KJV Renderings as a Doctrinal Engine

Mormons are, so far as I’m aware, the only Christian religion that has a specific priesthood office of “Seventy.” The charter for this is to be found in KJV Luke 10:1:

After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.

The Greek text is as follows:

Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ἀνέδειξεν ὁ κύριος [καὶ] ἑτέρους ἑβδομήκοντα[-δύο] καὶ ἀπέστειλεν αὐτοὺς ἀνὰ δύο πρὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ εἰς πᾶσαν πόλιν καὶ τόπον οὗ ἔμελλεν αὐτὸς ἔρχεσθαι

There are two textual issues here. The conjunction kai (which I’ve placed in brackets) is present in the Textus Receptus tradition upon which the KJV is based, but probably does not belong. And the textual evidence is pretty evenly split between the number being 70 or 72.

So the beginning of the verse means something like “And after these things the Lord appointed seventy[-two] others…” If we include the conjunction, it would have an intensive meaning: “the Lord appointed even seventy[-two] others…”

The word “others” (heterous) is a plural to match the plural number 70/72. The word is used to indicate that these 70/72 were sent out in addition to the 12 previously sent out. But the KJV translators for some reason felt the need to follow the Greek word order in their English rendering, even though there is no need to do so. And in Greek the word for others precedes the number 70/72. One cannot very well say “others 70”; if “others” comes before 70, in English it needs to be singular: “other 70.” Since the KJV translators were following the Textus Receptus, they reflect kai in their rendering, using the word “also,” giving us “other seventy also.”

I propose that this apparent singular use of the word “seventy” is what led to our modern LDS practice of using the word seventy as a title for an office, in which an individual (singular) can be “a” Seventy.

The number 70 (and 72 for that matter) is deeply symbolic in the scriptures, so from that perspective I think it’s actually a pretty cool title. But I’m guessing it had its modern genesis in the ultra-literal translation of KJV Luke 10:1.


  1. CatherineWO says:

    You write the most interesting posts, Kevin (seriously). I love anything to do with language and words, so this one is particularly interesting. Thanks.

  2. Several objects were the seeds of revelation to Joseph, like the plates, the scrolls, Masonry, tobacco spit on the floor, and now the KJV. No problem.

  3. Clair, I don’t think you’ve disposed of the issue as neatly as you think you have. If Kevin is right that this odd KJV rendering literally served as the “engine” of a particular doctrinal development, we’re got something on our hands other than another example of this or that artifact or incident in Joseph’s environment serving as a catalyst for a revelatory encounter.

  4. “Doctrinal engine” seems a bit much in this case. The doctrine in question — that the early church had a body of seventy officials and that the modern church should to — is not KJV-dependent. The KJV influence here is linguistic, not doctrinal.

  5. “The Latter-day Saints do not do things because they happen to be printed in a book. They do not do things because God told the Jews to do them; nor do they do or leave undone anything because of instructions that Christ gave to the Nephites. Whatever is done by this Church is because God speaking from heaven in our day has commanded this Church to do it.”

    (Liahona, June 2010, pp.12–13.)

  6. Latter-day Guy says:

    Well, I guess that’s that, R. Gary. Kevin can pack it up and go home now.

  7. That is a fascinating observation, Kevin.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Another one that is not specific to the KJV but based on a specific Mormon reading is our equation of the “second Comforter” with Jesus Christ, which derives from the word “another” in John 14:16:

    And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever

    I think that if you read the entire chapter in context, it is saying that the Holy Ghost will be sent as “another Comforter” (GR paraklEtos), the implication being that Jesus himself, who was still with them, was a sort of first comforter.

    If you read this with the preexisting knowledge that the Holy Ghost is the Comforter, then when you see the words “another Comforter” you think the next must be speaking about someone or something other than the Holy Ghost. But we’re reading this with the spoiler already in mind. If you read the chapter from a fresh perspective and imagine for a moment that you don’t already know the identity of the Paraclete, I think it makes more sense contextually to equate Jesus with the “first” comforter and the Holy Ghost with the “second.”

    So I think our intuition that Jesus is one of the two comforters in view here is correct, but I think we’re misreading which is the first and which is the second. Jesus was then present with the disciples, so he was then present in the world and in their lives as their Comforter, but he was going to ask the Father to send another Comforter, the Holy Ghost, who would dwell with them even after he was gone.

  9. There seem to be a lot of these sorts of things that pop up in the LDS church. I don’t really know what to make of them, but maybe this is part of why the church is so committed to sticking with the KJV. Moving to a better translation would force us to change the way we frame some things.

  10. Ironic, isn’t it, how often R. Gary has championed a thing with no stated reason other than that it was printed in a book — and usually a non-canonical reference book or CES manual at that.

  11. So true, Ardis.

  12. While it’s not quite doctrine (and the misunderstanding isn’t unique to the LDS church), one of my pet peeves has long been the misunderstanding of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. Paul in no way says we should avoid something merely because it looks evil; he says we shouldn’t allow evil to appear. It’s not the same thing at all (and more logical as well).

    A couple other translation misunderstandings, although pretty much benign: While our Father’s house has many mansions, those mansions are are more accurately understood simply as dwelling places, not necessarily extravagant houses. And as to Mary and Joseph, it’s more likely there was no room in a guest room in someone’s home than that they went searching from inn to inn.

  13. I find the differences between the KJV and Greek version of the Bible fascinating. I have learned a lot of what is really being said in the Bible by reading the Greek translation. My Favorite is St. John 21, where Christ asks Peter three times if he loves him. The difference in the text when understanding the different Greek forms of the word love, (in this example Agape and Filio) is amazing.

  14. Kevin,
    I love this entry. I am tasked with teaching the lesson on the Church of Jesus Christ in Ancient Times today, and am trying to find some way of incorporating this as an interesting aside without having it interpreted by some of my zealous class members as an affront to the organization of the priesthood and an attack on the KJV. Sigh.

    Eric (12)–
    You might find this discussion interesting (especially comment #5, also from Kevin Barney).

  15. Among the fascinating parallels between John Alexander Dowie’s incipient Pentacostalism at the turn of the twentieth century and Mormonism is his establishment of the Seventy.

  16. Joseph’s justification for Seventy was an unknown vision, but he was not at all shy about taking KJV passages and either assigning them to people other than the asserted context, or taking what he clearly understood as a bad translation and using it for his own purposes anyway. And I think Seventy is a cool thing. (g) Nice observation among many Kevin. And #8 is a gem too.

  17. Kevin, what is your view of S. Kent Brown’s work on the Seventy in scripture and how do you think, if at all, his work relates to the problems you highlight here?

  18. Jim Donaldson says:

    Exodus 24: 1 and 9 both talk about ‘seventy elders of Israel’ that Moses went off to worship with (and see God), albeit with no more details. Might not we have, like with the Aaronic and Melchezidek priesthoods themselves, ripped ‘the seventy’ off from the Old Testament instead?

    Does the Hebrew betray us like the Greek?

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    J., that’s cool, I hadn’t heard about that.

    Aaron R., as I recall Kent’s work is focused on the profound symbolism involving the number 70 in scripture, with which I agree and which I alluded to near the end of the OP.

  20. “The difference in the text when understanding the different Greek forms of the word love, (in this example Agape and Filio) is amazing.”

    We shouldn’t necessarily understand a stark and distinctive difference between those two words in that passage. That’s falling into one of the “classic blunders.” (See here, for example.) It’s just a stylistic change.

    That said, I think reading in Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic, or another translation is great.

  21. Some people, like Kevin Barney, contribute valuable insight from the ancient text. Some people, like me, look for additional insight from the apostles and prophets. And some people don’t contribute anything at all, they just rant and mock.

  22. No need to be cute, R. Gary. You haven’t been shy about using my name in vain before.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Today in GD the lesson was on Hosea. The teacher said he was surprised when he read that his wife’s name was Gomer, since the only Gomer he knew was Gomer Pyle (i.e., a man). Then he wrote on the board that she was a “whore” and one who had committed whoredoms, at which I said in a goofily pitched voice, “Well SHAZZAM!” I thought it was pretty funny, although apparently not everyone in the room was a devotee of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.

    Then someone made the comment, apparently based on some sort of a footnote, that Gomer actually had not been involved in any sexual impropriety at all, but was simply a child of idolaters. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t actually have my scrips with me and I couldn’t see what footnote he was looking at. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Gomer was a prostitute.

  24. I’ve posted my lesson notes this morning on teaching Hosea. It went pretty well for most class members who were willing to consider the allegory of Hosea and Gomer to God/Christ and the church. The only ones who seemed to have trouble (challenging me after class) were the ones who insisted on ignoring the allegory and focusing on the story as a literal account; they got all wound up in knots trying to prove that Gomer was not a harlot, couldn’t possibly have been a harlot, because God wouldn’t command a prophet to marry a harlot. (What’s the deistic equivalent of an ad hominem argument? ad deum?) But for those willing to consider symbolism and metaphor, Gomer’s prostitution was not a stumbling block — they thought it a pretty apt symbol of man’s unfaithfulness to God.

  25. Like Jim, I have thought that along with the NT, the Old Testament was a sort of precedent as well (in the run up to the use of the Kirtland House of the Lord).

  26. I’ve been looking at the BYU Master’s Theses on Mormonism for mentions of the first Mexican mission president, Ammon M. Tenney and happened to see a 1960 thesis by James N. Baumgarten on the general historical background of the Seventies.

    Baumgarten mentions several possible antecedents: Moses’ s council of seventy elders (Numbers 11:16-30 and Exodus 24:9-11); the Jewish Sanhedrin, which he notes was seventy members plus the high priest, but concedes is a weak connection; and the New Testament missionaries mentioned in the original post.

  27. Latter-day Guy says:

    R. Gary,

    Apologies if I misconstrued your intent. I believed that you were proof-texting. In fairness to myself, though, I only thought you were proof-texting because you were proof-texting––so my assumption may be forgivable.

    Given that you dropped that quote without any context or analysis, making no attempt to show how you thought it applied to the OP, one can only assume that you felt it was entirely self-explanatory, a simple and obvious refutation of Kevin’s point. That isn’t supplying “additional insight,” R. Gary––it’s a doctrinal penis-measuring contest.

    That you felt it unnecessary to engage Kevin’s point suggests a certain yogi mentality, choosing instead to lob boulders of seemingly self-evident truth down the mountainside.

    If you want substance and insight instead of ranting and mockery, BCC has a bevy of thoughtful commenters willing to take you up on such an invitation… but first, you’ve gotta come down from that cross.

  28. Jonathan Green says:

    If I understand Kevin correctly, he’s not saying that a misunderstanding led to the creation of the quorum of Seventies at all. Rather, he’s only addressing the narrow question of why we call those members of that quorum “Seventies” rather than “Evangelists” or something else.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Right, Jonathan. There’s plenty of biblical precedent for seeing 70 as a highly symbolic number, and therefore for there being various groups either actually comprising 70 persons or approximately that number. But actually calling these people “Seventies” is unusual and I think derives from the NT language.

  30. Latter-day Guy:

    Here is a link to the article alleged by you to be decontextualized by me.


    Please tell me (preferably using tasteful, refined language) how it would have changed your opinion about my comment if the entire talk had been included.

  31. Latter-day Guy says:

    I was not necessarily referring to the original article from which the quote was taken, but rather the quote’s place within the context of the point you were trying to make. Lacking any information about how you intended to use the quote, one is forced to assume it was meant as a simple contradiction; the absence of further support or clarification suggests that the statement is unassailable, that there is nothing more to discuss (presumably because it is drawn from a Church magazine).

    This variety of “discussion” is part of the time-honored “My scripture/G.A. statement can beat up your scripture/G.A. statement” tradition, hence my reference to “a doctrinal pe––,” sorry, I mean “a doctrinal [special place spatial dimension comparison] contest.”

  32. Matthew Chapman says:

    I wonder if there is an equivalent ambiguity regarding number in Luke 10:17- “And the seventy returned with joy, saying…”

    Doctrine & Covenants 107:97 calls the seventy “traveling ministers”, so perhaps the “70’s” would be more appropriately called individually “Minister” or “Traveler”. The latter would be pretty appropriate, considering how the 1st and 2nd quorums these days are scattered among the nations.

  33. I suppose that we should be grateful that the apostles are not known as “Twelves.”

  34. #3, Aaron, I’m sorry if my short post gave the impression that the topic was not important or disposable. Every year I become less comfortable with the missionary presentations we gave on the 18 signs of the true church, or whatever the number. That becomes less convincing for me, even as the modern development of the church becomes more convincing.

  35. Aaron, I’m with Clair. I think that the KJV, however important its textuality, can be productively understood as a relic mediating inspiration.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark B., good point about Twelves. Were so used to the usage “Seventies” that we don’t perceive it as unusual, but imagining we called the Apostles “Twelves” drives home how unusual this usage is.

  37. Sam MB, I’m not sure I understand you. What do you mean to say about this particular instance? Are you suggesting that:

    (1) there really was an ancient priesthood calling of “Seventy”, by which I mean a calling that was named a name that more or less referred to the numerical quantity of 10 x 7, in the relevant language;
    (2) there was no actual reference to this calling in any ancient Biblical manuscripts, but through the hand of divine providence, the KJV translators were made to commit a translation error that fortuitously referenced this ancient calling in a context where no actual reference was intended by the original author or authors;
    (3) Once Joseph Smith saw this particular verse in the KJV text, the divinely-influenced error caused him to seek inspiration that confirmed there really was an ancient calling called “Seventy”.

    Is this what you’re saying? If so, sounds like a lot of unnecessary gymnastics to me, but to each his own I suppose. If not, then I’m afraid I don’t understand exactly what you’re saying.

  38. My impression of the development of priesthood quorums is that “seventies” came into usage as there are multiple quorums. We don’t say twelves because there is only on quorum.

  39. Aaron, I think trying to squeeze this into a syllogism is not terribly productive. I believe that a view of KJV as relic can allow a spectrum of belief on this point. One way to formulate this would be that JSJ restored/revealed an ancient/divinely sanctioned priesthood hierarchy. In his encounter with the KJV, he was inspired to denominate a branch of this hierarchy–the evangelists whose offices were equivalent to the 70/72 itinerants called in this scripture–“seventy.” However denominated, these figures were importantly different from the itinerants of contemporary Protestant denominations, not least in their strong ties to NT images and concepts (including the endowment of power).

    You’re playing to a straw man with the hyper-literalistic image of (reducing ad absurdum) the General Handbook of Instructions having an AD 35 edition barely differentiable from the 2006 edition. And I think on the other hand you’re limiting the options of current LDS vis-a-vis the ever-shifting sands of academic approaches to early Christianity. Leave people some room to not be devoted to scholarly models of early Christian ecclesiology.

  40. PS, I quickly scanned Clarke on Luke 10:1, and he (18th-cent. English Methodist, popular in USA) seems pretty comfortable with the idea that Christ had two sets of special disciples–the twelve (patterned on twelve patriarchs) and the 70 (patterned on the seventy elders of Moses). This suggests the possibility that this was not a mere misreading of the Greek but reflected a redaction and amplification of a prevalent ecclesial tradition. (1838 NT edn it looks like pages 209-10)

  41. “Well SHAZZAM!”

    That made my day. Thanks.

  42. Thomas Parkin says:

    A rose by any other name …

  43. Interesting post, Kevin. Hopefully President Monson will change the title to the First Quorum of the Seventy-two. Hopefully.

  44. #20, I think the difference, Agape meaning a Godlike love and Filio meaning a brotherly love changes the scripture. Christ isn’t repeating himself to show the importance, but rather trying to get a (at the time) dense Peter to understand the importance of Agape. Finally, after asking Peter twice if he loved him, using Agape, Christ uses the word Filio and relates it back to Agape. The meaning behind the scripture is somewhat the same, but the changes do, I feel, make it more meaningful or easier to relate to.

  45. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    In early Mormonism, these were sometimes the 70 Elders or the 70 apostles (cf. the 12 apostles). I think the confusion over which office they held led to them being called just 70. But in either case, they are supporting quorum(s) to the traveling high council (12 Apostles).

  46. J. Stapley, good point. When ward mission leaders were called to the office of a seventy, they weren’t called seventies.

  47. Sam (#40). Right. Mark (45), the confusion didn’t end there of course. Still happening.

  48. Hmm. 47 should not be construed as a criticism of the institution. Just an observation about the very interesting history of the office.

  49. Some Roman Catholic theologians have also posited that maybe the right number is seventy-two. I understand they see the original seventy(-two) as anticipating today’s priests while the original twelve anticipated today’s bishops.

    The Eastern Orthodox commonly describe the Seventy as apostles, perhaps describing Peter as an Apostle of the Twevle and Thaddeus as an apostle of the Seventy.

    The Church of God organized with twelve men to look after spiritual affairs, seven men to look after financial affairs, and seventy men to go out two-by-two to share the warning message.

    Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a group called Seventy only because there was such a number called in Luke? No. The Church has a group called Seventy for the reason R. Gary pointed out in his first posting above. In re-establishing his Church, the Lord Jesus Christ used the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    I believe the Seventy exist today because of revelation, not because the Prophet was copying a New Testament organization. Why is a member called a Seventy? That is a good question for linguistics. As has been pointed out already, early Church members didn’t know what to call them. At one early period, apostles and seventies were considered as elders, distinct from (and lesser than) high priests. Some how or the other, we ended up where we are today.

  50. Kevin Barney says:

    On the textual issue between 70 and 72 in this passage, such splits between those two numbers are fairly common. So the Table of Nations in Gen. 10 lists 70 nations in the MT, but 72 in the LXX. According to the Letter of Aristeas, the LXX was created in 70 days by 72 elders (or vice versa, I can never remember). And so forth.

    The reason has to do with number symbolism. 70 is important as a multiple of seven (7 x 10 = 70), which was the number of days in the creation, so 7 symbolized completeness or perfection. Conversely, 72 is a multiple of 12 (12 x 6 =72), the number of the Tribes of Israel. At Elim there were 12 wells of water and 70 palm trees; those numbers were not random or a coincidence.

  51. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    WR notes of 6 April 1843 JS sermon in the journal he kept for JS: “President Joseph Smith’s Journal” (7th and final JS journal), volume 2, page [56], line 2, WR writes “the twelves”, referring to the 12 Apostles, then strikes the “s”.

  52. Steve Evans says:

    ji, that analysis doesn’t take us all the way. A better way of looking at it is asking what JS would have done with the issues Kevin raises. JS wasn’t so lackadaisical with textual issues himself – yes, the group would still exist under one form or another, but it’s not as simplistic as you’re laying it out.

  53. Steve Evans (no. 52) — I think Joseph Smith would have ignored the issues Kevin raises — Joseph wasn’t trying to create a New Testament church on his own; rather, he was trying to implement what he was taught by revelation, as I see it. Anyone who studies and philosophizes and says Joseph did this or that for some intellectual reason would probably be wrong.

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