The “Fiery Darts of the Adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24

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After receiving a revelation (1 Nephi 11–14) that clarified the meaning of his father Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 8), Nephi explained to his rebellious brothers the significance of the various symbols of that dream. Concerning the “rod of iron,” which led to the tree of life, Nephi recorded,

And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. (1 Nephi 15:24)

The inclusion of the phrase “the fiery darts of the adversary” calls to mind Paul’s description of the various parts of the spiritual “armour of God” that disciples of Jesus are exhorted to put on in their spiritual warfare against evil (Ephesians 6:11–17). “Above all,” Paul recommends as part of this defensive ensemble, take “the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Ephesians 6:16). It is tempting to see 1 Nephi 15:24 as simply echoing the language of the King James rendition of Ephesians 6:16. After all, the phrase “fiery darts” appears nowhere else in the kjv. This may lead some to wonder about the connection between this New Testament phrase and Nephi’s words. Did Joseph Smith imitate (or, as critics would suggest, plagiarize) either consciously or unconsciously the language of the King James Version in this Book of Mormon passage, or is more going on here?

There may indeed be something more going on here — and something that works in favor of the Book of Mormon’s historicity. Although not appearing in the kjv, the phrase “fiery darts” or “fiery arrows” appears in the Hebrew of Psalm 7. This psalm depicts Yahweh as both a “refuge … from all of [David’s] enemies” (v. 1) and a divine warrior who executes judgment against David’s foes. It includes a cry unto the Lord to “rise up … in [his] anger” (v. 6) and overthrow the wicked in righteous judgment (vv. 7–9). The psalm contains striking martial imagery of God as a “shield” (v. 10), armed and ready for combat. The psalmist exclaims, “If [Page 6]one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (vv. 12–13 nrsv, emphasis added). On the other hand, the kjv’s rendering of the same verse reads, “He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors” (emphasis added). But as will be seen below, the kjv’s rendering of this verse is undoubtedly in error, for the underlying Hebrew of Psalm 7:13 contains the word for “fiery shafts” or “fiery darts” as is also found in the English translation of Ephesians 6:16.

The Hebrew underlying the nrsv’s “making his arrows fiery shafts” (v. 13 in English and v. 14 in Hebrew) is ḥiṣṣāyw lĕdôlĕqiym yipʿāl. The King James Bible translators misunderstood dālaq (“to burn,” “to inflame”) as meaning in this case “to pursue,” and thus rendered dôlĕqiym as “persecutors” (v. 13 kjv). While it is true that dālaq can mean (in a metaphorical sense) “hotly to pursue,” its primary definition is “to set on fire,” and this is certainly the meaning intended in this passage.1 Thus, while the nrsv has produced an acceptable translation of v. 13, a more literal reading of the text would be, “he makes his arrows to [be] fiery.” Or, simply put another way, “he makes his fiery arrows.” This is clear when one consults both the Septuagint and the Vulgate translations of Psalm 7:13. In these two ancient translations of the Hebrew, dôlĕqiym is rendered with kaiō (“to burn,” “to kindle”)2 and conburō (“to burn up”),3 respectively, thus erasing any doubt as to the kjv’s misreading of the Hebrew.

More significantly, the ancient Greek version renders ḥiṣṣāyw (“his arrows”) as ta belē autou. This is important to note, as the Greek word in Ephesians 6:16 for “darts” in “fiery darts” is the same noun—belē (belos). Rather than the short darts one might encounter in an English pub, belos (and its Hebrew equivalent ḥēs ̣) means “missile” or “arrow.” Furthermore, although it uses a different verb than kaiō, the phrase in Ephesians 6:16 [Page 7]is qualified by pyroō, the common Greek verb for “to burn.”4 Thus, there can be little question that the original Hebrew underlying Psalm 7:13 is a functional equivalent to the Greek that underlies Ephesians 6:16. Both passages speak of, basically, “set-on-fire missiles.”5

Historically, the use of fiery arrows or missiles is known in ancient Near Eastern warfare perhaps as early as the Neo-Assyrian period in the eighth century bc. Robert G. Grant reports that the Assyrian siege engines used during Sennacherib’s attack on Lachish in 701 bc were evidently “covered with dampened leather hides to protect [them] from flaming arrows­ — an incendiary weapon apparently used by both sides.”6 In the Persian and classical Greek periods, Herodotus (Histories 8.52) and Thucydides (History 2.75) mention the use of fiery missiles, both likewise in the context of siege warfare. Interestingly, Bernardino de Sahagún recorded at the time of the European conquest of the New World the ancient Aztec use of fiery arrows in Mesoamerican warfare in his General History of the Things of New Spain (the celebrated “Florentine Codex”).7

Incendiary arrows were also evidently used in dispelling infantry ranks. “With their shields on fire,” Williams explains, “soldiers were tempted to throw them down, thus making themselves more vulnerable to the enemy.” If that weren’t enough, “heavier loads of burning material were [also] launched by catapults, against which a shield was of little protection.”8 Such is recorded by the anonymous native author of the so-called Anónimo Mexicano (“a twelve-chapter document concerning [Page 8]the history of the Nahuatl Tlaxcalteca”)9 who mentioned the use of “some sort of smoking arrows” in Aztec infantry combat.10

Thus, the phrase “fiery darts” (or more properly “fiery arrows” or “incendiary missiles”)11 undoubtedly found currency in the world of the ancient Near East, including Israel, and is therefore not alien to the world of Nephi. Although one might still argue that the Book of Mormon’s English rendering of “fiery darts of the adversary” is an imitation of kjv Ephesians 6:16, there’s no controversy in proposing that the phrase would have been accessible to Nephi, who could have used a similar phrase on the plates that Joseph Smith could eventually have rendered into the equivalent kjv idiom of his day (see Doctrine and Covenants 1:24).12

Granted, the metaphor in 1 Nephi 15:24 is not likely to have been drawn directly from Psalm 7, as Nephi’s metaphor portrays the fiery darts as something evil or otherwise negative, whereas in Psalm 7 the fiery arrows are instruments of God’s justice against David’s enemies and therefore something positive. It is always possible, I suppose, that Nephi deliberately reversed the imagery of God’s avenging fiery arrows in Psalm 7 into something negative (Satan’s fiery arrows of temptation), but I personally find this unlikely, given Nephi’s piety. Rather, I am suggesting that the metaphor and language in 1 Nephi 15:24 fits comfortably in an ancient Near Eastern setting. Psalm 7 and the evidence of fiery arrows used in ancient Near Eastern warfare examined above indicates that Nephi’s metaphor need not be strictly seen as coming from Ephesians, but rather could easily have been available to the prophet in his ancient Israelite cultural setting.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that it would have been practically impossible for Joseph Smith to have stumbled upon any of this, as first, the kjv, the only biblical translation feasibly accessible to the Prophet,13 mistranslated Psalm 7:13, and second, Joseph began his study of Hebrew [Page 9]and Greek some five years after the translation of the Book of Mormon. While I wouldn’t at all call it “proof” of the Book of Mormon’s antiquity, the evidence examined above leads me to conclude that 1 Nephi 15:24 need not be seen as a sloppy plagiarism of Ephesians 6:16. Rather, I am convinced that even if the Prophet Joseph Smith imitated the language of the kjv in his English translation of the plates, Nephi’s metaphor of “the fiery darts of the adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24 can ultimately be traced to the world of ancient Israel.

1. Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, NL: Brill, 2001), 1:223; Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 196. With an understanding that the English word “persecutor” comes ultimately from the Latin persecūtor (to prosecute, pursue after), the translators of the KJV were (in this instance erroneously) following the idiomatic definition of dālaq with their choice of “persecutor” or someone who pursues or follows.

2. Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, Liddell and Scott’s Greek–English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1891), 341.

3. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), s.v. combūro.

4. Liddell and Scott, Liddell and Scott’s Greek–English Lexicon, 619–620.

5. David J. Williams, Paul’s Metaphors: Their Context and Character (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 240.

6. R. G. Grant, Battle: A Visual Journey through 5,000 Years of Combat (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2009), 17. See also the discussion provided by Steve A. Wiggins, Weathering the Psalms: A Meteortheological Survey (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), 36–37. David Ussishkin suggests that the Assyrian reliefs depicting the siege of Lachish show “the defenders standing on the wall … throwing flaming torches on the siege machine” as opposed to firing incendiary arrows, but in any case incendiary projectiles (arrows or otherwise) were used. See David Ussishkin, “Excavations and Restoration work at Tel Lachish,” online at <> (accessed October 2, 2015).

7. Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, Book 8 — Kings and Lords, trans. Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble (Santa Fe, NM: The School of American Research, 1954), 53.

8. Williams, Paul’s Metaphors, 240.

9. Richley H. Crapo and Bonnie Glass-Coffin, eds., Anónimo Mexicano (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2005), 2.

10. Crapo and Glass-Coffin, Anónimo Mexicano, 40.

11. Williams, Paul’s Metaphors, 222.

12. As a bonus, the Book of Mormon’s singular “the adversary” comes closer to the Greek underlying Ephesians 6:16, which reads tou ponērou or “the evil one” (cf. the NRSV), as opposed to the kjv’s ambiguous “wicked,” which in English could be construed as either a collective singular or a plural. If one is going to suggest that Joseph Smith was simplistically cribbing from the kjv, one must account for the change in 1 Nephi 15:24 that brings the text closer to the underlying Greek than what is rendered by the KJV.

13. The Coverdale (1535), Matthew (1537), Great (1539), Geneva (1560), and Bishops’ (1568) Bible translations mishandled the Hebrew in the same manner as the kjv. Only Wycliffe’s (1382–95), based on the Vulgate, preserves the sense of the Hebrew of Psalm 7:13: “He hath fulli maad his arewis with brennynge thingis.”

11 thoughts on “The “Fiery Darts of the Adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24

  1. I much enjoyed this well-researched and reasoned article, Stephen. However, I was a little surprised to read your reference to Joseph Smith translating the writing on the plates into English. Regarding how the Book of Mormon text was produced, as Royal Skousen has emphasized often over the last few years, and as Joseph’s contemporaries have described it, the words Joseph read in the stone were already written in English. Joseph didn’t translate a single word of the text; he simply dictated what was already translated for him. The intriguing question Skousen has been asking is who actually rendered the text into English so that Joseph Smith could read it. Since the translation uses words and phrases from the English linguistic period of approximately 1470-1740 CE, Skousen has hypothesized a committee of persons who lived during that period and collaborated on the project. ( I have a theory on who the “committee” members were, and I think strong evidence underlies the theory, if you’re interested.) Thereafter, through the power of God this wonderful translation was transmitted to Joseph through the medium of the seer stone and/or interpreters.

    I think this point is important because it corroborates and strengthens your overall point that there’s no reason to accuse Joseph Smith of plagiarizing. If he neither authored or translated the text in the first place, but instead read in the stone a translation prepared by others writing centuries earlier, as the evidences indicates, the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text is corroborated.

    • Scott,

      Apart from the point that Skousen’s hypothesis is not the only explanation for the text, suggesting that someone else wrote might absolve Joseph from charges of plagiarism but only deflects that charge onto whomever did the translation. One of the biggest issues with Skousen’s hypothesis is that it shifts all translation issues earlier in time without solving any of them.

    • Yes, this is an important point. Sadly, once again Skousen’s expert and textually motivated view, which has been publicly available since at least 1998, has been ignored. I hope that LDS scholars who touch on these matters in the future will acknowledge and even take seriously his studied opinion. The default has been to discount or ignore his view. I firmly believe that this will change with the passage of time as substantial evidence comes forth. Look for parts 1 and 2 of volume 3 of the critical text project in the first half of 2016. It deals with the ubiquitous grammatical editing that the Book of Mormon text has suffered over time.

      Extensive linguistic evidence tells me, in no uncertain terms, that the translation of Joseph Smith was a retransmission of revealed words (see the first line of 2 Nephi 27:22). This is a less-common but equally valid meaning of the word translation. The English-language translation was carried out by God. The details of that process do not appear to be known to us. To me, translation issues are more easily understood under Skousen’s view than under the long-standing, currently dominant view. Nevertheless, I care more about knowing which agency was responsible for the English-language translation of the Book of Mormon than whether it shifts translation issues to a different time or faculty.

  2. Thank you for your insightful article … once again I’m reminded that the BoM is the best study guide ever written on the OT & NT. When I read the BoM, the phrase “fiery darts” naturally draws me into Paul’s counsel in Ephesians. Pondering Paul’s words reminds me to expand my defensive spiritual efforts to include personal righteousness (breast plate), focus on simple truths of the restored gospel and being a peaceable follower of Christ (feet shod), strengthen my faith in Jesus Christ (shield), and reminds me that the “sword” is the word of God and the constant companionship of the Holy ghost …

    The KJV Biblical phrases in the BoM naturally draw the reader of the BoM back into the Bible where the reader’s understanding is expanded, enhanced, enlarged, and enlightened. The connectivity of the scriptures always reminds me that the BoM is good and true.

    Knowing that the term “fiery darts” has ancient origins is also fascinating.

    Nick Frederick’s presentation at the “BoM Complexities…” conference and his Doctoral dissertation suggest that the BoM was purposely prepared to include thousands of phrases pulled from the KJV.

    “Fiery darts” is another interesting piece of this expanding puzzle.

    In your research of the phrase “fiery darts” did you follow Stan Carmack’s research to see if the term has a connection to early modern English usage?

    Who wrote the BoM? The BoM actually was written by the “gift and power of God” and I love all these interesting complexities.

  3. Amazing how the book of mormon is the gift that keeps on giving, there is so much depth and richness in its text. Every little odd word or phrase or sequence tells a story or fits culturally in context.

  4. I too, enjoyed the article. Thanks, Stephen for your contribution.

    In the search for a source for the “fiery darts of the adversary”, you might consider the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the Hymns of Thanksgiving (which some LDS have speculated to be writings of Zenos?), there is a really nice connection, where the bad guys are the ones with the fiery arrows:

    “And I said, Mighty men
    have pitched their camps against me,
    and have encompassed me
    with all their weapons of war.
    They have let fly arrows
    against which there is no cure,
    and the flame of (their) javelins
    is like a consuming fire among trees.”
    -Geza Vermes, “The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English”, Hymn 7 (formally 2)

  5. The imagery in 1 Nephi 15:24 is puzzling at first. Why would “fiery darts” “overpower unto blindness”? The most obvious answer is that “fiery darts” are incendiary devices that result in the production of smoke, which smoke could “overpower unto blindness” (and could also be connected with the “mist of darkness” mentioned in the Tree of Life vision). More research on the methods of ancient warfare, particularly in Mesoamerica, could make a helpful connection here. For example, some sources talk of wooden shields and heavy cotton “armour” being used, both of which would be susceptible to “fiery darts” that lead to the production of smoke.

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