Of “Life Ete​​rnal” and “Eternal Lives”: Joseph Smith’s Engagement with the Gospel of John


Eternal life, Joseph Smith, Gospel of John, New Testament, Bbile


It is evident upon even a cursory reading of the works produced by Joseph Smith that the King James Bible served a crucial role in their development. As Philip Barlow has noted, “More than fifty thousand phrases of three or more words, excluding definite and indefinite articles, are common to the Bible and the Book of Mormon,” and “sometimes the Book of Mormon employs distinctive KJV phrases far more frequently than the KJV itself,” even though “the Book of Mormon is only one-third the volume of the Bible.”[1] Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss Joseph’s impressive literary corpus as merely a “plagiarism” of the Bible, as some have done.[2] Rather, Joseph’s primary literary works, the Book of Mormon and, in particular, his revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants exhibit remarkable creativity. When studied closely, it becomes clear that Joseph Smith did not simply study the Bible; he interacted with it. He mingled his words and ideas with texts written nearly two millennia ago, believing that these writings were not necessarily solidified and sanctified by time and tradition. It appears quite likely that Joseph understood his literary and theological achievements to function as an “inspired explication”[3] of texts both past and present.

Original Publication Citation

“Of Life Eternal and Eternal Lives: Joseph Smith’s Engagement with the Gospel of John,” in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, eds. Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2015), 194-228. (Peer Reviewed)

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Religious Studies Center




Religious Education


Ancient Scripture

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor