The Most Correct Book

The Most Correct Book

Joseph Smith declared that the Book of Mormon was “the most correct of any book on earth” (History of the Church 4:461). If this were so, why have there been over four thousand changes to the book since it was first published in 1830?

Book of Mormon SpanishCorrectness need not refer to the translation, the grammar, or the spelling, only to the content, notably the doctrine. 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. 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 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 (History of the Church 4:494-5, 541), it seems clear that he did not consider the book to be an infallible translation.[1] 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. A closer examination of his declaration supports this idea: “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). Since the context of the prophet’s remarks was “abiding by [the] precepts” found in the Book of Mormon, it is clear that he was speaking about its teachings rather than its language or history.

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 King James version (KJV) of the Bible has also undergone thousands of changes since it was first published in 1611. Like the Book of Mormon, almost none of the changes modify the original intent of the scripture, and the reasons given for the changes were the same.

[1] 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.