The King James Version of the Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary today, is the official English Bible of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has taken several steps to improve this version of the Bible over many years, including a massive project completed in 1979 to create its own King James Version with study helps and other LDS-related resources.
The King James Version takes its name from the English monarch who directed that a new translation be completed due to concerns about previous translations. From 1604 to 1611, 50 scholars painstakingly translated the holy words from the original Greek and Hebrew scripts.
Like other Christian denominations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes the Bible to be the word of God, and members are encouraged to study it and follow its teachings. In a 2007 general conference address titled “The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
It is not by chance or coincidence that we have the Bible today. Righteous individuals were prompted by the Spirit to record both the sacred things they saw and the inspired words they heard and spoke. Other devoted people were prompted to protect and preserve these records. Men like John Wycliffe, the courageous William Tyndale, and Johannes Gutenberg were prompted against much opposition to translate the Bible into language people could understand and to publish it in books people could read. I believe even the scholars of King James had spiritual promptings in their translation work.
Latter-day Saints believe the Bible was not God’s final revelation to humanity and that divine revelation continues to living prophets today. The Church uses the Bible in conjunction with other books of scripture — the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price — which clarify and support biblical teachings.
Church members study all of these scriptures on an annual rotating basis during Sunday worship services, with half of that time devoted to the Bible. In fact, a 2010 study from the Pew Research Center found that Mormons score among the highest of all religious groups in their knowledge of the Bible.
Because the Church uses scriptures in addition to the Bible, some accuse Latter-day Saints of not being Christian. To this, Elder Ballard responded:
To anyone harboring this misconception, we say that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and the author of our salvation and that we believe, revere, and love the Holy Bible. We do have additional sacred scripture, including the Book of Mormon, but it supports the Bible, never substituting for it.
The Church uses several versions of the Bible in 89 different languages. The Church prints and distributes over 500,000 Bibles a year in both English and Spanish. The Bible and other Latter-day Saint scriptures are available on LDS.org and get eight million page views per month. Since 1997, the Church has given away 3.3 million free copies of the Bible through pass-along cards and television offers.
Since 1979 the Church has used its own edition of the King James Bible that includes chapter headings, footnotes and cross-references to other Latter-day Saint scriptures. This version also has a topical guide, Bible dictionary and maps to make it easier for Church members to study the Bible.
Brigham Young University professor Fred E. Woods said the LDS version of the King James Bible was the result of the right talent and the right technology coming together.
“The ultimate goal of this project was to give Latter-day Saints the tools to better know the Bible,” Woods said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the hand of the Lord was in this inspired project.”
Woods explained that a committee comprised of scholars and Church leaders referred back to the original Hebrew and Greek texts to clarify some of the language in the King James version. Another Brigham Young University professor, Gaye Strathearn, said the Biblical language that seems archaic to readers can actually be a positive thing.
“There are certainly difficulties associated with the King James Version,” Strathearn said. “But having to read the text carefully because of the language can be beneficial.”
Like others around the world for the last four centuries, Latter-day Saints truly have discovered the benefits of studying the King James Version of the Bible, Elder Ballard said.
Honest, diligent study of the Bible does make us better and better, and we must ever remember the countless martyrs who knew of its power and who gave their lives that we may be able to find within its words the path to the eternal happiness and the peace of our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.