Scriptures

D&C 6-9| Background & Context
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Date: April 1829

Place: Harmony, Pennsylvania

Joseph Smith (President)

[Martin Harris] brake the covenent which he made before the Lord and the Lord suffered the writings [the 116 pages] to fall into the hands of wicked men and Martin was chastened for his transgession and I also was chastened for my transgression for asking the Lord the third time wherefore the Plates was taken from me by the power of God and I was not able to obtain them for a season and it came to pass after much humility and affliction of soul I obtained them again when [the] Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate now my wife had writen some for me to translate and also my Brother Samuel H. Smith but we had become reduced in property and my wives father was about to turn me out of doors & I had not where to go and I cried unto the Lord that he would provide for me to accomplish the work whereunto he had commanded me (JosephSmithPapers.org)

Lucy Mack Smith (Joseph's Mother)

And, in the evening [of February 1829], he [Joseph] gave us the following relation of what had transpired since our separation [after the loss of the 116 pages back in June/July 1828]:

"On leaving you," said Joseph, "I returned immediately home. Soon after my arrival, I commenced humbling myself in mighty prayer before the Lord, and, as I was pouring out my soul in supplication to God, that if possible I might obtain mercy at his hands and be forgiven of all that I had done contrary to his will, an angel stood before me, and answered me, saying, that I had sinned in delivering the manuscript into the hands of a wicked man, and, as I had ventured to become responsible for his faithfulness, I would of necessity have to suffer the consequences of his indiscretion, and I must now give up the Urim and Thummim into his (the angel's) hands.

"This I did as I was directed, and as I handed them to him, he remarked, 'If you are very humble and penitent, it may be you will receive them again; if so, it will be on the twenty-second of next September.'"...

"After the angel left me," said he, "I continued my supplications to God, without cessation, and on the twenty-second of September, I had the joy and satisfaction of again receiving the Urim and Thummim, with which I have again commenced translating, and Emma writes for me, but the angel said that the Lord would send me a scribe, and I trust his promise will be verified. The angel seemed pleased with me when he gave me back the Urim and Thummim, and he told me that the Lord loved me, for my faithfulness and humility." (History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, (1853), p.133-135)

Lucy Mack Smith (Joseph's Mother)

Oliver, commenced his school, boarding for the time being at our house. He had been in the school but a short time, when he began to hear from all quarters concerning the plates, and as soon began to importune Mr. Smith upon the subject, but for a considerable length of time did not succeed in eliciting any information. At last, however, he gained my husband's confidence, so far as to obtain a sketch of the facts relative to the plates.

Shortly after receiving this information, he told Mr. Smith that he was highly delighted with what he had heard, that he had been in a deep study upon the subject all day, and that it was impressed upon his mind, that he should yet have the privilege of writing for Joseph. Furthermore, that he had determined to pay him a visit at the close of the school, which he was then teaching.

On coming in on the following day, he said, "The subject upon which we were yesterday conversing seems working in my very bones, and I cannot, for a moment, get it out of my mind; finally, I have resolved on what I will do. Samuel, I understand, is going down to Pennsylvania to spend the spring with Joseph; I shall make my arrangements to be ready to accompany him thither, by the time he recovers his health; for I have made it a subject of prayer, and I firmly believe that it is the will of the Lord that I should go. If there is a work for me to do in this thing, I am determined to attend to it."

Mr. Smith told him, that he supposed it was his privilege to know whether this was the case, and advised him to seek for a testimony for himself, which he did, and received the witness spoken of in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants....

From this time, Oliver was so completely absorbed in the subject of the Record, that it seemed impossible for him to think or converse about anything else....

In April, Samuel and Mr. Cowdery set out for Pennsylvania. The weather, for some time previous, had been very wet and disagreeable—raining, freezing, and thawing alternately, which had rendered the roads almost impassable, particularly in the middle of the day. Notwithstanding, Mr. Cowdery was not to be detained either by wind or weather, and they persevered until they arrived at Joseph's [in the first week of April 1829].

Joseph had been so hurried with his secular affairs that he could not proceed with his spiritual concerns so fast as was necessary for the speedy completion of the work; there was also another disadvantage under which he labored, his wife had so much of her time taken up with the care of her house, that she could write for him but a small portion of the time. On account of these embarrassments, Joseph called upon the Lord, three days prior to the arrival of Samuel and Oliver, to send him a scribe, according to the promise of the angel; and he was informed that the same should be forthcoming in a few days. Accordingly, when Mr. Cowdery told him the business that he had come upon, Joseph was not at all surprised.

They sat down and conversed together till late. During the evening Joseph told Oliver his history, as far as was necessary for his present information, in the things which mostly concerned him. And the next morning they commenced the work of translation, in which they were soon deeply engaged. (History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, (1853), p.139-142)

From Revelations in Context at history.lds.org

Oliver Cowdery lay awake wondering. Could the stories he was hearing be true? The 22-year-old schoolteacher was boarding at the Palmyra, New York, home of Joseph Smith Sr. in the fall of 1828. Soon after he arrived in the area, he started hearing stories of the Smiths’ son Joseph Jr., his encounters with angels, and his discovery of gold plates.

His curiosity piqued, he had plied his landlord with questions, eager to learn more. At first Joseph Sr. was reluctant to share, but he eventually gave way to his boarder's pleading and told him about Joseph Jr.’s experiences. If such wonderful things were true, Oliver needed to know. He prayed. A peace came to him, convincing him God had spoken and confirmed the stories he had heard [see D&C 6:22-23].

He told no one of this experience, though he often spoke of the gold plates and gradually came to believe God was calling him to be a scribe for Joseph Smith as he translated. When the school term ended in the spring of 1829, Oliver traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where Joseph was living with his wife, Emma, farming land owned by Emma’s father, Isaac Hale.

Translation of the plates had stopped for a time after Joseph’s scribe Martin Harris lost the manuscript the previous summer. Despite this setback, Joseph had reassured his mother, telling her an angel told him “the Lord would send me a scribe, and I trust his promise will be verified.” Indeed, the Lord would send a scribe and, to his mother and father’s surprise, it was Cowdery, the very man they had helped prepare. Oliver Cowdery arrived at Joseph and Emma Smith’s home on April 5, 1829.

Joseph and Oliver wasted little time. After spending April 6 attending to some business, they began their work of translation together the following day.

[Background for D&C 6]

Translation continued for several days, then Joseph received a revelation for his scribe. Oliver's lingering doubts about Joseph Smith’s prophetic gift were addressed as the words of the revelation related experiences Oliver had not shared with anyone. “[C]ast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things,” the Lord reminded him, “[D]id I not speak peace to your mind concer[n]ing the matter?— What greater witness can you have than from God?... [D]oubt not, fear not” (see D&C 6:22-23, 36).

Oliver came to Harmony believing he had been called to write for Joseph; now he was there and wanted to know what else the Lord had in store for him. “Behold thou hast a gift,” the revelation stated, “and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above.” His gift was the gift of revelation, and by it he could “find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, convince them of the error of their ways” (see D&C 6:10-11). The Lord also offered Oliver another gift, “if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant Joseph” (see D&C 6:25).

[Background for D&C 7]

In the meantime, Oliver continued to witness Joseph Smith employ his gift to translate. Sometime that same month, the two men were discussing the fate of the apostle John—a topic of interest at the time. Joseph’s history records they differed in their opinions and “mutually agreed to settle [it] by the Urim and Thummim.” The answer came in a vision of a parchment that Joseph translated, which is now Doctrine and Covenants 7.

[Background for D&C 8]

As Joseph and Oliver continued their work, Oliver grew anxious to play a greater part in the translation. The Lord had promised him the opportunity to translate and he wanted to claim it. Joseph dictated another revelation. The word of the Lord assured Oliver he could have the gift he desired. The requirements: faith and an honest heart (see D&C 8:1).

The revelation continued, informing the would-be translator how the process was to work. The Lord would “tell you in your mind & in your heart by the Holy Ghost which Shall come upon you & which shall dwell in your heart.” Revelation had always come in this manner. The revelation declared this was the means, or “spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the red Sea on dry ground” (see D&C 8:2-3).

Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's day similarly believed in divining rods as instruments for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod.

The Lord recognized Oliver’s ability to use a rod: “thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the rod” (Note: The earliest manuscript of this revelation refers to Oliver Cowdery’s “gift of working with the sprout.” Sidney Rigdon changed “sprout” to “rod” in preparation for the revelation's publication in the Book of Commandments in 1833. The 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants is the first source to call it “the gift of Aaron.” See Revelation Book 1, p. 13Book of Commandments 7:3Doctrine and Covenants (1835), 34:3. The word sprout meant “the end of a branch or shoot” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language [New York: S. Converse, 1828]). Confirming the divinity of this gift, the revelation stated: “Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands for it is the work of God.” If Oliver desired, the revelation went on to say, the Lord would add the gift of translation to the revelatory gifts Oliver already possessed (D&C 8:8-11).

[Background for D&C 9]

Though we know very few details about Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate, it apparently did not go well. His efforts quickly came to naught. In the wake of Oliver’s failure, Joseph Smith received another revelation, counseling Oliver, “Be patient my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time.” Oliver was further told he had not understood the process. He was first to “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” (see D&C 9:7-8).

While discouraged by his failed attempt to translate, Oliver dutifully resumed his role as scribe as Joseph dictated the translation from the plates. “These were days never to be forgotten,” Cowdery later wrote. “To sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom!” (“Oliver Cowdery's Gift,” Revelations in Context, history.lds.org)