It is not uncommon for people to believe that the Mormons have their own Bible. Usually people have in mind the Book of Mormon when they refer to the “Mormon Bible”, either because they feel that theBookof Mormon replaces the Bible (a moot point in any discussion with a Mormon), or because they can’t remember that it is called the Book of Mormon. The Mormons we usually meet, those based in Salt Lake City, actually use the King James, or Authorised, Bible. In 1979 they published their own “Authorised King James Version with explanatory notes and cross references” to other Mormon works of scripture. However, it is still the King James Bible. Interestingly, there are footnotes which reference something called the “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST), along with a collection at the back of the book of “excerpts too lengthy for inclusion in the footnotes”, again taken from the JST. What is the Joseph Smith Translation and, if Joseph Smith did produce his own translation of the Bible, why do Mormons continue to use the King James Version?
The Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Independence, Missouri, Mormons printed the first edition of the so-called Inspired Version (JST) in 1867. This is the biggest break way group following the death of Joseph Smith, although they would protest that the Salt Lake Church is the breakaway group.
In the foreword to the JST much is made of 1 Nephi 13:28-29 from the Book of Mormon (BOM). In the RLDS BOM it is 1 Nephi 3:168-169 according to the same foreword because, of course, they have a different numbering system for most Mormon “scripture”. I will use the commonly available Salt Lake City BOM for the purpose of this article. This BOM reference is one of the earliest Mormon references to a corrupt and inadequate Bible.
“Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest–because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God–because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.”
The book referred to is the Bible, a fact made plain in earlier verses:
“The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.
And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.
Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.
And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.
And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.” – (1 Nephi 13:23-27)
The JST foreword further quotes the BOM (2 Nephi 3:12) in promising that,
“The fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins (the BOM) and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah (the Bible), shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions…” (Words in brackets added)
Anyone familiar with Mormonism at all will be aware that their fundamental claim is that, through the prophet Joseph Smith, God restored lost truths and re-established the true church. Joseph Smith started with the Book of Mormon, which he claimed was “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion…” (1), and a Bible having had “many parts which are plain and most precious” taken away (2). If the promise of 2 Nephi 3:12, that these two works shall “grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions…” is to be fulfilled then surely something must be done about the corrupt Bible. It seems wrong to think of confounding false doctrines with a bible suspected of teaching false doctrines because of errors in translation.
In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 6:27 we read:
“And now I command you, that if you [Oliver Cowdrey] have good desires – a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven – then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity”
It seems, then, that there should be a restoration of the plain and precious truth, which was taken away, and that this restored truth should be “to the confounding of false doctrines”. Further on in D&C 35:20 (which is referenced in the footnote to 6:27) we read:
“And a commandment I give unto thee [Sidney Rigdon] – that thou shalt write for him; and the scriptures shall be given, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect.”
In the footnotes here it is made clear that it is the Bible that is being referred to and the Bible for which Sidney Rigdon is called to be scribe (3). There is, then, to be a restoration of the Bible in the grand work of Joseph Smith and, indeed, after giving specific instructions regarding what is to be taught in the church we read in D&C 42:15:
“And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, until the fulness of my scriptures is given”
Later in the same section we read the following:
“Thou shalt ask, and my scriptures shall be given as I have appointed, and they shall be preserved in safety;
And it is expedient that thou shouldst hold thy peace concerning them, and not teach them until ye have received them in full.
And I give unto you a commandment that then ye shall teach them unto all men; for they shall be taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.
Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church;
And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue.
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things–that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (Vv.56-61)
There is a clear intention here for the Lord to give scriptures in their fullness (v 57); preserve them safely (v 56); that that they should then be “taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people”; and that they should be “for a law, to be my law to govern my church”. Most dire consequences follow for those who do not do these things (v 60).
It seems that there was every intention that the JST should replace the King James Bible. It is difficult to imagine anyone reading the above quotes and coming to any other conclusion. There is the argument that so long as truth is restored it doesn’t matter where we find it, i.e. in other Mormon scriptures. We would certainly all agree that truth is truth. But the issue here is the clear mandate to restore the scriptures, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect (4). There can be no ambiguity concerning the intention of Joseph Smith since he clearly started the work he claimed God had given him, i.e. to translate scripture and restore it to its pristine wholeness. So where is the Mormon Bible? The work seemed to have every bit the urgency of the Book of Mormon in the need to have it translated (the translation work began as early as June 1830). How else would the “fulness” (sic) be sent out to the nations if the work is shelved? How could the plain and precious truth, which was lost, be restored? How could leaders hope to avoid damnation if the work is not completed (v 60)? And yet the Salt Lake church has no restored Bible.
What adds to the puzzle is the way the Mormon Church continually downgrades our Bible, from the 8th article of faith (5), through the rabid anti-biblical polemics of early Mormon leaders (6), to the extensive list of biblical faults and failings Mormons are eager to discuss with Christians today. They suspect it and yet happily use it, whatever might be missing, whoever might have compiled it and however many corrupt hands it may have passed through.
Mormons will tell us that the work was not finished before Joseph Smith’s death in a gunfight in a Carthage jail. However Gordon B Hinckley, the current Mormon president, is acknowledged as a Prophet, Seer and Revelator. He supposedly carries the mantle of Joseph Smith. Furthermore, there have been no less than fourteen such prophets from the time of Joseph to the present. Could none of them complete this work? What happened to the promise that, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things–that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (7)? Surely, in light of such a promise, there should be no corrupt Bible in the Mormon Church today?
The simple answer to the puzzle is that the family of Joseph Smith led the breakaway group in Independence, Missouri. His widow, Emma, claimed that in law she and her family owned the JST, and the law agreed with her. Today the Independence group, the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, owns and publishes the Mormon Bible (JST). The Salt Lake Church pays the Independence Church for the right to reproduce parts of that work in their own King James Bible.
Of course, the issue here is not simply one of which Bible we use. There is the more fundamental question of which Bible we trust. For all the criticism levelled against the Bible it simply stands, and continues to stand, unassailable, irreplaceable, bringing countless millions to faith for generations. Surely this book that has stood the test of time deserves more respect and is worthy of our trust. The miracle of its preservation and incredibly accurate transmission down to the present generation is itself testimony to its trustworthiness as an instrument of God in bringing men and women to faith. The questions for every Mormon are, if the Bible is as corrupt and unreliable as they claim why do Mormons continue to use it? On the other hand, if the Bible is all Christians claim it to be shouldn’t I think again about the truths Christians claim it teaches? If indeed the Bible is so reliable surely its truths, as understood by generations of Christians, and rejected by more than 170 years of Mormonism, should be re-evaluated. Our very eternal destiny hangs on getting this right and so we must, surely, get beyond the arguments about what Mormonism has failed to do, i.e. restore the Bible, and look at what the Christian Church has miraculously succeeded in doing, i.e. preserved the Bible.
I say miraculously because I think the focus of Bible critics, such as the Mormon Church, is on entirely the wrong aspect of Bible translation/transmission. Mormons make much of profane translators and wicked priests but the wonder is not simply that we have a Bible but that we have such an accurate and trustworthy Bible despite the failings, even of the best intentioned men down the years. The miracle is God’s in preserving it and not man’s in transmitting it. It is a question of having the faith to believe in God’s providential work in preserving his word and not in man’s competence. To Mormons it seems that God had to wait for the right man to come along, Joseph Smith, to achieve his ends. To Christians God is capable of working with and through the most unpromising materials (disciples who betrayed and denied him, followers who failed him) and yet achieve his ends. Which raises another question of trust. Every Mormon should ask, not just do I trust the Bible, but is my trust placed in a God who can preserve his Word? For surely only a God who can preserve his Word can preserve our lives. For if he cannot save his Word from the universal failings of fallen mankind, how can we trust him to save us from ourselves?
(1) Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol.4, p.461
(2) 1 Nephi 13:26
(3) The footnote reads “The Prophet was at this time engaged in a revelatory translation of the Bible, to which Sidney Rigdon was called as scribe”.
(4) D&C 35:20
(5) We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
(6) Mormon apostle, Orson Pratt, in speaking of the Bible’s shortcomings declared, “Add all this imperfection to the uncertainly of the translation, and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment, suppose the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the whole bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original?” (The Bible an Insufficient Guide, p.47)
(7) D&C 42:61