JST 1 Cor. 7:1-2

I thought I would share here a snippet from my BYU NT Commentary Conference presentation this past summer. My paper was on the JST of 1 Corinthians. We have a tendency to want to see the JST as almost entirely involving textual restorations, but I frankly didn’t see any of that in 1 Corinthians. The largest category of changes I saw were what I called “Alternate Translations (without Positing any Change in Underlying Text.” I present below the first change I discussed under that category. [Note that by “alternate translations” I intended to take an agnostic stance as to whether these translations were interlingual (presumably by inspiration, since Joseph didn’t actually know Greek) or intralingual (i.e., a paraphrase or English rewording of Joseph’s exemplar, the KJV).

Alternate Translations (without Positing any Change in Underlying Text)
1 Corinthians 7:1-2 
1. Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me, saying: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2. Nevertheless, I say to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
     1 Corinthians 7 begins with a crux interpretum: does the second half of v. 1 (“It is good for a man not to touch a woman”) represent Paul’s own statement or a quotation of a statement from Corinth? The Greek text itself gives no indication either way. While there are scholars on both sides of the question, something of a modern scholarly consensus has developed in favor of the Corinthian quotation view. Reasons for this position include the structural similarity of 7:1 with other secure Corinthian quotations (such as 8:1), that 7:1b as a Pauline statement would contradict what Paul would have regarded as a divine ordinance: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and that the Corinthian quotation reading goes all the way back to Origen.7
7  For discussion, see Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000), 498-500.
     In translation the clearest way to mark this as a Corinthian statement would have been to use quotation marks, but the KJV does not use quotation marks at all. Quotations are sometimes marked in the KJV by capitalization (usually preceded by a comma), and while this method results in ambiguity (because it does not mark the end of a quotation) it does often successfully mark the beginning of a quotation. Since the italicized “It” is capitalized, in KJV usage this would appear to mark the beginning of a quotation, thus making v. 7:1b a statement from Corinth.
     There is another clue as to quotations that often appears in the Greek text itself. Some form of the verb lego (or some other verb of speech) is commonly used in the New Testament to introduce direct discourse, in imitation of the Hebrew le’mor. If this were a textual restoration, presumably the form would be legontes, the nominative plural (note the “ye”), present, active participle of lego. The verb “I say” in verse 2 would then simply be the lexical form of this same verb, lego, which is first person singular, present, active, indicative: the very form Paul uses to begin verse 8 of this chapter (“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows. . . .”).8
8  It is possible that the addition of “I say” in v. 2 is an assimilation to the words “I say” in v. 8.
     Because we historically have stressed so strongly the value of textual restoration in the JST, it is tempting to suggest that these forms of the verb lego were originally in the text and then dropped out for some reason over time, only to be restored by the JST. That is a difficult case to make, however, as (i) there is no textual evidence whatsoever for the presence of these forms of lego in the text, and (ii) there are not obvious transcriptional probabilities suggesting that those words once existed explicitly in the text but were lost accidentally.
     From my perspective, there is simply no need to press a case for textual restoration here, as the JST emendation makes excellent sense at the English translational level, and successfully communicates that 7:1b is a quotation from Corinth.
     It is the responsibility of the translator to present Paul’s meaning in a correct way in English. There are 17 older translations that, like the KJV, use capitalization to suggest a quotation here. The modern English equivalent to introducing the passage with legontes would be to put the second part of verse 1 within quotation marks, showing that those words should be ascribed to the letter Paul had received and not to Paul himself. And of the 51 English translations available at biblegateway.com,9 19 do indeed use quotation marks here. Another three reach the same result a different way. The DLNT creates the same effect by using a dash, and the MSG creates the same effect by turning the sentence into a question. The ERV actually paraphrases as follows: “You asked if it is better for a man not to have sexual relations at all.” So 39 of 51 translations (over 76%) are functionally in accord with the JST (and many of the remaining translations are simply ambiguous on the question).
9  Abbreviations of various English translations used in this article refer to the English translations available at the Bible Gateway (biblegateway.com) as listed on Exhibit A.
     Some translations explicitly take the passage as having precisely the meaning the JST rejects. The TLB has “Now about those questions you asked in your last letter: my answer is that if you do not marry, it is good.” The NLT has Paul’s answer as “Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations.” But this is a minority view; the increasing consensus of modern scholarship takes verse 1 as a quotation from Corinth, just as the JST does.
As Thiselton notes:
The spread of English versions offers an interesting commentary by way of summary. NRSV rightly uses quotation marks where RSV previously had none; REB uses quotation marks where NEB had none, although it added a marginal alternative without quotation marks; NJB follows JB in identifying a quotation, but one which Paul endorses: Yes, it is a good thing for a man. . . . The AV/KJV had no quotation marks. Surprisingly, the NIV also lacks quotation marks, and Fee addresses this.10
10  Thiselton, First Epistle, 500.
     The key quotation from the Fee article Thiselton mentions reads as follows:
All of this leads us to argue therefore, that v. 1 not only means that “a man is better off having no relations with a woman” (NAB) but also, as many have suggested, that this is the position being argued by the Corinthians themselves in their letter. The basic reason for seeing it as their position is the fact that Paul so sharply contradicts it in vv. 2-5.11
11  Gordon D. Fee, “1 Cor. 7:1 in the NIV,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23 (1980): 307-14 at 312. Following the publication of the Fee article, the NIV added quotation marks to 1 Corinthians 7:1b.
     So the JST clarifies that 7:1b is indeed a quotation, a position that is now considered the scholarly standard. And the addition of “I say” in verse 2 is then essentially the equivalent of closing that quotation by giving the adversative de in that verse an appropriately strong force (as if to render it “on the contrary”).12 This has nothing to do with textual variants in ancient manuscripts; it is rather a matter of translation and correct presentation in English.
12  Thiselton, First Epistle, 501.


  1. What is JST? What did you mean in the whole paragraph???. Are you another pseudo-intellectual that writes in codes, and thinks the whole world should understand you? Make your meaning clear man, make it clear. That is your first obligation.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    JST is the standard abbreviation for “Joseph Smith Translation,” the revision of the King James Bible which Joseph Smith and various scribes (primarily Sidney Rigdon) undertook from 1830 to July 1833.

  3. Keep up the good work, Kevin. Your approach to the JST has always been enlightening for me, thanks for sharing!

    Is there a way to watch or read the whole presentation?

    Greetings from Chile.

  4. Good summary. I’ve enjoyed watching the presentations in all the BYU NTC conferencese. The comments are rather odd for this article, I must say…

  5. Oops, I guess I should proofread my comments before posting.

  6. Kevin,
    Since you are on 1 Corinthians, please explain 1 Cor 15:40-42. Maybe it is an amatuerish question on my part, but the Gospel Principles manual says that Paul gave us the names of two of the three (2 Cor 12:2) kingdoms of heaven here as celestial and terrestrial. However those words did not appear in this passage until Tyndale. They continued in all major translations through RSV. Why did Tyndale pick them, and why were they retained so long?

  7. Is tonight a full moon?

  8. You know Ardis, I haven’t deleted comments for a while. It felt nice. Maybe I’ll ban as well.

    Kevin, this is some great work here. My sense is that there is a lot needless mystery surrounding the JST, and work like this will be extremely useful in understanding JS’s translation projects more broadly. Thanks.

  9. Dude.

  10. That was last night Ardis, but close for the morning I guess…

  11. Well, that was fun to ban someone again.

  12. What J.Stapley said not about deleting comments, but about needless mystery and extremely useful. This all rings true as a way to understand 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, but mostly I applaud the common sense approach to the JST.

  13. Wow, Kev. “JST” must need a trigger warning. (grin). OP is great fun though.

  14. Got here too late to see what all the drama was about. I guess I am one of those “wondering what happened” kind of person. That being said, nice exposition on this passage, Kevin.

  15. Clark Goble says:

    What’s the date on this JST translation versus when he started learning Greek? Just curious.

  16. Good stuff, Kevin. And glad to see J dusting off the old bannination stick.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Sorry, I’ve been traveling today. Clark, Joseph had some brief exposure to Greek late in 1835, and actually studied Hebrew late in 1835 up until the Kirtland temple dedication in the spring of 1836. So his study of ancient languages, such as it was, came far too late to be a factor in the JST, which was completed in July 1833.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Kruiser, celestial and terrestrial are simply latinate translations of the underlying Greek words in 1 Cor. 15:40, epourania “heavenly” and epigeia “earthly.” That is what celestial and terrestrial mean. Then in v. 41 Paul contrasts the glory of the sun, the moon and the stars. Joseph apparently assumed that v. 41 was a continuation of the contrast expressed in v. 40, and so he added the neologism “telestial” (note the same latinate formation) to v. 40 in the JST, thus aligning celestial with the sun, terrestrial with the moon (although we more commonly give terrestrial its true meaning of “earthly”), and telestial with the stars.

    You might enjoy this old post of mine speculating on where “telestial” might come from:


  19. Kevin,
    Yes, but why? If he is translating Greek into English, why doesn’t he just use “heavenly” and “earthly” instead of those Latin forms. In no where else in the New Testament does he use the Latin forms when it comes to translating epourania and epigea. (I think) To unsophisticed English readers, including myself in my youth, celestial and terrestrial sounded glorious and sublime since those readers did not know what they meant. Did not Tyndale pride himself in translating the Bible for the common man to understand? Then again, why was the practice continued in subsequent translatiions? Is there a mystery here?

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Joseph wasn’t really translating from Greek into English. He was starting with the King James English. He made revisions in the JST where he perceived problems in the text, and presumably he didn’t perceive a problem in the fancy terms celestial and terrestrial; the problem he saw was that there were only two such terms to coincide with three presumed referents (sun, moon, stars).

  21. Joseph was reading—and editing—the Bible through a Mormon prism, i.e., he was trying to make the ancient text conform to his developing theology. He was not striving for “textual accuracy,” as that phrase is generally understood when discussing the science and art of translation.

    Barlow’s fine work, “Mormons and the Bible,” has a good chapter on the JST, highlighting its many limitations, along with the differences in opinion among church leaders regarding its merits. It’s a good starting place for those who are unfamiliar with its substance and origins.

    For me, the JST falls in the category of “intriguing speculative musings,” sometimes interesting, sometimes insightful (perhaps even inspired), and sometimes just plain wrong.

    Nice post, Kevin. Thanks.

  22. I don’t think Kruiser is asking about Joseph’s word choice. He’s asking about Tyndale’s. And it’s an interesting question!

  23. Yes, I am sorry. I was talking about Tyndale. Can you imagine Tyndale coming to that passage and somehow deciding to put celestial and terrestrial in there instead of heavenly and earthly? Probably, he didn’t even know why he did it. Later translators continued to do the same thing, probably not knowing why they were doing it. Then a few hundred years later, Joseph Smith hits upon it and gives those two names to the higher kingdoms of glory. Of course this only has impact with English language readers. Readers of Latin based language Bibles just see it as the equivalent of heavenly and earthly.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Ah, I see now, Kruiser. Yes, Tyndale’s language was hugely influential (witness the term he coined, “atonement”). I’m not sure why he went high brow latinate with those terms.