The ‘Bible’ Blunder in the Book of Mormon

The following is a guest post by Eric Wendt. Eric is a former member of the LDS Church and a current graduate student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Medium and Twitter.

I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and had some doubts when I was a teenager. When I asked about these doubts to leadership and the missionaries, I was told to “pray about it.” That was a very unsatisfying answer to me, and I grew more and more frustrated with religion.

After a few years, I began to investigate the claims of Mormonism and Christianity. My motivation was to prove that Mormonism was right and Mainline Christianity was wrong. I went on a journey to hear the best argument from both sides. I heard the best arguments for and against Mormonism, but during my own investigation, I found one of the biggest problems I saw was a simple one: The use of the word “Bible” in 2 Nephi 29.

It is easy to criticize Joseph Smith and his teachings about God, Jesus, the Book of Abraham, and the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Many go to great lengths to attack members for some of their secondary beliefs and practices to try to prove they are wrong. This is not only disgraceful; it is also not Christ-like. Sometimes, the evidence is right under our noses when trying to prove or disprove a position. Below is just one of several findings that lead me to believe that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is a 19th-century religious folk tale.

The “Bible” Problem in the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text written by ancient Jews who came to the Americas long before Columbus. In the Book of Mormon, you see heroes and villains, prophets and idolaters, good and evil. Pretty much everything you expect to see in a religious text. However, some of these so-called prophets tended to use anachronistic language, using terms long before they came to use.

Let me give you a modern-day analogy: Let’s say I found a piece of paper buried in my back yard dated 1900 warning about a time to come when COVID-19 would spread through the world, causing millions to suffer and die. At first glance, I could say “this paper was written by a prophet, or it is not really dated 1900.” Why? Because in the 1900s no one would have used the term COVID-19 it would not be prophetic – it would be nonsensical. If the paper said plague, the claim that it was written by a prophet and correctly dated would hold some weight.

 With that in mind, consider the Book of Mormon text 2 Nephi 29:3-6, purportedly written at or about 559 – 545 BC. The passage states, 

3 And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. 4 But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles? 5 O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people. 6 Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

Did the word Bible stand out to you? Not only was it used six times in two verses, but it was also used in a decidedly modern context.

If the Book of Mormon is what Joseph Smith claims to be, and this passage was written by the prophet Nephi in 559 B.C., it would seem that Nephi is a prophet greater than the Old Testament prophets. He predicts a collection of writings that would be the most treasured book to ever come into existence. He would also have predicted that there would be pushback from for the “Golden Bible” what is now called the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

So, this passage shows that Nephi predicted that there would be a Bible that Gentiles would cherish over 1,000 years before it came into existence, or Joseph Smith is attempting to make the Book of Mormon more believable by manipulating the reader. Considering the history of the modern Bible, the original languages used in our Bibles, and the historical context in which a Jew would be living at this time, the latter conclusion of Joseph Smith’s manipulation is far more plausible.

3 Major Problems in 2 Nephi

1. The dating of the passage

The Book of Mormon presents Nephi as an ancient Jew who traveled to and prophesied in the Americas. If this were true, not only would he not have had a concept of the Bible, he wouldn’t have even had the idea pages bound together as a book. The Hebrew word Sepher translated as “book” literally means inscription, something written, letter, scroll, writing, and would not be used to refer to a modern-day book. In contrast, in Joshua 1:8, we read, 

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

(NASB)

Joshua here is not talking about the modern Bible; he’s talking about the Torah. while sepher has been translated here as “book” because scrolls are no longer used, a more literal translation would say, “Scroll of the Law.” 

Furthermore, no Jew in 559 BC would even know what a book was or refer to their scriptures as the Bible. They would refer to it as the TaNaK!

The Book of the Law in the Old Testament most likely meant Deuteronomy or Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Septuagint would have been translated around 250 BC at the earliest and, it contained to Old Testament books we have today (Genesis to Malachi, but a different order). The scrolls would have been translated to Greek but still no books yet. Cyrus the Great (Edict of Cyrus, Ezra/Nehemiah) was in that time period.

Now, an argument can be made that the “language of the day” was Aramaic. This is why Nehemiah 8:8 says they translated what they read to give the sense. Either the Law scroll is in Hebrew, and they are translating to Aramaic because that is the more familiar language, OR the scroll is already in Aramaic (a Targum), and they are translating that back to Hebrew for Israelites that predominantly speak Hebrew. But either way, there is no concept of a “book” in those languages. 

2. The word “Bible”

Our modern word “Bible” derives from the Latin word Biblia, which comes from the Greek word Biblios. The term Biblios is used several times in the New Testament and either translated as book, or scroll but never Bible. Luke 4:17 reads, “And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written.” Jesus here takes an Isaiah scroll, reads it, and tells his audience that “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:21emphasis added).” If Jesus doesn’t call it the Bible, why would Nephi? 

Usually, when Paul says “according to what was written,” that is his way of quoting the Old Testament. The best New Testament reference we have is when Peter says Paul’s teachings are hard (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter had some sense of Paul’s writings but still no New Testament yet, and no “Bible.” John also uses the term biblios in Revelation and never refers to it as the Bible.

One flawed argument evangelicals make against the Book of Mormon that is often used is Revelation 22:18, which states, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book.” John again uses a form of biblios but does not mean the modern Bible which was not compiled until the late 4th century AD. Rather, he means what he has written down, that is the revelation he has recorded, cannot be added to.

3. The Motive

The evidence we’ve looked at shows that there is no way the concept of the Bible would be in the minds of anyone in 559 B.C. The word “Bible” in 2 Nephi 29 is used in a modern context. The question of dating and terminology leads to the larger question of motive, which strongly suggests that Joseph Smith’s motive for including this passage was to manipulate the reader to believing this was an ancient prophecy. That is, that a prophet named Nephi prophesied the present day will when Christians reject the Book of Mormon saying they already have a Bible

A glaring anachronism

The anachronistic use of “Bible” is but one piece of evidence that points to this truth. This passage was not written in 559 BC by nor was it written by a prophet named Nephi. It was written in the 19th century by Joseph Smith with the motive to manipulate his followers as proof that the BOM is true. Smith did not take into consideration the history behind the Bible, the fact that bound books were not around at the time in which he claims 2 Nephi was written. 2 Nephi 29:3-6 displays a completely historically inaccurate use of the word Bible and is just one of the historical mishaps of Joseph Smith.

So how then do we present this information to our friends and family who are LDS? As with any other conversation, we must use grace and patience. This is not meant to be an outline for an elevator conversation or street evangelism. But with this info in mind, real conversations can come about when you ask questions.

  1. Ask and understand what your Mormon friend believes.
  2. Then ask them to explain the anachronism in 2 Nephi 29 to you for more clarification.
  3. Tell them the truth about the Bible and the true salvation and grace found only in Jesus Christ.
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