Question: If the Book of Mormon is an accurate translation, why would it contain translational errors that exist in the King James Bible?

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Question: If the Book of Mormon is an accurate translation, why would it contain translational errors that exist in the King James Bible?

The only description of the translation process that Joseph Smith ever gave was that it was performed by the "gift and power of God"

The Book of Mormon incorporates text which seems to be taken from the Bible, including passages which are now considered to be mistranslations in the King James Version. "For instance, there are mistakes in translation, such as 'instead of a girdle, a rent' (Isaiah 3:24, quoted in 2 Nephi 13:24), where rent is an error for rope (thus 'instead of a belt, a rope'). In addition, there are cultural translations (that is, translations that made the reading understandable to Early Modern English speakers), but which were nonetheless wrong, such as 'do men light a candle?' (Matthew 5:15, quoted in 3 Nephi 12:15), which should read 'do men light a lamp?'"[1] Thus the Book of Mormon includes some anachronistic, erroneous elements in its translation. If the Book of Mormon is "the most correct book of any on earth," why would it contain translational errors that exist in the King James Bible? [2]

We do not know the specific mechanism by which the biblical passages were included in the translation, therefore we cannot answer this question definitively based upon current historical information. The only description of the translation process that Joseph Smith ever gave was that it was performed by the "gift and power of God," and that the translation was performed using the "Urim and Thummim." Joseph Smith stated the following in July 1838:

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon? Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which I translated the plates and thus came the book of Mormon. (Joseph Smith, (July 1838) Elders Journal 1:42-43.)

That said, a well-documented textual history of the Book of Mormon and statements left by witnesses to the translation may provide us a path to some answers.

Manuscipt evidence, as well as several statements from eyewitnesses to the translation, definitively rules out that a Bible was consulted during the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Using the Original and Printer's Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint scholar Royal Skousen has definitively shown that none of the King James language contained in the Book of Mormon could have been copied directly from the Bible. He deduces this from the fact that when quoting, echoing, or alluding to the passages, Oliver (Joseph's amanuensis for the dictation of the Book of Mormon) consistently misspells certain words from the text that he wouldn't have misspelled if he was looking at the then-current edition of the KJB.[3]

Witnesses to the translation process never reported that a Bible or any other book was present during the translation. Given this evidence, we could assume that the Biblical passages were revealed to Joseph during the translation process in a format almost identical with similar passages in the King James Bible. Joseph performed most of the translation in the open using the stone and the hat. Thus how do we get the language from the King James version of the Bible?

When considering the the data, Skousen proposes that, instead of Joseph or Oliver looking at a Bible, that God was simply able to provide the page of text from the King James Bible to Joseph's mind and then Joseph was free to alter the text as he pleased. In those cases where the Book of Mormon simply alludes to or echoes KJV language, perhaps the Lord allowed these portions of the text to be revealed in such a way that they would be more comprehensible/comfortable to his 19th century, Northeastern, frontier audience. This theology of translation may feel foreign and a bit strange to some Latter-day Saints, but it seems to fit well with the Lord's own words about the nature of revelation to Joseph Smith. The Lord speaks to his servants "after the manner of their language that they may come to understanding" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:24). Latter-day Saints should take comfort in fact that the Lord accommodates his perfection to our own weakness and uses our imperfect language and nature for the building up of Zion on the earth.

Notes

  1. Interpreter Foundation, "The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon," <https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-history-of-the-text-of-the-book-of-mormon/> (25 January 2020).
  2. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 10, 83. ( Index of claims ); Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 205. ( Index of claims ); La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 7 (17 February 1838) off-site
  3. Interpreter Foundation, "The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon," <https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-history-of-the-text-of-the-book-of-mormon/> (25 January 2020).