Book of Mormon/Textual changes
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Book of Mormon textual changes
Many Revelations Were Later Revised by Joseph Smith through Inspiration. Over the course of the first five years of the Church, Joseph and others under his direction made changes and corrections to some of the early revelation texts in an attempt to more closely portray the intent of the revelation. Other times, especially as the revelations were being prepared for publication, Joseph was inspired to update the contents of the revelations to reflect a growing Church structure and new circumstances. At times this process resulted in substantial additions to the original text. As early as November 1831, a Church conference resolved that “Joseph Smith Jr. correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit while reviewing the revelations and commandments and also the fullness of the scriptures.”
—Gerrit Dirkmaat, "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Ensign (January 2013) off-site
The published text of the Book of Mormon has been corrected and edited through its various editions. Critics claim that this is evidence that Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were attempting to cover up errors that would expose the book as a work of man, not God.
The authenticity of the Book of Mormon is not affected by the modifications that have been made to its text because the vast majority of those modifications are minor corrections in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The few significant modifications were made by the Prophet Joseph Smith to clarify the meaning of the text, not to change it. This was his right as translator of the book.
These changes have not been kept secret. A discussion of them can be found in the individual articles linked below, and in the references listed below, including papers in BYU Studies and the Ensign.
- "the Son of" added to 1 Nephi 11:18, 1 Nephi 11:21, 1 Nephi 11:32, and 1 Nephi 13:40—
Critics charge that the earliest edition of the Book of Mormon referred to Jesus as "God," but in later editions this was changed to "the Son of God." They cite this as evidence that Joseph Smith changed the Book of Mormon to conform to his changing beliefs about the Trinity. They claim Joseph was originally a solid Trinitarian (perhaps even a Modalist), and as he later began to teach that the Father and Son were two separate beings, he had to change the Book of Mormon to support his new doctrine. (Link)
- "or out of the waters of baptism" added to 1 Nephi 20:1—
The phrase "or out of the waters of baptism" was added to 1 Nephi 20:1 in the 1840 edition Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith. (Link)
- "white" changed to "pure" in 2 Nephi 30:6—
The phrase "white and delightsome" was changed to "pure and delightsome" in the Book of Mormon. Critics accuse the Church of attempting to hide a racially offensive statement. (Link)
- "Benjamin" changed to "Mosiah" in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1—
In the text currently found in Mosiah 21:28 of the Book of Mormon, the 1830 edition reads "Benjamin", while all subsequent editions read "Mosiah." Likewise, a reference to Benjamin in what is now Ether 4:1 was changed to "Mosiah" in 1849. Critics claim that "either God made a mistake when He inspired the record or Joseph made a mistake when he translated it." (Link)
- "Words missing in Alma 32:30"—
Thirty-five words at the end of Alma 32:30 in the original manuscript were omitted from previous editions of the Book of Mormon. The text was restored in the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon. (Link)
Joseph Smith taught "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." As the end of the preceding quote clarifies, by "most correct" this he meant in principle and teaching. The authors of the Book of Mormon themselves explained several times that their writing was imperfect, but that the teachings in the book were from God (1 Nephi 19:6; 2 Nephi 33:4; Mormon 8:17; Mormon 9:31-33; Ether 12:23-26).
If one counts every difference in every punctuation mark in every edition of the Book of Mormon, the result is well over 100,000 changes. The critical issue is not the number of changes that have been made to the text, but the nature of the changes.
Most changes are insignificant modifications to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and are mainly due to the human failings of editors and publishers. For example, the word meet — meaning "appropriate" — as it appears in 1 Nephi 7:1, was spelled "mete" in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1830. (This is a common error made by scribes of dictated texts.) "Mete" means to distribute, but the context here is obvious, and so the spelling was corrected in later editions.
Some of these typographical errors do affect the meaning of a passage or present a new understanding of it, but not in a way that presents a challenge to the divinity of the Book of Mormon. One example is 1 Nephi 12:18, which in all printed editions reads "a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God," while the manuscript reads "the sword of the justice of the Eternal God." In this instance, the typesetter accidentally dropped the s at the beginning of sword.
The current (1981) edition of the Book of Mormon has this notice printed at the bottom of the page opposite 1 Nephi, chapter 1:
- Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Changes that would affect the authenticity of the Book of Mormon are limited to:
- those that are substantive AND
- could possibly change the doctrine of the book OR
- could be used as evidence that the book was written by Joseph Smith.
There are surprisingly few meaningful changes to the Book of Mormon text, and all of them were made by Joseph Smith himself in editions published during his lifetime. These changes include:
- "the Son of" added to 1 Nephi 11:18; 1 Nephi 11:21, 1 Nephi 11:32, and 1 Nephi 13:40.
- "or out of the waters of baptism" added to 1 Nephi 20:1.
- "white" changed to "pure" in 2 Nephi 30:6.
- "Benjamin" changed to "Mosiah" in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1.
- "Words missing in Alma 32:30" Alma 32:30-31
The historical record shows that these changes were made to clarify the meaning of the text, not to alter it.
Many people in the church experience revelation that is to be dictated (such as a patriarch blessing). They will go back and alter their original dictation. This is done to clarify the initial premonitions received through the Spirit. The translation process for the Prophet Joseph may have occurred in a similar manner.
- [note] Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:139. ISBN 0941214133. Quoted in Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:461. BYU Studies link See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 194. ISBN 087579243X. off-site
- [note] Royal Skousen, "Changes In the Book of Mormon," 2002 FAIR Conference proceedings. FAIR link
- [note] Daniel K. Judd and Allen W. Stoddard, "Adding and Taking Away 'Without a Cause' in Matthew 5:22," in How the New Testament Came to Be, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2006),159-160 ISBN 1590386272