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The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible

By Mel.

Sometimes you will hear a reference to the JSTB (sometimes referred to as the Inspired Version of the Bible) either by detractors of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  (Mormons) or sparingly in Mormon literature.  In 1996 Brigham Young University professors at the Religious Studies Center began the laborious process of preparing for publication a typographic transcription of the original manuscripts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. The actual manuscript belongs to the Community of Christ and not the Mormons.

After Smith’s murder, persecution suffered by the church in general increased.   Mormons had built the beautiful and remarkable city of Nauvoo, Illinois, but were driven out in the midst of winter.  Later, after being allowed to remain in Nauvoo, a new church was founded by Smith’s sons with his widow acquiescing.    The main body of the Church fled at gunpoint to western territories (Mexico) in the Rockies under the leadership of Brigham Young.

joseph smith mormonEnemies of the Church had hoped that with the death of Joseph Smith, the church would dissolve. Few church leaders were as charismatic as was Joseph Smith.  In those days, Mexico included most of the Western United States and the Mexican Government had no objection, and even welcomed the Mormons colonizing the thinly populated territory.  Joseph’s widow, Emma, was too physically and mentally exhausted to make the journey.  The trials and privations she had suffered during the early years of the restoration of Christ’s gospel would have killed a weaker woman.  In 2011, the Mormon Church officially recognized and  honored Emma Smith’s unique contribution to Mormonism.

After Young’s succession to lead the church, published reports and rumors circulated that caused a rift between Brigham Young and Emma Smith, Joseph’s widow, and her family.    The Utah Mormons readily adopted the Authorized King James Version of the Bible as canonical with the idea that together with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price (collectively referred to as the Standard Works), the combination was sufficient to clear up any possible misunderstandings in scripture.
According to the Articles of Faith, written by Joseph Smith, similar to creeds in other religions, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” By this we assert that there have been many translations of the Bible and over that time some translations have deviated or changed over the centuries. This belief is actually quite common among biblical scholars today and evident in the historical context. This is also partly the reason there are so many different versions of the Bible worldwide. (See Is the Bible a Perfect Book?) Since the additional works in the Standard Works also testify of Christ and in no way replace the Bible, understanding and theology is consistent in Mormonism.

The “Standard Works” in Mormonism

Smith was not commanded to re-translate the Bible. There was no need, especially since members of the Church of Jesus Christ also have The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. Used together these works plus the Bible, referred to as the Standard Works, tell us what we need to know, and clarify the finer points of the gospel, testifying of the divine mission of Christ. The Bible is a key element of the Standard Works. The other three books do not, nor could they replace the Bible, rather they are to be used hand in hand together to enlighten us and testify to us of Christ’s mission and divinity.  The Lord did tell Joseph Smith to begin a translation of the Bible, but the Lord also knew Joseph would never finish it.  The information received by revelation named “The Book of Moses” is so valuable, it was worth any effort Joseph invested in other parts of the Bible.

Mormons accept the Authorized King James Version of the Bible (KJV) as canonical.

Very few Mormons actually have a copy of the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible,  and it is not widely promoted by the Church, because it is unnecessary. Notwithstanding, it is available through Deseret In 2009 a new book was published entitled Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible—-Original Manuscripts and was prepared by the Religious Studies Center at BYU. It is an 851 page scholarly book detailing the JSTB and is presented just as it was by Smith and various scribes including original spellings, punctuation, deletions and insertions. It contains much information that was previously unknown.

The historical text consisted of 446 large pages of handwritten texts. Additional material is provided in the form of essays and introductions, including historical information. The book took over eight years to prepare and was completed using mostly scanned images  on computer monitors and painstaking  transcribed, checked and rechecked every word, every letter and every punctuation mark. Additionally, because of the technology and computer magnification some aspects that were previously not visible to the naked eye, even with magnifying glasses, are now revealed.

The Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible—-Original Manuscripts were prepared by Scott H. Faulring, a research historian at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, Kent P. Jackson, a professor of ancient scripture and Robert J. Mathews a professor emeritus of ancient scripture. The available work is a state-of the-art scholarship in manuscript editing and sheds light on Joseph Smith and his translation of the Bible. The approach is a no-holds barred academic presentation and retails for $99.95 USD.

A final word on the ongoing debate about which Bible is most acceptable
There has been on ongoing debate among Protestants which Bible should be accepted and used. For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is  the Authorized KJV.   (See Which Bible Should I Use?)

Mel Borup Chandler MormonMel Borup Chandler is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”). He currently works in real estate investment and property management with his wife Sandra.

Additional Resources:

Mormons and Jesus Christ

The Meaning of Life


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