“History of the Scriptures,” About the Scriptures (2020)
“History of the Scriptures,” About the Scriptures
Throughout the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, leaders and members have reverenced the text of the scriptures and deepened their understanding by using study aids such as dictionaries, cross-references, and the historical information given in chapter and section headings. The scriptures as we know them today have undergone careful revisions and subtle improvements, introduced gradually through numerous editions.
King James I commissioned an official English-language version of the Bible in response to Puritan concerns about inaccuracies in earlier translations. Forty-seven scholars worked on this version for seven years, incorporating their work with the earlier translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek by William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale. This translation, known as the King James Version, became the Authorized Version for the Church of England.
Francis Sawyer Parris, a Cambridge fellow and biblical scholar, spent some twenty years standardizing punctuation and spelling, correcting typesetting errors, and revising and expanding the use of italics for supplied words not found in the Greek and Hebrew versions. Using Parris’s revision as his foundation, Benjamin Blaney, an Oxford fellow, made a few additional adjustments and corrections. His final revision was published by Oxford University in 1769 and became the standard text for the King James Bible. Only minor adjustments have been made since that time.
Joseph Smith began the process of translating the gold plates in December 1827. Most of the translation for the Book of Mormon occurred between April and June 1829. Oliver Cowdery supervised the publication process and, along with Hyrum Smith and an unknown scribe, made a copy of the manuscript for the printer. John H. Gilbert, the typesetter, supplied most of the punctuation in the volume. The Book of Mormon became the Church’s second standard work, alongside the Bible.
In 1830, Joseph Smith began the process of revising the King James Version of the Bible through inspiration. He worked on it over the next three years, until July 1833. However, only excerpts of Joseph’s revisions were published during his lifetime.
In a November 1831 conference, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders decided to publish his early revelations for the Saints. Church leaders carefully selected, edited, and compiled the revelations, then turned them over to Church printer William W. Phelps. He began typesetting and printing the revelations in late 1832. However, in July of 1833, a mob destroyed the printing office. Church members saved some of the already printed sheets. These were bound as the Book of Commandments, but the books were incomplete, ending partway through the 65th chapter.
In 1834, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders formed a committee to compile and publish a new book of teachings and revelations. The first part of the book contained the seven Lectures on Faith, while the second part was a compilation of Joseph Smith’s revelations. This second portion was an expanded version of the Book of Commandments and contained 103 sections. The volume, titled the Doctrine and Covenants, was published in 1835 and became the Church’s third standard work.
After the Church’s printing operations moved to Kirtland, Ohio, Parley P. Pratt and John Goodson requested Joseph Smith’s permission to print a second edition of the Book of Mormon. In addition to giving permission, Joseph Smith and trusted associates also made grammatical corrections and refined the language.
After the Saints arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1839, the First Presidency and other Church leaders authorized another edition of the Book of Mormon, as demand for the book was increasing. Joseph Smith carefully compared the original manuscript with Oliver Cowdery’s printer’s manuscript. He corrected some copying errors and made additional grammatical adjustments and minor revisions. The new edition was printed in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1840, with additional copies being printed in Nauvoo in 1841 and 1842. The original Book of Mormon manuscript was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House.
In 1840, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles obtained Joseph Smith’s permission to publish a European edition of the Book of Mormon. Joseph’s corrected 1840 edition was not yet available, so they used the 1837 edition as their basis. The European edition added an index and moved the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses to the front of the volume. Difficulties in Nauvoo over the next few years disrupted printing operations in the United States. Thus, the majority of other Church-published editions of the Book of Mormon derived from this edition, perpetuating the copying errors in the 1837 edition. Many of these errors were gradually corrected later in the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century.
In order to meet the increased demand for scriptures from new converts arriving in Nauvoo, Ebenezer Robinson began typesetting a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1841. Joseph Smith eventually purchased Robinson’s printing operation, and Elders John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff supervised the remainder of the typesetting and stereotyping. The edition reprinted the contents of the 1835 edition along with seven new items from Joseph Smith. The book was nearly finished when Joseph and his brother Hyrum were murdered. A final tribute to them was included as the last section in the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants, now section 135.
In early 1845, Elder Wilford Woodruff supervised the printing of a European edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. He used the text of the 1844 Nauvoo edition, which continued to be the standard for future printings over the next few decades. Within two days of the volume being printed, Elder Woodruff secured the copyright in England to prevent followers of Sidney Rigdon from doing so.
In 1851, while serving as president of the British Mission, Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve compiled a selection of Church doctrines and teachings, portions of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, part of Joseph’s translation associated with Egyptian papyri (the book of Abraham), and extracts from Joseph Smith’s history. The volume was published as the Pearl of Great Price.
Elder Orson Pratt, under the direction of President Brigham Young, made numerous adjustments in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. He added real names after substitute names (which had been used in earlier editions to protect some Saints). He also reordered the revelations into a more chronological order and divided the revelations into more standardized, short verses. In addition, he wrote new section headings, created a table of contents, and added 26 sections.
In 1878, the second edition of the Pearl of Great Price was published in Salt Lake City. A few more items were added to the volume at this time, including the full text of present-day Moses and Doctrine and Covenants 132. The volume was canonized two years later during the Church’s general conference, becoming the Church’s fourth standard work.
The first edition of the Book of Mormon had consisted of large, unnumbered chapters, which made citing a particular passage difficult. In subsequent editions, some of these large paragraphs were divided and verse numbers were assigned to the paragraphs, but the paragraphs were still generally long. In 1879, Elder Orson Pratt divided the Book of Mormon into small chapters and verses for easier reference. His numbering system became the standard for all later Latter-day Saint editions.
In 1879, Elder Orson Pratt, while in England and under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, published a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants that matched the format of the newly printed edition of the Book of Mormon. In this new edition, the lengthy table of contents was replaced with an index, and cross-references were added in footnotes. A set of electrotype plates was sent to Utah and used in the printing of the 1880 edition. This text became the standard for the next four decades.
The 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon (actually printed in 1921) was produced by a committee of Apostles, including Elders George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, Joseph Fielding Smith, James E. Talmage, and Melvin J. Ballard. They made grammatical adjustments, standardized the titles of the books of Nephi to remove ambiguity, and put the text in a double-column format to match the presentation of the Bible. They also created chapter summaries for every chapter, included a guide for pronouncing names in the Book of Mormon, added a table of contents, and revised the footnotes and the index.
The 1921 Doctrine and Covenants was produced by the same committee of Apostles that supervised the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon. They removed the Lectures on Faith from the book, arranged the text in a double-column format as with other standard works, expanded the section headings and index, and revised the footnotes.
In 1902, James E. Talmage, under the direction of the First Presidency, revised the Pearl of Great Price, removing some content that was duplicated in the Doctrine and Covenants, dividing it into chapters and verses, and adding footnote references. In 1921, Elder Talmage, now an Apostle, continued to make improvements, adding an index and putting the text in the double-column format. After the 1920 and 1921 editions of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price were published, they were more frequently printed together in one volume, often referred to as the “triple combination.”
In 1979 and 1981, following a historic effort led by Elders Thomas S. Monson, Boyd K. Packer, and Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published its own edition of the King James Version of the Bible. Elder Boyd K. Packer said of the Church’s new edition: “Publication of the King James Version of the Bible and the new triple combination, with all their helps, are of monumental importance to all members of the Church. Everything that could be done has been done to help open the scriptures to members so that they might know the gospel of Jesus Christ” (in Bruce T. Harper, “The Church Publishes a New Triple Combination,” Ensign, Oct. 1981, 19).
In 1981, part two of the Church’s historic English scriptures project came to fruition with new editions of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. Some textual corrections were made to the Book of Mormon based on close comparisons with early manuscripts. In addition, the phrase “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” was added to the title the following year. Two revelations and Official Declaration 2 were also added to the Doctrine and Covenants. As part of this effort, all four standard works received new or expanded chapter summaries, expanded footnotes cross-referencing all the Church’s standard works, and additional study aids at the end of the scripture text: a Bible dictionary; a topical guide; an index integrating the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price; maps and gazetteers; and select passages from Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible.
In 2004, under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the Church’s Scriptures Committee began working on a new edition of the scriptures. Compared to most new editions, the revisions in the 2013 edition are minor. In the text of the scriptures, spelling and punctuation errors were corrected, and some word spellings were updated to more current standards. Study aids were also updated: errors and dated information in cross-references were removed, and contextual adjustments in the section headings of the Doctrine and Covenants were made. In addition, all the standard works were typeset again for this edition.