King James Bible Symposium: Prophet's 'New Translation'
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This article continues coverage of the Feb. 23-25 BYU symposium on "The King James Bible and the Restoration." Coverage commenced with reports in the March 5 Church News. Those and other reports may be found online at www.ldschurchnews.com and in future issues of the Church News.
Joseph Smith said he believed in the Bible "as it ought to be, as it came from the pen of the original writers" (Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, p. 256).
"This statement tells us that the Bible was not as it ought to be, something the Prophet emphasized in numerous ways throughout his life," said Kent P. Jackson, BYU professor of ancient scripture, on Feb. 23 at the symposium on the King James Bible and the Restoration.
"And it tells us that the original documents, the words first spoken and recorded by inspired men in their own language, constitute the true and preferred text of the Bible."
Brother Jackson's presentation, one of two he delivered at the symposium, focused on the King James Version and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. He noted that the Prophet began working on what is now called the Joseph Smith Translation in June 1830. Joseph and his contemporaries called it the "New Translation."
"Beginning with Genesis, the Prophet worked his way through every part of the Bible, revising existing text and adding new material by inspiration from God," Brother Jackson said. "He left behind 446 pages of manuscripts of the New Translation as well as his printed Bible on which he marked insertions, deletion points or changes that were on the manuscript."
Brother Jackson affirmed, "Joseph Smith's work on the Bible is one of the keystones of the Restoration. It is a profound witness of the divinity of his prophetic calling. It is the source of much important revelation to the Church of the latter days."
Two sections in the JST — Genesis 1-6 and Matthew 24 — are canonized in the Church as part of the Pearl of Great Price (Moses and Joseph Smith — Matthew), Brother Jackson observed.
"Throughout the pages of the New Translation there are passages that clarify and enlighten, making the Bible alive with inspired additions and rewordings," he said.
The Joseph Smith Translation grew out of the King James Version of the Bible, Brother Jackson said, explaining that while he was working on the New Translation, the Prophet apparently had on his lap or on a table before him his copy of the of the King James Bible. "It was from it that he read to his scribes, who carefully recorded the words they heard from his lips. In some cases, he simply read the words as they were written on the page. In other cases he spoke words that were different from what was printed, dictating revisions large and small and sometimes entire new passages with no parallel in his printed Bible."
The King James Bible that underlies the Joseph Smith Translation was printed in 1828 by the H. and E. Phinney Co. of Cooperstown, N.Y., Brother Jackson said, noting that a copy from that same edition was being displayed by the BYU Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections outside the auditorium where the symposium was being held. That edition of the Bible maintained spelling and punctuation modernization that had been going on since the KJV was published in 1611 but had become fairly stable with the 1769 edition produced by Benjamin Blayney of Oxford University Press in England, he said.
Brother Jackson noted that the King James translators lived in an era of change in the English language, that the pronouns thee, thou and ye were beginning to die out from usage by 1611. Blayney, in his 1769 edition, imposed rules of grammatical consistency in the King James Translation, thus keeping alive these older language forms. "In doing so, instead of modernizing to keep the grammar current, he applied obsolete grammatical rules that were not even part of the language in 1611 nor apparently were intended by the translators."
The use of pronouns in the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is closer to the language of the King James translators than it is to today's King James Translation, he said.
"One might ask: Is Joseph Smith's New Translation a correction of the Bible or is it a correction of the King James Version?" Brother Jackson noted. "In other words, do the changes respond to issues in the earliest known manuscripts and in any modern translation, or are they specific to the wording of the King James Version?"
The evidence shows that the most significant changes are corrections to the Bible itself, but there are many changes that address problems found in the King James Version, he said. The changes "suggest that the Prophet Joseph Smith cares more about the message of the Bible than about its wording. ... For him, the ideal of scriptural communication was the same as Nephi's, who glorified in plainness. The Joseph Smith Translation was the means by which God's word was made more plain."
The strongest argument, he said, for the continued use of the King James Translation among English-speaking Latter-day Saints is the "convergence of language between it and the scriptures of the Restoration."
"The King James Bible was one of the great tools of the Restoration," he said. "It was in place when the Restoration began. It was the only Bible that most English speakers knew. It provided a spiritual training ground for the earliest Latter-day Saints, and it supplied the religious vocabulary and language for the revelations."
He concluded, "The Joseph Smith Translation, which was revealed under its shadow, builds on it and blesses it, and, like the other Restoration scriptures, it still connects with it to form one of the spiritual foundations of the gospel."