The Joseph Smith Translation in Light of the New Testament: An Examination of Key Passages in the Gospel of John Part 3C
3.C. Textual Changes for Alteration of Doctrinal Teachings
This is by far the most significant area of consideration when examining the JST. The changes evaluated here go beyond mere grammatical and logical improvements or harmonization of real or imagined contradictions. These Johannine passages determine matters of spiritual consequence, and relate to such crucial issues as the gospel and Christ, eternal punishment, occultic activity, and the nature of God. Again, this is not a comprehensive listing, but a representative analysis from one gospel, in an attempt to demonstrate the serious nature of Joseph’s claims to an have produced an inspired translation of the Bible.
As before, I will chart each of the four texts in parallel columns and then evaluate changes found in the JST according to the Greek text as well as its significance to LDS doctrine.
3.C.i. Text 1 - John 1:1, 4 Emphasizing the Gospel
|King James Version||John 1:1 — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:4 — In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
|Joseph Smith Translation||John 1:1 — In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.
John 1:4 — In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men.
|Greek NT||John 1:1 —
John 1:4 —
An examination of the textual apparatus reveals the possibility of a slightly different punctuation for verses 3b and 4a (All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made. That which has been made was life in him, and the life was the light of men.). This, however, has no bearing whatsoever on the changes introduced in the JST. There is no indication that anything from the original manuscripts has been left out of our text at these points and the reading restored by Smith is wholly unwarranted.
It does, however, reflect Joseph Smith’s personal theology concerning Jesus and the gospel. It appears that to Smith, it was the gospel that had a preeminent position. He rallied people around himself with the claim to have restored the gospel in these last days; that all churches were wrong, their creeds an abomination to God and their professors corrupt.1 It was the gospel of Mormonism that would save people, for it alone had restored the necessary ordinances that all other sects were missing.
While it is true that Jesus is often mentioned in LDS circles, he is not the Jesus of the Bible. This also is reflected in the JST. Jesus was procreated, the son of Elohim and a goddess mother, his spirit brother was Lucifer. He became a god by obeying the LDS ordinances, just as we can become gods if we do the same.2 I believe this is another reason for the interpolation and emphasis on “the gospel” found in John chapter one, verses one and four.
3.C.ii. Text 2 - John 1:42 Introducing Occultism
|King James Version||John 1:42 — And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, thou art Simon the son of Jona: Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.|
|Joseph Smith Translation||John 1:42 — And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, thou art Simon the son of Jona: Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a seer, or a stone.|
|Greek NT||John 1:42 —
To the uninitiated this brief addition to the text would probably provoke little more than puzzlement. A check of the variant readings for this verse shows there are several variant spellings for Peter’s father’s name, but this is the only discrepancy among the manuscripts. What is the purpose then, of the word “seer” linked almost synonymously with stone?
The answer is found in LDS doctrine and history. Earlier in this study, I mentioned Joseph’s use of an occultic device known as a “seer stone” to translate the Book of Mormon, which was preceded by his use of the stone to search for buried treasure. Given his established practice and possession of a stone, Joseph took for himself several titles when he organized the Mormon church, including “Prophet, Seer and Revelator,” all of which are incorporated into the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 8:16. Given this background, it is easy to see how he could hardly resist supporting his title with a biblical reference when coming to John 1:42.
Contemporary Mormons take the title “Seer” seriously and to this day, every year sustain their highest ranking leader as “prophet, seer, revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”3 This JST verse is then used to build a whole theology whereby any occurrence of the word “stone” or “rock” can be reinterpreted with “seer” in mind. For example:
Also, Matthew 16:19 states, “Upon this rock I will build my Church.” If God built his gospel upon a seer, then it was through the seership of Joseph Smith that God rebuilt his Church in these days.4
In this way “rock” becomes synonymous with “seer” in LDS theology. The truth, however, is that there is no connection between πέτρα (Greek for “rock”) and our English word “seer”. Thus we see that at this point the JST is more an attempt to rewrite the Bible to support Joseph Smith’s theology than it is a restoration of any textual corruptions.
3.C.iii. Text 3 - John 4:24 Eliminating a God of Spirit
|King James Version||John 4:24 — God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.|
|Joseph Smith Translation||John 4:26 — For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.|
|Greek NT||John 4:24 —
One is struck by the simplicity of the text of this verse in its original language, translated easily by anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of NT Greek. Yet the profundity of doctrine it contains regarding God and those who would worship Him, leaves the ablest theologian with much to ponder. There has been some discussion about the insertion of the indefinite article “a” in this verse. The KJV renders it “God is a Spirit,” while other translations read “God is Spirit.” Greek does not have such an article, so, according to New Testament scholar Dr. Leon Morris, it is up to the translator to insert it as the sense requires. He argues for the reading “God is Spirit”:
Here Jesus is not saying, “God is one spirit among many”. Rather his meaning is, “God’s essential nature is spirit”. The indefinite article is no more required than it is in the similar statements, “God is Light” (I John 1:5), and “God is love” (I John 4:8). We must not think of God as material, or bound in any way to places or things. The word order puts an emphasis on “Spirit”. The statement is emphatic. Since He is essentially spirit it follows that the worship brought to Him must be essentially of a spiritual kind.5
As with previous examples, there is no question as to what the text says. Supported by hundreds of manuscripts, there is not a single textual variant recorded in the accompanying apparatus. The only translation options are “God is Spirit” or “God is a Spirit.” So why would Joseph revise this verse? The answer is most likely due to a major change in Joseph Smith’s doctrine of God.
Joseph Smith’s first vision accounts are a complete study in and of themselves. The first recorded accounts that date from 1831 to 1837 have either Jesus, an angel, or angels appearing to Joseph. In the early days of Mormonism LDS views of the Godhead were similar to those held by Protestant Trinitarians. This is evidenced by “Lectures on Faith” which were voted in as part of the original 1835 Doctrine & Covenants. It contained the following statement:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things . . . They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power; possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle ... (Section 5:20)6
Also, Oliver Cowdery’s statement in the December, 1835 edition of the LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate,7 and a series of letters by LDS elder Stephen Post (in which he defends that the Father and Son were united in one person and quotes the above statement from “Lectures on Faith”) both support that early Mormon theology did not hold to a plurality of Gods.8
Then, in 1838, Joseph changed his account and claimed the Father and the Son appeared to him, both in bodies of flesh and bone.9 Consistent with this change, much of his later teaching denied a God of Spirit (explaining the deletion of “Lectures on Faith”) and gave rise to sayings still popular in LDS circles like Lorenzo Snow’s statement, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”10 When faced with the contrasting nature of LDS teaching regarding the corporal nature of God and the clear truth of John 4:24, the late Bruce R. McConkie wrote in Mormon Doctrine:
The fact is that this passage is mistranslated; instead, the correct statement, quoted in context reads; “... For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Inspired Version, John 4:25-26). (emphasis original)11
In this way one of Mormonism’s primary spokesman on matters of doctrinal significance upholds the view that Joseph restored the text, and uses it to promote current Mormon doctrine, in spite of the fact that there is no evidence for such a revision.12
3.C.iv. Text 4 - John 5:29 Removing Eternal Punishment
|King James Version||John 5:29 — And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.|
|Joseph Smith Translation||John 5:29 — And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust. *See D&C 76:15-17|
|Greek NT||John 5:29 —
As was stated earlier, this is one of the few instances where Mormon Scripture records the events surrounding the restoration of a biblical text. (D&C 76:15)
For while we were doing the work of translation, which the Lord had appointed unto us, we came to the twenty‑ninth verse of the fifth chapter of John, which was given unto us as follows: (text given as cited above)
Once again there is an absence of significant textual variants, and while the KJV rendering of as “damnation” could also be translated “condemned” (NIV), or “judgment” (NASB) there is no allowance for the contrasting terms “just” and “unjust” found in the JST. This is of special interest since Joseph Smith implies the Lord himself gave them this particular revision, and that apparently they were not expecting this change since “this caused us to marvel for it was given unto us of the Spirit” (vs. 18)
While the quantity of change made to this passage in number of words is relatively small, its qualitative result is a complete change in the LDS understanding of eternal judgment. Whereas the Book of Mormon agrees with the Bible in teaching a final judgment and the resulting either/or possibility of eternal life or eternal condemnation for all mortals (Alma 12:16-18; 34:33-35; Jacob 6:8-10; Mosiah 2:33,38-39; 26:23-27), current Mormon theology is based largely upon the remainder of D&C 76 (verses 20-119). This Mormon Scripture contains the vision Joseph and Hiram Smith and Sidney Rigdon apparently received, which explained the textual changes to John 5:29. Only a very select few (called “sons of perdition”) would be sent to the lake of fire and brimstone along with the devil and his angels (vs. 31-38). The rest of mankind would be divided into three worlds: (1) celestial (vs. 51-70) - reserved for those who follow the commandments and ordinances of the LDS Church. Their glory is “that of the sun, even the glory of God.” (2) terrestrial (vs. 71-87) - the place for “honorable men of the earth who were blinded by the craftiness of men” whose glory is like that of the moon; and (3) telestial (vs. 89-101) - populated by those who “received not the gospel, nor the testimony of Jesus,” and whose glory is likened to that of the stars.
So, from two textual changes with absolutely no manuscript support, we are introduced to a system of essentially universal salvation, which runs counter to the clear message of the Bible.
1 Joseph Smith 2:18-19, Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989), 49. The term “professors” as used here by Joseph Smith, was defined as “a term commonly used in the religious world, to denote any person who makes an open acknowledgement of the religion of Christ, or who outwardly manifests his attachment to Christianity.” A Theological Dictionary, by Rev. Charles Buck, Woodward’s New Edition (Philadelphia: Joseph J. Woodward, 1831), p. 494.
5 Leon Morris, The Gospel According To John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), 271. Whether or not a particular translation inserts the indefinite article “a” is of secondary importance. The sense of the passage is still retained, and the Apostle John’s meaning is preserved. God is spirit, not corporeal, with Jesus being the physical embodiment of the one and only true God.
6 This statement which contrasts the Father as spirit and the Son as tabernacle (fleshly body) yet refers to them as the single great and supreme power, remained part of the Doctrine & Covenants until 1921, when “Lectures on Faith” were quietly removed without a vote from LDS scriptures with no explanation.
7 Oliver Cowdery in Messenger and Advocate, December 1835, p. 236, referring to a diagram on an Egyptian papyrus states:
The evidence is apparent upon the face, that they were written by persons acquainted with the history of creation, the fall of man, and more or less of the correct ideas of notions of the Deity. The representation of the god-head ─ three, yet in one, is curiously drawn to give simply, though impressively, the writers views of that exalted personage. [singular]
9 Lawrence Foster, “First Visions,” in Sunstone, 8:5 (September/October 1983), 39-43. He notes that “The 1838 version of the first vision, which has been canonized as the First Vision, seems less reliable historically than the earlier accounts of the vision, especially Joseph Smith’s account of 1832.” (p. 40)
12 If we truly believe the Bible is reliable and is the Word of God, then we must allow the Bible to mold and shape our beliefs. We may change our understanding to match the text of the Bible, but we are never allowed to change the text of Scripture to match our ideas and beliefs.