Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, Part IV

By Marvin W. Cowan

The King James Version or KJV Bible is still the official LDS Bible even though Joseph Smith claimed he was inspired to write the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) or Inspired Version of the Bible between 1830 and 1833. At the end of our last article (Part III) in this series, we quoted Genesis 1:1-3 from the KJV as well as from the JST to show that they are very different. The KJV translation of the Bible was published in 1611 AD and was translated from ancient manuscripts of the Bible that are still available. But there are no original language manuscripts of the Bible that support any of the changes Joseph Smith made in his JST. “Moses” is one of the books in the Mormon scripture called the Pearl of Great Price. Moses 2:1 through 8:30 is exactly the same as Genesis 1:1 through 8:18 in the JST except for the chapter and verse numbers. So, the entire text in Moses 2:1 in the P of GP is exactly the same in the JST of Genesis 1:1-3 except for the verse numbers. One would assume when two LDS books of scripture say exactly the same thing that it should confirm that the reading is accurate. A heading over the Book of Moses even says “Revealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet, June 1830–February 1831.” If it was “revealed” by God, it should be accurate. But on June 16, 1844, just 11 days before his death, Joseph Smith said that the Hebrew words in Genesis 1:1 actually say, “In the beginning the head of the Gods brought forth the Gods” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 371; History of the Church. vol. 6, p. 475). If that is what the original Hebrew says, why doesn’t Smith’s “revealed” JST say that? The P of GP in Moses 2:1 doesn’t say it either. So, is Smith’s JST Bible wrong or was he wrong about the meaning of the original Hebrew or are both wrong? No reputable Hebrew scholar translates the Hebrew manuscripts for Genesis 1:1 like Smith said they should be or like his JST reads!

Genesis 1:26-27 in the KJV Bible says, “And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” This became Genesis 1:27-29 in the JST because Smith added other content before it. It says, “And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. And I, God, said, Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.” The same wording is found in Moses 2:27-28 in the P of GP but the verse numbers are slightly different. Once again when two books of LDS scripture say the same thing one would think that the wording is accurate. But on June 16, 1844 Joseph Smith commented on the Hebrew meaning of Genesis 1:26 and said, “If we pursue the Hebrew text further, it reads, ‘The head one of the Gods said, Let us make man in our own image’” (H. of C. vol. 6, p. 475; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 372). If that is what the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:26 said, why didn’t Smith “translate” it that way in his JST or in Moses 2:26 in the P of GP? The Hebrew texts for Genesis 1:26 show that the KJV is translated correctly. But no Hebrew manuscript supports the JSTtranslation” or Moses 2:27-28 in the P of GP. Nor does it support Smith’s June 16, 1830 translation of the Hebrew text of Genesis I:26. Why did Smith “translate” his JST in the KJV English of 1611 AD instead of the English that was spoken in America in 1830-1833 when he wrote it? And why are all of Smith’s LDS scriptures written in 1611 AD English? Is that the only English that God knows?

When a message in one language is transcribed so that it can be understood in another language it is called a “translation.” The accuracy of the translation can be checked by other translators who know both languages. Joseph Smith claimed he “translated” the Bible (History of the Church, vol. I, pages 324 and 368) and the Mormon Church officially calls Smith’s Bible “the Joseph Smith Translation.” In Doctrine and Covenants 73:4 “the Lord” told Smith to “continue the work of translation (of the Bible) until it is finished. And in D. & C. 124:89 “the Lord” commanded Smith to “Publish the new translation of my holy word unto the inhabitants of the earth.” At least ten times in the D. & C. “the Lord” refers to Smith’s work on the Bible as “translation.” Surely “the Lord” knows the meaning of the word “translation.” But, Mormon writer Merrill Y. Van Wagoner said on page 14 of his booklet, The Inspired Revision of the Bible, “It is incorrect to say that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Bible. He did not “pretend” to know any ancient language such as Hebrew or Greek nor did he have any manuscripts.” If that is true, why did “the Lord” call it a “translation” in Mormon scripture? And if Smith didn’t have any ancient manuscripts of the Bible, on what basis did he make changes in his JST Bible? Some LDS claim the changes were made by “revelation,” but revelation is NOT translation, and “the Lord” called it a “translation.” Surely He knows the difference between those words! The quotations in this article show that Smith did claim to know some Hebrew even though no Hebrew scholar supports what he said. Van Wagoner said that Smith didn’t “pretend” to know “Hebrew or Greek.” But his “translation” of Hebrew in the above quotations certainly looks like he thought he was translating Hebrew or else he was trying to deceive people! Every real translation of the Bible was made from ancient Biblical manuscripts, not by “revelation!”

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