As chairman of the Scriptures Publications Committee, President Thomas S. Monson, a former printer who worked in that trade from his youth, was a man well-suited for a project later described as “an idea whose time had come.”
The 1979 LDS edition of the King James Bible and the 1981 edition of the Triple Combination, with their innovative study helps and features, have since their publication been so pervasive in the Church that it is difficult today to imagine what conditions were like without them.
At a Feb. 4, 2005, event in Provo, Utah, at which former members of the committee spoke on a panel discussion, the late Wm. James Mortimer, former committee secretary, described those conditions: Primary children used a Bible produced by a non-LDS publisher with no aids or helps. Seminary students received a hardbound Bible published in Scotland that was better suited to the Church of England than to the LDS faith. Missionaries used a Bible edition that included a set of “Ready References” prepared many years earlier by Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see “Time had come: Producers of edition remembered,” Church News, March 5, 2005, p. 6).
From where did the idea emerge to create a new LDS edition of the Bible? “The sources are so many, the only conclusion I can reach is that the time had come,” said the late Daniel H. Ludlow, who in his work as director of Church Correlation, was a member of the committee.
Speaking in the 2005 panel discussion, he explained that a convergence of events brought the project into being. These included religion course requirement at Brigham Young University, preparation of scripture-based lesson manuals for Church auxiliaries, adult curriculum in the Church based on the study of the standard works in sequence, expansion of the Church Educational System and developments in the Church’s missionary program.
In a keynote speech prior to the panel discussion, President Monson declared, “You won’t find a better piece of printing than the standard works of the Church that came from the Scriptures Publication Committee.”
He reminisced about his work as chairman of the committee, during which he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. His colleagues on the committee included three other members of the Twelve: Elders Bruce R. McConkie, Boyd K. Packer and, early on, Marvin J. Ashton.
“Brother Packer was determined to keep the price down and to have [the editions] readable for a teacher,” he recalled. “Brother McConkie was determined to improve many aspects of the standard works, and he had the ability to do it. And my responsibility was to kind of hold us all together and see that we met our deadline and that the project was worthwhile.”
Describing it as a “prodigious” undertaking, President Monson said that it was one of the finest projects he had ever seen. In fact, citing his personal journal, he reckoned his work with the committee as one of the five major contributions he felt he had made as a General Authority.
“You’ve affected the world,” he said to the former committee members at the gathering, a recognition banquet sponsored by the Crandall Historical Printing Museum. “You’ve affected the youth; every missionary who has gone out is a better product because of the work you did with very little credit.”
Calling their work a “great achievement,” President Monson said it has garnered national and international prizes but added, “What are they when compared to helping others receive a testimony of the truth?”
Among the study aids in the scripture editions, considered revolutionary at the time of publication, are a Topical Guide of some 600 pages and containing about 3,500 entries with references to all four standard works; and footnotes with cross references to all four standard works and a new style with an original sequence of superscript letters in nearly every verse. For the first time, excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible were included.
Writing in his journal on Feb. 12, 1980, President Monson declared these innovations “an advance in the publication of the scriptures unequaled in our time.” He also noted, “The advent of the computer was absolutely necessary before the Topical Guide could have been prepared” (quoted in Heidi S. Swinton, To the Rescue, p. 387).
“A challenge was getting all the ‘aids’ into the Bible without making it so large as to be cumbersome, awkward, and hence deemed unusable,” wrote President Monson’s biographer, Heidi S. Swinton. President Packer credited Elder Monson with packaging a tight single volume. “He was an expert on such things as paper and told them, ‘If you get this kind of paper you can put twice the information in the same thickness of the book as you could if you used this other kind of paper’ ” (Swinton, p. 387).
He credited divine inspiration — though his keen editor’s eye probably played a part — in an experience that happened during the summer of 1979, when he had gone to Cambridge University Press in England where the new Bible edition was being printed with 12 presses running simultaneously. He asked that a sheet be pulled so he could examine it. Immediately he spotted an error on the page and said the presses should be stopped so it could be corrected.
“Not possible,” a pressman said. “We’ve read this 12 times.”
“Well, you missed it 12 times,” Elder Monson responded.
“It wasn’t a major error, but I wasn’t going to let that go,” President Monson recalled at the 2005 gathering. He credited the Lord with directing his eyes in the direction of the press on which the sheet was being printed that contained the error (see Swinton, pp. 388-389; Church News, p. 6).
Regarding the project, Brother Mortimer said, “From the very first meeting, there continued a spirit of love and brotherhood as the staff worked under the careful supervision and direction of Elder Monson and his committee” (Swinton, p. 388).
Robert J. Matthews, one of the BYU scholars involved in the project said of working with Elders Monson, Packer and McConkie: “We saw them work with divine inspiration in the day-to-day activities of that committee, and often marveled at their clarity of vision and quickness of perception in deciding the course to follow. Each of the Brethren had his respective areas of responsibility, all of which were important to the success of the undertaking” (Swinton, p. 388).