Keep the Old Wine in Old Wineskins:
The Pleasing (Not Pleading) Bar of God

Keep the Old Wine in Old Wineskins:
The Pleasing (Not Pleading) Bar of God

John S. Welch

In a FARMS Update in 2004,1
revised in his 2005 Analysis of Textual Variants of
the Book of Mormon
2 and
supplemented in a subsequent issue of Insights,3 Professor Royal Skousen recommends
that the two occurrences of the phrase pleasing bar in
the Book of Mormon—namely, “the pleasing bar of God” in Jacob
6:13 and “the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah” in Moroni
10:34—should, in both instances, be conjecturally emended to change the
word pleasing to pleading.

Without doubt, conjectural emendation is the most hazardous
tool on the workbench of the textual critic. Conjectural emendations need to be
proposed with caution and should be adopted only when the weight of the evidence
so requires (not when the suggested revision is merely possible or even
plausible). Bruce M. Metzger, one of the most respected names in New Testament
textual criticism, has said, “If the only reading, or each of several
variant readings, which the documents of a text supply is impossible or
incomprehensible, the editor’s only remaining resource is to conjecture what
the original reading must have been.”4
Professor Skousen essentially agrees: “The crucial restriction on
conjectural emendation is that there must be something actually wrong with the
earliest extant reading.”5

Skousen, however, never shows, nor even claims, that pleasing bar as used in Jacob 6:13 and Moroni
10:34 is actually wrong. Indeed, his conviction seems to fluctuate from the modest
view that pleasing bar was a
“possible error,”6 to an
outright “error,”7 to
“problematic,”8 to a
“possible misinterpretation.”9 So
readers are left to wonder how a conjectural emendation is justified in this

As I understand Skousen’s position, he theorizes
alternatively that (a) in the translation process Joseph Smith twice could have
seen the phrase pleading bar (with his
natural or spiritual eyes) and then dictated it to his scribe Oliver Cowdery,
and that in both cases Cowdery erroneously wrote down pleasing
; or that (b) Joseph himself could have been responsible for
the “misreading,”10
apparently meaning either that, having received the allegedly revealed phrase pleading bar, he erroneously dictated the
phrase pleasing bar, or that he could
have received and dictated the phrase pleading bar
but, in his later rereadings of the Book of Mormon, he failed to notice and
correct Cowdery’s “error.”11 If
Skousen has settled on his latest view, that pleasing
is only a “possible misinterpretation,” then either of
these alternatives may be untrue. As is noted above, this does not seem to be a
promising foundation on which to base a conjectural emendation.

To the contrary, I undertake here to show that there is
nothing “actually wrong” with the existing term, pleasing bar, that indeed the weight of the
evidence persuades strongly against the proposed change, and that such a change
would be wrong. The long-standing text makes ample sense. It should be
retained. To borrow a familiar phrase, old wine should be kept in old

I believe that the following ten reasons make Skousen’s
alternatives untenable:

First, Skousen (following Christian Gellinek, a German legal
scholar) asserts that the phrase is a “textually difficult reading,”
apparently because, in his own view, the final judgment is never a pleasing
time for the wicked (he quotes such verses as Jacob 6:9, “to stand with
shame and awful guilt before the bar of God”). But that criticism ignores
the fact that Jacob 6:13 can be understood as implying that while the final
judgment is pleasing for the righteous, it will not be so for the wicked. In
other words, just as the “pleasing word
of God” (Jacob 2:8, 9; 3:2) is naturally pleasing to the righteous yet
hard for the wicked, the same can be said for the “pleasing bar of
God” in Jacob 6:13. The candidates who appear before the judgment seat
will include those who will receive the final invitation to enter into the
celestial kingdom as kings and queens, priests and priestesses, the ultimate
crowning of the faithful; or as Jacob says more briefly in Jacob 6:11 (just
before referring to the judgment bar as “pleasing”), “Enter in
at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall
obtain eternal life.” Is that not a pleasing prospect?

In fact, Jews anciently welcomed God’s judgment and saw it
as a moment of vindication for his people, not as a terrifying and foreboding
event. Thus, as C. S. Lewis astutely observed in his classic Reflections on the Psalms, it is Christians who
tend to see the final judgment as a courtroom proceeding in which they position
themselves as the accused in a criminal case “with [the Christian] himself
in the dock; the Jew pictures it as a civil case with himself as the plaintiff.
The [Christian] hopes for acquittal, or rather for pardon; the [Jew] hopes for
a resounding triumph with heavy damages.12 Thus the idea of Jacob’s
“pleasing bar” is not problematic if one emphasizes an Israelite
background for Jacob’s introduction of this phrase in Jacob 6:13. In fact,
Jacob speaks like the Israelite he is when he sees the judgment bar of God as a
“pleasing bar” but warns that this “bar striketh the wicked with awful dread and fear”
(Jacob 6:13).

Second, unlike the simple terms bar
or judgment bar, the term pleading bar was unknown in the United States
judicial system in the late 1820s, in American literature, and in the King
James Bible (in which, incidentally, there is also no reference to a
“pleading bar,” nor even to a “judgment bar” or “bar
of God”). Skousen does not appear to contend otherwise. Indeed, since he
believes that Joseph as translator did nothing but
read the revealed words and pronounce them for the scribe, he may be
taking the position that it is not important
that the phrase pleading bar was totally
unknown to the Americans of 1829, including Joseph Smith.

Third, in his latest published FARMS Update, Skousen
advances the theory that the entire Book of Mormon was revealed in an archaic
English vocabulary containing a number of words the meanings of which had
significantly changed long before 1829. This is a theory to be addressed
elsewhere, except to note that if it is correct, Book of Mormon readers cannot
always get a correct meaning without resorting to the Oxford
English Dictionary
or its equivalent, leaving one to wonder why the
Lord would want to make the Book of Mormon that much harder to read and
understand, and why the Lord would do that in the case of the Book of Mormon while
giving the Doctrine and Covenants to his weak servants in “the manner of
their language” (D&C 1:24), not Wycliffe’s or Tyndale’s.

Fourth, without offering any linguistic evidence that any
judge or attorney or legislator in the British Empire or in the United States
ever used pleading bar, Skousen refers to
this phrase as a “legal term,” implying to the casual reader that it
was a part of ordinary courtroom vocabulary. He cites only two Internet
postings that contain the term (referring to a 1944 British film and a tour of
an English village, which he calls “historical information”) and two
seventeenth-century literary usages of the term in England (one from a five-act
play, and the other from an English translation of an Italian poem). He refers
also to three pictures of courtrooms in The English
Legal Heritage,
two of which show a defendant standing in the
traditional dock of the British criminal court, but as Skousen acknowledges,13 the phrase pleading
does not accompany these pictures or any others like them in
that book.

Fifth, even if these few archaic and obscure British
nonlegal uses were known in America in 1829, that would carry little weight.
British and American usage of our shared language is widely divergent,
especially in the legal sphere. Indeed, the place in the British justice system
where prisoners are arraigned and then held for trial is now, and has been
since at least 1624 per the Oxford English
known as the “dock” or “bail dock” (not
the “pleading bar” or “bar”). But even the British term dock is not used in the United States in this

Sixth, pleading bar
describes an assumed physical courtroom feature for which we have no
scriptural, historical, or legal authority either in human or divine contexts.
To American readers of the Book of Mormon, it would not have brought up a
familiar image, for prisoners in this country stood before the bench for
arraignment, not behind the railing, if any, that separated the spectators from
the business of the court. Thus, the idea of a pleasing
speaks not to a physical fixture but only to the high quality of
the experience at the bar of God for those who have kept his commandments or
have repented in a proper and timely manner.

Seventh, Skousen appears to see Oliver Cowdery as being not
very bright or articulate, having a limited vocabulary and “a predilection
to misinterpret unfamiliar expressions.”15
Predilection? Cowdery was bright and eventually became a practicing attorney.
And, if the long footnote at the end of Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl
of Great Price is any indicator, Cowdery was not vocabulary-challenged. One who
can describe “opposition” as the “frowns of bigots and the
calumny of hypocrites” would not likely have been disconcerted by the term
pleading bar. But Skousen theorizes that
when Cowdery heard a dictated term that he did not properly grasp, he
substituted another term (a homophone or near homophone) with which he was more
familiar. Examples given are weed for reed, bosom
for besom, arrest
for wrest, drugs
for dregs, and fraction
for faction,16 all of which were corrected in the
1830 edition or in subsequent editions. In contrast, however, the phrase pleasing bar in Jacob 6:13 and Moroni 10:34 is
in the printer’s manuscript and has remained unchanged
in every subsequent edition of the Book of Mormon. The
words reed, arrest, dregs, and faction, as well as weed, wrest,
and fraction, are cases where Cowdery surely knew these words and simply
misheard what was dictated in those four instances. Such substitutions would
seem to have resulted simply from a tired scribe momentarily losing focus or
responding to sounds phonetically and not sentiently, as can ordinarily happen
in the case of any person taking reasonably rapid and lengthy dictation.
Likewise with “I will sweep it with the bosom of destruction.” Since
that phrase makes no sense at all, it could hardly have been the result of
Cowdery’s alleged “predilection to misinterpret unfamiliar
expressions.” But the phrase pleasing
could not have been more familiar and
more preferable to Cowdery’s ear than pleading
He probably had never heard either
term. And, when he wrote Jacob 6:13, he had already heard and correctly written
the words plead or pleadeth five times in 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Jacob and
had already heard and correctly written the word please or pleased three times
in 2 Nephi. Before he wrote Moroni 10:34, he had already heard and
correctly written the words plead, pleadeth, pleaded, or pleading fourteen
times in Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, and Ether and had heard the word please or pleased five times in
Mosiah, Alma, 3 Nephi, and Ether. Thus, these cases of homophones or near
homophones do not seem to present sufficient grounds for concluding that
Cowdery heard and misunderstood pleading bar and wrongly wrote pleasing

Eighth, with plenty of opportunity
to correct the text, Joseph Smith, who made many other changes in the Book of
Mormon, never deleted the word pleasing and replaced it with another. Especially when one realizes
that this phrase appears conspicuously in the final verse of the Book of Mormon
and also noticeably in the next-to-last line of chapter 4 in the book of Jacob
in the 1830 edition, it is very difficult to believe that Joseph did not know
the phrase was there in those two places and therefore accidentally left them
in place.

Ninth, Skousen states,
“Phonetically, the words pleading and pleasing
are nearly identical.”17 If
this means that the two words sound alike, one may certainly disagree. It
doesn’t take a linguist to know that one of these words has a hard d sound in the middle and the other a distinct z sound and that these sounds are easily
distinguished by one with normal hearing. Vocalizing them consecutively makes
the point quite clearly.

Tenth, and most importantly, changing pleasing bar to pleading
in the context of the final judgment would produce a doctrinal
anomaly. None now exists as the text reads. It seems to me that modifying the
term bar of God with the adjective pleading is what would be “textually
difficult.” There are important theological reasons:

1. The idea of a candidate for a degree of glory pleading as
an accused criminal at the final judgment has no scriptural or historical basis
(no matter whether the setting of the final judgment is mentally pictured as a
judgment seat, the throne of God, a tribunal, a strait gate, a veil, or a
courtroom). That idea is no more scripturally endorsed than is the enticing
“few stripes” conceit so graphically denounced in 2 Nephi 28:8.
Why would Jacob or Moroni ever have visualized a candidate for a degree of
glory (not a shackled prisoner or an accused person or a defendant, mind you)
coming before the judgment seat of the Savior as the Divine and Omniscient
Judge (who already knows all the facts) and being asked, “How do you
plead, guilty or not guilty?” What could possibly be the purpose of such a
question? What would be the value to the Divine Judge of an answer? The final
judgment does not seem to me to be a trial scene—a hearing for the
purpose of fact-finding or for distinguishing between truth and falsehood—and
accordingly, there should be no need for a jury to be on hand to help the Judge
(and likewise no reason to assume that if there were a jury it would be
composed of the Twelve Apostles, as Skousen suggests).18 Judgment will be based on the matters
recorded in the “books” kept in heaven and on earth. The Keeper of
the Gate will already know whether I am a “sheep” or a

2. There is no scriptural basis for the idea that pleading
for mercy will be a part of the final judgment. The time and place for repentance
is “the day of this life” (Alma 34:32). When the time comes for the
final assignment to kingdoms of glory, the opportunity for mercy will have
expired (see Alma 42:4). Some sins committed in mortality are unforgivable at
any stage of progression, some must be repented of in mortality, and others may
be repented of in the spirit prison; but so far as the scriptures say, there is
no possibility of effective repentance at the final judgment. The only mercy
that will satisfy the demands of justice flows from the atonement, and it is
fully beneficial only on the basis of timely repentance and forgiveness.

3. While the Savior is often spoken of in other contexts as
our advocate (see, for example, Doctrine and Covenants 45:3), no scripture says
explicitly that he will plead for us as our advocate in
the final judgment
and simultaneously act as the Judge.

Thus, the idea of pleading at the judgment bar (whether by
the Savior or by candidates for a degree of glory) would be injected for the
first time into the standard works by this proposed emendation. It could fuel
an incorrect and misleading expectation of what will happen there.

In summary, based on these ten points, I see no viable basis for accepting the proposed conjectural
emendation to replace the traditional pleasing
with the problematical phrase pleading bar. Bruce Metzger has stated that
“before a conjecture can be regarded as even probable, . . .
(1) it must be intrinsically suitable, and (2) it must be such as to
account for the corrupt reading or readings in the transmitted text. . . . We
require of a successful conjecture that it shall satisfy [these tests]
absolutely well. The conjecture does not rise [above] ‘a happy guess’ . . .
unless its fitness is exact and perfect.”19
This proposal does not pass these tests. There is no adequate reason to think
that Jacob and Moroni would have engraved the words equivalent to pleading bar on the gold plates, that the words pleading
would have been revealed to Joseph Smith in the translation
process, that Joseph would have thought of them himself, or that he would have
dictated them to Oliver Cowdery. The term pleasing
should be retained in the Book of Mormon, where it has been
since 1829.


1. Royal
Skousen, “The Pleading Bar of God,” Update no. 172, Insights 24/4 (2004): 2-3.

2. Royal
Skousen, Analysis
of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part Two: 2 Nephi-Mosiah 16
(Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 1047.

3. Royal
Skousen, “The Archaic Vocabulary of the Book of Mormon,” Insights 25/5 (2005): 2-6.

4. Bruce
M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 182.

5. Skousen,
Analysis of Textual Variants, Part One: 1 Nephi
1-2 Nephi 10,

6. Skousen,
“Pleading Bar of God,” 3.

7. Skousen,
Analysis of Textual Variants, Part Two, 1051.

8. Skousen,
Analysis of Textual Variants, Part Two,

9. Skousen,
“Archaic Vocabulary,” 6.

10. Skousen,
Analysis of Textual Variants, Part Two,

11. The term pleasing is present in the original manuscript at Moroni 10:34 but
not at Jacob 6:13, possibly because of a missing piece of the paper it would
have been written on, and Skousen conjectures that Cowdery had interlined the
word pleasing in that verse in the original (see Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants, Part Two, 1047). It seems reasonable to assume that in transcribing
the printer’s manuscript, Oliver was rapidly copying what he saw and not
editing as he went. But whether that interlineation happened or not, Oliver
wrote the printer’s manuscript as it now appears, and the Prophet let it stand.

12. C. S. Lewis, Reflections
on the Psalms
(San Diego: Harcourt Brace,
1986), 10. I thank my son John W. Welch for this reference.

13. Skousen,
Analysis of Textual Variants, Part Two,

14. Interestingly,
modern American courts do use the term pleading bar,
but exclusively in a completely different context. This technical legal term
refers to a written pleading (that is, a filed complaint or answer to
complaint) that is so compelling as to render any pleading in opposition to it
inadmissible. In other words, a “pleading bar” is a pleading of force
sufficient to “bar” any further pleadings and thus wins the case or
issue completely. Obviously, this meaning cannot be aptly inserted into the
relevant verses in Jacob or Moroni.

15. Skousen,
Analysis of Textual Variants, Part Two,

16. Skousen,
Analysis of Textual Variants, Part Two,

17. Skousen,
“Pleading Bar of God,” 2.

18. Skousen draws this reading without
justification from 1 Nephi 12:9. There were no juries, however, in Hebrew
or Nephite courts.

19. Metzger,
Text of the New Testament, 182-83.