Trends in Mormon scripture citations

Someone recently referred me to Brigham Young University’s online LDS Scripture Citation Index, a database of scripture citations from General Conference (an event, held twice a year, in which the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints give speeches addressed to the general membership), and, just as I usually do when presented with a lot of data on a topic that interests me, I proceeded to waste far too much of my rather limited free time crunching numbers and looking for interesting patterns.

The Mormon scriptural canon consists of the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants (a collection of Joseph Smith’s “revelations”), and a slim volume of miscellanea called the Pearl of Great Price. The graph below shows how many times each book of scripture was cited each year from 1942 to 2009. (The figures for 1957 have been doubled because only one conference was held that year instead of the usual two.)

As you can see, the Book of Mormon, which had previously been languishing in Pearl-of-Great-Price-like obscurity, suddenly shot to the top in 1985, since which time it has been cited about as frequently as the New Testament (formerly the undisputed top dog) and Doctrine and Covenants. What happened in 1985? Ezra Taft Benson.

It’s also interesting to look at the changing fortunes of some individual verses. The tables below show the number of citations per decade for eleven especially prominent passages. These eleven were chosen because each of them has had at least one decade in which it was cited 30 times or more.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28 has been steadily rising in popularity and is the only Bible verse to have reached the 30-citation mark in the post-Benson era.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Matthew 22:39 and John 17:3 both peaked in the sixties and have been declining — but not dramatically — since.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 4:12, which also peaked in the sixties, is clearly on the way out.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

These three verses from the Book of Mormon — 2 Nephi 31:20, Mosiah 3:19, and Mosiah 18:9 — all leapt to prominence in the Benson era and have been popular ever since.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Moroni 10:4 is the only Book of Mormon verse to have reached the 30-citation mark before Ezra Taft Benson. It actually dropped in popularity during his tenure, though it seems to be making a comeback.

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

If scriptures were stocks, this would be the one to invest in. It’s gone from zero to 36 and shows no signs of slowing down. I’m not sure what exactly that says about the Mormon zeitgeist, since it seems like a pretty nondescript verse to me.

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Although the Pearl of Great Price is consistently Mormonism’s least-cited book of scripture, the two heavyweight champion verses — Moses 1:39 and Joseph Smith History 1:17 — both come from it. Moses 1:39 is the only verse to have been cited at least 30 times in every one of the six decades.

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Filed under Mormonism, Scripture, Statistics

One response to “Trends in Mormon scripture citations

  1. Pingback: Lesson 11 follow up: Forgetaboutit! « Gospel Doctrine Class Notes

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