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1769 KJV Errors

“What are 1769 King James Version edition errors doing in the Book of Mormon? A purported ancient text? Errors which are unique to the 1769 edition that Joseph Smith owned?” 

Many of the biblical quotations found in the Book of Mormon contain various types of errors and mistranslations,i but what these errors ultimately mean is debatable. Many questions remain about the nature of the Book of Mormon’s translation, including its extensive quoting of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). For instance, although the CES Letter specifically mentions the 1769 edition of the KJV, it hasn’t yet been demonstrated which specific edition is the source of the Book of Mormon’s quotations.ii   

Mormons don’t believe that the scriptures are infallible, nor do they think that every statement from God must represent a fully complete and precise version of the truth. Instead, Latter-day Saints see divine revelation as being adapted to the imperfect language and unique needs of mortal recipients.iii On one occasion, after providing a quotation from the book of Malachi, Joseph Smith explained, “I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands” (D&C 128:18). A similar line of reasoning could be applied to the biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon.iv 

Evidence suggests Joseph Smith didn’t own a Bible when he was translating the Book of Mormon. Even if he did (or could have borrowed one), witnesses claimed Smith didn’t rely on any books or manuscripts while translating.v This suggests that, unless aided by divine power, Smith would have had to dictate numerous lengthy biblical passages from memory (including more than a dozen chapters back-to-back in 2 Nephi). In addition, biblical passages are often integrated into the text of the Book of Mormon in complex and sophisticated ways.vi For many believing Latter-day Saints, the idea of Joseph Smith quoting or blending all of these biblical texts using his own intellect seems more far-fetched than the possibility of God facilitating a less-than-perfect translation for his own divine purposes.vii  

  • References

    i. For a discussion of the different types of translation errors and anachronisms in the Book of Mormon’s quotations of biblical texts, as well as what these errors may mean, see Royal Skousen with the collaboration of Stanford Carmack, The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon, Part 5 of The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Volume 3 of The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2019), 211–226. 

    ii. For a systematic study of this question, see Royal Skousen with the collaboration of Stanford Carmack, The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon, Part 5 of The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Volume 3 of The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2019), 105–128. 

    iii. As declared in D&C 1:24, “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.” For a more extensive discussion of God making accommodations for mortal language and understanding, see Ben Spackman, “Truth, Scripture, and Interpretation: Some Precursors to Reading Genesis,” 2017 Fair Conference, online at fairlatterdaysaints.org  

    iv. One thing to consider is that by relying on the King James Bible for quotations, the Book of Mormon becomes closely linked to the version of the Bible with which people in Smith’s day were already familiar. The eventual merger or union between the Bible and Book of Mormon is a repeated theme in the Book of Mormon and has both practical and symbolic significance (see 1 Nephi 13:39–40; 2 Nephi 3:12; 2 Nephi 29:6–9; Mormon 3:21; Mormon 7:8–9). This translation choice may also have avoided scenarios in which people would hastily reject the new volume of scripture simply because its biblical quotations varied significantly from the version of the Bible they trusted. Finally, it might be noted that Latter-day Saints still use the King James Bible today, despite the fact that its translation errors and deficiencies are well-known. For a series of articles exploring the possible reasons for the Book of Mormon’s use of specifically New Testament language, see https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/tags/new-testament-intertextuality. 

    v. See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: No Notes or Reference Materials,” Evidence# 0108, November 2, 2020 (updated June 1, 2023), online at https://evidencecentral.org/evidence/no-notes-or-references. 

    vi. See Royal Skousen with the collaboration of Stanford Carmack, The Nature of the Original Language, Part 3 of The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Volume 3 of The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2018), 1031–1042Nicholas J. Frederick, “The Book of Mormon and Its Redaction of King James New Testament: A Further Evaluation of the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 27, no. 4 (2018): 44–87.  

    vii. Nothing in the historical record indicates that Joseph Smith had something like a photographic memory or was capable of total recall. See Brian C. Hales, “Joseph Smith’s Education and Intellect as Described in Documentary Sources,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59 (2023): 1–32.