The Book of Mormon has undergone manifold changes since it’s first printing in 1830. Some of these changes have been minor, and some have carried doctrinal impact. When the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon was published it reflected nearly 100 noteworthy changes from the 1920 edition. Apparently more changes are on the way; one future change to the LDS edition of the Book of Mormon has made its debut in a recent edition of the book published by Doubleday.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
“The LDS Church has changed a single word in its introduction to the Book of Mormon, a change observers say has serious implications for commonly held LDS beliefs about the ancestry of American Indians.”
The change to the book’s Introduction is this:
1981 LDS Edition: “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”
2007 Doubleday Edition: “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the LDS Church instructed Doubleday to make this change so it “would be in accordance with future editions the church is printing.”
Changing the designation of the Lamanites from “principle ancestors” of American Indians to “among the ancestors” of American Indians reflects an effort on the part of the LDS Church to deal with the impact DNA evidence has had in challenging the historical claims of the Book of Mormon.
LDS prophets and other Church leaders have consistently taught that American Indians are the literal descendants of a Hebrew character from the Book of Mormon (Lehi). However, DNA research finds no intimate genetic link between American Indians and Semite peoples. Instead, according to molecular biologist Simon Southerton, “DNA has revealed very clearly how closely related American Indians are to their Siberian ancestors. The Lamanites are invisible, not principal ancestors” (see DNA and the Book of Mormon Record for more information on this issue).
Before dismissing the revision of the Introduction to the Book of Mormon as being insignificant (after all, the Introduction is not “scripture”), consider this. The LDS Church, via its magazines, has made it clear that the Introduction text is more than just someone’s opinion. The current Introduction first appeared in the 1981 Triple Combination, heralded for its many added study aids. New Era informed Church members,
“In 1972 the First Presidency commissioned a project to help the Church in improving its scripture understanding. Under the careful watchcare of the Scriptures Publication Committee (Elder Thomas S. Monson, Elder Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), there have been published new editions of all of the standard works of the Church…In August 1981 the new edition of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (commonly referred to as the ‘triple combination’ or the ‘three-in-one’) was published.” (Edward J. Brandt, “New Helps for Searching the Scriptures,” New Era, August 1982, 47)
Two months later Ensign magazine said the new Triple Combination edition was “the product of years of research and inspired direction” (Edward J. Brandt, “Using the New LDS Editions of Scripture—As One Book,” Ensign, October 1982, 42).
Inspiration is a peculiar thing in Mormonism. The word is used in a way that implies divine influence; but the value of the fruit of that inspiration is often fleeting: True today, not necessarily so tomorrow.
At least one “inspired” source left no room for conjecture on the ancestry of the American Indians. Joseph Smith said,
“He [the angel Moroni] told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham.” (An American Prophet’s Record, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, November 9, 1835, 51).
The current LDS leadership’s apparent shift in thinking regarding both the origins of the American Indian, and the Church’s long-standing interpretation of the Book of Mormon, illustrates (once again) the propensity of the Church to revise “inspired truth” to suit the times.