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The Coming Forth of the LDS Editions of Scripture

TitleThe Coming Forth of the LDS Editions of Scripture
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1983
AuthorsMortimer, William James
Issue Number8
Date PublishedAugust 1983
KeywordsScripture Study; Study Helps

An account of the work that led to the publication of the LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible, and new editions of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.


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The Coming Forth of the LDS Editions of Scripture

By Wm. James Mortimer

When the prophet Alma gave his son Helaman the responsibility of maintaining sacred Nephite records, he impressed upon him the great importance of his task. “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass,” said Alma, “… and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (Alma 37:6–7.)

During the past ten years it has been my privilege to witness the “small and simple things” brought to pass in the publishing of the new Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures. (For descriptions of the LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible and the revised edition of the Triple Combination, see Ensign, Oct. 1979, p. 8; Oct. 1981, p. 8.) This work, guided by the General Authorities from its beginnings, represents an important achievement that has resulted in scriptural editions more easily read and understood than any editions yet published in this dispensation.

The need for a Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible came from an abundance of Bibles rather than a lack of them. Since the early 1920s the official missionary editions of the Bible had been published by Deseret Book Company through special arrangements with Cambridge University Press. President Heber J. Grant and Elder James E. Talmage made arrangements for the Church to use the Cambridge King James Version, with the addition of Elder Talmage’s “Ready References,” between the Old and New Testaments.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Department of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion published editions of the standard works for students. At the same time the Primary Association produced its own large-print, inexpensive edition of the King James Bible which contained no study aids. Bookcraft Publishers produced a King James Version that included notes and commentary by Elder Milton R. Hunter.

Like the new LDS edition, all these editions were the King James Version. The text of each was the familiar King James translation, but they were vastly different in their study aids and explanatory materials. Yet all were being used in Church curricula.

During 1971 a research paper by Grant Barton focused the attention of the General Authorities on the need for a unified Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible. The paper noted the confusion of having a Primary student use one edition of the Bible, asking him to use another style in seminary, and then providing him with a third for his mission.

Another important factor which focused the attention of the Brethren on the need for a unified Bible and an improved Triple Combination (the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) was the decision to center the Church’s adult curriculum on the four standard works, using the scriptures themselves as student manuals. This curriculum program began in 1972.

These and other issues were carefully studied by the former Church Internal Communications Department, which planned and prepared Church curricula. The managing director of the department, J. Thomas Fyans (who has since become a General Authority), received permission from President Joseph Fielding Smith to recommend what might be done with the standard works. Brother Fyans and his associates began the unified effort to produce one Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version and to improve study aids in the Triple Combination.

The initial “Bible Aids Committee,” as it was first known, included Elder Thomas S. Monson as chairman, Elder Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Marvin J. Ashton. Later, Elder Ashton was reassigned and Elder Bruce R. McConkie joined the committee.

Elder Monson possesses great organizational and administrative abilities; he is also a skilled printer, having spent his career in the printing industry before becoming a General Authority. Elder Packer spent many years teaching from the scriptures in the Church’s education system. He knows the needs of teachers; he also has a special feeling for Church members whose means are limited and who need less expensive editions. Elder McConkie has established himself as a student of scripture.

To provide staff support to the committee, several specialists were called in 1972 by Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then Acting President of the Council of the Twelve. These included Ellis T. Rasmussen, Robert Patch, and Robert J. Matthews of Brigham Young University; Daniel H. Ludlow, then director of correlation for the Church; and myself, then serving as general manager of Deseret Book.

Brother Rasmussen possessed skills in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. Brother Patch was skilled in Greek, the language of the New Testament. Brother Matthews had experience with the Latter-day scriptures and had just published an authoritative book on Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible. Brother Ludlow was skilled in Book of Mormon studies, as well as in Hebrew and in Old and New Testament studies. All four of these brethren had years of experience teaching the scriptures at Brigham Young University and elsewhere. From the very first meeting there continued a spirit of love and brotherhood as the staff worked under the careful supervision and direction of Elder Monson and his committee.

After careful, prayerful study, the committee recommended that work on the Bible should have the highest priority, and that work on the individual volumes of the Triple Combination could follow. The committee also recommended that the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible (1) should contain cross-references to all the standard works, (2) should have chapter headings which emphasized the doctrinal content, (3) should utilize the Joseph Smith Translation, and (4) should contain some type of subject index. Later conclusions called for a doctrinally oriented Bible dictionary, Bible maps, and running heads at the top of each page which would clearly identify the specific content of each page.

Following the death of President Smith, the work was given continuing encouragement by President Harold B. Lee. Great impetus was given by President Spencer W. Kimball when he became President of the Church.

Those of us who witnessed the progress of the project often commented how individuals in and out of the Church with needed skills and abilities were available at our time of need. For example, as the work progressed and it became necessary to process the manuscripts, a qualified editor, Eleanor Knowles, was available at Deseret Book. Furthermore, the project could not have been accomplished without the benefit of modern computer technology; and here again, both in the people available and in the development of technology, our needs were met. In anticipation of another project, Eldin Ricks at BYU had placed every verse of all four standard works into a computer data base. When it became desirable to have such a data base for the scriptures project, Brother Ricks willingly let the Church use his material, saving us thousands of hours.

When it was necessary to prepare computer programs that would analyze the content of each verse and make comparisons for footnotes and Topical Guide entries, an expert was available. Stephen Howes of BYU knew exactly how to program the computers to provide meaningful printouts of scriptural texts, cross-references, and other appropriate entries. He continued his regular work in computer science at BYU and worked on the scripture project during nighttime hours and on weekends when computer time was available at minimal costs. When he had the basic computer work completed on the Bible, he was offered a position with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in California. Later, this assignment ended and he returned to BYU just when we needed him again for the computer work on the Triple Combination.

Another group available at the time of need was the task committee who did the final work on the Topical Guide. This committee was headed by Alma Gardiner, a retired seminary administrator who had directed the publishing of the seminary editions of the standard works. Working with him were Edward Brandt of the University of Utah Institute of Religion; George Horton, at that time director of curriculum for the Seminaries and Institutes of the Church; Bruce Harper, then of the Church editing division; and Sister Knowles of Deseret Book.

One of the lighter moments of the work of this committee came when they were asked to write a progress report. Having labored over the alphabetical listings of the Topical Guide, the committee wrote: “We have been through Heaven and Hell, Love and Lust, and now we’re working toward Repentance.”

Another unique individual, not a member of the Church, who became available to help on the project was the late Derek Bowen, an editor at Cambridge University Press in England. I first met Derek in 1977 when Ellis Rasmussen and I visited Cambridge to explore the possibilities of having our typesetting and some printing work done there. Derek was an unforgettable individual, though he actually preferred to remain in the background and do his work quietly.

During his service in England’s armed forces during World War II, he was seriously injured when he stepped on a land mine. Among his injuries was a complete loss of hearing. Because of his physical limitations he chose not to marry, and lived rather a Spartan life. He had few friends outside the circle of his working associates. He rode a bicycle to and from work, and was a unique English gentleman.

Blessed with an extremely keen mind, Derek read and studied everything he could put before his eyes. Because Cambridge publishes one of the world’s foremost editions of the King James Version, Derek had become a scholar of the Bible and knew more than anyone I have met about editing, typesetting, and printing Bibles. His help on our project was a great blessing to the Church. His careful checking and his precise manner were the final safeguards we needed, both as our material went into typesetting and as the final camera-ready pages were approved for printing. Thus far only three minor typographical errors have been found in the King James Text—a real tribute to Derek’s skill.

The last time I saw Derek was in March of 1981. I was in England working on final details of the Triple Combination. Derek had been ill, but he persisted in our work and told me of his intense interest in our scriptures. I had tried during the years to convince him of the truthfulness of the gospel, and he did read everything I sent him about the Church. I reminded him on our last visit that he knew so much about our Church that “someday he’d be one of us.” He smiled in a beautiful way and we said our good-byes. Three months later he died.

When Roger Coleman, director of Religious Publishing at Cambridge, wrote to notify me of Derek’s death, he said: “I visited him two or three times in the hospital and he seemed very alert, asking how the work was going, especially on the Triple Combination, regularly warning me of tricky points to watch out for. When I last saw him on the 26th of May he was especially anxious that we should finish the job on schedule, and I promised him that the next time I saw him, the last of the camera copy would be on its way to Salt Lake. Alas, I never saw him again. …

“You and your Church have lost a very good friend, and we have lost a colleague whose goodness of personality and whose skills we can never replace.

“As I made clear, he had done the great majority of the work of passing the Triple Combination for press before he was obliged to give up, and the task of finishing it off that was left to me was very easy as a result. I hope it will all be in your hands by the time this letter arrives. [It was.] He would dearly have liked to finish it, I know, for he had an immense regard for the Latter-day Saints (though I think you would never have converted him in a hundred years!). He admired the strict ethical standards of your Church; he was something of a puritan in his own way. He also, like you, had an immense reverence for scripture and for Church authority—though in his case it was a different church. He was intensely interested in your Church organization and its history and much valued your taking the trouble to provide him with information about it. His life has contributed a great deal in an unspectacular way to maintaining the traditional integrity of English scriptures and Anglican liturgical texts, and I hope you will feel he has made a contribution to yours as well.”

Indeed, he did!

As mentioned, the Church had been using the Cambridge Bible as its missionary edition since the 1920s. When the Brethren decided that we needed our own edition, Cambridge expressed a deep interest in being involved in the project. At first we all thought it would be much too difficult to work closely with an organization located so far from Salt Lake City. But because Cambridge Press had been publishing the King James Bible since 1611 and had so much experience, the committee was blessed in establishing a remarkable working relationship with them.

Before meeting with the Cambridge people, we made a careful study of scriptural typesetting capabilities in the United States. Many firms felt they could easily accomplish the task, and most felt their new computerized typesetting would be the answer. But at each of the places we visited in the United States I had an unsatisfied feeling. It was only when I visited Cambridge that the uneasiness left and I knew we had found the place.

In June of 1977 Ellis Rasmussen and I went to England, armed with samples of the manuscript copy which represented the type of work we would ultimately produce. Since a committee consensus had not solidified at that point, we had limited instructions from the Scriptures Publication Committee about such things as type size and the format for the text, the footnote cross-references, and the Topical Guide. We were on a “fishing trip” trying to find the best way to publish a new edition of the King James Version.

By appointment, Ellis and I met in the conference room of the Printing House at Cambridge with the University Printer and many of his esteemed colleagues, all of whom we were meeting for the first time. As we sat around the table, surrounded by memorabilia of three centuries of biblical and scholarly printing, the chief executive officer of Cambridge University Press began explaining all the things they could do for us.

As he extolled the virtues of their publishing organization, I realized that he was predetermining what we wanted and was not fully comprehending our unique needs. Without realizing what I was doing, I interrupted him and indicated that he did not fully understand the nature of our project. Ideas and words came to mind that I had not previously thought out, and I bore my testimony by the Spirit to the sacred nature of our project and outlined the work that was to be done.

When I finished, those in the room were silent, and I was suddenly mortified for interrupting the University Printer in his comments. But he broke the silence, and with a smile, simply said, “How can we be of assistance?”

From that point on there was no question in my mind about who would do our work. The first editions of the King James Bible had been published at Cambridge University Press and for more than three centuries they had continued to produce the world’s best Bibles. They had the technical experience we lacked. They had the production capabilities we needed. They had the craftsmen who could guide us and who were willing to listen to our needs and work with us to create a Bible like nothing that had ever before been published.

Even though computer technology was available for the typesetting, we finally agreed that the traditional hot-metal Monotype setting would be used. The metal slugs of type gave us the capability of adjusting type on each page, thus keeping complete footnotes on the same page as the corresponding verses.

At first it was difficult for the people at Cambridge to understand how three books unknown to them could be cross-referenced to “their” Bible. Interesting experiences occurred with editors, typesetters, and proofreaders as they learned about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, the Doctrine and Covenants, what they came to call simply “The Pearl,” and many other elements of latter-day scripture. They were amazed at how well the four books could be cross-referenced to each other, and we were strengthened in our testimonies that each of the books fit so well together.

I remember one of the sub-editors at Cambridge questioning me about the chapter heading for Isaiah 29 [Isa. 29]. This heading reads: “Nephites shall speak as a voice from the dust—The apostasy, restoration of the gospel, and coming forth of Book of Mormon are foretold—Compare 2 Nephi 27.” [2 Ne. 27] I hope that after our discussion he was able to see how we got that understanding out of a chapter of Isaiah that he had never comprehended.

An interesting experience with Cambridge came during a visit by Elder Monson to the University Printing House during the summer of 1979. At that time Cambridge had on their presses the sheets they were printing for the deluxe editions of the Bible. As Elder Monson toured the pressroom he noticed what appeared to be an error on one of the forms. Drawing on his background in printing, he pointed out the possible error to his hosts. A quick check was made, the error was verified, and with great haste and equal chagrin, the workers stopped the presses. The error was corrected and a relieved Elder Monson finished his tour of the Printing House.

Perhaps the best evidence I had that our scriptures had made an impression on the Cambridge scholars came in an unusual way. As we neared the end of the typesetting there had been rather substantial cost overruns. We expected this, since the initial estimates at the beginning of the project had not included all the work we actually did. When Roger Coleman, director of Religious Publishing at Cambridge, had accumulated his costs, he sent a telex message to Tim Phillips in the New York City office of Cambridge, asking him to come to Salt Lake to negotiate the changes with me. The telex concluded with this terse statement: “When you get to Salt Lake remember Alma 7:23.”

As Mr. Phillips and I sat together in my office at Deseret Book he showed me the telex. Immediately I got a copy of the Book of Mormon to see what it said. The message delighted me:

“And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.”

After we had amicably negotiated the production variances, Tim and I sent a telex message back to Roger in England. It simply said: “See D&C 19:35.” This verse, which seemed an appropriate action, says: “Pay the debt thou has contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage.”

When I returned to Cambridge in the spring of 1981 to work on the Triple Combination typesetting, I walked into the lobby of the Printing House and noticed in a glass display case several copies of our LDS edition of the King James Bible, along with a trophy and a handsome certificate. Imagine my delight to learn that the work Cambridge did on our Bible had earned for them the top graphics arts award for typesetting excellence in England for 1980. It was certainly a deserved award.

As we began the actual production work on the Bible, some felt we could not possibly meet our deadlines. The seminaries of the Church were scheduled to begin studying the Old Testament in the fall of 1979. They obviously wanted to use the new LDS edition. The first typesetting got under way in January 1978—and it did seem a formidable task to handle copy and proofs back and forth between England and Salt Lake City. But again, we were blessed. No packages of proofs were ever lost in the mail, and occasional delays were never more than a few days. Schedules which seemed impossible were somehow met by Cambridge. Correction cycles were minimal, and production problems were almost nonexistent. On several occasions we received word that university printing projects were given lesser priority than our project.

The final approved copy resulted in 2,432 pages in the Bible, plus 24 pages of maps. With the double-column format and the detailed typesetting of footnote cross-references, this represented the largest typesetting project Cambridge had ever undertaken. The final pages were ready for printing by May 1979, just a few months before school started and the seminaries needed books.

Arrangements had been made for the Style C seminary editions, bound in imitation leather, to be produced in the United States. Spencer Cowan, president of University Press and Publishers Book Bindery in Winchester, Massachusetts, had submitted the low bid for printing and binding, but he had to rely on two outside vendors to assist him since he did not have the large web press equipment needed to produce 64-page forms. It was June 1979 before all the pages of the Bible were in place for printing plates to be made. As final schedules were being worked out, the printing company assisting University Press indicated that they always closed their plant during the first two weeks in July for vacation. This was a traditional schedule and their employees always planned their vacation periods accordingly.

At first we felt panic: if printing work did not begin until the latter part of July there would be no hope of having copies available at the beginning of school. The binding work was immense, since it involved gathering and sewing 38 forms of 64 pages each, inserting a preprinted map section, making the covers, and doing the casing-in for some 700,000 copies. After some pleading on our part, the printing plant found there were enough pressmen willing to take later vacations—they could keep the press going and maintain the schedule. The finishing of the books proceeded without problems, and the casing-in of books commenced on 7 August 1979 when the first complete copies came off the line. With the guidance of the Spirit, the “impossible” had been accomplished.

Similar experiences happened during the production of the revised Triple Combination. In November 1979, scholarly work commenced on the Pearl of Great Price, then the Doctrine and Covenants, and finally the Book of Mormon. New chapter headings had to be written for every chapter of the three books. Extensive research was necessary on the headings for the Doctrine and Covenants, which were to include one heading for historical and background material and another for the actual subject matter of the sections.

Fortunately the basic computer work accomplished for the Bible was available and useful for work on the Triple Combination. Stephen Howes, the computer expert, was back at BYU and available. Ellis Rasmussen and Robert Matthews worked diligently to complete the work of the cross-references.

After careful consideration the Scriptures Publication Committee decided it would be appropriate to prepare a separate index for the books of the Triple Combination, since they are published as separate editions from time to time. The Topical Guide would remain in the Bible, and a special index would be prepared which could be used in total for the Triple Combination and then separated for individual printings of the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

The task committee which put together the Topical Guide was still available, and they began their work on the new index. Eleanor Knowles was available, and the first proofs of copy were received in Salt Lake in July 1980. The final camera-ready pages were received in June 1981. Printing work began that same month, and again the web printers cooperated through modified vacation schedules. The first bound copies of the new Triple Combination came off the line on 27 August 1981. Many seminary classes had books when school began, and all orders were filled for seminary use by the end of October 1981.

Again with the Triple Combination, as with the Bible, no spectacular events occurred during production. But many small miracles worked together to bring about this publication.

Having worked under the direction of the Brethren on the scriptures project, I have gained a deep appreciation for the unheralded ways in which the Lord accomplishes his purposes. Along with other members of the committee, I have also gained a new feeling for the counsel given to Oliver Cowdery in connection with his work on the Book of Mormon. Desiring to do the work of translation, Oliver expected the Lord to do more than His share. Accordingly, Oliver was instructed:

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” (D&C 9:7–9.)

Time after time this principle was evident in the work of the committee. When a problem needed to be solved, we would do all we could do, and then in prayerful supplication, striving to be receptive to the Spirit, we would come to know whether or not what we were doing was right.

One example of this came as we worked out the format for the footnotes and cross-references. We were aware of formats used in many Bibles, but felt no existing style would allow us to use the materials we planned to include in our footnotes.

As Ellis Rasmussen and I sat with the designers and typographers at Cambridge University Press, we talked and sketched and planned how we might structure our footnotes. Little by little the ideas came, and finally we worked out what seemed to us a proper design. Sample type was set, corrections were made to polish up the design, and final proofs were then prepared for submission to the Scriptures Publication Committee.

When I returned from England, Elder McConkie invited me to bring the proofs to his home. I remember how nervous I was in presenting to him the unusual style of footnotes we had worked out. He studied the proofs carefully without comment. After what seemed to me an eternity of silence, he looked up, smiled, and said simply, “Why not!” The Spirit bore strong witness to me that the format was acceptable, and with the later approval of the full committee, we went ahead.

Through careful preparation and diligent work on the part of many devoted individuals, and with the direction of the Spirit in response to thousands of prayers, the tasks were accomplished and the new Latter-day Saint editions of the standard works are now published.

There are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe the feelings that came over me on that August day in 1979 when I held the first bound copies of the new Bible. They were much like those I have experienced at the birth of each of my seven children: joy, amazement, gratitude, humility, wonder, and a more acute awareness that God is the finisher of all that is good.

However, just as some of the excitement of the birth of a new baby wears off with the midnight feedings or the 3:00 A.M. colic, so there came after the publication of the new editions of the scriptures the reality that even with all the marvelous things that had happened in publication, the effort was worthless unless the books were used.

The scriptures have been written, preserved, translated, copied, and published so that people’s lives can be changed for the better. All the aids and helps in these new editions were placed there to be used—to bless each person who picks up the books and prayerfully studies them as guides in the quest for eternal life.

Now is the time to use the new Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures. Treasure your old editions as heirlooms and keepsakes. But study from the new editions of scripture with their marvelous aids and helps. Diligently look to God through their pages as you prepare to live with Him forever.

William James Mortimer, director of Printing Services for the Church, serves as a Regional Representative and as patriarch in his Salt Lake City stake.