You are here

A Prophet Looks at Genesis: Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

TitleA Prophet Looks at Genesis: Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1986
AuthorsHorton, Jr., George A.
Issue Number1
Date PublishedJanuary 1986
KeywordsBook of Moses; Covenant; Fall of Adam; Jesus Christ; Joseph Smith Translation; Melchizedek Priesthood; Original Sin; Satan

Show Full Text

A Prophet Looks at Genesis: Insights from the Joseph Smith Translation

By George A. Horton, Jr.

Shortly after the LDS edition of the King James Bible was published, I boarded a city bus in Salt Lake City. After riding a few blocks, I noticed that the person next to me was reading a well-worn Bible, apparently one of the old “missionary” editions we once used in the Church. He was reading Genesis 14. [Gen. 14] When he finished the chapter, he slowly closed the book and began to gaze out the window.

“Pardon me,” I said. “Do you mind telling me why you’re reading the old edition of the Bible when the new one is available?”

He looked a little surprised. “I just like my old Bible, that’s all,” he said. “And besides, I guess it’s the money.”

“You can buy a new edition for about $7.00,” I suggested.

After a pause, he said, “What’s so good about the new one?”

“Well, I happened to notice that you just read Genesis 14. Did you know that you didn’t even read sixteen verses of scripture that belong in that chapter?” “What do you mean?” he asked.

Reaching into my briefcase, I pulled out my new edition. Opening to Genesis 14, I pointed to the little superscript “a” at the end of verse 24. “See that little ‘a’? Now look down to the cross-reference. It refers to JST Genesis 14:25–40. If you go back to the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) in the appendix, you will find sixteen more verses of scripture that you didn’t read.”

Before he could ask what it says, I had already closed my book and was putting it back into my briefcase. Just then the buzzer rang for his stop.

Although all of the JST is not reproduced in the LDS edition of the Bible, much of it is. It makes this edition of the King James Version unique—and highly valuable.

How Is the Book of Moses Related to JST Genesis?

Our current book of Moses is an almost verbatim copy of JST Genesis 1:1 to 8:18 (covering KJV Gen. 1:1–6:13), with the JST’s introductory revelation included as Moses 1. Therefore, when we read the book of Moses, we are in reality reading the first chapters of JST Genesis. Its title is appropriate since the first book of the Bible in some editions is known as “The First Book of Moses Called Genesis.”

Genesis does not give a detailed history of the Creation. Instead, it teaches basic principles: Jehovah is the Creator; creation was planned and orderly; every person was created in the image of God the Eternal Father and his Only Begotten Son; and the gospel of redemption was taught from the beginning of this world.

As I suggested to the man on the bus, there are many verses of scripture in JST Genesis not found in the King James Version. For example, if we put together all the scriptures in parallel columns chronologically so the story could be read as completely as possible, we might be mildly shocked when we get to Genesis 5:21 where, instead of five or ten or even twenty-five additional verses in the JST, there are over one hundred and ten consecutive verses with no counterpart in the common edition of Genesis. [Gen. 5:21]

What Is the Fundamental Message of Genesis?

When discussing the Genesis creation story, what teacher has not been pressed with these questions: How was the earth created? How long did it take? Were there dinosaurs before Adam? How was Adam created? And numerous others.

Is it possible that most of these questions completely miss the mark? As Elder James E. Talmage said, “The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a textbook of geology, archaeology, earth-science, or man-science.” (“The Earth and Man,” p. 3, address delivered 9 Aug. 1931 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Copy in the Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

Instead of trying to squeeze out information that doesn’t seem to have been in the Genesis account in the first place and may not have been revealed yet (see D&C 101:32–34), let’s look at a few of the most important things that we can learn from Genesis:

The Lord God (Jehovah) is the Creator; creation was planned and orderly, and all of creation was very good; every person was created in the image of the Eternal Father and his Only Begotten Son; the gospel of redemption was taught from the beginning; through personal righteousness man can gain eternal life.

In addition, the children of Israel are to learn that they have a great patriarchal lineage going back to Adam; that they are a covenant people with a divine destiny; that the promises made to their fathers will all be fulfilled; and that as custodians of the covenant, they have the responsibility to share it with all of Adam’s other children.

Because Genesis covers a period of history over twice as long as the other thirty-eight books of the Old Testament combined, it is obviously not intended as a detailed history. But it does contain things that are vital for us to know.

What Great Gospel Themes Are Clarified in JST Genesis?

Let’s consider just eight of many gospel themes that are either obscure or completely missing in the King James Version which come into focus in the Joseph Smith Translation.

1. The role and mission of Jesus Christ. 

The single most important concept to grasp in a study of Genesis is the role and mission of Jesus Christ (known in his premortal state as Jehovah).

Unfortunately, the King James Version leaves this very obscure because the translators rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton (Jod He Vav He) representing Jehovah (Yahweh) to read LORD. Consequently, one can read Genesis without recognizing that references to Jehovah (Jesus Christ) are on almost every page.

Let’s summarize some of the major facts that the JST makes clear:

Jesus Christ—Jehovah—is the Only Begotten Son, the Creator of heaven and earth. (JST, Gen. 1:2.)

He was prepared before the foundation of the world, chosen to suffer for men if they would repent. (JST, Gen. 3:1–3; JST, Gen. 5:1–2, 43–45.)

Men are created in his image. (JST, Gen. 1:27.)

Men were to offer sacrifice in similitude of his atoning sacrifice. (JST, Gen. 4:5–7.)

Men are to believe in him, hearken to his word, be baptized in his name, and pray to the Father in his name. (JST, Gen. 6:53–65; JST, Gen. 7:57.)

With his Father, it is his work and glory to bring to pass the redemption of man. (JST, Gen. 4:9.)

In short, Adam knew of the mission of Jesus Christ, received instruction from him and understood the necessity of exercising faith in him. And Adam taught these things to his posterity.

2. The role of Satan. 

To appreciate the contribution of the JST on the adversary’s role, we need only be aware that the word Satan occurs only nineteen times in the KJV Old Testament, and its first occurrence doesn’t appear until 1 Chronicles 21:1. The word Lucifer occurs only once, at Isaiah 14:12. The word devil doesn’t occur at all. Thus, none of these words occur in KJV Genesis.

The work of Satan is represented by the serpent in the story of the Fall, but his presence or influence seems to be practically nonexistent in the rest of the Genesis account. Consider, then, the JST Genesis contribution:

Satan wanted to save all mankind and receive God’s honor. (JST, Gen. 3:1–2.)

He rebelled and sought to destroy man’s agency. (JST, Gen. 3:4.)

He was cast down and became the devil, the father of lies, to lead men captive. (JST, Gen. 3:4–5.)

He spoke by the mouth of the serpent. (JST, Gen. 3:6–8.)

He knew not the mind of God. (JST, Gen. 3:7.)

Because of his sophistries, many loved him more than God. (JST, Gen. 4:13; JST, Gen. 6:13, 50.)

Cain’s unacceptable offering came only after Satan commanded it. (JST, Gen. 5:6–8.)

Satan agreed to submit to Cain’s commands in return for Cain’s promise to enter into secret oaths to commit murder. (JST, Gen. 5:9–10, 14–16.)

Thus, Satan became the author of secret combinations of darkness.

3. The Fall of Adam. 

In Genesis, the Fall is mentioned primarily as an event. Most of the Christian world, with the help of a few assumptions, reaches the conclusion that Adam and Eve openly rebelled against God, committing a wicked, evil sin—undoubtedly breaking a law of chastity—and by this sin doomed all mankind to be born with original sin already staining their souls.

By way of contrast, the JST teaches that Adam and Eve were taught the consequences of partaking of the fruit and then were given the freedom to choose: “Nevertheless,” the Lord told them, “thou mayest choose for thyself.” (Moses 3:17.)

After the Fall, Adam and Eve were taught “the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten.” (Moses 6:62.)

Contrary to the traditional Christian view of being dejected and conscience-smitten, Adam and Eve rejoiced when they comprehended the implications of the Fall: “Because of my transgression,” said Adam, “my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.” Eve “heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:10–11.)

4. The nature of man. 

According to generally accepted Christian doctrine, man is born with the taint of original sin upon his soul; therefore, his nature is automatically evil. But the JST clarifies this point: “The Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.” (Moses 6:54; italics added.)

If children are born whole, how does one account for the wickedness in our society? The JST explains:

“When they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts.” (Moses 6:55.)

“Adam and Eve … made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.

“And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.” (Moses 5:12–13.)

Enoch reaffirms this teaching: “Behold Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God.” (Moses 6:49.)

5. The gospel of Jesus Christ was taught from the beginning. 

“The Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Moses 5:58.) Thus, we see the perfect justice of God: the principles that will sanctify, save, and exalt men today are the same in every age or dispensation.

In the King James Version of Genesis, there is no direct call to repentance, but in JST Genesis the most persistent single injunction is for men to repent. No place in all the scriptures is the need to repent more consistently emphasized. We learn that Adam was told to repent, and he in turn called upon his sons to repent; that the Lord called on his children everywhere by the Holy Ghost to repent; that we must repent to inherit the kingdom; and that Christ suffered for our sins so we could repent and return to him.

6. God’s way versus man’s way. 

The choice placed before Adam and Eve is identical to ours. Will we choose to serve the Lord, or, either by deliberate choice or default, serve Satan? The early record provides ample examples of the consequences of such a decision. Those who learned to “walk” with the Lord and “abide” in him (Moses 6:34) became the sons and daughters of God; those who would not hearken became known as the sons and daughters of men. (See Moses 8:13–15.)

In contrast to this truth revealed through the JST, consider an interpretation given in a popular Bible dictionary about the nature of the sons of God and daughters of men referred to in Genesis 6:2: [Gen. 6:2] “The text … seems to imply that the gods married existing gigantic earthly women and that these marriages produced the mighty men … [or] Nephilim (i.e. giants).” (Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, ed. Charles M. Laymort, New York: Abingdon Press, 1971, p. 7.) Thus, the story is dismissed by some scholars as simply “saga and legend.” (Ibid.)

7. The priesthood. 

The only direct reference to priesthood in Genesis is when Abram pays tithes to Melchizedek. (See Gen. 14:18–20.) From this abbreviated account, one could hardly reconstruct the history or operation of the priesthood for the approximately 2500 years from Adam to Moses.

However, we have much more information because of the JST. To Enoch it was revealed that after Adam was baptized and had received the Holy Ghost, the Lord said, “And thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days and end of years, from all eternity to all eternity” (Moses 6:67), referring to the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God—the Melchizedek Priesthood. (See JST, Heb. 7:3.) The ancient record states that “this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also.” (Moses 6:7.)

8. Covenants. 

When priesthood is mentioned, covenants must be near at hand. References to covenants do appear in Genesis, particularly in chapter 17, but details are left rather vague.

However, the JST mentions that the gospel was preached to Adam, and that “all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance.” (Moses 5:59.) Other covenants mentioned directly or indirectly include tithing (Gen. 14:20), priesthood (Moses 6:7), and baptism (Moses 6:52). The Lord also covenanted to preserve the patriarchal lineage of Enoch, Methuselah, and Noah. (See JST, Gen. 7:58; Moses 8:2–3; JST, Gen. 8:23; JST, Gen. 9:14, 17, 21–25.) The theme of covenant is best elaborated in connection with Abraham, wherein he enters into an “everlasting covenant.” (JST, Gen. 13:13.) We are told he was not the first to receive it, for he was counseled to “observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with the fathers.” (JST, Gen. 17:12.) The Lord also promises that one would be raised up in the latter days to once again bring Israel to a knowledge of the covenants. (JST, Gen. 50:31.)

What Other Kinds of Textual Contributions Does the JST Make?

We have looked at some of the major themes clarified in JST Genesis. In addition, other important information in JST Genesis enhances the beauty and meaning of the scriptural record, and many of these are noted in the footnotes and appendix of the new LDS edition of the Bible. Here is just a sample:

  1. Genesis 1:26–27 (Moses 2:26–27): The antecedent to “Let us” in these verses about the creation is the Father and the Only Begotten Son, in whose image man is made.
  2. Genesis 5:1 (Moses 6:5–6): A book of remembrance was kept with which Adam’s children were taught a language that was pure and undefiled.
  3. Genesis 6:6 (Moses 8:25): It was Noah, not the Lord, who was sorry (“repented”) that the Lord had made man.
  4. Genesis 17:17 (JST, Gen. 17:23): Abraham “rejoiced” rather than “laughed” when he was told that Sarai would have a child.
  5. Genesis 19:8 (JST, Gen. 19:11): The order of events in Lot’s interaction with the wicked men of Sodom is changed. “We will have the men, and thy daughters also.” The latter was their idea, not his—contrary to the Genesis account.
  6. Genesis 19:31–33 (JST, Gen. 19:37–39): Lot’s incestuous daughters “did wickedly.”
  7. Genesis 21:33 (JST, Gen. 21:31): It was Abimelech and his captain, not Abraham, that planted a grove in Beersheba.

And the list of helpful insights from the JST continues. (Consider JST, Gen. 24:2, 8; JST, Gen. 28:22; JST, Gen. 45:5–11; and JST, Gen. 50:24–36.) In this respect, the Prophet Joseph Smith was an instrument through which the Lord clarified material in the record of Genesis. But the Prophet went beyond what is found even in JST Genesis. Robert J. Matthews has pointed out that “most of the revelations dealing with doctrinal subjects [found in the Doctrine and Covenants] were revealed to Joseph Smith … from June 1830 to July 1833, which was exactly the time he was working on the Bible translation. While the Prophet was engaged in such a concentrated study of the scriptures, it was natural for him to ask questions and ponder on various subjects, inquire of the Lord, and receive divine revelation in answer to his inquiry.” (“A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 257.)

One of the more prominent examples is the additional information about the Old Testament patriarchs found in D&C 107:40–57, none of which is found in either Genesis or JST Genesis directly. Another example is found in D&C 132:1–2, 29–39, which puts the law of the new and everlasting covenants of marriage into historical context.

We now recognize that reading Genesis without the benefit of the JST (or the other standard works) would be something like chewing on a T-bone with much of the steak already cut off. Or it would be like reading the New Testament parables, never realizing that they had a dual meaning and that the one we did not comprehend was the most valuable.

George A. Horton, Jr., an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, serves as a branch president at the MTC.