Competent to Proclaim and Defend the Savior: 30 Years of the LDS Scriptures

Contributed By Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events

  • 4 November 2011

View President Boyd K. Packer's October 1982 talk about the coming forth of the new version of the LDS scriptures.

“The older generation has been raised without them, but there is another generation growing up. The revelations will be opened to them as to no other in the history of the world. Into their hands now are placed the sticks of Joseph and of Judah. They will develop a gospel scholarship beyond that which their forebears could achieve. They will have the testimony that Jesus is the Christ and be competent to proclaim Him and to defend Him.”

That’s what President Boyd K. Packer (then Elder Packer), President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said in 1982 about what the recently released edition of the scriptures could do for the rising generation. Now, 30 years after the publication of a new edition of the triple combination in English (which came two years after a Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible), an entire generation has grown up benefitting from these scriptures with their cross-references, word explanations and etymology, references to the Joseph Smith Translation, the Topical Guide, the Bible Dictionary, and the gazetteer and maps.

That edition of the scriptures, which the Church continues to publish today, was no small undertaking. It began in 1977, nearly 148 years after the Book of Mormon was first published, when, under priesthood direction, Church members James Mortimer and Ellis Rasmussen called at the Cambridge University Press in England to discuss printing a new edition of the Bible for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The need for a Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible came from an abundance of Bibles rather than a lack of them,” Brother Mortimer wrote in 1983. The Church had missionary editions, a Seminaries and Institutes of Religion edition, and even a large-print edition for Primary children. All of these—plus offerings from commercial publishers—were commonly used in Church curricula. Even though all of these English publications included the text of the King James Version of the Bible, the Church hoped to move to one standardized edition.

The Project’s Purpose and Plan

For that reason, Brother Mortimer and Brother Rasmussen met with Roger Coleman, director of religious publishing, at Cambridge. The project would involve the following:

  • While the text would remain the same, all cross-references, chapter introductions, and indexes would be replaced.
  • Footnotes, instead of progressing from A to Z in each chapter, would involve a system wherein the letters started over for each verse.
  • This edition of the Bible was to be cross-referenced with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
  • All books of scripture would share a Topical Guide listing hundreds of subjects.
  • A Bible dictionary would be introduced, as would other reference materials, such as maps.

“The Cambridge Press had been publishing the King James Bible since the first edition in 1611, but they had never been asked to do anything like this,” President Packer said in his 1982 talk.

Although computers would certainly be an asset in printing such an edition of the scriptures, a number of technical challenges still existed. In that meeting, however, was Mr. Derek Bowen, whom President Packer called “a most remarkable man.”

“A World War II injury had left him unable to hear,” President Packer said. “Thereafter he devoted his remarkable compensating abilities to the editing, typesetting, and printing of Bibles. He was, perhaps, the one man in the world who could direct such a printing project.”

Mr. Bowen would oversee the printing part of the project, but before that could happen, hundreds of workers would organize tens of thousands of footnotes and compile—and then pare down—the hefty list of headings for the Topical Guide. Fortunately, that work had already been under way for several years under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as all work relating to the scriptures always has been.

The committee was led by three members of the Quorum of the Twelve: Elder Thomas S. Monson (who was trained in printing), Elder Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Marvin J. Ashton. Later, when Elder Ashton received a new assignment, Elder Bruce R. McConkie joined the committee.

“There was a spirit of inspiration brooding over their work,” President Packer said, “and those working with the project talked often of how it was blessed. … Without the inspired help of hundreds of dedicated workers it would have been impossible! Among them were scholars in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Old and New Testament studies. More than this, they are worthy men and women in whose lives the gospel of Jesus Christ is the dominating influence. Their work, if they only knew it, may well be their greatest contribution in mortality.”

Brother Mortimer recalled several instances of seeing the hand of the Lord in their work. For instance, the seminaries of the Church were scheduled to begin studying the Old Testament in the fall of 1979; with the first typesetting beginning in January of the preceding year—and the distance between Cambridge and Salt Lake City in a time before digital publication—it seemed unlikely to happen. Yet, Brother Mortimer wrote, “no packages of proofs were ever lost in the mail, and occasional delays were never more than a few days. Schedules [that] seemed impossible were somehow met by Cambridge. Correction cycles were minimal, and production problems were almost nonexistent. On several occasions we received word that university printing projects were given lesser priority than our project.”

A Fulfillment of Prophecy

After years of “quiet, intensive work,” the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible came off the press in 1979. And two years later, the English editions of the Book of Mormon (which now carried the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”), the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price followed. (New revelations were added to the Doctrine and Covenants, something that had not occurred in more than a century, as was the official statement announcing the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.)

Craig L. Marshall, a seminaries and institutes coordinator in Yarm, England, works some 200 miles (322 km) from where the project took place in Cambridge. Having worked in the Church Educational System for 36 years, his “daily work has been scripture-saturated,” he said, and he remembers the time when the Church celebrated the new editions of the scriptures.

“My personal scripture study changed significantly,” Brother Marshall said. “Suddenly things were easier to locate, cross-reference, and understand.

“Initially I did not fully appreciate the revolutionary nature of the changes,” he admitted. “I read the comments of Elder Packer, Elder McConkie and others, but I did not fully understand until I began to use the new editions myself. Within a few weeks of use the power of the new tools became evident. Now, it is hardly possible to read any extensive passage without automatically referring to the footnotes, chapter headings, and other aids. They have become a natural, invaluable extension of the scripture text.”

It was a year after the publication of the new triple combination, during the 152nd Semiannual General Conference of the Church, that President Packer spoke about the new edition of scriptures fulfilling the prophecy found in Ezekiel 37:15–17 and what it would do for the rising generation.

A Generation Competent to Proclaim and Defend the Savior

One member of that generation, 19-year-old Ekpenyong Edem Essien, an institute student in Calabar, Nigeria, said that he feels “privileged and honored” to have grown up with the edition of the scriptures members of the Church use today. “In enhancing my personal study, I always endeavor to use the footnotes, the Topical Guide, and cross-referencing,” he said. “… Each time I come across strange words in the scriptures, [these tools] have made the scriptures easy and enjoyable to study.”

With them and with the help of the Holy Ghost, he said, “understanding is always possible.”

He also recognizes that because they have been blessed with greater understanding, he and his peers have a “duty and responsibility” to study the scriptures “diligently, prayerfully, and thoroughly” and to liken their teachings to themselves.

Arthur H. Hardy, a seminaries and institutes coordinator in Loughborough, England, reports: “The rising generation have definitely fulfilled President Boyd K. Packer’s statement: they are now competent users of all the additional helps now available in our current editions of the scriptures. Their confidence has grown as they have learned how to use the footnotes and particularly the Joseph Smith Translation.” Jack K. Nielsen, also a seminaries and institutes coordinator, works with the YSA Provo (Brigham Young University) Stake Institutes. He notes that “the scriptures have become ‘one in [the] hands’ of the rising generation.

“They can use the study aids to find and study doctrines in all of the standard works,” he said. “They are able to mark and remember where very key references are in their scriptures, and even memorize many of the Scripture Mastery scriptures taught by the seminaries and institutes. They are able to look up and understand many things that they didn’t have access to before because of the Bible Dictionary. The JST quotes, Greek and Hebrew footnotes, and other footnotes have been so very helpful for them to understand difficult passages in the Old and New Testaments.”

In his 1982 address, President Packer pointed out—twice—that such reference tools “constitute the most comprehensive compilation of scripture information on the mission and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that has ever been assembled in the history of the world.”

A Continuing Work

He also noted that it was “but a beginning,” as the project had been completed only in English. Today, various teams under the direction of the Church Scriptures Committee continue the work of making the scriptures more accessible to Heavenly Father’s children. Those efforts include making His word available in more languages and more formats than they’ve been offered in before.

“The work of the scriptures committee continues unabatedly,” said Elder Christoffel Golden Jr. of the Seventy, who serves as a member of the Scriptures Committee. “We are continually looking at preserving and expanding the use of the holy scriptures throughout the earth. That implies that we will continue to do translations into those languages in which we still do not have the holy scriptures.”

As of this year, the Book of Mormon has been published in 107 languages. (The full text is offered in 83 languages; 24 additional ones have Selections from the Book of Mormon.) The triple combination with Guide to the Scriptures has been published in 43 languages, and another 39 projects for the triple combination and Guide to the Scriptures are in process.

“Then there is the advent of the wide electronic age in which the scriptures are now increasingly being accessed through computers and mobile devices,” Elder Golden continued. “The latter format is becoming increasingly popular, and they give us an unmatched capacity and power to understand the gospel holistically and—more important—to find ways to apply it in our daily lives.

“Above all, we will continue to do this work. However, we’ll adjust the approaches we take according to the circumstances of the people, and we will do it so that the humble Saints of the earth, wherever they live, with or without technology, will be provided with the means to open the scriptures and receive, an individual, personal, and living witness of the divinity of the scriptures and of their power in our lives.”