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First John in the Book of Mormon

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First John in the Book of Mormon

Moroni’s New Testament, Part 3 
Robert M. Bowman Jr.

The Book of Mormon infamously draws heavily on the Bible, including the New Testament, which its supposed ancient authors would never have seen. Nowhere is this more evident than in the writings attributed to Moroni toward the end of the Book of Mormon.1 An interesting case study in point is the occurrence of two clear parallels to 1 John in Moroni 7–8, as shown in the table below.2 

Moroni 7–8 1 John 3–4 KJV
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son Jesus Christ, that ye may become the sons of God, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is, that we may have this hope, that we may be purified even as he is pure” (7:48). “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (3:1-3).
“Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do: for perfect love casteth out all fear” (8:16b). “…that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (4:17-18a).

There is much that we can learn from these two parallels between Moroni and 1 John. 

  1. The exact parallel using the 18-word sequence that when he shall appear we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is can only be plausibly understood as the Book of Mormon drawing on the text of 1 John 3:2 in the KJV.
  2. A total of 38 of the 79 words in Moroni 7–8 (48%) are paralleled in 42 of the 86 words of 1 John 3:1-3 (49%).3 This is a very high concentration of verbal parallels for such lengthy passages.
  3. The parallels between Moroni 7:48 and 1 John 3:1-3 are not merely verbal parallels, but the parallels also follow the same train of thought: (a) the Father has bestowed love on believers; (b) they are or will be sons of God; (c) when Christ appears we will be like him because we will see him as he is; (d) this hope purifies us to be pure like him.
  4. Moroni begins his instruction in verse 48 in the second person (“ye” twice), but then shifts to the first person plural when using the long word sequence in the second half of the verse. This shift from second to third person is clearly the result of the author using the wording of 1 John.
  5. Moroni 7:48 shows influence of Johannine language even beyond 1 John 3:1-3. The exact title “his Son Jesus Christ” is used three times in 1 John (1:3; 3:23; 5:20) and nowhere else in the Bible.4 There is also some evidence elsewhere in Moroni 7–8 of the influence of language from 1 John, though not quite as clear.5 This use of distinctively Johannine language not found in the immediate passage of 1 John 3:1-3 shows that the author of Moroni was steeped in the text of 1 John as a whole.
  6. The clear parallel between Moroni 8:16b and 1 John 4:17-18a confirms that the author of the book of Moroni was familiar with 1 John and was influenced by it as he was composing the book.
  7. Notice that in both books the passages are about a chapter apart6 and in the same order: Moroni 7:48 is followed in the next chapter by Moroni 8:16b, and 1 John 3:1-3 is followed in the next chapter by 1 John 4:17-18a.
  8. This is not the only place in the Book of Mormon containing a significant, meaningful parallel to 1 John.7 3 Nephi quotes Jesus as saying, “And thus will the Father bear record of me; and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me: for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost, are one” (3 Ne. 11:36). This statement clearly parallels 1 John 5:7 in the KJV, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” What makes this particular parallel especially interesting is that the consensus of biblical scholars regards the statement in 1 John 5:7 to have been a later addition to the epistle of 1 John. As New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger explained in a standard reference on the subject, the sentence appears in Greek manuscripts mainly from the sixteenth century, in none of the ancient language versions (Syriac, Coptic, etc.) except a later version of the Latin Vulgate, and was not quoted by any of the early Greek church fathers.8
  9. It is possible but neither necessary nor likely that the author of Moroni had a Bible in his hands while he was producing his text. Most likely, he was simply very familiar with 1 John and drew on it as he went along.9 The major parallel between Moroni 7:48 and 1 John 3:2 is easily explained as the result of the author of Moroni having memorized that particular passage in 1 John.
  10. It is obviously implausible to suppose that the figure Moroni, writing in the Americas in the early fifth century, had ever seen the epistle of 1 John. Nor does the Book of Mormon ever suggest that Moroni had knowledge of 1 John or of other books in the New Testament.
  11. The similarities cannot be explained as the result of a “lost” book or source that both Moroni and John had in common. For one thing, such an explanation is ad hoc. For another, the explanation would not account in a plausible way for the two parallels about the same distance apart and in the same order.
  12. The hypothesis that Moroni said things similar enough to what John said that Joseph Smith could choose, or be inspired, to use John’s wording has the same problem: it cannot account for the two parallels in the same order and about the same distance apart.
  13. As we showed in part 1 and part 2 of this series of articles, parallels to other books of the New Testament in Mormon 8–9 and Moroni 7–10 confirm that the author was familiar with the New Testament. Immediately preceding the parallel to 1 John 3:1-3 in Moroni 7:48 is an even lengthier parallel to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 in Moroni 7:45-46. There are simply too many of these parallels from too many parts of the New Testament to explain as merely the result of the translator drawing on the language of the KJV to render what was in the ancient book of Moroni.
  14. Therefore, the figure Moroni cannot have been the author of the book of Moroni.
  15. The simplest explanation is that the actual author of Moroni 7–8 was someone familiar with 1 John in the KJV, since this view would explain all of the evidence: the similar trains of thought, the two parallels in the same order, the duplication of wording, and the many parallels in the surrounding context to other books of the New Testament. Therefore, we should conclude that the author was an English-speaking person writing after 1611 and of course no later than 1829.

Although alternative theories have been proposed as to the identity of this English-speaking author of the book of Moroni, the most obvious and most likely candidate is Joseph Smith.



1. See the survey and analysis of this issue in the first two parts of this series, “The Use of the KJV New Testament in the Books of Mormon and Moroni” and “10 Lines of Evidence for the Use of the KJV New Testament in the Book of Mormon.”

2. Exact verbal parallels are shown in the table in bold italics; verbal parallels of different forms (e.g., “purified” and “purifieth”) are shown in bold but not italics. The Book of Mormon quotations are taken from IRR’s Book of Mormon Study Text (BOMST) and the KJV quotations are taken from the 1769 edition as reproduced in BibleWorks 10.0.

3. The expression “the sons of God” occurs twice in 1 John 3:1-2.

4. Paul uses the longer designation “his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” twice (Rom. 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9).

5. The line “…and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus is the Christ” (Moroni 7:44) is reminiscent of 1 John 4:2, “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” The expression “confesses…that Jesus is the Christ” closely but not exactly parallels “confesseth that Jesus Christ is.” There is also the conceptual but not verbal connection of John’s reference to “the Spirit of God” with Moroni’s reference to “the Holy Ghost.” This evidence is therefore not as clear as in the two passages of Moroni 7:48 and 8:16b.

6. To be precise, there are 577 words between Moroni 7:48 and 8:16, and 817 words between 1 John 3:3 and 4:17. In the manuscript and first edition of the Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:48 and 8:16 fall in consecutive chapters (Moroni VII and VIII).

7. In addition to 1 John 5:7 discussed here, another possible allusion is the following: “Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this, is a liar and a child of the Devil…. whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the Devil” (Alma 5:39, 41, cf. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ…. He that committeth sin is of the devil…. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil,” 1 John 2:22; 3:8, 10 KJV).

8. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 647–49.

9. One reason for favoring this explanation is the fact that Moroni 7–8 alludes to other New Testament passages outside 1 John (see point #13).