Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible
by Robert J. Matthews
Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made a "new translation" of the Bible, using the text of the King James Version (KJV). This work differs from the KJV in at least 3,410 verses and consists of additions, deletions, rearrangements, and other alterations that cause it to vary not only from the KJV but from other biblical texts. Changes range from minor details to fully reconstituted chapters. This article presents statements by Joseph Smith telling why he made a Bible translation, gives information relating to the development and production of the work, examines a number of the significant variants, and considers some doctrinal results and historical implications.
VIEW OF THE BIBLE. The official position of the Church is stated in its eighth article of faith: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." The message of the Bible is held to be true, while details of accuracy and completeness are accepted within certain limits. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: "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" (TPJS, p. 327). And again, "From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled" (TPJS, pp. 9-10).
Joseph Smith often used the words "translated" and "translation," not in the narrow sense alone of rendering a text from one language into another, but in the wider senses of "transmission," having reference to copying, editing, adding to, taking from, rephrasing, and interpreting. This is substantially beyond the usual meaning of "translation." When he said the Bible was not translated correctly, he not only was referring to the difficulties of rendering the Bible into another language but he was also observing that the manuscripts containing the text of the Bible have suffered at the hands of editors, copyists, and revisionists through centuries of transmission. Thus, the available texts of the Bible are neither as complete nor as accurate as when first written.
The Book of Mormon presents an account of a vision in which an angel, looking to the future, describes the Bible as a "record of the Jews" containing writings of "the prophets" and of the "Twelve Apostles of the Lamb." The vision asserts (1) that the ancient authors wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, (2) that originally their words contained the fulness of the gospel and were plain and easy to understand, but (3) that many things which were plain and precious, and many covenants, would be "taken away" from the original manuscripts; as a result, afterward (4) a great many persons, even with a Bible, would not understand the fulness of the gospel, but (5) the lost material would be restored through "other records" that the Lord would bring forth (1 Ne. 13:21-41). A somewhat parallel statement came to Joseph Smith in June 1830 while he was restoring a revelation received by Moses, declaring that many things would be taken "from the book" which Moses would write, but that the missing information would be restored through another prophet and thus be "had again" among those who believe (Moses 1:41). Latter-day Saints believe that the "other records" referred to include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, the JST, and other records still to come forth, and that the prophet divinely raised up to begin restoring the lost material is Joseph Smith (see Scriptures: Forthcoming Scriptures). In light of the foregoing statements, it is worth observing that the principal difficulty in the Bible apparently has been omissions. The remaining text may be generally correct in itself, but many important doctrinal items (resulting from the loss of a single word, a verse, a longer passage, or even whole books in some instances) are now missing.
AUTHORITY TO TRANSLATE. The Prophet Joseph Smith claimed a divine appointment to make an inspired rendition or, as he termed it, a "new translation" of the Bible. This appointment can be illustrated by excerpts from his writings. After laboring off and on for ten months on the early chapters of Genesis, Joseph Smith received a revelation from the Lord on March 7, 1831, directing him to begin work on the New Testament: "It shall not be given unto you to know any further concerning this chapter, until the New Testament be translated, and in it all these things shall be made known; wherefore I give unto you that ye may now translate it" (D&C 45:60-61). The manuscript of the JST shows that Joseph Smith began the translation of Matthew the next day. On December 1, 1831, the Prophet entered the following in his journal: "I resumed the translation of the Scriptures, and continued to labor in this branch of my calling with Elder Sidney Rigdon as my scribe" (HC 1:238-39). On February 16, 1832, he reported a revelation concerning the resurrection of the dead that includes the following reference to his divine commission to translate: "For while we [Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon] were doing the work of translation, which the Lord had appointed unto us, we came to the twenty-ninth verse of the fifth chapter of John" (D&C 76:15). On March 8, 1833, he reported the word of the Lord to him as follows: "And when you have finished the translation of the [Old Testament] prophets, you shall from thenceforth preside over the affairs of the church" (D&C 90:13). On May 6, 1833, Joseph Smith reported the following revelation: "It is my will that you should hasten to translate my scriptures" (D&C 93:53). Although not a complete list, the foregoing items illustrate Joseph Smith's claim to a divine appointment to translate the Old and New Testaments.
PROCEDURE AND TIME FRAME. When he began his work in 1830, Joseph Smith did not have a knowledge of biblical languages. His translation was not done in the usual manner of a scholar, but was a revelatory experience using only an English text. He did not leave a description of the translating process, but it appears that he would read from the KJV and dictate revisions to a scribe.
Joseph Smith was assisted by various scribes. The manuscript shows that Oliver Cowdery was the first, serving between June and October 1830; he recorded an introductory revelation (Moses 1) and the translation of KJV Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 4:18. John Whitmer served second, from October until December 1830, recording the translation of KJV Genesis 4:19 to approximately Genesis 5:20. Sidney Rigdon was next, becoming the main scribe from early December 1830 until the translation was finished on July 2, 1833. He recorded most of the translation from KJV Genesis 5:21 to the end of the Bible, although others recorded small portions.
They used a large edition of the KJV (9 inches by 11 inches by 2 inches), printed in 1828 by H. and E. Phinney Company of Cooperstown, New York, that included the Old Testament Apocrypha. (A notation on the flyleaf, in what appears to be Joseph Smith's handwriting, states that it had been purchased from the Egbert B. Grandin Bookstore in Palmyra, New York, on October 8, 1829, for $3.75). In this copy of the Phinney Bible are hundreds of pencil and ink notations consisting primarily of checks or crosses marking off passages to be revised. Likewise, a number of italicized words in the KJV text—which usually represent words implicitly understood in the Greek or Hebrew—are lined out. Words of the revision were not written on the pages of the Bible itself, but were recorded on sheets of paper and identified by the appropriate citation. The manuscript is written in full from Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 24 and from Matthew 1:1 through John 5, including entire chapters in which there are no corrections. A more rapid and efficient system was eventually used in which only the actual points of revision were written. These sometimes consisted of only one or two words. The markings in the Bible that designate verses to be translated appear only in those portions where the shorter method was used. The manuscript sheets, 17 inches by 14 inches folded to produce surfaces 8 inches by 14 inches, were once sewn together at the fold in convenient thicknesses. The entire manuscript consists of 477 pages.
The exact date on which the translation was begun is not known, but it is closely associated with the June 1830 revelation that contains an account of visions given to Moses before he composed the book of Genesis (see Moses 1). The work proceeded from June 1830 until July 2, 1833. Genesis 1- 17 was translated first, being done between June 1830 and March 7, 1831. On the latter date Joseph Smith received the revelation instructing him to "translate" the New Testament (D&C 45:60-62), which he began at Matthew 1:1. It appears that for a few days the translation may have continued in both Genesis and in Matthew, but the Old Testament was subsequently laid aside, possibly at the end of Genesis 24, in favor of working on the New Testament. The work then proceeded consecutively through the entire New Testament until February 2, 1833. The remainder of the Old Testament (Genesis 25 through Malachi) was then translated, being completed five months later. In response to prayer as to whether he should translate the Apocrypha, Joseph Smith reported a revelation dated March 9, 1833, to the effect that he need not attend to it: "It is mostly translated correctly,"though there are some errors and" interpolations by the hands of men" (D&C 91:1-2).
The dates on the JST manuscripts, when compared with dates of related revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and with dates and events entered in Joseph Smith's personal journal, indicate the movement back and forth between the Old and New Testaments, as explained above, rather than a straight-line progress from Genesis through Revelation. Likewise, the varying styles of handwriting in the manuscript reflect the known coming and going of those who served as scribes. Although the bulk of the translation was accomplished by July 2, 1833, that work represented a preliminary draft. As the manuscript was later reviewed and prepared for publication, further revisions, refinements, and alterations were made.
After Joseph Smith's death in June 1844, the marked Phinney Bible and the 477-page manuscript were kept by his widow, Emma Smith. She permitted Dr. John M. Bernhisel to examine the materials in the spring of 1845 at Nauvoo, Illinois. Bernhisel later reported that he made a complete copy of the markings in the Bible and an extensive but incomplete copy of the manuscript entries (Matthews, 1975, p. 118). The Bernhisel manuscript is in the Historian's Library of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, but the location of the Bernhisel marked Bible is not known. Emma Smith gave the Phinney Bible and the original manuscript to a publication committee representing the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church) in 1866. These are now in the custody of the RLDS Church at Independence, Missouri.
PUBLICATION. Although excerpts from the JST were published in Church newspapers and as a broadside tract during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, the entire work was not published in his day, even though he had intended and had expended considerable effort to accomplish it. The distraction of persecution, the demands of Church business, and the lack of financial means prevented him from completing and authorizing a manuscript ready for the press (Matthews, pp. 57-63).
In 1867, after considerable effort and expense, the RLDS Church published a copyrighted edition of the Bible, under the title Holy Scriptures, which incorporated the Prophet's translation into the format of a King James text. This was followed by many subsequent printings, all from the same stereotype plates. In 1936 a teacher's edition containing study helps was published by the RLDS Church. At that time a subtitle, "Inspired Version," was added, although the text remained the same as the 1867 edition. In 1944 a "New Corrected Edition" was published by the RLDS Church in which at least 352 verses were amended to correct typographical and judgment errors in the 1867 edition. These corrections were matters of detail, although in a few instances they significantly affected the meaning of the passages and brought the printed text into closer harmony with the manuscript. In 1970 a parallel column edition consisting of the Inspired Version and the King James Version was issued by the RLDS Church publishing house.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never published the entire Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Portions of Genesis and of Matthew, distributed during the time of Joseph Smith in Kirtland and in Nauvoo, are included in the Pearl of Great Price under the title Book of Moses (JST Gen. 1 through 8:18) and joseph smith-Matthew (JST Matt. 24). Extensive portions of JST Genesis 1- 5 and a single excerpt each from Romans and Hebrews were used in the Lectures on Faith and are still published therein. In 1979 the LDS Church published an edition of the King James Version with hundreds of JST footnotes and a seventeen-page appendix containing JST excerpts (see LDS Publication of the Bible).
EXTENT OF THE CHANGES. Joseph Smith made extensive corrections and additions to the books of Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, and Revelation. He also made many alterations in the writings of the Old Testament prophets and in Mark, John, Acts, and several of the epistles. He made no changes in Ruth, Ezra, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Obadiah, Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John. He made some corrections in all other books of the Bible, and rejected the Song of Solomon as not being inspired scripture.
TITLE. Joseph Smith's work with the Bible has been known by various titles. The revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants call it a "translation" (D&C 37:1; 90:13). Joseph Smith called it the "new translation," and it is known by this title in the early literature of the Church. It was published by the RLDS Church under the title "Holy Scriptures," with the later subtitle, "Inspired Version." Many call it an "inspired revision." In 1978 the LDS Church officially labeled it the "Joseph Smith Translation," abbreviated JST.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE JST. Assessing the contributions of the JST requires a differentiation between the process and the product. The translation process was revelatory and educational, and was a means of expanding the Prophet Joseph Smith's knowledge and doctrinal awareness (cf. D&C 45:60-61). The contributions, therefore, go beyond the particular biblical text that may have initiated the process. Among the doctrines of the LDS Church that arose from the JST translation process are the building of Zion, patterned after Enoch's city; the age of accountability of children, with baptism at eight years; the extensive revelation about the degrees of glory and plural marriage (including celestial, eternal marriage); and various items of priesthood organization and responsibility. These and other doctrines were often introduced during the translation process and later developed through subsequent revelations now contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants received during the translation process are sections 76, 77, 86, and 91, and parts of 107 and 132. In this way the JST has affected the spiritual life of every member of the Church, even though most of the members have not known of the JST.
The tangible product—the printed JST—consists of a Bible with thousands of unique corrections, additions, and readings. Although many Latter-day Saints regard this as the most correct version of the Bible now available, and therefore use it as a valuable source for biblical understanding, the wider contribution has probably been the enlightening effect that the process had upon Joseph Smith and the subsequent revelations through him that have shaped Church doctrine and practice. Most of the doctrinal and organizational revelations that have governed the Church, and that are now published in the Doctrine and Covenants, came to Joseph Smith during the period that he was translating the Bible (1830-1833).
Many items in the Doctrine and Covenants relate directly to the process of the JST. These gave direction to the Prophet concerning matters related to the translation, the selection of scribes, when to proceed with the translation, which portions of the Bible to do next, when to lay the work aside for other matters, and other such information, but do not contain texts of the JST. This type of related information is seen in the editorial headnotes to sections 35, 71, 76, 77, 86, and 91; and in the text of D&C 9:2; 35:20; 37:1; 41:7; 42:56-58; 45:60-62; 73:3; 76:15-18; 77:1-15; 86:1-11; 93:53; 94:10; 104:58; and 124:89. The Pearl of Great Price presents part of the product, and contains two extracts from the text of the JST, the Book of Moses and Joseph Smith—Matthew.
MAIN DOCTRINAL THEMES. Most of the passages revised or added by Joseph Smith are of doctrinal significance. While many individual topics are involved, some main themes are (1) an emphasis in both the Old and New Testaments on the mission and divinity of Jesus Christ; (2) the nature of God; (3) the innocence of children; (4) the Plan of Salvation; (5) premortal life; (6) the holy priesthood and credentials of the Patriarchs; (7) the ministries of Enoch and of Melchizedek; and (8) clarification of ambiguous passages, elimination of some contradictions between biblical texts, and explanations of terms and phrases.
Representative passages of the types of information found only in Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible constitute the remainder of this article.
The purpose of the JST is to provide knowledge not found in other Bibles. Thus it is by nature declarative and informative.
1. Emphasis on Jesus Christ. The JST emphasizes that the gospel of Jesus Christ was taught in the earliest ages of mankind. According to JST Genesis 1- 8 (published as Moses 1- 8 in the Pearl of Great Price), Adam, Enoch, Noah, and the other Patriarchs were preachers of righteousness and taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, including faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost.
The JST states that Adam was taught by a heavenly angel to offer animal sacrifice as a type and symbol of the atoning sacrifice that the Son of God would accomplish. He was instructed to do all things in the name of the Son. Adam was taught the gospel, was baptized by immersion, received the Holy Ghost, and was born of the Spirit (Moses 5, 6).
Enoch likewise knew the gospel of Jesus Christ, was ordained to the same priesthood that Adam held, and he taught these principles to others. To Enoch was given a vision that included the spirit world and future events upon the earth from his day to the second coming of Jesus Christ. He presided in a city of righteous people called Zion, which was translated and taken into heaven (Moses 6- 7; see Translated Beings).
Noah was also a preacher of righteousness, ordained to the same priesthood held by Adam and Enoch, and taught the gospel of Jesus Christ to his contemporaries, including faith in Jesus Christ, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Ghost (Moses 8:12-25).
The New Testament JST portrays a slightly stronger image of Jesus than does the KJV. Examples include the following: In the KJV the wise men ask Herod about the birth of the "King of the Jews" (Matt. 2:2); in the JST they pose a more searching question: "Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews?" (JST Matt. 3:2). [JST variants here and hereafter are in italics.] When Herod inquires of the scribes, he is told that it is written that Christ should be born in Bethlehem, "For out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel" (Matt. 2:6); the JST reads, "for out of thee shall come the Messiah, who shall save my people Israel" (JST Matt. 3:6).
In the JST a transitional passage without a KJV equivalent is inserted between the end of KJV Matthew chapter 2 and the beginning of Matthew chapter 3:
And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come. And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him. And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh [JST Matt. 3:24-26].
At age twelve, when Jesus was teaching in the temple, the KJV (Luke 2:46) records that Jesus was "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions." The JST reads, "they were hearing him, and asking him questions" (JST Luke 2:46).
The KJV account of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness states that Jesus went there "to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered" (Matt. 4:1-2). The JST reads: "Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil" (JST Matt. 4:1-2). Luke's record (KJV) says that Jesus was "forty days tempted of the devil" (Luke 4:2). The JST reads, "And after forty days, the devil came unto him, to tempt him" (JST Luke 4:2).
The KJV states that "the devil taketh" Jesus to a "pinnacle of the temple" and also to a "high mountain" (Matt. 4:5-8; Luke 4:5-9). The JST says it was "the Spirit" who transported Jesus to these places (JST Matt. 4:5-8; Luke 4:5-9).
In the KJV John 3:23 states that Jesus performed baptisms, but John 4:2 largely negates Jesus' activity as a baptizer by stating: "Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples." The JST reads, "Though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples; For he suffered them for an example, preferring one another" (JST John 4:3-4).
Jesus' parables are touched upon in many JST passages. One of the most important is a statement, presented as the words of Jesus himself, explaining why he used parables to veil the spiritual message when speaking to certain individuals: "Hear another parable; for unto you that believe not, I speak in parables; that your unrighteousness may be rewarded unto you" (JST Matt. 21:34).
In Mark 7:22-24 (KJV) Jesus enters a house "and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid." JST Mark 7:22-23 reads, "and would that no man should come unto him. But he could not deny them; for he had compassion upon all men."
Luke reports that while Jesus was on the cross, he cried out, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (KJV Luke 23:34). The JST adds a parenthetical clarification: "(meaning the soldiers who crucified him)" (JST Luke 23:35).
2. God's Dealings with Mankind. JST passages bearing on God's dealings with mankind include the following: Genesis 6:6 (KJV) states that "It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." JST Genesis 8:13 (Moses 8:25) renders this passage thus: "And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained, that the Lord had made man on the earth." Exodus 7:3, 13; 9:12; 10:1, 20 (KJV) all state that God will harden Pharaoh's heart. In each of these the JST reads that Pharaoh will harden his own heart:
Isaiah 63:17 (KJV) reads "O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart?" The JST reads, "O Lord, why hast thou suffered us to err,…and to harden our heart?"
Matthew 6:13 (KJV) reads, "And lead us not into temptation," whereas the JST reads "suffer us not to be led into temptation" (JST Matt. 6:14).
3. Innocence of Children. Many passages bear on man's nature in relation to the Fall of Adam, his agency, and accountability to God. For instance, concerning the innocence of little children, the JST states that in the days of Adam the Lord revealed that "the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world" (JST Gen. 6:56; Moses 6:54). To Abraham the Lord said, "Children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old" (JST Gen. 17:11). Matthew 18:11 in the KJV states with reference to children: "For the Son of man is come to save that which is lost." The JST adds, "and to call sinners to repentance; but these little ones have no need of repentance, and I will save them."
4. Paul's Writings. The JST offers many clarifications regarding teachings attributed to Paul in the New Testament. Some of these are as follows:
First Corinthians 14:35 (KJV) reports Paul writing "it is a shame for women to speak in the church." The JST reads "for women to rule in the church."
Hebrews 6:1 (KJV) reads "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." The JST reads "not leaving…."
Hebrews 7:3 (KJV) gives the impression that the prophet Melchizedek was "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life." The JST states that it was not Melchizedek the man, but his priesthood, that was without lineage or descent, being thus contrasted to the Levitical priesthood.
In 1 Timothy 3:15-16 (KJV) Paul is reported to have written that the church is the "pillar and ground of the truth." In the JST it is Jesus, as God manifested in the flesh, who is the "pillar and ground of the truth."
[See also other passages from the JST in the appendices, Vol. 4.]
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Scriptural Writings home page; The Holy Bible home page; The Prophet Joseph Smith home page)
Durham, Reed Connell, Jr. "A History of Joseph Smith's Revision of the Bible." Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1965.
Howard, Richard P. Restoration Scriptures. Independence, Mo., 1969.
Matthews, Robert J. "A Plainer Translation:" Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible. Provo, Utah, 1975.
Matthews, Robert J. A Bible! A Bible! Salt Lake City, 1990.
Matthews, Robert J. "Joseph Smith's Efforts to Publish His Bible Translation." Ensign 13 [Jan. 1983]:57-63).
Nyman, Monte S., and Robert L. Millet, eds. The Joseph Smith Translation. Provo, Utah, 1985.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company