Evidence #46 | March 17, 2023

The Number 10

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Scripture Central


The Book of Mormon repeatedly uses the number ten (or ten-fold repetitions of key words or phrases) in ways that evoke the number’s ancient symbolic meanings, as found in Israel and other Near Eastern societies.

In various ways, the number ten seems to be emphasized in the Book of Mormon. While its authors may have had their own reasons for seeing this number as symbolic or sacred, several clues suggest that their understanding of its significance stemmed from an ancient Near Eastern worldview, especially as found in ancient Israel.

Worthiness before God

When standing trial before King Noah and his priests, Abinadi recited the Ten Commandments (see Mosiah 12:34–35; 13:12–24). This action draws out ten’s association with being worthy before God. John W. Welch observed that “if the priests of Noah were not keeping these commandments, they themselves were not worthy even to enter their own temple. To a modern reader, Abinadi’s recitation of the Ten Commandments seems rather naive and elementary. But to an ancient ear, these ten measuring words would have sounded much more imposing and ominous .”1

Plan of Salvation

When teaching his son Corianton, Alma referred to the plan of redemption (or its variants, such as plan of salvation or plan of happiness) precisely ten times.2 Perhaps Alma did this to emphasize the perfection of God’s plan, seeing that perfection is associated with the number ten in the Bible and broadly throughout the ancient Near East.3  

Alma teaching Corianton. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Interestingly, another tenfold repetition of the word “plan” can be found in Alma 12. In that case, the first three uses of the term are in reference to Zeezrom’s “subtle plan” to deceive the people and turn them against Alma and Amulek (Alma 12:4–5), whereas the last seven uses (seven itself being a sacred number)4 all refer to the “plan of redemption” (see Alma 12:25–33). The occurrence of negative repetitions of a word or phrase being supplanted or overpowered by a greater number of positive usages, with their total equaling a sacred or symbolic number, is not an isolated phenomenon and can be found elsewhere in the Book of Mormon.5

Consecration and Sacrifice

Paying a tithe—a tenth part of one’s income or property—is a well-established practice in the Bible.6 “The practice of paying tithing to the gods or their temples,” wrote Welch, “is also found in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations,²² and it is extolled in the Book of Mormon (see Alma 13:15; 3 Nephi 24:8–10).”7 In this context, the number ten evokes the laws of consecration and sacrifice. Welch suggested that King Noah may have been exacting a royal tithe and a priestly tithe (two counts of 10%) when requiring a “fifth part” of all that his people possessed (see Mosiah 11:3).8

Testing and Trials

A number of biblical stories, such as the account of the ten plagues that preceded the Israelite exodus from Egypt, associate the number ten with testing, trials, or woes.9 The Book of Mormon appears to make this same association. For instance, on one occasion the prophet Jacob declared unto his people ten woes, which seem to be modeled after the Ten Commandments and yet adapted for his people’s needs.10 

Welch explains, “Appropriately, the tenth and final wo includes the word all, signifying the perfect totality of this cursing. … Reflecting a similar tone of warning, the book of 3 Nephi ends with a tenfold call to repentance, listing nine evils in particular and concluding with an all-embracing tenth” (see 3 Nephi 30:2).11 An additional list of ten sins, followed once again by an all-encompassing prohibition at the end, can be found in 2 Nephi 26:29–32. Each of these lists, with the concluding element highlighted in red, are presented side by side in the following chart:


Interestingly, a similar all-encompassing admonition follows two lists of ten sins in an early Christian text known as the Didache: “May you be saved, Oh children, from all of these!” (emphasis added). In his translation of the Didache, Aaron Milivek numbered and formatted these lists side by side, with the concluding element spanning them both, as follows:12

Judicial and Religious Administration

After showing a number of biblical narratives that invoke the number ten in settings of judicial or religious administration, Welch noted that in 2 Nephi 27 the word “read” is repeated ten times in relation to reading the scriptures. A major event in this chapter is that witnesses would be provided to testify of the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 27:14, 22). The judgment context evoked by such a book is made clear in 3 Nephi 27:25–26: “out of the books which shall be written shall the world be judged.”

Reverence for God and Supplication in Prayer

Similar to what can be seen in the Bible,13 several Book of Mormon authors distinctively repeated the name of God or other key terms in contexts of prayer or worship. This pattern can possibly be seen in Nephi’s Psalm (2 Nephi 4),14 one of Jacob’s sermons (2 Nephi 9),15 King Benjamin’s speech (Mosiah 3–5),16 Alma’s high priestly prayer (Alma 31),17 the petitions of Nephi, son of Helaman (Helaman 11),18 and in what Welch described as a “poem of Zenos” (Alma 33).19


In ways both overt and subtle, it appears that the authors of the Book of Mormon perpetuated the various symbolic meanings of the number ten, as it was understood by ancient Israelites and surrounding nations. While it is impossible to conclusively demonstrate that any given ten-fold repetition of key words or phrases was intentional, there are enough good candidates in the Book of Mormon to accept that the text intentionally utilizes this number in symbolic ways. Welch concluded, “Detecting these tenfold occurrences in the Book of Mormon uncovers a previously unnoticed ancient quality of Nephite scripture that was probably more obvious to ancient minds than it is to modern readers.”20

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Alma Mention ‘the Plan’ Ten Times in His Words to Corianton? (Alma 42:13),” KnoWhy 150 (July 25, 2016).

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Alma Repeat the Lord’s Name Ten Times While in Prayer? (Alma 31:26),” KnoWhy 139 (July 8, 2016).

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Jacob Declare so Many ‘Woes’? (2 Nephi 9:27),” KnoWhy (February 17:2016).

John W. Welch, “Counting to Ten,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003): 42–57, 113–114.

John W. Welch, “Jacob’s Ten Commandments,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 69–72.

2 Nephi 4:16–352 Nephi 5:162 Nephi 9: 1, 3, 6, 16, 24, 27–38, 41, 46, 532 Nephi 27:11, 15, 18, 20, 22, 24Mosiah 2:30, 41Mosiah 3:5, 13, 14, 17, 18, 21, 23 Mosiah 5:15Mosiah 12:34–35Mosiah 13:12–24Alma 12:4–5, 25–33Alma 13:15Alma 31:26–35Alma 33:4–11Helaman 11:4, 10–16Helaman 14:123 Nephi 24:8–103 Nephi 30:2

2 Nephi 4:16–35

2 Nephi 5:16

2 Nephi 9: 1, 3, 6, 16, 24, 27–38, 41, 46, 53

2 Nephi 27:11, 15, 18, 20, 22, 24

Mosiah 2:30, 41

Mosiah 3:5, 13, 14, 17, 18, 21, 23

Mosiah 5:15

Mosiah 12:34–35

Mosiah 13:12–24

Alma 12:4–5, 25–33

Alma 13:15

Alma 31:26–35

Alma 33:4–11

Helaman 11:4, 10–16

Helaman 14:12

3 Nephi 24:8–10

3 Nephi 30:2

  • 1 John W. Welch, “Counting to Ten,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003): 46.
  • 2 See Alma 39:1841:242:5, 8, 11, 13, 15, 16, 31.
  • 3 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 44–45. It’s also possible that, as discussed in the previous point, the number ten was invoked in the context of Corianton’s worthiness, perhaps emphasizing his failure to follow God’s perfect plan.
  • 4 See Corbin Volluz, “A Study in Seven: Hebrew Numerology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 53, no. 2 (2014): 57–83.
  • 5 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 54–55.
  • 6 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 46–47.
  • 7 Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 46.
  • 8 Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 47.
  • 9 Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 47–49.
  • 10 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 47. See also, John W. Welch, “Jacob’s Ten Commandments,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 69–72.
  • 11 Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 49. Welch summarized the list in 3 Nephi 30:2 as follows: “Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, [1] of your lyings and [2] deceivings, and [3] of your whoredoms, and [4] of your secret abominations, and [5] your idolatries, and [6] of your murders, and [7] your priestcrafts, and [8] your envyings, and [9] your strifes, and [10] from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me.”
  • 12 Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 17.
  • 13 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 50.
  • 14 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 50–51.
  • 15 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 51.
  • 16 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 51–52; John W. Welch, “Ten Testimonies of Jesus Christ from the Book of Mormon,” in A Book of Mormon Treasury: Gospel Insights from General Authorities and Religious Educators, (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2003), 316–342; John W. Welch and Terrence L. Szink, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 179, citing Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1962), 135. Concerning King Benjamin’s speech, Welch further explained, “Above all, the divine name was holy and sacrosanct in ancient Israel. Thus, it should also be noted that the distinctive ‘name’ given by King Benjamin to his people near the central climax of his speech can be seen as containing exactly ten nouns. That name, as revealed to Benjamin by the angel of the Lord, seems to have consisted of an entire expression: ‘And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning’ (Mosiah 3:8). One may well assume that in the ancient language spoken by Benjamin, this expansive name would have consisted of ten terms, probably inflected or declined to indicate syntax: (1) Jesus (2) Christ, (3) Son (4) God, (5) Father (6) heaven (7) earth, (8) creator (9) all, and (10) beginning. The full expression is repeated absolutely verbatim in Helaman 14:12, confirming the prospect that this full expression was considered to be a formal composite name that was viewed as a solemn title” (p. 51).
  • 17 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 53–54.
  • 18 See Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 54–55.
  • 19 Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 55.
  • 20 Welch, “Counting to Ten,” 57.
Sacred Numbers
The Number 10
Book of Mormon

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