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Joseph and the Original Text of the Bible

Joseph Smith claims that “plain and precious” parts of the Bible have been removed, and that he has restored them (at least in part) through his own translation. There is no outside evidence for his corrections, however. When variations take place in the text of the Bible, they normally leave behind evidence, and the burden of proof lies on those who would claim that such changes happened without leaving a trace.

A good example of how tracing the original reading works where there are variations in a Biblical text can be found in Deuteronomy 9:24. In the earliest complete copies of the Hebrew text, which date to the tenth century AD, we read that Moses says to the Israelites, “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (The Joseph Smith Translation agrees.) But both the Greek translation (done around 275 BC) and the Samaritan Pentateuch (also more than a century before Christ) read, “from the day that he knew you” (meaning God). (Fragments of Deuteronomy in the Dead Sea Scrolls do not contain this verse.)

Which reading is more likely to have been changed to which? It’s about a 50/50 tossup, both in terms of logic and of manuscript evidence. The case for both readings is strong. Whether it is God or Moses who has always known Israel to be rebellious does not make much difference to our faith. But notice how an early change was caught and preserved in the manuscript evidence we have. Such changes do not go undetected.

Compare this to Genesis 50:24, where Joseph Smith adds 13 verses (over 800 words) to the chapter, including a prediction that God will send a “choice seer,” that he will write words for the “confounding of false doctrines... And that seer I will bless…and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father…” Joseph’s addition is found neither in our oldest complete Hebrew manuscripts, nor are they found in the Greek translation, nor in the Dead Sea Scrolls (150 BC – 70 AD), nor in the Samaritan Pentateuch. Clearly this prediction would have been “plain and precious” if it had been part of the original text, but the evidence that it was ever part of the original text is non-existent.

Nobody was ever in a position of being able to change all of the copies of a Biblical passage, without the original reading being preserved somewhere. Marcion tried to do a chop job like this on the New Testament around 140 AD. He tried to cut out everything Jewish, leaving only a mutilated copy of Luke, and ten mutilated letters of Paul. But he did not succeed in his attempt. We have all the evidence we need that his Bible version was not the original.

Marcion’s failure to sell his chop-job on the Bible is why I would argue it is highly unlikely that anyone took out or changed any Bible verses that taught any LDS doctrines, that is, verses that are not found in our present Biblical text. The evidence for such a claim is nowhere to be found.