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Mormon Embrace of KJV Didn’t Come Early, or Easy

c. 2011 Salt Lake Tribune

(RNS) Though many early Mormon texts and speeches mirror the English prose of the King James Bible, it was not always the Mormons’ only authorized version of Holy Writ.

In fact, Mormon founder Joseph Smith had so many reservations about its language that he stated his new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believed the Bible to be the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.”

It took more than a century and a half after the church’s 1830 founding for the Utah-based LDS Church to make exclusive use of the King James Version “official.”

The KJV’s move from “commonly used” to “official” began in the 1950s with the leadership of J. Reuben Clark, then a member of the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency, explains Philip Barlow in his book, “Mormons and the Bible,” and in an essay in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.


In 1952, the New York-based National Council of Churches issued a new translation known as the Revised Standard Version. It was immediately denounced by conservative believers, Barlow writes, with some claiming it was “barely Christian.”

Clark, trained as a lawyer, defended the KJV in so many letters and speeches that his efforts culminated in his 1956 book “Why the King James Bible?”

Clark, according to Barlow, argued the 1611 translation was more acceptable doctrinally, verified by Smith’s own translation efforts and based on a better Greek text.

What’s more, Clark argued the KJV was literarily superior, well established in Mormon tradition and produced by “prayerful souls subject to the Holy Spirit.”


What seemed to bother Clark the most in the newer translations was what he saw as “despicable, conspiratorial humanism,” Barlow writes, reducing “the divine status of Jesus and the supernatural dimension of scripture in general.”

Clark’s arguments proved persuasive to Mormon leaders.

In 1979, the LDS Church published its own edition of the KJV, with notes, headings and definitions. Thirteen years later, the LDS First Presidency declared the KJV to be the church’s official English Bible.

The church’s recently released new edition of its handbook includes the dictate that English-speaking members use the KJV.

“Although other versions of the Bible may be easier to read,” the handbook says, “in doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations.”


That is somewhat ironic, some LDS biblical experts say, given Smith’s caveat about Bible translations and the fact that most English-speaking Christians (and virtually all scholars) no longer see the King James Version as the most correct edition available.

Even so, Barlow says, perhaps it is best for the church at large.

With all the hundreds of niche editions of various translations such as the Bible for busy moms, for golfers, for teens, the KJV stands out, he says. “The King James Bible, despite it being less accurate, at least in Mormonism, works as a counter current, to not be so faddish.”

After 400 years, Barlow says, it “has a sense of the durable rather than the transient.”

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune. Kristen Moulton contributed to this story.)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Well at least they say which of the various, different, Bibles is the inerrant one. They cannot, of course, all be inerrant. In fact at most one. I’d be more conservative than that, myself.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    IMO, the Bible isn’t inerrant in any of it’s versions.

  • LDSRevelations

    Joseph liked the KLV enough to include it’s words in the BoM which he called the most correct of any book on earth. These verses in the BOM carry the translation errors of the 1760s edition of the KJV that Smith had at the time— verses that were not even written at the time the plates were supposedly written.

    And we know that the KJV appears to be what Smith was reading as a youth (1838 FV account) and when he was creating his ‘translation’ of the Bible.

    “The King James Bible, despite it being less accurate, at least in Mormonism, works as a counter current, to not be so faddish.”

    Really? This is why the KJV is used. Persoanlly I like the KJV language best— it’s more poetic but for a Church to adopt it because it’s not faddish. That’s just silly. And they talk about the pride of the world. Sheesh.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    I love the KJV and just to meditate on its readings brings a Holy Spirit experience that is so deep. I watched “The Other Side of Heaven” last night a Mormon movie about their missionary works. It was a great movie my wife who is a strong Baptist loved it, so did I.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment tweedmeister

    Since much of the Book of Mormon is plainly lifted word for word right out of the King James Bible, the only solution was to make the KJV the only one to read. To a certain mindset, this validates the Book of Mormon. To another mindset it proves that the BoM is a hoax.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment dillet

    To tweedmeister: You are referring to “the Isaiah chapters” which the Book of Mormon clearly states are quotations, NOT “plainly lifted” segments. Joseph Smith may have referred back to his KJV when he saw what it was, for ease of transcription. However, there are several places where individual verses are translated differently, indicating use of a different (original) source than the KJV.

    After seeing some of the significant doctrinal changes in some of the new, popular Bible versions, obviously meant to support the teachings of a particular sect, I see why it was necessary to add that we believe the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly.” For instance, did you know that at least one new translation defines adultery as “marrying someone who is already married to someone else”? In other words, it’s OK to fool around as long as you don’t marry your lover??

    I think the Church supports our use of the KJV because with all the footnotes and definitions and explanations of obsolete vocabulary that we’ve added, it is not so inadequate/inaccurate as critics tend to presume.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dandini

    That is a difficult problem. The fact that the more varying translations of the Bible that occur over time, the more the variety of interpretations/understandings that occur. Providing a fertile breeding ground for so many tens of thousands of denominations, which even on some major doctrines that should be simple and plain, disagree with each other… baptism, sacraments, priesthood, authority, and so on.

  • Nathan000000

    The reason given by the presidency of the Church is an important one: “In doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations.” That doesn’t mean Latter-day Saints think “unicorn” is a more accurate translation than “ox.” It means that when the Book of Mormon prophets allude to Bible passages, the wording mirrors the KJV. For example, when Jacob 1:7 mentions “the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness,” he’s alluding to Ps. 95:8/Heb. 3:8. That allusion would be much harder to notice if one weren’t familiar with the KJV. The translation of Heb. 3:8 in, for example, the NIV, says, “the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.” The two translations may both be valid, and the modern translation may even be more accurate, but familiarity with the KJV makes it easier to recognize allusions and references to the Bible, increasing the odds that the reader will pick up subtle insights.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Terry

    You have to remember that Latter-day Saints are more interested in modern day revelation than historic revelation as revealed 2000 years ago in the Bible. We don’t use the Bible to determine our beliefs, but to merely teach us how to better live them. Many of life’s current challenges are better defined in what the Lord is revealing to his prophets today. The Bible, Book of Mormon, etc are merely by-products of this process of continuing revelation.

    I love the eloquence of the KJV, and see no need to go back to the Greek, or newer translations to enhance my spiritual edification. As our Articles of Faith state:

    8.We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

    9.We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

    The KJV is sufficient if God continues to reveal truth to His restored church and its chosen apostles.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Larry

    I wonder why the Geneve was not considered? I think it is useful in interpreating the KJV.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment John

    I think the most important factor here is in harmonising the works used across the global church.
    For english speakers, we all use the same version of the text. This has intrinsic value in preserving the integrity of the message.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment dillet

    Another comment to critics: Teachers and others who do a lot of public speaking very often repeat themselves word for word when addressing a new class or audience. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Savior taught much the same things, with the same wording, to His “other sheep” in other parts of the world. That His words were written down by the Book of Mormon peoples to be preserved and passed down through generations is not evidence of plagiarism, but rather a testament to the fact that He IS the same yesterday, today and forever and wants all of Heavenly Father’s children to learn of Him and come to Him.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Alan

    The irony is that at the same time that J. Reuben Clark was advocating for the use of the KJV, the sitting prophet of the LDS Church was David O. McKay. And President McKay used a copy of the RSV as his personal study bible. His copy of the RSV still exists, with many handwritten notes on its margins.

    Also Joseph Smith, during the Nauvoo period, made significant use of other Bible translations.

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