13. Substantial Changes to Book of Mormon in Subsequent Editions
It was commonly believed by those intimately involved with the translation of the Book of Mormon that it was a literal rendition that did not allow for error. As described by David Whitmer:
"I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man." (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 1887, p. 12)
George Reynolds, who was a member of the First Council of the Seventy, made this statement in 1883:
"But at the outset it must be recollected that the translation was accomplished by no common method, by no ordinary means. It was done by divine aid. There were no delays over obscure passages, no difficulties over the choice of words, no stoppages from the ignorance of the translator; no time was wasted in investigation or argument over the value, intent or meaning of certain characters, and there were no references to authorities. These difficulties to human work were removed. All was as simple as when a clerk writes from dictation. The translation of the characters appeared on the Urim and Thummim, sentence by sentence, and as soon as one was correctly transcribed the next would appear." (Myth of the Manuscript Found, 1883 edition, p. 71)
Oliver B. Huntington recorded in his journal in 1881 that Joseph F. Smith, who became the sixth President of the Mormon Church, taught the Lord gave Joseph Smith the exact English wording and spelling that he should use in the Book of Mormon:
"Saturday Feb. 25, 1881, I went to Provo to a quarterly Stake Conference. Heard Joseph F. Smith describe the manner of translating the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith the Prophet and Seer, which was as follows as near as I can recollect the substance of his description. Joseph did not render the writing on the gold plates into the English language in his own style of language as many people believe, but every word and every letter was given to him by the gift and power of God. So it is the work of God and not of Joseph Smith, and it was done in this way…The Lord caused each word spelled as it is in the book to appear on the stones in short sentences or words, and when Joseph had uttered the sentence or word before him and the scribe had written it properly, that sentence would disappear and another appear. And if there was a word wrongly written or even a letter incorrect the writing on the stones would remain there. Then Joseph would require the scribe to spell the reading of the last spoken and thus find the mistake and when corrected the sentence would disappear as usual." (Journal of Oliver B. Huntington, p. 168 of typed copy at Utah State Historical Society)
However, there were numerous revisions to the Book of Mormon. For example, the four following revisions occur in 1 Nephi:
Since passages in the rest of the Book of Mormon which described Jesus as Father and Supreme God were not changed, is it possible that Joseph intended to revise the whole Book of Mormon to reflect tritheism but only barely began the project? He may have given up, realizing that revising the Book of Mormon's theology would often require major rewriting rather than simple insertions or word replacement.
The original text of Mosiah 21:28 reads:
"And now Limhi was again filled with joy, on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice."
The problem, of course, is that king Benjamin was dead by this time (Mosiah 6:5). This reference was changed to Mosiah in the 1837 and subsequent editions. However, this was not the only place where such a change was made. The original text of Ether 4:1 reads: "…and for this cause did king Benjamin keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ shew himself unto his people."
Again, Benjamin was changed to Mosiah in subsequent editions. The fact that there are two such changes leads one to speculate that Joseph may possibly have had a slightly different course in mind for the life of King Benjamin, and had perhaps killed off Benjamin prematurely while rewriting the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon.
The original text of I Nephi 12:18 reads:
"…yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God…"
The problem here is that the name 'Jesus Christ' was not revealed to the Nephites until II Nephi 10:3.
"Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ - for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name - should come among the Jews…"
In order to correct this contradiction, the text of I Nephi 12:18 was changed to read Messiah instead of Jesus Christ. How does the church explain that?
The original text of I Nephi 20:1 reads:
"Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel; yet they swear not in truth, nor righteousness."
In 1840 this verse was changed to read:
"Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness."
The phrase or out of the waters of baptism was inserted in the 1840 edition. Why did it take God 10 years to decide to introduce the ordinance of baptism into Old Testament text?
As another example, the church quietly changed the term white and delightsome from 2 Nephi 30:6 to pure and delightsome in 1981. This, despite prophetic statements such as:
"You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation…When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break his covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7:336)
In defense of these changes, apologists have stated that revelation is a dynamic and malleable process:
"As much as we resist uncertainty by insisting on the word-for-word content of written revelations (the "jots and tittles" referred to by Christ), written revelation is an imperfect approximation of a communication between divinity and man that is ultimately ineffable. Therefore it is to be expected that as the prophet-receptor of revelation seeks to record that experience, he may experiment not only with phrasing but also with content. And as the prophet (or his successors) has further experiences of revelation that expand understanding of previous communications, those insights may simply be incorporated retroactively into the earlier texts. This later addition of new revelation into the texts of former revelation not only was done with some of Joseph Smith's revelations, but modern scholars also suggest that this happened in the Book of Isaiah." (Response to the Tanners by a Latter-Day Saint Historian)