A Mistake in the 1979 LDS Bible

Footnote 1a of each of the four Gospels in the New Testament in the 1979 edition of the LDS Bible cites the JST as changing the title in each case from “The Gospel of St. X” to “The Testmony of St. X.” The JST manuscripts in the possession of the Community of Christ archives only actually make this change in the case of the Gospels of Matthew and John, but the Scripture Committee apparently drew the conclusion that the lack of a parallel change in Mark and Luke was an oversight. This was a natural enough conclusion to draw, for the following reasons:

1. The title “Gospel” is common to the first four books of the NT, and presumably if Joseph meant to change it for two he intended to change it for all.

2. The 1944 RLDS Inspired Version edition, which was the major JST edition prior to the 1979 LDS edition, made the change to “The Testimony of…” for all four gospels.

3. This is one case where the change seems to have been inspired by Alexander Campbell’s 1828 translation of the NT, where he makes the same change:

The Testimony of MATTHEW LEVI, The Apostle
The Testimony of JOHN MARK, The Evangelist
The Testimony of LUKE, The Evangelist
The Testimony of JOHN, The Apostle

While the argument could be made that the change was intended to be made for each gospel, I believe that argument is incorrect, and that the original JST manuscripts should be respected. The key to understanding why this is so is in the Campbell translation (remembering that Sidney Rigdon used to be associated with Campbell, and he was the principal scribe for the JST).

While it is true that Campbell makes the change to “Testimony” for each Gospel, note the distinction he draws between Matthew and John as apostles v. Mark and Luke as evangelists.

If the LDS Scripture Committee had actually read the preface to the Campbell translation, they would have seen the profound emphasis he placed on this point:

Let it be supposed that Luke and John wrote with a design to supply certain omissions in Matthew, to make some improvement upon this testimony; how will such a supposition affect the character of Matthew as an Apostle, or the Spirit by which he wrote? The Evangelists, Mark and Luke, on this hypothesis, appear as correctors or improvers upon an Apostle!! (1828, xxv; emphasis in original)

Given this background, it is abundantly clear to me that Joseph only intended to make the change from Gospel to Testimony in the cases of Matthew and John, the apostles, and not in the cases of Mark and Luke, the evangelists. This reflects the idea that it is the special role of an apostle to bear testimony of Jesus Christ. It is in a way analogous to the reason we give apostles 20 minutes to speak in GC and others only ten minutes.

For these reasons, I believe that footnotes 1a in both Mark and Luke are in error, and that the change of title in those books should not be reflected whenever the Church gets around to publishing a new edition of the Bible.


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    Fascinating post. I had never thought about this before.

    Do we have any evidence from JS’ speaking or teaching where he refers to these texts as “The Gospel of” or “The Testimony of”? If we do, that would be a good data point.

  2. Fascinating stuff, Kevin; I’m persuaded.

  3. Julie: At least on Boap.org, There is no record of Jospeh using “gospel of” or “testimony of” in terms of a book. (the only instance of “gospel of john” there is a footnote.)

    see here and here.

  4. My links seem to not work…

    Just google: site:boap.org/lds/parallel “the gospel of”

  5. The Campbell “translation” (actually a republication of other translations with a few small but significant revisions), is 1826. See p36n47 of my KEP article for a few details and bibliography.

    I believe you are correct in terms of the NV (“New Version”) usage. Well done.

  6. Coffinberry says:

    And here I thought you were gonna talk about that triple-n sinnner somewhere in the new testament.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Sam, I think 1828 was the second edition. And you’re right, Alexander simply modified several existing translations. My favorite was his insistence that other translations made too free use of transliteration, and so he changed the familiar “John the Baptist” into “John the Immerser” (!)

  8. He also refused to use hell, as he felt that Hades was much more clearly Sheol than it was “hell.” A fascinating guy, that Campbell.

  9. I always thought that changing the “gospel according to” to “the testimony of” was more of a clarification of meaning that Joseph Smith was making than a correction of a mistake. The term “gospel” meaning the “good news,” I would think that a certain person’s recitation of the good news of Christ would be his testimony. In this way, I think the terms are synonymous, but the JST just reveals a meaning that some people would miss if they just glossed over it.

  10. Adventing says:

    Scholars have known for decades that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not the authors of the gospels that bear their name, so the whole post is much ado about nothing.

  11. Excellent point, Kevin!

%d bloggers like this: