Alright guys, so Latter-day Saints believe that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record that was translated by the prophet Joseph Smith in 1829 via the gift and power of God. But, since 1829 there have been several editions of the Book of Mormon printed and thousands of changes made. If this book was inspired by God, why so many changes? Let’s talk about it.
Alright, so, Latter-day Saints absolutely believe the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, but there were opportunities for mistakes to be made at every step of the process. Sometimes Joseph Smith’s scribe misheard or misspelled what Joseph was dictating. For example, 1 Nephi 13:29 in the original manuscript said, “& because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb & exceeding great many do stumble.” An and & sound very similar, and this was probably a case when the scribe misheard Joseph. When Oliver Cowdery made a copy of the original manuscript for the printer, he corrected this error.
Sometimes Oliver misread the original manuscript and made errors in the printer’s manuscript that made it into subsequent editions of the book. For example, in 2 Nephi 1:1, Oliver copied “…Lehi also spake many things unto them…” but when he glanced back at the manuscript to continue copying he apparently picked up after this “unto them,” leaving out the whole phrase, “and rehearsed unto them…”. The phrase was restored in the 1981 edition.
Errors were also made as the typesetter misread the printer’s manuscript. For example, because Oliver’s n’s and r’s looked similar, “Gaddianton the robber” in Helaman 3:23 was printed in the first edition of the Book of Mormon as “Gaddianton the nobler.” Parts of the text have also been intentionally edited for clarity. For example, when Lehi is describing a dream in 1 Nephi 8:4 the phrase, “methought I saw a dark and dreary wilderness” was changed by Joseph Smith for the 1837 edition to “methought I saw in my dream a dark and dreary wilderness.”
Over the years and across different editions, the spelling of certain words has been corrected or updated. The paragraphing has been formatted differently — broken up into chapters and verses. Grammar has also been updated. We should probably do an entire episode just on the original grammar as it relates to Early Modern English. The earliest manuscripts were almost entirely devoid of punctuation, which was added later by the printer, John Gilbert. When we talk about the thousands of changes made to the Book of Mormon, this is the kind of stuff we’re talking about. And for a more comprehensive list of changes, I’d refer you to the work of the leading expert on this subject: BYU linguistics professor, Royal Skousen.
Now, when critics talk about changes to the Book of Mormon text they’ll most likely focus on one of the following 3 changes that are mostly only controversial if you want them to be. To clarify and note a distinction between God the Father and Jesus Christ, in four different verses from 1 Nephi, for the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith changed the phrase “God” to “the Son of God”. Jesus Christ holds many titles. God is obviously one of them. Father or Eternal Father is another title that can also rightly be applied to Christ. As the Creator, He is the eternal Father of heaven and earth, and He becomes our eternal father in a covenant sense as described in the book of Mosiah.
Some people view these changes as an attempt by Joseph to distance himself from the more trinitarian views he must have held when he fraudulently made up the Book of Mormon. However, there are other similar passages later in the text that refer to Christ as “Father” that Joseph didn’t touch. Thus, most people view these changes just as a few clarifications of the text. Reverting back to the original wording wouldn’t change Latter-day Saint beliefs at all.
The next controversial change occurs in 2 Nephi 30:6 where “a white and delightsome people” is changed, probably by Joseph Smith, to “a pure and delightsome people” for the 1840 edition. This change was lost in later editions of the Book of Mormon because later editions were not based on the 1840 edition, but the change was restored for the 1981 edition. The color “white” is often representative in the Book of Mormon as a reference to spiritual cleanliness or purity, so this change is most likely simply an understandable attempt to clarify the text.
However, some assume that Joseph and those responsible for the 1981 edition were actually trying to distance the Church from passages in the Book of Mormon that some interpret as racist. You can go that route if you choose, though it doesn’t make much sense to me as there are several other related passages that people interpret as racist that have never been changed. And we’ll be sure to eventually do a video on those passages, so keep an eye out.
The final controversial change we’ll look at occurs in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1 where a reference to King Benjamin is changed to King Mosiah. It seems the editors assumed that King Benjamin would have been dead at the time these references were made — so King Mosiah made more sense chronologically. There are a few different ways Latter-day Saints approach this apparent error but in recent decades notable Latter-day Saint scholars such as Hugh Nibley, L. Ara Norwood, and Royal Skousen have made a good case that the name “Benjamin” in these two verses was very likely never a mistake to begin with, and for more on why that is likely the case, check out some of these resources.
In the words of Royal Skousen: “Errors have crept into the text, but no errors significantly interfere with either the message of the book or its doctrine. … Ultimately, all of this worry over the number of changes is specious.” Even experienced authors stress the importance of reworking and rewriting your story several times before publication. When you hear about the thousands of changes made to the Book of Mormon you may get the impression that that’s exactly what Joseph and later editors were doing. It’s not. These are not rewrites. These are small changes we’d totally expect to see, and the nature of the changes highlights, even more, the remarkable consistency of the Book of Mormon. Food for thought. If you want to learn more on this subject check out the incredible free resources in the YouTube description and have a great day!
Want to dive deep and look at each and every change made over the year to the Book of Mormon text? Our friends over at Book of Mormon Central have published digital versions of Royal Skousen’s 6-part series, “Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon,” which you can read here: https://bit.ly/3tFT7pj
- “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” by Royal Skousen (Interpreter Journal): https://bit.ly/33EhMAj
- “Changing Critics’ Criticisms of Book of Mormon Changes,” by Brian Hales (Interpreter Journal): https://bit.ly/3uKRqIx
- “Do We Need to Make Changes to the Book of Mormon Text?” by Royal Skousen (2012 FAIR Conference): https://bit.ly/3eHmiEn
- “Editing Out the ‘Bad Grammar’ in the Book of Mormon,” by Royal Skousen with Stanford Carmack (Interpreter Journal): https://bit.ly/3tKgj5Z
- “‘White’ or ‘Pure’: Five Vignettes,” by Douglas Cambell (Dialogue Journal): https://bit.ly/2RRckqW
- “Benjamin or Mosiah? Resolving an Anomaly in Mosiah 21:28,” by L. Ara Norwood (2001 FAIR Conference): https://bit.ly/3uLll3s
- What did Joseph Smith mean when he claimed the Book of Mormon was “the most correct of any book on earth”?: https://bit.ly/33JY0mV
- “‘The Most Correct Book’: Joseph Smith’s Appraisal,” by Robert L. Millet: https://bit.ly/3ficqQq
- Some additional reading material from Jeff Lindsay: https://bit.ly/3y4v9rv
- Some additional material from Fair Latter-day Saints: https://bit.ly/3tEKZ8I
- More from Royal Skousen: https://bit.ly/33Ihc4y
- More from Stanford Carmack on the grammar of the Book of Mormon: https://bit.ly/3y7YEIM
See also, Hugh Nibley’s book, Since Cumorah (the first several pages mention changes in the text of the Book of Mormon) and Royal Skousen’s book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text.