Royal Skousen, professor of linguistics and English language at Brigham Young University, has been the editor for the Book of Mormon critical text project for 26 years. Skousen recently published an article, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” highlighting Book of Mormon changes that have been made throughout history. This article supplements his work, “The Original Text of the Book of Mormon and its Publication by Yale University,” in which he discusses the critical text project.
In the opening of his new article, Skousen addresses the question: How many changes are there in the Book of Mormon text?
“I don’t know for sure, and I’ll tell you why it’s hard to count them. In my computerized collation of the two manuscripts and 20 significant editions of the Book of Mormon, I can count the number of places of variation. These are places where there’s a textual variant. The variant itself can involve spelling, punctuation, words missing or added, a grammatical change, and so on. In all, there are about 105,000 places of variation in the computerized collation. For comparison, there are about 270,000 words in the Book of Mormon.”
Skousen writes why that number isn’t entirely accurate explaining that one edition of the book may have a semicolon, whereas the next version changes it to a colon, just for the version that comes after that one to change it back into a semicolon. All of these changes are listed under the same variant, when in reality, there could be 3-4 changes within that variant.
In his article, Skousen analyzes the changes and explains to readers the 10 different types of variants:
- Bookkeeping referencing: This variant deals with the chapters and verses as chapter names and verse numbers are not original to the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith had his scribe edit in the word chapter whenever Smith saw the end of a section.
- Accidentals: “Accidentals refer to variants that change the form of the text but not the actual words.” This includes paragraphing, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.
- Paragraphing: Paragraphs were added in the 1830 edition. Now, versification treats each verse as its own paragraph.
- Punctuation: The original manuscript did not have any punctuation, with the exception of just a few dashes. Therefore, every punctuation mark is counted as a change to the text.
- Spelling of common English words: As the Book of Mormon manuscripts were edited, many English words were corrected from one spelling to another (such as labor vs. labour or center vs. centre), as well as to correct misspellings (such as replacing “cept” with “kept”).
- Capitalization: Some names and common nouns were not capitalized in the original manuscript, and had to be corrected.
- Grammatical usage: The most significant type of grammatical correction is removing the Early Modern English. This means replacing words to accurately represent the subject (replacing “which” with “who” when referring to people).
- Phraseology: “Most of these examples involving changes in the phraseology were not the result of conscious editing. Nor would most of them end up in a Book of Mormon translation.”
- Clarifications: In the early editions of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith edited the text to clarify certain passages. One clarification Smith made was in 1 Nephi 2:6. Smith changed the word beside to say “by the side of.” This changed the verse, which originally said “in a valley beside a river of water,” to now say, “in a valley by the side of a river of water.”
- Chestnuts: Chestnuts are five groups of changes that Krouse says “everyone seems to be exercised over.” Krouse explains what each of these groups are and provides examples.
Skousen informs readers that errors in the Book of Mormon are nothing to be concerned about.
“Errors have crept into the text, but no errors significantly interfere with either the message of the book or its doctrine. These textual errors have never prevented readers of the Book of Mormon from receiving their own personal witness of its truth – that is, every sincere reader.”
Read Skousen’s full article, “Changes in the Book of Mormon.”