Last night we had the missionaries from our church over for dinner. After dinner we gathered our in the living room for a message from them and a prayer. Since it’s Thanksgiving we have two of our daughters here with us and their families, there about 15 of us gathered round. There was a sweet spirit there as the missionaries asked each of us to express gratitude for some aspect of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. When we speak of our church as being the restored gospel, we mean that through the prophet Joseph Smith many parts of the church in Jesus’ time, which had been lost over time, were again restored to his church. When it was my turn I expressed gratitude for the Book of Mormon and our other modern-day scriptures. As I read them I know that Joseph, an uneducated, backwoods farm boy, could not have written such sublime, inspired words
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST)
One of the many contributions which Joseph Smith made to the religious world is a revision of many parts of the Bible. Some might take umbrage that the Bible might need revisions, but the Bible has been translated over a hundred times by various individuals and religions. With every translation of the Bible revisions have been made and attempts made to clarify the more obscure passages. One of the more common Bibles in use in many Protestant churches in the USA is the New Revised Standard Version which is a revision of a revision. It was revised by a committee of scholars representing Catholic, Protestant and Jewish groups. The mandate given the committee was summarized in a dictum: “As literal as possible, as free as necessary.” (Wikipedia article, “New Revised Standard Version of the Bible”) This revision attempted to please as many groups as possible and in the process watered down many doctrines, including changes to gender-specific language.
The official Bible of the LDS church is the King James Version. Soon after the church was organized Joseph was commanded to go through the Bible making revisions or additions as he was directed by the spirit. Robert J. Matthews, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU, said the following:
“We should be appreciative of the great spiritual heritage and source of inspiration that has come to us through the Bible, yet readers the world over have recognized for many years that the Bible has not come to us in its original purity and plainness. . . The thoughtful reader of the Bible soon observes that there are many passages that are vague and hard to understand and that seem to be incomplete. Some passages also appear to be contradictory. We understand that there are not so many things in the King James Version of the Bible that are incorrect, but rather, because of faulty transmission and missing parts, that which remains is often unclear and devoid of its full meaning. Joseph Smith’s work with the Bible restores some of the missing parts and causes what we have to be more meaningful.” (Ensign/1972, Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible, Robert J. Matthews)
The verses that Joseph clarified are footnoted with the changes appearing in the footnotes. More lengthy changes are included in the appendix. Joseph didn’t translate per se, in that he didn’t work from texts of the original languages. As he read the Bible and prayed for understanding, he was inspired to make the changes. As I read the JST verses I’m amazed at how changing a few simple words adds so much to the clarity. For instance the first four verses of John read as thus in the King James Version of the Bible read as thus:
IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
Here are the same verses in the Joseph Smith Translation. The changes are in bold lettering. One can readily appreciate the additional understanding the Joseph Smith Translation gives to these verses, identifying the “Word” as Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made which was made. In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men;
The Book of Moses
The book of Genesis is our introduction to God. The LDS Guide to the Scriptures emphasizes the importance of the book of Genesis. It states:
“It is the true and original birthplace of all theology. It contains those ideas of God and man, of righteousness and judgment, of responsibility and moral government, of failure and hope, which are presupposed through the rest of the O.T. and which prepare the way for the mission of Christ. In latter-day revelation we find many sources of information that clarify and substantiate the record of Genesis. Of particular importance is the book of Moses. (lds.org)
The Book of Moses is among the greatest contributions of the Joseph Smith Translation. It gives an account of some visions and experiences of Moses previous to and in preparation for writing Genesis. As Joseph began studying the book of Genesis, he was inspired to add a vision of Moses as a prologue to the story of the Creation and the Fall of man. In this most remarkable vision Moses sees God face to face. Moses is called to his great life work, not only as the one who would deliver the children of Israel from the bondage, but the one who is commissioned to write an account of the creation of the earth. Moses is considered to be the author of the book of Genesis. How did he get access to a knowledge of the creation of the earth? Clearly God would have had to communicate this knowledge to him. This vision contains God’s revelation to Moses of the creation and his instruction to him to write it down as dictated directly by God.
Moses chapter 1 contains the first recorded words of God to man. What does he want us to learn? In the very beginning verses we are taught through Moses who God is and our relationship to Him. God speaks to Moses very personally, calling him his son. To me, this chapter is like a concentrated beam of truth and light shed on the nature of God and our relationship to him. Each of us can take comfort in this scripture and know that we are all sons and daughters of God. God knows our name. He is our personal, loving Father. Moses is also taught about Jesus Christ, that he is the Only Begotten of the Father and our Savior. What precious knowledge this is! These truths are the foundation of Christianity.
THE words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain. And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence. And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless? And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands. . . And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.
Moses is then shown an expansive vision of the earth and all its inhabitants. Afterwards he is so overcome by the spirit that his natural strength leaves him. He is left to himself for several hours. Moses then has an encounter with Satan and overcomes him through calling upon God. After this test with Satan Moses is given his call to deliver Israel and is shown another vision of all of God’s creations. Moses’ wonders at the majesty of God’s creations and desires to know more about its creation. God tells Moses that he will show him concerning this earth and then commands him to write of the creation of the world.
“And it came to pass that Moses spake unto the Lord, saying: Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content.” And now, Moses, my son, I will speak unto thee concerning this earth upon which thou standest; and thou shalt write the things which I shall speak. Moses 1:36, 40)
This is an amazing chapter! It has so many concentrated truths that it’s best to divide it up into sections to study it. In subsequent blogs I’ll discuss more in depth some of these topics.
Personal application in my life: God is real! He communicates to his children. He wants us to understand our relationship with Him. He loves his children. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the same through the ages. Joseph Smith is an instrument in the hands of God to bring forth modern-day revelation.