What Role Should the JST Play in LDS Biblical Studies?

king-james-bible-joseph-smith-translation-388x218Two people have asked me this question in the last week; here’s a stab at an answer.

I think we’d do best to start with Robert J. Matthews’ framework that the JST contains four types of material:

(1) restoration of the text to the way that it originally read

(2) material that was not originally part of the biblical text

(3) Joseph Smith’s commentary

(4) material added for doctrinal harmonization

Phil Barlow offers a similar list. So the first thing that we have to do is to try to figure out what kind of material we are dealing with; sometimes this is easy and sometimes it is not.

For example, the JST for Mark 2:14 includes the phrase “as was customary in those days,” making it pretty clear that it does not represent something that was originally in the text because it is extremely unlikely that Mark would refer to events in Jesus’ lifetime as if they were ancient history and unfamiliar to his audience.

In another case which I discuss here, it seems that the JST adds language which does not contribute to the meaning of the text in any obvious way–it seems to just make the text repeat itself–but I think it does create a chiasmus. Now, it is always possible that these structures are mere coincidences, but I think it is also possible that this is deliberate, not intentional on the part of Joseph Smith (or even necessarily recognized by him), and thus could make a claim for being an earlier version of the text than the canonical version.

While placement of each JST into Matthews’ four categories can never be entirely certain, I believe it to be an important first step as we move toward using the JST. So the role that the JST should play in LDS study of the NT is going to depend, I think, on what kind of JST it was. Some of them will shed no light whatsoever on how the original text read because they solely contain information for later readers; others may represent a restoration of the text to an earlier iteration.

I think there are also instances where the JST is basically telling us something like this: Joseph Smith recognized a problem in the text and offered up a solution, although it might not be the only or even the best solution. For example, several JSTs change instances in the Hebrew Bible where God repents, sometimes so that a different person in the story repents. (See, e.g., Moses 8:25.) I agree with Joseph that there is a theological problem with God repenting. I doubt, however, that the story originally had Noah repenting. We might argue that the text could have been translated differently (such that God relented or was persuaded . . . assuming you don’t have theological problems with those options) or that a broader definition of repent (=changing one’s course) consistent with God’s actions was intended.

In a really interesting recent article by Heather Hardy, she argues that Jesus’ statement that none would taste death until the kingdom of God came in power (see Mark 9:1)–long a difficult verse to interpret, as well as other scriptures that imply a quick return of Jesus, are best understood to apply to Jesus’ appearance to the Nephites. She notes that the JST does not adopt this solution but rather softens many passages which seem to suggest a quick return of Jesus, apparently indicating that Joseph Smith (1) recognized that those verses were problematic, (2) did not recognize that the Book of Mormon explained them, and thus (3) posited his own (inferior) solution in the JST. Once again, my hunch is that the JST is sometimes better at identifying problems than it is at offering solutions. This language is going to make some of you uncomfortable, but I’m OK with the idea of a prophet being fallible and struggling to make sense of things and learning line upon line, etc.

Also, there’s an article that I’m having a hard time putting my hands on right now (where IS it?) that discusses the material that Joseph Smith translated twice. It shows, if I recall correctly, that the two efforts at translation are not identical, thus supporting the idea that he was sometimes identifying problems and then speculating about solutions. So I’m more comfortable reading some JSTs as indicators that something in the text triggered Joseph’s spidy sense. This is useful, however: it reveals something about his thought process. (One major thing it suggests to me is that he was not a passive consumer of scriptures, muttering “oh, OK” as he read but rather was reading critically and thus noticing problems in the text.

I’m also not convinced that the JST should get any more weight than anything else Joseph Smith taught. For example, the LDS idea that the priesthood was restored during the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration (I object to this reading for reasons not relevant to this discussion, so I won’t go into them here, but this reading suffices to make my point so I’m going to assume it) stems not from anything in the JST but rather from Joseph Smith’s teachings (TPJS, p158). I don’t think that we should weigh the idea that priesthood keys were given any less reliable just because the JST is silent about it. Unfortunately, simply because the JST (or, some of it, anyway) is printed on gilt-edged pages and between fake leather covers, we assume that the JST is “better” or more official than other things that Joseph taught. That’s an understandable human reaction, but I don’t think it is ultimately defensible.

I am concerned that the JST receives too much uncritical acceptance as “the original text” in LDS circles (Sunday Schools if not academic circles); I don’t think this reflects Joseph’s intention or our theology very well. I’d like to see the JST treated as another data point that needs to be weighed along with everything else: textual variants, translation issues, structural issues, theology, etc., not treated as a trump card.

One more thing: I’ll quote myself from an old post here: “I’m actually fairly amazed at the number of JST changes that make the text easier to read–there is a lot of changing “saith” to “said” and that sort of thing. It makes me think that Joseph Smith thought that it was important that the text be as easy to read as possible for the average person.” One function that the JST might therefore serve for us is as an advocate for the adoption of a new translation of the text that makes it easier for speakers of modern English to understand. Thus, sidelining the KJV in favor of, say, the NRSV, becomes not a betrayal of Mormonism but rather an outgrowth of the work of the JST.



38 comments for “What Role Should the JST Play in LDS Biblical Studies?

  1. Dave K
    January 5, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Good thoughts as always Julie. I wonder if you have any information as to whether the JST has ever been put to a sustaining vote (or even considered for a vote). Assuming that it has not, I would argue that the JST should be seen in the same light as chapter headings, footnotes, the Bible Dictionary, maps and photos, and many other study aides which, while part of the physical *books* are not part of the canonized text that has been sustained by the church body as scripture. There is great wisdom and thought put into our study aides, but they are not part of the canon and therefore not part of official church doctrine. Viewed in that light, the JST can be seen to add great value to the scriptures but not be considered scripture itself and the JST can more easily be critiqued than at the present (at least in my sunday school experience).

    FWIW, another good example of study aides mistakenly being raised to the level of scriptural canon are the conference addresses given by President Woodruff that are found immediately after Official Declaration 1. The first of these begins with the famous statement “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.” While the OD-1 was put to a vote and sustained as revelation, the conference addresses (including this statement) never were. But many members mistakenly read the addresses as being part of our canon.

  2. Julie M. Smith
    January 5, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Here’s the article I couldn’t put my hands on!

    Kent P. Jackson and Peter M. Jasinski, “The Process of Inspired Translation: Two Passages Translated Twice in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible,” BYU Studies 42, no. 2 (2003): 35–64.


  3. January 5, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Very helpful, Julie. Unfortunately, inclusion of JST additions and changes as footnotes to the LDS Bible has contributed to the widespread view in the Church (and, it seems, among almost all Sunday School teachers) that all JST additions are instances of (1) — restorations of “the original text.”

  4. January 5, 2015 at 11:11 am

    You state, Julie, your concern . . . that the JST receives too much uncritical acceptance as “the original text” in LDS circles (Sunday Schools if not academic circles); I don’t think this reflects Joseph’s intention or our theology very well. I agree, although I’m only an amateur academic. I was baptized in early 1986 after a very brief investigation and my first LDS scriptures were the “new” ones with the JST footnotes and the long passages in the Appendix, and if you remember back then, there was a big push to get everyone to replace their old ones. My take on the JST from my reading and study at that time was that we knew he had never completed it, it wasn’t to be regarded as authoritative, and it was only to be used as an interesting and insightful study aid. (I’ve always been the investigative sort – my “investigation” of the Church was probably a lot more academic and intellectual than most, especially for the pre-Internet era.)

    I wonder if the ready availability of all those footnotes and that big appendix chunk hasn’t done a lot to raise the JST in our “Sunday School circles” to an unwarranted level of acceptance. I’d be interested to get your take on that. “Shucks, after all, if it weren’t God’s honest truth, it wouldn’t be in my Quad, right?”

    Anyway, I enjoyed your take on it here, and will judiciously be sharing these insights with my Gospel Doctrine teacher as we go through the NT this year. I’m looking forward to learning a lot.

  5. January 5, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Dave K- Elder McConkie seemed to agree with you on the JST, if he didn’t misspeak.

    Regarding “the Joseph Smith Translation items, the chapter headings, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, footnotes, the Gazeteer, and the maps [,]

    None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them. Cross-references, for instance, do not establish and never were intended to prove that parallel passages so much as pertain to the same subject. They are aids and helps only.” – Elder McConkie, “The Bible- A Sealed Book” in Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 290

  6. Dave K
    January 5, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Ask and Ben shall provide (in 11 minutes no less). Thanks!

    Perhaps another way to fix our common misunderstanding would be if the church issued an essay on “Translations.” Much of the problem with the JST and other historical issues is that members (reasonably) assume that translation means translation. But for the BOM, translation may have meant simply “dictation”; for the BOA, translation may have meant “catalyst”; and for the JST, translation may have meant “Joseph’s great questions and attempt to harmonize.”

  7. Julie M. Smith
    January 5, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Thanks, Ben S, that’s helpful. I was reading this article:


    . . . and this line “Nonetheless, the Book of Moses and the JST version of Matthew 24 are canonized in the Latter-day Saint scriptures.” counter-intuitively suggests that the rest of the JST most definitely is NOT canonized, if that makes sense. The entire article is very good–similar observations to mine regarding caution in the use of the JST, but better explained and defended by several orders of magnitude! Not to mention including this gem from church history:

    “A holy kiss seemed salacious, so the word kiss was euphemistically replaced by the nondescript word salutation. Interestingly, the holy kiss as a salutation was practiced early on in the British Mission by some of the members, with considerable enthusiasm by some of the young women towards George A. Smith, a member of the Twelve not yet married. Elder Smith was not pleased.”


  8. January 5, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Dave said

    I would argue that the JST should be seen in the same light as chapter headings, footnotes, the Bible Dictionary, maps and photos, and many other study aides which, while part of the physical *books* are not part of the canonized text that has been sustained by the church body as scripture. There is great wisdom and thought put into our study aides, but they are not part of the canon and therefore not part of official church doctrine. Viewed in that light, the JST can be seen to add great value to the scriptures but not be considered scripture itself and the JST can more easily be critiqued than at the present (at least in my sunday school experience).

    Dave, see my comment above – at the time the “new” Scriptures came out with the JST footnotes and Appendix, that was mostly how they were positioned. Like many things, however, they’ve become sort of “doctrinally ossified” by long use and custom since then; I suspect because they make it so much easier to prooftext the Bible. :)

    The original Ensign article from October 1979 stated,

    Joseph Smith’s Bible translation was never published in its entirety nor was it completely finished during his lifetime, but it presents many clarifications and explanations of Bible doctrines and makes us understand better the scope of Joseph Smith’s mission as the prophet of the restoration of all things. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints kindly gave permission to use their printed editions of the inspired version of the Bible in this work.

    Some short excerpts from the JST—up to six lines—appear as footnotes, but other sources refer the reader to the appendix where long passages are cited more fully, the changes unique to the Joseph Smith Translation appearing in italics so that the reader can see at a glance its doctrinal contributions.

    By the January 1985 Ensign, where there’s an article on the November ’84 JST Symposium, they’re saying things like “Only a few short years ago, there was a common feeling of uncertainty among Church members about the completeness and accuracy of the JST. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve, in commenting on this feeling of uncertainty, indicated that this has largely passed away since the publication of the new Church edition of the King James Version with its repeated references to the Joseph Smith Translation.” Apparently, I was behind the curve in my unwillingness to jump on the bandwagon at the time of my baptism in 1986! :-) In my defense, the Internet hadn’t been invented yet, so I was forced to rely on older print materials which hadn’t caught up to the then-current level of Mormon myth.

  9. Naismith
    January 5, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Good thoughts all around, and put words to some things that I had been thinking about….When I was teaching Gospel Doctrine, I was criticized for not using JST more often. This explains a lot of why I did not. Those folks were considering it original/better text.

    I wasn’t opposed to using other versions–I used NIV for teaching Isaiah–but there had to be a reason for bringing in that other source.

    In Primary, I do refer to JST when the manual says to, but that tends to be for a clarification.

    [Along those same lines and keeping in mind the Roberts 4-point framework, how doctrinal do people consider the chapter headings? Because some of the recent revisions make a huge difference–Daniel chapter 3 is the one that is very different in the current version from my pre-2013 paper copy.]

  10. Julie M. Smith
    January 5, 2015 at 11:46 am

    “how doctrinal do people consider the chapter headings”

    On a scale of 1 to 10, a negative -5. :)

    By which I mean they can actively over-interpret and thus distract from the doctrine and teachings of the passage.

  11. Dave K
    January 5, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks New Iconoclast (#8). I was aware that that RLDS church (now CoC) does not use the JST as we do, but I was not aware that we had to seek their permission to include it in our standards works. Very interesting.

    Julie (#7), I would assume that Matthew 24 is only part of the canon because it is included in the PoGP, which has been accepted as scripture by the church body.

    Naismith, I largely agree with Julie (#10). Chapter headings are not doctrine. They were added without a vote and are routinely changed without a vote. That said, the introductions found in some of the books of the BOM (1 Ne., 2 Ne., Alma, etc.) were added by those books’ authors (Nephi and Mormon) and hence are part of the original BOM and part of our scriptural canon. Interestingly, the book of Mosiah does not contain an introduction, which leads some scholars to believe that the first part of that book was part of the lost 116 pages.

  12. Mark B.
    January 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    Well said, Julie.

    My only quibble: some of us actually have the scriptures with Genuine Leather covers. Which doesn’t, of course, change the weight that I think should be given to non-scriptural helps/commentary/etc. that is bound between those covers.

  13. January 5, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Naismith, good question (#9) on chapter headings, and Julie’s #10 answer (spit-take on my part) about sums it up. Especially since many of them have quietly been updated in the “new” new editions published in the last couple of years.

    I am curious; I’ve used quotes from alternate Bible translations like NIV in GD as a student before and reactions range from acceptance to “Get thee hence, Satan.” How does your ward react to your use of NIV?

    Dave K (#11), there was a debate after his death over whether the manuscript for the JST belonged to Joseph the man or Joseph the Prophet; i.e. whether it was Emma’s property or Church property. She resolved it by simply refusing to surrender it to (a heavy-handed and none too polite) Brigham Young. Thus, it eventually became RLDS property and they published it as the Inspired Version. (You can still buy it from Herald House, the publishing arm of the CoC.)

    Apropos of the OP, one of the reasons it might have been regarded with suspicion in the LDS Church was that LDS authorities weren’t sure if the RLDS had fiddled with the manuscript before publishing the IV. (Lambert and Wayment say no, in one of those papers that gives you a lovely little “knowledge acquired!” headache.) I think the original manuscript was made available to LDS scholars when the 1979 Bible footnotes and Appendix were being prepared, to ensure that what we were getting was what Joseph wrote.

    Finally, in the face of all of this careful scholarship, I feel constrained to mention that I’m only citing the Ensign because I’m looking at cultural acceptance of the JST as more or less “canonical” and how that’s been presented to the membership, not because I think it’s a scholarly journal. Except, of course, for the humor column, which I miss greatly. :(

  14. January 5, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Dave K, I have a few citations on speed dial, I use them so much.

    Julie, thanks for the reference, hadn’t seen that. I used the book under review there as my
    “unimpeachably orthodox” source against traditional JST assumptions in my Bible translations article, which has my longest public thoughts on the JST. I’m pretty sure you read a draft of that, but it’s here for any interested.

  15. Terry H
    January 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Dave K. For what its worth, I’ve spoken to two fairly reliable sources that when the 1979 and 1981 editions of the Scriptures were under consideration that the 1st President and the Twelve considered canonizing four particular items which were eventually not taken because they weren’t unanimous. (1) JST, (2) Lectures on Faith, (3) King Follett Discourse, (4) The Sermon at the Grove. Ultimately, the vote was almost unanimous (except for one who is still alive–I’ll let the speculation begin). Frankly, by 1981, there was a lot more confidence in the JST Manuscripts thanks in major part to Matthews’ work. Eventually, they chose to place the most significant changes in the notes and appendices. Probably a workable solution due to the difficulty of explaining the JST to new converts (my speculation for the no vote, in addition to their personal feelings of inspiration). The Lectures on Faith have difficulties for other reasons and the compositing problem of King Follett and the very rough reports on Sermon in the Grove were good reasons for not including. Take a look at the Teachings of Joseph Smith Manual eventually put out by the Church for an example of the difficulties with King Follett. Look at Words of Joseph Smith for the Sermon at the Grove shortly before Joseph died.

    In my younger years, I was disappointed by the 14-1 vote, but now, I’m much more comfortable with it. We get what we need from these other sources without their inclusions in the “canon”. In addition, there is so much more material (like what we see on this blog and others) for us to develop our knowledge of and approach to the scriptures, that I’m OK without it.

  16. Terry H
    January 5, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Naismith. My understanding is that Elder McConkie did the chapter headings (almost all) in the earlier editions. These recent changes obviously are from somewhere else and I don’t know much about where although I’m sure the Scripture committee of the Twelve approved them and it likely went to the entire 1st Pres. and Twelve for final approval.

  17. Abu Casey
    January 5, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    This is great. I feel like the hard part here is getting people to (1) accept Matthew’s categories (and I can never remember them all when I need them for a comment in SS) and (2) then to persuade them (again, in a SS comment) that they are almost all category 1’s with a few of the others thrown in. Perhaps “persuasion” is a bridge too far for a SS comment, but still, this is a lot of information that I, in my not-being-Sunday-School-teacher state, really want to get across.

  18. January 5, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Terry- I’ve seen it in print, can’t recall the source, but I was under the impression that it was almost McConkie alone who was pushing to canonize these. Am I misunderstanding your 14-1? Or was the source I read misleading in its implications?

  19. Kevin Barney
    January 5, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Good stuff, Julie. I agree with your thoughts.

    I actually broadened the four categories of Matthews into six categories. Here is an extract from an old blog post of mine in which I give examples from each of my six categories:

    In church classrooms, typically the JST is quoted with the intention of solving problems and putting an end to discussion. The common assumption is that it represents in toto an English representation of a textual restoration of the original text. But this assumption is not correct; there are all sorts of different things going on in the JST. Rather than stopping discussion, citing the JST emendation should spur additional discussion. Some of the types of changes we’ll see in the JST are illustrated by the following examples:

    1. Restorations of Original Text. Although not all JST emendations restore the original text, some do. A good example is Mt. 5:22:

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

    The italicized “without a cause” represent the GR adverb eikE, “rashly, thoughtlessly, unjustly” and is omitted by both the JST and 3 Nephi. Although the textual attestation of eikE is rather strong, it is widely believed not to be original, having been added by scribes in an effort to soften such a morally stark precept that allows no anger at all.

    2. Parallels to Non-Original Ancient Variants. Revelation 2:22 reads as follows:

    Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

    In lieu of “a bed,” the JST reads “hell.” There is ancient textual evidence for the following readings: prison, a furnace, illness, sorrow.

    The problem is that being tossed into a bed doesn’t sound like such a bad punishment. I’m guessing some of our mothers with young children would love to be cast into a bed; maybe then they could get a nap. So the JST and a number of ancient scribes posited worse fates.

    In fact, however, being cast into a bed here is a Semitic idiom for a bed of illness, and it really is a punishment. Joseph’s impulse here parallels what the ancient scribes did in trying to make sense of the passage.

    3. Alternate Translation without Positing a Change in Text. In Luke 11:4, the Lord’s Prayer includes the words “lead us not into temptation,” which the JST modifies to “let us not be lead unto temptation.” Marcion and several of the Church Fathers did something similar to Joseph here in order to avoid the implication that God compels people into temptation, which was not intended. This is simply a different way of translating the same underlying text. Indeed, the translator’s handbook on Luke published by the United Bible Society recommends just such a translation strategy.

    4. Historical Corrections. 2 Chr. 22:2 reads as follows:

    Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem.

    The JST has “Two and twenty years.”

    The Masoretic Text reads 42, which is probably the original reading here, but given that his father died at age 40 it is historically untenable. The JST follows the 2 Kings 8:26 parallel to read 22. (The LXX there reads 20, which is probably the source of 42. Scribes didn’t like to leave anything on the cutting room floor if they could avoid it. Faced with these two traditions, they simply added them together, 22 + 20 = 42.)

    5. Harmonization of Contradictions. Did Jesus perform water baptisms? John 3:22 says yes, but John 4:2 says no: “Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.” The JST harmonizes the contradiction with “though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples.”

    6. Midrashic Commentary. In modern times if you want to comment on a biblical passage, you write a commentary on it independent of the passage itself. But the ancient Jewish approach was to embed the commentary directly into the text. We see this in the targumin, the pesharim, and the genre of “rewritten Bible” attested among the DSS. This is probably the most common type of change we find in the JST.

    For example, in Mt. 4 when Jesus is tempted the text has the devil taking Jesus places. The JST reworks all of these passage to have the Spirit move him about. The point of this is to make a commentary, to the effect that the devil does not have power to physically move the Son of Man around, an issue that simply wasn’t a concern to the original writer.

  20. Terry H
    January 5, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Ben, I seem to remember something about that (BYU Studies on the 25th anniversary of publication perhaps?) but my sources are pretty solid on the vote. McConkie was pushing it and may well have been the driving force behind that move. He was quoting from the JST in the 1950s. Many of the so-called “doctrinal errors” found by a review committee of the first edition of Mormon Doctrine cited his use of the JST among those “errors”. He may have been pushing it, but by the time it hit in the late 70s and 80s, Matthews was on the committee and so they had confidence in the manuscripts by that time. It (along with the others) did ultimately get considered and rejected.

  21. Terry H
    January 5, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Kevin, as always, great additions.

  22. Cameron N.
    January 5, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    If Joseph were allowed to clarify today, I bet he would say something like, “I was just studying and writing down insights I received from the Holy Ghost, like any diligent man, woman, or child may do.”

  23. Carl Griffin
    January 5, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    I think the authority of the JST was given a real bump by BRM when this address was published (posthumously) in 1985. Some BYU religion faculty were still gushing about it in the early 90s when I was an undergrad:


    “May I be pardoned if I say that negative attitudes and feelings about the Joseph Smith Translation are simply part of the devil’s program to keep the word of truth from the children of men.”

    “Yes, the Inspired Version is inspired. Yes, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is holy scripture. In one sense of the word, it is the crowning part of the doctrinal restoration. At least it sets the pattern and marks the way as to how the doctrinal rivers of the past shall yet flow into the ocean of the present, as shall surely be in the fulness of times.”

  24. JMS
    January 5, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Kent Jackson, one of the foremost authorities on the JST, said that when you look at the JST as a whole (i.e., not just what made it into the footnotes of the scriptures) then the biggest category, in his opinion, is changes designed to modernize King James language and make it more clear and understandable for modern readers:

    I believe that parts of the Joseph Smith Translation restore original biblical text that had become lost since the time of the Bible’s authors. There are some things in the translation that, in my opinion, cannot be explained in any other way. For example, I have found wording on the first Old Testament manuscript that I believe can only be explained as a very literal translation from a Hebrew original. The wording is so odd in English that editors after Joseph Smith’s time took it out, so it is not in the Book of Moses today. Even though I believe that the JST restores original text, it is likely that most changes have other explanations. Joseph Smith taught that some truths pertaining to our salvation were lost even before the Bible was compiled, and thus some JST corrections may reveal teachings or events that never were recorded in the Bible in the first place. Some JST changes probably edit the text to bring it into harmony with truth found in other revelations or elsewhere in the Bible. The Prophet taught: “[There are] many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the Holy Ghost to me,” necessitating latter-day correction. And many changes edit the wording of the Bible to make it more clear and understandable for modern readers. As I examined the changes the Prophet made, I was surprised to see that more individual corrections appear to fall into this last category than into any other. Few are aware of that (nor was I), because the JST footnotes in our LDS Bible rightly focus on the more important matters of doctrine and history. There are many instances in which the Prophet rearranged word order or added words to make the text easier to read and modernized the language to replace archaic King James features with current grammar and vocabulary. There are numerous changes from saith to said, from that and which to who, and from thee and ye to you. He even modernized the language of his original dictations in some instances. When refining one passage, he changed “this earth upon which thou standest, and thou shalt write” to “this earth upon which you stand, and you shall write.” But by no means were the modernizations done consistently through the manuscripts, and alternative forms like “mine hands” and “my hands” and hath and has are very frequent.

  25. Brent Metcalfe
    January 6, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Hi Julie, Kevin, Ben, et al.,

    What model of *revelation* (let alone translation) do you think coherently explains Joseph Smith’s restoration of ancient text in one pericope and insertion of modern commentary just a few verses later, while appearing oblivious that his New Translation of the Bible entails distinctions between ancient and modern elements?

    My friend Kevin Barney, for instance, suggests that in Matthew 5:22, JS (i.e., Joseph Smith, not Julie Smith) :) restored an original manuscript reading. If so, to what end? (The Sermon on the Mount is rife with interpretive difficulties—*many* NT scholars view the Sermon as the compositional product of the Matthean author in lieu of a unified discourse delivered by a historical Jesus.) If God had the capacity to reveal and JS had the capacity to receive ancient textual restorations, why didn’t God just give JS the pristine sermon delivered by Jesus? Instead, according to Kevin, God gave JS a textual variant from among the manuscript traditions, one that was already well known in JS’s era.

    In any event, a few verses later in Matthew 5:40–41 something quite extraordinary happens in JS’s New Translation manuscripts. In the initial transcription in NT ms. 1, the text duplicates the KJV, which is also replicated in 3 Nephi 12: 40–41. This is the “go the extra mile,” the “do more than is required” pericope that we’re all familiar with.

    *Until* JS revises the pericope in prep for creating NT ms. 2. In JS’s new version, Jesus instructs that when you are sued for your coat, relinquish it, and then when you are sued a second time for your cloak, relinquish it as well; also, when you are compelled to go a mile, go a mile, and then when you are compelled to go two miles, go two miles. The meaning has fully shifted from doing more than is required to doing what is required only.

    Simply listing what you think is going on in the text based on problems you encounter strikes me as more of an ad hoc hypothesis than a coherent revelatory model.

    I welcome your thoughtful input.

    (My apologies in advance for any typos.)

    Best regards,


  26. robert
    January 6, 2015 at 9:57 am

    It should continue to be deemphasized

  27. January 6, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Brent, I think you are asking for two things: a revelatory model, in which Joseph Smith (or anyone claiming to receive revelation, for that matter) can distinguish revelation from anything else that enters his conscious mind; and a revelatory metric, by which listeners or readers can distinguish revelatory utterances or writings from all the other stuff that gets said or written.

    As for a revelatory model, Joseph was once asked by Hyrum to give further details on how revelation worked, and Joseph declined. Whether he was unable to explain his method or whether he simply declined to provide further details is unclear. Biblical comparison doesn’t give much help. Apart from the instances where a declaration is preceded by “thus saith the Lord” or the rare instance where a writer notes that he is just giving his own opinion (Paul, once, as I recall) the status of the words are often rather murky. So the case of Joseph and his revelatory method is as clear or as confusing as for biblical cases.

    Likewise for a revelatory metric — LDS and other Christians have a variety of explanations for distinguishing revelatory discourse (or inspired discourse) from other stuff, most of which amount to something like the ad hoc approach you allude to as insufficient. But the case-by-case approach, considering any given passage or book on its own merits in light of whatever learning or enlightenment a reader brings to the text, is fairly defensible. It’s what scholars do, for the most part.

  28. Naismith
    January 6, 2015 at 11:44 am

    As far as the NIV in Gospel Doctrine, I only brought this in for Isaiah, because that version puts the poetry into lines of poetic verse, and I did a powerpoint where I color-coded the chiasmus. I know there are gospel scholars who will object to this approach for very well documented reasons, but this had meaning to my class, which always included a few non-members and people from all levels of gospel knowledge. The stake president’s wife was very positive about it. My Bible classes at BYU used and sometimes required alternative translations, so I did not realize it would be problematic. (I also live in a college town far from Utah.)

    Nowadays I teach Valiant 9s, and it is a critical age when they go from reading gospel stories to reading the actual scriptures. The first lesson was about “Getting to know the New Testament” and did have us point out the JST correction in 2 Timothy 3:16. Throughout the class, I want them to feel empowered that they really can understand scripture. We begin each session with vocabulary words, this week it was “epistle” and “rebuke.” When we hit the word in our reading aloud, I ask them to rephrase that in modern language, using the definition that we already discussed.

    So I had always commended the chapter headings to them as a way to get a head-start on understanding what it is going to be about. But I was really thrown in Daniel 3 at the huge difference there. It went from “The Son of God preserves them, and they come forth unharmed” to the current, “They are preserved and come out unharmed.” The former suggests that the fourth man was the Son of God, the latter version not so much.

    With adults, you can just tell them to take everything with a grain of salt or FWIW or whatever. They can see nuance. With kids, it is not so clear. They will trust it or not, black or white–gray areas are not so clear. And I was there for the first General Women’s meeting in 1978, when President Kimball talked about a Primary teacher who taught him false stuff that he had believed as true until years later, and challenged us all to become scriptorians.

  29. Kevin Barney
    January 6, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Brent,

    I don’t claim to have a coherent revelatory model for what is going on in the JST. My approach is indeed, as you frame it, ad hoc. For instance, in the case of Matt. 5:22, was that revealed insight, something he borrowed from a contemporary source (such as a commentary), a lucky guess, or something else altogether? Beats me. My six categories focus on categorizing broad types of *results* of the JST emendation (harmonizing contradictions, etc.). The *process* by which those results were achieved strikes me as often pretty inscrutable. Other times, however, I kind of feel as though I can get in his head a bit and kind of grasp his thought process. All the revisions to OT scrips that portray God as repenting are a good illustration of this. As Julie correctly describes it in the OP, Joseph saw these passages as implying that God sins, which he thought was problematic. So he, rather indiscriminately, applied the verb to whatever human actor happened to be closest (e.g., Noah). He really didn’t care that much about the implication of doing that for the human actor; his sole focus was on avoiding the implicaition of sin to God. The result was a laudable one if one is willing to translate Joseph’s thought process a bit here, because the verb nicham used of God indeed does not have anything to do with sin. But as Julie says, the way Joseph achieved that correction was pretty ham handed and could have been more elegantly done, for instance by just substituting a different word for repent rather than insisting on keeping that word in the text.

    (I’m rambling now, just trying to convey some sense of how I see things.)

  30. Nic
    January 6, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    What Role should the JST play in Biblical Studies?

    I have to say I am very surprised with your stab at an answer, Julie, as well as the stabs of all the commenters. No, the JST was never fully canonized, but I think we’d do best to start with what the Lord Himself had to say about it. In D&C 45, He gives one of the most comprehensive, detailed discourses on the signs of His coming (including several parables) and then says:

    60 And now, behold, I say unto you, it shall not be given unto you to know any further concerning this chapter, until the New Testament be translated, and in it all these things shall be made known;

    61 Wherefore I give unto you that ye may now translate it, that ye may be prepared for the things to come.

    62 For verily I say unto you, that great things await you;

    Suffice it to say, the JST should in no way be treated as McConkie’s chapter headings or even Joseph’s sermons. The Lord specifically tasked Joseph with translating it, telling him that it was ‘given unto him’ (meaning He would give the gift and power of the Holy Ghost necessary to do so) and even told him that these translations would be the key to unlocking the discourse itself.

    Say what you will that only JST Matthew made it into the official canon – perhaps the Lord did it this way to create a little controversy and see what His saints would say about it as well as the prophet who translated it and see how serious we are about seeking out the Spirit to reveal the truth of the translations as a whole. Either way, leaving it out there unfinished in this regard certainly adds to the picture of an “ongoing restoration.”

  31. Julie M. Smith
    January 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Nic, you seem to be suggesting that because the Lord commissioned Joseph to translate the result should be regarded as unimpeachable. Am I reading you wrong? Because that view is profoundly contrary to so many elements of the Mormon tradition.

  32. Brent Metcalfe
    January 6, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Dave,

    I’m fairly well versed in what scholars do with texts (secular and sacred). Still, I don’t see how your post addresses in any meaningful way the variety of editorial stages in the JSR/JST (I *was* asking about revelatory models, BTW, not revelatory metrics; hence my examples).

    Hi Kevin,

    As always, I appreciate your candor. Perhaps a better question is: do LDS scripture scholars see a need for a coherent revelatory model for a given scriptural text (such as the JSR/JST); and if not, why not?

    Scholars from other religious traditions seem to think it’s critical for a viable theology. As Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles cautioned: it “would be superficial and irresponsible” to posit a theology of revelation that “use[s] one model in dealing with one problem, other models for other problems.” More recently, Peter Enns has made some theological inroads at a coherent revelatory model for such a profoundly human book as the Bible. A few LDS scholars are making headway—David Bokovoy, you (at least when you’re serving meat instead of milk) :) , Julie Smith, et al.—but this seems largely lacking in Mormon scripture studies.

    Best to all,


  33. Julie M. Smith
    January 6, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    “do LDS scripture scholars see a need for a coherent revelatory model for a given scriptural text (such as the JSR/JST); and if not, why not?”

    No, because nothing related to revelation is coherent in a fallen world. Given everything the BoM has to say about its own weakness in writing, faults, limitations, etc., I don’t know why Mormons would expect written revelations to evidence coherency. If there was coherency to begin with, there are probably enough instances of human muddling throughout the process to make the pattern obscure to us as we examine its products.

    Or maybe I should say this: the coherent revelatory model of the JST is the one Mormons are all aware of from their own callings: you take a question to God, sometimes you get an answer so clear that it scares you, sometimes you are left to muddle through on your own, and sometimes every point in between those two extremes. Maybe that was Joseph’s experience.

    Another thought: I think trying to determine a revelatory model which permits a variety of material may be putting the cart before the horse. We do have a variety of material (I honestly don’t see how anyone can deny this–it clearly isn’t all restoration of an original text when most of the changes are along the lines of “saith” to “said”); the subsequent task is to find a model which permits what exists.

  34. Brent Metcalfe
    January 6, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Julie,

    In response to my question as to whether LDS scripture scholars see a need for a coherent revelatory model for a given sacred text, you reply:

    “No, because nothing related to revelation is coherent in a fallen world.”

    Well put. There’s something I like about that, if only on an intellectual level (since I’m theistically challenged). :)

    I think the rub (for those of my ilk) emerges in your next sentence…

    “Given everything the BoM has to say about its own weakness in writing, faults, limitations, etc.,…”

    … because how does an interpreter discern whether BoMor passages that acknowledge human imperfections are not themselves JS’s commentary on his own shortcomings that he seamlessly integrated much like his commentary in the JSR/JST?

    That aside, the evidence does confirm, as you note, that a simple plenary revelatory model can’t account for the manuscript development of JS’s sacred texts. As I pointed out decades ago (and Grant Underwood recently reiterated), JS occasionally revised the KJV Bible in the JSR only to jettison his revisions in Nauvoo because the KJV rendition better suited his later theology. This scarcely lends itself to a view of translation where JS is simply restoring ancient text.

    Very much looking forward to our interview on the Mormon Studies podcast.

    Kind regards,

  35. Julie M. Smith
    January 6, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    “Very much looking forward to our interview on the Mormon Studies podcast.”

    Me, too.

  36. January 6, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Good info. Was thinking about the same question after last weeks GD lesson and all the JST references. Love the reference to Matthews. He lived a few doors down until his death and his wife is my sweet neighbor. Wonderful people. Bob’s probably quoted in this ward as much as any apostle. :) heh

  37. Nic
    January 7, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Julie, no, I am not suggesting that every part of the JST is unimpeachable. What I am suggesting is that it very well could be, and the Lord left it open for the Latter-Day Saints to put it to the test. (Also know that there’s just as much to learn from what Joseph didn’t translate as from what he did.)

    And heaven forbid having a view that is “profoundly contrary to so many elements of the Mormon tradition.” ;)

  38. Meredith
    January 20, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    That I may live to see the day when we replace KJV with NRSV! I may miss some of the flavor of that old poetry, but my convert husband surely won’t. I love the idea of the JST actually supporting such a move.

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