What does the Latter Day Saint leadership mean when they say Joseph Smith translated the Bible? Did he use the Hebrew and Greek texts and convert these documents to English?
Before we answer these questions, let’s review some Mormon history:
For most of December 1831, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon preached in the area around Kirtland, Ohio, in an attempt to reverse the damage done to their new religion by Christian apologists. Smith had introduced many new religious ideas which were, like Muhammad’s revelations, never before heard in the history of the Christian church. The time had come for Smith and Rigdon to reveal “mysteries” to the world. “When the Gospel of Jesus Christ was first preached by the Apostles,” Smith reasoned, “it had mysteries, too.” The incarnation was a mystery [i]; the resurrection was a mystery [ii]; and the gathering of non-Jews into the church was a mystery [iii]. Now eighteen hundred years later, Joseph Smith had his “mysteries” to share. Smith then put forth a steady stream of counsel, exhortation, information and warnings on an astounding variety of topics. He seemed surprised when the Christian world did not receive his advice or recognize his spiritual genius.
Angry of course, Smith determined that it was necessary to “confound his enemies [iv].” The plan was to “meet and defeat the slanderers by confronting them in public and private [v].” Smith went so far to say that anyone who attacked him was attacking the Lord Himself. Smith retaliated with threats of his own: “… a day of vengeance would come upon this generation like a thief in the night…” According to the Smith, “… sometimes it is necessary to meet opposition fearlessly and with ability…”
But it was Smith and Rigdon who fled the area in great fear after Ezra Booth, a popular Methodist minister, who initially joined the LDS church early in 1831, but went on to write a series of damaging newspaper articles in the Ohio Star. Booth was quite a catch for Mormonism and he was quickly ordained a priest. But he soon came to the conclusion that Mormonism was a hoax and Smith was a fraud. Booth’s rejection of Mormonism led others to abandon the faith, too; these Mormon “converts” were undoubtedly harboring doubts of their own even before Booth came out in open opposition. Smith called these ex-Mormons “apostates,” and the prophet was later run out of town. He was forced to seek a new land and new converts, those who would better appreciate his religious brilliance.
Smith concluded that his revelations were not being accepted by the multitude who, by way of at least Two Great Revivals, knew a thing or two about the Bible and had learnt Scripture under the ministry of traveling Christian ministers who arrived on the religious scene long before Smith and Rigdon ever did. Smith, realizing he had better change strategy, picked up his pen and endeavored to correct the “grievous errors” in the Holy Scriptures so that it might complement his own revelations. Smith told others that he felt “the Lord calling him” to resume his important work and focus once again on the task of translating the Bible correctly, with Sidney Rigdon at his side serving as scribe. This “important” work was never completed although Smith considered it his highest calling as a prophet.
Mormons are still taught throughout their various scriptures, but in Doctrines & Covenants in particular [vi], that the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible has contributed to “restoration of the fullness of the Gospel.” If this work is so important, so vital to the restoration of God’s truth, and essential to the preservation of the Gospel why have Mormon missionaries abandoned it altogether and why are they still using the King James Translation to this very day. It is the irony of all ironies.
How did this so-called “translation” come about, and why is this “important work” neglected by the Mormons? We are told by LDS authorities[vii] that Smith and Rigdon would read the King James Bible, ponder the words, and God would give them a new meaning, opening the way for a new revelation. Smith and Rigdon would re-write their thoughts into verse and thus the Joseph Smith “Translation” was born. But is this a translation or a mere paraphrase? The Smith “translation” is, in fact, filled with inaccurate quotations and any means necessary to promote the LDS doctrines. We repeat: why aren’t Mormons using the Joseph Smith Translation? LDS missionaries quote the King James Version – not the Smith Translation – and even offer free copies of the King James Bibles to anyone they encounter. An inconvenient paradox is it not?
To imply that a book is “translated” means that its words are being converted from one language to another. What the Smith-Rigdon team have done, however, is to substitute one English word for another English word – a recipe for heresy if there ever was one.
In short, to get to the meaning of the Bible, we need to have an accurate text translated from the original language, and this translation work needs to be done by professionals. The Joseph Smith Translation is cultic in that its intent is to provide a biblical foundation (a biblical hook actually) for a cultic doctrine.
Our responsibility as Christians is to test cultic and new Bible translations to see if they are accurate. We may need help on this matter if we are not experts in Hebrew or Greek. But such help is not far away. Our local pastors can often put us on the right track and there are also many dictionaries and other resources available to us.
[i] 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Timothy 3:16
[ii] 1 Corinthians 15:51
[iii] Colossians 1:26, 27
[iv] DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS COMMENTARY, Deseret Book Company, © 1972, Winchester, MA: University Press, p. 423.
[vi] See chapter 74
[vii] DOCTRINES AND COVENANTS AND CHURCH HISTORY (Seminary and Student Study Guide), Salt Lake: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, © 2001, p. 85.