holy-bibleThe “Joseph Smith Bible Revision” (JSBR) — generally known as the “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST) in the Utah Mormon tradition and the “Inspired Version” (IV) in the RLDS/Community of Christ tradition — has a somewhat messy history.[1] The work was considered a top priority of Joseph Smith’s latter-day Restoration of Christianity… and yet for most of its history, it has been little known or used among the bulk of the adherents of his movement. The original idea of the Restoration was that early Christianity had suffered a “Great Apostasy” in its first generations and that the true church of Christ had been lost. Joseph Smith and other early members hoped to restore the church in preparation for the imminent “Second Coming” of Christ.

At the time in the contemporary Anglo-American world, there was an endemic anti-Catholic bias, which led Joseph Smith to suspect the accuracy of the transmission of Biblical text from Antiquity through the Middle Ages to his own day.[2] The Book of Mormon takes a clear stance on the subject:

“For, behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. All this they have done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book which is the book of the Lamb of God.” (CofC I Nephi 3:168-172; LDS 1 Nephi 13:26-29)

After the successful publication of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the church, restoring these “plain and precious things” was a top priority for early church members. Joseph Smith and his scribes (especially Sidney Rigdon) devoted considerable time and energy to the project between 1830 and 1833. But the enormous task of revising (and ultimately republishing) the entire text of the Bible proved daunting and was eventually eclipsed by other priorities. Although Joseph Smith periodically returned to the project especially in the last years of his life, making additional changes, the work was left unfinished at the time of his martyrdom.[3]

Nevertheless, the project was remembered and retained importance for Joseph’s family and members of his church, which split into factions after his death. Brigham Young, who emerged as leader of the church in Nauvoo in 1844, tried to persuade Emma Smith (Joseph’s widow) to part with the JSBR manuscripts. But Emma felt called to preserve the manuscripts herself. Previously, in the aftermath of the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, the Latter Day Saint population fled from the state into Illinois as refugees. Since Joseph had been imprisoned by Missouri authorities, Emma had led their family across the frozen Mississippi to safety, bringing with her Joseph’s papers including the manuscripts of the Bible revision. When Brigham and his followers migrated westward in 1846, Emma, her family, and the JSBR manuscripts, remained behind in Nauvoo.[4]

A decade and a half later, the church organizations of most of Brigham Young’s rivals — Sidney Rigdon, James Strang, William Smith, Lyman Wight, Charles Thompson, and others — had faltered or collapsed outright. But there remained a strong contingent of Latter Day Saints in the Midwest who opposed polygamy and other late Nauvoo developments. These came together to form a “New Organization” of the church and, in 1860, Joseph Smith III (the eldest surviving son of Joseph Jr. and Emma) was ordained as their prophet and president. The new group (eventually known as the “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” and now “Community of Christ”) rapidly regathered the Midwestern Saints but remained minuscule in comparison with the LDS Church in Utah.[5]

Despite limited resources, members of the Reorganization felt that publication of Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision was a top priority. Emma gave the manuscripts to the church publications committee, which successfully integrated Joseph Smith’s many revisions into a complete edition of the Bible, published in 1867 as “Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible.” (The name “Inspired Version” was first attached to the title page of the 1936 edition.)[6] The 1867, 1936, and subsequent RLDS/Community of Christ editions included no indications of which parts of the text were identical to the King James Version and which were revisions. As such, RLDS members who grew up reading the Inspired Version of the Bible might have little awareness that particular verses were actually unique to their own tradition.

Because LDS leaders had no access to the JSBR manuscripts and because of the general distrust between the LDS and RLDS churches, the Inspired Version was greeted in Utah with suspicion. Although a few large sections of the work that had been published in Joseph Smith’s lifetime had found their way into the LDS canon in the “Pearl of Great Price” as “The Book of Moses” and “Joseph Smith–Matthew,” the bulk of the JSBR text were unknown to most members of the LDS Church until relations between the churches improved in the latter part of the 20th Century. In 1969, RLDS Church Historian Richard P. Howard published a pioneering and still definitive book entitled “Restoration Scriptures: A Study of Their Textual Development,” which won the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Award in 1970.[7] Agreements between the two churches then led to the inclusion of JSBR or “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST) notations in LDS editions of the King James Bible.

Today the Inspired Version remains canonical in Community of Christ, but is read (or not) along with any other translation of the Bible, according to the preference of the individual member. In our next post, I’ll talk a bit about the revisions themselves and how we can put them into the context of scholarship of scripture in general.

[1] The standard work on lower criticism of the JSBR is Richard P. Howard’s “Restoration Scriptures: A Study of the Textual Development,” [2nd Edition] Revised and Enlarged (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1995).
[2] See Richard P. Howard, “Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision: Sources, Claims, and Present Role, 1830–2009,” Restoration Studies, Vol. XI (2010): 139.
[3] Howard, “Restoration Scriptures,” 49–136.
[4] For a summary of Emma’s relationship with Brigham Young, see Chapter 14 “The Lion and the Lady” in Linda King Newell’s and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” [2nd Edition] (Urbana and Chicago: The University of Illinois Press, 1994), 199–209. Brigham’s attempt to trade a deed to Emma’s farm in Quincy in his possession for the JSBR manuscript is described on p. 209.
[5] For a brief history of the Reorganization, see David J. Howlett, Barbara B. Walden, and John C. Hamer, “Community of Christ: An Illustrated History,” (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 2010). For a more complete study, see Mark A. Scherer, “The Journey of a People: The Era of Reorganization, 1844 to 1946” (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 2013).
[6] Howard, “Joseph Smiths’ Bible Revision,” 136.
[7] Howard, “Restoration Scriptures,” 6. Quotations here are taken from the revised and expanded second edition.

John C. Hamer is a historian, map-maker, illustrator, and publisher. He has created maps for dozens of books and articles in Latter Day Saint studies, including the LDS Church's Joseph Smith Paper's Project, and Mark Scherer's new history of Community of Christ, the first two volumes of which were published April 2013. A former president of the John Whitmer Historical Association, John is co-editor of “Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism” and co-author of “Community of Christ: An Illustrated History.” He is currently writing a book on Restoration scripture entitled, “The River of Revelation: Community of Christ Scripture in Context.” John lives in Toronto, Canada, where he's the Outreach Coordinator for the downtown congregation of Community of Christ.

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