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
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."
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
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.