It is a mistaken notion that translation of the Bible was only a sideline, a matter of personal or passing interest to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Robert J. Matthews said at the BYU symposium. Rather, he said, it was a work central to the restoration of the gospel.
Brother Matthews, professor emeritus of ancient scripture and the author of two books on the Joseph Smith Translation, gave two presentations at the symposium. He spoke Friday, Jan. 13, on "The Role of the Joseph Smith Translation in the Restoration" and Saturday, Jan. 14, on "The Eternal Worth of the Joseph Smith Translation.""We hope to demonstrate in this conference," he said in his Friday address, "by historical fact, by scriptural evidence, by sound reasoning and by personal testimony that Joseph Smith was commanded of the Lord to do this great work, that it was central to the restoration and establishment of the dispensation of the fulness of times, and that to neglect or ignore the role of the JST is to miss a major dimension of the work of God in this dispensation."
He noted that the great apostasy that occurred in the church of New Testament times resulted in the alteration of holy scripture.
"It became necessary that there be a restoration so that the same priesthood authority, the same doctrines, the same covenants, and the same scriptures would be available to the Latter-day Saints that were available to the early-day Saints of all ages that are past," he explained.
"The dispensation of the fulness of times is a dispensation of restoration. If it were not a restoration, it could not be the fulness of times, meaning a dispensation culminating in the doctrines and scriptures and purposes of God of all former dispensations."
The Bible, which covers the period from the creation to Jesus and the apostles, became a major instrument in the hands of the Lord to bring about the doctrinal restoration through the ministry of Joseph Smith, Brother Matthews noted.
"Because Joseph Smith was a restorer of knowledge and of scripture that originally existed in olden times, then we see that as a seer, he could talk about the past as easily as the future. It is customary to think of a prophet as foretelling the future. That is one of the prophetic gifts. But Joseph Smith has revealed to us a great deal about the past because he is the prophet of the restoration, and so much of the past has become clouded, blurred and lost to us because many of the plain parts have been taken from the Bible."
By divine command, Brother Matthews said, Joseph Smith proceeded to make a new translation of the Bible. "He would read the King James Version, and by revelation through the Holy Spirit and by vision, a fuller meaning was made known to him. Sometimes this restoration consisted of clarification of a passage, sometimes it consisted of producing material entirely new to our time, but which once was known in ancient days and had been lost either by accident or deliberately taken out of the Bible."
Joseph Smith started with Genesis, first receiving a revelation called "the visions of Moses," a record of a series of visions Moses received before he composed the book of Genesis, Brother Matthews explained. This book is printed in the Pearl of Great Price as Moses 1.
"It seems fitting that as Joseph Smith began his work as a restorer of Genesis, that he should receive some of the same information that Moses had received before he wrote the book of Genesis," he commented. "Let us remember that Joseph Smith is no less a prophet and seer than was Moses."
As the Prophet worked through Genesis, he received information about the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, the origin of Satan, the fall of man, the revelation of the gospel to Adam, the introduction of the law of sacrifice and the atonement, Brother Matthews said.
Other doctrines given to the Prophet during the process of translation include the law of consecration, celestial marriage, age of accountability at 8 years, the degrees of glory, and possibly the duties of the various quorums and councils of the priesthood and much about the second coming of the Lord Jesus, he noted.
"The JST seems to consist of several kinds of information," he observed. "Some of it surely is a restoration of lost material. Other parts may be a clarification for our understanding. If the JST were a literal restoration, it would be in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, instead of in English. I believe the JST is tantamount to a translated version of what the original authors wrote."
He suggested that the Joseph Smith Translation may, at times, go beyond the actual words of the original in order to convey the intent of the author. "However, common sense and practical understanding should convince us that words are only expressions of ideas. It is the author's ideas we seek to discern and preserve. The JST, being a product of revelation from the same divine source that inspired the biblical authors, is able to give (or restore) that meaning."
He noted that only a seer such as Joseph Smith, can give the original author's intended meaning, as no original manuscripts of any part of the Bible are available today. "I have noticed that often other Bibles tell what occurred anciently, but the JST adds why."
In his Saturday address, Brother Matthews said, "Not only is the JST a fruitful source of revealed doctrinal truth, it is a symbol of the way revelation can come from God to man. The Prophet Joseph received revelation when he read the scripture and inquired of the Lord for understanding. This thing is a pattern."