The King James Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants
Eric D. Huntsman, “The King James Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants,” in The King James Bible and the Restoration, ed. Kent P. Jackson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 182–96.
Eric D. Huntsman is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He holds an MA and a PhD in ancient history from the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in Roman history, early Christianity, and the New Testament—especially the ministry and final days of Jesus Christ, Johannine writings, and the Pauline epistles. He is the author of several books on the New Testament.
The issue of the influence of the King James Bible upon the revelations first contained in the Book of Commandments and then published and augmented in the subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants is, in many ways, similar to that of the KJV’s relationship to the English text of the Book of Mormon. As in that discussion, one of the first considerations is a reflection on the fact that the idiom of the King James Bible was for Joseph Smith and his contemporaries both the accepted and expected language of scripture and, in fact, for the translation of ancient texts in general—at least for religious and most classical texts. Further, when biblical language was quoted or alluded to in a new volume of scripture, those quotations would only easily be recognizable if they appeared in their familiar forms.
On the other hand, the Doctrine and Covenants (aside from section 7) is not a translation of an ancient document or collection of ancient texts. Therefore, the continuing resonance of some passages of the Doctrine and Covenants with the King James Bible seems to have arisen from other factors. One of these seems to be a result of some biblical passages’ serving as catalysts for specific revelations. But in other instances, the influence of the King James seems to be seen most in the fact that for both Joseph’s time and even in our own, basic patterns of Jacobean prose have taken on the sense of “holy language,” as seen in attempts to render spiritual expressions and, more particularly, the voice of the Lord himself into English. In this, Richard L. Bushman has sensed the development of what he calls Joseph’s “prophetic voice” as the words of the Lord are represented emotionally and intellectually outside of Joseph’s own persona. 
Still, in producing this holy language, Joseph was not always seen as being uniformly successful, not even in his own day. And yet among both his internal critics and his trusted scribes and editors, there came to be a recognition that the Prophet’s rendering of the words of Jesus Christ carried a certain power that could not easily be duplicated. Significantly, other Church writings at the time—such as Joseph’s letters, articles in newspapers, and editorials—did not affect such a scriptural tone. In the end, the prophetic language of the Doctrine and Covenants seems to be largely about difference in linguistic register, particularly when passages are considered orally. Creating this sense of the divine seems to have been one of the objectives of the translators of Hampton Court from 1604–11, and this, more than any particular idiom, is what they and the Restoration prophet in the 1820s–40s seem to have shared.
Several characteristics of the style achieved by the King James translators, and at least one aspect of their translating process, have bearing upon the language and publication of the revelations. When the conference at Hampton Court gave instructions to the translators in 1604, it charged them to work for a style that would be appropriate, dignified, and resonant in public reading. Nevertheless it needed to sound and feel familiar to its audiences in the English churches. To that end, the King James translators produced a work that was already somewhat archaic compared to contemporary idiom. As can already be seen in the language of Shakespeare, the strict use of the second-person-singular pronouns thee and thou and the older inflected endings of verbs, such as -est and -eth, were already fading. But the King James translators’ use of these older forms, together with archaic words such as behold, verily, and it came to pass, produced a certain formality that was not consistently suggested in the original text, at least not in the Greek New Testament, where the very dialect was Koin?, or “common” Greek. Part of this may be because before English translations had begun, reading the Bible had always been an elite activity—first in the Latin, the language of the clergy and the few others who were literate, and, since the Renaissance, in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Indeed, the King James is considerably more Latinate than, for instance, the Geneva Bible that it was largely a reaction against.
The result was a translation and a style that was not so much “old” but, as Adam Nicolson has described it, one aimed at creating the sense of “a constant present. . . . The King James Translators could write their English words as if the passage of 1,600 or 3,000 years made no difference. Their subject was neither ancient nor modern, but both or either. It was the universal text.”  This was the style appropriate for a religious text, which should, because of both its origin and its content, stand above the commonplace and the contemporary. Further, the dignified literary quality, often described as “poetic” today even when not strictly in verse or rhyme, was meant to be read and heard. Still, this resonant style was meant to be familiar, to which end even as it drew freely from other English translations, the base text was the Bishops’ Bible that the English had already been used to hearing.
Such orality and this emphasis on familiarity both have implications for the use of a modicum of this style in Restoration scripture. These factors, together with an affected archaism to attain a sense of both dignity and timelessness, have further significance for Latter-day Saints because it may be that the objectives of the translators of the King James Bible were somewhat similar to those of Latter-day authorities who encourage formal prayer patterns, particularly in public worship. Likewise, even when the style of the revelations differs from that of the King James, it often seems to have an awareness of the KJV behind it, much as the Bishop’s Bible was a felt presence in the King James Version.
An interesting parallel in the process of producing the King James Bible and of editing and publishing the revelations reveals itself in the practice of joint cooperative production. The King James translators were divided into six companies, each company being assigned a portion of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, or the New Testament. Then, in a process reminiscent of the legendary seventy-two scholars who translated the Septuagint, the members of each team independently translated each portion before coming together to consult and produce a joint product (in the case of the Septuagint, purportedly they miraculously all produced the same, word-for-word translation). Joseph Smith had shared some revelatory experiences with Oliver Cowdery, and at least one important revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 76, was jointly received by Joseph and Sidney Rigdon. More to the point, as noted by Robin Scott Jensen, a “review committee” consisting of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery reviewed and edited the revelations in advance of the printing of the Book of Commandments, “modernizing or clarifying language and correcting errors and mistakes.” 
The almost-unquestioned dominance of the King James Bible at the time of Joseph Smith created certain expectations regarding sacred language that would have made it difficult for contemporaries to accept either the Book of Mormon or the revelations that came to Joseph Smith if they had not been in a language that largely echoed that which was familiar from the King James. Daniel Belnap has noted how many of the translations in Charles’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha were rendered in a somewhat King James–like style.  The same is true of the translation of other ancient texts. In the standard English translation of the Septuagint by Brenton in 1851, just twenty-some years after the major prophetic activities of Joseph Smith had begun, we find prose that clearly echoes the King James: “And the days of David drew near that he should die: and he addressed his son Solomon, saying, I go the way of all the earth: but be strong, and shew thyself a man; and keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep the commandments and the ordinances and the judgements which are written in the law of Moses” (3 Kings 2:1–3).  And, “A stubborn heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish therein. An obstinate heart shall be laden with sorrows; and the wicked man shall heap sin upon sin” (Ecclesiasticus 3:26–27). 
But it was not only translations of scripture or scripture-like texts for which a King James style seemed to be fitting. Translations of classical texts, especially those that were either poetic or deemed religious in nature, regularly fell into a similar style. For instance, Theodore Buckley’s 1854 translation of Homer’s Iliad reads as follows:
Swift footed Achilles, rising up amidst them, [thus] spoke: “Son of Atreus, of what dost thou now complain, or what dost thou want? Thy tents are full of brass, and many chosen women are in thy tents, whom we Greeks bestow on thee the first of all, whenever we capture a city. . . . Indeed it becomes not a man who is chief in command, to lead the sons of the Greeks into evil. O ye soft ones, vile disgraces, Grecian dames, no longer Grecian men, let us return home, home! With our ships, and let us leave him here to digest his honours at Troy, that he may know whether we really aid him in anything or not.” 
From the first page in Edward Pusey’s 1838 translation of the Confessions of Saint Augustine, we see a similar stylistic continuity:
Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly be praised; great is Thy power and Thy wisdome infinite. And Thee would man praise; man, but a particle of Thy creation; man that ears about him his mortality, the witness of his sin, the witness that Thou resistest the proud: yet would man praise Thee; he, but a particle of Thy creation. . . . I will seek Thee, Lord, by calling on Thee; and will call on Thee, believing in Thee; for thus hast Thou been preached. My faith, Lord, shall call on Thee which Thou hast given me, wherewith Thou hast inspired me, through the Incarnation of Thy Son, through the ministry of the Preacher. 
A control on this can be found, however, in Ardle’s 1844 translation of Tacitus’s Annals and even in Whiston’s well-known 1737 translation of the works of Josephus. Neither of these is overtly Jacobean in style, perhaps because they were considered prose historical works rather than religious or poetic.
Of course, Joseph Smith and many of his contemporaries were not classically educated or even educated much by any standards. But like so many in his day, both churched and unchurched, Joseph and his family were intimately familiar with the King James Bible. They may not have read much—indeed they may not have had much to read—but they read the Bible. Many children, in fact, learned to read with the Bible as their sole text. Its stories, phrases, and cadences were more than familiar: they were part of life. An illiterate backwoods preacher could produce a stirring oration, repeating biblical language and even affecting its patterns in his own speech, simply from having heard the King James Bible preached his whole life.
While eighteenth-century attitudes toward old and especially religious texts encouraged the expectation of a King James style, quotations from or allusions to the Bible itself virtually mandated it. While the Doctrine and Covenants does not contain the lengthy excerpts from Isaiah or other biblical quotations that the Book of Mormon does, Ellis Rasmussen, in his 1951 thesis, studied the frequency of textual parallels and allusion to the King James Bible found in those sections of the Doctrine and Covenants that were originally found in the Book of Commandments. His study revealed that while the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants varied in the number of KJV parallels per verse, the median was 1.3 per verse.  A follow-up study by Lois Jean Smutz, which supplemented Rasmussen’s work by considering sections 65–133 of the Doctrine and Covenants, confirmed his basic observations, producing a median of 1.33 parallels and allusions per verse.  In other words, for every two verses of the revelations, there are almost three phrases that closely parallel King James phrases.  These parallels and echoes would not be apparent if they were not rendered in King James idiom, supporting one major argument for continuing to use the King James Bible in the Church today.  As Philip Barlow has observed, “If the Saints forsake the King James Bible . . . will not the language of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, patterned after the KJV, appear increasingly anachronistic?”  Indeed, and perhaps more to the point, a somewhat uniform idiom woven throughout the standard works helps realize the Savior’s injunction that we should expound, and hence see, all the scriptures in one (3 Nephi 23:14).
What is particularly interesting about allusions to the Kings James Version in the Doctrine and Covenants is which biblical books are most often paralleled. Rasmussen discovered that allusions or echoes of the New Testament predominate over references to the Old Testament, with passages paralleling Matthew, John, and Revelation far outstripping the most frequently echoed Old Testament book, which, not surprisingly, is Isaiah. Other New Testament books that are frequently alluded to are Acts, Luke, Corinthians, Hebrews, and Romans. Of the Old Testament books, those that have frequent allusions include the Psalms, Genesis, Numbers, Exodus, and Jeremiah. Disproportionate to their length are the number of references to Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Despite the large number of allusions to biblical passages in the Doctrine and Covenants, all of which are to the King James Version, Rasmussen notes that only three appear with any repeated frequency. The most common is “Verily, I say unto you,” appearing seventy times in the Doctrine and Covenants. Clearly an echo of Jesus’ introductory formula in the Gospels, where it appears thirty-nine times, it is a distinct King James rendering of the Greek am?n eg? hymin. The next most common is “Thus saith the Lord,” a phrase that first appears in Exodus 4:22 as a prophetic formula given to Moses. Appearing 432 times in the Old Testament, it is used sixty-four times in the Doctrine and Covenants, clearly connecting modern prophecy with that in the Bible.  Another important King James rendering of a biblical phrase is the metaphoric description of a field “white already to harvest” (John 4:35). Appearing only once in the New Testament, this phrase, used in a missionary context, appears seven times in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Other phrases used less frequently nonetheless are strongly linked with the King James Bible. For instance, the phrase “mammon of unrighteousness” in D&C 82:22 is a direct quote from the KJV of Luke 16:9. Movingly, the use of the phrase “Henceforth I shall call you friends” in D&C 84:77 echoes “Henceforth I call you not servants . . . but I have called you friends” of John 15:15. Like Jesus’ New Testament disciples, followers today are the friends of the Lord.
In addition to particular phrases from the King James that are paralleled in the Doctrine and Covenants, there are particular themes from the Bible that frequently manifest themselves in the revelations. When they do so, they are often articulated in a scriptural idiom, different from common speech, and with resonance to King James style. Rasmussen identified these instances of similar subject material as being discussions of the end of the world, universal moral principles, doctrines of the Atonement, or the purpose of life.  Of these, discussions of the Atonement and end of the world are the most striking.
In regard to the eschatology in the Doctrine and Covenants, apocalyptic sections of the Doctrine and Covenants have strong resonance with Joel, Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and particularly Revelation. Although I find Rasmussen’s identification of “allusions” to be sometimes rather loose, he nonetheless has found convincing evidence of parallels and similar language in these types of revelations. Accordingly, Rasmussen identified nineteen parallels in Doctrine and Covenants 29—three from Ezekiel, two from Daniel, three from Joel, and fourteen from Revelation. Likewise, Doctrine and Covenants 45 contains twenty-two allusions—two from Ezekiel, one from Daniel, four from Joel, five from Zechariah, and seven from Revelation. Doctrine and Covenants 88 is worthy of a study of its own,  but just a few verses reveal clear resonance in both theme and style with the book of Revelation as well as Paul’s apocalyptic vision from 1 Thessalonians 4:
And another angel shall sound his trump, saying: That great church, the mother of abominations, that made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, that persecuteth the saints of God, that shed their blood—she who sitteth upon many waters, and upon the islands of the sea—behold, she is the tares of the earth; she is bound in bundles; her bands are made strong, no man can loose them; therefore, she is ready to be burned. And he shall sound his trump both long and loud, and all nations shall hear it.
And there shall be silence in heaven for the space of half an hour; and immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up, and the face of the Lord shall be unveiled;
And the saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him.
They are Christ’s, the first fruits, they who shall descend with him first, and they who are on the earth and in their graves, who are first caught up to meet him; and all this by the voice of the sounding of the trump of the angel of God. (D&C 88:94–98)
A possibly fruitful area for study is an examination of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants that were inspired by the translation of the Book of Mormon or the Prophet’s ongoing efforts to revise the Bible. Frequently these efforts served as a catalyst for revelation. No doubt the most striking example of this is section 76, which came while Joseph and Sidney Rigdon came to John 5:29. A question they had regarding “the resurrection of life” and the “the resurrection of damnation” opened one of the most stunning visions preserved in the Doctrine and Covenants, which laid out the degrees of glory and important details about the plan of salvation. Already immersed in biblical language through their work on the New Translation, it is not surprising that this revelation is replete with King James idiom. 
Yet it is this very revelation, section 76, which suggests something else about prophetic language in the Doctrine and Covenants. Much of this is actually in the voice of Joseph and Sidney, as is evident from verses 11 and 22. Careful study of this section may confirm, or perhaps clarify, the impression that the Prophet and his assistant were no doubt influenced by biblical, here meaning King James, language when addressing such sublime topics. This section, too, is rich in eschatological imagery that echoes the more apocalyptic books of the Bible. But even when using less biblical language, clearly they felt that they needed a different linguistic register. Like that of the King James translators, their language needed to be appropriate to the subject: things of the spirit could not be pedestrian or commonplace.
Nowhere is that more the case than when describing Jesus Christ—in the case of the Doctrine Covenants, the glorified, risen Lord—and this was certainly the case when trying to render the Savior’s words into English. Thus the opening verses of section 76, an overture if you will, become poetic, borrowing freely from the King James Bible: “Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior. Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out. His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand. From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail” (D&C 76:1–4). But Jesus’s words that follow, though still resonant with King James expressions, nonetheless constitute a fresh, divine pronouncement:
For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. (D&C 76:5–8)
As noted in the Explanatory Introduction of the Doctrine and Covenants, “In the revelations one hears the tender but firm voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking anew in the dispensation of the fulness of times.” The predominance of the Lord’s own words in the Doctrine and Covenants, in fact, may help account for the fact that of all biblical books, Matthew, John, and Revelation provide the greatest number of allusions and parallels. It is in the Gospels, with Matthew perhaps representing his fellow Synoptics, that the words of Jesus are most commonly preserved. And in Revelation, the Lord speaks through the Revelator, often of the last days. Often the Lord employs epithets and phrases used in the Gospels or in Revelation, such as, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the son of God. I am the life and the light of the world. I am the one who came unto mine own and mine own received me not” (D&C 11:28–29), and, “Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow” (D&C 11:2; see Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 2:12).
To me, the striking thing about the voice of Jesus Christ in the Doctrine and Covenants, however, is that it is still distinct even when it is not clearly echoing the King James Bible. There is something qualitatively different about it that separates it from usual language. In Johannine studies, Raymond Brown describes this as the semi-poetic language of divine speech.  While we have no indication or reason to suspect that the spoken Aramaic of Jesus differed qualitatively from that of those around him, we can imagine how the force of his words—both their content and the majesty and power behind them—carried them differently into the hearts of his listeners, at least those who had ears to hear. To indicate this in his text, the author of the fourth Gospel therefore rendered the words of Jesus into Greek in a way that was different from the surrounding narrative or dialogue. Not clearly poetic—certainly not metric as one would expect for Greek poetry—but in balanced phrases and sometimes parallel expressions somewhat like Hebrew poetry, the Greek words of Jesus were qualitatively different from those of the text around them.
In other words, the speech of Jesus had a different register, just as the King James translators endeavored, and succeeded, in producing an idiom that separated their product from the language of the time. Similarly, for many Latter-day Saints, much of the Doctrine and Covenants has, for lack of a better term, a scriptural feel. Sometimes this is achieved by echoing the King James Bible, from making allusions to its passages or adopting its idiom. But other times it seems to have been Joseph Smith’s own creation, borne not from high education or literary training but simply from having encountered, again and again, the divine. It happens in words that are clearly his. It happens even more often, and more penetratingly, when they are his rendering of the words of Jesus.
But the fact that sometimes Joseph’s revelations were not in King James idiom may have been one of the precipitating causes of dissatisfaction with them. In the Lord’s own preface to the Book of Commandments, now section 1, he had observed: “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24). Clearly Joseph’s lack of formal education was a factor in this. The fact that he established a review committee to prepare the revelations for publication was both an acknowledgment of and an inspired response to what the Prophet might have lacked in terms of grammar, orthography, and expression.
But one wonders if some of his freer articulations of divine speech, ones not as clearly reminiscent of the expected Jacobean language, may have led some, like William McLellin, to feel that they could do a better job. We have not preserved McLellin’s failed attempt to write a better revelation, so we do not know that it was necessarily one that attempted to be more like the sonorous phrases of the King James in style and tone. But we do have the Lord’s challenge to him and the other critics of the Prophet:
Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and his language you have known, and his imperfections you have known; and you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language; this you also know.
Now, seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you;
Or, if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true;
But if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if ye do not bear record that they are true.
For ye know that there is no unrighteousness in them, and that which is righteous cometh down from above, from the Father of lights. (D&C 67:5–9)
The final phrase is intriguing: “That which is righteous cometh down from above, from the Father of lights.” Light cleaveth to light, and darkness comprehendeth it not. I do not know that the opponents of Jesus, or even neutral, disinterested parties, heard or sensed something different in the Aramaic of Jesus of Nazareth. But for those seeking truth, for those with ears to hear and open hearts, the words of Jesus Christ carried a power that penetrated the soul. Some, reading or hearing the revelations to Joseph Smith, whether they were in King James idiom or not, may not hear the voice of God in them. But for those of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ, when we hear the revelations that came through his Prophet, we hear them differently. Like the semipoetic discourses in John, the words of Jesus in the Restoration revelations spark a deeper, more spiritual response than that caused by the words alone. This, I think, is one of the King James Bible’s greatest influences on the Doctrine and Covenants. Even more than in documentable cases of direct allusions or literary echoes, the language of the King James Bible provided the Prophet with an example of people who loved God and strove to represent his word with their own.
 Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 69, 129–30.
 Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), xii.
 Robin Scott Jensen, “From Manuscript to Printed Page: An Analysis of the History of the Book of Commandments and Revelations,” BYU Studies 48, no. 3 (2009): 34.
 See the discussion on pages xxxxxxxxx–yyyyyyyyyyyyyy of this volume (chapter 10).
 Lancelot C. L. Brenton, The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English 1851; repr. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 443.
 Brenton, Septuagint with Apocrypha, 77.
 The Iliad of Homer, trans. Theodore Alois Buckley (Bohn: London, 1854), 29.
 The Confessions of Saint Augustine, transl. Edward Bouverie Pusey (Oxford: J. H. Parker, 1838), 1.
 Ellis T. Rasmussen, “Textual Parallels to the Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Commandments as Found in the Bible” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1951), 5.
 Lois Jean Smutz, “Textual Parallels to the Doctrine and Covenants (Sections 65 to 133) as Found in the Bible” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1971), 194.
 Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 62.
 D. Kelly Ogden, “King James Version,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992): 109–10: “Twentieth-century Church leaders have given a variety of reasons for the continued use of the KJV: it was the common translation in use in the English-speaking world at the time of the Restoration; its language prevails in all the standard works; a large number of passages in the Book of Mormon, which parallel the Bible, were translated into the English style of the KJV; the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) was based on the KJV, with 90 percent of the verses unchanged. All latter-day prophets have used the KJV, and using the KJV in all Church publications has made it possible to standardize annotations and indices.”
 Barlow, Mormons and the Bible, 180.
 Rasmussen, “Textual Parallels,” 325.
 Rasmussen, “Textual Parallels,” 334.
 Rasmussen, “Textual Parallels,” 361.
 See Smutz, “Textual Parallels,” 77–88, 195, 197, which identified 118 new parallels and twenty-three reused parallels for a ratio of 1:1 in this section.
 See Smutz, “Textual Parallels,” 42–55, 195, which identified 143 new parallels and nineteen re-used parallels for a ratio of 1.36:1.
 Raymond Brown, The Gospel according to John, Anchor Bible 29 (New York: Doubleday, 1966), cxxxii–cxxxv.