The JST and the Adam Clarke Commentary

Two and a half years ago on March 16, 2017, Haley Wilson and her mentor for this research, Thomas Wayment, published “A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,” in BYU’s Journal of Undergraduate Research, available here. This is not the research itself, but rather a precis; the actual research paper is still forthcoming. This is an exciting development, and I for one am looking forward to it eagerly.

Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of folks are drawing unwarranted conclusions from this, apparently without even bothering to read the precis itself. And so I am writing this blog post with the intent of foreclosing some of these unwarranted assumptions I have seen floating around the net. It is to be hoped that when the actual research article becomes available people will read the piece itself to gain a full grasp of the arguments it will make.

I want to push back on three incorrect assumptions some have made about this:

1. Virtually the entire JST was copied from the Clarke Commentary.  This is certainly not Wilson and Wayment’s argument, which is a good thing, because it would be completely insupportable. Somewhere I saw Haley clarify that there are maybe 25 to 30 relevant passages in the NT, and fewer, maybe 10-15 in the OT (or numbers something like that). That occurrence is very believable to me. I did a study of every JST revision to 1 Corinthians, and one thing I looked for was whether any of them were attested in a secondary source (the four sources I used for this purpose were the Clarke Commentary, the Campbell translation, the Coverdale translation and Wesley’s Explanatory Notes). As I recall, the incidence of possible secondary source influence I noted was in the range of 7%, which seems consistent with Haley’s findings. Wildly exaggerating the incidence of these parallels is not doing justice to her research, so we just need to be patient and await the actual study.

2. The Clarke Commentary is the only plausible secondary source. Some time ago the Gospel Tangents podcast had Thom Wayment on, and it’s abundantly clear from that discussion that he is well aware of numerous other potential secondary sources for the JST. This research is focused on the Clarke Commentary, which likely is the most consequential source, but that in and of itself by no means rules out other potential sources. For the podcast, see here.

3. The idea of there being secondary sources for the JST is new.  Near the beginning of the precis this sentence appears:

Direct borrowing from this source has not previously been connected to Smith’s translation efforts, and the fundamental question of what Smith meant by the term “translation” with respect to his efforts to rework the biblical text can now be reconsidered in light of this new evidence.1

I was prepared to push back on that, but fortunately the authors made a partial save with this footnote:

Cf. Ronald V. Huggins, “‘Without a Cause’ and ‘Ships of Tarshish’: A Possible Contemporary Source for Two Unexplained Readings from Joseph Smith,” Dialogue 36 (2003): 163, who does discuss the influence of Clarke on two of Smith’s textual emendations.

Actually, the statement is a fair one to make in the context of BYU Religious Education and related organizations. But various folks have known for a long time about the possibility of secondary source influence on the JST. In addition to the aforementioned Ron Huggins, I’ll also mention here, without limitation, Brent Metcalfe and David Wright.

I’m well aware of this because I had to deal with it in my book chapter, “Faith Alone in Romans 3:28 JST,” in Bountiful Harvest, the Festschrift for S. Kent Brown edited by Andy Skinner, Morgan Davis and Carl Griffin. One of my tasks was to figure out whether there was a secondary source from which Joseph could have learned of Luther’s addition of the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. My discussion included this footnote (I have edited out the extensive bibliographical information to make typing this easier):

Huggins, “Inspired Translation of Romans 7,” 159-82, suggests the following as the most likely possibilities for external works that may have had an influence on JST Romans, given their popularity, accessibility, and for some their grounding in the Methodist and Campbellite traditions: [here I list Campbell, Clarke, Henry and Wesley]. None of these sources mention Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28. Luther’s version with allein is described in Charles Hodge [bibliographical info omitted] the first edition of which was published in Philadelphia in 1835, but that is three years after Joseph dictated Romans 3 JST in 1832. Moses Stuart [biblio omitted but published in 1832] reflects the following sentence: “Luther translates pistei, ALLEIN durch den glauben, i.e., by faith only.” This book is an unlikely source for Romans 3:28 JST, given that that verse was dictated early in the year and Stuart suggests a different word (only) and a different insertion point than that followed in the JST. Doubtless there were English sources prior to 1832 that mention Luther’s insertion of allein in his translation, but generally these would have appeared in more technical literature (like Stuart and Hodge). I have not yet found one that would be obviously available to Joseph Smith at that time.

So I suggest folks either reflect accurately what the precis itself states or wait for the actual research paper and not make wild statements about the authors’ findings.




  1. In the meantime, we’re all waiting a very long time for that paper to come out.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. I appreciate this, Kevin. And/but/however it causes me to realize that 99% of what I know about the JST comes from Kevin Barney. I count that a positive, but some would criticize single sourcing.

    I do think you are quixotic thinking a BCC post will stop speculation and exaggeration.

  3. Worth noting that it’s fairly trivial to search comparing passages to Clarke’s Commentary. There’s numerous versions available online. The Charles Buck Theological Dictionary, the other common source people mention, is also easy to search. To me this is an obvious part of “study it out in your mind.” It always boggled my mind that people were fine with Joseph’s Nauvoo expansions of scripture that clearly were influenced by his Hebrew study and other influences but freaked out at influence of Clarke on the New Testament work. It’s worth looking at the Clarke Commentary on John 5 as well and compare it to the vision of D&C 76 that arose out of working on that chapter.

  4. Wayment’s work will appear in early 2020 (around February) in a University of Utah Press edited volume, Producing Ancient Scripture.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    WVS, thanks so much for that notice! I’ve been curious when and where it would appear, and very much appreciate having some concrete information.

  6. “And so I am writing this blog post with the intent of foreclosing some of these unwarranted assumptions I have seen floating around the net.”

    Thanks for this, Kevin. I’m much less in-the-know than you, so a question: what flavor of commentators are making the assumption that Wayment is arguing that “virtually the entire JST was copied from the Clarke Commentary”? Are they more conservative types who think Wayment et al are going astray? I would like to know because I really admire Wayment and his NT Translation. (And hurrah – I saw someone in my ward carrying around his translation last Sunday).

  7. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    Producing Ancient Scripture is advertised in UUP’s recently published catalog (The University of Utah Press, Fall/Winter 2019, p. 2).

    Here is a citation for the chapter:

    Thomas A. Wayment and Haley Wilson-Lemmon, “A Recovered Resource: The Use of Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary in Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation, chapter 11 in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity (Salt Lake City, UT: The University of Utah Press, 2020).

  8. Yes, it’s not original, and need not undermine faith.
    I made a preliminary argument myself that the JST in 1Co about covenants, testator/victim was drawing on Clarke at a BYU conference in 2014 or 15.

  9. Hunter- I’ve mostly seen the claims coming from exmormons, pushing Clarke as a “Joseph copied word for word, so it was plagiarism, not inspiration” kind of claim.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Hunter, I’ve seen what Ben describes, I.e. not from conservatives but from antagonists.

  11. Thanks, Ben and Kevin.Good to know.

  12. gazelem1829 says:

    University of Utah fall catalog states that Producing Ancient Scripture will be published and available February 2020. Dr Wayment’s chapter is 1 of 18 really cool ground breaking chapters.

  13. The JST is a hard thing to use as a judge of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling in any meaningful way because he never finished it and never gave a clear definition of what it is. I have seen some claim that Smith’s use of Clarke and other sources is an argument against his prophetic calling (since a true prophet wouldn’t need it) and/or it represents plagiarism since Smith didn’t cite his sources. The latter seems especially silly to me because it represents an imposition of modern scholarly practices onto a pre-modern, non-scholarly, unfinished work. I sure hope no one comes across several unfinished legal papers that I have worked on after my death and uses those to criticize me.

    Having said that, the JST is invaluable to understanding Smith’s mindset, and there are a few nuggets that, to me personally, demonstrate some truly inspired prophetic insights.

    To echo the somewhat unrelated praise heaped on Wayment, his translation has reignited much of my already considerable interest in the New Testament. The Wayment translation does an excellent job of retaining many phrases that are embedded in our culture while updating the language such that it’s easy to follow along. Compare this week’s reading in Romans between Wayment and KJV, and you can see how not getting lost in the language contributes to a deep understanding of Paul’s important doctrinal teaching.

  14. Thanks for keeping us up on this, Kevin. I wonder as more Latter-day Saints learn about this, will the church become less fixed on the KJV and more open to newer translations of the New Testament? I mean, if Joseph used them, why not us?

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Intriguing point, Bro. B.!

  16. Aussie Mormon says:

    People in non-english speaking places already use non-kjv versions, the church even maintains a list of preferred translations ( ), and leaders have occasionally used non-kjv versions for their conference talks ( so it’s definitely being less strict.

  17. At the very least, it is just more evidence that Joseph Smith plagiarized rather copiously from other sources while rendering his translations. Other evidence, of course, being the numerous verbatim passages from the KJV (not just Isaiah and 3 Nephi) strewn throughout the BOM. This suggests that Joseph Smith probably had an extraordinarily good memory and probably did not need to spend much time reading passages in order to memorize them. While JS was probably not as good as Kim Peek (the autistic savant Rainman), he was leaning that direction for sure.

    The similarities between the JST and the Adam Clarke commentary were a great find and I’m very pleased that a BYU publication published them. I step in the right direction.

  18. Aussie, I knew that there was no KJV Spanish version of the Bible when I served my mission in the early ‘80’s. But I didn’t know that current leaders are quoting non-KJV versions in their conference talks. Thanks for that reference! That’s a very hopeful sign. I noticed in the online version of his talk, footnote 2 indeed references the Revised Standard Version but of course displays the KJV text. I’m glad to see the proper attribution.

  19. For a few other uses of other bible translations in General Conference, see Elder Uchtdorf,
    April 2016: In Praise of Those Who Save
    October 2016: Fourth Floor, Last Door
    April 2017: The Greatest Among You

    There are others as well.

  20. Jonovitch says:

    Re: the above comment (Elder Uchtdorf’s use of alternative translations), it’s not uncommon to be sitting in Sunday School in Germany and have one person reading aloud from the Luther translation, while other’s are following along with the Uniform Translation (Einheitsübersetzung). Nobody bats an eye. The only ones who even own the KJV are American missionaries (or Germans pretending to understand it). But everyone knows the Luther translation is the best one anyway, so why even bother? :)

  21. Wayment expounds a little bit on the Clarke commentary in this interview:

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the pointer, Kurt. A great interview.

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