Evidence #301 | January 24, 2022

“Without a Cause”

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Scripture Central


The omission of the phrase “without a cause” in Christ’s Sermon at the Temple in 3 Nephi finds support in early New Testament manuscripts and modern biblical scholarship.

When the resurrected Jesus visited the people of Nephi at the temple in Bountiful, he gave them a version of the Sermon on the Mount which he taught during his mortal ministry (Matthew 5–7; 3 Nephi 12–14). While the wording is very similar in both texts, they also contain some differences, as noted in an important study by John W. Welch.1 One discrepancy is especially noteworthy.

In the King James Version of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught: “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause (eikēi ) shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:21–22). In contrast, the record of Jesus’ words to the Nephites omits the phrase “without a cause” (3 Nephi 12:22).2

Evidence from New Testament Manuscripts

Interestingly, this same omission can be found in some early New Testament manuscripts. Welch observes:

While lacking unanimous consensus in the early manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount (which is not unusual), the absence of the phrase “without a cause” is evidenced by the following manuscripts: p64, p67, Sinaiticus (original hand), Vaticanus, some minuscules, the Latin Vulgate (Jerome mentions that it was not found in the oldest manuscripts known to him), the Ethiopic texts, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and others.3

Thus, this passage may not have originally implied that anger is justifiable in some circumstances, as the phrase “without a cause” would suggest.

Early mauscript fragment of the Gospel of Matthew (Papyrus 104). Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

A Misunderstood Idiom

In his study on this topic, P. Wernberg-Moller argues that “without a cause” (eikēi) was original to the Greek text, but that it reflects a misunderstanding of an Aramaic idiom, from which it was derived. As described by Wernberg-Moller, “The Greek translator, then, followed the Aramaic ground text word for word, without being aware, however, that by a slavish rendering of the Aramaic idiom as eikēi, the original categorical saying was turned into a conditional one which made allowance for anger in some circumstances.”4

The front side of Papyrus 37, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Image and caption info via Wikimedia Commons. 

The omission of the phrase in many New Testament manuscripts can be accounted for by assuming that a later scribe “recognized the Semitic idiom behind the saying in its Greek form, or because he felt that the Greek text with the reading eikēi unsuitably weakened the categorical denunciation of anger originally intended by our Lord.”5


The above evidence supports the version of Christ’s statements found in the Book of Mormon, which omits the phrase “without a cause.” Unlike many variations in New Testament manuscripts, this one isn’t trivial.6 As Welch concluded,

In my estimation, this textual variant in favor of the Sermon at the Temple is very meaningful. The removal of without a cause has important moral, behavioral, psychological, and religious ramifications, as it is the main place where a significant textual change from the KJV was in fact needed and delivered.7

This is now the predominate reading of Matthew 5:22, as rendered in most modern versions of the Bible.8 It is unlikely, however, given Joseph Smith’s limited educational opportunities, that he would have known anything about the relevant variants in New Testament manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount.9 Moreover, Wernberg-Moller’s groundbreaking article explaining this issue was not published until 1956, more than 100 years after the Book of Mormon’s publication.

John W. Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1999), 199–210.

Daniel K Judd and Allen W. Stoddard, “Adding and Taking Away ‘Without a Cause’ in Matthew 5:22” in How the New Testament Came to Be: The Thirty-fifth Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2006), 157–174. 

BibleMatthew 5:22Book of Mormon3 Nephi 12:22


Matthew 5:22

Book of Mormon

3 Nephi 12:22

Intertextuality (External)
"Without a Cause"
Book of Mormon

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