Prophetic teachings in Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible dictate a respectful use of that translation in Church members' personal scripture study and in Church teaching and scholarship, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve said at the BYU Symposium Jan. 14.
To review some general principles about scripture reading and revelation, Elder Oaks said he would begin by quoting about one-fourth of his article on that subject that was printed in the January 1995 issue of Ensign (pp. 7-9)."The principal theme of the Ensign article is that Latter-day Saints' belief in continuing revelation gives us a different approach to reading and using the holy scriptures," he noted.
Quoting from the article, he said that some Christians accept the Bible as the one true word, completely inspired of God in its entirety, while others consider the Bible as the writings of persons who may or may not have been inspired of God. Latter-day Saints, he explained in the article, are between the two extremes, believing that the Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.
"What makes us different from most other Christians in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation," Elder Oaks quoted from his article. "For us, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation. With Moroni we affirm that he who denieth revelation `knoweth not the gospel of Christ' (Morm. 9:8).
"The word of the Lord in the scriptures is like a lamp to guide our feet (see Ps. 119:105), and revelation is like a mighty force that increases the lamp's illumination many fold. We encourage everyone to make careful study of the scriptures and of the prophetic teachings concerning them and to prayerfully seek personal revelation to know their meaning for themselves."
Commenting on the quotations from his article, the apostle said: "The principles I have reviewed show the spiritual dangers of ignoring or neglecting the prophetic teachings in what we now call the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). I maintain that these principles dictate a respectful use of the Joseph Smith Translation in our personal scripture study and in our Church teaching and gospel scholarship."
He said attitudes of Church members toward the Joseph Smith Translation have gone through cycles, with initial enthusiasm giving way to a long period of suspicion or indifference, followed by a period of caution, and ultimately a season of selective approval.
Numerous revelations received by the Prophet Joseph, he said, made reference to the importance of the Prophet's translation of the scriptures. He quoted several such revelations and other sources regarding the printing of the translation and the need to raise money for that effort.
"Before the necessary support was received, the Prophet was murdered. For the next 20 years all questions of further Church publications had to be subordinated to the Saints' life-and-death struggles to resist armed persecution in Illinois, to survive their exodus to the west, and to establish themselves and commence another temple in the Rocky Mountains."
Meanwhile, in 1860, young Joseph Smith III, the son of Joseph and Emma, became president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and at his request, Emma gave him the manuscript of the Prophet's inspired corrections to the scriptures, Elder Oaks recounted. In 1867, the Reorganized Church published the inspired translation under the title Holy Scriptures, and began distributing it by means of missionaries sent to England and to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
"In view of these events and the attitude of antagonism that existed between Brigham Young and Emma Smith and between the two churches, it is not surprising that the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were suspicious of the RLDS publication of the inspired translation," Elder Oaks said. "Brigham Young and his associates had no complete, original manuscript to verify the overall accuracy of the volume that came to them as an instrument of the missionary work of the Reorganized Church."
Among Church members, a century of doubt followed as to the completeness and accuracy of the RLDS publication. That doubt was resolved, Elder Oaks said, by Professor Robert J. Matthews of BYU, "who ended the century of unfortunate non-communication between the LDS and RLDS leadership on this question by obtaining access to the RLDS manuscripts. When he shared his findings with the LDS community in his 1975 book
`A Plainer Translation,' Joseph Smith's Translation of the BibleT, the last logical obstacle to the use of the Prophet's work on the inspired translation was removed."
Elder Oaks affirmed, "Now that the integrity of the Joseph Smith Translation has been established, we have no reason to refrain from using this valuable resource in our teaching and scholarship."
How one feels about the translation depends on what one expects of it, he commented.
"If we expect the kind of completeness that would make it a candidate to be published by the Church . . . as a replacement for our officially recognized King James translation, then the Joseph Smith Translation surely falls short. But if the issue is whether the Joseph Smith Translation contains inspired revisions to the Bible passages that further our knowledge of the scriptures in the same way as the revisions [to the Bible] in some portions of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, then the Joseph Smith Translation surely fulfills our expectations. It contains important truths - heaven-sent revelations of the mind and will of God - not based on scholarly analysis and not available from any other publication."
Elder Oaks quoted what he called "an important editorial" in the Church News of Dec. 7, 1974: "The Inspired Version does not supplant the King James Version as the official Church version of the Bible, but the explanations and changes made by the Prophet Joseph Smith provide enlightenment and useful commentary on many biblical passages."
He said the Church's most authoritative pronouncement on the standing of the Joseph Smith Translation is contained in actions, not words. By that, he referred to the inclusion of more than 600 quotations from the Joseph Smith Translation in the Church's monumental new edition of the King James Bible published in 1979 and in every printing since then. Included after prolonged and careful deliberation by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve,the quotations are either in explanatory footnotes, or if too lengthy for footnotes, are in a section following the Bible dictionary.
Elder Oaks remarked: "Those who will not rely on revelation and insist on a manuscript so they can concentrate on the original meaning and intent of the words spoken by the author can be expected to ignore the Joseph Smith Translation. In contrast, those who understand that the importance of the scriptures is what the Lord would have us understand today are anxious for revelatory insight into the current significance of scriptural texts and concepts. They understand that some things we have already received are hard to understand without the Lord's help (see 1 Ne. 15:1, 3, 8, 11), and that we can never receive enough of the word of God. Persons with this attitude are anxious to have every source of revelation to help us know what the Lord would have us understand from the scriptures today. Such persons will welcome the revelatory insights - even additions - by the prophet of this dispensation."
Bible translation by Joseph Smith is focus of symposium
Between 1,400 and 1,500 people attended a symposium at BYU, titled " `As Translated Correctly,' Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible," Jan. 13-14.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve and six scholars made presentations in the seminar, sponsored by the Religious Education and Continuing Education departments. On these pages are reports of three of the addresses.