Operations of the Spirit: Part 8, Other Modern-Day Revelations, D&C 11, 50
This is the eighth of fifteen parts to an essay entitled "Operations of the Spirit"; this part covers D&C 11 and 50. 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.
VIII. OTHER MODERN-DAY REVELATIONS
A. D&C 11: the revelation to Hyrum Smith.
The revelation to Hyrum Smith in May 1829 is rarely quoted. The events during the translation of the Book of Mormon preceding this revelation provide important context, and the scripture is better appreciated when it is reformatted.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery talked about both the translation of the Book of Mormon and the ideas that came to them because of the translation, including the relationship between what they were translating and the Bible. The enlightenment that came from these discussions, what can be called counseling together, provoked other questions, which led to prayer1 and answers. For example, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were “filled with the Holy Ghost” after they received the priesthood from John the Baptist2 even though they had not yet had, using the language common today, the gift of the Holy Ghost bestowed upon them:
Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the Scriptures [i.e., the Bible] laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of. . . .
. . . we commenced to reason out of the Scriptures with our acquaintances and friends, as we happened to meet them. . . . began to reason [with my brother] out of the Bible. . . . He was not, however, very easily persuaded of these things, but after much inquiry and explanation he retired to the woods, in order that by secret and fervent prayer he might obtain of a merciful God, wisdom to judge for himself. The result was that he obtained revelation for himself sufficient to convince him of the truth of our assertions to him . . . .
Not many days afterwards, my brother Hyrum Smith came to us to inquire concerning these things, when at his earnest request, I inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim, and received for him [what is now D&C 11].efn_note]Id. at 43–45 (emphasis added). It is not actually clear what it was that caused their minds to now be enlightened. Was it the receipt of the Aaronic Priesthood; the priesthood is defined in D&C 128, as the right to have necessary knowledge for the salvation of others? Or was it that they were taught something during the ordination process? Or was it their ongoing study of or reflection upon the bible while they were translating? An eidetic memory would have involved recollections of the bible at every step of the translation process. Eidetic memor is discussed in conjunction with Part VII(a).[/efn_note]
Reformatting section eleven is just as important as the context. It can be parsed into divisions or strophes or paragraphs, but the portion dealing with the effects of the Spirit, how the Spirit operates, and what one learns via the Spirit are the set forth in the adjoining image.3
The revelation shown in the adjoining image was immediately preceded by (1) the chastisement of Oliver Cowdery for supposing something would be given him without his studying it out, (2) the reasoning together between Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, on the one hand, and Hyrum Smith, on the other, (3) Hyrum Smith going off to pray and think about what he had been taught. The threefold emphasis is to get knowledge or be taught, work things out in one’s mind, and then pray for confirmation. The Lord told Hyrum Smith he was not ready to preach the gospel because he did not have sufficient knowledge, “Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word . . . that ye may know of a surety my doctrine. . . . Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed . . . . study my word . . . study my word.”4
A. D&C 50: the revelation to the Church.
Unfortunately, the instructions in April and May 1829 about the necessity of study and working things out in one’s mind before one can have the Spirit needed reinforcement just two years later. The early members of the church were biased in favor of something numinous—supernatural or mysterious—about the workings of the Spirit. As a result, the prophet received another revelation that gives a litmus test for detecting and distinguishing the Spirit of the Lord from “the different spirits abroad in the earth.”5
And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand; Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face. Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.
Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth. 15And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?
Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.
Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God.
Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.6
The only fair reading of this explanation of the Spirit (spirit, as noted in the preceding paragraph, was not capitalized originally) is that the Spirit is the effect of learning and reason and the resulting understanding of the truth that comes by ratiocination. Indeed, verse fourteen underscores the rhetorical nature of the Lord’s question about whether something incomprehensible can be the Spirit, but the Lord then answers this question for those too bewildered to comprehend how the Spirit operates. The Lord even goes on to say that just because something is not understood at first does not mean it is not of the Spirit.
Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit [idea?] manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit [idea], ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit [understanding of the idea], then you may know that it is not of God.7
This is a provocative scripture because spirit is clearly used as a synonym for idea. The equation relates the Spirit to an understanding of the truth. Moreover, this scripture reinforces the need to use the key of prayer to unlock understanding; of course, the prayer, one learns from the Oliver Cowdery revelations, is preceded by “study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.”8
- The importance of petitionary prayer should not be overlooked when discussing the Spirit. This sort of prayer is beyond the scope of this essay, so it must suffice to say here that prayer is a key one must turn before the door of revelation/enlightenment is opened to an individual. After all, each has his own free agency, which means God will not bestow knowledge upon a person who has not sought it. This seeking or faith is witnessed by prayer.
- History of the Church, vol. 1 at 40.
- D&C 11:12–14. This scripture is a mirror image of Isaiah 11, which will be discussed in Part IX.
- D&C 11:16, 21, 22. The nature of the priesthood and how it is to be used is beyond the scope of this essay. Section eleven, however, implies that the priesthood is the exercise of knowledge, and this point is made explicit in D&C 128 where the priesthood is explained as the power that comes from “knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of men . . . . the sealing and binding power, and, in one sense of the word, the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge.” What the priesthood is–without using the words power, act, Lord, or God–and the source of priesthood power will be the subject of a later blog.
- History of the Church, vol 1, at 170.
- D&C 50:10–24 (bolding added). The word spirit was not capitalized in this revelation until the 1921 version was published. Robert John Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants” (doctoral dissertation, BYU, April 1974).at 649 et seq. Similarly, the word spirit was capitalized for the first time in, for example 1 Nephi 11, after the original publication. There is no explanation for the change in capitalization, but it was probably the work of James E. Talmage. Talmage was the instructor for a Sunday theology class held in connection with the Church University the Church established in Salt Lake City in the 1890s, and his studies led him to change the wording of the Articles of Faith to make faith and repentance principles rather than ordinances; Talmage changed the wording of the Articles of Faith when he taught a theology class in the 1890s. His changes to the Articles of Faith were adopted with the 1921 edition of the scriptures. It seems likely he, also, changed the capitalization that appeared in the 1921 edition of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.
- Id. v. 31. The capitalization of spirit was not changed in this verse.
- For example, The still-small-voice experience of Elijah recorded in 1 Kings 19 is an example of how the Holy Ghost operates. Elijah’s experience is discussed in Part III of this blog.The Elijah archetype is used in the Book of Mormon, e.g. 1 Nephi 3:25–ch. 4, 17:45–46. Allusions in the Book of Mormon to Elijah’s experience will be the subject of a blog after this blog on the operations of the Spirit is concluded.