The first installment of Phillip Barlow’s excellent 12 Questions raises the interesting question of whether the Church will ever produce a modern language edition of the Book of Mormon in English. The answer is that it already has.
Most people are aware that the Church has been involved in a massive translation effort to produce the Restoration scriptures in other languages. One of the problems that these translators face is determining the precise meaning of the often archaic (and ungrammatical) language of the Book of Mormon. Issues that can be left rather vague in English require concrete solutions in order to be rendered in languages that have very different grammars. The Church has responded to this problem — so I am told — by producing a translators’ edition of the Book of Mormon that renders the text in clear English so that different translators do not willy-nilly resolve textual ambiguities.
I have only heard of a translator’s edition of the Book of Mormon, but I would assume that such “plain English” editions of the scriptures would be necessary for the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, so they may exist as well. As it now stands, my understanding is that these texts are carefully controlled so that they exist purely as an in-house document for translation. I have heard that each copy is numbered and accounted for, much like the printed text of temple ordinances.
The interesting question becomes whether or not these editions will ever be published and whether any other English version of the Bible will replace the KJV. My prediction, which is worth less than you are paying for it, is no. I don’t think that the Church will ever jettison the KJV. Nor do I think that they should. If, as Professor Barlow suggests, it creates a false impression about Biblical language and contains many needlessly obscure passages, it is also true that it has deeply penetrated the scriptures of the Restoration, and I think that the inter-texuality of the scriptures would be lost if we were to adopt another translation, even if it was accompanied by some effort to produce inter-textually accurate modern language editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price. To a large extent, this inter-textuality has already been lost to some extent for those Latter-day Saints who read the scriptures on non-English languages, but I don’t think that the Church will want to compromise the availability or the authority of the original complex of texts.
I think that a better solution that picking a modern translation of the Bible to replace the KJV as the “official” version would be a softening of the whole idea of an “official” edition of the Bible and a greater tolerance for a certain amount of textual complexity. I can imagine a world in which the KJV functions as a kind of urtext for the Restoration scriptures with which one must be familiar, but is not treated as the One True Translation. Rather, for understanding the Bible, one might adopt multiple translations in an attempt to triangulate one’s understanding. To a certain extent, this is already happening. (I use both the KJV and the New English version for my own study of the Bible, as well as the Jerome Biblical Commentary, which is not keyed to any paricular English translation.) In particular, as multi-lingualism becomes the dominant issue in the Church’s approach to scriptural texts, I suspect that the issue of the “official” English translation will recede in importance, although cutting against this is the continuing prominence of the 1979 edition of the Bible, which doesn’t seem to be receding at all.