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In some of Joseph Smith Jr.'s last speeches, he mentioned a German translation of the Bible which he was fond of. E.g., he says in the King Follet discourse (emphasis added):

I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years. (History of the Church 6:307)

Later on in this same speech, he says (emphasis added):

In the German, the text bears me out the same as the revelations which I have given and taught for the last fourteen years on that subject. I have the testimony to put in their teeth. My testimony has been true all the time. You will find it in the declaration of John the Baptist. (Reads from the German.) John says, "I baptize you with water, but when Jesus comes, who has the power (or keys), he shall administer the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost." Where is now all the sectarian world? And if this testimony is true, they are all damned as clearly as anathema can do it. I know the text is true. I call upon all you Germans who know that it is true to say, Aye. (Loud shouts of "Aye.") (History of the Church 3:316)

In another address shortly before he was murdered (dated May 12, 1844), he says:

The Germans are an exalted people. The old German translators are the most nearly correct -- most honest of any of the translators; and therefore I get testimony to bear me out in the revelations that I have preached for the last fourteen years. The old German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew translations all say it is true: they cannot be impeached, and therefore I am in good company. (History of the Church 6:363)

Which German translation is Joseph referring to? I am not familiar with the different translations of the Bible, having only ever read the King James Version in English. According to Wikipedia, there are several German translations of the Bible. I am interested in this specific version which Joseph owned. Which version is he referring to and where can I get a copy?

  • He is most likely referring to modern Biblical criticism, which, at the time, was primarily heralded by German scholars, such as the contemporary Philip Schaff, though it was probably someone else's work he had in mind. – Lucian Nov 4 at 8:51
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    @Lucian I don't think that was the case. Joseph Smith was no critic of the Bible, per se. Rather, he felt that he was correcting people's misunderstanding of the Bible and he considered it to be historically accurate (although he did have disagreements with other denominations about their specific interpretations of the Bible). His praise of the German Bible doesn't seem to have anything to do with this movement that you're referencing. Even the earliest dates of this movement were apparently in the 1600s. Martin Luther and the other German translators of the Bible lived long before that time. – GDP2 Nov 4 at 19:53
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I've always believed and heard this to be the Martin Luther translation of the German Bible. While I've not yet found a completely authoritative statement on this being the case, I currently believe it to be true. I think we may need get into his journals to probably get to the root of this. It may be possible that someone has written a research paper on this within the BYU libraries, but I have yet to put my finger on it.

One leading example is from Joseph Smith, Jr.'s journal (Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 1, 21 December 1842–10 March 1843) wherein the footnote references the more correct Martin Luther’s translation of Matthew 24:2 whereas Joseph refers simply to it as the "German bible." This tacitly gives us a link:

JOURNAL:

...not one stone shall not be thrown down.— German bible says which shall not be broken...

FOOTNOTES:

[96] Martin Luther’s translation of Matthew 24:2 reads: “Es wird hier nicht ein Stein auf dem andern bleiben, der nicht zerbrochen werde.” (Die Bibel, Matthai 24:2.)

Die Bibel , oder die ganze heilige Schrift des alten und neuen Testaments, nach der deutschen Uebersetzung D. Martin Luthers. Halle (Saale): der Cansteinischen Bibel-Anstalt, 1826.

Granted this is not a direct statement, but I think the Martin Luther translation was considered to be the gold standard and most printed version for the German Bible at this time.

Martin Luther is again referenced in Revelation, 9 March 1833 [D&C 91] (Re: Apocrypha); See Historical Introduction:

Martin Luther, in his 1534 translation of the Bible, however, placed the books of the Apocrypha at the end of the Old Testament and explained...

Again by extrapolation it puts him in and around the "right place at the right time."

It also appears that Luther's translation was directly used in some other translations and/or influenced other translators, so at the end of the day Luther is the prime mover of the German bible, as per the Wikipedia article to which you referred.

Finally, in one of your quotations above, the author of the wiki article at this site attributes the German translation directly to Martin Luther (yet I see no actual authoritative citation for his source; perhaps basing it off of "common knowledge" such as my sentiment?):

Joseph Smith said of Martin Luther’s German translation, “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 349)

JBH adds an interesting observation in his answer that I thought I'd consolidate into this answer and add a little to assist the content:

Val Hinckley Sederholm's blog notes [Archive]:

I'm intrigued by the Prophet's polyglot New Testament consulted in the 7 April 1844 general conference address (King Follett Sermon) and in a 12 May 1844 sermon. "A Bible in various tongues" is how visitor Josiah Quincy described it. For some Saints the book became an iconic way of remembering Brother Joseph. A lithograph depicting the April 1844 general conference shows the Prophet with his Testament on the pulpit; the book even surfaces in Wilford Woodruff’s dreams: "I met with Br Joseph Smith in the Congregation of the Saints. He had his old Hebrew and Jerman Bible, and preached to the Saints." As the dream continues, Joseph, "thronged by people," lifts a curtain into "another room and there he was going to teach the people" (19 August 1844; 2: 449, in ed., S. Kinney; Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past).

Note what Brother Woodruff calls the book: "his old Hebrew and Jerman Bible."

Thomas Bullock reports Joseph as saying: “I have an old book [Clayton: ‘N.T.’] in the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German” (7 April 1844). The book comprises “the old German [Luther’s original], Latin, Greek, and Hebrew translations” (Bullock Report, 8 April 1844). The Prophet further terms his Testament “the oldest book in the world” (Woodruff Journal and Clayton Report for 7 April), which matches Samuel W. Richards’s characterization of it as “an ancient German Bible” (12 May 1844). Only one polyglot Testament fits the description and that is Elias Hutter’s Novum Testamentum harmonicum (Nuremberg, 1602). (emphasis by JBH)

(Elias Hutter can also be found as Elia Huttero (aka Latin: Hvttero) (Archive.org search) and each available scanned book may be viewed here: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and RomansThese were made available November 25, 2014, while the blog post was from March 2, 2010 so these works were not available online at the time of blogging.)

All the arrows, so far, seem to converge on Martin Luther...

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    Thank you, this is a very interesting answer! I guess all signs point towards Luther's translation, although I would still like some hard proof that this is the right one. But, if no one can come and offer such proof, I'll accept this answer since it's the best information I've come across on this topic so far. – GDP2 Aug 23 '18 at 18:16
  • When this was edited, the quoted text "Joseph Smith said ... (teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 349)" was incorrectly linked to the "teachings of" document. The whole quote is in the wiki at the Joseph Smith Foundation site, which itself qoutes the "teachings of" document, but the first line including the mention of Martin Luther's translation is not part of the "teachings of " document. This needs to be fixed because it attributes a wiki statement to the Joseph Smith document. – b and d restore Monica Aug 24 '18 at 3:52
  • @disciple I think it is properly attributed because the paragraph above the quote includes a link to the wiki article. I understood it when I read it, anyway. The link in the quoted text is merely linking to a PDF wherein one can find the actual speech that is being quoted by the wiki article. – GDP2 Aug 24 '18 at 6:15
  • The clause, "Joseph Smith said of Martin Luther’s German translation," needs to be moved out of the quote box, if the quote box is linked to the J S document, since it is not part of the J S document. It was clarified in the text that that sentence is "only" the statement of a wiki writer who didn't claim to have a source. The problem was created when the answer was reformatted. The wiki writer is attributes the rest to the J S document. It needs to be clear that the reference to the Luther translation is not in the J S document. The fix needs an expert in both subject matter and formatting. – b and d restore Monica Aug 24 '18 at 11:44
  • @disciple You can always edit it yourself, if you wish... – GDP2 Aug 24 '18 at 19:29
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Elias Hutter’s Novum Testamentum harmonicum (Nuremberg, 1602)

I contacted FAIR and one of their volunteers, Ted Jones, responded with a link to a Blog post that included the following.

I'm intrigued by the Prophet's polyglot New Testament consulted in the 7 April 1844 general conference address (King Follett Sermon) and in a 12 May 1844 sermon. "A Bible in various tongues" is how visitor Josiah Quincy described it. For some Saints the book became an iconic way of remembering Brother Joseph. A lithograph depicting the April 1844 general conference shows the Prophet with his Testament on the pulpit; the book even surfaces in Wilford Woodruff’s dreams: "I met with Br Joseph Smith in the Congregation of the Saints. He had his old Hebrew and Jerman Bible, and preached to the Saints." As the dream continues, Joseph, "thronged by people," lifts a curtain into "another room and there he was going to teach the people" (19 August 1844; 2: 449, in ed., S. Kinney; Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past).

Note what Brother Woodruff calls the book: "his old Hebrew and Jerman Bible."

Thomas Bullock reports Joseph as saying: “I have an old book [Clayton: ‘N.T.’] in the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German” (7 April 1844). The book comprises “the old German [Luther’s original], Latin, Greek, and Hebrew translations” (Bullock Report, 8 April 1844). The Prophet further terms his Testament “the oldest book in the world” (Woodruff Journal and Clayton Report for 7 April), which matches Samuel W. Richards’s characterization of it as “an ancient German Bible” (12 May 1844). Only one polyglot Testament fits the description and that is Elias Hutter’s Novum Testamentum harmonicum (Nuremberg, 1602). (Source, emphasis mine)

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    What I found particularly interesting here, and I don't know why I never took note of it before, is how the King Follett Discourse / Sermon was a General Conference address. That really changes everything that everyone has tried to say about not using this as a reference in sacrament talks, lessons, etc. with some kind of fear or concern about using it authoritatively. This was an issue just recently with some leadership and a Sunday School teacher who was brought in and talked to about not using the King Follet Sermon in his lessons due to it not being "official" or some such verbiage. – ylluminate Aug 25 '18 at 3:48
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    @JBH Interestingly, though, the King Follett discourse wasn't at all contrary to scripture. In fact, much of the speech was Joseph justifying that his teachings were in fact scriptural, from the Bible no less. This is why he even referenced the German Bible in the first place. I would also cite the fact that the prophet, when speaking in authority and with the Spirit, is scripture. We are constantly told this and if Joseph really was speaking in a General Conference (which apparently he was), then these rules apply indubitably. I would not put such things on the level of Apocrypha. – GDP2 Aug 25 '18 at 5:56
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    I would also like to add my humble opinion that Apocrypha is underrated. It is not endorsed by the Lord because it is very easy to get confused by it without the influence of the Spirit, than the canonized scriptures. Nonetheless, the canonized scriptures can also be very confusing without the Spirit. Just look at the plethora of other churches which we believe to be false! I would also say that I operate by the humble belief that it's safe to assume that whenever the prophet speaks, he is speaking by the Spirit and with some level of authority. Else, he would probably not be a prophet. – GDP2 Aug 25 '18 at 6:02
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    @JBH And yet... was the prophet acting as a prophet when he said that? Why are you quoting him unless you're sure that he's acting as a prophet? We tend to take the prophet's words with implicit trust, without the need for him to first say, "I am acting as the prophet now." As we were taught about the Priesthood (by Gordon B. Hinckley in a General Conference talk), the Priesthood is not a cloak that we can take on/off. It is part of us. I would say prophethood follows the same principle. – GDP2 Aug 25 '18 at 7:29
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    Hmm, let's try to get away from rank pulling. If one considers remarks by Joseph to be either wrong or questionable, particularly when wearing the mantle of prophetship in General Conference, then what one is saying is tantamount to saying that Joseph was not a prophet. There's really no way around that. In this case @GDP2 is correct; there's nothing contrary to scripture in his remarks wrt that particular sermon. – ylluminate Aug 25 '18 at 15:37

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