Word-for-word vs. functional translations


Good translations decode the function from the source language and then encode it into the target language. The language function should be the same, or as close to the same as possible, in each language. If the source language uses formal language, the target language ought to do the same, so: formal decoded and formal encoded, informal decoded and informal encoded, poetry decoded and poetry encoded, and so on, the function of the source encoded into the target language according as the source text changes.

There are five levels of translations with increasing accuracy:

 1) Sounds. What are the sounds of the original?
2) Words. What do the original words mean?
3) Phrases. What do the original phrases mean?
4) Concepts. What concepts are involved in the original?
5) Affect. What does the original do?

The King James Version translators decoded the original words of the Bible as best they could and then tried to make them into phrases that made some sense, keeping the syntax of the original source languages as intact as possible. Joseph Smith did the very same thing in all of his translations and revelations.  Unfortunately, what we ended up with is a text that gets only to the second or third level of translation, and which is constructed not like English, but like Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. English is such an amazing language that, even doing this you can still grasp a lot of the meaning of the original text. But on the other hand, doing this also masks a lot of the meaning, for the phrase, concept and affect levels are never fully revealed. Only by fully decoding the original language in all its levels, and then encoding those levels into English syntax, so that it sounds like seamlessly flowing English and not a choppy translation from another language into English, does the reader get to more fully grasp what the various functions of the original text were trying to convey.

I am going to show what I mean by doing some translation. I am going to translate the title page of Mormon’s Book and part of the first chapter of Nephi’s First Book of His Reign and Ministry (notice my change in titles) by decoding the function of the original translated text, as word-for-word translated by Joseph Smith, and then encode it back into flowing English syntax. We’ll see if I do a good job.

I suppose that I must give a disclaimer: my translations should not be taken in any way as correct. When translating from one language to another, only someone who fully understands both the source and target languages, and who has power to convey the various textual meanings between languages, is qualified to translate. I know neither Hebrew, nor Egyptian, nor Greek, nor Aramaic, and, according to my detractors, I’m also deficient in English. So, I am not qualified to make a proper translation. I’m doing this, then, merely as a demonstration of what a bona fide functional translation might look like.

Joseph Smith’s Translation My Translation
The Book of Mormon

An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi

Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.

An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ. (Title Page)

Mormon’s Book

This account is:—written on plates by Mormon’s own hand; taken from Nephi’s plates, being an abridgment of that record of Nephi’s people and the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel, and also to the Jews and the Gentiles; written by the spirit of prophecy and revelation to fulfill a commandment; written, sealed up, buried in the earth and entrusted into Jehovah’s care, so that it will not be destroyed; prophesied to be taken out of the earth and translated by God’s gift and power; sealed and buried in the earth and entrusted into Jehovah’s care by Moroni’s own hand, to be taken out of the earth in due time by a Gentile who will translate it by God’s gift.

There is also an abridgment taken from Ether’s Book included, which is a record of Jared’s people, who were scattered at the time Jehovah confounded the people’s language, when they were building a tower to get to heaven.

The purpose of this record is to show to the remnant of Israel’s house the great things that Jehovah did for their fathers, and so that they might know Jehovah’s covenants, so that they are not cast off forever. It is also to convince the Jews and the Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, and that he manifests himself to all nations.

Now, if there are faults in this record, they are the mistakes of men, so do not condemn God’s things, otherwise you will not be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ. (Title Page)

The First Book of Nephi

His Reign and Ministry

An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah, and his four sons, being called, (beginning at the eldest) Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. The Lord warns Lehi to depart out of the land of Jerusalem, because he prophesieth unto the people concerning their iniquity and they seek to destroy his life. He taketh three days’ journey into the wilderness with his family. Nephi taketh his brethren and returneth to the land of Jerusalem after the record of the Jews. The account of their sufferings. They take the daughters of Ishmael to wife. They take their families and depart into the wilderness. Their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness. The course of their travels. They come to the large waters. Nephi’s brethren rebel against him. He confoundeth them, and buildeth a ship. They call the name of the place Bountiful. They cross the large waters into the promised land, and so forth. This is according to the account of Nephi; or in other words, I, Nephi, wrote this record. (1st Nephi Title and Summary)

Nephi’s First Book of His Reign and Ministry

This account is of Lehi, of his wife Sariah, and of his four sons, who were named, (from oldest to youngest) Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi.

In this record:—Jehovah warns Lehi to leave the land of Jerusalem because the people seek to kill him after he prophesies of their iniquities; he travels three days into the wilderness with his family; his four sons, led by Nephi, return to the land of Jerusalem to get the record of the Jews; there is an account of their sufferings; they take Ishmael’s daughters to wife; they depart into the wilderness with their families, suffering afflictions during their journey; their travelling path is given; they come to a vast ocean; Nephi’s brothers rebel against him, he confounds them and builds a ship; they name the place Bountiful; they cross the ocean, arrive in the promised land, and so forth.

This record is taken from Nephi’s version and testimony of the facts, or in other words, I am Nephi and I wrote this record. (1st Nephi Title and Summary)

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. (1 Ne. 1:1) My name is Nephi and I am writing an account of the life experiences that I had with God, for I had good parents who taught me what my father knew about God, and although I had many afflictions from time to time, yet Jehovah highly favored me my entire life so that I ended up with a vast knowledge of God’s greatness and goodness. (1 Ne. 1:1)
Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. (1 Ne. 1:2) I am writing this book in my father’s language, which is Egyptian used by the Jews as if it were Hebrew. (1 Ne. 1:2)
And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge. (1 Ne. 1:3) I testify that the book that I am writing is true; and I alone am writing it, by my own hand; and I am writing it according to my firsthand knowledge. (1 Ne. 1:3)
For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people. (1 Ne. 1:4-5) For as my father, whose name was Lehi, lived in the land of Jerusalem his whole life, I have personal knowledge that in the commencement of the first year of Zedekiah’s reign, who was the king of Judah, and throughout that same year, many prophets came prophesying to the people, telling them that if they did not repent the great city Jerusalem would be destroyed, consequently, on one of my father’s trips away from the land of Jerusalem, he prayed with all his heart to Jehovah in behalf of his people. (1 Ne. 1:4-5)
And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly. (1 Ne. 1:6) While he was praying to Jehovah, a pillar of fire came down onto a rock before him and remained there, and he saw and heard many things which caused him to shake tremendously and to tremble uncontrollably. (1 Ne. 1:6)
And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen. (1 Ne. 1:7) Afterward he returned to his own house in the land of Jerusalem and he threw himself upon his bed, for he was overpowered by the Spirit and by the things that he had seen, so that he had no more strength. (1 Ne. 1:7)
And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (1 Ne. 1:8) Then the Spirit carried him away in a vision, so that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God himself sitting upon his throne, surrounded by innumerable groups of angels who were singing to and praising their God. (1 Ne. 1:8)
And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. (1 Ne. 1:9) Afterward he saw Someone descending to earth from the heavenly throne and he noticed that this Personage radiated light brighter then the noon-day Sun. (1 Ne. 1:9)
And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. (1 Ne. 1:10) He also saw twelve others following him, and the light they radiated was brighter than the stars in the sky. (1 Ne. 1:10)
And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. (1 Ne. 1:11) These came down to earth and went forth upon it, but the first Personage went to my father, stood in front of him, and gave him a book, telling him to read it. (1 Ne. 1:11)
And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord. (1 Ne. 1:12) As my father read, he was filled with Jehovah’s Spirit. (1 Ne. 1:12)

And he read, saying:

Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations!

Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon. (1 Ne. 1:13)

He read,

“Wo, wo to Jerusalem, for I have seen your abominations!”

In fact, my father read many things about Jerusalem, namely, that it and its inhabitants would be destroyed, and many would die by the sword and also would be carried away captive into Babylon. (1 Ne. 1:13)

And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as:

Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! (1 Ne. 1:14)

After my father had read and seen the many great and marvelous things of this vision, he voiced many praises to Jehovah, such as:

“O Jehovah God Almighty, your works are great and marvelous! Your throne is high in the heavens and your power, goodness and mercy are over all the earth’s inhabitants; and you will not allow anyone to die who comes to you, because you are so merciful!” (1 Ne. 1:14)

And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him. (1 Ne. 1:15) This is how my father praised his God, for his soul rejoiced and his whole heart was filled with emotion, because of all the many things that Jehovah had shown to him. (1 Ne. 1:15)
And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account. (1 Ne. 1:16) Now I do not give an unabridged account of my father’s writings, for he wrote a lot of things that he saw in visions and dreams, and also that he prophesied and spoke to his children. (1 Ne. 1:16)
But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life. (1 Ne. 1:17) Instead, I will write of my own life experiences with God, but notice that I am abridging my father’s record in this book, the plates of which I have made with my own hands, and then afterward I will give the account of my own life. (1 Ne. 1:17)
Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard. (1 Ne. 1:18) So I want you to know that after Jehovah had shown to my father so many marvelous things concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, notice that he went forth among the people and began to prophesy, and to declare to them all the things he had seen and heard. (1 Ne. 1:18)
And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world. (1 Ne. 1:19) But the Jews mocked his testimony, for he testified that he knew of their wickedness and abominations; and he testified that the things he had seen and heard, and also the words he had read in the book, plainly showed that a Messiah would come and redeem the world. (1 Ne. 1:19)
And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance. (1 Ne. 1:20) It was at this point that the Jews became angry with him, after they had heard these things about the Messiah, just as they had been angry with the ancient prophets, whom they had cast out and stoned and killed; and they also sought to kill my father. But notice that I will show to you that Jehovah’s tender mercies are over all those who he has chosen, making them so mighty that they are empowered with deliverance, all because of their faith. (1 Ne. 1:20)
For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him:

Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life. (1 Ne. 2:1)

For notice that Jehovah spoke to my father in a dream and said to him,

“Lehi, you are blessed because of what you have done; and notice that this people seek to kill you because you have faithfully declared to them the things I commanded you to declare.” (1 Ne. 2:1)

And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness. (1 Ne. 2:2) Then Jehovah commanded my father in a dream to flee into the wilderness with his family . (1 Ne. 2:2)
And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him. And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness. (1 Ne. 2:3-4) As he was obedient to Jehovah’s word, he did as Jehovah commanded him, and so he left his house, the land of his inheritance, his gold, his silver, and all his precious things, and took nothing with him, except it were his family, provisions and tents, and fled into the wilderness. (1 Ne. 2:3-4)

Analyzing the two versions

English titles—First of all, I did away with all the funky Hebrew title syntax and just called it by what a person speaking English would call it: Mormon’s Book and Nephi’s First Book. Nephi’s First Book Of His Reign and Ministry presupposes that there is at least one other such book, and there is: Nephi’s Second Book, which is also of his reign and ministry. The difference between the two is that the first book deals with his reign over and ministry to his brothers, whereas the second book deals with his reign over and ministry to his people (for the brothers split and formed the Lamanites.)

No more broken sentences—It is not correct English to say: “An account of that.” No, you need to say, “This is an account of that.” The function remains the same, even though the syntax is different in the two languages. Joseph, though, keeps the Hebrew syntax intact, creating a non-English sentence. (Never mind that we can still understand it. That is simply the immense power of English to communicate, even when written and spoken incorrectly.)

Lord to Jehovah—There is no need to hide the name of God anymore. This translation is not intended to hide meaning, but to reveal it, therefore all the “Lord’s” are converted into “Jehovah’s.” (You can think of a functional translation as an unfolded translation, which reveals what a native speaker of the source tongue would understand by the source text.)

Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.  (Mosiah 8:19)

I, Nephi and my father, Lehi—In the source language, these demarcations indicate a switching of gears. When Nephi is talking of himself and then he switches to talking of his father, he uses, “my father, Lehi” to make note of the switch.  When he is talking of his father and then he switches to talking of himself, he uses, “I, Nephi.” These things are not necessary in English because we can understand the narration just fine with a simple “I” or “my father.” Also, “I, Nephi” can mean “I am Nephi” and “My name is Nephi” and also “I myself” or “I personally,” emphasizing that the person speaking is going to show something through their own power, with an emphasis on “I”. Etc. My translation takes advantage of these nuances. Joseph’s does not.

Clause orders reversed—In English we say “I did this because of that,” not “Because of that I did this.” The latter syntax is fine for Hebrew, but in English it’s bad. Converting it into the proper English order, although a different syntax, does not reduce the function.

Functional translations are plain—Starting in 1 Nephi 1: 1, it can be plainly seen what the functional translation is trying to say, namely that Nephi is uniquely qualified to write what he is writing and that this book is a book of divine manifestations. There is nothing secular even implied. Now, a Gentile might read Joseph’s translation of 1 Ne. 1:1 and say, “But the text doesn’t say that!” That’s true, the words in Joseph’s translation do not implicitly state what is in my translation, but that is because it isn’t a functional one, but merely a word-for-word one. For example, the movie “Like Water for Chocolate” is a translated movie, from Spanish to English. The title was translated word-for-word from Como Agua Para Chocolate into Like Water For Chocolate (Como=Like, Agua=Water, Para=For, and Chocolate=Chocolate.) To a Spaniard, though, what those four words are referring to is the making of hot chocolate, which is made with nearly-boiling water. The meaning to a Spaniard then is: At the Boiling Point, meaning that things are getting so hectic that the protagonist of the movie is about to explode. The English title translation doesn’t communicate the function of the original Spanish text, it merely translates the four words of the original title word-for-word. So, for example, a Gentile that says that Joseph’s translation, which says, “like water for chocolate” doesn’t say what my translation converts it into (“at the boiling point”), would be both right and wrong. On a word-for-word level, that’s true, it doesn’t say that. But on a functional level, it communicates exactly what the author was trying to convey.

Some examples of this in my translation are “which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” converted into “which is Egyptian used by the Jews as if it were Hebrew,” or “I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge” converted into “I testify that the book that I am writing is true; and I alone am writing it, by my own hand; and I am writing it according to my firsthand knowledge,” etc.

Yeas—The word translated by Joseph Smith as “yea” means “yes” on a word-for-word basis, but “indeed” or “in fact” or “in truth” on a functional level, and when used with “and” the order should be reversed in English, so that “yea, and” becomes “and in fact.” But these affirmative additions in Hebrew are not always necessary when encoding the function into English, and so they often can be left out.

And it came to pass that—This phrase, found in the scriptures, and more especially in the Book of Mormon, is merely an indicator that “this is the next thing that happened.” It is not meant to be translated out into words, but the KJV translators, and also Joseph Smith, did so anyway. And so we get 50 million “and it came to passes” in the Book of Mormon. Pretty much every single one can be left out of the text without changing the meaning one iota. English doesn’t need them to convey the source function. It can be translated as “then,” or as “afterward” or as “so then” etc., or it can be merely left out.

At Jerusalem—The functional understanding of “at” + [city] means “in the land of [city].”

First year/same year—The reason why Nephi even mentions these facts (in 1 Ne. 1:4), as well as the fact that Lehi lived there all his life, is to show that he has personal knowledge of what he is saying, since, as he is Lehi’s son, he also must have lived at Jerusalem his whole life.

As he went forth—The function of this expression in 1 Ne. 1:5 is to show that Lehi routinely left the land of Jerusalem. This is why verse 7 says, per Joseph Smith:

And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.

Behold—The function of the word Joseph translated as “behold” means “pay attention to what follows.” Unfortunately, we don’t use the word “behold” very much in modern speech, therefore it doesn’t have the effect on us that it should. Perhaps in Joseph Smith’s time it did, but not any longer. So, to make it have the oomph it needs to have, to draw the readers attention to what follows, it needs to be translated as “notice that” or as “observe this.”

Saying—”Saying” is a marker in the source language and it was never intended to be translated out. It literally means “to say” and it indicates that what follows is a direct quotation. In English, when we want to show a direct quotation, we use “comma, quotation mark…” And that is how it is supposed to be translated, not as the word, “saying.”

Why we have only word-for-word translations

I suspect that both the King James Version translators (who did a word-for-word translation of the Bible) and Joseph Smith (in his continual use of the KJV translation style, both for the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, the JST of the Bible, and also for his revelations in the D&C), were divinely inspired of God, so as to keep the Restoration of the Fulness of Times at less than a “1/100th part” of the total Restoration. In other words, I now believe that Joseph Smith’s translations and revelations were intended to keep almost all of the facts hidden so that when Joseph-Nephi goes back over these things to re-translate them into plain English (and into other languages), not only are we going to get the 116 lost pages of the Book of Mormon restored, but the text of the Book of Mormon will now be a fully functional translation, so that now the Gentiles will fully comprehend all the Nephite meanings. Hence, we will get a fulfillment of these prophecies:

Because of their faith their words shall proceed forth out of my mouth unto their brethren who are the fruit of thy loins; and the weakness of their words will I make strong in their faith, unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers.  (2 Ne. 3:21)

And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them  (2 Ne. 33:4)

So, even the English translations we have will be strengthened by the Lord, through the faith of the Josephite.

Expressing beyond Joseph Smith’s language

Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and his language you have known, and his imperfections you have known; and you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language; this you also know.

Now, seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you; or, if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true; but if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if ye do not bear record that they are true. For ye know that there is no unrighteousness in them, and that which is righteous cometh down from above, from the Father of lights. (D&C 67:5-9)

Notice that the Lord merely says that the language of Joseph has no unrighteousness in them, not that that it is strong or powerful. So, as the saints did desire to express beyond Joseph’s language, and as God grants to His saints what they desire to have, it would not surprise me if we are slated to get at some point a new, vastly improved and quite different English version of the entire canon, courtesy of the Josephite.

New witnesses must appear

Keeping in mind that if I am right on this point—that the Josephite will re-translate the Standard Works, including the Book of Mormon, and all the revelations of Joseph, into exceedingly plain and powerful English—then the Book of Mormon he brings forth will not look in any way like what we currently have.  So the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, whose testimony is affixed to Joseph Smith’s translation, cannot be affixed to the new edition.  Three new men must be selected to witness that the vastly different re-translation is of God.  This means that those prophecies in the Book of Mormon that speak of the witnesses to the book must have a dual fulfillment, and the second fulfillment will really be the primary fulfillment, while the first fulfillment was merely a shadow.

The full power of the Urim and Thummim to be employed

The Lord said this about the Urim and Thummim, or the interpreters, as the Nephites called them:

For behold, the language which ye shall write I have confounded; wherefore I will cause in my own due time that these stones shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write. (Ether 3:24)

When something is magnified, it becomes larger and you can notice more detail about it. Thus, when translating ancient (or even modern) languages, a seer (using the Urim and Thummim) can notice and fully understand all the functions of the text, but notice that Joseph Smith didn’t really use the Urim and Thummim, except at the very beginning of the translation of the Book of Mormon, in which he produced the 116 lost manuscript pages. As they became lost, no one but Joseph, his scribe and a few others (such as the people who stole them) ever got to see them. For the rest of the translation, he used a “seer stone” and interestingly enough, what he produced wasn’t a functional translation, but merely a word-for-word translation. The use of the Urim and Thummim for the first part may have been necessary for a shadow fulfillment of Moroni’s prophecy that the Book of Mormon would be translated by the Urim and Thummim. But as the shadow is never meant to be the principal fulfillment, those pages went missing and the Urim and Thummim was taken from Joseph and never returned, and we ended up with a translation produced by a single, solitary “seer stone.” So, it may have been that Joseph, using the seer stone, could not notice and fully understand all the functions of the text, and thus produced a word-for-word translation, which was what he could perceive through the use of the stone, and later on, even without it.

When the Urim and Thummim is given to the next seer, then, it will be used to produce a fully functional text in English, for the next seer will perceive every functional nuance of the original language, but that is only half of the work of translation, because then you need to encode those functions into the target language, and every man is limited both by his knowledge of the target language (which is usually his own) and also by the limitations of the target language to express the functions of the source language. English is an extensive language, having not only a lot of words, but also a whole lot of shades of meaning, so attempting to know all of the various English words and ways of expression seems to me like an impossible task, but perhaps it is not necessary to know everything, for most English speakers don’t use the entire gamut of the English lexicon anyway. Perhaps they use only, say, several thousand words over their whole lifetime, and so let’s say that a seer may be able to learn the number of words necessary. But what about the functional limitations of a language?

Impossible translations

It is often impossible to decode the functions from one language and then encode all those same functions into a second language.  Everyone who knows two or more languages knows that each language has strengths and weaknesses and they are not always the same, and often what needs to happen is the use of circumlocution, which is speaking in a round-about way to communicate the general idea of the source language function to the target language audience, because there is no direct way to do it.  For example, if I say, “She sells sea shells by the sea shore,” and then I tell you to translate that into another language, you may be able to translate the word function but perhaps not the sound and affect functions (all the ‘s’ sounds and the tongue-tying effect.)  Depending upon what the functions are, it may simply be impossible to do.

But remember that the Josephite is going to be working in the spirit of power, so even though it may be impossible for you and me and everyone else, that isn’t going to be able to stop him from doing it.  If necessary, he will alter the target language miraculously, so that now these functions will be able to be expressed in it, new words appearing instantly with etymological histories already attached.  (Remember what was stated about the Lamanites in the post, The definition of eternal!)  So, we are in for days that will cause everybody, both believer and unbeliever alike, to gape in amazement.

More on Joseph Smith’s translations

In the above side-by-side comparison, we see that Joseph translated the engravings into English pretty much word-for-word, writing out each clause as they appeared on the plates. Although his translation still retains meaning, a translator isn’t supposed to simply convert a word from one language into an equivalent word in the target language, because there are idioms and word plays and other functions in the text that give fuller meanings and understandings to the one who knows the language. So, a translator must be familiar enough with the source language to fully understand the text and all its intricate functions in that language, and also must be familiar enough with the target language to be able to convert the functions and not just the words of the source text, into the target language. Joseph Smith didn’t do this. He merely converted one word into another word and when the output text didn’t make any sense in English, or not enough sense, or when it seemed to say the opposite of what it was intended to say, then he took what he translated out and made it more readable and understandable by doing the slightest functional translation he could. To demonstrate what I’m talking about, consider the two versions of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the first draft and the revised draft:

1851 Edition of the Pearl of Great Price (First draft of the JST) 1878 Edition of the Pearl of Great Price (Revised draft of the JST)
Behold, this is my work to my glory, to the immortality and eternal life of man. For this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
blessed be the name of God for my transgression, for in this life I shall have joy, Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy,
Behold, you have driven me out this day from the face of men, and from your face shall I be hid also; … And it shall come to pass, everyone that finds me will slay me because of my oath. Behold thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the Lord, and from thy face shall I be hid; … and it shall come to pass, that he that findeth me will slay me, because of mine iniquities.
inasmuch as they were born into the world by the fall which bringeth death, by Water and Blood and the Spirit, which I have made, and so become of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again of Water and the Spirit, and cleansed by Blood, even the Blood of mine Only Begotten, into the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. By reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten.

(Btw, I took the above from the article, How We Got the Book of Moses.)

There is also Alma 46:40, which was improved by Joseph Smith after the first version:

And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year was very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, which was subsequent to man by the nature of the climate— (earliest version) And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate—(current version)

This shows that Joseph Smith didn’t really do a functional translation, but instead he gave us a word-for-word translation.

Don’t compare the seed to the mature tree

Mark Twain wrote this about the Book of Mormon:

All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few, except the elect have seen it or at least taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me. It is such a pretentious affair and yet so slow, so sleepy, such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print.

If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle. Keeping awake while he did it, was at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out of the way locality, the work of translating it was equally a miracle for the same reason.

The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history with the Old Testament for a model followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint old fashioned sound and structure of our King James translation of the scriptures. The result is a mongrel, half modern glibness and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained, the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern, which was about every sentence or two, he ladled in a few such scriptural phrases as, “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc. and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass,” was his pet. If he had left that out, his bible would have been only a pamphlet. (Taken from here and with corrected spelling.)

What Twain was looking at was the seed. Everything we have in scripture is simply in seed form, almost entirely folded up and devoid of functionality. Knowing this allows us to reply to assessments like Twain’s by saying, “Wait a bit. This is just a foundational seed and it is going grow into something that will knock your socks off.”

Now, we know that the scriptures that we have are going to be dumbfounding when converted into their functional form, because they are not man’s words, but God’s words, and God’s words are always greater than man’s words. In fact, God’s [fill-in-the-blank] is always greater than man’s [equivalent fill-in-the-blank.]

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isa. 55:8-11)

So, when the scriptures are converted from their present seed form into their fully functional, mature tree form, these works of literature are going to outstrip every and all literary works combined that man has ever been able to produce. God is going to show to the world that man is absolutely nothing compared to Him. The current release of His word in seed form to man is almost like a running joke, a game that He is playing, and the joke is on us because we are so ignorant and stupid that we look at the seed and say, “Bah! That’s ain’t nothing! I can do much better than that! Is that all you got? That’s the best that you can do?” And so forth, like idiot children who know nothing at all about anything, who when presented with a seed they’ve never seen before and told, “This is the most amazing thing you’ll ever see,” they don’t understand that it’s still in seed form and that when it sprouts, after they have ridiculed both the seed and the Man that planted it, they are going to eat their words and be put to shame.

Speaking of words, there is also this to consider:

Mighty in word and deed

Lehi prophesied this about the Josephite:

And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren. (2 Ne. 3:24)

So, he will be mighty both in word and in deed. There are only four individuals in our current canon who are referred to as being “mighty in word and in deed.” Moses was one of them. Christ was one of them. Nephi was another one. And the last one will be the Josephite.

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. (Acts 7:22)

And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: (Luke 24:19)

And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. (Hel. 10:5)

I have repeatedly emphasized that Joseph-Nephi will be the greatest miracle worker bar none, but that only covers deeds. His words, both spoken and written, are also going to enter into the realm of the impossible.

Another functional translation

Just for fun, I will do another functional translation, of a scripture that causes a lot of confusion among latter-day saints. I do this to show that a word-for-word translation might give one impression of the meaning of the source language text, while a functional translation of the same text might give exactly the opposite, or at least a vastly different impression of the meaning. So here is Jacob 2:23-24 word-for-word translated by Joseph Smith and functionally translated by me:

Joseph Smith’s Translation My Translation
But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord:

This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me,

saith the Lord.

But God’s word weighs heavily upon my shoulders because of your grosser crimes. For notice that this is what Jehovah says,

“These people begin to grow iniquitous, for they do not understand the scriptures that were written about David and his son Solomon having many wives and concubines, and thus they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, which has always been abominable to me,”

says Jehovah.

Fulness has two stages or forms: seed and sprouted

The functional translations for the Standard Works can be considered part of the developing fulness of the gospel and scriptures. We currently have the fulness of the gospel in word-for-word (seed) form, but later, when we get it in functional form, there will be Gentiles that are going to reject that particular form of the fulness. The example above shows the reason for the rejection, because there are two forms or stages of gospel fulness, seed (folded) and sprouted (unfolded), and not everyone is going to like the sprouted form, because it gives the plain meaning, without any room to wiggle around it.

Plainness for Nephi and even for Isaiah

Nephi wrote the words of Isaiah and said that Isaiah’s words “are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Ne. 25:4.) He also said that

in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass. Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them. (2 Ne. 25:7-8)

Nephi also said of his own words that “I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err” (2 Ne. 25:7.) And yet, men do err over Nephi’s words, so Nephi is not speaking of nobody erring while his words are in their seed stage, but when they are transformed into their functional form. The same goes for Isaiah, which is going to completely shock the world, for Isaiah is hard to understand and nobody but liars and bona fide prophets—and I know of no prophet—can read Isaiah in seed form plainly. So, “the words of Isaiah are not plain” (2 Ne. 25:4) to anyone currently in existence.

The transformation of Isaiah’s words from seed to sprouted form will be part of the reason why in “the last days,” when Isaiah’s prophecies start to come to pass, men will know of a surety and will understand them and will look upon them as “of great worth.” Nobody is going to be left with even one single excuse that “they didn’t understand” God’s words. Everything we have is about to be

given unto [men] in plainness, even as plain as word can be. (2 Ne. 32:7)

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

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1 Comment

  1. Hard

    And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. (1 Ne. 3:5)

    I’ve always assumed that “hard” here means “difficult,” but 26 verses later Laman and Lemuel again begin murmuring about the same thing, but here their complaint is about the impossibility of the task:

    And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?

    So, “hard,” in the context of verse 5 may mean “impossible.” In other words, the functional translation might be something like,

    “And notice that your brothers are now complaining about the last part of this task, claiming that I have commanded them to do something impossible, but I’m not the one that gave these orders, but they come from the Lord.

    The task consisted of three sets of instructions:

    Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me [1] that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and [2] seek the records, and [3] bring them down hither into the wilderness.

    After 1) going to Laban’s house and 2) asking for the records, Laban and Lemuel were ready to give up. They had accomplished the first two parts of the orders, but the third was impossible to do:

    And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee. But Laman fled out of his presence, and told the things which Laban had done, unto us. And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness. (1 Ne. 3:14-15)

    But this didn’t fulfill the Lord’s commandment. They had to bring down those records. They had to perform the impossible. This three-part commandment may have been recognized by everyone as impossible, thus when Laman and Lemuel complained about it, they weren’t being lazy, but practical. It’s one thing to obey your father’s commandment, but if he tells you to lasso the Moon, well… So, Lehi’s assertion that this didn’t come from him was an indication that it didn’t matter about it’s impossibility, since God can do anything, and Nephi’s statement to Lehi about God preparing the way also may have indicated that Nephi fully understood that a miracle was required and he was up to doing his part in making it happen. So, “hard” in this passage, if understood to mean “impossible” and not “difficult” creates a very different context, in which we are faced with Lehi giving, essentially, the commandment to lasso the Moon and Laman and Lemuel scoffing, while Nephi says, “Oh, yeah, we are gonna do it, Papa!” It all came down to who gave the commandment, Lehi or God? If Lehi did, then it ain’t gonna happen. If God gave it, then miracles were about to take place…

    For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought. (1 Ne. 15:3)

    In this passage, “hard” in the first part could mean “difficult,” but also it might mean “impossible.” Translating it as “difficult” implies that a man could understand the things of God without actually needing God to reveal the meaning of them to him, but that it’s hard to do, while “impossible” implies, well, that it is impossible for man to discover the ways and meanings of the things of God without God explaining them to him. My understanding is that it indeed is impossible to figure out God’s things without revelation, so this passage shows that “hard”=”impossible.” But the next use of the word in the same passage is different. It doesn’t mean “difficult” or “impossible,” but “unbelieving.” This shows that the original Egyptian word (used in place of Hebrew), although a single word, had multiple meanings, just as English words have multiple meanings.

    And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear. And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us. (1 Ne. 16:1-3)

    “Hard things” might be “harsh things,” opening up yet another shade of meaning. But “the truth being hard and cutting to the very center” might mean that “hard” here means “sharp,” as in the cutting edge of a sword.

    O, my beloved brethren, give ear to my words. Remember the greatness of the Holy One of Israel. Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you; for if ye do, ye will revile against the truth; for I have spoken the words of your Maker. I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken. (2 Ne. 9:40)

    Here we have Jacob saying that the righteous do not fear the truth, but love it and are not shaken. Shaken by what? By the truth? Could the “hardness” of the truth have something to do with its tendency to shake the souls of men? Perhaps “hard” in this passage does not mean “sharpness” or “harshness” but the pounding effect of a storm or tempest of hail. Perhaps “hard” in this passage is like the hardness of a baseball bat that is swung at your head. The wicked go sailing and shout out, “Ouch! That hurt!” Whereas the righteous, unflinching and unhurt, merely watch as the bat bounces off of them.

    Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews. (2 Ne. 25:1)

    Here “hard” may mean “difficult,” because the reason why Isaiah’s words (who was a mere man) were hard to understand was because they didn’t know “the manner of prophesying among the Jews.” So, “hard” doesn’t necessarily need to mean “impossible” in this passage.

    My point in all of this is that the word-for-word translation only gives us “hard,” which could mean any number of things, both in English and in Egyptian. The exact shade of meaning is not given. Whereas a functional translation would give the precise shade of meaning, so that there is no longer any room for error.


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