The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often called Mormons, have announced a new version of the scriptures, the first since 1981. The new version is available online immediately and will begin to be available in print by August, 2013. The process has been in the making for almost eight years and was prompted due to wear and tear on the original printing masters. Since they would need to be replaced, it was decided to make improvements first.
The previous summaries found in the Book of Mormon were written by Bruce R. McConkie, a Mormon apostle, not by ancient writers, and so they are subject to change from time to time. They are not canonized, which means they are not considered doctrine. Some of the writings reflect his personal understanding of scriptures and events. In other cases, the Joseph Smith Papers Project has resulted in new research and the changes make the summaries more accurate. The new edition includes changes to study aids, new photos, updated maps, and adjustments to chapter and section headings. Changes in scriptural text are largely changes in spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors. Outdated spellings such as “stedfast” and “morter” have now been modernized to “steadfast” and “mortar.” They have standardized typeface to make it easier for readers to know what is scripture and what is merely a study aid.
The Doctrine and Covenants, a book of modern revelation that helps to chart the earliest days of the modern Church, has benefitted from historical research and some of the changes made to the summaries at the start of the revelations were made to correct misinformation that had crept into the books through error or lack of previous information.
Read more about the Doctrine and Covenants.
As an example, an unsourced photograph of the river left the impression that the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood occurred on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. However, Joseph Smith had regularly written that the restoration occurred in the woods, and recent research suggests that the river did not have a wooded area at that time. There was a sugar tree grove on Joseph’s property, however, and it is more likely he went there to pray. Section 13 has been updated to remove mention of it occurring on the banks of the river.
Sources, with more detailed explanations of the historical changes, are listed on the Church website.
Perhaps more significantly, explanations have been added to the two official declarations found in the Doctrine and Covenants. The first, ending the practice of polygamy, explains the religious and historic context of the revelation. Most of this information is already well-known by Mormons familiar with the topic, but may be new to more recent converts and people who are not Mormon. It clarifies that monogamy is considered the standard means of marriage except when otherwise called for by God (as shown in the Bible). It also informs readers that polygamy began with Joseph Smith and that it was discontinued after it was declared illegal and upheld by the Supreme Court. Polygamy is no longer practiced by Mormons.
The second declaration restores the priesthood to all worthy males, regardless of race. The new introduction explains that the Book of Mormon states that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33) and that there have been baptized black members of the Church from the beginning. It also makes clear that while Joseph Smith led the Church, some black members were ordained to the priesthood, but that it was discontinued early in Church history. Research by church leaders and historians have not turned up a reason for this change, but without that reason, church leaders felt a revelation would be required to reinstate it. This happened in 1978 under the leadership of Spencer W. Kimball.
Mormons have been instructed that there is no need to purchase new scriptures unless they need them anyway. The pagination is the same, ensuring that students who are given a page number in class will still be able to find the correct page. The new material is all available online at no charge and is free for both Mormons and those who are not Mormon, along with extensive documentation into the changes.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.