I Have a Question


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

With so many English translations of the Bible that are easy to read, why does the Church still use the King James Version?

Franklin S. Gonzalez, institute teacher, Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah. When the Church was organized in 1830, the King James Version (KJV), also known as the Authorized Version, was the translation predominantly used in the English-speaking world. Latter-day Saints relied on it in their meetings, and the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price were written in a style of language similar to that in the KJV.

Joseph Smith also used an 1828 edition of the KJV to prepare an inspired version of the Bible. President J. Reuben Clark lists the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) as one reason the Church uses the KJV:

“For our Church membership, the Authorized Version is to be followed in preference to others because the Inspired Version by the Prophet Joseph Smith [the Joseph Smith Translation] agrees with the Authorized Version in those essential particulars where other versions vary.” (Why the King James Version? Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956, pp. 60–61.)

Early Church leaders were partial to the KJV not only because they had grown up with it, but also because the KJV was couched in language unparalleled for its literary beauty. Madeleine and J. Lane Miller write about the KJV:

“Its O. T. far surpassed any English translation in its faithfulness to the Hebrew text and the simplicity of its style. Its N. T. is so expressive in language and form that it is said to rival the original Greek as literature. Its majestic, direct, forceful prose has never been surpassed in English literature.” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 8th ed., New York: Harper & Row, 1973, p. 165.)

The Prophet learned early in his ministry that the original biblical texts had been corrupted at an early date. (See 1 Ne. 13:25–29.) Hence, all translators would have difficulty producing an accurate Bible whether they used the twelfth- to fourteenth-century manuscripts available to the KJV translators or used earlier manuscripts. Weaknesses in modern Bible versions are more often the result of faulty Hebrew and Greek texts than of logical misconceptions and renditions.

For example, the following verse in which the Lord is speaking to Cain has been difficult for many translators to understand:

KJV, Gen. 4:7

Jerusalem Bible

If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

“If you are ill disposed, is not sin at the door like a beast hungering for you, which you must master?”

JST, Gen. 5:9

New English Bible

If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee. … It shall be unto thee according to his desire; and thou shalt rule over him.

If you do well, you are accepted; if not, sin is a demon crouching at the door. It shall be eager for you, and you will be mastered by it.

The problem of what the pronouns (his and him in the KJV; it in the NEB) refer to has led many modern translators to refer to the word sin and to expand the personification (“crouching beast” and “demon”) so that the passage would make more sense. Evidently, this is an example of a corruption of the original text, in which the actual reference to Satan was lost. Joseph Smith restored that in the Joseph Smith Translation, and his rendition of the phrase is now found in the book of Moses.

Deletion is one of the main problems in Bible translations. Sometimes words, phrases, or entire verses are deleted. For instance, Luke 22:43–44 describes the suffering of Jesus in Gethsemane more fully than any other passage in the gospels:

“There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (KJV.)

Some Bible translations do not include these verses because some ancient manuscripts do not have them. The Anchor Bible lists the ancient manuscripts that omit and that contain these verses and adds, “The decision to admit them into the text or to omit them from it is not easy; the matter is hotly debated among textual critics today. … The external witnesses to the text are almost equally divided.” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, trans. and notes, The Gospel According to Luke (X–XXIV), The Anchor Bible, vol. 28a, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985, p. 1443.)

That Jesus actually sweat blood was established by the Lord, who told Joseph Smith, “I, God, have suffered these things for all … ; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore.” (D&C 19:16, 18.)

The problem of what to retain or omit in translation is not as crucial for the Latter-day Saint. Much of the KJV text—particularly many chapters of Isaiah and the Sermon on the Mount—is contained in the Book of Mormon or verified in the Pearl of Great Price or in the Doctrine and Covenants, as in the above instances. In the following example, the KJV renders Matthew 5:22 this way:

“Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” [Matt. 5:22]

The phrase “without a cause” has been found to be an interpolation not in the most reliable early manuscripts (which were unavailable to the KJV translators), and most modern translations leave it out. (See The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7, New York: Abington Press, 1951, p. 295.) Likewise, 3 Nephi 12:22 [3 Ne. 12:22] omits it. Years before the Christian scholars concluded that the phrase was not a part of scriptural canon, Joseph Smith translated a Nephite record that did not contain it.

Occasionally deletion occurs in modern translations because of the way translators render a phrase. In the following scriptural quotations, italics have been added for easy comparison:

Isa. 2:2–3 , KJV

Living Bible

It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

In the last days Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord will become the world’s greatest attraction, and people from many lands will flow there to worship the Lord.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the god of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

“Come,” everyone will say, “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the god of Israel; there he will teach us his laws, and we will obey them.” For in those days the world will be ruled from Jerusalem.

Note that in the Living Bible translation the doctrine of two world capitals, the New and Old Jerusalems, has been deleted. Because our latter-day scriptures are tied so closely to the KJV, verifying and occasionally correcting that translation, the problem of deletion is minimized.

Often the more recent Bible versions abandon terminology familiar to the Latter-day Saint, inadvertently disguising great doctrines of the Restoration:

Eph. 1:10 , KJV

Living Bible

That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ.

When the time is ripe he will gather us all together from wherever we are.

J. Reuben Clark examined revisionism in the New Testament, consulting the 1885 Revised Version of the KJV and the 1952 RSV. His conclusion was that “the effect of the position of the Extreme Textualists as set forth in their Revisions of the Bible, is to weaken, if not destroy the Messiahship of Jesus. Incidents recorded in the King James Version have been omitted from the Revised Version; substantial parts of whole chapters … have been omitted; doctrines and teachings have been changed; doubts have been cast on fundamental expressions declaring the divinity … of Jesus the Christ; faith-destroying questions have been raised by marginal notes and by the text itself; the personality of Jesus in its Christian concept has, in effect, been challenged.” (Clark, pp. 6–7.)

Other translations have also made doctrinal errors in their choices of phrasing. In this next example, modern translators have clearly substituted the doctrine of justification by faith for that of faith and works:

Philip. 2:12 , KJV

Living Bible

Wherefore, my beloved, … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Dearest friends, … You must be even more careful to do the good things that result from being saved.

In the following verses, translators of the KJV and the Jerusalem Bible have used similar phrases with entirely different meanings:

Heb. 12:9 , KJV

Jerusalem Bible

Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

We ought to be even more willing to submit ourselves to our spiritual Father, to be given life.

The view that the Great Elohim is the father of all spirits is central to the plan of salvation, and the deletion of that concept out of the Holy Writings is a serious blow to one’s understanding of God.

Is there any value then for the Latter-day Saint in using modern English translations? Although the Church prefers to continue with the KJV for its English-speaking members, we should not assume that the many other translations are not useful. They oftentimes explain passages that are difficult to understand. In cases of confusing phrases and archaic words, readers can quickly compare the verses with those in other translations. In addition, comparing many different translations will often expand one’s understanding of a particular verse.

We should also remember that the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible gives in the footnotes many alternative phrases that make the KJV wording clear. In fact, our edition of the Bible has made the KJV much more useful and understandable because of its extensive notation and cross-references, its maps, and the LDS Bible dictionary. That edition enables us to continue using with confidence the translation that agrees most closely in language and doctrine with our latter-day scriptures.

Is the book of Revelation the remainder of the vision Nephi recorded in 1 Nephi?

Dean L. Marriott, instructor, Salt Lake Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah. In 1 Nephi 14:25, an angel told Nephi, “The things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.”

Two verses later, Nephi identifies that Apostle: “I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John.”

Although some Church writers and scholars have suggested that the book of Revelation may be the vision John was to write, the matter is not entirely clear. It is clear, though, that the visions Nephi and John received were similar, for both prophets were shown the earth’s history until the end of time.

Perhaps part of the difference between the two records lies in the fact that Nephi and John shared with us only certain portions of their revelations, according to the directions of God. Nephi said, “I, Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard.” (1 Ne. 14:28.) Similarly, John was told to “seal up those things … , and write them not.” (Rev. 10:4.)

This means that the events Nephi wrote about may not be the same events John wrote about. The remainder of the sealed portion, which matches the revelation of all things that the Lord has given to prophets like Enoch, the brother of Jared, Moses, Lehi, and Joseph Smith, will come forth at some later date: “Others … hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, … in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel.” (1 Ne. 14:26.)

There are other differences in the records, too. Although Nephi and John had similar visions, they used different writing styles to present them, and John went into much more detail than Nephi. Their written messages were also meant for different audiences and emphasize different themes and events.

Still, given these differences, there is much in the two records that is similar. Nephi’s vision is in two parts. The first part centers on the tree of life and deals with Nephi’s family and the journey to eternal life. He is shown the dream his father had. (See 1 Ne. 8, 11.) The second part covers future events, pertaining primarily to the New World.

In chapters 11–12, [1 Ne. 11–12] Nephi envisions the Savior’s divine birth, life, and ministry and the call of the Twelve. He then prophesies of the vast number of Lehi’s descendants in the promised land, the empires that would exist, their contentions, wars, righteousness, and wickedness, and the calamities among his people. He tells of the future visit of the Lord to his people and the establishment of the Church after Christ’s visit.

Chapters 13 and 14 [1 Ne. 13–14] describe the discovery of America by Gentiles, who have only part of the truth and possess a Bible that has lost some plain and precious truths. Nephi sees the restoration of the gospel and the emergence of two kingdoms—the church of the Lamb and the great and abominable church (also called the mother of abominations and whore of all the earth).

John’s vision is also in two parts. The first part deals with the fate of his fellow Saints in the Old World. (See Rev. 1–3.) John warns the Saints in the seven churches (actually units of the church of the Lamb) against yielding to apostasy. The Lord promises them various blessings, including eternal life, if they are faithful. (See Rev. 2:7, 10, 17, 27.) Although John does not specifically say so, the wording of chapter 2 suggests that John also may have seen the tree of life portion of Nephi’s vision.

The second part of John’s record is primarily of future events, especially events dealing with the people of the Old World. John first sees heaven and the victorious Lamb. Then he sees the apostasy, restoration, and gathering of God’s people and describes the judgments upon the wicked in the last days. (See Rev. 4–16.)

Like Nephi, John describes the mother of abominations, the whore of all the earth, who is arrayed in costly apparel, slays the Saints of God, and is destroyed by the evil she causes. (See 1 Ne. 13:4–9; 1 Ne. 14:9–17; Rev. 17–18.) John continues with prophecies of the second coming of Christ, the new Jerusalem (with a new river of water and tree of life), the Millennium, and the final judgment. (See Rev. 19–22.)

Part of the difficulty of understanding the prophecies in Revelation lies in the imagery and symbolism of John’s language: “Modern readers find … the book abounds in symbolism of a type that we do not use and to which we no longer possess the key.” (The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, p. 1093.)

Without divine interpretation of the symbolism, the book of Revelation is often confusing. This was also true of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, which after Nephi’s interpretive revelation became very clear. And as with Lehi’s vision, John’s vision becomes much clearer when we turn to modern revelation for help.

The Doctrine and Covenants provides the interpretation of many of John’s symbols. It tells us that the “sea of glass” before the throne of God “is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state” and that the four beasts surrounding the throne of God represent glorified animals “in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity.” (Rev. 4:6; D&C 77:1–3.) Section 130:9 of the Doctrine and Covenants further tells us that the sea of glass “will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants.” [D&C 130:9] The next two verses interpret the white stone (Rev. 2:17) as an individual Urim and Thummim.

The seven seals of the book that only the Lamb was worthy to open are interpreted as being the seven thousand years of earth’s history from the Garden of Eden through the Millennium. (See Rev. 5–6; D&C 77:9.) Other symbols, such as the identity of the 144,000 of all the tribes of Israel, the four angels, the little book eaten by John, and the two witnesses killed in Jerusalem, are all interpreted in Doctrine and Covenants section 77.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:92–112 [D&C 88:92–112] explains the seven angels with trumpets who will herald the coming of the Lord and usher in the Millennium. (Rev. 8–10.) Doctrine and Covenants 45:65–71 [D&C 45:65–71] and Moses 7:62–64 also give further information about the new Jerusalem mentioned in Revelation 21–22:5. [Rev. 21–22:5]

Joseph Smith also made about seventy-five inspired refinements to Revelation in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. For example, the seven “angels” of the seven churches are rendered “servants of the seven churches” (JST, Rev. 1:20), indicating that mortal servants of the Lord rather than angelic beings presided over those early Church branches. Many of the Joseph Smith Translation changes are found in the footnotes and appendix of the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible.

The most extensively revised chapter was Revelation 12, [Rev. 12] with every verse but one receiving some change. From the Joseph Smith Translation we learn that the woman with child is the church of God, crowned with twelve stars (instead of seven), and that the dragon is the devil and will not prevail against the Church, even though the woman would withdraw into the wilderness for 1260 years (instead of days).

Nephi also clarifies much of the symbolism in Revelation. He tells us that the tree of life and the water of life are both the love of God. (Rev. 2:7; Rev. 22:1–2; 1 Ne. 11:21–22, 25.) He defines the rod of iron, with which the Lamb shall rule, as the word of God. (Rev. 2:27; Rev. 12:5; 1 Ne. 11:25.)

Both Nephi and John saw the mother of abominations, whom John also calls Babylon and whom Nephi also calls the great and abominable church. Nephi’s account is clearer than John’s, though John’s is more vivid, and a comparison of the two gives us a greater understanding of this personification of evil.

Both John and Nephi were shown the history of the earth by angels. Both were commanded to write part—but not all—of what they had seen. Both records together give us a sweeping vision of the battle in the Old and the New Worlds between God and Satan, between the disciples of the Lamb and the disciples of the devil. Most important, both prophesy of the great and glorious triumph of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.