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Operations of the Spirit: Part 7c of 12, The Oliver Cowdery Revelations, D&C 6, 8, and 9

This is the seventh of fifteen parts to an essay 
entitled "Operations of the Spirit"; this part covers 
D&C 9. The entire essay is just over one hundred pages 
if printed out, so it is presented serially in this blog. 
These parts should be read sequentially, because each 
builds on the previous parts. Hopefully, readers will 
have comments, suggestions and criticisms. 
The fifteen parts are as follows:
I. Introduction, Part I 
II. Confusing Terms, Part II 
III. Metaphors and Meaning, Parts III through VI 
     A. The still small voice, Part III 
     B. The heart and reins, Part IV
     C. Light and burning, as in a burning in the bosom, Part V 
     D. Extracting meaning from metaphors,, Part VI 
IV. The Scriptures and the Spirit, Parts VII through X 
     A. The Oliver Cowdery revelations: D&C 6, 8 and 9, Parts VII(a), (b), and (c) 
     B. Other modern-day scriptures, Part VIII 
     C. Ancient scriptures about the Spirit, Part IX 
     D. Extraordinary events, Part X 
V. The Spirit and Individual Affectations, Part XI 
VI. Conclusion, Part XII 

There are footnotes in this work. You can read the footnotes 
by hovering your cursor over the note, or you can click 
on the note to read it as text. There is a symbol at the end 
of each footnote that allows you to return to the text 
by clicking on it.

D&C 9

Part VII(a) of this series of posts introduces the Oliver Cowdery revelations given in April 1829 during the translation of the Book of Mormon by discussing D&C 6. Part VII(b) addressed the second revelation, D&C 8. This part addresses D&C 9 and provides additional elucidation about the workings of the Spirit.1

3. D&C 9: the third revelation on the Spirit. Oliver Cowdery’s gift served him for awhile because he was successful in his translation attempts for a period of time; after all, the privilege of translating was taken from him with this observation by the Lord in the third of the three Oliver Cowdery revelations, “And, behold, it is because you that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate [a declaration that he had done some translating], that I have taken away this privilege from you.”2

Oliver Cowdery’s desire to translate was not coupled with the work required:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right, I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right then you shall have no such feelings . . . .3

Generally, people today hardly give notice to the study-it-out-in-your-mind part of this scripture and focus instead on some literal meaning they attach to the metaphor’s vehicle, the burning in one’s bosom. These people think that just asking with strong “faith”4 will result in this know-it-when-you-feel/see-it experience many say will come to those who have faith. In other words, these people are doing the same thing for which Oliver Cowdery was chastened. Lip service is given to making a decision before prayer, but the decision is pretermitted without this spiritual confirmation of breast-swelling sensation or emotion. These people do not recognize the tenor of the metaphor at work.5

An example helps appreciate the burning-in-the-bosom metaphor. Take something as mundane as a math problem. A student can assiduously work through a problem following all the procedures and reach a conclusion that just does not make any sense. The student’s reaction is, “That’s not right.” So he reworks the problem, finds his error, and arrives at an answer that makes sense. He feels good about it. The same thing happens when someone is writing an essay. The writer may struggle with how exactly to phrase a thought, drafting and redrafting until the writer concludes, “That’s it! Perfect!” Knowing that you have arrived at the right answer or expressed your thoughts perfectly results in peace of mind, which can be described as a feeling, but a realization may or may not result in a frisson.6

Whether it is the answer to a mathematics problem or how precisely to express one’s thought, the feeling of peace or confidence that comes upon one that the answer is right or the idea is expressed correctly is what this burning in one’s bosom must be even though completing a math problem or finishing an essay may not result in the same emotion one has when swept away by beautiful music or holding a newborn or appreciating an appealing piece of fine art. The music, the baby and the art can be different experiences, emotions and even frissons, for different people, but the peace of mind when one knows he is right does not change with one’s perspective or disposition.

Reading the burning-in-your-bosom revelation with a proper view of the meaning of faith (what one does because they believe in something strongly enough act upon that belief) underscores what one must do to achieve either the peace of mind or the eureka experience metaphorically described as a burning within one’s bosom or the still small voice.7

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong . . . .8

This scripture makes it clear that the process is study to figure it out; followed by asking whether the conclusion makes sense. Only then does one get this satisfying realization or not. This peace of mind or confidence may not be accompanied by some thrill running through the body as though one was either driving quickly through a dip in a road or a taking a carnival ride where there is a loss in the sense of gravity. But it can be breathtaking and can provoke an individual to get up and walk around as he contemplates the significance of what has just been realized or, put another way, the enlightenment one has just received.9

Endnotes

  1. The capitalization of spirit does denote a particular person in this series of blogs; rather, the connotation is a divine spirit.
  2. D&C 9:5. There is a somewhat incredulous tone to this revelation. It would be interesting to see the handwriting of the scribes in the original manuscript, which was substantially destroyed when it was removed from the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1882. Some twenty-eight words in the remnants of the original in what is now Alma 45 are in Joseph Smith’s hand with Oliver Cowdery’s on either side, but this short transcription just leaves room for speculation. Royal Skousen opines that this is not a translation done by Oliver Cowdery, suggesting, instead, that this is something Joseph Smith just finished while the words were still fresh during an emergency break taken by Cowdery. Gardner, op cit. at 311 n. 80. Perhaps, there was a larger portion in Smith’s hand in the destroyed portions.
  3. D&C 9:7–9 (April 1829)
  4. Faith is in quotes because the word is often if not generally used as a synonym for belief, particularly when referring to this you-will-know-it feeling. Faith, however, is used in the scriptures to refer to what someone does to try or test some information-based belief he hopes is true. Hebrews 11 is, perhaps, the best exposition of faith in the scriptures even though some of the translation was bollixed on account of the saved-by-grace prejudice of the translators, a topic requiring analysis beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say, there are two groupings of examples of faith in this chapter, one of seven instances and another of twelve, seven and twelve being anagogic numbers. The examples of faith are about what the exemplars of faith did because of their belief.
  5. Dallin H. Oaks has commented on the fact that many in the church have said they have never had this burning in the bosom, the sense that their conclusion passes a gut-check, by using two hendiadyses, “The burning of the bosom, I suggest, is not a feeling of caloric heat like combustion but a feeling of peace and warmth, and serenity and goodness.” Oakes, Dallin H., “In His Own Time, In His Own Way,” Ensign (Salt Lake: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, August 2013), at 26. Oaks recognizes the complexity of burning of the bosom because he uses two hendiadyses in his quest for concreteness and comprehension. People explaining the burning they have had in their bosom is reminiscent of people asking and explaining how clams can be happy, which is in a preceding blog post.
  6. There is a conflict surrounding epistemology, the theories of how to know something. Philosophers have searched for the answer to what is truth, knowledge, for centuries, but they sometimes get lost in mere argument from the basis of one proposition to another without regard to the correctness of the first proposition. David Hume, a brilliant philosopher of the 18th Century, believed that believed that all truth was deduced from propositions that were self-evident or derived from immediate sensation, a philosophy that belittles feelings or peace of mind. See Hume, David, 4Enquires Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals (New York, Oxford University Press, 2010)(reprint of the 1777 posthumous edition). There can be little doubt that the Newtonian approach of empiricism embraced by Galileo and other early adherents to the scientific method worked something of a break from feelings or intuition—dogmatic religious beliefs—having anything to do with knowledge or truth. See Sobel, Dava, Galileo’s Daughter (New York, Walker & Company, 1999). Much of the philosophical movement during the age of enlightenment, roughly ad 1720 to 1820, is, in reality, a movement away from religion and feelings toward science sterilized from any feelings.  Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, The Rise of Modern Paganism (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1966). However, the development of quantum mechanics in the 20th Century calls into question traditional notions of rational thought as deductive only and presages, perhaps, a reconciliation of the role of feelings in the search for truth.

    In the last few decades, scholars studying the mind have suggested that the emotions may be directly implicated in the normal process of human reason. [Footnote omitted.] Others have concluded that reason depends . . . on metaphor and analogy. [Footnote omitted.] Yet others have proposed that mental operation such as “insight” or “intuition” will be needed to make sense of human reason. [Footnote omitted.]

    Hazony, Yoram, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2012) at 260.

  7. Joseph Smith described the effects of the still small voice during is contemplation of the shortcomings of Edward Partridge as anger, causing his bones to quake.
  8. D&C 9:7–8.
  9. One scholar reading a draft of this essay said, after commenting on seeming paradoxes that appear in the scriptures, “it seems that no two encounters with the Spirit are identical. They range from a quiet confirmation of truth (the peace of mind you mention) to an overwhelming and unmistakable display of power that leaves the recipient nearly overcome both physically and spiritually. In between are numerous other possibilities. . . . each encounter has seemed both unique and sometimes a bit hard to decipher. From stories I’ve heard, even Apostles apparently sometimes have some difficulty interpreting what the Spirit is telling them. It’s not an exact science.”

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