The LDS New Translation of the New Testament
This will probably be interesting to a lot of you, especially the TBMs. They are my notes from one year ago about what the Church is currently doing with their NT translation project:
Notes (sometimes paraphrased) from an Empty-Nester’s FHE on 2/26/2006. Lecture by John Hall on the Bible: How we got it, issues, and the LDS new translation of the New Testament, which he is in charge of.
There will be a new 15 Volume commentary on the N.T. that the brethren have asked myself, Jack Welch (founder of F.A.R.M.S.) and Andrew Skinner (former Dean of Education at BYU).
I have so much respect for Joseph Smith and the work he did with the Restoration. Moses 7 talks about Enoch. Genesis only had a few verses. Scholars of his day ridiculed him for having written this- they said he Joseph Smith “dreamed it up”. 50 yrs after he died, the Book of Enoch was re-discovered and Moses 7 was truly a summary these books. Enoch was discovered in two forms: one in ancient Ethiopic and one in Greek. They were both discovered in Egypt among some manuscripts in the 1880′s and 1890′s respectively. They were translated into English in about 1910 so he had no access to that, of course. So that stands as a proof and a witness of his prophetic calling.
I’ve done some studies of the Old Testament and it has a lot of problems. That’s why most of Joseph Smith’s translation comes from the Old Testament rather then from the New Testament. One of the big problems of the Old Testament is that before it was ever put together as a compilation of books, they were studied as individual books, but they were transmitted through copied manuscripts down through the centuries. As they were transmitted there were changes made in the text. Just before Lehi left Jerusalem, for example, there were a group of people called the Deuteronomists. They are the forerunners of the Rabbis and they added a lot of material to the sacred writing of the Jews, taking the Law of Moses and expanding it a hundred fold. And its this huge expansion of the Law of Moses that Christ confronts in the New Testament.
The Deuteronomists’ successor was Ezra. He’s the one that collected these books and put them together into a single group of books. At the time that he got them there were around 90 sacred books- he cut out more than half of them and didn’t include them so it became a much smaller collection then there was before him. Now some of those other books have been discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the books taken out was the Book of Enoch, for example. That was one that was cut out by Ezra. It was lost and now its been re-discovered.
We have from the D.S.S. a book that is called the Genesis Apocrypha which is a version of Genesis- you know Ezra not only took books out, but he also went through books that they had and edited them, making additions and deletions. Genesis was once probably twice the length that it is now. In fact, the Genesis Apocrypha from the D.S.S. is almost twice as long as the Genesis we have. Hugh Nibley did some studies with it about 30 years ago and took excerpts from it and from Genesis, Moses and Pearl of Great Price, and it has some scriptures that the Bible did not have, but that Moses and Pearl of Great Price had. So this shows us that before all this editing the Bible was once much more reliable.
With the New Testament the same thing basically happens. I’m so grateful for Joseph Smith’s words: “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly”. That makes all the difference for us. And it makes all the difference about the kind of faithful scholarship that we can do about the Bible. You see, Joseph Smith realized there was a big problem and that it was due in part to this translation. In Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, he says he believes the Bible to be the word of God as it came forth from the pens of the original writers, but that careless transcribers and designing and corrupt priests called many errors to be made. Some by accident and some deliberately. The designing corrupt priests is something I wanna talk about tonight.
So, the problem with the Bible is the problem w/ the translation. That will be the last thing we’ll talk about tonight. But first of all, its problem is transmission: copying manuscripts and handing them off. Joseph’s working with the Bible (the Joseph Smith Translation)… actually it wasn’t a translation. Its what we call a paraphrase and that’s where you read a set of words and then you don’t translate them word for word straight across, but you read the context and paraphrase them. In Joseph Smith’s translation, he expands information in order to give correct information. He only translates a few chapters. His idea was to present to us the correct teaching. Without Joseph then we wouldn’t have the ability to study the bible in an honest way.
One of the men leading the field of studying the bible in the last 15 yrs, a professor at N. Carolina and author of 5 books is Bart Earman. One of the newest books is the men who change the bible- something like that. It’s a popularized version of a scholarly book called the orthodox corruption of scripture. That’s the Catholics and orthodox people (who he calls the proto-orthodox- before the Nicene council). Earman, who I know fairly well, is a man raised in the Church of Christ in Tennessee (evangelical, literalist when it comes to the bible thinking everything must be literally translated- which is a problem in and of itself) because of his studies he has completely left his church and doesn’t’ believe in God anymore- he’s an atheist. He’s the most prominent professor of religious studies in the country. But he writes these books and I think that one of his motives is to destroy the faith of other people. He would call it “enlightening”. The problem for him is that to him, you have to take every word in the Bible literally.
There are people who will argue ’till their blue in the face that God spoke 16th century English. Its true! There we have it- in the King James Bible. Well the King James is not bad in many things- I like the poems, but there are problems in the translation. You take John 1:1 “in the beginning…”. But the Greek reads: “In the ruling council was a spokesmen, and the spokesman was among the gods and the spokesman was himself a God. That’s John 1:1.
Jerome translated the bible from Greek. His translation is the Vulgate. His was commissioned by the Pope in Rome to have a standardized translation. What you do is take a Greek word, which has 1, 2 or 3 meanings and he’d choose one of those meanings and find a Latin word that corresponded with that meaning. Sometimes he chose the wrong meaning (he chose the second one instead of the first one, for example). He would usually choose the most common. Then the KING JAMES translators, who worked mainly with Latin, not Greek, chose an English word to translate the Latin word. that’s the problem with translation. That’s not the only problem. We have surviving today about 2000 New Testament manuscripts and not one of them is exactly the same as another. Every one of them is different. Not REAL different but there are real differences. So there has developed a science in studying the surviving manuscripts (and not all of them have survived by any means) to try and decide what the original texts of the New Testament looked like. And we’ll never be able to reclaim it because most of the manuscripts we have date back to 4th century A.D. the oldest one we have that are complete manuscripts are these three. That’s the Hebrew letter “aleph”, then “A” and then “D”. the letter aleph represents a manuscript called Codex- that really just means coffee- the Codex was discovered by the great Russian Catholologist Tissenford in the 1780′s on Mt. Sinai. We don’t have one original manuscript or fragment of a manuscript that survived at all.
“A” is what we call the Alexandrinus Manuscript , and that is now found in the British Museum in London, and “D” is the codex Daticomous (sp?) which is in Rome. These are three most complete. We do have fragmentary manuscripts that predate those but are incomplete. These manuscripts are written on parchment. Some of the longer ones where we have about half the book were also written on parchment. But we do have some propitious manuscripts. They’re always written in the small German “p” with a number 1, or 2. That’s the way we designate the propitious manuscripts. The oldest ones we have are two manuscripts called the John Riley Manuscripts found in Cambridge University. They are of the Gospel of John. They date to about 130-140 A.D. All together they only include maybe 40 verses. Remember this is the last thing that John wrote, the Gospel of John is. I believe John wrote it around 100 AD, because John leaves about 110- walks away w/ the keys of the Priesthood. and these manuscripts- the John Riley’s Manuscripts are w/in 30 yrs of the time John wrote it, and that’s extremely reliable. Its just that we have only a little bit of it, you see. So what we have are very early, very partial propitious fragments that let us know that these writings were there at a very early date. What is disadvantageous is that we don’t have much material until we get to these later manuscripts and thereafter 400 yrs of copying. And its during those 400 yrs, to not get too technical, when the apostasy occurs and when different Christian groups deliberately change a lot of the documents. In fact, its to that very early John Riley’s propitious, John 1:1, where we find in the earliest version we have, the word “gods” instead of “god”, which is earlier than any other propitious that we have. That tells me John’s early version was ‘gods’ and that somewhere around the way it was changed to god because the theology of monotheism replaced polytheism. You see that’s one of the problems: we have the problems of transmission, and translation, and people following theology of the times.
In the early years of Christianity, remember Greek was the language that the people of the New Testament spoke. Even the Jews who lived around the Mediterranean didn’t speak Hebrew anymore, they spoke Greek. Hebrew had become largely a dead language at the time of the New Testament. Jews who lived in Judea spoke Aramaic, which is a Persian administrative language. So that’s where that came from. But, most of them also spoke Greek b/c there were as many Greek inhabitants of Palestine as there were Jewish inhabitants- they lived there together. The village of Nazareth is just down the hill from the larger cities Saporous (sp?). Where Nazareth had maybe 200 people living there, Saporous had 20,000 and the people up there were all Greek.
There’s no question in my mind that the Savior spoke Greek and that his apostles spoke Greek. Peter and Andrew were born in Bethesda which was a Greek city- that’s where they were born and raised. So Greek is the language that they were very familiar with and used. When you get outside of Judea- if you go where the main Jewish population’s were, around the Mediterranean, down in Alexandria and Egypt- there were more Jews living in the city of Alexandria- which was the largest city in the world at the time- than there were living in all of Judea. okay? in Antioch, up in Syria (which we read about in the book of Acts) there were as many Jews living there as lived in Judea. The Jews who lived in Alexandria, the Jews who lived in Antia, and in Ephesus, they didn’t’ speak Hebrew OR Aramaic- they spoke Greek! Greek was the language. And so people had to communicate and they communicated in Greek. And that’s why the New Testament, essentially, was written in Greek. And we have some of those many different versions surviving today.
About 200 A.D. people started translating the Greek New Testament into Latin because the western half of the Mediterranean didn’t speak Greek, the educated people who lived there did, but they spoke Latin there. So every church had its own Latin translation made. Every city had its own Latin translation because the people there spoke Latin, not Greek. These were finally standardized in the 380′s when Jerome, who we talked about earlier, did the Vulgate translation. The Vulgate translation then became the standardized biblical text for Europe, from 400 to 1600- the next 1200 years. It was the Vulgate that people used. The very first English translation of the Bible was done by a man named Wycliffe. He couldn’t read Greek. What he did was translate the Bible from the Vulgate (Latin) into English in the mid 1300′s. That’s when he did the translation.
Then, some years later, there was a man named Coverdale. In the 1500′s he did a translation of the bible again into English. Coverdale’s translation never went off of the Greek- he couldn’t read it. So his translation was also based on the Latin Vulgate. About 20 yrs. after Coverdale, a man by the name of Tyndale did a new English translation and he was put to death for doing it- he was burned at the stake, and one of the general authorities talked about him a little bit in the last general conference. He read from some Greek texts this translation. its not at all like the KING JAMES version. Its very more literal in some ways and in some ways its much better in terms of being literal. But its kind of hard to use in a lot of ways and the problem of it is he used some big texts that weren’t very reliable- some Greek manuscripts. He used some of the later manuscripts that had the most changes in them that are called the Byzantine Tradition of Manuscripts so there are problems in his translation because of those manuscripts.
Finally, Henry XIII left the Catholic Church and brought Protestantism to England, and when he did that he wanted a Bible that more reflected the new teachings of Protestantism- of the Church of England. So Coverdale was still alive and they went to Coverdale and asked him to oversee the translation of the Bible. So all he did was go back to his earlier translation and made a few changes here and there based on the Vulgate but also based on a few Greek texts b/c he wasn’t the only one working on it anymore- some scholars from Oxford Cambridge who read Greek had been brought onto the project. BUT they only looked at verses they thought were problematic in the original Coverdale translation. But since Coverdale was in charge of the project, there weren’t that many verses! This translation became known as the King’s Bible. Because it had been commissioned by Henry XIII. About 10 yrs later they did a revamping of the King’s Bible by some of the Bishops of the Church of England and that version was called the Bishop’s Bible. But there weren’t more than a couple hundred changes in it from the King’s Bible. And the King’s Bible was a little changed from Coverdale’s translation which was based entirely on the Latin Vulgate. Are you getting the picture of the problem?
Fifty years later, James the First became king of England (James XI of Scotland becomes James I of England) in 1600, they authorize the translation of a new Bible- in English. A bible that reflects the doctrines of the Church of England but also be amenable to the Puritans. The Puritans were a particular movement from within the Church of England trying to get rid of the presence of some of the Catholic influence still present in the Church of England. They set up six teams of translators to translate the King James Bible. Two in London, two in Oxford, and two in Cambridge. And they found scholars to sit with these teams. Each team was headed by an Anglican Bishop. Or by a head of one of the Anglican Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. And they were given instructions directly from the King. And the Bishop of London, who was the king’s chief adviser on things religious, about how to translate it.
The way they were going to translate it was each of the six teams would translate a part of the Bible. One team did the Epistles, one team did the Gospels, one team did the apocrypha between the Old and the New Testament, and then three teams did the Old Testament. They were told to look at Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament, and the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. But they were told to make as few changes as necessary to communicate true doctrine. So what they did was take the old King’s Bible and Bishop’s Bible, which was Coverdale’s work (from Latin), and they went through it and where they found verses they thought were theologically problematic, THOSE they would translate by looking at the Greek New Testament. So much of what we have in King James is unchanged from the Coverdale translation that was done in the mid 1500′s. Which was done from the Latin Vulgate. Original Greek manuscripts weren’t even looked at. That’s a problem, do you see?
There’s a second problem, in terms of King James’ translation being theologically driven. They were trying to push a particular theology of that day. There’s a third problem for us with the King James version because the language in it is 1600 English and a lot of the words have changed meaning between now and then. So when we read those same words with 21st century meaning, they’re not the same as what they originally meant in the 1600′s. So that’s a problem.
So, problems with the lack of scholarship in Greek manuscripts in the translation; problems with essentially following to Rome’s Vulgate; and problems with theologically driven translation; and problems with English of that age not meaning now what it meant then. That’s what we have in the King James Bible. Remember God didn’t speak in English- he didn’t give his scripture in English. They weren’t written in English- as a lot of people seem to think.
So what do we do with all of that? That’s the question. What we’re doing is starting all from scratch. That’s what we’re doing- we’re not keeping anything the same but we’re starting from scratch. We have to go from a Greek New Testament version- and probably the best is the one I have right here- it has Greek on one side and Latin on the other. And this Greek text is based on, well, a couple thousand manuscripts. It’s the best effort from scholars to put down the information- but I don’t think its “entirely right”. I think there are places that its wrong. I have a few manuscripts that I use that are my favorite manuscripts to look at. One is a manuscript that represents what is called “the Western Tradition”. I think the Western Tradition which comes from the Asia Minor are the earliest manuscripts that we have. So that’s a problem in looking at this.
The other problem is the familiarity everybody has with the King James and the affection we have for it because for us, that’s biblical language. The language of that time has become biblical language. And a third problem arises because, in Joseph Smiths time that was biblical language. And when the Lord gave Joseph Smith the translation of the Book of Mormon, it sounds like KING JAMES English. I think the Lord did that on purpose because that was what people were familiar with. When you’re doing a translation there are two things you have to take into account: one is accurately trying to render the text you have, the other is to translate it so that when people read it they will understand what it says. That’s one reason, I think, that the Lord gave the Book of Mormon translation in a language people can understand in the time of Joseph Smith. In a familiar language. Its for that reason, more than any other, that the Church will always use the KING JAMES translation. There’s never a question about that. That will always be our official version of the Bible. That will always be used for missionary work, that will always be what we teach from, that will always be part of LDS Scripture because of the connection with the translation of the Book of Mormon. It will always be. That will never change.
That’s sort of the reason that President J. Reuben Clark gave when he wrote his book called Why The King James Version. It’s a little book that he wrote a long time ago. President Clark knew how to do that stuff. He knew a little Greek. His Latin was superb. I have in my library a number of Latin books that belonged to President Clark. He started his career as a Latin teacher at the High School level. His son later became my professor and that’s how I got some of his books. He made that point in that book, but he also said this: “the most this author may hope for is that this note will somehow provoke in some qualified scholars (keep in mind he was pretty qualified himself), having a proper gospel background, the desire and determination, to go over the manuscripts, and furnish us, under the influence and direction of the Holy Ghost, a translation of the N. Testament that will give us an accurate translation that shall be pregnant with the great principles of the Restored Gospel. We shall then have a reliable record of the doings and sayings of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.” Well I read that a long time ago and was taught by his son and by Hugh Nibley. And President Clark actually tried to get Hugh Nibley to do what we’re doing now. He was too busy with some other important things that needed to be done that I’m glad he did.
But this is why we’re doing what we’re doing. And the very first page of every volume of the fifteen volumes of what will comprise the BYU New Testament Commentary will be that statement by President Clark. Acts will be done in two volumes, (Andy Skinner will do one, I will do the other), I’m doing the Gospel of John, some epistles and several other books as well. There are maybe a dozen people in the Church who read New Testament Greek at varying degrees of capability. Some will be translating parts of the Greek and then pass it to me where I will make the final decision of what will stay in the translation. I will then pass the work on to Salt Lake City where E. Nelson and Oaks will take a look at the translations. We call our translation the BYU Rendition and what we do is publish the KING JAMES edition in one column and the BYU Rendition right next to it. We do that for little sections of text, not the whole text. And then some texts may have a 10-15 page commentary following. The commentary will be linguistics so we’ll talk about the translation and why we’re translating it like that. We’ll talk about the Greek. We’ll talk about the historical contexts. We’ll talk about theology and go all the way back to the apostolic fathers and apologists from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th centuries A.D. We’ll look at what they have to say. We’ll look at what the brethren have said from the beginning of the Restoration back to the present time, we’ll include what Joseph Smith translated and talked about a particular verse. Volume 14, one that I’m working on, is the farthest along. It is on the Epistles. I’ll have it finished by the end of the summer and then it will depend on how long Salt Lake keeps it to determine how long it will be until it is ready.
About the Joseph Smith Translation, the Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price: First of all, we’re not translating the Old Testament. As for the New Testament, Joseph Smith translated maybe a hundred verses of the New Testament. President Kimball once told me he wished we didn’t call it the “Joseph Smith Translation” but rather something else.
I will tell you this, and I say in total humility, I really do. There are times that we look at the Greek texts, and there are different versions of the Greek texts, and we think about a translation and pray about a translation. There are times I can tell you, that the Spirit has touched and directed us. There’s no question in my mind. It doesn’t happen with every section or verse, but it has happened.
Also: we’re not just doing this for the members of the Church. We’re writing this so the world can see that the N.T. itself is the best witness of the Restoration there is. That the Restoration is the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ and that we can prove the truthfulness of what we say from the text of the N.T. itself- if it is translated correctly. That’s another reason we’re doing this. The most important reason is that by reading this, people can come to realize who the savior is and what his mission is. Something as basic as the Atonement. We think of the Atonement as Christ’s “payment” of sin. The English word “atone” has come to mean “the payment for sin”. The Greek word that’s translated that way is “hilasmos” (sp?) but usually when its translated “atonement”, that’s not the word that’s there in the Greek text. The Greek word is “katalagne” (sp?). Atonement is the word that the KING JAMES translators invented which really means “at one meant”. “Katalagne” means you reconcile- to join together in fellowship. That’s what it really means. So part of the Atonement is the payment of sins through sacrifice but the other part of it is bringing us back together with the Father through the Son. Two parts. That’s where the “at one meant” comes in. That doesn’t come across well in the KING JAMES version. We’re gonna try to make that crystal clear so people know that our responsibility is to work with the savior so that thru him we can be reconciled to our Father. We don’t think about that much do we? John Taylor wrote about it in a book, but we hardly read it anymore. He knew Greek well.
Now I’m gonna read a part from our new translation. 1st John 1:1-3 (in the King James version) says:
That “which was from the beginning!, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life;
http://noscript/2. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
http://noscript/3. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”That “which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life;
Our translation is a little different. Keep in mind that Paul was talking to two audiences at the same time. One of them being members who know and had gone through the temple.
1st John 1:1-3:
“Not that which was from the beginning but that one who was from the first. That one whom we have heard. That one whom we have seen with our own eyes. That one whom we beheld with wonder and our hands clasped (that’s what the Greek says), namely the Word of Life, indeed that life was made visible and we have seen and do witness and are proclaiming to you that eternal life which was in the presence of the Father and which was made visible to us, that one which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, so that you too, may, upon the sacred planks of fellowship with us, enter back into the presence of the Father through his son Jesus Christ.”
That’s what the Greek says. That’s what it says.
This one has probably become my favorite:
1 John 2:1-3 (King James version):
1. MY little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
3. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
“My children, these things I am writing to you so that you may not go wrong, and if anyone should go wrong, we have One called to stand at our side in the presence of the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the Son. And he himself is the mediating sacrifice for our wrongs: not only for our wrongs, but even for the sake of his entire creation.”
(and in the commentary we’re gonna talk about how his creation extends beyond this world.
J. Reuben Clark writes in The Lamb Of God [the title is something like that], “the Savior was not a novice when he created this world, but he had already created millions and millions of worlds.”
King James version says “we know that we know him if we keep his commandments.”
we write “and in this we know, that we have come to know him in person if we but will stand watch as a sentry awaiting his every instruction.” That’s what the Greek says. Keep his commandments, on the one hand, and stand watch as a sentry awaiting His every instruction.
In the time of KING JAMES, instruction from God was what was written in stone at Sinai. It didn’t change, there was no adding to it or taking away from it, it was constant. There it was “written in stone”. But in the time of the apostle John and in our day there is continuing revelation, to the church through the prophets and personal revelation to us as individuals. “If we stand as sentries” the verb there is a Greek technical military verb to do guard duty. To stand as sentries, and then awaiting His every instruction… so its an admonition to be faithful followers of the Savior by seeking what He wants for us as individuals to do.
This translation that I came up with about a year ago was probably influenced by a meeting I had with Elder Eyring. Ee couldn’t find a resolution to a problem. Some of the brothers there were disturbed that he as an apostle didn’t have an answer for them about how to do whatever it was and he saw that they were worried by that. He said, “brethren let me tell you something. there are so many times that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have a problem we have to solve or confront or deal with, and we want a solution right then so we can get it done and get on with our life and get on with the dealings of the Church. But often the answer doesn’t come.” Then he said, “it might come 6 months later or a year later. And when it does come, we then see: now it’s the right time- it’s come at the right time!” And with tears in his eyes he said, “the one thing I have learned more than any other thing being an Apostle of the Lord is that this is His Church! He’s in charge! He can do what He wants to do when He wants to do it! Who are we to tell Him?” He said “our responsibility as church leaders- and it applies to the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve and every member in the Church too. Our responsibility is to wait, listen and when He tells us what to do we do it- whatever He wants done when He wants it done.”
To me that’s the meaning to John 2:3. We stand watch as sentries awaiting his every instruction. And when it comes, we do it.
We are what the lord has to work with. We are priests and priestesses. We have been given keys to the Priesthood. We have covenanted to be the servants of Jesus Christ.