“Shall We Improve the Book of Mormon?” by Evan V. Shute

Evan Vere Shute was anĀ obstetrician and member of the church who advocated for a new version of the BoM which made some changes, including fixing grammatical errors and eliminating repetitious language. This is an article from Saints’ Herald #101, No. 45 (8 November, 1954): 1076-1077 in which he proposed this to the church.

At the time, there was quite a lot of pushback from both members of the church and the First Presidency. However, as time went on, the things that Evan advocated for became more apparent and accepted. Eventually the church ended up producing a new version which included many of his suggestions in 1966. If you want to learn more about the history of this process, I recommend reading “The Journey of a People Vol. 3”, pages 285-288.

Today we call this version “The Revised Authorized Version”. Without Evan’s advocacy for this new version, we would likely not have gotten the R.A.V.. I think its important to remember the journeys that we have taken as we move forward. This article represents a pivotal point in our journey with the Book of Mormon, and it is important to be remembered.

(Note: I have make a short comparison of the A.V. and the R.A.V. here if you’re interested in seeing the sort of changes that were implemented.)


“Shall We Improve the Book of Mormon?” by Evan V. Shute

Punctuation

The punctuation of the Book of Mormon is not all it should be. Every high school pupil realizes this as he reads it, and the knowledge does not increase its credibility, nor substantiate its inspiration in his eyes.

For example, we have been using it for “responsive readings” in our servies for a couple of years past. One must select passages rather carefully for such a purpose, since a few incorrect commas or unudually long sentences or sentences without vers become conspicuous otherwise.

Should this difficulty be allowed to persist?

The early translators of the Bible found no puntuation marks at all in their text. They manufactured and inserted them where indicated. Has that hindered or improved the readability and clarity of the Great Book?

We had almost interminable verses in 1st Nephi, Chapter 3, and in the first two chapters of Mosiah and the ninth chapter of Alma in our edition of 1916. These passages were made much more intelligible by being divided into shorter verses in the authorized edition of 1946. The Mormons have also achieved this end, to a degree, by subdividing the lengthier verses, but their latest edition, like ours of 1946, does such odd things as end verses with a colon or a dash.

Surely we have devout scholars in the church who, set up as a committee – perhaps by order of the next World Conference – could make this wonderful text clearer and still more readable.

The Book of Mormon authors often mention their difficulty in writing and apologize for such shortcomings. Why should we regard their obvious errors as holy or untouchable? When did error become sacred? Moreover they repeatedl abridged the book of theor predecessors, something they could never do without altering punctuation, and, indeed, deleting or altering whole verses or chapters. What stops us from doing so much less if the text could thereby be improved, providing we leave out no “plan and precious things”? Who gave them a privilege that we are denied?

No one thinks for a moment that the biblical books as we have them are identical with the original manuscripts, the exact texts written by Isaiah or Luke or John. What we have, as everyone known, is a rewriting and rewording in English of passages originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek, translated thence into Laten, thence into Wycliffe’s and Tyndale’s English (scarecely to be understoof by modern speakers of English), thence into many “versions” of modern English. In doing all this the “sacred words” were turned end over end, put into relations and orders different for every change of language, repunctuated each time, and altered in every possible way. We still permit this process to go on, and read each new Bible with interest for the considerable clarification and inspiration to be had from re-arranging and re-selecting its words, commas, and semi-colons.

Why do we longer deny ourselves a similar opportunity to get at the intentions of the Book of Mormon?

The Books

Our old editions of the Book of Mormon that our churches published had an incomplete designation of the four books of Nephi. We referred to the first book and the second book, but we hadonly a very poor method of identifying third and fourth Nephi. Fortunately, in the 1953 addition this confusing situation has been corrected.

There are other helpful changes that suggest themselves. Mosiah, from chapter 9 onward, should perhaps be called First Alma, although I would not push this point too hard. If this change were adopted, then “Alma” would become “Second Alma”. But Alma 21 onward could then be called “First Helaman”. What is now “Helaman” would then become “Second Helaman”. This would make the long books a little shorter, and their titles would indicate their topic and hero. Would we not think it inappropriate if Samuel wandered on into Kings – or if Luke included John and the Acts?

The Text Itself

I might even go further and suggest that the obvious grammatical errors and mistakes in spelling throughout the Book should be edited out. The original writers apologized for these repeatedly. Why should we perpetuate their mistakes? As I have tried to stress, and as they would have insisted, the fact that errors appear in a Holy Book does not make those errors holy.

It edifies no one, whether already converted or merely “investigating” to read scores of consecutive verses beginning monotonously and awkwardly “and it came to pass.”

Consider:

  • my father had read and saw (1st Nephi 1: 13)
  • I shrunk and would that I might not slay him (1st Nephi 1: 111)
  • These plates are for the more part of the ministry (1st Nephi 2: 98)
  • that I may find or to molten (1st Nephi 5: 71)
  • “He said unto them” twice in the same sentence in 3rd Nephi 10:33
  • There are two errors in tense in verse 5 of 3rd Nephi 10: 12.
  • There is a plural pronoun referring to a preceding singular in 3rd Nephi 12: 30.
  • There are very awkward constructions in 3rd Nephi 13:59-60; 9:91-92; 3:46-47; and 2: 108.
  • Many different literary styles can be found throughout the Book of Mormon, even edited as many times as it was in ancient days. But some of the most prolix and unsatisfactory writing is to be found in the second chapter of 4th Nephi.

These examples are only a few of many one could cull out. I am not writing here to throw stones, however, merely to call attention to a crying need of the modern church.

What To Do

The whole Book of Mormon should be edited once again in reverence and with care and skill, by a properly constituted church committee set up by the next Biennial World Conference. There have been editions before, some of them differing considerably in format from others. This very fact has made it necessary to give references by page numbers rather than by chapter and verse. One committee set up by World Conference resolution has revised it in this century, namely 1906. A Spanish edition is now in preparation. How I hope it avoids some of the pitfalls I have mentioned!

I suggest that the 1906 revision stopped short of all it could have done, perhaps for fear of offending good Saints, to whom at the time even a misplaced comma or a childishly incorrect verb was still the oracle of a careless God. Surely we now revere our great heritage more rationally, and no longer want a mutilated text to present God’s teachings to men.

If I saw a lame man going down the street I would offer him an arm or a cane. If I see a crippled text parading through the world, particularly one that I revere and love, should I do nothing to help?

Through the years I have repeatedly urged this question on memebrs of the highest quorums. One of our leaders once asked me to show him a sample of what could be done, so I did a few pages of Enos for him. Part of it ran as follows. Compare this with the original:

Book of Enos

  1. Behold, I, Enos, knew my father to be a just man. He both taught me his language and also raised me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
  2. Blessed be the name of my God for this.
  3. Let me tell you how I wrestled with God, before I received a remission of my sins.
  4. Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forest, and I reflected on the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life and the joy of the saints.
  5. As my soul hungered I knelt before my Maker and cried unto Him in mighty prayer and supplication for my soul. All the day long did I cry unto him. Yea, and when the night came I still called upon the heavens.
  6. And there came a voice unto me, saying: “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blest.”
  7. Then I, Enos, realized that God could not lie and that my guilt was swept away.
  8. And I asked, “Lord, how can this be done?”

Saints, ponder these proposals and pray about them. I believe that this is an important project, one long overdue, and that we should attempt it for the glory of God and the preservation of a precious record of his word – but not to preserve ancient (and admitted) American mistakes.