My New JST Article

Kevin L. Barney, “A Commentary on Joseph Smith’s Revision of First Corinthians,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 53, no. 2 (Summer 2020): 57-105 here.

The latest issue of Dialogue includes an article I wrote on the JST of 1 Corinthians, and I would like to tell you a little bit about the genesis of this piece.

Five years ago I was asked to review a manuscript by Richard Draper and Michael Rhodes that was a commentary on 1 Corinthians for the BYU New Testament Commentary Project. I had been classmates with Richard in a couple of Greek classes back in my BYU classics days in the early 80s, and I consider anyone who touched that program an automatic friend, so I said “sure.”  I wrote a lengthy report with hundreds of suggested comments. At the beginning of my report I commented on previous critiques of the Revelation volume they did, including comments by Jill Kirby (one of our finest Bible scholars). Jill had commented negatively on a practice in that early volume of reflecting the JST revisions directly in the modern rendition ( = translation), which seemed to reflect an assumption that all such JST revisions were textual restorations. I agreed with Jill that that was the wrong approach, so I was loaded for bear on that subject. But it turns out they had not followed that practice in the 1 Corinthians volume; they had learned from Jill’s critique and improved their approach. (At the time I just took Jill’s word for it, as I did not own the Revelation volume, but I have it now, and so I checked the first JST emendation to see if it showed up in the rendition, and sure enough it did. So a hat tip to Jill for correcting that practice.)

The volume was eventually published, and I guess as a thank you for my review, I was invited to be one of the speakers at a day-long conference at the alumni center at BYU. So I had to come up with a topic. And I thought back to that issue of treatment of the JST and how the authors had improved their approach. And when we don’t insist that all JST revisions are textual restorations but take a more eclectic approach, I had noticed there were some very good and productive changes there, even if none of them to my eye was a textual restoration. So I decided to make that the topic of my presentation. I reviewed and analyzed maybe 30 JST revisions in the book (about 40% of the total, and used them to demonstrate that if we stop insisting that all JST revisions are textual restorations but are willing to see them as other types of revisions, they become more productive. I was a little bit nervous about this, but I needn’t have been, the presentation went over great and no one seemed too thrown about taking a more eclectic approach to the JST. So I was happy with the experience and I assumed that was the end of that.

But—for the past 14 years I have been a blogger here at BCC. And when you are a blogger you always have in the back of your mind what your next post might be. And back in January of 2018 I thought back to my presentation on the JST in 1 Corinthians. And it dawned on me that part of the reason people have such a limited understanding of that project is that everyone always cherry picks. Depending on your perspective you cherry pick just a few good examples or just a few poor examples to support your general view. And I began to wonder—what if I evaluated the JST of an entire book of the Bible? That would not allow any cherry picking; I would have to comment on every last one of the changes. And I honestly wasn’t sure what I would find, and I got curious about it. Now that seemed like way too much work for a blog post, but I realized I already had a pretty good start on it because of all the 1 Corinthians passages I had evaluated a few years earlier. So I decided to do a commentary on the complete JST of 1 Corinthians.  To start I had to create a paradigm. I basically just cobbled together a Franken-paradigm of all the previous suggestions that had been made (the one in the article is considerably refined from that early attempt). Then I wrote up the commentary, more formally analyzing the ones I had done already, and analyzing all the new ones.  And I hit publish, as one does in the blog world. And I thought it turned out pretty well and was happy with it. And that was that, I had no further ambitions regarding it at all.

Well, as you know Thom Wayment was making waves in the JST world. I have never met the man, and if he had been in Rel Ed I probably wouldn’t have reached out to him. But he had moved to Classics, and as I indicated above I consider all the Classics people to be automatic friends. So I reached out to him with my blog post to see what he thought. And I received back a warm and encouraging response. It had been a long time since I had formally published anything, so I thought maybe I should give this a try. I figured Dialogue was probably the most likely venue. And now here we are with the published article in hand.

What was my overall conclusion? The word I use is that I was impressed. Given his very obvious limitations, I thought Joseph did a remarkable job.  There are however, two prices you have to be willing to pay to join me in being similarly impressed. First, we have to give up on this almost universal assumption in the Church that the JST is overwhelmingly a textual restoration. That dog ain’t gonna hunt. And second, we have to allow Joseph to make mistakes. If you’re willing to make those two concessions, you are free to join me in impressed land.

As an example, consider the last JST revision in the book:

68. 1 Corinthians 16:20

All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss salutation.

The Greek word philema does indeed mean “kiss,” as a sign of fraternal affection that was commonly given in the early Christian community. The JST updates the gesture culturally with the blander “salutation.” But the JST is not alone in suggesting such a cultural updating. Other translations suggest here “warm greeting” (CEV), “special greeting” (ERV), “shake hands” (PHILLIPS), “loving handshake” (TLB), and “holy embraces” (MSG). The specific word “salutation” is assimilated from verse 21.

Paradigm Classification A-1 and A-4 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Assimilation).

In order to be a textual restoration, we would need to posit that the original text here read aspasmos “personal greeting or salutation,” which scribes for some reason changed to philema “kiss.” By changing “kiss” to “salutation” the JST is then restoring the original text. That scenario is quite obviously not what is going on here. Rather, the JST here is a cultural translation. A kiss was a proper greeting in the early Christian community; it is not such for us today. If I walked into church and kissed Sister Brown, she would wallup me in the head with that big purse she carries. This isn’t a textual restoration, but a cultural updating. And as we see, Joseph is hardly the only one to have that concern, a number of other translations do pretty much the same thing.


  1. Why would you not have contacted Wayment if he was still in Religious Education?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I suppose I could have, but he didn’t know me from Adam and it would have seemed more presumptuous to me. Having BYU Classics in common just made it more comfortable for me. People like Todd Compton, Dave Seely, Eric Huntsman, and Trevor Luke are others that are in that BYU Classics comfort zone for me.

  3. William L Davis says:

    The essay in Dialogue is excellent! Thanks for sharing the background about how it came together.

  4. TheMagicRat says:

    “…we have to give up on this almost universal assumption in the Church that the JST is overwhelmingly a textual restoration. That dog ain’t gonna hunt.”

    Agreed. But these assumptions aren’t made in a vacuum. Where do such assumptions originate? I must have come from somewhere. What did JS and his contemporaries say or believe he was doing with the JST? I don’t know for sure, but I can I guess. That can’t be ignored. And there are implications associated with that. If JS said it was a restoration of the original text (and the Saints bought into that and thought so too), then it doesn’t much matter what WE think/conclude he was doing 2020.

  5. Aussie Mormon says:

    TMR, I presume they arose from a combination of the use of the word “translation”, with saying that truths had been lost (intentionally or otherwise).

    People see “translation” and think that it involved going back over every little bit in the original language and bringing to english in a “fixed” form, rather than going from an English KJV to an amended English KJV.
    Of course, a complete version was never published by JS, so we have no idea what he would have put in as an introduction.

  6. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    “And it dawned on me that part of the reason people have such a limited understanding of that project is that everyone always cherry picks.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I recently reviewed the entire JST and it was an entirely different beast from what I had come to know (or, rather, thought I knew) from the literature on the JST.

    Thank you, Kevin Barney, for taking a different approach.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Let me tell you three stories about people perceiving the JST as a pure restoration:

    1. In 1981 I was a student in a BYU OT class. Recall that for most of us the JST was a newish thing, as the 1979 Bible had just come out a year and a half ago. We’re in Exodus, and the prof is talking about why the text keeps saying the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. I don’t recall the details, but it was some philosophical explanation as to why it was proper for the Lord to Judge Pharaoh even though he didn’t seem to have free will about it. Some guy raises his hand and reads the JST, which says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. And the prof turned as white as a sheet. He had forgotten the JST did that. I assumed he would go on with his explanation, but no, he dropped that topic like a stone.

    2. Because of that experience I began to assume that BYU profs weren’t allowed to acknowledge that the JST was anything but a pure textual restoration. But I eventually changed my mind due to an experience I had several times. I estimate that I have taught something like 1400 adult classes at church (28 years’ worth of teaching callings). And every comment on the JST always, always assumed textual restoration. So I thought I would try to give the students a broader view. So maybe three times over the years I have preempted whatever the class was supposed to be and instead taught an entire class on the JST (explaining the manuscripts, etc.). People never get anything like this and the lessons were always a big hit. As part of the lesson I would explain various types of revisions made, that they’re not all textual restorations, and I would illustrate with examples. Those lessons absolutely killed.

    And you know what would happen? The very next Sunday those same students were interpreting the JST as a pure textual restoration again, just as they had always done. My brilliant lessons didn’t make a dent in that understanding.

    3. But there is a danger in leaving that assumption unclarified. A year or two ago I was present for another conference unveiling the Hebrews volume of the BYU NT Commentary Project.. It was a day long event in the law school. Most of the audience were just people from the community. I could tell these were affluent, highly faithful folks. And in the Q&A period, multiple people expressed concerns about incorrectly claiming the JST is uniformly a textual restoration. Now they hadn’t seen the book yet, but they just assumed that is what it did. I was able to respond to those questions by assuring them that the authors hadn’t done that, which I knew because I had raised that very issue originally and made sure they didn’t do that. But to see those uber faithful folks complain about mindless assumptions of 100% textual restoration really made an impression on me. I think the Church would be wise to publish some materials illustrating other types of changes, if nothing else so that they can generate a little plausible deniability. Because people seem to assume that 100% textual restoration is some sort of an official position, which it absolutely is not.

  8. Kevin, your’s is the definitive voice on the JST, for me, Thanks for that.
    In a more general way, I’m hearing more and more “not textual restoration” AND “impressed” about more and more of Joseph’s work. I think that’s healthy.

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