Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Question

 

Gramps,

In response to Joseph and Oliver’s questioning about whether John the Beloved had died or not, Joseph  translated in D&C 7 a “record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself.”  The original document and the Book of Commandments 6:1 differs from what is currently in the D&C — Joseph later added to the text.  Which version represents what John wrote on the parchment?

Ed

 

Answer

 

Dear Ed,

During a conference, Joseph was asked to speak on his process for translating The Book of Mormon. He related, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon” (Book of Mormon Translation, lds.org). Instead Joseph defaulted to what we find recorded in the introduction of that book (and in the preface to the original) that it was translated “by the gift and power of God.” The Prophet was similarly silent about his process for translating the Bible (from which we get the Book of Moses, Joseph Smith – Matthew, and the Joseph Smith Translation), as well as translating the Book of Abraham, and John’s parchment mentioned in D&C 7.

In the silence Joseph left, scholars and critics (and sometimes critical scholars) have tried to discover his translation methodology. We must recognize these as incomplete and imperfect as those studying the methods have no actual experience in translating by the gift and power of God, so all models are based on traditional translation methodology. With this understanding, I would encourage you to be content with a testimony that as prophet, seer, revelator, and translator (D&C 124:125), Joseph gave us an accurate translation of an ancient document. If you are more scholarly inclined, I will include a few additional thoughts, but you must also recognize that they come with all the same failings I’ve already mentioned.

Traditional translation is quite different from what the average person traditionally thinks of as translation. A good resource for understanding better the challenges of translation is On the Beach, or Why You Can’t Just Translate the Words. Take the time to read it and really understand what’s going on. The translator is ultimately trying to convey an author’s message from one context to another (similar to the geometrical definition of translation, which is simply to move from one set of coordinates to another). Because of this, when something new about the author’s context is learned (culture, language, politics, idioms, religion, geography, etc) or when the translator’s own context has changed, then a new translation is released. In the case of the former, we can see the explosion of new biblical translations released since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (giving us new original documents for the Old Testament, plus a look into cultures that existed at the time the New Testament authors). In the case of the latter, you can pick up any of Shakespeare’s plays. Most of the footnotes are translations in the sense that they explain the context to a modern audience or reword it for the modern reader (admittedly, this is a looser meaning of the term than is typically used, but it is the essence of translation and fits well with some of Joseph Smith’s works that he termed translations).

Section 7 is a “translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself”. We don’t know if this parchment has survived the elements to today, or if the record has been preserved via transcription, or if this document has been completely destroyed and remains forever unknown to the world except via revelation (and you thought a sealed book was impossible to read…). The Joseph Smith Papers project has done a great job of chronicling the history of The Doctrine and Covenants. They’ve provided a correspondence of the different sections with links to the original documents. The 1835, 1844, and current editions all match content for this section. Only the 1833 version differs.

The 1833 version reads:

1 And the Lord said unto me, John my beloved, what desirest thou? and I said Lord, give unto me power that I may bring souls unto thee.– And the Lord said unto me: Verily I say unto thee, because thou desiredst this, thou shalt tarry till I come in my glory:

2 And for this cause, the Lord said unto Peter:– If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? for he desiredst of me that he might bring souls unto me: but thou desiredst that thou might speedily come unto me in my kingdom: I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire, but my beloved has undertaken a greater work.

3 Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.

The 1835 version reads:

1 And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.

2 And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done. Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth. And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.

3 Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.

What are we looking at here? Did Joseph go through the translation process (seeing the original parchment) or was the translated version a revelation to Joseph in the manner of The Vision (Joseph was given a textual prompt, but what ensued wasn’t a translation but a revelation)? Again, I have to note that these questions may be nonsense if we truly understood how inspired translation works. If this section is simply revelation, then what we’re seeing here may be the combination of 2 or more revelations, as the prophet did with a number or revelations when preparing the 1835 printing (including Section 42). If this is truly a translation, we first note that some of the changes are the standard clarification you would find with any 2nd edition translation (the power is over death, John’s reply is unto the Lord, even the lengthier ask what you will and it will be granted is implied in the 1833 version). Then we have some statements that may have been a stretch to read into the 1833 version, but which may have been implied in the original parchment document (tarry is expanded and somewhat defined as prophesy before nationsmy beloved has undertaken a greater work is clarified that it was first desired and then undertaken). Finally we have a section ending verse 2 (6 and 7 in the current edition) that seems to have been created whole cloth. Some of this may be alleviated if the original parchment document implies that the greater work is the ministering that is so fully expanded on. But even with that, the flaming fire statement and the keys of ministry don’t seem to fit at all. It doesn’t fit at all with traditional notions of translation. It does, however, still fit within traditional translating. Joseph, as translator, is not just translating words. He has got to carry John’s writings from the context of a church on the verge of apostasy in the first century AD to the context of a church on the rise of restoration some 1700 years later. If John wrote with the assumption that the reader would understand the nature of a translated being or the keys of a presidency, then Joseph the translator has got to make that assumption true. Traditional translators do this via footnote. It appears that Joseph chose to inline it within the text itself. Both can be valid approaches.

Of course, these thoughts I’ve presented may be the babbling of a child since there’s a number of unproven assumptions about what an inspired translating process looks like. This babe’s mouth still maintains that Joseph was the Lord’s prophet, seer, revelator, and translator, and he brought forth the Lord’s words through the gift and power of God.

Gramps

 

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Ask Gramps - Q and A about Mormon Doctrine. All Rights Reserved.
This website is not owned by or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the Mormon or LDS Church). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the position of the Church. The views expressed by individual users are the responsibility of those users and do not necessarily represent the position of the Church. For the official Church websites, please visit LDS.org or Mormon.org.

Pin It on Pinterest