164: New Version of the LDS Scriptures

March 15, 2013
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Scriptures New VersionsThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has just announced the online release of a new edition of the LDS scriptures, with physical copies to be made available beginning in August. Although the new version includes some spelling and punctuation changes along with minor tweaks to fonts and layout, the vast majority of the changes are to study materials, including to chapter headings and introductions to the various texts—some of them quite substantive, especially when seen as signals to an increased openness to admitting historical and doctrinal development.

In this episode, panelists Gina Colvin, Charley Harrell, and Ben Park join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in an early evaluation of the changes. Attuned to history and the way texts shape cultures, including Mormonism’s, they go over the Church’s announced reasons for doing what they’ve done with headings and section introductions, focusing on interesting specifics such as elimination of Jesus Christ from any Old Testament chapter headings. The examine the major changes to the descriptions of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, along with those for Official Declarations 1 and 2. The panel members are also excellent observers of the meta messages embedded in the changes, and they offer takes about what the Church seems to be growing more comfortable in responding to, and where it is still quite tentative.

Even if you have read the announcement articles and poked around a bit in the online versions and summaries, there is still much in this discussion that should catch your attention! We hope you will listen and contribute to the conversation in the comments below.

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26 Responses to 164: New Version of the LDS Scriptures

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      March 16, 2013 at 10:50 am

      Thanks for sharing this link. Interesting stuff.

      For those who are afraid to click links that aren’t not offered with any context (and by a person with an anarchist’s symbol associated with his/her name), this link takes you to a post about a change to the heading of D&C 89 (not one we noted in the podcast) that eliminates a line from the earlier introduction about the first three verses not being part of the “revelation”: “The first three verses were originally written as an inspired introduction by the Prophet.” The writer’s argument is that by the new version’s elimination of this mention, it effectively adds three verses of “scripture” to the canon.

      The post writer makes far more hay than I ever would in trying to say with the earlier heading, Latter-day Saints only needed to feel “bound” by Section 89 beginning at verse 4, but with the new heading we are bound by all of it. The writer’s larger point (and I cannot tell if it is a serious one) is that since verses 1 through 3 talk about it “not” being a commandment or “no”t being sent by constraint, the only way to break the WofW is to insist people follow it. So with the new change making verses 1 through 3 “scripture” (including NOT A COMMANDMENT), all’s fair again.

      A lot of fuzzy thinking in this post (I guess the logic works if you accept the premises), and, again, a post I’m not fully sure was intended as serious in the first place since it seems like an eye poke and search for loophole regarding WofW-banned substances more than a search for truth, but I’m grateful to know about the drop to that line in the Introduction rendering versus 1 through 3 somewhat of a separate category than the rest of Section 89. Definitely something to muse on. Thanks, again, for linking to it, Eldie Essay.

      • March 25, 2013 at 5:56 am

        The institution will not honor the changes made, and no one can hold it accountable for them.
        But, looking at the change, with a lawyers eyes, it makes all the difference for the great many people who has not been allowed to begin their journey to the Celestial Kingdom because they could not pass the WoW-part in the baptismal- or temple recommend interviews.
        If WoW is, as we believe God told Joseph, NOT a commandment, and people are held back because of men’s flawed interpretation than it IS a VERY big deal!

    • March 25, 2013 at 5:38 am

      I agree with you; I read it the same way! If we re-emphasize the first three verses of the doctrine as doctrine (sounded strange), then truly the Word of Wisdom is, just as Joseph states, “not by commandment or constraint”.

      Great, now I can eat meat again – not “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine”. And my TBM brother in law can continue to exclude grains from his diet – since “All grain is ordained for the use of man” and “All grain is good for the food of man” no longer is a must.

      I hope the Church talks the talk and walks the walk and exclude the WoW questions from the baptismal- and temple-recommend interviews… since WoW is “not by commandment or constraint” it does not make any sense to include them.

      • Loz
        May 3, 2013 at 5:05 am

        You need to read JST of Genesis 9 : 10-15 before you decide if you will eat more meat…

  1. mapman
    March 16, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    It seems that the main reason for this new edition was to move the scriptures into a digital format. Now that church materials are becoming primarily being on the internet (eg new youth curriculum and new scriptures) it should be easier for changes to be made. Hopefully Royal Skousen’s work will be incorporated soon.

  2. Paula
    March 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Amen and amen to Gina’s remarks on the lack of contrition in the changes to OD2. I’m just naive enough to believe an institution ought to model the behavior it expects to see in its adherents.

  3. Confused
    March 17, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    What about the facsimiles? Are they what the Church claims them to be? Correct me if I am wrong here but aren’t they just some run of the mill facsimiles that were common place amongst Egyptian burials? Which would make JS interpretation of them completely wrong.

    • C. Harrell
      March 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Some LDS Egyptologists argue that the facsimiles aren’t just “run of the mill” facsimiles (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKN-aKYMFA4). There are also six or seven additional defenses set forth by LDS apologists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Abraham) explaining why they believe the facsimile translations are legitimate, though not necessarily literal.
      The point brought out in the podcast was that the change from the word “translation” to “inspired translation” may have been calculated to accommodate some of these more nuanced meanings of the word “translation”

  4. Ben Johnson
    March 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Can you clarify what you mean when you say Jesus Christ has been eliminated from chapter headings for the Old Testament? I can’t find anything online that says the church has done that and I just went to LDS.org and checked the 2013 edition of the scriptures for Isaiah 6 and it is still there.

    • C. Harrell
      March 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      Good question. It is true that the heading for Isaiah 6 includes the word “Christ,” which could be taken (and most likely intended) to mean “Jesus Christ” rather than just a synonym for “Messiah.” As noted in the podcast, there are still plenty of oblique references to Jesus Christ in the chapter headings, even though the name “Jesus” itself no longer appears in any OT chapter headings. The specific chapter heading I cited where the name “Jesus” was removed and replaced with “the Lord” is Zechariah 13. Unfortunately, this change doesn’t really correct the problem of imposing an unwarranted interpretation on the text since the chapter actually describes wounds which were inflicted on false prophets, not on “the Lord.”

  5. Jeralee
    March 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Great discussion! Thanks all.

  6. TJ
    March 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Great podcast! You Raised some good points

  7. JT
    March 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I appreciated the many thoughtful insights shared by the panelists. Thank you.

    I was particularly impressed by Gina’s remarks related to the difficulty the Church has with admitting error and apologizing.

    In struggling for a metaphor to illustrate such behavior, a pattern of standing dominoes came to mind. Up close each domino – or each proposition of the Mormon belief system – can seem locked into its own place by firm testimony. However, such obdurateness suggests that even those offering the grandest testimonies fear that the fall of one will topple them all. And so, it is only under the strongest insult of reality that they dare stick in a finger to remove – or even nudge – a single one.

    More strongly put, Mormonism’s dominoes are its revelations. or more specifically, Joseph Smith’s revelations. He is more critical to Mormonism than than the keystone of the faith metaphor. I took away from – or imposed on – Gina’s comments that it is at these times of nudging that Smith is made more important that Jesus.

    On the other hand, listening to this conversation – and to this podcast generally – has shown me that the some Mormons give their dominoes quite a bit of wiggle room and that’s good for me to know and appreciate.

  8. Jordan
    March 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I just finished listening to this podcast and I loved how this was addressed. Gina, your comments were fantastic and I will definitely check out your blog. I’m particularly disturbed by the wording and implications of these headings that I would like to talk about.

    Concerning the Book of Abraham, it’s almost as if the intention was to have things both ways by changing the wording in one heading but not the other. In the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, it gives a wide birth of how to interpret the existence of the Book of Abraham. However, in the introduction of said book the opinion is the conventional one. That it’s scripture translated directly from Egyptian papyri that came into the possession of Joseph Smith and gives the account of Abraham in Egypt.

    What puzzles me about the changes is why they were made? What reason is it to implore a wider interpretation without even addressing the problematic translation of the facsimiles?

    Secondly, I commiserate in the stunned silence that comes from a discussion on Official Declaration 2. In my opinion, by officially admitting that there was no scriptural basis for the practices implicates the Church to a greater degree of inherent racism than ever before. Before this new addition, the attitude was that the Lord had a reason for it, whatever it was, and what a blessing it was for the revelation. Now it’s as if the Church says, “There is no reason for the practice, but here is a revelation to end it anyway.” Thinking about this in the new context puzzles me more now than it ever has and, right now, I’m a little in conflict as to how I take this.

    I’m with Gina in pleading to know why admitting wrong doing is so avoided. I, myself, am actually more likely to follow the teachings of someone who admits to their human failings than someone, nay, an organization that sweeps stuff under the rug. I applaud the spirit of the changes but it feels like it’s one step forward and two steps back. Because right now, I don’t know how to take them or what it truly says about things.

    • JT
      March 24, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      Thanks for your thougts Jordan.

      The journalist Kathryn Schulz wrote a remarkable book, On Being Wrong, that shows how dysfunctional our relationship with error is – as individuals, as institutions, and as a society – and, more importantly, shows how transformational getting that relationship right can be.  She introduces the power of “embracing fallibility” in her TED talk:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

      • Jordan
        March 24, 2013 at 9:57 pm

        Thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out for sure. This is a favorite topic of mine that I like to study, that is the tendency for people to dodge blame and assuage their guilt/consciousness. I’ve read a couple really great books on that delve into this subject, “Mistakes were made but not by me”, and “Subliminal: how your unconscious mind rules your behavior” and I would recommend them to anyone.

        I’m always amazed at what people do, consciously and unconsciously, to put themselves in a better light. It’s quite incredible what the human ego will make us do.

        • JT
          March 25, 2013 at 5:00 am

          Jordan, we share a similar interest! “Mistakes were made …” was terrific.

          I enjoyed Mlodinow’s “A Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives” so this is on my list. Perhaps it complements “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” by the prominent social psychologist Timothy Wilson from UVa. David Eagleman recently came out with “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.” He’s comes at it as a neuroscientist and he writes well.

          And I can’t stop myself from mentioning two of my related recent favorites – Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and Robert Trivers’s “The Folly of Fools.” Trivers comes at self-deception from an evolutionary psychology angle.

          Please shoot me back a few recommendations of you own.

          Cheers

          JT

          • Jordan
            March 25, 2013 at 7:35 am

            That’s awesome JT! We do share a similar interest. I don’t have anything to recommend apart from those two works. I’m very interested in the books that you mentioned, however. In your studies did you ever wonder how much mental gymnastics that you did to make yourself seem better and if, by being concious if how much of this goes on, you were able to avoid the behavior?

          • JT
            March 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm

            Jordan,

            Well, for several years I imagined I might know more about a stock I was buying (or selling) than the person who would be selling (or buying) it. Some compelling studies cured me of that delusion before I lost too much money.

            I’m not sure that “mental gymnastics” best describes what I went through during the years leading to my taking leave of Mormonism. The protracted second-guessing of myself comes closest. I never did any back-flips defending the Church (i.e, myself) when I was active either. No one ever challenged me coming or going and I don’t think I was so inclined anyway.

            However, even with all the evidence I can trot out for my current naturalistic life-stance, I’m still digging for subtler reasons why I can’t muster belief in a god. Since I’m as susceptible to the same unconscious biases and emotions as anyone else, I no longer trust either intuition or introspection. I’m left to pay attention to my behaviors and use the best science to draw inferences to the best explanations – which must be tentative. I have some good non-rational candidates – but they don’t make theism any more attractive!

            It’s easy to learn this stuff and be awed or amused by how it plays out in others (e.g. experimental subjects). It’s much harder see yourself playing it out in everyday life. Assuming you do and attempting preemptively to counteract the negatives requires living a life of humble faith. I’m guessing that I’m not all that humble.

          • Jordan
            April 11, 2013 at 7:46 am

            Hey JT. Sorry I kinda dropped our conversation. That’s an interesting perspective you have. It seems like you are saying people have a worldview that they already want to believe or accept such a “There is a God” or “I am a good person” and then tend to ignore any evidence that challenges that viewpoint.

            I’m curious what you mean when you say that you’re still digging for subtler reasons for why you can’t believe in God. I don’t want to say that you sound like you want to believe in God because that would be presumptuous.

          • JT
            April 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm

            Jordan,

            When I got done answering there were 500 words, so I posted it here

            http://jturnonmormonism.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/wanting-to-believe-draft/

            Thanks for asking,

            Cheers

            JT

    • Loz
      April 6, 2013 at 10:31 pm

      On official declaration 2 , there is a quote in “teaching no greater call” by Gordon B Hinkley about small aberrations in doctrine leading to large and evil falsehoods and black Americans not being able to either have the priesthood or temple blessings would have to be the worst evil ever perpetrated by the church. As we know the church can actually do harm.
      I find it amazing that the practice became so entrenched that it had to take a revelation to fix it but for over a hundred years everyone just went along with a false tradition as outlined in Mosiah 1:5.
      No one over here in the colonies (Australia) has said anything about it and most members are totally oblivious,

      What this says to me is Prophets are human and leader worship has to stop!

      Edward Kimball wrote a nice book on Spencer W Kimball’s agonising struggles to leave the racist doctrine and go back to what js taught.In the book there is even a lovely staged picture of Spencer W. Kimball with Joseph smith in a picture behind him and the prophet is flanked by two black missionaries. the photo is loaded with symbolism and traces back to the nostalgic historical past and fact that js ordained two negroes to the priesthood. Propaganda piece for sure.

  9. Kristine Rose
    April 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Thank you for this podcast about the new version of the LDS scriptures! I am particularly interested in this subject because I have written a book about the nature of God that is about to be published. (http://apurlelovestory.com) My book relies on 49 percent of the 1,339 chapters in the Standard Works to provide citations. I listened to the podcast this past week, after General Conference, and am most grateful that your podcast covered what I had expected–and hoped–would have been addressed in General Conference in much greater detail than it was.

    In writing my book I took an approach I doubt would be endorsed by the panelists, with the possible exception of Gina Colvin, or by Dan Wotherspoon, the moderator. To support my themes and theses, I relied exclusivelyupon the text of the Standard Works, with no assist from outside commentary and almost no assist from chapter headings (of 2,600 citations I think there was maybe one that referred to a chapter heading). Let me explain what led me to take this approach.

    The reason I relied exclusively on the Standard Works to write a book about God was because I couldn’t take sides. In December of 1979, Sonia Johnson–my friend, my mentor, my visiting teaching sister, and prominent LDS feminist–was excommunicated for apostasy because of her support for the Equal Rights Amendment. I loved and admired people on both sides of the issue, and there was no way I in good conscience could roundly denounce one side and robustly align with the other.

    A few weeks before the excommunication verdict was announced, Sonia received a summons to appear before a church court that was to convene in Oakton, Virginia, in the Oakton stake house. Shortly after the summons, my husband returned home after delivering a dinner I had prepared for Sonia and her family. He excitedly announced that he had offered to be Sonia’s lawyer for her court hearing and she had gratefully accepted. (Mike was not allowed to represent Sonia during the closed-door proceedings, but he acted as her counsel outside the high council room.)

    After relating the particulars of his encounter with Sonia, Mike declared with fervor, “They are going to excommunicate Sonia, and they are going to excommunicate me along with her.”

    I asked Mike, “If you really believe that, why did you offer to be Sonia’s lawyer?”

    It was unthinkable to me that someone who had served two and a half years as a missionary i Argentina, was married in the temple (to me, no less!), had four young children born under the covenant, attended church every week, conscientiously discharged church callings, paid a full tithing, and regularly attended the temple would DELIBERATELY do something to jeoparidze his membership in the Church to which he had pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor. By asking him the question, I did not intend to challenge or accuse Mike–I was calling his bluff.

    But Mike was not bluffing. He answered me, saying, “Some things are more important.”

    Never mind, I thought. Mike was being overly dramatic. To me, the whole thing was a giant misunderstanidng that a church court would resolve.

    I still thought the same thing when I was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell outside the Sterling Park meetinghouse on Sunday, after fast and testimony meeting. Sonia’s church court trial had been held the previous night, Saturday, in Oakton. The trial had adjourned without the announcement of a verdict. During that Sunday fast meeting, I had born my testimony. I testified with the conviction that a few well-chosen words would clear up the whole matter–that the things that bound Church members together were stronger than any differences they might have had.

    I STILL think the whole thing was misunderstanding that should not have been powerful enough to tear a united people apart. However, I now understand that, even though bad things SHOULD NOT happen, it doesn’t mean bad things WON”T happen. Sonia was excommunicated, and so was my husband, fourteen years later. Under pressure of countinuously mounting ambiguities and ambivalences, our marriage fractured. I left Virginia for Colorado to pursue a graduate degree. In Colorado, I did not talk about the sad things that happened in Virginia–not only because they were so sad, but also because I could not take sides. On both sides were noble people–articulate, intelligent, compassionate, and passionate, with keen wit, courageous, committed–and all full of flaws and faults. How could I take sides?

    I don’t have to take sides when I read the Standard Works–not if I read without any outside commentary, or without some authority from one side or the other telling me which scriptures are important and which ones are not. The Standard Works are my haven, my sanctuary, the place I can dwell in peace, without having to take sides. Free from having to use the scriptures as ammunition to defend one position or another, I have found they act like balm, to heal wounds–not cause them.

    Although what I regard as an UNHAPPY accident causes me to approach the scriptures the way I do, I regard that approach as a HAPPY accident. The scriptures are given so that we can access the heart and mind of God–not so we access the heart and mind of Joseph Smith, or any other prophet or person who rightfully or wrongfully claims to be inspired. This is an important point to bear in mind because any mortal person–prophet, seer, revelator, translator, or not–is limited by blindness and unbelief. Blindness and unbelief are not necessarily character flaws; being blind does not automattically make someone without sight a bad person; living in a time when it would have been impossible for a rational person to believe in airplanes, radios, televisions, computers, the Internet, and smart phones does not automatically transform an unbelieving, rational person into a sinner.

    Joseph Smith lived in a time when women were not regarded as equals to men; women could not vote or own property. In regards to women, Joseph was hampered by blindness and unbelief that in no way cancel or diminish the vision and belief that he DID have. I liken the situation to one where someone who has had no experience with oranges is given one half of a peeled orange. That is enoungh to know about the true essence, the “fullness,” of an orange–what an orange looks, smells, feels, sounds, and tastes like. But it is not enough to declare that one half of a peeled orange is ALL there is to an orange. Reading the scriptures without being burdened by the thought that Joseph Smith had all the answers, or that sealed records need to be unsealed before correct understanding is possible, enables us to arrive at confirmed understandings based on what is already there. Just like it is possible, given one half of a peeled orange, to assuredly conclude that there is a missing half to the orange and it must have had a peel of some sort, it is possible to arrive at a fuller undersanding of the nature of God, without knowing the historical, cultural, and psychological nature of Joseph Smith and the times he live in. In fact, it needs to be recognized that using Joseph Smith as a filter for undersanding the nature of God means that a lot of good substance has no way of getting through the constricted and narrow views of his times.

    I doubt any new discovery or context of something Joseph Smith said or did, or any new heading in the Standard Works, can repair breaches such as occured when Sonia was excommunicated. However, I am hopeful that the Standard Works, independent of exegesis (D&C 93: 30),can stand as “the repairer of the breach. the restorer of paths to dwell in.” ((Isaiah 58: 12.) I am hopeful the Standard Works shall enable those who “err in spirit” to “come to understanding” and those who “murmur” to “learn doctrine.” (Isaiah 29: 24)This I pray for–because I am not able to take sides.

  10. UnderCover Brother
    April 24, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for this podcast. I just listened to it although I was already aware of the LDS scripture changes. Sorry for coming to this so late. I did have some thoughts that I hoped would be answered in the podcast. I thought I’d raise these with you (in no particular order) to hear your thoughts.

    1) OD2 – ‘Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice’. What are Church records? Is not the First Presidency statement dated August 17 1949 a ‘Church Record’? What about ‘Journal of Discourses’? If these are not, do we have any examples of what constitutes a ‘Church Record’ and what does not? I believe this needs serious clarification from the Church else this could happen again. And members know exactly what the origins of this practice are.

    2) D&C 135 – Originally the heading stated it was written by John Taylor. This has now been deleted, which seems simple enough. It’s only when you look at the Joseph Smith Papers (JSP) for D&C 135 you get a fuller picture which states that, ‘Evidence of who wrote the declaration is inconclusive.’ This ‘evidence’ sentence potentially changes everything as verse 3 of D&C 135 starts by saying:

    ‘Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.’

    How can we claim this as doctrine when we don’t even know who wrote it? How can we claim any of this section as doctrine in light of this now known change? And why wasn’t the ‘evidence’ line added to the headings rather than separating it out to the JSP?

    3) Why wasn’t any of Skousen’s work added? Was he part of the reviewing committee?

    Thanks, Dan.

    UnderCover Brother

  11. April 30, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I just wish they could have found room to restore the 1661 preface to the King James Version of the Bible. I know the language is old but it eloquently argues the need for continually updating the language of scripture to meet the needs of the current generation. I suppose this is one reason that it has been neglected for this many centuries.

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