This is a serialization of “A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a Former CES Employee.” You can download the whole PDF here, and you can also participate in the Latter-day Saint Survey Project by joining or creating one of the Canonizer camps in the links at the bottom of this post.
This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’s October 2017 iteration of the CES Letter. Jeremy’s original text appears in green, the color of life. My response text appears in black, the color of darkness.
3 . The Book of Mormon includes mistranslated biblical passages that were later changed in Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible. These Book of Mormon verses should match the inspired JST version instead of the incorrect KJV version that Joseph later fixed. A typical example of the differences between the BOM, the KJV, and the JST:
3 NEPHI 13:25-27
25: …Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26: Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27: Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
(From the King James Version Bible – not the JST)
25: Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26: Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27: Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
(Joseph Smith Translation of the same passages in the LDS Bible)
25: And, again, I say unto you, Go ye into the world, and care not for the world: for the world will hate you, and will persecute you, and will turn you out of their synagogues.
26: Nevertheless, ye shall go forth from house to house, teaching the people; and I will go before you.
27: And your heavenly Father will provide for you, whatsoever things ye need for food, what ye shall eat; and for raiment, what ye shall wear or put on.
Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in the Bible and the Book of Mormon are identical. But Joseph Smith later corrected the Bible. In doing so, he also contradicted the same identical Sermon on the Mount passage in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is “the most correct book” and was translated a mere decade before the JST. The Book of Mormon was not corrupted over time and did not need correcting. How is it that the Book of Mormon has the incorrect Sermon on the Mount passage and does not match the correct JST version in the first place?
“The most correct book” is a clear admission that the Book of Mormon is not inerrant. In addition, the Book of Mormon account of the Sermon on the Mount is actually significantly different from the King James Version account and entirely consistent with the JST, but you obscure that difference with the ellipsis you use at the beginning of your partial quote of 3 Nephi:25.
To answer your question, I think we have to define some terms. The first is the idea that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book.” The second is the concept of translation as it specifically relates to the JST. We’ll take them both in turn.
The idea of “the most correct book” comes from Joseph Smith’s famous statement on the subject, which reads as follows:
I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.
Fair enough. But what does that mean, exactly?
Your question implies that this is somehow a claim of Book of Mormon inerrancy, when, in fact, it’s precisely the opposite. If the Book of Mormon is the “most correct” book, that means that all other books, to one extent or another, are less correct, and therefore contain a degree of error. But it also a clear admission that the Book of Mormon itself also contains error. Joseph Smith does not state that the Book of Mormon is “entirely correct,” or “always correct,” or “the perfectly correct book.” He is offering a comparison rather than issuing an ultimatum.
If the Bible and other books were only, say, 2% correct, and the Book of Mormon were 3% correct, it would still be “the most correct” under those circumstances, even if 97% of it were incorrect. (I personally don’t think the Bible is only 2% correct or that the Book of Mormon is only 3% correct; I’m pushing this to an extreme to illustrate the point.) The comparison highlights the fact that, while no religious texts are perfect, the Book of Mormon is the best of the lot.
It’s also necessary to define what Joseph Smith, and those who quote him, actually mean when they say the Book of Mormon is “correct” in any respect – least, most, or otherwise. How comprehensively should we interpret that adjective? Is it more correct than, say, Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” on the subject of black holes? No, the Book of Mormon doesn’t even mention black holes, so Hawking’s book is demonstrably more scientifically correct than the Book of Mormon. Okay, then is the Book of Mormon the most grammatically correct of any book on earth? It clearly isn’t, although I don’t know what book would be. (“Hey, Bob, you really ought to read Hobos in Love by Floyd Burgermeister. It’s a terrible story, but it’s the most grammatically correct of any book on earth.”)
In the context of the original statement, it’s clear Joseph is talking about the “precepts” that the Book of Mormon teaches and nothing else. In other words, if you’re looking to learn godly precepts while you’re stranded on a desert island, and you’re only allowed to have one book with you, then you ought to choose the Book of Mormon, as it’s your best bet for drawing closer to God. Science, grammar, spelling, penmanship – the correctness of any of those elements don’t come into play at all. To insist that they do is to push a tortured legalistic interpretation of Joseph Smith’s simple statement and distort his intent.
Now let’s turn our attention to the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, which is unlike the KJV translation or most other biblical translations in that it was not the transfer of religious text from language to another. Joseph loosely tossed the word “translation” around to describe a number of different processes, some of which were definitionally similar to what the KJV translators did, but many, indeed perhaps most, of which were not. The production of the JST was performed by a “translation” method that was, by all accounts, not that kind of translation at all.
In “translating” the Bible, Joseph read the English KJV text and then recorded revelations that he received in doing so. Large passages of text from the JST have no extant ancient text from which they were derived, nor did Joseph claim to have those ancient texts in his possession, although he did suggest that many such revelations were representations of ancient texts that had been lost. The most obvious example is the Book of Moses, which was revealed to Joseph during his “translation” of Genesis, despite the fact that, as far as we know, he never saw the original ancient text of the Book of Moses. Joseph would refer to this as a translation and insist that what he had written were indeed the words of Moses, but this process did not require him to read ideas in one language and find the proper words for them in English, which is what traditional translators do.
So, equipped with these two freshly-defined premises, let’s return to your question. You seem concerned that the JST is “correcting” the KJV and the Book of Mormon, a book Joseph described as “the most correct.” But there’s absolutely no reason to see the JST language as “correcting” anything in the Book of Mormon. The precepts stated in the B of M version of the Sermon on the Mount are still correct precepts. The JST simply offer additional information that supplements rather than corrects the original information, just as the Book of Moses doesn’t replace Genesis but, rather, adds to it.
Actually, you could make a case that the JST is “correcting” the KJV, since the KJV version offers a general application for the “take no thought what ye shall eat” principle, while the JST suggests that this was advice specific to the apostles, not the general church membership.
But the irony, here, is that this is identical to the precepts put forward in the Book of Mormon.
In your question, you use an ellipsis when you quote 3 Nephi 13:25, which would lead a casual reader to assume that 3 Nephi 13:25 is identical to Matthew 6:25. It isn’t. You left out a very important part.
Here’s 3 Nephi 13:25 in full:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
So it turns out the Book of Mormon directs this passage to the apostles and not to the church membership at large and therefore departs from the KJV in precisely the same way the JST does, only it does so using different language. Thus the JST isn’t correcting the Book of Mormon at all; they’re both saying the same thing.
And if you’re going to be intellectually consistent, I don’t think you can complain that the same ideas are being expressed in different language, when your initial objection to the Book of Mormon is its inclusion of identical language to translate the same ancient text.
Tomorrow, we discuss Book of Mormon DNA issues. In the meantime, take look at the Canonizer camps below. I’ve added one on the difference between a “tight” translation and a “loose” translation” of the Book of Mormon. Join the one that best represents your point of view – or create one of your own!