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The Mormon Bible(s)

Posted by nebula0 on October 1, 2008


One term that inevitably rears its ugly head when talking about Mormonism is “Mormon Bible”.  Usually someone who doesn’t know the first thing about Mormonism hears about how Mormons have their own scriptures and so assume that Mormons go around using a Mormon Bible.  Now there is a half truth to this.  Joseph Smith did go about creating his own “translation” of the Bible, a product of what he felt to be inspiration of the Holy Ghost since he wasn’t fluent in the original languages of the Bible and wasn’t working from ancient manuscripts to translate anything into English as translators usually do.  This “translation” is known as the Joseph Smith Translation or JST and an example of this work, the recasting of Matthew, is found in the Pearl of Great Price and JST footnotes are found in Latter-day Saint church published Bibles.

With that caveat in mind, the translation of the Bible that English speaking Mormons use is the King James Version.  Given that Mormons in non English speaking parts of the world using more modern translations, why are Mormons stuck with the KJV?  Bearing in mind that the KJV is not the most accurate translation on the market (for example, the name Lucifer originated with a mistake when the Bible was translated into Latin and that mistake was carried into the KJV), and that it is difficult for modern ears to understand, especially when things get technical, some accuse the LDS church of choosing the KJV to keep Mormons purposefully in the dark.  That is, a Mormon could potentially read over Romans in the KJV five times and not quite get it because of the language barrier.  But if that were the case, why wouldn’t the LDS church choose a similarly difficult translation for use in non English speaking countries?  No, that doesn’t explain it.

The explanation is simple: the Book of Mormon appeared in English (whether you believe it was translation or not) and the Book of Mormon language is very KJV-esque.  More than that, the Isaiah portions of the BoM are largely a word for word match to the KJV.  So you can see the reasoning here, unless the LDS church wants to redo the BoM into a more modern sounding English perhaps using a modern translation of the Bible as a guide, the KJV will probably need to stay around- people will expect those Isaiah passaages (among other things, such as the numerous paraphrased KJV verses found in the BoM) to match up with their Bibles.  Since Joseph is believed to have been directly influenced by God in his translation of the BoM, messing with that (more than it already has been anyway) is unlikely to happen.  This isn’t a problem for non English speakers for whom the BoM has to be translated into a different language no matter, and is modernized in the process to begin with.

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9 Responses to “The Mormon Bible(s)”

  1. Seth R. said

    Oh gosh, can you imagine the crap we’d get from Evangelical fundamentalists if we tried to “modernize” the Book of Mormon?

    They already throw around that stupid “3,000 corrections!” figure like it was something damning. Can you imagine the field day they’d have with a Mormon attempt to bring the BoM up to date?

    Besides, other Christians have the advantage of existing Greek manuscripts to work from and lend legitimacy to a scholarly re-interpretation. We have no such documents, so, what do we work from?

  2. nebula0 said

    I’m not saying whether or not the LDS should modernize the BoM or not, just explaining why the KJV isn’t going to go away any time soon.

  3. Seth R. said

    I agree. I was throwing out a tangent.

  4. Seth R. said

    You know… I’ve always thought it would be cool if the LDS Church simply adopted Joseph’s translation of the Bible as the official Bible for use of its membership.

    Few problems though:

    1. It would imply that the Bible has been “all corrected now” and “restored to the way it was supposed to be” when I don’t think that was exactly what Joseph Smith was doing – or at least, not what he ended up with.

    2. It would make Mormons even less able to converse with our Christian neighbors.

    You have to wonder whether moving Joseph’s material from footnote status to the next level is really worth the drawbacks. Reluctantly, I’m not sure it is.

  5. nebula0 said

    As far as point #2 goes though, it might even be better that way because Mormons wouldn’t be so confused about their OWN status as truly different from their evangelical Protestant neighbors. Too many Mormons these days really have no clue how they fit in and use rather superficial arguments to try to fit themselves into places they don’t really belong (even if you fit Mormonism under the Christian umbrella, it does NOT fit under the conservative Protestant evangelical umbrella and too many Mormons think that’s where they are).

  6. Seth R. said

    I think it’s far closer to Eastern Orthodoxy than Protestantism. But anyway…

  7. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    Nah, I disagree there. Mormonism is closest to American Arminian Protestantism. Some concepts, such as a focus on the resurrected vs crucified Christ and deification do have closer similarities to Eastern Orthodoxy, but taken as a whole, I’d see Mormonism as an outgrowth of American evangelicalism. That makes sense too, since those are the concepts and terms it uses to interpret its own theology due to familiarity.

  8. Seth R. said

    What about the heavy ritual element though, and demand for an authorized ecclesiarchy?

  9. nebula0 said

    The organization of the LDS church is more akin to the RCC than the diffuse power of local bishops in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The ritual is that which is shared by Protestants plus the truly unique elements of the temple.

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