Scholars Examine Bible's Role in the Restoration
“The King James Bible and the Restoration” symposium, held in February 2011 and sponsored by Brigham Young University’s Religious Studies Center, brought together a number of scholars from different disciplines to discuss the heritage of the King James Version of the Holy Bible, with an emphasis on its relationship to the Church.
- Watch Robert L. Millett explain the importance of the KJV in understanding the Book of Mormon.
- Watch Kent P. Jackson explain the need for an English Bible before the Restoration could occur.
- Watch Dan L. Belnap discuss the similar theme and language of the KJV and Book of Mormon.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the original publication of the KJV Bible, which is the Church’s English translation of choice.
Richard Bennett, associate dean of religious education at BYU, commented on the conference’s significance: “Why do we commemorate [the King James Version]? It’s because it correlates with the Restoration.”
In opening the symposium, Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture, emphasized the King James Bible as an effective, inspired vessel for God’s word to His children and as a work essential to a complete understanding of the Book of Mormon.
“We do not believe the Bible has to have come down in perfectly untampered fashion to be spiritually normative and eternally valuable,” Brother Millet said. “For that matter, while we accept the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price as holy scripture, we would not rush to proclaim their inerrancy. The marvel is the greater that an infinite and perfect Being can work through finite and imperfect humans to deliver His word to His children.”
Brother Millet explained that the concern should not be for the perfection, but for the inspiration of the message. The LDS doctrine of ancient and modern-day revelation is that when God chooses to speak through an individual, that person does not become merely an earthly sound system, but becomes enlightened and filled with intelligence or truth.
“Knowing that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and . . . that He spoke to [ancient prophets] at all attests that He can speak to men and women in the here and now,” Brother Millet said. “If we have obtained [the Spirit], there is little need to quibble over the Bible’s suitability as a history or science text.”
Brother Millet cited God’s 1830 direction that Joseph Smith make an inspired translation of the Bible as proof that God wanted Latter-day Saints to read and study it.
“I choose the King James Version of the Bible because it lifts my spirits, feeds my soul, and enlightens my mind, and I am yet to have the same experience with other translations,” Brother Millet summed up. “For those who are eager to point out the antiquated words of the KJV, I recommend that you study the footnotes found in the LDS edition of the KJV more carefully.”
During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, nine new translations of all or significant parts of the Bible were published in addition to the JST.
Previously, the KJV Bible was simply “the Bible,” ancient scripture professor Kent P. Jackson explained. But a growing understanding of Greek and Hebrew and a concern that translators of the KJV Bible deliberately or innocently selected words that did not render the original authors’ meanings led to many different translations of the Bible.
“Like all other translations, the King James [Version] did not always give us words that expressed perfectly the authors’ intent, but the doctrinal imperfections of the King James translation were never an issue for Latter-day Saints and remain, for the most part, invisible to us,” he said. “That is because . . . modern revelation defines them correctly.”
For instance, translators interpreted the Hebrew word mal’āk and the Greek word ángelos, which both mean “messenger,” into “angel”: an androgynous winged creature. But because we understand angels from modern revelation, we have a correct image in mind whenever the word appears, Brother Jackson said.
Regardless of the translation, there had to be a Bible in the English language before the Restoration could occur, Brother Jackson said.
“Through the King James Bible, ordinary Americans learned how to read and write, learned good from evil, and learned a fundamental Christianity largely disconnected from the theological intricacies that were debated by intellectuals,” he said.
Thus, the King James Bible became one of the most potent forces in creating the American character and in paving the way for the Restoration.
Dan L. Belnap, assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU, addressed the relationship between the KJV Bible and the Book of Mormon during the symposium.
More than 50,000 phrases are common to the Bible and Book of Mormon, but there is no account that states whether or not Joseph Smith used any biblical text during his translation of the Book of Mormon.
“In the end we are simply led to conclude that the similarities between the Book of Mormon and the KJV arise from the manner in which ‘the gift and power of God’ was utilized to translate the record, with no real understanding as to what the ‘gift and power of God’ actually alludes to,” Brother Belnap said.
Brother Belnap argued that the use of King James English in the Book of Mormon—the traditional language of sermons—helped establish the Book of Mormon’s validity and familiarity.
Brother Belnap further explained that the KJV’s lack of extensive marginal commentary, found in the Geneva Bible, allowed newly colonizing Puritans to define themselves as New Israel, called and chosen to settle a new Promised Land, finding meaning and purpose as a covenant people in the Old Testament texts.
“It was in this environment, with a Bible uniquely designed to emphasize the literal nature of covenants while allowing for personal revelation, that the Father’s covenant, promised so long ago, began to be fulfilled,” he said.
“The relationship between the KJV and the Book of Mormon is a strong one, in terms of language and cadence, and a powerful one, in terms of covenantal theme,” he said in closing. “For the Latter-day Saint . . . it is a blessing, since it is through the Book of Mormon we can gain a greater appreciation and understanding of what the Bible truly is and represents. . . . The warning consists of subordinating the Bible in terms of relevant comparison with the Book of Mormon.”
The papers presented at the symposium will eventually be compiled into a book, The King James Bible and the Restoration. Past publications by the Religious Studies Center are available online at rsc.byu.edu/archived, many in full text.