Isaiah in the Book of Mormon...and Joseph Smith in Isaiah
David P. Wright

Part 1: King James Version Language
Part 2: KJV Italics and the BM Isaiah
Part 3: KJV Translation Errors in the BM Isaiah
Part 4: Disparities with Hebrew Language, Text, and Style
Part 5: The Secondary Nature of Variants in the BM Isaiah
Part 6: Supposed Proofs for the Antiquity of the BM Isaiah

Part 3: KJV Translation Errors in the BM Isaiah

Another manifestation of the BM Isaiah's roots in the KJV is its preservation of numerous errors and defects of that translation. The following is a list of readings, found in the BM, where the KJV is clearly or very likely wrong. It is based on a survey of the Isaiah chapters featured in the statistical table, above (though one example is added from Isaiah 29). The list is by no means exhaustive; a student will find other cases of clear or suspected error in the chapters. It selects cases that lend themselves to relatively brief description, those involving for the most part single words or short phrases. It does not inventory, for example, cases where larger passages in the KJV are obscure and in need of overall clearer translation (e.g., Isa 10:16-34; cf. 2 Ne 20:16-34). The description of the following cases is abbreviated, with just enough information to point out the difficulties in the KJV. Readers may refer to the modern versions, commentaries, and dictionaries for sample translations, discussion, and documentation.40

Isaiah 2:6//2 Nephi 12:6: "And they please themselves in the children of strangers." Modern renditions: "they strike hands with foreigners," "make bargain/covenant with foreigners," or "are crowded with foreigners."

Isaiah 2:16//2 Nephi 12:16: "Upon all pleasant pictures."41 Modern renditions: "upon all grand boats/precious things."

Isaiah 3:2//2 Nephi 13:2: "Prudent." Modern renditions: "diviner."

Isaiah 3:3//2 Nephi 13:3: "Eloquent orator." Modern renditions: "expert enchanter."

Isaiah 3:8//2 Nephi 13:8: "To provoke the eyes of his glory." Modern renditions: "rebel against/defy/insult his glorious presence/glance/gaze."

Isaiah 3:18-23//2 Nephi 13:18-22: The meaning of several of the terms in this passage is unclear and the KJV cannot be considered accurate. Compare the NJPS: "(18) In that day, my Lord will strip off the finery of the anklets, the fillets, and the crescents; (19) of the eardrops, the bracelets, and the veils; (20) the turbans, the armlets, and the sashes; of the talismans and the amulets; (21) the signet rings and the nose rings; (22) of the festive robes, the mantles, and the shawls; the purses, (23) the lace gowns, and the linen vests; and the kerchiefs and the capes."

Isaiah 5:2//2 Nephi 15:2: "He fenced it." Modern renditions: "he dug it," "made a trench," "broke the ground."

Isaiah 5:17//2 Nephi 15:17: "Then shall the lambs feed after their manner." Modern renditions: "then lambs shall feed as at their pasture/meadow" or "in their old pastures."

Isaiah 5:25//2 Nephi 15:25: "Their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets." Modern renditions: "their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets."

Isaiah 5:30//2 Nephi 15:30: "And the light is darkened in the heavens thereof." Modern renditions: "the light is darkened by/in its clouds."

Isaiah 6:2//2 Nephi 16:2: "Above it." Most likely to be rendered "above him."

Isaiah 6:13//2 Nephi 16:13: "Whose substance is in them, when they cast _their _leaves, _so the holy seed _shall _be the substance thereof." Modern renditions: "whose stock/stump remains when they are felled (or: their leaves fall): its stock/stump is the holy seed."

Isaiah 7:15//2 Nephi 17:15: "Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good."42 The logical relation of the second clause to the first is not clear. It is as if eating butter and honey leads to moral knowledge. Clarification is needed. Compare the NJB: "On curds and honey will he feed until he knows how to refuse the bad and choose the good."

Isaiah 8:1//2 Nephi 18:1: "A man's pen." Modern renditions: "common/ ordinary letters" or "common/ordinary stylus."

Isaiah 8:6//2 Nephi 18:6: "The waters of Shiloah that go softly43 and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son." The KJV translation of meçôç (root çwç) which KJV translates "rejoice" may be wrong since it does not fit the context. Several read the term as a biform of the root mss and translate "but melt (with fear) before Rezin and Remaliah's son."

Isaiah 8:12//2 Nephi 18:12: "Say ye not, A confederacy, to all _them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy."44 Modern renditions: " all that this people calls a confederacy/conspiracy."

Isaiah 8:19-20//2 Nephi 18:19-20: "And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, _it _is because _there is no light in them." This is obscure in the Hebrew. The KJV is likewise obscure and the BM version essentially retains that obscurity.45 Compare the following modern translations: "Now should people say to you, 'Inquire of the ghosts and familiar spirits that chirp and moan; for a people may inquire of its divine beings--of the dead on behalf of the living--for instruction and message,' surely, for one who speaks thus there shall be no dawn" (NJPS); "And should people say to you, 'Go and consult ghosts and wizards that whisper and mutter'--a people should certainly consult its gods and the dead on behalf of the living! As regards instruction and testimony, without doubt this is how they will talk, and hence there will be no dawn for them" (NJB).

Isaiah 8:22//2 Nephi 18:22: "And they shall look unto the earth, and, behold, trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish, and _they _shall _be driven to darkness."46 The Hebrew here is likewise obscure and the KJV offers an unlikely translation, especially of the last phrase. Compare: "or he may look below, but behold, distress and darkness, with no daybreak, straitness and gloom, with no dawn" (NJPS) and "then (he will look) down to the earth, there will be only anguish, gloom, the confusion of night, swirling darkness" (NJB).

Isaiah 9:1 (=Hebrew 8:23)//2 Nephi 19:1: "Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation." This contextually follows the previous example. It is also obscure; the KJV translation is fallible. Compare: "For if there were to be any break of day for that [land] which is in straits" (NJPS); "But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish" (RSV);  and "For is not everything dark as night for a country in distress" (NJB).

Isaiah 9:2 (=Hebrew 9:1)//2 Nephi 19:2: "Shadow of death." The Hebrew term &almäwet which this translates should be simply "darkness." It is not connected with the term mäwet "death."47

Isaiah 9:5 (=Hebrew 9:4)//2 Nephi 19:5: "For every battle of the warrior _is with confused noise."48 Modern renditions: "For every boot that tramps with noise/in battle."

Isaiah 10:4//2 Nephi 20:4: "Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners." The KJV takes biltî as if it had a suffix pronoun, meaning "without me." This is doubtful. Modern editions take is simply as a negative particle: e.g., "so that they do not cower among the prisoners" (REB); "Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners" (RSV).

Isaiah 10:15//2 Nephi 20:15: "As if the rod should shake _itself against them that lift it up, _or as if the staff should lift up _itself, _as _if _it _were no wood." The KJV is in error. The Hebrew should be translated "as if a rod raised the one49 who lifted it, as if a staff lifted the one who is not wood."

Isaiah 10:18//2 Nephi 20:18: "And they shall be as when a standardbearer fainteth." Modern renditions: "and it will be as when a sick man wastes away," "and it will be as when a weak person despairs," or "and it will be as when someone falls in a fit."

Isaiah 10:27//2 Nephi 20:27: "And the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing." The KJV is clearly wrong. It should be translated something like "the yoke shall be destroyed because of fatness." Some emend the text because the MT does not make clear sense.

Isaiah 11:3//2 Nephi 21:3: "And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord." The verb wa-harîxô is unclear, but probably does not mean "make him of quick understanding." Compare: "He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the Lord" (NJPS); "And his delight shall be the fear of the Lord" (NAB ).

Isaiah 13:15//2 Nephi 23:15: "That is joined." Modern renditions: "who are caught/captured."

Isaiah 13:22//2 Nephi 23:22: "Wild beasts of the islands." The Hebrew word is not connected with '" "coast, region"; it should be rendered simply "wild/desert beasts" or specifically "jackals" or "hyenas."

Isaiah 14:4//2 Nephi 24:4: "The golden city." The word mdhbh is problematic since the root dhb is not attested in Hebrew. The KJV is apparently connecting it to Aramaic dhb "gold." This translation is therefore doubtful (it also does not fit the context). The text is probably defective, and mrhbh "boisterous behavior, frenzy, arrogance" is to be read.

Isaiah 29:16//2 Nephi 27:27: "Surely, your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay."  This cannot be correct.  A better translation (with the rest of the saying included to show the context) would be: "How perverse of you (or: You turn things upside down)! Can the potter be considered as the clay? Can a work say of its maker, 'He did not make me,' and can what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'He has no (creative) intelligence?'"

Isaiah 49:4//1 Nephi 21:4: KJV "my work (is) with my God." Modern renditions: "my recompense/reward is with God."

Isaiah 49:5//1 Nephi 21:5: "Though Israel be not gathered." The negative particle ' is no doubt to be read as a preposition plus pronoun "to him." This forms a nice parallel with the preceding line: "to restore Jacob to him, and that Israel be gathered to him." Modern translations generally follow this (or a similar) reading.

Isaiah 49:8//1 Nephi 21:8: "I have heard thee." The Hebrew is literally "I answer/have answered you."

Isaiah 49:24//1 Nephi 21:24//2 Nephi 6:16: "Or the lawful captive delivered." This translation is highly unlikely. The MT may be corrupt, but if it is kept it may be best rendered "Can...captives (be) retrieved from a victor?" (so NJPS).

Isaiah 50:4//2 Nephi 7:4: "Know how to speak a word in season."50 The underlying Hebrew is unintelligible; the KJV is likely wrong. It is apparently taking the word cût to mean "to speak/do in season." How it is to be understood is not clear. Some modern scholars, with hesitation, take the verb to mean "to aid/help/succor."

Isaiah 51:4//2 Nephi 8:4: "And I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people."51 The metaphor "make my judgment to rest/repose for a light" is odd.52 Many modern versions take the verb (which the KJV translates "make rest") with the beginning of the next verse (sometimes with emendation).

Isaiah 53:8//Mosiah 14:8: "He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation?" The first phrase might be rendered as the KJV has it though many moderns translate it as "by oppression and judgment he was taken away" (so NIV). The second phrase is obscure in the Hebrew. It has been rendered variously: "who could consider his stock/descendants," "who could consider his fate," "who could describe his abode," or "who could plead his cause."

Isaiah 54:11-12//3 Nephi 22:11-12: Some of the stones and architectural details in this verse have been rendered differently by modern scholarly translations. Compare the REB: "Storm-battered city, distressed and desolate, now I shall set your stones in the finest mortar and lay your foundations with sapphires; I shall make your battlements of red jasper and your gates of garnet; all your boundary stones will be precious jewels."

The foregoing list makes clear that the KJV has grave deficiencies. Biblical scholarship has grown and advanced greatly since the early seventeenth century through the benefit of new archaeological, textual, and linguistic evidence and through improved methods of study and analysis. The developments are in their own way as revolutionary as those in the sciences (astronomy, physics, chemistry, medicine, etc.) since that time. The KJV, while having elegant language and conveying the meaning of the original texts adequately in many places, has been superseded like many of the scientific theories of its age. The BM conserves many of the unacceptable translations of the KJV now clearly recognizable from the stance of modern research. If the former were a translation from an ancient text one would expect it to transcend the limitations of the KJV, and even the limitations of modern scholars who still find a number of the passages noted insoluble.

Notes to Part 3

40. The versions include the NJPS, JB, NJB; RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, NAB, NIV.

For the main critical commentaries, see: Bernhard Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, 5th ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1968); Karl Elliger, Deuterojesaja (1. Teilband, Jesaja 40,1-45,7), Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament 11/1, fascicles 1-6 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1978); George B. Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Isaiah I-XXVII, International Critical Commentary Series (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912); Hans-Jürgen Hermisson, Deuterojesaja (Jesaja 45,8-48,11 [to date]), Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament 11, fascicles 7-9 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1987-1992); Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, Old Testament Library Series (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972); idem., Isaiah 13-39, Old Testament Library Series (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974); Edward J. Kissane, The Book of Isaiah, 2 vols. (first vol. revised edition; Dublin: Browne and Nolan, Richview Press, 1960, 1943); John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah, Anchor Bible vol. 20 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968); Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, Old Testament Library Series (Philadephia: Westminster Press, 1969); Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1-12, Continental Commentaries Series (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991); idem., Jesaja (2. Teilband, Jesaja 13-27), Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament 10/2 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1978); idem., Jesaja (3. Teilband, Jesaja 28-39), Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament 10/3 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1982).

The dictionaries include L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, Hebräisches und aramäisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament, 3rd ed., 4 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1983-1990); F. Brown, S. R. Driver, C. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, corrected ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953); David J. A. Clines, ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, 2 vols. to date (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993-1995); Udo Rüterswörden, D. Rudolf Meyer, Herbert Donner, Wilhelm Gesenius Hebräisches und Aramäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament, 18th ed., 2 vols to date (Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1987-1995).

41. The BM has "the" before "pleasant pictures"; this is insignificant.

42. The BM has "to" before "choose" which does not affect the meaning.

43. BM has here "along" which does not affect the meaning significantly.

44. BM lacks "_them" but means the same thing as the KJV.

45. The BM lacks "that" before "mutter" and has "hear from" before "the dead" and "and" before "if they speak," but it essentially follows the meaning and structure of the KJV.

46. The BM lacks the second pronoun "_they" (a case of deletion of an italicized word). The meaning of the BM is nonetheless the same as the KJV.

47. Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexikon, 964; Wildberger, Isaiah, 386. See in particular C. Cohen, "The Meaning of &lmwt 'Darkness': A Study in Philological Method," in Texts, Temples, and Traditions (ed. M. V. Fox, et al; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1996) 287-309.

48. BM lacks the italicized "_is."

49. Delete the w- on w't (cf. Wildberger, Isaiah, 413). Note that the KJV does not translate this conjunction.

50. The BM has this phrase, though it has a variant for the following phrase.

51. P and 1830 read: "and I will make my judgment to rest for a light thing of the people" (BMCT 1:153 n. 231). Aside for its reading "light thing" (which is clearly a modification of the English text; see section 4, below), the BM follows the KJV reading.

52. So Brown, Driver, Briggs, Lexicon, 921a.

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