When the LDS Church published its own edition of the King James version of the Bible in 1980, Church leaders claimed that it was a significant achievement. The edition included extensive and better organized footnotes than those in other editions of the Bible. It also featured a lengthy Bible Dictionary and a Topical Guide (originally published as a standalone volume). At least LDS Church members (and other, non-members, if my memory is correct) hailed its publication as a valuable study tool. [Obviously, its inclusion of citations to other LDS scriptural works and the LDS concepts included in the Bible Dictionary and Topical guide prevented others from adopting this edition or showing much interest.]
At the time, it seemed obvious, at least to me, that similar LDS editions of the Bible in other languages would eventually follow. But more than 25 years later, we still have yet to see an LDS edition of the Bible in any other language.
To the casual observer, an LDS edition of the Bible in Spanish and in Portuguese would seem like a no brainer. The Church uses old, well-known protestant translations simiar to the King James translation used in English. By their age, both should be in the public domain (the Reina Valera translation, used in Spanish, was completed in 1602, while the João Ferreira de Almeida translation, the Portuguese version used in the Church, was complete by 1711, but only published in 1748). Theoretically, the Church could take these translations, add its footnotes and translate the Bible Dictionary and Topical Guide.
Its a big project, but less complex than the original LDS edition in English because most of the footnotes and topical selections have been made already in English. And such an edition makes sense when you realize that the current number of LDS Church members in Spanish-speaking countries exceeds the number of English-speaking Church members on the rolls in 1980, when the LDS edition was released, by at least 35%, or more than 1 million members.
So why hasn’t the Church produced its own editions?
As might be expected, the situation is more complicated than it appears.
For a while I assumed there was some copyright exception that kept these editions in copyright. When I finally got around to looking at the issue a few months ago, the problem became clear. Both the Reina Valera and the Ferreira de Almeida translations have undergone multiple revisions over the years, and these revisions are generally necessary for most LDS Church members to understand the text. It is the revisions that LDS Church members purchase and use.
The most recent versions of the Reina Valera date from 1960 and 1995, and are still covered by copyright. The Ferreira de Almeida translation has undergone revisions by three different groups, resulting in three different versions available, all of which are currently covered by copyright.
On a practical basis, this leaves the Church with just four options:
- License the translation and pay a royalty to the copyright owner. Since the copyright owners in both Spanish and in Portuguese are evangelical bible societies, I wonder if getting a license is even possible. [Financially, the royalty is likely to be less that what these societies are earning from selling their editions to LDS Church members. And they may object to dealing with Mormons regardless of the finances.]
- Use an older, public domain version of these translations. Both the Reina Valera and the Ferreira de Almeida have revisions published in 1909, which are in the public domain in the US, and possibly elsewhere also. Unfortunately, the 1909 versions would likely require significant work to eliminate words that have since become incomprehensible to the average Church member. In addition, the change would mean that members would have to become accustomed to a new edition.
- Continue the current situation, having Church members purchase the bible editions sold by others, in spite of the lack of footnotes, Bible dictionary, etc.
- Publish a stand alone Bible Dictionary and Topical Guide for Church members, and let them use it along side their current bibles.
I suppose it is also possible for the Church to create its own translations of the Bible in these languages, but since a translation can take decades and often requires a team of translators fluent in the Biblical texts, that kind of commitment is probably beyond the Church’s resources.
This situation is also hampered by the real distribution issues that the Church could face. Without a network of LDS stores to serve the market or some other system for distributing Church materials, distribution would have to go through local wards and branches. Priesthood and Relief Society manuals and similar materials already do this, so perhaps it would not be too difficult.
Other than maintaining the status quo, for now, I have no idea what the Church will do. I think, as a publisher in the LDS market, I would probably choose to revise older translations and produce an LDS edition of the Bible that way, were I to decide to publish a bible.
But, and this is one of the real issues facing LDS publishers and authors, it somehow doesn’t seem like its my place to publish the bible independently of the Church. Like publishing doctrinal works, the risk is that you will either get the doctrine wrong, or step on the toes of some general authority.
Regardless, I believe that such an edition could be a significant benefit to Spanish and Portuguese-speaking LDS Church members, as well as for members that speak other languages.
What do you think should happen?