Book of Mormon addresses the hot topics of Joseph’s culture in the first half of the nineteenth century but not the most pressing issues that arose in the nearly two centuries since that time. In this way, the Book of Mormon dates itself quite securely to the first half of the nineteenth century.
We see two examples of such modern theological concerns in Mosiah 3 alone. In words at the beginning of verse 18 but excluded from Welch’s chiastic outline, the second-century Nephite king Benjamin is quoted as saying that “the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy” (Mosiah 3:18). This issue of the salvation of infants is one of the themes of second half of the speech (see also Mosiah 3:16, 21).
Infant salvation was an issue of extreme concern in the early nineteenth century among Protestant Christians. It was indirectly related to the question of infant baptism, one of the main issues that separated Methodists and Presbyterians on one side from Baptists on the other side. (These are the three Protestant denominations that Joseph Smith mentioned in his later account of his “first vision,” Joseph Smith–History 1:7-9). The issue became the focus of debate only with the rise of different Protestant denominations, some of which baptized infants and some of which did not, some of which regarded baptism as (more or less) necessary for salvation and some of which did not. Infant salvation was not a subject of significant discussion and debate for the first 1500 years or so of church history. It should be noted that the issue of infant baptism is also explicitly addressed later in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 8:4-26).
Frankly, it is not plausible that second-century Nephites living somewhere in the Americas would have been discussing whether infants could be saved if they died before having a chance to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. This is obviously a modern Protestant topic of debate. It is very much out of place in ancient, pre-Christian Mesoamerica (the region favored by Mormon scholars as the land of the Nephites), where rank polytheism, idolatry, bloodletting rituals, and even human sacrifice were common features of the culture.
The speech in Mosiah 3 also discusses the similar question of the salvation of people who lived before Jesus Christ came to the earth as a man:
And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them (Mosiah 3:13).
How people who lived before the coming of Christ were saved has been a subject of some discussion among Christians throughout church history. Here again, though, the question became a matter of intense discussion and debate among Christians in the modern world, particularly after the discoveries of the Far East and especially of the Americas. It certainly was not and could not have been an issue that people discussed centuries before Christ came. It is implausible in the extreme to claim that people living centuries before the coming of Christ were concerned to know how people could be saved before the coming of Christ! The question arose only after Christ had come, when people who heard the gospel of Christ naturally would ask about the people who had lived and died before his coming.
Part of the answer that Mosiah 3 gives to the question is the claim that God sent prophets to peoples of various nations to tell them about Christ in advance. This claim leads to the second line of evidence that the Book of Mormon is modern.
Anachronistic Descriptions of the Coming of Jesus Christ
In the two-verse passage that Welch identifies as a chiasmus, the text refers to “the atoning blood of Christ” and speaks of “the atonement of Christ the Lord.” This language is surprising to find in a text that is supposed to be reporting a speech given in the second century BC (ca. 124 BC, according to the chapter introduction in the Book of Mormon). The issue here is not the words themselves (the Old Testament uses corresponding Hebrew words that mean atonement, blood, Christ, and Lord) but the way they are put together to express an obviously explicitly Christian theological concept.
As surprising as such expressions as “the atoning blood of Christ” are, though, this is a mild example compared to what we find earlier in the same speech:
5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. 6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men. 7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. 8 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. 9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. 10 And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men. (Mosiah 3:5-10)
Note the explicitness with which the above verses summarize the accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection familiar to all Christians from the four Gospels:
- The Lord of heaven became a man on earth.
- His name was Jesus Christ.
- His mother’s name was Mary.
- He performed such miracles as healing the sick, raising the dead, curing the lame, blind, and deaf, and casting out demons.
- He was accused of having a demon.
- He endured temptations and extreme suffering.
- He was scourged and crucified.
- He rose from the dead on the third day.
It should be obvious that the most natural and plausible interpretation of this information finding its way into the Book of Mormon is that it was put there by someone writing after Jesus Christ had already lived, died, and risen from the dead. The standard LDS response to this observation is that the critic who draws this conclusion is proceeding on the assumption that God could not have revealed these details to prophets before the coming of Christ. This stock response misses the mark, however. Yes, God could certainly have revealed anything he liked to anyone he chose at any time prior to the coming of Christ. The question is whether he did so. There are several reasons to think he did not, only three of which will be mentioned at this point.
First, we do not see in the Old Testament this kind of explicit, straightforward predictive exposition of what Christ would be and do. In fact—and this is a crucial point—we do not see this kind of specific, literal description of the coming of Christ in Old Testament prophecies about Christ quoted in the Book of Mormon. The most famous Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament occur in Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-6, and 52:13-53:12. All of these passages are quoted in the Book of Mormon with much or all of the surrounding context (2 Nephi 17, 19, 21 quote all of Isaiah 7, 9, and 11; Mosiah 14 quotes all of Isaiah 53). Yet these passages in the Book of Mormon give no more specific information about the coming redeemer than they do in the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts or any modern translation. It is only in the material that is not directly quoting the Old Testament, such as Mosiah 3, that the Book of Mormon refers to Jesus Christ by name and makes explicit reference to his ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Second, the Book of Mormon “prophecies” about Christ contain details of absolutely no relevance to the Nephites to whom they were supposedly addressed. A simple example is the statement in Mosiah 3:8 that Jesus’ mother will be named Mary. Since the Nephites were never going to meet Mary or be anywhere near her, dropping her name at this point in the prophecy would have been quite pointless from their perspective. Mary’s name was obviously mentioned, not for the Nephites’ benefit, but for the benefit of modern readers, as an instance of the greater “plainness” or clarity that characterizes the Book of Mormon in contrast to the Old Testament.
Third, these pre-Christian descriptions of the coming of Christ in the Book of Mormon occasionally make mistakes that betray their modern origin. Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 3 contains such a mistake: the statement that Jesus was going to suffer so much that “blood cometh from every pore” (Mosiah 3:7). This statement refers not to Jesus’ death on the cross but to his suffering in Gethsemane. That this idea was held by Joseph Smith is confirmed by the fact that it appears again in one of his early “revelations” published in Doctrine & Covenants. In that revelation, the Lord states that his great suffering caused him “to bleed at every pore” (D&C 19:18).
The basis for this idea that Jesus bled from “every pore” in his trial in Gethsemane is a popular modern misunderstanding of a statement in Luke:
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 KJV).
The King James Version has the meaning exactly right here: Jesus was sweating, and his sweat looked like (“as it were”) large drops of blood falling from his forehead rather than the more usual small beads of sweat. The text does not mean that Jesus literally had blood oozing from his pores—let alone “at every pore.”
Joseph did not come up with this idea either on his own or by divine revelation. It was a popular misunderstanding in his cultural context. The idea that Jesus literally sweated drops of blood is not modern—it was an idea that arose in Christian interpretation of Luke 22:44 a few centuries later—but the expansion of this idea to Jesus sweating blood from every pore does seem to be a much later idea. In any case, it seems to have become quite popular by Joseph’s time. A hymn by Baptist pastor William Parkinson published in New York in 1817 described Christ’s suffering with these lines:
A poem published in Cincinnati in 1823 and again in 1824 included the following lines:
The blessed Jesus bled at every pore,
When in Gethsemane’s garden he was seen….11
There are many examples of the same idea in works published in the century or so preceding the publication of the Book of Mormon.12 Of course, there is no reason to think that Joseph Smith read any of these books. He did not need to read anything to pick up an idea that clearly had widespread circulation in his society. He could have heard the ideas in sermons, revivalist meetings, or any number of settings.
The foregoing evidence shows rather conclusively that the ideas expressed in Mosiah 3 did not come from a second-century BC descendant of Israelites living in the Americas. This conclusion does not depend one iota on skepticism about divine revelation. Rather, respect for the pattern of revelation in the Old Testament is one of the considerations leading to the conclusion that Mosiah 3 is not reporting a divine revelation communicated through an ancient prophet. Moreover, the fact that this supposed revelation turns out to be based on a popular modern misunderstanding of a verse in the New Testament is clear proof that the speech is a modern composition.
This observation about the dependence of Mosiah 3 on the New Testament leads to the final type of evidence for its modern origin.
Dependence of the Book of Mormon on the New Testament
Even if God had revealed specific details about the coming of Christ in advance to Nephites in the second century BC, he would have done so in their own language and in terms relevant and familiar to their own culture. It would be obviously anachronistic for divine revelations to be communicated to second-century BC Nephites in language found, for example, in the writings of the medieval Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas or of the early church father Augustine of Hippo. It would be equally anachronistic for such revelations to be communicated in language found in the writings of the New Testament. Yet this is precisely what we find.
The table below shows that there are at least 30 likely allusions to the New Testament in Mosiah 3 alone. Since there are 27 verses in Mosiah 3, that is an average of more than one likely allusion per verse in Mosiah 3. These allusions are to Revelation (8), Matthew (6), and several other New Testament writings.
|Mosiah 3||New Testament Allusions|
And he [an angel] said unto me…. For behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy (v. 3)
shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay (v. 5)
And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits (v. 6)
For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 12)
salvation was, and is, and is to come (v. 18)
every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (v. 20)
repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent (v. 21)
at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works,whether they be good, or whether they be evil (v. 24)
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10)
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
…except ye be converted, and become as little children… Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child…. (Matt. 18:3-4)
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever (Rev. 14:10-11)
The point here is not that the author of Mosiah 3 combed through the New Testament pulling out phrases and partial statements here and there to use in his composition. The manner in which the allusions are made demonstrates quite clearly that this is not the case. Rather, the author of Mosiah 3 was someone thoroughly steeped in the text of the King James Bible, someone who was very familiar with the New Testament and could weave its statements together in his own creative fashion. While a few of these apparent allusions might be discounted as coincidentally similar wording, many of them cannot plausibly be so dismissed. Moreover, the cumulative weight of the many apparent allusions is simply too great to explain away. The thick tapestry of allusions in the passage shows beyond reasonable doubt that it was composed by someone familiar with the King James Bible.
Some LDS scholars have acknowledged that a relationship exists between the Book of Mormon and the New Testament in passages such as Mosiah 3. For example, BYU professor Nicholas Frederick notes that the clustering of verbal correspondences to two passages in the Book of Revelation in Mosiah 3:24-28 favors the conclusion that some sort of “interaction” with the New Testament is involved.13 Frederick also notes the evident interaction between Mosiah 3:3 and Luke 2:10, since in both texts an angel brings a message about the birth of Christ with the words “good [or “glad”] tidings of great joy” (see also Alma 13:22; Hel. 16:14).14 Brant Gardner comments that in this instance “the close resemblance in wording stems from the similarity of the message and Joseph’s familiarity with KJV wording.”15
Those Mormons who do acknowledge that the Book of Mormon often uses wording found in the King James Version deny that this fact undermines its authenticity as a translation of an ancient text. Most commonly they explain that God might easily have inspired Joseph to use expressions from the King James Bible because of their familiarity and authority for modern English readers. But notice that this explanation largely renders void the claim that Mosiah 3:18-19 is a literal translation of a carefully composed, complex chiasmus in the ancient text. A free translation of a short text that departs from its original wording by drawing on the wording of passages in multiple books of the New Testament is not going to preserve the original literary artistry and verbal parallels of that original text. The passage that Welch identified as a chiasmus, Mosiah 3:18-19, alone contains allusions to five different New Testament books (Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Revelation).
Conclusion: Mosiah 3 is a Modern Composition
Beyond the problem the New Testament allusions pose for the theory of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, they also add another line of evidence for the modern composition of the Book of Mormon. We have seen that Mosiah 3 anachronistically addresses theological issues of great concern to nineteenth-century Protestants, presents a supposed prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ in highly anachronistic fashion (including a misunderstanding of one element of the Gospel accounts popular in modern times), and that it does these things in clear verbal dependence on the New Testament in the King James Version. Just as we showed a cumulative-case argument against Mosiah 3:18-19 being a chiasmus, what we now see also is a strong cumulative case for the modern composition of all of Mosiah 3. By far the simplest and most plausible explanation for this evidence is that Mosiah 3 is indeed a modern composition, not a translation of an ancient historical record.
1. John W. Welch, “What does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 214, 217.
2. The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (P) has “but if,” not “unless.” Evidently Joseph meant to start a new sentence here but the result was a long sentence fragment, which was corrected later.
3. John W. Welch, “Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin’s Speech,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom”, ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 350. I have italicized all words that are parallel according to Welch’s analysis, just to give that analysis every consideration. Welch first presented this text as a chiasmus in “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10, 1 (Autumn 1969): 8 [reprint ed.].
4. John W. Welch, “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, 2 (Fall 1995): 6.
5. Ibid., 7.
6. Ibid., 8.
7. Ibid., 8-9.
8. Ibid., 5.
9. Ibid., 7.
10. William Parkinson, A Selection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs in Two Parts, 3rd ed. (New York: John Tiebout, 1817), 299.
11. Moses Guest, Poems on Several Occasions, 2nd ed. (Cincinnati: Looker & Reynolds, 1824), 19.
12. E.g., John Dickson, Two Letters (Edinburgh: T. Lumisden and J. Robertson, 1739), 13; William Romaine, The Scripture-Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper Briefly Stated (London: J. Worrall, 1760), 10; John Adamson, The Loss and Recovery of Elect Sinners (Glasgow; John Bryce, 1777), 144; Richard Challenor, The Garden of the Soul (Dublin: Richard Cross, 1798), 322; Thomas Haweis, Evangelical Principles and Practice (Newburyport: Edmund M. Blunt, 1803), 121; John Grundy, A Letter Addressed to the Rev. John Grundy, Containing Strictures upon a Sermon Delivered by Him before an Assembly of Unitarian Ministers (Manchester: C. Wheeler, 1810), 51; Isabella Graham, The Power of Faith (New York: J. Seymour, 1816), 340; Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae (London: Richard Watts, 1820), 6:373 (#619); William Goode, Essays on All the Scriptural Names and Titles of Christ (London: L. B. Seeley, 1822), 5:350.
13. Nicholas J. Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: A Proposed Methodology,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24 (2015): 18.
14. Ibid., 21-22.
15. Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 3:146.