Footnote 2 #ldsconf

By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. – Alma 37:6

There was a small, tiny really, and simple footnote in the October 2015 conference talks that were just released in print form that succeeded in taking my breath away. It was in Elder Maynes talk: “The Joy of Living a Christ-Centered Life” footnote 2.

2. Matthew 13:44 (Revised Standard Version).

And yes, Elder Maynes did quote the scripture in full as he read: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

The King James Version (KJV) reads “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.”

That first one is easier to understand. Why is this important? Think especially of an international audience who decided to listen in English to brush up on their skills. Or children. Or me. I quite like hearing the first one better.

Now lest you think this is the first time the Revised Standard Version (RSV) has been cited in conference, it hasn’t. One other apostle has done from what I can find in searching. I’ll give you a second to guess…it was Elder Neal A. Maxwell of course.

Now why is this important? Because the idea that using other English-translations of the Bible is not acceptable seems pretty prevalent throughout the church. I’ve heard stories of gospel doctrine teachers called in for teaching out of other editions and others being asked by class members if teaching outside of the KJV is appropriate. Maybe you have similar stories. Why do think this? As Ronan put it: “The Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible (KJV) has been the de facto English LDS Bible since the very beginning of the Restoration. The initial reason for this is simple: The KJV was the Bible of American Protestantism in the nineteenth century and was therefore Joseph Smith’s Bible.”

Philip Barlow explains the later history of J. Reuben Clark’s distaste for the RSV: “In the 1950s…The Revised Standard Version appeared and met the stiff resistance of J. Reuben Clark, dedicated and forceful member of the Church’s First Presidency. In the wake of President Clark’s still influential response, a substantial number of Saints for the first time moved beyond assuming the preeminence of the KJV, to believing they had scholarly and prophetic reasons for assuming it.” Clark was so passionate about this idea, he produced “Why the King James Version?“—still available at Deseret Book. Here, Kevin summarizes why much of President Clark’s “venom against the RSV was misplaced and shortsighted.”

But Clark’s opinions notwithstanding, it doesn’t mean that the KJV has to be the only one we use. Joseph Smith used all sort of Bibles in his study. Again from Barlow: “Joseph Smith was in no sense bound to (the KJV) as an ‘official’ Bible. To the contrary, he regarded the version he inherited as malleable and open to creative prophetic adaptation. He believed the Bible was the word of God, but only ‘as far as it is translated correctly.’ And, he noted, the King James Version was not translated correctly in thousands of instances. The Prophet used the KJV as a baseline because it was generally available and known, but the thrust of his work was to break away from the confinement of set forms, to experiment with new verbal and theological constructions while pursuing his religious vision. Through good honest study, he worked to understand Hebrew and other tongues that would improve his scriptural perspective. While so doing, he experimented freely with Bibles in various languages, once observing that the German Bible (presumably Luther’s) was the most correct of any. (HC 6:363-64)”

We’ve actually had more recent-ish counsel. In the June 1987 Ensign, the writer of “With so many English translations of the Bible that are easy to read, why does the Church still use the King James Version?” answered: “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.”

Now I’m not arguing against the use of the KJV. In fact, I, along with Kevin, believe “The English of the KJV is literarily beautiful and a classic of the English language, but it is also archaic at this late date and in places quite difficult to comprehend (especially in the Hebrew prophets and Pauline epistles).”

But there is power in adding different translations to help for better comprehension as so nicely illustrated by Elder Maynes. For teachers, Jason explains how using other translations helps his class here. And while I’m not Grant Hardy (really, read this post/article for a great explanation of all the drawbacks) I can also recognize that there are drawbacks to getting bogged down in some of the KJV language when a simpler translation will better convey meaning, even meaning over a General Conference pulpit.

And I’m glad we have such a lovely recent example.

Comments

  1. The Church Handbook 2 has this interesting section:
    21.1.7
    Bible

    English-speaking members should use the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible. This edition includes the Topical Guide; footnotes; excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation; cross-references to other passages in the Bible and to the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price; and other study aids. Although other versions of the Bible may be easier to read, in doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations.

    Spanish-speaking members should use the Latter-day Saint edition of the Reina-Valera Bible. This edition includes study aids similar to those in the Latter-day Saint edition in English.

    In many other non-English languages, the Church has approved a non–Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible for use in Church meetings and classes. Members should use these editions of the Bible.

    The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical translation is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.

    Printed copies of approved editions of the Bible are available from Church Distribution Services. Electronic text and audio recordings of Latter-day Saint editions are also available at scriptures.lds.org.

  2. I have always loved how Chieko Okazaki used alternative bible versions in her books. It really does give new understanding. I also love the King James Version because it’s the version I heard the most. It would be wonderful if we could balance both.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Ben S. gives a few additional examples of LDS authorities using alternate translations:

    Neal A. Maxwell, (Ensign, Dec. 1986, p. 23); NKJV (New King James Version)

    Jeffrey R. Holland, (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 34); NEB (New English Bible)

    Robert D. Hales, (Ensign, Nov. 1997, p. 26). NIV (New International Version)

  4. In October Conference 2010, Elder Juan A. Uceda cited the New International Version for Acts 3:14 (footnote 10). Elder Hales also cited the New International Version in October 1997 for John 20:15-16, 18.

  5. Bluidy Clavers says:

    I cringed when Pres. Monson quoted 1 Timothy 4:12. Sure enough, he lumped “in word” and “in conversation” together as meaning the same thing. If he (or whoever wrote his talk) had just checked the footnote in the LDS KJV they would have read that conversation is correctly noted as “GR conduct, behavior.” If the president of the church didn’t notice the footnote, what chance does the average English-speaking saint have? It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of such notes in our approved Bible. Maybe it is time for Correlation to approve a more modern English translation of the Bible? Consider especially converts whose native language is not English. Approving a simpler version could even be seen as an act of charity!

  6. I thought Elder Holland cited a different version as recently as 2013 or so?

  7. Nice work, Emjen. We will get there eventually. Getting over the hump of synchronization.

  8. eponymous says:

    I love the KJV and I recognize it as the basis for my study of the New Testament and the Old Testament but why would anyone restrict themselves to a single translation when tools like biblehub.com are available to quickly peruse many translations including Greek and Hebrew and other lexicons and dictionaries. I sit in Gospel Doctrine and bounce back and forth from faithful LDS commentary (like Ben S), the biblehub, and the LDS Library and my studies are all the richer for it.

  9. ashmaebirds says:

    It has been surprisingly liberating as I’ve started using the RSV in my study. It’s a simple thing, but growing up in a family that didn’t read the scriptures often, and then entering the years of seminary, etc…where it’s easy to believe that anything else other than the KJV is not valuable, it’s been so freeing to recognize that God’s words work by the spirit, and not just the word, and sometimes that spirit comes by using different texts. thanks for the post!

  10. I’ve never read any other version of the Bible- which translation is a good place to start? I like the idea of a parallel study of the KJV & another version. I have friends (members of a different denomination) who use the NIV, and what little experience I have with it has been easy to understand and positive. Any recommendations of another version that would be better to start with?

  11. Jenny, I’ve got some recommendations and commentary on why, here.

  12. Jenny, follow Ben’s advice — he knows what he’s talking about and is a reliable guide.

    I prefer the NRSV.

  13. Late to the show here, but if anyone is still listening: can you confirm my memory of Dallin Oaks?quoting the J.B.Phillips NT in the last 10-15 years? A great thing, for all the reasons cited above

  14. Elder Uceda was in my stake presidency in New Jersey, where he also ran a chain of ESL schools. One time he gave us a beautiful sermon comparing the English and Spanish translations of Lehi’s dream, and it was awesome. The man knows a thing or two about translation. If he used the NIV in his talk, you can bet it was a thought-through decision.

  15. I’ve done a fair amount of comparison across Bible translations and I stick primarily with the KJV because it seems to be less agenda driven. That is, there is less interpreting of scripture to conform to a preset belief. I’ve noticed this forcing meanings more with later versions than with earlier ones. The KJV is also more beautiful. (Granted that could be because it’s more familiar.)