The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible

A Panel

S. Kent Brown, Victor L. Ludlow, Robert J. Matthews, and C. Wilfred Griggs

“The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible: A Panel,” inScriptures for the Modern World, ed. Paul R. Cheesman and C. Wilfred Griggs (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 75–98.

Robert J. Matthews: The topic of this panel discussion is the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible or, as it is sometimes called, the “New Translation,” “Inspired Version,” or “Inspired Revision.” It was begun by Joseph Smith in June 1830. By July 1833, he had gone through both the Old and New Testaments and had produced a manuscript of nearly five hundred pages, each page measuring 8 1/2 by 14 inches. From then until his death in 1844, he continued to edit and prepare the manuscript for printing, in the process adding some things that were not included in the initial draft. There are at least 3,410 verses of the Joseph Smith Translation that are different from the King James Version.

It was not a translation in the usual sense, for the Prophet did not use ancient manuscripts, nor did he have a knowledge at that time of the biblical languages. But, being a prophet, he worked by the spirit of revelation. Using the King James Version as a textual source, he read from the Bible and dictated to a scribe various additions, deletions, and other changes. The work was not limited to being strictly a translation of the King James text, and therefore it includes many items of a historical and doctrinal nature that are not found in any other Bible known today. In addition to presenting much new material, the Joseph Smith Translation also clarifies and modifies many ideas and concepts already found in the Bible. Some of these modifications are grammatical in nature; a few are supported by present-day non-LDS biblical scholarship.

It is important to note that the Joseph Smith Translation does not stand in isolation, but is related to all of the standard works of the Church. It has direct connections with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, in addition to being a Bible in its own right.

Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible may vary in its particular contribution and emphasis at differing periods in Church history. For example, it is evident from Doctrine and Covenants 45:60–62 and other passages that the process of translating the Bible was a learning and revelatory experience for the Prophet. The spiritual education he received in making the translation was the initial reward and was extremely vital at that time as a source of doctrine. In like manner, the printed text that is available today continues to inform and enlighten the reader about biblical history and doctrine. Furthermore, since the Joseph Smith Translation contains some specific historical items not found in any other Bible, it may be that one of its important future contributions will be as a witness for the divine inspiration received by the Prophet Joseph Smith. This would be especially significant if apocrypha and archaeological discoveries were to come forth that substantially corroborate the distinctive features of the Joseph Smith Translation. These include very specific items about Adam, Enoch, Melchizedek, and Jesus.

One of the significant aspects of the Joseph Smith Translation is that there should even be such a book. The manuscript prepared by Joseph Smith and his scribes represents several things in addition to being a Bible manuscript. The fact that there is a Joseph Smith Translation says something about the nature of revelation and how the Prophet Joseph Smith received revelation. It says that the canon of scripture is not complete. It also says something about how a prophet views scripture and how scripture is made. It likewise has certain implications regarding what are commonly called apocryphal writings.

The manuscript of the Joseph Smith Translation contributes to our knowledge of Church history and to the background of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price because it offers various dates and places where the work on specific chapters was done, and because it presents the handwriting of multiple scribes at different times, coming and going in synchrony with events in Church history.

Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible is more than a commentary, more than a book about the Bible. It is a sizable product put forth by the Prophet Joseph Smith. It bears witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the history of the gospel among men in ancient times, beginning with Adam. Since it was produced by the Prophet Joseph Smith as a function of his calling, it is a witness of his divine appointment as a prophet of God.

So the matter stands about like this: Joseph Smith did make a “new translation” or “revision” of the Bible that both alters some of the material we have in the Bible and also offers new information that is not found elsewhere. He did it at the command and under the inspiration of the Lord (see D&C 76:15). This panel has convened today to assess that accomplishment, discuss the implications of the work, and consider the impact this work by Joseph Smith could or should have on Latter-day Saint thought and scholarship.

Question: What motives prompted Joseph Smith to do a translation of the Bible?

Victor L. Ludlow: Joseph’s work on the Book of Mormon, especially the Isaiah portions of 2 Nephi, taught him that the King James translation was not perfect. Thus, although he retained the King James translation when it presented a correct interpretation of the information in the Book of Mormon, he did not hesitate to make changes where the King James text and the Book of Mormon disagreed. Out of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, 234 of them contain differences from the King James text.

Once Joseph accepted the idea that portions of one biblical book were incorrect, he probably realized that other books were also translated incorrectly in the King James Version. Thus, it would be natural for him to use his prophetic gifts to restore the text and to provide inspired commentary to other books of the Bible.

And also, as Brother Matthews has indicated, the Lord’s commandment to make this inspired translation would alone have been a sufficient motive.

Question: What did Joseph Smith mean by the term “translated correctly” in the eighth article of faith? Is he speaking of language or is he thinking of a broader usage?

Robert J. Matthews: I think it is evident from many statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith that the term “translated correctly” must include difficulties of transmission—not only language problems, but copying, omitting, adding to, and every other phenomenon that might enter into the process of transmitting the original word from the mind of the author through all the phases of its perilous journey to the printed page of the Bible that we hold in our hands today. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” [1] Elsewhere he observed that many things had either been taken from the Bible or lost before it was compiled. [2]

Question: Joseph Smith began with an English text and produced an English text. If he did not use ancient manuscripts or have a knowledge of biblical languages, why is the product called a translation?

Robert J. Matthews: Perhaps one reason is that the Prophet was rendering into English the thoughts and concepts that the ancient prophets and Apostles had written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. He did not translate directly from the ancient languages; but if he gave to us in English the ideas the ancients had recorded in another language, then it is, in that sense, a translation. It could therefore be said that Joseph Smith produced by revelation an inspired revision of the King James Version, which in turn is tantamount to a translation of the ancient records. It is not intended to be complete or perfect, but is a “plainer translation” of what the original authors wrote than is the King James Version.

Question: Did Joseph Smith restore the original text or add an inspired commentary in his work?

Victor L. Ludlow: I wish he were here to answer that one. I believe he did both, but it seems to me that the most significant and profound changes consist of his inspired commentaries.

In the Old Testament some of the smaller changes were probably a restoration of the original text, although they could also have been inspired commentary, such as the following (italics have been added to highlight changes in the JST)




Proverbs 18:22

whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing

whoso findeth a good wife hath obtained favor of the Lord

Isaiah 2:16

and upon all the ships of Tarish.

upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarish

Isaiah 5:9

houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.

houses shall be desolate, and great and fair cities without inhabitant.

Psalm 24:9

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors

Lift up your heads, O ye generations of Jacob; lift up your heads, ye everlasting generations

Question: Can one support any of the Joseph Smith translation changes in the Bible with readings from the greatly increased number of manuscripts discovered in the last century?

Victor L. Ludlow: For the Old Testament, one interesting comparison is to evaluate Joseph’s translation with modern English translations, especially the ambiguous portions. For example, Isaiah 2:9 in the King James Version indicates that a great man who “humbleth himself” is not to be forgiven. However, Joseph Smith’s translation states that if “the great man humbleth himself not,” then he is not to be forgiven. The latest Jewish Publication Society translation (also known as the New Jewish Version) implies that the person did not humble himself, but he “shall be humbled” [3] and therefore is not to be forgiven. This translation is more in the spirit of the Joseph Smith Translation.

A number of the Prophet’s contextual changes can be supported by such varied translations. However, the most significant verifications of his translations will have to wait until we get some biblical texts earlier than the Dead Sea Scrolls and closer to the time and text of the brass plates of Laban. Such texts, outside the whole tradition of later biblical texts, would be extremely significant linguistic evidence for both the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s translation.

S. Kent Brown: I offer a qualified yes to that same question in the case of the New Testament. For most readings, there is no textual support from known New Testament manuscripts, but in a few cases there is. Let me illustrate. Everyone is acquainted with the prayer Jesus uttered when he was nailed to the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In the Joseph Smith Translation (see JST, Luke 23:35), Joseph Smith adds the explanatory note that the prayer was offered for the Roman soldiers. An early Christian text which refers to the same incident also clearly applies it to the Roman soldiers: “For the Teacher Himself, being nailed to the cross, prayed to the Father that the sin of those who slew Him might be forgiven, saying, ‘Father, forgive them their sins, for they know not what they do.’” [4]

A second illustration comes from John 20:17. Near the tomb in which Jesus had been buried, Mary Magdalene finds Jesus and, mistaking him for the gardener, asks him where the body of Jesus has been laid. When she finally realizes that it is Jesus to whom she is speaking, Jesus says, according to the King James Version: “Touch me not.” Joseph Smith renders the same phrase, “Hold me not.” This turns out to be a more faithful rendering of the sense of the Greek verb in the passage. Jesus did not tell her not to touch him in the sense that one touches, say, a marble surface to learn what it feels like. Rather, he told her not to embrace him, not to clasp him. The Greek verb, haptomai, agrees with the sense in which Joseph Smith rendered the text.

Thus, in both cases Joseph Smith has made the meaning clearer. In the first instance, he added an explanatory note which finds a parallel notion in an early Christian text. In the second instance, he rendered the meaning of the Greek text more clearly than it had been in the King James Version.

Question: Did Joseph Smith’s work on the Joseph Smith Translation anticipate themes and elements which emerge from recently discovered apocryphal texts?

S. Kent Brown: Yes. Naturally, if we could survey a broader segment of Joseph Smith’s work on scripture than simply the Joseph Smith Translation we would find ourselves dealing with much more, as Professor Hugh Nibley at Brigham Young University has shown us. [5] But let me indicate briefly some points of contact between Joseph Smith’s work on the Bible and other literatures.

The first area has to do with biblical personalities. Adam, for example, was a character about whom Joseph Smith wrote a good deal. Among other things, Joseph Smith produced segments from a record of Adam that are imbedded in a long speech by- Enoch (JST, Genesis 6:47–71; Moses 6:45–68). The Adam literature, which has been intensively studied in recent years, is extensive. [6] A second personality who drew Joseph Smith’s attention was Enoch. Joseph Smith’s work on the Joseph Smith Translation resulted in an Enoch record (JST, Genesis 6:26–7:78; Moses 6:25–8:1). In addition to the various books of Enoch in Hebrew, Old Slavonic, and Ethiopic (Aramaic fragments reflecting the original of the Ethiopic record were found at the Dead Sea), Enoch as an archetype and as a person has been the subject of recent LDS interest. [7] A third such personality was Melchizedek (JST, Genesis 14:25–40; Alma 13:14–19). [8] Among other pertinent items, Melchizedek texts were found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt and also in Qumran Cave 11, which produced the last of the Dead Sea Scrolls. [9] As one might expect, a fourth character was Abraham. Joseph Smith made significant additions to the Abraham stories in chapters 15, 17, and 19 of the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis. Recently, the apocryphal Testament of Abraham and the Apocalypse of Abraham have drawn a good deal of attention. [10] One thing that has become apparent is that Abrahamic literature must be understood in terms of clear, firm ties to Egypt and Egyptian literature. [11] The last personality I shall mention is Joseph who was sold into Egypt (see JST, Genesis 50:24–38; also 2 Nephi 3:5–21). The apocryphal literature on Joseph has also been the subject of widespread interest. The Testament of Joseph has been with us for a long time, of course, but much is new regarding Joseph’s role as a key figure. [12]

We should treat, at least in brief, a number of themes in the Joseph Smith Translation which, interestingly, are reflected in other texts. With regard to the Joseph Smith Translation’s variant creation accounts (see JST, Genesis 1, 2; Moses 2, 3; 3:21–5:21; JST, John 1:1–7), we should mention the enormous number of pseudepigraphical and apocryphal texts dealing with the Creation, how it took place, and how it is to be understood. [13]

The notion of a premortal existence of all souls also pervades much of Joseph Smith’s work, with hints in JST (Genesis 2:4–6; 3:1–5; see also Moses 3:5; 4:1–4) and clear exposition in Abraham 3:18–28. But the idea is in embryo in the Joseph Smith Translation. We can observe, in this connection, that the premortal existence of souls stands as a prime tenet in recently discovered early Christian texts. [14]

Another major theme in the Joseph Smith Translation is the eschaton, which we have already discussed, and the idea of restoration, which is clearly important in the Joseph Smith Translation. For example, Matthew 17:11–14 discusses the expected Elias who is to prepare the way of the Lord, and Matthew 21:50–56 concerns the fact that the kingdom of God would be taken from the Jews and given to the gentile nations, who in the last days “shall render him the fruits in their season” (JST, Matthew 21:55). Restoration also shows up as a very prominent theme in apocryphal literature, including some recently discovered texts. [15]

I think it is appropriate to observe here that Joseph Smith’s expanded canon of scripture has anticipated a similar modern concern. Because of the enormous number of discoveries and the close parallels formed with biblical scripture, there are a number of Bible scholars who are willing to open the question, at least on an academic level, of whether the canon is complete and whether it should not be expanded. [16]

Question: What is the significance of the apocrypha as they relate to the work of Joseph Smith?

S. Kent Brown: That is actually two questions, since the term can mean two different sets of writings. The first is the Old Testament Apocrypha, those extra thirteen (or fifteen) books that are nowadays published separately from the Old Testament. The second consists of other apocryphal writings, some of which have come to light only recently. As most are aware, Joseph Smith’s King James Bible, with which he worked in producing the Joseph Smith Translation, included the Old Testament Apocrypha. When he was ready to begin work on this section of his own Bible, he inquired of the Lord concerning it and received section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants, affirming that some things in the Apocrypha were true and some things were untrue, being the interpolations of men. The Lord’s notation that some things in the Apocrypha were worth reading (see D&C 91:1, 4) represents a more open-minded position than was generally held by Joseph Smith’s contemporaries, who usually viewed the Apocrypha as a collection of basically uninspired texts with no lasting value. [17] Now we know, in agreement with section 91 and the positive view there expressed by the Lord, that the Old Testament Apocrypha had a message and formed an important key to understanding the age just before and following the coming of Jesus. Consequently, Joseph Smith’s view of the Apocrypha as shaped by section 91 was very positive, much more so than the prevailing view of his day.

We must be more cautious in dealing with apocryphal texts that stand outside the thirteen books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. But while maintaining reserve, we can observe that the doctrines woven into Joseph Smith’s work on scripture find striking parallels in other texts that are not part of the canon of scripture, as we have already discussed. In a sense, this observation opens the door for Latter-day Saints to make serious inquiries with regard to apocryphal texts, whether recently discovered or known for hundreds of years. [18]

Question: How does one explain Joseph Smith’s ability to accommodate differing scriptural accounts of the same event, such as the creation narratives in the King James text of Genesis, the Joseph Smith Translation, and Abraham?

S. Kent Brown: The question not only concerns specific scriptural accounts, but also includes Joseph Smith’s entire enterprise in producing the new translation. In effect, the Joseph Smith Translation constitutes a variant version of scripture, especially in relationship to the King James Version, which formed the starting point for Joseph Smith’s work on the Bible. There are a number of implications that flow from this observation, but let me first touch on a few passages in which the Joseph Smith Translation provides significant extended variants.

The most notable, I think, is the creation account. Joseph Smith, of course, began with the narrative in Genesis 1:1–6:13. All of this material is both duplicated and expanded in the Joseph Smith Translation (see JST, Genesis 1:1–8:18; Moses 2:1–8:30). We can observe that the spirit and drift of the early chapters of Genesis have been fundamentally preserved, though expanded, in the Joseph Smith Translation.

When it comes to the sections of the book of Abraham that deal with creation, however, the mood changes considerably. Using terms employed by textual scholars, we could call Joseph Smith’s rendition of Genesis 1:1–6:13 a variant version. But the segment in Abraham 3:22–5:21 should probably be termed something more than a mere variant, as implied by Abraham’s name (compare Genesis 1:1–2:20; Moses 2:1–3:20). Simply stated, the Abraham account seems to breathe a spirit different from that in Genesis and its Joseph Smith Translation equivalent. The order of the Creation itself remains the same in all accounts. But other elements in Abraham stand out; for example, it is “the Gods” who organize the heavens and the earth (see Abraham 4:1 and following). This shift from the singular “God” of Genesis and the Joseph Smith Translation to the plural form has a subtle yet distinct effect on the entire composition. While one may urge that Abraham’s shift from the singular to the plural responds to the pluralizing implication of such passages as “Let us make man in our image” (see Genesis 1:26), I suggest that the account has been altered in a significant theological direction. Consequently, I would call it an independent version of the creation story.

Further, a number of verses and chapters in Isaiah were affected by Joseph Smith’s efforts. To be sure, his work on extensive variants of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon preceded his endeavors with Isaiah in the Joseph Smith Translation. While the significance of the changes both in the Book of Mormon and in the Joseph Smith Translation vis-a-vis the Authorized Version has been dealt with elsewhere, [19] it might be worth noting that Joseph Smith’s different readings in the text anticipated important, though not startling, variant readings found in the Isaiah Dead Sea Scrolls. Although Joseph Smith’s variants in Isaiah do not generally match the variants found in the Dead Sea texts, it is nonetheless interesting to note that his endeavors anticipated widespread variants in the textual tradition.

We should also mention one item that drew Joseph Smith’s attention, the so-called Little Apocalypse (see Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; also JST, Luke 17:38–40), which, as it appears in the Pearl of Great Price (see JS–M), represents an extensive reworking of Matthew 24. In one sense, Joseph Smith’s work constitutes a commentary. In another sense, it also represents a version of Matthew 24 that for the most part parallels the King James Version, but departs from it in significant ways. For instance, Joseph Smith makes it absolutely clear that two themes are interwoven in Matthew 24. The first concerns the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; the second focuses on the destruction of the wicked and the end of the world (JS-M 1:4). In the King James Version, the chapter division blurs the connection between these two events (see Matthew 23:39–24:51).

The Sermon on the Mount is also of paramount interest. Again, Joseph Smith has provided two additional accounts, one in 3 Nephi 12–14 and another in the JST, Matthew 5–7. These two accounts differ not only from the King James Version sermon, but from each other. The fact that the account in 3 Nephi offers contrasts to that in the Joseph Smith Translation may be partially ascribed to Joseph’s sensitivity to the varied setting for the sermon in each instance. Let me illustrate. The sermon begins differently in the Joseph Smith Translation from the way it begins either in Matthew or in 3 Nephi. This may demonstrate that Joseph Smith was fully aware that the audience in 3 Nephi was already acquainted with Christian principles and ideas whereas the hearers of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5–7 were not. But he goes beyond such expected reasoning. While we might expect Joseph Smith to have been greatly influenced by the Book of Mormon version and to have adopted it as a final version, interestingly, his later work on the Joseph Smith Translation shows that he is still refining its text. For instance, the Lord’s prayer in the King James Version reads: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). The language is identical in 3 Nephi. But the later Joseph Smith Translation reads: “And suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (JST, Matthew 6:14).

I would like now to offer some general observations about Joseph Smith’s accommodation of varying scriptural accounts. Some, of course, arise directly from my brief discussion above, but others do not. First of all, Joseph Smith understood that scripture is incomplete. His work on the Book of Mormon had taught him that “ye need not suppose that it [the Bible] contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written” (2 Nephi 29:10). This observation would naturally have been reinforced when he dealt with the extensive quotations from the works of Zenos, Zenock, and Neum, Old Testament prophets whose words have not survived except in the Book of Mormon.

But for Joseph Smith the concept of incompleteness was stronger still. He learned that certain ones “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” (1 Nephi 13:26). This charge was emphasized by three subsequent passages (see 1 Nephi 13:28, 29, 40).

This leads us to the second point, which is that Joseph Smith knew that scripture had at times been written or edited without enlightenment. In the case of the Song of Solomon, he felt that that book had not been written with inspiration. [20]

Third, because of his reservations regarding scriptural composition and transmission, he was open to the notion of variants within scripture. Indeed, as I have observed above, the entire Joseph Smith Translation constitutes a variant version. In some cases, .it differs only from the King James Version; but in other cases, as we have seen, the Joseph Smith Translation also differs from an earlier second version found in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith’s acceptance of these variant versions as valid expressions of scripture anticipates modern studies on the versions and the history of the transmission of biblical text. While the modern study of the biblical text has gone far toward establishing what are likely to be the earliest and best readings of passages based on extant biblical manuscripts, Joseph Smith seems, in some cases, to have leapfrogged behind the manuscripts and their variant readings by means of inspiration and offered us insights that simply do not grow out of any manuscript tradition.

Question: Why was Joseph Smith’s attention drawn to the so-called Little Apocalypse in Matthew 24 (JS–M of the Pearl of Great Price)?

S. Kent Brown: That is difficult to determine because we cannot know what was in Joseph Smith’s mind; we can observe, however, that a number of revelations he received pointed his attention toward the end time, that is, toward the so-called eschaton (Greek eschatos, furthest or last). Many eschatological themes and concepts are found in these revelations, which include not only his rerendering of Matthew 24 but also several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (see, for example, D&C 1; 76; 77; 88:87–116). Further, in the Joseph Smith Translation the entire Enoch section draws attention to the end time (JST, Genesis 6:26–7:78; Moses 6:25–8:1). The great number of these works may provide a clue.

I should also note that where Joseph Smith adds to or explains scripture in the Joseph Smith Translation, his concentration often falls on a key person or character from the biblical past. For instance, he adds a great deal about Melchizedek and Enoch (see JST, Genesis 14, 6). Interestingly, it is characters like these who are the subjects of recently found texts which have to do with the end time, the eschaton. It is fascinating that Joseph Smith’s scriptural material regarding them also frequently concerns the end time (see, for example, the prophecy of Joseph sold into Egypt in JST, Genesis 50:24–36). [21]

Question: In which areas or books of the Old Testament did Joseph Smith concentrate his translation efforts?

Victor L. Ludlow: The Old Testament is often divided into three sections: the Law or Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings. Later writers and records indicate that one book in each section was quoted most often in the later scriptures and the Dead Sea Scrolls. For the books of the Law it was Deuteronomy, Isaiah was the favorite prophet, and Psalms was most quoted of the Writings. Joseph Smith greatly favored the last two books, but he spent much more time in Genesis than any other book of the Law.

Almost fifty of what I would call major changes were made in Genesis, compared to about thirty in Exodus and only six or so in Deuteronomy. Besides approximately sixty major changes made in the Book of Mormon portions of Isaiah, Joseph Smith also made thirty significant changes in the other portions of Isaiah. Together, these Isaiah changes amount to more major variations than in all the other prophetic books combined. For example, 1 and 2 Kings have only about twenty major changes, and Jeremiah has fewer than a dozen. Joseph Smith made almost two dozen major changes in the book of Psalms, far more than in any other book of the Writings.

Question: What types of changes did Joseph Smith make in the Old Testament?

Victor L. Ludlow: These changes could perhaps be summarized into four groups:

  1. Doctrinal clarifications: The King James text sometimes presents statements seemingly inconsistent with eternal gospel truths. For example, a number of references mention that “God repented” (for example, see 1 Samuel 15:35), or that an “evil spirit from God” came upon someone (see 1 Samuel 18:10). Joseph Smith resolved these doctrinal ambiguities or conflicts.
  2. Answers to questions: Some sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received after Joseph went to the Lord with specific questions (see, for example, D&C 113). Additional questions raised by the Prophet after further studies would sometimes result in new material, which became part of the Joseph Smith Translation. One prime example would be Isaiah 48:1, which in the King James Version (and as cited in the first edition of the Book of Mormon) included the phrase “out of the waters of Judah.” Some questioning or curiosity led Joseph to an understanding of the meaning of this phrase, so that in the next Book of Mormon edition he added the explanatory phrase “or out of the waters of baptism” (1 Nephi 20:1).
  3. Revelations: Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible led to significant revelations, such as the materials we call the book of Moses (now a major portion of our Pearl of Great Price), which is actually, as we have seen, an extract from the Joseph Smith Translation.
  4. Grammatical and technical clarifications: Most of the changes in the Bible were minor changes of punctuation, grammar, etc.

Question: Does the Joseph Smith Translation provide an answer to the questions of biblical critics on the writings of Isaiah (authorship, textual origins, Dead Sea Scroll versions, Septuagint versus the Masoretic texts, etc.)?

Victor L. Ludlow: Basically, Joseph Smith’s work, especially the Book of Mormon portions, supports the traditional viewpoint of single authorship of Isaiah. A close comparison with the Dead Sea Scrolls does not usually support Joseph Smith’s translation, possibly because the Qumran texts were already significantly altered from the Isaiah text which Lehi took to the New World as the foundation for the Book of Mormon passages. The Dead Sea Scrolls were already in the Masoretic tradition. The Joseph Smith Translation seems to be a little closer to the Septuagint version than any of the ancient texts.

Question: Is there any evidence that the Book of Mormon influenced changes Joseph Smith made in the New Testament—particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, which is similar to the Savior’s sermon to the Nephites?

Robert J. Matthews: There are many interesting and significant differences in the two sermons. The Savior’s sermon to the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 12–14) is very helpful in understanding the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5–7). However, I think the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew is the more helpful because it clarifies the Sermon on the Mount itself, whereas in 3 Nephi we have a different sermon, given under different circumstances to a different people. The Nephite sermon is not the Sermon on the Mount but is a similar sermon, whereas Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew 5–7 is actually the Sermon on the Mount “revisited,” preserving the time frame, the culture, and the audience of the Sermon on the Mount. The effect of the differences in setting can be seen, for example, in the Lord’s Prayer of the Nephite sermon, which omits the phrases “thy kingdom come” and “give us this day our daily bread” because of the different audiences and the different circumstances attending the two sermons.

Question: Are there portions of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price that might be considered part of the Joseph Smith Translation?

Robert J. Matthews: Yes and no. The Joseph Smith Translation has a different relationship to the Doctrine and Covenants than it has to the Pearl of Great Price. For example, the Pearl of Great Price contains two excerpts from the text of the Joseph Smith Translation, the book of Moses and Matthew 24 (known as “Joseph Smith—Matthew”). However, the Doctrine and Covenants contains no extracts from the Joseph Smith Translation, but considerable regulatory information about it: directions about starting and temporarily stopping the work (see D&C 37:1; 73:3–4), beginning the New Testament (see D&C 45: 60–62), and calling a scribe (see D&C 35:20); an admonition to “hasten” the process (D&C 93:53); and some recommendations about the printing (see D&C 94:10; 124:89). There are also certain revelations that grew out of the work on the translation but were not actually part of the Joseph Smith text (see D&C 76:15–18; 86:1–7; 77; 91).

Question: What does Joseph Smith’s work with the Bible suggest about a commitment to biblical scholarship? Has the membership of the Church responded sufficiently to this commitment?

Victor L. Ludlow: Joseph’s work does indicate a serious commitment. He read the Bible and other scriptures very regularly. He met with others and discussed the scriptures. He studied languages and different translations, a particularly significant contribution when it comes to Hebrew. Understanding Hebrew allows the reader to view the material not only through the eyes of another language but also through the medium of a different culture. These different perspectives create new dimensions of understanding which should cause the reader to ponder possible additional meanings of the text. Joseph Smith compared different possible interpretations, then used prayer and spiritual communication through the Holy Ghost to bring further insight and answers. In all these ways, he set the example for us. Indeed, as readers, we should be capable of developing our own spiritual gifts of learning and prophecy such that we come to a more complete understanding of the original, divinely inspired writings.

S. Kent Brown: The evidences for Joseph Smith’s commitment to biblical scholarship are many and varied. The establishment of the School of the Prophets in January 1833 illustrates an important educational effort focusing on scripture at the beginning of the Church’s history. I would further note the sweep of topics to be included in that school as outlined by the Lord:

And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms. (D&C 88:77–79.)

Incidentally, the actual title, School of the Prophets, was given later in the same revelation (see D&C 88:127, 136). Another evidence of Joseph’s commitment is that the curriculum also included languages relevant to scripture—Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, and Greek, the language of the New Testament and of the Septuagint, the most important translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. A final point is the very subject of this panel: that Joseph Smith provided the Church with an expanded and expanding canon, including the Joseph Smith Translation. All of this implies Joseph Smith’s intense concern for the roots of the language and meaning of scripture, first transmitted to Church members through the School of the Prophets.

Let me note a few of the levels of Joseph Smith’s work on scripture. First, having learned something about the written languages of the scriptures, Joseph Smith then made efforts to explain the meaning of scripture on the basis of language. On one occasion, he began to explain the meaning of God’s “creation” of the heavens and earth on the basis of the Hebrew meaning of create. [22]

Second, the parallel accounts growing out of Joseph Smith’s work on scripture showed his interest in the insights provided by variant readings and parallel passages. This work implies and anticipates modern textual studies and therefore suggests that he considered such study an important part of his work on scripture.

Third, Joseph Smith concerned himself with history and biography in scripture. For instance, his extensive additions on Melchizedek are largely biographical (see JST, Genesis 14).

Fourth, the Joseph Smith Translation is full of commentary and clearer contexts of scriptural incidents (see JST, Luke 17:38 for such an explanatory note).

In responding to the second part of the question, I would point to the two sections added to the Pearl of Great Price in the Church’s semiannual conference of April 1976 and now part of the Doctrine and Covenants. They, in fact, continue the New Testament theme of Jesus’ work among the dead (see, for example, 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6). I would also like to mention the new LDS editions of the scriptures, which include extensive study helps, notes, and cross-references to aid the student of the scriptures. I believe these editions have provided Church members with solid assistance in scripture study.

Robert J. Matthews: The whole spirit of the gospel commits us to gospel study and seeking to understand the word of the Lord, both ancient and modern. Not all people have the same propensities, so perhaps not everyone should become a linguist; but I think we all have some responsibility to become familiar with the issues and discoveries, not only for our own salvation, but in some cases for the defense of the Church in the modern world. Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible was not an automatic process. It required careful study, meditation, prayer, and a searching for the true meaning of each passage. In this respect, the Joseph Smith Translation commits us all to do likewise. The Joseph Smith Translation is one of the great “undiscovered” and unappreciated works of Joseph Smith, which will yet see its fulfillment and enjoy its full measure of contribution. I am confident that when all the dust of argument, scholarship, and research has cleared away, the evidence will show that Joseph Smith the Prophet was as inspired in his translation of the Bible as he was in any other category of his life, both in clarifying the text and in restoring lost material.


[1] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 327.

[2] Ibid., 9–11.

[3] H. L. Ginsberg, The Book of Isaiah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1973), 27.

[4] The Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, book 9, chap. 20, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1951), 8:289.

[5] Among other works, see Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah: The Book of Mormon in the Modern World (1967; reprint ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976); The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975).

[6] For the Apocalypse of Moses and the Life of Adam and Eve, see L. S. Wells’s edition in R. H. Charles, ed., Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 2:123–54; for the Coptic Apocalypse of Adam, see George W. MacRae’s translation in James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 256–64; and Stephen E. Robinson’s introduction and translation in BYU Studies 17 (Winter 1977): 131–53.

[7] See Hugo Odeberg, ed. and trans., Third Enoch or The Hebrew Book of Enoch, Prolegomenon by Jonas C. Greenfield (1928; reprint ed., New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1973); Second or Slavonic Enoch, “The Book of the Secrets of Enoch,” ed. Nevill Forbes and R. H. Charles, in Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, 2:425–69; First or Ethiopic Enoch appears in Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, 2: 163–281. The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4, ed. J. T. Milik with the collaboration of Matthew Black (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976). For the Greek fragments of Enoch, see M. Black, ed., Apocalypsis Henochi Graece (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970). See Hugh Nibley, “A Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch,” Ensign, October 1975, 78–83; December 1975, 72–76; February 1976, 64–68; March 1976, 62–66; April 1976, 60–64; July 1976, 64–68; October 1976, 76–81; December 1976, 73–78; February 1977, 66–75; March 1977, 86–90; April 1977, 78–89; June 1977, 78–90; August 1977, 64–65.

[8] A fairly recent LDS assessment was made by Ann Nicholls Madsen in her “Melchizedek, the Man and the Tradition” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1975).

[9] For the Melchizedek tractate found in fragmentary condition at Nag Hammadi, see the introduction and translation by Birger A. Pearson and Soren Giversen in Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, 399–403. Editions and discussions of the Melchizedek midrash discovered in Cave 11 can be found in M. de Jonge and A. S. van der Woude, “HQ Melchizedek and the New Testament,” New Testament Studies 12 (1966): 301–26; and in Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (1967): 25–41.

[10] Editions and recent studies on the Testament of Abraham include: Michael E. Stone, ed. and trans., The Testament of Abraham: The Greek Recensions, Society of Biblical Literature Text and Translations, no. 2 (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1972); M. Delcor, Le Testament dAbraham, Studia in Vetus Testamenti Pseudepigrapha, no. 2 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973); F. Schmidt, “Traditions relatives a Abraham dans la litterature hellenistique juive,” Ecole Pratique des Hautes-Etudes, Annuaire des Sciences religieuse 80 (1971–72): 321–23, and 82 (1973–74): 191–94; Robert A. Kraft, ed., 1972 Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Literature, Septuagint and Cognate Studies, no. 2 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1972), 155–245; George W. E. Nickelsburg, ed., Studies on the Testament of Abraham, Septuagint and Cognate Studies, no. 6 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976). For the Apocalypse of Abraham, see E. Turdeanu, “L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en slave,” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Periods 3 (1972): 153–80; Gottlieb Nathanael Bonwetsch, Die Apokalypse Abrahams (1897; reprint ed., Aalen: Scientia-Verlag, 1972). An English translation of Bonwetsch’s German rendition was published as “The Book of the Revelation of Abraham,” Improvement Era 1 (1898): 705–14, 793–806.

[11] George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jr., “Eschatology in the Testament of Abraham: A Study of the Judgment Scenes in the Two Recensions,” in Kraft, 1972 Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Literature, 210–12, 220–25.

[12] The Greek text of the Testament of Joseph was edited by R. H. Charles in his The Greek Versions of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1908), 183–213; the Armenian text recently appeared in Michael E. Stone, ed. and trans., The Armenian Version of the Testament of Joseph, Texts and Translations, no. 6 (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1975). See Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha 2:346–54 for an English translation. Also see James G. Williams, “Number Symbolism and Joseph as Symbol of Completion,” Journal of Biblical Literature 98 (1979): 86–87; George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jr., ed., Studies on the Testament of Joseph, Septuagint and Cognate Studies, no. 5 (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1975); H. Dixon Slingerland, “The Testament of Joseph: A Redaction-Critical Study,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96 (1977): 507–16; R. Y. Ebied and M. J. L. Young, eds. and trans., The Story of Joseph in Arabic Verse, Supplement 3 of the Annual of the Leeds University Oriental Society (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975); Marc Philonenko, ed. and trans. Joseph et Aseneth, Studia Post-Biblica, vol. 13 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), 3–27; S. West, “Joseph and Aseneth: A Neglected Romance,” The Classical Quarterly 24 (1974): 70–81; and Christoph Burchard, “Joseph und Aseneth neugriechish,” New Testament Studies 24 (1977–78): 68–84.

[13] From the Old Testament Apocrypha, consult 2 Esdras 6:38–59; Wisdom of Solomon 6:22; 8:6; 9:1–9; Ecclesiasticus 1:4; 42:15–43:33. Works dealing with the Creation that can be found in volume 2 of Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, include The Book of Jubilees, The Book of Adam and Eve (particularly the Apocalypse of Moses), The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, The Book of Enoch, and IV Ezra 6:38–54. Of the Coptic Gnostic treatises, see Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, including The Gospel of Truth, The Tripartite Tractate, The Apocryphon of John, The Gospel of Philip, The Hypostasis of the Archons, On the Origin of the World, The Gospel of the Egyptians, The Apocalypse of Adam, etc.

[14] Compare, for instance, the following among the Coptic Gnostic documents: The Apocryphon of James 10:15–20 and 13:13–17; The Gospel of Thomas, saying 4; and the Apocalypse of Adam 64:14–66:25, in Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, 33, 35, 118, 256–57.

[15] The concept of a restoration, following a period of apostasy, plays a particularly strong role in S. Kent Brown and C. Wilfred Griggs, “The Apocalypse of Peter: Introduction and Translation,” BYU Studies 15 (Winter 1975): 131–45; also in Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, 339–45.

[16] See, for example, James H. Charlesworth, “Messianism in Pseudepigrapha and the Book of Mormon,” in Truman G. Madsen, ed., Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, Religious Studies Monograph Series, vol. 4 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978), 99–137, esp. 129.

[17] For attitudes toward the Apocrypha, see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969), 1175–93, esp. 1189–93.

[18] Extensive collections of apocryphal texts are to be found in the following works: Montague Rhodes James, trans., The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924); Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, eds., New Testament Apocrypha, trans. A. J. B. Higgins and others, ed. R. McL. Wilson, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963–66); R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913). Professor James H. Charlesworth is editing an updated and expanded collection of the Pseudepigrapha scheduled for publication in the early 1980s by Doubleday and Company. For the Nag Hammadi documents, see James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (New York: Harper and Row, 1977); for the Dead Sea Scrolls, Theodor H. Gaster, ed. and trans., The Dead Sea Scriptures (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956); and Geza Vermes, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962).

[19] See, for instance, Wayne Ham, “A Textual Comparison of the Isaiah Passages in the Book of Mormon with the Same Passages in the St. Mark’s Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Community” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1961); and Gary L. Bishop, “The Tradition of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974).

[20] Joseph Smith’s statement, “The Songs of Solomon are not Inspired Writings,” written by him in his copy of the Bible, is discussed by Robert J. Matthews in his ‘A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 87, 215.

[21] See C. Wilfred Griggs, “Manichaeism, Mormonism and Apocalypticism,” Sperry Lecture Series (now Sidney B. Sperry Symposium) (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, April 1973), 17–25, for a discussion of prophets whose messages are associated with the end time and Joseph Smith’s interest in them.

[22] See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 371–72.