On Friday, March 1st, the Church announced the immediate availability in digital format of a new edition of scriptures in English that incorporates changes, updates, and improvements over the 1981 edition that has served Church members for 32 years. On its website, the Church stated that the reason for the updates was to take advantage of the need to replace the printing master plates in use since 1979 and 1981 by making corrections and updates.
Such changes to scriptures are not new. The most significant changes in recent history were made to the 1981 print edition, which included updated chapter headings, an enhanced Bible Dictionary, a more comprehensive index, cross-referenced footnotes, pronunciation guides, improved and updated maps, as well as a few changes of substance that added clarity to scripture readings.
The changes to the 2013 edition of the scriptures, available in print in August, fall into 4 key categories:
- Spelling and typographical adjustments
- Changes in layout
- Updates and changes in study aids
- Modifications and additions to the introductions to sections of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price
Subtle Changes . . .
Some changes are relatively inconsequential from a doctrinal standpoint. Some are interesting and informational. Others are subtle, yet significant.
Spelling and typographical adjustments are natural and should raise no eyebrows. We have all seen such “mistakes of men” since the first printing of the Book of Mormon, which had many errors introduced from the typesetter and scribes. Making corrections of this nature in publications as extensive as our scriptures would be expected over time, and so such corrections are clearly understandable.
Changes in layout are similarly inconsequential for the most part, except as they may improve our ability to glean personal insights in scriptural passage, improve our ability to find information, or make our overall scripture reading experience more enjoyable. Such changes should be welcomed by all of us.
A list of the changes can be found here.
. . . but Significant Implications !
However, some changes are more significant. Some help settle controversies that might otherwise impede our understanding or acceptance of the authenticity claims of the restoration. Some help remove ambiguity in our understanding of key interpretations of doctrine. Such is the case with the changes to study aids and modifications to introductions and headings.
While not part of the official “canon” of the scripturesa, study aids serve to help us in our understanding of the gospel by providing insights from scholars and providing links to other scriptures and information that may relate to a given topic. While changes to this section would be expected to come over time as our understanding improves and as new discoveries are made, critics often feel the need to focus on these headings or introductions and read more into them than is warranted. Information included in the headings in prior editions reflect the best historical information we had at the time, and new historical discoveries since the creation of the 1981 edition have caused critics to make varied claims against the Church because of the lack of clarity or the presence of some discrepancies.
For these criticisms, there are some significant if not subtle changes that address important issues raised by critics. Some of these are discussed below.
For example, in the Book of Mormon, , a long standing criticism has been the reference to coins being used by the Nephites, whereas there has been no such discovery of the use of coins in the Americas by pre-Colombian peoples. Rather, our critics point out, the system of exchange was one of weights and measures. This, they claim, demonstrates that Joseph had introduced a modern anachronism (an error of time where conceptual artifacts from modern times are introduced erroneously into works of fiction written about earlier times) into the Book of Mormon which, they argue, demonstrates that the Book of Mormon is a modern creation and not an historic record of ancient origin.
The term “coins” is interestingly not mentioned anywhere in the Book of Mormon text itself, but was actually introduced in the non-canonized heading by Elder Bruce R. McConkie as part of the updates to the 1981 edition. It is interesting to note that Elder McConkie applied his modern lens of living in a coin based society to his reading of the Book of Mormon, and interpreted the exchange system in Alma 11 as being a discussion of coins. This interpretation made its way into the 1981 heading for that Chapter. However, the actual text of the Book of Mormon mentions only weights and measures, a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the system of exchanges known to exist among pre-Colombian peoples. This actually makes the issue of coins a “boomerang hit” as I have discussed in a previous article.
Prior editions of the Book of Mormon did not reference coins. The new 2013 edition reverts back to describing the exchange system in Alma 11 as a “monetary system”, thus eliminating an unnecessary criticism of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
The introduction printed in the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon, which is not considered part of the canon, stated “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestor of the American Indians” [emphasis added]. Critics have long argued that the inclusion of such language indicates an official interpretation by Church leaders that Book of Mormon events took place across both North and South America, and that all the peoples of the Americas were direct descendants of Lehi. This, they argue, is countered by genetic studies and a lack of archaeological artifacts and therefore disproves the Book of Mormon.
In response to these criticisms, many defenders of the authenticity claims of the Book of Mormon discount the notion that all peoples inhabiting the American continents were necessarily direct descendants of ancient Israelis. The similarly assume that the events of the Book of Mormon occurred in an originally unpopulated land or across all of the Americas. They argue, as part of a larger argument that DNA evidence in support of Book of Mormon authenticity claims would be very difficult to identify, that the Lehite party arriving in the Americas probably found large populations already there. They further argue that internal reference maps using only the internal descriptions of places, times and distances mentioned in the Book of Mormon, indicate that the area where Book of Mormon events took place was likely limited to some hundreds of miles in dimension.
The introduction for the Book of Mormon in the 2013 edition of the scriptures now reads “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” This subtle yet significant change reflects a return in understanding developed over the past 60 years that, while all first nations peoples in the Americas might rightly be termed “Lamanites” from a theological perspective, they are not necessarily all direct descendants of Lehi. This small change has important implications in terms of empowering a growing defense of the Church against supposed claims that science disproves the Book of Mormon. And, while this change appears to be reactionary to this controversy, it is actually not new. It was originally described as such by Elder Richard L. Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a First Presidency approved comparative article on American religions printed in 1963 and again in 1975. In these articles, Elder Evans says of the Book of Mormon that it is “part of a record, both sacred and secular, of prophets and peoples who (with supplementary groups) were among the ancestors of the American ‘Indians.” Thus the updated introduction reflects a return to this earlier phrasingb.
Official Declaration 1 – Polygamy
The following introduction has been added to the Doctrine and Covenants in the new 2013 edition of the scriptures, giving context and current interpretations on the revelation ending polygamy:
“The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.”
While not creating official doctrine as part of the official canon, the addition of this introduction clarifies that the interpretation of the Church today is that monogamy is the standard for God’s people. Critics have claimed that Mormons secretly believe that polygamy is the standard, and that monogamy is a temporary anomaly that will be swept aside in eternity if not sometime soon during mortality. Such arguments cause pain and pressure for individuals who are discomforted at the thought of a practice in eternity that is not required of them in mortality. This addition clarifies that the standard is in fact monogamy, providing emotional room for those discomforted by the thought of polygamy.
Official Declaration 2 – Blacks and the Priesthood
In 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation on the priesthood that extended the right to every worthy male in the Church to receive all the blessings of the priesthood without regard to race, including those pertaining to the temple. Prior to that time, individuals of African descent were often denied the blessings of the priesthood. Many well-meaning members and leaders sought to explain the practice, arguing that there was a doctrinal basis for such a restriction. Many such explanations assumed a revelatory basis for the practice, and produced justifications that were damaging to the sensitivities of our black members. Critics have argued that many Mormons cling to such beliefs. The following new introduction to Official Declaration 2 dispels many of these notions. It reads:
“The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”
This official introduction validates an argument long made by defenders of the Church that there is no known source for the initiation of what has become termed the “priesthood ban”. It confirms that Joseph himself ordained black male members to the priesthood, indicating that the “ban” was likely not founded on scripture. It further explains that, despite the unknown source for the ban, it was believed that the lifting of the ban required revelation from God which came on June 1, 1978 and was then adopted unanimously by the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the full contingency of General Authorities.
This introduction can serve to provide some comfort to members bothered by statements from other well-meaning individuals and leaders who said many things in the past that are seen today as hurtful. It upholds the current belief that only worthiness determines the right of a man to receive the blessings of the priesthood, and helps to dispel the notion that Mormons are racist in their intent.
Joseph Smith’s Inspired Translation of Abraham
The great Chicago fire of 1871 was once thought to have destroyed the papyri once owned by Joseph Smith and from which he is reported to have produced the Book of Abraham. However, in 1966 several portions, considered to constitute approximately one third of the original total collection acquired by Joseph Smith in 1835 were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Considered authentically part of the same papyri purchased by Joseph Smith from Michael Chandler for $2,400 due to portions being affixed to papers with drawings of LDS temple designs, these portions have been translated by Egyptologists and found to contain portions of an ancient funerary text known as the Book of the Dead.
Defenders of the Book of Abraham have argued that the roughly 66% of the papyri that is missing likely contained the portion from which the Book of Abraham was translated. Others have theorized that the papyri may have simply instigated a revelatory process whereby Joseph received the record independent of the Papyri.
The original 1981 edition of the scriptures described the Book of Abraham as “A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, . . . “. The 2013 edition now reads “An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham” [emphasis added]. This somewhat less subtle change in the description reflects the fact that we know relatively little about the precise process and source document from which we have obtained the Book of Abraham and how that relates to the papyri that we have in the Church’s possess. This description emphasizes instead the inspired nature of the process regardless of the material source for the work. This has significant implications for defenders of the Book of Abraham. Many defenders can now await further developments on the source front, and turn to arguments that the myriad things Joseph Smith correctly produced that were unknown at the time of the production of the Book of Abraham, but which have subsequently been demonstrated as being consistent with ancient traditions, indicate that Joseph clearly had access to some source that was authentic. Such evidences give credence to the Book of Abraham as authentically ancient.
There are of course other changes. Some will be identified over time. For example, the Bible Dictionary reference to the fall of Adam stated in the 1981 edition that Adam and eve had physical bodies but no blood prior to the fall, and that “there was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations” [emphasis added]. The current new 2013 edition omits the reference to the physical status of Adam and Eve and simply states “Before the Fall, there were no sin, no death, and no children.” The omission of the reference to the physical condition of Adam and Eve, and the move away from a claim that the fall incorporated all life on earth (as some would interpret the 1981 version), leaves room for faithful members of the Church who struggle over evidences of biological developments in the animal kingdom to persist in their faith in Latter-day scriptures without abandoning generally accepted scientific evidences as they relate to life.
Thankful for Growth
Such changes are subtle. They are not necessarily controversial in their own right, but can help serve to settle controversies that have been occasioned by the mistakes of men, even those who are otherwise good and inspired. Such changes reflect a growth in our understanding, and in our ability as a Church and a people to accept understanding and growth through both learning and faith.
I for one am grateful for the efforts of the Church to continually improve, clarify and expand our understanding. In so doing, we continue in a long tradition of eternal progression as a people and individuals.
I expect there will be more changes over time. Some will find their way more quickly into digital versions of scripture, then more slowly into print editions. So, I am grateful that my effort to persist in my faith and to help others to do the same is assisted by these subtle yet significant changes to our guidebook towards eternity. By settling some controversies, these changes allow us all greater space for our faith to flourish, as well they should. They are, after all, designed to bring us closer to Christ.
About the Author: John Lynch is a father of 4 children in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California, currently serving in the high priests group leadership of his ward. He serves as a managing director and co-founder at www.MormonVoices.org, and is Chairman of FAIR (the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research – www.fairlds.org). He has served in numerous callings including twice as a Stake Mission President, multiple stints as young mens president and ward mission leader, and he worked several years at the missionary training center in Provo, Utah as a teacher and trainer. He has been married for 24 years (and counting) to his beautiful wife Krista.
a Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who played a very significant role in the improvements made in the 1981 edition of the Scriptures, said the following: “As for the “Joseph Smith Translation items, the chapter headings, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, footnotes, the Gazeteer, and the maps. None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them. Cross-references, for instance, do not establish and never were intended to prove that parallel passages so much as pertain to the same subject. They are aids and helps only.” (Bruce R. McConkie cited in Mark McConkie (editor), Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1989), 289–290. ISBN 0884946444. ISBN 978-0884946441.)
b Roper, “Nephi’s neighbors,” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 109.