Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Thirty-two: Joseph Smith and the Italicized Words in the KJV

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith is a Prophet

Evidence Thirty-two:
Joseph Smith and the Italicized Words in the KJV©

Joseph Smith produced about 900 pages of scripture in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the revisions in the JST.(1) This is monumental! It is monumental for many reasons, but one stands out concerning the theme “101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith is a Prophet.” That is, thousands of small items are tucked away in these pages which I used to call “zingers” when I was teaching Institute. They are unexpected insights, illumination, expansion, additional information, deletions, alterations, clarifications, explanations, and answers. Each one in its own way becomes one more evidence of the heavenly inspiration that rested upon the Prophet Joseph Smith as he translated, received and recorded revelation, or as he edited, corrected and interpreted scripture. The possibilities seem almost endless. So coming up with 101 isn’t really challenging in terms of the number. It is challenging to locate them and then say something intelligent about them. Fortunately, many, many items have been identified by a host of students in the past 185 years. Therefore, I claim very little originality in this series. Here is one, however, that jumped out at me. Maybe in the far and foggy reaches of the past I noticed it because someone else called it to my attention. If so, I do not recall who it was; I offer my apologies.

Many Latter-day Saints do not know why there are italicized words in the King James Bible. It is really pretty simple. Where the KJV translators supplied a word which was not in the original manuscript, but which they thought was implied by the language, the grammar, or context as they understood it, they italicized it to alert the reader it was not in the original text.(2) Interestingly, Joseph Smith paid attention to this phenomenon when he was working on the JST and occasionally he left the supplied word out or substituted something else in its place. This is a fascinating study by itself.

A famous passage which illustrates the importance of leaving the supplied word out is found in 2 Tim. 3:16 which reads in the KJV:
16) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
Note that the word “is” is italicized twice.  Here is the JST version:
16) And all scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:(3)
The first “is” is deleted and the second one is retained. What does this almost imperceptible change do to the meaning of the verse? The King James Version can, and has been taken to mean that all scripture is inspired, and there are branches of Protestantism who believe and maintain that very doctrine–that the Bible is the word of God and it is without error. That is not a unanimous view in the Christian world, but an important and significant segment of it holds this position. When you take the first “is” out, however, the meaning does not affirm that all scripture is inspired. Rather, it suggests the opposite. The implication being that all which we call scripture is not inspired; and only that which is inspired is profitable to man. That, of course, is much more akin to the Mormon view of scripture. 

Is it correct to believe that not all canonized scripture is inspired? To begin examination of this subject, lets turn to Brigham Young who said, 
...I have heard ministers of the gospel declare that they believed every word in the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them "you believe more than I do." I believe the words of God are there; I believe the words of the devil are there; I believe that the words of men and the words of angels are there; and that is not all, I believe that the words of a dumb brute are there. I recollect one of the prophet's riding; and prophesying against Israel, and the animal he rode rebuked his madness.(4)
I do not suppose those ministers who heard Brigham say this were overly pleased. What is his point? The scriptures are not strictly the “word of God’ because they contain the words of others, including Satan and many of his emissaries. Moreover, not all of what they say is inspired. True, it may have been inspiration that led the authors of the biblical books to include those words for context and greater understanding, but the words themselves are not inspired. Therefore, one needs to take care not to impute more to the text than good judgment permits.  

In addition, it is possible for actual error or mistakes to be canonized by an authoritative and responsible body. There are numerous conflicts between various passages in the Bible itself, which the hardliners work diligently to explain away. Even in LDS scripture we have examples. Notably, the death date of Alvin Smith was incorrect in early versions of JS-H 1: 4. It was originally in this passage as 19 November 1824, but has been corrected to 1823 based on documentary evidence.(5) When the most recent editions of the Book of Mormon were prepared, the printed text was compared with the original manuscript when it is extant, because not all of it is, and with the printer’s manuscript. This process brought to light numerous mistakes made in various printings from 1830 up.(6) Even since the most recent editions were published, scholars have identified yet other passages that may have minor errors in them. So, strictly speaking all scripture is not given by God and is not inspired. The unsteady and inaccurate hand of man plays a role in the production of scripture. Paul understood these matters as did Joseph Smith. It is as if Paul was giving Timothy his own 8th Article of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly....” We could add and as far as it is “transmitted” correctly too. When it is translated and transmitted correctly, it is profitable to the Saints.

The 2 Timothy alteration also tells us something important about Joseph Smith. Leaving out the "is" in 2 Tim. 3:16 shows us the alertness and keenness of his mind.  He was quick to pick up subtleties of meaning in scripture, particularly the implications conveyed by the manner in which things are written. This same point can also be made about numerous other passages he altered or interpreted. We will have occasion to refer to many in the course of producing 101 reasons why I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Lets think together again, soon.


1.  Gerald N. Lund, “A Prophet for the Fulness of Times,” Ensign, (January 1997), p. 52.

2.  Robert J. Matthews “I Have a Question.” [Why are some words italicized in the Bible?  Is that for emphasis or for some other reason?] Ensign (February 1978): 22-23.

3.  See footnote 16a at 2 Tim. 3:16 of the LDS edition of the KJV.

4.  Brigham Young, JD, 14:280, discourse of 3 July 1870.

5.  Richard L. Anderson, “The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction?” Ensign (August 1987), p.  72, n. 67.  “The 1824 date in this verse (also History of the Church, 1:16-17) is now corrected to 1823 to conform to the gravestone, Dr. Robinson’s daybook, and the September 1824 newspaper notice of Joseph Smith, Sr.”

6.  This project was initiated by President Spencer W. Kimball in order to produce a new corrected edition of the Book of Mormon.  Associated with this is what is known as “The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon Project,” at BYU.  Royal Skousen has spearheaded that project and has devoted his entire career to a study of the manuscripts to recover the most accurate version of the Book of Mormon possible.  He has written much about this endeavor.  The results are fascinating and very important.  Following are a few sources which,  listed chronologically, will introduce the reader to this work:

Skousen, Royal. “Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies, 30/1 (Winter 1990): 41-69.

__________, “Piecing Together the Original Manuscript,” BYU Today, (May 1992): 18-24.

__________, “The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr.  (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), pp. 65-75.

__________,  “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds. (Provo: FARMS, 1997), pp. 61-93.

__________,  “Editor’s Preface,” in The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, edited by Royal Skousen.  (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. xxix-xlv.

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