I Have a Question


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

Some passages such as Matthew 6:13 and Hebrews 11:40 in Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible read quite differently from the comparable passages in the Book of Mormon and/or other statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Why is this so, and how could we know which of the variants is correct?

Robert J. Matthews, chairman of the Ancient Scriptures Department, Brigham Young University, and author of A Plainer Translation: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible (BYU Press, 1975). The answers to those questions are a bit complex. The whole question of “correctness” must be viewed in light of the fact that the Bible was not the source of the doctrines the Prophet Joseph Smith taught. Rather, the Bible, so far as it is translated correctly, is tangible evidence that the doctrines he received by revelation were the same as those the ancient prophets obtained by revelation.

Too often we make the faulty assumption that the established scriptures are the ultimate source of doctrine, rather than revelation. This was the basic argument Jesus had with the Jews in John 5:39, wherein Jesus told the Jewish rulers that they had placed their confidence in the written scriptures instead of listening to him. For both Jesus and Joseph Smith, the Bible was a teaching tool rather than the basic source of their information.

Let us examine Hebrews 11:40 [Heb. 11:40] first. In the King James Version it reads: “God having provided some better thing for us, that they [referring to the dead who had had faith in the Savior] without us should not be made perfect.” Members of the Church frequently cite this verse in connection with salvation for the dead. However, the Joseph Smith Translation says: “God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect.” This rendition is in harmony with the overall message of the chapter, which is not talking about those who died without the gospel, but rather about those who were valiant in the gospel, even suffering and dying in defense of it. The JST rendition of verse 40 is thus consistent with the context of the chapter; the KJV rendition is not. (See also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1958, pp. 170–71.)

However, even though the Prophet Joseph Smith knew that Hebrews 11:40 [Heb. 11:40] had reference to earthly suffering, he still occasionally used the KJV passage for teaching about salvation for the dead. I can only give my opinion on why he did so, but one reason may be that in either case the doctrine is true. Since the world and the Church had access to the King James Version, it may be that Joseph Smith used that familiar rendition to undergird the doctrine of salvation for the dead. Because he had obtained the doctrine of salvation for the dead by revelation and not from the printed page of the Bible, he therefore had a certain independence from the Bible and seems to have felt free to use it when it would corroborate true doctrines, even if a particular passage might have been worded differently in its original text.

A parallel example is Malachi 4:5–6 [Mal. 4:5–6], which cites the familiar prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah before the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.” The Savior quoted it to the Nephites and it stands in 3 Nephi 25:5–6 [3 Ne. 25:5–6] exactly as in Malachi of the King James Version, where the last verse reads: “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

However, Doctrine and Covenants 2 quotes Moroni giving this verse with some substantial differences: “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:2–3.) What is the reason for the differences? I think that the answer may be found in Doctrine and Covenants 128:18 [D&C 128:18] where, after citing the verse from the Bible, the Prophet comments, “I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that. …” (Italics added.) I take this to mean that, at another time, if a clarification of a different point of doctrine were needed, the Prophet would have felt at liberty to render the verse differently. I think such flexibility is permissible because the written word was not the source of the doctrine to him, and also because the verse encompasses a larger concept of which this treatment was only a part.

A further projection of this pattern is found in the Sermon on the Mount. There are certain items in which the King James Version and the 3 Nephi sermon agree but in which the Joseph Smith Translation differs. The Joseph Smith Translation seems clearer in these instances. A significant example is Matthew 6:13 [Matt. 6:13], which in the King James Version reads, “Lead us not into temptation.” The 3 Nephi account is identical. The Joseph Smith Translation enlarges it to read, “Suffer us not to be led into temptation.” (Italics added.) The Joseph Smith Translation passage is not a contradiction of the other texts but rather a plainer translation, or clarification, of the concept being expressed.

One thing is certain: Joseph Smith himself was aware that he had rendered these various passages differently yet felt free to do so and apparently also felt that his rendition was necessary. Our task, therefore, is not one of trying to decide when or if the Prophet was right but rather of achieving his level of spiritual understanding so that we can appreciate the additional insight he is unfolding to us.

It isn’t a matter of “correct” or “incorrect” as much as it is a matter of purpose. The nature of human language is such that there can be no “literal” translation of any extensive or intricate document. Every translation is, in effect, an interpretation. The language is not the revelation; it is the awkward vehicle by which a revelation or a concept is expressed. Thus, texts might often be enlarged or paraphrased by a prophet in order to give a certain emphasis or perspective beneficial to his hearers.

My husband is contemplating a change of employment which would necessitate our family’s moving to a city far from home. How can we make this difficult adjustment?

Gayle Platt Spjut, Relief Society president, Kingsville Ward, Kingsville, Texas. Here are a few things families might consider as they approach a move away from “home” to facilitate adjustment to their new area.

First, make sure you both pray about your decision to move and about the job offers you accept. If the wife and family feel good about the husband’s decision, then the general attitude about the move will likely be a positive one. After six months of marriage, my husband was offered a job in nearby Colorado and several in Texas. I was born and raised in Utah, and both of our families were there; so the choice seemed obvious—Denver was close and much like home. But after fasting and prayer, we both knew the Lord wanted us in South Texas. He had made it clear, and we were able to look at our move as an adventure in discovering what the Lord had in mind for us.

We had our membership records forwarded to our new ward so they would be expecting us. I believe our bishop even called our new bishop and told him about us, so they were able to find callings for us in a short time. That really helped us to feel a part of the ward soon after our arrival. Once we had moved, our planned budget included a few long distance phone calls each month. A husband often has more opportunity for meeting new people on his job than his wife, who is home much of the time; so an occasional short visit on the phone with family can help ease her feelings of isolation. And of course grandma needs it, too!

Subscribing to the Church News and magazines can help you keep up with events in the Church. And regular correspondence with friends to find out who’s marrying whom, who’s on a mission, and who’s expecting a baby can make your transition much more enjoyable.

Continuing Education classes, P.T.A., volunteer work, and other service can be very rewarding in a new community. Teaching a class on a subject there was a demand for in my area has made me feel that I was making an important contribution and has introduced me to many others with similar interests. We found that our small town didn’t offer too many recreational or social activities. But when we had to choose between sitting home each Friday night or taking square dancing lessons, we took the lessons and discovered it was fun!

You might wish to organize a support group with others in your ward. There are likely many other couples who are away from their families, too. A holiday meal shared or closeness in times of joy and sorrow can be a great comfort when many miles separate family members.

If possible, plan for vacation time to visit relatives, or invite relatives and friends to visit you. The anticipation of planning early has sustained me from one yearly visit to the next. If you can’t visit, be sure their pictures are around so they won’t be strangers to your children. But don’t forget there are always things to do and see in your new location. Even short trips together can create lasting memories for families.

I am reminded of a large family in our ward that always went “home” to Utah for Christmas until the children reminded their parents that “Our home is here.” They realized that trips away at Christmas time were not very meaningful to their children, who would rather stay among friends and familiar surroundings.

Be careful not to dwell on the negative aspects of your new location. People used to ask me how I could stand not being around the mountains, and I would ask them, “Have you ever seen a sunrise or sunset that goes on and on forever because there are no mountains to block the view?” And to the question “Don’t you miss Christmas without snow?” I answer, “Well, our children will be able to ride their new bikes on Christmas and not have to wait for the spring thaw!”

Of course there have been moments when family seemed an eternity away and I have longed for their company. But the blessings that have come from our five years’ experience away from home have been undeniable. My husband and I have grown closer as we have learned to make decisions and solve problems on our own. We depend on each other. We have been given leadership positions in our ward and stake that would not have been available to us in larger wards. We have been greatly aware of the need for missionary work and the power of good example as we represent the Lord’s church to our neighbors. Our testimonies have grown tremendously, as has our appreciation for our Church membership when we realize that we are among the few here who have the true gospel. Despite the distance, our love for our families has also flourished.

If you are struggling to be happy in a new area, remember that you can either decide to be miserable or you can decide to be happy. Husbands are very thankful for wives who joyfully support them in their career goals. And wives appreciate husbands who recognize times of “homesickness” and are there to comfort and reassure. Together, you can make your new experience a positive, happy one.