Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was an American revivalist preacher, philosopher and Congregationalist theologian. His influence on Joseph Smith is being examined by modern scholars in connection with the revival of interest in Jonathan Edwards and the study of intertextuality between the Book of Mormon and other texts, including the Bible and the work of Christian authors.

Jonathan Edwards was associated with Calvinist ideas, but he explained that "I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in everything just as he taught."

Intertextuality between KJV, JE, and BofM

Alma 1

Alma 5

Alma 11

Alma 13

Alma 15

Helaman 15

3 Nephi 30

Mormon 8

Readers of the Book of Mormon have long noticed long quotations from the KJV, including several chapters from Isaiah, Matthew, and Malachi. Many other biblical passages are quoted or paraphrased in the text. Some biblical passages are "blended" or combined into Book of Mormon verses. (See the page on blending.)

Scholars have simply assumed that these connections are directly from the KJV due to Joseph Smith's familiarity with the Bible. (Joseph explained that from age 12 onward, he was "searching the scriptures." 

However, recent discoveries suggest that much of the biblical language may have come not directly from the Bible, but through Christian authors who themselves blended and paraphrased biblical passages. These discoveries grew out of research that shows that much (probably most) of the non-biblical language in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price can be found in the works of Jonathan Edwards. 

An 8-volume set of Edwards' works was on sale in the Palmyra book store starting at least in 1818, when it was advertised in the local newspaper. When we compare Edwards' writings to the language of the latter-day scriptures, we see many similarities in language and themes.

For example, Edwards' wrote "It is exceeding manifest that this chapter [Isa. 60] is a prophecy of the prosperity of the church, in its most glorious state on earth in the latter days; and I can't think that anything else can be here intended but America by "the isles that are far off”… This prophecy therefore seems plainly to point out America, as the first fruits of that glorious day."

"Prosperity of the church" is a nonbiblical Book of Mormon phrase. America, as the "first fruits" fits with America as the site for the Restoration.

Edwards alluded to the Restoration when he wrote that "It is agreeable to God's manner of working, when he accomplishes any glorious work in the world, to introduce a new and more excellent state of his church, to begin his work where his church had not been till then, and where was no foundation already laid, that the power of God might be the more conspicuous; that the work might appear to be entirely God's, and be more manifestly a creation out of nothing…"

As an example of terminology, the Book of Mormon uses the non-biblical terms "type" and "types" to explain how one event anticipates or helps explain another. "But this much I tell you, what you do with me, after this, shall be as a type and a shadow of things which are to come." (Mosiah 13:10)

 "But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them." (Alma 25:15)

Jonathan Edwards wrote about numerous types (and shadows) in the same way. See a brief discussion here.

There are hundreds of non-biblical terms and phrases in the Book of Mormon that appear in the works of Jonathan Edwards. For background, see the book Infinite Goodness: Joseph Smith, Jonathan Edwards, and the Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith's personal writings also exhibit the likely influence of Edwards. For example, see this annotated version of Joseph's Oct. 1829 letter to Oliver Cowdery.

 Annotated JS letter to Oliver Cowdery

In addition to intertextuality, the influence of Edwards is apparent in the themes of Edwards' work. For example, Edwards often wrote about the glory of the Church in the latter days.

Sometimes Mr. Smith and I walked there together, to converse of the things of God; and our conversation used much to turn on the advancement of Christ's kingdom in the world, and the glorious things that God would accomplish for his church in the latter days.[1]

[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Personal Narrative,” Works of President Edwards, 1808 edition, Vol 1, p. 39 (emphasis added).

Edwards final words summed up his life's work: "Trust in God, and ye need not fear."

Click here to read Jonathan Edwards' final words to his daughter about his wife, Sarah Edwards, their eternal union, and their Heavenly Father.  

One of the best resources to learn about Edwards is the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. 

The Jonathan Edwards College at Yale describes its namesake this way:

Yale’s first and foremost child prodigy, Jonathan Edwards matriculated at Yale (then Collegiate School of Connecticut) in 1716 just before reaching 13. At this time, entrance into college required fluency in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Four years and one intense conversion later, he graduated as valedictorian, received his Masters of Divinity from Yale in 1722 and went on to become one of America’s most renowned theologians and philosophers, and a testimony to Yale’s mind-altering powers.

Links to the 8-volume set of Edwards' works, published in 1808.

§  The Works of President Edwards vol. 1.

§  The Works of President Edwards  vol. 2.

§  The Works of President Edwards  vol. 3. 

§  The Works of President Edwards  vol. 4. 

§  The Works of President Edwards  vol. 5.

§  The Works of President Edwards  vol. 6. 

§  The Works of President Edwards  vol. 7. 

§  The Works of President Edwards  vol. 8. 

Probably the most popular book Edwards wrote was his Life of David Brainerd, a missionary to the Indians. The book is based on Brainerd's own journal. Brainerd stayed at Edwards' home, where he died. 

The Palmyra bookstore did not list the Brainerd book for sale, but the book was published in several editions and became a standard reference for Christian missionaries. According to wikipedia, "The work was a major influence on the domestic and foreign missionary movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and has been the most frequently reprinted book by Edwards."

An edition published by Edwards' son is available here:

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University describes the book this way.

Life of David Brainerd (1749)

After the young missionary David Brainerd died of tuberculosis at the Edwards home in 1748, Edwards read through Brainerd’s manuscript diaries. Impressed, he resolved to prepare them for the press. Exalting Brainerd’s self-sacrificial faith in the cause of converting the “heathen,” Edwards presented Brainerd as a concrete example of sainthood as laid out in Religious Affections. In the process, however, as Norman Pettit has shown, Edwards omitted many portions of Brainerd’s diary to prevent the public from knowing about the emotional extremes he experienced, so that he would not be dismissed as an “enthusiast” or as melancholic. The Life of David Brainerd, as scholar Joseph Conforti notes, is Edwards’s “most popular work’; it has never been out of print. This work was a major impetus and inspiration to the domestic and foreign missionary movement of the late eighteenth and through the nineteenth century. For Edwards, Brainerd may well have served too as a model for mission work among the Indians at Stockbridge.