The Rapid-Changed Role of the Book of Mormon

When looking through lists of scriptures most of cited in General Conference over the past 60 years, nothing is more remarkable than the rapid change in frequency of references to the Book of Mormon. The move toward the Book of Mormon could hardly be more pronounced. In just a few years, the Book of Mormon went from nowhere to everywhere. When President Benson spoke, General Conference speakers listened.

From 1942 – 1961, no Book of Mormon passage (zero-zip-nada!) was in the Top 25 verses most cited in General Conference, and only three (3!) verses were among the Top 100. Since 1985, the Book of Mormon now accounts for 14 (fourteen!) of the Top 25, and 32 of the Top 100.

The shift occurred, not surprisingly, around 1986, President Benson’s first full year as prophet. For the 10 years before 1986, the Book of Mormon had only three (3) verses in the Top 25 and eight (8) in the Top 100. In the 10 subsequent years, the Book of Mormon occupied over half of the Top 25 (13 slots) and 34 of the Top 100.

1942-1961 1975-1984 1986-1995 1985-2004
1 JS-H 1:17 Moses 1:39 Moses 1:39 Moses 1:39
2 Matt. 22:39 JS-H 1:17 Mosiah 18:9 Mosiah 18:9
3 Moses 1:39 Matt. 22:39 2 Ne. 31:20 2 Ne. 31:20
4 Matt. 22:37 D&C 38:30 2 Ne. 2:25 Mosiah 3:19
5 Matt. 6:33 Matt. 25:40 Moro. 10:32 Moro. 10:32
6 Rom. 1:16 D&C 68:28 Matt. 25:40 2 Ne. 2:25
7 Ex. 20:8 Amos 3:7 Mosiah 3:19 Matt. 22:37
8 Matt. 22:38 John 17:3 Moro. 7:47 Matt. 25:40
9 John 17:3 A of F 1:13 JS-H 1:17 JS-H 1:17
10 Rev. 14:6 Dan. 2:44 Matt. 22:37 D&C 20:77
11 D&C 101:80 Matt. 22:37 3 Ne. 27:27 Moro. 7:47
12 Matt. 24:14 Matt. 16:15 Matt. 22:39 2 Ne. 2:27
13 Acts 4:12 Matt. 16:16 John 17:3 Matt. 22:39
14 D&C 68:25 Matt. 11:28 2 Ne. 2:27 Alma 7:12
15 JS-H 1:19 Acts 4:12 Alma 32:27 Alma 7:11
16 Dan. 2:44 1 Ne. 3:7 John 13:34 Moro. 10:5
17 Matt. 5:16 Mal. 3:10 D&C 121:41 3 Ne. 27:27
18 Matt. 16:16 Acts 3:21 Matt. 11:28 Moro. 6:4
19 Matt. 28:20 Moro. 10:4 Jacob 4:13 D&C 19:18
20 Matt. 28:19 Moro. 7:47 Alma 7:12 Abr. 3:25
21 D&C 93:36 D&C 59:9 Matt. 11:29 A of F 1:13
22 A of F 1:13 D&C 84:33 Alma 41:10 John 17:3
23 Mark 16:15 D&C 19:18 3 Ne. 11:11 Alma 42:8
24 John 3:5 Abr. 3:25 D&C 1:38 Moro. 10:4
25 John 7:17 Matt. 28:20 D&C 20:77 Matt. 11:28
26  2 Ne. 2:25  John 11:25  1 Ne. 3:7  Matt. 11:29
27  Moro. 10:4  James 1:5  Alma 7:11  1 Tim. 4:12
28  Gen. 1:27  D&C 59:6  D&C 19:18  1 Ne. 3:7
29  Ex. 20:12  D&C 84:38  D&C 68:25  Alma 32:27
30  Eph. 4:12  D&C 84:39  Moses 4:2  D&C 14:7
31  Ether 2:12  D&C 89:19  A of F 1:13  D&C 121:45
32  Matt. 16:17  D&C 68:25  John 14:15  John 14:27
33  John 14:6  Matt. 16:13  Mosiah 18:8  Alma 41:10
34  John 3:3  Matt. 16:17  D&C 76:24  D&C 84:38
35  Matt. 5:48  Matt. 25:21  D&C 89:19  D&C 121:41
36  Mark 16:16  3 Ne. 11:7  D&C 121:45  D&C 68:25
37  Ex. 20:9  3 Ne. 27:27  D&C 18:10  Alma 5:14
38  Matt. 3:17  D&C 1:16  Matt. 22:38  D&C 18:10
39  Eph. 4:11  D&C 58:27  John 3:16  D&C 1:38
40  Matt. 4:4  Matt. 5:48  John 14:27  John 13:34
41  Eph. 4:13  Matt. 6:33  1 Pet. 2:9  3 Ne. 11:11
42  D&C 84:38  Matt. 3:17  Alma 5:14  D&C 89:19
43  D&C 68:28  John 21:16  Alma 32:28  2 Ne. 25:26
44  Ex. 20:14  John 13:34  D&C 89:21  Moro. 7:16
45  Matt. 7:12  Mosiah 18:9  D&C 81:5  Moro. 7:48
46  Acts 2:38  D&C 20:77  Abr. 3:25  Matt. 22:38
47  Acts 3:21  D&C 76:22  Matt. 11:30  John 14:6
48  D&C 89:18  D&C 76:23  Matt. 28:19  John 14:15
49  D&C 59:9  D&C 76:24  1 Cor. 10:13  Acts 10:38
50  D&C 130:21  D&C 78:14  Philip. 4:7  1 Pet. 2:9
51  Gen. 1:28  D&C 84:34  Mosiah 2:17  Alma 32:28
52  Matt. 6:10  D&C 89:18  3 Ne. 12:48  D&C 68:28
53  Luke 23:34  Dan. 2:45  3 Ne. 11:10  Josh. 24:15
54  D&C 89:19  Matt. 28:19  Moro. 10:4  Matt. 28:19
55  D&C 130:20  Matt. 16:14  D&C 93:40  John 3:16
56  JS-H 1:18  Luke 6:46  D&C 64:10  1 Cor. 15:22
57  Gen. 3:19  Luke 23:34  D&C 58:27  Philip. 4:7
58  Ex. 20:10  John 3:16  Ex. 20:12  Mosiah 18:8
59  Isa. 29:14  John 8:32  Matt. 22:36  Hel. 5:12
60  Matt. 6:9  1 Cor. 15:22  John 14:6  D&C 76:24
61  D&C 18:15  1 Cor. 13:1  1 Tim. 4:12  2 Ne. 32:3
62  A of F 1:1  Eph. 2:20  1 Ne. 11:25  Jacob 4:13
63  Isa. 2:3  Mosiah 3:19  2 Ne. 2:8  D&C 58:27
64  D&C 132:19  D&C 14:7  Moro. 6:4  D&C 64:33
65  Mal. 3:10  D&C 38:27  Moro. 7:16  Luke 10:37
66  Matt. 16:18  D&C 58:43  D&C 19:19  Mosiah 5:2
67  Luke 22:42  D&C 104:16  D&C 64:33  D&C 59:23
68  John 3:16  D&C 121:45  D&C 68:28  D&C 76:23
69  D&C 115:4  Ex. 20:14  D&C 121:43  D&C 121:42
70  D&C 59:23  Ex. 20:12  Matt. 5:48  John 7:17
71  Amos 3:7  Mal. 4:6  Matt. 22:40  Eph. 2:19
72  Matt. 22:40  Matt. 11:29  Matt. 28:20  3 Ne. 11:10
73  John 14:27  Matt. 11:30  Matt. 25:35  D&C 76:22
74  1 Cor. 15:20  John 10:16  Matt. 25:36  D&C 84:88
75  1 Pet. 2:9  Rev. 14:6  John 4:14  Ex. 20:12
76  D&C 38:27  D&C 59:5  John 5:39  Matt. 4:19
77  D&C 1:30  D&C 82:10  John 11:25  Luke 18:22
78  A of F 1:11  D&C 84:37  John 20:16  John 14:26
79  Ex. 20:16  D&C 19:16  Acts 10:38  1 Cor. 3:16
80  Mal. 4:6  D&C 110:14  1 Cor. 15:22  2 Ne. 2:11
81  John 7:16  D&C 110:15  2 Ne. 25:26  Mosiah 2:17
82  James 1:5  JS-H 1:25  Alma 31:5  D&C 89:21
83  1 Ne. 2:20  Isa. 29:14  Alma 42:8  D&C 93:40
84  D&C 121:41  Matt. 5:16  Hel. 5:12  Mal. 3:10
85  D&C 88:81  Matt. 16:18  3 Ne. 17:21  Matt. 26:39
86  Moses 4:2  Matt. 6:9  Moro. 10:5  Matt. 11:30
87  JS-H 1:33  Luke 10:37  D&C 18:15  Luke 22:42
88  A of F 1:8  Luke 15:20  D&C 76:23  3 Ne. 12:48
89  Ex. 20:15  John 11:26  D&C 14:7  3 Ne. 17:21
90  Isa. 2:2  John 21:15  D&C 64:34  D&C 59:9
91  Matt. 7:21  Eph. 4:14  D&C 84:38  D&C 89:18
92  Matt. 3:15  Alma 34:32  D&C 20:79  D&C 121:37
93  Matt. 11:29  D&C 1:2  D&C 121:42  D&C 18:15
94  Luke 2:49  D&C 59:23  Isa. 1:18  D&C 58:42
95  Acts 1:11  D&C 64:33  Luke 10:37  D&C 19:19
96  1 Cor. 15:22  D&C 84:35  John 16:33  D&C 81:5
97  2 Pet. 1:4  D&C 84:36  John 7:17  Moses 4:2
98  Rev. 14:7  D&C 84:40  Acts 3:21  Matt. 22:40
99  D&C 1:17  D&C 84:44  2 Ne. 32:3  Matt. 5:48
100  D&C 4:2  D&C 88:118  2 Ne. 2:11  Luke 2:52

46 comments for “The Rapid-Changed Role of the Book of Mormon

  1. It seems odd to me that Mormon general authorities would need encouragement to quote from the Book of Mormon in general conference meetings. I’m glad it worked though.

  2. The table may look odd because there are Unicode characters in there. If you change your browser encoding setting to Unicode, it looks fine. But that’s not exactly a convenient thing to do. (Also, the second column heading isn’t bold. If there’s a meaning behind that, I’m not getting it.)

  3. Matt,

    Also interesting is that 50% of the top 25 are BOM, but only a third of the top 100 are BOM.

    Of the second tier, from 26-100, only 18 (a quarter) are BOM.

    Does that mean that we’ve overfocused on certain, easy to remember verses, while neglecting the rest of the book?

  4. Kaimi, at least part of the problem you’re noting is because the database counts scriptures by verse, so a passage like Matthew 22:37-40 is counted as four separate verses. Matthew 22:40 makes the Top 100 even though it is probably never cited except with Matthew 22:39. Because the verses in the Book of Mormon are typically longer than those in the New Testament, they would more often be cited singly, not pulling weaker verses into the Top 100.

  5. Danithew writes:
    “It seems odd to me that Mormon general authorities would need encouragement to quote from the Book of Mormon in general conference meetings.”

    It makes some sense to me. The KJV is, simply put, prettier. The language is often more elegant, and as a result IMHO it produces better soundbites. That doesn’t mean the message of the BofM is any less valuable, of course; it just tends to be stretched across many more verses. Given the constraints of a general conference address I suspect it would be a lot easier (and better, from a public speaking point of view) to quote one or two verses from the Sermon on the Mount than half a chapter from King Benjamin’s address to get the same idea across.

    I wonder if the switch has anything to do with the internationalization of the church. I don’t know much about translations of the bible into languages other than English, but maybe the same thing doesn’t hold true in other languages.

  6. It’s not just the prettiness of the Bible in other languages, its the standardization. There’s translations the Church prefers but they aren’t necessarily church-controlled translations of the KJV. Since the KJV is outmoded in some ways, bible translations in other countries often have different readings.

  7. Interesting also that there is very little change in any of the scriptures close to the top of the last two columns. Since President Benson’s tenure, the most popular scriptures have remained fairly constant.

  8. I personally have two rules that I follow when giving a talk in Church: reference at least one scripture from the Book of Mormon, and bear testimony of Christ.

  9. Very interesting. Noel Reynolds did a similar analysis a few years ago in BYU Studies, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” (Spring 1999). Reynolds found that following President Benson’s talk in 1986, Book of Mormon citations rose from just 12% of Conference scriptural citations to 40% the following year, before leveling off around 25%. Reynolds also makes the historical case that it was not until the second half of the 20th century (partially occurring before President Benson’s emphasis and partially caused by Benson’s focus) did the Book of Mormon assume its current centrality in Mormon culture; as evidence, Reynolds looks at everything from missionary work to the numbers of books and articles published about the Book of Mormon to the use of the Book of Mormon by CES and the BYU Religion Department. It’s worth a read.

  10. Matt G,

    I wonder too about the impacts of (1)correlation, (2) the release of fully cross-referenced scriptures in 1979-81, and (3) the move to a teaching cycle rotating through the standard works.

  11. I think you’re right in suspecting that all of those contributed to increased use of the Book of Mormon. The move to a Sunday School teaching cycle which rotated through the standard works occurred in 1972 as a direct result of Correlation. Originally, it was to be an 8-year cycle, with two years devoted to each standard work. In 1982, it was changed to a 4-year cycle, apparently (according to Reynolds) to address concerns of Church leaders that members shouldn’t go six years without studying the Book of Mormon in Sunday School.

    It would be difficult to measure the impact of the new scriptural editions, but it makes sense that they would have increased use of the Book of Mormon, at least marginally.

  12. This seems to run contrary to what the media was reporting around the time of the Olympics–that Latter-day Saints had been trying to “change” perception of them by suddenly starting to talk about Christ in the preceding decade. Either that or the media is unaware that by making this claim, they were really affirming that the BoM is all about Christ.

  13. Can some old timer tell me what the ss curic. looked like before the 8 yr then 4 yr rotation?

  14. Should the study alternatively be labeled the diminished role of the Bible in General Conference? I have not taken the time to count references in the Bible in the top 25 and top 100, but I note that among the top ten, the references declined from 8 out of 10 in 1942 to 1961 to 2 out of 10 in 1986 to 1995 and 1985 to 2004.

    Does this mean the Bible is becoming merely an ancillary scripture for Latter-day Saints? A volume that is nice to have, but rarely referred to. If Spencer W. Kimball were a teenager today, would anyone have encouraged him to read the entire Bible? Will lack of Bible study become another area in which Latter-day Saints begin to sharply diverge from traditional Christianity?

    I suppose a contrary argument is that we still spend two of the four years in the Sunday School cycle on the New Testament and Old Testament.

    Is it a sin if a family, after completing the Book of Mormon, proceeds to read the Bible as a family (without reading the Book of Mormon together on those days)? Sin of commission or omission?

    [Julie: The eight year rotation was 2 years OT, 2 years NT, 2 years BofM, 2 years Church History/D&C]

  15. DavidH wrote, “Will lack of Bible study become another area in which Latter-day Saints begin to sharply diverge from traditional Christianity?” IMHO, it already has. I frequently hear members talking about reading the BOM each day but very rarely hear discussions about Bible study.

  16. It is difficult to justify the way the various books of scripture are each assigned a year if one simply examines the differences in book lengths. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is by far the longest of the books of scripture. It would be nice if the time allotted for study of each book were in some way designed to deal with the amount of material that is being covered.

    I’ve said this before as well, but the Book of Mormon deserves much more in-depth attention that it gets in either the Sunday classes or the universities. It would make more sense to split Alma down the middle and study it over the course of two semesters than it does to split the Book of Mormon down the middle and try and deal with it in the same period of time.

    Jewish people take the Torah (the 5 books of Moses) and study just that much material over the course of each and every year.

  17. “Will lack of Bible study become another area in which Latter-day Saints begin to sharply diverge from traditional Christianity?”

    I know many Christians who don’t really study the Bible. They tend to read from the Gospels and maybe Romans or a little Revelation, if they’re eschatologically-inclined.

  18. Here are some more numbers:

    42-70 71-85 86-04
    BOM11.4% 17.3% 30.8%
    OT 14.6% 13.7% 11.3%
    NT 44.1% 36.1% 28.5%
    Other 29.9% 32.9% 29.4%

  19. Here are the percentages for three time periods: 1942-1970, 1971-1985, and 1986-2004 (I apologize for the table formatting).

    42-70 71-85 86-04
    BOM 11.4% 17.3% 30.8%
    OT 14.6% 13.7% 11.3%
    NT 44.1% 36.1% 28.5%
    Other 29.9% 32.9% 29.4%

    Things to note:
    1. The shift to the BOM started well before 1985, but has increased since then.
    2. The emphasis on the BOM has come mostly at the expense of the New Testament.

  20. In contrast to Ben’s experience, many evangelical Christians whom I know seem to focus mostly on Acts and the Epistles. Their reasoning seems to be that the Old Covenant was in effect until the death of Christ, so only post-resurrection scripture speaks directly to the church in the new age.

  21. Sorry for the double post…

    You may also be interested in a graph I made a while ago showing the variation among apostles in the rates in which they’ve cited different scriptures:

    The horizontal axis is the percentage of cites that are to the BOM, and the vertical is percentage of cites to the Bible. Whatever’s left over are cites to the D&C/PoGP.

    As you can see, the percentage of citations to the Bible ranges from about 75% (Monson) down to about 20% (Scott).

    (I’ve commented about this elsewhere: )

  22. In this comparative it would be interesting to note how many references were made to the Saviour prior to Brother Oakes bringing it to the attention of the Brethern when he was called to the quorum..

  23. John Fowles: The media depictions during the Olympics are off at least a decade. BYU Studies ran an article just before the Olympics showing the rise of Christ images in the church. The curve shows an ascent in Christ images in church periodicals from the early 1970s forward. That ascent may have something to do with the disappearance of advertisements in the new church magazines after 1971, freeing up more space for images.

    Matt Evans: Is the heading in the right-hand column correct (“1985-2004”)? I would think a breakdown of the scriptures used in the “1995”-2004 period would help weigh in on John F.’s allusion to the church’s changing face since GBH became president. If Mormonism has been softening its doctrinal edges since 1995, the scriptures quoted since then might look different than those quoted 1986-1995.

  24. What do we see when we look at the content of the most popular scriptures?

    By perusing the Conference talks since the 1980s, it seems obvious to me that the talks have shifted from being primarily doctrine-centered to being practical living-centered. The talks today are more “how to” homilies than metaphysical discourses in the JFS or McConkie tradition. The move falls within the larger move from other-worldliness to this-world, rationalism to utilitarianism, modernism to postmodernism.

    If there has indeed been a shift toward practical living, do the prominent scriptures reflect the problems of everyday Mormon lives? Moroni 10:32 could reflect the relatively new Mormon interest in grace in the lives of people who are overworked and overstressed. Endurance (2 Ne 31:20) and joy (2 Ne 2:25) sound like verses to help people in trouble–harried housewives, divorcees, the abused, e.g., people who are not feeling the love. Witnessing “at all times” (Mos 18:9) and becoming as a little child (Mos 3:19) sound like antidotes to bully fathers and husbands.

    Just an idea.

  25. Jacques, the column headings are right. My comparison eras were the first 20 years available on the database vs. the most recent 20 years (Columns 1 and 4), and the 10 years on either side of 1985 (columns 2 and 3). I would add more columns but for the hassle of converting the data into tables that display properly on our webpage.

  26. Ed, do you have software that can mine this treasure trove? I’d like to track citation frequency for individual verses over time, but not, of course, manually.

  27. Sorry Matt, no special software. I’m just did individual searches in the database like you did and used Excel. (Did I mention I love stuff like this? I wonder if we could get the people at BYU to give us their database? Or I see there are PDFs with the data, with a bit of work you could convert those into a database.)

  28. “In 1982, it was changed to a 4-year cycle, apparently (according to Reynolds) to address concerns of Church leaders that members shouldn’t go six years without studying the Book of Mormon in Sunday School. ”

    It is a pity, then, that we did not switch to doing half of the various scripture the first four years and the other half the second four. Doing it all in one year is like barely landing a glancing blow.

  29. DavidH wrote, “Will lack of Bible study become another area in which Latter-day Saints begin to sharply diverge from traditional Christianity?” We already diverge from traditional Christianity–but in the opposite direction. According to a survey conducted by the Barna Group in 2001, Mormons are more likely to read the Bible during a week than are Protestants or Catholics. 71% of Mormons reported weekly reading of the Bible. Barely half of Protestants read the Bible during a typical week. When considered by denomination, members of the Assembly of God came in closest to Mormons at 69%. Catholics reported at 48% and Episcopalians reported the lowest percentage at 30%.

  30. Ben, thanks for posting the link. It looks like we need to do a better job of educating fellow Christians about our love for the Bible and its role in our devotional lives. The Barna Survey discussed the results about Mormon Bible reading in a section entitled “Some Surprises”.

  31. I became a member when S.W.Kimball was Pres., but my interest and knowledge of the Prophet’s of the Church was sharpened with E.Z.Benson – who, as you know, emphasized the BOM. As I have looked at President’s messages since J.Smith – each has taken a topic that has “moved” the Church/membership closer to what I refer to as “celestial” living – i.e., “preparing a people for the coming of the Lord”….it makes sense that the greatest emphasis in these “latter-days” would be on the book that will help “prepare a people for the coming of the Lord” – not taking ANYTHING away from Bible….

  32. First of all, the 71% was the percentage of mormons who attend church, the percent that read the bible is 67%.

    But there is no way I believe that 67% of self-identifying mormons read the bible every week. I’m not sure how reliable this survey was…we don’t know what questions they used or how the sample may have been skewed. Also, the sample only included 86 mormon respondants.

  33. ed, thanks for the correction on the percentages. I read from the wrong column reporting the survey results. According to the survey, 67% of Mormons read the Bible on a weekly basis. Members of the Assembly of God are at 66% and Catholics come in at 23%. Episcopalians are at 30%. Pentecostals lead at 75%. Protestants as a group are at 54%.

    Why are you surprised at the survey results? I don’t find the results to be surprising. In my experience, Latter-day Saints study the Bible together with the Book of Mormon. I read from both scriptures in my daily devotionals.

  34. Ed, if you can get your hands on the raw data to perform some research, I’ll promote your results at Times & Seasons. Maybe we could post it here. I too love stuff like this. My specialty has so far been baby names. (My analysis of the baby name “Hillary” circulated widely on internet. The accompanying table and graph is here.) It would be interesting to track scriptures in a similar graph.

  35. Ed, I’m a little surprised too. I wonder if, besides the small sample size, Mormons might not overreport their bible reading nowadays because we feel like we have something to prove–that we’re good Christians too.

  36. With 86 reported observations, the standard deviation is about 15% on that question (If I did the math right). This implies that there is a reasonable chance of the acutal number being more like 40%, ignoring misreporting.

    I am sure Mormons misreport, but I imagine other demoniations do also.

  37. Frank, I think you did the math wrong. An exact 95% confidence interval is (56.5% , 77.2%). (In Stata: “cii 86 58”).

    As in almost all surveys, I’m more worried about other biases and assumptions than I am about sampling variation. I don’t even believe that 56% of mormons read the bible every week.

    I commend Brent for his faithfulness, but I doubt most Mormon’s have “dalily devotionals,” and to the extent that they do I expect they now tend to favor the BOM heavily over the Bible. But maybe I’m just cynical.

  38. I’ve taught SS under both the 8 and 4-year curricula. Personally, I preferred the 8, although I recognize it is probably too much and too tiring for a lot of people who prefer the relatively quick change of pace that comes every year in the 4.

    But I always hated the advice to read the BoM every day. (It’s great when we are studying BoM.) Because as a SS teacher, I wanted people to read the SS lesson, but 75% of the time we were studying something other than the BoM. Of course, people could read *both* the BoM and something else, and a few might do that, but most people have a limited tolerance for scripture reading, and so if they read anything at all it was the BoM and not what we were supposed to be studying. As a teacher, I found it very disheartening.

  39. “But there is no way I believe that 67% of self-identifying mormons read the bible every week. I’m not sure how reliable this survey was…we don’t know what questions they used or how the sample may have been skewed.”

    I agree with Ed. This survey was done by a non-Mormon, right? I’d be willing to bet that the many of the Mormon respondants mentally transposed “Bible” into “Scriptures” since they figured that it would mean the same thing to a non-Mormon pollster.

  40. I’d be very surprised if Br. Peterson hasn’t hit it on the head. I would have done that.

  41. ed,

    that is very likely, I just did it in my head real fast. It seemed really wide to me so I probably I missed a squared term somewhere.

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