We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. (Articles of Faith, no 8)
We use the King James Version, not because it is a perfect translation but the closest to perfect. Joseph Smith spent some time reworking the Bible as evidenced in the Joseph Smith Translation and his revised, if you’ll pardon the term, version of The Gospel of Matthew.
I’ve never taken issue with this. It’s only truth that over time a work can change – we all know the grapevine rule. The first whispers that his mother got a new job and by the time the twentieth person has heard it, the news has changed to some lady was murdered. An exaggerated example, but the idea is there.
The Book of Mormon, however, is supposed to be pure, the most correct book on the Earth. I’ve always understood the book has no need for further translation.
It appears I am wrong, and on some fronts I can accept this. After all, Joseph Smith and his scribes couldn’t exactly spell and when they could, capitalization and other spelling rules differ. The grammar of the time also varies widely from the grammar of today. There are typographical errors and clarifications to be made, as well as a translation of the original handwriting (handwriting can be difficult to understand).
A few years back, my mom gave me a 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon she discovered at an estate sale. I thought “Oh, cool. I wonder what the differences are,” but I didn’t consider anything huge to have happened. I didn’t study it either, but I figured it was all grammatical and placed it on my bookshelf. It is cool after all. I’d kill for an 1830 edition, too, just for the historical value. I never really thought I’d ever have reason to reference this older edition.
So when I ran across an article last night which discussed a major word change from the 1920 edition to the 1981 edition, I double checked and sure enough…
1920 Edition 2 Nephi 30:6
And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people.
1981 Edition, 2 Nephi 30:6
And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.
It’s not that difficult to catch, though I do find it interesting that other passages within the Book of Mormon were not changed:
2 Nephi 5:21 (1981 Ed.)
And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
Listen, as an investigator I knew about the accusations of racism directed at the Church. Everyone – at least most – knows of the ban of Blacks and the Priesthood. I still remember sitting in my college library, reading the scriptures in an effort to figure this out. I knew of the passages in the Book of Mormon which used the word “white” and concluded it must be metaphorical. After all, white generally signifies purity because white is devoid of all color. Easy enough, and upon some research I’m hardly the first to come to such a conclusion.
But I didn’t know about these quotes. I already mentioned this one in a previous entry, but I’ll repost it anyway:
Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood…. This negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa—if that negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.
- Race Problems—As They Affect The Church, Address by Mark E. Petersen at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954. Emphasis added.
That one is bad enough. As a church we like to dismiss such horrible words as the words of an Apostle speaking as a man. Surely this isn’t doctrine, surely these words spawn from a horribly racist culture of the 1950s.
I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today as against that of only fifteen years ago. Truly the scales of darkness are falling from their eyes, and they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people. . . .
The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.
At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated. (Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference, October 1960; See also Improvement Era, Dec.1960, pp. 922-923)
Have we taught that the Lamanite people, even the African-American, the Asian, etc. people have darker skins than us due to their less-than-valiant work in the pre-existence? Before finding this discrepancy between Book of Mormon editions, I might've squeezed a “probably not” from my lips. I couldn't say that now.
And it continues in the 2006 Doubleday Edition of the Book of Mormon. For anyone who is unaware, the Doubleday edition is a "commerical" edition of the Book of Mormon meant so anyone who wanted to get a copy could get one without contacting the Church.
1981 Official LDS Version, 2 Nephi 5 (chapter summary)
Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness, and become a scourge unto the Nephites.
2006 Doubleday Edition, 2 Nephi 5 (chapter summary)
Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites. (original emphasis)
1981, Official LDS Version, Mormon 5 (chapter summary)
The Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy, and loathsome people. (original emphasis)
2006 Doubleday Edition, Mormon 5 (chapter summary)
Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them. (original emphasis) (all from Lamanite Curse, FAIRwiki)
Much more PC, eh?
Look, I appreciate the changes, but I don’t appreciate our silence and inability to just apologize for crap said and basically condoned by Church leadership. We explain it away as if it doesn’t matter, but it does matter. The Church explained the change thusly,
The Prophet himself attempted to correct some of these kinds of errors, but his many duties prevented him from completing the project; and even so, some of his corrections seem to have disappeared again in later editions. For example, the 1830 and 1837 printings of the Book of Mormon contained a prophecy that the Lamanites would one day become ‘a white and delightsome people’ (2 Ne. 30:6)
In the 1840 printing, which the Prophet edited, this passage was changed to read ‘pure and delightsome people,’ but for some reason later printings reverted to the original wording.
-Bruce T. Harper, The Church Publishes a New Triple Combination, The Ensign, October 1981.
What are the other changes made? Here are two examples from that article, representative of the whole:
(1) 1920 Ed, Alma 16:5 - To know whether the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness…
1981 Ed., Alma 16:5 - To know wither the Lord would they should go into the wilderness
(2) 1920 Edition, 2 Nephi 29:4 - Do they remember the travels and the labors, and the pains of the Jews…
1981 Ed., 2 Nephi 29:4 - Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews…
Simple enough. Understandable enough.
But from “white” to “pure”? Someone’s idea got in the way here, and we’d have to question at a motive. Why would anyone change it either way?
The Utah Lighthouse Ministry – admittedly not a fan of the church – has responded to the Church’s explanation. I don’t post this lightly. I know some, if not many, will stop listening right here but please keep with me. I’m not trying to disprove anyone but offer other arguments for discussion:
It should be noted that Church leaders are unable to produce any documentary evidence to support their claim that this was merely a correction by Joseph Smith of a typographical error. There were originally two handwritten manuscripts for the Book of Mormon—a copy which was written by Joseph Smith's scribes as he dictated it and a second "emended" copy that was prepared for the printer. Unfortunately, most of the first manuscript was destroyed through water damage. The Mormon scholar Stanley R. Larson informs us that this manuscript "does not exist for this section of the text. . . ." ("A Study of Some Textual Variations in the Book of Mormon Comparing the Original and the Printer's Manuscripts and the 1830, the 1837, and the 1840 Editions," Unpublished M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, April 1974, page 283)
Fortunately, the second handwritten manuscript—the copy given to the printer to use to set the type for the first printing of the Book of Mormon—was preserved by Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery and is still in excellent shape. This handwritten manuscript does contain the portion printed as 2 Nephi 30:6. It uses the word "white," and therefore does not support the claim that Joseph Smith was only correcting a typographical error (see Restoration Scriptures, by Richard P. Howard, Independence, Missouri, 1969, p. 49). It should be remembered also that both the first two editions of the Book of Mormon (1830 and 1837) used the word "white." It is especially significant that the 1837 edition retained this reading because the preface to this edition stated that "the whole has been carefully reexamined and compared with the original manuscripts, by elder Joseph Smith, Jr., the translator of the book of Mormon, assisted by the present printer, brother O. Cowdery, . . ." (Book of Mormon, 1837 Edition, Preface, as cited in The Ensign, September 1976, page 79)
- Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Salt Lake City Messenger, A White Pure and Delightsome People, Issue # 46, October 1981.
Many will trust the Church on the basis they don’t believe the Church, its leaders, or its doctrine to be racist – at least not today. As other passages in the Book of Mormon continue to use the word “white” in much the same way it is used in 2 Nephi 30:6 in the current edition, it’s difficult to really know. You’d think each ambiguous use of the word (not easily dismissed as metaphorical) would have changed as well in the 1981 edition.
What also baffles me is that, through my own research, I remain unconvinced that Joseph Smith was racist. His political platform dealt with the freedom of the slaves and I understand he baptized at least two black men.
It is curious. I’m unsure who to believe and it is due mainly to the many racist comments made by church authorities over the years – comments which have been dismissed and explained away rather than apologized for and recognized as patently disgusting (after all, we don’t criticize our leaders, even if that criticism is justified). It’s become more obvious to me the doctrine regarding people of dark skin being less valiant in the pre-existence was taught and can be linked to such scriptures as the ones I’ve mentioned here.
In a semi-related issue, there is also the rumor that Joseph Smith taught that polygamy would be necessary to mix the blood of the white people with that of the darker-skinned people as to help expedite the “whitening” process. This is an easy enough teaching to dismiss; however, when compared with then Elder Kimball’s General Conference remark, “One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated” it’s a more difficult an idea to reject.
I also understand that if one wants to, one can find evidence sufficient to support any claim. After viewing what I am able, I happen to lean to the side which states the original handwritten copy edited by Joseph Smith used the word “white” instead of “pure.” The LDS sources I’m able to view are short and rather vague while the other sources are much more thorough and cite other sources as well. When I compare and contrast, this is the conclusion I find myself coming to. I know many will undoubtedly gasp in horror and shock at such words (sarcasm), but the links are there for individual viewing and conclusion. I’m interested, if anyone finds the time, for other points of view.