10 Changes If I Were In Charge of LDS Scripture…

1. I would change the layout of the LDS scriptures to create paragraphs and sections that look like modern study Bibles.

2. I would make prophetic oracles and poetry appear differently from prose on the page.  (I would strongly consider moving to a single column of text instead of two.)

3. I would adopt almost all of the appendices at the end of Hardy’s Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon as well as the notes for names for both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

4. I would get rid of the Topic Guide.

5. I would update the Bible Dictionary.

6. I would update the cover of the Book of Mormon missionary edition.  It is inexpensive, but it looks cheap and dated.

7. I would get rid of the artwork at the beginning of the text.

8.  I would update the biblical text to the NRSV and use notes at the bottom of the page to explain KJV overlap in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and others to clarify where our texts are citing the KJV.

9. I would get rid of the chapter headings and move to short introductory remarks at the beginning of each book or in significant transitions within books.

10. I would put a team of scholars with actual training in relevant fields in charge of this work and begin a 10-15 year cycle of revising and updating these texts.


John Gee, Biblical Studies, and Credentials
Doubting Our Doubters
The Call of Simon Peter in Luke 5:1-11
Korihors, Secular Humanism, and the Book of Mormon
  • Eric

    It’s amazing how helpful the formatting is in Hardy’s BoM edition. Those who have never used a modern Bible translation probably don’t realize how much more difficult the text is to understand when broken up into verses and when poetry is treated like prose.

  • Kevin Barney


  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com Joseph Smidt

    I agree with many of your list except one that I am sure to get flak for. :) I like the old fashioned tone of the KJV over the more modern translations as I swear the older formal language psychologically puts you in the mindset that what you are reading is sacred. When I read modern translations the words make more sense but yet, I fell psychologically the same as when I read a non-sacred novel.

  • NoCoolName_Tom

    Joseph Smidt,
    If the LDS Church were to remain with a King James English text, could they at least update it to something like the New King James to get rid of the archaisms like 2nd person singular “thou” and all its declensions and the occasionally odd translation error (like unicorns and dragons)? It’s close enough that it still has the same “rhythm” of the KJV text, but is marginally better scholastically. I don’t think it’s fair that other languages get better biblical translations while those who speak English get stuck with a translation that has its roots in a text assembled over four centuries ago.

  • NoCoolName_Tom

    The problem I see with remaining with the KJV is apparent when you look at the Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saint, edited by Kevin Barney. Each page is usually at least halfway covered by footnotes, but many of these footnotes are alternate translations from the Greek or interpreting archaic English phrases. An equivalent book based around the NSRV would have *much* more room for many more footnotes as it wouldn’t usually be talking about language half the time. (I’m not trying to bash on FNTLDS! It is by far the best LDS-oritented New Testament currently available and is something I encourage all LDS I know to read and use.)

  • oudenos

    TT, I’m game for these. But I’m going to push on number 10. Assemble for me your teams of 10-15 scholars with the relevant training to treat of 1) the OT 2) the NT 3) BoM and 4) D&C, PoGP. Ready, go!

    Who would get to “captain” these teams and select the players? Can you imagine the politics and power interests involved in just assembling, say, the NT team of 10-15 scholars? Goodness gracious, it makes my head ache to imagine it.

    Also, if teams were selected right now, do we have sufficient numbers with proven/promising quality to fill 40-60 slots?

    We ought to do a fantasy scripture league draft to see what we come up with.

  • Christopher

    Hear, hear!

  • TT

    I humbly offer my services as team captain.

  • Tom D

    I think it would be good to switch the standard missionary Book of Mormon to something derived from Hardy’s Reader’s Edition since that is probably better for first time readers. However, having bought and the Reader’s Edition myself, I still prefer verses to paragraphs. Having read the BofM many dozen times I think its verses are much more a help than a hindrance. I think Orson Pratt generally did a great job with them. The short verses in Bible quotes are sometimes annoying, but that’s the price we pay to keep them matched up with corresponding biblical verses.

    I still like the Topical Guide. I’d keep it as an adjunct to text searches.

    I was surprised several times in the last year to find that my kids’ LDS Bibles had more JST footnotes than my 1986 version. As far as I can tell so far, these additions are pretty minor. I wouldn’t mind upgrading the translation to something like the NRSV, but it seems like all the changes are already in the footnotes.

  • Kevin Barney

    No. 5, I’ve always taken the position that if people would only read a good modern translation (or better, a couple of them), the need for the Footnotes project would have been largely obviated. The problem is, most Mormons aren’t comfortable doing that. If we would have more GAs quote from other translations in conference (a few have already), maybe that would help.

    My first GD gig was in a university student ward, and one student when asked to read would always read out of his RSV (this was pre-NRSV). I loved that, as it provided marvelous teaching moments, but you should have seen the deer in the headlights look the other class members got. They were literally freaked out by the different wording and didn’t know what to make of it. Our Sunday School Bible scholarship has become quite brittle as a result.

  • g.wesley

    i would be pleased with just one change: keep using kjv, but add gender inclusive language in the scriptures as well as other official publications, hymns, manuals, periodicals. it would not take that much time or training. for contemporary devotional purposes it would not even be relevant whether the scriptural authors meant to be inclusive or not.

    as my #2: in the case of passages of plainly androcentric thought where a change of language would change little, i would like to see a frank admission such as in a note that the passages and thought are outdated and/or at odds with other passages, thus cancelling or at least qualifying their authoritative status.

  • harad

    Gender inclusive? Why stop there? I feel offended every time I read about Israelites or Jews. Since we can liken the scriptures to ourselves and tweak them for gender inclusiveness, I say we also cater to me and my Polish friends, but having a Polish inclusive version. A quick find and replace substituting Pole for Jew, etc. should do it and wouldn’t exclude all the Polish children who feel marginalized while reading the scriptures.

    Or we just come to terms with the fact that language is imprecise, and has deeper meaning than the mere words on the page.

  • Tharl

    I think #8 would be the most useful and most difficult change — it would require a lot of updated manuals and there might be some pain when biblical language no longer conforms with established LDS doctrine…Besides the JST I’m thinking of passages like Isaiah 29 and 1 Corinthians 15, along with a bunch of KJV phrases (“saviors on mount Zion”) on which we’ve developed robust doctrines with thin (prooftexted) support. It’d be nice if that sparked discussion on the ways we view and interpret texts, but I think it’d alienate more traditional members instead.

  • oudenos

    Comment number 12 is probably the tip o’the iceberg of what might be expected if a bunch of secular, jerkface, so- called “intellectuals” start looking beyond the mark, mingling scripture with the scientries of men, and yielding ground to those who are always looking to be offended for a word (women! gays! liberals!).

  • http://prolusionsix.wordpress.com DLewis

    It would interesting if the church decided to continue printing the scriptures as they are while also printing a version based on the suggestions above (I’m thinking specifically about the BoM) and see which version members would be more inclined to buy. Give me paragraph and poetry any day of the week over double-columned verses, and I imagine most people would feel this way too.

  • Steven B

    I’m all for paragraphs and poetry formatting, but a single column is difficult to read if the lines are wide and closely spaced. Narrow columns are there to make it easier to read.

  • Mark D.

    I second getting rid of the topical guide. It is an incredible waste of paper. Even if we actually needed such a thing in the here and now, it would best be printed in a separate volume.

  • Clark

    Personally, noticing how many people now carry phones and tablets rather than scriptures I wish they’d just make the change to the Android and iOS scripture programs.

    (8) as others noted is the biggest problem not the least of which is royalties. (But really, can’t the Church afford them? And let’s be honest, most editions of the scriptures are really overpriced as is)

    Honestly I wouldn’t mind if we skip (8) but maybe put alternative translations in the footnotes. (I’m not sure of the copyright issues there) I do agree that we can keep the KJV but revise some of the words as is done in the New King James Version.

  • Ryan

    Amen to all of your suggestions. But what are the chances of any of this happening in the next 10-15 years? I see little, perhaps none. The small cadre of LDS scholars and members capable of understanding the need for such a thing seems to grow ever smaller as the mass body of the church informed and indoctrinated by a correlated gospel (a relatively soft form of fundamentalism) becomes ever larger and our ability to disentangle ourselves from the intellectual legacy of the twentieth century church ever more difficult.

    I’d like to be more sanguine, but I am not.

  • Kramer

    When God is interested in implementing your suggestions, He may call you to be an apostle. Until them, pleae hold your breath.

    Because, after all, one must have training in Theology in order to tell others how to structure their sacred texts. You do do this on your own and sell them.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com Aaron R.

    I can imagine scenarios where the TG is useful in places where electronic versions of the scriptures are not as easily available. Having said that, all of these changes would be excellent.

  • Quickmere Graham

    You do do this on your own and sell them.

    Heh, you said “do do.”

  • g.wesley

    a polish version would be great too and a real necessity when church membership is such that half of the people reading lds scriture are polish.

    if only god were directly managing the apostolate and the apostolate were directly managing church publications, without that messy human interference. a dream.

  • aliquis

    1-2) It’s amazing how much more clarity paragraphs, sections, and alternative typesetting for poetry and oracles brings to the text! Of course versification need not be sacrificed, as superscripted numerals or subtle, gray numerals the same size as the text would do just fine; I agree, the verses we have are great. Nevertheless, we should be honest that such a typesetting project would entail some editorial subjectivity.

    3) The simplicity of Hardy’s footnotes is what makes them really useful. If I look at a footnote in Hardy’s edition, I know I’m only getting a reference textually or historically related to what I’m reading, rather than a thematic reading that might or might not apply.

    4) The Topical Guide is a useful, albeit imperfect concordance, and I think we should keep it. The real problem with the topical guide is all the footnotes that refer to it, which I would venture to say meet or exceed half the space in the footnote section of any given page. *That* is the real waste of paper.

    5) Agreed about updating the Bible Dictionary

    6) I have no opinion on the missionary Book of Mormon. I think it looks fine, but wouldn’t mind seeing it updated.

    7) What’s wrong with the artwork? If you don’t like Arnold Freiberg, can we just get some new artwork? Illustration is a boon, if you ask me.

    8) I understand the impetus to update the text to a modern translation, and I think the NKJV is more agreeable than the NRSV (why not the ESV?), but I still think the issue is prickly. The concern raised about royalties comes close to the heart of it, but it’s not really about what the Church can’t afford, it’s which translation committee they want to be beholden to. Yes, I know that we’re already beholden to the KJV’s translators—often at far more of a detriment than if it were to a modern committee—but they feel safe and neutral, as if they’ve transcended theological partisanship and are now incorporated into shared Western cultural heritage. Not so the NRSV’s committee. Don’t believe me? Ask J. Rueben Clark.

    PS, some of my seminary students said they were “deeply offended” that I read from other translations in class (JPS and NRSV), but others said that they really liked it. So there you go.

    9) Chapter headings are useful, as it’s nice to have collected summaries of chapters while skimming a book, but they sorely need updating. There are some Psalms said to be “messianic” and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would think so.

    10) Qualified committees of scholars is a nice dream, even if it is as impractical as oudenos said. Still, it’s useful as a standard by which to gauge just how limited our own texts are compared to others.

  • larryco_

    To me, the translation by William Tyndale that survives in the KJV is glorious beyond description and makes all that came after it pale in comparison. “Updating” the KJV reminds me so much of the “modern” version of Shakespeare’s plays that appear on occasion – mere shadows of the master.

  • http://www.symphonyofdissent.wordpress.com Daniel ortner

    I have concerns with many of these due to my experience as a missionary.

    4. I would get rid of the Topic Guide.

    The topical guide is very useful for missionaries as they try to search for particular scriptures. I actually carried around my quad all of my mission since a topical guide did not exist in my mission language (Russian) at the time.

    7. I would get rid of the artwork at the beginning of the text.
    The artwork is incredibly useful for teaching people about the book of mormon on the street. I would actually put in a few more pieces of art such as the first vision in order to facilitate teaching about the Book of Mormon.

    9. I would get rid of the chapter headings and move to short introductory remarks at the beginning of each book or in significant transitions within books.

    Again, these are key to helping investigators understand the text. It was so useful to have these when teaching new people about the book of Mormon.

    I think you have to keep in mind that the Book of Mormon is heavily a missionary tool and that these resources are invaluable for that purpose!

  • http://timesandseasons.org Ben S

    The problem, Larryco, is that the KJV was not intended to be “glorious” and the underlying language is also not “glorious.” It’s common, everyday, non-elevated, non-Shakespearean language. It creates an artificial characteristic or mark of “scripture.”

    Phillip Barlow put it this way. “The most basic problem is that the elegance of the “Authorized” English Bible warps for the modern ear the tone of the original texts, thus distorting our perception of the very nature of biblical scripture, which our additional scriptures then echo. One can hear no King James-like cathedral bells ringing in the background when one reads the Gospel of Mark in koine Greek. Mark’s writing is raw, fresh, breathless, primitive. The lordly prose of the KJV, as it is heard by 21st-century ears, is for many texts an external imposition, shifting the locus of authority away from the power of the story itself and toward an authority spawned by the partially artificial literary holiness suffusing our culturally created notion of scripture.
    This exterior authority in one respect gilds the lily of the original message, then construes respect for the gild rather than the lily as a mark of orthodoxy.”

  • jks

    Topical guide is great. Eventually it won’t be needed but there are still plenty of people without constant access to internet who would like to look up a scripture.

  • http://aphoristikos.blogspot.com hopolios

    Starting with Joseph Smith, doctrinal positions have been staked out based on passages misunderstood due to the obscurity inherent [for more recent readers] in the Jacobean language of the AV. It seems that part of the threat of some of your suggestions relating to the Bible is that LDS would not only see that many passages do not mean what they think they mean (making certain doctrines harder to give a foundation), but, possibly worse, that there has been a history of misreading coming down from the leadership, and, even worse, that there has been a history of leadership pronouncing doctrine based on misreading.

    It seems there is a lot at stake in maintaining the way we have already been reading and that this is a real issue needing to be addressed before any attempt is made to provide a clearer path to understanding the Bible.

    The BoM suggestions seem both helpful and innocuous enough.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    If we put TT in charge, just think of all the confused people in Sunday School wondering why all the footnotes make analogies to TV repair.

  • Tom D

    Anybody know what kind of changes are planned for the new editions of the scriptures coming out next year?

  • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

    Yes. Yes to all of them.

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