The Restoration of Christ's Church

Hey guys, today we’re going to talk about the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the JST. This is a very unique “translation” experience for Joseph and there are a lot of misconceptions about it, so let’s jump right in.

So, between 1830 and 1833 Joseph goes through the entire Bible and makes revisions. In this episode, we’re going to look at three questions: What kind of changes is Joseph making in the JST? How is he receiving the revelation to make those changes? And how are Latter-day Saints using the JST today?

The JST revises over 3,400 verses. So first off—WHAT kind of changes is Joseph making? A guy named Phillip Barlow sorts them into six categories:

  • “Long revealed additions… such as the visions of Moses and Enoch.” This is by far the most important category of changes.
  • “Common-sense” changes such as in Jeremiah 18:8.
  • “‘Interpretive additions’ such as like Luke 6:29.
  • “Harmonization” of Bible passages. For example, the way Judas dies in Matthew versus Acts.
  • “By far the most common type of change the Prophet made in the Bible includes grammatical improvements, technical clarifications, and modernization of terms.” For example, changing ‘which’ to ‘who,’ ‘meat’ to ‘food,’ etc.
  • And there’s also a “miscellaneous” category for everything else. For example, taking out many of the italicized words from the King James Version of the Bible, changing ‘dream’ to ‘vision,’ etc. 

So that’s a quick rundown of what kind of changes you can expect to see in the JST. 

The next question is, how is Joseph going about this translation? I personally wish we didn’t use the term ‘translation’ here because it understandably confuses people. A 1997 article published by the Church clarified: “The Prophet did not ‘translate’ the Bible in the traditional sense of the word—that is, go back to the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to make a new rendering into English. Rather, he went through the biblical text of the King James Version and made inspired corrections, revisions, and additions to the biblical text.”

So this kind of translation just means “to express in more comprehensible terms,” which is what is happening in a lot of the JST. With the exception of the big revelations in the first category, I’d agree with the researcher who said,

“Reading the JST is akin to having the prophet at your elbow as one studies—it allows Joseph to clarify, elaborate, and comment on the Biblical text in the light of modern revelation.”

He’s learning as he goes. He’s receiving some revelation apparently directly from the Spirit, but he’s also studying things out in his mind. I think the best way to describe how Joseph receives the JST is described in Doctrine and Covenants 88: “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” The JST is the result of both study and faith. There’s some evidence that he used the Urim and Thummim or seer stone a bit, probably just in Genesis, and then he’s hitting the books.

On the Church’s website, it says Joseph “appears in many instances to have consulted respected commentaries by Bible scholars, studying them out in his mind as a part of the revelatory process.” For example, many of Joseph’s minor changes reflect the Bible Commentary of Adam Clarke. 

One Latter-day Saint researcher named Royal Skousen has a unique opinion about the JST that I tend to agree with. Back in 2005, he said, “It is a mistake, I believe, to automatically assume that every change in the JST is inspired or that the final version is in its entirety a revealed text.” He also said, “The evidence from the JST manuscripts themselves clearly suggests that not everything in the JST is of equal value. The beginning work appears to involve a word-for-word revelation; the later work often reflects very human methods that were applied to alter the text…”

So how do Latter-day Saints use the JST today? Well, after Joseph Smith’s death, there was a schism in the Church, and the JST became the property of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ). They published it back in 1867, it’s known as the “Inspired Version of the Bible.” 

The RLDS Church has since given our church access to the original manuscripts. You can find about a third of the JST in the footnotes or appendix of our King James Bibles. But the only portions of the JST that we’ve chosen to canonize are The Book of Moses and the JST of Matthew 24. Why haven’t we canonized the rest? Well, for a long time we couldn’t for copyright reasons. Nowadays we could publish it—I doubt it’ll happen. The simple fact is that the President of the Church hasn’t received any revelation indicating that it needs to be canonized. To wrap this whole thing up I present you with a quote from the Church back in 1974:

“The Inspired Version [or JST] does not supplant the King James Version as the official Church version of the Bible, but the explanations and changes made by the Prophet Joseph Smith provide enlightenment and useful commentary on many biblical passages.”

If you have questions, check out our website and the links below. Hope you learned something. And have a great day!

Learning More:

Explore More Articles and Videos