“BYU Hosts Symposium on JST,” Ensign, Jan. 1985, 76–78
It was the first ever of its kind—a two-day symposium devoted entirely to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Students and scholars met at Brigham Young University November 2–3 to discuss the origin, contents, and contributions of the JST.
Only a few short years ago, there was a common feeling of uncertainty among Church members about the completeness and accuracy of the JST. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve, in commenting on this feeling of uncertainty, indicated that this has largely passed away since the publication of the new Church edition of the King James Version with its repeated references to the Joseph Smith Translation.
During the symposium, Robert J. Matthews, dean of BYU’s Religious Education, addressed the question about the reliability of the printed JST—does it accurately reflect the changes Joseph Smith made on his own manuscript? “If the manuscript is correct,” he said, “then the published Inspired Version is correct, for they [the RLDS Church, owners of the copyright] have followed the manuscript very, very closely. A few corrections, such as spelling and grammar, were made. I have gone over that manuscript several times, and my judgment is that it has been published very accurately.”
Brother Matthews spoke about major doctrinal contributions of the JST—truths that are only hinted at in other Bibles. “Why aren’t these things in the Bibles the world has?” he asked. “I cannot believe that the ancient prophets and Apostles didn’t have a clear understanding of the gospel, or that they didn’t tell it. What I do believe is that the writings as found in all known, ancient manuscripts have been altered and diluted so that what presently is regarded as their writings no longer contain many of the plain and precious and more particular parts of the gospel that once were there. … Much of this has been restored now through the Joseph Smith Translation.”
Robert L. Millet, assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU, gave a historical review of the JST, indicating that it consists of (1) “inspired prophetic commentary—insights provided by Joseph Smith to assist a latter-day world to better understand a former-day message”; (2) “a harmonization of doctrinal concepts that were revealed to Joseph Smith independently of his work with the Bible, but proved to be the means whereby he came to recognize a biblical inaccuracy”; and (3) “a restoration of content material—ideas and events and sayings once supplied by the biblical authors but since deleted from the collection.”
Several speakers at the symposium dealt with insights the JST gives into various books in the Old Testament. George A. Horton, Jr., associate professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, discussed in detail eight gospel themes “which are either obscure or completely missing” in the King James version of Genesis and which “suddenly come into focus” in the JST: the role and mission of Jesus Christ, the role of Satan, the fall of Adam, the nature of man, the gospel of Jesus Christ taught in the beginning, God’s ways versus man’s ways, the priesthood, and covenants.
“We now recognize,” he said, “that reading Genesis without the benefit of the JST would be something like chewing on a T-bone with much of the steak already cut off.” Brother Horton also discussed insights from the JST into Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Monte S. Nyman, associate dean of Religious Education at BYU, looked at the contribution the JST makes to the twelve Old Testament historical books and the books of the Old Testament prophets. Although it is obvious that Joseph Smith didn’t complete his work on the Bible, “one must not overlook the importance of the changes which were made,” he said. “The Church has done a great service for its members by footnoting many of these significant changes in its new publication of the Bible.”
Joseph F. McConkie, associate professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, turned to the JST’s insights into the book of Psalms, such as latter-day contexts to prophecies (including allusions to the Apostasy, the First Vision, and the Book of Mormon); the doctrine that God manifests himself to the righteous; and references to the first and second comings of Jesus Christ and to premortal heavenly councils.
The JST has also made significant impact on the New Testament. Looking at the literary style of the Synoptic Gospels, Robert L. Millet concluded that the JST changes and additions are consistent in every case with each Gospel writer. The revisions made in Matthew, for example, are consistent with the major themes in Matthew; the JST changes in Mark reflect Mark’s emphases and style; the same is true in Luke. These examples of “restoration of content” witness that the JST is the work of a true prophet, he said.
In other papers, Clyde J. Williams, curriculum writer for the Church Educational System, addressed the “significant contributions in doctrine and clarity” that the JST makes to the New Testament epistles; and Robert A. Cloward, director of the LDS Institute of Religion, University of Tennessee, discussed the Sermon on the Mount as elucidated by the JST and the Book of Mormon.
Gerald N. Lund, director of Curriculum and Instruction, Church Educational System, discussed the Prophet’s work on the book of Revelation. Without the JST, he said, and without other Latter-day scripture (especially D&C 77) and certain non-scriptural sermons and writings by the Prophet, the book of Revelation is “a book covered by a veil, hidden from our view. But with what the Prophet has revealed, it becomes understandable. It fulfills and justifies its title as a book of Revelation.”
Keith W. Perkins, chairman of the department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, said that the JST teaches a truth about the Second Coming “that is found nowhere else in scripture,” and “which has not only been ignored by biblical scholars but also has been almost entirely overlooked by Latter-day Saints.” JST Luke 12:41–42 refers to Christ’s coming in the first, second, and third watches of the night—indicating that although “there will be an actual time when Christ will return to earth again to greet those in the flesh who are so privileged to meet Him in that day,” Christ comes “in every watch of the night.” In other words, “no preparation that we make for the Second Coming of Christ is in vain, for in effect he comes in every generation.” For example, if we die prior to his coming, the joy of our reunion with him “will be just the same as if we were living on the earth when he finally does return in great glory. … With this knowledge may we not worry so much about the day of his coming, but rather about our preparation to meet him regardless of the day.”
Summarizing the feelings of the symposium speakers, Brother Robert J. Matthews said: “We now have a second chance to use the JST. The JST was offered to the Saints during the days of Joseph Smith. They did not reject it, but they did neglect it. After Joseph Smith died, the Church lost the manuscript, and for over a hundred years we didn’t have access to it. Now we do; that’s why it was available to be included in the new edition of the Bible. We should be careful not to neglect it again.
“I believe that with the Church’s increase of emphasis on the scriptures and doctrine, it is the mind of the Lord that we should also have access to this great work which the Prophet Joseph Smith did in giving us a clearer understanding of the Bible. The JST is a witness for Jesus Christ. It is a witness for the divine calling of Joseph Smith as a prophet and an Apostle of Jesus Christ.”