By Eric Johnson
Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, made a number of changes to the King James Bible that is known today as either the Inspired Version or Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible. To call this version a “translation” gives a false impression. Technically, a “translation” means taking the words from one language (in the case of the Bible, Hebrew or Aramaic in the Old Testament or Koine Greek in the New Testament) and putting them into another language, such as English. Since there is no indication that Smith used biblical manuscripts or even had a fluent understanding of the three biblical languages, his version is not a “translation” that was put together like other biblical versions, including the New International Version or the New Living Translation.
About half of the Old Testament changes were made to the book Genesis while close to 80% of the New Testament changes were made to the four Gospels. Scattered changes were made throughout the rest of the Bible. One insertion made in Genesis chapter 50 added twelve new verses after verse 24a in the King James Version, including a conveniently placed prophecy about Smith! According to verse 33 in the Inspired Version, “. . . his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father. . .” Needless to say, no Hebrew manuscript ever discovered supports this addition.
Smith claimed that he received a revelation on January 10, 1832 commanding him “to continue the work of translation until it be finished” (D&C 73:4b). A year and a half later, Joseph Smith said his translation was completed. On July 2, 1833, History of the Church 1:368 reported,
“We this day finished the translating of the Scriptures, for which we return gratitude to our Heavenly Father.”
The corrections made by Smith were lauded by Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie, who wrote:
“The Joseph Smith Translation, or Inspired Version, is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth. It contains all that the King James Version does, plus pages of additions and corrections and an occasional deletion. It was made by the spirit of revelation, and the changes and additions are the equivalent of the revealed word in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. For historical and other reasons, there has been among some members of the Church in times past some prejudice and misunderstanding of the place of the Joseph Smith Translation. I hope this has now all vanished away. Our new Church Bible footnotes many of the major changes made in the Inspired Version and has a seventeen-page section which sets forth excerpts that are too lengthy for inclusion in the footnotes. Reference to this section and to the footnotes themselves will give anyone who has spiritual insight a deep appreciation of this revelatory work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is one of the great evidences of his prophetic call” (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p. 289).
If Joseph Smith truly finished his translation of the Bible and made corrections to a book that he claimed was true “only as far as it was translated correctly,” and if these changes are as good as McConkie says they are, then why doesn’t the LDS Church officially use the Inspired Version rather than the King James Bible?
In an authorized gospel manual published in the early 1970s, tenth president Joseph Fielding Smith explained the LDS leadership’s view on this issue:
“The reason why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not published the entire manuscript is not due to any lack of confidence in the integrity of Joseph Smith, or doubt as to the correctness of the numerous additions and changes which are not in the Authorized Version of the Bible. The members of the Church do accept fully all of these (changes) as having come by divine revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The reason that is has not been published by the Church is due to the fact that this revision was not completed. It was the intention of Joseph Smith, while at Nauvoo, to take the scriptures up again and complete his labors, making numerous corrections which had not been made by him in the earlier revision. Due to persecution and mobbing this opportunity never came, so that the manuscript was left with only a partial revision” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions: A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum 1972-73, p. 312).
Smith’s reasoning is inadequate for several reasons:
1) If Smith did not finish the Bible as God supposedly told him to do so 1832 (D&C 73:4b), should Smith’s negligence to do what God commanded be considered a sin? After all, Smith lived for twelve more years after he was told to do this. Did he never have the chance to sit down and complete this reasonable task set forth by God?
2) If the translation wasn’t finished, then why did Smith say that he finished it in 1833?
3) If the Bible was only partially revised, does this mean the words that were revised or added by Smith are no better than what the King James Version has to offer?
Finally, why doesn’t the current LDS leadership—whom members believe possess “keys” and serve as God’s mouthpiece upon the earth—finish the work themselves? McConkie wrote that “up to the present time none of his successors have been directed by the Lord to carry the work forth to its final fruition” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 383). However, he promised, “There will be a not too distant day when all necessary changes shall be made in the Bible, and the Inspired Version — as then perfected — shall go forth to the world” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 384).
Just what did McConkie mean when he said there would be a “not too distant day” when the translation would be complete? This statement was written five decades ago! More than half of everyone who would have read McConkie’s words when his book was first published are now deceased.
Instead of hiding behind Article 8 and claiming that the Bible cannot be fully trusted because it has errors inserted by “corrupt” translators, we call upon the LDS Church leadership—if they truly are capable—to once and for all finish the Inspired Version and include this as an official part of their canon. This would eliminate the use of the “corrupt” King James Version. And if any of the changes could be supported with documented textual evidence, it would be greatly appreciated.
For more articles on the topic of the Bible, go here.