So many people have written about this subject that yet another post hardly seems necessary. I have written about the Book of Mormon at least five times previously, but have not addressed the issue that seems to bother some about the changes to The Book of Mormon. I can understand if this is not an issue with you, because it never has been with me either.
From lds.org: “Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. During the process of dictating, transcribing, copying, typesetting, and printing, some human errors were made. Soon after the first printing of the Book of Mormon, in 1830, readers began finding typographical, spelling, and other mistakes.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery made over 1,000 corrections for the second edition (1837). For the third edition (1840), Joseph Smith made further corrections after careful prophetic review, comparing the original manuscript with the printed text.” In other words, the changes made were typographical, spelling, grammatical, and yes, a few doctrinal clarifications.
Summary of changes
In 1879, with the blessing of the First Presidency, Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles produced an edition with more chapter divisions and with versification that has continued in all subsequent editions. He also added footnotes and made some changes in spelling and grammar. This was mainly a formatting change to make it easier to read with verses.
The 1920 edition corrected a few errors made in previous editions. It was formatted in double-column pages, with chapter headings, chronological data, revised footnote references, a pronouncing guide, and an index. Punctuation and capitalization were also revised. This is the issue that I used as a youth. I still have several well-worn and used annotated copies I cherish.
The current 1981 edition includes extensive cross references, footnotes, and other study aids. This is the edition I have used to teach seminary and gospel doctrine classes. I love the cross reference, topical guide and dictionary. It adds so much to my scripture study. I have used it to prepare talks for High Council assignments and spiritual thoughts in Bishopric meetings.
The most correct book
Joseph Smith declared that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, . . . and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461). Understanding his usage of this phrase has been troublesome to many. He did not mean that the book was error free, but that it conformed to truth and set things right.
There are many excellent articles that help to understand the changes. Robert J. Matthews, Dean of Religious Education at BYU, offered this one in the Ensign that is probably the best. George Horton, an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU shared one equally useful. Another article provides a brief history of the work completed to publish the current edition.
As always, Jeff Lindsay has done an excellent job in explaining the changes. If you Google “Book of Mormon changes” you will find a bunch of negative commentary on the changes. One of the more recent changes has been to add a word to the introduction of the Book of Mormon. The Lamanites are now considered to be “among” the primary ancestors of the American Indians.
DNA and the Book of Mormon
In late 2002, Ph.D. candidate Thomas Murphy published a paper entitled, “Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics.” In it, he presented DNA evidence that the ancestors of the American Indians are from Asia and not from Israel. Although a member of the church, Mr. Murphy admitted that he had not attended church in over ten years. Is that important? I think so.
You can find references to much material in the LDS Newsroom on the subject. Jeff Lindsay has written a masterful and lengthy essay, FAIR has a large number of resources available, as does FARMS. If you can’t find anything refuting the allegations that DNA evidence of the American Indians “destroys” the Book of Mormon then you simply haven’t looked hard enough.
Some people get so worked up about the DNA problem that they lose their faith and leave the Church. One such individual is Simon Southerton who was a bishop in Australia and a molecular biologist. He published a book on the subject, “Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church.” He was later excommunicated but not for publishing his book.
Summary and conclusion
I love the Book of Mormon. I always have. I stopped counting how many times I have read it many years ago. I think I am always reading it and use it almost everyday in my gospel studies. It is a wonderful book. It is scripture. It fills my life with understanding of the doctrine of Christ. Every time I read from its pages I am filled with a greater appreciation for the book.
I do not pretend to be an expert on DNA or the historical evidences of the Book of Mormon. I only know how I feel when I read it, when I teach from it and when I bear testimony of it. The changes in the Book of Mormon over the years do not bother me. I focus on the content and the doctrine contained in the book. Joseph was right. It is the most correct book of God’s truth.
Someday I hope to meet Joseph Smith and thank him for the marvelous works that he did in the name of Jesus Christ. One of those works is the Book of Mormon. I also hope to meet Moroni, Mormon, Nephi, Lehi, Alma, Abinadi and all the other Book of Mormon prophets. They were real characters who lived in the ancient Americas and were not just figments of Joseph’s imagination.