Friday, July 11, 2008

If/and Conditional Clauses in the Book of Mormon

Over the years, scholars have identified a number of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. Hebraisms, of course, being unique Hebrew rhetorical or literary devices commonly used in the ancient Near East. One of my personal favorites is the if/and conditional clause, which are found in the original manuscripts and the 1st edition of the Book of Mormon.

In English, conditional clauses are structured in a if/then format. For example, I might say:

"If you do not study, then you will fail the test."

"If you do not eat your vegetables, then you will not get dessert."

"If you go near the ledge, then you will fall off the cliff."

In biblical Hebrew as well as Egyptian, however, conditional clauses are best emphasized by an if/and format. So, I would say:

"If you do not study, and you will fail the test."

"If you do not eat your vegetables, and you will not get desert."

"If you go near the ledge, and you will fall off."

While if/and conditional clauses are horrific English (any student caught doing that on an English assignment would surely get an F grade) they are perfectly acceptable if not the norm in biblical Hebrew and Egyptian.

There are some passages in the Book of Mormon that once had if/and conditional clauses but were eventually edited out by Joseph Smith because if/and conditional clauses are not possible in English. One instance occurs in the original manuscript in Helaman 12:13-21 (pg. 440 in the 1830 edition) which reads as follows:

13 yea and if he saith unto the earth move and it is moved
14 yea if he say unto the earth thou shalt go back that it lengthen out the day for many hours and it is done
16 and behold also if he saith unto the waters of the great deep be thou dried up and it is done
17 behold if he saith unto this mountain be thou raised up and come over and fall upon that city that it be buried up and behold it is done
19 and if the Lord shall say be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever and behold no man getteth it henceforth and forever
20 and behold if the Lord shall say unto a man because of thine iniquities thou shalt be accursed forever and it shall be done
21 and if the Lord shall say because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence and he will cause that it shall be so

Another occurrence is in Moroni 10:4-5, which is famously dubbed "Moroni's Promise". In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon it reads:

and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.

If/and conditional clauses in the Book of Mormon are impressive enough on their own, but the fact that Joseph Smith edited them out also is further evidence on his behalf. Had Joseph Smith intentionally put them in his fraudulent record, then surely he would have left them in the text, for future scholars to uncover, considering that they act as evidence on his behalf. But the fact that he innocently edited them out simply to correct the English grammar of the Book of Mormon is evidence that he was not aware of the reinforcing ramifications that these if/and conditional clauses have for the Book of Mormon as an ancient Hebrew document.

For further reading, see the following:

Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript by Royal Skousen

Hebraic Conditionals in the Book of Mormon
by Royal Skousen

A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions by John Welch


  1. It is strange to think of Moroni's promise differently than what we have now. How soon did JS make the changes? Was it the next edition or did it take him a while?

  2. The "if . . . and" variant was changed for the 1837 Kirtland edition of the Book of Mormon, including the pericope of Moroni 10:3-5.

  3. Here we see another example of purported evidence for the Book of Mormon really being evidence against it. How so? Because Smith is said to have translated the plates into English under direct inspiration of God. It was God Himself who "on an English assignment would surely get an F grade."

  4. Evangelical:

    We Latter-day Saints do not hold to the same level of scriptural inerrancy as you do, so I see this as a straw man. Furthermore, remember that the Book of Mormon is a translation. Because of this, we should expect these sort of Hebraisms showing up. Anyone who does a lot of translating knows that no matter how hard you try you will in some way reflect the underlying original language in your translation. In this case it is Hebrew and/or Egyptian - both of which utilize if/and conditional sentences.

    Also, have you ever read Mark's Gospel in the Greek? It is barbaric grammar and many scholars lament of Mark's poor Greek. Does this make Mark any less inspired than Joseph Smith? I don't think so.

    But, again, this all comes down to a straw man since 1) the Book of Mormon never claims inerrancy and 2) neither did Joseph Smith. Although it should be mentioned that I don't even think this is a problem for the Book of Mormon. If Joseph Smith were simply writing the Book of Mormon, he wouldn't have used if/and conditionals because they don't work in English.

    Best wishes,

    Steve Smoot

    1. You are exactly right, to my knowledge, Steve Smoot, on the point you made.
      And if may complement your exigent remarks. I would remind our brothers and sisters that the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren,” he said, “that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

      Smith, History of the Church, 4:461; see also Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 194.

      Lastly: The best evidence can be obtained from our Heavenly Father who loves us all beyond measure; through prayer, sincerely asking in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, if The Book of Mormon is His Word and if Joseph Smith truly was one of His prophets.
      To which is something that I did put into practice and did receive a witness in my heart and without a doubt for me to know that The Book of Mormon truly is the Word of God, that it is “the most correct “ ( never anyone in our religion has stated the book to be ‘the perfect’ book on earth).

      With love and sincerity to my sisters and brothers I say this.

      Xavier Bianco.

  5. Steve, you say scripture is not inerrant? If it is the word of God how could there possibly be error? You will likely respond with, "but God is not omniscient in the traditional sense." But the God of the Bible IS. And so, by implication, you are admitting that your God is not the God of the Bible. Of course, you would not want anybody to notice your implication and draw it out, but the implication is there nonetheless.

    If the Bible is inerrant (it is not, on your view, I realise) and the Book of Mormon is "the most correct of any book" but it is not inerrant, then we'd have a real problem.

    But I do not think my original allegations are a straw man, as you claim. God is at least as smart as an uneducated farm boy of the 1800s. The urim and thumim revealed to Smith the exact English words God wanted him to use to translate the Reformed Egyptian He originally inspired. Smith knew that if-and conditionals are meaningless in the receptor language, as you freely admit. Since God must be at least as smart as Smith, then He would have avoided that mistake (though, He may have, you apparently think, along with other Mormons, somehow made other mistakes in "the most correct of all books").

    To say that the isms of the receiver text will show up in the receptor text is absolutely true, as you rightly affirm, but irrelevant in this context. For these Hebraisms are an example that CANNOT appear in proper English. Both Smith and God should have known this. And this, carefully note, is according to your own view, not that of a fanatical anti-Mormon propagandist. Like so much of Mormonism, it just doesn't add up. Anyone with eyes to see will immediately understand this.

    I have not learned enough New Testament Greek, yet, to read Mark so the answer to your question is no. As I understand it, however, it is not very good compared to most (all?) of the rest of the New Testament. However, the traditional doctrine of inspiration has always denied the mechanical dictation theory which is essentially what Smith claims occured with the Book of Mormon. Mark was not seeing the exact words coming directly from the lips of God visually before his eyes within rocks he found in a well (I'll leave aside a fuller discussion of urim and thumim for another time).

    The Book of Mormon never claims inerrancy? While that is probably correct, I find it strange that you are admitting to that as though it were a good thing. I am finding out that Mormon apologetics does that much of the time (appeal to evidence against Mormonism as though it were supporting it).

    So then, the Book of Mormon being fallable is irrelavent to the friendly criticism at hand. God should have known at least what Smith knew because He had progressed, by mid-nineteenth century, beyond the ignorance of uneducated farmlife, to godhood, and would not have used if-and conditionals in the receptor language.

    The most natural way to view the presence of the conditionals is that Smith was lying. In light of many other factors we know about Smith from not-so faith affirming history, it seems to me that we would be sufficiently justified in suspecting him to be deceiving us on this occassion. Only after being fully initiated into Mormonism (apparently by mere feeling) would we try to find some other explanation no matter how un-natural (ad hoc?) and this, of course, is begging the question.

    In conclusion, the most plausible view is that if-and conditionals are one more (amongst a mountain load of others) evidence against the Book of Mormon in particular and Mormonism in general. In light of this, and other, evidence, I presume, the faithful Mormon will fall back on their personal testimony. But, as I keep trying to point out, the personal testimony is very much epistemological sifting sand. You and I both know, Dear Steve, what Jesus Christ said about houses built in such places.


We are happy to discuss any and every topic and question. We will give wide berth to a variety of opinions and ideas. The only thing we ask is that you return the favor by respecting our right to believe as we do and by not issuing lengthy, inflammatory diatribes meant to shock and confuse anyone not familiar with LDS teachings. They can certainly get that elsewhere. :)