The Problem of Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of Mark’s Gospel

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Image: Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith.

The verse 3 Nephi 11:33-34 from the Book of Mormon is almost a direct quotation from the Gospel of Mark 16:16 in the Christian New Testament. According to Mark, Christ says that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” 3 Nephi is strikingly similar,

“And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned” (11:33-34).

For those aware of basic scholarship concerning manuscripts of the New Testament this is concerning, especially for the Mormon who holds to the inspiration of Joseph Smith and the texts he produced. This small portion of the Gospel of Mark (from 16:9 until 16:20) which tells of the resurrected Christ, Christ’s commissioning of the disciples to proclaim the gospel, and Christ’s ascension is unoriginal. Most scholars, textual critics, and New Testament historians alike believe it to be the work of a scribe somewhere in the early 2nd century, a long while after Mark’s date of authorship (70 AD). The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark suggest 16:8 to be the original ending of the gospel. Christian Bible translations include a footnote from Mark 16:9 onward stating that it is not included in the earliest manuscripts. The Ryrie Study Bible footnotes the following concerning verse 16:9-20,

“These verses do not appear in two of the most trust-worthy manuscripts of the N.T., though they are part of many other manuscripts and versions. If they are not a part of the genuine text of Mark, the abrupt ending at Verse 8 is probably because the original closing verses were lost. The doubtful genuineness of Verses 9-20 makes it unwise to build a doctrine or base an experience on them (especially vv. 16-18).”

This is a challenge to the revelation received by Joseph Smith as well as to the inspiration of the Book of Mormon. 3 Nephi 11:33-34 quotes an unoriginal part of Mark, and this strongly suggests that Smith was unaware of this. Why was he of this? Likely because he was no textual critical scholar, and because scholars (active during the early 20th century and after) only later begun noticing the longer ending to Mark to be unoriginal. This was a long time after Smith penned the Book of Mormon in 1830. Smith assumed the entire long ending of Mark (and Mark 16:16 in particular) to reliable history, and that he could make use of it in his own allegedly inspired scripture.

 

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