Joseph Smith Translation Of The Bible

The Joseph Smith Translation (JST), also called the Inspired Version (IV), was a revision of the Bible by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. Smith considered this work to be “a branch of his calling” as a prophet. Smith was murdered before he ever deemed it complete, though most of his work on it was performed about a decade previous. The work is the King James Version of the Bible (KJV) with some significant additions and revisions. It is considered a sacred text and is part of the canon of Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), and other Latter Day Saint churches. Selections from the Joseph Smith Translation are also included in the footnotes and the appendix in the LDS-published King James Version of the Bible, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has only officially canonized certain excerpts that appear in its Pearl of Great Price. These excerpts are the Book of Moses and Smith’s revision of part of the Gospel of Matthew.

Translation

The term “translation”

Some consider that the term “translation” was broader in meaning in 1828 than it is today.[1] and that Joseph Smith’s work was at the time considered a revision of the English text, rather than a translation, since it was known that Joseph Smith had not studied Hebrew or Greek to produce his manuscript in 1828.[2] Though Smith did later study Hebrew from 1836 with Joshua Seixas at Kirtland, Ohio.[3]

The work of revision

The Translation was intended to restore what Smith described as “many important points touching the salvation of men, [that] had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.”[4] But the work was not a literal translation from ancient documents, as the term translation is commonly used today. Neither was it an automatic and infallible process where “correct” words and phrases simply were revealed to Smith in final form. As with Joseph Smith’s other translations, he reported that he was forced to “study it out in [his] mind”[5] as part of the revelatory process.[6] Sometimes Smith might revisit a given passage of scripture at a later time to give it a “plainer translation,”[7] because of additional knowledge or revelation about a subject.

Philip Barlow observes that Smith made six basic types of changes from the KJV in the JST:[8]

  • Long revealed additions that have little or no biblical parallel, such as the visions of Moses and Enoch, and the passage on Melchizedek
  • “Common-sense” changes (e.g., Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the Lord that he had made man” is revised in Moses 8:25 to read: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man”. God, who is perfect, needs no repentance)
  • “Interpretive additions,” often signaled by the phrase “or in other words,” which Smith appended to a passage he wished to clarify
  • “Harmonization”, in which Smith reconciled passages that seemed to conflict with other passages
  • Many changes Smith made are not easily classified; one can observe only that frequently the meaning of a given text has been changed, often idiosyncratically
  • Grammatical improvements, technical clarifications, and modernization of terms, which were by far the most common type of change Smith made in the Bible

Smith’s Translation was a work in progress throughout his ministry. Some parts of the revision (parts of Genesis and the four Gospels) were completed from beginning to end, including unchanged verses from the KJV; some parts were revised more than once, and other parts were revised one verse at a time. The manuscripts were written, re-written, and in some cases, additional edits were written in the columns, pinned to the paper or otherwise attached. Smith relied on a version of the Bible that included the Apocrypha, and marked off the Bible as verses were examined (the Apocrypha was not included in the Translation). Skeptics view this nonlinearity as evidence that Smith’s Translation was not inspired; however, Latter Day Saints see Smith’s Translation as representing a gradual, developing inspiration.

The bulk of Joseph Smith’s work on the JST took place between June 1830 and July 1833. By 1833, he felt it was sufficiently complete that preparations for publication could begin, though continual lack of time and means prevented it from appearing in its entirety during his lifetime. He continued to make a few revisions and to prepare the manuscript for printing until he was killed in 1844.[9] Regarding the completeness of the JST as we have it, Matthews has written:

…the manuscript shows that Smith went all the way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. But it also shows that he did not make all the necessary corrections in one effort. This situation makes it impossible to give a statistical answer to questions about how much of the Translation was completed or how much was not completed. What is evident, however, is that any part of the Translation might have been further touched upon and improved by additional revelation and emendation by Smith.[10]

LDS scholar Royal Skousen discusses the question of whether one should assume that every change made in the JST constitutes revealed text.[11] Besides arguments that can be made from the actual text of the JST, there are questions regarding the reliability of and degree of supervision given to the scribes who were involved in transcribing, copying, and preparing the text for publication. Differences are also apparent in the nature of the revision process that took place at different stages of the work. For example, while a significant proportion of the Genesis passages that have been canonized as the book of Moses “[look] like a word-for-word revealed text,” evidence from a study of two sections in the New Testament that were revised twice indicates that the later “New Testament JST is not being revealed word-for-word, but largely depends upon Joseph Smith’s varying responses to the same difficulties in the text.”

Use of Pseudepigraphic texts

Some scholars consider that Smith had access to Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and included insights from these texts in his translation.[12]

Criticism

Several critics[13] and linguists[13] have noted areas where the translation appears to have been faulty. For example Smith’s translation of Mark 15:22 (appearing in the JST at Mark 15:25) states: “…Golgotha, which is, (being interpreted,) The place of a burial.” However, the word Golgotha is an Aramaic word which means “place of the skull”. This type of criticism, however, overlooks that fact that the JST is not claimed to be a literal translation in the traditional sense of the word. Additionally, the death of Joseph Smith and his inability to complete the project means that it is not possible to know whether the margin notes in his Bible were intended as revisions or personal notes.

Doctrinal Development

Joseph Smith Translating The Bible

Many of Smith’s revisions to the Bible led to significant developments in the doctrines of Mormonism.[14] During the process of translation, when he came across troubling Biblical issues, Smith often dictated revelations relevant to himself, his associates, or the church. About half of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are in some way connected to this translation process, including background on the Apocrypha (LDS D&C section 91 RLDS D&C 88), the three degrees of glory (LDS section 76 RLDS Section 85), the eternal nature of marriage and plural marriage (LDS section 132), teachings on baptism for the dead (LDS section 124 RLDS Section 107), various revelations on priesthood (LDS sections 84, 88, 107 RLDS Sections 83 104) and others.

Overall, 3,410 verses in the printed editions of JST differ in textual construction from the King James Version (KJV), using the numbering of the IV as the basis for comparison. Of the total of 1,289 verses changed in the Old Testament, 25 correspond to the additions of Moses 1, and 662 occur in the book of Genesis.[15] Hence, more than half of the changed verses in the JST Old Testament and 20% of those in the entire JST Bible are contained in Moses 1 and Genesis, with the most extensive modifications occurring in Genesis 1-24. As a proportion of page count, changes in Genesis occur four times more frequently than in the New Testament, and twenty-one times more frequently than in the rest of the Old Testament. The changes in Genesis are not only more numerous, but also more significant in the degree of doctrinal and historical expansion. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw has suggested that one reason for this emphasis may have been “early tutoring in temple-related doctrines received by Joseph Smith as he revised and expanded Genesis 1-24, in conjunction with his later translation of relevant passages in the New Testament and, for example, the stories of Moses and Elijah.”[16] Additional evidence suggests that the Book of Moses itself could be seen as a temple text, in the sense discussed by BYU professor John W. Welch.[17]

Joseph Smith Translation Of The Bible

Publication and use by the RLDS

Smith was killed prior to the publication of the translation. At the death of Joseph Smith Jr. the manuscripts and documents pertaining to the translation were retained by his widow, Emma Smith, who would not give them to the Quorum of the Twelve although Willard Richards, apparently acting on behalf of Brigham Young, requested the new translation from her. Consequently, when Young’s followers moved to the Salt Lake Valley, they did so without the new translation of the Bible.

Following Joseph Smith’s death, John Milton Bernhisel asked permission of Emma Smith to copy the notes that were made into his own Bible. He spent much of the spring of 1845 working on this project. The LDS Church has this in its offices in Salt Lake City, but it contains less than half of the corrections and is not suitable for publication. For many years the Bernhisel Bible was the only source for LDS Church members living in the Salt Lake Valley.

In 1866, Emma Smith gave the manuscripts into the custody of the RLDS church, to which she was a member and her son Joseph Smith III the prophet-president. In 1867 the RLDS published the first edition of the translation and obtained a copyright for it. The RLDS Church (now Community of Christ) still retains the original manuscripts and publishes the Inspired Version through its publishing arm, Herald House Publishing. The copyright has expired on the 1867 edition[18] and a bound photo reproduction of that edition is published by a private concern. In 1944, the RLDS Church brought out a carefully prepared “new corrected edition.”

See the entry on the Community of Christ for information on current views and use within the church.

Scholarship on JST Manuscripts

Because LDS scholars had not yet had an opportunity to compare the corrected edition of the 1944 RLDS edition of the Bible version to the original manuscripts, its initial acceptance by LDS Church members was limited.[19] Explorations of the textual foundations of the JST began in earnest with the pioneering work of the RLDS scholar Richard P. Howard and the LDS scholar Robert J. Matthews beginning in the 1960s.[20][21] Matthews’ summary of an exhaustive study corroborated the RLDS claims that the 1944 and subsequent editions of the “Inspired Version,” notwithstanding their shortcomings, constituted a faithful rendering of the work of Joseph Smith and his scribes—insofar as the manuscripts were then understood. With painstaking effort over a period of eight years, and with the full cooperation of the Community of Christ, a facsimile transcription of all the original manuscripts of the JST was at last published in 2004.[22]

LDS View

The LDS Church accepts many of the changes as doctrinally significant. Joseph Smith—Matthew and the Book of Moses, containing translations and revelatory expansions of Matthew 24 and Genesis 1-7 respectively and contained in the LDS Pearl of Great Price, are portions of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible that the LDS Church has canonized as part of its standard works. Additionally, over 600[23] of the more doctrinally significant verses from the translation are included as excerpts in the current LDS Church edition of the King James Version of the Bible. This step has ensured an increase in the JST’s use and acceptance in LDS churches today. An official editorial of the Church News, dated December 7, 1974, contained these words:

“The Inspired Version does not supplant the King James Version as the official Church version of the Bible, but the explanations and changes made by the Prophet Joseph Smith provide enlightenment and useful commentary on many biblical passages.” …[24]

Regarding the Joseph Smith Translation, Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “The Joseph Smith Translation, or Inspired Version, is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth”.[25]

Notes

  1. Craig Blomberg, Stephen Edward Robinson How wide the divide?: a Mormon & an Evangelical in conversation Page 64 “In 1828 the word translation was broader in its meaning than it is now, and the Joseph Smith translation (JST) should be understood to contain additional revelation, alternate readings, prophetic commentary or midrash, harmonization “
  2. H. Michael Marquardt The rise of Mormonism, 1816-1844 2005 Page 326 “Joseph Smith’s work is a revision rather than a translation, since church members knew that Joseph Smith had not studied Hebrew or Greek to produce his manuscript.”
  3. Journal of Mormon history: Volumes 17-18 1991 “Joseph Smith studied Hebrew under Jewish scholar Joshua Seixas, in the Mormon city of Kirtland, Ohio”
  4. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 16 February 1832, pp. 10–11. See also The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “Eighth Article of Faith” that states: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”
  5. LDS Doctrine and Covenants 9:8
  6. Flake, Kathleen. “Translating time: The nature and function of Joseph Smith’s narrative canon.” Journal of Religion 87, no. 4 (October 2007): 497-527. http://www.vanderbilt.edu/divinity/facultynews/Flake%20Translating%20Time.pdf. (accessed February 22, 2009).
  7. LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:18
  8. Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  9. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 391.
  10. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 215.
  11. Royal Skousen. “The earliest textual sources for Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the King James Bible.” The FARMS Review 17, no. 2 (2005): 456-470.
  12. Peter J. Sorensen Ideas of ascension and translation 2004 “The pseudepigraphic Joseph Smith revision of Genesis contains a delightful digression…”
  13. Examples: 5 books published by the Lighthouse Ministry: Inspired Revision of the Bible, and Kevin Barney, The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19:3 (Fall, 1986): 85-102}
  14. GUIDE TO THE SCRIPTURES: Joseph Smith Translation (JST) As found at the www.lds.org website for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  15. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 424.
  16. http://www.mormontimes.com/studies_doctrine/doctrine_discussion/?id=3140
  17. Welch, John W. The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009.
  18. All works before 1923 are in the public domain due to copyright expiration. See U.S. Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States located at Cornell Copyright Information Center
  19. Sherry, Thomas E. “Changing attitudes toward Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible.” In Plain and Precious Truths Restored: The Doctrinal and Historical Significance of the Joseph Smith Translation, edited by Robert L. Millet and Robert J. Matthews, 187-226. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1995.
  20. Howard, Richard P. Restoration Scriptures. Independence, MO: Herald House, 1969.
  21. Robert J. Matthews “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975.
  22. Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds. Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004.
  23. Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds. Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004, p. 39.
  24. Matthews, Robert J. (April 1977). “Why don’t we use the Inspired Version of the Bible in the Church? Would it be helpful to me to read it?”. New Era: 46–47. http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=34665930f289b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1.
  25. Skinner, Andrew C. (June 1999). “Restored Light on the Savior’s Last Week in Mortality”. Ensign: 21. http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=d6a284d4a0a0c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1. Retrieved 2008-09-22.

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