This is not in response to those who seek to invalidate the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith as a prophet by attempting to show that the Book of Mormon was not a perfect translation and therefore Joseph Smith was not a prophet, the LDS Church is not true, etc. I’m not trying to start that discussion here, but if that’s what you’re interested in you’ll find what you want here.
I’m merely calling attention to the idea that there is no perfect translation of the Book of Mormon, nor is it possible that there could be, at least not with the languages we have available to us. The issue is that even if we speak the same language, we don’t. If we did, we would never have arguments over semantics, or the meaning of words. If we can have a debate in our society over what the definition of “is” is, then how much more complicate can things get when we debate more complicated terms, let alone start combining words into phrases, sentences, paragraphs, pages, and entire books?
We can say that there is an objectively correct understanding of things, and that God has that understanding. God knows exactly what each word and sentence in the Book of Mormon really means. But when you read a sentence in the Book of Mormon your understanding may be incorrect. Because of your education, the context and experiences of your life, because you were distracted by a mosquito bite while reading that line or because you had an argument with a co-worker the day before, you may misunderstand a particular line in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the words of that line could be rearranged so as to give you the perfect idea that line is intended to communicate, but then the line would not communicate what is intended to another individual. No matter how the words are placed on the page, there is no guarantee that every individual will be able to understand perfectly what those words are meant to communicate. Nor would the translation be perfect for any individual from day to day, since a day’s events changes the context of one’s understanding and can render the comprehension of the same words different from one day to the next. Thus because we are imperfect beings with incomplete understanding, the Book of Mormon is not perfect for us. The fault is not in the book, nor in Joseph Smith as translator, but rather in us.
Thankfully, there’s a solution. The Spirit is there to bend our minds to the correct interpretation, if we invite it and allow it to do so. In this way, our imperfect understanding can be guided towards perfection, giving us the “perfect translation” we desire. Not only do we get a more perfect translation when in tune with the Spirit, but we get additional information not contained in the book at all. We receive inspiration on how to apply the book to our own lives and the lives of those for whom we have responsibility.
And so while there is no perfect translation of the Book of Mormon without ongoing inspiration from God, with the Spirit there is always a perfect translation available for me, that is dynamic and flexible and adapts itself to my changing understanding based on the flexible context of my life. And the same is available to every other individual in the world. There is no one perfect translation, but in effect there are billions of perfect translations, enough for every individual at any point in each one’s life.