The Word of God
Dan Vogel, ed.

Chapter 11
The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible
Kevin L. Barney

[p.143]Mormons often assume that the Joseph Smith “translation” of the Bible (JST), or the Inspired Version, represents a restoration of text that originally existed in ancient manuscripts but was later altered or removed by scribal carelessness or malice.1 Many a Sunday school discussion over a problematic biblical passage ends with reference to the JST and the assertion that it presents the original wording. Of course, a perfect restoration would be in the language of the original, but the JST is assumed to give the English sense of the original Greek or Hebrew texts of the Bible. Certainly many JST passages demonstrate sensitivity to problems inherent in the English of the King James version (KJV). The JST merits study from a variety of perspectives. However, this essay deals with a narrower question: Does the JST restore the original text of parts of the Bible?

Robert J. Matthews, a Brigham Young University religion professor and student of the JST, believes that the JST restores the intent of the original to some extent, although he does not insist that every JST reading restores ancient textual material.2 Some scholars understand the JST differently. For them the JST does not presuppose a different Hebrew or Greek text underlying a given passage; [p.144] rather, it is an inspired commentary that produces theological purity and gives the revised passages greater significance for a modern audience.

As an illustration of how this second approach differs from the view that the JST is a textual restoration, consider the KJV of Genesis 6:6: “And it repenteth the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” The JST of this verse reads: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at the heart” (Moses 8:25; JST Gen. 8:13). According to the restorationist view, the original text read in Hebrew as does Moses 8:25 (JST Gen. 8:13) but was at some point altered by scribes for some unknown reason to read as it does in the KJV.

If we view the JST as commentary, we need not postulate two forms of the Hebrew text. Rather, the JST reflects Joseph Smith’s concern about the theological implications of having the Lord “repent.” Repentance implies sin, and the Lord does not sin. The point of the JST then is not that Noah repented but that the Lord did not. In a discourse by Joseph Smith on 15 October 1843, he said: “As it [the Bible] read it repented the Lord that he had made man. and also God is not a man that he should repent. —which I do not believe. —but it repented Noah that God made man. —this I believe. & then the other quotation stands fair.”3 Here we understand that Joseph was harmonizing Genesis 6:6, which he regarded as problematic, with Numbers 23:19, which states that God need not repent. In several other verses where the Old Testament says that the Lord “repented,” the JST reworks the passage to avoid this wording (see Ex. 32:12, 14; 1 Sam. 15:11; 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 26:19; Amos 7:3, 6). If these changes in the JST are a pattern demonstrating Joseph’s belief that the Lord does not repent, then we have an accurate interpretation of the text, for the verb nicham means simply to grieve, and “repent” is not used in modern Bible translations of this verse. The Hebrew text merely says that “the Lord grieved” not that Noah repented. In short, the JST phrasing is apparently Joseph Smith’s way of getting his theological point across; it solves a problem created by the English translation in the KJV. This process can be given many different names: inspired commentary, interpretation, paraphrase, midrashic embellishment, targumization, or even translation.4

[p.145]Holding to the more traditional Mormon view that the JST provides a restoration of ancient text presents important difficulties. First, the restorationist view assumes that ancient texts can be restored by inspiration. Considering this claim is beyond the scope of this essay. A second problem is not so easily set aside. The restorationist view assumes that at some point the original text was substantially corrupted. Some LDS exegetes have hypothesized deliberate and widespread textual corruptions early enough to be incorporated into the earliest biblical manuscripts that have survived.5 Since the original autographs are irrecoverable, this assertion cannot be completely disproved, but it has been weakened by the discovery of Hebrew texts dating from the second century B.C., which support the basic integrity of the later Old Testament manuscripts. Some New Testament manuscripts date to the fourth, third, and even second centuries A.D. This means the window of time in which the textual corruptions could have occurred is increasingly narrow and the likelihood that the JST represents restorations of the original text extremely slim.

A further problem relates to the nature of these hypothesized textual corruptions. The JST is almost entirely comprised of additions to the KJV. Thus, the corrupting scribes would have had to make massive deletions in the earliest copies of Bible manuscripts. Indeed, Robert Matthews asserts that deletions were the most common form of deliberate scribal errors, and that the JST’s expansion of the KJV is consistent with what we would expect in a textual restoration.6 Unfortunately, Matthews’s source for this claim is John William Burgon’s 1896 book, The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896). “Traditional Text” here means the textus receptus, or “received text,” the late, Byzantine form of text underlying the KJV.7 Burgon was one of several scholars who wrote at the turn of the century in a last-ditch effort to refute the scholarship that had conclusively demonstrated the textus receptus to be the poorest form of the New Testament text available. In fact, the most common deliberate scribal corruptions were additions to the text, not deletions. Therefore, the tendency of the JST to expand the KJV text by adding material is the opposite of what we should expect in a textual restoration based on what has been learned since the nineteenth century. The JST demonstrates scribal tendencies common to the textus receptus.

[p.146]Given these problems with the restorationist view and with the JST, the most promising strategy for salvaging the view that the JST restores ancient textual material would seem to be in considering those passages in the JST which vary from the KJV and yet find parallels in early Bible manuscripts. About a dozen JST passages seem to qualify. If the wording of the JST parallels what scholars believe is the original reading in a given passage, then the JST may be a type of textual restoration. If the wording of the JST parallels a non-original variant, then there must be some other explanation for the parallel.

With a single exception, it is unlikely that Joseph Smith learned of these variants from a modern source. Even if Smith had learned enough Greek to read the New Testament (which is doubtful, especially considering his limited Greek studies came after the bulk of the JST was completed), printed editions of the Greek New Testament in his day gave only the textus receptus. It was not a common practice to compare textual variants until the middle and late nineteenth century. Modern textual criticism and the discovery of the most important early texts came after Smith’s death. The few contemporary scholarly works that compared variants were typically written in Latin, and there is no evidence Joseph Smith had access to them.

In the discussion which follows, references to “original” readings should be understood as readings on which scholarly consensus currently exists about the most probable state of the now-lost original manuscript. It is possible, of course, for such consensus to be mistaken. But those who work in the field of textual criticism do not lightly dismiss their probable accuracy. My analysis is based on the methods of textual criticism and presupposes that extant biblical manuscripts give us insight into the now-lost original text.8

Three JST passages parallel what appears to be the original text from scholarly reconstruction. If such a thing as textual restoration by inspiration exists in the JST, then these seem to be the clearest candidates. Note, however, that the passage which follows is one of the rare deletions in the JST. Matthews notes this verse as a model for the restorationist argument,9 but it is not characteristic of the JST. (Changes in the JST are italicized.)

[p.147]KJV Matthew 5:22

But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

JST Matthew 5:24

But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother [deletes without a cause], shall be in danger of his judgment.

Ancient Variants

(1) whosoever is angry with his brother

(2) whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause

The JST omits the words “without a cause,” as does 3 Nephi 12:22 in the Book of Mormon (RLDS 3 Ne. 5:70). “Without a cause” is also absent from Reading 1. It is fairly certain, despite strong textual evidence for Reading 2, that Reading 1 is original and that Reading 2 was an early attempt by scribes to soften the rigor of this morally stark precept allowing no anger.10 The JST then parallels the original text.

However, this parallel could be a coincidence caused by a problem with the wording of the KJV. The KJV uses the three words “without a cause” to render one Greek adverb, eike, which might better have been translated “rashly,” “thoughtlessly,” or “unjustly.” Joseph Smith could have been struck by the fact that there is always some cause when a person gets angry, even though it may not be a just cause. Thus, the JST may have deleted the words “without a cause” as being too broad.

Smith’s changes to Romans 7:6 parallel what scholars believe to be the original passage. But the changes also demonstrate a common scribal tendency to resolve inconsistencies among biblical passages.

KJV Romans 7:6

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

JST Romans 7:6

But now we are delivered from the law wherein we were held, being dead to the law, that we should serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

[p.148]Ancient Variants

(1) But now we are delivered from the law, being dead to that in which we were held

(2) But now we are delivered from the law of death in which we were held

(3) But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held

The JST parallels Reading 1, which is clearly original, given its superior textual attestation. Reading 2, which represents the Western form of the text, seems to be an effort to simplify a construction in Greek that is somewhat obscure. There is no competent manuscript authority for Reading 3. The JST clearly parallels the original text for this passage.

This reading of the JST could be an assimilation of verse 6 to KJV Romans 7:4: “Ye also are become dead to the law.” Joseph Smith seems to have been concerned with the wording of KJV Romans 7:6, which suggests that the law was dead. In fact, the JST makes similar adjustments throughout Romans 7. For instance, the preceding verse, KJV Romans 7:5, reads: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” The JST alters this to read: “the motions of sins, which were not according to the law,” apparently lest sin be thought to be sanctioned by the law.

Smith’s changes to Genesis 18:3 similarly parallel what scholars consider to be the original reading but can also be seen as an attempt to smooth over inconsistencies. In Genesis 18:3, Abraham entertains three visitors who announce the impending destruction of Sodom and the forthcoming birth of Isaac. Abraham asks them to remain for a meal in these words:

KJV Genesis 18:3

And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

JST Genesis 18:3

And said; My brethren, if now I have found favour in your sight, pass not away, I pray you, from thy servant.

Ancient Variants

(1) And said, My lords … your sight … I pray you … your servant [p.149]

(2) And said, My Lord … thy sight … I pray thee … thy servant

In Genesis 18, the relationship between the Lord (v. 1) and the three men (v. 2) is not clear. It may be that all three represent the Lord; thus, the plurality becomes a single person in verses 10 and 13. However, it seems more likely that the Lord was one of the men and that the other two were angels attending him, a view suggested by verse 22 (“the men turned their faces from thence, … but Abraham stood yet before the Lord”) and Genesis 19:1 (“two angels” visit Lot in Sodom), and it is not inconsistent with the single spokesman in verses 10 and 13.

The JST shifts the word “Lord” in verse 3 to “brother,” but more importantly it shifts from the singular “Lord” to the plural “brethren.” The Hebrew word adonai underlying “lord(s)” in verse 3 is definitely plural in form; is it plural or singular in meaning? Although this particular word literally means “my lords,” it was regularly substituted in reading for the divine name of God (YHWH). The Masoretic scribes marked this specialized use of the plural form with a singular meaning by a slight difference in vocalization, and it so appears in the Masoretic Text of Genesis 18:3. Thus the entire verse is singular in its Hebrew construction. This is Reading 2, followed in the KJV.

Reading 1 is a literal plural, “lords,” and probably represents the original reading. The literal plural is preserved in the Samaritan Pentateuch. This same literal plural is also found in Genesis 19:2, where Lot addresses the two angels as “my lords.” This usage was probably meant to parallel the expression in Genesis 18:3. Therefore, some modern translations of the Bible put Genesis 18:3 in the plural. The New English Bible (1970) has “sirs.” The singular of the Masoretic Text appears to have been caused by scribal assimilation to the word “Lord” (YHWH) in verse 1.

The JST parallels Reading 1 by using the plural (“brethren”). In the KJV the singular in verse 3 is inconsistent with the plural in the surrounding verses. But the JST harmonized the number in verse 3 to make it consistent with those verses.

In the above passages in which Smith’s changes seem to correspond with the text established as the original one by modern scholarship, Smith can also be seen struggling with the same kinds of textual problems that had worried scribes for generations before [p.150] him. Within its earliest manuscripts, the Bible shows inconsistencies, incongruities, and contradictions. Although the scribes generally were faithful in copying their manuscripts, there were tendencies to harmonize contradictions and rectify perceived doctrinal difficulties. Smith’s similar concerns led to his attempts to resolve historically perplexing problems. I have discovered nine additional examples where ancient variants exist which parallel Smith’s solution, but neither Smith’s solution nor the ancient variants provide what seems to be the original text. I include a representative sampling of these passages below.11

A number of these examples demonstrates the tendency to smooth over perceived inconsistencies. Sometimes the perceived inconsistencies relate mainly to the wording of the passage. This seems to be the case with the changes made to both Proverbs 18:22 and Luke 11:13.

KJV Proverbs 18:22

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.

JST Proverbs 18:22

Whoso findeth a good wife hath obtained favor of the Lord.

Ancient Variants

(1) Whoso findeth a wife

(2) Whoso findeth a good wife

Reading 1, which is reflected in the KJV, is considered to be the original. Reading 2 has “a good wife” by anticipation of the adjective “good.” This seems to be a common-sense reaction to the idea that finding just any wife is desirable. It is doubtful that a scribe would have deliberately deleted the adjective “good” modifying “wife” if it was original. However, we should not rule out the possibility of mechanical omission due to the repetitions of “findeth” in the sentence.

The JST parallels Reading 2 and seems to echo the concern of the scribes. Thing in the KJV is italicized, and Smith often crossed out italicized words in the Bible he used as an aid in producing the JST. Many JST emendations demonstrate a special concern with the italicized words in the KJV. A similar phenomenon occurs in the Book of Mormon version of Bible passages.12 An editorial by W. W. [p.151] Phelps (in The Evening and the Morning Star, Jan. 1833, 58) addresses the practice: “The book of Mormon, as a revelation from God, possesses some advantage over the old scripture: it has not been tinctured by the wisdom of man, with here and there an Italic word to supply deficiencies.” If we delete the italicized words in this passage, it is a short step from “findeth a wife findeth a good” to “findeth a good wife.”

KJV Luke 11:13

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

JST Luke 11:13

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good gifts, through the Holy Spirit, to them who ask him.

Ancient Variants

(1) how much more shall your heavenly Father give the holy spirit

(2) how much more shall your heavenly Father give a good spirit

(3) how much more shall your heavenly Father give a good gift

(4) how much more shall your heavenly Father give good gifts

(5) how much more shall your heavenly Father give the good gift of the holy spirit

(6) how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things

Reading 1, which has overwhelming textual support, is reflected in the KJV and is almost certainly the original form of the text. Readings 2 through 6 were shaped by three influences. The first is assimilation to the first half of the verse. We naturally expect the object of the verb “give” in the second part of the argument to repeat the object of the verb “give” in the first part; namely, “good gifts.” The fact that it does not caused a number of scribes to assimilate to the wording in the first half of the verse. Second, Reading 6 directly assimilates to Matthew 7:11, which reads “good things.” Third is a phenomenon known as conflation. A scribe faced with two different readings would often have the text include both lest something sacred be lost, thus the conflations in Readings 2 and 5.

The JST also appears to assimilate to the first half of the verse, since it preserves the precise wording found in the first part of [p.152] the verse in the KJV. Also, rather than substituting its emendation for “the Holy Spirit,” the JST conflates the two readings, somewhat like Reading 5. This assimilation and conflation closely parallel the ancient non-original textual variants.

Other revisions, by ancient scribes as well as Joseph Smith, seem to respond to perceived contradictions between passages of scriptures. Passages which describe the death of Judas present just such a problem.

KJV Matthew 27:5

And he [Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

JST Matthew 27:5

And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself on a tree. And straightway he fell down and his bowels gushed out, and he died.

Luke preserves a conflicting tradition of the death of Judas in Acts 1:18: “Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.” Some scribes tried to harmonize these contradictory accounts by making both events part of the narrative. However, these ancient variants are usually associated with Acts 1:18 rather than with Matthew 27:5:

(1) and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

(2) and being swollen, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

(3) and being hanged, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

Reading 1 has overwhelming textual support and is widely considered to be the original. Reading 3 is found only in Latin texts. The Vulgate follows Reading 3. Nevertheless, Jerome probably did not invent this reading, for the text of Acts which Augustine read in his dispute with Felix the Manichean contained a similar harmonization: “Therefore, he [Judas] took possession of a field he had acquired with the reward of his iniquity, and he bound himself around the neck [et collum sibi alligavit], and when he had fallen on [p.153] his face he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”13 A number of ancient authors and commentators made similar harmonizing efforts.14

The JST parallels Reading 3 and the harmonizing tradition it represents. There are a limited number of ways of dealing with these two accounts. One would be to say that Matthew is correct and Luke is not; the other would be to say that Luke is correct and Matthew is not. But neither of these options is palatable to the harmonist, since they both suggest an error. The logical alternative is to say that both are right and put them in a temporal sequence: Judas hanged himself and then (somehow) fell. The JST parallels this ancient harmonizing tradition, not the original text.

Luther, following the Vulgate, inserted the phrase und sich erhangt (“and he hanged himself”) into his rendering of Acts 1:18. Joseph Smith, who was studying German and reading Luther’s German translation of the New Testament in the spring of 1844, stated on 7 April: “I have been readg. the Germ: I find it to be the most correct that I found & it corresponds the nearest to the revns. [revelations] that I have given the last 16 years.”15 Luther was not a source for the JST. Joseph’s German studies came too late, and he would have emended Acts rather than Matthew had he been relying on Luther. But it is very possible that the JST of Matthew 27:5 is one of the revelations Joseph had in mind.

Scholarly attempts to harmonize the Judas accounts were abandoned as early as 1879;16 today scholars generally regard both traditions as irreconcilable and nonhistorical. Matthew’s account was probably fashioned on the hanging suicide of Achitophel, which represents the classic example of a traitor in Jewish tradition (2 Sam. 17:23). Jesus himself had evidently applied Psalms 41:9 to Judas (Jn. 18:18), which had long been regarded by the rabbis as a reference to Achitophel.17 If either account were authentic, it would be Luke’s account in Acts not Matthew’s, yet even this tradition appears to represent the typical death of the sinner, such as that described in Wisdom 4:18-19, where sinners are described as dying prostrate (preneis).

Smith’s revisions to Mark 1:8 also harmonize parallel accounts and in addition demonstrate a further scribal tendency: to solve perceived doctrinal difficulties.

[p.154]KJV Mark 1:8

I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

JST Mark 1:8

I indeed have baptized you with water; but he shall not only baptize you with water, but with fire, and the Holy Ghost.

Ancient Variants

(1) but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost

(2) but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire

Most scholars agree that Reading 1, which is reflected in the KJV, is probably original, given the wide diversity of early witnesses that support it. A few later manuscripts support Reading 2. The addition of the words “and with fire” simply incorporates the parallel accounts in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16, both of which say, “with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Had these words been in the original, it seems unlikely that a scribe would have deliberately deleted them. It is possible, though not likely, in my opinion, that the omission resulted from periblepsis, or the scribe’s unintentionally skipping words. The JST parallels Reading 2 by adding the words “with fire.” This wording is apparently a simple assimilation to the better-known version. Whatever John the Baptist may have historically said, the words “and with fire” did not originally stand in the text of Mark.

Smith is also concerned with a separate question: did Jesus physically perform water baptisms? John 3:22 says that he did; KJV John 4:2 says “Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.” The JST harmonizes this contradiction with “though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples.” In Mark 1:8, Smith also inserts the information that Jesus also baptized with water.

The JST revisions to Luke 11:4 also address perceived doctrinal problems and at the same time harmonize parallel accounts.

KJV Luke 11:4

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

JST Luke 11:4

And let us not be led unto [sic] temptation, but deliver us from evil;  for [p.155] thine is the kingdom and power. Amen.

Ancient Variants

(1) lead us not into temptation

(2) let us not be led into temptation

Scholars consider Reading 1 to be original. But if these words are read too literally, they suggest that God deliberately draws people into temptation, a theologically unsettling idea. Therefore, Marcion in his version of Luke put the phrase into a passive construction (Reading 2).18 This reading was preserved by several Church Fathers. For instance, Augustine says: “Many when praying speak as follows: ‘Let us not be led into temptation'” (Patrilogiae Latinae 34:1282).

The JST parallels Reading 2, resolving this doctrinal difficulty in much the same way as Marcion: “and let us not be led unto temptation.” In the Matthew 6:13 version of the Lord’s Prayer, the JST reads: “And suffer us not to be led into temptation.” Joseph Smith later suggested still another solution: “Leave us not in temptation.”19

The phrase “but deliver us from evil,” which ends the verse in the KJV, is absent from a number of excellent witnesses. This phrase seems to have been added to make it match the prevailing form of the prayer in Matthew 6:13. Interestingly, the JST makes a further accommodation to Matthew 6:13 which concludes the prayer with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.” Scholars agree that this doxology, as it is called, was not an original part of the text but was appended to the end of the prayer in a variety of forms for liturgical purposes. It is entirely absent in several early and widespread texts. The JST omits “and the glory for ever.” Some ancient texts omit “kingdom,” others “power,” while some add “and ever,” and a few late manuscripts add a reference to the trinity. The JST form of the doxology generally resembles these ancient non-original variants. Smith may have freely reproduced the expression because it was part of a well known prayer.

The JST revisions to John 1:12-13 make the wording consistent but also shift the emphasis away from Johannine teachings which are not stressed in Mormon theology. In contrast, they emphasize the importance of the virgin birth, which is.

[p.156]KJV John 1:12-13

But as many received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

JST John 1:12-13

But as many received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; only to them who believe on his name. He was born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Ancient Variants

(1) Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God

(2) They were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God

(3) Who was born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God

(4) He was born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God

The overwhelming weight of the Greek manuscript evidence favors the plural form of Reading 1, which is followed in the KJV. Readings 3 and 4 come from a few Latin Fathers and do not appear in Greek. Given the meager textual evidence, it is interesting that an impressive array of scholars, following the lead of A. Resche, have defended the singular construction.20 For example, the singular was adopted in the Jerusalem Bible (1966). But in addition to the weight of the manuscript evidence for the plural, Reading 1 is supported by the fact that it is consistent with Johannine teaching. According to John 3:3, “Except a man be begotten from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”21 This concept in the gospel is stated more boldly in the Johannine epistles: “Whosoever is begotten of God doth not commit sin; for his seed [sperma] remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God” (1 Jn. 3:9).

The JST parallels Reading 3 generally and Reading 4 in particular. Both of these ancient variants and the JST can best be accounted for by a desire to have John refer explicitly to the virginal conception of Jesus.

The JST revisions to John 10:8 promote a traditional [p.157] Mormon belief—this one quite distinctive—that Old Testament prophets believed in Jesus Christ.

KJV John 10:8

All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.

JST John 10:8

All that ever came before me who testified not of me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not hear them.

Ancient Variants

(1) All that ever came before me

(2) All that ever came

(3) Whoever came before me

When Jesus told the parable of the sheepfold, his hearers did not understand it (Jn. 10:6). Jesus then identified himself as both the door and the good shepherd, but the only clarification he offered for the thieves and robbers was that they were “all that ever came before me,” which reads very much like a blanket condemnation of the Old Testament prophets. Indeed, Valentinus understood it in just this sense (Hippolytus, in Patrilogiae Graecae, 16.3:3247). The omission of “before me” in Reading 2 and “all” in Reading 3 appear to be scribal attempts to limit the extent of Jesus’ criticism. Similarly, the JST seems to have added the clause “who testified not of me” to exempt the prophets and the righteous.

We have seen that the majority of JST changes lack ancient textual support. While a few emendations parallel the original text, most do not. They instead parallel non-original 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. It is thus unlikely that the JST represents a literal restoration of material that stood in the original manuscripts of the Bible.

This does not mean that the JST cannot be regarded as an inspired “translation” in the sense of a paraphrase or interpretation of Joseph Smith’s exemplar, the King James version of the Bible. In fact, this may be the most promising approach to understanding the JST from a Mormon perspective.

Kevin L. Barney is an attorney practicing in Chicago, Illinois. “The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible” first appeared in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Fall 1986): 85-102.


1. The rationale for this view is largely based on the eighth Article of Faith (in the Pearl of Great Price), 1 Ne. 13:28 (RLDS 1 Ne. 3:171), and Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 327. See also Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds, The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), 256.

2. Robert J. Matthews, “Some Significant Texts of Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible,” Brigham Young University Studies 9 (Winter 1969): 155-74; “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible. A History and Commentary (Provo: BYU Press, 1975), 234-37; “The Plain and Precious Parts,” Ensign 5 (Sept. 1975): 5-11; “What is the Book of Moses?” in Pearl of Great Price Symposium: A Centennial Presentation (Provo: BYU Press, 1976), 24; “I Have a Question,” Ensign 10 (Sept. 1980): 63-64; “Plain and Precious Things Restored,” Ensign 12 (July 1982): 15-20; “A Greater Portrayal of the Master,” Ensign 13 (March 1983): 6-13.

3. Ehat and Cook, 256.

4. Richard L. Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s Insights into the Olivet Prophecy: Joseph Smith 1 and Matthew 24,” in Pearl of Great Price Symposium: A Centennial Presentation (Provo, BYU Press, 1976), 50; Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 49; Krister Stendahl, “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), 142; Anthony Hutchinson, “LDS Approaches to the Holy Bible,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Spring 1982): 110.

5. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet, eds., The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1985), 44-45.

6. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” 267.

7. Ibid., 128-29. Matthews was using this source as quoted in J. Reuben Clark, Jr., On the Way to Immortality and Eternal Life (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1950), 203-204. Clark relies heavily on Burgon. See also J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Why the King James Version (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 25. On the problems with Clark’s attempted resurrection of Burgon’s views, see Hutchinson, 104.

8. General introductions to the principles of text criticism include Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1968); Ernst Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, trans. E. F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 1979). Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” 111-15, uses the same basic principles in establishing the text of the JST itself. Briefly textual criticism involves the [p.159]weighting of variant readings based on factors such as date and geographical diversity, psychological factors affecting deliberate alterations, and mechanical copying errors of hand, eye, and ear.

The textual evidence for the New Testament readings discussed in this article is from Eberhard Nestle, Erwin Nestle, and Kurt Aland, et al., eds, Novurn Testamentum Graece 26th ed. (Stuttgart: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1979); Kurt Aland, et al., eds., The Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1975). The Old Testament textual evidence is from Rudolf Kittel and Paul Kahle, eds., Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1937).

9. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” 251.

10. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1975), 13.

11. All nine examples are included in the longer version of this essay appearing in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Fall 1986): 85-102. For the sake of completeness, we also note Colossians 2:2 here. The JST alters “the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” to “the mystery of God and of Christ, who is of God, even the Father.” The original reading was “the mystery of God, Christ.” Because of the obscurity of this reading, a host of ancient variants (including the one represented in the KJV) arose attempting to clarify what it means. See Raymond Brown, Jesus: God and Man (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 13-14. The JST emendation has a certain superficial similarity to some of these variants but is actually concerned with the apparent reference to three persons: God, the Father, and Christ. A similar apparent reference to a plurality of gods is found in Revelation 1:6: “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father.” There the JST solved the problem by dropping the word “and,” so as to read “God his father” (Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” 181-84). The apparent reference to a plurality of Gods in these verses is the result of poor translating in the KJV; but Smith’s struggles with these verses, as well as with Exodus 22:28, while producing the JST no doubt provided fuel for the fire when he learned that the Hebrew word elohim was literally a plural. On 16 June 1844, Smith publicly reversed his emendations of Revelation 1:6, Exodus 22:28, and by implication Colossians 2:2, and declared that the doctrine of a plurality of gods was “all over the face of the Bible” (Ehat and Cook, 378).

12. Stanley Larson, “Textual Variants in Book of Mormon Manuscripts,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 10 (Autumn 1977): 1ln9.

13. The text is from Migne (Patrilogiae Latinae 42:522). Based on this passage, Albert C. Clark included the phrase in his critical edition of Acts—The Acts of the Apostles: A Critical Edition with Introduction and Notes on Selected [p.160]Passages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933)—translated back into Greek as kai ton trachelon katedesen autou.

14. J. R. Harris, “Did Judas Really Commit Suicide?” American Journal of TheoIagy 4 (1900): 490-513.

15. Ehat and Cook, 351.

16. H. A. W. Meyer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, trans. P. Christie (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1879) 2:247.

17. J. Dupont, “La Destiné de Judas prophetisé par David,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 (1961): 41-51.

18. Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 156.

19. Edward Stevenson, “Autobiography,” in H. L. Andrus and H. M. Andrus, eds., They Knew the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974), 87.

20. A. Resche, Aussercanonische Paralleltexte zu den Evangelien, Part 4, “Texte and Untersuchungen,” 1896, 57; J. Schmid, “Joh 1, 13,” Biblische Zeitschrift 1 (1957): 118-25.

21. I have altered the KJV of these passages to reflect the fact that the passive of the verb gennao, when used with a male agent, means “to be begotten,” not “to be born.” See also 1 John 5:1.