Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, Part XVI

By Marvin W. Cowan

Mormons claim that the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) was inspired or revealed by the Lord, yet some changes in the JST add words that don’t clarify the text and sometimes even distort it. Our last two articles discussed Isaiah chapter 2 where such distortions were made. Most of the changes in the JST are worthless or they confuse or distort texts. Such changes are too numerous to even list them all. But there are also significant changes in the JST that add new material that is not in any real translation of the Bible or in the original Bible documents. Most of the changes we discussed in the JST of Genesis were that type of change.

Isaiah 29:1-10 is addressed to Ariel (Jerusalem) in all Bible translations including the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible and in the original documents. It tells of Ariel’s soon coming destruction. However, LDS take the KJV of Isaiah 29:4 out of context and say it is a prediction about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (B. of M.). It says, “And thou (Ariel) shalt be brought down, and shall speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.” LDS say that the “familiar spirit” or voice out of the dust of the ground is the Nephite record known as the B. of M. that was written on gold plates and buried in the Hill Cumorah in New York State by Moroni before he died in 421 AD. He came back as the Angel Moroni in 1823 and revealed the gold plates to Joseph Smith who translated and published them as the B. of M. in 1830. LDS say the message in the B. of M. is as if the ancient Nephites are speaking to people now through its message since it came “out of the ground.” But “familiar spirits” are mentioned 15 times in the Old Testament and every time it refers to witchcraft or an evil spirit, including in Isaiah 29:4. In that verse Isaiah said Jerusalem will be brought down or destroyed and will speak out of the dust like an evil spirit’s voice produced by a medium which whispers from the dust. In this context the Lord is speaking about Jerusalem’s destruction, so why would He digress in verse four to predict the coming forth of the B. of M.?

The JST of Isaiah 29:4 says, “And she shall be brought down, and shall speak out of the ground, and her speech shall be low out of the dust; and her voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and her speech shall whisper out of the dust.” Notice that the JST changed the 2nd person pronouns “thy and thou” that are in the KJV to 3rd person pronouns “she and her” which indicates the Lord is talking about Ariel or Jerusalem to someone else instead of talking to Ariel as the KJV indicates. Second person pronouns are used when someone addresses “you.” When someone talks about a person or persons to someone else, they use third person pronouns like “him,” “her,” or “them,” so the 2nd and 3rd person pronouns are different in all languages including the original Hebrew of Isaiah. Surely the Lord would have known the difference in those pronouns!

II Nephi 26:16 in the B. of M. sounds a lot like Isaiah 29:4. In that B. of M. text the prophet Nephi supposedly foresaw the future destruction of the Nephites because of their unbelief. LDS believe the Nephites and Lamanites in the B. of M. are ancestors of the American Indians. II Nephi 26:16 says, “For those (Nephites) who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them (their descendants) out of the ground, and their speech shall be low out of the dust, and their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit; for the Lord God will give unto him power, that he may whisper concerning them, even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust.” The similarity between II Nephi 26:16 and Isaiah 29:4 is obvious, so Joseph Smith probably plagiarized some of the words from the KJV of Isaiah 29:4 when he wrote II Nephi 26:16. But II Nephi 26:16 is about the destruction of the Nephites while Isaiah 29:4 is about the destruction of Ariel or Jerusalem. LDS believe that II Nephi 26:16 refers to the gold plates that Moroni buried in the Hill Cumorah and later revealed to Joseph Smith who translated and published them as the B. of M. So, LDS give the same interpretation this LDS text as they do to Isaiah 29:4. It is supposedly a prophecy about the Nephite record written on gold plates that Joseph Smith published as the B. of M. Its message from the gold plates was as if the ancient Nephites were speaking “out of the ground.”

LDS consider II Nephi 26:16 in the B. of M. to be a great “prophecy,” but unfortunately nobody saw it until after Smith published the B. of M. in 1830. Therefore, that “prophecy” had no real value since no one saw it until after it was supposedly “fulfilled!” Suppose someone in 2015 A. D. said they found an ancient document dated about 400 A. D. that had a prophecy in it that said in the 21st century A. D. the President of the USA would speak from his office in Washington DC and be seen and heard all over the world as he spoke. We know that satellites and TV make it possible to do that today, so we might think it was a great “prophecy.” But if there is no evidence that this “ancient document” existed before it was “found” in 2015 A. D., it would indicate that the document was a fraud and therefore that “prophecy” was a deception. A similar kind of problem exists with the B. of M. prophecies. There is no real evidence that they existed prior to 1830 when Smith published the B. of M. So, “predictions” or “prophecies” in the B. of M. about things that were common knowledge in 1830 can lead to skepticism about how genuine they are. Sincere LDS often base their hope of eternal life with God on “scripture” like this. It would be wise to first see if there is any real evidence to substantiate their trust in it. How someone “feels” about the B. of M. or anything else is not good evidence since people often feel good about things that ultimately hurt them!

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