If Joseph Smith were really a prophet of God, his supposedly divinely inspired translations of ancient documents would be accurate. His "divinely inspired" translation of the Bible, however, is not accurate at all. His changes have no connection to the actual Greek and Hebrew scriptures of the Bible whatsoever. Therefore, Joseph Smith was clearly not a prophet of God.
A Prophetic Translator?
It is extremely important to Mormon doctrine that Joseph Smith had a supernatural, God-given ability to translate ancient languages into English. The claim that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from ancient, golden plates is the central "proof" that he was a prophet of God. If the Book of Mormon is not a real translation of a real ancient document given by God, all of Mormonism is a fraud. There are, of course, many reasons we know that the Book of Mormon is false and is not actually a translation of an ancient text and that the American continent was never inhabited by an ancient Hebrew people to have written such a text.
Looking at the Book of Mormon itself, however, is not the only way to address this question. We can examine Joseph Smith and his alleged gift to translate by the power of God. The book of Mormon is not the only book that Joseph Smith claims to have translated. Joseph Smith claimed to translate an ancient Egyptian text into the "Book of Abraham," a claim that has been proven absolutely false by examination of the Egyptian document in question. He also claimed to produce a new and better translation of the Bible itself through this power, and an examination of this "translation" is most revealing.
One simple example of this is in John 1:1. The traditional English translation of this text reads:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
Whether one is reading the KJV, the NASB, the NIV, or any other reputable English translation, they will find this verse translated exactly the same, word for word. There are, of course, groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses that have made the amateurish translation mistake of rendering the last clause "the word was a god,"1 but even these rare exceptions prove the rule: we know exactly what the Greek words are in this text and what they mean.2 Joseph Smith, however, claimed that he was divinely inspired in translating this verse:
"In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the Word. And the Word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God"3
Even before looking at the Greek, the idea that all other translators simply missed all those extra words in the verse is a huge stretch. Joseph Smith is claiming that translators not only translated words incorrectly but simply overlooked entirely or otherwise failed to translate half the words in the verse, including entire phrases. A quick glance at the Greek makes it clear that Smith is wrong. The word "uios" or "son" is not there. It's nowhere to be found. Neither is the word "evangelion" or "gospel," or any action verb at all, much less one that could be translated "preached." Joseph Smith did not claim to be uncovering a hidden meaning in the text or to be restoring lost words in the text; he claimed to be translating. Translating is taking a text that is in one language and rendering it into another language. Even the Book of Mormon explains prophetic translation that way in Mosiah 8. Joseph Smith was claiming that his translation was a more accurate rendering of the Bible into English. It is plainly not. The Greek simply doesn't mean at all what Joseph Smith said it meant.
What's more, the Gospel of John is one of the most anciently attested books in the New Testament. We have very early manuscripts of John, and also very early Christian writings quoting this verse in John. The idea that this verse ever said anything other than what we have in our Bibles today flies against such insurmountable evidence that it is simply beyond all reason. It should also be noted that Joseph Smith contradicts his own reading later in the chapter. While he says in John 1:1 that the "Word" is actually the gospel preached by the Son and not the Son Himself, he goes on to say in 1:14-15:
"And the same Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, This is he of whom I spake, He who commeth after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. For in the beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father"4
Even Joseph Smith's own changes and additions here speak of the Word as personally being Jesus, the Son, rather than being the gospel. Thus, even Joseph Smith testifies that Joseph Smith got this one completely wrong.
Mathew 6:13 and Luke 11:14
In the famous model prayer that Jesus offers in Matthew 6, one of the things He teaches us to pray is:
"And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil," (Matthew 6:13a)
The gospel of Luke records a similar phrase in the Lord's prayer:
"And lead us not into temptation," (Luke 11:4)
Again, we have very early manuscripts that testify to these readings, as well as early Christian writers who quoted this prayer. The Didache, one of the earliest Christian documents outside the Bible, records this prayer in chapter 8 and includes the phrase "leads us not into temptation." The meaning of the Greek here is again quite clear, and all the manuscripts and witnesses agree.
Joseph Smith, however, changed the wording in Matthew and Luke, respectively, to read:
"Suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil,"5
"Let us not be led into temptation,"6
These are changes we might expect if this is the work of a mere man who was uncomfortable with the original wording of the prayer. As a translation, though, it is plainly wrong. The Greek says, "lead us not into temptation," whether we are comfortable with that wording or not.
This otherwise minor example of a translation issue in the Joseph Smith version is actually very significant for a reason easy to overlook. Ironically enough, even the Book of Mormon offers a version of the Lord's prayer and includes the phrase:
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," (3 Nephi 13:12)
So if Joseph Smith claims that the Bible is not translated correctly when it says, "lead us not into temptation," then he must also be admitting that the Book of Mormon was not translated correctly either. But if the Book of Mormon is not translated correctly, then Joseph Smith is not a prophet. If, however, Joseph Smith was wrong and the prayer really should read "lead us not into temptation," then that means he was wrong and was altering God's word in his supposed divine translation of the Bible. If this is the case, again his prophetic gift of translation is false, and he is not a prophet. Either way, this simple reading shows that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God and could not translate ancient texts by the power of God.
These are only a couple of very many possible examples from Joseph Smith's imaginative but completely failed attempt to translate the Bible supernaturally. Since the claims of Joseph Smith to be a prophet are directly tied to his claims to possess this gift, this gives us more than enough reason to reject Joseph Smith's prophetic claims.
For a more detailed discussion of these and other examples, see:
- The Joseph Smith Translation and 2 Samuel 12:13
- The Joseph Smith Translation and John 1:1
- The Joseph Smith Translation and Romans 4:5
- The Joseph Smith Translation and Hebrews 6:1
- Does the Lord's Prayer really say "lead us not into temptation?"
- 1. For additional study on the grammatical issues involved in this translation and why the Jehovah's Witness rendering is flawed, see Dan Wallace, "Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics" pg. 266-270
- 2. The Jehovah's Witnesses erroneously dispute whether "theos" should be translated "God" or "a god" here, but in so doing they still make it clear that the word there is "theos" and that all are in agreement that it is clearly the Greek word for God/god
- 3. Thomas A. Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament: A Side-By-Side Comparison with the King James Version (Deseret Book, 2005) 224
- 4. Ibid, 225
- 5. Ibid, 17
- 6. Ibid, 181