Unity with Mormon Christology
Despite the complaints of some Christians, Mormon beliefs regarding Christ are in many ways very traditional, so it was no surprise that Clark (and others) were worried about the RSV’s use of “young woman” rather than “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14. Such was the indignation surrounding this passage that copies of the RSV were publicly burned by some conservative Christians. Senator McCarthy even claimed that the translation was part of a Communist plot to undermine American Christianity. Thus, at a time when KJV-use was being made official in the LDS church, the KJV was itself seen as conservative, American, and (Protestant) Christian. Mormons want to situate themselves in that group for missionary and other reasons.
There are other assumed offences against Mormon Christology. Newer translations often note textual doubts over the use of “Son of God” in Mark 1:1; offer alternative marginal readings for Christ as “God over all” in Romans 9:4-5; and highlight the problem of the end of Mark, a passage crucial for the belief in universal evangelisation. The most troublesome is the question mark often placed over the story of Christ’s bleeding from every pore in Luke. For Mormons, the Gethsemane narrative — Jesus’ “inner crucifixion” (Davies) — is central to their view of atonement (cf. D&C 19 and Mormon Cross aversion). The KJV raises none of these problems, and provides what Mormons need in the Bible to support their view of Christ.
The use of the King James Version is an enlightening token of LDS beliefs, practices, and especially the importance of unity in the faith. For English readers, different Bibles are simply too jarring to warrant a wholesale move away from the KJV. It is true that these are not problems encountered outside of the Anglophone church; it is also true that Mormons are free to use other translations in their reading and scholarship (I use the Harper Collins NRSV; the NIV has been cited in the Ensign). However, for the time being the costs to unity for sanctioning another Bible are too high for the American-led LDS church to consider.
This series began as a talk at the European Mormon Studies Association in Tilburg, Netherlands, 2010. A longer print version is in preparation.