Joseph Smith wrote Article of Faith 8: “We Believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” But has anyone ever identified these errors? BYU professor Dr. Thomas Wayment has identified known biblical errors, such as this one!
Thom: 1st John 5:7, that verse is forged in our Bible. When you go to Sunday School and you read 1st John 5:7, there is no scholar on the planet, I believe, that would say that verse is original. We know when it’s forged. We know why it’s forged and so that’s comes out.
GT: See, I’ve done a lot of Mark Hofmann stuff. So, this is fascinating to me. So tell me about that. What does the verse say and why do you say it is forged?
Thom: It’s a trinitarian verse, and what I mean by that is it says that there is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And so, the verse is forged, and I should have looked up the exact date on this.* But, we know exactly the century when this happens. There’s no manuscript prior to that. And when it happens, we believe it’s probably written in the margin at first, like “This is what this means,” or something and somebody migrates that into the text. So, in our King James [Bible], it’s a fascinating story how we have it. The person who put together the Greek text for our King James Bible went to his local ecclesiastical leaders and said, “This verse isn’t in my manuscripts.” And they produce a manuscript for him that has it, that’s a forgery itself. And say, “You better put this in.” We are confident this is a forged verse.
*Later in conversation he says it was in the 14th century.
This is one of my favorite conversations, and we discussed other biblical errors known by scholars. Which versions of the Bible are the best? I asked Tom his top 5, and KJV wasn’t in the list! (By the way, Wayment’s book has sold out twice in December and January and is currently out of stock. You can purchase it on Kindle right now, but there is no estimate for when it will be available again. See https://amzn.to/2M6UVUd
In our final conversation, Wayment discusses his work on the Joseph Smith Translation. A few months ago,he made headlines in the Mormon community when he came out with news that the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible relied heavily on Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary.
Thom: A student assistant of mine, Haley Wilson-Lemmon, was working for me about four years ago now. And I’ve worked on the JST my whole career. It’s been interesting because it makes a claim to originality, at least modern Mormons claim that. And so, I’ve been probing it throughout my career. And, I had begun to think that Joseph Smith used a variety of sources, but I hadn’t nailed it down. And so, I said to Haley, I think you should take Buck’s Theological Dictionary. I think you should take Thomas Scott’s Notes and I think you should take Adam Clarke and start comparing it to a series of test passages in the JST and just see what crops up because I’m suspecting there’s influence, but I don’t know.
And she comes back, and we look at the column of Adam Clarke and it’s overwhelming. There are some strong parallels. And so, over the course of about 12-14 months, Haley compared every single JST to all of these and we have a massive amount of data, and sure enough it. It’s very clear. It’s conclusive that Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke. And when I say use, I want to stick by that term. This isn’t him simply saying, “Okay, here’s three sentences in Clarke. I’m going to copy it out and call that inspiration.” It’s not that. He has words that come from Clarke that now come into kind of an expanded sentence that Joseph has created. Clarke will recommend flipping the order of verses and Joseph will do that. Weird words like unicorn in Isaiah, Joseph will go to [Clarke] to realize that’s not unicorn. And so, he’ll add [Clarke]’s statement about it or he’ll say, this is re’em.
What implications does that have for Latter-day Saints of faith?
Thom: That’s really been how the conversation has kind of taken life, which in some ways is unfortunate. In some ways it is a good moment for pause. What I see as a scholar is it’s confronted a narrative about the JST that people have, that the JST is a moment of absolute revelation. No other influences happened that he was giving us the Bible as it was originally. And if you had that view, it’s going to be a hard thing. And, yet as a historian, it’s unfortunate. Joseph never made that claim. He never tells us that the Lord commanded him to start it. There is no revelation that currently exists where he is directed or says he was directed to go translate the Bible. We find him recording a commandment to work on Matthew but not Genesis. And so, in this sense, he never canonized it.
He never, if you will, said, “This is the original Bible.” And during this time, he has another statement that we refer to as a revelation. “Seek ye out learning from the best books.” And for heaven’s sakes, that’s what he’s doing it. It’s really a practical process. I suspect that there are other sources. I suspect it’s not just Clarke and in the coming years, I’ll play that hand a little more broadly. But this is him working on the Bible. For the Latter-day Saint who feels confronted by this, we know he studied Hebrew after this. He’s trying to engage both his role as prophet, so he owns the text in one sense, but he continually feels like, “I need some training.” And Clarke is a really good resource of the day and a modern scholar wouldn’t feel that and I don’t feel that, but of the day it’s very good and I think he comes to trust Clarke. I think later he says, “Well, maybe I could learn Hebrew. And he does some work in Hebrew in Kirtland 1835 period. And I think again, like he went with the Book of Mormon, he went to Luther Bradish, he goes to Charles Anthon and others to say, “Can you help me?” Or, “Can you translate this?” He has a scholarly component in every one of his translations and that to me seems pretty normal. But, maybe to the modern believer it might confront a narrative of faith that they had that was an absolute point.
- What do you think about the KJV?
- Do you use other translations?
- Were you aware that 1st John 5:7 is a forged verse?
- What are your thoughts on the Joseph Smith Translation?
- Does it matter that Smith relied on a Bible Commentary for the JST?
Hmm. To say that 1st John 5:7 is forged because it is trinitarian seems like a stretch. To be “one” could be interpreted in a variety of ways. Can I assume there is more evidence than is presented in the post?
Scholars also know that the story of Jesus writing in the dust in regards to the woman caught in sin does not appear in the earliest manuscripts now in existence. But to assume that means it was simply forged at a later date is presumptuous. There are other possible explanations.
I assume there are more than just a couple of examples that will support the idea of “as far as translated correctly.” And they need to be substantive in nature – right? If not then there are hard questions to answer.
Joseph “directly borrowing” (plagiarizing) from Clarke’s commentary is problematic for me for a couple of reasons. One, without attributing the source material is plagiarism, plain and simple. Perhaps standards were different at that time. I simply don’t know. But there is no denying it clearly fits the definition of plagiarism, which is problematic. Second, it also seems to directly contradict what Joseph claimed publicly about the JST. It seems to me that Joseph had a pattern of relying on existent sources when producing scripture without mentioning to his followers what he was doing. I’m not claiming this means no revelation or inspiration was involved. But it does suggest a pattern of dishonesty where publicly one thing is claimed, while something else was going on behind the scenes. Joseph was clearly influenced by his cultural milieu in producing scripture. That is to be expected. But he seems to conveniently fail to mention the sources he relied on or “directly borrowed” from.
The alleged forgery:
1 John 5:7 — For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
Other (uncontested?) texts:
John 10:30 — I and the Father are one.
2 Ne 31:21 — …the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
Alma 11:44 — …Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God…
Mormon 7:7 — …to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God…
D&C 20:28 — Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.
I am not persuaded that 1 John 5:7 is error or forgery. The principle taught there seems to be true based on so many other texts.
In Wayment’s new book, The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, there are short introductions before each book. For each of the gospels, there is a section in the introduction titled “Manuscripts,” with a brief discussion of the ancient manuscripts available to support the Greek text of the book that is translated into English. It’s not like there is a single authoritative Greek text that comes down through history — there are dozens or hundreds of manuscripts, each with slightly different wordings of this or that verse, some with additional verses added, others that lack certain passages. They all need to be consulted and compared to come up with a consensus “best Greek text” that most scholars will consult, but there will always be legitimate disputes about certain words or passages.
His footnote to 1 John 5:7 includes this explanation: The King James Version “used a Greek text that contained this spurious reading. However, the earliest manuscript to contain the Greek text of this additional verse is from the fourteenth century, and it is clearly a verse that was added many years after the letter was originally composed.”
Gary, “To say that 1st John 5:7 is forged because it is trinitarian seems like a stretch.”
You seem to be conflating things here. Thom didn’t say that, and I’m sorry if I gave that impression because I was trying to keep things concise for the post. I encourage everyone to click on the link in the video to get the entire explanation. But suffice it to say, the oldest manuscripts simply say ” For there are three that bear record.” Stop. End of verse.
The rest of the verse (quoted by JI) was not added until the 14th century, and Thom says there is not a reputable biblical scholar in the world that makes the claim that the extra writing “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” were in the original manuscripts. He thinks the rest of the verse was added in the margin and then copied into the KJV, and he tells how the rest of the verse got into the KJV. He cites other examples as well.
Doubting Tom, here are a few thoughts regarding plagiarism. #1) Joseph never published his translation of the Bible. It was published by RLDS Church long after his death. These were writings in his personal bible, so hard to call that plagiarism, unless you want to accuse the RLDS Church of plagiarism for not knowing why Joseph crossed out certain words. #2-Legal standard for plagiarism is much higher than crossing out a word. Many colleges follow the 30%/10% rule–no more than 10% of a source can be used and no more than 30% of a paper can be used before we call something plagiarism. Clearly, Joseph is far below those thresholds. #3-Thom makes it clear that Joseph was only commanded regarding the Book of Genesis, not the New Testament. He notes that there is a revelation telling us to study out of the best books, and clearly that is what Joseph was doing. Like I said before, there weren’t plans to publish the JST, and it wasn’t published until decades after Joseph was killed.
JI, there are many who claim the Book of Mormon is trinitarian. I’m surprised to hear you supporting that idea. We discuss whether any Clarke errors entered the Book of Mormon and Wayment says no. Wayment also said he thinks many Mormons oversell the case of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, and Joseph broke the chiasmus in the Isaiah sections of both the Book of Mormon and JST Isaiah. That is a VERY interesting part of our conversation I left out of the blog post here. (Suffice it to say, Wayment is quite forgiving of Joseph for breaking chiasmus, and notes the apostle Paul broke chiasmus when quoting Isaiah too.)
1 John 5:7 is a forgery with a well documented history behind it. James White talks extensively about it in his podcasts/youtube videos.
I’m not saying it’s an incorrect doctrine, I’m just saying it was never in the original.
Here’s some further reading on it to back up the assertion that it’s a forgery: https://bible.org/article/textual-problem-1-john-57-8
The first two editions that Erasmus published didn’t have the wording. It wasn’t until the 3rd publication that heincluded it. Our KJV used texts based on the 3rd publication for translating which is why we have it.
Who said I support the idea that the Book of Mormon is Trinitarian? You really shouldn’t put words in my mouth. All I did was quote scripture. I don’t like labels.
But I wonder, are the Book of Mormon and D&C in error in the citations I quoted? Should someone do an updated version of the BoM and D&C to correct these obvious errors?
For the record, I have never seen a non-LDS edition of the Bible that does not acknowledge that 1 John 5:7 is not in the earliest manuscripts. The fact that it is a later interpolation is widely known and acknowledged among trinitarian Christians.
To answer the questions in the OP, the KJV is the Bible I grew up with, and it has a special place in my heart. There are certain passages–especially the gospels–that I stil think just sound best in the KJV. It’s also incredibly important on its own terms as a foundational text in the modern English language. But it has pretty severe limitations as scripture that are not just limited to archaic language. I am currently “between translations.” For awhile I used the English Standard Version exclusively because I think it combines readability and majesty really well, but it’s a notorious gender-complementarian translation, and that’s not something I’m willing to overlook anymore. All translations have an agenda, so it’s a matter of knowing them and taking them into account. Right now I mostly use the NRSV, but from a readability standpoint I don’t love it. We have a CEB translation that my wife likes a lot, and I probably will to, but I just haven’t gotten the chance to spend much time with it. For devotional New Testament reading I often use N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament. Like I said above, acknowledging the problems with 1 John 5:7 and other passages of dubious provenance is the norm in the world of published Bibles.
It’s been a long time since I even thought much about the JST, although I am now curious to go back and look at it more carefully. I mean, I completely reject the notion that the JST matches what the original Biblical manuscripts (just like I reject the notion that the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham are ancient records), but that’s not the end of the question, because it’s still a fascinating thing on its own terms. Because I don;t think that the JST is a prophetic revelation of the original manuscripts, I am not bothered by the fact that Smith used a Bible Commentary (or any other source), although it still is interesting because it’s part of the thing’s makeup and background.
By the way, there’s many other removed passages. The two most startling will be the Woman Taken in Adultery and the Long Ending of Mark.
Long Ending of Mark causes an issue because the BoM quotes from it. As someone who believes the BoM but doubts the Long Ending of Mark was legit, I don’t take issue with it because the signs that it teaches, many are played out in the Book of Acts. So while it may not have been in the original Book of Mark, the principles are still true.
There are many people who have noted that Joseph’s theology of Jesus evolved, and it seems that he was a trinitarian in his earliest accounts. The Book of Mormon seems to support a trinitarian theology. Even Joseph’s first (1832) account of the First Vision fails to mention more than one person. By his fourth 1838 account of the First Vision, he seems to have evolved to the position of the Godhead that we uphold today. I will note that the Community of Christ upholds a trinitarian view, because they generally reject many of Joseph’s theological innovations from 1838 and beyond (such as godhead, polygamy, endowment, sealing, etc.)
Should the D&C & BoM be updated to remove trinitarian thought? Great question! I’m not advocating that, but perhaps we can at least acknowledge that Joseph’s theology evolved, and perhaps we should give less weight to the 1838 First Vision account of 2 beings, and acknowledge the trinitarian leanings of the Book of Mormon and D&C, and wonder how much those came from God vs Joseph’s protestant upbringing. It may also be wise to emphasize the Vision, rather than Visitation aspect of the First Vision. (They didn’t shake hands, for example.) It does seem that Nephi, Alma, Mormon, and even Joseph in 1831-2 were more trinitarian in belief than Joseph in his 1844 King Follett sermon.
Perhaps if you pointed to some of the claims you think Joseph Smith made about the JST, and where we can read it, we could talk about whether his use of scholarly works contradicts that. I’m not aware of any statement that the whole of the JST is dictation from God. I think you’d have a better argument for some portions (e.g. what is now the Book of Moses and Joseph Smith-Matthew) but I suspect those options would show much less influence from Clarke.
“There is no revelation that currently exists where he is directed or says he was directed to go translate the Bible”.
“And verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should hasten to translate my Scriptures,…..” D&C 93:53 (LDS) 90:12 (RLDS)
Also, Sidney Rigdon’s input is not discussed.
Rick B and DSC,
I was unaware of exactly what Joseph Smith actually claimed the JST to be. I guess I was under the impression that he claimed all of the JST to be a revealed from heaven new translation to correct biblical errors. If it was simply him studying his bible and crossing things out and writing in the margins his ideas, then I have much less problem with him using Clarke and I would agree it’s not plagiarism and I stand corrected. I am no scholar. I simply thought Joseph claimed he was commanded by God to go through the entire Bible. Thanks for keeping me straight.
As markablog pointed out, I think you’re right that Joseph Smith claimed he was commanded by God to go through the Bible and to make the “translation”. Reading through the headings in the Doctrine and Covenants makes it pretty clear why God commanded that: many revelations were received as a result of that process. The thing that I’m less certain about is what Joseph Smith claimed about the final result. I don’t think Rick B (in the comments here) gives an accurate picture of what the JST is. It is clearly more than notes in the margins, and I think publications was an ultimate goal. But since the prophet was killed before that project was complete, we can’t know for certain what Smith thought of what we currently have as the JST, and, as already pointed out, Smith might have attributed some of the work to his scholarly sources given a chance to publish it.