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Rob Bowman

Adding "not" in Hebrews 6:1

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An excellent example of Joseph Smith’s uninspired translation is his handling of Hebrews 6:1 in the JST. Whereas the KJV says, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection,” the JST adds the word “not” to the first clause: “Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” What makes this such a useful test case of Joseph’s translating abilities is that he provided something of a commentary on the rationale for this particular change to the KJV:

“I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors…. Look at Heb. vi.1 for contradictions—‘Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection.’ If a man leaves the principles of the doctrine of Christ, how can he be saved in the principles? This is a contradiction. I don’t believe it. I will render it as it should be—‘Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works…’” (HC 6:57, 58).

The first thing to notice here is that Joseph introduces his change to Hebrews 6:1 as an example of how he addresses the supposed problem of errors in the Bible arising from “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests.” His point here is that the Bible contains “errors” either through ignorance (on the part of translators), accident (on the part of copyists), or deliberate changes to the Bible (on the part of “designing and corrupt priests”). The last category appears to refer to apostate church leaders whom Joseph Smith thought may have deliberately altered either the original-language texts or subsequent translations of those texts into other languages (or both). We are evidently to understand, then, that the error that Joseph claims to have found in Hebrews 6:1 is either a copying error or a translation error. Either way, Joseph was claiming that the KJV wording did not accurately represent the original wording of Hebrews 6:1—either because the original text differed from that used by the KJV or because the KJV simply mistranslated the text. This means that Smith’s change to Hebrews 6:1 cannot be explained as merely updating the language of the KJV. Smith explicitly tells us that Hebrews 6:1 as it read in his day was in error and that he was correcting it.

Second, Joseph explains quite directly the rationale for his thinking that Hebrews 6:1 in the KJV was worded erroneously. He drew that conclusion because Hebrews 6:1 KJV appeared to him to be inherently contradictory: “If a man leaves the principles of the doctrine of Christ, how can he be saved in the principles? This is a contradiction. I don’t believe it.” Quite simply, Joseph thought what Hebrews 6:1 KJV said did not make sense. Notice that Joseph made no claim to receive a supernatural revelation that the word “not” was missing from the text. No doubt he wanted people to believe that he was supernaturally guided in his revision of the KJV, but his description of the process by which he came to view the KJV as erroneous was a matter of rational reflection. As he came to the passage, he observed something that seemed to him to be contradictory, and he remedied the problem by altering the text to “render it as it should be.”

A simple examination of the Greek editions of the New Testament known to the KJV translators shows that they did not overlook the Greek word for “not” at Hebrews 6:1 (me, a Greek word which does appear later in the same verse). The problem, then, is not mistranslation. This leaves only the supposition that the Greek text of Hebrews was miscopied, omitting (accidentally or deliberately) the word for “not.” However, manuscript discoveries since Joseph Smith have not lent any support to the supposition that the text actually said “not leaving” rather than “leaving.” The earliest known manuscripts containing Hebrews 6:1 are the Chester Beatty Papyri, discovered in the twentieth century and dating from about AD 200. Not one of the many other Greek manuscripts of Hebrews contains the word “not” at Hebrews 6:1, nor do any of the manuscripts of ancient translations of Hebrews into Coptic, Latin, and other languages. The wealth and distribution of Greek and other language version manuscripts are sufficient to prove that the current wording of Hebrews 6:1 considerably pre-dated the earliest known manuscript of Hebrews. Thus, we can absolutely rule out the notion that the KJV mistranslated the Greek text, and we can also definitively rule out as extremely improbable the notion that the Greek text was miscopied.

When we consider Joseph’s rationale for his correction of the KJV, it becomes clear that the real problem is that he simply misunderstood the KJV. He thought “leaving” meant abandoning, whereas in this context it meant going beyond--that is, it meant not staying at the elementary level. The Greek word aphiemi translated “leaving” can mean to abandon in some contexts, but in other contexts it can mean to “leave behind” in the same sense as in English, that of moving beyond something basic or elementary. (Thus, a teacher might tell her class, “Today we’re going to leave addition and move on to subtraction.”) Hebrews 6:1 is in fact speaking about something basic or elementary (“the principles,” which translates the Greek words tes arches…logon, rendered in modern versions as “elementary principles,” “elementary teaching,” or the like [ESV, HCSB, NAB, NASB, NET, NIV, NJB, NKJV, TNIV, etc.]). This proves beyond any reasonable doubt that “leaving” here in context means moving beyond in instruction, as the relation between “leaving” and “let us go on” also makes clear. Thus, for example, the NET translates, “we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity,” and a footnote comments, “Grk ‘Therefore leaving behind.’ The implication is not of abandoning this elementary information, but of building on it.”

This understanding of the text was current in Smith’s day, so he could have known this just by studying available commentaries—or even by hearing a moderately well-informed sermon on the passage. For example, Matthew Henry (who wrote in the early 1700s, more than a century before Smith) had the following comment on the passage:

“In order to their growth, Christians must leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ. How must they leave them? They must not lose them, they must not despise them, they must not forget them. They must lay them up in their hearts, and lay them as the foundation of all their profession and expectation; but they must not rest and stay in them, they must not be always laying the foundation, they must go on, and build upon it” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, at Heb. 6:1).

More than a century before Henry, John Calvin made the same point:

“Now, he bids them to leave these rudiments, not that the faithful are ever to forget them, but that they are not to remain in them; and this idea appears more clear from what follows, the comparison of a foundation; for in building a house we must never leave the foundation; and yet to be always engaged in laying it, would be ridiculous” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, at Heb. 6:1).

Smith’s failure to understand this point is clear proof that he was not inspired in his “translation.” By adding the word “not,” he not only failed to clarify the text’s real meaning, he actually showed that he did not understand what he was revising. This is about as clear an example of an uninspired rewrite as one could imagine.

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This is a great post. It provides an excellent reason to adopt the midrashic interpretation of the JST and a broader understanding of scripture and revelation.

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WalkerW,

You wrote:

This is a great post. It provides an excellent reason to adopt the midrashic interpretation of the JST and a broader understanding of scripture and revelation.

Thanks. However, I don't see how the "midrashic interpretation" can handle the fact that Joseph explicitly claimed to be correcting an error in the text. This is one of the main reasons why I am using Hebrews 6:1 as a case study here: Joseph's own explanation for the revision is incompatible with a so-called midrashic explanation. Such an explanation might seem viable elsewhere, in places where we don't have an explanation from Joseph Smith himself, but I don't see how it can be made to work in this instance.

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WalkerW,

You wrote:

Thanks. However, I don't see how the "midrashic interpretation" can handle the fact that Joseph explicitly claimed to be correcting an error in the text. This is one of the main reasons why I am using Hebrews 6:1 as a case study here: Joseph's own explanation for the revision is incompatible with a so-called midrashic explanation. Such an explanation might seem viable elsewhere, in places where we don't have an explanation from Joseph Smith himself, but I don't see how it can be made to work in this instance.

I'm not sure that the midrashic interpretation requires Joseph Smith to even be aware of a midrashic interpretation. This particular example seems to be, as you stated, a "rational" decision based on a possible reading of the KJV English.

It is reasons like this that I say the JST should not replace the biblical manuscripts. They should be read together.

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WalkerW,

The issue, as I see it, isn't whether Joseph knew what midrash was, but whether his claim that Hebrews 6:1 was in error was correct. If a "midrashic interpretation" allows Joseph Smith to be mistaken in thinking he is correcting an error in the text, then it allows any and all sorts of mistaken notions, including that Joseph was mistaken in thinking his revisions to the Bible were in any sense inspired by God. I'm afraid I view such a "midrashic" explanation of what Joseph was doing as an attempt to have one's inspired cake and eat it too.

I'm not sure that the midrashic interpretation requires Joseph Smith to even be aware of a midrashic interpretation. This particular example seems to be, as you stated, a "rational" decision based on a possible reading of the KJV English.

It is reasons like this that I say the JST should not replace the biblical manuscripts. They should be read together.

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Rob,

Once again, I think your post will provide some good discussion. Let me reply to your post.

You point out:

Joseph explains quite directly the rationale for his thinking that Hebrews 6:1 in the KJV was worded erroneously. He drew that conclusion because Hebrews 6:1 KJV appeared to him to be inherently contradictory....Notice that Joseph made no claim to receive a supernatural revelation that the word “not” was missing from the text....[His] description of the process by which he came to view the KJV as erroneous was a matter of rational reflection. As he came to the passage, he observed something that seemed to him to be contradictory, and he remedied the problem by altering the text to “render it as it should be.”

and from this, and Joseph's belief that the Bible as he read it was incorrect, you conclude:

No doubt he wanted people to believe that he was supernaturally guided in his revision of the KJV....

This conclusion doesn't seem warranted to me.

Now to the concept of translation: If I'm reading a translation of something that conveys to me an idea that is not what the original document said, is the translation correct? Well, it could be literally correct, but it has certainly failed its effort to bring the original meaning to me. With that said, I totally agree with you, that Joseph misunderstood the English--and so the failure was not necessarily so much because of something incorrect in the text, but in his understanding. But, based on his understanding of English, the passage was totally mistranslated, and his correction, with the addition of "not" brings it much closer to the original meaning, as demonstrated by the commentaries you quoted:

“In order to their growth, Christians must leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ. How must they leave them? They must not lose them, they must not despise them, they must not forget them. They must lay them up in their hearts, and lay them as the foundation of all their profession and expectation; but they must not rest and stay in them, they must not be always laying the foundation, they must go on, and build upon it” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, at Heb. 6:1).

and

“Now, he bids them to leave these rudiments, not that the faithful are ever to forget them, but that they are not to remain in them; and this idea appears more clear from what follows, the comparison of a foundation; for in building a house we must never leave the foundation; and yet to be always engaged in laying it, would be ridiculous” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, at Heb. 6:1).

You'll notice that both commentaries are deliberate in pointing out that it is not abandoning the fundamentals, "not lose..., despise..., forget them," and "not ... to forget them", and even more explicitly, "...we must never leave the foundation...". So, when Joseph reads "leave" to mean abandon and says, "I don't believe it," and replaces it with "not leave" or "not abandon", then he is providing the same meaning as the commentaries provided. It is not surprising that to Joseph this passage seemed to be suggesting that people depart from faith, repentance, etc--again, it appears that these commentaries were trying to correct that very same mistake that others potentially read into it.

Your earlier points about Joseph's reasoning behind that change, and that:

we can also definitively rule out as extremelyimprobable the notion that the Greek text was miscopied

should help stem the idea that Joseph was ever claiming to restore the original text, but was instead trying to restore the original meaning.

The following point you made is a good one:

This understanding of the text was current in Smith’s day, so he could have known this just by studying available commentaries—or even by hearing a moderately well-informed sermon on the passage.

If something so elementary as this escaped Joseph's understanding, it should help to put to rest the idea that Joseph derived all of his uncommon insight from studying hard to acquire, difficult to understand texts.

Finally, with regard to inspiration, you said:

Smith’s failure to understand this point is clear proof that he was not inspired in his “translation.” By adding the word “not,” he not only failed to clarify the text’s real meaning, he actually showed that he did not understand what he was revising. This is about as clear an example of an uninspired rewrite as one could imagine.

It appears to me, however, that you once again are assuming that God would do what you think he should have done. I read from what you wrote here that you expect that God would have explained to Joseph that "leaving" doesn't always mean what he seems to think it means (and is not unlikely others thought it meant), but that it means something else, instead of inspiring Joseph to toss in a "not" and bring the meaning a lot closer to the original than it was for him prior to the "not". Why you think this, I don't know, and, without you explicitly explaining how you understand the process of inspiration to occur, I can't be sure. For me, this seems like a pretty simple a straight forward example of inspiration: I misunderstand something, God helps me to see it in a way that is correct (or closer to it than I was).

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Rob,

Once again, I think your post will provide some good discussion. Let me reply to your post.

You point out:

and from this, and Joseph's belief that the Bible as he read it was incorrect, you conclude:

This conclusion doesn't seem warranted to me.

Now to the concept of translation: If I'm reading a translation of something that conveys to me an idea that is not what the original document said, is the translation correct? Well, it could be literally correct, but it has certainly failed its effort to bring the original meaning to me. With that said, I totally agree with you, that Joseph misunderstood the English--and so the failure was not necessarily so much because of something incorrect in the text, but in his understanding. But, based on his understanding of English, the passage was totally mistranslated, and his correction, with the addition of "not" brings it much closer to the original meaning, as demonstrated by the commentaries you quoted:

and

You'll notice that both commentaries are deliberate in pointing out that it is not abandoning the fundamentals, "not lose..., despise..., forget them," and "not ... to forget them", and even more explicitly, "...we must never leave the foundation...". So, when Joseph reads "leave" to mean abandon and says, "I don't believe it," and replaces it with "not leave" or "not abandon", then he is providing the same meaning as the commentaries provided. It is not surprising that to Joseph this passage seemed to be suggesting that people depart from faith, repentance, etc--again, it appears that these commentaries were trying to correct that very same mistake that others potentially read into it.

Your earlier points about Joseph's reasoning behind that change, and that:

should help stem the idea that Joseph was ever claiming to restore the original text, but was instead trying to restore the original meaning.

The following point you made is a good one:

If something so elementary as this escaped Joseph's understanding, it should help to put to rest the idea that Joseph derived all of his uncommon insight from studying hard to acquire, difficult to understand texts.

Finally, with regard to inspiration, you said:

It appears to me, however, that you once again are assuming that God would do what you think he should have done. I read from what you wrote here that you expect that God would have explained to Joseph that "leaving" doesn't always mean what he seems to think it means (and is not unlikely others thought it meant), but that it means something else, instead of inspiring Joseph to toss in a "not" and bring the meaning a lot closer to the original than it was for him prior to the "not". Why you think this, I don't know, and, without you explicitly explaining how you understand the process of inspiration to occur, I can't be sure. For me, this seems like a pretty simple a straight forward example of inspiration: I misunderstand something, God helps me to see it in a way that is correct (or closer to it than I was).

Well said! I was just about to say the same thing, but I guess I don't need to do a commentary on your commentary!

Mike

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An excellent example of Joseph Smith’s uninspired translation is his handling of Hebrews 6:1 in the JST.

Because Bowman has determined the conclusion prior to presenting his case, he won't mind if I preclude that his critic is shallow prior to reading it. After all, fair is fair.

What makes this such a useful test case of Joseph’s translating abilities is that he provided something of a commentary on the rationale for this particular change to the KJV:

STILL stuck on that narrow definition of the word "translate" I see. Doing so is more conducive to strawman production.

The first thing to notice here is that Joseph introduces his change to Hebrews 6:1 as an example of how he addresses the supposed problem of errors in the Bible arising from “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests.”

And here we have a perfect example of "ignorant translators".

If the translators had actually had as much knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they did of Greek and English, they may have rendered it in a way that would have conveyed the original intended meaning, which they did not know as Joseph did, rather than simply rendering from the words of one language to the words of another.

Either way, Joseph was claiming that the KJV wording did not accurately represent the original wording of Hebrews 6:1 . . .

No that isn't necessarily it at all.

More accurately, Joseph was claiming that the KJV wording did not accurately represent the original INTENDED MEANING of Hebrews 6:1.

This is a classic example where merely "translating" the words of one language (with their range of meanings) to the words of another language (with their range of meanings) conveys a meaning that is opposite to the original intent.

Smith explicitly tells us that Hebrews 6:1 as it read in his day was in error and that he was correcting it.

YUP!

Notice that Joseph made no claim to receive a supernatural revelation that the word “not” was missing from the text.

So?

No doubt he wanted people to believe that he was supernaturally guided in his revision of the KJV, but his description of the process by which he came to view the KJV as erroneous was a matter of rational reflection.

Bowman taking up necromancy again.

As he came to the passage, he observed something that seemed to him to be contradictory, and he remedied the problem by altering the text to “render it as it should be.”

Actually, he observed something that WAS contradictory, and he altered the text to "render it as it should be."

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The issue, as I see it, isn't whether Joseph knew what midrash was, but whether his claim that Hebrews 6:1 was in error was correct.

I find Joseph's commentary to be specific to the KJV English, not necessarily the Greek or Hebrew manuscripts.

...including that Joseph was mistaken in thinking his revisions to the Bible were in any sense inspired by God.

Some may not have been. I'm willing to admit that.

I'm afraid I view such a "midrashic" explanation of what Joseph was doing as an attempt to have one's inspired cake and eat it too.

Perhaps. But this seems to be the case only if one takes an inerrant view of the JST. I'm not sure how his one-word addition to Hebrews 6:1 negates the Book of Moses.

But as I said, I think your post raises excellent questions regarding the Mormon understanding of scripture and revelation.

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I agree that Joseph was likely wrong in his explanation (or the explanation as we have received it) for changing Hebrews 6:1. Joseph was not inerrant, even when he claimed to be inspired. I don't think the JST is a restoration of original texts or even original meaning. Rather it represents, for me, Joseph's striving to understand the KJV text, seeking inspiration, sometimes receiving it, and other times exercising his best judgment based on other revelations he received.

This is not unlike the D&C revelations, which were edited by him and others after original transcriptions. Perhaps after editing, as published, they are more correct, but I do not take them as inerrant.

I realize that there are others who do believe that each word of the D&C is correct and inspired, and presumably that the same is true of the JST. I suppose they would argue in reply to the opening post that we do not have the very very original version of Hebrews and that this no longer existing version includes the word "no". If a person wants to believe that, more power to them. I do not.

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Rob,

Once again, I think your post will provide some good discussion. Let me reply to your post.

You point out:

and from this, and Joseph's belief that the Bible as he read it was incorrect, you conclude:

This conclusion doesn't seem warranted to me.

Now to the concept of translation: If I'm reading a translation of something that conveys to me an idea that is not what the original document said, is the translation correct? Well, it could be literally correct, but it has certainly failed its effort to bring the original meaning to me. With that said, I totally agree with you, that Joseph misunderstood the English--and so the failure was not necessarily so much because of something incorrect in the text, but in his understanding. But, based on his understanding of English, the passage was totally mistranslated, and his correction, with the addition of "not" brings it much closer to the original meaning, as demonstrated by the commentaries you quoted:

and

You'll notice that both commentaries are deliberate in pointing out that it is not abandoning the fundamentals, "not lose..., despise..., forget them," and "not ... to forget them", and even more explicitly, "...we must never leave the foundation...". So, when Joseph reads "leave" to mean abandon and says, "I don't believe it," and replaces it with "not leave" or "not abandon", then he is providing the same meaning as the commentaries provided. It is not surprising that to Joseph this passage seemed to be suggesting that people depart from faith, repentance, etc--again, it appears that these commentaries were trying to correct that very same mistake that others potentially read into it.

Your earlier points about Joseph's reasoning behind that change, and that:

should help stem the idea that Joseph was ever claiming to restore the original text, but was instead trying to restore the original meaning.

The following point you made is a good one:

If something so elementary as this escaped Joseph's understanding, it should help to put to rest the idea that Joseph derived all of his uncommon insight from studying hard to acquire, difficult to understand texts.

Finally, with regard to inspiration, you said:

It appears to me, however, that you once again are assuming that God would do what you think he should have done. I read from what you wrote here that you expect that God would have explained to Joseph that "leaving" doesn't always mean what he seems to think it means (and is not unlikely others thought it meant), but that it means something else, instead of inspiring Joseph to toss in a "not" and bring the meaning a lot closer to the original than it was for him prior to the "not". Why you think this, I don't know, and, without you explicitly explaining how you understand the process of inspiration to occur, I can't be sure. For me, this seems like a pretty simple a straight forward example of inspiration: I misunderstand something, God helps me to see it in a way that is correct (or closer to it than I was).

Well done.

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So what you're telling us is that JS correctly clarified a potential misunderstanding (the text does not mean abandon) of the theological meaning of the text, rather than providing an intricate analysis of philology of the text. So how is this a problem? (Unless, of course, you assume scriptural inerrancy, and that the JST is a philological translation rather than a theological clarification.)

You have also demonstrated that JS was not reading standard biblical commentaries of his day, despite the fact that many critics insist he was reading precisely such books. Thanks!

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mjr522,

You wrote:

Now to the concept of translation: If I'm reading a translation of something that conveys to me an idea that is not what the original document said, is the translation correct? Well, it could be literally correct, but it has certainly failed its effort to bring the original meaning to me.

The failure is not in the translation, but in the reader. For example, if the Bible says "God is love," and a religious leader claims this means that erotic pleasure is intrinsically divine (and some have made just such claims), the fault is not in the Bible but in the religious leader's misunderstanding.

You wrote:

With that said, I totally agree with you, that Joseph misunderstood the English--and so the failure was not necessarily so much because of something incorrect in the text, but in his understanding.

Exactly.

You then wrote:

But, based on his understanding of English, the passage was totally mistranslated, and his correction, with the addition of "not" brings it much closer to the original meaning, as demonstrated by the commentaries you quoted.

Now you are equivocating, I'm afraid. The passage was in no sense mistranslated; it only seemed to be erroneous to Joseph Smith because of his misunderstanding. It confuses matters to say that the passage was mistranslated "based on his understanding of English."

Furthermore, adding "not" does not bring the text closer to the original meaning. The meaning of "leaving" (aphiemi) is not adequately expressed by changing it to "not leaving." That is, aphiemi does not mean anything like "not abandoning." There is a subtle misstep here. The commentaries I quoted correctly pointed out that aphiemi does not mean to abandon. From this statement one cannot conclude that aphiemi means "not to abandon." No, what it means is something like "moving on to other things," or "progressing beyond that point." There is no negation implicit in the meaning of aphiemi. Joseph's addition of the word did not move the verse closer to its original meaning, but simply obscured what the text really meant.

If Joseph had truly been inspired to clarify the real meaning of the text, he might have expressed that clarification in any number of ways. For example, he might have substituted "progressing beyond" or something similar for the word "leaving." But adding "not" fails to clarify the text's meaning.

You wrote:

Your earlier points about Joseph's reasoning behind that change...should help stem the idea that Joseph was ever claiming to restore the original text, but was instead trying to restore the original meaning.

This doesn't follow at all. Joseph was quite explicit that he was claiming to restore the original meaning of the text. He explicitly introduced his change to Hebrews 6:1 by referring to alleged corruptions of the original text. The fact that he failed (at least in this instance) to make good on his intention is not evidence that he did not have that intention!

You wrote:

If something so elementary as this escaped Joseph's understanding, it should help to put to rest the idea that Joseph derived all of his uncommon insight from studying hard to acquire, difficult to understand texts.

We can debate how much "uncommon insight" Joseph had, but you seem to have acknowledged that at least in this one instance Joseph lacked common insight into the meaning of a text he claimed was in error.

You wrote:

It appears to me, however, that you once again are assuming that God would do what you think he should have done. I read from what you wrote here that you expect that God would have explained to Joseph that "leaving" doesn't always mean what he seems to think it means (and is not unlikely others thought it meant), but that it means something else, instead of inspiring Joseph to toss in a "not" and bring the meaning a lot closer to the original than it was for him prior to the "not". Why you think this, I don't know, and, without you explicitly explaining how you understand the process of inspiration to occur, I can't be sure. For me, this seems like a pretty simple a straight forward example of inspiration: I misunderstand something, God helps me to see it in a way that is correct (or closer to it than I was).

As I have explained, adding "not" did not bring the passage closer to the original meaning. A key premise of your objection, then, appears to be incorrect. It seems awfully ad hoc to argue that God inspired Joseph Smith to translate a text no one has ever read or even seen (the Book of Mormon), supposedly complete with all sorts of arcane Hebraic literary and grammatical features, but failed to inspire Joseph to understand the simple English text that was right in front of him and everyone else. If we cannot trust Joseph Smith on such matters where we can test his claim to inspiration, how shall we trust him on matters where we may not be able to test him (see John 3:12)?

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Bill,

You wrote:

So what you're telling us is that JS correctly clarified a potential misunderstanding (the text does not mean abandon) of the theological meaning of the text, rather than providing an intricate analysis of philology of the text. So how is this a problem? (Unless, of course, you assume scriptural inerrancy, and that the JST is a philological translation rather than a theological clarification.)

As I have explained in another post, adding "not" did nothing to clarify that "leaving" does not mean "abandoning." Nor does it clarify the meaning of the text as a whole. Characterizing me as suggesting that Joseph was supposed to offer "an intricate analysis of philology of the text" is a clever straw-man diversion, not a serious engagement of my argument.

You wrote:

You have also demonstrated that JS was not reading standard biblical commentaries of his day, despite the fact that many critics insist he was reading precisely such books. Thanks!

No, my point was not that Joseph never cracked open such books; nor would I claim that he studies such books thoroughly or consistently. Your comment oversimplifies that issue.

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I'll say this again because I think it is important:

The JST seems to deal specifically with the KJV English.

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I'll say this again because I think it is important:

The JST seems to deal specifically with the KJV English.

I totally agree and it is worth repeating.

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WalkerW,

You wrote:

I'll say this again because I think it is important:

The JST seems to deal specifically with the KJV English.

Like Mola, I totally agree. The JST is not a supernatural ____________ (fill in the blank) of the Bible. It is a revision of the KJV, based on Joseph's quite fallible, natural understanding of Elizabethan English and of the contexts and meanings of the statements in the KJV Bible that he altered.

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WalkerW,

You wrote:

Like Mola, I totally agree. The JST is not a supernatural ____________ (fill in the blank) of the Bible. It is a revision of the KJV, based on Joseph's quite fallible, natural understanding of Elizabethan English and of the contexts and meanings of the statements in the KJV Bible that he altered.

I think we agree more than we disagree on this matter. The implications of this is where our main disagreement is, I believe.

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Rob,

You said:

The failure is not in the translation, but in the reader. For example, if the Bible says "God is love," and a religious leader claims this means that erotic pleasure is intrinsically divine (and some have made just such claims), the fault is not in the Bible but in the religious leader's misunderstanding.

I think we both agree on this.

Now you are equivocating, I'm afraid. The passage was in no sense mistranslated; it only seemed to be erroneous to Joseph Smith because of his misunderstanding. It confuses matters to say that the passage was mistranslated "based on his understanding of English."

I just looked up equivocating. I'm not sure how or that I'm doing it, but I certainly won't deny that I am. What if I wrote "mistranslated" (with the " ") would that still be equivocating? In any case, I don't think this is critical to the issue--we both agree that Joseph Smith misunderstood the intended meaning of "leaving".

Furthermore, adding "not" does not bring the text closer to the original meaning. The meaning of "leaving" (aphiemi) is not adequately expressed by changing it to "not leaving." That is, aphiemi does not mean anything like "not abandoning." There is a subtle misstep here. The commentaries I quoted correctly pointed out that aphiemi does not mean to abandon. From this statement one cannot conclude that aphiemi means "not to abandon." No, what it means is something like "moving on to other things," or "progressing beyond that point." There is no negation implicit in the meaning of aphiemi. Joseph's addition of the word did not move the verse closer to its original meaning, but simply obscured what the text really meant.

If Joseph had truly been inspired to clarify the real meaning of the text, he might have expressed that clarification in any number of ways. For example, he might have substituted "progressing beyond" or something similar for the word "leaving." But adding "not" fails to clarify the text's meaning.

I believe you are mistaken in your assessment. Which is closer to the original meaning of the first part of Hebrews 6:1: Joseph's initial understanding, "Therefore abandoning the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection." or Joseph's "new rendering", "Therefore not abandoning the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection."? As I stated, based on the commentaries you provided, "not abandoned" is certainly closer than the original meaning.

You continue to focus on the idea that Joseph was claiming to be providing a better translation of the manuscripts that we now have available (or even those he would have had available), but all he's claiming is that he believes the meaning the original authors intended, which is much more closely expressed with "not abandon" than with "abandon".

You said regarding my comment about the original manuscript text:

This doesn't follow at all.

You are quite right that what I said doesn't follow--I should have put a rolleyes.gif beside it to show that I was thinking: "Well, he didn't claim he was translating the original text, he didn't claim he was inspired to the meaning of the original text, and it doesn't match the original. Since he's prophet, he must not have been restoring the original."

Then you said,

Joseph was quite explicit that he was claiming to restore the original meaning of the text. He explicitly introduced his change to Hebrews 6:1 by referring to alleged corruptions of the original text. The fact that he failed (at least in this instance) to make good on his intention is not evidence that he did not have that intention!

You and I must have different understandings of explicit. To me, the quote you provided from Joseph is quite explicit that he felt this passage was in error--that to him (and presumably to his audience) it didn't convey the meaning the original author intended (hence the introduction, "Look ... for contradictions". I don't see him mentioning anywhere that he is restoring the original text. Do you disagree that with his (apparent) understanding of the meaning of the word "leave", he would call the KJV translators ignorant in choosing to use that specific word? Does this not fit his description of "ignorant translators...have committed many errors"?

We can debate how much "uncommon insight" Joseph had, but you seem to have acknowledged that at least in this one instance Joseph lacked common insight into the meaning of a text he claimed was in error.

We could debate it, but I think you'd find many people more qualified to debate this with you than I am. I have acknowledged that Joseph lacked what for us today is common insight into the meaning of this text. I don't know what was common insight for his peers at the time--I presume that at least he believed they all read the passage the same as he did. And, as I mentioned before, the fact that the commentaries seem to address this same misunderstanding is suggestive to me that they were trying to address a common (or at least probable) misconception (though, I'm not familiar with commentaries--especially old ones-- and it could be possible that they regularly explain that which is commonly understood).

You said:

As I have explained, adding "not" did not bring the passage closer to the original meaning. A key premise of your objection, then, appears to be incorrect.

Please see my question above about whether adding "not" brings the meaning closer to the original. I don't believe I am incorrect in this.

Finally you said:

It seems awfully ad hoc to argue that God inspired Joseph Smith to translate a text no one has ever read or even seen (the Book of Mormon), supposedly complete with all sorts of arcane Hebraic literary and grammatical features, but failed to inspire Joseph to understand the simple English text that was right in front of him and everyone else. If we cannot trust Joseph Smith on such matters where we can test his claim to inspiration, how shall we trust him on matters where we may not be able to test him (see John 3:12)?

Here again, you seem to presume that you know how God operates. Until we find a passage in the Bible that clearly states that God only does things that make sense to us, I'm afraid you and I won't be able to agree on what seems reasonable for God to do. Your questions about testing Joseph Smith's claims is a good one. I'll reply with a question that's similar to one I've asked you before: how do you test the Bible on its claims of supernatural events? For most people who accept Joseph as a prophet, the test was fairly straight forward: we asked God.

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Hello Rob,

Most serious Latter-day Saint scholars recognize the fact that Joseph was not restoring the original autographs for the biblical texts he revised. Instead, the JST represents an inspired revision of the KJ version of the Bible. In terms of Hebrews 6:1, note the commentary from Joseph Smith that you provided:

“I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators… committed many errors.”

Joseph’s addition of the word “not” to Hebrews 6:1 falls into the category of a poorly worded translation. The very Christian commentary you cited proves that without the addition of the word “not,” the statement was often misinterpreted to mean that one should leave behind the principles of the doctrine of Christ:

“In order to their growth, Christians must leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ.... " (Commentary on the Whole Bible, at Heb. 6:1).

“Now, he bids them to leave these rudiments...” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, at Heb. 6:1).

Contrary to these assertions, Joseph is absolutely correct that the original text does not covey the notion that Christians should “leave the principles of Christ.” Note the translation of the Greek text provided by William L. Lane in his Word Biblical Commentary for Hebrews 1-8:

“So then, let us leave standing the elementary Christian teaching…”

Concerning the original meaning of the text, Lane provides the following commentary:

“When the writer urges his readers to ‘leave standing’ the elementary Christians teachings, he is not [note the word] dismissing it but regarding it as so well established that the urgent need is for a fuller appreciation and application of that teaching” pg. 139 (emphasis added).

Hence, by adding the word “not” to the text, Joseph improves the KJ English translation of Hebrews 6:1 in a way that perfectly reflects the contemporary scholarly assessment of the text. Given the very commentary you cited, this was clearly an inspired correction on the part of the Prophet.

Hope that helps.

--DB

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Smith’s failure to understand this point is clear proof that he was not inspired in his “translation.” By adding the word “not,” he not only failed to clarify the text’s real meaning, he actually showed that he did not understand what he was revising. This is about as clear an example of an uninspired rewrite as one could imagine.

Your argument here can't be made until you have the original manuscript to compare with.

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Hello Rob,

Most serious Latter-day Saint scholars recognize the fact that Joseph was not restoring the original autographs for the biblical texts he revised. Instead, the JST represents an inspired revision of the KJ version of the Bible.

Hi David:

I appreciate your point, here. But, it seems to beg the question: What did Joseph see himself as accomplishing in this particular instance?

Dr. Hamblin raises the issue of philological analysis: "So what you're telling us is that JS correctly clarified a potential misunderstanding (the text does not mean abandon) of the theological meaning of the text, rather than providing an intricate analysis of philology of the text." Charity compels me to assume that Hamblin knows full well that Bowman isn't arguing for either of his alternatives.

The question, as Bowman raises it, has nothing to do with philology or theological clarification, but rather, it seems to me, with textual emendation.

In the passage in question (from HC 6), Joseph writes: "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors." He proceeds to give two examples, apparently, of the down-stream transmissional fruits of "ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests," as you are aware.

Well, what do you make of his first example?

As it read, Gen. 6:6, "It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth;" also, Num. 23:19, "God is not a man, that he should lie, neither the Son of man, that he should repent;" which I do not believe. But it ought to read, "It repented Noah that God made man." This I believe, and then the other quotation stands fair.

Here, Smith states unequivocally that Gen 6:6 ought to read "It repented Noah that God made man," rather than what we find in the text. Is that philological analysis? Hardly. A theological clarification? If so, it's one that would seem to depend for its legitimacy upon a further, more foundational, textual emendation. What do you make of this first example?

Ought Gen 6:6 actually read "It repented Noah that God made man," as Smith declares? On what basis? Such a correction would seem to go beyond mere theological clarification and into the realm of textual correction (nigh unto the autographa?).

His next example, of course, is Heb 6:1. Joseph cites Heb 6:1 as a text that contains a "contradiction." This citation is in support of his statement that he believes the Bible as it was originally penned, prior to the meddling of "ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests." Bowman didn't choose Joseph's exemplar texts to elucidate his declaration of transmissional tampering. Joseph did.

The first is Gen 6:6. The second is Heb 6:1.

I fully realize that "most serious Latter-day Saint scholars recognize the fact that Joseph was not restoring the original autographs for the biblical texts he revised," but it appears to me that this recognition is due to the near impossibility of the contrary, in light of the available manuscript evidence, rather than being grounded in Joseph's own statements regarding the nature of his corrections as evidenced in this particular passage from HC.

Best.

cks

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Well done.

I'm out of rep points for the day so will add another well done to the ones already posted.

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I appreciate your point, here. But, it seems to beg the question: What did Joseph see himself as accomplishing in this particular instance?

Dr. Hamblin raises the issue of philological analysis: "So what you're telling us is that JS correctly clarified a potential misunderstanding (the text does not mean abandon) of the theological meaning of the text, rather than providing an intricate analysis of philology of the text." Charity compels me to assume that Hamblin knows full well that Bowman isn't arguing for either of his alternatives.

The question, as Bowman raises it, has nothing to do with philology or theological clarification, but rather, it seems to me, with textual emendation.

In the passage in question (from HC 6), Joseph writes: "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors." He proceeds to give two examples, apparently, of the down-stream transmissional fruits of "ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests," as you are aware.

Here, Smith states unequivocally that Gen 6:6 ought to read "It repented Noah that God made man," rather than what we find in the text. Is that philological analysis? Hardly. A theological clarification? If so, it's one that would seem to depend for its legitimacy upon a further, more foundational, textual emendation. What do you make of this first example?

Ought Gen 6:6 actually read "It repented Noah that God made man," as Smith declares? On what basis? Such a correction would seem to go beyond mere theological clarification and into the realm of textual correction (nigh unto the autographa?).

His next example, of course, is Heb 6:1. Joseph cites Heb 6:1 as a text that contains a "contradiction." This citation is in support of his statement that he believes the Bible as it was originally penned, prior to the meddling of "ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests." Bowman didn't choose Joseph's exemplar texts to elucidate his declaration of transmissional tampering. Joseph did.

I fully realize that "most serious Latter-day Saint scholars recognize the fact that Joseph was not restoring the original autographs for the biblical texts he revised," but it appears to me that this recognition is due to the near impossibility of the contrary, in light of the available manuscript evidence, rather than being grounded in Joseph's own statements regarding the nature of his corrections as evidenced in this particular passage from HC.

Your first question is right on point, though you did not adequately deal with it: Joseph and Sidney spent a lot of time dealing with the KJV text, and the unfinished result has been termed "New Translation," "Inspired Version," and "Inspired Revision," but it is not at all clear that the whole of it is all of the same character. Some revelatory (visionary) parts of it are part of the official Mormon Canon (Book of Moses). Other parts do look very much like midrashic commentary -- and Joseph and Sidney certainly did not need to know what "midrash" is to do it. That is merely a descriptive term which scholars (and pretend scholars) use. Anyhow, most of what they did is not canonical.

Indeed, I see a tight comparison to be made with a similar type of activity by pious Jewish scribes -- tiqqune soferim (link). On occasion, while copying a pre-Massoretic Text onto a scroll, they would find a term or phrase which they regarded as inappropriate or blasphemous. Through a simple "correction" they could eliminate that problem much as Joseph & Sidney might have done by making Noah rather than God "repent." The shift in English meaning does in fact take care of some theological misunderstandings.

Bowman even gave the likeliest rational reason for the insertion of "not" in Hebrews 6:1, but then went on to "equivocate" by adding other motives or silly conceits to Joseph on that one matter. In fact the notion that he was doing the very thing the more learned commentators had been doing is very compelling, and that in both cases because KJ English was long since out of date and imprecise.

On the other hand, we could examine Joseph & Sidney's alteration of Exodus 6:3 (addition of a question mark). As it turns out, many scholars today agree that this is a reasonable alternative -- if not the best translation (the NIV offers it as an alternate translation in the notes). See LINK for an example of this new approach to Ex 6:3.

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An excellent example of Joseph Smith’s uninspired translation is his handling of Hebrews 6:1 in the JST. Whereas the KJV says, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection,” the JST adds the word “not” to the first clause: “Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” What makes this such a useful test case of Joseph’s translating abilities is that he provided something of a commentary on the rationale for this particular change to the KJV:

<snip>

I think you may have valid point there. I came to a similar conclusion myself many years ago when I read that statement by Joseph Smith. In another unrelated instance where I think Joseph Smith might have made a mistake is when he interpreted the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross: “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), to mean, not that he would be saved or go to heaven, but just go to the spirit world. He possibly said that in order to counter the prevailing Protestant belief of last minute repentance and forgiveness.

With regard to Hebrews 6:1, you might like to know that in the footnote to the LDS edition of the KJV, where that particular change in the JST is referenced, it almost makes the same observation that you are making. This is what it says (bold italic type my emphasis.):

6
1 a
GR having left behind the beginning of the doctrine.;
JST Heb. 6:1 ...
not
leaving...

I personally don’t have an explanation for this. It could be that Joseph Smith made a genuine mistake, or it could even be that that is what Paul had actually said, and Joseph Smith restored it by revelation. Since we don’t have what Paul originally wrote, we have no way of knowing for sure. But this hardly justifies your casting aspersions on all of Joseph Smith’s inspired revisions, or to suggest that all of them were made on the base of such a mistaken “interpretation”. How can that provide an explanation for the lengthy additions to the book of Moses and many other parts of the Bible, Old and New Testaments? There is no way one could argue that they were added as a result of a “mistaken interpretation”. He was either making stuff up out of his own imagination, or else he was restoring lost material by inspiration and revelation. No doubt your preferred choice is that he was making stuff up. But there are others of us who disagree.

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