Joseph Smith Seer Stones: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: Part 2

Dr. Tyler Griffin

Dr. Tyler Griffin

Source Expert

Dr. Tyler Griffin’s career in education started with six years teaching seminary in Brigham City. He then spent seven years instructing at the Logan LDS Institute and helped launch the online seminary program. Currently, he’s a professor at BYU with over ten years of experience. Dr. Griffin co-founded the BYU Virtual Scriptures Group and holds degrees in Electrical Engineering, Instructional Technology (Master’s and PhD). He has authored and co-authored several religious books.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

When section 35 is received, Sydney is called as Joseph’s scribe, which is very helpful for Joseph because his scribe, Oliver, had been sent out to Missouri to the borders of the Lamanites, as it says in the revelation. So Sydney takes that calling to be scribed very seriously, and Joseph and Sydney actually go to Canandaigua, New York, near Fayette, and they go to Canada and do some translating. As they are translating, this is a copy of what’s called a Finney Cooperstown Bible. This is not the original that Joseph and Sydney used, but I will tell you the original looks exactly like this. It has this leather tool cover, and it’s a very large print Bible. And this is what they’re using as they’re doing the Joseph Smith Seer Stone Translation.

In those weeks prior to section 37 being received, they finish up Chapter 5 of what we know is the Book of Moses. Then they get Chapter 6, then they get into Chapter 7. Interestingly, those verses in the Book of Moses are about Enoch. Joseph learns from the Lord through revelation; he’s able to expand on the account of Enoch that’s very brief in the Old Testament as we have it in the King James Version. But he learns about Enoch and how Enoch did two interesting things: he gathered the people and he created a Zion. Now, isn’t the timing on that just interesting? Because in section 37, what does the Lord invite Joseph to do? Wait a minute, Ken, so what you’re saying is that sometimes the way revelation might work is God will take things that we have been focusing on in our scripture study, as those ideas come into our mind and into our heart, and He’ll take those and then He’ll help us find application for those principles in our life today. Is that what you’re saying?

Oh, I’m going to guess that the people watching this have had that experience, where you hear a general conference talk or you read something in the scriptures or you see something in Come, Follow Me or something somewhere comes to your attention, and then in the next while, you see it again and again and again. For the previous portion of your life, that verse might as well not even have existed; you just really didn’t notice it. And as soon as you read it or learn about it, it just keeps reappearing, and the Lord keeps teaching you additional things. That’s just one of the really fun things about life and learning from the gospel. I love that.

Now, one thing that we need to pause here for a second and discuss is the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) because it goes on pause right here. They’re told in section 37 to kind of put a hold on that for now. It’ll come back; they’re going to finish it. But keep in mind, Joseph started translating. That’s an interesting word that we use because that implies that I know two languages and I know them well. I’m taking something out of one language that I know, translating it into another language that I know. The fact is, at this stage in 1830, Joseph Smith does not know Egyptian; he doesn’t know Hebrew; he doesn’t know Greek; he doesn’t know the languages of ancient scripture. But he’s still, through the help of the Holy Ghost and other prophetic means, making a translation of sorts, even though he may not know those original languages. God knows them; the Spirit knows them.

It’s fascinating to see that you have over 3,600 verses in this Bible that he goes through that he’s going to make changes—3,600 plus. And then there are hundreds of additional verses that are added to this inspired version of the Bible that don’t even appear here. And as Ken was talking, many of them are going to be in Enoch’s story. The Book of Moses, for instance, you get Moses chapters 1 through 8 in your Pearl of Great Price. Those are the equivalent of Genesis chapter 1 through chapter 6, verse 13. You’re noticing that there’s a lot added that doesn’t ever appear in the Holy Bible, which, by the way, causes a little bit of potential discussion and even at times contention among some of the early members where Joseph’s teaching things about the Garden of Eden and about the fall of Adam and now Enoch and building up of Zion that they haven’t read these things before. This is new.

For years, it was kind of distrusted because many thought that some other people had probably changed some of the things Joseph did. It was Robert J. Matthews from our church who did his master’s and PhD research on it. He brought it back to the church. Actually, what had happened was Brigham Young had actually sent, I believe it was John Bernheisel; it may have been another early member of the church, but he sent an emissary over to Emma Smith to ask for the manuscript of the Joseph Smith Seer Stone Translation. The church had been told to publish it. We’ll see that later as we get into section 124; William Law was commanded to publish it but did not do so. And Emma kept it basically as personal property. She had carried it out; that’s another story that I’m sure will come in future weeks. But Emma did not give the manuscript up, and as a result, we kind of did distrust it because it was published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1867. And we had just little bits; we had the Book of Moses, and the reason we had that is because it was published in Nauvoo in a newspaper called the Times and Seasons. And we had the Joseph Smith—Matthew, but we just didn’t have very much from it until 1979 when the new Bible came out, in 1981 when the Doctrine and Covenants came out. But Genesis, this Moses, it actually begins with Genesis. I would say because Moses 1 is a chapter before the Old Testament actually begins. And the Joseph Smith Translation—fascinating topic. You can find lots of resources on the Church’s website about the Joseph Smith Translation. It’s been known by various names; the Lord calls it the translation, He also calls it the new translation, that’s how Joseph referred to it. It’s then also called the Inspired Version when it was published in 1867, and it became known as the Joseph Smith Translation in 1979. They were initially going to call it the new translation and use the abbreviation NT in our Bibles, but NT had been taken; it was New Testament. So the scripture committee said, “Well, it’s a translation that Joseph Smith did. Let’s call it the Joseph Smith Translation.” And so today, we know it as the JST.

Now, there’s one other element that we need to discuss regarding the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and then we’re going to move on. Some people have assumed that what Joseph is doing, these 3,600-plus changes or verses that are changed, plus the additions that are made—in many cases, there’s an idea out there that what Joseph is doing is restoring the original in all of these thousands of cases. The fact is, Joseph has a variety of reasons for making changes. In some cases, he’s restoring what the original author wrote, like Moses 1, as an example, that we don’t have. In other cases, he’s modernizing the language; he’s turning things like “wist” into “knew not.” It had absolutely nothing to do with any of the original writers of the scriptures, whether it was Hebrew or Greek, what they wrote because it wasn’t attached to that. There are other times where Joseph is making changes that a prophet, a seer, and a revelator has the right to make. He’s taking scripture and making it more accessible doctrinally to teach or expound on a doctrine or to clarify where modern language maybe has shifted the meaning of a word or a phrase or a concept. It’s his right to say this is what the prophet meant; he never wrote; he didn’t have to write it that way; he didn’t have to get translated that way. But for us now, this is what he meant, and if the Lord were here redoing this, this is how it would come out.

What I’m saying is there are a variety of reasons for the various changes that occur. The problem comes when you assume that all of the changes were trying to make it exactly the way it came from the pen originally. That may or may not be the case. But don’t you love the fact that we live in a church where we’re open to God giving us more revelation, more clarification? We believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. And to me, the Joseph Smith Seer Stone Translation is kind of a little fruit of that root doctrine that we have, and it does all of that. And there are many kinds of changes made.
One other thing it does, though, is it serves; it’s the way I think the Lord teaches Joseph the gospel. Joseph learns the gospel through two major translation efforts: the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation. One thing that I would just encourage you to look for throughout this year as you study the Doctrine and Covenants is to look for a connection between Joseph’s efforts translating the Joseph Smith Translation and sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. There are literally dozens of sections that come about because Joseph or a member of the church had questions because of what Joseph had learned while doing the Joseph Smith Translation. It’s beautiful to see that Joseph got answers to revelation; we learned scriptural doctrines, and the restoration unfolded in large measure through the Doctrine and Covenants because Joseph or somebody else asked a question. And I think the analogy there is, well, if I want to learn the gospel for myself, how do I do that? I study the word of the Lord, and when I don’t understand everything, I ask questions. And we can learn the same way Joseph did. Absolutely. That pattern—President Russell M. Nelson has pled with us to seek more inspiration, more revelation, to hear Him. And the quickest way to hear Him, many of our prophets and apostles and other church leaders have said, is open your scriptures, start studying them; you’ll hear His voice.

By Dr. Tyler Griffin, Source Expert

Dr. Tyler Griffin embarked on his professional journey by teaching seminary courses for a period of six years in Brigham City, Utah. Following that, he dedicated the subsequent seven years to instructing at the Logan LDS Institute, located adjacent to Utah State University. Alongside his participation in the Seminary Preservice program, he spearheaded and supervised the implementation of the online seminary program. Dr. Griffin has been an educator at BYU for well over a decade and holds a co-founding position within the BYU Virtual Scriptures Group. His undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering, while both his master’s and doctorate degrees center around Instructional Technology. Dr. Griffin is the exclusive author of “When Heaven Appears Distant” co-author of “Come Unto Me: Illuminating the Savior’s Life, Mission, Parables, and Miracles” and co-editor of “Millions Shall Rediscover Brother Joseph.”

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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