The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible

By Bill McKeever

The following was originally printed in the March-April 2009 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here

For much of its history, Mormon leaders have made it perfectly clear that the Bible is not a completely trustworthy guide. In order to support this premise many point to article eight in their Articles of Faith. It reads, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. . . .”

If proper translation was the real issue, I don’t think many Christians would argue this point, for what Christian would not want an accurately translated Bible?

However, do Mormons cite Article Eight in order to give the impression that our modern Bibles are translated so poorly that they cannot be trusted, or are they implying something else altogether? Is this speaking of a translation problem or a transmission problem? Comments from Mormon leaders seem to point to the latter. For example, in a 1992 address from the First Presidency, Presidents Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas Monson wrote:

“The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts” (“Letter Reaffirms Use of King James Version of Bible,” Church News, June 20, 1992, p.3).

In his book As Translated Correctly, Mormon Apostle Mark E. Petersen wrote,

“Many insertions were made, some of them ‘slanted’ for selfish purposes, while at times deliberate falsifications and fabrications were perpetrated” (p.4).

In 2003, Mormon Apostle Neil Maxwell insisted,

“By faulty transmission, many ‘plain and precious things’ were ‘taken away’ or ‘kept back’ from reaching what later composed our precious Holy Bible” (“The Wondrous Restoration,” Ensign, April 2003, p. 35).

The above comments demonstrate that LDS leaders feel that our modern Bibles have more than just an alleged translation problem. However, the evidence does not support the conclusion that “many plain and precious parts” have been expunged from the ancient manuscripts from which we get our modern Bible translations. We have no evidence that the ancient manuscripts available today ever included these so-called missing parts, and it is ridiculous to insist that a “corrupt Christendom” was able to gather and destroy each and every manuscript that Mormons think included the alleged missing parts.

Of course, scholars who have made it their life’s work to study how our Bible came about do not agree with the above LDS presuppositions. For example, London-born biblical scholar Sir Frederick Kenyon, who, during his life, held a variety of posts at the British Museum, noted:

“It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all the discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God” (As cited in Neil R. Lightfoot’s, How We Got Our Bible, 2003, p.6).

Of course, Mormons cannot agree with such a conclusion because that would prove in an instant that the early Christians never believed the many unique teachings that make up modern Mormonism. In other words, if the Bible truly reflects God’s will for His creation, Mormonism cannot possibly be a restoration of early Christian faith and practice.

On the day the LDS Church was officially organized (April 6, 1830) Joseph Smith claimed he received a revelation from God claiming that he, Smith, was to be known as a “seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” The title of translator can also be found several years later in an 1841 revelation found in  Doctrine and Covenants 124:125: “I give unto you my servant Joseph to be a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and prophet.” If Joseph Smith was indeed a “translator,” it seems only natural that he use such an ability to produce a trustworthy Bible.

Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe claimed that the teachings of the Book of Mormon, along

“with other new revelations from the Lord, convinced the Prophet that there were errors, unauthorized additions, and incomplete statements in the sacred volume of the Old and New Testaments. Such errors seemed to the Prophet, a devoted lover of the truth, out of keeping with the sacred nature of the Bible. Therefore, very soon after the organization of the Church, after placing the matter before the Lord, he began the ‘inspired translation’ of the holy scriptures”(Evidences and Reconciliations, p.353).

In June 1830, Smith began work on his new version of the Bible, but we should not think that it was a translation in the traditional sense of the word since he did not actually translate from any ancient text. Instead, Smith merely made alterations as he personally saw fit. Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote:

“In consequence, at the command of the Lord and while acting under the spirit of revelation, the Prophet corrected, revised, altered, added to, and deleted from the King James Version of the Bible to form what is now commonly referred to as the Inspired Version of the Bible” (Mormon Doctrine, p.383).

According to BYU professor Robert L. Millet:

“The Prophet translated the King James Bible by the same means he translated the Book of Mormon—through revelation. His knowledge of Hebrew or Greek or his acquaintance with ancient documents was no more essential in making the JST than a previous knowledge of Reformed Egyptian or an access to more primitive Nephite records was essential to the translation of the Book of Mormon” (The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, pp.26–27).

We find in Doctrine and Covenants 73:4 that God supposedly told Smith to “continue the work of translation until it be finished.” After three long years Smith finally announced on July 2, 1833:

“We this day finished the translating of the Scriptures, for which we returned gratitude to our Heavenly Father, and sat immediately down to answer your letters” (History of the Church 1:368).

LDS Assistant Church historian Andrew Jensen confirms Smith’s claim on page nine of his Church Chronology (1899), and for many years the LDS Church Almanac did as well. However, for some reason the Almanac now claims that Smith only finished the New Testament on July 2, 1833. This contradicts what Smith recorded in his journal five months earlier:

“I completed the translation and review of the New Testament, on the 2nd of February, 1833, and sealed it up, no more to be opened till it arrived in Zion.”

Despite the specific command from God telling Smith to finish this work, and Smith’s confirmation that he did, the Mormon Church currently takes the position that Smith did not finish his task. Still, this does not prevent the LDS Church from including Smith’s alterations in footnotes and endnotes in the LDS edition of the King James Bible.

For more articles on the topic of the Bible, go here.

For a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast series on the Joseph Smith Translation (Inspired Version), click here:  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6