10 Questions with Thomas Wayment

We’re happy to share Kurt Manwaring’s interview with Thomas Wayment. He’s the author of the just released The New Testament: A New Translation for Latter-day Saints. Kevin Barney recently reviewed that work. He’s also responsible for quite a few interesting papers, particularly on the New Testament from a Mormon perspective. Last year he shook things up by noting the large influence, particularly in the New Testament, of Clarke’s Bible Commentary on Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible. (JST) LDS Perspectives did a great interview with him on that topic. We quite excited to be able to share part of this interview with 10 Questions.

Regarding his New Testament translation and work on the JST:

When I came to BYU nearly 20 years ago I had this fascination with Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible because it appeared to me that the study of the text was only in its infancy.

There had been some excellent work done on the subject, but there was still a great deal of obscurity regarding what it was exactly. Many people I knew thought that it was a restoration of the original text of the Bible, while others dismissed it entirely as a modern commentary.

That disparity in opinion led me to believe that more work needed to be done, and so after nearly 20 years of studying that text, I think I’m ready to place the Joseph Smith Translation in a more prominent position in the story of the growth of the early church.

Joseph Smith spent three years on his retranslation of the Bible while he spent only a fraction of that time on the Book of Mormon, and yet the Book of Mormon figures more prominently in the development of the early church in every study that I’ve read.

I’m confident that the Joseph Smith Translation was far more influential on the development of the church than has been previously noted, but it has taken me a significant amount of time to fully come to terms with its production, dissemination, and role in the early church.

I tend to agree that the command to “translate” the Bible was hugely significant. It not only got Joseph more familiar with the Bible but led to many direct and indirect revelations. Arguably it shaped the development of the Church in the 1830’s more than anything else including the Book of Mormon. (I’d argue the Book of Abraham functioned in a similar way in the 1840’s even though work started in the 1830’s)

Wayment made some interesting points both about the cultural relevance of classic translations as well as the original language of the New Testament.

Some older translations have remained part of our cultural fabric because of their claim to literary elegance, and while there will always be some truth to that statement, the Greek texts written by the New Testament authors themselves are not particularly elegant. They’re much more functional and ordinary, and by transforming them into high literature we have placed them in a part of our collective identity that they did not occupy at the time of their composition.

According to the gospel authors, Jesus spoke in very ordinary language, the common language of his day, and while he said and did profound and wonderful things, he spoke like other people of his day.

We’re quickly losing that part of him, namely that he spoke like other people of his day and not in elegant speech of a bygone era.

I really wish we would as a Church engage with this better. I think that given most people now read their scriptures on phones and tablets that there’s a lot the Church could do. I’d love to see at a minimum a way to flip between the KJV and NKJV translations. That’s a translation that updates all the archaic words but stays reasonably close to the KJV text. Most versions also break out poetry and don’t use a verse structure making it much more readable. We could then follow some of the word changes, where appropriate to “modernize” the language of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. It’s a way to make it more approachable without breaking too far from the textual history.

Regarding using alternative translations:

There used to be a strong sense that other translations of the Bible were corrupt, not as good as the King James Version, or even misleading. But the truth of the matter is that a worldwide believing community of Christians has put forward an exerted effort to achieve the best translations of the Bible and to provide resources for those who wish to use them.

On the JST:

This Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is not simply one thing but several.

It is a revelation, it is commentary and correction, it is exploration, and it is preliminary.

I want to save the big surprises for the book I’m working on, but at this point I’m comfortable saying that Joseph Smith invested more energy and time to his translation of the Bible than he did for any of his other translation projects.


When news inadvertently broke that a source had been uncovered that was used in the process of creating the JST, some were quick to use that information as a point of criticism against Joseph or against the JST. Words like “plagiarism” were quickly brought forward as a reasonable explanation of what was going on. To be clear, plagiarism is a word that to me implies an overt attempt to copy the work of another person directly and intentionally without attributing any recognition to the source from which the information was taken.

To the best of my understanding, Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke as a Bible commentary to guide his mind and thought process to consider the Bible in ways that he wouldn’t have been able to do so otherwise. It may be strong to say, but Joseph didn’t have training in ancient languages or the history of the Bible, but Adam Clarke did. And Joseph appears to have appreciated Clarke’s expertise and in using Clarke as a source, Joseph at times adopted the language of that source as he revised the Bible.

I think that those who are troubled by this process are largely troubled because it contradicts a certain constructed narrative about the history of the JST and about how revelation works.

The reality of what happened is inspiring.

Joseph, who applied his own prophetic authority to the Bible in the revision process, drew upon the best available scholarship to guide his prophetic instincts. Inspiration following careful study and consideration is a prophetic model that can include many members of the church.

I’m definitely looking forward to his book. His chapter in Foundational Texts of Mormonism on the JST was fantastic but didn’t include his work on Clarke’s Bible Commentary. (See our review here) I suspect his book will fast become a must read.

Read the full interview over at 10 Questions.

16 comments for “10 Questions with Thomas Wayment

  1. Autocorrect is the bane of my existence since there’s not an easy way to block it on the Mac when you’re typing fast. Thanks for catching that. I’d checked through the body text but neglected the post title. Doh. My bad. Hopefully Dr. Wayment will forgive me.

  2. I will never forgive you. I got rid of the word in my new Translation of the NT.

  3. My payment is never to have payment.

    Thanks for chiming in. I really have to praise you as I think you’ve discovered something that’s become rare the past years: new information in Mormon history and theology. Your work and Don Bradley’s thesis were the most exciting things I’ve read in a long time. Lots of historians have been doing fantastic analysis but it’s rare there’s really new data.

    I’m really looking forward to both yours and Don’s books.

  4. This is a monumental advance for LDS Bible study — just in time for the New Testament sequence! My copy is waiting to be picked up at my local post office.

    While there are many explanations for the unwavering official LDS devotion to the KJV, copyright issues seem to be the real sticking point. How can LDS leaders be expected to recommend modern translations with favor when those holding the rights to those translations will not give the Church permission to use those translations in LDS curriculum materials?

    Hopefully the new translation, by an LDS scholar and sponsored by LDS organizations, will open up some new options for LDS authors and curriculum writers, which will in turn reach a broader audience of LDS readers.

  5. Dave, I think there’s something to that although again the shift to iPads for scriptures is resolving much of that. If you look at the Come Follow Me manuals there’s few quotations and primarily hyperlinks to the scriptures. That’s not to say royalties aren’t still an issue the Church would have to pay, but I suspect they could get a reasonable license for the NKJV to use in The Gospel Library and lds.org. I really don’t think licensing is the prime issue at this point. Rather the bigger issue is the relationship to the D&C and Book of Mormon. That’s why I think using the NKJV as an intermediate step alongside updating the LDS scriptures folloing the NKJV word changes would be a big win.

    There’s a few places where KJV phrases have an unique LDS connotation. But typically those could be handled by having permission to put variants in the text body. Also they’re often minor. So where the KJV has “calling and election” in 2 Pet 1:10 the NKJV has “call and election.” There’s really not a ton of examples of that though. And footnotes can take care of most things. Anglicans already have a customized version of the NKJV called the Authorized King James Version (AKJV). So Thomas Nelson is clearly open to the idea of such customizations.

    There are free NKJV sites online. So the licensing costs can’t be too high.

    Of course I’m assuming Thomas Nelson and his company would be willing to do that for Mormons. Obviously some have theological reservations about us.

  6. Copyright issues are not a sticking point. They were for non-English Bible translations, but we’re now producing LDS editions in other languages by just revising and updating public domain editions of preferred Bible translations. The 1769 KJV could very easily be revised and updated, but that’s not a consideration. The primary issue the intertextual integration with the rest of Restoration scripture, which would also have to be altered with an updated KJV, and that’s not on the table right now. There are discussions taking place about the complexities of relying so heavily on the KJV, though.

  7. That’s the main advantage of using the NKJV though Daniel. It really deals well with the intertextual issues since it’s primarily an updating and revision of the KJV. It would allow easy updating of the Book of Mormon and D&C in a fashion that would be difficult switching to the NIV.

  8. I don’t think the concern is the ease of updating the Restoration texts so much as the fact of doing it. The Church won’t align the Book of Mormon and the D&C with someone else’s licensed revision of the KJV. We don’t even closely align our translations of the Book of Mormon and D&C with the preferred Bibles. They don’t want to hitch Restoration scripture to someone else’s wagon. When the Book of Mormon and D&C are updated (which I don’t think will be in my lifetime or the lifetimes of my children), we’ll do the same for the KJV ourselves. In the meantime, I think our best bet is for supplementing the KJV.

  9. @Daniel,
    Do you think there may be some official guidance down the road in terms of how to supplement the KJV – or to attenuate some of the stigma surrounding supplementation? I’ve heard stories of nearly having to dodge stones in Sunday School this past week when talking about clarifying some of the difficult KJV with good and faithful scholarship via other translations.

  10. It would be nice to have some official guidance, and I think it’s a distinct possibility, but there are still a lot of people who will need convincing. We’ve got people already talking about it in the COB, so it’s just a matter of time. I’ve got a review article of Thom’s translation coming out soon in the Religious Educator where I raise a number of concerns with the institutional commitment to the KJV, including how it conflicts with the notion of a home-centered and church-supported learning environment. I am hoping it can contribute to getting these conversations going. (I take every opportunity to throw shade at the KJV in Sunday School.)

  11. I suspect that if Elder Oaks gets convinced the rest will follow even if there’s less enthusiasm elsewhere. He’s the ideal figure since he’s very cognizant of the problems of the KJV, very aware of the legal issues, and also practical enough to recognize it is something that could be done in a year or two.

  12. @Daniel –
    Is there anything akin to a White Paper somewhere that goes through all the strengths of the KJV and also addresses limitations with potential solutions? It sounds like your review may be something along those lines?

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