Alma 5 and the Book of Mormon's Plagiarism of the New Testament

by Luke Wayne
2/20/2018

I was recently talking with a couple of Mormon missionaries who asked me to read a chapter from the Book of Mormon, specifically Alma 5. As I read, I noted in passing how often the author used phrases from the New Testament. They even quoted verses from the New Testament word for word. This passing observation made the missionaries uncomfortable, and a moment's reflection made it clear why. The problem is, the Book of Alma claims to be written by a prophet who came before the time of the New Testament and on the other side of the world, yet the author clearly makes frequent use of the New Testament. If the Book of Mormon were true, it would be impossible for Alma to be quoting from a collection of books that had not yet been written. Thus, the allusions to the New Testament by Book of Mormon prophets like Alma demonstrate that the book as a later forgery and not a real collection of ancient, pre-New Testament Israelite documents. Here are some examples just from the one chapter I was randomly assigned by Mormon missionaries in this conversation:

Alma and John and Baptist

The author of Alma borrows directly, word for word, from the sermon of John the Baptist in Mathew 3:

Alma 5:52, "And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it."

Matthew 3:10, "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."

Matthew 3:12, "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

The author not only rips a lengthy phrase straight from John's sermon, he then even clarifies that the fire is an "unquenchable fire," which is also the precise term John uses just two verses later. The Mormon may perhaps try to claim that this was a common Jewish idiom, but there is no evidence of that at all. To be an idiom known to both John the Baptist in first-century Galilee and also to Alma in the alleged Nephite America, this idiom would have to date back to before the Nephites left Israel hundreds of years earlier and would have had to remain in popular use for all that time in both locations. But we don't find this supposed popular idiom anywhere! Hundreds of years of Jewish writing, and one cannot locate this phrase in the Old Testament or in ancient Hebrew literature. We're not talking about a mere vague reference to the general idea of burning trees and judgment. Alma gives us an exact quotation of a very specific phrase unique to John the Baptist and then the immediate use of John's own clarifying term. Clearly, the author of Alma knew the Gospel of Matthew.

Alma, Paul, and the Corinthians

Alma more than once quotes Paul almost verbatim. For example, note:

Alma 5:15, "Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?"

1 Corinthians 15:53, "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."

2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."

As one can see, the phrase "this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption," is basically an exact quote from 1 Corinthians, and the last part of the verse is a paraphrase from 2 Corinthians. The phrasing of 1 Corinthians 15:53 is rather specific. Again, it's not a general cultural idiom and is never used elsewhere in Jewish literature. Indeed, words like "immortality" are not used at all in the Old Testament and are also absent in ancient Jewish literature until roughly the time of the New Testament with documents like 4 Esdras and 4 Maccabees in the first century AD and Wisdom of Solomon perhaps one century before that. None of these books use anything close to Paul's parallel phrases about corruption, incorruption, mortality, and immortality. It's also worth noting that all of these documents, including Paul's letters, were written in Greek. This is not an ancient Hebrew way of expressing these ideas. It's the way a Jew of the first-century Greek-speaking Jewish Diaspora might express them, and even here Paul's particular expression is rather inventive and unique to him. The author of Alma read Paul, which means the author of Alma did not live before the time of Paul.

In another striking example, we read:

Alma 5:57, "And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people."

2 Corinthians 6:17, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you."

The Mormon might try to point out that Paul appears to be paraphrasing from Isaiah and claim that Alma is quoting Isaiah and not Paul. Isaiah says:

Isaiah 52:11, "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord."

But it is clear that the author of Alma is not citing Isaiah, but is citing Paul's paraphrase. Isaiah commands the people to "depart." Paul changes the form and bids them "come." Isaiah says it twice, Paul only once. Paul also uses the phrase "be ye separate," rather than Isaiah's "be ye clean," and moves this clause to before "touch not the unclean thing" rather than after it, where Isaiah puts it. Finally, the context of Isaiah is dealing with Israel departing the land of her exile and returning home by God's deliverance. Paul may well draw on these familiar words in his paraphrase, but the application is different. Paul is instead calling Christians to live separate, holy lives apart from the wicked ways of the world. When you look at both the wording and the application in Alma, the author is clearly quoting Paul's paraphrase and not Isaiah's original. Again, the author of Alma was familiar with the writings of Paul. The author was not a pre-New-Testament Israelite living in ancient America.

Alma and the Prologue of John

The author also borrows phrases from the first chapter of John:

Alma 5:48, "I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name."

John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

John 1:29, "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."

John 1:12, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."

The author of Alma strings together phrases taken from John's gospel, all only a few verses apart within the same chapter, to make a prophecy about "Jesus Christ," who is mentioned by name and using the Greek title "Christ" rather than the Hebrew "Messiah." Again, that the author takes the exact phrase "The only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," word for word (simply adding "and mercy") coupled with the related use of other phrases from the very same chapter in John makes it pretty clear that the author of Alma knew the New Testament text.

Alma and the New Birth

In the very next verse after borrowing the lines from John 1, the author of Alma goes on to write:

Alma 5:49, "And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again."

The term "born again," is introduced by Jesus in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:

John 3:3, "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

John 3:7, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."

This is such a small phrase and so familiar to us today that it can be easy to assume that it was a very common analogy, but it clearly was not. Jesus' use of this term was novel, and Nicodemus initially had no idea what He was talking about:

John 3:4, "Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?"

John 3:9, "Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?"

The term occurs one more time later in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:23) but is otherwise unknown in ancient Jewish literature. Once again, we're not talking about a traditional idiom that some supposed Hebrew tribes migrating to ancient America might have also known. We are talking about a quite unique analogy used by Jesus and initially not understood by His audience. And it is unlikely to be a coincidence that Alma uses this analogy immediately after borrowing several other phrases from John's gospel (see section above on the prologue of John).

It is also worth noting that Alma 5 elsewhere uses the similar term "born of God," (Alma 5:14). This term is derived from Jesus' words and used only by John in his first epistle (1 John 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 5:4, 5:18).1 Again, the borrowing of this kind of distinctive terminology betrays the author of Alma's knowledge of and dependence on the New Testament, proving that the author cannot be who they claim to be.

Other Examples

In addition to those already given in detail, Alma chapter 5 borrows a number of other phrases from the New Testament:

  • Alma 5:21 - "no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins." (Compare Revelation 7:14, 1:5).
  • Alma 5:27 - "That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?" (same comparison as previous)
  • Alma 5:24 - "do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob," (compare Matthew 8:11).
  • Alma 5:25 - "ye cannot suppose that such can have place in the kingdom of heaven; but they shall be cast out," (compare Matthew 8:12).
  • Alma 5:28 - "kingdom of heaven is soon at hand" (Compare Matthew 3:2, 10:7. Also, "Kingdom of Heaven" is a term distinct to Matthew's gospel).
    Alma 5:50 - "Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand," (same comparison as previous)
  • Alma 5:34 - "ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely," (Compare Revelation 21:6, 22:17 for "drink the waters of life freely,"; 22:14 for partaking of "the tree of life" in the same context; Even "bread of life" is from John 6:35, 44).
  • Alma 5:35-36 - "Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire— For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn." (Compare Matthew 3:10, 7:19; Luke 3:9, Contrast the teaching, however, with Titus 3:5, which says "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.").
  • Alma 5:37 - "as sheep having no shepherd" (see Matthew 9:36, Mark 6:34).
  • Alma 5:38-39, "the Good shepherd," "harken unto his voice," "child of the devil," (Compare John 10, John 8:44)
  • Alma 5:42, "for his wages he receiveth death," (Compare Romans 6:23).
  • Alma 5:38, "the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life," (Compare Philippians 4:3, Revelation 3:5, 20:15, 21:27).

And all of this is from just one chapter of the Book of Mormon. And not even a chapter that was specially chosen for the task, but rather one brought up by a Mormon missionary for the entirely different reason of contrasting their teaching of the necessity of works to be worthy of heaven over against the Biblical gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. It would not surprise me to find similar results in many other chapters of the Book of Mormon.

So what's the point of all of this? The point, again, is that the Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient text written by ancient Hebrew prophets from a supposed group of Israelites that left the land of Israel and settled in North America. Many of them (Alma included) are supposed to have lived before the time of the New Testament. Those that lived after the New Testament still would not have had access to the New Testament documents as they had not been copied and carried across the Atlantic at that time. The fact that Alma 5 was clearly written by someone who knew and borrowed heavily from the New Testament (even while altering its teaching) demonstrates that the story of the Book of Mormon isn't true. The Book of Mormon is a forgery and thus the religion founded on it is a fraud.

  • 1. John also once uses "born of Him," (1 John 2:29) with the "him" clearly referring to God.