The Mormon Bible

The Mormon Bible,* both in a literary and a theological sense, is

just such a production as would be expected to result from

handing over to Smith and his fellow-"translators" a mass of

Spaulding's material and new doctrinal matter for collation and

copying. Not one of these men possessed any literary skill or

accurate acquaintance with the Scriptures. David Whitmer, in an

interview in Missouri in his later years, said, "So illiterate

was Joseph at that time that he didn't know that Jerusalem was a

walled city, and he was utterly unable to pronounce many of the

names that the magic power of the Urim and Thummim revealed."

Chronology, grammar, geography, and Bible history were alike

ignored in the work. An effort was made to correct some of these

errors in the early days of the church, and Smith speaks of doing

some of this work himself at Nauvoo. An edition issued there in

1842 contains on the title-page the words, "Carefully revised by

the translator." Such corrections have continued to the present

day, and a comparison of the latest Salt Lake edition with the

first has shown more than three thousand changes.

* The title of this Bible is "The Book of Mormon"; but as one of

its subdivisions is a Book of Mormon, I use the title "Mormon

Bible," both to avoid confusion and for convenience.

The person who for any reason undertakes the reading of this book

sets before himself a tedious task. Even the orthodox Mormons

have found this to be true, and their Bible has played a very

much less considerable part in the church worship than Smith's

"revelations" and the discourses of their preachers. Referring to

Orson Pratt's* labored writings on this Bible, Stenhouse says,

"Of the hundreds of thousands of witnesses to whom God has

revealed the truth of the 'Book of Mormon,' Pratt knows full well

that comparatively few indeed have ever read that book, know

little or nothing intelligently of its contents, and take little

interest in it."** An examination of its contents is useful,

therefore, rather as a means of proving the fraudulent character

of its pretension to divine revelation than as a means of

ascertaining what the members of the Mormon church are taught.

* Orson Pratt was a clerk in a store in Hiram, Ohio, when he was

converted to Mormonism. He seems to have been a natural student,

and he rose to prominence in the church, being one of the first

to expound and defend the Mormon Bible and doctrines, holding a

professorship in Nauvoo University, publishing works on the

higher mathematics, and becoming one of the Twelve Apostles.

** "Rocky Mountain Saints," p. 553.

The following page(omitted in this etext) presents a facsimile of

the title-page of the first edition of this Bible. The editions

of to-day substitute "Translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.," for "By

Joseph Smith, junior, author and proprietor."

The first edition contains 588 duodecimo pages, and is divided

into 15 books which are named as follows: "First Book of Nephi,

his reign and ministry," 7 chapters; "Second Book of Nephi," 15

chapters; "Book of Jacob, the Brother of Nephi," 5 chapters;

"Book of Enos," 1 chapter; "Book of Jarom," 1 chapter; "Book of

Omni," 1 chapter; "Words of Mormon," 1 chapter; "Book of Mosiah,"

13 chapters; "Book of Alma, a Son of Alma," 30 chapters; "Book of

Helaman," 5 chapters; "Third Book of Nephi, the Son of Nephi,

which was the son of Helaman," 14 chapters; "Fourth Book of

Nephi, which is the Son of Nephi, one of the Disciples of Jesus

Christ," 1 chapter; "Book of Mormon," 4 chapters; "Book of

Ether," 6 chapters; "Book of Moroni," 10 chapters. The chapters

in the first edition were not divided into verses, that work,

with the preparation of the very complete footnote references in

the later editions, having been performed by Orson Pratt.

The historical narrative that runs through the book is so

disjointedly arranged, mixed up with doctrinal parts, and

repeated, that it is not easy to unravel it. The following

summary of it is contained in a letter to Colonel John Wentworth

of Chicago, signed by Joseph Smith, Jr., which was printed in

Wentworth's Chicago newspaper and also in the Mormon Times and

Seasons of March 1, 1842:--

"The history of America is unfolded from its first settlement by

a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of

languages, to the beginning of the 5th century of the Christian

era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient

times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The

first were called Jaredites, and came directly from the Tower of

Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem

about 600 years before Christ. They were principally Israelites

of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about

the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded

them in the inhabitance of the country. The principal nation of

the second race fell in battle toward the close of the fourth

century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this


This history purports to have been handed down, on metallic

plates, from one historian to another, beginning with Nephi, from

the time of the departure from Jerusalem. Finally (4 Nephi i. 48,

49*), the people being wicked, Ammaron, by direction of the Holy

Ghost, hid these sacred records "that they might come again unto

the remnant of the house of Jacob."

* All references to the Mormon Bible by chapter and verse refer

to Salt Lake City edition of 1888.

To bring the story down to a comparatively recent date, and

account for the finding of the plates by Smith, the Book of

Mormon was written by the "author." This subdivision is an

abridgment of the previous records. It relates that Mormon, a

descendant of Nephi, when ten years old, was told by Ammaron

that, when about twenty-four years old, he should go to the place

where the records were hidden, take only the plates of Nephi, and

engrave on them all the things he had observed concerning the

people. The next year Mormon was taken by his father, whose name

also was Mormon, to the land of Zarahemla, which had become

covered with buildings and very populous, but the people were

warlike and wicked. Mormon in time, "seeing that the Lamanites

were about to overthrow the land," took the records from their

hiding place. He himself accepted the command of the armies of

the Nephites, but they were defeated with great slaughter, the

Lamanites laying waste their cities and driving them northward.

Finally Mormon sent a letter to the king of the Lamanites, asking

that the Nephites might gather their people "unto the land of

Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we would

give them battle." There, in the year 384 A.D., Mormon "made this

record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah

all the records which have been entrusted to me by the hand of

the Lord, save it were those few plates which I gave unto my son

Moroni."* This hill, according to the Mormon teaching, is the

hill near Palmyra, New York, where Smith found the plates, just

as Mormon had deposited them.

* Hyde gives a list of twenty-four additional plates mentioned in

this Bible which must still await digging up in the hill near


In the battle which took place there the Nephites were

practically annihilated, and all the fugitives were killed except

Moroni, the son of Mormon, who undertook the completion of the

"record." Moroni excuses the briefness of his narrative by

explaining that he had not room in the plates, "and ore have I

none" (to make others). What he adds is in the nature of a

defence of the revealed character of the Mormon Bible and of

Smith's character as a prophet. Those, for instance, who say that

there are no longer "revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor

healing, nor speaking with tongues," are told that they know not

the Gospel of Christ and do not understand the Scriptures. An

effort is made to forestall criticism of the "mistakes" that are

conceded in the title-page dedication by saying, "Condemn me not

because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his

imperfection, neither them who have written before him" (Book of

Mormon ix. 31).

Evidently foreseeing that it would be asked why these "records,"

written by Jews and their descendants, were not in Hebrew, Mormon

adds (chap. ix. 32, 33):--

"And now behold, we have written this record according to our

knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the

reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according

to our manner of speech.

"And if our plates had been sufficiently large, we should have

written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also;

and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had

no imperfection in our record."

Few parts of this mythical Bible approached nearer to the

burlesque than this excuse for having descendants of the Jews

write in "reformed Egyptian."

The secular story of the ancient races running through this Bible

is so confused by the introduction of new matter by the "author"*

and by repetitions that it is puzzling to pick it out. The Book

of Ether was somewhat puzzling even to the early Mormons, and we

find Parley P. Pratt, in his analysis of it, printed in London in

1854, saying, "Ether SEEMS to have been a lineal descendant of


*Professor Whitsitt, of the Southern Baptist Theological

Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, in his article on Mormonism in

"The Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, and Gazetteer"

(New York, 1891), divides the Mormon Bible into three sections,

viz.: the first thirteen books, presented as the works of Mormon;

the Book of Ether, with which Mormon had no connection; and the

fifteenth book," which was sent forth by the editor under the

name of Moroni. "He thus explains his view of the "editing" that

was done in the preparation of the work for publication:--

"The editor undertook to rewrite and recast the whole of the

abridgment (of Nephi's previous history), but his industry failed

him at the close of the Book of Omni. The first six books that he

had rewritten were given the names of the small plates.... The

book called the 'Words of Mormon' in the original work stood at

the beginning, as a sort of preface to the entire abridgment of

Mormon; but when the editor had rewritten the first six books, he

felt that these were properly his own performance, and the 'Words

of Mormon' were assigned a position just in front of the Book of

Mosiah, when the abstract of Mormon took its real


"The question may now be raised as to who was the editor of the

Book of Mormon.... In its theological positions and coloring the

Book of Mormon is a volume of Disciple theology (this does not

include the later polygamous doctrine and other gross Mormon

errors). This conclusion is capable of demonstration beyond any

reasonable question. Let notice also be taken of the fact that

the Book of Mormon bears traces of two several redactions. It

contains, in the first redaction, that type of doctrine which the

Disciples held and proclaimed prior to November 18, 1827, when

they had not yet formally embraced what is commonly considered to

be the tenet of baptismal remission. It also contains the type of

doctrine which the Disciples have been defending since November

18, 1827, under the name of the ancient Gospel, of which the

tenet of socalled baptismal remission is a leading feature. All

authorities agree that Mr. Smith obtained possession of the work

on September 22, 1827, a period of nearly two months before the

Disciples concluded to embrace this tenet. The editor felt that

the Book of Mormon would be sadly incomplete if this notion were

not included. Accordingly, he found means to communicate with Mr.

Smith, and, regaining possession of certain portions of the

manuscript, to insert the new item.... Rigdon was the only

Disciple minister who vigorously and continuously demanded that

his brethren should adopt the additional points that have been


Very concisely, this Bible story of the most ancient race that

came to America, the Jaredites, may be thus stated:--

This race, being righteous, were not punished by the Lord at

Babel, but were led to the ocean, where they constructed a vessel

by direction of the Lord, in which they sailed to North America.

According to the Book of Ether, there were eight of these

vessels, and that they were remarkable craft needs only the

description given of them to show: "They were built after a

manner that they were exceeding tight, even that they would hold

water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like

unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish;

and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight

like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a

tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto

a dish" (Book of Ether ii. 17). This description certainly

establishes the general resemblance of these barges to some kind

of a dish, but the rather careless comparison of their length

simply to that of a "tree" leaves this detail of construction


Just before they embarked in these vessels, a brother of Jared

went up on Mount Shelem, where the Lord touched sixteen small

stones that he had taken up with him, two of which were the Urim

and Thummim, by means of which Smith translated the plates. These

stones lighted up the vessels on their trip across the ocean.

Jared's brother was told by the spirit on the mount, "Behold, I

am Jesus Christ. "A footnote in the modern edition of this Bible

kindly explains that Jared's brother "saw the preexistent spirit

of Jesus."

When they landed (somewhere on the Isthmus of Darien), the Lord

commanded Nephi to make "plates of ore," on which should be

engraved the record of the people. This was the origin of Smith's

plates. In time this people divided themselves, under the

leadership of two of Lehi's sons--Nephi and Laman--into Nephites

and Lamanites (with subdivisions). The Lamanites, in the course

of two hundred years, had become dark in color and "wild and

ferocious, and a bloodthirsty people; full of idolatry and

filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents and

wandering about in the wilderness, with a short skin girdle about

their loins, and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the

bow and the cimeter and the ax" (Enos i, 2o). The Nephites, on

the other hand, tilled the land and raised flocks. Between the

two tribes wars waged, the Nephites became wicked, and in the

course of 320 years the worst of them were destroyed (Book of


Then the Lord commanded those who would hearken to his voice to

depart with him to the wilderness, and they journeyed until they

came to the land of Zarahemla, which a footnote to the modern

edition explains "is supposed to have been north of the head

waters of the river Magdalena, its northern boundary being a few

days' journey south of the Isthmus" (of Darien). There they found

the people of Zarahemla, who had left Jerusalem when Zedekiah was

carried captive into Babylon. New teachers arose who taught the

people righteousness, and one of them, named Alma, led a company

to a place which was called Mormon, "where was a fountain of pure

water, and there Alma baptized the people. The Book of Alma, the

longest in this Bible, is largely an account of the secular

affairs of the inhabitants, with stories of great battles, a

prediction of the coming of Christ, and an account of a great

migration northward, and the building of ships that sailed in the

same direction.

Nephi describes the appearance of Christ to the people of the

western continent, preceded by a star, earthquakes, etc. On the

day of His appearance they heard "a small voice" out of heaven,

saying, "Behold my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in

whom I have glorified my name; hear ye him." Then Christ appeared

and spoke to them, generally in the language of the New Testament

(repeating, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount*), and

afterward ascended into heaven in a cloud. The expulsion of the

Nephites northward, and their final destruction, in what is now

New York State, followed in the course of the next 384 years.

* In the Mormon version of this sermon the words, "If thy right

eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee," and "If thy

right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee," are

lacking. The Deseret Evening News of February 21, 1900, in

explaining this omission, says that the report by Mormon of the

"discourse delivered by Jesus Christ to the Nephites on this

continent after his resurrection from the dead... may not be full

and complete."

There is throughout the book an imitation of the style of the

Holy Scriptures. Verse after verse begins with the words "and it

came to pass," as Spaulding's Ohio neighbors recalled that his

story did. The following extract, from 1 Nephi, chap. viii, will

give an illustration of the literary style of a large part of the


"1.. And it came to pass that we had gathered together all manner

of seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of

the seeds of fruit of every kind.

"2. And it came to pass that while my father tarried in the

wilderness, he spake unto us, saying, Behold, I have dreamed a

dream; or in other words, I have seen a vision.

"3. And behold, because of the thing which I have seen, I have

reason to rejoice in the Lord, because of Nephi and also of Sam;

for I have reason to suppose that they, and also many of their

seed, will be saved.

"4. But behold, Laman and Lemuel, I fear exceedingly because of

you; for behold, methought I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary


"5. And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a

white robe; and he came and stood before me.

"6. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow


"7. And it came to pass that as I followed him, I beheld myself

that I was in a dark and dreary waste.

"8. And after I had travelled for the space of many hours in

darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy

on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies.

"9. And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord, I

beheld a large and spacious field.

"10. And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was

desirable to make one happy.

"11. And it came to pass that I did go forth, and partake of the

fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all

that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit

thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever


Whole chapters of the Scriptures are incorporated word for word.

In the first edition some of these were appropriated without any

credit; in the Utah editions they are credited. Beside these,

Hyde counted 298 direct quotations from the New Testament, verses

or sentences, between pages 2 to 428, covering the years from 600

B.C. to Christ's birth. Thus, Nephi relates that his father, more

than two thousand years before the King James edition of the

Bible was translated, in announcing the coming of John the

Baptist, used these words, "Yea, even he should go forth and cry

in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his

paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know

not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe's latchet I am not

worthy to unloose" (1 Nephi x. 8). In Mosiah v. 8, King Benjamin

is represented as saying, 124 years before Christ was born, "I

would that you should take upon you the name of Christ as there

is no other name given whereby salvation cometh."

The first Nephi represents John as baptizing in Bethabara (the

spelling is Beathabry in the Utah edition), and Alma announces

(vii. 10) that "the Son of God shall be born of Mary AT

JERUSALEM." Shakespeare is proved a plagiarist by comparing his

words with those of the second Nephi, who, speaking twenty-two

hundred years before Shakespeare was born, said (2 Nephi i. 14),

"Hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs you must soon

lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveller

can return."

The chapters of the Scriptures appropriated bodily, and the

places where they may be found, are as follows:--

First Edition Utah Edition

Isaiah xlviii and xlix pp. 52 to 56 1 Nephi, ch. xx, xxi Isaiah 1

and li ...pp. 76 2 Nephi, ch. vii Isaiah lii .... . pp. 498 3

Nephi, ch. xx Isaiah liv .... . pp. 501, 502 3 Nephi, ch. xx

Isaiah ii to xiv . . pp. 86 to 101 2 Nephi, ch. xii to xxiv

Malachi iii, iv ... pp. 503 to 505 3 Nephi, ch. xxiv, xxv Matthew

v, vi, vii . .pp. 479 to 483 3 Nephi, ch. xii to xix 1

Corinthians xiii ... pp. 580 Moroni, ch. vii

Among the many anachronisms to be found in the book may be

mentioned the giving to Laban of a sword with a blade "of the

most precious steel" (1 Nephi iv. 9), centuries before the use of

steel is elsewhere recorded. and the possession of a compass by

the Jaredites when they sailed across the ocean (Alma xxxvii.

38), long before the invention of such an instrument. The ease

with which such an error could be explained is shown in the

anecdote related of a Utah Mormon who, when told that the compass

was not known in Bible times, responded by quoting Acts xxviii.

13, where Paul says, "And from thence we fetched a compass." When

Nephi and his family landed in Central America" there were beasts

in the forest of every kind, both the cow, and the ox, and the

ass, and the horse" (ix Nephi xviii. 25). If Nephi does not

prevaricate, there must have been a fatal plague among these

animals in later years, for horses, cows, and asses were unknown

in America until after its discovery by Europeans. Moroni, in the

Book of Ether (ix. 18, 19), is still more generous, adding to the

possessions of the Jaredites sheep and swine* and elephants and

"cureloms and cumoms." Neither sheep nor swine are indigenous to

America; but the prophet is safe as regards the "cureloms and

cumoms," which are animals of his own creation.

* "And," it is added, "many other kinds of animals which were

useful for the use of man, "thus ignoring the Hebrew antipathy to


The book is full of incidental proofs of the fraudulent

profession that it is an original translation. For instance, in

incorporating 1 Corinthians iii. 4, in the Book of Moroni, the

phrase "is not easily provoked" is retained, as in the King James

edition. But the word "easily" is not found in any Greek

manuscript of this verse, and it is dropped in the Revised

Version of 1881.

Stenhouse calls attention to many phrases in this Bible which

were peculiar to the revival preachers of those days, like

Rigdon, such as "Have ye spiritually been born of God?" "If ye

have experienced a change of heart."

The first edition was full of grammatical errors and amusing

phrases. Thus we are told, in Ether xv. 31, that when Coriantumr

smote off the head of Shiz, the latter "raised upon his hands and

fell." Among other examples from the first edition may be quoted:

"and I sayeth"; "all things which are good cometh of God";

"neither doth his angels"; and "hath miracles ceased." We find in

Helaman ix. 6, "He being stabbed by his brother by a garb of

secrecy." This remains uncorrected.

Alexander Campbell, noting the mixture of doctrines in the book,

says, "He [the author] decides all the great controversies

discussed in New York in the last ten years, infant baptism, the

Trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of

man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church

government, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection,

eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the questions of

Freemasonry, republican government and the rights of man."*

* "Delusions: an Analysis of the Book of Mormon" (1832). An

exhaustive examination of this Bible will be found in the "Braden

and Kelley Public Discussion."

Such is the book which is accepted to this day as an inspired

work by the thousands of persons who constitute the Mormon

church. This acceptance has always been rightfully recognized as

fundamentally necessary to the Mormon faith. Orson Pratt

declared, "The nature of the message in the Book of Mormon is

such that, if true, none can be saved who reject it, and, if

false, none can be saved who receive it." Brigham Young told the

Conference at Nauvoo in October, 1844, that "Every spirit that

confesses that Joseph Smith is a prophet, that he lived and died

a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon is true, is of God, and

every spirit that does not is of Anti-Christ." There is no

modification of this view in the Mormon church of to-day.

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