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.