Toward a Paradigm of JST Revisions

As our GD curriculum turns to the OT, we are going to start getting many comments in our GD classes based on the JST. In my experience these comments will invariably be based on an assumption that all such emendations reflect (in English) the original text of the passage, the KJV having been corrupted somehow. And that widespread assumption in most instances at least will be wrong.

You might think that that is just Kevin being a wild-eyed heretic again, but no, that there is a variety of different things going on in the JST is a perfectly orthodox position held by the Church’s leading scholars of the subject. It’s just not a position that has been successfully communicated to the masses. I’m honestly not sure how to fix that, but that’s a problem for another day. Right now I want to try to craft a paradigm of the different possibilities inherent in any given JST emendation of the KJV text.

In 1985 Robert Matthews and Robert Millet separately came up with very similar lists of the different possibilities inherent in a given JST revision. Since these came out at about the same time and were very similar I assume they collaborated to some extent on this list. I’ll use the list as given by Matthews to represent the work of both men:

To regard the New Translation [i.e. JST] as a product of divine inspiration given to Joseph Smith does not necessarily assume that it be a restoration of the original Bible text. It seems probable that the New Translation could be many things. For example, the nature of the work may fall into at least four categories:

  1. Portions may amount to restorations of content material once written by the biblical authors but since deleted from the Bible.

  2. Portions may consist of a record of actual historical events that were not recorded, or were recorded but never included in the biblical collection.

  3. Portions may consist of inspired commentary by the Prophet Joseph Smith, enlarged, elaborated, and even adapted to a latter-day situation. This may be similar to what Nephi meant by “Likening” the scriptures to himself and his people in their particular circumstance. (See 1 Nephi 19:23-24; 2 Nephi 11:8).

  4. 4.Some items may be a harmonization of doctrinal concepts that were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith independently of his translation of the Bible, but by means of which he was able to discover that a biblical passage was inaccurate.[1]

Scott Faulring, Kent Jackson and Bob Matthews gave a slightly updated version of this list in their scholarly publication of the JST manuscripts, as follows:

  • Restoration of original text.

  • Restoration of what was once said or done but which was never in the Bible.

  • Editing to make the Bible more understandable for modern readers.

  • Editing to bring biblical wording into harmony with truth found in other revelations or elsewhere in the Bible.

  • Changes to provide modern readers teachings that were not written by original authors[2]

These authors opined that their five categories were exhaustive, stating that “they seem to include all of the revisions of the new Translation.” Apparently they were unfamiliar with a different list Phil Barlow had previously come up with:

  • Long revealed additions that have little or no biblical parallel, such as the visions of Moses and Enoch, and the passage on Melchizedek;

  • “Common-sense” changes (e.g., Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the Lord that he had made man” is revised in Moses 8:25 to read: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man”. God, being perfect, needs no repentance.);

  • “Interpretive additions,” often signaled by the phrase “or in other words,” which Smith appended to a passage he wished to clarify;

  • “Harmonization,” in which Smith reconciled passages that seemed to conflict with other passages;

  • “Not easily classifiable”; many changes are not easily classified; one can observe only that frequently the meaning of a given text has been changed, often idiosyncratically;

  • Grammatical improvements, technical clarifications, and modernization of terms. These were by far the most common type of change in the JST.[3]

At first blush this looks like a completely different list, but on closer inspection there is some overlap. Both include harmonization within the biblical text, and both include modernizations.

I have my own additions to these lists, which I’ve articulated in various venues, as follows:

  • Emendations paralleling genuinely ancient, but non-original, textual variants.

  • Alternate English translations or interpretations (or intralingual translations of the King James Version [“KJV”]) without positing any change in underlying text.

  • Assimilation to other or better known wording.

  • Suspicion over italicized text in the KJV.

  • Midrashic commentary, analogous to the targumin, the pesharim and the genre of “Rewritten Bible” attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So below I’m going to try to meld these lists (Faulring, Jackson and Matthews [“FJM”], Barlow and Barney) together into one comprehensive paradigm of 14 different types of emendations of the KJV text in the JST:

A. Textual Restorations. [These are actually quite rare.]

B. Historical (Non-Textual) Restorations. [“Restoration of what was once said or done but was never in the Bible.” This is useful for the sake of completeness, but without a textual basis it might be difficult to conclude that something was actually historically said or done.]

C. Modernizations. [“Editing to make the Bible more understandable for modern readers.” “Grammatical improvements, technical clarifications, and modernization of terms.”]

D. Harmonizations (within the Biblical Text). [“Editing to bring biblical wording into harmony with truth found . . . elsewhere in the Bible” “in which Smith reconciled passages that seemed to conflict with other passages.”]

E. Harmonizations of Biblical Text with Modern Revelation. [“Changes to provide modern teachings that were not provided by original authors.”]

F. Long Additions with Little or No Biblical Parallel. [Such as the visions of Moses and Enoch and the passage on Melchizedek.]

G. Common-sense Changes. [E.g., Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the Lord that he had made man” is revised in Moses 8:25 to read: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man” because God, being perfect, needs no repentance.]

H. Interpretive Additions. [Often signaled by the phrase “or in other words,” which Smith appended to a passage he wished to clarify.]

I. Not Easily Classifiable. [Many changes are not easily classified; one can observe only that frequently the meaning of a given text has been changed, often idiosyncratically.]

J. Emendations Paralleling Genuinely Ancient, but Non-Original, Textual Variants.

K. Alternate English translations or interpretations (or intralingual translations of the KJV) without positing any change in underlying text.

L. Assimilation to Other or Better Known Wording.

M. Suspicion over Italicized Text in the KJV.

N. Midrashic commentary, analogous to the targumin, the pesharim and the genre of “Rewritten Bible” attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

My intention in this paradigm is to be neutral as to claims of inspiration. Such claims should not be made by category; anyone wishing to push such claims should do so in individual instances. In other words, this paradigm would work equally well for authors with naturalistic or supernaturalistic perspectives.

This paradigm is also meant to be neutral on modern sources, such as Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, which is known to have been a significant influence on the JST. The occasional use of such sources does not require separate categories in my view.

I put this together for my own purposes, but I hope you will find it useful in your study of the King James Bible and with it the JST over the next two years in Sunday School.

[1] Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1985), 253. Cf. Robert L. Millet, “Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A Historical Overview,” in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1985), 43-45.

[2] Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2004), 8-11. The editors opine that these five categories are exhaustive (i.e., they “seem to include all of the revisions of the new Translation”).

[3] Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), 51-53.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    For an illustration of category J, see this:

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Oops, that was an illustration of category K. For category J, try this:

    Revelation 2:22 reads as follows:

    Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

    In lieu of “a bed,” the JST reads “hell.” There is ancient textual evidence for the following readings: prison, a furnace, illness, sorrow.

    The problem is that being tossed into a bed doesn’t sound like such a bad punishment. I’m guessing some of our mothers with young children would love to be cast into a bed; maybe then they could get a nap. So the JST and a number of ancient scribes posited worse fates.

    In fact, however, being cast into a bed here is a Semitic idiom for a bed of illness, and it really is a punishment. Joseph’s impulse here parallels what the ancient scribes did in trying to make sense of the passage.

  3. I’m currently in the middle of reading Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman, and can’t help but think of the JST.
    Last night I was reading the part where Protestants started doing research on how their Bible had conflicts with very early Greek manuscripts; and there was a public backlash because if the Bible wasn’t perfect, then maybe the Catholics were right and Priesthood authority is needed. And apparently ignorant is bliss was what they wanted.
    Now I’ve never heard of Catholics claiming the Pope could receive revelation which could correct translation and copying mistakes; but we sure do.
    It makes me want to walk up to the next President of the church and say “Can you receive revelation that corrects the Bibles mistakes?”
    But part of me also thinks: since we believe that all prophets are fallible, would God allow an incorrect passage that the original author, originally wrote, be received through revelation? Or would God want even the original text changed? It is something to ponder on.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    An illustration of category N is as follows:

    In Mt. 4 when Jesus is tempted the text has the devil taking Jesus places. The JST reworks all of these passage to have the Spirit move him about. The point of this is to make a commentary, to the effect that the devil does not have power to physically move the Son of Man around, an issue that simply wasn’t a concern to the original writer.

  5. It’s worth noting that Kent Jackson believes that modernizing “the wording of the [KJV] Bible to make it more clear and understandable for modern readers” is the category into which more JST changes belong than any other. See

    It’s also interesting that when the Church made their own revision of a Spanish translation of the Bible, many JST changes were not included in the Spanish footnotes because it became clear in these cases that the JST was responding an issue in the KJV, not the biblical text generically. See

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, the JST is very specific to the KJV, so it will often be irrelevant to other language translations. (That article about the Spanish translation was a great one, highly recommended.)

  7. I wish the Church, when discussing the JST, would bring up somewhat parallel movements in ancient Judaism such as peshers and targums. I’m glad you brought those up. Something else that should get more notice notice is the place of Clarke’s Commentary on the JST – particularly the last part. Thomas Wayment has done some interesting work there.

  8. Dylan Hansen says:

    A, textual restorations, “are actually quite rare.” What are some examples of this? If I understand the categorization correctly, this refers to text that was present in the original Greek and Hebrew texts, but removed from the KJV. I can’t think of any examples, so I agree with you that this is a rare occurrence, but I’m interested in hearing about possible examples.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, Tom has advanced the ball on Clarke for sure.

  10. Aussie Mormon says:

    The current study helps page on the church website currently clarifies that it’s a restoration of truths, not a restoration of text.
    “The Lord inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore truths to the King James Bible text that had become lost or changed since the original words were written. These restored truths clarified doctrine and improved scriptural understanding.
    Because the Lord revealed to Joseph certain truths that the original authors had once recorded, the Joseph Smith Translation is unlike any other Bible translation in the world. In this sense, the word translation is used in a broader and different way than usual, for Joseph’s translation was more revelation than literal translation from one language into another”

    The big issue is that these types of clarifications won’t be in older copies of the scriptures, and unless the lesson manual specifically points to them, or the teacher is astute enough to go look, it likely won’t get raised.

  11. Really useful stuff, Kev. Thanks.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    Agreed. This is a great list. I’m looking forward to the chapter on the JST in *Foundational Texts of Mormonism,* coming out next month. *Intertextuality.*

  13. Eric Facer says:

    Kevin, I like your melding of the lists, though I think any discussion of the JST should begin with the following “first principles”:

    • With the exception of the Book of Moses and Matthew 24, the JST has never been canonized.

    • As is the case with Smith’s other “translations,” the JST is not a translation between languages; rather it is revision of the English text of the KJV. Joseph had not studied Hebrew or Greek prior to producing the JST, though in later years he did study Hebrew.

    • Only a portion of the JST appears in the footnotes to our scriptures; much of it has not been included, presumably because it may be problematic or has been deemed not worthy of inclusion. (The Community of Christ, which I believe is in possession of the original manuscripts of the JST, embraces it in its entirety.)

    • Regardless of the type of emendation made, some of them are simply wrong while others Smith translated twice, apparently having forgotten about the first one, yielding different results. Bruce R. McConkie offered the following words of caution regarding the JST, the chapter headings, topical guide, Bible dictionary and the maps that appear in the LDS scriptures: “None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them.”

  14. Eric Facer says:

    On a different subject, I think we may be too quick to embrace Joseph’s “common sense changes,” including the one you reference: Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the Lord that he had made man,” which was revised in Moses 8:25 to read: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man” because God, being perfect, needs no repentance.”

    Some biblical scholars believe that the ancient authors of the original verse in Genesis, while mindful of God’s perfect state, were attempting to portray the Lord as someone with human characteristics who can regret an earlier decision and change direction, thereby providing a valuable example for His children to follow as they learn to repent. To me, there is great value in this reading, one that does not require me to believe that our Father in Heaven is a flawed being.

    More to the point, this particular revision illustrates a pervasive, and often disturbing, characteristic of the JST in particular and our approach to the scriptures in general: a love of literalism and a penchant for “Mormonizing” the text, thus robbing it of some of its most valuable nuances and paradoxes.

  15. I don’t think there are any JST changes excluded from the LDS footnotes for being “problematic.” My understanding is that those not selected for inclusion in the footnotes or the appendix were not selected because they were minor changes without apparent doctrinal significance. Though I haven’t done an exhaustive comparison, I have read the Community of Christ’s version of the New Translation, and that seems to be true.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Hi Eric, I didn’t intend this as an intro to the JST, but thanks for detailing some important things students should realize about the project. I agree with your first two bullet points. On your third, I agree with JKC, that the selection of material to be included in the 1979 LDS Bible seems to have been based more on doctrinal significance. The JST manuscripts have now been published in full (see footnote 2 in the OP), so anyone may make her own judgment about that.

    The material that was mistakenly translated twice is a truly fascinating circumstance. Although the general thrust of the revisions was similar, the wording differed significantly, which suggests that we should perhaps approach what the JST is trying to do more conceptually rather than getting hung up on specific wording choices. Anyone interested in this should read the actual article: Kent P. Jackson and Peter M. Jasinski, “The Process of Inspired Translation: Two Passages Translated Twice in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible,” BYU Studies 42, no. 2 (2003): 35–64.

    On the it repenteth the Lord thing, Phil was simply giving the logic of the change, not suggesting that it was necessary. My own view is that “repenteth” was an unfortunate rendering of the Hebrew verb nacham, because we use that English word in a theological technical sense that implies sin, but no predicate sin is intended by the passage. So the JST is a corrective to someone reading the KJV and gaining that misimpression from it, but better yet would be a synonym that does not carry that theological baggage, such as to rue, be sorry, regret.

  17. Eric Facer says:

    Those are good points, Kevin, and thanks again for your post on this and other scriptural topics. They always get my attention and provoke constructive thinking.

    As to why Joseph made the change to Genesis 6:6, I think your explanation makes sense, though he appears not to have understood the meaning of the word “repent” in Hebrew, but rather was simply, as you noted, trying to clarify its meaning for modern readers. My preference would be that we leave the verse alone (or else, as you suggest, find an acceptable synonym for that Hebraic term) and, instead, make an effort to understand the language and cultural differences that separate us from the ancient authors, but it is probably naive of me to think that Correlation and most church members would want to engage in that exercise.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, if folks would just read it in a good modern translation (either in addition to or in lieu of the KJV) the problem simply wouldn’t exist. But it can be like pulling teeth to convince folks that that’s a good idea.

  19. Given our rejection of inerrancy and our very different conception of authority, I’m not sure canon really does the work for us it does for Protestants or even Catholics. Too much outside of canon is treated as massively significant. (Think the King Follet Discourse for instance) So the JST not being canon seems far less significant to my eyes than it appears at first glance.

    Regarding translations, I actually think the NKJV which keeps the KJV translation but swaps out words that have largely disappeared from conversational English or that have significantly changed meaning. That seems a very good middle ground that could work as a first step. Further most people are now using iPads or the like as scriptures rather than bringing printed quads to church. This means it’d be trivial to make it a button that switches between the KJV and a NKJV. Then do something similar for any verses affected in the Book of Mormon or D&C which quote or paraphrase the KJV. (This would also be a great opportunity to get rid of the current, typically useless footnotes, and replace them with something better)

    Finally, something that ought shape how we view the JST as an interpretive “loose” retranslation is Matthew 26. Joseph had taken a break and forgot that he’d already translated Matthew 26. So we have an initial translation of Matthew 26 is NT1 and then a retranslation in NT2.2. It’s the latter translation that ended up in the translation. Now to be fair NT1 never was reviewed by Joseph Smith. Some of the differences are interesting including new words by Christ regrading the sacrament for 26:25-26 in NT1 that aren’t in NT2.2. The NT2.2 though reverses the blessing and breaking of bread such that it’s broken before being blessed. (Which is our current practice) Most of the rest of the changes are minor, but showcase that the JST isn’t restoring some ur-text.

  20. This is incredibly helpful. Thank-you.

  21. Sorry, when I posted that above I hadn’t seen Kevin’s comment on the JST for Matt 26. Perils of keeping a comment half written to finish all morning.

    Eric, that’s a good example. It also highlights issues related to Joseph using Clarke’s Commentary for the last part of the revision. It seems that Joseph’s interest had waned towards the end of the Old Testament. However as he became better educated and especially after he came to learn Hebrew I’m surprised he never revisited the JST. Particularly for how he dealt with God repenting in the Old Testament.

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