The Sermon on the Mount and the Book of Mormon
As we outlined in the section on the Book of Mormon’s reliance on the King James Bible, any reference to New Testament material in the Book of Mormon is anachronistic. There is simply no way that the Book of Mormon people could have had access to the New Testament writings, and certainly not the King James translation that would not be completed until the year 1611.
But the Sermon on the Mount presents more specific challenges to the Book of Mormon’s authenticity, because biblical scholars believe that the Sermon on the Mount was never given by Jesus as a standalone sermon, but that the author of Matthew (and Luke for the Sermon on the Plain) compiled a group of sayings from a second source into a sermon when composing the Gospel of Matthew.
Furthermore, as we discussed in the previous section, the Book of Mormon copies the Sermon on the Mount with just very small changes, which makes clear that the writer of the Book of Mormon was working from a source text that included that specific translation of the Gospel of Matthew, which is the King James Bible that Joseph Smith both owned and used during his lifetime.
Not only does the text itself present a problem for the Book of Mormon, but the use of late additions, words that would be confusing to the ancient Americas, and the timing of the sermons in the Book of Mormon and King James Bible all present challenges to the Book of Mormon's claims. All of these problems are how scholars today can show that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient text, but a 19th century book written by someone who was deeply familiar with the religious questions and biblical translations of their time.
While the narrative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record that was engraved on golden plates and translated by Joseph Smith, these problems continue to place the Book of Mormon as a 19th century text, written by someone with access to the King James Bible.
Problems with the Book of Mormon's Use of the Sermon on the Mount
Just as we highlighted the problems with the Book of Mormon’s reliance on the King James Bible, the Sermon on the Mount being included in the Book of Mormon presents many of the same issues. After reviewing the early Genesis accounts of Adam and Eve, a global flood, and the Tower of Babel, if the Sermon on the Mount was not a true sermon, then its inclusion in the Book of Mormon becomes highly problematic.
Historicity of the Sermon on the Mount
First we want to give a brief overview of how the four Gospels work together in the New Testament, and this is a good, quick overview from New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman:
“Scholars since the 19th century have worked out the relationship of the Synoptic Gospels with one another. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” because they tell many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes in exactly the same words. Synoptic means “seen together.” You can “see” these Gospels “together” by laying them side by side and noting their abundant similarities (and differences). But the only way they could have such extensive similarities (especially the verbatim agreements) is if they were copying one another or are copying a common source.
It has long been known that Mark was the earliest Gospel and that Matthew and Luke used it as a source for many of their stories. But Matthew and Luke have a number of traditions about Jesus in common that are not found in Mark – for example the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes. Almost all (not entirely all) of these traditions are sayings of Jesus.
And so scholars in 19th century Germany who worked out a solution to the “Synoptic Problem” (the problem of explaining why the Synoptics have such precise similarities among themselves and yet so many differences) suggested that since it appears that Matthew did not get these sayings from Luke or Luke from Matthew, they hypothesized a one-time source, now lost, that they called the Sayings Source. The German word for “source” is Quelle. And so this hypothetical document is called Q for short.” (The Lost Q Source)
For a longer explanation of the Q Source, I highly recommend the article cited above from Dr. Ehrman’s blog, which is a very inexpensive subscription service where all of the money goes to charity. For the purposes of this article, I hope that is a good overview of why scholars believe there was a secondary source that the authors of both Matthew and Luke pulled from when composing their Gospels.
As Dr. Ehrman explains, the Q source is also known as the “sayings gospel” because it is believed to include many sayings from Jesus during his lifetime, which were then woven into Matthew and Luke in the voice of Jesus. Scholars believe Matthew and Luke had a separate source because while they have the same material, it’s not used in the same way. As Dr. Ehrman explains:
“The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, for example, are in different sections of Luke (chaps. 6 and 11), but are joined together as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (chaps. 5-6). “
To be clear, this is not a universally held view and is disregarded by some scholars who maintain a literal view of the Bible as literal history, but it is a view that has consensus among secular scholars who study the textual similarities between the Synoptic Gospels. While there is no extant “Q” source, scholars hypothesize that once Matthew and Luke incorporated it, there would be no reason for scribes to continually copy those sayings down going forward.
If Matthew and Luke both used this second source while composing their separate gospels, that presents a problem for the Book of Mormon as 3 Nephi presents Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount as a historical sermon that Jesus gave to those who lived in the ancient Americas, and further illustrates the Book of Mormon’s reliance on the King James Bible as a foundational source.
Textual Comparisons Between the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon at the Temple
The Book of Mormon incorporates the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew in an undeniable fashion in 3 Nephi, which is again anachronistic due to the King James text not being created until 1611. While some apologists would suggest that Jesus simply spoke the same words to the Book of Mormon people that he did to those in Israel, as we discussed in the King James Bible section there are words and concepts left in the Book of Mormon that would have no meaning to those in the Americas.
The website Thoughts on Things and Stuff tracked the changes between the King James Bible translation of the Sermon on the Mount and the Book of Mormon’s Sermon at the Temple and found the following results:
Matthew 5 vs 3 Nephi 12: 326 words (31%) of the original 1049 words of Matthew 5 were deleted and 358 new words (33%) were added to the text to create 3 Nephi 12 which has a total of 1081 words, of which 66% are verbatim, copied from Matthew 5.
Matthew 6 vs 3 Nephi 13: 43 words (5%) of the original 788 words of Matthew 6 were deleted and 86 new words (10%) were added to the text to create 3 Nephi 13 which has a total of 831 words, of which 90% are verbatim, copied from Matthew 6.
Matthew 7 vs 3 Nephi 14: 13 words (2%) of the original 594 words of Matthew 7 were deleted and 37 new words (6%) were added to the text to create 3 Nephi 14 which has a total of 631 words, of which 94% are verbatim copied from Matthew 7.
Aggregate Matthew 5-7 vs 3 Nephi 12-14: 382 words (16%) of the original 2431 words of Matthew 5-7 were deleted and 481 new words (19%) were added to the text to create 3 Nephi 12-14 which has a total of 2543 words, of which 81% are verbatim copied from Matthew 5-7
Scholars believe that the Sermon on the Mount was almost certainly originally written in Greek, although some argue there might have been earlier records in Aramaic. The Sermon on the Mount as written in the King James Bible has been through two language translations because Jesus spoke in Aramaic during his lifetime and the KJV was translated from Greek manuscripts. The Book of Mormon is supposed to be a record that avoids the problems with material getting lost or corrupted during translations and retellings, and yet it copies from the King James Bible extensively during one of the most important parts of the entire book.
What that means is that the Book of Mormon includes almost the exact same sermon that was not written down until many decades after it would’ve even been spoken, in a language that had gone through two language translations from Jesus' original teachings before being copied into the Book of Mormon. There is no way around how impossible this is to believe, but as we covered in the last section it is even more problematic when you look at what was changed against what was left.
This is a bit of a condensed summary from our section on the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, but I want to highlight again where Joseph Smith made changes to the Sermon on the Mount against the problematic words he copied into the Book of Mormon.
When the writer of the Book of Mormon came across Matthew 5:26 and saw the phrase “thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,” they knew farthing was an English currency and would have no meaning to people living in the ancient Americas. Thus, the writer changes this to “until thou hast paid the uttermost senine” in 3 Nephi 12:26. Senine is the Nephite coinage that is mentioned in Alma (written just two books previous) and then never mentioned again after this chapter.
On the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus refers to the Roman law of going a mile in 5:41 (KJV): "And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."
This is a reference to a roman practice where “Roman soldiers could grab any Jewish citizen they chose and force that person to carry luggage or other items for a standard mile. That kind of oppressive, invasive act would naturally inspire a hunger for revenge.” (Bible Ref)
However in the Book of Mormon it is used in 3 Nephi 12:41 exactly as in the KJV. This would have absolutely no meaning to people in the Americas as this is referencing a Roman law. Now the reference to a farthing is very obvious when copying in the Sermon on the Mount as British currency, but this would not have been clear to the writer of the Book of Mormon without knowing the history behind it.
With these changes you can see how the writer of the Book of Mormon is beginning with the King James Bible and then making revisions in order to fit it more cleanly into the Book of Mormon story.
A final example from the Sermon at the Temple is that the Book of Mormon retains the word “raca:”
Matthew 5:22: “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
3 Nephi 12:22: “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
The word Raca is Aramaic, which is what Jesus spoke in his lifetime, but not a word that anyone in the Americas would understand. It would be like a visitor to the USA using the word “lure” while in America, which means fool in Norwegian, instead of just saying fool.
In other words, even if we are to believe the apologetic argument that Jesus was merely repeating his exact Sermon on the Mount, which is highly problematic from a historical standpoint given that the Sermon on the Mount was not likely a standalone sermon, we would then need to believe that Jesus changed one term that would mean nothing to the people of the Americas (farthing), yet neglected to remove references to a Roman practice or an insult in Aramaic that they would not have known or spoke.
Just as we noted with the King James Bible as a whole, the writer of the Book of Mormon brought in material that was a late addition to the manuscript.
In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer is in Matthew 6 as it is in 3 Nephi 13. The ending of the Lord’s Prayer is considered a doxology that was not present in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew. Specifically Matthew 6:13, which is the same as 3 Nephi 13:13: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
Most scholars consider this a late addition as it is not included in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew, and the addition is considered a doxology, which is “a hymn or form of words containing an ascription of praise to God.” (Nicholas Ayo, The Lord's Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary) This doxology in Matthew is often compared to the following two passages:
1 Chronicles 29:11: “Thine, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.”
Daniel 2:37: “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.”
The doxology in Matthew is not found in the two earliest manuscripts that are extant of Matthew, and as such the ending of Matthew 6:13 in the King James Bible is not currently used in the more widely used and accurate translations such as the New International Version, and even note that later manuscripts include the ending as in the King James Bible.
Again there are scholars who refute that this was a late addition, but we can see that not only is this phrase omitted from the earliest manuscripts, but that it is not used in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which would almost certainly be coming from the same Q or sayings source.
Timing Issues Between the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon at the Temple
One final issue with the Book of Mormon’s use of the Sermon of the Mount from the King James Bible is the timing of when these accounts were recorded. The Book of Mormon tells us that Jesus visited the Americas in about 34 AD and gives the Sermon at the Temple during this year.
The problem is that the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, which is the source text that the Book of Mormon is working from, was not written until approximately 85 AD/CE. And not only was the Gospel of Matthew not recorded until that time, it was recorded in Greek across the world from the ancient Americas.
This is a problem for the Book of Mormon, because they are recording a sermon from the Bible that was not even written in any fashion until about 50 years after it was supposed to have happened in the Book of Mormon, and in a language that would have absolutely had changes in text from what is in the King James Bible today.
While this might seem like a small detail, it again shows us that the Book of Mormon is a book written in the 19th century by someone who was familiar with the most popular translation of that time – the King James Bible.
Apologetic Responses to the Problems with the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon
In our last section we covered the apologetics from FAIR Mormon on the reliance on the King James Bible, so in this section I briefly want to look at some explanations from Book of Mormon Central about the Sermon on the Mount’s use in the Book of Mormon.
We won’t look at the entire article (it’s not terribly long), but highlight their apologetics for this issue in the Book of Mormon. From Book of Mormon Central (BMC):
“Yet there are several elements present in the 3 Nephi text that distinguish it from the version in Matthew. These differences are significant and set it apart as a distinct and powerful testament of its own. For instance, in this setting Jesus declared that the law had been fulfilled, instead of pointing towards a future fulfillment (3 Nephi 12:18; cf. Matthew 5:18). He also taught that as a glorified being, he was perfect like the Father (3 Nephi 12:48; cf. Matthew 5:48), and thus omitted “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer (3 Nephi 13:10; cf. Matthew 6:10).2 He also specifically spoke of the Nephite “senine” instead of the Jewish “farthing.”
These differences all fit into exactly what we pointed out above, which is that Joseph Smith used the Sermon on the Mount as a source text and then changed it as needed to fit the time and place of the Book of Mormon.
For example, Jesus declared the law was fulfilled in the Book of Mormon because he had already been crucified. This also applies to their second point, which is that the Book of Mormon teaches Jesus as a perfect being because he was resurrected.
These are points that make sense when you realize that if the author is using the Sermon on the Mount as the foundational text, they need to adjust the language to account for Jesus visiting the ancient Americas as a resurrected being and not as a man who is still alive.
Which brings us to their third point that we covered above: Joseph Smith changing the word “farthing” to “senine” does not prove the Book of Mormon is authentic – it proves that Joseph Smith made changes when he came across something that would clearly not fit in the Book of Mormon.
This is why Joseph Smith making these changes, yet leaving in the Roman law of going a mile or the word Raca in the Book of Mormon is so damning – you can see where Joseph Smith noticed problems and changed them against where the problems were unknown to him so they were copied into the Book of Mormon.
More from BMC:
“The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount were an important set of teachings, which are likely older than the Gospel of Matthew itself. It is therefore not surprising that they are presented in various writings and settings. A similar, but selectively shorter, body of teachings is found in Luke 6:17–49, which is often referred to as “the Sermon on the Plain.” The exact relationship between these two texts is debated, but they arguably represent two occasions in which Jesus propounded similar teachings but a smaller set to the crowd out on a field."
As we noted above, it is absolutely true that the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are older than the Gospel of Matthew itself. The author of Matthew did not compose the text until about 85 AD/CE, which obviously would be many decades after Jesus could have spoken any of these teachings that were later compiled.
The problem is that the Book of Mormon is using the text directly out of the King James Bible. In other words, Book of Mormon Central is saying that Jesus likely gave this sermon similar to how a politician gives a stump speech, changing the content based on the audience they are speaking to. So with their argument you would expect some form of this sermon to be in the Book of Mormon, but what they’re ignoring isn’t that the problem is that Jesus gives a sermon such as this, but the Book of Mormon’s undeniable reliance on the King James Bible version of the sermon from Matthew.
Furthermore, BMC citing the differences with Luke only amplifies the problems for the Book of Mormon. As Dr. Ehrman notes about the differences in Matthew and Luke, “the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, for example, are in different sections of Luke (chaps. 6 and 11), but are joined together as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (chaps. 5-6).”
In other words, this actually shows that the Book of Mormon is exclusively focused on the Gospel of Matthew’s account, while Luke’s retelling puts the “sayings” of Jesus in different places. The author of Luke also includes four “woes” in Luke 6:24-26 which are completely ignored in the Book of Mormon.
But the underlying problem is that Book of Mormon Central goes to great lengths to argue that Jesus gave this sermon to different groups for different circumstances, yet in the Book of Mormon it’s a retelling of the King James translation of the Sermon on the Mount, including late additions, italics, and words and phrases that would have no meaning in the Americas. There is no objective way to look at this and conclude anything other than this being a 19th century book that uses the King James Bible as a source text when looking these issues taken all together.
Book of Mormon Central then gives three reasons why the Sermon on the Mount appears in the Book of Mormon, which are:
The likelihood that the teachings upon which the Sermon on the Mount is based, and which are older than the Matthew text, were taught in diverse places to different audiences.
The giving of the Sermon was modified to be appropriate for the particular audience. The textual differences between the examples available are appropriate for each audience. Specifically, the Sermon at the Temple in 3 Nephi has such modifications as would be expected for a post-resurrection version of the Sermon.
The Sermon may have served as a set of temple teachings, information that he would have wanted all worthy and prepared disciples to learn.
We’ve already covered the first two bullet points here, and the fact that the Sermon on the Mount was adjusted to account for a post-resurrection version is not proof of its authenticity, but the fingerprints of Joseph Smith in using the King James Bible to create the material and making superficial changes to make it fit more neatly into the new storyline.
The third bullet point is one where BMC theorizes that the Book of Mormon was tied to the temple ceremony, which is a stretch that really makes no sense given that it has no connection to the LDS endowment ceremony, which is already controversial due to its ties to the Masonic ceremony. Furthermore, this bullet point is predicated on this quote from BMC:
“Some scholars have noted the parallels between the Sermon on the Mount and the ancient temple. Georg Strecker, for example, refers to the Beatitudes as “the conditions that must be fulfilled in order to gain entrance to the holy of holies.” Hans Dieter Betz compared the Beatitudes of the Sermon with the initiation rituals of ancient “mystery” religions.”
I don’t know what more to say here other than the writers at BMC are searching to find ways to tie the serious problem of the Book of Mormon containing the King James translation of the Sermon on the Mount into a deeper meaning, but it simply is not there. Read the Beatitudes for yourself and, if you’ve been through the temple, compare to the ceremonies you've experienced. This is parallelomania at its worst, where apologists try to find something, anything that they can point to in order to ignore the underlying problems.
BMC concludes with this quote from John Welch:
“When Jesus addressed the Nephites at Bountiful, he spoke in terms they would understand. The change in setting from Palestine to Bountiful accounts for several differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple.”
As we’ve already covered ad nauseam, the Book of Mormon does make superficial changes that would be obvious to the reader such as changing “farthing” or to talk as a resurrected being. On the other hand, Jesus does not make changes in the text that the people of the ancient Americans would not understand, because the writer of the Book of Mormon did not understand them himself such as the Roman law of going a mile or the term Raca.
We covered a lot of these issues in the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon section, but it cannot be overstated how problematic the use of the King James Bible is for the authenticity and historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Not only is Joseph Smith using words and phrases that are unique to the King James translation of the Bible he happened to own and use, but the Book of Mormon includes material that scholars have since determined was added to the manuscripts by later scribes, translation errors from the original text, and material from the Sermon on the Mount that would only confuse people in the ancient Americas.
There is simply no way around the fact that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century production, which is best explained by church historian Richard Bushman:
“And then there is the fact that there is phrasing everywhere–long phrases that if you google them you will find them in 19th century writings. The theology of the Book of Mormon is very much 19th century theology, and it reads like a 19th century understanding of the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament. That is, it has Christ in it the way Protestants saw Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. That’s why we now call it “Hebrew Bible” because the Jews never saw it quite that way. So, these are all problems we have to deal with.” (Mormon Discussions Podcast Interview)
Before we even get into the problems with church history such as the First Vision, priesthood restoration, or even DNA and the Book of Mormon, we can see from biblical scholarship alone that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century text and that the church’s foundational truth claims regarding the Book of Mormon are simply not true.
As Elder Jeffrey Holland said in 1994:
“Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.
Not everything in life is so black and white, but it seems the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its keystone role in our belief is exactly that.”
The problem isn’t that you can’t prove the Book of Mormon true, but that by using biblical scholarship you can prove the Book of Mormon as a 19th century text written by Joseph Smith. These problems are so vitally important to understanding how Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon, and while they might seem tedious as we go through these sections, they are important to cover in depth for when we get into the Book of Mormon itself in the upcoming sections.