Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible – How inspired is it?

20 Jan
Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible – How inspired is it?

I am not familiar with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. I don’t really know how many Mormons are, to be honest. We never used it when I was attending church and, according to this article that I was reading today, “A Greater Portrayal of the Master”, from March of 1983, it hadn’t gotten as much attention from members as, maybe, it should. I don’t know if that is still the case today, however. But after reading this article, I have an even harder time understanding how anyone sees this man as a prophet or these corrections to the Bible as inspired by God.

(1) The first example offered was clarification on Mat 2:2-6 where Bethlehem is referred to as “not the least among the princes of Juda”. Joseph’s correction says that “it is not Bethlehem, but Jesus who is the prince.”

I find this unbelievable!! The word in this verse translated “prince” is “hēgemōn” and it means “a leader”. It is derived from the same words (“hēgeomai”) translated “Governor” later in the same verse (which, also mean to lead or command). And the point is that Bethlehem is not the least among the cities in the land of Judah (though she may very well have been seen as such!), for out of her was going to come Him who would lead/rule/govern the nation of Israel. It is about the one who is the greatest coming out of one who might seem to be the least among the nations of Israel. That is what is being contrasted! His greatness to her (seeming) insignificance.

(2) The second example offered is where Joseph Smith added verses to Matthew to fill in the missing gap between Jesus’ childhood and the time in which John the Baptist began his ministry.

I’m not sure why anyone would feel the need to fill in that gap. These types of sudden transitions are not unusual in the bible. In fact, very little is written here about the time between Jesus’ birth and the time they left Egypt. And who has ever read these passages and thought the John the Baptist began preaching when he and Jesus were just children? No one!! It’s clear that there is a gap. The point is simply that Jesus was in Galilee at the time that John began his ministry. There are no additional clarifications required to understand that there are years not accounted for and for which we know little to nothing. I believe that’s by design.

(3) The third example offered was about Jesus’ conversation with the teachers in the temple at the age of 12. Joseph seemed to believe that some might have gotten the impression, from the KJV, that Jesus was just sitting and listening and not speaking – asking and answering questions. The argument is: “This clarification is necessary in order to make the event newsworthy. There is nothing essentially divine for a twelve-year-old boy to listen to his elders.”

Since when it is “necessary” to state the obvious? It’s quite obvious from the text that we have that Jesus was not just sitting in the background listening. The text says that he was asking questions (so obviously a conversation was taking place) and those who were listening were “astonished at his understanding and answers”. Would even a single person read this passage and walk away believing that Jesus “was only sitting with the learned doctors,” rather than speaking with them?

(4) The forth example offered was that which took place at Jesus’ baptism. The claim, concerning Mt 3:16-17, is: “As here reported, it was Jesus only who saw the Holy Ghost and heard the Father’s voice.” The JST, apparently, supplements this passage by making it clear that: “And John saw,…”

Maybe Joseph Smith believed the “him” and the “he” in the verse refers to Jesus, instead of John. But those who do not make that mistake know that it is John to whom the heavens were opened and to whom the sign was given. It was the very sign that John said, elsewhere, he was told would let him know who the Messiah was.

Joh 1:33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

So let’s read the verse again, with a proper understanding:

Mat 3:15-17 And Jesus answering said unto him [JOHN], Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he [JOHN] suffered him [JESUS]. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him [JOHN], and he [JOHN] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him [JESUS]: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

It is NOT being reported that “it was Jesus only who saw the Holy Ghost and heard the Father’s voice”; that’s Joseph Smith’s erroneous/false interpretation of the passage. Who believes that Matthew is claiming that Jesus is the only who saw and heard these things when it was not Jesus who needed to see or hear them?

(5) The firth example offered changes Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness for 40 days to Jesus communing with God for 40 days in the wilderness. After which he was tempted by the devil.

Wow!! I don’t even know what to say here, except that Joseph Smith obviously did not understand how Jesus’ 40 DAYS in the wilderness correlated to Israel’s 40-YEAR journey through the wilderness. In those YEARS Israel was TRIED/TESTED. And in those DAYS so was Jesus. Israel FAILED! Jesus did not! And to claim that Jesus went into the wilderness to commune with God completely disregards the fact that Jesus was fulfilling the type established by Israel’s journey through the wildness (just as He did their going into and being called out of Egypt, earlier in His life).

(6) The sixth example offered was Joseph’s correction to what Jesus said to his mother at the marriage that took place in Cana. Apparently Jesus’ words to his mother seemed “a little brusque,” so Joseph changed them to: “…, Woman what wilt thou have me to do for thee? that will I do; …” (JST, John 2:4.)

This is not the only place that Jesus addressed his mother as “Woman,” and there is significance to that – none that Joseph Smith seems to have been familiar with, however. I wonder if Joseph also thought it “a little brusque” for Jesus to ask “Who is my mother? Or my brethren?” when he was told his mother and his brothers were seeking him?

(7) The seventh example offered was about Jesus being Lord of the Sabbath. Apparently, Joseph Smith believed that the point was: “since he made the Sabbath, he is the Lord of it.”

It seems to me that Joseph Smith’s translation completely missed the point. The point was that not even David sinned by eating on the Sabbath (nor those who were with him)! It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath!

(8) The eighth example offered was about new wine in old bottles. I’m not even sure I understand this one. Joseph Smith adds baptism to a conversation about fasting.

First of all, why in the world would the Pharisees jump from “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” to “Why will ye not receive us with our baptism?” Secondly, isn’t it perfectly clear that Jesus is not talking about the same type of fasting/food that the Pharisees are? And what does being dunked in water have to do with wine and wine skins?

(9) The ninth example offered is where Joseph Smith corrects John in order to make it clear that Jesus did perform baptisms.

Yes, in chapter 3, it sounds as if John is saying that Jesus did baptize. But John clarifies, just a few verses down, at the beginning of chapter 4, that it was not Jesus doing the baptizing but his disciples. So it’s not like we have one person saying that Jesus was baptizing and another person saying that he was not. We have the same person saying that Jesus and his disciples stayed there and were baptizing, but that it was not Jesus himself, but the disciples (and John the Baptist), who were doing the baptizing. To have Jesus baptizing men in water is to completely miss the point that Jesus is the one who (coming after John and “John’s baptism” – in water, unto repentance) baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire!

(10) The tenth example offered was one of Jesus reading the thought of his disciples in Mat 19:26.

Do I really need to point out that Jesus was not reading their thoughts? The passage clearly states that the disciples SAID: “Who then can be saved?” When it says: Jesus “beheld them”, it is simply saying that Jesus “looked at them”. The Greek word “emblepō” means “to look on”. The CLV translation renders the verse: “Now, looking at them, Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, yet with God all is possible.”” Another literal translation (Rotherham) says: “And, looking intently, Jesus said unto them—With men, this is, impossible, but, with God, all things are possible.”

(11) The eleventh example offered was about Jesus entering into a house to try and get away from the crowd, but he couldn’t get away from them. Apparently, Joseph Smith thought it inappropriate or impossible for Jesus not to be able to hide himself if he really wanted to, so he changed the verse to say that Jesus chose not to remain hidden because of his compassion for the people.

I don’t even understand the point of this clarification. Is the point that Jesus would never seek seclusion? That if he really wanted to hide that no one would be able to find him?

(12) The twelfth example offered was when the children were coming to Jesus and the disciples turned them away, but Jesus told them to suffer the little children. The claim is that Jesus preached the salvation of all children without the need for repentance and the disciple knew this truth. So they were not turning away the children because they did not want them to bother Jesus or because they thought he was too busy for them or even because they themselves were annoyed by them but because they knew this, saying: “There is no need, for Jesus hath said, Such shall be saved.” (JST, Matt. 19:13.)

I don’t believe the disciples understood any such thing. I believe Jesus used this opportunity to teach them that we must all “become as little children” if we are to enter into the kingdom of God. And do we not “become as little children” when we are “born again”? (Concerning which, Jesus said: “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” – John 3:7)

(13) The thirteenth example offered was Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Joseph Smith’s clarification is to add the words: “(Meaning the soldiers who crucified him).” (JST, Luke 23:35.)

Wow! And this might be the biggest wow of all!! This is a prophet of God?? I don’t know if I can even express just how far away from the truth this is!! But it clearly shows, to me, that Joseph Smith was not inspired by God to make this claim. It’s absolutely false! Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, for the sins of every man!! It was every man’s sin that put him on that cross and He was asking God to forgive ALL MEN! And anyone who understands even a little bit about OT typology should be able to see and understand that these words are given in answer to God’s question TO CAIN in Genesis, when God asked Cain (who is the figure of the first/natural/carnal man – our “old man”): “WHAT HAST THOU DONE?” (after killing Abel, who was a figure of Christ). Cain gives no answer! But Jesus, acting as mediator between God and men “intercedes” on Cain’s – (mankind’s) behalf, saying; “Father forgiven them, for THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO!” And I believe Paul understood this. As I believe that this is why Paul wrote: “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” (Heb 12:24). Notice that he speaks of Jesus as a mediator here. What did the blood of Abel speak? We aren’t told, but we are told: “…the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” Maybe it said something like this: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10)

(14) The fourteenth example has to do with the difference between the way Jesus’ robe is described in the various gospels. Matthew says it was scarlet. Mark and John say purple. Luke just says “gorgeous”. Apparently, Joseph Smith thought it important that we know for certain that the robe was purple.

Not sure I see the huge distinction between purple and scarlet. But it might be worth noting that the four gospels each present a very different aspect of who Jesus is, so these differences in description may very well be significant to those differences. This might not be something that we want to correct and make agree, but something that we need to understand better, as it relates to the lion, the ox, the man and the eagle. It may also be worth noting that the words used in Mark and John or Latin in origin. And the word translated “gorgeous” in Luke means “radiant”. It’s derived from the word “lampas” which means “a lamp”. Maybe there is more that we need to understand about this robe than just it’s “color”, huh?

(15) The last example offered is about the number of angels at the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection – one or two? The claim is that Luke and John say two, while Mathew and Mark indicate there was “but one”.

I’d just like to point out that mentioning only one in no way says or proves that there was only one. And the text does not say that there was “only one”. Besides that, there are other differences. In John, Mary Magdalene seems to go to the tomb alone to find it empty. And she doesn’t see anyone until she is left alone again after she has already gone to tell the disciples that the tomb is empty and they go to the tomb to verify her story. The other accounts tell the story differently and the differences go beyond just the number of angels present.

And very uninspired JST of the Bible is another place where Mormon Doctrine falls apart.


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