And it came to print: Creating a new LDS version of the Bible

Published: Thursday, Aug. 13 2009 12:15 a.m. MDT

Derek Bowen, Arthur Hustwitt, Derek Bowen, Roger Coleman of the Cambridge University Press and Wm. James Mortimer work together on translations of the Bible at Cambridge in England in the late 1970s.

Photo provided by Wm. James Mortimer

"Never since the day of Joseph Smith; never since the translation of the Book of Mormon; never since the receipt of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and the inspired writings in the Pearl of Great Price — never has there been such an opportunity to increase gospel scholarship as has now come to those who have our new English editions of the scriptures." — Elder Bruce R. McConkie

Wm. James Mortimer seemed a natural fit to be on the committee to create a new LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible. As the vice president and general manager of Deseret Book, he was already responsible for producing and distributing scriptures for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like many Mormons in the 1970s, his scripture reading was casual — but that was going to change.

"I was asked to serve as the secretary — the arms and the legs as it were — of three very busy members of the Quorum of the Twelve," Mortimer said. The Scriptures Publication Committee was led by Elder Thomas S. Monson, of the Quorum of the Twelve and committee chairman, and Elders Boyd K. Packer and Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Many other volunteers on the committee worked on the content of the new Bible — creating extensive footnotes, a topical guide, references to the Joseph Smith Translation, revising and expanding the Bible dictionary, and more. Mortimer's responsibility, however, was the typesetting, proofreading and publishing of the book.

"I carried out the instructions of those brethren," Mortimer said. "But I can't tell you the sweet, peaceful feelings that I felt every time we had a meeting with the Scriptures Committee." Each of the three apostles brought different strengths to the committee. "President Monson's strength was in the printing and the typesetting and the processes of publishing. He was very much into that. It had been his life's work.

"Elder Packer, his concern from day one, was whether it was going to cost too much. And he was always looking out for any way to avoid extravagant expenses.

"Elder McConkie was the scholar of them all. He was the biblical scholar ... he did all the chapter headings and was carefully reading all the proofs," Mortimer said.

Finding a publisher was difficult. The complexity of typesetting such extensive footnotes was beyond what computers could do at the time. Mortimer turned to the publisher of the old LDS missionary edition of the Bible, Cambridge University Press in England. Cambridge, which began publication of the King James Version in 1611, still used the old monotype typesetting, a process that used individual pieces of metal for every letter, space and punctuation mark.

In June 1977, Mortimer went with BYU professor Ellis T. Rasmussen to England to meet with Cambridge officials.

The head of Cambridge University Press started out the meeting by telling Mortimer and Rasmussen what Cambridge would do. Ellis and Mortimer looked at each other and knew the meeting wasn't heading in the right direction. "Everything he was saying was not what we wanted, it was what they wanted," Mortimer said. "To be honest, I don't remember (what the problem was), all I know is that it was wrong. The Spirit was working within me and saying, 'He doesn't understand. You've got to set him straight.'"

Mortimer interrupted and explained the church's goals. "I'm not really sure what I said, but when I finished I was a little embarrassed that I had interrupted him and began to tell him what to do," Mortimer said. "But he very politely said, 'Thank you, Mr. Mortimer. Please tell us what you want, and we will try to do it.'"

"He accepted it, and we had a wonderful, wonderful working relationship with Cambridge. What we needed, they provided," Mortimer said.

The work began on typesetting in the first quarter of 1978. Mortimer, Rasmussen and Eleanor Knowles kept busy checking the work of the typesetters as they made their way through the Bible.

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