Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
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Main category: Bible translations into English
The Joseph Smith Translation (JST; also called the Inspired Version (IV)) is 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 beforehand. 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 (CoC), formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 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.
The term "translation"
The term "translation" was broader in meaning in 1828 than it is today, and Smith's work was at the time considered a revision of the English text, rather than a translation between languages. It is known that Smith had not studied Hebrew or Greek to produce the JST manuscript, although Smith did later study Hebrew from 1836.
The work of revision
The JST 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.” Just as the work was not a literal translation from ancient documents, neither was it an automatic and infallible process where "correct" words and phrases simply were revealed to Smith in final form. As with Smith's other translations, he reported that he was forced to "study it out in [his] mind" as part of the revelatory process. During the process, Smith occasionally revisited a given passage of scripture at a later time to give it a "plainer translation," because of additional knowledge or revelation about a subject that he had received since first "re-translating" the passage.
- 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, being 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;
- "Not easily classifiable"; many changes 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. These were by far the most common type of change in the JST.
The JST was a work in progress throughout Smith's 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 JST).
The bulk of 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. Regarding the completeness of the JST as we have it, Matthews has written:
[T]he 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.
LDS scholar Royal Skousen discusses the question of whether one should assume that every change made in the JST constitutes revealed text. 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
Many of Smith's revisions to the Bible led to significant developments in the doctrines of Mormonism. 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 CoC D&C 88), the three degrees of glory (LDS section 76 CoC Section 85), the eternal nature of marriage and plural marriage (LDS section 132), teachings on baptism for the dead (LDS section 124 CoC Section 107), and various revelations on priesthood (LDS sections 84, 88, 107 CoC Sections 83, 104).
Overall, 3,410 verses in the printed editions of JST differ in textual construction from the KJV (this uses the verse numbering of the JST as the basis for comparison). Of the total of 1,289 verses changed in the Old Testament, 25 correspond to the additions of Book of Moses chapter 1, and 662 occur in the Book of Genesis. Hence, more than half of the changed verses in the JST Old Testament and 20 percent of those in the entire JST Bible are contained in Moses chapter 1 and Genesis, with the most extensive modifications occurring in Genesis chapters 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." 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.
Publication and use by the Community of Christ
Smith was killed prior to the publication of the JST. At his death, 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 manuscript from her. Consequently, when Young's followers moved to the Salt Lake Valley, they did so without the new translation of the Bible.
Following Smith's death, John Milton Bernhisel asked permission of Emma Smith to use the manuscript to copy notes into his own KJV Bible. Bernhisel spent much of the spring of 1845 working on this project. The LDS Church has Bernhisel's Bible in its archives, but it contains less than half of the corrections and is not suitable for publication. For many years the "Bernhisel Bible" was the only JST source for LDS Church members living in the Salt Lake Valley.
In 1866, Emma Smith gave the manuscript into the custody of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church), of which she was a member, and her son Joseph Smith III the prophet–president. In 1867, the RLDS Church published the first edition of the JST and obtained a copyright for it. The RLDS Church, now known as the 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 and a bound photo reproduction of that edition is published by a private concern. In 1944, the RLDS Church issued a "new corrected edition" that eliminated some of the errors made in the original 1867 edition.
Scholarship on JST manuscripts
Because LDS scholars had not yet had an opportunity to compare the RLDS Church's 1944 JST edition to the original manuscripts, its initial acceptance by LDS Church members was limited. Beginning in the 1960s, 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. Matthews's summary of an exhaustive study corroborated the RLDS claims that the 1944 and subsequent editions of JST constituted a faithful rendering of the work of 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 the original manuscripts of the JST was published in 2004.
LDS Church view
The LDS Church accepts many of the changes found in the JST as doctrinally significant. Joseph Smith–Matthew and the Book of Moses, containing translations and revelatory expansions of Matthew 24 and Genesis 1–7, respectively, are contained in the LDS Pearl of Great Price; thus, they are the only portions of the JST that the LDS Church has canonized as part of its standard works. Additionally, over 600 of the more doctrinally significant verses from the translation are included as excerpts in the current LDS Church edition of the KJV. This step has ensured an increase in the JST's use and acceptance in the LDS Church today. A 1974 editorial of the LDS Church-owned Church News stated:
"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."
Regarding the JST, 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".
- Craig Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation p. 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."
- H. Michael Marquardt, The rise of Mormonism, 1816–1844 2005 p. 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."
- Journal of Mormon History, volumes 17–18 1991: "Joseph Smith studied Hebrew under Jewish scholar Joshua Seixas, in the Mormon city of Kirtland, Ohio".
- Joseph Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith ed.), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 16 February 1832, pp. 10–11. See also the LDS Church's "Eighth Article of Faith", which states: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly".
- LDS Doctrine and Covenants 9:8.
- Flake, Kathleen. "Translating Time: The Nature and Function of Joseph Smith's Narrative Canon", Journal of Religion 87, no. 4 (October 2007): 497–527. (accessed February 22, 2009).
- LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:18.
- Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991.
- Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 391.
- Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 215.
- Royal Skousen. "The earliest textual sources for Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the King James Bible." FARMS Review 17, no. 2 (2005): 456–70.
- Sorensen, Peter J. (2004), Ideas of ascension and translation,
The pseudepigraphic Joseph Smith revision of Genesis contains a delightful digression...[full citation needed]
- Guide to the Scriptures: Joseph Smith Translation (JST).
- Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 424.
- Welch, John W. The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009.
- 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
- 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, Utah: Deseret Book, 1995.
- Howard, Richard P. Restoration Scriptures. Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1969.
- Robert J. Matthews "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975.
- Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds. Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004.
- Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds. Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004, p. 39.
- Matthews, Robert J. (April 1977). "Q&A: Questions and Answers". New Era: 46–47.
- Skinner, Andrew C. (June 1999). "Restored Light on the Savior's Last Week in Mortality". Ensign: 21. Retrieved 2008-09-22.
- Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible, Herald Publishing House, 1970; ISBN 0-8309-0032-2 (all JS changes or additions to King James version shown in parallel columns - not the complete Bible)
- Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation:" Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary, Brigham Young University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8425-2237-9
- Robert L. Millet and Robert J. Matthews, Plain and Precious Truths Restored: The Doctrinal and Historical Significance of the Joseph Smith Translation, Bookcraft 1995. ISBN 0-88494-987-7
- 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. ISBN 1-59038-328-1
- Nyman, Monte S.; Robert L. Millet (1985). The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things. Religious Studies Center Monograph Series 12. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. ISBN 0-88494-562-6.
- Marsh, W. Joseph (2002). The Joseph Smith Translation: Precious Truths Restored. American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications. ISBN 1-59156-113-2
- Seely, David Rolph (August 1997), "The Joseph Smith Translation: "Plain and Precious Things" Restored", Ensign
- Full text of the Community of Christ's Inspired Version of the Bible, from centerplace.org
- Full text of the 1867 edition, from archive.org
- Full text of the 1867 edition, from archive.org
- A Comparison of the Inspired Version Holy Scriptures to the King James Version of the Bible, from centerplace.org
- The three bibles: scholarship and inspiration compared, from archive.org
- Joseph Smith Translation explained in LDS Guide to the Scriptures, from LDS.org, the official website of the LDS Church
- The Joseph Smith Translation for the e-Sword Bible program.
- Images of Old Testament revision manuscript from Joseph Smith Papers Project website. Originals housed at Community of Christ Library-Archives.