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A Prophet Looks at Exodus through Deuteronomy: Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

TitleA Prophet Looks at Exodus through Deuteronomy: Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1986
AuthorsHorton, Jr., George A.
Issue Number2
Date PublishedFebruary 1986
KeywordsJoseph Smith Translation

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A Prophet Looks at Exodus through Deuteronomy: Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

By George A. Horton, Jr.

We were only a few weeks into the semester of a college Old Testament class. As the teacher, I encouraged everyone to use the LDS edition of the King James Bible, just recently published, but one student continued to bring her “old” Bible to class. She had served a mission, and her Bible was well marked and filled with notes in the margins. She was the best scriptorian in the group.

I tried to persuade her to get the new edition, but no encouragement seemed to have any effect. Then, on the day we discussed the latter part of Exodus, a chance arose to show her the kinds of contributions the new edition could make. She came up after class, opened her Bible, and pointed to Exodus 33:18 [Ex. 33:18].

“See right here,” she said. “Moses asked the Lord to ‘shew me thy glory,’ and then down here in verse 20, the Lord replies, ‘Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.’ Since we claim that Joseph Smith saw God and lived, how do we explain that verse?”

Who Can See God and Live?

Eager to demonstrate the value of the new edition of the Bible, I placed my Bible on the desk alongside hers and opened it to Exodus 33.

“See the footnote to that part of the verse that says no man can see God,” I said. “It refers us to Moses 1:11, which is taken from the Joseph Smith Translation.” So we turned to Moses’ account, which says he “saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.” (Moses 1:2.)

Then Moses continues: “But now mine eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.” (Moses 1:11.)

“Now let us look at the other cross-reference, which refers to JST Exodus 33:20,” I said. (Excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation are contained in an appendix just following the Bible Dictionary in the new LDS edition of the King James Bible.) In the JST, the verse reads, ‘And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also, and I destroy thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.’ (Italics show changes added by the JST.)

“With regard to the question of whether any man has seen the Lord and lived, let’s also look at this cross-reference from Exodus 33:20, which refers us to the Topical Guide subject ‘God, Privilege of Seeing,’” I continued. Flipping back to the topic, we found more than a dozen examples where men had seen God and lived.

“Well,” she said, “I had noticed earlier in chapter 33 that it says, ‘And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.’” (Ex. 33:11.) “That is another reason I was confused. Anyway, what about these verses over here?” she said, pointing to verses 22–23 [Ex. 33:22–23], which read: “And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cliff of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.”

We followed the superscript c to the bottom of the page and noted that following the words “my face shall not be seen,” it added “as at other times; for I am angry with my people Israel.” (JST, Ex. 33:23.) “Wow!” she said, softly. “That makes more sense, doesn’t it! The scriptures really don’t contradict themselves, do they? I really like the way the JST clarifies things, and it also means that Joseph Smith’s vision of the Father and the Son is in perfect harmony with Moses’ experience, doesn’t it?”

Without waiting for an answer, she pointed to the next chapter. “You remember that Moses smashed the first set of commandments because the people were having a wild party when he came down off the mount. Right here it says, ‘And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.’ (Ex. 34:1.) Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have a vague recollection that we Latter-day Saints don’t believe that’s right,” she said. “But I don’t know where to look it up.”

How Did the Second Set of Tablets Differ?

“Let’s check the footnotes and cross-references again,” I suggested. As her eyes focused on the reference to JST Exodus 34:1–2, she said, “I should have guessed it.” We read the following: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them. But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment.”

The value of the new edition of the Bible was becoming apparent. Among its outstanding assets are the addition of over six hundred verses of the Joseph Smith Translation to the footnotes and appendix, plus cross-references to the Book of Moses. “What do those others say?” continued this avid student, pointing to the other references related to Exodus 34:1 in my Bible.

Every little contribution is always fun to discover—as she was finding out. For example, we can look at Deuteronomy 10:2 and its JST footnote. The JST cross-reference says about the same thing as does the King James Version, but in slightly different words: “And I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, save the words of the everlasting covenant of the holy priesthood, and thou shalt put them in the ark.” Elder Orson Pratt undoubtedly referred to the inspired revision when he said: “The first tables of stone, we are informed by the inspired translator, contained, not only many instructions for the government of the people, but revelations containing the Gospel of the Son of God; the principles of the higher law, that were calculated to cause all who obeyed the same, to enter into his rest, which rest was the fullness of his glory.” (Italics added.)1

Elder Pratt added, “The first law, the higher law of the gospel contained on the first tables, was destroyed and the covenant broken, and a new law was introduced. Incorporated on the second tables of stone were the Ten Commandments, which pertain to the Gospel, which were also on the first tables. In addition to these Ten Commandments which pertain to the Gospel, were many of those carnal laws. … By this second code of laws it was impossible for Israel to enter into the fulness of celestial glory, in other words, they could not be redeemed and brought into the presence of the Father and the Son; they could not enter into the fulness of that rest that was intended to be given to such only as obeyed the higher law of the Gospel.”2

Before closing her Bible, this outstanding student asked several other questions—all except one of which could be answered through the study aids in the new edition of the Bible. I could sense her growing appreciation for the “new” edition.

What Questions Can the Joseph Smith Translation Answer?

Indeed, the new edition of the Bible has many features, which, if used, can help us to better understand the scriptures and to answer many of our questions about the Old and New Testaments. The excerpts and footnotes from the Joseph Smith Translation that appear in the new edition contain many of the changes the Prophet Joseph Smith made while he was translating what is known as the Inspired Version of the Bible. The major changes in the Old Testament are largely in Genesis—in JST Genesis, about two hundred verses have been added or changed; Exodus is next with about sixty-six changes, Leviticus with six, Numbers with two, and Deuteronomy with seven. These changes do not include some spelling differences that have occurred in the King James text itself.3

Some questions that are relevant to the study of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy include the following:

Who Knew the Name of Jehovah?

The King James Version of the Bible says, “God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.” (Ex. 6:2–3). Could this be possible? Hardly! The King James translators rendered the Hebrew tetra-grammaton (JHVH or YHWH) to read LORD (i.e., large capital L and small capitals ORD), and so it appears in this form 6,832 times throughout the Old Testament.4

For whatever reasons, the translators only rendered the sacred name to read Jehovah instead of Lord in the Old Testament four times (Ex. 6:3; Ps. 83:18; Isa. 12:2, and Isa. 26:4; also at Ps. 68:4 in its shortened form, “JAH”). A reader could study the Bible diligently and perhaps never realize that, in a sense, beginning with Genesis 2:4, the name Jehovah appears in the text on almost every page. Thus, it would be obvious that, contrary to Exodus 6:3, the patriarchs from Adam to Moses did know Jehovah by his name. It was Jehovah who “made the earth and the heavens” (Gen. 2:4); gave Adam commandments, warned Noah, and instructed Abraham (see Abr. 1:16; Abr. 2:8); appeared to Jacob; and was with Joseph when he was made “ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:43).

If the “Almighty God” (Gen. 17:1) who appeared unto Abraham is actually the Lord God Jehovah, what can be made out of the reference indicating that “but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them” (Ex. 6:3)? Fortunately, the JST makes the statement into a question: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob. I am the Lord God Almighty; the Lord JEHOVAH. And was not my name known unto them?” (JST, Ex. 6:3; see JST, Ex. 34:14.) As Isaiah so clearly informs us: “I, even I, am the LORD [i.e., Jehovah]; and beside me there is no saviour … thus saith the LORD [i.e., Jehovah], your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; … the creator of Israel, your King.” (Isa. 43:11, 14–15.)

Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?

The Lord said to Moses, “When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” (Ex. 4:21; see also Ex. 7:3.) The text of the King James Version of the Bible indicates that the Lord “hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not. … [and refused] to let the people go.” (Ex. 7:13–14.) As Moses pleads, coaxes, and threatens the Pharaoh, the Lord seems to harden Pharaoh’s heart, not only once, but seven more times! (See Ex. 9:12; Ex. 10:1, 20, 27; Ex. 11:10; and Ex. 14:8, 17.)

Scholars are divided on the implications of these passages. Adam Clarke felt that the text was faulty and pointed out that the same Hebrew words used here were also translated, ‘And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened’ in Exodus 7:22 [Ex. 7:22].5 Therefore, such passages should be translated the same way, “lest the hardening, which was evidently the effect of his own obstinate shutting of his eyes against the truth, should be attributed to God.”6

As the text of the King James Version stands, the behavior of the Lord is inconsistent with his attributes as reflected in other parts of holy writ. Fortunately, there are places in the Bible where it is clearly indicated that on occasion the Pharaoh hardened his own heart (see Ex. 8:32; Ex. 9:34) or simply that his heart was hardened—without it being attributed to the Lord (see Ex. 7:14, 22).

The JST reports “And Pharaoh hardened his heart, that he hearkened not unto them.” (JST, Ex. 7:13.) In fact, the inspired translation is corrected systematically in all nine occurrences in this particular context. (See JST, Ex. 4:21; JST, Ex. 7:13; JST, Ex. 9:12; JST, Ex. 10:1, 20, 27; JST, Ex. 11:10; JST, Ex. 14:8, 17.)

Do Other Verses Have Significant Changes?

In many cases, the Joseph Smith Translation can aid our study of the Old Testament by adding important information or clarifying the accounts in the King James Version. Some of the corrections in the JST are as follows. (The JST versification is the same as that of the King James Version, unless otherwise specified.)

Some Major Corrections in Exodus

  1. Exodus 3:2—The phrase “angel of the Lord,” at the burning bush, is corrected to read “presence of the Lord.”
  2. Exodus 6:30—We are often perplexed by the seeming difference between Stephen’s assertion that Moses was “mighty in words” (Acts 7:22) and Moses’ response to his call, “Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, … but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” (Ex. 4:10.) The JST clarifies Moses’ statement “I am of uncircumcised lips” by rendering it to read “I am of stammering lips, and slow of speech” (JST, Ex. 6:29). Moses was indeed “mighty in words” in that he communicated the will of God; but apparently he had a speech impediment that made it necessary for him to secure help in delivering his message.
  3. Exodus 7:1—This passage calls Moses “a god to Pharaoh,” and the Lord tells him that his brother, Aaron, shall be “thy prophet.” In the JST, the same verse reads: “I have made thee a prophet to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy spokesman.
  4. Exodus 21:20—In the JST, the penalty for murdering a servant is death, rather than merely punishment.
  5. Exodus 22:18—The JST refers not to a “witch,” but to a “murderer”—“Thou shalt not suffer a murderer to live.”
  6. Exodus 23:3—The King James Version says “Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.” Fortunately, the JST tells us that it is not a “poor man” but a “wicked man” that shall not be countenanced.
  7. Exodus 32:12–14—The King James Version has Moses taking the Lord to task for his judgments and boldly says, “Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.” The JST corrects this impudence; the revised verse reads: “Turn from thy fierce wrath. Thy people will repent of this evil; therefore come thou not out against them.

The thought continues: “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do.” Can a perfect God have thoughts that make it necessary for him to repent? Of course not! Did not Moses say, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent” (Num. 23:19) and “his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4)? The inspired revision clears up these questions: “And the Lord said unto Moses, If they will repent of the evil which they have done, I will spare them, and turn away my fierce wrath; but, behold, thou shalt execute judgment upon all that will not repent of this evil this day. Therefore, see thou do this thing that I have commanded thee, or I will execute all that which I had thought to do unto my people.” (JST, Ex. 32:14.) It is man—not God—who has need of repentance.

Some Corrections in Leviticus

  1. Leviticus 12:3–5—Corrections in these three verses appear to be euphemistic—made in order to read more comfortably in society. In verse 3 “the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” has been changed in the JST to “the man child shall be circumcised.” In verses 4 and 5, “‘the blood of her purifying” has been changed in the JST to “the time of her purifying.”
  2. Leviticus 21:1—“There shall none be defiled for the dead” has been changed to “There shall none be defiled with the dead.”
  3. Leviticus 21:11—The JST adds a clarifying word: “Neither shall he go in to touch any dead body.”

A Correction in Numbers

Numbers 22:20–22—In the King James Version, a strange paradox exists where Balaam is being harassed with pleadings and bribes to curse the advancing Israelites. God instructs Balaam, “If the men [from the king] come to call thee, rise up, and go with them.” And Balaam goes, according to the Lord’s instructions. But verse 22 says, “And God’s anger was kindled because he went.” However, the JST reads, “If the men come to call thee, rise up, if thou wilt go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, shalt thou speak.”

Some Corrections in Deuteronomy

  1. Deuteronomy 2:30—The King James Version reads, “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate.” Joseph Smith’s correction reads, “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him; for he hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate.”
  2. Deuteronomy 14:21—This passage gives the impression that the Lord has a double standard: “Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger … or thou mayest sell it unto an alien.” The corrected version reads: “Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself; thou shalt not give it unto the stranger … or thou mayest not sell it unto an alien.”
  3. Deuteronomy 34:6—What happened to Moses at the time of his death? The text of the King James Version says: “And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Other prophets say Moses was translated. (See Alma 45:19.) The JST hints in that direction: “For the Lord took him unto his fathers.” (JST, Deut. 34:6.) Josephus also lends credence to this explanation, by saying, “As he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God.”7

What Priesthood?

During the Israelite forty-year sojourn, times had been hard. The Lord gave Moses assistance by calling “seventy men of the elders of Israel” (see Num. 11:16–17) and placing upon them the spirit that was upon Moses.

Shortly thereafter, Korah, a Levite (but not of Aaron), and two Reubenites led two hundred and fifty leaders in rebellion charging that Moses and Aaron “take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy … [why] lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?” (Num. 16:3.) To Korah and the Levites among the group, Moses said: “Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them. … and seek ye the priesthood also?” (Num. 16:9–10.)

The Levites already held the Levitical Priesthood. Therefore, some scholars have felt that the group was seeking the same authority held by the sons of Aaron or by Aaron himself.8 But the JST suggests otherwise. The Melchizedek Priesthood and its ordinances were removed from the general population of Israel at the time of the second set of tablets (JST, Ex. 34:1; JST, Deut. 10:2). Therefore, in JST Numbers 16:10, we find an insight into what Korah and his followers sought: “And [the Lord] hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee; and seek ye the high priesthood also?”

Since there was to be only one high priest, and since many of the group already held the Levitical Priesthood,9 this reference must be to the Melchizedek Priesthood—which Korah and his followers evidently wanted to hold.

Another textual change concerning the priesthood is found in Exodus 18:1 [Ex. 18:1], which refers to “Jethro, the priest of Midian.” The JST says that Jethro was “the high priest.” Since the office could be held only by Aaron, his sons, or a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, Jethro (who was not a descendant of Jacob), must have held the Melchizedek Priesthood. This passage provides clear evidence that there were men living during this period who held the Melchizedek Priesthood—and that both the higher and lower priesthoods were on the earth during Moses’ time.

What Related Extra-Textual Sources Can Help Our Old Testament Study?

As the Prophet Joseph Smith worked on his inspired revision of the Bible, he often inquired of the Lord about matters in the scriptures and received revelations integrally related to the Bible10—what could be looked upon as extensions of the biblical text. He worked on Exodus through Deuteronomy from July 20 to September 22, 1832. Is it then any surprise that he received a revelation of priesthood lineage and matters pertaining to Moses on September 22 and 23, 1832? In this revelation, the Lord speaks of the last days and gathering, adding, “For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord,” and then he gives Moses’ priesthood line—from his father-in-law, Jethro, back to Adam. (See D&C 84:5–16.) Continuing, the Lord says,

“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

“Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

“And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

“For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

“Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;

“But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.

“Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also.” (D&C 84:19–25.)

Other insights on priesthood duties are also mentioned: “And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;

“Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John.” (D&C 84:26–27.)

Seeking for insights about the scriptures is much like searching for precious pearls. We must poke around, pry under, polish, ponder over, and pray about each discovery. If we also seek the Holy Spirit, each exciting scriptural discovery will become a precious pearl of great price.

George A. Horton, Jr., chairman of the Ancient Scripture Department at Brigham Young University, serves as a branch president at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.


  1. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1855–86, 16:152.
  2. Journal of Discourses, 15:69.
  3. H & E Phinney’s Stereotype Edition, The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Together with the Apocrypha. Cooperstown, N.Y.: H & E Phinney, 1840.
  4. New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, 1953, 1:21.
  5. The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols. Nashville: Abingdon Press, n.d., 1:324.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Josephus: Complete Works, trans. William Whiston, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1960, “Antiquities of the Jews,” 4:8:48.
  8. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, 25 vols., Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, n.d., 3:99.
  9. The Interpreter’s Bible, 12 vols., New York: Abingdon Press, 1953, 2:221.
  10. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, A History and Commentary, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young Univ. Press, 1975, p. 257.