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Though many early Mormon texts and speeches mirror the English prose of the King James Bible, it was not always the LDS Church's only authorized version of that Holy Writ.
In fact, Mormon founder Joseph Smith had so many reservations about its language that he stated his new church believed the Bible to be the word of God "as far as it is translated correctly."
It took more than a century and a half after the church's 1830 founding for the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make exclusive use of the King James Version (KJV) "official."
Next week, scholars at Brigham Young University's Religious Studies Center will explore the LDS Church's long-standing connection to that volume in a three-day symposium. They will examine the KJV's language and influence along with its connection to the faith's signature scripture, The Book of Mormon.
The KJV's move from "commonly used" to "official" began in the 1950s with the leadership of J. Reuben Clark, then a member of the LDS Church's governing First Presidency, explains Philip Barlow in his book, Mormons and the Bible, and in an essay in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.
In 1952, the National Council of Churches in New York issued a new translation known as the Revised Standard Version. It was immediately denounced by conservative believers, Barlow writes, some claiming it was "barely Christian."
Clark, trained as a lawyer, defended the KJV in so many letters and speeches that his efforts culminated in his "monumental 1956 tome:" Why the King James Bible?
Clark, according to Barlow, argued the 1611 translation was:
• More acceptable doctrinally.
• Verified by Smith's own translation efforts.
• Based on a better Greek text.
• Literarily superior.
• Established in LDS tradition.
• Produced by "prayerful souls subject to the Holy Spirit."
What seemed to bother Clark the most in the newer translations was what he saw as "despicable, conspiratorial humanism," Barlow writes, reducing "the divine status of Jesus and the supernatural dimension of scripture in general."
Clark's arguments proved persuasive to LDS leaders.
In 1979, the LDS Church published its own edition of the KJV, with notes, headings and definitions. Thirteen years later, the LDS First Presidency declared the KJV to be the church's official English Bible. In recent weeks, the church released a new edition of its handbook, which includes the dictate that English-speaking members use the KJV.
"Although other versions of the Bible may be easier to read," the handbook says, "in doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations."
That is somewhat ironic, some LDS biblical experts say, given Smith's caveat about Bible translations and the fact that most English-speaking Christians (and virtually all scholars) no longer see the King James Version as the most correct edition available.
Even so, Barlow says, perhaps it is best for the church at large.
With all the hundreds of niche editions of various translations for busy moms, for golfers, for teens, the KJV stands out, he says. "The King James Bible, despite it being less accurate, at least in Mormonism, works as a counter current, to not be so faddish."
After 400 years, Barlow says, it "has a sense of the durable rather than the transient."
Tribune reporter Kristen Moulton contributed to this story.
Brigham Young University's Religious Studies Center is sponsoring a Feb. 23-25 symposium on the King James Bible. For more information, go to rsc.byu.edu/symposia/kjv