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The Joseph Smith Translation in Light of the New Testament: An Examination of Key Passages in the Gospel of John Part 3A

The Joseph Smith Translation in Light of the New Testament: An Examination of Key Passages in the Gospel of John Part 3A

Parts 3.A - 3.B: Textual Comparison of Verses Changed in the Gospel of John

3. Textual Comparison: Key John Passages Changed In The JST

The changes made by Joseph Smith in the JST appear to have been made for three primary reasons: (1) clarification and grammatical improvements, (2) harmonization and better logic, and (3) alteration of doctrinal teachings. Each of these will be examined in turn, the first two rather briefly, the third in more depth due to its theological significance. This section will be limited to the Gospel of John. While space is obviously a major factor in limiting my examination, I have chosen the Fourth Gospel because of the massive amount of manuscript evidence supporting the text of this book, and also because it is among the most revised of all the books Joseph retranslated. LDS readers will also note I have limited my examples to only those accepted as correct by the Corporation of the First Presidency and published in the 1989 edition of the LDS “Quadruple Combination” containing the King James Bible.

3.A. Textual Changes for Clarification and Grammatical Improvements

The first, and perhaps most common changes were for the purpose of clarifying the text and making grammatical improvements. It should be noted that Joseph was not alone in his quest to restore or otherwise amend the text of the Authorized Version. Many others had noted obscure words and wooden grammar, and felt the need to incorporate changes. Durham has pointed out that between the years 1820 and 1833 there were over 420 separate and distinct publications of biblical texts in America. While the majority of these were differing editions of the King James Version, he provides a bibliographic listing of twenty-three works that consisted of different translations or revisions. All this he offers as evidence that “Joseph Smith was not unique to his day in making a revision of the Bible,”1 as some Mormon scholars have attempted to claim.2 

The following are sample corrections of this first type taken from the Joseph Smith Translation. A check of the textual apparatus of the United Bible Society’s Third Edition of the Greek New Testament reveals no applicable textual variants for these verses. Therefore, while the changes are minor (indicated by underlined text in the JST column) and may seem logical, there is nothing in the Greek manuscripts that support making such changes.

Note: Since the Reformation there have been many published editions of the New Testament in the original Greek language. With the appearance of new manuscript evidence, recent editions of the Greek text, like those produced by the United Bible Society and Nestle & Aland, provide us with the best today’s scholarship can offer. Teams of scholars representing Protestant, Catholic and secular camps have worked together identifying variant readings and establishing the degree of certainty that accompanies the different variants when they occur. This information is made available through the publishing of not only a critical Greek text, but also a textual commentary on those verses with variant readings, both of which have been carefully considered by this writer for the passages examined. When no variants occur for a particular verse, there is nearly absolute certainty we have the exact words of the original manuscripts.

Representative Texts: John 5:36a; John 6:54b; John 7:24

King James Version  Joseph Smith Translation
John 5:36a  — But I have greater witness than that of John ... John 5:36a — But I have a greater witness than the testimony of John ...
John 6:54b — ...and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:54b — ...and I will raise him up in the resurrection of the just at the last day.
John 7:24 — Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. John 7:24 — Judge not according to your traditions, but judge righteous judgment.

Other similar references in John include, but are not limited to: 8:43,47; 11:2,17; and 13:19. These also are free of any textual variants related to changes made by Joseph Smith.

3.B. Textual Changes for Harmonization or Better Logic

These examples entail more serious emendations to the text, often changing the sense or meaning in an attempt to harmonize apparent or perceived contradictions in either content or logic. For this reason I have included a third parallel column with the actual Greek text and an interlinear translation, to further demonstrate the lack of manuscript support for Joseph’s changes.

3.B.i. Text 1 — John 4:2 Jesus and Baptizing

King James Version  John 4:2 — (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)
Joseph Smith Translation John 4:3 — Now the Lord knew this, though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples;
Greek NT

John 4:2 —

καίτοιγε Ἰησοῦς αὐτὸς
though    Jesus  [him]self

οὐκ ἐβάπτιζεν
not baptized

ἀλλʼ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ
but  the disciples of him

This change is best explained as an attempt to harmonize John 4:2 with John 3:22 which seems to say Jesus did baptize. While this solves an apparent contradiction, according to the UBS and Nestle-Aland textual apparatus, there is no textual support for it - the ouvk evba,ptizen (baptized not) of 4:2 is simply not optional, and cannot be left out, nor is there justification for the words Smith added to the text. There are not found in any known manuscript and this verse is completely free of any known variants.

3.B.ii. Text 2 — John 1:27 Who is Elias, Jesus or John?

King James Version John 1:27 — He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. 
Joseph Smith Translation John 1:28 — He it is of whom I bear record. He is that prophet, even Elias, who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose, or whose place I am not able to fill; for he shall baptize, not only with water, but with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. 
Greek NT

John 1:27 — 

ὁ              ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος,
the [one]   after    me   coming,

οὗ           οὐκ εἰμὶ [ἐγὼ] ἄξιος
of whom not   am     I    worthy

ἵνα         λύσω       αὐτοῦ
that I should loose of him

τὸν ἱμάντα τοῦ ὑποδήματος
the  thong     of the sandal.

The additions made to this verse are indicative of Joseph Smith’s erroneous opinion that textual corruptions were largely deletions (“many plain and precious things taken away”). It reflects an attempt to logically explain who Elias is, and, in calling Jesus “Elias”, eliminate any possible harmonization problems with John’s statement in verse 21 where John denies before the people being Elias.

My first thought was that Joseph Smith never got around to revising Mark 9:11-13 where Jesus is questioned about Elias. Jesus makes it quite clear that the prediction of Elias is fulfilled in John. But upon examining Mark 9:11-13 in the JST, verse thirteen has become verse eleven and reads:

Again I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, but they have done unto him whatsoever they listed; and even as it is written of him; and he bore record of me, and they received him not. Verily this was Elias. (emphasis designating JST changes)

So in John 1:28 (JST) Joseph introduces changes that teach that Jesus is Elias, while in Mark 9:11 (JST) Joseph’s revisions make it clear that John was Elias. These contradictory changes are both part of what the LDS Church has authorized as inspired revisions, and are contained in their edition of the King James Bible. Once again, as an examination of the Greek text shows, there is support for neither emendation, nor are there any known variants for these verses.

In the Gospel of John there are two verses where revisions of this category (harmonization / logic), made by Joseph Smith, have parallel textual variants. In neither of these cases (the only ones in the whole Gospel of John to this author’s knowledge) does the JST bring the text of the KJV closer to the original manuscripts. These verses and others receive detailed analysis in “The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible,” (a previously cited study done by Kevin L. Barney published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought). Barney was able to find only “fifteen passages of the JST in which an ancient text offers a parallel not reflected in the KJV.”3 His analysis, based on methods of textual criticism, resulted in the following conclusions:

  1. The majority of JST changes lack ancient textual support.
  2. The assumption that there were massive early deletions from the text is untenable, at least for the New Testament.4
  3. “A few of these JST emendations do parallel the original text, although these changes could be due to reasons other than inspiration. The remaining changes parallel nonoriginal ancient variants and seemingly for the same reasons these ancient variants arose: assimilation to better known wording, harmonization of contradictions, and doctrinal clarification of problematic texts.”
  4. Based on the above 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.”5

What was disappointing about this particular article was its willingness to accept the “inspired commentary” theory of Joseph Smith’s translation work simply because it is the only alternative to concluding that Joseph Smith introduced textual errors as revelations from God. The author is to be commended nonetheless, for his work clearly documents Joseph Smith’s failure to provide us with anything resembling a restoration of the ancient texts, and it raises legitimate questions about whether Joseph was really getting revelation from God as he claimed.

Having considered briefly the first two types of revisions made in the JST, we now move on to the third and final category.


1. Durham, 10-15. A couple of the more interesting titles include: The Holy Bible ... In the Common Version With Amendments of the Language by Noah Webster, 1833; A New and Corrected Version of the New Testament ... by Rodolphus Dickinson, 1833.

2. Durham, 9. He mentions E. Cecil McGavin and M. Lynn Bennion with J.A. Washburn as primary examples of those promoting this view.

3. Barney, 87.

4. Even so, this erroneous position is advocated by Robert J. Matthews, in his attempt to explain Joseph’s restoration of the text. According to Barney, “Robert J. Matthews, the Church’s foremost authority on the JST, believes that the JST restores the intent of the original to some extent, although he does not insist that every JST reading is a restoration of ancient textual material.” (Barney, 87,85)

5. Barney, 100.