Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had received from God the gift to translate ancient records (see D&C 6:25–28). From the beginning of their work together Joseph Smith translated and Oliver Cowdery acted as scribe. Oliver Cowdery desired to have a more active role in the translating process, and so the Prophet inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim and received a revelation (see Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:50).
The Prophet Joseph wrote: “Whilst continuing the work of translation, during the month of April, Oliver Cowdery became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him, and in relation to this desire the following revelations were obtained: [D&C 8–9]” (History of the Church, 1:36).
The Lord giveth liberally to the spiritually prepared if they will only ask in faith, nothing wavering (see James 1:5–6). This promise was repeated to Oliver Cowdery, but it is available to all faithful Saints (cf. 3 Nephi 18:19–20). It was this promise that opened the heavens in the present dispensation (see JS—H 1:11–18).
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “the Lord seemed perfectly willing that Oliver Cowdery as well as Joseph Smith should engage in this labor of translating the plates, and he gave in some detail what qualifications are necessary for the reception of knowledge by revelation and also the procedure necessary in translating ancient records. Oliver was informed that this power could not be received except by the exercise of faith with an honest heart, and by this faith, knowledge of the ancient records and their engravings should be made known. …
“The Lord told him that he was to continue as scribe until the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed, and that there were other ancient records to come forth, and that he might have the privilege of translating these at some future day if he would remain faithful. We learn from the Book of Mormon that there are many records and that at some time, when the people are prepared by faith to receive them, that they shall also be translated and published for the knowledge and salvation of the faithful. (II Nephi 27:7–8; III Nephi 26:6–11; Ether 3:22–28; 4:5–7.)” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:50, 52.)
Elder George Q. Cannon taught that “the same spirit of revelation that Moses had … rests upon him who holds the presidency as senior apostle in the midst of the people of God. The apostles of this Church have all the authority, they have all the keys, … all the spirit of revelation necessary to lead this people into the presence of the Lamb in the celestial kingdom of our God. …
“… You will find it so to your entire satisfaction if you will listen to their counsels and be guided by them.” (In Journal of Discourses, 21:270–71.)
Enrichment C in the Appendix contains a more complete discussion of personal revelation and how it is received.
Oliver Cowdery was given the gift of understanding the voice of the Spirit. If he hearkened to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, he could protect himself from those who would seek to bring about his physical death and also from those who would tempt him to sin and thus bring his soul “to destruction” (D&C 8:4).
Concerning the destruction of the soul, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
“A soul cannot be destroyed.
“Every soul born into this world shall receive the resurrection and immortality and shall endure forever. Destruction does not mean, then, annihilation. When the Lord says they shall be destroyed, he means that they shall be banished from his presence, that they shall be cut off from the presence of light and truth, and shall not have the privilege of gaining this exaltation; and that is destruction.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:227–28; see also Alma 12:16; Helaman 14:18.)
“There was another gift bestowed upon Oliver Cowdery, and that was the gift of Aaron. Like Aaron with his rod in his hand going before Moses as a spokesman, so Oliver Cowdery was to go before Joseph Smith. Whatever he should ask the Lord by power of this gift should be granted if asked in faith and in wisdom. Oliver was blessed with the great honor of holding the keys of this dispensation with Joseph Smith, and, like Aaron, did become a spokesman on numerous occasions. It was Oliver who delivered the first public discourse in this dispensation.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:52.)
“Oliver Cowdery also had the ‘gift of Aaron.’ Aaron was the elder brother of Moses. Being prompted by the Spirit of the Lord, he met his younger brother in the wilderness and accompanied him to Egypt. He introduced him to the children of Israel in the land of Goshen. He was his spokesman before Pharaoh, and he assisted him in opening up the dispensation which Moses was commissioned to proclaim (Exodus 4:27–31). This was the gift of Aaron. In some respects Oliver Cowdery was the Aaron of the new and last dispensation.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 44.)
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. declared:
“As I think about faith, this principle of power, I am obliged to believe that it is an intelligent force. Of what kind, I do not know. But it is superior to and overrules all other forces of which we know. …
“[We] have had this great power given unto us, this power of faith. What are we doing about it? Can you, can we, do the mighty things that the Savior did? Yes. They have been done by the members of the Church who had the faith and the righteousness so to do. Think of what is within your power if you but live the Gospel, if you but live so that you may invoke the power which is within you.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1960, p. 21.)