On Textual Restoration in the JST


Kevin Barney

I have spent over 25 years of my adult life teaching in Church classrooms. Accordingly, I have heard many hundreds, probably thousands, of student comments in class based on the JST. And in something approaching 100% of those cases, the person making the comment simply assumes that the JST was restoring the original text (albeit in English as opposed to the original language). In most cases that is not even close to an accurate assumption. But I can’t really blame these students; the Church in its official curriculum doesn’t come out and explain to average members what kinds of things the JST usually represents; members are largely on their own in trying to figure out the JST. And while there are some good books on the subject, the average member does not read that kind of material.

Allow me to illustrate why we can’t just make a global assumption of textual restoration with the final JST revision to 1 Corinthians (explanation taken from my Commentary):

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/salutation,” which scribes for some unknown and bizarre reason changed to philema “kiss.” By changing “kiss” to “salutation” the JST is then in effect 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 wallop me in the head with that big purse she carries. This isn’t a textual restoration, but a cultural updating. And as we see, Smith is hardly the only one to have that concern, a number of modern translations do the same thing.

In general, the JST interacts more with translational phenomena in the KJV than with textual phenomena. The consistent concern of the JST with KJV italicized text is a good illustration of this point. A useful mnemonic might be to remember that we call it the Joseph Smith Translation, not the Joseph Smith Textual Restoration.

In the course of doing my commentary on the JST of Acts through Revelation, I only noticed a single example of textual restoration (and that one was very subtle and I almost missed it). But last weekend I checked every JST emendation from Acts through Revelation against the United Bible Society’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. And upon that review I am increasing the number of examples of at least brushing up against textual restoration in that span of text from one to five. That is still a tiny percentage of the whole, but frankly it’s substantially more than I originally expected. Below I will quote from my commentary (modified slightly from the versions I posted on the blog) to explain these five cases:

1. Acts 22:29-30

[29] Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him, and he loosed him from his bands.

[30] On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.

 “Because he had bound him” is a pluperfect and refers to the soldiers under the chief captain having previously bound Paul. Verse 30 in the KJV is following a late form of text which has “he released him from his bonds.” If the chief captain were all of a sudden concerned that he had inadvisably bound a Roman citizen, why would he wait until the next day to release him from his bonds? He wouldn’t, and so the JST provides that he released Paul from his bonds immediately. A number of ancient manuscripts (614, 1611, a Syriac manuscript and the Sahidic Coptic) make the same revision as the JST by inserting at the same place kai parachrema elusen auton “and at once he released him.” In fact, the Textus Receptus of v. 30 (followed by the KJV) is a late form of text. What verse 30 actually says is “he released him from custody” (and not from his bonds; at this time he was still in custody but not bound). So the changes the JST makes to vv. 29-30 are based on the Textus Receptus, which improbably provides that the captain waited a full day to release the bonds after he had learned Paul was a Roman citizen. The JST is certainly historically correct to in effect undo that Byzantine textual reading followed in the KJV.

Paradigm Classifications C-1 and E (Harmonization within the Biblical Text and Textual Restoration)

2. Colossians 2:2

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, who is of God, even the Father;

    There is a bewildering array of variant textual readings for the end of this verse. The KJV is following the Textus Receptus, which is a late and certainly incorrect form of the text. The KJV awkwardly seems to suggest that God and the Father are two separate beings, and so the JST revises the text to make the references to God and to the Father as more clearly being to the same being. The likely original text is tou musteriou tou theou, christou “of the mystery of God, (namely) Christ (the Messiah).”

    Paradigm Classification A-1 and E (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Textual Restoration)

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

3. 2 Timothy 3:16

All And all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

    This revision deletes the italicized “is.” While the impetus for the revision was the italics, the JST reflects an additional nuance. The JST provides that it is only scripture given by inspiration of God that is profitable, etc., but scripture (in the generic sense of “something written”) not given by inspiration of God is not profitable, etc., which the JST accomplishes by deleting the word “and.”  (As Smith is conservative about deleting KJV text he moves the “and” to the beginning of the verse where it does not affect meaning in a significant way.) Many ancient witnesses similarly omit the word “and” here, such as various Latin manuscripts [a, f, m, t and others], the Vulgate, the Syriac, some Coptic manuscripts, Origen, Hilary, Amborosiaster and Primasius.

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

4. 1 Peter 4:3

For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we ye walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:

    This continues the second person address established in verses 1-2. A number of modern translations frame this similarly in the second person, such as the NET. The deletion of “us” is also a textual restoration. There are two forms of expansion to the verb “suffice,” one with hemin “us” (as in the KJV) and the other with humin “you.” This variation is a good indication that neither pronoun was original; the text simply had “may suffice” without a following pronoun.

    Paradigm Classification A-1 and E (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Textual Restoration)

5. Revelation 13:1

And I saw another sign, in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth; a beast rise up out of the sea; and he stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

    This is a remarkable revision. Modern translations have the first part of this verse as Revelation 12:18 (the last verse of the preceding chapter) rather than the first part of 13:1. The NET for 12:18 reads “And the dragon stood [estathe, third person] on the sand of the seashore.” The Textus Receptus, followed by the KJV, combines these words into the beginning of 13:1: “And I stood [estathen, first person referring to the narrator, not the beast/dragon] upon the sand of the sea.” Remarkably (and correctly), the JST has the beast and not the narrator as the one standing on the sand of the seashore. This is widely regarded as the original reading. The NET explains: 

“tc Grk (estathe “he stood”). The reading followed by the translation is attested by the better mss [technical listing of mss omitted] while the majority of mss [technical listing omitted] have the reading estathen (“I stood”). Thus the majority of mss make the narrator, rather than the dragon of 12:17, the subject of the verb. The first person reading is most likely an assimilation to the following verb in 13:1, “I saw.” The reading “I stood” was introduced either by accident or to produce a smoother flow, giving the narrator a vantage point on the sea’s edge from which to observe the beast rising out of the sea in 13:1. But almost everywhere else in the book, the phrase kai eidon (“I saw”) marks a transition to a new vision, without reference to the narrator’s activity. On both external and internal grounds, it is best to adopt the third person reading, “he stood.”

Is it possible Smith derived this from a secondary source? Sure, but a few factors would seem to make that unlikely. First, I checked both the Adam Clarke Commentary and Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, and neither source mentions this variant, so if this change derived from a secondary source it would have been something more obscure than those two obvious possibilities. Further, to me the way Smith worded the revision would seem to argue against secondary source influence. A scholar would have revised this text precisely, as with a scalpel, simply by changing the verb from first to third person and changing the subject from the narrator to the beast/dragon. But instead of just jettisoning the first person as a scholar would do, Smith keeps it but redeploys it by attaching it to a new, general introductory statement by the narrator, after which he applies the third person verb (correctly) to the beast/dragon. So the JST still begins with KJV “And I,” but that “I” now is the subject of a different, general introductory statement. The JST then transitions to the beast and has the beast as the one who stands on the sands of the seashore, not the narrator.

    Paradigm Classifications A-1 and E (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Textual Restoration)

A complicating factor in these textual restorations is that Smith mingles them with other revisions based on internal KJV translational phenomena, which makes the textual restorations themselves difficult to spot at first. Only a careful analysis of such texts will reveal such textually relevant revisions.

I would still characterize textual restorations in the JST as rare, but based on this evidence not quite as rare as I long had assumed. Based on my count the JST revises 554 verses in the material from Acts through Revelation. The five instances of textual restoration I identify would amount to a little over 0.9%; for convenience let’s round to 1%. As 554 is a significant subset of the JST, it strikes me as reasonable to extrapolate that incidence of textual restoration to the JST as a whole. The JST of the OT modifies 1,289 verses, and the JST of the NT modifies 2,096, for a total of 3,385 Bible verses modified in the JST. If we extrapolate the 1% incidence of textual restorations from Acts through Revelation to the Bible as a whole, we come up with an estimate of about 34 textual restorations in the entire Bible. I realize this won’t impress average members, since they mostly already assume that all 3,385 JST revisions are textual restorations. But for many years I have assumed that the number of textual restorations in the  JST is miniscule, as in maybe three or four. So for me, positing that there may be something like 34 textual restorations in the JST is quite a significant change in understanding.


  1. Mike Harris says:

    Great post. What are your thoughts about Kent P. Jackson and Thomas Wayment’s positions regarding Adam Clarke’s commentary? Thanks.

  2. Given that we recently read the Doctrine and Covenants sections where the Lord instructs Joseph Smith to make a translation of the Bible, I wish that the lessons would go into what the JST probably is and probably isn’t. That would seem very natural for the lessons covering those sections.
    Thanks for the post.

  3. Kevin Barney says:
  4. J. Stapley says:

    This is a really useful post, Kevin. Thank you.

  5. LDS scholars would do well to be always this dogmatic … which is to say, not dogmatic at all. You deliberately went searching for material to counter your own assumptions (assumptions for which you had good evidence), and were willing to revise your report to the tiny extent necessary. Bravo!

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks Ardis, that is a really lovely way of putting it. I very much appreciate the kind words.

  7. Old Man says:

    Extremely useful post. Thank you.

  8. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    Loved every word of this – thanks Kevin.

    A textual restoration count in the mid-30s seems considerable on its own, but with all the revising that JS is doing it seems to me like a 1% rate of textual restoration could be the occasional result of his often common-sensical revisions landing upon original intent. ???

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, that’s certainly possible. Mark. Which is why I said it can be difficult to isolate a textual restoration, as so often they’re mingled with other things.

  10. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    OK – thanks for the clarification.

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