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Robert J. Matthews, key to LDS edition of Bible, dies

Well-known expert on the Joseph Smith Translation dies at 82

Robert J. Matthews died at the age of 82 Sunday of complications following open-heart surgery.
Robert J. Matthews died at the age of 82 Sunday of complications following open-heart surgery.
Provided by BYU


J. Matthews was a teenager during World War II when he first heard that

LDS Church founder Joseph Smith had made what he said were inspired

changes to the Bible.


17-year-old was listening July 9, 1944, when Elder Joseph Fielding

Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve said during a KSL Radio broadcast

that Joseph Smith had corrected a verse in the Bible by revelation.


had a spiritual experience. "The word revelation meant something,"

Matthews said in an interview in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.

"I hadn't known that Joseph Smith had made some corrections in the

Bible. Joseph Fielding Smith's statement penetrated me."


day in 1944 began Matthew's quest to learn about what is called the

Joseph Smith Translation. Before he died Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009, at age

82 of complications following open-heart surgery, Matthews became known

as the world's expert on the translation.Matthews

probably would have preferred that people forget his role in bringing

the Joseph Smith Translation into popular acceptance among members of

the LDS Church. However, his work on the JST was his most lauded

achievement by those who spoke with the Deseret News on Monday.


W. McConkie, author and chairman of the law firm Kirton & McConkie,

was a regional representative for The Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-day Saints when he called Matthews to be a stake president. "In

my judgment, Robert J. Matthews is one of the great men of this

dispensation. He did yeoman work on the Joseph Smith Translation,"

McConkie said. "My brother (the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the

Quorum of the Twelve) was insisting that we get the Joseph Smith

Translation in our scriptures, but he couldn't have done it without the

scholarship backing him up of Robert J. Matthews."


scholarship had as much to do with Matthews' personality and tenacity

as it did with his academic work. When he first became interested in

Joseph Smith's work on the Bible, the LDS Church did not trust the

printed copies of the JST that had been printed by the Reorganized

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now called the Community

of Christ.

According to an essay

by BYU professor Robert L. Millet in the book "The Joseph Smith

Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things," Matthews

was sometimes chided by fellow Mormons for even quoting the JST.


lived in that time period," said Monte Nyman, a retired professor of

ancient scriptures from BYU and a friend of Matthews. "Nobody knew

anything about the Joseph Smith Translation — I mean they had a little

knowledge — but today we have it footnoted in the LDS Bible and openly

talked about. ... Bob just made a great contribution to the church's

understanding of it."

The distrust

arose because the RLDS Church had not allowed any member of the LDS

Church to inspect the original documents of the Joseph Smith

Translation. Matthews began requesting permission to see the source

materials. It took him 15 years before he was finally allowed to

see them in 1968.

"He was the first

Latter-day Saint since 1845 to have access to the original manuscript,"

said Kent P. Jackson, BYU professor of ancient scripture. "His research

caused a serious change of thinking on the part of church members and

church leaders."

In short, the version published by the RLDS Church was very accurate.


Barlow, Arrington Chairman of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State

University, said Matthews made three major contributions concerning

the JST. First, no scholar working on the JST can ignore Matthews'

work. Second, without Matthew's work, it would be hard to see how the

JST could have been included in the LDS edition of the Bible. Third,

Matthews' efforts played a role, along with the work of other scholars,

in the warming of relations between the LDS Church and the RLDS Church.


1979, the LDS Church published a new LDS edition of the King James

Version of the Bible. Matthews worked with the Scriptures Publication

Committee, led by Elder Thomas S. Monson, Elder Boyd K. Packer and

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve. The new Bible

included, for the first time, footnotes that contained excerpts from

the JST. Matthews also contributed his expertise to the volume's Bible

dictionary.Matthews' work wasn't

limited to the JST. He was one of four senior editors of the

"Encyclopedia of Mormonism," reporting to editor Daniel Ludlow. He

taught religion at BYU until he retired in 1992.


used to sit in on his classes when I was at BYU," Charles D. Tate, a

retired English and religion teacher at BYU and former editor of BYU

Studies, said. "His insights were amazing and his research was


Jackson said his impact

also included involvement as a curriculum writer for the church's

seminaries and institutes before joining the BYU faculty, scores of

lectures at BYU's Education Week, Know Your Religion classes, firesides

and special summertime classes for instructors in the Church Educational


"He never ever wanted

anything in his life to be about him," Matthew's son Robert D.

Matthews said. "Most of the things that he has done in his life I have

learned about from other people."

After his father died on Sunday, Robert D. Matthews said hundreds of people have shared their experiences with him.


have a good friend of mine who said, 'I took a class from your dad when

I was in college.' One semester (my friend) got mono and missed a bunch

of time. And he said, 'Your dad was the only teacher that called me on

the phone and asked how I was doing and who brought me my coursework.'"


services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Lindon 6th Ward

Chapel, 56 E. 600 North in Lindon. A viewing will be held from 6-8 p.m.

Wednesday at Olpin Mortuary, 494 S. 300 East in Pleasant Grove.

Interment will be at the Lindon City Cemetery, 550 N. 200 East in

Lindon following the service.