You are here

Joseph Smith's "Inspired" Revisions to the King James Bible

Printer-friendly version

Joseph Smith's "Inspired" Revisions to the King James Bible

Joel B. Groat

This article is a summary of Joel Groat’s master’s thesis on the Joseph Smith Translation. The complete thesis is available free on this website in a series of web pages: “The Joseph Smith Translation in Light of the New Testament,” as well as in PDF format accessible from the same location.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as LDS or Mormon Church), produced what he termed a “translation” or a “correcting of the scriptures.” This is known variously as the “Inspired Version,” “Revised Version,” “Inspired Revision,” the “New Translation”, and the “Joseph Smith Translation,” and consists of extensive revisions and additions to the text of the Authorized King James Version. Throughout this abstract I will refer to it primarily as the “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST) for this is the official title given it by the LDS Church . Joseph Smith taught Latter-day Saints that it was “apparent that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible or lost before it was compiled.”1 His followers anticipated having a Bible free of both textual and doctrinal errors and omissions.

The primary issue of this study is: Did Joseph Smith succeed in restoring all or parts of the King James Bible to its original, pristine state? A related question is: Is there a way to evaluate the textual revisions made by Joseph Smith? The answer to the second question is “Yes.” Using the study of text criticism we can see if there is a connection between Joseph’s revisions and the original text of the New Testament (NT).

What Is Textual Criticism?

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines textual criticism as:

1: the study of a literary work that aims to establish the original text 2: a critical study of literature emphasizing a close reading and analysis of the text.

Textual criticism can be applied to any historical document and utilizes existing manuscript evidence of a document to determine what words were and were not part of the original document. The greater the manuscript evidence (usually determined by the number of copies and how close they are in date to the original), the greater the degree of certainty one has as to how the original read. Places where manuscripts differ in wording or spelling are called variant readings. For example, 1 Corinthians 16:22 in one manuscript refers to “the Lord,” but in a different manuscript the same verse reads “the Lord Jesus Christ.” The science of textual criticism can help determine which was the original wording.

Many assume there is no objective way of determining the content of the original manuscripts of the Bible. They feel that both time and extensive copying have distorted the text to the point it is quite unreliable. At times it is likened to the game of “Telephone” where kids sit in a circle and one whispers a message to his partner who in turn passes it on to his neighbor. By the time the message returns to the original speaker it is so distorted so as to be good for only a laugh. This, however, is a distortion of the issue. There is a vast amount of evidence supporting the text of the Bible as it has been passed down through the centuries. To get an accurate picture it is helpful to compare the manuscript support for the Bible with other ancient literary works. In his book The New Testament Documents : Are They Reliable?, NT scholar F.F. Bruce provides such a comparison.2

Document Title And Date

Manuscript Support

Gallic War, Caesar / 58-50 BC 9 to 10 good MSS., the oldest dated 900 years after Caesar.
Roman History of Livy / 59 BC to AD 17. Of 142 books only 35 survive. 20 MSS of consequence, with only 1 dating to AD 300s, all the rest are much later.
Histories of Tacitus / AD 100. Of 14 books only 5 survive. 2 MSS; 1 from AD 800s, another from AD 1000.
The Bible - New Testament Books; Completed by 100 AD, most written in the 60-70s. 5000+ MSS; the best dated back to AD 350, fragments dated back to AD 130 and AD 200.

Few if any historians would dream of doubting the authenticity or reliability of early historical documents like Caesar’s Gallic War or the Histories of Tacitus, even given the relative sparseness of manuscript evidence. To an even greater degree, the quantity and quality of manuscript evidence supporting the Bible’s NT text under girds its reliability.

So how is textual criticism used to determine the text of the Bible? Here are some of the basic rules relating to the text critical method, and how to evaluate variant readings when they occur.

1. A shorter reading is preferred over a longer reading. In the process of copying and recopying of manuscripts, there was great care to not lose a single word of Holy Scripture. As a result, anytime the text was amended the changes were likely to be included in subsequent copies. Lets go back to the example mentioned earlier — the two variant readings of 1 Corinthians 16:22 . The King James Version has the longer reading “the Lord Jesus Christ” while more recent translations have the shorter reading “the Lord.” The text of the King James Version New Testament was translated in large part from Greek manuscripts compiled by Erasmus in the early 1500s AD. More recent translations (like the New American Standard Bible - NASB, and New International Version - NIV), make use of older Greek manuscripts that date back to 300-500 AD. These manuscripts were not available to Erasmus. The longer reading of “the Lord Jesus Christ” is not found in these earlier manuscripts, and is likely the result of a scribe expanding the title “the Lord” to “the Lord Jesus Christ” either inadvertently — replicating the title as it appears a few verses earlier in 1 Corinthians 15:57 — or deliberately in order to promote greater reverence. Once the words were included with one copy, they would be included with all copies to follow. Since numerous manuscripts, copied much closer to the time of the originals, have the shorter reference to “the Lord” this shorter reading is preferred.

2 . A harder reading is preferred over a simpler reading. At times those who copied manuscripts would attempt to “smooth out” or correct what appeared a rough or inaccurate rendering. Thus of two variant readings, it is most likely the more difficult reading is the original, since it makes little sense that a copyist would take an “easy” reading and alter the passage to make it harder to understand. Once again an illustration is helpful. In Mark 1:2 there is the phrase “it is written in Isaiah the prophet” as well as a variant reading of “it is written in the prophets.” The Gospel writer Mark combined two quotes taken from Malachi and Isaiah. So what would lead to the conclusion that the text originally read “it is written in Isaiah the prophet”?

Since we know both readings exist, the question is how best to explain the change from one to the other. If the text originally read “Isaiah the prophet,” it is not difficult to see why a manuscript copyist might add a notation in the margin or amend the text to read “written in the prophets” when he realized the quotation was from both Isaiah and Malachi. The change is logical and understandable.

However, if the passage originally read “written in the prophets” it is difficult to determine what reason a scribe would have for changing the passage to “written in Isaiah,” which is a more difficult reading to explain. Therefore, the “easier” reading of the two variants is the second “it is written in the prophets” since this would eliminate what seems to be an error of attribution on the part of Mark. This means the “harder” reading “written in Isaiah” is preferred as being much more likely to have been the original wording found in Mark’s gospel. Numerous early manuscripts have the reading “in Isaiah the prophet” and given the fact that any alteration of the text would be in the direction of smoothing it out or making it seem more accurate, it is most probable that the reading “in the prophets” is a later scribal emendation and does not reflect the original. Lest we think Mark guilty of inaccurate reporting, it should be noted that it was not uncommon for biblical writers to combine citations from more than one prophet and attribute the citation to the greater of the two. It therefore makes perfect sense for Mark to quote Malachi and Isaiah together and attribute the whole citation to the well-known prophet Isaiah.

3 . An earlier manuscript is preferred over a later manuscript. While age alone does not make one manuscript superior to another, it is a logical principle that the closer in time a copy is to the original, the more likely it is to have preserved the original reading.

4 . An absence of variants indicates we have the original wording. Because the writings of the apostles were widely circulated and copied immediately after they were written, it would have been impossible for any one person or group of persons to collect and then make identical changes to all existing copies.

Results of Textual Criticism

In both of the previously mentioned variant examples, regardless of which variant reading is chosen, the meaning of the passage is not affected, and this is the case with the vast majority of variant readings. Spelling errors, expanded titles, conflations (combining wording from two different passages) and many other common errors that result from copying an ancient manuscript, do not alter the sense or meaning of the verse or verses where they occur. The next question is: How much of the New Testament text has been affected by these variant readings? According to many scholars, 15% or less of the New Testament text has a variant reading associated with it.

An article on “Text And Manuscripts Of The New Testament” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states:

...such a wealth of evidence makes it all the more certain that the original words of the NT have been preserved somewhere within the MSS. Conjectural emendation (suggesting a reading that is not found in any MS), to which editors have resorted in the restoration of other ancient writings, has almost no place in the textual criticism of the NT.

...It must not be overlooked, however, that the textual critic deals with a relatively small percentage of the text. With the NT...the wording of perhaps 85 percent of the text is unquestioned.3

Of the approximately 15% of the text that has a variant reading, very few of these variants pose a significant problem or affect the meaning of the text of the Bible. We refer to E. Abbot’s statement, which helps put the issue into perspective:

About nineteen-twentieths of the variations have so little support one would think of them as rival readings, and nineteen-twentieths of the remainder are of so little importance that their adoption or rejection would cause no appreciable difference in the sense of the passages in which they occur.4

By this estimate only one quarter of one percent (.0025) of all the variants have any appreciable significance to the total biblical text.

The claim sometimes made that portions of the New Testament were removed in the early centuries of Christianity fails to bear up under scrutiny. Dr. Kurt Aland, perhaps the world’s leading authority on the ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts, points out that because the early Christians had a great fear of losing a single word of apostolic Scripture, “every reading ever occurring in the New Testament textual tradition is stubbornly preserved.”5 It has been determined that copyists of the biblical material exercised great care in transcribing manuscript texts.6 Dr. Aland adds that by careful, methodical sifting of the massive volume of textual evidence “in every instance of textual variation it is possible to determine the form of the original text.”7 Based on the combined evidence, eminent scholar, the late Sir Frederick Kenyon, could write:

The interval then between the dates of the 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.8

Mormon scholar Richard Lloyd Anderson, Ph.D., did his own study and also cited Kenyon’s work. He came to the same conclusion and stated:

“all manuscripts agree on the essential correctness of 99% of the verses in the New Testament. The events and the great truths contained there are agreed upon by all major manuscripts of the New Testament.

There is more reason today, then, to agree with him [Kenyon] that we possess the New Testament “in substantial integrity” and to underline that “the variations of text are so entirely questions of detail, not of essential substance.”9

Therefore, according to both LDS and non-LDS scholars, the science of textual criticism has provided compelling evidence that the Greek texts upon which modern translations are based accurately reflect the original manuscripts, and that the variant readings that do exist do not affect any of the major doctrines of the New Testament.

Back to the Joseph Smith Translation

LDS scholars have done extensive research in the area of the Joseph Smith Translation in an attempt to understand what motivated Smith to revise the Bible. Drawing from Joseph’s own statements, Mormon scholar Reed Connell Durham, Jr., in his Ph.D. dissertation for Brigham Young University titled “A History of Joseph Smith’s Revision of the Bible,” provides the following reasons Smith had for revising the text of Scripture.

1 . The corrupted state of the existing King James Bible and the need to correct the errors it contained

2 . The revelations Joseph received made it clear to him “that many important points touching the Salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.”10

3 . God specifically commanded Joseph Smith to undertake the task.11

As already noted, both LDS and non-LDS scholars agree there is compelling manuscript evidence for the Bible’s textual integrity. Yet, Joseph Smith and other early Mormon Church leaders repeatedly expressed their views concerning the inadequacy of the existing translations of the Bible. Durham remarks, “Joseph Smith repeatedly stated his personal conviction about the fallibility of the Bible,” and cites as an example the following statement made by Joseph Smith in the 1833 LDS periodical, Evening and Morning Star:

As to the errors in the bible, any man possessed of common understanding, knows, that both old and new testaments are filled with errors, obscurities, italics and contradictions, which must be the work of men.12 (emphasis added)

Joseph incorporated his views into “The Articles of Faith,” which are found at the end of the LDS scripture, Pearl of Great Price. The Eighth article reads:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. (emphasis added)

In light of Joseph Smith’s statements regarding the supposed corruptness of the existing Scriptures, it is easy to see why he saw his work in bringing forth a new translation as extremely significant. It is also clear from statements he made, carefully recorded in journals and diaries, that he viewed his work as nothing less than a result of God’s direct inspiration. Many of his statements bear the additional weight of canonization, and are published as Scripture for Mormons to this day.13

Were the Revisions the Result of Divine Revelation?

Joseph claimed to get revelations from God, and recorded multiple references to both the revelations he received and the time he spent working on the text of the revision. Here are some sample entries from Joseph Smith’s journals and diaries as compiled in History of the Church, Vol. I.

December 30, 1830 - It may be well to observe here, that the Lord greatly encouraged and strengthened the faith of His little giving some more extended information upon the Scriptures, a translation of which had already commenced. (I:131)

April, 1831; Kirtland , Ohio - During the month of April, I continued to translate the Scriptures as time would allow. (I:170)

October, 1831; Hiram , Ohio - Soon after the above revelation was received [D&C 65], I renewed my work on the translation of the Scriptures... (I:219)

Even more significant are the canonized revelations recorded in Doctrine & Covenants, where Joseph Smith records the very words of the Lord. These passages receive extensive treatment in Robert J. Matthew’s doctoral dissertation. In his work, entitled “A Study of the Text of the JST of the Bible,” (Brigham Young University, May 1968), he traces the historical background of the JST, and shows that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon affirmed that “they were appointed by the Lord and that the work was done by the Spirit.”14

Joseph’s ability to translate ancient records was considered a special gift. Some LDS scholars suggest that Joseph at times was only providing an inspired commentary on the Scriptures.15 However, the majority of those who have studied and written on the JST reject this view in favor of the idea that Joseph did indeed restore either the original reading or the intended meaning of the biblical writers.16 Joseph’s own statements, found in the Doctrine and Covenants, differentiate between translating and explaining the significance of the actual words. Often, after Joseph had received a corrected translation of a verse or series of verses, he would receive additional revelation expounding or commenting on the meaning of the new translation. Here are some examples:

D&C Section 74 — Heading
Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Hiram , Ohio , January 1832. HC 1:242. The Prophet writes, “Upon the reception of the foregoing word of the Lord [D&C 73], I recommenced the translation of the Scriptures, and labored diligently until just before the conference, which was to convene on the 25th of January. During this period I also received the following, as an explanation of 1 Corinthians 7:14.” (emphasis added)

D&C Section 76 — Heading
A vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, at Hiram, Ohio, February 16, 1832. HC 1:245‑252. Prefacing his record of this vision the Prophet wrote: “Upon my return from Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self‑evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one. Accordingly, while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision.” It was after the Prophet had translated John 5:29 that this vision was given.17(emphasis added)

Understanding the distinction Joseph and his scribes made between God giving them a “translation” and their receiving an “explanation” of a passage, also clarifies references that refer only to the translation work. In Doctrine and Covenants 76:15-17 we have one of the few instances where Joseph recorded in his history a quote from the revision.

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:

Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, concerning those who shall hear the voice of the Son of Man, 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. (emphasis indicates changes from the KJV text)

According to Smith, while they were working on the translation, God intervened, and gave a new translation to the text of John 5:29. In other words, they now had the reading of the original manuscript. The current text was wrong and reflected one of the many scribal errors and corruptions. Therefore, when one turns to John 5:29 in the Joseph Smith Translation, one reads the above “translation” of this verse, now restored to its supposed original purity. (The changed verse is recorded in D&C 76:17, but is not noted in the King James Bible published by the LDS Church, even though other revisions made by Joseph are included in notes at the bottom of the page or in an appendix at the end of the Bible.)

In light of the claims made by Smith, the JST was nothing less than the result of direct revelation from God and resulted in the Scriptures being restored to how they read in the original manuscripts.

Testing the Joseph Smith Translation

If we assume that Joseph Smith restored the text of the Bible to its original, pristine form through revelation / inspiration, as was his claim, should we expect the study of text criticism to confirm the accuracy of his work? Yes, for the following reasons:

1. The underlying assumption of textual criticism is that the original reading is preserved in the variants; therefore we would expect to find existing variant readings that confirm Joseph’s revisions.

2. Since we know the most common scribal errors were additions to the biblical text, Joseph’s restoration should be characterized by deletions of these inaccurate scribal additions.

3. Verses for which there are no variants are safely assumed to transmit the original wording as given by the New Testament writers. Therefore, Joseph should not have altered these verses in any way.

Specific Examples in the Gospel of John

For the purpose of this study we will limit our examination to passages from the Gospel of John, which is supported by hundreds of manuscripts containing the whole or parts of the text. We will compare Joseph’s revisions to the Gospel of John with current Greek manuscripts. If God inspired Joseph’s changes and additions, they should be reflected in these ancient manuscripts, either in what is now accepted as the original text, or as one of the existing variant readings to the text.

For our first example we will examine the text of John 1:1,4 as revised by Joseph Smith. The chart below compares the King James Version, the revisions as they appear in the JST marked in bold italic and the actual wording of the Greek manuscripts.

Example 1 - John 1:1,4
Preeminence of the Gospel

King James Version

Joseph Smith Translation

Greek NT

John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1,4
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.

Ἐν            ἀρχῇ      ἦν   ὁ   λόγος,
In [the] beginning was the Word,

καὶ   ὁ   λόγος ἦν  πρὸς τὸν θεόν,
and the Word was with   –   God,

καὶ θεὸς  ἦν    ὁ  λόγος
and God was the Word.

John 1:4
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

(v4) In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men.

See translation manuscript

ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴἦν, 
In    him   life was,

καὶ   ἡ ζωὴ ἦν
and the life was

τὸ  φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων
the light   –      of men.


There are no textual variants for verse one, and therefore nothing that would support this change as given by Smith. 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 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. The reading restored by Smith is wholly unwarranted.

So what might have prompted Smith to change the text of Scripture in this way? The answer, I believe, is found in 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.18 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.19 I believe this is another reason for the interpolation and emphasis on “the gospel” found in John chapter one, verses one and four.

Example 2 - John 4:24 Eliminating a God of Spirit.

King James Version

Joseph Smith Translation

Greek NT

John 4:24
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

John 4:26
For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.

πνεῦμα ὁ θεός,
spirit     – God [is],

καὶ τοὺς    προσκυνοῦντας αὐτὸν
and the ones worshipping      him

ἐν πνεύματικαὶ ἀληθείᾳ
in     spirit    and    truth

δεῖ   προσκυνεῖν
must   worship

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. 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.20

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. Therefore, Joseph’s revisions are actually a corruption of the text as originally given by God. 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)21

Also, Oliver Cowdery’s statement in the December, 1835 edition of the LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate,22 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 the understanding that early Mormon theology did not hold to a plurality of Gods.23

However, in 1838, Joseph modified his account of the first vision and claimed the Father and the Son appeared to him, both in bodies of flesh and bone.24 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.”25 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).26 (emphasis original)

In this way one of Mormonism’s most influential 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.27

Conclusion And Summary

Joseph Smith made the following claims:

1. The Bible was corrupt and full of errors,

2. He was a prophet of God, and

3. As such restored 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.28

There is solid evidence that Joseph Smith’s second claim is also false. Failed prophecies, immoral relationships, attacks on the Bible’s reliability and involvement in occultism argue against his claim to be a prophet of God. 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. For if Joseph Smith is not a true prophet of God, everything built on that assumption falls.

Joseph’s third claim to have restored the Scriptures to their original purity lacks supporting evidence. Contrary to what we would expect, there are no variant readings that support the majority of Joseph’s revisions.29 The changes Smith makes are seldom deletions as would be expected, but are mostly additions to the text. It is apparent he felt safe in deleting and inserting at will. However, we have at our disposal the tools needed to compare new translations like the JST with actual Greek manuscripts. When Joseph’s revisions are put to the test they are found wanting. This has serious implications for those who are basing their lives and eternal destinies on the religious system he established. Far better to build one’s spiritual life on truths of God found in the Bible, providentially and accurately preserved for us down through the centuries. The prevailing evangelical doctrine of the Scriptures acknowledges a Bible without errors as originally written and the providential hand of God at work preserving these Scriptures with a high degree of accuracy through the centuries. As the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy affirms:

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appear to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter an in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error free.

... We affirm that what Scripture says, God says.30



1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 10. See also p. 327, where Smith declared, “Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.”

2. F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents are they reliable?, 5th revised edition, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 16-18. The chart is my own design based on facts provided by Bruce.

3. C.F. Sitterly and J. H. Greenlee, “Text and MSS of the NT,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised ed., Vol. 4, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 818.

4. Sitterly and Greenlee in ISBE, 818.

5. Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text Of The New Testament, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), p. 291.

6. Jack Finegan, Encountering New Testament Manuscripts, (Grand Rapids : William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 55.

7. Ibid, p. 289.

8. Sir Frederick Kenyon, Our Bible And The Ancient Manuscripts, 4th ed., revised by A.W. Adams (New York: Harper, 1958), 288. Quoted by Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), 285. Difficulty in tracing this quote is due to F.F. Bruce’s limited bibliographic data, which notes this quote as “Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology, pp. 288 f.”

9. Anderson, Richard Lloyd, “Manuscript Discoveries of the New Testament in Perspective” paper presented at the Fourteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, April 13, 1963. Anderson was Associate Professor of History and Scripture at Brigham Young University . After reviewing the manuscript evidence Anderson concluded that the “many plain and precious parts missing” from the New Testament must refer to whole books that have been lost rather than corruptions to our current New Testament text.

10. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Salt Lake: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret News Press, 1902-12), I, 245. Hereafter cited as History of the Church.

11. Reed Connell Durham, Jr., “A History Of Joseph Smith’s Revision Of The Bible,” [Photostat], (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, August 1965), 20.

12. Ibid.

13. The LDS Church has four literary works they consider Scripture. They are, the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon (a record of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, and more recently publicized as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”), the Doctrine and Covenants (a numbered listing of prophecies and revelations received by Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets of the LDS Church), and the Pearl of Great Price (a work containing heretofore lost scriptures like the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham, as well as segments from Joseph Smith’s history now canonized). These are referred to collectively as “The Standard Works.”

14. Robert J. Matthews, “A Study of the Text of the Inspired Version of the Bible” (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1968), 37.

15. Kevin Barney takes this position and references Richard L. Anderson and Hugh Nibley as LDS scholars who hold a similar view. (Barney, p. 86).

16. See for example, Plain and Precious Truths Restored: The Doctrinal and Historical Significance of the Joseph Smith Translation, Robert L. Millet & Robert J. Matthews, eds. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995). This is a collection of papers presented at a 1995 BYU symposium. The majority of contributing authors advocate a restoration-by-revelation view of the JST. Since Joseph is accepted a priori as a prophet, one must accept by faith his revisions to the biblical text. Millet cites Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s warning that “Those who turn to the original tongues for their doctrinal knowledge have a tendency to rely on scholars rather than prophets for scriptural interpretations. This is perilous; it is sad to be numbered with the wise and learned who know more than the Lord.” (p. 153-154). Similarly, LDS apostle Dallin Oaks states in the opening chapter, “Those who will not rely on revelation and who insist on a manuscript so they can concentrate on the original meaning and intent of the words spoken by the author can be expected to ignore the Joseph Smith Translation” (p. 13).

17. Ibid.

18. 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.

19. For a brief, documented summary of the distinctions between Mormonism and biblical, orthodox Christianity see the pamphlet “Is Mormonism Christian,” (Grand Rapids: Institute for Religious Research, 1999).

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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]

23. Stephen Post in Christian Palladium, Dec. 1, 1837 , No. 15, p. 230.

24. 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)

25. Lorenzo Snow in Millennial Star, Vol. 54, p. 404. Cited by Milton R. Hunter in The Gospel Through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, Inc., 1945), pp. 105-106.

26. McConkie, 318.

27. 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.

28. 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.

29. Barney, Kevin L.. “The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 19:3 (Fall 1986): 85-102. Barney’s article is an analysis of fifteen JST revisions (all the author could find) in which an ancient text offers a parallel not reflected in the King James Version. At the end of the article he concludes: “We have seen that the majority of JST changes lack ancient textual support. Although we cannot say with complete assurance what stood in the original text, manuscript discoveries have made the argument that there could have been massive early deletions from the text untenable, at least for the New Testament. We have also examined the few passages that parallel ancient variants; if inspired textual restoration exists in the JST, these would be the most likely examples. A few of these JST emendations parallel the original text, although these changes could be due to reasons other than inspiration. But most of them do not; they parallel nonoriginal ancient variants and seemingly for the same reasons these ancient variants arose…. For these reasons, it is unlikely (with very few exceptions) that the JST represents a literal restoration of material that stood in the original manuscripts of the Bible.”

30. Norman Geisler, ed., Inerrancy, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), 501-502. The “Chicago Statement” cited was formulated by conferees of the International Conference on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) which called together approximately 300 scholars, pastors, and laymen from a wide range of denominations including: Anglican, Baptist, Free Church, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian. The conference took place in Chicago in October 1978.