Wednesday, June 10, 2009

He Said: The King James Version

The LDS Church is into standardization and chooses to use the King James Version of the Bible despite newer translations that might be closer translations. One of the main reasons is that Joseph Smith did a revision of this edition of the Bible and they have integrated his revelatory changes in to the footnotes and in a section in the back of their printed Bibles.

In Guide to the Scriptures: Joseph Smith Translation (JST) we read:

A revision or translation of the King James Version of the Bible in English, which the Prophet Joseph Smith began in June 1830. He was commanded by God to make the translation and regarded it as part of his calling as a prophet.

Although Joseph completed most of the translation by July 1833, he continued until his death in 1844 to make modifications while preparing a manuscript for publication. Though he published some parts of the translation during his lifetime, it is possible that he would have made additional changes had he lived to publish the entire work. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints published the first edition of Joseph Smith’s inspired translation in 1867. They have published several editions since that time.
They have a very lucrative practice selling their own editions to members of the LDS Church. In addition it would be hard to have other publishers include the JST inclusions. I think that is the main reason they stick to using the KJV since Joseph Smith's changes wouldn't lend themselves to any other edition.

In the Mormonism Unveiled blog we learn:

The LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible is identical to the normal King James Version, except that it has cross-references to other LDS standard works. Some excerpts from the JST are included in the newest LDS edition of the King James Version. Expert LDS blogger Jeff Lindsay also presents Q & A about LDS usage of scriptures HERE.
Jeff Lindsay says Hugh Nibley throws a little bit of light on the subject of why we stick with the KJV:

Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the oldest manuscript we had of the books of Moses (the first five books) was from the ninth century A.D., the Ben Asher Codex. There are eight thousand different old manuscripts of the New Testament, no two alike. So there is a lot of collating, comparing, and arguing about which passages are which and what order they come in. Then when you have translation, there is no agreement about that. Year after year there are new revised translations coming forth. Well, if the last translation is reliable, why the new revised, improved Cambridge, or Anchor, or whatever it is, edition of the Bible? It's processing all the time. The Bible is a very human document, of course it is. So is the Book of Mormon. It covers thousands of years. It has many authors; it was edited, etc. But it was handed to us in a single passage. Bang, just like that, the whole thing - all edited, all in order, all translated. We don't have to argue about any of that stuff. If it is true, it comes to us whole, and there is nothing to slow us down on it - nothing to hold us up until we have decided what this passage means, or what that is. It was translated directly by the gift and power of God. There is no need to argue about it.
I guess it doesn't really matter which edition you use if they are all riddled with errors and differ in what they consider canonical writings.


  1. Wow! So the fact that all the versions are imperfect somehow justifies using a version that is demonstrably much worse than other English translations? This kind of argument is seriously misleading. It establishes false equivalence based on an impossible standard. Indeed, Nibley's comment as quoted here would in fact cast doubt on the Book of Mormon and other distinctively Mormon canonical texts, which have an extensive history of editorial tinkering in their own right.

    It's interesting that the church is now creating its own Spanish translation of the Bible. Would that we had similar flexibility in English. The KJV prevents many of us from getting to know the Bible in any meaningful way, and I think that's a shame.

  2. I am with Roasted on this.

    I simply cannot understand the King James version. The purpose of a translation is that people can understand the text, not to confuse readers with archaic language.

    Martin Luther risked his life to translate the Bible into the vernacular so that the word of God would be available to everybody.

    If we don't want a Bible in the vernacular then we might as well stick to the Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament.

    International Mormons, by the way, get to read contemporary versions of the Bible. When I moved to Utah, I was shocked how little familiarity Mormons had with the Bible. After trying to decode the King James Version, I couldn't blame them any longer.

  3. Roasted, tell me, do you think there are any Biblical scholars in the LDS church today who are qualified to do our own translation? How do you think they might incorporate the JST into this new one, because they wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, would they?

    Since Joseph was using the KJV, how would it even be possible to use his revisions if the church did it's own translation?

  4. Dr. B., it's an interesting set of questions. The fact that the church is about to publish an original Spanish translation suggests that the higher-ups, at least, feel confident in the ability of LDS scholars to pull of a Bible translation. Regarding the JST material, I'm clearly not sure. Some of the revisions there were changes to text that was itself translation error; those are obvious candidates for simply being dropped. Long JST passages are equally as relevant as a commentary on any translation. And most of the theologically relevant changes (whether one-word or longer) would work fine as footnotes in any modern translation. There are lots of ways to find solutions to these problems if the will to improve Mormons' access to an understandable and relatively accurate Bible translation is there...

  5. Well ... the KJV has a great beauty to it.

    In addition, most of the other translations have serious copyright and approval issues (that is the entire push behind the .NET Bible (of which I have a couple copies around the house)).

    That is the reason over 60% the Bible quotes in all published sermons and essays are KJV quotes (outside of the LDS Church).

  6. Stephen, I agree that there are beautiful passages in the KJV. But there are equally many passages that are aesthetic train wrecks, in some cases obscuring the meaning of the text behind odd and inappropriate verbiage.

    Copyright and approval issues certainly aren't nonexistent. One solution might be for the church to do its own updated English-language translation, just like it's doing in Spanish.

  7. Of course we Mormons believe "in the Bible as far as it is translated correctly." Therefore we have a responsibility to find a better translation. The KJV was likely the best of its time. It is a beautiful text, however the translation was not immune to compromises and politics of its day. Also, there was not any emphasis on textual criticism. In fact, the translators used Erasmus' Greek Bible to translate the NT--not ancient texts. Erasmus didn't even use ancient texts--for some of the Bible, he translated the Vulgate back into Greek and called it good.

    Of course modern translations also have issues. I believe those issues are much smaller than those of the KJV. DR. B would throw his hands up in the air and pick any old bad translation. There are many clearer, more exact translations out there than the KJV. I use NIV Study Bible and in SS am asked to read my text when a KJV text is difficult to understand.

  8. Jason, good comment--I totally agree with you. But that is the part of me that reads the Bible for doctrinal understanding. The thing is, I also read it for inspiration. And when I'm reading for inspiration, that early English turn of phrase just does it for me.

  9. Tomatoes, I'm pretty sure the Spanish edition of the Bible is not an LDS translated version, but rather the version used in the Spanish speaking part of the Church, with LDS footnotes. At least that's what I've understood from all the press releases I've seen.

    I love the King James Version. I think it is beautiful. And the interaction between it and the Book of Mormon can't be matched with another version of the Bible.

  10. Giggles, here's the relevant text from the press release:

    "Church leaders, teams of translators, professional linguists and qualified lay Church members reviewed the 1909 Reina-Valera edition of the Bible. Reading committees were organized throughout the world and extensive field testing was completed to ensure accuracy. The 2009 Latter-day Saint edition modernizes some of the outdated grammatical constructions and vocabulary that have shifted in meaning and acceptability. "

    My understanding is that it's at least as thorough a new translation as the difference between the RSV and the NRSV. You don't need linguists and translators to reprint old editions.

  11. Bored in Vernal, in Germany there have been several translations of the Book of Mormon. Each generation of Saints tends to be most inspired by the version that they read first.

    It's a matter of socialization. There is an emotional price to pay when you are switching translations.

    The gain is that our children are more likely to actually understand the message of the Savior in a translation into the current vernacular.

    In fact, the King James Version itself was an effort to express the gospel in the contemporary vernacular.