Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) use the Authorized King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. If choosing a Bible were easy it would be great, but, the last time I went to a Christian bookstore, there were at least twelve different Bible translations.
Recent History of Bible Translations
Between 1952 through 1989 there were at least 26 English language bibles published. One of the driving forces behind the multiplicity of biblical texts is archeological discovery, and an advancement and availability of archeological manuscripts online and translation and software technologies.
It was as recent as the early 1970’s that the personal computer first became available. Since then, things have evolved to the point where in developed countries, almost everyone access to a personal computer. In today’s world, telephones, other electronics, and software technology are constantly on the cusp of technological breakthroughs and innovations every few years.
This technology has given linguists, researchers and even translators the ability to enhance, analyze and compare texts that prior to that time, were painstakingly difficult, time consuming and in many cases only available to Bible scholars and a few select specialized professionals or librarians in top intuitions worldwide. Many biblical texts are written in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic and Latin. Some of them are 2-3000 years old.
A Short history of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)
The KJV is attributable to the Church of England and was begun in 1604 and completed in 1611. It was first printed by the King’s Printer Robert Barker, and was the third official translation into English. The first translation was called the Great Bible and was completed during the reign of King Henry VIII (a Tudor). King Henry the VIII died on January 28th, 1547, and there were numerous short-lived monarchies after him.
The second translation of the Bible was called the Bishop’s Bible and was available in 1568. In January 1604, King James I of England convened the Hampton Court Conference, where a new English version was conceived in a response to perceived problems of the earlier translations. The revisions sought to solve problems and clarify interpretations associated specifically with the Puritans, who were a breakaway faction within the Church of England.
James gave the translators instructions that the new version should conform to the ecclesiology and the Episcopal structure of the Church of England and reflect the Church’s beliefs about an ordained clergy. The translation was performed by 47 scholars. In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek; the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew text, while the Apocrypha were translated from the Greek and Latin.
In the Book of Common Prayer (1662), the text of the Authorized Version replaced the text of the Great Bible — to be used for Epistle and Gospel readings – and as such was authorized by Act of Parliament. This is why the accepted Bible used by the Mormons is called the Authorized KJV.
During the first half of the 18th century, the Authorized Version was unchallenged as the official English language translation and supplanted the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English speaking scholars. It was used in both Anglican and Protestant churches alike.
Many Translations — A Modern Dilemma
It is a little tough to go to a Bible study group or Sunday school and have so many different translations of the Bible. As an example, let us say one class member reads a scripture from the Catholic Revised Standard Version (RSV) and another from the New Revised Standard version (NRSV) , and then another from the New King James Version (NKJV is a protestant Bible version published in 1982), or even the Authorized KJV. It is more than a little chaotic and distracting. Is it any wonder then that there is so much disagreement between various churches with regard to the content and interpretation of the Bible? Any student in this environment will soon be wondering what the point is.
Interestingly, this is exactly what happened to Joseph Smith. As a young man of fourteen years, Smith desperately wanted to find and know the truth. His family was deeply religious, and the time for him to be baptized was fast approaching. Different members of his family belonged to different churches and were pulling him in different directions. He needed to decide which of the many Christian denominations to join. After careful study, he still felt confused. He later wrote,
“So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was [ … ] to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong [ … ] In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith-History 1:8, 10).
Joseph turned to the Bible for guidance. He read,
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next. He described his experience:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me [ … ] When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other-This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith-History 1:16-17).
The date was spring of 1820 and the Church was “restored” in 1830. Smith spent his short lifetime re-establishing the primitive Church of Jesus Christ under the direction of Jesus Christ and he was eventually martyred in the cause.
English-Speaking Mormons Use the Authorized King James Version
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, sometimes erroneously referred to as the Mormon Church, they have adopted the Authorized King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. This same version is also one of the most accepted by the majority of English speaking Protestants. You could purchase the book in any Christian or chain bookstore. Many Mormon Church members have actually bought their Bibles at those bookstores in the past; however, the LDS Church has also distributed Bibles through its distribution center in Salt Lake City which was recently combined with Deseret Book.
The primary benefit of buying the Bible through the Mormon Church‘s bookstore is that it is cross-referenced with footnotes to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (collectively called the Standard Works and accepted as canon) and includes a 600-page topical index and the bible dictionary and a group of maps showing the political and geographic boundaries in the time of Old and New Testament. It also includes some modern day pictures of the Holy land.
None of the LDS-specific supplements in the LDS published Bible are considered to have doctrinal authority: however, the actual text of the King James Version and the other books called The Standard Works are considered canonical by the LDS Church. Additionally there are selected references to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible included in a few footnotes, with some longer excerpts included in an appendix. This added feature is quite valuable for gospel study and understanding. Whether or not you are Mormon, you would be surprised how useful these additional features are.
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JSTB) is not considered canonical by the Utah-based church, because after the murder of Joseph Smith it was unfinished and remained in possession of Smith’s wife and sons. Thus, Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew 23 and 24 are included in the canonized book called the Pearl of Great Price, as is Joseph Smith’s addition to the Pentateuch, which He received by revelation during the Bible translation process. Other verses of his translation of the Bible have been added as footnotes. No changes have been made to the original text of the AKJV.
Mel 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.