On the JST of Hebrews 1-6

A COMMENTARY ON JOSEPH SMITH’S REVISION OF HEBREWS 1-6

Kevin Barney

1-2. Hebrews 1:6-7 

And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him, who maketh his ministers as a flame of fire. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire Angels are ministering spirts.

    The separation of “firstbegotten” into two words, “first begotten,” is a modernization (modern editions of the KJV typically use a hyphen here). Verse 7 is a quotation from Psalms 104:4. The expression “who maketh his ministers a flame of fire” is moved forward and changed to “as a flame of fire.” This reflects a JST tendency to change a metaphor into a simile by adding the word “as” so as to be clear that the comparison is not to be taken literally. The first part of the quote, “Who maketh his angels spirits,” is changed to “Angels are ministering spirits.” The JST revision seems to be based on the idea that angels are already spirits, so “making them” spirits is nonsensical, and is replaced with a definitional “Angels are ministering spirits.” Most modern  translations render something like “who makes his angels winds” (as Greek pneuma may be translated spirit, wind or breath),  which is a natural force paralleling the natural force of “a flame of fire.” 

    Paradigm Classifications A-1 and A-3 (Paraphrase of English KJV Text and Modernization)

3. Hebrews 2:16

For verily, he took not on him the nature likeness of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

    This change was obviously motivated by the italics. Four italicized words in a row are highly likely to be modified in some respect. The KJV is a very poor translation here. The expression “took on” repeated twice in the verse is simply wrong. Most modern translations have something like the CEB’s “Of course, he isn’t trying to help angels, but rather he’s helping Abraham’s descendants.” The Greek verb epilambanomai, rendered twice in the KJV with “took on,” can indeed mean “to take hold of” or “seize,” but it also can mean “to help” or “to be concerned about,” and the KJV quite obviously picked the wrong nuance for this verb here. The JST is reacting to the KJV’s (poor) translation. The JST is saying that Jesus did not take upon himself the likeness or form of an angel, but rather the likeness or form of a humble human being like the other descendants of Abraham.

    Paradigm Classifications A-1 and A-2 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Suspicion of Italicized Text)

4. Hebrews 3:3

For this man he was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour honor than the house.

    The Greek simply has the masculine singular demonstrative houtos, “this (man),” but this would be more naturally reflected in English with the masculine singular pronoun “he” as the JST has it. While some translations use “Jesus” to be explicit about the antecedent, about a dozen modern translations join the JST in using the pronoun “he” here. The change in spelling of “honor” is a simple modernization.

    Paradigm Classifications A-1 and A-3 (Paraphrase of English KJV Text and Modernization)

5. Hebrews 4:2

For unto us was the gospel rest preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

The previous verse reads “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” The JST assimilates the “gospel” of verse 2 to the “rest” of verse 1. The Greek word katapausis “rest” is the key topic of this entire section of text.  “Rest” is repeated twice more in verse 3 and again in verses 5 and 8, 9, 10 and 11. As the JST also modifies verses 3 and 5 Smith was clearly attuned to the dominance of the concept of “rest” in this section of text. “Rest” may be understood as either a place or a condition, and is particularly associated with the promised land, the sanctuary and the Sabbath. 

    Paradigm Classification A-4 (Assimilation)

6. Hebrnh  ews 4:3

For we which who have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if If they harden their hearts they shall not enter into my rest; also, I have sworn, if they will not harden their hearts, they shall enter into my rest: although the works of God were prepared, (or finished) from the foundation of the world.

    This verse contains a quotation of Psalm 95:11: “As I have sworn in my wrath//if they shall enter into my rest.” That wording doesn’t seem to make any sense in English. The same Psalm passage was quoted earlier in Hebrews 3:11, with an identical Greek text but a variant KJV translation: “So I swear in my wrath//they shall not enter into my rest.” These translations seem on the surface to be different and contradictory (i.e., “if they shall enter into my rest” versus “they shall not enter into my rest”), but they are actually saying the same thing. The Greek has an incomplete oath formula, literally “if they shall enter into my rest.” Hebrews 4:3 represents the incomplete oath formula literally. The actual curse would be stated in the second line, but in Hebrew the curse customarily was not explicitly expressed for superstitious reasons. So it seems counterintuitive, but “If they shall enter into my rest” as in Hebrews 4:3 actually means “they shall not enter into my rest” as in Hebrews 3:11. 

    Below is an explanation of this Hebrew oath formula:

The reluctance to pronounce the full oath replete with imprecations, for fear that, even though divine agency is assumed, the words themselves might inflict harm, led to the suppression of the conditional curse and the further reduction of the formula until only a vestige of the protasis remained: “if,” and “if not.” With the omission of the curse in the apodosis, the positive conditional protasis becomes a negative asseveration (if I do thus and so, may I be accursed—i.e., I surely will not do it), and the negative condition becomes a positive asseveration (if I do not thus and so, may I be accursed—i.e., I surely will do it). (M.H. Pope, “Oaths,” in George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 Vols. (New York: Abingdon, 1962), 3:577.)

This is easier to grasp by looking at actual examples. Below I give three illustrations of how the Hebrew oath formula works:

1. 2 Samuel 20:20:

Hebrew Construction: ‘im-‘aballa’ we’im ‘ashechayth

Literal Rendition: if I swallow up or if I destroy

Translation (NET): And Joab said, “Get serious! I don’t want to swallow up or destroy anything.”

2. Isaiah 5:9:

Hebrew Construction: ‘im-lo’ batim rabim leshammah yiheyu

Literal Rendition: if not many houses will become desolate

Translation (NET): The Lord who commands armies told me this: “Many houses will certainly become desolate, large, impressive houses will have no one living in them.”

3. Isaiah 22:14:

Hebrew Construction: ‘im-yekupar he’aon hazzeh lakem ‘ad-temuthun

Literal Rendition: if this sin will be forgiven until you die

Translation (NET): The Lord who commands armies told me this: “Certainly this sin will not be forgiven as long as you live,” says the sovereign master, the Lord who commands armies.

This Hebrew oath usage is incredibly confusing and counterintuitive in English, and so the JST cuts through it all by (rather brilliantly) explicitly stating both the negative and the positive possibilities: 

“If they harden their hearts they shall not enter into my rest, 

and if they do not harden their hearts they shall enter into my rest.”

    Paradigm Classification A-1 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text)

7. Hebrews 4:5

And in this place again, If they harden not their hearts they shall enter into my res

    The rationale for this change is the same as in 4:3 above.

    Paradigm Classification A-1 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text)

8. Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul body and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

    While the Greek does indeed say “of soul and spirit,” the following reference to dividing joints and marrow seems to point to a physical body, and dividing body and spirit seems a clearer statement than dividing soul and spirit, as in many contexts soul and spirit are synonyms.

    Paradigm Classification A-1 and A-3 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Modernization)

9-10. Hebrews 5:7-8

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; [The 7th and 8th verses allude to Melchizedek, and not to Christ.]

    The proper antecedent to the relative “who” at the beginning of this passage is unclear.  Since the immediately preceding name is “Melchizedek” at the end of the preceding verse, it is natural at first blush to take Melchizedek as the antecedent.  Indeed, a marginal note in a JST ms. suggests that vv. 7-8 “are a parenthesis alluding to Melchizedek and not to Christ.”  The name “Melchizedek” is, however, part of a scriptural quotation.  The subject of the two verbs preceding the quote is God the Father, yet it is clear from the material in vv. 7-8 that the Father could not be the intended referent.  Although the JST is grammatically justified in reading the antecedent to the relative as referring to Melchizedek, the sense of verses 7-8 requires the conclusion that those verses are referring to Christ.  Note that the 1979 LDS edition of the KJV, after reporting this JST marginal comment, goes on to cross reference this material in these verses to Jesus, not to Melchizedek.  This cross referencing is correct.  The confusion on this point derives from a grammatical mistake on the part of the author of Hebrews in his use of the relative without showing Jesus as the clear antecedent.  Generally, modern translations render the passage in such a way as to avoid rendering the awkward relative clause into English.

    Paradigm Classification B (Midrashic Commentary)

11. Hebrews 6:1

Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

    The JST seeks to avoid a common misunderstanding of this passage, where “leaving” is misconstrued as “abandoning.” The Anchor Bible has “Therefore, granting the basic message of Christ, let us go on to completeness. . . .” KJV “leaving” simply means to leave one topic in order to take up another, not to reject or abandon the first topic. “It does not mean that listeners are to leave the basics behind, since repentance, faith, and other teachings (Hebrews 6:1b-2) are presupposed rather than abandoned.” See Craig R. Koester, Hebrews, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 303.

    Paradigm Classification A-1 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text)

12. Hebrews 6:2

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

    The first “and” is not necessary since it is not the last item in the sequence, and although the word for “resurrection” in the Greek is anarthrous, adding the definite article is good style in English. Many modern translations reflect the same two changes, such as the NIV.

    Paradigm Classification A-1 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text)

13. Hebrews 6:3

And this will we do, we will go on unto perfection if God permit.

    The demonstrative “this” is ambiguous about exactly what in the prior verses is its antecedent. The JST appropriately suggests it is “going on to perfection.”

    Paradigm Classification A-1 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text)

14. Hebrews 6:4

For he hath made it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

    The italics were an influence on this revision, which suggests that even if it were not impossible by nature, God has nevertheless made it impossible by divine fiat.

    Paradigm Classifications A-1 and A-2 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Suspicion of Italicized Text)

15. Hebrews 6:6

If they shall fall away, to renew them be renewed again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to unto themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

    The words “to renew them” (which are connected to “impossible” from verse 4) seem to contemplate the renewal being effected by an outside agent (presumably God); the JST puts the expression in the passive to make the impossibility simply inherent.

    Paradigm Classification A-1 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text)

16. Hebrews 6:7

For the day cometh that the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them who dwelleth thereon, by whom it is dressed, who now receiveth blessing blessings from God, shall be cleansed with fire:

    I see this revision as in large measure an anticipatory assimilation to the following verse (verse 8): “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” Verse 7 paints an idyllic picture of the earth only to turn dark in verse 8. The JST anticipates that turn, particularly with its “shall be cleansed with fire” at the end of verse 7.

    Paradigm Classification A-4 (Assimilation)

17. Hebrews 6:8

But For that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose therefore they who bring forth not good fruits, shall be cast into the fire; for their end is to be burned.

    The author is using the condition and fate of the earth as an allegory for the condition and fate of human beings. The JST transforms this from allegory to explicit statement.

    Paradigm Classification B (Midrashic Commentary)

18. Hebrews 6:9

But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.

    “Of better things” is simply idiomatic; many modern translations (such as the NIV) also use “of” here.

    Paradigm Classification A-1 (English Paraphrase of Italicized Text)

19. Hebrews 6:10

For God is not unrighteous, to therefore he will not forget your work and labour labor of love, which ye have shewed showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

In addition to the spelling modernizations, the JST is simply strengthening the assurance that God will not forget their work and labor of love, similar to the Anchor Bible’s “so that he would forget.”

Paradigm Classification A01 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text)

Comments

  1. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    Kevin, I really appreciate this series. I think it is an excellent model that others could follow or build upon. Thanks so much!

  2. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    One question: With changes like “firstbegotten” to “first begotten” and “honour” to “honor” and “labour” to “labor” have you considered the possibility of scribal influence that is independent (or somewhat or occasionally independent) from the words Joseph Smith is dictating? So, for example, suppose JS instructs the scribe to change “honour” to “honor” and then when they get to “labour” the scribe independently strikes the “u” based on the previous situation.

  3. I agree with Mark, Kevin. This is great stuff!