Changes in the Book of Mormon

Changes in the Book of Mormon

by Douglas K Christensen

Grant Hardy is editor of The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press, 2003) and the author of Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford University Press, 2010). His most recent publications include the Oxford History of Historical Writing, Vol. 1 and Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition. He is a professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Asheville and is currently writing a series called, “What More Might the Ensign Have Said?” which is appearing in the ezine Meridian Magazine.  The series refers to the October, 2011 Ensign issue which is devoted entirely to the Book of Mormon and is the subject of this year’s gospel study throughout the Church.

Among several topics, Hardy writes about the work being done by Royal Skousen to reconstruct the original Book of Mormon text. Dr. Skousen was one of the featured speakers at the BMAF conference on November 5th,2011. We here quote parts of his article: 

Hardy's articles first appeared in Meridian Magazine
(http:// on Tuesday, September 20th. (We recommend that if you are not already subscribed to Meridian Magazine that you do so at

Hardy writes, “One of the most exciting developments in the study of The Book of Mormon over the past couple of decades is Royal Skousen’s Critical Text Project, which analyzes all the changes that have occurred from the original manuscript through the current official edition (1981), and which also offers a scholarly reconstruction of the text as it was first dictated by Joseph Smith to his scribes.

So when the question is posed in the October Ensign at p. 79, “I have heard that changes have been made to The Book of Mormon since it was first published. What was changed and why?”, we have more evidence than ever before to answer this clearly and comprehensively.

The Ensign, limited by space and audience, gives a few good examples of inadvertent copying errors that were subsequently corrected in later editions, but this doesn’t really get at the heart of the issue, which concerns deliberate changes to the text. There have been several thousand of these since 1830, almost all of which are grammatical revisions such as which to who, or was to were.

Very, very few of these affect the meaning at all, and there has been no reworking of the Book of Mormon’s complicated narratives or extensive sermons. In fact, there are only eleven instances where Joseph Smith added or changed a few words to clarify doctrine or a name.

I do not know why the Lord saw fit to reveal The Book of Mormon in a non-standard grammatical form, but that’s what happened, and Joseph Smith himself smoothed out much of the language in the 1837 and 1840 editions (he even deleted 46 instances of “it came to pass” which is an authentic Mayan expression!).

[editor’s note: Joseph Smith had no idea that “it came to pass” is an often used glyph/phrase in the Mayan language.  Joseph deleted some of them due to intense criticism, including from Mark Twain who claimed that if you took out all the “it came to pass” phrases and Bible plagarisms, all that would be left would be a small pamphlet.   The presence of chiasm and many other parallelisms and the presence of many “it came to pass” phrases in the Book of Mormon testify to Joseph’s accurate translation.]

Thanks to Skousen’s work, The Book of Mormon is probably the most thoroughly documented scriptural text in history, meaning that we can track its progress from its first written form to the present official version in minute detail. Consequently, we can be sure that The Book of Mormon as we have it today is virtually the same text that Joseph first dictated to his scribes, aside from grammatical updating.”

If you are interested, you will find the present official version at

Christensen, Douglas K.