The Word Yea in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon
In the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, the word yea occurs 275 times in the Old Testament and 65 times in the New Testament, or 340 times in the entire Bible. In both Testaments, yea translates several different words and in some instances corresponds to no particular word in Hebrew or Greek. In the Book of Mormon, though, the word yea occurs 1,254 times. This figure, based on the Book of Mormon Study Text,1 is slightly higher than the figure yielded by the LDS program Word Cruncher (7.1), which lists 1,248 occurrences in the 2013 Book of Mormon.
To put this difference in perspective, keep in mind that the Book of Mormon is only about a third the length of the Bible, yet the Book of Mormon has almost four times as many occurrences of the word yea as the Bible. It turns out that the word yea occurs once in about every 2,318 words in the Bible, but once in about every 215 words in the Book of Mormon. In short, in terms of frequencies or proportions, the word yea is used over ten times as often in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible.
|Table 1: YEA IN THE BOOK OF MORMON|
|Book||Words||Number Occurr.||Words/ Occurr.||Author||Words||Number Occurr.||Words/ Occurr.|
|W. of Mormon||866||2||433||Mormon||175,691||969||181|
Table 1 provides statistics for the use of the word yea in the Book of Mormon. The data is presented by book as well as by author. Those books with at least one occurrence per 250 words are shown in red; those with less than one occurrence per thousand words are shown in bold black type (which applies only to Enos). Table 2 provides the same statistics for the KJV, with books having at least one occurrence of the word yea per thousand words shown in bold black type (there are no books with at least one occurrence per 250 words).2
|TABLE 2: YEA IN THE KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE|
|1 Samuel-2 Kings||93,678||8||11,710|
|Song of Solomon||2,658||5||532|
|Bible (all 66 books)||788,280||340||2,318|
|12 of the 66 books in the KJV have no occurrences of yea at all: Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, 1 Kings, Mark, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude (roughly 13% of the Bible).
OT: 275 occurrences in 609,369 words (KJV): 2,216 words per occurrence
NT: 65 occurrences in 178,911 words (KJV): 2,752 words per occurrence
Not Due to Translating Similar Words Differently
One might wonder if the Book of Mormon’s high frequency in using yea might be merely a difference in translation choices for rendering the same or similar words. Suppose for the sake of argument that the Book of Mormon had been written originally (on the gold plates) in something like Hebrew. (All LDS scholars agree that the Book of Mormon was not written in Greek or in any language like Greek.) There are Hebrew words in the Old Testament writings that are sometimes translated using yea in the KJV but are also translated in the KJV with different English words, especially and, both, and even. Might it be that the Book of Mormon had similar words that are simply translated more often with yea and less often with and, both, or even?
As reasonable as this explanation might seem at first glance, it really does not work. In order for the Old Testament to have used words that could be translated “yea” as often as the Book of Mormon uses it, we would need to have such words occurring in appropriate contexts about 2,800 times in the Old Testament.3 We can look at the question using both the Hebrew text and the KJV translation of the Old Testament.
In the Hebrew text, there are two main words that the KJV sometimes, though not always, translates with yea. These two words are gam (translated “yea” 75 times; also translated “also,” “moreover,” “even,” etc.) and ’aph (translated “yea” 36 times). (Another Hebrew word, kî, is translated “yea” 7 times in the KJV, although the word actually means “for,” “because.”) Both words are sometimes translated “also,” “moreover,” or “both,” depending on context. The total number of occurrences of these two words in the Hebrew Old Testament regardless of context or meaning is a little over 1,100. That is less than half of what would be needed to match the frequency of the Book of Mormon’s usage. Moreover, we could not translate a majority of these occurrences of gam and ’aph as “yea” because it would not fit the context. Many of these occurrences are actually homonyms—words with the same spelling but different meanings (e.g., ’aph is often a word meaning “anger” or “nose” or “nostril”).
We reach the same conclusion if we look at the English translation. The KJV uses the English words yea 275 times, both 254 times, and even 1,073 times in the Old Testament. If we add all three of these together, we only have barely 1,600 words, well over a thousand words short—and we cannot plausibly count most of the occurrences of both or even because yea simply would not fit in those contexts. For example, if a text uses the phrase “both young and old,” we cannot reword this as “yea young and old.”
This leaves the word and, which of course occurs numerous times in the KJV—almost 41,000 times in the Old Testament. The word and usually translates the Hebrew particle wǝ (ו), which occurs in the Hebrew Old Testament text about 50,000 times (it is frequently left untranslated). Could a thousand or more of those occurrences be translated with yea instead of and? No. Nearly all of these occurrences of and in the KJV either begin sentences in simple narrative usage (e.g., “And the earth was without form…,” Gen. 1:2) or are simple connectives (e.g., “the evening and the morning,” Gen. 1:5). There is no way to convert even a few hundred of these occurrences of and to yea.
We can get a better sense for how often an expression that meant something like yea might actually be found in the Hebrew Old Testament by using a contemporary English version that is highly literal in its translation methodology. A good one for this purpose is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Here are the numbers of occurrences of similar-meaning words in the Old Testament in the NASB: yes (53), moreover (156), both (220), indeed (183), even (637). These add up to 1,249 words—less than half the 2,700 we would need—and most of the occurrences of both and even will not work in context.
We have “run the numbers” three ways here, and the results are the same in each case. There are simply not enough occurrences of words potentially meaning yea in appropriate contexts in the Hebrew Old Testament to come close to the frequency of its usage in the Book of Mormon. Even if we tripled the number of occurrences of yea in the KJV—which realistically would not work—the Book of Mormon would still have more than three times the frequency of occurrences of yea.
Not Just about the Overall Average
One might suppose that even though the Book of Mormon overall uses the word yea with far greater frequency than the KJV Bible, this overall difference might be skewed by a few books rather than a meaningful contrast between the two scriptures. The evidence shows, however, that the difference reflects a consistent pattern. Only one book in the Book of Mormon averages more than a thousand words per occurrence of yea (barely), and that book, Enos, is so short that it is probably not a statistically meaningful sample. (Enos is the only book in the Book of Mormon with just one occurrence of yea.) By contrast, 52 of the 66 books of the Bible average more than a thousand words per occurrence; 11 biblical books have only one occurrence of yea and 12 biblical books have no occurrences at all.
The highest frequency of yea in any book of the Bible is in 3 John, which happens to have one occurrence in its 294 words. That is still higher than the average frequency for the whole Book of Mormon (one in 215 words). As with Enos in the Book of Mormon, 3 John is an obvious statistical anomaly: it is the shortest book in the Bible (two of the next three shortest books, 2 John and Jude, have no occurrences at all). The next four biblical books with the highest frequencies—Joel, Ecclesiastes, Philemon, and Malachi—all range between 407 and 445 words per occurrence, roughly half the frequency as the average for the Book of Mormon. (Note that the higher the number of words per occurrence of yea, the lower the frequency of those occurrences.) Six of the 15 books of the Book of Mormon (shown in red in Table 1), accounting for almost two-thirds of the whole Book of Mormon (including the two longest books, Alma and Mosiah), all have higher frequencies of occurrences of yea than any book in the Bible, including 3 John.
Not Due to Different Book of Mormon Authors
The disparity cannot be explained as the result of different authors in the Book of Mormon using the word with different frequencies. The three main authors named in the Book of Mormon all make heavy use of the word yea: once every 181 words (Mormon), every 257 words (Nephi), and every 514 words (Moroni). This is roughly the same range of frequencies found in the individual books attributed to Mormon, which range from once every 124 words (Helaman) to once every 516 words (Mormon 1–7). Contrast this relatively narrow range of frequencies with the Old Testament books, which in the KJV include 9 books with frequencies of one in 400 to 900, 26 books with frequencies of one in 10,000 to 30,000, and 4 books with no occurrences at all.
Not Due to Different Genres
Another consideration is the question of the genres of the books in question. Even though 20 books of the Bible are predominantly or heavily narrative in content (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua through Esther, the Gospels, and Acts), not one of those books comes close to using the word yea even once every thousand words. Three of the four Gospels and Acts have between about 3,000 and 4,000 words per occurrence (the other Gospel, Mark, has no occurrences of yea at all). The Old Testament narrative books all run around 10,000 words or more per occurrence, if that; Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, and 1 Kings, three of which are long books, have no occurrences at all. The highest frequencies of yea in the KJV are found in the poetic wisdom literature (Job through Song of Solomon), Isaiah (just over 800 words per occurrence, still about one-fourth of the Book of Mormon average frequency), and some short prophetic books and New Testament epistles.
By contrast, nearly every book of the Book of Mormon is predominantly narrative in form, yet it consistently uses yea with far more frequency than the biblical narrative books. In fact, Alma and Helaman, the two most narrative-heavy books, also have the highest frequencies of occurrences of the word yea (1 in 151 and 1 in 124). The Book of Moroni, the book with the least narrative, has the lowest frequency (1 in 881). This is precisely the reverse of what we would expect to find if the Book of Mormon used the word yea in anything like the manner of the Bible.
Both General Overuse and Passages with Extreme Excess
Any word is going to be used more often in some contexts than in others. The nature of language is such that one cannot specify a specific limit or ceiling to the usage of a word such as yea beyond which it is somehow “wrong.” For example, it is not as though using yea once in every 400 words is fine but using is once in every 399 words is suspect. That is not the sort of point or argument being made here. Rather, we are making a statistical argument based on very large sets of data that can be usefully compared in a number of relevant ways.
The evidence discussed so far shows that in general, throughout the Book of Mormon the word yea is used over ten times more often than in the KJV. The disparity is only relatively greater or lesser from book to book. Helaman uses yea about 19 times more often than the KJV; the very short book Enos uses yea about twice as often as the KJV does on average. 10 of the 39 books of the Old Testament have frequencies comparable to the 6 short Book of Mormon books with the lowest frequencies, but those Old Testament books are the wrong kind of books (poetic wisdom and prophetic literature) to be comparable to the Book of Mormon books (which present themselves as historical narratives). Not one Old Testament book has a frequency even half that of the five Book of Mormon books with the highest frequencies.4
We can look at the matter in yet another way: the high use of the word yea in a single passage. There are just two Old Testament chapters where the KJV uses the word yea six times each, both in Isaiah (see Isa. 41:10-26; 44:8-19).5 By contrast, some 79 chapters in the Book of Mormon (one-third of the total number of chapters) use the word yea six or more times—often far more than six. In Isaiah 44:8-19, the word yea occurs once every 62 words—by far the greatest frequency anywhere in the Old Testament for six occurrences in a row. Yet in the Book of Mormon, there are at least 20 passages with six or more occurrences of yea with frequencies less than once every 50 words. Alma 60:3-32, in the space of 1,382 words, has the word yea a full 30 times, or once every 46 words. There are four passages in the Book of Mormon with 10 or more occurrences averaging one for every 30 words or higher: Alma 5:48-55 (18 occurrences, once per 23 words), Alma 36:19-29 (15 occurrences, once per 30 words), Alma 45:1-2 (10 occurrences, once per 29 words), and Helaman 12:1-15 (19 occurrences, once per 26 words).
What these numbers mean is that there are numerous passages in the Book of Mormon exhibiting an extremely excessive use of the word yea. There is nothing even remotely comparable in the KJV or in the Hebrew literature of the Old Testament. Even the most concentrated clusters of occurrences of yea in a couple of Isaiah passages are not nearly as densely packed with such occurrences as some twenty passages in the Book of Mormon. By far the best explanation for this otherwise peculiar phenomenon is that the author of the Book of Mormon was a modern author imitating the language of the KJV but overdoing it.
The Word Yea in Book of Mormon Excerpts from the Bible
There is one other aspect to the use of yea in the Book of Mormon that merits attention: its use in passages quoted from passages in the Bible. As is well known, these biblical passages in the Book of Mormon closely follow the wording of the KJV though with some variations. Where Book of Mormon sentences in these passages parallel passages in the Bible, they follow the wording of the KJV to about 96 per cent or more; that is, 96 words out of 100 in the KJV passages are found in the corresponding Book of Mormon passages.
It turns out that the Book of Mormon uses the word yea in these passages almost three times as often as the KJV (see Table 3). Of the seven passages that already have yea in the KJV, the Book of Mormon increases the number of occurrences in four passages and leaves them unchanged in the other three. The Book of Mormon also adds yea in four of its 14 biblical passages that do not have yea at all in the KJV. In no passage does the Book of Mormon decrease the number of occurrences of yea.
On any traditional LDS understanding of the process of translating the Book of Mormon, this phenomenon does not make sense. Adding yea is certainly unnecessary; that is, nothing important to the meaning of the passages is added by adding these occurrences of yea. The additions cannot be explained as giving a more literal translation of the known Hebrew text of the biblical passages; that is, the Book of Mormon is not adding yea in places where the KJV missed occurrences in the Hebrew text of ’aph or gam. Besides, the Book of Mormon also adds the word yea to one of the parallel statements in the Sermon on the Mount (3 Ne. 12:3, cf. Matt. 5:3).
TABLE 3. THE WORD YEA IN BIBLICAL EXCERPTS IN THE BOOK OF MORMON
|KJV||Yea||Book of Mormon||Yea|
|Isaiah 48–49||5||1 Nephi 20–21||10|
|Isaiah 49:22-23||0||2 Nephi 6:6-7||0|
|Isaiah 49:24–52:2||0||2 Nephi 6:16–8:25||4|
|Isaiah 55:1-2||1||2 Nephi 9:50-51||1|
|Isaiah 2–14||3||2 Nephi 12–24||14|
|Isaiah 29:3-5||1||2 Nephi 26:15b, 16, 18b||2|
|Isaiah 29:6-24||0||2 Nephi 27:2-5, 15-19, 25-35||4*|
|Isaiah 11:4-9||0||2 Nephi 30:9, 11-15||0|
|Isaiah 52:7-10||0||Mosiah 12:21-24||0|
|Exodus 20:2-17||0||Mosiah 12:34-35; 13:12-24||0|
|Isaiah 53||0||Mosiah 14||0|
|Isaiah 52:8-10||0||Mosiah 15:29-31||0|
|Matthew 5:3–7:27||2||3 Nephi 12:3–14:27||3*|
|Isaiah 52:8-10||0||3 Nephi 16:18-20||0|
|Micah 5:8-9; 4:13||0||3 Nephi 20:16b-17, 19b||0|
|Acts 3:22-26**||1||3 Nephi 20:23-27a||1|
|Isaiah 52:8-10,1-3,6-7,11-15||0||3 Nephi 20:32,34-45||1|
|Isaiah 52:15||0||3 Nephi 21:8b||0|
|Micah 5:8-15||0||3 Nephi 21:12-18,21||1*|
|Isaiah 54||0||3 Nephi 22||0|
|Malachi 3–4||3||3 Nephi 24–25||3|
|Total KJV||16||Total Bible in Book of Mormon||44|
|*Counting only parallel statements. Actually, yea occurs 6 times in 2 Nephi 27, 4 times in 3 Nephi 12–14, and 2 times in 3 Nephi 21:12-18, 21.
**3 Nephi 20:23-27a so closely follows Acts 3:22-26 that it may fairly be regarded as a quotation from Acts, which here quotes Deut. 18:15-19; Lev. 23:29; and Gen. 22:18.
This leaves the supposition that there were words in the Hebrew-like “Reformed Egyptian” text on the gold plates (however one understands that unknown language) that are translated literally in the English text of the Book of Mormon with the word yea. On this proposal, the translation of the biblical passages as they appear in the Book of Mormon is independent of the KJV, thus explaining why the word yea occurs so much more frequently in these passages in the Book of Mormon. However, this hypothesis would create more problems than it would seem to solve. As has already been pointed out, these passages typically retain 96 per cent (or more) of the KJV wording. This basic fact makes it reasonably certain that the Book of Mormon quotations from the Bible are dependent on the KJV.
The usage of yea in these passages actually confirms the Book of Mormon’s dependence on the KJV. Recall that yea in the KJV of the Old Testament actually translates two different Hebrew words, ’aph and gam, more often translating or paraphrasing the particle wǝ (usually translated “and” or left untranslated), and occasionally is added by the KJV translators according to sense without any specific word corresponding in the Hebrew text at all. Likewise, the word yea in the KJV of the New Testament represents eight different Greek words (mainly the four words ναί, ἀλλά, καί, and δέ) and five times no Greek word at all. Yet in all of the biblical material excerpted in the Book of Mormon, the word yea when it does appear in the KJV is never omitted or replaced.
For example, in Isaiah 2–14 the word yea appears three times in the KJV, once to translate the Hebrew word kî (Isa. 5:10), once to translate the Hebrew particle wǝ (Isa. 5:29), and once to translate the Hebrew word gam (Isa. 14:8). The word “yea” in Isaiah 14:8 is clearly appropriate (several modern versions, such as the NASB, NIV, NLT, and TNK have “even” here). “Yea” in Isaiah 5:29 is unnecessary (most versions leave it untranslated) but not objectionable. On the other hand, “yea” in Isaiah 5:10 is at least debatable: the word kî means “for,” and that is how most versions translate it (CSB, ESV, NASB, NJB, NRSV, TNK; though the NET has “indeed”). Yet it just so happens that the Book of Mormon retains “yea” in all three of these places. This evidence strongly counts against the claim that the Book of Mormon version of these biblical passages is independent of the KJV, a claim that is untenable in any case given the high degree of overall verbal correspondence of those biblical passages in the Book of Mormon to the KJV.
There is only one plausible, reasonable explanation for the presence of yea 28 times more in the biblical excerpts in the Book of Mormon than in the KJV, while retaining all of the KJV occurrences. That explanation is that the biblical passages were verbally dependent on the KJV and that the 28 new occurrences of yea were added by the person using the KJV as the base text for the Book of Mormon excerpts.
Who was that person who added yea so often to biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon while using the KJV as the base text for those quotations? Obviously, we must rule out the supposition that these occurrences of yea derive from Nephi or Mormon, whom the Book of Mormon presents as quoting the biblical passages. Mormons might suppose that God himself was responsible for these additions. That is, they might suppose that God’s inspired revelation of the translation of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith provided the actual English words of the translation, using the KJV as the base text, and that God’s verbal revelations to Joseph included all of the additional uses of the word yea. The difficulty here is explaining why God would do something like that. If he was revealing the translation using the KJV as the base, it would not make sense for God to deviate from the KJV wording except where the KJV was erroneous or missing something important. If God decided it was important to have so many additional occurrences of yea, it is odd that he did not eliminate or correct even a single occurrence of yea that was either incorrect, unnecessary, or better worded in some other way.
By far the simplest, most obvious, and most plausible explanation is that the modern human author of the Book of Mormon used the KJV as his base text when excerpting passages from the Bible and that this author added yea in various places in those excerpts. Why would he do so? Two complementary reasons seem likely. First, the author of the Book of Mormon wished to make his text sound “biblical,” and using the word yea a lot would help do that even in passages quoting the Bible. Second, adding yea was a simple, painless, unobtrusive way to introduce some verbal variation from the text of the KJV without risk. If the modern author of the Book of Mormon wanted to convey that its biblical quotations were not copied directly from the KJV, introducing some verbal variations, even minor ones, might seem to help convey that impression.
We have seen that the Book of Mormon uses the word yea with a frequency ten times greater than the KJV Bible does. This statistical pattern doesn’t change whether we are viewing the Old Testament or the New, or whether we focus on one supposed ancient author’s writings in the Book of Mormon rather than another. We have shown that the contrast cannot be plausibly explained away as a difference in the way similar words were translated. We also found that the highest frequencies of yea in the KJV come in its poetic books and the lowest frequencies in its historical narratives—whereas in the Book of Mormon the most heavily narrative texts have the highest frequencies and Moroni, which has the least narrative, has the lowest frequency. Thus, not only is the contrast between the Book of Mormon and the Bible not explained by their differences in genre, those differences further exacerbate the contrast. Close examination of specific passages in the KJV and in the Book of Mormon using yea confirms on the “micro” level that indeed the Book of Mormon often makes extremely excessive use of yea. The Book of Mormon even increases the number of occurrences of yea threefold in its quotations or excerpts from the Bible as compared to the KJV.
To see just how frequently the Book of Mormon uses the word yea, take another look at the paragraph just above this one. That paragraph is 215 words in length. The word yea appears in the Book of Mormon so often that if it were divided into paragraphs all of that length and the occurrences of yea were distributed evenly, the word yea would appear in every single paragraph.
By contrast, if this article had occurrences of the word yea at the same average frequency as the KJV, the word yea would appear in this entire article only two times.
By far the best explanation, and really the only plausible explanation, for this evidence is that the word yea was peppered into the text of the Book of Mormon by a modern author imitating the style of the KJV but greatly overdoing it.
1. See Book of Mormon Study Text, ed. Robert M. Bowman Jr. (Cedar Springs, MI: Institute for Religious Research, 2018), online at http://mit.irr.org/category/book-of-mormon/introductory-resources-on-book-of-mormon/book-of-mormon-study-text.
2. For KJV statistics, I have used the data from the following site: http://www.biblebelievers.com/believers-org/kjv-stats.html. This webpage seems to offer the most careful, detail-oriented statistical analysis of the word lengths of the books in the KJV.
3. There are about 609,369 words in the KJV Old Testament. Dividing this number by 215 (the frequency of yea in the Book of Mormon) yields 2,834.
4. I am here treating Mormon 8–9 as a distinct book, since it is attributed to Moroni rather than to Mormon. Note that Mormon 8–9 is longer than are eleven of the books of the Old Testament in the KJV.
5. The KJV also uses yea six times each in two chapters in the New Testament (2 Cor. 1:17-20; 7:11). In the former passage, the Greek word ναί simply means “yes.” In the second passage, “yea” is a paraphrase for idiomatic wording in Greek using ἀλλά (usually translated “but,” “rather,” etc.) to mean something like “not only that.”