table of original chapter breaks in the Book of Mormon

Why does the book of 1 Nephi have 22 chapters today, when it used to have only 7? Why should you care?

The earliest editions of the Book of Mormon did not have the same chapter divisions as our modern editions. For example, in the 1830 edition, the first chapter of 1 Nephi included all of what is now labeled 1 Nephi 1–5 (the entire episode of obtaining the brass plates). There is considerable evidence that these original chapter breaks were written on the gold plates by the original authors themselves (although they did not number the breaks). For that reason, in laying out my Structured Edition of the Book of Mormon, I’ve not only included the modern chapter breaks; I’ve also added the original chapter breaks in the margins (using Roman numerals, to distinguish them from the modern breaks).

I have compiled a table of all the original breaks below. I have searched for such a table online but have never been able to find one, so I made my own. To my knowledge, this is the only such table providing this information online.

[Update, Oct 2015: I’ve since learned there was a 1993 JBMS article (Thomas W. Mackay, “Mormon as Editor: A Study in Colophons, Headers, and Source Indicators” [Journal of Book of Mormon Studies v2 n2, 1993]) that provided a similar table, but I don’t know if it was available online at the Maxwell Institute website at the time I published this post. Also, I have found at least three errors in it.]

[Update, Feb 2017: I found that BYU Studies has posted online their 1999 book Charting the Book of Mormon, which includes a table “Comparison of Chapter Divisions, 1830 and 1981 editions.” I found no errors in it.]

The table indicates the location of each original chapter break by using the modern chapter-verse reference system. As is apparently the emerging convention, original chapter breaks are all given in Roman numerals (as opposed to the Arabic numerals used for modern chapter breaks). You can download the chart as a PDF by clicking the green box below. The chart fits on one letter-sized page, with a brief explanation on the reverse side.

Where the chapter breaks came from

The modern chapter and verse divisions were devised by the apostle Orson Pratt in 1879, having been given the assignment by then-president of the Church John Taylor. Elder Pratt broke up the original chapters into shorter ones about the length of conventional Bible chapters, and he added verse divisions. For long quotations (e.g., when Jesus Christ quotes Isaiah at 3 Nephi 22) he made the verse numbering match that in the Bible, which makes it easier to compare these parallel passages. You can read a little more about this in David Whittaker’s Ensign article or in his Encyclopedia of Mormonism article.

The original chapter divisions, however, were apparently devised by the original authors (primarily Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni) and were included on the gold plates themselves. Royal Skousen is by far the foremost expert on the original Book of Mormon manuscripts and translation process (the First Presidency gave him access to the original manuscripts back in the ’80s, and he has been copiously and methodically examining them ever since). He notes,

Evidence from both the original and printer’s manuscripts shows that Joseph Smith apparently saw some visual indication at the end of a section that the section was ending. Although this may have been a symbol of some kind, a more likely possibility is that the last words of the section were followed by blankness. Recognizing that the section was ending, Joseph then told the scribe to write the word chapter, with the understanding that the appropriate number would be added later.

There is considerable evidence in both manuscripts to support this interpretation. … [Follow the link to read Skousen’s reasoning.]

While the earliest editions used these original chapter divisions, they were not divided into verses. Rather, they were divided into unnumbered paragraphs (like a novel) by E. B. Grandin’s employee, the typesetter John H. Gilbert.

Why this is worth knowing

Since these section dividers are part of the original text, they can be useful in a number of ways when studying the Book of Mormon. For one thing, they can aid in understanding how the authors were structuring their writings, as well as in revealing connections between passages.

For example, the episode of Alma’s mission to the Zoramites (Alma 31–35) is part of a larger unit according to the original chapter breaks. That unit also included Alma 30, the episode with Korihor. This could be taken to imply that Mormon intended Korihor’s story to be sort of introduction to the mission to the Zoramites, and invites us to find relationships between the two accounts.

Now that Royal Skousen’s work is starting to be better known, scholars are beginning to refer to these original breaks when generating hypotheses and supporting conclusions. In the future, I hope to point out some of the interesting insights that can be gained by doing so.

Table of original chapter breaks

The following table that I created lists all the original chapter breaks and their locations in the text (using modern chapter-verse references). This table is identical to the one in the downloadable handout above.

Book Original
chapter
Modern
reference

1 Nephi I 1*
II 6
III 10
IV 15
V 16
VI 19:22
VII 22

2 Nephi I 1*
II 3
III 4
IV 5
V 6
VI 9
VII 10
VIII 11
IX 16
X 23
XI 25
XII 28
XIII 31
XIV 32
XV 33

Jacob I 1*
II 2
III 4
IV 6
V 7

Enos I 1

Jarom I 1

Omni I 1

W of M I 1

Mosiah I 1
II 4
III 5
IV 6
V 7
VI 9*
VII 11
VIII 13:25
IX 17
X 22
XI 23*
XII 28
XIII 28:20

Alma I 1*
II 4
III 5*
IV 6
V 7*
VI 8
VII 9*
VIII 10
IX 12
X 13:10
XI 16
XII 17*
XIII 21*
XIV 23
XV 27
XVI 30
XVII 36*
XVIII 38*
XIX 39*
XX 43
XXI 45*
XXII 50
XXIII 51
XXIV 52
XXV 54
XXVI 56
XXVII 59
XXVIII 61
XXIX 62
XXX 63

Helaman I 1*
II 3
III 7*
IV 11
V 13*

3 Nephi I 1*
II 3
III 6
IV 8
V 11*
VI 13:25
VII 15
VIII 17
IX 19
X 21:22
XI 23:14
XII 26:6
XIII 27:23
XIV 30

4 Nephi I 1*

Mormon I 1
II 4
III 6
IV 8

Ether I 1
II 5
III 6
IV 9
V 12
VI 13

Moroni I 1
II 2
III 3
IV 4
V 5
VI 6
VII 7
VIII 8
IX 9*
X 10

*These original breaks fall before the headnote that precedes the modern chapter.

There are a few questions that can be answered with this table:

Did Orson Pratt use every original break as a modern break?

No. Out of the 115 original chapter breaks, in 9 cases, he ignored an original break when arranging the new chapters: 1 Nephi VI; Mosiah VIII, XIII; Alma X; and 3 Nephi VI, X, XI, XII, XIII.

Which book has the most instances of this?

3 Nephi, especially during Christ’s sermons on the second day of his visit.

While most modern chapters take up less text than an original chapter, do any modern chapters cover more than one original chapter?

Yes, only in 1 instance: Mosiah 28 consists of Mosiah XII plus an extra bit of text from chapter XIII.

Were any books unaffected by the modern chapter numbering?

Yes. Interestingly, the book of Moroni came out of Elder Pratt’s process with the breaks and numbering unchanged, probably because the original chapters were so short to begin with. I suppose he could have merged chapters IV and V (the two sacrament prayers), but he didn’t.

Some of these questions might seem like idle trivia at this point, but there are actually some interesting insights to be had by being aware of these original breaks. As I said, in the future, I hope to point out some of those insights.

Table comparing total number of chapters

The following table compares the quantity of chapters in the original version with those in the modern version. As you can see, the ratio of original to modern is about 1:2.

Book Number of
Original
chapters
Number of
Modern
chapters

Title page 1 1
1 Nephi 7 22
2 Nephi 15 33
Jacob 5 7
Enos 1 1
Jarom 1 1
Omni 1 1
W of M 1 1
Mosiah 13 29
Alma 30 63
Helaman 5 16
3 Nephi 14 30
4 Nephi 1 1
Mormon 4 9
Ether 6 15
Moroni 10 10

Totals 115 240

9 Responses to “The original chapter breaks in the Book of Mormon”

  1. I like to study The Book of Mormon this way when preparing to teach because I allows me see the “big picture principles” more clearly. I did this the last time I taught The Book of Mormon and it was a HUGE benefit! You may not teach it in these blocks, but you will better understand the CONTENT & CONTEXT and therefore more easily identify true principles that were intended by the authors.
    FYI, I am having a difficult time being able to “follow” your site. Both the Pinterest and RSS feed links are not working for me. Could you add a “follow me by email” link, or something like that? I am also a WordPress user, but I don’t see the normal follow button that WordPress provides.

    • I had no idea the “Follow” functions weren’t working. Thanks for letting me know. I’m still relatively duncey when it comes to plugins. I’m open to instructions or recommendations for plugins and settings, and in the mean time I’ll go consult a few friends and see what they can tell me.

    • I deleted the old sharing/following plugin and have installed a new one. Let me know if it’s working for you.

  2. Great stuff, Nathan. Your blog is a very valuable. You’ve done a ton of work and it’s greatly appreciated.

    I would love to get my hands on an epub version of the Book of Mormon that had these original chapters and the footnotes removed. I think there is value in reading the Book of Mormon as a “clean text”—meaning clear of extraneous stuff.

    • Thanks, Prophetize. I think you should download Ben Crowder’s versions of the Book of Mormon. He uses the original chapter breaks, removes the verse numbers, and has a very clean presentation.

      Also, have you seen my Do-It-Yourself Scriptures Project page? With a few find/replace searches and one read-through while inserting paragraph breaks, you could create a version with the features you mention. It would take a while, but I think the exercise of creating the product is just as fruitful (if not more so) as reading the results. I plan on creating just what you describe, but it’ll be a few years’ wait.

      I really want to start creating epub versions of the Structured Edition, as well as other editions that are customized to people’s tastes. My dream is to have a version where you can check and uncheck preferences—like turning off the verse numbers, but leaving on the chapter numbers; or selecting which set of heading divisions you want to display—Nathan’s or Bob’s or Michael’s.

      The main obstacle, of course, is that I have zero knowledge of how to program something like that. The day I meet someone with both the skills and the interest, I’m going to beg him or her to collaborate with me!

  3. Jared Stewart says:

    This is fascinating, especially now that the Printer’s Manuscript is available online. It makes me wonder about an idea that’s often occurred to me as I read the famous “O that I were an angel” soliloquy. Given the original chapter breaks, I think you could make a strong case that Alma 29 is actually Mormon wishing to be an angel, not Alma as the chapter heading claims. Any thoughts on this? What other insights have you gleaned from the “clean” edition?

    • I’ve heard others similarly postulate that Alma 29 is Mormon speaking, not Alma, which I think is a very compelling idea. To me, it looks just as plausible as the more common conclusion that it’s Alma speaking. If you compare the old and new chapter headings, as of yet they have not changed Alma 29 to allow for the your theory, which surprises me a bit because there are other instances where the newer headings did change the language to get rid of similar assumptions, adhere more closely to scripture language, and leave the text open to other valid possibilities.

      Could you clarify how the original chapter breaks lend support to the Mormon-speaks-in-Alma-29 theory? True, a break comes right after the soliloquy, but since Mormon is narrating both before and after Alma 29, I didn’t see how that would really impact the strength of the theory.

      Good question about other insights gleaned from a “clean” edition. If you mean, gleaned from the original chapter breaks specifically, I wrote up some insights and submitted them to the Ensign two years ago, but I haven’t heard back. I’m writing up a more detailed version to submit to the Religious Educator; if it doesn’t get published, then I’ll post the text here on my site.

      If you mean, gleaned from a clean text in general, scrubbed of all modern supplementary text, including the verse breaks and punctuation, I’m currently repunctuating the Book of Mormon, and it is a wonderful exercise to help you think about the text more closely. I hope to detail some of my insights when the project is done (I’m in Mosiah 29 now), but since you asked, I’ll go ahead and share one little thought.

      2 Nephi 2:26 is currently punctuated like this:

      Version A: … Because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day …

      But perhaps it should be punctuated more like this:

      Version B: … Because that they are redeemed from the fall, they have become free (forever knowing good from evil) to act for themselves and not to be acted upon (save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day) …

      Version A says we are free forever. Version B says we know good and evil forever. Version B might leave more open-ended the question of whether we will always be free, especially considering that the last part of the verse brings up the possibility of eternal punishment. Not a major tectonic shift in interpretation, but I thought it was a thought-provoking difference.

      • Jared Stewart says:

        Yes– those are the kind of thought-provoking possibilities that open up when the imposed structure is removed. Obviously they needed to do something about the punctuation, (and it’s amazing what the printer was able to do), and the original chapters were just too long to be practical (or comparable to the KJV), but I think it’s very valuable to understand that these have been changed from the original.

        As for Alma 29, here’s the case in brief (as I see it):
        1. Mormon is editorializing both before and after the text.
        2. There is never any indication given that the speaker has changed (usually Mormon goes out of his way to make it clear who is speaking)
        3. The text we know as Alma 29 is actually part of the same chapter as 28, and has NO differentiation from it in the 1830 edition.
        4. The style of poetic speech is very much in keeping with Mormon’s “O Ye Fair Ones” lament later on. Even the opening “O” is the same.

        If it is Alma talking, it’s still pretty cool to see him wanting to be an angel and talking about how God grants our desires, especially in light of his likely translation later on (he actually got to be an angel!).

        The more I read it though, it sounds like Mormon lamenting what’s become of his people and wishing for the good old days and the ability to be an angel of power like the one that converted Alma and the Sons of Mosiah (who he regards as “my brethren”). This would be around the time of the epistle in Moroni 7, when the church during Mormon’s personal ministry were at their highest point. He’s just so touched by the story he’s been relating. It’s full of pathos, knowing how Mormon’s story ends.

        Either way, a powerful piece and great evidence of the BoM’s divine inspiration, but one more reason that we as LDS need to be more aware of the history and development of our scriptures. Thanks again.

    • Jared, that’s a good point that the soliloquy would have been around the time of Mormon’s sermon on faith, hope, and charity—especially considering the theory that Mormon’s audience for that sermon was the Anti-Nephi-Lehites in his own day (I can’t remember a source, but I believe Chris Heimerdinger quoted it in the notes of his novel Warriors of Cumorah). In other words, he was recording the origin story of the people he was preaching to on the sabbath. No wonder it would be poignant for him!

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