Harmonizing the Text with History

Tomorrow is stake conference, and then a week from tomorrow I’ll be teaching GD lesson 21, which is JS-M. I haven’t actually prepared the lesson yet, but in pulling some stuff together I noticed something that was new to me and which I thought was interesting.

JS-M is of course the JST version of KJV Mt. 23:39 and 24. There are more changes in this NT chapter than in any other chapter of the JST NT, going from about 1,050 words to 1,500. I’ve read the KJV text and the JS-M text various times, but always in isolation. I’ve never tried to read them together before, and even reading the texts side by side is difficult.

I’m an attorney by profession, and dealing with long, complicated documents is what I do. When I revise a document and recirculate it to the working group, I don’t just send a clean copy. It would be plain rude as well as not very practical to make changes to a 200-page Indenture of Trust and then circulate it, expecting people to find the changes in the clean text, Where’s Waldo-like. So it is common practice to circulate a marked copy of the document, using sophisticated text comparison software (like Track Changes but on steroids). This is often called “redlining,” because before machine comparisons became technologically common place it was done by hand, with a ruler and a red marker (using a carat to mark deletions and underlining additions). I remember seeing a reference to sending over a “redlined” version of some document on an old episode of LA Law and had to smile. I learned how to do manual redlining as a young associate back in the 80s.

So anyway, I got the bright idea to do a redlined version of JS-M so that I could clearly see the changes from the KJV text. For my first effort I copied the scriptural text from lds.org, making the KJV text version 1 and the JST version (JS-M) version 2, then running the comparison. That didn’t work so well, because the software flagged all the different footnote letters as variations, and so I ended up with a meaningless sea of changes. So I deleted that effort and tried again, this time using clean KJV text from the Bible Gateway and a clean copy of JS-M I found on the internet, and that worked much better.

So when I read the finished product with deleted text struck-through and added text double-underlined, it was like a revelation to me, and the basic structure of what Joseph had done became immediately apparent. And while I’m sure it’s not new, it was new to me.

So here’s what happened: KJV Mt. 24 is the Olivet prophecy. In it, Jesus is represented as foretelling events that will occur at the end of the world (or age). But here’s the thing: in the early Christian church, it was believed that the second coming would come quickly, certainly within a generation. So in this prophecy the dire events that would occur with the Jewish rebellion, the suppression of it by Rome, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the scattering of the Jews into the Diaspora are portrayed as the events presaging the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus in glory.

But that’s not what happened. Sure, all those terrible events happened historically, but they weren’t accompanied by a return of the Savior. It has been almost two millennia, and the Savior still hasn’t returned. So in this respect the Olivet prophecy appears to be flawed. And the JST fixes this flaw.

JS-M does so by bifurcating the prophecy into two parts. The first part will be a prophecy of the events that will happen historically in the first century A.D. (destruction of the temple, scattering of the Jews, etc.), and the second part will be a prophecy of the events that will happen at the actual end of the world (which still haven’t happened and remain in our future).

This is set up in JS-M 4 (I’ll use italics for additions) as follows:

And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us when these things shall be which thou hast said concerning the destruction of the temple, and the Jews; and what is the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked, which is the end of the world?

So from this point up to verse 21 Jesus answers the first question, which is a prophecy of things yet to come from the perspective of that time, which will be fulfilled in the first century A.D. Then in verse 21 to the end he shifts and answers the second question, which is a prophecy of the end of days just prior to his second coming.

In order to make this restructuring work, Joseph moves some of the verses of KJV Mt. 24 around. Verses 6-7 are pushed to the second half of the prophecy (IE following v. 21, to verses 23 and 28 and 29). Verse 8 is moved to v. 19. And then several verses are duplicated, so that they appear in both the first and second half of the revised prophecy (cf. vs. 10 and 30, and 12 and 32).

Verse 21 is the fulcrum. It starts out describing what has been described in the previous verses: “Behold, these things I have spoken unto you concerning the Jews.” Then comes the transition to the second part of the restructured prophecy: “and again, after the tribulation of those days which shall come upon Jerusalem….”

The next verse begins: “For in those days there shall also arise false Christs….” The expression “in those days” points far into the future, and “also” means that there will be false Christs in that future day just as there were in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death.

The overarching concern Joseph brings to this text can be succinctly illustrated by KJV Mt. 24:34: “Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be fulfilled.” That’s a problem, because the most natural way to take “this generation” would be as referring to those alive at the time of his discourse, and while that would work for the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, it of course doesn’t work for the second coming. So Joseph fixes the problem in v. 34: “Verily, I say unto you, this generation, in which these things shall be shown forth, shall not pass away until all I have told you shall be fulfilled.” Now this prophecy has a dual fulfillment: for those then alive, many would witness the calamities of the Jews at the hands of the Romans. But for the end of the world, “this generation” refers to those who would then be alive as those travails begin, not to those then alive at the time of the discourse.

So the structure of JS-M is as follows:

1-4 Introduction
5-21 Prophecy of the destruction of the temple and scattering of the Jews (first century A.D.)
21-end Prophecy of the last days preceding the second coming of Christ

That may be common knowledge, but it was new to me, so I thought it would be worth sharing for those who like me may not have noticed this pattern before.

UPDATE: Kevin has made his redlined version of JS-M available here.


  1. I just read the JS translation the other day, so it’s fresh on my mind. One thing I noted is that Jesus refers twice to the abomination of desolation, once in reference to the meridian of time, and once in the latter days.

  2. Thanks, Kevin.

    We had this lesson last week, and the teacher talked about the structure of the chapter, but he didn’t go into nearly this much detail. I appreciate that detail – and it points to concept that much of the JST wasn’t a “traditional translation” at all.

    I have no problem with that, since it still is a kind of translation that happens in lots of other arenas (and even with the original filling in of words in much of the original translation process), but it’s good to have it out there as plainly as this post presents it.

  3. The scriptures at lds.org now has an option to Hide Footnotes. That will make your next redlining job easier.

  4. Mike Parker says:


    I came to the same conclusion you did in my recent study. You can see my “critical text” handout and notes here:


    My critical text puts the Olivet discourse passages from Matthew, Mark, and Luke alongside JS—Matthew. You can see not only the differences between Matthew and JS—M, but also the changes Luke made when the parousia didn’t happen as expected following the destruction of Jerusalem.

    As you noted, Joseph Smith solved the problem of the “failed prophecy” but reorganizing the material in Matthew to fit a latter-day second coming.

  5. michael says:

    Or you could save yourself ALL that trouble buy shelling out $20 for the Complete JST in parallel columns published by The Veritas Group, editors Steven and Julie Hite. I’ve had mine for over ten years and it’s the only New Testament I read anymore.

  6. Michael – I think one of the points Kevin brought up is that even reading them side-by-side can be confusing at best. I know I’ve used parallel versions of scriptures in the past and I find them to be less than helpful more times than not.

    Kevin – Thanks for sharing this! I was just called to teach the 12-13-year-olds SS class (or maybe it is 13-14-year-olds… I’m not quite sure), which means I am teaching the Presidents of the Church, so I’ll be missing out on the NT lessons. In fact, I have had a calling with Primary or the youth for so long that I haven’t really been in a regular GD class since I got married! This will help me talk with my wife about what happened in their class. (Hoping that they are on the same lesson as you. If not, then I’ll figure something else out!)

  7. Great stuff, Kevin! Thanks.

  8. Good ideas Kevin. I think Nibley said something about this some place. Might have been in his Church History article about the change in the 1st century church. Or it may have been in his Pearl of Great Price lectures. Anyway good stuff.

  9. Is it possible for you to somehow post your redlined copy?

  10. Very nice, Kevin. It should be noted that the original Matthew was written a few years after the Jewish rebellion and its brutal suppression by the Romans. That obviously influenced what the author of Matthew depicted as the conversation Jesus had with disciples 50 years earlier.

  11. Michael says:

    @Alex- The real value of the Hite publication in this context is that it shows ALL of the JST additions, deletions, modifications and verse order swapping in ALL the books from Matthew through Revelations. The LDS official publication shows less than 10% of Joseph Smith’s changes because the original manuscripts were still property of the RLDS in 1980 and they weren’t sharing.

    They released the full manuscript to the world several years ago, but the brethren decided that the new information did not justify a revision of the whole set of Standard Works.

    However, Sherri Dew quoted from the “unauthorized” JST section in a General Conference talk several years ago, so it can’t be considered too taboo.

    Oh, and the Hite volume is 100% redline editing too, so the changes are very easy to read. KJV in standard font, JST deletions in strikeout, JST insertions in italics.

    It is a marvellous reference.

  12. So Kevin__ which version is the Church Canon, the JST or the KJV? Which am I to take as the truth?

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Bob, actually both texts are canonical, so it’s up to us to figure out the answer to your question, I think.

  14. Kevin, I suspect that working with the text as you have done would give any of us a better understanding of what Joseph did, and highlight points that have escaped us before. For that reason, I’m going to duplicate your work myself, without asking for a copy of yours or referring to any reference other than the two scriptural chapters. Thanks for the idea.

  15. Editors are broadly under appreciated in our tradition.

  16. Ugh. Had this lesson today.

    It turned into the Japanese earthquake + the recent tornadoes = apocalypse is around the corner.

    Given that we’ve had far bigger earthquakes and more tornadoes in the past, I don’t think so.

  17. Paul Bohman says:

    So, positioning myself as devil’s advocate, as I am often wont to do, what’s the difference between Joseph Smith re-ordering someone else’s unfulfilled prophesy to make sure the original prophesier isn’t proven wrong, and someone like Harold Camping re-calculating his end of the world prophesies to account for the fact that they weren’t fulfilled?

    To me, there appears to be no difference in intent. The original prophesy was wrong in some way, for whatever reason, and we need to save face and make sure Christianity is proven right in the end, and the best way to do that is to re-order or edit the prophesy to fit the evidence. It’s a backward way of proving a prophesy to be correct by altering the prophesy until it aligns with what really happened.

  18. I love that you did this, Kevin! It’s so cool that you were able to find this structure hiding, in some sense, in plain sight. So I’m lazy (unlike Ardis), and I’d love to see your work if it could be posted!

  19. Deseret recently published updated parallel/redlined editions of the JST OT and NT that include notation of all of the manuscript variations as well. It’s a fantastic reference set.

    Also, BYU just made available the photographs and transcripts of the full JST manuscripts electronically for $20 – http://bit.ly/iGPMLI

  20. FYI, Kevin has provided a PDF of his redlined version of JS-M for those who are interested. I placed a hyperlink at the bottom of the OP to the document.

  21. Kevin, I wish I would have found your post *before* I taught this lesson. I basically did the same thing, and would’ve enjoyed being spared the work. :-)

%d bloggers like this: