In the years after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the manuscripts and the marked Bible associated with the New Translation remained in the possession of Emma Smith and later her son Joseph Smith III, despite efforts by Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, and others to acquire the documents. Eventually the manuscripts were loaned to and became part of the archival collection of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, now Community of Christ).1
Concerns about the integrity of the manuscripts led to an 1868 statement by the School of the Prophets in Salt Lake City dismissing the recent RLDS publication of the translation.2 Although Robert J. Matthews’s groundbreaking study “A Plainer Translation” helped dispel the myths surrounding the accuracy of the text of the New Translation manuscripts, there has still been some concern over the exactness of the New Translation manuscripts and the marked Bible.3 Regarding the issue of possible later additions to the manuscripts and notations added to Joseph Smith’s marked Bible, the seemingly random pen and pencil markings in the manuscripts and the marked Bible should raise some legitimate questions.
The work of Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews has further clarified many of the concerns raised in previous generations of scholarship.4 Yet one important area in the study of the New Testament of the New Translation remains largely untouched—the markings the Prophet made when he transitioned from dictating the complete wording of the New Testament to merely marking an already printed Bible. Some of these notations were made in pen and some in pencil; the two sets of markings also used different systems of notation. Faulring, Jackson, and Matthews do not offer any solution to the origin and meaning of these notations in the New Translation manuscripts.5 In this article, we explain these pen and pencil markings, discuss the editorial procedures Smith followed after he and his scribes completed their initial pass of the New Testament, and examine some clues about the preparation of the manuscripts for publication.
Method, History, and Approach
To assess fully whether the manuscripts and marked Bible were altered after Joseph Smith’s lifetime, it is important to understand briefly how the process of translation, when known, occurred. Initially, the scribes wrote out the entire text of the Bible word for word as Smith dictated it. The small number of subsequent corrections that appear on the pages of the handwritten texts demonstrate that Smith dictated the Bible text with the changes already in place so the scribes would not have to write out the King James Version text and then make interlinear changes to it.6
Smith began the New Translation with Genesis, but shortly thereafter shifted to the New Testament. On March 7, 1831, he received a revelation: “And now, behold, I say unto you, it shall not be given unto you to know any further concerning this chapter [Genesis 24], until the New Testament be translated, and in it all these things shall be made known” (D&C 45:60). The next day Smith began work on the New Testament.7
Adopting the same procedure they had used in the Old Testament, Smith and Sidney Rigdon immediately began working on the New Testament as the Lord had instructed. Now known as NT 1, Smith and Rigdon’s initial work followed the pattern established during the translation of Genesis. Later, John Whitmer was directed to make a copy of NT 1. This copy eventually became the living document and is now referred to as NT 2.8
On February 16, 1832, after translating John 5:29, both Smith and Rigdon beheld a vision that was later included as section 76 in the Doctrine and Covenants. This vision establishes a firm date for the New Translation and suggests approximately when the shift occurred from writing out the entire text of the New Translation to making notations in the Bible and writing only the changed words on a separate sheet of paper.9 Joseph and Sidney altered their method to expedite the completion of the New Translation after finishing the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. The system Smith used in marking the Bible is the primary focus of our research because this system opens a window into one of the few places where any potential alteration of the manuscripts can be studied in detail.10
Early Copies of the New Translation Manuscripts
The notation system of the marked Bible and how those markings correspond to the accompanying handwritten manuscripts have received passing attention from scholars. Without the aid of a critical edition of the text, we initially set out to unravel the seemingly complex system of pen and pencil notations in the marked Bible. We had hoped to be able to describe the method used and to arrive at some conclusion about the historical integrity of those texts based on our findings. Within twenty-three years of Smith’s death, three copies of the New Translation of the New Testament were completed, one of them by an LDS copyist (John M. Bernhisel, spring 1845) and two of them by RLDS copyists (Marietta Hodges Faulconer and Mark H. Forscutt, July 1866 to January 1867) in preparation for the RLDS publication of the translation in 1868 (figs. 1–3).11 Each of these copies creates a fixed point of comparison for our analysis.
The three copyists worked with the manuscripts for two distinct reasons. The copy made by Bernhisel is much more eclectic than the others, and at times he simply summarized the contents of the manuscripts rather than reproducing them exactly.12 Bernhisel made a private copy because of his own personal interests. However, he ended up circulating this copy among the Saints in the West. The Faulconer and Forscutt manuscripts were carefully completed copies that were later edited and corrected for grammar, punctuation, and spelling prior to publication.13
These three copyists preserved important reference points for studying the New Translation in the three decades after Smith’s death because they document how these early copyists found the text in their day. We cannot, unfortunately, account for the years the manuscripts were in the private possession of Emma Smith—between Joseph Smith’s death in June 1844 and the first printing of the text in 1868, although Bernhisel provides a reference point through his 1845 copy and summary.
We soon realized that each of these scribes found the text much like, if not exactly as, it appears today.14 The fact that each of these copies served to document the text for a new audience—such as the Saints in the West (Bernhisel), or to prepare the text for publication (Faulconer and Forscutt)—suggests there was no need to make emendations to the manuscripts or to the marked Bible, because any intentional changes could be introduced easily into the copies rather than to the original manuscripts.15 The two audiences would encounter only the copyists’ versions. Therefore, any changes to the original manuscripts would confuse later copyists and those who worked with the manuscripts.
Because there are no obvious alterations to the marked Bible and the accompanying manuscript pages, we wanted to determine if there were any other possible instances of textual emendations to the New Translation.
While evaluating the integrity of the copies of the New Translation manuscripts, we came to some important conclusions. First, Bernhisel’s transcript does not contain significant textual differences from what we have today. Second, after reviewing the Faulconer and Forscutt manuscripts, we discovered no plausible evidence that they marked the New Translation manuscripts in any significant way as they prepared their copies.16 Third, in the vast majority of instances in the Forscutt copy of the New Testament, the handwriting of the copyist seems to be the same as that of the corrector, suggesting that access to the manuscripts was limited to Forscutt and perhaps a few other individuals who made only minor notations in the copy, such as verse number insertions.17
Distinct copying errors in the Faulconer and Forscutt manuscripts were noted with a triple strikethrough, a row of x’s, or backslashes (\\\), to note text that should be removed.18 The ink of the copies also is an important factor because it is light brown, which did not appear consistent with the often darker black ink used on the New Translation manuscript pages.19 We were not able to note any physical similarities between any of the inks of the Faulconer and Forscutt manuscripts and the manuscripts of the New Translation, suggesting that these copyists did not make changes to the manuscripts during the copying process. We did, however, observe the use of a pencil in certain instances on the copies, which is noteworthy because of similar pencil markings found in Smith’s Bible.20
The copies appear to have received significant attention shortly after they were made, again implying that they were being corrected rather than the New Translation manuscripts. Parablepsia, which occurs when a scribe’s eyes jump to a different position in the text other than what he is copying, was noted by the copyist drawing a distinct hand pointing to where the missing text should be placed. The missing text was then copied on the back of the manuscript page with a similar hand pointing to the text that was to be inserted (figs. 4 and 5). This process clearly shows the text was reread for accuracy and that corrections to it were made directly on the copies. From this evidence, we concluded that the New Translation manuscripts were used to correct the Faulconer and Forscutt manuscripts and that the copyists did not intentionally mark on the New Translation manuscripts. This is important because there is no evidence the two copyists marked the manuscripts in any way; rather, they limited their corrections, notations, and changes to their own copies.21
To summarize our findings thus far, we concluded that it is nearly inconceivable to argue for any significant alteration of the New Translation manuscripts by Bernhisel, Faulconer, or Forscutt. Instead, the integrity of the manuscripts appears excellent. Therefore, we determined the pen and pencil markings were original to the New Translation manuscripts. We maintain the possibility that a few stray markings on the manuscripts may be the result of later hands, but the integrity of the text is largely unassailable as was partially demonstrated in our research on the Bernhisel, Faulconer, and Forscutt copies.22
Next, we considered the system of markings in the New Translation Bible and its relationship to the manuscript pages to determine what the Bible and accompanying manuscripts could tell us about the editorial process used on the manuscripts and whether Smith or others had edited the text again after he had revised the New Testament the first time.
The System of Notation in the Marked Bible
When Smith changed his approach from dictating the entire text of the Bible to dictating only the changes, he simultaneously began to mark his Bible in a way that provided a reference point for locating the exact position of the changes in relationship to the printed King James Version text. It was important that the insertion points were noted in the printed Bible; without some point of reference, many of the changes could have been placed in a variety of locations in the verse. For example, sometimes Smith changed only one instance of a word that was repeated in a single verse; without the marked Bible, it would have been difficult to determine which instance he intended to change. His notations—which eventually included a check mark with a line through it and a colon both at the beginning and at the ending where the change was to be inserted—were the key element in locating the inspired changes.
Initially, his method of marking the Bible and noting insertion points was not fixed, and there is clear evidence that the system of marking the Bible developed over the first few days after Smith shifted methods. In the first four instances where the Bible is marked, a short dash was inserted to the left of the verse (John 6:12, 16, 17, 19) and a change to three of those verses was dictated to a scribe.23 Even though the Bible clearly indicates which verses were being changed and the manuscripts contain unmistakable directions on the wording of those changes, it is not always clear where the changes were to be placed within the verse. To remedy the problem, Smith noted the ending point of the insertion with a dot in the first instance. He crossed out a word in the second instance, and he appears to have settled on identifying the third change through the use of a dot at the beginning and at the ending of the change (see fig. 6).
The next few changes noted in the marked Bible show equal fluidity in method. At John 6:25, a change is noted by two small check marks, one at the beginning and one at the ending of a word, but no notation appears at the beginning of the verse. The following verse has a distinct check mark at the beginning, and the change is noted by dots at the beginning and at the ending. This method of noting changed verses with a check mark and then indicating the location of changes through the use of a dot and later a colon became the dominant method of marking the Bible.24
Recognition of this system suggests an explanation for the otherwise unexplained note in Smith’s Bible, “one mark, for the print.” This note, which appears written in the margin underneath Romans 9:10, should perhaps read, “one mark, for the printer,” but because of space limitation due to the binding of the Bible, Smith was possibly unable to add the final “er” to “printer” (see fig. 8). We believe Smith was trying to designate which marks in the Bible were intended to identify verses to be changed in the New Translation. Otherwise, the reader, the printer, or both could become confused by the wide array of seemingly random markings in the Bible. By the time Smith began working through the New Testament for a second time, the original pen notations likely had begun to bleed through the pages, and shifting to a pencil may have been the logical choice to avoid this problem (see fig. 9).
Comparing both pen and pencil marks in Smith’s Bible reveals what appear to be two distinct but interrelated systems of marking the printed Bible. One system—represented by the pen markings—is fairly well developed, but it is disrupted by what appears to be another system of notation, represented by the pencil markings, which typically employ a check mark, although there is some fluidity in method. From this we concluded that the initial system shows some development in the first chapters of the Gospel of John after chapter six and becomes more standardized thereafter. The same system spans the entire New Testament from John 6 through Revelation 22, but a more static system of pencil notation exists alongside the first system of notation. With very few exceptions, the verses marked in pencil in the Bible are written in the manuscripts’ margins or above other lines of text and are clearly secondary to the first dictation of the text of the New Translation.
It is possible that whichever system is determined to be secondary was introduced by the original editor, in this case Smith, or it may have been added later by a scribe or scribes. Fortunately, the 1845 Bernhisel copy becomes an important terminus ante quem for the alterations, because the copy firmly fixes the majority of the text and preserves passages from both the original dictation and what we interpret as being a second pass by Smith himself.25 In other words, if the Bernhisel copy had preserved only passages that were marked with a check mark and a colon, the markings that were made during the first pass of the New Testament, then we could conclude that they were original and the other markings were later than 1845. But this is not the case.
If, for reasons that will become obvious later, we assume that the pen notations in the marked Bible generally represent the first pass of the New Translation and that the pencil notations represent a second pass, then we can paint a fairly complete picture of the process by which the New Translation of the New Testament was completed. In the process of our physical inspection of the manuscripts, we discovered that some of the pen markings might also have resulted from the second pass of the New Translation manuscripts because of the way they appear on the manuscripts.
In the marked Bible, we categorized every verse and indicated whether it contained any type of marking in pen or pencil, the writing instruments used in the manuscripts after John 6:1. We then compared those verses with the written manuscripts to determine what relationship, if any, existed between them. In almost every instance, the pencil markings in the Bible represent obvious additions to the written manuscripts after the original dictation, and the pen markings represent the text as it was recorded in the original dictation.
How this appears to have worked is that the changes made to the New Testament (NT 2—the portion covering John 6 through Revelation) were dictated to scribes over the course of about a year and a half. The scribes recorded the original dictation in pen while creating a rudimentary format for the manuscripts. The scribes added chapter headings, verse notations, and titles of the New Testament books. Perhaps not long after reaching the end of the book of Revelation, Smith and his scribes returned to John 6, where they began correcting the manuscripts, doing an entire, although quick, second pass of the New Testament.
The original dictation26 was copied with fairly wide left and right margins on the handwritten manuscripts, as well as large spaces, particularly above and below the chapter headings.27 When the second pass was made, additional corrections were inserted into those available spaces. These insertions are typically written in pen on the handwritten manuscript pages. When they are compared directly with the markings in Smith’s Bible, we see the vast majority noted in the Bible in pencil instead of pen. This confirms that the pencil markings in the Bible are from the second stage of the New Translation and are original to Smith and his scribes because additional inspired textual changes are clearly introduced and the scribes who worked on the original dictation are the same ones who copied the second dictation. Aside from the change in writing instruments from pen to pencil, we were unable to note any other variation in method during the second dictation.
The first instance of this type of secondary change occurs at John 7:3–4, where the change is noted in pencil in the Bible and where a later change is added to the manuscripts: “there” is added to John 7:3 and “but” is added to John 7:4.28 This type of correction of the manuscripts occurs again at John 8:1–2, where a note is added concerning the first word of 8:1. The marked Bible has the change in pencil at John 7:53, which directly precedes the change indicated for 8:1.29 This type of change occurs again at John 9:29 and then sporadically until the end of the book of Revelation. After completing the New Testament, Smith returned to Genesis and completed the Old Testament, where a similar set of pencil markings is also evident.
A Second and Possibly a Third Pass
The simple fact that the first marking in the Bible is in pen (John 6:12) likely indicates the pen markings are earlier than the pencil markings, although pencil markings also appear in that chapter. John 7:3–4 is just one example among many that holds the definitive clues: This passage contains an obvious later addition to the handwritten manuscripts, and this addition is noted in the marked Bible in pencil. A distinct check made in pencil precedes the verse in the marked Bible. As illustrated in figure 7, the manuscripts here have an obvious addition placed at the right of the original verse number in the margin.
We propose that the New Translation of the New Testament was carried out as follows. First, as other scholars have already noted, Smith dictated John 6:1 to Revelation 22:21 to Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, and another scribe.30 Second, Smith went through the New Testament a second time, making changes, corrections, and alterations to the previous work. Finally, a scribe may have gone through the text a third time, primarily making minor punctuation and spelling changes to the text but not to the marked Bible. Because the people who worked on the two stages are the same, we propose that the second pass to the New Testament was carried out immediately following the first.
After we identified all passages that are clearly secondary to the original dictation—made obvious because they are written on the manuscript pages in the margins and other blank spaces—we noted several characteristics that indicate two distinct corrections were made to the New Translation manuscripts of the New Testament. The following features stand out as characteristics of what we have labeled the second pass or manuscript review.
1. Most changes are made in pen to the manuscripts and are noted in pencil in the marked Bible.
2. The changes are almost always inserted in the available blank spaces on the manuscripts.
3. The pinned-on notes in the handwriting of Sidney Rigdon belong to this editing because they also fulfill criterion 1.31
4. Marks were inserted in Smith’s Bible to facilitate printing and to correspond to the practice of marking all changed verses with a check mark with a line through it or a dot at the beginning.32
5. Some changes are noted in the Bible but not in the manuscripts, perhaps revealing further considerations made during the second pass that were never introduced as changes.
6. The insertions and pinned-on notes in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams probably belong to this second pass because of their sequential relationship to the pinned-on notes in Sidney Rigdon’s handwriting.
The following passages fit one or more of these criteria and belong to a second pass of the manuscripts: John 6:50; 7:3–4; 7:53–8:1; 9:29; 12:7; 19:29; Acts 4:21; 7:59; 21:25; Romans 5:3; 6:5 (unknown handwriting); 1 Corinthians 2:11, 15, 17; 10:11; 12:31; 14:34–35; 15:37; 2 Corinthians 3:4, 16; 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:10; 2 Timothy 2:5; 3:13; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 3:3; 4:12; 9:27–28; 1 Peter 5:13; 1 John 3:18, 21; 4:3; and Revelation 17:17.
Furthermore, the following passages belong to notes that were pinned to the manuscripts and are in the handwriting of Sidney Rigdon: John 12:7; Romans 8:29–30; 13:1, 4, 6–8; 14:14–15; 15:5, 15, 24; and 1 Corinthians 4:3–4; 5:3–4, 12. The insertions and pinned-on notes in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams are John 14:3; 19:29; Acts 3:12; 17:27, 31; 22:30; Romans 1:9, 17–21, 28; 4:16; 7:15–25; and 1 Corinthians 1:1. Each of these passages contains clear evidence that every correction was written after the original dictation. The marked Bible was carefully corrected to reflect these additional passages that were originally intended to be part of the New Translation.
Subsequent to the second pass of the manuscripts, there also may have been later changes made to the manuscripts to prepare them for publication, but these marks cannot be dated using the criteria employed in this study. Typically not noted in the marked Bible, these changes are characterized by corrections to the manuscripts and focus on grammar, punctuation, and other publication concerns.
Several important conclusions can be reached from the above data. First, we were unable to find any significant evidence that the New Testament New Translation manuscripts were altered after Joseph Smith’s death. It is apparent that Smith did have time to edit and complete the manuscripts before he left Ohio. There has been a concern that he did not finish the New Translation, but his careful editing of the manuscripts provides a clear indication that his work had shifted entirely from “translating” the Bible to correcting and clarifying the work he had already completed. The scribes who worked on the editing of the manuscripts—Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon, and the unidentified Scribe A—suggest that the revision of the manuscripts was carried out early, perhaps immediately after the manuscripts were declared completed on July 2, 1833, although certainly within Smith’s lifetime and while the above mentioned scribes remained in the Church. Furthermore, we think it appears the work was done while these men were still in Ohio.33
Second, it is clear that as early as 1832 Smith already had a keen eye toward the eventual publication of the manuscripts. The second pass of the manuscripts clarifies many of the Bible markings and provides directions for the printer in several important examples. These notations indicate the importance the marked Bible played in the publication of the New Translation. Eventually the marked Bible became essential in locating the position of the New Translation changes. The marked Bible is perhaps more important for the printer, a realization that became obvious in the second pass, because it indicates exactly where the changes were to be inserted. Without the marked Bible, the printing of the text after John 6 would have been nearly impossible.
Finally, a minor third pass shifts toward copyediting issues. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation were addressed in this final pass, again suggesting Smith was preparing for publication. The focus of this stage was to prepare the manuscripts for publication, whereas the second pass had been aimed at preparing the Bible and the manuscripts. As we come to understand the New Translation and the processes under which it was completed, we realized that the facsimile edition34 has proven to be indispensable and that a critical text of the New Translation would be an invaluable resource. Although Smith later translated and edited other texts, such as the Book of Abraham, our understanding of the processes that these texts went through are not nearly as detailed as our knowledge of the history of the New Translation. Perhaps future studies will show that when Smith translated texts he also edited them using similar methods.
In the end, we concluded that the marked Bible and accompanying New Testament manuscripts have faced no significant alteration during the past two centuries, although more study on the few stray markings may shed further light on their origins. Those individuals who worked with the manuscripts after Smith’s death apparently did not mark the manuscripts or the Bible in any significant way, even though a few random marks may be attributed to them. Importantly, no additions of words or phrases can be attributed to the copyists of the New Testament portion of the New Translation. We believe the New Translation of the New Testament has been preserved in much the same condition as Smith left it at his death. Although he may have had some intention to correct the New Translation further before publication, the marked Bible preserves the text as he recorded it in Kirtland, Ohio, from 1831 to 1833.