Question: Was Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible ever completed?


Question: Was Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible ever completed?

It is not known for certain whether or not Joseph Smith completed his revisions to the Bible

One critical website poses the question: "Why didn’t the next prophet, or any subsequent prophet, finish the inspired version of the Bible that the church thought was so important that they altered our version of the King James Bible to include the portions that Joseph did retranslate? Does it make any sense that the inspired version of the Bible should not be finished merely with the death of the first prophet of the restoration? If we really did have a succession of prophets since Joseph Smith, this important work would have been finished and published as God commanded Joseph to do." [1]

However, as one LDS scholar noted:

"The Bible Dictionary in the English LDS Bible states that Joseph Smith 'continued to make modifications [in the translation] until his death in 1844.' Based on information available in the past, that was a reasonable assumption, and I taught it for many years. But we now know that it is not accurate. The best evidence points to the conclusion that when the Prophet called the translation 'finished,' he really meant it, and no changes were made in it after the summer (or possibly the fall) of 1833."[2]

The fact that Joseph was collecting funds to publish what we call the JST suggests that he believed it was sufficiently advanced to be published

The JST (or "Inspired Version") is probably better seen as a type of inspired commentary on the Bible text by Joseph. Its value consists not in making it the new "official" scripture, but in the insights Joseph provides readers and what Joseph himself learned during the process. As such, it would never actually be "finished." However, the fact that Joseph was collecting funds to publish what we call the JST suggests that he believed it was sufficiently advanced to be published.

The Book of Moses, which was part of the JST, was completed and canonized

The Book of Moses was produced as a result of Joseph's efforts to clarify the Bible. This portion of the work was canonized and is part of the Pearl of Great Price. There was no attempt to canonize the rest of the JST then, or now.

Joseph felt that the JST was subject to further revision

Joseph did not view his revisions to the Bible as a "once and for all" or "finally completed translation" goal—he simply didn't see scripture that way. The translation could be acceptable for purposes, but still subject to later clarification or elaboration. George Q. Cannon reported that Brigham Young heard Joseph speak about further revisions:

We have heard President Brigham Young state that the Prophet, before his death, had spoken to him about going through the translation of the scriptures again and perfecting it upon points of doctrine which the Lord had restrained him from giving in plainness and fullness at the time of which we write.[3]

Most important to note, the JST or other scriptures are not the ultimate source of LDS doctrine—having a living prophet is what is most vital. Joseph improved his prophetic capacity through the production of the JST.

Notes

  1. "JST Bible Translation," MormonThink.com http://mormonthink.com/jst.htm#full
  2. Kent P. Jackson, "New Discoveries in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible," in Religious Educator 6, no. 3 (2005): 149–160 (link).
  3. George Q. Cannon, The Life of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888), 142.