Changed LDS Scripture/Part 2

By: Marvin W. Cowan; ©2009
Most Bible believing Christians would be very reluctant to make changes in the Bible because of warnings in texts like Deuteronomy 4:2. But there are a few people, like Joseph Smith, who think they can improve the Bible.

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Bible Changes

Most Bible believing Christians would be very reluctant to make changes in the Bible because of warnings in texts like Deuteronomy 4:2: “You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Proverbs 30:6 also says, “Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar.” And Revelation 22:18-19 warns readers not to add or delete any words from that book or there would be severe consequences. These and other texts make it quite clear that God doesn’t want anyone to tamper with His word. That is one reason most Bible translators try to accurately convey the message in the original documents when they translate it into other languages.

But there are a few people, like Joseph Smith, who think they can improve the Bible. BYU Professor Richard J. Matthews said in the June 1992 Ensign, p. 29, that Smith translated the Bible between June of 1830 and July of 1833. In Doctrine and Covenants 73:4 “the Lord” told Smith on January 10, 1832, “It is expedient to continue the work of translation until it be finished.” Joseph Smith said, in the History of the Church volume I, page 324, “I completed the translation and review of the New Testament on the 2nd of February 1833.” On page 368 of the same volume Sidney Rigdon said on July 2nd 1833, “We this day finished the translating of the (O.T.) scriptures.” And on page 369 Rigdon again said, “Having finished the translation of the Bible….” “The Lord” commanded Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 124:89 on January 19, 1841 to “Publish the new translation of my holy word unto the inhabitants of the earth.” He lived three and a half years after that command but didn’t publish his new translation before he died. Smith’s widow, Emma, kept his “translation” of the Bible until 1866 when she gave it to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who published the first edition in 1867.

Community of Christ Church

The RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ Church, now publishes Smith’s “translation” of the Bible under the title of Inspired Version of the Holy Scriptures. A sub-title says it is “An Inspired Revision of the Authorized (KJV) Version” and below that it says it is “A New Corrected Edition.” If it was an “inspired revision” of the KJV why did “inspiration” need correction? Since the RLDS Church had Smith’s original “translation” of the Bible, the LDS Church in Utah didn’t publish it until 1979. That year they put most of the major changes Smith made in the margins and index of the Mormon edition of the King James Version of the Bible and they called it the Joseph Smith Translation or JST. Ironically the KJV Bible is still the official LDS Bible! When asked why the JST isn’t their official Bible they usually claim Smith didn’t finish it before his death. It only took Smith three years to “translate” the entire Bible and he lived 11 years after he completed it, so he had time to make corrections if they were needed.

A Mormon booklet entitled The Inspired Revision of the Bible, by Merrill Y. Van Wagoner was published by the Deseret News Press (the official LDS publishers) in 1947 and revised and updated in 1963. In it Van Wagoner, a devout Mormon, said on page 14,

It is incorrect to say that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Bible. He did not pretend to know any ancient language such as Hebrew or Greek nor did he have any manuscripts. The only text he used was the old family (KJV) Bible he and Oliver Cowdery had purchased the previous year…Through inspiration and revelation the Prophet was led to render differently various passages and also restore missing parts. His work was that of revising the scriptures rather than translating them in the way that translating is usually understood.

If Smith wasn’t really translating the Bible, why did he say he “completed the translation of the New Testament” on February 2, 1833 and why did Rigdon say they “finished the translating the (O. T.) Scriptures” on July 2, 1833 (see History of the Church volume I, pages 324, 368-369)? And, why does the Mormon Church call Smith’s version of the Bible the “Joseph Smith Translation” or the JST if it is not a translation? Why, also did “the Lord” call the JST a translation in Doctrine and Covenants 73:4 and 124:89?

Van Wagoner said that Smith “did not pretend to know any ancient language such as Hebrew or Greek.” But, anyone who has read Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith knows that several times in the last 100 pages or so of that book Smith talks about translating both Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible! It is true that Smith didn’t have any manuscripts in the original biblical languages, so he was not translating them even if he did know a little of the original language. And he certainly did “render differently various passages” in the Bible because no original document supports his changes! That is why we said in Part 1 of this series that Joseph Smith added, changed or deleted from the Bible what he wanted in order to produce his JST Bible.

If Smith made changes in the Bible by “inspiration and revelation” as Van Wagoner said, why did it need to be corrected? Van Wagoner also said Smith was led to “restore missing parts” of the Bible. But how can you restore something that was never there in the first place? There is no manuscript evidence to support the additions Smith made in the JST. The first time anyone saw them was when Smith wrote them!

More can be read about the JST in The Inspired Revision of the Bible by Merrill Van Wagoner. Next time we will look at some texts that are changed in the JST.

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