This video discusses the 5 types of changes that have occurred with the text of the original Book of Mormon translation and why they should not be of any concern.
Okay. So, in this video, I want to talk about textual changes to the Book of Mormon and why they are not a concern whatsoever. Let’s go through these.
Now, I do want to start out by showing something on Joseph Smith talking about the Book of Mormon being the most correct book on earth. If you look at this slide here, his concept of correctness had nothing to do with accepted standards of grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines correct as being “literally, set right, or made straight. Hence, right: conformable to truth, rectitude or propriety, or conformable to a just standard.” According to this concept, the Book of Mormon certainly meets the test of correctness, for its principles coincide with truth. As Joseph Smith explained, “the ultimate test of its correctness is in the lives of those who use its principles.” Indeed, he promised that we can get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.
Sometimes we think of Joseph as a fax machine for the Lord. He translated the Book of Mormon at about a pace of about eight pages a day. Now, that’s a very rapid pace to be creating a text like this. However, how long does it take you to read eight pages? So, thinking about the process, there’s this process of studying it out in your mind that happened.
I love a couple of these quotes here I want to share from Joseph. D&C 1:24, this revelation: “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” and Joseph said, “This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted– by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed.”
And this quote from Richard Bushman, in BYU Religious Educator, The Little Narrow Prison of Language: The Rhetoric of Revelation, he said, “Joseph recognized the limits of his language in a November 1832 letter to W. W. Phelps, the editor of the Church newspaper in Missouri. Joseph ended the letter with a prayer for the time when the two of them should gaze upon eternal wisdom engraven upon the heavens, while the majesty of our god holdeth up the dark curtain until we may read the round of eternity. Then at last he hoped they might be delivered from the little narrow prison, almost as it were total darkness, of paper, pen, and ink, and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”
And Bushman went on to say, “The words suggested Joseph envisioned more than he could express and wanted language that was straight and whole rather than crooked and broken. He seemed to feel the same constraints as Moroni causing stumbling because of the placing of their words. The revelations to the elders of the November 1831 conference when the question of Joseph’s language was raised and his language you have known, quote, “and his imperfections you have known, not denying Joseph’s imperfections in writing, but only rebuking the elders for looking upon them.”
And I do love that Ether 12, just a quick couple of snippets from that, That the gentiles … this is Moroni saying it, “The gentiles will mock at these things because of our weakness in writing, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing. When we write we behold our weakness and stumble because of the placing of our words, and I fear lest the gentiles shall mock at our words.” And I what the Lord says, “Fools mock but they shall mourn, and my grace is sufficient for the meek that they shall take no advantage of your weakness.”
Look at the introduction of the Book of Mormon, the title page I should say, not the introduction, the title page which is actually from the plates it says, “Now if there are faults they are the mistakes of men, wherefore condemn not the things of God that you may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.” And last, Nephi says, “Nevertheless I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred and now if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh I would excuse myself.”
Okay now there are five major types of changes to the text of the Book of Mormon: punctuation, spelling, grammar, typesetting or transmission errors, and clarifications, and I want to spend a decent time on some of the key clarifications that critics hone in on. So punctuation, the Book of Mormon itself was a single run on sentence. Even the printer’s manuscript that was taken in there was no punctuation. So, John Gilbert who was E. B. Grandin’s assistant and was the typesetter is the one that added all the punctuation, and there was over thirty thousand “changes” to the Book of Mormon if you consider a change just to be adding punctuation.
Okay spelling, spelling was not standardized at the time. In fact, look at the screen here, here are four main dictionaries available on 1828 when Webster’s was putting out his dictionary that same year. Look at these words, creature, look at the four different ways you could spell creature. Scripture, closure, look at the four different ways you could spell these words, really quite interesting compared to today. Many in the U.S. were pushing for an English that would be uniquely American, and Webster was actually leading this movement, proposing many new rules, and one of the big ones was using phonetics in spelling.
So as a great example is the word theater, in Britain it was “T-H-E-A-T-R-E” and then they changed it to “T-E-R” for the American. It was more of a phonetic way to say the word theater so that was an example of that. Now spelling changes in the KJV all over the place from the original 1611 edition of the King James’ version of the Bible. Here’s some examples of sins. Three different versions of it. Majesty, three different versions. Spirits, three different versions as you can see there.
Okay now, as far as grammar changes, here are a bunch that happen in the Bible as an example back to the original 1611 King James version. “Towards” has been changed to “toward” 14 times. “Burnt” has been changed to “burned” 31 times. “Amongst” has been changed to “among” 36 times. “Lift” has been changed to “lifted” 51 times. “You” has been to “ye” 82 times. Now, the Book of Mormon? Grammar Changes? The big one was “which” to “who” 891 times, “exceeding” to “exceedingly” 177 times, “was” to “were” 162 times, and “is” to “are” 74 times. So those are the big four if you will. Sometimes grammar was to improve through deletions or additions. Top deletions were the word “that” 188 times, “the” 48 times, “it came to pass” 46 times, “a” and “and” 40 times, “had” 29 times. Top additions, “of” 12 times, and “is” and “the” 7 times.
It is interesting there definitely was some parts of the Book of Mormon that were very tightly controlled. The spelling of names we know and also some Hebraisms. I’ll do a whole video on that, but it wasn’t typed that way, Joseph would have said words like, we would have said “iron rod” instead it’s “rod of iron.” We’ll go into a video on that and chiasmus, some of these ancient things that have their fingerprints on the Book of Mormon there as well.
So it was a combination of loose and tight controls in different spots it looks like. If you look here another issue was with typesetter. So sometimes there would be errors, the biggest one that was found was actually the typesetter left off 35 words of Alma 32 verse 30, the last 35 words. The beginning of the sentence was, “And now behold,” and that was the actual beginning of the very next verse, verse 31, but that 35 words left off there. So that was an error that was caught, but another example would be Oliver’s handwriting. Sometimes it was hard to read his R’s can look an N and his B’s can look like an L. So the craziest example of this was the Gadianton robber was mislabeled in a spot as nobler by the typesetter and you still knew that they were evil based on their actions, but it is interesting to note that the typesetter sometimes would be confused and those were corrections that needed to be made.
Also the Book of Mormon was printed in bulk of 37 copies at a time, 16 pages that they would do and print, if they found an error they wouldn’t actually go back and change the one, so lots of the original edition of the Book of Mormon that was printed that came out had lots of different varieties of errors or changes that needed to be made even amongst the issues themselves. Now, changes to the Book of Mormon that are not doctrinally significant, this is a very key point, and this was at the 2006 Sidney Sperry Symposium, Daniel Judd and Allen Stoddard said, “While there have been a number of editorial changes in the Book of Mormon over the years, even those who criticize it’s authenticity acknowledge that the changes are not of a major doctrinal significance. However many of the errors in the translation, transmission, and editing of the New Testament are of significantly greater consequence.”
This goes back to the very beginning of the compilation of the New Testament as an example. I’m going to do an entire video on this of some very key things in the Bible as a comparison that are of doctrinal significance there. So now let’s talk about some of the clarifications and this is the area that the critics hone in on a lot. So “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome.” So in 2 Nephi 30 verse 6 the 1830 edition, it’s seen in the 1837 edition said, “They shall be a white and delightsome people.” Joseph changed this in the 1840 edition to, “They shall be a pure and delightsome people.”
Well the future editions of the Book of Mormon were off of the 1837 edition which had been used over in Europe, the European editions, and so 1981 was when they went back and made sure to tie in a lot of the changes that maybe had been made even in the 1840 edition that had been missed, this was one of them. So when the 1981 edition came out critics said, “Hey this is political expediency to be making this change here, and it wasn’t the prophet that made it back in 1840, he didn’t make other changes that he could have back then if that was an issue he was trying to get to.” And if you look at Webster’s Dictionary of what the word “white” meant, it looked like Joseph was just using a synonym and maybe a better descriptive term for “white”.
Here it is, “Having the color of purity; pure, clean,” or the word, “pure, unblemished,” “in a scriptural sense, purified from sin; sanctified, see Psalms 51.” So I think Joseph saw that as much better and had inspiration to make that change there. So Benjamin was changed to Mosiah in later editions. So this is in Mosiah 21 verse 28 and Ether 4 verse 1, and this was on the, who could read the plates that Limhi found up in the north, the Jaredite Plates, and the 1830 edition said it was King Benjamin, 1837 Joseph changed this to Mosiah, King Mosiah on there.
So there was a subsequent in Ether 4:1 refers to the same episode and that was picked up in 1849, they figured if Joseph had changed that he had missed changing Ether 4:1 so Orson Pratt was involved in recommending fixing this error to change it to Mosiah. Well what was going on there? There’s multiple things that this could be, if you look here the reason for both, this is from Fairmormon.org. “The reason for both of these changes was never recorded. The use of the proper name Benjamin in the two instances described may represent either an abridgment error on the part of Mormon and Moroni, or it may be a legitimate description of what Ammon actually said to King Limhi based upon his current knowledge of the situation in Zarahemla. The Prophet apparently noted a possible discrepancy based upon his reading of the text, and changed the name Benjamin to Mosiah. Both Mormon and Moroni acknowledged that the record they had created was not perfect.”
And then I love this, Royal Skousen actually goes through, and you can pause the screen to read this if you’d like, but he shows how this actually maybe wasn’t an error and it didn’t need to be changed or corrected on there. So it’s kind of a fascinating thing and he goes through the description of how that’s potentially possible, but I will say also if you look at one of the major evidences the Book of Mormon, is the internal consistency of the places, the names, it’s staggering on there.
So this is one that you could say, “Oh this was maybe an error in there from one of the things.” One of the abridgers or whatever, but maybe even not. Like I said, read Skousen’s point there. Okay, 1 Nephi 20 verse 1 the word “or out of the waters of baptism” were added. This is Isaiah 48 being quoted here essentially, and this is basically, you could say, prophetic commentary by Joseph Smith in the 1840 edition. He did not put this in the Joseph Smith Translation. He had done the inspired version at that point. Maybe he just wanted to add this in there as a commentary. It’s very unlikely that that was even on the plates when Joseph was translating that, and it’s just commentary on the waters of Judah, it says “or out of the waters of baptism” there. The critics hone in on that one.
Another one that they talk about is the changes Joseph made to the word “God” to “Son of God” in 1 Nephi 11 and 13. On there is four times, God and the Son of God are synonyms throughout the scriptures and this may have been just a point of clarification. Some say that Joseph was changing his view of the trinity or of the nature of the Godhead which is ridiculous, but they will read that into the text. If that was the case he would have made tons of other changes on there. I think there could be a case that it was the Catholic sounding phrase, “The Mother of God” so he changed it to, “Mother of Son of God” and there was a lot of that rhetoric that was going on by critics of the Book of Mormon even, saying this specific verse, calling it out. There may have been just a clarification that Joseph wanted to make on that. It doesn’t change the meaning at all. It was Jesus Christ anyway regardless, and this is just a further way to clarify that.
And then last the 2006 Doubleday printing of the Book of Mormon made a one word change that got a lot of attention. I did a whole video on DNA in the Book of Mormon, on how when Lehi’s crew landed here that science today says that most likely, the researchers, that there were millions of people here. Previously to that, I think a lot of members growing up over the last hundred and fifty plus years felt like the Book of Mormon, the people were the original people of the continent and were the entire continent population. The Book of Mormon does not say this anywhere so we’re reading something into the text that’s not there and the introduction was actually added to the Book of Mormon in 1981, it’s not part of the Book of Mormon plates or the translation, and it wasn’t part of any of the prior editions before 1981, but it said, “… were destroyed, except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” And the 2006 printing from Doubleday says, “are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
Church spokesman Mark Tuttle says, “The changes takes into account details of the Book of Mormon demography which are not known. The change will be included in the next edition of the Book of Mormon printed by the Church.”
So I hope that that video is helpful and this is certainly something that’s not a concern in any way shape or form. I think it’s kind of ridiculous critics even bring this topic up, but it’s worth doing a video to discuss the things they bring up. Hope you enjoy.
Richard L. Bushman, “The Little, Narrow Prison of Language: The Rhetoric of Revelation,” Religious Educator 1, no. 1 (2000): 90-104: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-1…
Understanding Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon – Ensign Article by George Horton, Dec 1983: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/s…
Fairmormon.org. – Book of Mormon Textual Changes: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Bo…
Shaken Faith Syndrome, Michael Ash, Chp 17 – Book of Mormon Textual Changes
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.