One of my favorite Bible passages is Romans 4:5. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” The whole context is brimming over with comforting statements reassuring us that God forgives us through faith. For example, the very next verse says, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” It is obvious that righteousness without works is Paul’s theme in this section.
But that is not how Joseph Smith translated it. His translation, also called the Inspired Version by theLDSChurch, translates verse 5 this way. “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.” Besides having no basis for such a translation, it violates Paul’s line of thought. In the very next chapter, for example, Paul speaks in a similar way about justifying the ungodly when he writes: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
This is not the only time Joseph Smith did that either. Another beautiful example of how quick God is to forgive us is seen when the prophet Nathan comes to King David to confront him about his adultery. After he laid in on the line and also told David that there would be earthly consequences for his sin, we read: “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13) It’s striking how quickly Nathan reassures David of forgiveness.
But not according to Joseph Smith. He translated it, “hath not put away thy sin that thou shalt not die.” Once again the little word “not” changes the sense completely. It drains it of comfort for us. It robs God of great glory.
A lot of Mormons today shy away from statements like the following what Spencer W. Kimball wrote in his classic book, The Miracle of Forgiveness. “It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes.” I don’t know why they shy away from such statements. To me, such statements are accurately reflecting the way Joseph Smith translated the Bible.
The way Mormonism talks about forgiveness and the way the Bible speaks about it are totally opposite. I rejoice along withSt. Paulthat God justifies the ungodly, that to the one who doesn’t work, his faith is credited as righteousness.