The Contribution of the JST to the Old Testament Historical Books

Monte S. Nyman

Monte S. Nyman, “The Contribution of the JST to the Old Testament Historical Books” in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Truths, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), 89–102.

Monte S. Nyman was a professor of ancient scripture at BYU when this was published.

The Prophet Joseph Smith apparently did not work extensively on the historical books of the Bible. This may sound contradictory when it is known that ninety-four verses have been changed in the twelve books under consideration. However, sixty-seven of those ninety-four verses are in three of the twelve books: twenty-four in 1 Kings, twenty-one in 2 Chronicles, and twenty-two in Nehemiah. Another book, 1 Samuel, has fourteen changes, making eighty-one of the ninety-four verse changes in only four of the twelve books. The other eight books have only thirteen verses changed: 2 Kings has five verses changed, 1 Chronicles and 2 Samuel each have three verses changed. Joshua and Judges have only one verse changed in each, and Ruth, Ezra, and Esther have no changes.

A closer examination shows that the Prophet focused on specific passages within each book and also dealt with a variety of subjects. Of the fourteen verses changed in 1 Samuel, eight are in chapters 15, 16, 18, and 19, and are concerned with only two subjects. The other six changes, all in chapter 28, relate to a single incident. Of the twenty-four verses changed in 1 Kings, eleven are in chapter 3 and the other thirteen verses (in chapters 11, 13, 14 and 15) all relate to the same topic. Of the twenty-two verses changed in Nehemiah, all but four are in chapter 7 and are about the numbers of children in the various families returning from Babylon. The other book containing a large number of verses changed, 2 Chronicles with twenty-one, has more diversity in the types of changes than any of the other historical books, although thirteen of these changes are contained within three chapters. An analysis of each book will disclose the subjects or the incidents which the Prophet corrected or restored. These will here be followed in chronological order rather than by subject.

True Attributes of God

The only change in the book of Joshua is the same kind of change that was made repeatedly in the book of Exodus, concerning the Lord hardening a person’s heart (see Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). The KJV reads, “For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly” (Joshua 11:20). The Prophet changed it to read, “For it was of the Lord to destroy them utterly because they hardened their hearts.” The context of the verse is Joshua’s making war with the inhabitants of the land of Canaan to drive them out as the Lord had commanded. The change shows that it was the people who had hardened their hearts and not the Lord. The rest of the verse in the JST is primarily a rearrangement of the phrases, and shows that the reason the Lord commanded them to be driven out was that they had hardened their hearts and come against Israel in battle.

Since this is the only change in the entire book of Joshua, it seems that the Prophet Joseph’s attention was drawn to this verse because it deals with the Lord hardening people’s hearts. The concept taught in the change which he made in Joshua, however, is different from the concept taught in Exodus. The purpose in Exodus was to clarify the translation of a Hebrew word. The word chazak means to be firm or strong. In the Lord’s firmness with Pharaoh, he indirectly hardened Pharaoh’s heart but it was still the Pharaoh’s own choosing. In the words of Brigham Young and Willard Richards, “He [the Lord] manifested Himself in so many glorious and mighty ways, that Pharaoh could not resist the truth without becoming harder.” [1] Joseph Smith’s role as the Prophet was to make certain the people understood the passage correctly. He apparently made the changes in Exodus to make certain of this. While these changes in Exodus seemingly drew his attention to the verse in Joshua, the change in Joshua corrected the historical record of the people’s condition. This further illustrates the role of the Prophet and the diversity evident in his work of translation.

The single change in Judges is another example of previous changes probably drawing the Prophet’s attention to this verse. The KJV reads, “For it repented the Lord because of their groanings” (Judges 2:18). In the JST this verse reads, “For the Lord hearkened because of their groanings.” The Prophet had made several changes in the books of Genesis and Exodus showing that it was the people who repented and not the Lord (see Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:12, 14). The change in Judges illustrates a change in the Lord’s actions based on the condition of the people. This too is a problem of the meaning of the Hebrew word. To repent is to change one’s pattern, but repentance also denotes a previous erroneous action. The Lord had indeed changed his pattern, but his previous course had not been erroneous; his decision to “hearken” to the people was based on a change in their condition. Since the same Hebrew word has both meanings, it is obvious that the translators of the KJV selected the wrong one or were not aware of the alternate meaning. Again the Prophet’s change was consistent with gospel principles.

The first changes made in 1 Samuel are in chapter 15. There are two changes in this chapter, but both concern the Lord repenting, as discussed in the previous paragraph. The first change (v. 11) is that Saul did not repent after the Lord had made him king, instead of the Lord repenting because he had made Saul king. The second change (v. 35) is that the Lord rent the kingdom from Saul, instead of the Lord repented because he had made him king. This makes the account historically correct in addition to correcting the false concept of the Lord repenting.

The Relationship of Evil Spirits and Prophets

There are four verses changed in chapter 16 of 1 Samuel, but all four changes are the same. This is the account of King Saul being bothered by an evil spirit. The KJV calls it “an evil spirit from the Lord.” The JST corrects the text to read “an evil spirit which was not of the Lord” or “not of God” (vv. 14, 15–16, 23). God does not send evil spirits. “All things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil” (Moroni 7:12). Chapter 18 (v. 10) and chapter 19 (v. 9) each have the same correction. The Prophet apparently observed the error and followed the account until all of the corrections were made.

Chapter 28 of 1 Samuel is another example of the Prophet correcting a doctrinal concept in a historical account. The account is of Saul visiting the witch of En-dor. There are changes in six of the verses in this chapter. The first change (v. 9) is in the woman’s response to Saul’s request to call up a familiar spirit. At this point, Saul is not recognized by her and she reminds him that Saul has cut off those who followed such practices; she accuses him of laying a snare to cause her death. The words “also, who hath not a familiar spirit” are added, which are her denial of being such a practitioner. After an assurance that such will not happen, the KJV records that the woman called up Samuel. The JST text indicates that “the words of” Samuel were called up rather than Samuel himself (vv. 11, 12).

In verse 13 of the KJV the woman says, “I saw gods ascending out of the earth.” The JST replaces these words with, “I saw the words of Samuel ascending out of the earth” but also adds, “And she said, I saw Samuel also.” Verse 14 has several words changed but they are not significant; they merely make the text read better. The last change in this chapter (v. 15) is the same as previous ones: “These are the words of Samuel” replaces the designation of Samuel speaking to Saul. Obviously, it is easier to deceive through mimicking words than by personal appearances. A further significance of these changes is that God does not operate through false mediums, but the devil will attempt to deceive through a means as close to the true principle as possible. In the words of Joseph Smith, “False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones.” [2]

Lives of David and Solomon

There are only three changes in 2 Samuel. The first is the prophet Nathan’s reply to king David when David acknowledged that he had sinned before the Lord (see 2 Samuel 12:13). The KJV represents Nathan as responding, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” The JST changes Nathan’s reply to, “The Lord hath not put away thy sin that thou shalt not die.” This change is historically consistent with the rest of the scriptures and many subsequent changes in the JST. That David was to die, as indicated in the JST, should be interpreted as spiritual death; he was not put to death physically as the law required, but was given a worse punishment. He was to live to see his wives live with others and his family turn against him (see 2 Samuel 12:11–12). Only after years of weeping and supplication did David receive the promise that his soul would not be left in hell (see Psalms 16:10; Acts 2:27, 31). [3] His wives were taken from him, which in one sense is a spiritual death-he was not to be in the highest glory of the celestial kingdom. Beyond this, the eternal status of David has not been revealed. The JST change is thus consistent with these teachings.

The other two changes in 2 Samuel are in chapter 24 (vv. 16–17). Verse 16 again deals with the Lord repenting, and the JST changes it to be the people who repented. The phrases of the verse are greatly rearranged but it is primarily to show that the Lord does not repent. The only change in verse 17 is the first word. The KJV uses the word, “And David spake unto the Lord,” while the JST reads, “For, David spake unto the Lord.” While this may seem insignificant, a careful reading shows the JST change to be consistent with the rearrangement of the phrases in verse 16. It shows that the reason the Lord told the angel not to destroy Jerusalem was because of David’s plea to the Lord.

There are eleven verses changed in chapter 3 of 1 Kings. All eleven of these changes are in the first half of the chapter, the first fourteen verses. They clarify and add to the account of Solomon’s reign as king of Israel. The KJV begins by stating that Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David. The JST adds at the beginning of the verse that the Lord was not pleased with Solomon for these acts, and further clarifies that Solomon took the Pharaoh’s daughter to wife. It further explains that Solomon brought the Pharaoh’s daughter to the house of David rather than the city of David. The end of the verse adds, “And the Lord blessed Solomon for the people’s sake.” Verse 2 has the first word changed from only to and which makes verse 2 compatible with the addition to the end of verse 1. In other words, in spite of Solomon’s sins, the people deserved to be blessed.

Verse 3 in the KJV states that Solomon loved the Lord. The JST additions show that Solomon’s love for the Lord was a growth process as a result of the blessings which the Lord poured out upon Solomon because of the righteousness of the people:

KJV 1 Kings 3:3–4

JST 1 Kings 3:3–4

And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.

And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.

And because the Lord blessed Solomon as he was walking in the statutes of David, his father, he began to love the Lord, and he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places, and he called on the name of the Lord.

And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for Gibeon was in a great high place; and Solomon offered upon that altar, in Gibeon, a thousand burnt offerings.

Verse 4 is a further amplification of the ending of verse 3. It shows that the reason why Solomon went to Gibeon to sacrifice was that Gibeon was in a great high place, rather than that it was the great high place as stated in the KJV. This takes away the inference of the worship of Baal. The KJV also states that “in Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night.” The JST shows that the Lord’s appearance was in response to Solomon’s calling upon the name of the Lord, which was added to the end of verse 3. It reads, “And the Lord God hearkened unto Solomon, and appeared. . . .

Verse 6 has a slight change in the middle of it. The KJV quotes Solomon as recognizing that the Lord has “shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth.” The JST states that David was shown “great things according to thy mercy when he walked before thee in truth.” This qualifying change shows the true character of David, and also illustrates that blessings are dependent upon obedience to law (see D&C 130:20–21).

Verses 7 and 8 must be treated together, since the JST places the last phrase of verse 7 in the beginning of verse 8. The only other change in verse 7 is the adding of “over thy people” to Solomon’s declaration that he has been made king instead of David his father. In the KJV, Solomon acknowledges his inexperience before the Lord: “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people.” The JST clarifies his words in this manner: “And I know not how to lead them, to go out, or come in before them, and I, Thy servant, am as a little child, in the midst of thy people.” Again we note a fuller and more sensible treatise, although it is of little consequence doctrinally or historically.

Verse 9 adds just one word so that it reads, “This thy people, so great a people,” rather than, “This thy so great a people,” again, a plainer reading. In verse 12, the change is of a similar nature. The plural KJV words is singular in the JST and the KJV “none like thee” is rendered, “none made king over Israel like unto thee.” The last change in this chapter (v. 14) deals with the conditional promise extended to Solomon concerning his kingship, but clarifies or corrects the statement about the character of his father, king David:

KJV 1 Kings 3:14

JST 1 Kings 3:14

And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.

And if thou wilt walk in my ways to keep my statutes, and my commandments, then I will lengthen thy days, and thou shalt not walk in unrighteousness, as did they father David.

The Character of David

There are thirteen other verses changed in the book of 1 Kings. Most of these changes concern the character of David, king of Israel and father of Solomon. They are primarily in chapters 11 and 15, with one change in each of chapters 13 and 14. Chapter 11 describes the downfall of king Solomon. Verse 4 in the KJV states, “His heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” The JST corrects this to say, “His heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, and it became as the heart of David his father.” Verse 6 reverses the last two phrases, which totally reverses the meaning. The KJV reads, “And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father.” The JST rearrangement is, “And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, as did David his father, and went not fully after the Lord.”

The end of the chapter has several changes which also clarify the life of David. Verse 33 in the KJV ends with the same phrase, “as did David his father.” The JST makes the same correction as above but also adds another concept, “And his heart is become as David his father; and he repenteth not as did David his father, that I may forgive him.” Verse 34 represents the Lord, through the prophet Ahijah, promising that he will not take the kingdom from Solomon for his servant David’s sake, because David kept his commandments. The JST adds “in that day.” This addition merely qualifies a time period when David kept the commandments and implies that it was not all of his life.

Verse 35 gives a promise to Jeroboam, through Ahijah, that the kingdom will be taken from Solomon and the ten tribes will be given unto him. The JST adds the first line of verse 36 to the end of verse 35, which states that one tribe will be given to Solomon’s son. Two other insignificant words are deleted from the rest of the verse. Verse 38 promises blessings to Jeroboam if he will keep the commandments “as David my servant did.” The JST adds “in the day that I blessed him,” again qualifying a time period when David kept the commandments. Verse 39, which was changed in this chapter, shows why the kingdom was taken away. The KJV says the seed of David will be afflicted but not forever. The JST adds, “And for the transgression of David, and also for the people, I have rent the kingdom, and for this I will afflict the seed of David.” This places the blame on both the king and the people.

Chapter 13 of 1 Kings has a perplexing story about an old prophet instructing a younger prophet to go against the Lord’s instructions. In the KJV, it states that the old prophet lied unto the young prophet. The JST adds an additional phrase showing the purpose of the old prophet’s escapade and also adds that the old prophet lied not. He invited the young prophet to return to his house to eat bread and drink water “that I may prove him, and he lied not.” Chapter 14 has only one change (v. 8) and that change is another concerning the character of David, that “he kept not the commandments,” thus making this chapter consistent with the changes made in chapters 3 and 11 of 1 Kings.

Chapter 15 also has four verses changed regarding the character of David. In verse 3, the KJV compares King Abijam of Judah with David. It reads, “His heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father.” The JST modifies the last phrase to read, “As the Lord commanded David his father.” However, verse 5 in the JST confirms the teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants (132:39) concerning David. It also makes the verse compatible with the period of David’s repentance.

KJV 1 Kings 15:5

JST 1 Kings 15:5

Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

Because David did right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from all that he commanded him, to sin against the Lord; but repented of the evil all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite, wherein the Lord cursed him.

Verse 11 concerning As a, king of Judah, has the same change as verse 3, substituting “as did David his father” with “as he commanded David his father.” Verse 12 states that Asa removed the idols of the land, and the JST adds “and it pleased the Lord.” Thus, the primary changes of 1 Kings are concerning the character of David.

Story-Clarifying Changes

The book of 2 Kings has five verses changed, but four of these are very insignificant changes. In chapter 1, there are four places in three verses where “from heaven” in the KJV is changed to “out of heaven” in the JST. In chapter 8, the KJV “go say unto him” is rendered “thou wilt go and say unto him.” The fifth change is in an amusing story, as worded in the KJV, concerning an angel of the Lord smiting one hundred eighty-five thousand Assyrians. The story is also recorded in chapter 37 of Isaiah. The account ends with the statement, “And when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36). This KJV reading sounds as if it is those who were killed that arose. However, the JST in both the 2 Kings and Isaiah account adds “when they who were left arose,” showing that it was not those who were killed that arose. We see that the book of 2 Kings has only this one important change, but one that is not doctrinally or historically significant.

The book of 1 Chronicles also was not changed significantly by the Prophet Joseph. There are three changes, all of which are, like those in 2 Kings, word changes to make it more readable. One of these changes, however, also corrects the concept of the Lord repenting:

KJV 1 Chronicles 21:15

JST 1 Chronicles 21:15

And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.

And God sent as angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it. And the angel stretched forth his hand unto Jerusalem to destroy it; and God said unto the angel, Stay now thine hand, it is enough; for as he was destroying, the Lord beheld Israel, that he repented him of the evil; therefore the Lord stayed the angel that destroyed, as he stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan, the Jebusite.

Verse 20 of the same chapter rearranges the phrases to make it more readable and easier to understand the sequence, but does not change the story:

KJV 1 Chronicles 21:20

JST 1 Chronicles 21:20

And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat.

Now Ornan was threshing wheat, and his four sons with him; and Ornan turned back and saw the angel, and they hid themselves.

The book of 2 Chronicles is one of the three books having several changes in the JST. Twenty-one changes are grouped as in other books discussed above. Five verses are changed in chapter 2. All of these changes concern Solomon’s building a house unto the Lord, but they are of little significance other than making the text more readable. Chapter 18, however, has three significant changes which not only correct the story historically but doctrinally as well:

KJV 2 Chronicles 18:20–22

JST 2 Chronicles 18:20–22

Then there came out a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will entice him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith?

And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the Lord said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail; go out, and do even so.

Then there came out a lying spirit, and stood before them, and said, I will entice him, Wherewith?

And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the Lord said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so; for all these have sinned against me.

Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee.

Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath found a lying spirit in the mouth of these they prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee.

As noted in these verses, the Lord does not send out spirits to tell lies, but does allow them to go forth among those who have sinned against him.

Chapter 20 has five verses changed. All of these are relatively insignificant. In 2 Chronicles 22:22 Chronicles 22:2, the KJV states that Ahaziah was forty and two years when he began to reign. The JST changes this to twenty and two, which makes it conform to the parallel account of 2 Kings 8:26. Chapter 24 has two insignificant changes in verses 9 and 22. In 2 Chronicles 25:182 Chronicles 25:18, a little parable about the thistle and cedar in Lebanon has the KJV italicized word was changed to grew in the JST, making it read more sensibly. The last change in the book of 2 Chronicles is in 34:16. “Brought the king word back” in the KJV is changed to “brought the word of the king back” a clearer wording. The fact that most of these changes are insignificant suggests that the Prophet did not work much on this book.

The last historical book which the Prophet made changes in was Nehemiah. While there are twenty-two verses changed, seventeen of them are in chapter 7 and concern the numbers of the various families who returned from Babylon. They are changed to conform to the parallel account given in Ezra. Another verse in chapter 7 has a name changed to conform with Ezra’s account. It is interesting to note that the sum total of the Ezra and Nehemiah accounts are the same with or without the changes made in Nehemiah.

Two changes in chapter 6 are mainly a better selection of words or a rearrangement of phrases to make the text more readable but have no historical or doctrinal significance.

There is a significant change in chapter 10, verse 29. After listing those who entered into a covenant, the KJV states that they “entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law.” The JST changed the verse to read, “And entered into an oath, that a curse should come upon them if they did not walk in God’s law.” The end of that verse and verse 30 also have several pronoun changes. Our is changed to their, and we is changed to they, making it more specific to whom the verse is referring. All in all, the changes are not very significant, suggesting again that the Prophet Joseph did not spend a lot of time on the book of Nehemiah.


The Prophet’s work on the historical books of the Bible seems to have been based upon four different topics: the true attributes or workings of the Lord; the work and relationship of evil spirits and prophets; the lives of David and Solomon, kings of Israel; and the correlation of contradictory texts within the books. As he worked on these four topics, it seems apparent that he came upon verses which were not very clear; so he rearranged or altered them to make them more understandable. It is obvious there will be much more to do when the time comes for a complete restoration of the text (see D&C 42:56–58). Nevertheless, it should be recognized that what the Prophet accomplished is a great contribution to our understanding, and these types of changes should be kept in mind as these historical books are studied. Also, from the changes which were made, it is obvious that the gospel is consistent and everlasting, and is the anchor to which all study should be tied-not just the historical books. As one studies the Bible, the changes made in the JST, as well as the truths of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, may serve as guides until the complete restoration is revealed.


[1] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932–51), 4:264.

[2] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 365.

[3] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 339.