Book of Mormon/Textual changes/"the Son of"

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"God" changed to "Son of God" in the Book of Mormon

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Question: What changes were made to the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon?

Among the changes Joseph Smith made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13

The earliest edition of the Book of Mormon referred to Jesus as "God." Joseph Smith later changed some, but not all, of these to "the Son of God." It is claimed by some that this is evidence that Joseph Smith changed the Book of Mormon to conform to his changing beliefs about the Trinity, claiming that Joseph was originally a solid Trinitarian (perhaps even a Modalist), and as he later began to teach that the Father and Son were two separate beings, he had to change the Book of Mormon to support his new doctrine. However, this change was a deliberate editorial insertion by Joseph Smith to clarify four verses in 1 Nephi.

The second edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1837 at Kirtland, Ohio. The typesetting and printing were done during the winter of 1836–37, with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taking an active part in the editing process.

In this edition numerous corrections were made to the text of the 1830 (first) edition to bring it back to the reading in the original and printer's manuscripts. Joseph Smith also made a number of editorial changes to the text, as was his right as the translator of the text.

Among the changes he made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13:

  Original manuscript Printer's manuscript 1830 edition 1837 edition
1 Nephi 11:18 behold the virgin which thou seest is the Mother of god after the manner of the flesh behold the virgin which <whom> thou seest is the Mother of <the son of> God after the manner of the flesh Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh. Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Nephi 11:21 & the angel said unto me behold the lam of god yea even the eternal father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw & the Angel said unto me behold the Lamb of God yea even the <God> Father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
1 Nephi 11:32 & it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again saying look and i lookt & beheld the lam of god that he was taken By the People yea the ever lasting god was judgd of the world and i saw & bare record & it came to pass that the Angel spake unto me again saying look & I looked & behold the Lamb of God that he was taken by the People yea the everlasting God was Judged of the world & I saw &amp bear record And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! 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 saw and bear record. And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! 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; and I saw and bear record.
1 Nephi 13:40 (Not extant.) & the Angel spake unto me saying these last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles shall establish the truth of the first which is <which are> of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb & shall make known the plain & precious things which have been taken away from them & shall make known unto all Kindreds Tongues & People that the Lamb of God is the <the son of> eternal Father & the saviour of the world & that all men must Come unto him or they cannot be saved And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which is of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved; And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved;

(The strikeouts and <insertions> in the printer's manuscript are in Joseph's hand, and were added by him during the preparation of the 1837 edition.)


Question: Why did Joseph Smith make changes to the Book of Mormon such as modifying "God" to read "the Son of God"?

These changes were made for the purpose of clarification, not doctrinal modification

These changes are clarifications that the passages are speaking of Jesus, not God the Father.

The terms "God," "Everlasting God," and "Eternal Father" are ambiguous since they could properly refer to either the Father or the Son. For example, "Eternal Father" refers to God the Father in Moroni 4:3, Moroni 5:2, and Moroni 10:4, but to God the Son in Mosiah 16:15 and Alma 11:38-39.

The addition of "the Son of" to four passages in 1 Nephi does not change the Book of Mormon's teaching that Jesus Christ is the God of Old Testament Israel. This concept is taught in more than a dozen other passages whose readings remain unchanged from the original manuscripts. For example:

  • "And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself...as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up...and to be crucified...and to be buried in a sepulchre...." (1 Nephi 19:10)
  • "...he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth." (Mosiah 7:27)
  • "Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father." (Mosiah 16:15)
  • "Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Alma 11:38-39)

(See also 2 Nephi 25:12; Mosiah 3:8; Mosiah 13:28,33-34; Mosiah 15:1; Helaman 8:22-23; Helaman 14:12; Helaman 16:18; 3 Nephi 11:10,14; Mormon 9:12; Ether 3:14; Ether 4:7; Ether 4:12.)


It is simply illogical to conclude that Joseph Smith changed the four passages in 1 Nephi to conform to his supposed changing theological beliefs, but somehow forgot to change all the others.[1]


Question: Why did Joseph Smith change the wording in Mormon 7:7 from "is one God" to "are one God"?

Joseph Smith changed the word from "is" to "are" in Mormon 7:7 in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, from the 1830 version

In Mormon 7:7, Joseph Smith changed the phrase "is on God" in the 1830 Book of Mormon to "are one God" in the 1837 edition.. Critics of Mormonism claim that Joseph Smith changed this phrase in order to be consistent with new doctrinal beliefs.

...to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end. Mormon 7:7

Joseph seems to have just been correcting the grammar

Here Joseph Smith changed the singular is to the plural are in his editing for the 1837 Edition. Interestingly, this is the only instance in his editing where he made this grammatical emendation. In three other instances referring to the trinity, Joseph retained the expression "which is one (Eternal) God": [..] Note that in Alma 11:44 scribe 2 of P [the Printer Manuscript] omitted the is (O [the original manuscript] is extant here and has the is). The 1930 compositor, John Gilbert, prior to setting the type, supralinearly inserted (in light penciling) the is in P.

The inconsistency of editing here in Mormon 7:7 suggests that one should not read too much theological motivation into the one case where Joseph Smith made the change to are. He seems to have just been correcting the grammar at that late point in his editing.[2]

In 3 other verses, Joseph Smith left the "is one God" wording unchanged

Note that in 3 verses Joseph Smith left the "is one God" wording unchanged: Testimony of Three Witnesses; 2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44. If Joseph Smith was trying to change doctrine, why didn't he update these 3 other verses? Likewise, Joseph left Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi 1:8-9 unchanged, where he sees God and Jesus separately.

Either translation is correct doctrine. Critics are reading the original verse with a typical Catholic/Protestant interpretation of the Godhead, and attempting to infer Joseph didn't see God the Father and Jesus. But this is a flawed, straw-man argument. In this case it was probably an editing mistake in the first printing. It is also possible the words in the 2 original languages the Book of Mormon was translated from did not have a singular or plural use, in which case either would be a correct interpretation.


Question: Were any of the changes to the Book of Mormon made in reaction to sectarian criticism?

Some changes may have been made to eliminate the Catholic-sounding phrase "the mother of God"

Another reason "the Son of" was introduced into 1 Nephi 11:18 could have been to eliminate the Catholic-sounding phrase "the mother of God" that had been objected to by early critics of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery, responding to an article by Alexander Campbell in the Baptist newspaper The Pioneer, wrote in 1835:

Again, this writer [Campbell] says: "The name of Jesus Christ, was declared to Nephi, 545 years before it was announced to Mary, and she, in true Roman phraseology, is called 'the mother of God.'"

∗       ∗       ∗

This "friend of truth" says that Mary was "called the mother of God."—The reader will please turn to the 25th page of the book of Mormon, and read: "And he [the angel] said unto me, behold, the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh."

Now, every man knows, who has read the New Testament, that Mary was called the Lord's mother; and beside we remember to have read a word or two of Paul's writings, where he says: "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now, the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not."—See Gal. 1. Here we have it—the Lord Jesus was born of a woman, had a brother, and yet had no mother according to the flesh!![3]

Since this criticism of the Book of Mormon was fresh on Oliver's mind, and he was involved in the editing of the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, it is possible that the change in 1 Nephi 11:18 was inserted at his prompting.

Notes

  1. Because of the significant number of Book of Mormon passages that speak of Jesus as God, the original readings in 1 Nephi are perfectly acceptable in their original form. Royal Skousen, editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, has recommended that they be restored to their original readings (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon 4/1: 233).
  2. http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/books/volume-4-of-the-critical-text-of-the-book-of-mormon-analysis-of-textual-variants-of-the-book-of-mormon/part-six-3-nephi-19-moroni-10
  3. Oliver Cowdery, "Trouble in the West," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 1 (April 1835), 105. direct off-site