Have There Been Thousands of
Changes in the Book of Mormon?
Many critics contend that the Book of Mormon is a fraud because of the changes that have been made in its various editions. I respond to these arguments here, offering my perspective as a believer in the Book of Mormon. This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and is not an official source LDS doctrine. While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.
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A popular charge of anti-Mormons is that the Church is guilty of fraud because of changes in the Book of Mormon, or that the Book of Mormon can't be true and divine because corrections have been made. The arguments are rather weak but need to be dealt with - that's the purpose of this page. It is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and is not an official source LDS doctrine.
For some of the best scholarship on the changes in the Book of Mormon, see the writings of Royal Skousen, such as his 2014 article, "Changes in The Book of Mormon" in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 11 (2014): 161-176. For some thought-provoking analysis and evidence, see Hugh Nibley's essay, ". . . There Can Be No More Bible," chapter 1 of Since Cumorah. Also see "Early Book of Mormon Texts: Textual Changes to the Book of Mormon in 1837 and 1840" by Stan Larson, Sunstone, Fall 1976, pp. 45-59. My Introduction to the Book of Mormon or the Book of Mormon Evidences Page could also be consulted.
Critics of the Church have charged that the Book of Mormon is a fraud because thousands of changes have been made in it over the years, as if the Church were trying to cover up blunders in Joseph Smith's work. Certainly there have been many minor changes in the text of the Book of Mormon, as there have been in the text of the King James Version of the Bible (and other translations as well) over the years. These changes have been minor, usually trivial, primarily dealing with punctuation, correction of typographical errors, and modification of awkward grammar for clarity. I have examined the allegedly most "serious" changes pointed to by critics and have not seen anything representing a real change in doctrine or anything that would cast doubt on the origins of the Book of Mormon. I'll discuss major examples below.
In the early 1800s, spelling and grammar were not yet standardized. Joseph dictated the translation to scribes who spelled many words in ways that are nonstandard today. Hundreds of spelling variants had to be corrected in the first edition and in subsequent editions of the printed text. For example, "ware sorraful" in 1 Nephi 7:20 was changed to "were sorrowful." Likewise, we should not be outraged to find Nephi writing on "plates" today when Joseph's scribes had him writing on "plaits" in 1 Nephi 13:23. Hundreds of such changes have been necessary.
Years ago, Jerald and Sandra Tanner published a book claiming to identify 3,000 changes between the original 1830 edition and the then present version. Now I've heard the number of 4,000 mentioned in e-mail. Whatever the number, critics are trying to create the impression that the Church has something to hide about the Book of Mormon. The critics often charge that there is a great cover-up about the changes in the text compared to the original Book of Mormon, completely ignoring the fact that anybody can buy reprints of the 1830 edition from LDS bookstores and that LDS scholars freely and openly discuss and write about the nature of these changes. Changes in the text have been discussed in official Church publications like the Ensign magazine and by widely respected, private LDS groups like the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. The critics infer that the Church is embarrassed about the original Book of Mormon and has had to make changes in it to "improve" the doctrine or resolve blunders. Such arguments are truly dishonest. The driving force for virtually all changes has been to (1) ensure that the printed text is faithful to the original manuscript and (2) to ensure that the text is accessible and readable. Alleged departures from the original text generally turn out to be simple clarifications or reworkings of awkward grammar rather than doctrinal changes.
The many changes that critics are so indignant over are corrections of the very kind one would expect in putting a hand-written document into type with crude technology and under difficult circumstances - and in a time with many varying spelling practices. Many of the changes are due to the fact that the Book of Mormon was dictated to scribes without punctuation and without division between verses and chapter - just as one might expect from a fairly direct translation of an ancient Hebraic or Semitic text, written without punctuation. The lack of punctuation in the original required much work after dictation to put it in a presentable form - but that work was not done to cover up mistakes in the original and did not involve changing stories, doctrine, or anything else of substance. Numerous minor errors were printed in the original 1830 edition because of errors in preparing handwritten printer's manuscripts from the original manuscript, and because of additional printing errors. Again, many of the changes in the Book of Mormon over the years have been necessary to make the text correspond more perfectly with the original manuscript. It's simply untrue to say that the Church has departed from the original or that there were gross blunders in the original manuscript that needed to be fixed because they showed the Book to be a fraud.
In fact, many of the changes, including the need to add punctuation and chapter breaks, reflect the Semitic origins of the Book of Mormon. In several cases, sentences that showed classic Hebraic constructions and phrases made very poor English, and these needed modification to ensure readability. Many of the changes made involved deleting redundant "and it came to pass" phrases, a phrase which has also been deleted many times in the King James Version and other English translations of the Old Testament. Numerous deletions of "and it came to pass" in English translations of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are not because of any cover up on the part of the translators, but because that commonly used Semitic phrase becomes overly awkward in English. Below, I'll discuss other evidences of Hebraic origins in the required changes.
I already mentioned the original 1830 edition, but there were actually a variety of 1830 editions with extremely minor, generally typographical differences introduced in printing. The 1830 editions were produced under difficult circumstances including time pressure, persecution, poverty, and crude technology, factors that would make minor errors hard to avoid. For example, in the process of going from verbal dictation to an original written manuscript, then to a separate, handwritten Printer's manuscript and finally to the typeset version of the Book, there were many opportunities for typographical errors and other minor mistakes. One difficult circumstance was the fact that the publisher himself was unfriendly to the Church. This did little to ensure that the text was treated with great care and respect during the publishing process. As Joseph Fielding Smith explained (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.200),
"Being unfriendly, it would have been a natural thing for [the publisher] to permit some errors to appear. A careful check of the list of changes submitted by ... critics shows there is not one change or addition that is not in full harmony with the original text. Changes have been made in punctuation and a few other minor matters that needed correction, but never has any alteration or addition changed a single original thought. As it appears to us, the changes mentioned are such that make the text clearer and indicate that they were omitted. I am sure that the mistakes or omissions in the first edition were in large measure the fault of the compositor or the printer. Many of these mistakes which were in the first proofs were caught by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, and he made the corrections."
The printer has even been quoted as saying that he allowed many "ungrammatical" errors to be printed.
A good overview of the various editions of the Book of Mormon that have been published since 1830 is found in an article by Royal Skousen in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1, entitled "Book Of Mormon Editions (1830-1981)," from which I quote:
Four editions were published during Joseph Smith's lifetime:
1. 1830: 5,000 copies; published by E. B. Grandin in Palmyra, New York. In general, the first edition is a faithful copy of the printer's manuscript (although on one occasion the original manuscript rather than the printer's was used for typesetting). For the most part, this edition reproduces what the compositor, John H. Gilbert, considered grammatical "errors." Gilbert added punctuation and determined the paragraphing for the first edition.... In this and all other early editions, there is no versification.
2. 1837: Either 3,000 or 5,000 copies; published by Parley P. Pratt and John Goodson, Kirtland, Ohio. For this edition, hundreds of grammatical changes and a few emendations were made in the text. The 1830 edition and the printer's manuscript were used as the basis for this edition.
3. 1840: 2,000 copies; published for Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith (by Shepard and Stearns, Cincinnati, Ohio), Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith compared the printed text with the original manuscript and discovered a number of errors made in copying the printer's manuscript from the original. Thus the 1840 edition restores some of the readings of the original manuscript.
4. 1841: ... essentially a reprinting of the 1837 edition with British spellings.
Two additional British editions, one in 1849 (edited by Orson Pratt) and the other in 1852 (edited by Franklin D. Richards), show minor editing of the text. In the 1852 edition, Richards added numbers to the paragraphs to aid in finding passages, thereby creating the first--although primitive--versification for the Book of Mormon.
Three other important LDS editions have involved major changes in format as well as minor editing:
1. 1879: Edited by Orson Pratt. Major changes in the format of the text included division of the long chapters in the original text, a true versification system (which has been followed in all subsequent LDS editions), and footnotes (mostly scriptural references).
2. 1920: Edited by James E. Talmage. Further changes in format included introductory material, double columns, chapter summaries, and new footnotes. Some of the minor editing found in this edition appeared earlier in the 1905 and 1911 editions, also under the editorship of Talmage.
3. 1981: Edited by a committee headed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve. This edition is a major reworking of the 1920 edition: The text appears again in double columns, but new introductory material, chapter summaries, and footnotes are provided. About twenty significant textual errors that had entered the printer's manuscript are corrected by reference to the original manuscript. Other corrections were made from comparison with the printer's manuscript and the 1840 Nauvoo edition.
To understand the history of some of the editions given above, it is useful to understand the relationship between the two handwritten manuscripts of the Book of Mormon. Royal Skousen again provides useful information in his article, "Book Of Mormon Manuscripts," in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1:
The printed versions of the Book of Mormon derive from two manuscripts. The first, called the original manuscript (O), was written by at least three scribes as Joseph Smith translated and dictated. The most important scribe was Oliver Cowdery. This manuscript was begun no later than April 1829 and finished in June 1829.Based on an examination of the 25% or so of the Original Manuscript which has survived, one can conclude that "Joseph Smith, as he translated, apparently never went back to cross out, revise, or modify. The manuscript pages contain the words written by Joseph's scribes (primarily Oliver Cowdery) as the Prophet spoke the translation" (Reexploring The Book Of Mormon, p. 10).
A copy of the original was then made by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes. This copy is called the printer's manuscript (P), since it was the one normally used to set the type for the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon. It was begun in July 1829 and finished early in 1830.
The printer's manuscript is not an exact copy of the original manuscript. There are on the average three changes per original manuscript page. These changes appear to be natural scribal errors; there is little or no evidence of conscious editing. Most of the changes are minor, and about one in five produce a discernible difference in meaning. Because they were all relatively minor, most of the errors thus introduced into the text have remained in the printed editions of the Book of Mormon and have not been detected and corrected except by reference to the original manuscript. About twenty of these errors were corrected in the 1981 edition.
The compositor for the 1830 edition added punctuation, paragraphing, and other printing marks to about one-third of the pages of the printer's manuscript. These same marks appear on one fragment of the original, indicating that it was used at least once in typesetting the 1830 edition.
In preparation for the second (1837) edition, hundreds of grammatical changes and a few textual emendations were made in P. After the publication of this edition, P was retained by Oliver Cowdery. After his death in 1850, his brother-in-law, David Whitmer, kept P until his death in 1888. In 1903 Whitmer's grandson sold P to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns it today....
The original manuscript was not consulted for the editing of the 1837 edition. However, in producing the 1840 edition, Joseph Smith used O to restore some of its original readings. In October 1841, Joseph Smith placed O in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. Over forty years later, Lewis Bidamon, Emma Smith's second husband, opened the cornerstone and found that water seepage had destroyed most of O. The surviving pages were handed out to various individuals during the 1880s.
Today approximately 25 percent of the text of O survives: 1 Nephi 2 through 2 Nephi 1, with gaps; Alma 22 through Helaman 3, with gaps; and a few other fragments. All but one of the authentic pages and fragments of O are housed in the archives of the LDS Historical Department; one-half of a sheet (from 1 Nephi 14) is owned by the University of Utah.
More interesting is the correction of an awkward phrase in Alma 46:19 where Moroni waves the "rent of his garment." This was later corrected to the "rent part of his garment," which makes much more sense. Some people have objected that this change was an attempt to hide an obvious blunder in the original text. After all, how can one wave a rip or a rent or a tear? But in Hebrew, that's a correct expression. (Interestingly, the odd practice of waving a rent garment in the air is attested in other Middle Eastern documents [see the footnote below].) John Tvedtnes explains in BYU Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Autumn 1970), p.50 :
[In] the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, we read that "when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment in the air." (p. 351.) When the word "rent" is used as a noun in English, it may refer to a hole caused by rending, but not, to my knowledge, to a portion of rent cloth; the unlikely usage of "rent" in English as a noun no doubt contributed to the fact that, in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, it was changed to read "rent part" (Alma 46:19). But the Hebrews would, in this instance, use but one word, qera', "rent (part)," coming from qara', "he rent, tore," for nouns, in Hebrews, are derived from roots--as are Hebrews verbs--by the addition of certain vowel patterns that distinguish them from other parts of speech.
Also noteworthy is the occurrence of a conditional clause that is typical of Hebrew but not found in English, Royal Skousen explains in "The Original Language of the Book of Mormon: Upstate New York Dialect, King James English, or Hebrew?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, p.34:
In English, we have conditional clauses like "if you come, then I will come," with then being optional. In Hebrew this same clause is expressed as "if you come and I will come." In the original text of the Book of Mormon, there were at least fourteen occurrences of this non-English expression. One occurrence was accidentally removed in 1 Nephi 17:50 as Oliver Cowdery was producing the printer's manuscript (P) by copying from the original manuscript (O):Skousen also explores the original Book of Mormon use of "and it came to pass," finding many parallels with the Hebrew use of the term "way'hi" meaning "and it happened." He finds that odd-sounding usages of the phrase in the original text which have since been deleted are consistent with Hebraic usage and have parallels in the Bible where the King James translators deleted that expression in similar cases for better English grammar. Skousen concludes (p. 38):
"if he should command me that I should say unto this water be thou earth and it shall be earth" (O) [this now reads "If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth...."]
The remaining thirteen occurrences were all removed by Joseph Smith in his editing for the second edition , including this one from the famous passage in Moroni 10:4:
"and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you" [this now reads "and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you" - an "and" having been deleted]
This use of "and" is not due to scribal error, especially since this if-and expression occurs seven times in one brief passage, Helaman 12:13-21 [original manuscript]:
13 yea and if he sayeth unto the earth move and it is moved...
14 yea if he sayeth unto the earth thou shalt go back that it lengthen out the day for many hours and it is done...
16 and behold also if he sayeth unto the waters of the great deep be thou dried up and it is done...
17 behold if he sayeth unto this mountain be thou raised up and come over and fall upon that city that it be buried up and behold it is done...
19 and if the Lord shall say be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever and behold no man getteth it henceforth and forever...
20 and behold if the Lord shall say unto a man because of thine iniquities thou shalt be accursed forever and it shall be done...
21 and if the Lord shall say because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence and he will cause that it shall be so...
[All of these instances were changed in the 1837 edition to be more grammatical in English by removing the extra "and" and adding appropriate punctuation.]
What is important here is to realize that the original text of the Book of Mormon apparently contains expressions that are not characteristic of English at any place or time, in particular neither Joseph Smith's upstate New York dialect nor the King James Bible. Subsequent editing of the text into standard English has systematically removed these non-English expressions from the text-the very expressions that provide the strongest support for the hypothesis that the Book of Mormon is a literal translation of a non-English text. Further, the potential Hebraisms found in the original text are consistent with the belief, but do not prove, that the source text is related to the language of the Hebrew Bible.
The condescension of God the Son consists in the coming to earth of the great Jehovah, the Lord God Omnipotent, the God of the ancients. The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon contains the following words from the angel to Nephi: "Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh" (1 Nephi 11:18; italics added). The angel later said unto Nephi regarding the vision of the Christ child, "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, the Eternal Father!" (1 Nephi 11:21; italics added; compare 1 Nephi 13:40, 1830 edition). Later in the same vision of the ministry of Christ, the angel spoke, saying, "Look! And I looked," Nephi added, "and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record" (1 Nephi 11:32; italics added). In the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith the Prophet changed these verses to read "the mother of the Son of God," "the Son of the Eternal Father," and "the Son of the everlasting God," respectively (italics added). It would appear that the Prophet made these textual alterations to assist the Latter-day Saints in fully understanding the meaning of the expressions.Hugh Nibley also discusses these changes (Since Cumorah, p. 6):
It may also be that Joseph Smith altered these verses to make certain that no reader - member or nonmember - would confuse the Latter-day Saint understanding of the Father and the Son with that of other Christian denominations, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. See an article by Oliver Cowdery, "Trouble in the West," in Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, I (April 1835), p. 105. [This paragraph is a footnote to the preceding paragraph in Millet's book.]
Many critics have tried to say that Joseph originally believed in the Trinitarian concept of God when he wrote the Book of Mormon, but later changed his mind and changed the text to indicate that God and the Son of God are distinct persons. This argument is without foundation. The original manuscript (O) and every printed version of the Book of Mormon makes it clear in multiple places that Christ and God are distinct beings (e.g., 2 Nephi 25 and 2 Nephi 31). Even in the very chapter where Joseph Smith made the changes, the Original Manuscript and the present Book of Mormon speak of the Messiah as the Son of God, for verse 24 of 1 Nephi 11 reads: "And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him." This is consistent with the alterations made by Joseph. There is no change in meaning, only a helpful clarification for modern readers.
In the first edition Mary is referred to as "the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh" (1 Nephi 11:18); the insertion in later editions of "the Son of God" is simply put in to make it clear that the second person of the godhead is meant, and thereby avoid confusion, since during the theological controversies of the early Middle Ages the expression "mother of God" took on a special connotation which it still has for many Christians.
Three verses later (1 Nephi 11:21), the declaration of the angels, "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!" has been augmented in later editions to "even the Son of the Eternal Father!" to avoid confusion: in this passage the Eternal Father is possibly in apposition not to "Lamb" but to "God" -- he is the Lamb of God-the-Eternal-Father. But that might not be obvious to most readers, and so to avoid trouble, and without in the least changing the meaning of the text, the Lamb of God is made equivalent to the Son of the Eternal Father. Both ideas are quite correct, and there is no conflict between them.
Though God the Father and Christ are distinct beings, Christ as a member of the perfectly united Godhead can bear the title of "God" as well as "Eternal Father." Book of Mormon writers lived long before the confusing post-Biblical, Neo-Platonic doctrine of the Trinity had been formulated. They could use the various titles for Christ without misunderstanding what is meant (compare Mosiah 15:4; 16:15; Alma 11:38-39). For the benefit of modern readers, however, the changes noted above in the Book of Mormon help eliminate potential confusion.
And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.But the 1830 edition and the printer's manuscript said it was King Benjamin, not Mosiah. A similar change occurred in Ether 4:1, which now refers to King Mosiah but in 1830 referred to King Benjamin:
And the Lord commanded the brother of Jared to go down out of the mount from the presence of the Lord, and write the things which he had seen; and they were forbidden to come unto the children of men until after that he should be lifted up upon the cross; and for this cause did king Mosiah keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ should show himself unto his people.Ammon's discussion with Limhi and the bringing of the Jaredite record to the king of Zarahemla occurred three years after King Mosiah took the throne, which was also the year that King Benjamin died. It is possible that King Benjamin was still functioning as seer and did receive the Jaredite record and keep part of it from the people, making the reference to Benjamin correct, but perhaps Mosiah is the one referred to.
Critics mock the change as a way of cover-up of a contradiction. It is possible that the change was not needed and that the original text was correct. Alternatively, it is possible that an ancient scribal error existed in the original text, which was conveyed through the translation but later corrected.
Ara Norwood gave a recent presentation on this subject, which has been summarized by J. Cooper Johnson in his article, "King Benjamin or Mosiah: A Look at Mosiah 21:28," available online at FairMormon.org. An excerpt follows:
Brother Norwood begins with the following critical foundation:The above views add depth to previous discussions, such as that of Hugh Nibley from many years ago:The first thing that needs to be pointed out is the fact that Mosiah 21:28 is one of two passages that chronicles the same historical data. The parallel passage is found in Mosiah 8:13-14. The presence of parallel passages of the same event is consistently lost on our critics. Yet it is crucial in making sense of the scope of the problem.Brother Norwood addresses the obvious questions as to the source and nature of these two different passages, or records. Why are there two different renditions of the same story, in the same book, that of Mosiah, for example? The answer is quite simple.
The book of Mosiah does not follow a seamless and sequential chronology. It is a "composite record," containing records within the record, full of "flashback" accounts and records. Norwood identifies three separate chronicles within the book of Mosiah.
Now, let's take a look at Mosiah 8:13-14.And Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.Brother Norwood correctly identifies two items that are important to note. First, no name is given to identify the King of Zarahemla. We aren't told here whether Ammon was talking about Mosiah or Benjamin. The second item to note is that this passage is a first-hand account, the words out of the mouth of Ammon.
And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
In contrast, while Mosiah 8 is a direct quote, the Mosiah 21 account is a narrative history and as Norwood points out, is part of a Zeniffite record, which is included in our book of Mosiah. So the two accounts are from two separate records, one a direct quote and one a narrative, written by a Zeniffite scribe or interpolated by Mormon.
Brother Norwood again repeats his view, stated in his FARMS Review of Books article, of the possibility that "Ammon departed on his expedition prior to the death of King Benjamin. And, if this is the case, it is very possible that Ammon would have mentioned King Benjamin by name." And if this is the case, then it is quite possible, and even likely, according to Brother Norwood, that Ammon would have used the name Benjamin, instead of Mosiah. Mosiah 8:3 supports this hypothesis:
And he also rehearsed unto them the last words which king Benjamin had taught them, and explained them to the people of king Limhi, so that they might understand all the words which he spake.
So, ten verses later when Ammon tells Limhi of Zarahemla's king who has the gift to translate, yet doesn't mention a name, it isn't any surprise that the Zeniffite scribe or Mormon "inserted the name Benjamin." It is Benjamin who Ammon was referring to a few verses earlier in Mosiah 8:3, and it would also be reasonable to understand Moroni's like-interpolation of the Ether 4:1 passage. . . .
While we are unable to be sure as to the reason for the change in Mosiah 21:28, we can be sure that several hypotheses exist, not recognized by the anti-Mormon authors. It is very possible, indeed very likely, that Joseph Smith translated this correctly and should not have been changed. It is also very possible that Joseph translated this correctly, yet needed to be changed to correct a scribal error.
And remember, as Brother Norwood reminds us in a footnote,It is important to remember that Book of Mormon authors, including Moroni himself, cautioned us to not expect an inerrant or infallible book: "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ" (Title Page.) See also Mormon 9:33, 1 Nephi 19:6.
[W]as it necessary to change the name of Benjamin (in the first edition) to Mosiah in later editions of Ether 4:1? Probably not, for though it is certain that Mosiah kept the records in question, it is by no means certain that his father, Benjamin, did not also have a share in keeping them. It was Benjamin who displayed the zeal of a life-long book lover in the keeping and studying of records; and after he handed over the throne to his son Mosiah he lived on and may well have spent many days among his beloved records. And among these records could have been the Jaredite plates, which were brought to Zarahemla early in the reign of Mosiah when his father could still have been living (Mosiah 8:9-15).The change in Ether 4:1 is the most problematic one that I am aware of, for it points to a genuine factual error. The error could be on the part of a later editor (an unnecessary change of names? why change it, even if it seemed wrong?), of Joseph Smith (dictated the wrong name?), or Moroni (a slip?), but in any event, a mistake may have occurred - just as the title page of the Book of Mormon indicates as a possibility: "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God...." Though I consider this change to be problematic, it is still entirely trivial. The name mentioned in Ether 4:1 is a minor detail of no significance. It does not change anything about the message of the book nor does it change our understanding of the history of Benjamin and Mosiah. It shows that the Book of Mormon is not utterly infallible, but no one ever said it was. A slip of the tongue, pen or stylus does not invalidate a sacred book. In my opinion, the greatest issue raised by the apparent error in Ether 4:1 is what King Benjamin was doing after Mosiah translated the Jaredite record: was he dead or convalescing, or was he actively working with the sacred records, including the Jaredite text, while his son took over the throne? (Personally, I suspect Ether 4:1 should have said Mosiah rather than Benjamin, but if it was Benjamin in the original manuscript, I would have preferred to leave it as Benjamin.)
The question about Mosiah and Benjamin in Ether 4:1 was also recently addressed by John Tvedtnes in his article, "The Mistakes of Men: Can the Scriptures be Error-Free?" at FairMormon.org (Dec. 10, 2003). He finds an interesting parallel to the Bible:
King Benjamin's death is recorded in Mosiah 6:5, but critics claim that when writing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith forgot that he had made Benjamin die, and wrote of him living at a later time. [See Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1.] The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon shows this error, though subsequent editions, in an attempt to remove the problem, changed the name to King Mosiah in the later references.This perspective is also shared in the insightful article at FairMormon.org on changes in the Book of Mormon, "The Book of Mormon vs. the Critics: Nit-Picking for Fun and Profit" by D.E. Neighbors (Jan. 31, 2006).
Our normal response to this is that King Benjamin lived three years after his son Mosiah2 was made king. It was at the end of these three years that the expedition was sent to the Land of Nephi, where the plates of Ether were found. After relinquishing his kingship, Benjamin may have continued to act as a seer for the three-year interval. The chronology in this part of the Book is not all that clear and we do not know how long Ammon and his brethren were in the Land of Nephi. It could have been only a matter of weeks or months. It is not inconceivable then, that Benjamin passed away shortly after their return, which still would have been "after three years." [Mosiah 6:5.] It is certainly possible that the keeper of the record of Zeniff or Mormon and Moroni [Ether 4:1] may have erred in compiling the records. After all they were mortals, capable of making mistakes. It is also possible that this was an example of a scribal error, later corrected by Joseph Smith the translator.
It is interesting that the Bible has a situation similar to that found in the Book of Mormon. We read in 1 Kings 15:31-15:5 that Abijam (also called Abijah, as in the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 12:16) became king of Judah after the death of his father Rehoboam and that, despite his sins, the Lord preserved his kingship for the sake of his ancestor David. Then, in 1 Kings 15:6-7, we read,And there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life. Now the rest of the acts of Abijam, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? And there was war between Abijam and Jeroboam.The name Rehoboam is anachronistic, since he was dead and the passage was intended to describe events in the days of his son Abijam. The error is actually corrected in a few Hebrew manuscripts and in the Peshitta (Christian Aramaic) version to read, "And there was war between Abijah the son of Rehoboam." The parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 13:2 reads, "And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam."
Summing up, there are several possibilities to be considered that are consistent with the concept of an inspired ancient record translated by the power of God but still subject to human error, even human error that might occur after the original publication in an a possibly unnecessary attempt to fix what initially seems like an obvious error.
Several dozen differences between the Original Manuscript and the Printer's Manuscript, never before noted, have been detected. For example, Zenock is spelled "Zenoch" in the Original Manuscript (this spelling compares with that of Enoch). In Alma 51:15, the Original Manuscript reports that Moroni sent a petition to the governor "desiring that he should heed it." The 1830 edition typeset this phrase as "desiring that he should read it." In Alma 54:17, the Original Manuscript asserted that the Lamanites claimed that the government "rightfully belonged unto them." In the Printer's Manuscript, this word became "rightly." In other instances, "pressing their way" became "feeling their way" (1 Nephi 8:31), a "were" became a "was" (1 Nephi 13:12), and a "shall" became a "should" (1 Nephi 17:50). "Heard and seen" became "seen and heard" (1 Nephi 20:6), and the "poorer class of the people" became the "poor class of people" (Alma 32:2).Hugh Nibley provides an overview to the changes introduced in printing the Book of Mormon in Since Cumorah, pp. 3-5:
Analyzing the changes yields some important observations about the manuscripts:
1. The differences between the Original Manuscript and the Printer's Manuscript are few. Only about one difference per manuscript page exists-far fewer than one might have expected.
2. The differences between the Printer's Manuscript and the Original Manuscript are minor, and most of the errors are natural transcription errors. The Printer's Manuscript shows no sign of any conscious editing on Oliver Cowdery's part. These manuscripts show that he was careful to reproduce exactly what had been hurriedly written in the Original Manuscript.
3. As good as the Printer's Manuscript is, the Original Manuscript is even better. Of the thirty-seven differences in transcription noted so far, seventeen show that the reading in the Printer's Manuscript became more awkward or grammatically improper or unusual. In only seven cases was the Original Manuscript harder to understand, due for example to atypical spellings or awkward grammar (like Hebraisms).
4. Surprisingly, the copying errors in the Printer's Manuscript tend to make the text shorter rather than longer. Of the thirty-seven differences, only two changed a shorter word to a longer one, while in seven cases a longer word was contracted to a shorter one. This is intriguing because people working with biblical manuscripts generally assume that texts tend to grow as scribal transmission changes them. The experience of Oliver Cowdery manifests the opposite tendency.
Above all, close examination of these manuscripts yields solid evidence that Oliver Cowdery was true to his calling as a scribe. Though much of the Original Manuscript has not survived, we can reasonably estimate that Oliver copied the entire Book of Mormon onto the Printer's Manuscript with only about 140 differences-all of them apparently simple slips of the hand or eye. Considering the task of writing with a quill pen and the magnitude of the labor, the accuracy of Oliver's transcription seems almost phenomenal.
Based on research by Royal Skousen, December 1988. Work on the Book of Mormon manuscripts continues. For the latest detailed report, see Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30 (Winter 1990): 41-69. For information about the more recent discovery of several fragments of the Original Manuscript, see the F.A.R.M.S. newsletter, Insights (January 1991).
Why, then, have the critics been scandalized and delighted to discover that the second edition of the Book of Mormon corrected many mistakes in the first? For years this writer used only the first edition in his classes, and it is still by far the best. It is full of mistakes, but they are obvious ones. According to the printer, J.H. Gilbert, Joseph Smith told him to leave the grammar unaltered, since "the Old Testament is ungrammatical." [Gilbert's statement is found in 'The First Printing of the Book of Mormon '' p. 2, a memorandum made by John H. Gilbert, September 8, 1892; original in the LDS Church Archives; reprinted in Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1958), 1: [xxviii].] As we shall see, recent studies of the Old Testament prophets show that they often mix up their persons, numbers, and tenses in impassioned discourse, just as Abinadi does in the first edition of the Book of Mormon pages 182-83. On the other hand, the Prophet gave Gilbert a free hand with punctuation and spelling: "The manuscript," says the printer, "was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end." Imagine six hundred pages of that! How is it to be explained except on the assumption that the text was actually dictated word for word by one uneducated man to another? It was no ruse or trick, since nobody but the printer ever mentioned it, and he was authorized to correct the manuscript where he thought necessary. The manuscript used by the printer is now available, and it shows that Mr. Gilbert did take liberties with the text. Are we to believe that Joseph Smith is responsible when we read in the first edition on page 69 five lines from the bottom, "For my soul deliteth in the Scriptures" and just two lines below that,"Behold my soul delighteth in the Scriptures"? Since by his own admission the printer was authorized to correct the spelling, isn't he to blame for putting in the fifth line from the bottom of page 180: "Lamoni rehearst unto him" and on the bottom line "now when Lamoni had rehearsed unto him." Or who is accountable for the "peeple" on page 127, after the word had been spelled properly a hundred times? If the printer was correcting Oliver Cowdery's spelling he should have corrected these mistakes; if not, Cowdery himself had obviously slipped up and any editor was not only free to correct the slip but bound to. Whether the printer chooses to use or omit a hyphen or a comma is a matter of punctuation and entirely up to him. "There were some printing errors," Joseph Smith wrote, and people still throw up their hands in horror, as if there are not printing errors to be found in almost any edition of the Bible.
An occasional printing error in a Bible disturbs no one, both because it is to be expected and is easy to correct. Changes in wording to clarify the English also cause little offense. "A-going" and "a-journey" (Book of Mormon first edition, page 249) were perfectly accepted usage in Joseph Smith's time and place, but not anymore: consequently we change them in today's editions lest they confuse the young, though to this writer "a-going" and "a-journey" have a nice swing and color-his grandmother always spoke that way. In your English Bible you will find many words in italics; these are all words not found in the original, and they vary from edition to edition: they are put there by the various translators in attempt to convey as clearly as possible what they thought the original writers had in mind. Thus you will find in the very second verse of your King James Bible the word "was" in italics-because in the Hebrew texts the word "was" is simply not there, but to make good English it has to be put in. If men can take such liberties with the Bible, while holding it to be an infallible book, why should we not be allowed the same freedom with the Book of Mormon which nobody claims to be infallible?
For excellent information on the nature of the changes in the Book of Commandments, see Changes in the Book of Commandments: Editing to Prepare Revelations for Publication, an essay by Melvin J. Petersen that deals with the kinds of changes made to prepare the Book of Commandments (now the Doctrine and Covenants) for publication. Yes, of course there were changes. This is nothing to cause anger or loss of faith.
Joseph Fielding Smith put it well:
There have been thousands of changes in the Bible in recent years, but people do not seem to complain about that. We have books in our library written by an atheist who treats the Bible in the same spirit which these critics treat the Book of Mormon, but his criticism does not prove the Bible false. We all know that there are contradictions in the Bible and many misinterpretations, but we do not go about finding fault and condemning the Bible because these things occur. There are places where the writers of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, relate the same stories differently in their interpretations, or their details in relation to important events. Shall we throw the Bible away because of this? Verily no!Typographical errors have occurred in many Bible texts, especially in the early days of typesetting by hand. British scholars have made many corrections and revisions to the King James Bible since its first printing in 1611. One obvious but little-known result is that many more words are now in italics, indicating that the word was "added" to the text to clarify meaning or help with the flow of thought. For example, in 1611, there were 43 words in italics in the Gospel of Matthew, but by the year 1870 editorial revisions to the text resulted in 583 italicized words in Matthew (P. Marion Simms, The Bible in America, New York: Wilson-Erickson, 1936, p. 97, as cited by Robert J. Matthews, "Why Have Changes Been Made in the Printed Editions of the Book of Mormon?," The Ensign, March 1987, pp. 47-48). Has anyone seen the Tanners or other LDS critics express indignation over such changes in the Bible? Further, if we had any of the ORIGINAL texts by the authors of the Bible, we would surely see many small changes relative to the various Biblical manuscripts that we have today, for there are plenty of obvious differences already among the multiple existing documents. If we did find original manuscripts and could make the required, hopefully minor changes in the text to bring it closer to the original, the world should rejoice - not get bent out of shape as some critics do over the corrections in the Book of Mormon.
(Answers To Gospel Questions , Vol 2, p. 200)
There is plenty of evidence that Biblical authors and scribes significantly edited the text of the Bible. As one example, consider the writings of Jeremiah as recorded by Jeremiah's scribe, Baruch. See Jeremiah 36, where we learn that Baruch wrote all the words from Jeremiah that were recorded in a book (vs. 4, 17, 18) Unfortunately, King Jehoiakim of Judah burned the book that contained the words of Jeremiah (vs. 21-25). The Lord commanded Jeremiah to prepare his document again, writing "all the former words that were in the first roll" (v. 28). In verse 32, Jeremiah then commanded his scribe, Baruch, to write on another roll the words of Jeremiah, "and there were added besides unto them many like words." Many like words added? This doesn't sound like original dictation straight from the mouth of God, perfectly preserved and unchangeable. Prophets speak or dictate by inspiration, but there can be later changes and additions.
Finally, let me close with another quote from Nibley (Since Cumorah, p. 7):
The first edition of the Book of Mormon, though the most readable, is not the standard version today. That is because it is hard to use, with its long chapters and lack of numbered verses, and the grammar is sometimes disturbing to us. Disturbing, but never misleading - that is the point. Much of the New Testament is in barbaric Greek, and the ancient pagans often jeered at the illiteracy and bad grammar of the Disciples; yet in our English Bible their grammar is meticulously correct. Is that an indication of skullduggery? No more than the poor grammar of the ancient Apostles was proof that they were not inspired. If anything, Joseph Smith's poor grammar serves the purpose of proving, as did theirs, that the inspired words of the prophets were no product of the schools or the invention of cunning and clever men.Back to the LDS FAQ Index
Michael Ash's Book of Mormon Changes Page - an excellent resource! Also discusses the role of Hebraisms and the poverty of the critics' attacks on changes in the Book of Mormon. of Mike's Mormon Fortress.
Changes in the Book of Commandments: Editing to Prepare Revelations for Publication - an essay by Melvin J. Petersen that deals with the kinds of changes made to prepare the Book of Commandments (now the Doctrine and Covenants) for publication. Yes, there were many changes - of course there were! This is nothing to cause anger or loss of faith!
"'White' or 'Pure': Five Vignettes" - an article by Douglas Campbell in Dialogue about the history of the verse 2 Nephi 30:6 in various editions of the Book of Mormon (a verse that once referred to the Lamanites becoming a "white and delightsome people" but should read, as it now does, "pure and delightsome").
Among lengthier connected accounts, Moroni [the first Moroni] (c. 75 B.C.), leading an uprising against an oppressor, "went forth among the people waving the rent part of his garment" to show the writing on it (Alma 46:19-20). The legendary Persian hero Kawe did the same thing with his garment. The men of Moroni "came running. . . . rending their garments. . . as a covenant [saying]. . . may [God] cast us at the feet of our enemies. . . to be trodden underfoot" (Alma 46:21-22). Both the rending of and the treading on the garments were ancient practices (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 6:216-18; 7:198-202; 8:92-95). The inscription on the banner, "in memory of our God, our religion, and our peace, our wives, and our children" (Alma 46:12), is similar to the banners and trumpets of the armies in the Dead Sea Battle Scroll ([IQM] iii. 1-iv.2). Before the battle Moroni goes before the army and dedicates the land southward as Desolation, and the rest he named "a chosen land, and the land of liberty" (Alma 46:17). In the Battle Scroll ([1QM] vii.8ff.) the high priest similarly goes before the army and dedicates the land of the enemy to destruction and that of Israel to salvation (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 6:213-16). Moroni compares his torn garment-banner to the coat of Joseph, half of which was preserved and half decayed: "Let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death. . . as this remnant of [the coat] hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of [Joseph] be preserved." So Jacob had both "sorrow . . . [and] joy" at the same time (Alma 46:24-25). An almost identical story is told by the tenth-century savant Tha'labi, the collector of traditions from Jewish refugees in Persia (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 6:209-21; 8:249, 280-81).