The Foundation for Apologetic and Information Research (FAIR) has put up a very good post summarizing some of subtle but very significant changes in the new edition of the scriptures, announced last week.
(Quick side note: you can download these scriptures from lds.org right now. The Android process is very easy — you just update. The ipad and iphone process is complicated and difficult. Score one for Google).
Anyway, let me highlight some of the changes mentioned by FAIR.
The following introduction has been added to the Doctrine and Covenants in the new 2013 edition of the scriptures, giving context and current interpretations on the revelation ending polygamy:
“The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.”
While not creating official doctrine as part of the official canon, the addition of this introduction clarifies that the interpretation of the Church today is that monogamy is the standard for God’s people. Critics have claimed that Mormons secretly believe that polygamy is the standard, and that monogamy is a temporary anomaly that will be swept aside in eternity if not sometime soon during mortality. Such arguments cause pain and pressure for individuals who are discomforted at the thought of a practice in eternity that is not required of them in mortality. This addition clarifies that the standard is in fact monogamy, providing emotional room for those discomforted by the thought of polygamy.
Regarding the priesthood ban:
In 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation on the priesthood that extended the right to every worthy male in the Church to receive all the blessings of the priesthood without regard to race, including those pertaining to the temple. Prior to that time, individuals of African descent were often denied the blessings of the priesthood. Many well-meaning members and leaders sought to explain the practice, arguing that there was a doctrinal basis for such a restriction. Many such explanations assumed a revelatory basis for the practice, and produced justifications that were damaging to the sensitivities of our black members. Critics have argued that many Mormons cling to such beliefs. The following new introduction to Official Declaration 2 dispels many of these notions. It reads:
“The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”
This official introduction validates an argument long made by defenders of the Church that there is no known source for the initiation of what has become termed the “priesthood ban”. It confirms that Joseph himself ordained black male members to the priesthood, indicating that the “ban” was likely not founded on scripture. It further explains that, despite the unknown source for the ban, it was believed that the lifting of the ban required revelation from God which came on June 1, 1978 and was then adopted unanimously by the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the full contingency of General Authorities.
This introduction can serve to provide some comfort to members bothered by statements from other well-meaning individuals and leaders who said many things in the past that are seen today as hurtful. It upholds the current belief that only worthiness determines the right of a man to receive the blessings of the priesthood, and helps to dispel the notion that Mormons are racist in their intent.
Regarding “coins” (BoM critics will cling to any lifeboat in their attempt to discredit the Church, but there you have it):
In the Book of Mormon, a long standing criticism has been the reference to coins being used by the Nephites, whereas there has been no such discovery of the use of coins in the Americas by pre-Colombian peoples. Rather, our critics point out, the system of exchange was one of weights and measures. This, they claim, demonstrates that Joseph had introduced a modern anachronism (an error of time where conceptual artifacts from modern times are introduced erroneously into works of fiction written about earlier times) into the Book of Mormon which, they argue, demonstrates that the Book of Mormon is a modern creation and not an historic record of ancient origin.
The term “coins” is interestingly not mentioned anywhere in the Book of Mormon text itself, but was actually introduced in the non-canonized heading by Elder Bruce R. McConkie as part of the updates to the 1981 edition. It is interesting to note that Elder McConkie applied his modern lens of living in a coin based society to his reading of the Book of Mormon, and interpreted the exchange system in Alma 11 as being a discussion of coins. This interpretation made its way into the 1981 heading for that Chapter. However, the actual text of the Book of Mormon mentions only weights and measures, a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the system of exchanges known to exist among pre-Colombian peoples. This actually makes the issue of coins a “boomerang hit” as I have discussed in a previous article.
Prior editions of the Book of Mormon did not reference coins. The new 2013 edition reverts back to describing the exchange system in Alma 11 as a “monetary system”, thus eliminating an unnecessary criticism of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Regarding the Book of Abraham:
The original 1981 edition of the scriptures described the Book of Abraham as “A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, . . . “. The 2013 edition now reads “An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham” [emphasis added]. This somewhat less subtle change in the description reflects the fact that we know relatively little about the precise process and source document from which we have obtained the Book of Abraham and how that relates to the papyri that we have in the Church’s possess. This description emphasizes instead the inspired nature of the process regardless of the material source for the work. This has significant implications for defenders of the Book of Abraham. Many defenders can now await further developments on the source front, and turn to arguments that the myriad things Joseph Smith correctly produced that were unknown at the time of the production of the Book of Abraham, but which have subsequently been demonstrated as being consistent with ancient traditions, indicate that Joseph clearly had access to some source that was authentic. Such evidences give credence to the Book of Abraham as authentically ancient.
More analysis will come forth in the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to highlight this excellent article from FAIR.