A Greater Portrayal of the Master

“A Greater Portrayal of the Master,” Ensign, Mar. 1983, 6

A Greater Portrayal of the Master

Important events in the life of the Savior are illuminated by Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible.

Editor’s note: That Joseph Smith the Prophet made a “new translation” of the Bible is generally known by members of the Church. However, this work has had limited use among us, and therefore its content has remained largely unknown and unappreciated. Two excerpts from the translation appear in the Pearl of Great Price, identified as the book of Moses (an excerpt from Genesis) and Joseph Smith—Matthew (JST, Matt. 24), but the Prophet’s translation of the King James Version contains many more extensive Bible corrections and additions.

With the recent official publications of the scriptures by the LDS Church, the benefits of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible are now readily available to English-speaking Latter-day Saints. The new LDS edition of the Bible (1979) contains hundreds of content footnotes from Joseph Smith’s translation (identified therein as JST). Furthermore, the new publication of the Doctrine and Covenants (1981) makes repeated reference to the JST. Special mention of it is made in the headings to sections 35, 64, 71, 74, 76, 77, 86, and 91. The footnotes to Doctrine and Covenants 9:2; 35:20; 37:1; 42:56; 45:60; 73:3; 93:53; 94:10; 104:58; and 124:89 also speak of the JST.

The accompanying article illustrates some of the ways the Joseph Smith Translation helps us better understand the ministry of Jesus Christ.

The translation of the New Testament by the Prophet Joseph Smith is a source of interesting and valuable information about the ministry of Jesus Christ. Hundreds of items found in the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) are exclusive to that work. Some of these significant passages are discussed in this article, but there are many others waiting to be discovered by those willing to study the JST—or the new LDS publication of the Bible, which contains several hundred footnoted excerpts from the JST.

Before we examine the specific contributions of these New Testament passages, it will be helpful to consider what Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible is.

The Book of Mormon prophets foresaw that many plain and precious parts would be taken away from the Bible (see 1 Ne. 13:26–29) and could only be had again through “other books” and by new revelation (see 1 Ne. 13:38–42). The situation could not be completely remedied by scholars, for it was not a problem of language but a lack of adequate manuscripts. Revelation was needed to restore the lost material so that it could be “had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe.” (Moses 1:40–41.) The Lord assigned the Prophet Joseph Smith to begin his translation of the Bible in June 1830.

The Prophet worked with great regularity from June 1830 until July 1833 on a new translation, and thereafter until his death in 1844 he frequently added other revisions and alterations to the work while preparing the manuscript for publication. This translation was not based on a knowledge of biblical languages or the use of ancient documents. Rather, it was a revelatory, divinely inspired revision and correction of the Bible, using the King James Version as the documentary base. Thus, the translation work proved to be a major part of the Prophet’s mission. As he himself tells in his journal, translating the Bible was a “branch of [his] calling” as a prophet. (History of the Church, 1:238.) The Doctrine and Covenants contains numerous passages in which the Lord directed, counseled, and instructed the Prophet about the translation. How the Prophet himself viewed the work is illustrated on the first page of the New Testament manuscript, which begins: “A translation of the New Testament, translated by the power of God.”

Although the Prophet Joseph gave attention to the entire Old and New Testaments, some areas received greater expansion than others. Genesis received many enlargements and corrections, as did also the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, and Revelation.

The command of the Lord to begin a translation of the New Testament was given on 7 March 1831, and the manuscript shows that the work on the book of Matthew began the next day. (The early chapters of Genesis had already been translated.) The Lord’s directive is recorded as follows:

“And now, behold, I say unto you, it shall not be given unto you to know any further concerning this chapter, until the New Testament be translated, and in it all these things shall be made known;

“Wherefore I give unto you that ye may now translate it, that ye may be prepared for the things to come.

“For verily I say unto you, that great things await you.” (D&C 45:60–62.)

As promised, translating the New Testament taught the Prophet many things he had not known before. We also can have a learning experience with this translation when we study for ourselves the information that Joseph Smith has given to us. For example, in the JST we discover facts about Jesus and his life that are not revealed in any other translation of the Bible. The remainder of this article will identify some of this new information. We will use the King James Version for comparison because that was the version of the Bible the Prophet used to make his translation.

1. Jesus, the Prince, born in Bethlehem

As recorded in the King James Version (hereafter referred to as KJV), wise men from the East inquired of Herod about the birth of the “King of the Jews.” Consequently, Herod asked the scribes “where Christ should be born.” He was told that it was written, “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” (Matt. 2:2–6.)

However, as given in the JST, the men from the East asked Herod a more searching question: “Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews?” (The Prophet’s changes here and hereafter are highlighted by italics.) Herod was told by the scribes that the prophets had written, “And thou, Bethlehem, which lieth in the land of Judea, in thee shall be born a prince, which art not the least among the princes of Judea; for out of thee shall come the Messiah, who shall save my people Israel.” (JST, Matt. 3:6.)

As presented in the JST, it is not Bethlehem, but Jesus who is the prince; and he is not simply a Governor come to rule, but the Messiah come to save Israel. Surely it was Jesus (and not Bethlehem) who was the prince, for he (and not the whole village) was to inherit the throne of David and rule Israel “with judgment and with justice … for ever,” as recorded in Isaiah 9:6–7.

2. Jesus as a developing youth

After it was known to Herod that the Prince, the heir to the throne of David, was born in Bethlehem, he sought to slay Jesus. Whereupon, Joseph, being warned in a dream, took Mary and Jesus into Egypt. A short time later Herod died, so they returned to Israel and settled in Galilee. Jesus is spoken of at this time as a “young child,” probably not more than three or four years of age. (Matt. 2:20–23.) The KJV continues without interruption: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” (Matt. 3:1.)

Since John is only six months older than Jesus, it would be a remarkable feat for John “in those days” to be preaching and baptizing in the Jordan River, he being little more than a “young child,” the same as Jesus. It is evident that there has been a lapse of many years about which nothing is said in the passage from Matthew. Indeed, because of the absence of information in the KJV, many have thought that nothing is known of Jesus’ early life except for one event at age twelve when he was in the temple. However, it is just at this point, between the return to Galilee and the preaching of John, that the JST inserts the following information.

“And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come.

“And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.

“And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh.

“And in those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” (JST, Matt. 3:24–27.) The JST has provided just what is needed—a transitional period—a space of time in which John and Jesus could grow to maturity. And the passage gives an interesting glimpse into the personality and developing years of Jesus during that time.

3. The boy Jesus teaches the doctors at the temple

The account of Jesus at the temple at age twelve is recorded in Luke 2:41–50. In the KJV Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46.) The succeeding verse states that “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” The record of the event is strengthened in the JST because Jesus was not only sitting with the learned doctors, but “they were hearing him, and asking him questions.” (JST, Luke 2:46.) This clarification is necessary in order to make the event newsworthy. There is nothing essentially divine for a twelve-year-old boy to listen to his elders. But to be able to teach them and astound them in the knowledge of the scriptures is an event worth reporting. The KJV barely touches the real message of this passage, whereas the JST states it plainly.

This event, told only by Luke, and only in the JST, is in harmony with the earlier passage we discussed about Jesus’ boyhood. Both examples speak clearly of Jesus’ spirituality and unusual intellect and personality as a growing youth approaching the time of his ministry.

4. The baptism of Jesus

As reported in the KJV, Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan and requested baptism from John. The account tells that when Jesus came out of the water, “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16–17.)

As here reported, it was Jesus only who saw the Holy Ghost and heard the Father’s voice. The JST supplements this passage by declaring:

And John saw, and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Jesus.

“And lo, he heard a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him.” (JST, Matt. 3:45–46.)

No doubt Jesus also witnessed these things, but we learn from the JST that John himself heard the voice of the Father and saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus. This view strengthens our appreciation for John and stresses the significance of his mission. He was called to bear witness of the Messiah, and the JST shows that he received the special training and experience that enabled him to do it. This concept is all but lost in other Bibles.

5. Forty days in the wilderness

The KJV records that after his baptism Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness “to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.” (Matt. 4:1–2.)

The JST gives a different view:

“Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God.

“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil.” (JST, Matt. 4:12.)

Furthermore, the account given by Luke states that Jesus was “forty days tempted of the devil.” (Luke 4:2.) The JST alters this by saying, “And after forty days, the devil came unto him, to tempt him.” (JST, Luke 4:2.)

The KJV further states in both Matthew and Luke that “the devil taketh” Jesus to a high mountain and also to a “pinnacle of the temple.” However, according to the JST, it was not the devil but “the Spirit” who transported Jesus to these places, after which the devil then appeared to him. (Compare KJV Matt. 4:5–8 and Luke 4:5–9 with JST, Matt. 4:58 and Luke 4:59.)

Thus, the JST contributes in three ways toward a better understanding of Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. First, his purpose for going there was not to seek out the devil, but to commune with God; second, he was not tempted for the forty days, but after the forty days were over; and third, it was the Spirit of God, not the devil, who conveyed Jesus to the mountain and the pinnacle. The JST account is more reasonable than the KJV, for one does not fast and seek solitude in order to be tempted of the devil, but to commune with God.

6. Jesus at the wedding in Cana

The book of John tells of a wedding feast at Cana of Galilee early in Jesus’ ministry, to which Jesus and his disciples were invited. The mother of Jesus was also there. When the refreshments were not of sufficient quantity for the multitude of the guests, Jesus’ mother came to him and explained the situation. The KJV records the event:

“And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.” (John 2:3–4.)

It seems a little brusque for Jesus to speak to his mother in this fashion. Fortunately, the JST gives us a better view: “Jesus saith unto her, Woman what wilt thou have me to do for thee? that will I do; for mine hour is not yet come.” (JST, John 2:4.)

The JST account is more consistent with other accounts of the Savior’s respect for his mother, and also blends better with the next verse, which reads: “His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” (John 2:5.) This last comment would have little meaning if Jesus had turned aside his mother’s request.

7. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath day

While Jesus was in Galilee the Pharisees criticized him for letting his disciples pluck ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath as they traveled through the fields. Jesus defended their behavior by comparing it to an event in the Old Testament in which David in a time of emergency ate shewbread from the tabernacle which was ordinarily reserved only for the priests. As reported in the KJV, Jesus then said unto the Pharisees, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” Apparently, the intent of the passage was to present a compelling argument, as seen by the concluding sentence: “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27–28.) The Therefore indicates that Jesus had presented to the critical Pharisees some facts to explain why the Sabbath was instituted and how he became the Lord of it. In the abbreviated condition of the passage as it now exists in the KJV, the facts are not there.

The JST remedies the situation by retaining all that the KJV has and adding several key factors to the discussion:

“And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

“Wherefore the Sabbath was given unto man for a day of rest; and also that man should glorify God, and not that man should not eat;

“For the Son of Man made the Sabbath day, therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” (JST, Mark 2:25–27.)

The reasoning is thus completed; the purpose of the Sabbath is explained; and the final therefore is consistent with the Savior’s declaration that since he made the Sabbath, he is the Lord of it.

8. New wine in old bottles

In Matthew chapter 9 the disciples of John the Baptist question Jesus as to why Jesus’ disciples are not required to fast. John’s disciples say that they themselves fast often, as do also the Pharisees. Jesus’ reply is that the day will come when his disciples will fast, but the time is not yet. He then said, as recorded in the KJV, “No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment. … Neither do men put new wine into old bottles.” (Matt. 9:15–17.)

Since these verses follow immediately after the question about fasting, the reader is led to believe that the comment about new cloth and new wine has something to do with that question. The JST, however, separates the question about fasting from the comment about the wine and the bottles. The JST records a second question—this one from the Pharisees—that has nothing to do with fasting:

“And while he was thus teaching, there came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

“And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?

“But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

“Then said the Pharisees unto him, Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law?

“But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law.

“I receive not you with your baptism, because it profiteth you nothing.

“For when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away.

“For no man putteth a piece of new cloth on an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up, taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles; else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (JST, Matt. 9:15–23.)

Thus, the symbolism of the patch of cloth and of the bottle of wine have to do with baptism, not fasting as implied in the KJV. Other significant additions to this passage include the statements that Jesus is the author of the Law [of Moses]; that the Law was about to be fulfilled in Jesus; and that the Pharisees’ baptism was now useless, because the people needed to be baptized into the new dispensation by proper authority since the old dispensation was coming to an end. Very little of the doctrinal content of the JST can be discerned from the KJV, even by the most astute scholar. The JST reconstructs the scene, allowing the reader to observe more fully what took place.

9. Did Jesus personally perform baptisms?

In KJV John 3:22 we read that Jesus came with his disciples into the land of Judea, “and there he tarried with them, and baptized.” The passage seems to say that Jesus himself performed some of the baptisms. However, a little later, in John 4:1–3, we find:

“When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,

“(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

“He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.”

This passage denies that Jesus performed baptisms himself, contradicting the passage in John 3. The matter is resolved by the Prophet, who brings the various statements about Jesus performing baptisms into harmony:

“When therefore the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,

“They sought more diligently some means that they might put him to death; for many received John as a prophet, but they believed not on Jesus.

“Now the Lord knew this, though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples;

“For he suffered them for an example, preferring one another.

“And he left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.” (JST, John 4:1–5.)

Not only does the JST clearly state that Jesus performed baptisms (see also JST, Mark 1:6 and John 1:28), it also explains why Jesus left the area. The KJV leaves us dangling because it mentions the Pharisees, but doesn’t say what they have to do with the story. The JST explains that they wanted to kill Jesus because of his popularity, and therefore he left Judea and went into Galilee.

10. Perceiving others’ thoughts

Those who accept the divinity of Jesus Christ have no difficulty believing that Jesus had a perfect personality, possessed great knowledge, and could even discern the thoughts of his companions. There is much evidence for this in the scriptures, but the JST strengthens our perception of these characteristics.

KJV Matthew 16 relates an event in which Jesus discusses a matter with the disciples, and they afterward “reasoned among themselves” about it. “Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them. …” (Matt. 16:7–8.) An impression is given that a little time elapsed before Jesus understood the situation. The JST, on the other hand, provides this account: “And when they reasoned among themselves, Jesus perceived it; and he said unto them. …” (JST, Matt. 16:9.)

Matthew chapter 26 tells of a similar experience in which the disciples murmured about an expenditure of money for ointment. The KJV says: “When Jesus understood it, he said unto them. …” (Matt. 26:10.) Again the impression is given that time elapsed before Jesus comprehended the situation. A different impression is given in the JST: “When they had said thus, Jesus understood them, and he said unto them. …” (JST, Matt. 26:7.)

Another instance of Jesus’ ability to discern thoughts is found in Matthew chapter 12, in which “when Jesus knew it …” (Matt. 12:15) is revised in the JST to read, “But Jesus knew when they took counsel … ” (Matt. 12:13). Similarly, KJV Matthew 19:26, which reads, “But Jesus beheld them … ,” is corrected to say, “But Jesus beheld their thoughts … ” (JST, Matt. 19:26).

The nature of the Savior’s personal characteristics is further clarified in several other passages that were corrected by the Prophet Joseph Smith. We learn from JST Matthew 8:9 that it was not Jesus, but they who were with him who marveled when the centurion from Capernaum expressed faith in the Lord’s healing powers. And in JST Mark 14:36 we are told that it was not Jesus, but the disciples who were “sore amazed” while in the Garden of Gethsemane.

11. Jesus’ compassion

At one time during his travels, Jesus took his disciples “into the borders of Tyre and Sidon.” The KJV states that while there, Jesus “entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.” (Mark 7:24.) The impression is that Jesus sought seclusion, but could not obtain it because people found him in spite of his efforts to remain hidden.

The JST introduces a spiritual dimension to this passage which enhances our understanding of Jesus’ personality. It records that Jesus “entered into a house, and would that no man should come unto him.

“But he could not deny them; for he had compassion upon all men.” (JST, Mark 7:22–23.)

12. Jesus and little children

While in Galilee, Jesus placed a little child before his disciples and explained that the meekness and humility of little children are necessary qualifications for heaven. He emphasized children’s favored status by declaring “that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” (KJV Matt. 18:10–11.)

In the JST, Jesus enlarges upon this event: “For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost, and to call sinners to repentance; but these little ones have no need of repentance, and I will save them.” (JST, Matt. 18:11.)

This single improvement is by itself significant, but it is followed by yet another event having to do with children. Following this episode in Galilee, Jesus traveled with his disciples into Judea some sixty miles to the south. While in Judea, there were “brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.” (KJV Matt. 19:13.)

Why the disciples acted as they did is not stated in the KJV, and the reader is left to wonder at their motives. Did they think Jesus was too busy? Or were they themselves annoyed by the interruption?

Fortunately, the JST adds these clarifying words: “… And the disciples rebuked them, saying, There is no need, for Jesus hath said, Such shall be saved.” (JST, Matt. 19:13.) From the text of the JST we see that the action of the disciples in Judea was influenced by the Savior’s earlier teachings in Galilee. The JST clarifies the motives of the disciples, and speaks of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice for little children. The reader’s enjoyment of these two events is thereby significantly increased.

13. “Father, forgive them …”

Luke reports that while Jesus was on the cross he cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (KJV Luke 23:34.) The JST adds to this the following clarification: “(Meaning the soldiers who crucified him).” (JST, Luke 23:35.)

14. The color of Jesus’ robe

At the time of scourging, prior to the crucifixion, the soldiers placed a robe on Jesus. The KJV has varying reports as to the color. Matthew 27:28 [Matt. 27:28] says it was scarlet; Mark 15:17 and John 19:2 declare that it was purple; and Luke 23:11 says, simply, that it was gorgeous. In the JST, Matthew (JST, Matt. 27:30) is corrected to say “purple,” and Luke remains unchanged with “gorgeous.”

The significance of this correction is perhaps two-fold. First, purple is the color of royalty, which befits Jesus’ royal lineage as king of Israel. Second, it is impressive that the Prophet Joseph Smith would have such precise knowledge about the matter and that he felt it was important enough to be corrected.

15. Angels at the tomb of Jesus

In each of the four Gospels of the KJV, mention is made of the appearance of an angel, or angels, at Jesus’ tomb on the morning of his resurrection. Luke (Luke 24:4–6) and John (John 20:11–13) specify that two angels were present, whereas Matthew (Matt. 28:1–7) and Mark (Mark 16:5–6) indicate there was but one.

The JST is so worded as to make Matthew (JST, Matt. 28:24) and Mark (JST, Mark 16:3–4) agree with the other Gospels that there were indeed two angels at the tomb.

It may seem to be relatively unimportant whether there were two angels or one angel at the tomb, since the important event was that Jesus Christ had risen from the grave. However, it is probable that these angels were there for more reasons than to roll the stone away. They were very likely official witnesses of the greatest event that has occurred on this earth, and according to the law of the scriptures, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Cor. 13:1; see also Deut. 19:15.) Their presence at the tomb as witnesses may account for the Prophet’s care in causing all of the accounts to agree that two angels were present at the time of Jesus’ resurrection. The angels did indeed bear witness to those who came to the sepulcher that Jesus had risen from the dead, and they may yet in a time to come testify of this important occurrence. The scriptures do not tell who the angels were, but we may be assured that their selection for such an important task was not casual.

This article provides a sampling of some interesting and important passages from the JST concerning the personality and ministry of the Savior. There are many similar passages waiting to be discovered by the gospel student; and with the new LDS publication of the Bible, the discovering is now more easily made than ever before.

  • Robert J. Matthews, dean of religious instruction at Brigham Young University, is first counselor in the Lindon Utah Stake presidency.

Paintings by Carl Bloch, original at the Chapel of Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark; used by permission of the Frederiksborgmuseum.