Evidence #60 | September 19, 2020

Prophetic Perfect

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Scripture Central


Book of Mormon prophets spoke of future events using past and present tense verbs in a way that is similar to prophetic statements in the Bible.

On some occasions, prophets in the Bible would speak of future events as if they had already transpired. Scholars sometimes refer to this manner of prophesying as the “prophetic perfect” because, grammatically speaking, it uses the “past tense or past participle verb forms (present and past perfect tenses).”1

The Prophet Isaiah Foretells Christ's Birth by Harry Anderson.

One example can be seen in the messianic prophecies found in Isaiah 53.2 While the beginning and ending of Isaiah’s prophecy use future tense verbs (see vv. 2, 10–11), the middle section mostly uses present or past tense verbs, as highlighted in the sample below:

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed … (Isaiah 53:3–5)

Concerning this type of prophesying, biblical scholars have understood that the “prophet so transports himself in imagination into the future that he describes the future event as if it had been already seen or heard by him.”3

This explanation should ring a bell for readers familiar with the Book of Mormon, which uses the prophetic perfect on a number of occasions. The prophet Jarom explained that during his day “the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers” labored to persuade the people “to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was” (Jarom 1:11). Abinadi similarly stated, “And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption” (Mosiah 16:16).

King Benjamin's speech. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

King Benjamin prophesied that “whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them” (Mosiah 3:13). As a final example, when Moroni prophesied about the last days, he directly addressed future readers as if he was speaking immediately to them: “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35; emphasis added to all examples).4

These examples and explanations indicate that the use of the prophetic perfect in the Book of Mormon is neither due to coincidence nor to an unconscious imitation of the Bible. Rather, it seems to have been intentionally used for precisely the reason that biblical scholars have assumed it was used in the Bible—“to express facts which are undoubtedly imminent, and therefore in the imagination of the speaker, already accomplished.”5

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Book of Mormon Prophets Speak of Future Events as if They Had Already Happened? (Mosiah 16:6),” KnoWhy 95 (May 9, 2016).

Donald W. Parry, “Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 155–189.

Stephen D. Ricks, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, August 1988, 27–28.

Jarom 1:11 Mosiah 3:13Mosiah 16:16Mormon 8:35

Jarom 1:11

Mosiah 3:13

Mosiah 16:16

Mormon 8:35

Book of Mormon

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