PROVO — Eight years after he headed the committee responsible for publication of the LDS edition of the King James Bible, President Thomas S. Monson paused to write in his journal about what it had meant to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I have said in private this is one of the major contributions during my service as a general authority," he wrote on Dec. 4, 1987.

President Monson, who currently serves as first counselor in the First Presidency, has been an apostle for nearly 42 years but his opinion hasn't changed, he said this week at a reunion of committee members who produced the LDS edition of the Bible in 1979 and followed it up in 1981 with the church's "triple combination" of unique scripture — the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

Scholars inside the church and out credit those editions of the scriptures with helping to change the way church members worshipped on Sundays. The publications also altered the perception of the church in the Christian world.

"They created for the Latter-day Saints as well as those outside the church an emphasis on the fact the Book of Mormon did not replace the Bible," said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University.

The new editions included ground-breaking tools like the LDS Bible Dictionary, an index and new chapter headings and footnotes specific to LDS doctrine. It all took some getting used to, said Kathleen Flake, assistant professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University.

The church's culture into the 1960s did not include members toting scriptures to Sunday meetings, as many do now. In fact, many LDS talks centered on poetry and stories instead of scripture, Flake said, until church President Joseph Fielding Smith began to encourage a change.

Other influences shaped the scripture-centered culture of the church familiar to members today. Scriptures committee member Daniel Ludlow said Brigham Young University began to require scripture courses, not just religion courses, in the 1950s, and the church began to emphasize scriptures as the manual for Sunday School in the late 1960s.

The 1978 revelation to extend the church's priesthood to all worthy male members needed to be included in the scriptures, Flake said, and members recommitted themselves to scripture study again in the 1980s after church President Ezra Taft Benson counseled members to improve their study of the Book of Mormon.

When the new editions of the scriptures appeared, numerous articles in church magazines explained how to use them and the tools included with them.

Still, Flake said, "There was a period where members brought their scriptures to church but didn't know how to use them. It took Mormons at least 20 years to begin to really talk about scriptures."

The new edition of the Bible solved a major problem for church members, said James Mortimer, a member of the scriptures committee and former publisher of the Deseret Morning News. Until 1979,

members juggled three Bibles published by different churches.

LDS children used the World Bible, LDS seminary students used a Church of England Bible and LDS missionaries used a third Bible printed by Cambridge University, Mortimer said.

The footnotes in the Bibles and the Church of England's Bible Dictionary were fine — for the Church of England, BYU religion professor Robert J. Matthews said. Much of the doctrine was problematic for Latter-day Saints.

Matthews said the Church of England generously allowed the scripture committee to remake its Bible Dictionary, adding and subtracting to create a separate version consistent with LDS doctrine and now included with every LDS edition of the King James Version.

The project also gave Matthews and Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the church's Quorum of the Twelve the opportunity to champion the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, which McConkie's son Joseph, a BYU religion professor, said had been "something of a hiss and byword" in the church.

Smith's translation — what he said were inspired corrections to errors made over centuries of translation and transcription — is the property of what was then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and LDS church members were suspicious of what it contained.

Now more than 1,000 passages from the JST, or about one-third of the alterations Smith made, are found in the LDS edition of the Bible, either in footnotes or in a small section after the Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary, and a generation of Latter-day Saints has grown up with it as part of the mainstream church canon.

Flake, who is LDS, said the church's continued reliance on the King James Version appears to have benefited it in two ways.

"As a scholar I'm interested in the way the church continues to maintain its commitment to the King James Version while integrating the Joseph Smith Translation," she said. "The LDS edition of the King James Bible is both useful for the church's proselytizing program while integrating a part of its scriptural history that had heretofore been lost."

Another tool that helped change the church and its perception is the Topical Guide, nearly 600 pages citing about 50,000 verses. Each topic first lists scriptural references from the Old Testament and then the New, followed by those from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

"These lists call to mind a great unity of scripture," Matthews said. "The four standard works all treat the subjects the same way."

One result of work on the Topical Guide surprised the scriptures committee, committee member George Horton Jr. said.

"Something popped out we weren't prepared for — the incredible number of references to the Savior."

The guide included 19 pages of scriptural references to Jesus Christ, across 58 topics.

"These references from the four volumes of scripture constitute the most comprehensive compilation of scriptural information on the mission and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that has ever been assembled in the history of the world," Elder Boyd K. Packer commented. A member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Packer was one of the project's directors, along with President Monson and Elder McConkie.

Shipps said the editions quieted some of the criticism from Evangelicals that Latter-day Saints were not Christian.

"This effort was to signal to the world and the Latter-day Saints the importance of both scriptures," she said. "The fact was the church itself started emphasizing the scriptures, both the Book of Mormon and the Bible, at that time."

The project began in 1971 but really gained steam in the late '70s, when deadlines were short and hours for the team, which included hundreds of unpaid students, scholars and interested church members, were long. There was humor to be found, however.

When Mortimer asked for a report from the Topical Guide committee, which was working alphabetically, he received this written reply:

"We have been through Heaven and Hell, Love and Lust and now we're working on Repentance."

When the work finally was done, President Monson said the project had changed the lives of church members.

"You've affected the church and you've affected the youth," he told the reunion of committee members on Thursday night during a fund-raiser for the Crandall Printing Museum in Provo. "Every missionary who goes out is better because of the work you did with very little credit.

"The work was prodigious. I think it's one of the finest projects I've ever seen."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com