The LDS Church has produced an update to the scriptures, following 8 years of work by historians on the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  You may have heard about some of the changes, as our own Andrew S was the one that alerted me, but By Common Consent has some fantastic posts on the subject as well, to go along with Allison at Mormon Momma.  With the recent work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, historians have found more accurate information than was available following the last major upgrade to the scriptures in 1981. Among the improvements are better dates for some of the revelations.  For example, the 1981 version of D&C 22 lists that it was received in April 1830, but the Joseph Smith Papers Project helped identify that it was April 16. The 1981 version also listed a revelation to James Covill, a Baptist minister; however it turns out his name should have been spelled Covel, and he was a Methodist minister.  They have also removed many of the references to History of the Church, due to updated information that showed that there are better histories now available.  If you’re interested in seeing before and after versions, the Church has published a PDF document so you can see all of the changes yourself.

The most significant changes seem to occur in the Doctrine and Covenants with new introductions to Official Declaration 1 and Official Declaration 2.  I’d like to discuss those in more detail.

Official Declaration 1

Known as “the Manifesto”, the 2013 version adds the following header that was absent from the 1981 edition.

The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7-8 and Jacob 2:27, 30).  Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132).  From the 1860s to the 1880s, the Unites States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal.  These laws were eventually upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court.  After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890.  This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.

Also conspicuous was the removal of the line from 1981,

The vote to sustain the foregoing motion was unanimous.

Most certainly, there were many Mormons that did not sustain it, leading to the eventual formation of polygamist sects such as the the United Apostolic Brethren (Kody Brown of Sister Wives fame is a member), the FLDS Church (led by Warren Jeffs), and other groups.

What caught my attention was the wording that “monogamy is God’s standard” and plural marriage was a “practice” rather than a “principle”.  In justifying plural marriage, it was stated to be a law of heaven, in order to get into the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.  But the wording doesn’t seem consistent with D&C 132’s changes.

If you look at the PDF document I linked to earlier, the changes are noted in yellow.  Specifically, the heading refers to “the principle of plural marriage”.  So is it a principle, or a practice?

[poll id=254]

Official Declaration 2

This also has a brand new introduction.

The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regards to race that once applied to the priesthood.

This is a very nice introduction.  Following the Randy Bott debacle last year, the Church issued a statement that “It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church…”  Well, at least they are acknowledging that it did not begin with Joseph Smith, and perhaps they are correct that “Church records offer no clear insights into” why “Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent.”  I have my theories, and I think it is largely due to some interracial marriages by William McCary, Joseph Ball, and Enoch Lewis.  Connell O’Donovan has documented much of this information, with much of it coming from church records.  I’d also like them to better acknowledge some of the Early Black Mormons.

I also found Allison’s comments on sexism with the priesthood, as well as EmJen’s quite interesting as well.  Certainly this could pave the way for an interpretation that women could hold the priesthood as well.  At the temple this week, I noticed something interesting.  Normally when we perform priesthood ordinances or blessings, we use the phrase “by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood.”  However, during the initiatory, it was only stated that these blessings were performed by those “having authority.”  It is my understanding that the prayers are identical for female as well as male initiants.  During the endowment, women are clothed in the robes of the holy priesthood (both Aaronic and Melchizedek), and I believe that women repeat the exact same wording as the men when crossing through the veil.  The only difference I can ascertain is that men are ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood prior to the initiatory ordinance, but women are not.  I asked a female temple worker if she felt that she held the priesthood when she performed these temple ordinances, and she said she did.  I know that there is some debate as to whether women blessing the sick administered with or without the priesthood (Stapely says no, while Quinn says yes), but my mission president, a former sealer, said that women administer inside the temple with the priesthood.

Book of Abraham

I wanted to compare these revisions a little more closely than the church PDF shows.

1981 version Deletions and Additions 2013 version
The Book of Abraham.  A translation from some Egyptian papyri that come into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing the writings of the patriarch Abraham.  The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois.  See History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534. The Book of AbrahamAn inspiredA translation from some Egyptian papyri that come into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing the writings of the patriarch Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri. The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois. See History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534. The Book of Abraham.  An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham.  Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri.  The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois.

Now let’s get nit-picky.  We went from “a translation” to “an inspired translation.”  A recent book about the papyri seems to show that the Egyptian alphabet that Joseph Smith collaborated with others was wrong.  There is rising skepticism as to whether this translation is a literal translation or not.  A rising conclusion is that The Book of Abraham might be inspired, but it does not appear to be a literal translation.  It may have been more of a revelation, akin to the Book of Moses, in which there was no source document.  Perhaps the papyri merely served as a catalyst for Joseph to receive revelation, rather than a literal translation.  While the new introduction still uses the word “translation”, it appears that the church may be trying to distance itself from the idea of a literal translation.  But I guess we will have to ask a church spokesman to confirm this theory.

If you’d like to get a paper copy of these scriptures, the Church has announced that they will start producing the new version of scriptures in August, but “Members do not need to purchase new scriptures.”  It’s interesting that the scriptures are available online before the print edition comes out.

What do you make of the changes?