The Book of Mormon’s
Complex Finite Cause Syntax

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Abstract: This paper describes and compares the Book of Mormon’s 12 instances of complex finite cause syntax, the structure exemplified by the language of Ether 9:33: “the Lord did cause the serpents that they should pursue them no more.” This is not King James language or currently known to be pseudo-archaic language (language used by modern authors seeking to imitate biblical or related archaic language), but it does occur in earlier English, almost entirely before the year 1700. In the Book of Mormon, the syntax is always expressed with the modal auxiliary verbs should and shall. Twenty-five original examples of this specific usage have been identified so far outside of the Book of Mormon (not counting two cases of creative biblical editing — see the appendix). The text’s larger pattern of clausal verb complementation after the verb cause, 58 percent finite in 236 instances, is utterly different from what we encounter in the King James Bible and pseudo-archaic texts, which are 99 to 100 percent infinitival in their clausal complementation. The totality of the evidence indicates that Joseph Smith would not have produced this causative syntax of the Book of Mormon in a pseudo-archaic effort. Therefore, this dataset provides additional strong evidence for a revealed-words view of the 1829 dictation.

Example: “… the Lord did cause the serpents
that they should pursue them no more” (Ether 9:33)1

In grammar, a complement is one or more words added to another to complete the meaning. Complementation is completion of the meaning by the addition of a complement. In this paper, we are interested in clausal complementation — specifically, where the complement that completes the meaning of the verb cause is another verb phrase. Finite complementation means that there is a tensed verb in the complement [Page 114]clause. In the Book of Mormon, these tensed verbs are very often auxiliary verbs, most often shall and should. Infinitival complementation means there is no tensed verb in the complement, only an infinitive. This will all become clear as we consider quite a few examples.

In carrying out these syntactic studies, the issue I am primarily interested in is whether the Book of Mormon was the result of a revelation of ideas or a revelation of words. Much of the hard linguistic evidence I have analyzed indicates to me that it was a revelation of words. The unique clausal verb complementation of the Book of Mormon is strong evidence of that.2 I have not encountered any text that has the sustained heavily finite verb complementation of the Book of Mormon: hundreds of instances with quite a few different verbs.

Within the syntactic domain of verb complementation, we can break down usage by verb. Each verb has its own idiosyncrasies. For this paper, the verb of interest is cause, a verb of influence. Within these causative constructions, one syntactic subtype is the focus of this paper.

In the Book of Mormon, clausal complementation after the verb cause occurs 236 times (see page 577 of the critical-text volume The Nature of the Original Language [NOL]).3 Table 1 shows the three types of clausal complementation and the number of instances, in descending order, that occur in the Book of Mormon. The last type, complex finite complementation, is the focus of this paper.

Table 1. Types and instances of clausal complementation
after the verb cause in the Book of Mormon.

Complementation Instances Example (see Helaman 16:20)
Simple finite 124 to cause that we shall/should believe
Infinitival 100 to cause us to believe
Complex finite 12 to cause us that we shall/should believe

Following the terminology used in NOL, this paper refers to the two types of finite verb complementation as simple finite and complex finite. The terminology is less important than being generally aware of the syntactic structures, which readers can grasp intuitively.

It is also important to make clear that though the form of the expression is different in these three types, the meaning that is conveyed is essentially the same. In other words, the differences in the syntactic structures are meaning-neutral.

As shown in Table 1, the simple finite is the most common type of complementation occurring after the verb cause in the Book of Mormon, followed by the infinitive type, and then the complex finite type. [Page 115]The Book of Mormon is 58 percent finite and 42 percent infinitival, in 236 instances. This is an extraordinarily high finite rate for this verb and a very large number of finite instances. In view of this, the Book of Mormon presents us with a pattern quite unlike virtually any text we might consult. It is possible that no other text with at least 20 instances of this causative language has this heavily finite pattern. So far, database searches have not revealed any text that has 24 simple finite constructions after the verb cause, let alone 124.4

In Joseph Smith’s time, infinitival complementation after the verb cause was almost always used, and complex finite complementation was obsolete. We can see in two early letters that Joseph Smith used infinitival complementation: “cause to be brought” (1831); “has caused me to overlook” (1833). The simple finite construction was still in use, but it was only rarely used. Even before the year 1700, during the early modern period,5 infinitival complementation was dominant, with the simple finite uncommon, and the complex finite very uncommon. The last structural type shown in Table 1 — the complex finite construction with the related modal auxiliary verbs shall and should — was very rare language after the year 1700.

That there are 12 instances in the text shows that it was not an aberration, that it was either intentional on the part of Joseph Smith or that it reflected the apparent early modern sensibilities of the Book of Mormon’s English-language translation. The latter is by far the more likely reason for the usage, as well as for the text’s heavy finite complementation after this verb and other similar verbs of influence.6 In other words, the English-language translation seems to have involved implicit, wide-ranging knowledge of Early Modern English, beyond biblical knowledge, as well as knowledge of some earlier and later English.

At this point, only 25 complex finite instances similar to what we read in the Book of Mormon have been identified outside of the text, 23 of them before the modern period of English began after 1700.7 The original Book of Mormon text thus contains nearly one-third of currently identified instances of this specific syntax.

The rest of this paper will provide a brief comparative treatment of this syntactic structure, one presumably formed from imitating biblical language. Yet it is a syntactic type that no known biblical imitators actually used. It is certainly language that is out of place in a book first written down in 1829 and published in 1830.

[Page 116]Complex Finite Example

Consider the following excerpt, as it was originally dictated by Joseph Smith in 1829:

1 Nephi 17:46     he can cause the earth that it shall pass away

The Book of Mormon has 12 instances of this complex finite syntax.8 (For a discussion of Doctrine and Covenants usage, see pages 310–12 of my 2017 article.9)

All 12 of these syntactic structures consistently occur with either shall or should as the auxiliary verb, so I will confine the discussion to this consistent Book of Mormon type, even though the textual record has more examples of “«cause» NP that S” language without any auxiliary or with other auxiliaries besides shall and should. After a verb like cause, shall and should are mandative in function, a term that means “pertaining to command.”10

The Book of Mormon’s overall modal auxiliary usage is, generally speaking, early modern in orientation and sometimes sophisticated and nonbiblical. Nonbiblical aspects indicate that the overall usage was not something that Joseph Smith came up with based on a knowledge of King James idiom.

Textual databases currently indicate that the above complex finite syntactic structure involving the verb cause was effectively obsolete a long time before Joseph Smith’s birth. It appears to have been in the process of becoming obsolete during the early part of the 1700s. If it had been biblical, then its obsolescence would have been delayed.

Simple Finite Examples

A modified, simple finite version of 1 Nephi 17:46 would read as follows:

1 Nephi 17:46     * he can cause that the earth shall pass away

This general simple finite structure occurs 124 times after the verb cause in the Book of Mormon, and hundreds of times after other verbs of influence, so readers of the text in English are quite familiar with this syntax. The way the King James Bible would have worded this is with an infinitival complement. Had 1 Nephi 17:46 been phrased like a rare biblical simple finite construction, it would have been without a future subjunctive shall, either with no auxiliary or with the modal auxiliary may:

[Page 117]1 Nephi 17:46     * he can cause that the earth (may) pass away

The biblical text does not use a subjunctive shall after most verbs of influence, including the high-frequency verbs cause, command, desire, and suffer.11

Simple finite constructions were still used in the early 19th century, but they were very uncommon by then. A contemporaneous example of this simple finite syntax is the following, taken from the Google Books database:

1828, sj4AAAAAYAAJ12

and to cause that the proprietor thereof shall not be able to live,

Infinitival Example

The construction that we almost always hear and use today is the one with an infinitive:

1 Nephi 17:46     * he can cause the earth to pass away

This was the heavily dominant causative syntax of Joseph Smith’s day, and it was also the most likely pseudo-archaic form, since the 25 pseudo-archaic texts consulted for this study are all infinitival after the verb cause.13

In some contexts, such as with pronouns, the difference in textual usage rates between the finite and the infinitival was very large. In the late 1700s, for example, the simple finite occurred only about 0.1 percent of the time with pronominal arguments (one out of a thousand, on average).14

On the Complex Finite

Book of Mormon language like “king Mosiah did cause his people that they should till the earth” (Mosiah 6:7) is biblical-sounding, yet the specific syntax is not biblical. We can encounter a limited number of analogs in the King James text with other verbs. The above complex finite construction with this verb does not appear in the King James Bible or in the 25 pseudo-archaic texts consulted for this study. So it was not biblically imitative by analogy with other verbs, such as the verbs command and desire.15

The King James Bible has only three instances of simple finite syntax (“«cause» that S”), out of 303 constructions with the verb cause; the rest are infinitival (“«cause» NP to <infin. phrase>”). To repeat, the King James text is 99 percent infinitival after the verb cause, and one percent simple finite. In a direct comparison with the Book of Mormon, these [Page 118]dramatic differences yield a large chi-square statistic and an extremely low p-value (X2 = 222.4; p < 10–48).16

Furthermore, the 25 pseudo-archaic texts examined for this study have only infinitival complementation in this domain. They do not even have simple finite syntax after the verb cause, in 115 instances. To repeat, these pseudo-archaic writings have infinitival complementation after the verb cause 100 percent of the time.17

Summary of Findings

By way of summary, complex finite cause syntax has not been found to occur in

  • the King James Bible (including the Apocrypha:
    about 932,000 words)
  • 25 pseudo-archaic texts (first published between 1740
    and 1888)
  • Joseph Smith’s early writings (10 letters and his 1832 personal history)18
  • any original writings first published after 1713,19 outside of the Book of Mormon

As just mentioned, 25 close matches with the Book of Mormon’s complex finite cause syntax have been identified so far (in 24 texts), and their dates of composition range between the late 15th century and the early 18th century. This specific causative structure occurred mainly before the 18th century, and at markedly higher rates during the first half of the early modern period. One-half of the 24 texts with this language are older than the King James Bible, which was first printed in 1611. Because far fewer texts were published in the 16th century than in following centuries, this indicates that the popularity of this syntactic structure was much greater in earlier years.

Complex Finite Examples with Mandative Shall

Of the 12 instances of the Book of Mormon’s complex finite cause syntax, two have mandative shall and 10 have mandative should. Here are the two with mandative shall, with the linked arguments (objects and subjects) in bold and the auxiliary verb in italics:

1 Nephi 17:46 he can cause the earth that it shall pass away

3 Nephi 29:4 he will cause it that it shall soon overtake you20

At this point, 14 syntactic matches with this specific Book of Mormon construction have been identified in the earlier textual record, ranging in [Page 119]time between 1469 and 1713. Here are two examples that closely match the above language (see the beginning of the appendix for all 14 of them):

c1469, EEBO A21703 (1485)21 that shall cause me that I shall not be known
1701, ECCO CW010616495622 for this will cause it, that it shall not easily come off

The 1701 example is a nearly perfect syntactic match with 3 Nephi 29:4. Not only is there complex finite complementation with a repeat of the pronoun it, but in each case, there is an adverb following mandative shall.23

Complex Finite Examples with Mandative Should

Here are the Book of Mormon’s 10 complex finite examples with mandative should, the most common variety of this specific syntactic structure in the text:

+ 2 Nephi 5:17 I Nephi did cause my people that they should be industrious and that they should labor with their hands
Mosiah 6:7 king Mosiah did cause his people that they should till the earth
* Alma 21:3 they did cause the Lamanites that they should harden their hearts that they should wax stronger in wickedness
Alma 55:25 he did cause the Lamanites … that they should commence a labor
Alma 58:11 and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him
Alma 60:17 causing them that they should suffer all manner of afflictions
Helaman 16:20 to cause us that we should believe
3 Nephi 2:3 causing them that they should do great wickedness
Mormon 3:5 I did cause my people … that they should gather themselves together
+ Ether 9:33 the Lord did cause the serpents that they should pursue them no more but that they should hedge up the way

Note: The two marked with a plus sign (+) have two verb-dependent object clauses. The one marked with an asterisk (*) might have a second object clause, if it is asyndetically conjoined. If not, then it is a resultative clause.

[Page 120]At this point, 11 syntactic matches with this Book of Mormon construction have been identified in the earlier textual record, ranging in time between 1494 and 1700. Here are the earliest and latest examples that closely match the above language (see the appendix for all 11 of them):

1494, A00525 (1533) he by his secret means caused the Germans that they should take no party with Brunhilda
1700, A92940 to cause them that they should not go up to Jerusalem,

Complex Finite Usage by Century

Here is the breakdown by century of currently known textual instances of complex finite complementation after the verb cause, where the auxiliary is mandative:

Table 2. Instances and textual rates of “«cause» NP that S” syntax with
mandative shall or should — as found in the greater textual record
and arranged by century.

Late 15c & 16c 17c 18c
Instances 10 13 2
Number of titles (ESTC)24 10,603 70,815 302,074
Rate (per 100,000 ESTC titles) 94 18 0.7

Table 2 shows that thirteen 17th-century instances is a rate effectively equivalent to more than 20 times the 18th-century rate. Similarly, ten late 15th-century and 16th-century instances is effectively equivalent to more than 100 times the 18th-century rate. Though uncommon, complex finite complementation after the verb cause was primarily an early modern construction (as mentioned, there are even more instances in databases without a mandative auxiliary). It was very rare or obsolete by the middle of the 18th century.25

Complex Finite Usage by Auxiliary

Table 3 shows the usage broken down according to whether the auxiliary verb is shall or should. The Book of Mormon has nearly one-half of currently known instances of this specific syntactic construction with should. Only one text has two instances (see immediately below), and 10 texts have one instance each. This means that the Book of Mormon is unique in this respect, and it is an additional indication that Joseph Smith was not responsible for choosing this specific syntax.

[Page 121]Table 3. Instances of mandative auxiliary verb usage
in complex finite complementation after the verb cause.

Text / Corpora Shall Should
Book of Mormon  2 10
EEBO • ECCO 14 (c1649–1713) 11 (1494–1700)

Repeated Complex Finite Usage

One EEBO text has two consecutive instances of “«cause» NP that S” syntax with should:

1603, B11962 cannot he that caused the fire that it should not touch the three children make it burn thee quickly, cannot he that caused the lions that they should not touch Daniel, cause them to crush thee softly;

In addition, another early 17th-century text (1616, A00419) has four instances of complex finite cause syntax, but without mandative shall or should. Four instances of complex finite cause syntax are possibly the most that occur in a single text, besides the Book of Mormon, which has three times as many.

Conjoined Complementation

Two or three of the Book of Mormon’s complex causative constructions have additional conjoined that-clauses: 2 Nephi 5:17, Alma 21:3 (possibly — see the above note), and Ether 9:33 (all of these are shown above). This extended, conjoined syntax is a rare configuration; in the greater textual record it has also been found in EEBO A69038. Here are two examples laid out so that the matching can be easily seen:

1620, A69038 and I    will cause    you that you shall walk in my precepts,
2 Nephi 5:17 I Nephi    did cause    my people that they should be industrious
1620, A69038 and that you    shall observe and keep my commandments.
2 Nephi 5:17 and that they    should labor with their hands.

This 1620 textual example is thus a rare, exclusively early modern match with Book of Mormon usage, and it provides an additional small point in favor of the Book of Mormon exhibiting real archaism rather than pseudo-archaism. For many, the thought has been that Joseph Smith dictated a text whose grammar was pseudo-archaic. Yet the text has [Page 122]so much Early Modern English usage beyond known pseudo-archaic production that it appears that Joseph dictated a text that had already been elaborated with early modern expertise. By this, I don’t mean to say that the text is entirely early modern. What I mean is that it’s not fake early modern — that is, it’s not pseudo-archaic.

Such conjoined syntax is more often found in simple finite constructions during the early modern period, but it hardly ever occurred even in that simpler syntax. Here are two rare examples (spelling modernized):

1550, A13758 And to the surplusage, promised that they would perforce themself to cause that the Beotians and Corinthians should enter into the treaty and that Panacte should be rendered to the said Athenians.
1623, A11802 which they refusing, he caused that his engines should play, and that a general assault should be given.

Complex Finite Usage Co-occurring
with Early Modern (Non-emphatic) “Did Cause”

The Book of Mormon also exhibits combined archaism in this domain, since seven of the instances with mandative should co-occur with non-emphatic “did cause” (see Book of Mormon examples above). Here are four simple finite examples with non-emphatic “did cause,” taken from EEBO (in the original spelling):

1576, A09316 And also it is written, that God by hys death vppon the crosse dyd cause that his sonne should haue emperiall, rule, and be the onely Lord, ouer all his enimyes
1607, A13820 for sometimes the peculiar or vulgar speech, or the eloquency of wordes did cause that I should do so
1643, A89026 that that very image of the Beast, which the false prophet did give life unto, did cause that whosoever shall not worship the image of the Beast should be slaine
1659, A76798 Not that the Holy Ghost was the father of Christ, but that the Holy Ghost did cause that a Virgin should conceive without a man

[Page 123]When the same EEBO search was repeated, no examples of “did cause” with simple finite complementation came up in the largest 18th-century database, ECCO, which has more than nine billion words.


Because of the strong growth in the publishing of new titles, we would need to find nearly 300 original examples of this complex finite cause syntax in ECCO (as this database is currently constituted) in order to come close to matching the observed popularity of the first half of the early modern era. At this point, this appears to be an impossibility, since EEBO indicates that the usage diminished in popularity in the 1600s and because ECCO currently indicates that it died out in the early 1700s. (The ECCO database does stand in need of significant improvement, but what is currently available has been carefully searched.)

As databases improve and expand, known instances of this syntax occurring outside the Book of Mormon will likely increase over time. Yet it will be difficult to alter the position that Joseph Smith was unlikely to produce this kind of language on the basis of revealed ideas. First, the heavily finite verb complementation sustained throughout the Book of Mormon, after quite a few different verbs, argues against a revealed-ideas approach. From what I have seen so far in my detailed searches of the EEBO and ECCO databases, only some of William Caxton’s late 15th-century translations out of Latin and French have anything like the Book of Mormon’s patterns in this regard.26 Second, a lack of contemporary, early 19th-century textual support for this specific construction argues against a revealed-ideas approach. A finding of several contemporary authors who use multiple, original instances of this specific syntactic structure should be necessary in order to overturn this position. Third, the combined archaism and the redundant pronominal usage and even perhaps the extended, multiple complementation argue against a revealed-ideas approach.

This distinctive construction, then, is a prime example of how the language of Joseph Smith’s 1829 dictation differed from what biblical imitators produced, with the Book of Mormon using esoteric forms of expression missing from the King James Bible. It is this kind of comparative study — which in the case of the Book of Mormon is not a one-off proposition — that leads one to consider rejecting a biblical imitation hypothesis for its English, and to consider accepting that the text might actually contain genuine nonbiblical archaism.

[Page 124]Appendix

Complex Finite Complementation with Shall

So far, 14 instances of syntax of the form “«cause» NP that NP shall <infinitive>” have been noted in the textual record before the time of the Book of Mormon (see further below for two biblically reworked examples):

c1469, A21703 (1485) that shall cause me that I shall not be known
1548, A06510 for that shall cause us that we shall not be so secure and so sluggish in ourselves,
1579, A14461 and that he will cause them that they shall not swell over as a flood doth his waters,
1590, A16509 to cause a ship that she shall not sink
1592, A19165 but also causeth other stones near adjoining that they shall not burn
1618, A04062 to cause him that he shall not have time to hold his wind,
+ 1620, A69038 and I will cause you that you shall walk in my precepts, and that you shall observe and keep my commandments.
1634, A09763 the great … teeth … of a wolf, being hanged about an horse neck, cause him that he shall never tire and be weary,
1654, A85510 God … will cause those that are his, that they shall perform the duty,
a1665, CW0117833677 (1718) and cause thee that thou shalt not be able to open thy mouth to praise the Lord.
[Page 125]1668, A30582 he gives such grace as shall cause the soul that it shall have admiring thoughts of it;
1672, A54660 to cause us that we shall not be slothful
1701, CW0106164956 for this will cause it, that it shall not easily come off
1713, CW0117299501 to put his fear into them, and cause them that they shall not depart from his ways:

Twelve of these date from the early modern period, when far fewer texts were published. In the above set of examples, this complex finite syntax occurs 10 times with two linked pronouns.

Complex Finite Complementation with Should

So far, 11 instances of “«cause» NP that NP should <infinitive>” syntax have been noted in the textual record before the time of the Book of Mormon:

1494, A00525 (1533) he by his secret means caused the Germans that they should take no party with Brunhilda
1550, A00327 what reasons adduced and caused me that I should wish and desire such a matter to be brought to pass
1550, A22686 their works and deeds do not cause him that he should perform that which he hath promised
1577, A03448 the brute … caused Malcolm for very fear that he should not be able in any part to match him
1580, A08447 Therefore God being willing to cause man that he should come unto him,
1602, A13971 mercy caused thee that thou shouldest take upon thee all my evils
(2×) 1603, B11962 cannot he that caused the fire that it should not touch the three children make it burn thee quickly, cannot he that caused the lions that they should not touch Daniel, cause them to crush thee softly;
1613, A19420 for to doubt and stand in a mammering, would cause you that you should never truly love God,
[Page 126]1626, A17306 For how is it mere mercy, if any good in us foreseen, first caused it that it should offer a Savior to us?
1700, A92940 to cause them that they should not go up to Jerusalem,

All of these are from the early modern period, when far fewer texts were published compared to the following 18th century. In the above set of examples, this complex finite syntax occurs six times with two linked pronouns. In total, two linked pronouns occur 16 out of 25 times. This same redundant pronominal expression occurs in the Book of Mormon after the verb cause five out of 12 times.

The above are the closest overall matches with Book of Mormon usage, although as noted above, similar examples with other auxiliary verbs do occur, such as “this shame caused him that he would not ask any help of the king” (1598, A16164) and “the veil of blindness … caused them that they could neither apprehend nor comprehend this light” (1659, A89447).

Complex Finite Complementation without Shall or Should

Many attempts have been made to find original late modern instances of complex finite complementation with the verb cause leading up to the time of the Book of Mormon, using the largest databases. It has been verified that most examples found in the large 18th-century ECCO database represent much earlier language from the early modern period and even before.

The following 11 examples found in ECCO have linked pronouns but no shall or should auxiliary. Of these 11, seven or eight are from the late middle and early modern periods, and just three originated in the late modern period:

c1430, CW0103915588 (1787) which causeth me that I labour no farther therein,
c1460, CW0103916108 (1787) and truly that caused me that I and my fellowship tarried,
1523, CW0103201134 (1767) but that is great hurte to the ewes, and wyll cause them, that they wyll not take the ramme at the tyme of the yere for pouertye,
[Page 127]c1580, CW0103400026 (1761) till the force of the flame and smoak caused him that he could see no more;
1662, CW0117799011 (1753) It was a fever, which caused him that he could scarce sleep that night.
1682, CW0121068093 (1707) and you shall cause me that I dwell securely with you,
1685, CB0131970053 (1801) which causeth us, that we cannot obey them and God.
1716 (1679), CB0126722335 (1794) When this epistle is read among you, cause it that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans,
1727, CW0108152992 and which causes them that they are not stock’d with half that variety as they ought,
a1732, CW0119093951 (1773) causing them that they may trust one another.
1744, CW0117084319 or cause them that they have to be new tinned, cleansed, etc.

The 1716 example is a paraphrase of Colossians 4:16, which occurs as a simple finite construction in the King James Bible. This 1716 paraphrase matches the language first appearing in a 1679 book, which could have been the later author’s source (this 1716 book was reprinted in 1794). Setting this one aside leaves only three early 18th-century pronominal examples of the complex finite construction without shall or should. Of course, some later examples could be found as databases like ECCO and Google Books improve in quality, but for now the syntax appears to have been in a fairly complete state of obsolescence by the middle of the 18th century, an observation that is also supported by its apparent absence from the 5,012 texts consulted in the Evans database, a 17th- and 18th-century early American corpus.

Two Biblical Reworkings with Complex Finite Complementation

One even later example of the Book of Mormon’s complex finite cause syntax that I found for this study is an artificially created instance that is different from even pseudo-archaic production. It was published 65 years before the Book of Mormon was set down in writing. It is from Anthony Purver’s “Quaker Bible” and is a reworking or retranslation of Revelation 11:3. It reads as follows:

[Page 128]1764, CW0119450491

And I will cause my two witnesses, that they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred sixty days, cloathed with sackcloth.

In the King James Bible, this passage does not have a causative verb, and it reads with the conjunction and, not that:

Revelation 11:3

I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

Greek δώσω, δίδωμι “(will) give” and καί “and”.

This 1764 outlier is the result of an author consciously tinkering with an established King James wording, and doing so by investigating the language of other English versions, as well as the Latin Vulgate and the original Greek. In contrast, every Book of Mormon instance of this complex finite structure is an original English expression that works within the surrounding extrabiblical narrative. And of course Joseph Smith did not know any other languages in 1829 when he dictated the Book of Mormon. He was a monolingual English speaker.

What Purver might have done first was change the verb from give to cause, even though the original Greek equivalent means “will give,” as shown above. The object of give in this passage is power, and this word is italicized in the King James Bible, meaning that it does not occur in the original Greek. This might have prompted a revision in the first place. If Purver first replaced give with cause, and deleted “power unto,” he would have then been faced with a choice as to what to do with the independent King James clause that begins with “and they shall prophesy.” His initial rewrite probably gave him “I will cause my two witnesses.” Unlike the King James clause with give, such a clause with cause is ungrammatical without a following complement. Because of that, he would have needed to create a complement. He could have replaced “and they shall” with to, making an infinitival complement, but instead he decided on a simpler replacement of and with that, creating the archaic, complex finite causative construction.

Writing for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), David Norton had this to say about Anthony Purver’s Bible: “In its renderings and its language, his ‘Quaker’s Bible’ sometimes anticipates later versions, but it was rarely appreciated. Not only was the language constantly unlike that of the King James Bible but it was often decidedly colloquial.”27 Charles Spurgeon said of Purver’s work: “Often [Page 129]ungrammatical and unintelligible. Not without its good points, but much more curious than useful.”28

We can see in some of Purver’s notes that he consulted Tyndale’s original language and the Latin Vulgate and the views of various scriptural experts. Yet he avoided Tyndale’s similar syntax in a slightly earlier passage — wording that found its way into the King James Bible:

2 Peter 1:8 they make you that ye shall neither be barren, nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Purver’s version they will make you not idle, nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The above King James language is the best model for the complex finite causative syntax of the Book of Mormon, yet despite its presence in the biblical text, it does not occur in the 25 pseudo-archaic writings, and the syntax was hardly ever produced, except in the early modern era. Besides this complex finite case, the King James Bible does not have any other finite examples with the verb make, whether simple or complex. The Book of Mormon has several finite examples after the verb make, including a simple finite instance with shall at 1 Nephi 17:12.

Suppose we were to argue, on the basis of Purver’s work or even 2 Peter 1:8, that because Joseph Smith was likewise saturated with biblical language, this led to his producing 12 complex finite constructions with the verb cause. The argument fails at the outset, of course, since no known pseudo-archaic author produced original examples of the syntax, even though many of them were also saturated with King James idiom. Indeed, no pseudo-archaic author is known to have produced even simple finite syntax after the verb make. Among the 25 texts, clausal complementation following make is all infinitival. Yet there are several complex finite examples in the Book of Mormon, as well as the simple finite with shall at 1 Nephi 17:12. Structurally speaking, then, this means that in the case of the verb make, just as in the case of cause, the Book of Mormon’s syntax does not present as any known pseudo-archaic production.

.  .  .

Joseph Bryant Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible provides us with an odd late 19th-century example of complex finite complementation after the verb cause:

[Page 130]Revelation 3:9; EYt3pKfob2UC (1890)29

I will cause them that they shall have come,

This is from the tenth edition of the Emphasised Bible, first published in 1872.

The finite that-clause appears here because Rotherham literally translated the Greek conjunction ἵνα ”that”. In the King James Bible, the last part of this verse reads with infinitival complements:

Revelation 3:9

behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee

The co-occurrence of future tense “will cause” with a verb-dependent perfect tense “shall have come” (more specifically, a future subjunctive perfect) is a nonstandard tense sequence. The EEBO Phase 1 database does not have this language; it does not even have a simple finite example of “will cause that NP shall have <past.pple>.” Rotherham’s rewording also has conjoined “shall worship” and “shall get to know,” which is more standard syntax.

Likely Alternatives to the Causative Construction in 3 Nephi 29:4

If Joseph Smith had been responsible for expressing the relevant portion of 3 Nephi 29:4 in 1829 (the first it was deleted for the 1837 edition), based on specific ideas that were revealed to him, he would have had a few choices available to him. Here are those choices, ordered according to what syntactic studies indicate would have been likely for him in the early 19th century:

JS 1st choice he will cause it to overtake you soon
Simple finite
JS 2nd choice he will cause that it overtake you soon
JS 3rd choice he will cause that it will/may soon overtake you
JS 4th choice he will cause that it shall soon overtake you
Complex finite
JS 5th choice he will cause it that it overtake you soon
JS 6th choice he will cause it that it will/may soon overtake you
JS 7th choice he will cause it that it shall soon overtake you

Note: Biblical usage is not to use a future modal auxiliary verb in this context; such simpler usage might have also been generally preferred in the late modern period. In addition, Joseph’s early writings show that he preferred the future auxiliary will over shall. (There is a similar example with will [Page 131]rather than shall after the verb suffer at 1 Nephi 13:30, and an analogous 1598 example with caused and would given above.) The modal auxiliary may was also a possibility that might have been more likely than shall in 1829. Some fluidity in the position of the adverb soon was possible in this case, but these possibilities have not been counted as additional choices. For example, the adverb could have split the infinitive in choice 1: “to soon overtake you.”

The actual language of the text at 3 Nephi 29:4 was likely to have been far from Joseph’s preferred native expression. There are many other ways he probably would have preferred to have phrased it. It is evidence like this — something we frequently encounter in the Book of Mormon — which strongly suggests that he was not responsible for wording the text.

1. Excerpt taken from the Book of Mormon showing an example of complex finite complementation after the verb cause. Quotes are taken from Royal Skousen, ed., The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), This short excerpt now reads with a who instead of a which.

2. See, for example, Stanford Carmack, “Is the Book of Mormon a Pseudo-Archaic Text?,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 28 (2018): 177–232,; and Carmack, “How Joseph Smith’s Grammar Differed from Book of Mormon Grammar: Evidence from the 1832 History,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 25 (2017): 239–59,

3. Royal Skousen, The Nature of the Original Language [NOL] (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2018).

4. In searching a large early modern database for texts with at least 20 causative constructions with the verb cause, I found hardly any whose finite complementation rate exceeded 10 percent.

5. Early Modern English is often taken to span the years 1500 to 1700, but sometimes it is taken to begin a little earlier, reaching [Page 132]back to the first printed book in English, which was published in either 1473 or 1474.

6. That the text contains a very large amount of early modern syntax and lexis — often nonbiblical and far beyond any known pseudo-archaic effort — points to early modern competence as the reason.

7. Two additional examples of the syntax, those currently known as first appearing closest in time to the Book of Mormon (in 1764 and 1872), are artificially constructed examples made by considering original biblical language, other translations, and other English versions. Because they are different from original pseudo-archaic production, they are not included as part of the general discussion in the body of this paper. See the section of the appendix on biblical reworking for these two examples and some discussion.

8. The syntactic structure, simply stated, is “«cause» NP that S” («cause» stands for various forms of the verb, NP stands for the causee (a noun phrase), and S stands for a verb-dependent sentence-like clause, in this case “it shall pass away.” The technical term for “«cause» NP that S” language is ditransitive clausal complementation (see Randolph Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (London: Longman, 1985) [CGEL], 1170–71, 1212–13 [§16.20, §16.59]). The term ditransitive indicates that two objects follow the verb cause, with the second object being a that-clause.

This complex finite syntax can be less simply stated as:

<subj.> «cause» NP(obj.) [ that NP(subj.) <modal aux.> <infinitive> ](obj. clause)

The first NP, “the earth,” is an object (historically, an indirect object) and a full noun phrase; the second NP, it, is a subject pronoun that refers back to “the earth” (a pronoun is also technically a [short] noun phrase).

9. Stanford Carmack, “On Doctrine and Covenants Language and the 1833 Plot of Zion,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 26 (2017): 297–380, Bear in mind that the assumption of most Latter-day Saint scholars is that Joseph Smith worded Doctrine and Covenants revelations. Yet this conclusion has been reached without carrying out thorough lexical and syntactic analysis. The preliminary work discussed in the above article [Page 133]suggests that it was unlikely that Joseph Smith worded most Doctrine and Covenants revelations.

10. The term mandative subjunctive is a classification of some grammarians; see, for example, CGEL 156–57 (§3.59).

11. The King James Bible does have one instance of mandative shall after the main verb make — see the biblically reworked section of the appendix.

12. Rev. Abner Kneeland, The Olive Branch and Christian Inquirer: Devoted to Science, Religion and Morality, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Nichols, 1828),

13. For information on the corpus, see Stanford Carmack, “Personal Relative Pronoun Usage in the Book of Mormon: An Important Authorship Diagnostic,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship (forthcoming, 2021).

14. For example, the largest 18th-century database of English texts, Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO),, currently has 18,845 instances of “caused <pers.obj.pron.> to” during the last 30 years of the century (1771–1800) (no intervening punctuation; 8,341 texts). In contrast, ECCO only has 17 instances of “caused that <pers.subj.pron.>” (no intervening punctuation; 16 texts). Over this span of time, then, ECCO has slightly more than 1,000 times as many infinitival instances with personal pronouns as finite instances.

15. Taking the issue of biblical analogy further, we find that the textual data oblige us to conclude that any thorough attempt to explain Book of Mormon English on that basis fails in many instances.

16. See NOL 577. The Bible also has hundreds of causative constructions with the verb make — all but one infinitival (see the appendix for the only finite example).

17. Pearl Curran’s Sorry Tale (1917) is a much later, 20th-century pseudo-archaic text, and is therefore not part of my corpus of 25 pseudo-archaic writings, which is limited in scope to 18th- and 19th-century texts. See Patience Worth, The Sorry Tale: A Story of the Time of Christ, trans. Mrs. John H. Curran, ed. Casper S. Yost (New York: H. Holt, 1917), Curran’s dictation produced [Page 134]nine simple finite instances with the verb cause, but none with shall or should as modal auxiliaries. In addition, most of her verb complementation after the verb cause is infinitival. Thus her usage in this syntactic domain, though containing a comparatively large number of finite examples, is noticeably different from that of the Book of Mormon.

18. The early writings of Joseph Smith that were analyzed for this study, up to January 1833, are as follows: “Letter to Oliver Cowdery, 22 October 1829,” p. 9, The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to the Church in Colesville, 2 December 1830,” p. 196, The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to Martin Harris, 22 February 1831,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to Hyrum Smith, 3–4 March 1831,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to Emma Smith, 6 June 1832,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to William W. Phelps, 31 July 1832,” p. 1, The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to Emma Smith, 13 October 1832,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to William W. Phelps, 27 November 1832,” p. 1, The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to Noah C. Saxton, 4 January 1833,” p. 14, The Joseph Smith Papers,; “Letter to William W. Phelps, 11 January 1833,” p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers,; “History, circa Summer 1832,” p. 1, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[Page 135]19. Observation subject to change; excluding consciously modified biblical language; see the section of the appendix on biblical reworking.

20. This is the only instance of complex finite cause syntax that has been edited out of the text; see ATV under this verse for the textual history: Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004–2009); Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 2nd edition (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2018).

21. This an identifier in Early English Books Online (, the largest database of Early Modern English texts. EEBO A21703 is Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, written about 1469, first published in 1485.

22. This an identifier in Eighteenth Century Collections Online ([0]=CW0106164956&inputFieldNames[0]=RN&method=doSearch&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&prodId=ECCO), the largest 18th-century database of English texts. ECCO CW0106164956 is the 8th edition (with additions) of a 1673 text written by William Salmon.

23. The adverbs are soon and not; the pronoun it in 3 Nephi 29:4 seems to refer back to the sword of the Lord’s justice, mentioned earlier in the verse.

24. ESTC stands for the English Short Title Catalogue (, a listing of over 480,000 items published between 1473 and 1800. The EEBO and ECCO databases currently contain between 60 and 75 percent of ESTC titles; as a result, there are still many texts to be searched, although many of these are very short texts.

25. Complex finite complementation after the verb cause probably died out earlier than it did after the verb command, because infinitival complementation was much more strongly favored after the verb cause during the early modern period.

26. And even in those Caxton texts, verb complementation that is heavily finite is confined to the verb command.

27. David Norton, “Purver, Anthony (1702–1777), biblical translator and Quaker preacher,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sept. 23, 2004,

[Page 136]28. C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries: Two Lectures Addressed to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Together with a Catalogue of Biblical Commentaries and Expositions (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 42,

29. Joseph B. Rotherham, The New Testament: Newly Translated (from the Greek Text of Tregelles) and Critically Emphasised (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1890),

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