Evidence #255 | October 15, 2021

No Revisions

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Scripture Central


Historical and manuscript evidence indicates that the text of the Book of Mormon which Joseph Smith dictated to various scribes in 1829 wasn’t substantially revised or edited before it was published. This is remarkable considering the text’s length, complexity, and consistency.

Testimonial Evidence

Between April 7 and June 30, 1829, Joseph Smith dictated the text of the Book of Mormon in the presence of multiple scribes and witnesses. More than 200 historical documents give details about the circumstances and process involved in this event.1 For instance, in an 1881 interview, David Whitmer gave the following explanation:

I, as well as all of my father’s family, Smith’s wife, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris were present during the translation. The translation was by Smith and the manner as follows: … “He did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment, on which would appear the characters of the plates in a line at the top, and immediately below would appear the translation in English, which Smith would read to his scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe would then read the sentence written, and if any mistake had been made the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they faded from sight to be replaced by another line.2

Dozens of accounts from various sources give similar or related information about the translation process.3 After carefully analyzing such sources, Royal Skousen concluded that the witnesses were reportedly able to observe the following activities in an “open setting”:4

  • Joseph Smith placing the interpreters (either the Urim and Thummim or the seer stone) in a hat and placing his face into the hat
  • Joseph Smith dictating for long periods of time without reference to any books, papers, manuscripts, or even the plates themselves
  • Joseph Smith spelling out unfamiliar Book of Mormon names
  • After each dictated sequence, the scribe reading back to Joseph Smith what was written so that Joseph could check the correctness of the manuscript
  • Joseph Smith starting a dictation session without prompting from the scribe about where the previous session had ended

What is noticeably missing from these accounts is any report of Joseph creating different drafts of the manuscript or making any substantive revisions to its wording or content, as would be typical for the creation of a lengthy, complex document. Nor is there any report that Joseph ever struggled to know what to say. Instead, those closest to the translation consistently described him as simply looking into his divinely prepared translation instrument and reading off the words of the text.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translating the Book of Mormon. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The type of editing reported by the witnesses is limited to the immediate correction of spelling or transcription errors on the part of the scribe.5 The statements give the impression that once the scribe correctly read back their transcription to Joseph (probably 20 to 30 words at a time6), a new line of text would appear in his translation instrument and the process would move on. There is no indication that Joseph ever went back through the manuscript to help him recall its content.7

Manuscript Evidence

Importantly, these historical accounts are consistent with the available evidence from the remaining portions of the Book of Mormon’s original manuscript. It does contain signs of editing, but they primarily involve minor spelling or transcription errors, the vast majority of which appear to have been corrected immediately in the dictation process. In contrast, there is no evidence of any substantive revisions in wording and content, just as the historical accounts suggest.8

In all material respects, the printer’s manuscript (the copy of the original manuscript which was used for printing) and the 1830 edition of the text are identical with the original manuscript, with only minor variations due primarily to added punctuation and visual errors that arose in the transcription process.9 So we can be confident that the original manuscript fundamentally represents the final form of the text.

Black and white ultraviolet photo of a portion of the Original Manuscript. Image via Royal Skousen, "The Original Text of the Book of Mormon and its Publication by Yale University Press," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 7 (2013): 64.


When viewed together, the earliest Book of Mormon manuscripts and eyewitness historical accounts indicate that the text Joseph Smith dictated to his scribes in 1829 didn’t undergo any type of substantive revision before its publication. In effect, Joseph Smith’s original dictation process resulted in what was essentially the final draft of the text.

These findings are rather remarkable, considering that the Book of Mormon is a lengthy and highly complex text10 which Joseph Smith dictated at a fairly rapid pace11 without using any notes or outlines to aid his memory.12 Despite these unusual constraints, the final product is incredibly consistent, coherent, and intelligible.

To help place the difficulty of this feat into perspective, Brian C. Hales has suggested that anyone interested might simply try to duplicate Joseph Smith’s efforts themselves. As Hales explains,

With the advent of smartphones, virtually anyone can attempt to replicate Joseph Smith’s book-dictating efforts. By using voice-to-text apps, the need for a dedicated scribe is eliminated. Instead, an author could dictate a series of text messages of 20–30 words each to a recipient who would then compile them in order to create a manuscript. Before hitting “send,” spelling and grammar could be corrected. Once sent, the sequence and meaning of the phrases and sentences would not be altered. After repeating this process around 10,000 times to create a continuous string of words of about 270,000, the combined narrative would be delivered directly to a publisher for typesetting and printing.13

For most people, even professional writers or scholars, creating a polished final draft of a lengthy document in the above-described manner would border on the impossible.14 Thus, when viewed in conjunction with the Book of Mormon’s length, complexity, consistency, coherency, and rapid dictation, the fact that it contains no substantive revisions or resequencing of sentences provides valuable evidence of its miraculous production and divine origins.

John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Timing of the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, 2nd edition, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2017), 79–125.

Royal Skousen, ed., The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001).

Royal Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 62–63.

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