B. H. Roberts was preoccupied with Joseph Smith’s role as translator. One reason was that critics turned Joseph’s phrase “by the gift and power of God” into a claim he never made, that of verbal inerrancy. Roberts wrote a whole treatise on these issues, concluding that Joseph Smith could not escape his own skin. Joseph’s vocabulary and grammar are as clearly imposed on the book as are fingerprints on a coin. When Harold Glen Clark asked President Roberts if the Book of Mormon would read differently had it been translated by someone else, B. H. Roberts replied, “Of course, not in substance and basic message but in modes of expression.” Although Joseph Smith affirmed he used a Urim and Thummim, the instrument did not do everything and the Prophet nothing. Roberts insisted that the translation process was neither so simple nor so easy a thing as has been supposed by both advocates and critics of the Prophet. On the contrary, “brain sweat” was required, and preparation, and labor. Further, as an illustration that exact word-for-word translation of one language into another is impossible, Roberts presented examples from the Greek New Testament showing that the word Master used in the authorized version is a translation of six different Greek words all having different shades of meaning. Judgment stands for eight different Greek words. He concluded, “Let us rid ourselves of the reproach of charging error, even though it be of forms of expression, unto God.” Elder Roberts hoped for the day when the President of the Church would authorize that the Book of Mormon be “made a classic in English . . . without changing the shade of a single idea or statement.” He did not live to see it become a classic in other translations.
B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon, Truman G. Madsen
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