Updating the Chapter Headings in the Book of Mormon

Nathan Richardson

In 2004, the Brethren arranged to have the Book of Mormon published and distributed by an independent, major publisher, Doubleday. It was an exciting development in the area of scripture publication. The scriptural text of this new edition of the Book of Mormon was the same as the standard 1981 edition that the majority of Latter-day Saints use at church and in their personal study, but many of the study aids, chapter headings, and introductory material were changed and improved on (from this point forward I will refer to this uncanonized material as the “supplementary text” to distinguish it from the canonized “scriptural text”). I first discovered this when a friend drew my attention to the chapter heading for Alma 11, in which the word “coinage” had been changed to “monetary system.”

I was interested in seeing what kinds of changes had been made, and an assignment from my boss gave me the perfect excuse to do a comparison of the two editions. At the time, I was working as a book designer under Richard Holzapfel at the BYU Religious Studies Center, the publishing arm of Religious Education. He wanted the religion faculty to be up-to-date on relevant topics like this, so he asked me to do a side-by-side comparison of the chapter headings to make the information available. In the process, I also talked to Kai Anderson of the Church’s Scripture Department, and Royal Skousen, my old linguistics professor who is working on the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, both of whom gave me helpful information about the current scripture editions.

To view the PDF file showing the side-by-side comparison of the chapter headings, including marks that highlight the more interesting ones, click on the following link:

Nathan Richardson (2006), “Textual Variations in the Supplemental Text of the Book of Mormon”

One of the things I learned in my research is that the changes to the chapter headings were made about 1991, as part of the regular process of preparing materials for publications in a variety of languages. If you look in a Spanish, German, French, or Portuguese edition of the scriptures, you’d see the updated language (just as, for example, the Guide to the Scriptures was available in non-English languages long before the English version appeared online). But because there hasn’t been a new printed English edition since 1981, English readers haven’t seen those changes. However, when the Church renovated its scriptures website a few days ago, they used the current text of the headings, so now English readers have access to those changes that have actually been around for almost 20 years.

Designing the Structured Edition

For those who don’t know, while I have my master’s degree in Communication Disorders and have a day job as a speech therapist, my secret identity is as a book designer. I’ve been doing typesetting, book layout, and design work for about ten years (you can check out my website at RichardsonDesign.org). I’ve recently come close to finishing the first installment of what I’m tentatively calling the Structured Edition of the standard works. I was 90% done with the Book of Mormon, when I decided to switch over to the Pearl of Great Price. I’m a few weeks away from being able to make it available, probably through Lulu.com. Here are some sample pages (please keep in mind that I’m in the middle of working on this, so don’t be surprised if you find mistakes):

Nathan Richardson, Structured Edition of the Standard Works

My purpose is to make the textual structure of the scriptures quickly apparent through the use of paragraph breaks (instead of verse breaks), multiple levels of headings, shaded boxes for narrative digressions, colored text for dialogues and quotes, and icons indicating branching narrative threads. I’m hoping it will help people grasp more quickly the original prophetic authors’ literary outline and thus zip through the step of understanding the text to the more exciting step of gaining insights.


  1. I’m currently in the middle of looking at your 2006 paper that you’ve provided a link to above. Very interesting. Thanks for including it.

    You mentioned the change from Zenoch to Zenock in the Pronunciation Guide found at the end of the Book of Mormon to match the spelling in the text. I checked the Pronunciation Guide in the LDS scriptures the church put out on CD a few years back and the Guide on the Church’s website, and they both show the change. (It looks like the scriptures on the Church’s website have the new headings too, at least for several that I checked.)

    Here’s something you may not know: In my (1981) Book of Mormon, the Pronunciation Guide has the name “Mahonri” in it. Except for Zenoch (which may be a typo, or an earlier spelling [the Gospel Link 2001 Book of Mormon 1830 edition has it spelled Zenoch in one place]), Mahonri is the only name I know of that’s in the Guide, but not in the actual text of the Book of Mormon! (You can probably figure out why it’s in there, but I’ve always found it to be a bit curious.) The scriptures on CD and the scriptures on the Church’s website no longer have “Mahonri”.

  2. Yep, the Church’s new scriptures website has the updated text (I should have mentioned that). The Salt Lake Tribune carried an article today about that fact, and I wrote today’s post in order to provide my side-by-side comparison to people who wanted to see it.

    Interesting tidbit about Mahonri.

  3. John W. Welch pointed out that the whole 36th chapter of Alma was written in a chiastic (reverse parallel) structure. The heading to Alma 36 (since it’s a summary of the chapter) also reflects this chiastic structure:

    Alma 36 Heading (reformatted to highlight the chiasm):

    Alma testifies to Helaman
    . . of his conversion
    . . . . after seeing an angel—
    . . . . . . He suffered the pains of a damned soul;
    . . . . . . . . he called upon the name of Jesus,
    . . . . . . . . and was then born of God—
    . . . . . . Sweet joy filled his soul—
    . . . . He saw concourses of angels praising God—
    . . Many converts have tasted and seen
    as he has tasted and seen.

  4. My guess would be that the chiastic structure of the Alma 36 heading was not intentional. It probably simply occurred as a result of summarizing a chapter that followed a chiastic pattern.

    I decided I better flip through the headings in my Book of Mormon, because I thought there may have been some others with chiasmus that I had marked. I came up with two other possibilities of chiasmus in Book of Mormon chapter headings, but in these examples I am not aware of a chiastic structure to the chapter (like I was with Alma 36). They may be flukes, or perhaps there is an underlying structure to the chapters that hasn’t been discovered yet, or at least come to my attention. (Wouldn’t it be odd to find a chiastic structure based on a chapter summary? But, hey, why not? The headings reveal there’s something there, at least at a conceptual level.)

    1 Nephi 13 Heading (noticed 9/20/1992)

    Nephi sees in vision the church of the devil set up among the Gentiles,

    the discovery and colonizing of America,
    . . the loss of many plain and precious parts of the Bible,
    . . . . the resultant state of Gentile apostasy,
    . . . . the restoration of the gospel,
    . . the coming forth of latter-day scripture,
    and the building up of Zion.

    Mosiah 23 Heading (noticed 6/18/1993)

    Alma refuses to be king—
    . . He serves as high priest—
    . . . . The Lord chastens his people,
    . . . . and the Lamanites conquer the land of Helam—
    . . Amulon, leader of King Noah’s wicked priests,
    rules subject to the Lamanite monarch.

    (For the record, I noticed the Alma 36 Heading chiasm first on 3/07/1992)

  5. The Alma 36 heading could have been written chiastically on purpose, but the other two headings (shown above) are less likely to have been done on purpose, since I don’t think those chapters are famous for having chiastic structures. I still think they’re likely inadvertent.

    From time to time, I’ll write something in a chiastic structure, either for fun or just to be a smart aleck. Here’s a fairly recent example:

    The term we use, free agency, is not in our scriptures, as prophets have taught us. Now we learn that the dictionary does not define agency the way we use it.

    The term we use,
    . . free agency,
    . . . . is not
    . . . . . . in our scriptures,
    . . . . . . . . as prophets have taught
    . . . . . . . . . . us.
    . . . . . . . . . . Now we
    . . . . . . . . learn
    . . . . . . that the dictionary
    . . . . does not
    . . define agency
    the way we use it.

    I wrote that maybe a year ago. It now fits even better since Elder Hales’ recent Conference talk on Agency where he mentioned that he could not find our LDS definition of agency in the dictionary.

  6. I came to your site through the Tribune link, out of interest in your comparison of the chapter headings, but now I’m more interested in your structured edition the Standard Works. Great stuff. I hope you’ll consider releasing an electronic format, for those of us who do most of our reading nowadays on an iPad or other electronic reader.

  7. Matthew,

    I’ve gotta say,
    . . your chiasms
    . . . . Are the best
    . . poetry
    I’ve seen all day.

    *sigh* Somehow it’s just not as cool when I do it. 🙂

    Nathan, glad you enjoyed the sample PDF. I’m still trying to learn about the online publishing industry to decide how to make it available. Is there any special formatting required to release it for electronic readers, or is it just a regular ol’ PDF?

  8. Thanks for the Structured Edition Sample. I really like that kind of work.

    I am reminded of once looking at an RLDS printing of the Book of Mormon. They used quotation marks to help us keep track of who was speaking, but it only resulted in nested quotes such that it was impossible to figure out what was going on due to a string of some seven quotation marks on a paragraph I looked at!

  9. Nathan, the most common formats are PDF and EPUB. PDF would probably work fine on larger readers like the iPad. EPUB allows for dynamic reformatting of content to accommodate smaller devices. Most All of the popular e-book readers except for Kindle can read EPUB. Kindle uses its own proprietary format, AZW, which is a slight variant of the MOBI format. Some publishing applications (like InDesign) provide direct support for exporting to EPUB, for most others you can probably find a 3rd party conversion utility. Calibre is a popular open-source converter.

    I don’t have much (any, really) experience with converting to e-book formats, but I’m happy to help however I can.

  10. Very interesting. Congrats on the Trib appearance. I wish the article would have discussed the fact that the changes for the foreign additions were made clear back in 1991, as you mentioned.

    I have just skimmed your comparison study. It looks really good I will have to spend more time with it later on.

    Regarding changes in the pronunciation of Book of Mormon names, the article below links to a table that shows how some of the names were pronounced by early saints by analyzing the phonetic Deseret Alphabet.


  11. No idea if a “structured edition” exists already or not but one would be lovely to have. EPUB would be the best way to go as it is probably the widest used. I actually have a kindle myself.

  12. John, that’s interesting about the RLDS’s version using quotation marks. I can understand how it gets complicated. I had to create several layers of color swatch names when marking dialogues. When it’s a prophet is speaking, and he quotes the Lord, who is alluding to an earlier prophecy, but the wording has some variations from the source text, it can get kind of hairy. 🙂

    Nathan, thanks for that invaluable information. Since I’m using InDesign, it looks like I won’t have to get a third-party utility, which is good news.

    Sgarff, good to hear from you again. Thanks for that link! Do you think I should include the pronunciation guide in my edition of the Book of Mormon? Also, I agree about the Trib article; that little fact really adds some needed context, and I don’t know why it doesn’t come up more often when people talk about the heading changes.

    Johan, then with your permission as a Kindle user, I guess I’ll plan on using the EPUB format. I hope that’s not a disappointment. 🙂 Actually, I guess I could convert to Kindle’s AZW format, if there’s a way to do that. Are there free conversion utilities out there for AZW?

    And in answer to your questions about comparable editions already out there, there is a fantastic edition edited by Grant Hardy called “A Reader’s Edition.” Like mine, it uses paragraph breaks, superscripted verse numbers, and headings. However, it only has two levels of headings, and it doesn’t mark digressions. It uses quotations marks and sometimes italics to do what I do with color. It marks some narrative threads through footnotes, but I wanted to make mine more noticeable so they don’t get skipped over amidst all the other footnotes when a person is trying to read chronologically.

    One strength of his edition is the very useful introduction and appendixes. He also has great footnotes. I’m trying to decide how extensive I want the footnotes in my edition to be. Like Grant’s, I don’t want mine to get into interpretation. Also, if I take on too grand of goals for the footnotes, I might never get my Book of Mormon volume finished. I need to keep it simple; this is a hobby and I’m not getting paid for it! 🙂

    Here’s a question for all readers: Is there a better name I should use than “Structured Edition”? I don’t want to use “Reader’s Edition” because (1) it’s already been used, more than once, and (2) it’s not descriptive of what makes this edition distinct from other editions. I’m open to suggestions.

  13. I love the term “Structured Edition”.

    To learn about self-publishing, go to the Amazon Home page. At the bottom of the page, click “Self-publish with Us” to learn about the options.

  14. I also came here through the link on the SL Tribune article.

    The Structured Edition of the scriptures sounds like such an exciting project! I wish you all the best in it.

    Is your intention to eventually do all of the Standard Works? I would be especially interested in seeing your treatment of the New Testament.

    Also, in answer to your question about alternatives to “Structured Edition” – Maybe “Narrative Edition.”

  15. Yep, I intend to do all the Standard Works. I’ll probably do the Book of Mormon next, since I’m already so far into it.

    The New Testament has a few unique challenges. Some of Paul’s letters (and Peter’s) defy outlining, maybe because he was writing off the cuff. But I guess a well-written work doesn’t have to have an outline—look at the genre of the personal essay. So it’s a hard balance to strike. I want headings that help orient the reader, but I don’t want to superimpose a outline full of twenty-first century assumptions.

  16. EPUB is best, since Kindle, iPad and Nook support it and it gives the most flexibility in reading choices due to the fact that it adjusts the pagination to your font settings.

  17. Thanks, Carl. If I understand him right, Nathan Hadfield said that Kindle doesn’t support EPUB. Is that the case? If Kindle did support EPUB, that’d be super because then I’d only have to use the one format.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *