Richard Packham argues that "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14/2 Nephi 17:14 and "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14:12/2 Nephi 14:12 are KJV errors in the Book of Mormon.

Apr 20, 2003
Richard Packham

Richard Packham, "A Linguist Look at Mormonism: Notes on Linguistic Problems in Mormonism," April 20, 2003, accessed January 17, 2023

Richard Packham
Richard Packham
Internet Public

More King James Mistranslations in the Book of Mormon

"virgin" - 2 Nephi 17:14 = Isaiah 7:14

The Book of Mormon preserves some demonstrable mistranslations of the King James Version of the Bible. One notable example is Isaiah 7:14, which in the KJV is translated "a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." This is copied word for word into the Book of Mormon at 2 Nephi 17:14. The problem is that the Hebrew text has the word 'almah,' which does not mean "virgin," but "young woman": the Hebrew word for "virgin" is 'bethulah,' and most modern Bible translations do not use "virgin" to translate Isaiah 7:14. (Some Christians, including the author of Matthew 1:22-23, view this passage as a prophecy of the birth of Jesus from the virgin Mary, but that ignores the entire context of that chapter: the purpose of the prophecy was to answer King Ahaz' question about the outcome of his upcoming war with Syria and Israel.)

The error can be traced back to the fact that the King James translators relied heavily on the Latin (Vulgate) translation of the Bible by Jerome, from the 4th century A.D. Jerome, in turn, relied on the Greek (Septuagint) translation of the Old Testament. In Greek there is only one word for both meanings ("virgin" and "young woman"), making the Greek translation from Hebrew ambiguous. But why would Nephi be confused? He was (supposedly) in possession of the original Hebrew text, which would have had the word 'almah,' not 'bethulah.' But he mistranslates the passage just as Jerome and the King James translators mistranslated it many centuries later.

"Lucifer" - 2 Nephi 24:12 = Isaiah 14:12

Another remarkable example is at 2 Nephi 24:12, copied from Isaiah 14:12, as translated in the KJV: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" Here again the problem is a reliance on Jerome's Latin version (remember, from the 4th century A.D.!).

The only place the word "Lucifer" occurs in the entire Bible is in the King James Version at this passage. Other translations do not have "Lucifer" there (or anywhere at all), but translate the word correctly as "day-star," "star of the morning" or "morning star."

This passage, when read in context, is addressed to the king of Babylon, who was very proud and haughty and surrounded in worldly glory, but who was to be destroyed. "Lucifer" is used in Jerome's Latin (and, following Jerome, in the King James Version) to translate the Hebrew word 'helel', which means "morning star" (i.e., the planet Venus). The Hebrew root 'h-l-l' means "shine" or "boast," so it is probably a taunting pun in the Hebrew Isaiah. There were two Greek names for the planet, both similar: either 'heos-phoros' meaning "dawn-bringer," or 'phos-phoros' meaning "light-bringer." In the Septuagint (Greek) translation of this passage, probably made in the first or second century B.C., they translated 'helel' with the Greek word 'heos-phoros.' When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he used the Septuagint as his source and simply translated the Greek word for Venus into the Latin name of that planet, which is an exact translation of the Greek 'phos-phoros': luci-fer, from the Latin roots 'luc-' "light" and 'fer-' "bring, bear, carry."

It was not until well into the Christian era that the idea arose that "Lucifer" was a name, and that the verse applied to Satan and not to the king of Babylon. It is probably influenced by the (erroneous) assumption that Luke 10:18 (saying that Satan fell as lightning from heaven) is a reference to the Isaiah passage.

Oddly, the only other place in the Bible where the term "morning star" ('phosphoros') is used is at 2 Peter 1:19, where it refers to Jesus!

Revelations 2:28 and 22:16 also refer to the "morning star," meaning Jesus, but use a different Greek phrase made up of the Greek words for "morning" and "star." One verse promises the "morning star" as a reward to the faithful; the latter verse is Jesus' saying "I Jesus ... am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star."

This error is compounded in modern Mormon theology, with Lucifer as the name of a character in the endowment ceremony. See also D&C 76:25-27:

"And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, 26 And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him--he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. 27 And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning!"

Error upon error! A Latin word in the (Hebrew-"reformed Egyptian") Book of Mormon! Now, if a Mormon should object that "Lucifer" is just a translation, then we must ask: What is the Hebrew (or "reformed Egyptian") word which it is translating? And how did it come to be the name of the devil?

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