Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible

From Academic Kids

The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, also called the Inspired Version of the Bible or the JST, is a version of the Bible dictated by Joseph Smith, Jr. The work is the King James Version of the Bible, but with some significant additions, clarifications, and revisions. It is a sacred text in Mormonism, and part of the canon of the Community of Christ. Smith considered this work to be "a branch of his calling" as a prophet.

Smith considered the translation necessary because of his view that the Bible was not always translated correctly, or contained interpolations by copyists. (See The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints's "Articles of Faith", stating "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.") The work, however, was not a literal "translation" (modern usage) from ancient documents. Although it is certain that Smith took Hebrew, Greek and German lessons in Kirtland as early as 1833, the "translation" is rather a purportedly inspired "rendering" or "restoration" of the Bible to its original or intended meaning. Smith's work on the volume took place from about 1830 until Smith's death in 1844 when he was preparing the manuscript for publication. The bulk of the work took place from 1830-1833, and 3,410 Bible verses were in some way altered. There is some dispute among scholars as to whether Smith considered the translation to be complete and why he made changes to the manuscript as late as May 1844, a month prior to his death.

Contents

Process of translation

Smith's translation was a work in progress throughout his ministry. Some parts of the translation (parts of Genesis and the four Gospels) were dictated from beginning to end, including unchanged verses from the KJV; some parts were dictated more than once; other parts were revised one verse at a time. The manuscripts were written, re-written, and in some cases, additional edits were written in the columns, pinned to the paper or otherwise attached. Smith relied on a version of the Bible that included the Apocrypha, and marked off the Bible as verses were examined (the Apocrypha was not translated). Skeptics view this nonlinearity as evidence that Smith's translation was not inspired; however, Latter Day Saints see Smith's translation as a gradual, developing inspiration within Smith's mind.

It is possible, but not certain, that Smith's process of receiving "revealed text" is the same for this volume as it was for his earlier translation, The Book of Mormon, and his later translation, The Book of Abraham; however, these other works appear to have been dictated much more quickly from beginning to end, with little revision, and they were purportedly based on an original ancient document. To translate, he may have used a seer stone, or a purported set of seer stones which he called the Urim and Thummim. According to most accounts, however, most of the translation of the Bible took place without any physical mediums, but by direct revelation through the Holy Spirit.

Content of the translation

The majority of corrections are minor clarifying statements and language modernization. In some instances, these minor changes seem to coincide with the Septuagint, recent discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi texts, other translations of the Bible, and other ancient documents not available to Smith. This fact has been used by Latter Day Saints as evidence that Smith was inspired. On the other hand, skeptics suggest that Smith may have had access to traditions that would have led to some of his "correct guesswork," and point to the fact that some lengthy changes, such as the prophecies of Moses are not included anywhere in any known documents, traditions or other accounts. Some Latter-day Saint apologists and scholars point to similarities of the prophecies of Enoch and Joseph (one of the twelve sons of Jacob or Israel) to Kabbalistic, Masonic and (Egyptian) Gnostic traditions as evidence of Smith's inspiration.

Many of Smith's revisions to the Bible led to significant developments in the doctrines of Mormonism. During the process of translation, when he came across troubling Biblical issues, Smith often dictated revelations relevant to himself, his associates, or the Church. About half of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are in some way connected to this translation process, including background on the Apocrypha (LDS D&C section 91), the Three Degrees of Heaven (LDS section 76), the Eternal nature of marriage and plural marriage (Latter-day Saint) (LDS section 132), teachings on baptism for the dead (LDS section 124), various revelations on priesthood (LDS sections 84, 88, 107) and others. In addition, many other works that have been considered canon by various Latter Day Saint faiths, including the Lectures on Faith and the Pearl of Great Price are largely the result of the translation.

For some of Smith's revisions, critics argue that the change has more to do with supporting Latter Day Saint theology, than with restoring original meaning or intent. For example, one of Smith's revisions includes a prophesy about Joseph Smith himself.

Publication and use

The Community of Christ, formerly the RLDS church, has published Smith's translation as the 'Inspired Version' of the Bible.

Smith was killed prior to the publication of the translation, and he led some early Latter Day Saint leaders to believe that he was not finished with his inspired translation. In addition, there is some evidence that Smith's wife Emma and others may have removed Smith's references to plural marriage to protect his character. This may have been done by multiple individuals including Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) leaders in the 1860s, prior to their first publication of the work in 1867.

Most scholars believe that the current edition of the Inspired Version as published by the Community of Christ renders the manuscripts accurately, although it generally does not include most of Smith's later changes. Later editions of the Inspired Version include omitted portions that may have intentionally been discarded. It is apparent that the more recent editions published between 1920 and 1967 carefully preserve the majority of Smith's changes, although some passages had multiple, "conflicting translations" (meaning that there were more than one edit which were not consistent with each other— possibly showing the writer's intent versus actual writing versus modern interpretations) within the manuscripts. Most scholars who have studied the manuscripts also concur that recent editons do not attempt to push any particular theological agenda, although the published Inspired Version uses an earlier version (pre-1842 in most cases) of the manuscripts.

Possibly because of any uncertainties, and the fact that the Community of Christ owned the original copyright on the work, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not accept the work as part of its canon, as does the Community of Christ.

The LDS church does accept many of the changes as doctrinally significant. Nearly 1000 of the more doctrinally significant passages from the translation are included as excerpts in the current LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible.

A book was recently published, titled Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, culminating nearly ten years of joint research from both Community of Christ and LDS scholars, showing all of the known changes, notes and marks in margins and additional notes that were pinned on the pages of the manuscripts and Bible that were used.

Additional Resources

  • Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible, Herald Publishing House, 1970; ISBN 0-8309-0032-2
  • Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation:" Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary, Brigham Young University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8425-2237-9
  • Robert L. Millet and Robert J. Matthews, Plain and Precious Truths Restored: The Doctrinal and Historical Significance of the Joseph Smith Translation, Bookcraft 1995. ISBN 0-88494-987-7
  • Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, Scott H. Faulring, editors, Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, Deseret Book Company, 2004. ISBN 1590383281
  • Full text of the Community of Christ's Inspired Version of the Bible (http://www.centerplace.org/hs/iv/default.htm)
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