I have a theory that Joseph Smith intended to perfect the Bible. Slowly, line upon line, here a little, and there a little.
In 1830-1831, he worked on what we now call his Joseph Smith Translation, but he still made many alterations after this. In his later sermons, you will see him say things like “I might have rendered a plainer translation to this,” or this verse should actually say this. Despite what we may think, his JST was not perfect or complete and he knew it. In fact, in a Council of Fifty meeting where Joseph himself was in attendance, Brigham Young remarked how if Joseph were to translate the Bible 40,000 times over, it would be different each time. I think it’s because Joseph wanted to perfect the Bible, and he was always learning new things.
For example, let’s look at Genesis chapter 2 and see how it changed in Joseph’s eyes.
Genesis 2 (KJV)
10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
That’s the original. Apparently the Garden of Eden was close to Assyria and Ethiopia. Here’s how he had it by the end of 1830:
10 And I, the Lord God, caused a river to go out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11 And I, the Lord God, called the name of the first Pison, and it compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where I, the Lord God, created much gold;
12 And the gold of that land was good, and there was bdellium and the onyx stone.
13 And the name of the second river was called Gihon; the same that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14 And the name of the third river was Hiddekel; that which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river was the Euphrates.
Minor changes, but we’re still close to Assyria and Ethiopia. Here’s how he saw this passage by early 1842:
10 There was a river running out of Eden, to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became into four heads.
That’s it. As you can see, it’s much shorter and all references to Ethiopia, Assyria, the Euphrates River, and the like are gone. Why is this?
Well, in 1838 it was revealed to Joseph Smith that Adam had lived in North America, somewhere in what is modern day Missouri (D&C 116). People also recollected that Joseph had said that the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, Missouri. You may not need a map to know that this is nowhere near Assyria or Ethiopia, much less the Euphrates River. So a translation of Genesis 2 in 1842 reflected the revelations that Joseph had received up to that point. In 1842 he had information that he didn’t have in 1830, and so that’s why we see those changes, in my opinion.
And it seems that Joseph Smith was making changes to the Biblical narrative all the way up to the last months of his life. Let’s consider another example of this.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak. I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest.
And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.
The head one of the Gods brought forth the Gods… Thus, the head God brought forth the Gods in the grand council… The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world. The grand counselors sat at the head in yonder heavens, and contemplated the creation of the worlds which were created at that time.
One God went to two Gods, the Father and the Son; then two Gods went to probably more than two Gods (possibly the entire group of the noble and great ones—see Abr. 3:22-26 and Abr. 4:1); and then multiple Gods morphed into the grand council of the Gods who had already created who knows how many previous worlds. All of this reflects Joseph’s evolving views of heaven and man’s place in God’s plan. For instance, by early 1836 Joseph was aware through his study of Hebrew that the word Elohim denoted plural Gods. His understanding of that concept later showed up in his publication of the Book of Abraham through the creation being done by multiple “gods”.
I’ve previously talked about how Joseph made the creation account in Abraham perfectly reconcilable with what we now know about natural history. Was that also a reflection of what he was learning through revelation? I think he learned a lot through his translation of the Egyptian papyri.
Had Joseph Smith not died such a young death, who knows what other alterations we would see in his revision of the Bible?
Now there are many more examples of Joseph Smith trying to perfect the Bible, but those will have to come in another post. What’s your favorite thing that he changed?
Sources and Notes
- “I could have rendered a plainer translation”: https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/answers/Joseph_Smith:_%22I_might_have_rendered_a_plainer_translation_to_this,_but_it_is_sufficiently_plain_to_suit_my_purpose_as_it_stands%22
- Brigham on Joseph translating the bible differently each time: https://www.fromthedesk.org/council-fifty-minutes-perfect-revelation/
- Garden of Eden: https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Garden_of_Eden; https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1994/01/i-have-a-question/what-do-we-know-about-the-location-of-the-garden-of-eden?lang=eng
- King Follet discourse: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-7-april-1844-as-reported-by-times-and-seasons/3
- Elohim as plural gods would ruin the bible: http://lds-studies.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-plurality-of-elohim.html