3 Nephi 1:26 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
and thus the ninety and second year did pass away bringing glad tidings unto the people because of the signs which did come to pass according to the words of the prophecy of all the holy prophets

In the discussion under 3 Nephi 1:16, I noted that there are examples of the plural “the words of the prophets” in the original text but never “the word of the prophets”. Here we have a related phrase that refers to “the words of the prophecy of all the holy prophets”. One wonders here if the singular prophecy might be an error for the plural prophecies. The text otherwise refers to “the prophecies of prophets” (11 times) but never to “the prophecy of prophets”; in fact, one of these fully plural examples is found earlier in this chapter:

Examples like this one provide internal evidence for emending prophecy to prophecies here in 3 Nephi 1:26. If there is an error in this passage, it must have occurred as Joseph Smith dictated the text to Oliver Cowdery since for this part of the text both 𝓟 and the 1830 edition are firsthand copies of 𝓞 and agree in having the singular prophecy. One problem, however, with this suggested emendation is that there is not one example in the history of text, neither in the manuscripts nor in the printed editions, of any mix-up in the grammatical number for the noun prophecy.

One possible way to interpret this passage in 3 Nephi 1:26 is that there was one basic prophecy regarding the coming of Christ and that prophets throughout the ages have made that prophecy, as is claimed elsewhere in the Book of Mormon:

Note, in particular, that Samuel the Lamanite was not the only prophet who predicted the sign of Christ’s coming:

In general, then, one can refer to “the prophecy of all the holy prophets”. Ultimately, the best solution here in 3 Nephi 1:26 is to maintain the earliest reading since it does work.

Summary: Maintain the singular prophecy in 3 Nephi 1:26, the reading of both 𝓟 and the 1830 edition; although we expect the plural prophecies with the plural prophets, the text here is apparently referring to the prophecy that Christ would be born, an event that prophets throughout the ages (not just Samuel the Lamanite) had prophesied of.

Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part. 5