Ever since the publication of the Book of Mormon, one of the standard criticisms raised by those seeking to discredit the book has been the assertion that it plagiarizes the King James Version of the Bible, and the chief instance of alleged plagiarism is the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi 12-14. Mark Twain quipped that the Book of Mormon contains passages "smouched from the New Testament, and no credit given." 1 Reverend M. T. Lamb, who characterized the Book of Mormon as "verbose, blundering and stupid," 2 viewed 3 Nephi 11-18 as a mere duplication of the Sermon on the Mount "word for word," and saw "no excuse for this lack of originality and constant repetition of the Bible," for "we have all such passages already in the [Bible], and God never does unnecessary things." 3 "Careful examination proves it to be an unprincipled plagiarist." 4
These criticisms, however, have been drawn prematurely. Until all the possibilities have been considered, passing judgment with such finality is hasty. Indeed, if the foregoing covenantal interpretation of the Sermon has merit to it, Jesus could have selected no more appropriate text than the Sermon on the Mount for use at the temple in Bountiful. I am aware of no more valuable contribution to our understanding of the Sermon on the Mount than the insights of the Sermon at the Temple. Instead of being a liability or an embarrassment to the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the text and context of the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon turn out, in my opinion, to be among its greatest strengths. Through the Sermon at the Temple, some of the things that have baffled New Testament scholars about the Sermon on the Mount become very plain and precious.
The case of critics like Mark Twain and Reverend Lamb gains most of its appeal by emphasizing the similarities and discounting the differences between Matthew 5-7 and 3 Nephi 12-14. Under closer textual scrutiny, however, these differences turn out to be very significant. Accordingly, in this chapter, I will closely examine differences between the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount. While one can readily see that there are substantial similarities between 3 Nephi 12-14 and Matthew 5-7, the results presented here offer reasons to reject the claim that the Sermon at the Temple is simply a naive, unprincipled plagiarism of the Sermon on the Mount.
While the differences between these two texts have long been cited by such writers as B. H. Roberts and Sidney B. Sperry to support the claim that the Sermon at the Temple is not a mindless copy of the Sermon on the Mount, 5 and while some commentators have sensed that the Sermon at the Temple is superior to the Sermon on the Mount in "sense and clearness," 6 they have not thoroughly articulated the actual extent or nature of the differences. The following examination undertakes such an analysis. It examines every variance (for a complete comparison of the texts, see the appendix), and it concludes that there are enough important differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple that the relationship between these texts cannot be attributed to a superficial, thoughtless, blind, or careless plagiarism. On the contrary, the differences are systematic, consistent, methodical, and in several cases quite deft.
For purposes of discussion and testing, the following analyses will assume two things: first, that Jesus began in Bountiful with a speech that he had probably delivered several times in Palestine, as, for example, when he sent his disciples into the mission field (see JST, Matthew 7:1-2, 9, 11) 7 and again sometime before his ascension (see 3 Nephi 15:1); and second, that he modified that text for delivery to a Nephite audience in Bountiful after his resurrection. Each instance in which the Sermon at the Temple is different from the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, will be examined against this assumed context to determine if logical reasons can be found for the differences. The more rational and subtly sensible these differences are, the more respect one should reasonably have for the Sermon at the Temple and at the same time the less appropriate it becomes to speak disparagingly of the Sermon at the Temple as a plagiarism of the Sermon on the Mount.
Differences That Reflect A Post-Resurrection Setting
Jesus appeared to the Nephites at the temple at Bountiful after his resurrection. Since some of the things he had said before his death were superseded by his atonement and resurrection, they needed to be modified in the Nephite setting to fit into a post-resurrection setting. For example, at the time of the Sermon on the Mount, the fulfillment of the law still lay in the future (see Matthew 5:18). But by the time of the Sermon at the Temple, the law of Moses had already been fulfilled, as Jesus had proclaimed out of the darkness at the time of his death (see 3 Nephi 9:17).
Thus, when Jesus spoke in Palestine, he had said, "One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18; italics added), but in Bountiful, he affirmed that one jot or tittle "hath not passed away from the law, but . . . it hath all been fulfilled" (3 Nephi 12:18; italics added). Likewise, in summarizing the series of antitheticals in 3 Nephi 12:21-45, Jesus similarly drew them together in the Sermon at the Temple with the following conclusion: "Those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled. Old things are done away, and all things have become new" (3 Nephi 12:46-47; italics added). In light of the glorified state of the resurrected Jesus at the time of the Sermon at the Temple, he could accurately say, "I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (3 Nephi 12:48; italics added). Furthermore, there was no need in Bountiful for Jesus to instruct the people to pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10), a phrase missing from the Lord's Prayer in the Sermon at the Temple (see 3 Nephi 13:9-13), for God's Kingdom had already come both in heaven through Christ's victory over death and on earth that day in their midst.
These differences convey significant theological information. First, the Sermon at the Temple clarifies that all things under the law of Moses had been entirely fulfilled in Jesus' mortal life, death, atonement, and resurrection. The Sermon on the Mount, on the other hand, never addressed this important question of when the law would be fulfilled, but it left this key issue open, simply saying that nothing would pass from the law "till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). The issue of when that fulfillment became effective, as is well documented in the New Testament, deeply and tragically divided a number of the early Christian communities (see Acts 15; Galatians 5). 8 Second, the Sermon at the Temple speaks from a frame of reference in which Jesus had become glorified with God. Jesus had already ascended to the Father, and thus he could well command his listeners in Bountiful to be perfect as he or as God is perfect (see 3 Nephi 12:48).
A Nephite Setting
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. Instead of "farthing" (Matthew 5:26), Jesus mentions a "senine" (3 Nephi 12:26), a Nephite unit of exchange. Although this change might appear a superficial change or an artifice, there is subtle substance to it. Jesus undoubtedly had several meaningful reasons for mentioning the senine when he spoke to the Nephites.
First, it was not just one of many Nephite measures but was their basic measure of gold (see Alma 11:5-19). Through it one converted values of precious metals into the measurement "of every kind of grain" (Alma 11:7). Moreover, it was the smallest Nephite measure of gold (see Alma 11: 8-10). Thus, when Jesus told the Nephites that they might be held in prison unable to pay "even one senine" (3 Nephi 12:26), he was referring to a relatively small amount, equal to one measure of grain. Furthermore, it was not just the smallness that Jesus had in mind, for otherwise he could better have spoken of a "leah" (Alma 11:17), their smallest measure of silver. The senine, however, was especially important because it was the amount paid to each Nephite judge for a day's service at law (see Alma 11:3). Evidently, the losing party in a law suit was liable to pay the judges one senine each, a burden that would give potential litigants all the more reason to "agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him" (3 Nephi 12:25). One should note that the Greek phrase en te hodo, "in the way," in Matthew 5:25, originally referred to the commencement of a law suit. 9
Also, there is no mention of Jerusalem in 3 Nephi 12:35. Of course, no Nephite would be inclined to swear "by Jerusalem, . . . the city of the great King" (Matthew 5:35), since the Nephite view of Jerusalem was rather grim. But more than that, omitting this phrase may be closer to what Jesus originally said in Palestine as well. While Jerusalem was known anciently as "the city of the great king" (Psalm 48:2tou basileos tou megalou in the Septuagint), there is numismatic evidence that the precise phrase "great king" (basileos megalou) was a special political title in the Roman world that was not used in Palestine until after Jesus' death. This title was given to the client-king Herod Agrippa I as a result of a treaty (orkia) granting to him several territories in and around Galilee in A.D. 39 and 41, which he commemorated with coins in his name bearing this distinctive, honorific title. 10 Based on this information, it has been suggested that Jesus' saying about oaths (orkoi) may have originally contained no reference to "Jerusalem the city of the great King," since Herod Agrippa may not have been politically entitled to that title until after Jesus' ministry. While there is no way to be sure about this suggestion, especially since such words were also available to Jesus in Psalm 48:2, the absence of the phrase "the city of the great king" in the Sermon at the Temple would prove consistent with this obscure numismatic information.
There is no mention of rain in 3 Nephi 12:45, whereas Matthew 5:45 says that the Lord makes the sun rise and also the rain fall on the just and the unjust. It is unknown why the Sermon at the Temple does not mention rain in this verse. Perhaps this difference reflects less concern in Nephite lands over regular rain or different religious or cultural attitudes in Mesoamerica toward rainfall.
Finally, the Nephites had had no experience with the hypocrites of Matthew 6:2, who cast their alms with the sounding of (or into) trumpets, and thus Jesus did not speak to the Nephites of what such hypocrites "do," but what they "will do" (3 Nephi 13:2). For the Nephites, such behavior was hypothetical or figurative, not familiar.
An Audience Dependent upon Written Law
The Nephites relied heavily on the written law. Their ancestors treasured the Plates of Brass, also relying heavily upon those written records for specifications regarding the law of Moses and how they should keep it. Being cut off from most sources of oral or customary law, the Nephites saw the law primarily as a written body (see 1 Nephi 4:15-16) and viewed any change in the written law with deep suspicion (see Mosiah 29:22-23). The Jews in Jerusalem in Jesus' day, on the other hand, had an extensive body of oral law to accompany the written Torah, and the oral law was very important in the pre- Talmudic period of Jewish legal history.
Accordingly, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says repeatedly to the Jews, "Ye have heard that it was said . . ." (Matthew 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43; italics added). To the Nephites, however, such a statement would not have carried as much weight as would a reference to the written law. Thus, in the Sermon at the Temple Jesus consistently cites the written law, saying, "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you" (3 Nephi 12:21), "it is written by them of old time" (3 Nephi 12:27), "again it is written" (3 Nephi 12:33), "behold, it is written" (3 Nephi 12:38), "and behold it is written also" (3 Nephi 12:43).
An Explicit Covenant-making Setting
As has been explained extensively thus far, the Sermon at the Temple was delivered in a covenant-making context. Several significant differences between the two Sermons reveal and reflect this important dimension. In the Sermon at the Temple, the injunctions and instructions were given by Jesus as "commandments" (3 Nephi 12:20), and the people received them by entering into a covenant with God that they would always remember and keep those commandments that Jesus gave to them that day (see 3 Nephi 18:7, 10). Just as the children of Israel entered into a covenant to obey the law of Moses as it was delivered to them at Sinai, the Nephites at Bountiful received their new dispensation of law, superseding the old, as the Sermon at the Temple explains. Consistent with this setting, the Sermon at the Temple contains unique phrases that belong to the sphere of covenant-making.
First, Jesus' words in the Sermon at the Temple were given to the Nephites as commandments. No such designation appears in the Sermon on the Mount, and thus biblical scholars inconclusively debate whether Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount were intended as celestial ideals, as ethical or religious principles, or as social commentary. The Sermon at the Temple, however, leaves no doubt that the words Jesus spoke at Bountiful were intended to create binding obligations. Jesus issued laws of the gospel, which all those who entered into the covenant that day were to obey. The people were required to come unto Jesus and be saved by obedience to the "commandments which I have commanded you at this time" (3 Nephi 12:20).
Second, those who will be received into the kingdom of heaven are those who come unto Christ (see 3 Nephi 12:3, 20). The phrase "who come unto me" appears five times in the Sermon at the Temple (3 Nephi 12:3, 19, 20, and 23 twice), but it never occurs in the Sermon on the Mount. Coming unto Christ, according to the Sermon at the Temple, requires repentance and baptism (see, e.g., 3 Nephi 18:25, 32; 21:6; 30:2), and thus it is in essence a covenantal concept. Only those who "come unto [Christ] with full purpose of heart" through his prescribed ordinances will be received (3 Nephi 12:24; cf. 3 Nephi 14:21; 15:1). The presence of the phrase "come unto Christ" is thus consistent with the covenantal context of the Sermon at the Temple, and this connection is strengthened by the likelihood that the Hebrew phrase "come before the Lord" probably has cultic meanings of standing before his presence in the temple at Jerusalem. 11 Stephen D. Ricks suggests that the phrase "come unto me" in the Sermon at the Temple may be conceptually equivalent to the Old Testament expression "stand in the presence of the Lord," which is thought to be temple terminology. Along the same lines, John I. Durham presents evidence that the shalom described the complete blessedness that is "the gift of God, and can be received only in his Presence," and "the concept of the Presence of God was certainly of vital importance to the Old Testament cult."
Emphasis on the Desires of the Heart
Although the Sermon on the Mount already demands of its adherents an extraordinarily pure heart (see, e.g., Matthew 5:8, 28; 6:21), the Sermon at the Temple adds two more references to the heart. The first is expressly connected with the covenant-making process, requiring any person desiring to come to Christ to do so "with full purpose of heart" (3 Nephi 12:23-24; cf. 2 Nephi 31:13; Jacob 6:5; 3 Nephi 10:6; Acts 11:23). This instruction replaces the saying in the Sermon on the Mount about bringing one's gift to the temple altar (see Matthew 5:23).
The second such addition sharpens the instruction regarding adultery by issuing the following commandment: "Behold I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart" (3 Nephi 12:29; cf. Psalm 37:15). Likewise, the Sermon at the Temple prohibits any anger in the heart at all (see 3 Nephi 12:22), not allowing even justifiable anger as in the traditional Matthean view (see Matthew 5:22).
Undoubtedly, these statements about the heart would have been intensely poignant in the minds of the Nephites, since the only thing they knew about the new law at the time the Sermon at the Temple began was the fact that the old ritual law had been replaced by a new law of sacrifice requiring exclusively the sacrifice of "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20). This added emphasis on the heart is therefore especially instructive to those Nephite listeners, given their pressing need to understand this new law of sacrifice.
A Church Organizational Setting
The Sermon on the Mount gives no clues about how its followers were organized ecclesiastically, or about their institutional positions or relationships. The Sermon on the Mount, for all that one knows about it from the Gospel of Matthew, could stand independently as a code of private conduct, quite apart from any religious society or organization. Nothing said expressly in or about the Sermon on the Mount tells us how early Christian communities used the Sermon on the Mount or how its parts related to the various officers and functionaries in that movement. Yet scholars such as Hans Dieter Betz have concluded that the Sermon must have occupied a prominent place in the religious and liturgical life of the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. 12
Betz's proposition in general is more than confirmed in the Sermon at the Temple by the fact that it was delivered in connection with the establishment of a group of disciples who would lead the new church of Christ (see 3 Nephi 11:18-22; 18:36-37; 26:17-21). Several differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple (often also with the JST) make this organizational setting explicit:
(1) At Bountiful, Jesus ordained and called priesthood leaders. Third Nephi 12 begins with two ecclesiastical beatitudes not found in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen; . . . again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am" (3 Nephi 12:1-2).
(2) All believers were instructed to enter into a covenant of baptism, becoming members of Christ's church (3 Nephi 18:5). As a result, to them it was given to be the salt of the earth: "I give unto you to be the salt of the earth" (3 Nephi 12:13; italics added), a transferral and casual connection unstated in the Sermon on the Mount's simple declaration, "Ye are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13; italics added).
(3) Likewise, the two commissions, "I give unto you to be the light of this people" and "Let your light so shine before this people" (3 Nephi 12:14, 16), seem to refer most clearly to relationships over and among the believing covenant people (see 3 Nephi 12:2; 13:25; 15:12), who later in the Sermon clearly are called "the people of my church" (3 Nephi 18:5; cf. 3 Nephi 20:22; 27:24, 27). With similar language the Lord had also given covenant Israel its calling and mission: "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles" (Isaiah 49:6).
(4) Furthermore, the fact that the words in 3 Nephi 13:25-34 were addressed solely to "the twelve whom he had chosen" (3 Nephi 13:25) and the idea that the offended brother in 3 Nephi 12:22-23 had the power to judge ("whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment) are other places in the Sermon at the Temple where that text distinctively presupposes or discloses ecclesiatical or organizational elements.
A number of other differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple are worth mentioning in passing. There seems to be a slightly greater emphasis in the Sermon at the Temple upon eschatological judgment. Futurity is stronger in the Sermon at the Temple than in the Sermon on the Mount: for example, "ye shall have great joy" (3 Nephi 12:12; italics added); or "the salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing" (3 Nephi 12:13; italics added).
The Sermon at the Temple seems slightly more personal, since "who" has been substituted for "which" on several occasions (see, e.g., 3 Nephi 12:6, 10, 45, 48; 13:1, 4, 6, 9), but it is unknown whether this first appeared on the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon or as a correction to the printer's manuscript. While these changes are very minor, they add to the overall intimacy of Jesus' words in the Sermon at the Temple. His audience at Bountiful is not a faceless crowd. Unlike the Sermon on the Mount, 3 Nephi even names some of the people who were there (see 3 Nephi 19:4).
The Sermon at the Temple achieves greater clarity by explicitly stating certain things that the Sermon on the Mount readily assumes: for example, "it" (3 Nephi 12:13); "nay" (3 Nephi 12:15); "wherein ye will take up your cross" (3 Nephi 12:30; italics added); "I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor" (3 Nephi 13:1; italics added); "even so will he clothe you, if ye are not of little faith" (3 Nephi 13:30; italics added). These changes strengthen the imperative force of Jesus' statements, especially those that change negative, self-evident statements into positive commands or promises.
Finally, several reasons may be suggested why Jesus dropped the petition "Give us this day our daily [epiousion] bread" (Matthew 6:11) in the Sermon at the Temple. Perhaps the petition did not fit the circumstances because Jesus knew he would spend the entire day with these people and would not take time for lunch. Perhaps it was omitted because Jesus wanted to supply a unique bread at the end of the day (see 3 Nephi 18:1). Perhaps it was dropped because Jesus is the bread of life, and the people had already received their true sustenance that day in the appearance of Jesus.
Unfortunately, the meaning of the word epiousion (daily? continual? sufficient? essential? for the future?) is obscure, 13 but one of the earliest interpretations of it (supported by the early fragmentary Gospel of the Hebrews) was eschatological: "mahar [the Hebrew that Jerome assumed stood behind the Greek epiousion] meant not only the next day but also the great Tomorrow, the final consummation. Accordingly, Jerome is saying, the 'bread for tomorrow' was not meant as earthly bread but as the bread of life" in an eschatological sense. 14 If the several scholars are correct who refer this petition "to the coming Kingdom and its feast," 15 Jesus might have considered this petition unsuitable in the context of the Sermon at the Temple, since the kingdom had in one sense already come. His appearance at that time was a realized eschatological event. Assuming that this is the meaning of epiousion, this deletion would fall into the same category as the other differences, mentioned above, that reflect the post-resurrection setting of the Sermon at the Temple.
In sum, one can readily compare the texts of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple. There are many differences. Although, to the casual observer, most of them seem insignificant or meddlesome, a closer examination shows that most are quite meaningful and subtle. The differences are consistent with the introduction of the Sermon into Nephite culture, with its covenant- making context, and with dating the text to a time before when the suspected factional alterations or additions were made to the Sermon on the Mount. All this, in my opinion, speaks highly for the Sermon at the Temple as an appropriate, well thought out, and pertinent text and supplies considerable evidence that the Sermon at the Temple was not simply plagiarized from the Sermon on the Mount.
Of course there are many similarities between the two texts, and in large sections no differences occur. These similarities are consistent with Jesus' open acknowledgement that he taught the Nephites "the things which I taught before I ascended to my Father" (3 Nephi 15:1). The Sermon at the Temple is, therefore, not only appropriately similar, but also meaningfully different from the Sermon on the Mount. The more I know of those differences, the more I am impressed that achieving this subtle balance was not something that just casually happened.
- Samuel L. Clemens, Roughing It, 2vols. (New York: Harper, 1913), 1:142.
- M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (New York: Ward and Drummond, 1887), iii.
- Ibid., 187-88 (italics in original). In response to a similar expression, B. H. Roberts countered, "I am led to believe that you have been so absorbed, perhaps, in tracing out the sameness in the expressions that you have failed to note the differences to which I allude, for you make the claim of strict identity between the Book of Mormon and King James' translation too strong." B. H. Roberts, "Bible Quotations in the Book of Mormon and Reasonableness of Nephi's Prophecies," Improvement Era 7 (1904): 181.
- Ibid., 212.
- Roberts, "Bible Quotations in the Book of Mormon," 184; Sidney B. Sperry, Problems of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 104-6. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 725, 729, sees a greater emphasis in the Sermon at the Temple than in the Sermon on the Mount on the adoration of Jesus, but otherwise considers the two sermons to be virtually identical, both containing "the same splendid array of ennobling precepts" and "the same wealth of effective comparison," p. 727.
- Roberts, "Bible Quotations in the Book of Mormon," 191.
- I will not discuss in detail the differences between the Sermon at the Temple, Sermon on the Mount, and the Joseph Smith Translation. These three texts are set out in parallel columns in the appendix. For a discussion, see Robert A. Cloward, "The Sermon on the Mount in the JST and the Book of Mormon," in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, ed. M. Nyman and R. Millet (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 1985), 163-200. The fact that the Sermon at the Temple and the Joseph Smith Translation are not identical to each other shows, from one Latter-day Saint point of view, that Jesus delivered the Sermon several times, and thus one should not necessarily expect to find a single "correct" version of the text.
- See Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (New York: Pauline, 1984).
- For example, Frank Zimmermann, The Aramaic Origin of the Four Gospels (New York: KTAV, 1979), 47. Strecker, Sermon on the Mount, 69, points out that the expression soon took on a broader meaning, however, than merely "the way to the courthouse."
- The coins of Herod Agrippa I (37-44 A.D.) bearing the inscription ORKIA BASILEOS MEGALOU AGRIPA are catalogued in Ya'akov Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage (Jerusalem: Amphora, 1982), 2:45, 47, 56, 246; see also Ernst W. Klimowsky, On Ancient Palestinian and Other Coins, Their Symbolism and Metrology, Numismatic Studies and Researches VII (Tel Aviv: Israel Numismatic Society, 1974), 105-6. For this information, I am indebted to Dennis C. Doling of Canisius College for his paper presented at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in November 1988.
- John I. Durham, "Shalom and the Presence of God," in Proclamation and Presence, ed. John I. Durham and J. R. Porter (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox, 1970), 292, 290; see also Baruch A. Levine, In the Presence of the Lord (Leiden: Brill, 1974).
- Betz, Essays on the Sermon on the Mount, 1-16, 55-70.
- W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 296-97; TDNT 2:590-99.
- Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (London: SCM, 1967), 100- 101.
- See references in GELNT, 297; TDNT 2:595.
John W. Welch, Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount: A Latter- day Saint Approach, 91-112.