Here is a Microsoft Word document I’ve created for anyone to download. It is the full text of the Book of Mormon with all the punctuation removed. Likewise, all capital letters have been changed to lowercase, except for proper names (e.g., Nephi, Moroni, Satan), the first person pronoun “I” and interjection “O,” and a handful of other proper nouns that seemed odd to leave lowercase (God, Lord, Christ, Messiah, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit).
(The current version has these remaining capitalized words colored, just in case someone has some use for it. But if you don’t want them to be colored, simply select all [Ctrl A] and change it to black text.)
Why I made this document
I’ve done this because it more closely approximates what the original manuscript (and the printer’s manuscript) looked like as Joseph translated the Book of Mormon and Oliver Cowdery wrote it down. The original translation was “closely written and legible, but not a punctuation mark from beginning to end” (Porter, Ensign). “The man responsible for punctuating the first edition of the Book of Mormon was John H. Gilbert, the non-Mormon typesetter who worked for E. B. Grandin” (Horton, Ensign). Gilbert added both punctuation and paragraphing (Matthews, Ensign). Thus, while the translation was performed by a prophet based on inspiration, the paragraphing, sentence breaks, and punctuation were performed by a regular, educated man based on ordinary, mundane principles.
In many cases, a sentence can be interpreted differently depending on how it is punctuated. For example, in an unpunctuated Alma 37:23, the Lord says, “I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem a stone which shall shine forth.” Gazelem could be interpreted to be a name for a servant or for a stone; the text is ambiguous. Each interpretation would be punctuated differently:
- “I will prepare unto my servant, Gazelem, a stone which shall shine forth.” [Gazelem is a servant]
- “I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone which shall shine forth.” [Gazelem is a shining stone]
The current edition of the Book of Mormon is punctuated to favor the second interpretation of a stone, but the entry for “Gazelem” in the index assumes the first interpretation of a servant. The Church’s Book of Mormon Student Study Guide for Sunday School also uses the first interpretation, but it freely admits that it is only one possibility, using the qualifier “apparently” in its explanation. Neither interpretation is “revealed” or “authoritative” or doctrinally set in stone.
Thus, while the text of the Book of Mormon is divinely revealed, the punctuation is not. That can be important to keep in mind as we read the book. It helps us read more closely and it opens our eyes to new possible ways of understanding the prophets’ words. For a few more good examples, see Grant Hardy, “Of Punctuation and Parentage,” Insights v24 n2, Maxwell Institute.
How to use this document
This document allows you to read through the Book of Mormon and insert punctuation as it makes sense to you. Occasionally you’ll find passages with two or more possible interpretations. I don’t know that any of us are qualified to determine the correct meaning, but I think we can all be edified by reading the scriptures close enough to notice more possibilities. I’d love to know if anyone uses this document and how you used it. Feel free to tell us about it in the comments.