Scratching My Head Over A New LDS Bible Translation

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Thomas A. Wayment, a professor at BYU, has just published a new translation of the New Testament. It is subtitled “A Translation for Latter-day Saints”.  I ordered a copy and received it earlier this week. Even an initial glimpse has puzzled me.

First of all, there’s this statement on the back cover. “Where applicable, the Joseph Smith Translation has been included.” Another name for the Joseph Smith Translation is the Inspired Version. So when wouldn’t an inspired translation apply?  In his introduction, Prof. Wayment says he has “been selective in doing so because many of the changes that he (Joseph Smith) made are inextricably linked to the King James Version.” But does this mean his changes are less than inspired?

In addition, the Pearl of Great Price, another LDS Scripture, contains Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew chapter 24. This section is not only part of the Inspired Version, but it is also part of another LDS scripture. Therefore, if any section should be included in his new translation, it should be this one. But it’s not. It’s mentioned a couple of times in the study notes. That’s it. Really? Shouldn’t the inspired translation be the main text and not relegated to a couple of references in the notes?

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Since we use Matthew 5:48 extensively in our witnessing, I quickly checked to see how he translated it. Instead of a command, he makes it a promise. “Therefore you will be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. I don’t want to get into an analysis of Greek verb forms and grammar. Instead, I want to think through the ramifications of his translating it this way. First, it contradicts Joseph Smith’s Translation which says: “ye are therefore commanded to be perfect.”  Secondly, it contradicts almost every LDS prophet and apostle who have used Matthew 5:48 to tell people to be perfect. Were all these prophets wrong to use it that way? If so, what does this tell us about their prophets?

I don’t know how popular Wayment’s translation will become with LDS members. But it does illustrate a growing trend within Mormonism. On the one hand, Mormons continue to heap praise on Joseph Smith and subsequent LDS prophets. On the other hand, they increasingly don’t know, ignore, or even contradict their teachings. And it doesn’t even concern them!

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The danger for Christians is to give too much weight and pay too much attention to this trend. It would be easy to engage in a debate with LDS members over it. That, however, probably wouldn’t accomplish much. Instead, we need to continue to focus on sharing the greatest news of all: Jesus has done everything to make us worthy to live with God for all eternity. Not only is this the greatest news in the world; it is also the most powerful message of all.  And, in spite of all this maneuvering, it is still a message Mormons desperately need to hear.

Mark Cares1 Comment