Isaiah in the Book of Mormon...and Joseph Smith in Isaiah
David P. Wright

Part 1: King James Version Language
Part 2: KJV Italics and the BM Isaiah
Part 3: KJV Translation Errors in the BM Isaiah
Part 4: Disparities with Hebrew Language, Text, and Style
Part 5: The Secondary Nature of Variants in the BM Isaiah
Part 6: Supposed Proofs for the Antiquity of the BM Isaiah

Part 5: The Secondary Nature of Variants in the BM Isaiah

Textual criticism uses the terms "plus" and "minus" to refer to elements that a text has or lacks vis-a-vis another text. One of the striking features of the BM text as compared to the KJV/MT is that it has many more plusses than minuses.82 Thus a distinctive feature of the BM text is its being a fuller text. Several of the plusses appear to be secondary additions because they explain, clarify, or add definition to the text around them. In one case there is objective proof that a plus in the BM is secondary, as we will see. That these plusses are secondary circumstantially supports the thesis that the BM text is a revision of the KJV text.

The supplemental character of some plusses is evident in the language used in them and in how they relate to their contexts. Some begin with the focusing or resumptive term "yea" and define or carry further a previous thought (once it anticipates something to come): (a) Isaiah 2:5 reads: "O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord." 2 Nephi 12:5 uniquely has after this: "yea, come, for ye have all gone astray every one to his wicked ways." This seems secondary since it repeats the verb "come" and explains the reason for the call to walk in the Lord's light. (b) The first part of 2 Nephi 24:2 (which is the same as KJV Isa 14:2) says that "the people shall take them (i.e., Israel) and bring them to their place." An ensuing plus notes where this is and what the people will do: "yea, from far unto the ends of the earth, and they shall return to their lands of promise." (On this further, see the appendix, example 17.) (c) We have already examined the list of persons, places, and objects to suffer on the "day of the Lord" in Isa 2:12-16 (above, Part 4). This is introduced with the phrase, "For the day of the Lord of Hosts shall be/soon cometh" (Isa 2:12//2 Ne 12:12). The BM has a plus in v. 13 that repeats this language, "Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come." Poetic considerations, noted above, led to the conclusion that this an addition. The use of the term "yea" as well at its repetitiveness are other signs of its secondariness. (d) 1 Nephi 20:14 (//Isa 48:14) varies slightly from the KJV saying certain persons have had "things" declared "unto them." This is soon followed by the plus, "yea, and he will fulfil (sic) his word which he hath declared by them." This expands on and somewhat explains the matter of declaration in the previous phrase. (e) In one case a clause with "yea" precedes a passage to which it relates. 2 Nephi 7:1 has the following before the beginning of KJV/MT Isaiah 50:1: "Yea, for thus saith the Lord, Have I put thee away or have I cast thee off forever, for (thus saith the Lord...)." This can be seen as an anticipatory explanation for the questions about divorce that follow. Another sign of secondariness is the repetition of the phrase "thus saith the Lord" of KJV/MT v. 1.83

Plusses that begin with the conjunction "for" similarly display a subsidiary quality: (a) The plus in 2 Nephi 12:5, noted in the preceding paragraph, uses this conjunction in addition to the adverb "yea." It provides the reason for following God. (b) 2 Nephi 7:1, also noted in the preceding paragraph, uses "for" twice, to introduce the clause "for thus saith the Lord." (c) Isaiah 13:22 ends by saying that Babylon's destruction will be swift. The plus in 2 Nephi 23:22 explains this and qualifies what will happen to God's chosen people: "for I will destroy her speedily, yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish." Note here the appearance of the adverb "yea" and the twice occurring conjunction "for." These terms provide a two-pronged explanation.84

The plus "and it shall come to pass" looks like a sign of secondariness: (a) 2 Nephi 12:10, as we have seen above (Part 4, above), uses the word "for" as a conjunction instead of a preposition. The last part of the verse reads: "for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee." The next verse (v. 11), in the KJV, reads "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled...." The two verses are somewhat disjointed syntactically. The plus "And it shall come to pass that" in the BM at the beginning of v. 11 provides a connection between the verses. (b) Isaiah 14:3-4 in the KJV are a syntactically interdependent whole. A variant in the parallel 2 Nephi 24:3 makes this verse independent. Verse 4 is consequently left syntactically incomplete. Hence "And it shall come to pass in that day," which resumes the first part of v. 3, has been added to v. 4 to make it complete. (See the appendix, example 18, for a full discussion of this variant.)

In addition to certain words or phrases being markers of additions, several plusses in the BM Isaiah define referents--e.g., subject of verbs or objects of address--and thus appear to be secondary clarifying glosses: (a) The phrase "Therefore, thou hast forsaken thy people" in Isaiah 2:6 has sometimes been judged problematic because its subject is not specified. The BM text provides this: "Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people" (2 Ne 12:6). (See further, the appendix example 2.) (b) Isaiah 2:10 tells certain people: "Enter into the rock and hide." Who is being addressed? The BM solves this with its reading: "O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock and hide" (2 Ne 12:10). (c) Isaiah 48:15 reads "I, _even, I, have spoken." Apparently partly as reaction to the italics, but also for clarification, the BM has: "Also saith the Lord, I the Lord, yea I have spoken" (1 Ne 20:15). (d) The long plus at the start of 1 Nephi 21:1, which begins "And again hearken, O ye house of Israel..." appears to define the audience intended in the phrase "Listen, O people" with which the KJV and MT begin (Isa 49:1; see the full discussion in the appendix, example 22). (e) The question "Is my hand shortened at all..." in Isaiah 50:2 is prefaced by the vocative "O house of Israel" in 2 Nephi 7:2.

The secondariness of these sorts of phrases is confirmed by looking at 2 Nephi 27 which paraphrases parts of Isaiah 29.85 Many of the plusses and variants here are interpretive rephrasings to make Isaiah 29 apply to the BM situation and they use the above-mentioned terms and phenomena in the reformulation.

A few phrases insert the word "yea," sometimes with accompanying words: (a) KJV: "shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when" (Isa 29:7-8) > "shall be as a dream of a night vision, yea, it shall be unto them even as unto" (2 Ne 27:3); (b) KJV: "so shall the multitude of all the nations be" (Isa 29:8) > "yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be" (2 Ne 27:3); (c) KJV "cry ye out and cry: they are drunken" (Isa 29:9) > "cry out and cry, yea, ye shall be drunken" (2 Ne 27:4).86

The conjunction "for" with accompanying words embellishes the text: (a) 2 Ne 27:4 adds the phrase "For behold, all ye that do iniquity" before the biblical phrase "stay yourselves and wonder" (Isa 29:9). This defines the subject of the imperative verbs. (b) The phrase "cry ye out, and cry" (Isa 29:9) is turned into an explanatory clause in the BM: "for ye shall cry out and cry" (2 Ne 27:4). (b) The next verse alters the statement that God "hath closed your eyes" (Isa 29:10) to an explanatory "for, behold, ye have closed your eyes" (2 Ne 27:5). This change to a theologically more pleasing reading, by the way, is a further sign of its secondariness.

The phrase "it shall come to pass" is found in the paraphrases as well: (a) "And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book" in Isaiah 29:11 becomes "And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book" in 2 Nephi 27:6. (b) In the continued paraphrase and interpretation of Isaiah 29:11, 2 Nephi 27:15 adds the prefatory phrases: "But, behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book." (c) 2 Nephi 27:24 modifies the introduction of Isaiah 29:13 from "Wherefore the Lord said" to "And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him."

Lastly, an example of defining an unclear referent in the paraphrased Isaiah appears in 2 Nephi 27:4, as has been noted: The phrase "all ye that do iniquity" is added to clarify who is to "stay...and wonder" in Isaiah 29:9.

The examples from Isaiah paraphrased in the BM thus show that there is good reason to esteem as secondary plusses that have similar phrases in the nonparaphrased Isaiah. One might object to this evidence by saying terms like "yea," "for," "it came to pass," as well as terms defining a referent are found even within the KJV/MT, and that therefore these elements in the BM Isaiah are not signs of secondariness but show rather that the plusses are original. But consistency with the KJV style does not prove originality. What we are faced with is a text that has several plusses over against another text, and the question is whether these have signs of originality or secondariness. The context of many of them, not just the language, makes them appear to be secondary. Any similarity in style to the KJV/MT can be the result of imitation rather than originality.

The circumstantial evidence so far examined can be augmented with objective proof that at least one substantial plus in the BM is an addition. Isaiah 49:25 is cited in two places, 1 Nephi 21:25 and 2 Nephi 6:17, and the versions are different from each other:

Isaiah 49:25 (KJV)

1 Nephi 21:25

2 Nephi 6:17

But thus saith the Lord, But thus saith the Lord, But thus saith the Lord,
Even the captives of the mighty Even the captive of the mighty Even the captives of the mighty
shall be taken away, shall be taken away, shall be taken away,
and the prey of the terrible and the prey of the terrible and the pray of the terrible
shall be delivered: shall be delivered, shall be delivered,


for the mighty God
shall deliver his
covenant people,
for thus saith the Lord,
I will contend with him I will contend with him I will contend with them
that contendeth with thee, that contendeth with thee, that contendeth with thee.
and I will save thy children. and I will save thy children. [ ]

The plus in 2 Nephi 6:17 is secondary since the version in 1 Nephi 21:25 correlates exactly with the KJV text, except for a minor difference at the word "captive." Like the KJV, it lacks the plus of 2 Nephi 6:17 and it has the last clause which 2 Nephi 6:17 lacks. It is doubtful that the plus of 2 Nephi 6:17 would be dropped from both the other texts or that the last part of the verse was added to them in exactly the same way.87

The accretion  in 2 Nephi 6:17 confirms some of the observations made above and implicates other plusses as secondary. The addition contains an explanatory phrase with the conjunction "for": "for thus saith the Lord." It also uses the preexisting "for" to introduce the first part of the gloss. This correlates with argument earlier that plusses with this conjunction are secondary.

The addition in 2 Nephi 6:17 has the phrase "thus saith the Lord." This suggests that the nearby plus in 2 Nephi 7:1 that introduces Isaiah 50:1 is also secondary since it uses similar language: "Yea, for thus saith the Lord, Have I put thee away or have I cast thee off forever, for...." It was already suggested above that this plus is secondary because of the appearance of "yea" as well as the twice appearing conjunction "for." It was also observed that, in the next verse, the vocative "O house of Israel" is secondary because it clarifies the audience of the following question. Thus several indications of secondariness converge in these verses.

If the phrase "thus saith the Lord" is a marker of an expansion in the two foregoing cases, then it may also be in 1 Nephi 20:15 which has: "Also saith the Lord, I, the Lord, yea...." This corroborates the conclusion that this variant is secondary made above on the basis of the plus "the Lord" which specifies the verbal subject. Note too the appearance of "yea" for KJV italicized "even" (and see note 83).88

An interesting problem arises around the plus in 2 Nephi 6:17. Though the verse has an addition, the text gives no explicit indication that it is to be seen as a secondary. Rather, it appears to be intended as a direct citation from Isaiah. It is true that the citation of Isaiah 49 is broken up with interpretation in this chapter. 2 Nephi 6:6-7 cite Isaiah 49:22-23, after which comes Jacob's interpretation (2 Ne 6:8-15), which is then followed by further citation of Isaiah at v. 16. Moreover, the interpretive section paraphrases or makes reference to key ideas and terms in the passage cited (cf. vv. 12-13 against vv. 6-7). But this is not necessarily evidence that the material in the Isaiah citation itself is to be considered paraphrased. Note how the text speaks of the Isaiah material. Jacob says in 6:4-6a he "will read you the words of Isaiah...the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of these are the words." The citation of Isaiah 49:22-23 follows in vv. 6-7. After the interpretive section, without a new introduction, the citation of continues from 2 Nephi 6:16 to 8:25. This has no break, and no clear interpretive comments intervene. After he finishes, Jacob says "I have read these things," i.e., the passages from Isaiah (2 Ne 9:1). Too, the text of Isaiah in 2 Nephi 6:16-8:25 in style and in type and distribution of variants is the same as that in other passages where Isaiah appears to be cited (cf. 2 Nephi 12-24 and the other chapters listed in the statistical table, above). Hence, there is every reason to believe that the citation in 2 Nephi 6-8 is intended as exactly that, a citation without elaboration and secondary expansion.89

This means there is a contradiction in the citation of Isaiah 49:25 at 1 Nephi 21:25 and 2 Nephi 6:17. Just like the citation in 2 Nephi 6-8, the Isaiah text in 1 Nephi 21 claims to be a direct citation of Isaiah like that in 2 Nephi 6. In the introduction in 1 Nephi 19:23-24, Nephi says that he "did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah." He says to the people "Hear ye the words of the prophet...for after this manner hath the prophet written." And like Jacob, at the end of his citation, he said that he "had read these things which were engraven upon the plates of brass" (1 Ne 22:1).

How is this textual clash to be explained? In view of the larger evidence in this paper, it appears Smith was simply inconsistent in his citation and revision of Isaiah. At one point he cites the verse without elaboration, in the other he cites it with modification. He did not apparently check the later citation against the earlier one, because of lack of time, difficulty in sorting back through the manuscript, forgetfulness, or because he felt it unnecessary. The divergent citations suggest, by the way, that Smith dictated the Isaiah passage directly from the KJV making modifications as he went rather than from some prewritten revised form of Isaiah (see also note 55).90

As I explained at the beginning of this section, the BM when compared with to the KJV and MT is a fuller text. It has few minuses but many plusses. Its plusses (vis-a-vis the MT/KJV) are not found in other existing ancient versions (see Part 6 and the appendix, that follow). This fact alone could lead to the hypothesis that the plusses are secondary. The foregoing evidence has given more detailed reason that several of these are secondary. In many cases the judgment of secondariness is confirmed by a convergence of other sorts of evidence. All this is consistent with the view that the BM Isaiah is a revision of the KJV.

Notes to Part 5

82. The major minuses are at 1 Ne 20 (Isa 48):3, 10, 16; 1 Ne 21 (Isa 49):7; 2 Ne 6:17 (Isa 49:25); 2 Ne 7 (Isa 50):10; 2 Ne 8 (Isa 51):1, 9, 15; 2 Ne 15 (Isa 5):8; 2 Ne 19 (Isa 9):4; 2 Ne 23 (Isa 13):8.

83. The term "yea" as a clue to secondariness is seen in other situations. The discussion on italics (Part 2, above) noted that "yea" often took the place of the italicized adverb "even." This shows Smith had a preference for this term. The word also exists as a single plus or in connection with more limited variants in the following cases (plusses are in boldface type and curved brackets): "{yea,} the Lord of Hosts is his name" (1 Ne 20:2//Isa 48:2); "{yea} to whom have I sold you" (2 Ne 7:1//Isa 50:1); "{yea, upon} every one, {yea upon the} proud and lofty" (2 Ne 12:12//Isa 2:12); "{yea,} even the remnant of Jacob" (2 Ne 20:21//Isa 10:21); "{yea} and every one that is joined to the {wicked}" (2 Ne 23:15//Isa 13:15).

84. Cases where "for" as a plus appears in a smaller variant include: "{for they} are high and lifted up" (2 Ne12:13//Isa 2:13); "{for} there {shall} be a great forsaking in the midst of the land " (2 Ne 16:12//Isa 6:12); "{for} the Lord God will help me" (2 Ne 7:9//Isa 50:9).

85. Tvedtnes (The Isaiah Variants, 4) also notes the Isaiah material here is paraphrased.

86. In 2 Ne 27:26 italicized "_even" is changed to "yea."

87. And it is doubtful that one can argue that the ancient Nephites had two versions of Isaiah.

88. The phrase "saith the Lord" also appears in BM Isaiah texts which are clear paraphrases: "but behold I will shew unto them, saith the Lord of hosts, that I know all their works" (2 Ne 27:27); "but behold saith the Lord of Hosts I will shew unto the children of men..." (2 Ne 27:28). Compare the insertion of "thus saith the Lord God" in Isa 29:5 at 2 Ne 26:18.

89. Tvedtnes believes that the citation of Isa 49:22-52:2 contains paraphrase. He says: "The best evidence that he [Jacob] is paraphrasing is that, where these same Isaiah passages are cited elsewhere in BM, they are not worded the same as in Jacob's speech" (The Isaiah Variants, 80 on Isa 50:1). 1 Ne 21:25 and 2 Ne 6:17 are the only places where there is significant variation. There are only slight variations between 1 Ne 21:22-24, 26 and 2 Ne 6:6-7, 16, 18 and between 3 Ne 20:36-37 (cf. the paraphrase in Moroni 10:31) and 2 Ne 8:24-25, and none indicates that the verses in 2 Nephi 6-8 are secondary. The rest of the Isaiah citation in 2 Ne 7:1-8:23 (//Isa 50-51) has no parallels elsewhere in the BM (so according to Nyman's list, Words of Isaiah, 275-276). Tvedtnes' argument that there is a paraphrase in 2 Nephi 6-8 seems geared toward skirting the contradiction between 1 Ne 21:25 and 2 Ne 6:17.

90. Another solution to the contradiction is to argue that all of the Isaiah texts in the BM are paraphrased. That is, when the BM says it is going to cite Isaiah, it does not mean it will cite it literally. This would mean that many or all of the plusses and other variants in the BM are modifications of a more original Isaiah text. This argument brings us by a different route to a conclusion similar to that being argued in this section of the paper. I doubt, however, this solution is the right one. It seems that when the characters of the book say they will read from the text, and when the text cites Isaiah for long stretches, be it in 1 Nephi 20-21, 2 Nephi 6:16-8:25, or 2 Nephi 12-24, without any clear interpolation of the BM characters' own voices, the text intends this as unalloyed citation.

|Click here to go to the beginning of paper
Click here to go to Part 6 of the paper

Joseph Smith | LDS Temples | Book of Mormon

Return to Translation