The Joseph Smith Translation: An improvement over the original? Or ‘Much Ado About Nothing’?

By Eric Johnson

Listen to a six-part radio series on Viewpoint on Mormonism that played during the week of April 14, 2014: Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6 

An article published in the April 2014 Ensign (“The Atonement of Jesus Christ: Insights from The Joseph Smith Translation,” written on pages 52-57, with no attribution to its authorship) explains that “Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible enhances our understanding of the Savior’s suffering, death, and Resurrection.” To prove this point, the article covers five different events during the last two days of Jesus’ life leading to His death on Calvary.

According to the article, Joseph Smith used his prophetical skills to shed further light on what the original gospel writers wrote, even though he did not fluently know the biblical languages. This is not the first time the Smith claimed he could “translate” scripture. For instance, he said that he was provided gold plates filled with Reformed Egyptian writing  and then given the ability to translate those words into English. However, since the Angel Moroni supposedly took the plates back and there was no way to determine if Smith was accurate in his “translation.” With no autographs or other ancient manuscript copies of those plates, isn’t it possible Smith could write whatever he wanted and have his “scripture” accepted as true by faithful followers?

Is the Bible authentic?

When it comes to the Bible, let’s consider why it’s reasonable to believe that it is authentic scripture. There are a total of 66 books—39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament—with incredible amounts of manuscript evidence. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls was an incredible find in 1947 that allowed scholars to study manuscripts of almost every Old Testament book (the exception is Esther) and even an entire book (Isaiah), which they used to compare to the earliest known texts at the time called the Masoretic texts. These Masoretic texts came a millennium after the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Putting the texts side-by-side, what was the conclusion? While there were certainly blips and bumps, it was determined that the biblical portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the accuracy of the earliest texts we possessed before the middle of the twentieth century.

As far as the New Testament is concerned, F.F. Bruce wrote the following in his classic  work The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?

“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. . . . There are in existence over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part.” (10)

Regarding the many manuscripts that are available today, Bruce adds,

“When we have documents like our New Testament writings copied and recopied thousands of times, the scope for copyists’ errors is so enormously increased that it is surprising there are no more than there actually are. Fortunately, if the great number of MSS (manuscripts) increases the number of scribal errors, it increases proportionately the means of correcting such errors so that the margin of doubt left in the process of recovering the exact original wording is not so large as might be feared; it is in truth remarkably small.”

And then he writes,

“The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice.”

Bible scholar Bruce Metzger agreed, saying that there are more than 5,600 Greek manuscripts, with an additional 24,000 manuscripts in Latin, Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian. “We can have great confidence in the fidelity with which this material has come down to us, especially compared with any other ancient literary work,” he said. (Strobel, The Case for Christ, 81-82)

When we look at ancient copies by writers such as Plato (Tetralogies), Caesar (Gallic Wars), and Tacitus (Annals), we just have a few hundred manuscripts each, with the earliest copies generally hailing from about a thousand years after the original. Homer’s Iliad is the next best attested ancient historical work. Though it was written in 800 B.C., the earliest copy in existence was produced four centuries after the original text, and there are only 1,757 copies. Biola University professor Clay Jones explains that this work is

“dwarfed by the NT, which has more than three times the Greek manuscripts as the Iliad. When one adds the fifteen thousand manuscripts in other languages, and then considers that almost the entire NT could be reproduced by the quotations of the early church fathers. . . . The NT remains in a class by itself: it is by far the most attested ancient work. This troubles skeptics because if they reject the transmissional reliability of the NT, then they must also consider unreliable all other manuscripts of antiquity.” (“The Biographical Test Updated,” Christian Research Journal 35, no. 3 (May 2012); 34, 36.)

Finally, consider Sir Frederic Kenyon, a scholar whose credentials were, according to Bruce, second to none:

“The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.” (The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? 14-15)

What is the Joseph Smith Translation?

Also called the “Inspired Version” [in this link, see other articles on our website related to this topic], the Joseph Smith Translation contains “corrections provided by Joseph Smith in the early 1830s. Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated,

“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” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 383).

However, to call it a “translation” is a misnomer as Smith never claimed to use the available manuscripts of his day to create his version. According to a general conference talk given by J. Reuben Clark, a member of the First Presidency in the mid-20th century, this “translation” was merely a “revision” of the Bible:

“This King James or Authorized Version, ‘as far as it is translated correctly’ has been the version accepted by this Church since it was organized. The Prophet Joseph Smith undertook, under the inspiration of the Lord, to make a revision of the Bible-not a translation. This work was never completed, except as to certain portions appearing in the Pearl of Great Price. Since the work was not completed, the Church has never formally adopted it, save as to the parts in the Pearl of Great Price” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Reports, April 1954, p. 38).

According to an LDS Church manual:

“While translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith learned that over the years many ‘plain and most precious’ parts of the Bible had been taken away or lost (see 1 Nephi 13:26). The Bible is a sacred book that contains the word of God, but mistakes were made as it was copied and translated into different languages. Words were left out, changed, or added, changing the meaning of some of the scriptures. During the apostasy following Jesus Christ’s death, there were no prophets or apostles to make sure the scriptures were copied and translated correctly. Joseph Smith was instructed to prepare a new translation of the Bible that would restore and correct these plain and precious parts.”

 It adds,

“In 1830 Joseph Smith began working on a correct translation of the Bible. Sidney Rigdon was his scribe. In preparing this translation of the Bible, Joseph was not translating from an ancient language, as he did with the Book of Mormon, but was restoring the Bible to its original meaning. As Joseph studied and pondered the Bible, he was inspired through the power of the Holy Ghost to correct errors in it.”

The answer, in two words, is “absolutely not.” David Rolph Seely, an associate professor of ancient scripture at church-owned Brigham Young University, wrote,

“The prophet did not ‘translate’ the Bible in the traditional sense of the word—that is, go back to the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to make a new rendering into English. Rather, he went through the biblical text of the King James Version and made inspired corrections, revisions, and additions to the biblical text.” (The Joseph Smith Translation: ‘Plain and Precious Things Restored,’” Ensign, August 1997, 10.)

Even though the method of compiling the JST was certainly unorthodox, Seely said that “while it is not always possible to determine the exact nature of each of the Prophet’s revisions, we accept them as being inspired.”(Ibid., 11) Comparing the “translation” process of the JST to the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young University professor Robert L. Millet wrote,

“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.”(“Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A Historical Overview,” in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, 26-27)

Quoting Robert J. Matthews, another Brigham Young University professor, Seely explained how the translation took place:

“From the evidence it appears ‘that the Prophet and a scribe would sit at a table, with the Prophet having the King James Version of the Bible open before him. Probably he would read from the King James Version and dictate the revisions, while the scribe recorded what he said.’ Some of the corrections and revisions were small, including sometimes only vital punctuation changes. Other revisions were much more lengthy, restoring large passages of text.”(“The Joseph Smith Translation: ‘Plain and Precious Things Restored,’” Ensign, August 1997, 10.

Smith claimed that “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” in the Bible. (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 6:57) The irony is that it appears Smith was describing himself. When he commenced to revise the Bible in 1830, he had no expertise in ancient languages. Would this not make him an “ignorant translator”? And if there is a pattern of Smith making alterations that conflicted with ancient texts while at the same time supporting his presently held views, would that not also make him both “designing and corrupt”?

Was the Joseph Smith Translation finished?

Before providing some of the points that are supposed to “enhance our understanding to the Savior’s suffering, death, and Resurrection,” the LDS Bible Dictionary is quoted as saying,

Although the major portion of the work was completed by July 1833, [the Prophet] continued to make modifications while preparing a manuscript for the press until his death in 1844, and it is possible that some additional modifications would have been made had he lived to publish the entire work.

I find it fascinating that these types of interpretations take place despite the vast historical information to show that Smith finished his translation of the Bible.

Apostle John A. Widtsoe said that the teaching 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, 353)

On March 7, 1831, Smith was “instructed to begin the translation of the New Testament, through which important information would be made known.” (D&C 45:60-62) In Doctrine and Covenants 73:4, Smith explained that on January 10, 1832, he was told by God “to continue the work of translation [of the Bible] until it be finished.”

Later, on May 6, 1833, Smith was supposedly told by God in D&C 93:53,

And, verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should hasten to translate my scriptures, and to obtain knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion. Amen.

If God commanded in 1833 that something should be done pronto, then we would think a true prophet would take God at his word. Indeed, just two months later—on July 2, 1833—a communication signed by Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and F. G. Williams announced,

We this day finished the translating of the Scriptures, for which we returned gratitude to our Heavenly Father. (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1:368).

On page 9 of his 1899 Church Chronology, Mormon assistant church historian Andrew Jensen confirmed under the date of July 2, 1833,“Joseph the Prophet finished the translation of the Bible.”  Since its 1993–1994 edition, the LDS Church Almanac had concurred with this statement; however, for some reason beginning in the 2001–2002 edition, it began reporting that on July 2, 1833 “the Prophet Joseph Smith finished the translation of the New Testament.” (510) This is not accurate since Smith claimed to have finished the New Testament on February 2, 1833. (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1:324)

We can quibble all day long about whether Smith “finished” the translation or not; either way, the Mormon will lose his argument. After all, if he didn’t finish the scriptures (as the Ensign article wants the reader to believe), then why did Joseph Smith dilly-dally and not obey God’s commands (including D&C 73:4)? It would appear that Smith was either outright disobedient or a bad manager of his time since he lived for more than a decade after this commandment was given. Consider also that 1 Nephi 3:7 states,

The Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

Did God really tell him to finish? Or not? Doubt must be put into our minds that God ever told Smith to finish the translation if he—supposedly a good prophet—didn’t finish it.

How do we know that any of the Joseph Smith Translation should be considered accurate? After all, maybe God would have wanted some of Smith’s changes corrected since LDS theology went through a transformation from 1833-44, including the nature of God.

Since Mormons like to use Doctrine and Covenants 107:91–92 to refer to their current prophet (“a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church”), it would seem that a new and inspired version of the Bible could (and should) be created by the current living prophet to once and for all solve this perceived dilemma.

On the other hand, if he did finish the scriptures—as the historical evidence seems to show—then why doesn’t the Mormon Church adopt the “translation” as its official scripture and abandon the King James Version (along with Article 8)? And what about many references that seemingly contradict LDS theology that Smith never touched?

Was the Joseph Smith Translation a traditional translation?

With all of this as a background, consider the following quote from the April 2014 Ensign:

This article will help you increase your understanding of the Savior’s suffering, death, and Resurrection by highlighting some of the changes made by the Prophet in his Bible translation.

Five different passages are utilized. Let’s consider each and analyze this information. I will include the entire section from the Ensign article, which I will underline. The bold type is the article’s designation that these words were added in the Joseph Smith Translation to provide a fuller understanding. Many of the supposed changes are interpretation given by Smith based on the context, while others either change the information we have in the original gospel or is completely new. Following each section, allow me to provide an analysis.

Section 1: A Garden of Sorrow

JST, Mark 14:36–38 (compare KJV, Mark 14:32–34)

And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane, which was a garden; and the disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah.

And Jesus knowing their hearts, he said to his disciples, Sit you here, while I shall pray.

And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and rebuked them,and saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.

Let’s stop and just make sure we’re on the same page. Today we have access to the very best biblical manuscripts, which have been put together. Granted, there are many differences between the manuscripts, most involving a word here or there. By comparing the manuscripts and giving precedence to those readings that come from those writings considered most accurate and reliable, scholars are able to generally determine what the original said. A person who understands the language can use the Greek tools to help determine which alternative reading is most reliable. The Greek New Testament that I have in my library includes alternate readings in the footnotes listed at the bottom of the page.

Each alternative reading not used in the Greek text is rated A, B, C, or D—A being the best and going down from there. Sometimes the scholars had to choose between one reading and another that were considered A, but one won out over the other. The vast majority of these alternative readings do not change the meaning of the text, but they are rather nuances of the text. Another tool I own is A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, put together by Bruce M. Metzger as a companion to the Greek New Testament. This provides commentary by Metzger on how some of the alternative readings came about. In addition, most of these differences are the result of a copyist accidentally omitting, adding, or changing a word. With the vast amount of texts we have—remember, we have close to 6,000 Greek texts alone!—there are no alternate readings unknown to the scholars.

With that said, there are no alternate readings to Mark 14:32-34. So how did Joseph Smith get his translation?

First of all, Gethsemane means “oil press.” Traditionally, this location is known as the “Garden of Gethsemane.” Visit this location today (next to the Church of All Nations) and you will see olive trees that have root systems going back 2,000+ years. Across the street from the church is another grove of trees, marking the Protestant location. Hence, for Smith to add “which was a garden”—not found in the original text—seems to be a given.

Next, Smith moved the phrase “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” from the KJV and moved it up, using this to refer to the disciples rather than Jesus, which is what the context clearly says.  It wasn’t the disciples who were with heavy hearts because they appear to be clueless about what was about to happen. Otherwise, why did they fall asleep several times? And to say that the disciples “complained in their hearts” when Jesus hadn’t asked them to do anything yet at this point is strange. This along with their “wondering if this be the Messiah” is nothing more than interpretation on the part of Joseph Smith.  The fact of the matter is that Jesus was questioned a number of times about whether or not he was the Messiah, including by John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23). I’m sure the disciples had their own doubts as well, but there is no manuscript evidence to support this addition to scripture. Adding that “Jesus knowing their hearts” is a given and adds nothing to the words we already are given in Mark; in addition, this add-on is not supported by any Greek text.

When Smith adds the word “you” after “sit,” that is a plausible addition as the Greek word here is an imperative in the second person plural pronoun. Typically, English does not use “you all” but implies the “you” with the command “sit.” So, actually, a case could be made for the addition of this word, depending on the translator.

Then Smith says that Jesus “rebuked” them. This seems strange at this point of the context because Jesus is sorrowful and the disciples have done nothing wrong (yet). He asks them to stay there and watch while he went to pray. Once again, there is no original support for this word “rebuke.”

JST, Luke 22:45–46 (compare KJV, Luke 22:45–46)

And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping, for they were filled with sorrow,

And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.

Smith takes the King James Version “sleeping for sorrow” and exchanges it with “for they were filled with sorrow.” This is an interpretative move, as it doesn’t add or subtract from the original text. The same goes for changing the KJV “ye” into “you.” The right question is, “Why wasn’t he consistent in changing the old style English throughout his translation?”

JST, Mark 14:43, 46–47 (compare KJV, Mark 14:38, 41–42)

And they said unto him, The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. …

And he cometh to them the third time, and he saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hand of sinners.

And after they had finished their sleep, he said, Rise up, let us go; lo, he who betrayeth me is at hand.

Here Smith adds, “And they came unto him.” This phrase is found in no Greek manuscripts, but Smith used these added words to take the original statement out of Jesus’s mouth and place it into the mouths of the disciples! Would the disciples really have had the quick insight to make such an appropriate comment? They were thoroughly embarrassed and would have been more likely to have either lied (“we weren’t sleeping”) or deflected the situation. Because they never came up with quick-witted statements on any other occasion, we must wonder how they were able to come up with this while wiping sleep from their eyes. If the translator can use nothing more than personal intuition to change originator of a quote, then there is no need to even refer to the original language and text. Otherwise there certainly should be at least one manuscript out there, somewhere, to support this rendering.

Smith’s use of the infinitive “to them” is fine, merely replacing the KJV’s “and saith unto them.” The KJV used the word “he” in this context, which was already implied. The word “hand” replaces the KJV’s “hands,” even though the Greek word in every instance is plural, even though it is a nonproblematic interpretative move to make this into a sigular noun. Finally, the phrase “and after they had finished their sleep, he said” is missing in every Greek manuscript. Once more, this is an interpretative move by Smith. Finally, Smith uses the word “who” instead of “that,” which is correct usage in the 21st century. However, using “that” instead of “who” was completely acceptable when the King James Version was originally translated.

Summarizing the “insights” we can learn from Smith’s rendering, the Ensign reports:

Some Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

  • A gloomy, heavy feeling engulfed the hearts of Jesus’s disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Jesus’s disciples began to be “sore amazed” by what they were experiencing in the garden with Jesus.

There is no original Greek to support that it was the disciples who had heavy hearts. I find it difficult to sleep when I have a heavy heart, but this didn’t seem to be a problem with the disciples.

  • The disciples, including Peter, James, and John, began to wonder whether Jesus was truly the Messiah.

While this may be true, there is no Greek support here for this rendering. It might be true, but regardless, this is nothing more than an argument from silence.

  • Jesus rebuked Peter, James, and John.

Why did Jesus rebuke them at a time when they hadn’t done anything wrong?

  • Succumbing to the feeling of sorrow and heaviness in the garden, Peter, James, and John fell asleep. They, not Jesus, said, “The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”

There is no manuscript support for this change.

  • Filled with compassion, Jesus watched and waited while His disciples slept, not wanting to wake them.

Exegesis is interpreting a passage based on what it says; eisegesis is reading into a passage. This is definitely an example of eisegesis. Besides, in verses 37-38, Jesus woke Peter up from his sleep and told him, “Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” So when they fell asleep again in verse 42, did Jesus not have compassion?

Section 2: Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot: Nighttime Witnesses

JST, Mark 14:80–82 (compare KJV, Mark 14:72)

And the second time the cock crew.

And Peter called to mind the words which Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.

And he went out, and fell upon his face, and wept bitterly.

The Greek word is actually singular, so the KJV’s “word” is more literal. Still, a case can be made for interpreting this plural since Jesus used multiple words. Still, it’s hardly earth-shattering news. In the King James, the last part reads, “And he (Judas) broken down and wept,” so Smith added “fell upon his face” and “bitterly” after wept. The phrase “fell upon his face” and the word “bitterly” are not found in the original Greek. Regardless, the original certainly shows the remorse of Judas.

JST, Mark 15:1–2 (compare KJV, Mark 15:1)

And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes;

And the whole council condemned him [Jesus], and bound him, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.

The context certainly shows that Jesus was condemned. However, the exact words in the Greek state that Jesus was bound and delivered while not using the word “condemned.”

JST, Matthew 27:3–6, 10 (compare KJV, Matthew 27:3–5, 10)

Then Judas, who had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.

And they said unto him, What is that to us? See thou to it; thy sins be upon thee.

And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself on a tree. And straitway he fell down, and his bowels gushed out, and he died. …

And therefore they took the pieces of silver, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed by the mouth of Jeremy.

The King James uses “which” instead of “who.” Again, in the time of King James, “which” in place of “who” or “that” was perfectly acceptable. Today, we would use “who.” Neither the words “unto him” nor “thy sins be upon thee” are found in the original language. The context of the original shows a similar idea, though, when the leaders are quoted as saying, “What is that to us? see thou to that.” To render it as the JST is within the range of proper interpretation.

In an apparent attempt to reconcile the idea that Judas hanged himself yet have his bowels gush out (as Acts 1:18 says), Smith includes this idea here in this passage. While this interpretation is very likely, these words are not found in the Greek. (For more on this, see here.)

The KJV translates the last sentence, “And the chief priests took the silver pieces.” Smith’s rendering is fine since it states the same thing. And the phrase “by the mouth of Jeremy” is the same as the KJV rendering “which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet.”

Some Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

Distraught with grief, Peter “fell upon his face” as he wept inconsolably.

The context clearly shows that Peter was distraught, whether or not he “fell upon his face.”

When Judas Iscariot tried to give back the bribe he had received, the leaders of the Jews rebuffed him, saying, “Thy sins be upon thee.”

The Jewish leaders did not take the money back, as so explained in the gospels.

The Joseph Smith Translation reconciles the two seemingly different versions of how Judas Iscariot died (see Matthew 27:3–10 and Acts 1:15–20).

While the explanation makes sense, the Bible shouldn’t need the help of the translator to fix any problems when what was originally written did not include these extra words.

Section 3: Pilate and the King of the Jews

JST, Mark 15:3–4 (compare KJV, Mark 15:2)

And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews?

And Jesus answering said unto him, I am, even as thou sayest.

The KJV reads, “Thou sayest it.” The words “I am” (ego eimi) are not found in the original text.

JST, Matthew 27:26–27 (compare KJV, Matthew 27:24–25)

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see that ye do nothing unto him.

Then answered all the people, and said, His blood come upon us, and our children.

The KJV renders the first part “see ye to it.” While liberty is taken, there is no problems with Smith’s translation when compared to the original text. The same is true for “His blood come upon us,” as Smith merely used “come upon” to replace the KJV rendering “be on.” Nothing of importance is added by the Joseph Smith Translation.

JST, Mark 15:29 (compare KJV, Mark 15:26)

And Pilate wrote his accusation and put it upon the cross, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Mark 15:26 states, “And the superscription of his accusation was written over, The King Of The Jews.” Smith merely borrowed from John 19:19, which states that Pilate indeed ordered for this sign. (In fact, John gives the whole inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews,” whereas Mark only gives the second part.) Nothing new is added by the JST.

JST, Matthew 27:39–42 (compare KJV, Matthew 27:37)

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross, and the writing was,

Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.

And the chief priests said unto Pilate, It should be written and set up over his head his accusation, This is he that said he was Jesus the King of the Jews.

But Pilate answered and said, What I have written, I have written; let it alone.

Again, the information from the gospel John is transferred to this Synoptic Gospel. John 19:19-22 says,

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

All Smith did was take John’s words and stick them into Mark’s.

Some Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

When Pilate asked if He was the King of the Jews, Jesus boldly and directly replied, “I am.”

The words “I am”—though used frequently by Jesus—are not found in the passage here. And, in essence, this is what Jesus said (“Thou sayest it”).

The Joseph Smith Translation harmonizes the Matthew and Mark accounts with John’s account of Pilate’s involvement in preparing the cross (see John 19:19–22).

It only does so by taking John’s words and moving them into the Synoptic Gospels. If this information was unique to John, why should these words be added into Matthew and Mark? If Matthew and Mark never wrote them, then John’s words should stay in John and not be moved elsewehre. This information was already available to the readers of the KJV, so putting them here provides no new insight. Rather, it just causes confusion.

Upon the Crosses at Calvary

JST, Mark 15:25–26 (compare KJV, Mark 15:22–23)

And they bring him unto the place called Golgotha, which is, (being interpreted) the place of a burial.

And they gave him to drink vinegarmingled with gall: and when he had tasted the vinegar, he would not drink.

Although the word “called” is not in the original Greek, it is inferred and is perfectly acceptable to us. In fact, this is what the New International Version does to have the sentence make sense. Next, Smith adds “burial,” replacing the Greek word for “skull.” This is yet another interpretative move since this is not the word Mark uses in his gospel. Then, Mark 15:23 reads, “And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.” The JST is certainly acceptable if one were translating from the original Greek. Since Smith did not know the original language, though, he merely came up with his own rendering. Once again, his version adds nothing to the original text.

JST, Luke 23:35 (compare KJV, Luke 23:34)

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (meaning the soldiers who crucified him).

This is an interpretative guess, as the parenthetical “meaning the soldiers who crucified him” is not in the original text. Could it be that Jesus meant everyone who was involved with the crucifixion, from the Jewish leaders to the Romans and the people who cried out “crucify”? After all, Acts 2:23 states,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 

Acts 4:27-28 adds,

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

Regardless, the editorial addition is not there, so Smith’s inclusion is nothing more than his personal interpretation.

JST, Matthew 27:47–48 (compare KJV, Matthew 27:44)

But the other rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation; and this man is just and hath not sinned; and he cried unto the Lord, that he would save him.

And the Lord said unto him, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.

Luke 23:40-43 says,

But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Basically, Smith took the information from Luke and, while cleaning up some of the language, inserts this into Mark. These words were never written by Mark. How can this be considered helpful?

JST, Matthew 27:54 (compare KJV, Matthew 27:50)

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, saying, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost.

Smith adds “it is finished” from John 19:30 and adds “thy will is done.” These phrases are not in the original language.

Some Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

The place of Jesus’s Crucifixion was near a tomb or place of burial.

It’s pretty well known that Jesus was crucified near tombs outside the city walls. We get this information from the biblical text and not from Joseph Smtih.

As He hung on the cross, Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers, who were merely doing their duty.

Of course he did! And possibly the others who were involved in the divine conspiracy.

One of the men crucified with Jesus cried out to Him, asking that He would save him.

This was nothing less than a repeat of the account given in Luke. Jesus said that he would be with Jesus in Paradise.

Jesus’s last words from the cross included the phrase “thy will is done,” confirming that He died according to the will of His Father.

Once more, of course Jesus did this according to God’s will. This is what he prayed in Luke 22:42 (“Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”)

Easter Day

JST, Matthew 28:1–3 (compare KJV, Matthew 28:1–4)

Early in the morning, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

And, behold, there had been a great earthquake: for two angels of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

And their countenance was like lightning, and their raiment white as snow: and for fear of them the keepers did shake, and became asthough they were dead.

The KJV says “it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.” Isn’t this the same as “early in the morning.” As far as “had been” a great earthquake (versus the KJV “was”), this is another interpretation decision.  The reference to “two angels”—not provided in the original writing—is made to coincide with John 20:1-2 and 12. Again, Smith was apparently trying to fix an apparent contradiction. However, the rule of thumb is, where there are “two” angels, there is always going to be “one.” Thus, Matthew is not contradicting John, and the Bible doesn’t need the help of a later translator to “fix” the problem, especially since the “angel” described in this passage is singular, not plural. And thus there would not have been a need to change the singular pronoun usage throughout to plurals. For more on this issue, see here.

JST, Mark 16:3–6 (compare KJV, Mark 16:4–7)

But when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away (for it was very great); and two angels sitting thereon, clothed in long white garments; and they were affrighted.

But the angels said unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

And go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall you see him, as he said unto you.

And they, entering into the sepulchre, saw the place where they laid Jesus.

Changing “and” (KJV) to “but” is an interpretive decision with the word “kai.” Again, many of Smith’s changes are fine, if he were indeed using the original languages to make his decision. But he wasn’t. To change “young man” to “angels” (and the plural pronoun)  is unwarranted in the original text.

JST, John 20:16–17 (compare KJV, John 20:16–17)

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

Jesus saith unto her, Hold me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.

The Greek word “aptou” can mean “touch” (as the KJV puts it) or “hold.” In the context, “hold” is the better choice, which is used by many modern translations. Remember, the King James Version had meaning for its day, but the words in Elizabethan English are not always going to match the meaning for centuries later.

JST, Matthew 27:56–57 (compare KJV, Matthew 27:52–53)

And the graves were opened; and the bodies of the saints which slept arose, who were many,

And came out of the graves and after his resurrection, went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Once more, it’s you say “to-ma-toe,” I say “to-mah-tah”! The KJV reads “many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” Smith mixes the words, which any translator is free to do. Does this change provide further insight? Absolutely none! The same goes for the word “and,” as it too adds nothing to the words already provided by the KJV translators.

Some Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

Early Easter morning, two angels from the presence of God opened the tomb and cleared the way for the arrival of the women at the tomb.

There were two angels but only one reported by this gospel writer. Smith’s “translation” provide no new information.

The Savior instructed Mary Magdalene, “Hold me not” rather than “Touch me not.”

Again, this is not earth-shaking news. Remember, the King James Version is just one (of many possible) translation. It never claimed to be perfect.

Conclusion

When I first read this article in the April 2014 Ensign, I was practically floored. While I am no Greek expert (I took two years of it in seminary 25 years ago!), I knew that this article was long on the hyperbole and short on the facts. Remember, it claimed that

“the Joseph Smith Translation is an invaluable aid to biblical understanding and interpretation. It is a witness for the divine calling and ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (p. 52).

As I read the article, I wondered which examples they could give that would show how Smith’s “translation” would “increase your understanding of the Savior’s suffering, death, and Resurrection” through highlighting his changes. Instead, we find out the following:

  • Joseph Smith did not know the original Greek language, so any changes he made were based on his interpretation from (most likely) the King James Version.
  • Words were added/subtracted based on the translator’s whims and presuppositions when the rule of translation is that personal bias should never make its way into the translation.
  • There was an attempt to fix apparent Bible contradictions when no help was needed at all, with words from other gospel writers added in.

There is no “increase” of understanding by reading the JST. Indeed, the whole parade is nothing more than much ado about nothing. Joseph Smith fails in his role as being a Bible translator.

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