The Joseph Smith Translation in Light of the New Testament: An Examination of Key Passages in the Gospel of John Conclusion
The preceding points give some idea of the spiritual implications of the JST, and provide much of the justification for this study. In summary we have the unmistakable claims made by Joseph Smith that:
- The Bible was corrupt and full of errors,
- He was a prophet of God, and
- As such was called to restore the Scriptures through a new translation.
Historical evidence and textual criticism show the first claim to be unsupportable. It also goes against the very Word of God, which declares, “The word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:25 NIV). The weight of manuscript evidence has demonstrated the miraculous preservation of the text of Scripture, allowing us to appeal to an objective standard for truth and rest on translations of the Bible that reflect this integrity and accuracy.1
Joseph Smith’s second claim is also proven false. This saddens me for the sake of my Mormon friends and acquaintances, as well as the millions today who are placing their eternal destiny in the hands of the Church he founded. The majority of the Mormon missionaries I have talked to, some on repeated occasions, have encouraged me to judge the Prophet by his fruit — the works he has produced. I can honestly say I have done this, and have found his works to be characterized by errors, changes and contradictions, showing him to be a false prophet, promoting a false gospel.
To claim to receive and convey revelation from Almighty God is a serious act. The biblical tests given by God in Deuteronomy 13:1-3 and 18:20-22, allow us to examine such claims. If only one thing a man claims to speak for God fails to come to pass, he is a false prophet — there is no second testing. In the Old Testament, one seldom got a second chance to prophesy falsely, for the punishment indicated by the Law was death by stoning. The average person in the 1800s would have had a difficult time verifying Joseph Smith’s claims that the Lord gave him specific scriptural changes. He felt safe in deleting and inserting at will. With modern scholarship it is much easier to compare new translations with actual Greek manuscripts. We need not be deceived by those who alter the Bible, and should remember that God will hold us responsible for what we do with the knowledge He provides concerning Himself and His Word.
While more and more LDS scholars may revert to defining “translation” as spiritual commentary, instead of textual restoration, to do so is to engage in a flight from reason. Both the historical and linguistic context of Joseph’s day demand we interpret “to translate” as did Joseph and his contemporaries, “to render from one language to another.” Redefining terms to suit one’s own agenda wreaks havoc with intelligent dialogue. We need to let Joseph Smith say what he meant and resist the temptation to tamper with the meaning. This applies equally to those seeking to condemn, as to those who would condone.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and those of the Reorganized Church / Community of Christ, are now faced with a decision of great spiritual significance. For decades they have been encouraged, and at times commanded, to let Church leaders do the thinking for them, and abstain from criticizing church leadership, even if the criticism is true. This is illustrated by the following quotes:
Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward church authorities, general or local. . . It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true.2
When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.3
Now they must choose to either accept God’s Word, His tests, and the results, or continue to succumb to the demands of their leaders who know that critical investigation will lead to a knowledge of the truth, and freedom from a false organization. My prayer is that through this study many will come to a greater confidence in the integrity of the Bible as God’s Word and experience the reality of Jesus Christ’s statements in John 17:17 and 8:32: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
1. While it is true that no two translations of the Bible (or any other document, ancient or contemporary) agree 100% on every word, they do agree on the meaning and intent of the inspired writer. A slight variation in grammar or syntax does little or nothing to alter what the passage is teaching. The JST introduces changes that significantly alter the meaning, making the Bible teach something different from what the early apostles taught.
2. Dallin Oaks, “Elder Decries Criticism of LDS Leaders,” quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday August 18, 1985, p. 2B
3. “Ward Teachers Message for June, 1945,” Improvement Era 48 (June 1945).