“Doctrine and Covenants 8,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)
“Doctrine and Covenants 8,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers
Revelation, Harmony Township, Susquehanna Co., PA, to Oliver Cowdery, Apr. 1829. Featured version, titled “6th. Commandment AD 1829,” copied [ca. Mar. 1831] in Revelation Book 1, pp. 12–13; handwriting of John Whitmer; CHL. Includes redactions. For more information, see the source note for Revelation Book 1 on the Joseph Smith Papers website.
In April 1829, soon after JS and Oliver Cowdery met and began working together on the translation of the plates, Cowdery not only wanted to write but also “became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him.”1 Several experiences related to the translation may have intensified his desire, including a revelation JS dictated for Cowdery in early April. “If thou wilt inquire,” the revelation promised Cowdery, “thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous,” and further: “Behold I grant unto you a gift if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant Joseph.”2
As JS dictated the translation of the Book of Mormon to Cowdery, even the words that Cowdery recorded described the gift of translation. Soon after translation work began, JS dictated several passages describing other ancient records and the divine means of translating them. A king by the name of Limhi, for example, told a man named Ammon that he possessed “twenty-four plates … filled with engravings” that he could not decipher, nor did he know anyone who could. Ammon told Limhi that he knew of a man who could translate the plates: “for he hath wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters. … And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer[,] … a revelator, and a prophet.”3
The revelation featured below assured Cowdery that he could translate if he asked “with an honest heart” and with faith, and it declared, “Behold I will tell you in your mind & in your heart by the Holy Ghost.” By implication, the revelation indicated that the gift to translate was not unlike other spiritual gifts that he possessed. Cowdery’s first gift, according to this text, was “the spirit of Revelation,” the same “spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the red Sea on dry ground.” Cowdery’s second gift was identified as “the gift of working with the sprout,” or rod. Like many of his contemporaries, Cowdery probably used divining rods to find water or minerals,4 and though this gift may have been a “thing of Nature,” the revelation confirmed it was also a gift from God.5
According to Revelation Book 1, JS dictated four revelations in April 1829,6 all of them associated with translation. While these texts have a closely related historical context, the precise order of their dictation is unknown. One of the four, a revelation that declared itself the translation of an ancient Johannine parchment, was arranged before this revelation in the Book of Commandments and in all editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. JS’s history follows the order of the Doctrine and Covenants by suggesting that the translation of the parchment may have come before this second revelation to Cowdery. Nevertheless, John Whitmer’s ordering in Revelation Book 1, the earliest extant compilation of revelations, places the revelation featured here before the parchment.7 In the absence of more definitive information, Whitmer’s ordering is followed here.
6th. Commandment AD 1829
A Revelation to Oliver [Cowdery] he being desirous to know whether the Lord would grant him the gift of
Revelation & th◊ Translation given in Harmony Susquehannah Pennsylvania8
Oliver Verily Verily I say unto you that as Shuredly as the Lord liveth which is your God & your Redeemer even so shure shall ye receive a knowledge of whatsoever things ye shall ask with an honest heart believeing that ye [p. 12] Shall receive, a knowledge concerning the engraveings of old Records which are ancient which contain those parts of my Scriptures of which hath been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit9 yea Behold I will tell you in your mind & in your heart by the Holy Ghost which Shall come upon you & which shall dwell in your heart now Behold this is the spirit of Revelation Behold this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the red Sea on dry ground therefore this is thy gift apply unto it10 & blessed art thou for [it] shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies when if it were not so they would sley thee11 & bring thy soul to distruction O remember these words & keep my commandments remember this is thy gift now this is not all for thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the sprout12 Behold it hath told you things [7–8]Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature13 to work in your hands for it is the work of God14 & therefore whatsoever ye shall ask to tell you by that means that will he grant unto you that ye shall know remember that without faith ye can do nothing trifle not with these things do not ask for that which ye had not ought ask that ye may know the mysteries of God & that ye may Translate all those ancient Records which have been hid up which are Sacred15 & according to your faith shall it be done unto you Behold it is I that have spoken it & I am the same which spake16 unto you from the begining amen