Romans 4:5 and the JST


     One of the most striking passages in the Bible is Romans 4:5.  “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”  What is so striking about this passage is that it describes God as “him that justifieth the ungodly.”  Justifies is a courtroom term that means to acquit or declare not guilty.  In other words, this passage startles us by describing God as acquitting the ungodly.  That doesn’t seem right!

     But it is.  This is what makes the Bible unique.  Where else do we hear about a God who acquits the ungodly?  The common picture shared by other world religions is of a God who keeps a record of rights and wrongs and judges accordingly. 

     Only the Bible says this because only the Bible talks about a Savior who has taken all our sins on himself and paid their terrible price for us.  “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:  the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

     Interestingly this is a verse that Joseph Smith changed.  The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of this verse is:  “But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Note especially how he changed the description of God.  “him who justifieth not the ungodly.”  With the addition of not, he changed the meaning of this phrase completely and aligned it with the concept of God common to other world religions.

      Here then is another striking difference between Christianity and Mormonism.  Christianity’s God is the one who justifies the ungodly. Mormonism’s god doesn’t.

9 Responses to “Romans 4:5 and the JST”

  1. 1 Berean
    September 19, 2008 at 4:53 am

    I know an ex-Mormon who is a Christian now and in the ministry who left Mormonism after reading Romans 4:5. That verse just stopped him “dead in his tracks” when he came across it. He realized that all his works to gain favor and to be justified before God were a waste of time. I know another ex-Mormon who left the LDS Church after reading John 4:24 where it says that “God is spirit”. He couldn’t reconcile that with D&C 130:22 saying that God had a body of flesh and bones which contradited John 4:24 and the Book of Mormon’s teaching that agreed with the Bible on God being a spirit in Alma 18:24-28; 22:9-11. Lastly, I know another ex-Mormon who left the LDS Church after reading 1 Timothy 1:4. She realized that she was wasting her time doing geneaology work for the dead after reading what Paul said in that text: “Neither give heed to fables and endless geneaologies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.” Sometimes it’s just one verse that God will use to get the attention of Mormons.

    When I think of Romans and the JST (Joseph Smith Translation) I always think of Romans 3:28. This verse in the Bible reads:

    “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

    Joseph Smith wasn’t paying attention and thinking as a Mormon when he re-wrote this verse in the JST. It goes like this:

    “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith ALONE without the deeds of the law.” [Emphasis mine]

    I don’t approve of Joseph Smith re-writing God’s word and he will be judged for doing that, but if Joseph Smith ever wrote a true statement it had to be his re-write of Romans 3:28. He was in complete agreement with Christianity. It agrees with Romans 5:1.

    When it comes to legal terms and those descriptions in the Bible, I think of one of the titles given to the Savior in 1 John 2:1. Jesus is our advocate. He is our lawyer/attorney. He represents us before the Father. We stand before the Father on our own guilty of being a law breaker. He doesn’t even need to ask us how we plead. We are already guilty (Rom 3:23). When the Father makes the official pronouncement, the Savior steps in front of us because He is our advocate. At that moment the Father sees the Son and states, “Hold it. Stop!”. The Father now sees perfection because He is looking at the Son. He then looks over at the angel (representative of the court clerk) who is standing over the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 20:12,15) and asks if my name is in the book. The angel states that my name is in the book of life because I have accepted Christ as my savior and have accepted His perfection as my own (Hebrews 10:14). I have imputed righteousness through the Savior. The Father then declares me “not guilty”. I am now free because of the advocate and am allowed to leave the Father’s court room and live with Him in His Kingdom because of His Son.

  2. September 19, 2008 at 7:31 pm


    Are you honestly claiming that in Alma 18:24-28 and 22:9-11 the Book of Mormon teaches that God is a spirit? If so then you need to read those passages again. In both cases the sons of Mosiah (Ammon and Aaron) are teaching Lamanites about God. Those Lamanites believed in a Great Spirit and so Ammon and Aaron simply use the Lamanites’ current understanding of God as a Great Spirit to further explain things. This is called teaching. You use something a person already understands to help them comprehend something new or different. Also, we believe the soul of a person is their spirit and physical bodies combined; so technically we do believe God is a Great Spirit (though that’s not the approach being used in the cited verses), but also has a body of flesh and bones.

    Now when it comes to Christ as our advocate before the Father we’re right there with you. That was very well explained. However we believe that in order to receive Christ’s help we must do more than offer lip service; specifically we need faith, which is manifest in righteous living, and we need to receive saving ordinances.

    Now one point of confusion may come because we believe that true followers of Christ will continually strive to become more Christ-like themselves. This second point is taught in the parable of the talents (and throughout the gospels). We should make the best possible use of every God given resource and gift in our lives. This includes our intelligence, strength, time, talents, ability to work and so on. Not because we’re not covered by grace until we live perfectly, but rather that is what it means to be on the straight and narrow path. Christ’s call is to live better, be more like Him. We are to continually use every available resource, especially the grace and succor of Christ, to improve our own character to be more in-line with Christ’s teachings and example.

    I will be on vacation before anyone responds, so please realize I won’t be able to join the discussion again for sometime.

  3. September 19, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Gee I missed that Alma reference.

    Oops. I can’t believe that old canard is still being passed around. Only in a couple places does the Book of Mormon mention God is a spirit: one is from the mouths of the apostate Zoramites. The other is when Ammon is attempting to reach out to the non-believing Lamanite king (similar to Paul’s attempt to analogize God to the gods of the Greeks on Mars Hill).

    That’s kind of an embarrassing slip.

    Kind of like dragging up the Spaulding manuscript theory, decades after it has been utterly discredited. Or admitting you got any of your information from the Tanners…

    As for saying that “God is spirit” in John. You’ll note that it says “God is spirit” not “God is A spirit” (yes, this is also true if you check the original Greek). The phrase is similar to the the phrase “God is love.” Yes God is love. But no one claims that that is ALL He is. Likewise with spirit. God is “spirit.” But that’s not all He is.

    Your use of 1 Timothy 1:4 as an argument against genealogy work is pretty tenuous as well. It’s hardly clear that the practice Paul was preaching against had anything to do with LDS temple work.

    As for Heb 10:14, the text implies an ONGOING process of perfection through Christ, not a one-time confession.

  4. 4 markcares
    September 19, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    I would be interested in hearing your reaction to the JST’s version of Romans 4:5.

  5. 5 Berean
    September 20, 2008 at 2:14 am

    Seth & Reggie,

    I could disect each of your statements and write long posts about them, but what is the point? Seth, just for future reference, when your posts are laden with sarcasm, don’t expect a response. As for both of you, your problem isn’t with me. It’s with your former brethren that came across those verses that I mentioned in my post that struck them hard enough to make them leave the Mormon Church. You lost three members, and possibly others in their family when they left, when they came across those verses. It obviously made an impact on them, but not you. That’s okay. We still have hope for you.

    Let’s try something new – staying on topic. Like Mark Cares, I’d like to hear your input on the JST of Romans 4:5 as compared to the Biblical text.

  6. 6 Berean
    September 20, 2008 at 2:39 am

    By the way, my comment about staying on topic applies to me too! We all need to do a better job of doing that.

  7. September 20, 2008 at 4:36 am

    Right you are Berean.

    Mark, I don’t have access to a full copy of the JST. All I have is the Mormon-issue standard works. I’ve got it open to Romans 4, and the only passage that has a JST footnote is verse 16. I don’t really know what verse 5 is saying beyond what you’ve written above. But I of course assume that you are reporting it accurately.

    So what do I think…

    I think I have no objections to the passage in either version.

    The original KJV language of Romans 4:5 actually fits very well with Mosiah 2:20-24. Mormon doctrine makes it exceedingly clear that works have no power to save us. James 2:17 makes it quite clear that true faith will always manifest itself in good works. But it is not the works that save or reconcile us with God.

    2 Nephi 25:23 (“for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”) is sometimes cited as evidence that LDS believe that “all you can do” is necessary to gain salvation. I do not think this is a correct reading of this scripture. The final phrase “after all we can do” is not a complete thought alone and of itself. I don’t know how it looked in the original Reformed Egyptian, but in English it seems misplaced. It would be more accurate to read that “after all we can do, it is by grace we are saved.”

    So the verse is not saying that you first have to do “all you can do” to “merit” grace (honestly, who among us ever does “all he can do”?). What the verse is saying is that even after all your best efforts, it is only by grace that you are saved. For further evidence of this, see the following Book of Mormon passages:

    Alma 24:11 (“all they could do” was to repent and get God’s forgiveness and mercy)
    2 Nephi 2:5-9 (Lehi makes it plain that mercy is the ONLY way to dwell with God)
    2 Nephi 10:24 (Nephi: “it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved”)

    With this in mind, it is pretty clear where LDS scriptures stand in relation to grace vs. works.

    Now, what about Joseph’s alternate read on Romans 4:5?

    Well, I don’t really read this as Joseph trying to sneak some salvation-by-works into the picture. I don’t think that is what Joseph is doing here.

    I imagine what Joseph has in mind is more Alma 42:25 (where Alma calls his wayward son to repent):

    “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.”

    I think what Joseph was trying to interject into Roman 4:5 with the words “who justifieth not the ungodly” is the notion that God the Father is just and cannot tolerate sin. This still leaves the understanding however, that Christ makes reconciliation for us. So it is not so much a declaration that the sinner cannot be saved, but rather a declaration of God’s immovable justice.

    I don’t have a problem with either read on the passage.

  8. 8 markcares
    September 20, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    My LDS edition of the KJV under verse 2 references the JST in the appendix – p. 809. That is where I quoted from.

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