Changing Critics’ Criticisms of Book of Mormon Changes

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Abstract: In early 1830 Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, a 269,938-word volume that discusses religious themes intermingled with a history of ancient American peoples.1 Claiming it was scripture like the Bible,2 in 1841 he declared it to be “the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion.”3 Yet, many changes in the text of the Book of Mormon can be detected when comparing the original manuscript to the version available today. These changes have served as a lightning rod for some critics who imply that a divinely inspired book should not require any alterations. This article examines the types of changes that have occurred while trying to assign levels of significance and identify Joseph’s motives in making those alterations in the 1837 and 1840 reprintings of the book.

 

 

Joseph Smith reported receiving the golden plates on September 22, 1827, while living with his parents in Manchester, New York. Within weeks, local persecution and attempts to steal the plates prompted Joseph and Emma to move to be with her family, the Hales, in Harmony, Pennsylvania.4

[Page 50]Joseph eventually purchased a home close to the Hale residence, where he and Emma lived for the next two and a half years.5 Though small, it allowed some privacy for Joseph and his scribes. There the 116 page Book of Lehi and a large portion of the Book of Mormon text were translated. The Book of Lehi manuscript pages were lost by Martin Harris, and Joseph reported God withdrew his privilege to translate for a season.6

Oliver Cowdery visited the Smiths in Harmony on April 5, 1829. Two days later, the two began the translation of the Book of Mormon, which proceeded at a more rapid pace.7 Due to persecution arising from rumors regarding the translation, during the first week of June, the Smiths and Oliver Cowdery moved by buckboard over 100 miles to the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette, New York.8 By the end of the month, the final 150 pages were translated, with some of the Whitmers also acting as scribes.9

The words dictated by Joseph Smith between April 7 and June 30, 1829, were published with few alterations. However, Joseph intervened in the 1837 and 1840 printings to make multiple changes in the previously published wordings. Other emendations have been authorized by subsequent Church leaders. Several authors have documented different tallies of alternations made in the various versions of the Book of Mormon (see below). Understanding the quantity and quality of these emendations may be helpful in understanding how Joseph Smith created the text in the first place.

How Many Changes in the Book of Mormons?

While early critics noticed changes between various editions of the Book of Mormon, the first book to focus strictly upon those changes was Lamoni Call’s 1898, 2000 Changes in the Book of Mormon. The methodology employed by Call was unsophisticated: “[T]he work of comparing the [Page 51]books was a long, tedious job for a working man. Many hours were spent at the work when the eyes refused to stand guard as they should, desiring more to be locked in slumber.”10 Subsequently, other authors pointed to his work in their critiques of the Book of Mormon.11

Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s 1965 publication, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, has probably had a greater influence. Much like Lamoni Call’s approach in the 1890s, Jerald Tanner sat down eighty years later with an 1830 edition and a 1964 edition of the Book of Mormon and annotated all changes he could identify. His count almost doubled Call’s. In their introduction, the Tanners also allege a conspiracy by Church leaders to conceal the changes: “The changes made in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith’s revelations have apparently caused the Mormon Church leaders some concern, for they fear that their people will find out about them.”12

In the last two decades, digitalization of the texts has allowed a much more nuanced analysis of the words and word substitutions by a team of scholars in the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project led by BYU professor Royal Skousen.13 When he was asked, “How many changes are there in the Book of Mormon text?” Skousen replied:

I don’t know for sure, and I’ll tell you why it’s hard to count them. In my computerized collation of the two manuscripts and 20 significant editions of the Book of Mormon, I can count the number of places of variation. These are places where there’s a textual variant. The variant itself can involve spelling, punctuation, words missing or added, a grammatical change, and so on. In all, there are about 105,000 places of variation in the computerized collation.14

[Page 52]It appears that early critics Lamoni Call and Jerald Tanner underestimated the number of changes that could be identified in the various versions of the Book of Mormon when compared to the original copy penned by Joseph Smith’s scribes.

Claiming That the Book of Mormon Dictation
Must be Flawless

For some observers, the fact that any changes have been made in the original Book of Mormon text is evidence of the falseness of the book.15 This argument assumes Joseph Smith simply read the English text of the Reformed Egyptian engravings as it flashed upon the seer stone. Several recollections support this interpretation. Martin Harris reported, “By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin.”16 David Whitmer recalled similarly: “The Seer Stone … was placed in the crown of a hat, into which Joseph put his face, so as to exclude the external light. Then, a spiritual light would shine forth, and parchment would appear before Joseph, upon which was a line of characters from the plates, and under it, the translation in English.”17

Assuming God (through the seer stone) was responsible for every word in the Book of Mormon, Lamoni Call lamented, “God’s way may not be as man’s ways, but so far as the writer is concerned, he would have had more faith in the work if it had been ‘correct in every particular,’ a model of simplicity in English, and not need more than 3,000 amendments to make it passable among even scrub English scholars. … We do not claim that this proves the Book of Mormon untrue, but we do think it goes a long way toward it.”18

Floyd C. McElveen, author of The Mormon Illusion, further explains:

Joseph Smith declared that God gave him the power to translate the reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics into English [Page 53]and produce the Book of Mormon. … This means that every letter, every character, was exactly what God said, letter-by-letter and word-for-word. … The written word was perfect.19

McElveen then asks, “If the translated word were perfect, why have the Mormons made some 4,000 changes in grammar, punctuation and word structure in the perfect Book of Mormon?”20 He declares, “If the Mormons claim that God directed Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon they accuse God of using faulty grammar and of making other mistakes that later needed to be corrected.” 21

The problem with these criticisms is that they are based upon a false premise. Although Martin Harris and David Whitmer were positioned to observe, they did not personally translate and could describe only what they saw and heard. Their narratives depict the seer stone as little more than a teleprompter and relegate Joseph Smith’s participation to that of a reader devoid of any role as translator. In contrast, Oliver Cowdery did attempt to translate (D&C 8, 9). He consistently described Joseph looking into the seer stone(s) “to translate,” not to read “what was on the plates.”22 Oliver’s accounts do not portray Joseph simply reciting words scrolling across the seer stone(s).23

[Page 54]Joseph Smith left no description of how the words came to him as he dictated. At a Church conference in 1831, Hyrum Smith invited the Prophet to explain how the Book of Mormon came forth. Joseph’s response was that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and … it was not expedient for him to relate these things.”24 His only answer was that it came “by the gift and power of God.”25

That Joseph contributed to the process in an undefined but necessary way was demonstrated in 1829 when Oliver Cowdery attempted to translate but failed. The Lord explained why: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask.” (D&C 9:7–8). It appears that translating involved more than mimicking a court recorder reading back previous testimony.

Joseph’s revelations describe the Book of Mormon as containing “the truth and word of God” (D&C 19:26) but not necessarily words from God’s own mouth. It is true that Joseph Smith said “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth,” but the context was not in grammatical accuracy, rather in its power to teach truth. He went on to say that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”26

According to the book’s own history, the text was not perfect when recorded by Mormon and Moroni27 or when dictated by Joseph to his [Page 55]scribes.28 Expecting the text to be perfect and then claiming God made mistakes because of subsequent changes is a straw man argument because the original expectation is not representative of Joseph’s teachings.

Understanding the “Changes” and “Variants”

The Book of Mormon is “a literary feat for the ages,” writes Huffington Post blogger Jack Kelly. That Joseph Smith “dictated most of it in a period of less than three months and did not revise a single word before its initial printing is even more jaw-dropping.”29 So Joseph did not revise the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon before it went to print, but as Lamoni Call and the Tanners have documented, changes were made in subsequent printings.

If numerous revisions, rewritings, edits, and modifications were needed in a second edition, then the question is why? Did the original Book of Mormon manuscript contain many errors that needed correction like the early draft of most books that are eventually printed? If so, its creation might not have required divine intervention or have been significantly different from other publications. But if the changes constituted minor letter and word substitutions to upgrade the dialect and grammar without changing the primary story line or message, then Joseph’s creation would retain an important uniqueness.

Royal Skousen has recently published “all of the cases of grammatical variation in the history of the Book of Mormon text.”30 His study identifies 106,508 “accidentals” in the different versions of the Book of Mormon.31

Skousen’s research supports that none of the general categories of changes indicates the presence of glaring problems within the Book of Mormon narrative.

 

[Page 56]

Category of Change Number
Adding the word change 273
Adding chapter and verse numbers 9,677
Paragraphing 1,420
Punctuation 41,619
Periods for numbers 6,620
Spelling ampersands 15,577
Spelling of etc. 18
Spelling of common English words 7,982
Scribal slips in manuscripts 1,780
Typos in editions 2,087
Capitalization 19,455
106,508

Early Modern English

While some of the textual modifications in the chart above are easy to comprehend, the sheer number of changes raises questions of why, if God was involved with the translation process, are there are so many? Recent research by Skousen and Stanford Carmack provides important clues. “In quite a few cases,” writes Skousen, “the Book of Mormon usage is restricted to Early Modern English and died out by the 1700s. One surprising finding is that nearly all the Book of Mormon usage that many have thought to be simply Joseph Smith’s Upstate New York dialect has actually been identified as Early Modern English. In other words, the original Book of Mormon text is archaic English (dating from Early Modern English) rather than Joseph Smith’s dialectal English.”32

Word substitutions comprised a large part of the transition from old English to a newer version. “The most prominent of these changes has been to replace which with who (or whom or that) when it refers to people. … Similarly, because that was changed in the 1837 edition to simply because. Further, instances of the historical present tense have been removed from the Book of Mormon, such as the many instances of original saith rather than said.”33 It could be argued that the primary [Page 57]driving force through all the textual alterations was improving the readability and clarity of the message of the Book of Mormon.

Stanford Carmack, who has a linguistics and law degree from Stanford University, sums up the most recent findings:

When Book of Mormon language deviates from biblical modes of expression, it is easy to view these differences as nonstandard, even ungrammatical. And from the perspective of modern English, the earliest text of the Book of Mormon certainly often reads that way. But because much of its language is independent of the King James Bible, even reaching back in time to the transition period from late Middle English into Early Modern English, it needs to be compared broadly to those earlier stages of English. … [I]t is no longer possible to argue that the earliest text of the Book of Mormon is defective and substandard in its grammar.34

Carmack continues, “We need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that the Book of Mormon is full of ‘errors of grammar and diction’ and appreciate the text for what is is — a richly embroidered linguistic work that demonstrates natural language variation appropriately and whose forms and patterns of use are strikingly like those found in the Early Modern English period.”35

The reasons why the seer stone would have produced a text in an earlier form of English is impossible to answer given our current state of knowledge. Without more information regarding God’s involvement with the process, declaring definitively that an acceptable text would have been in pure King James English, or in nineteenth century English, or in twenty-first century English, is simply impossible.

It might be argued that since the original dialect came through the seer stone, it should remain unchanged and not be updated. Skousen explains that “keeping the original, nonstandard language in the current [Page 58]text would only bring attention to itself and get in the way of reading the book for its message.”36

Critics Identify the Most Egregious Changes

Several critical authors have provided samples of changes that they apparently consider to be the most egregious.37 In 2006, Jerald and Sandra Tanner wrote, “Besides the approximately 4,000 [3,913] grammatical and spelling changes that have been made in the Book of Mormon, there have been both historical changes and doctrinal changes.”38 What “historical and doctrinal” changes did they immediately mention? They highlighted two.

In the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith replaced the name Benjamin with Mosiah in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1.

Concerning these word substitutions, Skousen explains, “The problem has to do with how the chronology is interpreted in the books of Mosiah. The two original readings with Benjamin are very likely correct. Although Benjamin is unexpected, it appears that king Benjamin lived long enough to be still alive when Ammon and his men returned to Zarahemla with the people of king Limhi (in Mosiah 22).39

More recently Don Bradley has pointed out that king Benjamin’s father — also named Mosiah — translated a “large stone brought unto him with engravings” by using “the gift and power of God” (Omni, 1:20).Bradley’s research into the lost 116 pages indicates the elder Mosiah actually found the interpreters (later called Urim and Thummim), which were passed to Benjamin and then to his son Mosiah.40 If correct, then [Page 59]all three names could be accurately substituted in the Ether reference and the latter two names in the Mosiah verse. Within the context of the Book of Mormon narrative, this substitution seems insignificant.

 

  1830 Edition 1867 Edition
Mosiah 21:28 And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice. And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.
Ether 4:1 And the Lord commanded the brother of Jared to go down out of the mount from the presence of the Lord, and write the things which he had seen: and they were forbidden to come unto the children of men, until after that he should be lifted up upon the cross: and for this cause did king Benjamin keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ should shew himself unto his people. And the Lord commanded the brother of Jared to go down out of the mount from the presence of the Lord, and write the things which he had seen; and they were forbidden to come unto the children of men until after that he should be lifted up upon the cross; and for this cause did king Mosiah keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ should show himself unto his people.

The other change the Tanners discuss involves the addition of “the son of” to four original verses (now 1 Nephi 11:18, 21, 32, 13:40) to clarify Christ was the son of God. They consider these four substitutions as “the four most important changes” in the Book of Mormon.41

 

[Page 60]

  1830 Edition 1837 Edition
1 Nephi 11:18 “And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh “And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.”
1 Nephi 11:21 “And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! …” “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! …”
1 Nephi 11:32 “… And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world …” “… And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world …”
1 Nephi 13:40 “… and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world …” “… and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the World …”

In Joseph’s early teachings, Christ was both God and the son of God, so either rendition was accurate.42 It could be reasoned that this highlighted change did not alter any doctrine or teaching, but the additional words served to more clearly distinguish the teaching from Trinitarian views popular in other religious traditions. Skousen speculates, “Perhaps he didn’t like the Catholic sounding expression” and that the addition was simply a “clarification.”43

It appears that of all the possibilities, these two emendations were the most significant changes the Tanners could identify. If more important historical or doctrinal alterations had been encountered in their research, it is probable those would have been mentioned first.

[Page 61]The significance of all the changes will likely remain controversial, but a couple of observations can be made. First, these two do not seem to represent an attempt to correct sweeping contradictions or blunders in the text but rather provide clarification to potential ambiguities. Second, if these are the most egregious changes critics can identify, the Book of Mormon narrative, as it fell from Joseph’s lips, was remarkably free from significant errors.

Book of Mormon Changes Do Not
Represent Revising or Rewriting

As discussed above, the changes identified by Skousen and Carmack do not refer to major modifications or corrections to sections of the Book of Mormon’s original wording. Historian Dan Vogel acknowledged, “Smith’s method of dictation did not allow for rewriting. It was a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness composition,” adding, “It is not that the manuscript went through a major rewrite.”44 Normal content editing, which involves revising and reworking parts of the text, did not occur in the original or in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon.

Many naturalists consider Joseph Smith to have been a first-time novelist in 1829 as he created the Book of Mormon, so the lack of revisions is unexpected.45 Professional writers and instructors generally emphasize the need for rewriting in order to create a finished manuscript. Betty Mattix Dietsch, author of Reasoning & Writing Well, addresses the plight of first-time novelists: “Some inexperienced writers seem to think they have hit the jackpot on their first draft. They evade the fact that every exploratory draft needs more work.”46 “I usually write about ten more or less complete drafts” confides Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder, “each one usually though not always closer to the final thing.”47 In her college [Page 62]textbook, Steps to Writing Well, Jean Wyrick emphasizes the importance of rewriting:

The absolute necessity of revision cannot be overemphasized. All good writers rethink, rearrange, and rewrite large portions of their prose. … Revision is a thinking process that occurs any time you are working on a writing project. It means looking at your writing with a “fresh eye”—that is, reseeing your writing in ways that will enable you to make more effective choices throughout your essay. … Revision means making important decisions about the best ways to focus, organize, develop, clarify, and emphasize your ideas. … Virtually all writers revise after “reseeing” a draft in its entirety.48

Louis Brandeis, who served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939, coined a common maxim for authors: “There is no good writing; there is only good rewriting.” That changes have been made in the Book of Mormon text should not be confused with the idea that revisions or rewriting occurred. They did not, which is surprising for a frontier-schooled twenty-three-year-old farm boy who is listed as “author.”49

Potential Propaganda

A review of critical literature regarding the Book of Mormon identifies two classes of critics. There are those who tell their audiences that many changes have been made and provide examples (like the Tanners). There are others who report “upwards of 4,000” changes without any further discussion.50

On the surface, voices that stress the thousands of emendations could easily generate a mental picture of a book that underwent significant revisions and rewriting after its first edition. If the overall insignificance of the changes is not disclosed, the number of 2,000 or 3,913 changes [Page 63]could be used by critics to mislead their audiences, as propaganda is designed to do.

Jerald and Sandra Tanners have sold many copies of their book 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, since first released in 1965. The title of the book is technically accurate. But how many unsuspecting observers have read (and continue to read) the title and assume the Book of Mormon manuscript required thousands of corrections to compensate for significant mistakes in Joseph Smith’s dictation? The perception created by the title might be misleading because readers may impute more significance to the word “changes” than actually justified. If transparency is sought, then adding a subtitle might be useful: 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon: But None are Really Significant.

Royal Skousen summarized his research: “Errors have crept into the text, but no errors significantly interfere with either the message of the book or its doctrine. … Ultimately, all of this worry over the number of changes is specious.”51

 

1. This word count was calculated using Microsoft Word and the text from http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/book-of-mormon-1830/1, after removing the witnesses’ testimonies, copyright page, and bracketed insertions.
2. D&C 42:12, Articles of Faith 1:8.
3. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898: TS, ed. Scott G. Kenney, vol. 2, 1841–1845 (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983), 139.
4. “History, circa Summer 1832,” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 15, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/6.
5. Mark Staker, “Isaac and Elizabeth Hale in Their Endless Mountain Home,” Mormon Historical Studies 15, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 82, http://mormonhistoricsites.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Isaac-andElizabeth-Hale.pdf.
6. “History, circa Summer 1832,” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 15, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/6.
7. Joseph Smith History 1:66–67.
8. “History, circa June–October 1839 [Draft 1],” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-june-october-1839-draft-1/3.
9. John W. Welch, ed., Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844, 2nd ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Press/Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 108–10.
10. Lamoni Call, 2000 Changes in the Book of Mormon (Bountiful, UT: L. Call, 1898), 41, https://archive.org/details/2000changesinboo00callrich.
11. See Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism: A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith, Jr. (New York: Dodd, Mean & Co, 1902), 95, https://archive.org/details/foundermormonism00rilerich.
12. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, rev. ed, (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1996), 15.
13. See Royal Skousen, “Online Access to the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project,” The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, accessed August 15, 2017, http://criticaltext.byustudies.byu.edu/.
14. Royal Skousen, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 161–62, http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/changes-in-the-book-of-mormon/. See also Royal Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon: Part One Grammatical Variation (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2016) 11.
15. See Tanner, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/3913intro.htm. See also “Book of Mormon Problems,” MormonThink, accessed November 27, 2017, http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-mormon-problems.htm.
16. Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 6 February 1882, 86–87.
17. L. Traughber Jr., “Testimony of David Whitmer;’ Saints’ Herald 26, no. 22 (November 15, 1879), http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/IL/sain1872.htm#111579.
18. Call, 2000 Changes in the Book of Mormon, 30, 128.
19. Floyd C. McElveen, The Mormon Illusion: What the Bible Says About the Latter-day Saints (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1979) 44–45.
20. Ibid., 46.
21. Ibid., 48.
22. Josiah Jones, “History of the Mormonites,” The Evangelist 9 (June 1, 1841): 132–­34, accessed November 27, 2017, http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/JJones.html. See also “Last Days of Oliver Cowdery,” Deseret News, (Salt Lake City, UT), April 13, 1859, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=2590800. See also Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, September 7, 1834 in Messenger and Advocate 1 (October 1834): 14–15, http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/7160.
23. See John W. Welch, ed., Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844, 2nd ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Press/Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 157–62. One possible exception is found in a late 1907 recollection from conversations between Samuel W. Richards and Oliver Cowdery in the “fall of 1848.” Richards wrote that “by holding the translators over the words of the written record, and the translation appears distinctly in the instrument. … Every word was made distinctly visible even to every letter.” (Samuel W. Richards [statement, May 21, 1907] 2–3, https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE4987076.) Eyewitnesses testified differently saying that a seer stone, rather than the “translators,” was used and the plates were not involved. Perhaps, Richards’ somewhat garbled report was actually referring to proper names consistently spelled out rather than all 269,938 words of the 1830 Book of Mormon.
24. Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds. Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 23.
25. “History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844]”, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 27, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-e-1-1-july-1843-30-april-1844/431. See also Times and Seasons 5 (1 March 1842): 707, accessed November 27, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/times-and-seasons-1-march-1842/5. See also “Testimony of Three Witnesses,” Book of Mormon, (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), 589.
26. Kenney, ed. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898, 2:139. This comment was made by Joseph Smith, Sunday, November 28, 1841, at Brigham Young’s home, with the Apostles present.
27. See Mormon 9:31. Moroni explained, “If there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God” (Book of Mormon, title page).
28. Dan Vogel wrote, “Smith may have sometimes made stylistic changes in the manuscript and passed them off as scribal errors.” (Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), 124, http://signaturebookslibrary.org/joseph-smith-the-making-of-a-prophet/.) This is purely speculative. See Royal Skousen ed., The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001).
29. Jack Kelley, “Joseph Smith: Genius,” The Blog, Huffington Post, December 06, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thought-matters/joseph-smith-genius_b_10773964.html.
30. Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon: Part One Grammatical Variation, 11.
31. Skousen, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” 174.
32. Royal Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon: Part One Grammatical Variation, 13.
33. Royal Skousen, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol. 11, 2014, 167.
34. Stanford Carmack, “The Nature of the Nonstandard English in the Book of Mormon,” quoted in Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon: Part One Grammatical Variation, 95. See also, Stanford Carmack, “A Look at Some ‘Nonstandard’ Book of Mormon Grammar,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11, (2014): 209–62, http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/a-look-at-some-nonstandard-book-of-mormon-grammar/.
35. Ibid, 95.
36. Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon: Part One Grammatical Variation, 11.
37. See Earl M. Wunderli,<An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2013), 9, 30, 32, 202. Wunderli also mentioned changing “Jesus Christ” to “Messiah” in 1 Nephi 12:18 (46n88). See also “Book of Mormon Problems,” Mormon Think, accessed November 18, 2017, http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-mormon-problems.htm.
38. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, “The Challenge the Book of Mormon Makes to the World,” Salt Lake Messenger 107, (October 2006), http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no107.htm.
39. Skousen, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” 171.
40. Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Rediscovering the Book of Lehi (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books), forthcoming.
41. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Major Problems of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1989), 160.
42. See D&C 6:2, 37; 76:22–23.
43. Skousen, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” 169.
44. Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, xix, 383.
45. A few of the writers who have published books that portray Joseph Smith as the unassisted author of the Book of Mormon include: David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of The Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2000); Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 2010); Earl M. Wunderli, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2013).
46. Betty Mattix Dietsch, Reasoning & Writing Well: A Rhetoric, Research Guide, Reader, and Handbook, 4th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 62.
47. Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (New York: Random House, 2013), 147.
48. Jean Wyrick, Steps to Writing Well, 12th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 2014), 91–92.
49. See William Davis, “Reassessing Joseph Smith Jr.’s Formal Education,” Dialogue, (Winter 2016): 1–58. Davis concluded that Joseph Smith may have had seven years of schooling. However, Davis’s methodology is problematic, and his research fails to take into account contemporaneous sources that contradict his conclusions. See also Brian C. Hales, “Curiously Unique: Joseph Smith as ‘Author’ of the Book of Mormon,” forthcoming.
50. David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2000), 86.
51. Skousen, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” 172.
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About Brian C. Hales

Brian C. Hales, is the author of six books dealing with polygamy, most recently the three-volume, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013). His Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto received the “Best Book of 2007 Award” from the John Whitmer Historical Association. He has presented at numerous meetings and symposia and published articles in The Journal of Mormon History, Mormon Historical Studies, and Dialogue as well as contributing chapters to The Persistence of Polygamy series. Brian works as an anesthesiologist at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, Utah, and has served as the President of the Utah Medical Association.

14 thoughts on “Changing Critics’ Criticisms of Book of Mormon Changes

  1. Critics like to point at the 1 Nephi changes from ‘God’ to ‘Son of God’ as if it represents a major doctrinal change. But a simple reading of the context of the passage in 1 Nephi (mostly chapter 11) shows that the reference in the original 1830 and the reference in the 1837 edition is to Jesus Christ in both cases.

    The passage refers to the God who…

    Was born of a virgin mother
    Was known as the Lamb of God
    Went among the people, and people fell at his feet to worship him
    Was called the Redeemer of the world
    Was baptized by a prophet who would precede him, accompanied by the sign of the dove
    Healed the sick and cast out devils
    Had twelve apostles
    Was lifted up on the cross and slain for the sins of the world

    This description is to Jesus Christ both before and after the change made to the 1837 edition. The fact that critics have been confused by the original wording indicates it was a good idea to make the clarification.

    As noted by Bro. Hales, the term God rightly applies to Jesus as well, and we even see this in the Bible in verses such as Isaiah 9:6, where the “son” is “The mighty God, The everlasting Father.”

  2. When we covenant to, among other things, take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, according to language found in the Book of Mormon we become his children, and he becomes our father, even though both he and we have a father. Just as we have our own mortal father, we and Jesus Christ (or Yahweh) also have a father.
    In Mosiah 3 we learn that “the Lord Omnipotent shall “come down among the children of men” (v. 5) and “he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things” and so forth.

    Attempts to fashion both a dogmatic and systematic theology have mangled the crucial kinship language in the Bible by turning God into a First Thing that created everything, including time and space, out of nothing. How could this no-thing who is no-where have a son who was born a mortal and who was murdered and yet rose again from the dead, and who blood atoneth for sins of mortal human beings, through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, and whose resurrection from the death won a victory for all human beings from mortal death.

  3. Thank you! I enjoyed this article. I do have one question. There is a tension, is there not, with the notion that Joseph did not merely “read” the Book of Mormon from the seer stone as his translation and the declarations of scholars identifying within the Book multiple examples of Early Modern English, samples of speech that had died out well before Joseph commenced the translation. If I understand things correctly, Joseph would not have been speaking and writing in EME so how else would those patterns of speech have made it into the Book of Mormon other than a reading of those words from the seer stone? Again, thank you for this article.

    • Workable theories of how Joseph Smith’s “translated” the Book of Mormon have to take into account the testimonies of Whitmer, Harris, and Knight reporting Joseph reading the text from the seer stone and the fact that he spelled out proper names.

      The theories also need to account for nineteenth century references that would probably have not been on the plates like “jot” and “tittle” (Alma 34:13; 3 Nephi 1:25, 12:18), which are the smallest letters of the Greek alphabet. 2 Nephi 9:18 speaks of “the saints of the Holy One of Israel. . . who have endured the crosses of the world” (Nephi 9:18). And there’s knocking on doors (3 Nephi 14:7), bread shaped like a stone (3 Nephi14:9), barns (3 Nephi 13:26), candlesticks and bushels (3 Nephi 12:15), footstools (3 Nephi 12:35), and corners of streets (3 Nephi 13:5). In additional JS freely changed many parts of the text in 1837 and 1840.

      Skousen and Carmack espouse a “tight control” theory where JS essentially read the text from the teleprompter seer stone. At the other end of the spectrum are Brant Gardner and Blake Ostler who essentially attribute the text to inspiration and the seer stone did not convey specific data optically.

      It is beyond this post to elaborate further, but my personal feeling is that JS received translation information from the stone in English, but it was not the final translation. JS would then be a literal translator, rather than primarily a seer or revelator.

      • Somehow, many people have understood that I don’t think that Joseph read from the stone. I actually agree with the data that so strongly suggest that he read what he saw. Where I differ is how the words got “on the stone.” I don’t think there is any suggestion in any description of scrying throughout history that suggests that the instrument used to scry actually projected the visions (or texts) that the scryer “saw.” Joseph used a seer stone for very typical scrying functions, and never suggested that the Interpreters (or his own seer stone) behaved differently when used to translate the Book of Mormon.

        • Thank you, Brant, that is very helpful.

          Brant, also I have spent time, as others have, trying to reconcile both the “tight control” and the “loose control” theories of translation and the evidence that we have. The loose control makes a lot of sense in that it reflects how I have written things over my nearly 30 year career (and in education before that). What is in your mind doesn’t come out on paper, a computer screen, or a white board the same way and often we need multiple attempts to get it right–right meaning to match what is in the mind.

          Skousen stunned me with the evidence of tight control and not only that, but that it is often in early modern English. Why tight control over early modern English?

          I can’t help wondering if the distinctions between modern English and middle English aren’t from a modern perspective–the transition occurs when the writing becomes mostly recognizable to the modern reader, but with differences in phraseology and grammar. At the time of the transition from middle to modern English, they probably didn’t recognize that transition at the time.

          What Joseph read when he put his face in with the stone in his beaver skin cap to block out the light and how that text became visible is in the range of speculation. I can’t help wondering the role of the one person in the narrative that we know spoke both English and the ancient language (and in fact gave us our name for that language–reformed Egyptian), namely Moroni. I can’t help wondering if it weren’t Moroni pushing the text to Joseph in some form or another. When did Moroni learn English? Sometime between 421 AD on the Nephite calendar and September 1823 on the Gregorian calendar, Moroni was resurrected. We don’t know when, but it was likely when it would best serve his mission of bringing the ancient record to light. Did he learn English in the spirit world from people who died speaking early modern english, or did he learn English as a resurrected being, resurrected so that he could learn English and prepare the translation? I don’t know, but both possibilities could explain a lot of what we understand from the clues we have about the translation.

          I do think Moroni is the key to why so much early modern English in the text and the solution to the debate over tight and loose control of the translation process.

          • First time comment.
            Is there another explanation for the ancient text in EME scenario…one that takes into account the history (i.e., timeline) of Central America. If we put EME on a typical timeline, say not later than 1700, what was happening in Central America AND England in this timeframe. The idea that pops into my head immediately is that from the early 1500s to 1700 is the time of the great ‘exploration/exploitation’ of this part of the world. This opens the way for a ‘speculative’ scenario that allows either someone from Central America to ‘hitch a ride’ from there to England and learn EME or the reverse. How this individual(s) get the original (or copies?) of the Book of Mormon in the ancient language to where an actual textbook translation (original speaker to EME) and then get it somehow to the seer stone for ‘projection’ is more speculation without clues. The bottom line is I think we have ignored the more mundane clues from a timeline inspection as to how the pieces of the puzzle could be brought together….and I haven’t even gone out on the ‘3 Nephites’ limb as to ‘whom’.

        • Brant,

          Just curious, I’m wondering if it was scrying and seeing in the mind’s eye to speak instead of actual text on the surface of the stone, I believe as you are indicating (I should probably recheck your book), what would be the physical purpose of the diminishing of light in the hat, and for the Interpreters, the spectacle frame and the attachment to the breastplate?

          • From all I can observe from descriptions of scrying in multiple cultures and over time, the point of the object used was to somehow alter or distort vision–probably so both the scryer and anyone watching the process would know that the result was not derived from the normal visionary processes. Darkening the hat was a more modern version of the practice. Perhaps attaching dual stones (set too far apart to be spectacles, and probably not clear) would have served the same function.

            Joseph saw something when he used the stone. In non-text usages, it was places. I think it is reasonable that he saw text–particularly if he used the stone to see the KJV text (I suspect an image of the printed page, including the italics with which Joseph interacted). It wouldn’t surprise me if Joseph thought that the text was “on” the stone, but we never think that the locations he saw were “on” the stone. All of the speculation that something magical happened due to the stone itself seems to me to be imposing current understanding backwards. We obviously read on our phones, and don’t seem to be able to imagine any other method (and that is probably the reason that we see that very example used to explain Joseph’s process).

  4. Nice article, Brian!

    I think the most important emendation was the publisher’s transformation of the Amlicites into Amalekites. It makes nonsense of major plot points in Mosiah, thinking of Mosiah as war drama rather than scripture.

    From my perspective, the reason the Book of Mormon is the most correct book is that it captures explicitly the uniquely “Mormon” doctrine that God intended His Son to redeem all mankind from the very beginning, to save Adam and Eve and all their posterity. Other Christian doctrines proclaim the salvation of Christ, but are not particularly troubled that large swaths of humanity will never have an opportunity to embrace Christ.

    I was writing a missionary about this, and said for Mormons, teaching someone how to embrace Christ is like teaching someone to smile – teaching them how to exercise something that is a fundamental capability of their being. Where other Christian doctrines teach that embracing Christ is like giving someone a smart phone, a fantastic thing that, though fantastic, is not a fundamental core to every soul.

    And, of course, all this discussion of changes doesn’t come close to touching the mind blowing number of changes in every copy of the Book of Mormon ever published in a non-English language… (Silly note occasioned by noticing my husband reading from his Spanish Book of Mormon).

  5. Skousen and Carmack’s important discovery that “the original Book of Mormon text is archaic English (dating from Early Modern English) rather than Joseph Smith’s dialectal English” cannot be overstated.

    To me that means more than “tight control.” It would seem Joseph was given the English text, which is why Joseph and Hyrum were adamant that the text be printed as it was in the printer’s manuscript but for punctuation. No tinkering with the words.

    Words like “jot,” “tittle,” “Bible,” and so forth, including obvious KJV language in many of the quoted verses were certainly not represented as such on the plates, but they can be accounted for if the translation occurred beginning in the 1500s and extending up to the time it was delivered to Joseph Smith.

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