Anti-Mormon criticisms of changes in the Book of Mormon have their roots in Evangelical beliefs pertaining to what they regard as the "inerrancy of the Bible." Yet to sustain their belief in the Bible's inerrancy, in the light of the many thousands of changes and variations which exist in the numerous manuscripts and translations, they typically hedge their definitions of inerrancy with numerous limitations such as the following summarized from The Moody Handbook of Theology, pp. 166-70:
While it is true that there have been several thousand of changes made in the Book of Mormon since its first printing, the vast majority have been punctuation, spelling and minor grammatical corrections. However, there have been other changes in addition to these.
As Joseph Smith made the translation from the plates, Oliver Cowdery, as well as other scribes, wrote down Joseph Smith's words as they heard them. Some errors occurred there, such as the substitution of the word "straight" for "strait."
The first manuscript written by the scribes was called "the original manuscript." Oliver Cowdery, in preparation for printing, hand copied the original manuscript to make a printer's copy, which was delivered several pages at a time to the printing firm of E. B. Grandin. In the copying, Oliver made additional errors
. The following statement by John H. Gilbert, the typesetter who worked for Grandin, sheds considerable light on the need for later changes. From his account (which was written on September 8, 1892, when he was 93 years old), we learn that he was twenty-seven in August, 1829 when the seven-month project of typesetting and printing the Book of Mormon was begun. From his memorandum it is apparent that he definitely was not a highly skilled grammarian. He wrote:
In the forepart of June 1829, Mr. E. B. Grandin, the printer of the "Wayne Sentinel," came to me and said he wanted I should assist him in estimating the cost of printing 5000 copies of a book that Martin Harris wanted to get printed, which he called the "Mormon Bible."It is obvious that the first edition of the Book of Mormon was punctuated and then typeset (by hand, one letter at a time) by a young, relatively unskilled worker and was proofread by completely inexperienced proofreaders.
It was the second application of Harris to Grandin to do the job,--Harris assuring Grandin that the book would be printed in Rochester if he declined the job again.
Harris proposed to have Grandin do the job, if he would, as it would be quite expensive to keep a man in Rochester during the printing of the book, who would have to visit Palmyra two or three times a week for manuscript, &c. Mr. Grandin consented to do the job if his terms were accepted.
A few pages of the manuscript were submitted as a specimen of the whole, and it was said there would be about 500 pages.
The size of the page was agreed upon, and an estimate of the number of ems in a page, which would be 1000, and that a page of manuscript would make more than a page of printed mailer, which proved to be correct.
The contract was to print and bind with leather, 5000 copies for $3,000. Mr. Grandin got a new font of Small Pica, on which the body of the work was printed. When the printer was ready to commence work, Harris was notified, and Hyrum Smith brought the first installment of manuscript, of 24 pages, closely written on common foolscap paper--he had it under his vest, and vest and coat closely buttoned over it. At night Smith came and got the manuscript, and with the same precaution carried it away. The next morning with the same watchfulness, he brought it again, and at night took it away. This was kept up for several days. The title page was first set up, and after proof was read and corrected, several copies were printed for Harris and his friends. On the second day--Harris and Smith being in the office--I called their attention to a grammatical error, and asked whether I should correct it? Harris consulted with Smith a short time, and turned to me and said: "The Old Testament is ungrammatical, set it as it is written."
After working a few days, I said to Smith on his handing me the manuscript in the morning; "Mr. Smith, if you would leave this manuscript with me, I would take it home with me at night and read and punctuate it." His reply was, "We are commanded not to leave it." A few mornings after this, when Smith handed me this manuscript, he said to me:--"If you will give me your word that this manuscript shall be returned to us when you get through with it, I will leave it with you." I assured Smith that it should be returned all right when I got through with it. For two or three nights I took it home with me and read it, and punctuated it with a lead pencil. (This will account for the punctuation marks in pencil, which is referred to in the Mormon Report, an extract from which will be found below).
Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith and Oliver Cowdery were very frequent visitors to the office during the printing of the Mormon Bible. The manuscript was supposed to be in the handwriting of Cowdery. Every Chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end.
Names of persons and places were generally capitalized, but sentences had no end. The character or short &, was used almost invariably where the word and, occurred, except at the end of a chapter. I punctuated it to make it read as I supposed the Author intended, and but very little punctuation was altered in proof-reading. The Bible was printed 16 pages at a time, so that one sheet of paper made two copies of 16 pages each, requiring 2500 sheets of paper for each form of 16 pages. There were 37 forms of 16 pages each,~570 pages in all.
The work was commenced in August 1829, and finished in March 1830,--seven months. Mr. J. H. Bortles and myself done the press work until December taking nearly three days to each form,
Cowdery held and looked over the manuscript when most of the proofs were read. Martin Harris once or twice, and Hyrum Smith once, Grandin supposing these men could read their own writing as well, if not better, than any one else; and if there are any discrepancies between the Palmyra edition and the manuscript these men should be held responsible.
Joseph Smith, Jr. had nothing to do whatever with the printing or furnishing copy for the printers, being but once in the office during the printing of the Bible, and then not over 15 or 20 minutes. (Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, pp.30- 31 [unnumbered]).
As he reviewed the printed First Edition, the Prophet Joseph Smith made more than a thousand alterations before the second edition was printed in 1837. These included typographical, spelling, and grammatical corrections as well as the addition of some minor clarifications. As late as 15 January 1842 (less than two years before his martyrdom), Joseph Smith was still making corrections. The first European edition published in 1841 used the 1837 edition as its basis, thereby perpetuating errors that had already been corrected in the 1840 American edition.
Three major editions have been published since, under the direction of either the President of the Church or the First Presidency. President John Taylor asked Orson Pratt to prepare the 1879 edition, which included such changes as redividing the chapters and adding verse numbers. President Heber J. Grant called Elder James E. Talmage of the Twelve to prepare the 1920 edition which included double-column pages and many grammatical improvements. All these are no doubt counted as part of the 4,000 changes.
The Scriptures Publication Committee, working under the direction of the First Presidency, prepared the 1981 edition. Some recurring problems were finally settled in that edition. For example, the printer's manuscript referring to the converted Lamanites read "white and delightsome," although the 1840 edition prepared under the direction of Joseph Smith read "pure and delightsome." The publication committee had white permanently changed to pure, as Joseph Smith intended it to be.
The changes in the book present little problem to most Latter-day Saints. Even the most ardent anti-Mormons have cited only about a dozen changes as having any doctrinal and historical significance. A close examination shows that even they are not significant. The Book of Mormon was written by prophets, abridged by a prophet, translated by a prophet, and changes were made under the further direction of a prophet. It was the word of God before the changes were made and it is the word of God after the changes have been made.
The changes in the Book of Mormon are actually few compared to the number of changes made in today's English Bibles. The late William Barclay, perhaps one of the best known of British Bible expositors, records the following facts:
In the Greek manuscript of the New Testament, there are 150,000 places in which there are variant readings. Of these 150,000, fewer than 400 affect the sense, fewer than 50 are of any importance (William Barclay, Introducing the Bible, p.134).Barclay also cites a 19th century committee of the American Bible Society which examined six different editions of the Authorized Version (King James) and found nearly 24,000 differences! (ibid, p.134)
If the 4,000 minor changes in the Book of Mormon make it without value, what do the 24,000 differences in the Bible do to its worth? Some detractors would probably be aghast if they read about the number of changes to the Bible. Do detractors feel differently about their conviction that the Bible is the word of God because of these changes? We would think not.
For further explanation regarding changes in the Book of Mormon, see: