Both sectarian Christians and exMormon apostates like to ask this question in their attempts to shake the faith of believers. In almost every case, the question is based in a number of false assumptions.
The first and foremost among them, it assumes that the Book of Mormon is false to begin with. If one were truly objective, one would approach the question from a neutral position. Every critic that uses this argument assumes that the Book of Mormon is a fake, a forgery, plagiarized, or inspired by some demonic source. Since they assume it cannot possibly be true, they never seriously consider any supporting evidence at all. Particularly in the case of exMormon apostates, they disregard that the Spirit has born witness to them of the Book of Mormon’s veracity and lie againt God. They prefer man’s rationalizations to the witness of the Spirit of God.
A typical question that contains an embedded fallacy…
One of our harshest critics recently offered this challenge:
“There is no possible way that text from the New Testament could show up in the Book of Mormon because the two books were being written at the same time on opposite sides of the world. It would have been impossible for Nephi to quote from the NT, because it had not been written yet. In fact, Nephi was around 600 plus years before the authors of the NT. Thus, if it were shown that text from the NT did actually appear in the Book of Mormon, what would that imply? It would imply that whom ever wrote the Book of Mormon had access to the New Testament. But how can that be, seeing as how the two Books were thousands of miles apart from each other? If the Book of Mormon was really true, there would be no text AT ALL from the New Testament. But there is…Compare: III Nephi 12:3-48;13;14 to: Matthew 5-7.”
This particular adversary of the Church carefully skews the time span of the Book of Mormon. The writers of the Nephite record did indeed carry a “Bible’ with them as it was constituted up to that time, which was approximately 600 B.C. Any New Testament passages were given by the Savior when he appeared to the Nephites in the 34th year after his birth, some 600 years later. Of course, anti-Mormons dispute that this ever took place to begin with. In the case of this particular critic, he disputes that Jesus Christ existed at all, after having once believed in him as Lord and Savior. He then asks, if one were to admit the possibility that Jesus did appear and teach people in the New World:
“Now, of course, Mormons will say, ‘Of course they are the same because Jesus is sharing the same teachings to both groups of people.; Sure, if that was true, the text would be similar. But word for word? The Bible has undergone extensive revisions and translations. The Book of Mormon was abridged by Mormon. What are the chances that the two sections of text turn out identical? Keep in mind that the LDS use the King James version of the Bible. Yes, the teachings would be similar, but the chances of them being word for word are almost nothing. The same argument could also be made for the Old Testament quotes. They are even older than the New Testament quotes, and yet, somehow, they show up in the Book of Mormon word-for-word. The only plausible explanation is that whom ever wrote the Book of Mormon had access to a King James version of the Bible.”
The two fallacies in the question are that the New Testament couldn’t be quoted because the Nephites left Jerusalem before the New Testament was ever compiled and that, even admitting the possibility of Christ’s delivering the Sermon on the Mount to the Nephites, it wouldn’t be quoted verbatim.
If we were to take a neutral position, and test the possibility that the book is what it purported to be, we must consider all the possibilities and not immediately dismiss them. For example, can the question be asked of other sources of scripture? Does the New Testament quote the Old Testament? Most certainly. The Lord Jesus and his apostles quoted frequently from the Old Testament, in fact in excess of 300 times. Does this make the New Testament “plagiarized” from the Old Testament? Nonsense! Do the New Testament writers cite the Old Testament word for word? The answer is that they did sometimes and they didn’t on other occasions. Personal copies of the scriptures were few and far between in ancient times. In some cases, a prophet or apostles paraphrased the work of an earlier writer. In other cases, passages were probably copied from a source document. Both ways of citing ancient scripture are found in the Bible.
One non-LDS Christian apologist said this about the reasons why the New Testament often quotes the Old Testament:
“From beginning to end, the New Testament authors ascribe unqualified authority to Old Testament Scripture. Whenever advanced, a quotation is viewed as normative. Nowhere do we find a tendency to question, argue, or repudiate the truth of any Scripture utterance. Passages sometimes alleged to prove that the Lord and his apostles challenged at times the authority of the Old Testament, when carefully examined, turn out to bolster rather than to impair the evidence for their acceptance of Scripture as the Word of God. In Matthew 5:21-43 and 19:3-9, our Lord, far from setting aside the commandments of the Old Testament, really engages in a searching analysis of the spiritual meaning and original intent of the divine precept, and from this vantage point he applies it in a deeper and broader way than had been done before him. In some passages in which comparison is made between the revelation of the Old Testament and that of the New (John 1:17; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 3:19ff.; Hebrews 1:1, 2, and so forth), the superior glory of the New Testament is emphasized, not as in conflict with the Old, but as the perfect fulfillment of a revelation still incomplete, yet sanctioned by divine authority.” [Roger Nicole, Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl. F.H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), pp. 137-151.]
Careful reading of the above statement illustrates a salient truth and also the author’s own biases. It correctly explains that New Testament writers regarded Old Testament passages as authoritative scripture and that they used it to lend its authority to their teachings and interpretations. The writer then expresses an opinion, unsupported by his reasoning that the “superior glory of the New Testament is emphasized, not as in conflict with the Old, but as the perfect fulfillment of a revelation still incomplete, yet sanctioned by divine authority.” By what evidence or authority does he rightly say that the New Testament has a “superior glory?” He refers to the New Testament as “as the perfect fulfillment of a revelation still incomplete, yet sanctioned by divine authority.” This sectarian Christian bias toward the New Testament demeans the Old Testament.
This bias, that the New Testament “completed” the Word of God, is the source of their rejection of the Book of Mormon. Yet the Book of Mormon does for the Bible what they say the New Testament does for the Old Testament. We can use these very same words to describe what the Book of Mormon does for the Bible with one notable exception. The canon of scripture is not closed. We are prepared to accept whatever new revelation and scripture God deigns to reveal in the future. Latter-day saints do not deny God his sovereign right to speak anew or to reveal new scripture or permit new discoveries of ancient scripture.
Does the Book of Mormon quote the Bible verbatim?
Given the fact that some 300 passages of the Old Testament cited in the New Testament come from a people who continuously had the Old Testament among them, would we might assume that they would quote from it verbatim. However, that is not the case. Many of the passages cited by the New Testament writers have subtle, yet meaningful changes in the wording.
Many people assume that translation is an exact process where one word perfectly fits with another. This is not the case. All languages have idiomatic expressions and ideas that cannot be expressed perfectly. In the case of the BIble, it was compiled from about 15,000 different manuscripts, none of which match precisely. The translators of the New Testament were also editors. They had to make judgments and decide which passage to use, based on their understanding of the doctrine. Given that the Bible was compiled after the Church had already gone into apostasy, some passages were intentionally worded to support the false, corrupt doctrines that had evolved by that time. In two very interesting cases, the New Testament writers quote prophecies recorded in the Old Testament that don’t exist anymore. The prophecy that the Messiah would be a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23) and a prophecy from the Book of Enoch (Jude 1:14) are not found in the Old Testament anywhere today.
Similarly, when the Book of Mormon quotes the Bible, the passages are “almost” verbatim. Our critics, who are convinced already that the Book of Mormon is a fraud, never take the time to actually read the Book of Mormon and make a comparison. They say that Joseph Smith simply “lifted” entire passages from the Bible and included them “verbatim” in his manuscript. This is false. Just as when Jesus and the apostles quoted from the Old Testament, there are subtle changes that are extremely important. A cursory, careless examination by a biased intellect will miss these subtle differences. Those who read in this manner will fail to grasp the importance.
For example, did Joseph Smith merely copy the Sermon on the Mount and include it in 3rd Nephi? Our critics would answer affirmatively. However, they miss the subtle changes like the ones:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (3 Nephi 12:3)
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (3 Nephi 12:48)
Note the bold-faced words from the Book of Mormon. Not only do they show a simple attention to detail, they illustrate perfectly the progression of Jesus from his role as the Mortal Messiah to the Risen Lord. In Matthew, Jesus had yet to pass through death and the resurrection. The Atonement was still a future event. He had not yet taken upon him the glory he had wiith God fhe Father, “before the world was.” (John 17:5) In Matthew, Jesus is the Resurrected Messiah. All power in heaven and earth was given to him at that point. (Matthew 28:18) Thus Jesus, who had taken upon him the sins of the world can promise that those who are poor in spirit can truly come unto him. The kingdom of heaven was now his to give, because it has been committed unto him by the Father. Jesus, having passed through death and the resurrection was now fully perfect, like his Father.
This is more than merely adjusting the text for the time, place, and setting. It accurately describes the theological ramifications of what Christ could offer, after having passed through the portals of death, overcoming it, and having seized the keys of death and hell. (Revelation 1:18)
There are similar, subtle, yet important differences all throughout the various passages of the Old Testament that are quoted by the Book of Mormon prophets. They offer theologically important insights. Joseph Smith did not simply copy the passages verbatim. Critics who say he did so reveal their own ignorance of the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon. It reveals superficiality of thought and lack of analytical skills. Perhaps it is no more than the unwillingness to give the Book of Mormon any serious thought because they have already prejudged it and found it unworthy despite their ignorance of it.
It is doubtful that the young farm boy, uneducated as to the world and things as Joseph was, would understand the significant theological importance of the seemingly minor wording changes. Yet the changes, in the scope of the entire system of religion that was newly revealed, are perfectly consistent. They are shining threads in a wondrous tapestry of newly revealed truths about Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
One Isaiah or two of them, centuries apart?
Another thing that is overlooked, particularly by sectarian Christian critics of the Book of Mormon is the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon. Not only do they include similar wording changes that shed greater light on Isaiah’s meanings, but they also show that Isaiah was truly testifying of Jesus Christ. Of particular mention is the inclusion of two parts of Isaiah that scholars say were written hundreds of years apart. For example, “higher critics” of Christianity have declared for years that the book of Isaiah was written by several men centuries apart. This might cast doubt upon the authenticity of the Bible’s text. However, the Book of Mormon contains passages from Isaiah, indicating that the text as given in the Bible did originate with one Israelite prophet, in the time period indicated by its text. The Book of Mormon confirms the authenticity of Isaiah, contrary to the efforts of secular critics who seek to undermine the Bible. If this was properly understood by sectarian Christians, they would be more appreciative of the fact that the veracity of the Bible is confirmed by the Book of Mormon.
Other critics snidely condemn the use of the type of English found in the King James Bible throughout the Book of Mormon and particularly in the passages that parallel the Bible. The English used in the translation of the Book of Mormon sought to preserve the reverence and respect that should be given God’s holy word. This is a sign of respect for the Bible. It inspires and uplifts in a way that would be less effective in a more modern vernacular. Had Joseph Smith not used this style of language, his detractors would have objected to the fact that he didn’t do so. Fortunately, God wasn’t interested in satisfying the critiques of the faithless when the Book of Mormon was being prepared for publication.
A more pertinent question would be “How did an uneducated frontier farm boy translate a nearly 500-page book in under two months, have it agree with the Bible, have it published to every nearly every nation and language on earth, and have scientist and archaeologists actually find supporting evidence (like the videos of Nahom and Bountiful above) generations after the publication of the work? How did a farm boy write a book with examples of then unknown Hebrew scriptural-literary forms like chiasmus and Semitic poetry called “qafa?” How did a boy with no more than two years formal education successfully write a book in “perfect 1611 King James Version English?” I can only conclude that he did all this with God’s help.
Thus the ancient writers of the Book of Mormon referenced ancient scripture as did Jesus and his apostles, all of whom regarded the Old Testament as inspired scripture. Their doing so didn’t preclude them from writing contemporary scripture in their day. The prophets of the Book of Mormon also received additional Biblical scripture from the Savior when he appeared to the people in the Americas. This provides a parallel record that confirms prophecies in Isaiah and Malachi in particular concerning the gathering of Israel and the Restoration in the last days. The passages that our critics assume to be verbatim copies are not, and the subtle differences speak to the veracity of the Book of Mormon moreso than detract away from it Each one of their criticisms demonstrates unfamiliarity with the details of the Book of Mormon’s contents and a shallow knowledge of the Bible also.
The most astounding thing about the Book of Mormon is that it has an amazing power to convert people. The Spirit of God bears witness to anyone who asks with a sincere heart with real intent. Millions of people have come to learn of its truthfulness by the power of the Holy Ghost. No other book on earth at the present time has this power. It points the way to the kingdom of God on earth and identifies who has the keys and authority that God has given in the last, most recent dispensation. In almost 200 years, though the Book of Mormon has had thousands of critics that have risen against it, the work still moves forward unhindered. Despite of the work of earth and hell to stop it, it continues to roll forward, touching lives and winning converts.