Changes to Book of Mormon

Changes to Book of Mormon

Since its original publication in 1830, more than 4,000 changes have been made to the text of the Book of Mormon. If it is truly the word of God, there should be no need for modification.

Book of Mormon JapaneseThe majority of the changes made in later editions of the Book of Mormon were in punctuation. Oliver Cowdery added very little punctuation to the manuscript when dictated by Joseph Smith, and the punctuation in the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon was made by the typesetter and later revised by editors such as Orson Pratt and James E. Talmage.

Joseph Smith wrote, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church 4:461). From the wording of this statement, it is clear that correctness refers to the content of the Book of Mormon, not the translation, the grammar, or the spelling. No one language can adequately express all the nuances intended by the original. Anyone who knows a foreign language can attest that there is no one-to-one correspondence between words in two different languages. Thus, for example, the Hebrew word meaning “to sit” also means “to dwell.” Seeing this word in a Hebrew text, a translator would have to decide which of the two English verbs to use in his English language version. In 1 Nephi 1:6, we read that “there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him.” In this case, Joseph Smith used the word “dwelt” where another translator might have preferred “sat.”

Since the prophet Joseph later made corrections to the text of the Book of Mormon, on both copies of the manuscript (the original and the copy prepared for the printer) and in later editions, it seems clear that he did consider the book to be an infallible translation. The Book of Mormon itself indicates that it may contain errors made by the men who wrote it (Title Page; 1 Nephi 19:6; Jacob 1:2; 7:26; Mormon 8:1, 17; 9:31-33; 3 Nephi 8:2; Ether 5:1). Since Joseph Smith must have known about these statements, his declaration of correctness could not have meant that the book had no failings whatsoever.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints always acknowledged changes that were made to the published Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith noted, in 1837, that he was correcting “errors which escaped notice in the first edition” of the Book of Mormon (History of the Church 4.494-5, 541). The current (1981) edition, on the prefatory page entitled “A Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon,” contains the following statement: “About this edition: Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Prior to and at the time of appearance of the 1981 publication, the official LDS Church magazine, The Ensign, carried articles noting some of the changes and why they were being made.

In incorporating changes into its text, the Book of Mormon is in good company, for the Bible, too, has had many changes to it over the centuries. Not only were there changes made in the Hebrew and Greek of the Old and the New Testaments (as demonstrated by variants in the manuscripts), but the English Bible, too, has had many changes over the years. Except for retranslations, the reasons for these biblical changes are the same ones cited for the Book of Mormon.