I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

Why are some words italicized in the Bible? Is that for emphasis or for some other reason?

Robert J. Matthews, chairman of the Department of Ancient Scriptures, Brigham Young University The words printed in italics in the King James Version of the Bible are for emphasis, but not for emphasis in the usual sense. The use of italics is a device to call attention to those words that were added by the translators in order to convey and/or clarify the meaning. That is, the italics enable the reader to distinguish between words found in the manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament that actually translate into English, and words that were necessarily added to make sense in English. This is a sign of the honesty of the translators, who wished to point out such places in their work.

There are at least two situations that make the use of italics necessary. One very natural condition is the difference in construction between the biblical languages and English. The nature of English grammar requires that to convey a concept it is sometimes necessary to use certain words that are not needed in another language to convey the same thought. For example, in the well-known expression from the twenty-third Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” the word is is italicized because it is not needed in such a sentence in Hebrew but is needed to make an intelligible English sentence.

The other situation is that the manuscripts used by the translators were sometimes not clear and accurate and thus needed special attention. A translator in such instances apparently felt obliged to add something to convey the meaning as he perceived it to be.

An examination of the italics in the King James Version shows that they seem to be for the most part valid and wise choices, but in some cases it seems that a better selection of words could be used. The Prophet Joseph Smith often, but not always, altered the italicized words in making his New Translation of the Bible.

An interesting use of italics is found in Luke 17:34–36, wherein Jesus said,

“34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

“35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

“36 Two men shall be in the field, the one shall be taken, and the other left.”

In each instance above, the words men and women are italicized, and thus give notice that they were added by the translators. These additions are needed in this instance because the terms in Greek that were translated “the one” and “the other” in verses 34 and 36 are masculine, whereas in verse 35, the terms for “the one” and “the other” are feminine. In English this distinction would not be apparent unless it were so stated and thus the translators made the specification in English. However, in the New Translation by Joseph Smith these words that appear in italics in the King James Version of Luke 17:34–36 are omitted.

An interesting situation involving italics is found in Luke 8:23, which gives an account of Jesus and the Twelve in a ship on the Sea of Galilee. The passage reads: “And there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy.”

Since the men were all in one ship, it is a little amusing to say that “they were filled with water.” The immediate conclusion one reaches is that it was not the men literally, but the ship in which they were riding, that was filled with water. However, the Prophet Joseph Smith took a different view of this passage and caused it to read, “and they were filled with fear.”

Thus the emphasis is shifted from the ship to the men, who being at sea in a storm were afraid. This takes a position that is more consistent with the events that followed, for Jesus then chided them and said, “Where is your faith?” which he might reasonably say to those who feared, since fear is not compatible with faith. Of course, he would not likely say that to those who were simply filled with water!

In many cases the passages of the King James Version would be more direct without the inclusion of the italicized words, and in some instances the meaning would seem to be just as clear. For example, in Matthew 22:35 [Matt. 22:35] we read: “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying …” In John 8:9 we find, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last. …” Further, in 1 Corinthians 15:41 [1 Cor. 15:41]: “for one star differeth from another star in glory.” In each of these, the meaning could be ascertained without the italicized words.

A different kind of a situation is seen in John 2:24. The King James Version reads: “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men.” Without the italics it would read, “… because he knew all.” This would be a rather indefinite ending, for it would not specify whether Jesus knew “all” in its widest sense, or whether it meant he knew “all” of the people. The Prophet Joseph Smith put a more definite interpretation to it by making it read, “… because he knew all things.”

Observing the italics in the Bible can be a very rewarding, and sometimes a puzzling, experience, and it may be helpful to know a little of the history of italics in the Bible text. The earliest use of italics (or of some alternate type for the same purpose) seems to have been by the French translator Pierre Robert Olivétan, who published his translation of the Bible in French in 1535. (S. L. Greenslade, ed., The Cambridge History of the Bible, Cambridge University Press, 1963, p. 118.) The Geneva Bible, printed in 1560, is credited with being the first in English to use italics for words not found in the manuscripts.

The King James Version, issued in 1611, used italics, and as subsequent revisions were made the number of italics increased. One scholar reports that in the gospel of Matthew alone, the number of italicized words and phrases has increased from 43 in the 1611 edition to 583 in the Cambridge Paragraph Bible of 1870. (P. Marion Sims, The Bible in America, New York: Wilson-Erickson, 1936, p. 97.)

Since italics are found on every page of the King James Version, Bible students like to know something about them. We have included here only a very small glimpse of the role of italics in biblical study, but probably enough has been said to show their purpose and importance, and to illustrate how the Prophet Joseph Smith sometimes dealt with them.

How does a person pray without ceasing?

H. Dean Garrett, instructor, Tempe Arizona Institute Prayer is not restricted to formal, audible petitions: prayer also includes quiet spirituality, a closeness to the Lord. Elder Richard L. Evans indicated that when he spoke of prayer he didn’t refer to polished masterpieces of literature, but rather to “the outcry of the human heart brought face to face with an urgent need; I speak of prayer born of earnest gratitude. I speak of the prayer that petitions in humility for wisdom and guidance—the prayer which though it took not the form of words, would yet be understood and answered by Him who hears all prayers and bestows all blessings.” (Church News, 31 March 1934.)

With these thoughts in mind, it becomes apparent that when the apostle Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17), and when Alma instructed the church members of his day to “pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26:39), they were not only advising them to pray formally, but also to feel and react to the presence of God in their lives.

Praying without ceasing could be a condition rather than an act. We must be aware of the Lord’s constant blessings to us. Both Paul and Alma closely linked the idea of praying unceasingly with expression of gratitude to the Lord. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul said; “in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit.” (1 Thes. 5:17–19.) When in our daily lives we are sensitive to our great gifts from our Father in heaven, we are likely to be far closer to the Spirit, and therefore better able to stay in communication with the Lord. Ingratitude to the Lord does quench the Spirit and close us off; to pray unceasingly we must be unendingly aware of our debt to the Lord and his powerful role in our lives.

Yet a constant awareness of our love and need for our Father is not sufficient, for the audible prayers are also necessary. Amulek told his people:

“Cry unto [God] for mercy; for he is mighty to save.

“Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.

“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.

“Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.

“Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies [and] against the devil. …

“Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.” (Alma 34:18–23, 25.)

Amulek indicates that we should not limit the subjects about which we pray: our work, our households, and our private struggles and endeavors are all areas of our lives in which we should involve the Lord.

Then he said, “When you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:27.) Amulek is not describing a formal or verbalized prayer here—it would not even be verbalized in thought. He is counseling us what we should do when we “do not cry unto the Lord”: cause our hearts to continually be full of concern for ourselves and others, recognizing that God is the only one who can fully help us. That continual fulness of heart Amulek calls prayer.

That attitude of constant regard for others—and ourselves—in a spiritual sense is reflected in the next aspect of Amulek’s instruction. He indicates that in all our activities we must live the laws of the Lord—obeying him scrupulously, as we trust him to guide and help us—if we hope to have effective prayers. He said, “If ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of your substance … to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain.” (Alma 34:28.)

It seems to me, then, that praying unceasingly has at least four elements: First, a constant awareness of and gratitude for the Lord’s great gifts to us. Second, frequent formal prayers about every aspect of our lives. Third, a continual attitude of dependency and trust in the Lord. Fourth, living the gospel constantly, so that we are worthy to be in constant communication with the Lord.

There are times in every person’s life when he does not feel like praying because of depression, weariness, a dullness of mind or spirit. But Brigham Young said that at such a moment a person should say to his knees, “‘Knees, get down there,’ make them bend, and remain there until you obtain the spirit.” (Journal Of Discourses, 2:290.) Perhaps that is the most important part of praying unceasingly: whenever we feel ourselves drawing away from the Spirit, we must work to reverse our direction and come close to the Lord once more.

How can I develop greater faith?

Larry A. Hiller, managing editor, International Magazines I’m sure many of us have asked ourselves that question at one time or another, especially when we read scriptures such as Hebrews 11:6 [Heb. 11:6], where it says that “without faith it is impossible to please [God].”

I can feel great empathy with the father of the afflicted child in Mark 9:24 when he cried out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” I think he was saying, “My heart knows that thou art the Master, but my mind is besieged by doubts. Please help me withstand them.”

In my own life there was a time when I found myself wondering why I was not able to exercise more faith, especially since I felt I had a testimony that God lives and that he is perfect and is able to do all things. As I pondered and prayed about the matter, I came to the realization that while I believed in our Father in heaven and his love and power, I was unsure of my own worthiness to receive the blessings I desired. I was also unsure at times that what I wanted was the Lord’s will—or at least wasn’t contrary to his will.

As I went on to study the subject and to try to gain greater faith myself, I discovered some key principles that are important for anyone who desires greater faith. They by no means cover the entire subject, but they are an important beginning.

In his Lectures on Faith, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life.” (Lecture Sixth:2; italics added.)

That word confidence has helped me to better understand what faith is. It reminds me of those powerful verses in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants. There the Lord enumerates some important principles upon which the priesthood must operate—long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, unfeigned love, kindness, charity, purity of thought, etc.—and promises “then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (See D&C 121:41–45; italics added.)

I have found this to be true. Our ability to exercise faith seems to depend in great measure on our confidence in our own righteousness. I don’t think that we are expected to live a perfect life before we can have any faith, but certainly we must be constantly working toward perfection. Our keeping of the commandments and our participation in the Church should be more than just routine and perfunctory. There needs to be an earnest desire, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. We need to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause.” (D&C 58:27; italics added.) We need to have communion with our Father in heaven, rather than just say prayers.

In conjunction with worthiness, as it relates to faith, Joseph Smith made particular mention of the principle of sacrifice. He said that the degree of faith necessary to “lay hold on eternal life” requires the sacrifice of all earthly things, not even withholding one’s life. “It is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.” (Lecture Sixth:7.)

Now, the mention of sacrificing all earthly things and of laying down one’s life may conjure up images of giving all of our possessions to the Church or of suffering martyrdom for the sake of the truth. This may or may not be required of us at some time—although I believe the willingness must certainly be there. Yet we can sacrifice all earthly things by concentrating on laying up treasures in heaven. And we can give our lives by devoting them to service in the kingdom.

I think we learn to sacrifice in the same way that we gain mastery over other gospel principles—step by step. When we make sacrifices, even though they seem small when compared to the sacrifice of one’s life, the result is an increase in confidence before the Lord.

For example, payment of tithing helps us increase our faith. When we pay a full tithing and are generous in our fast offerings and financial commitments to the Church, doesn’t it help us to be confident when we go to the Lord for help with problems, financial and otherwise? I find that it does.

And when we sacrifice other things in order to obtain our year’s supply, as the prophets have counseled us to do, don’t we have less anxiety about the future? Don’t we feel that we will be able to call on the Lord to aid in ways beyond our abilities?

If one has a calling in the Church and he sacrifices his personal time to fulfill that calling, doesn’t he feel more confidant in going to the Lord for help in meeting other obligations?

As we grow in righteousness and as we learn to sacrifice, our faith grows stronger. Elder Bruce R. McConkie states: “Faith is a gift of God bestowed as a reward for personal righteousness. It is always given when righteousness is present, and the greater the measure of obedience to God’s laws, the greater will be the endowment of faith.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 264.)

Now, as we strive to live righteously and to develop greater faith, I think it is important to remember that there is one who does not want us to have faith. Satan often reminds us of our numerous small failings and weaknesses in order to discourage us and lessen our effectiveness. I remember once how, after a calling in the Church had come to me, I went through a terrible agony of doubt about my worthiness. Then, when I was set apart I received an assurance from the one giving the blessing that I was considered worthy. I had not expressed those doubts to anyone, so the assurance had come as a revelation, and I was comforted and encouraged. My confidence was restored.

Many have similar doubts from time to time. They may come to a priesthood bearer when he is asked to give a blessing to someone who is ill. There is an instant recall of angry words, unworthy thoughts, duties undone. Regardless of whether such recollections are prompted by Satan or by our own minds, the more righteously we are living, the less ammunition can be used against us. Then, too, if we have developed a personal relationship with our Father in heaven, freely confessing our sins and making use of the principle of repentance, we can be comfortable in asking the Lord to grant our desires in spite of our remaining faults.

One other pitfall I would like to mention in connection with faith is the tendency to become impatient. We read or hear faith-promoting stories about healings, calming of storms, etc., that are almost instantaneous. We wonder why it is not so in our case. Because the Lord doesn’t act immediately on our request, we begin to think he will not act at all. But we need to remember that the Lord has enjoined us to wait patiently upon him. (See D&C 98:2.) Patience is part of faith.

Righteous living, then, including making the sacrifices required of us, is necessary before we can obtain sufficient faith in the Lord. Combined with this we must be patient; and we must remember that the Lord will be merciful if we are truly striving to overcome sin in our lives, although we are not yet perfect.

Since faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel (A of F 1:4), and since we have been admonished to “seek … earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46:8), the gift of faith is one that every Latter-day Saint should actively seek. Surely it is a gift the Lord desires each of us to have.