Doctrine and Covenants Section 6 (from the Book of Commandments (BoC 5 (cf. LDS and Community of Christ (CoC) D&C 6))

Date:  April 7, 1829

Place:  Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania

Historical Note:  Oliver Cowdery came to live with the Joseph Smith, Sr.  family, as was customary for school teachers during that time.  It was while living with the Smiths that Cowdery first learned  about Moroni’s appearances to Joseph Smith, Jr. and the translation of the plates.  Wanting to know of the truthfulness of Joseph’s work, Oliver was answered with a vision of the plates.  When school closed in the spring, Cowdery traveled to Harmony,with Joseph’s younger brother, Samuel,  to meet Joseph.  Arriving on April 5, 1829, he received a first-hand account of Joseph’s revelations and on April 7, 1829, Oliver began serving as Joseph’s scribe.   Cowdery was 22 years old at the time.

This revelation was received  through the Urim and Thumim.  Most likely this does not refer to the Nephite interpreters, but rather to one of Joseph’s seer stones (most likely the brown one used in the receiving of the Book of Mormon).

Publication Note:  Section 6 was first published as chapter 5 in the Book of Commandments in 1833

Original Inscription in Revelation Book 1:  It does not appear in Revelation Book 1

Biographical Note:  Oliver was born October 3, 1806 in Wells, Rutland County, Vermont.   He is the son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller.  He was with Joseph in the receiving of the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods  in 1829.  Charter member of the Church on April 6, 1830.   He was the first scribe to assist Joseph in “translating” the Bible.  He led a “Lamanite” mission to Missouri in the winter of 1830 and returned to Ohio in August of 1831.   He was the member of the Literary and United firms.   Married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer on December 18, 1832.  They had six children:  Maria Louise, Elizabeth Ann, Josephine Rebecca, Oliver Peter, Adeline Fuller, and Julia Olive.  No grandchildren.  Ordained Assistant President of Church on December 5, 1834.  Assisted in choosing twelve apostles in 1835.  Excommunicated from Church for “apostasy” on April 12, 1838 at Far West Missouri.  Practiced law in Tiffin, Ohio, and Elkhorn, Wisconsin.   Ran unsuccessfully for state legislature in Wisconsin in 1848.  Rebaptized by Orson Hyde on November 12, 1848 at Kanesville, Iowa.  Died March 3, 1850 in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri.


Doctrine and Covenants Section 7 (cf. LDS and CoC D&C 7)

Date:  April 7, 1829

Place:  Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania

Historical Note:  The basis of Section 7 was a difference in opinion between Joseph and Oliver concerning whether John the Apostle had died or been translated (see John 21:20-23).   Perhaps the question that arose gives us an idea where Joseph and Cowdery might have been in the Book of Mormon translation for the Book of Mormons speaks of  prophets who never died.  These passages are found in Alma 45:18; 3 Nephi 1:3;  28:7, 38. Section 7 came through the “Urim and Thumim” – presumably his brown seer stone.   The parchment spoken of in the header would not have been in Joseph’s possession, rather it would have been seen and “translated” by means of the Urim and Thumim/seer stone.   This gives us some insight into how Joseph used the word “translate”.   Perhaps the header should say, “A parchment was shown to Joseph Smith in vision,” or something along those lines.

The word, translation, is problematic as it carries with it certain assumptions.  Some of them may be:

  • The one doing the translating understands at least two languages.
  • That an actual document is necessary from which to translate.

We can see here that Joseph’s use of the word “translate” does not fit any of these two assumptions.  Perhaps this gives us some insight into his use of the word “translate” as it pertains to the Book of Mormon.  I purpose that a better word, for both Section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and for the Book of Mormon, would be revelation;  especially in light of the fact that the Book of Mormon was revealed to Joseph while he had his face buried in a hat looking at a seer stone.    This would require us to change our sentence structure when speaking of the Book of Mormon:  “The Book of Mormon was revealed to Joseph Smith, Jr.” instead of “Joseph translated the Book of Mormon”.    Although, I will acquiesce to the fact that Joseph saw himself translating both of these works.

Textual Note:   The text of section 7, as published in the BoC, was much shorter than that contained in our present edition and even shorter as it first appeared in the Evening and Morning Star in 1833.   The additional verses were first placed in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.  This is how the revelation first appeared in the Evening and Morning Star:

And the Lord said unto me, John my beloved, what desirest thou?  And I said Lord, give unto me power that I may bring souls unto thee. — And the Lord said unto me:  Verily, verily I say unto thee, because thou desiredst this, thou shalt tarry till I come in my glory.

[Volume 1 (May 1833), 12:6]

In the 1833 BoC  and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the above text was contained entirely in verse 1.   In our modern, 1981 D&C, this is contained in verses 1 and 2.   The whole business with  Peter does not make its appearance in the 1833 BoC.  After the line “or a greater work”,  the 1833 BoC has none of what we have as contained in the 1835 D&C, nor the 1981 D&C until the beginning of verse 5 (“Verily I say…”).

Most of the additions are clarifications, but many add new meaning to the revelations.   Did Joseph “retranslate” the parchment before 1835 to include the additional text, or did he add the new text on his own volition to expand the earlier work?

Publication Note:   Section 7 was first published as chapter 6 in the BoC in 1833

Revision:  1835 D&C 33 (cf. LDS D&C 7:1-3, 5-7;  CoC D&C 7:1-2)

Original Inscription in Revelation Book 1:  John Witmer.  Just as an interesting side note, in Revelation Book 1, D&C 7 appears after D&C 8.

Revisors – from Revelation Book 1:  Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps,  Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, John Whitmer, Unidentified


divining rod

Doctrine and Covenants Section 8 (from BoC 7(cf. LDS and CoC D&C8))

Date:  April 1829

Place:  Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania

Historical Note:  Anxious to exercise the gift of translation that had been promised to Oliver Cowdery in D&C 6:25, Joseph and Oliver inquired of the Lord and received D&C 8.

Textual Note:  The 1835 D&C and our current 1981 D&C read differently than the 1833 BoC.  This is how the original 1833 version reads:

Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod:   behold, it has told you things;  behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands.

The original text suggests that Joseph and Oliver may have had a tangible instrument other than the Urim and Thummim with which to translate.   This idea is further substantiated in verse 8 of the 1981 edition, wherein the Lord said, “You shall hold it in your hands.” 

In BoC 7 Oliver is told that he has “the gift of working with the rod.”   He is told that God can “cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands.”  In the 1835 D&C the wording “rod of nature” has been replaced with “gift of Aaron to be with you.”   This  addition, which is not in the BoC, still identifies Cowdery’s gift as being in his hands.  The deletion of certain words makes the meaning less clear as to how he might work his gift in obtaining revelations. It seems that Cowdery obtained revelations as he worked with a divining rod/dowsing rod, but, with the change, the allusion to Aaron’s rod which budded (Numbers 17:8), is obscurantist.

We have to understand that in Joseph’s world, folk magic practices and Christianity blended seamlessly.   Working with seer stones and divining rods were seen as gifts from God and these implements were often used not just in receiving revelation from God, but also in treasure seeking.

Richard Bushman observed:

“Money-diging was epidemic in upstate New York.  Stories of spirits guarding buried treasure [think  Moroni – this is my editorial comment] were deeply enmeshed in the region’s rural culture.  In Vermont, too, buried treasures and lost mines were detected through dreams, divining rods, or stones.   From 1800-1802, the Nathaniel Woods family in the Wells-Putne area of Vermont set out with one Winchell, who used a “St. John’s” rod to find treasure guarded by a hostile spirit.  The father of one of Joseph’s  later associates, Oliver Cowdery, lived in the Wood’s neighborhood and may have picked up some of this lore.

“…Cowdery was open to belief in Joseph’s powers because he had come to Harmony the possessor of a supernatural gift alluded to in a revelation as “the gift of Aaron,” or “gift of working with the rod.”  Most likely, Cowdery used a rod to discover water and minerals.  The revelation spoke of divine power causing “this rod of nature, to work in your hands.”  His family may have engaged in treasure seeking and other magical practices in Vermont, and, like others in this culture, melded magic with Christianity.  For a person with his cultural blend, an angel and gold plates had excitement and appeal.  The revelation said nothing to discourage Cowdery’s use of his special powers….Rather than repudiate his claims, the revelation redirected Cowdery’s use of his gifts” (Bushman, pg. 50, 73).

The Church’s web-site says the following:

“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 (history.lds.org).

Dr. D. Michael Quinn:

“By the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, at least one of Joseph Smith Sr.’s siblings had embraced mainline Prtoestantism (Anderson 1970, 111), thus rejecting the magic world view.  Joseph’s  [Joseph Sr.] brother Jesse, in a caustic 1829 letter to his nephew “Hiram,” regarded belief in magic as “a golden calf,” which Joseph Sr. had apparently claimed “brought me out of the land of Vermont.”…Jesse condemned reports that his brother “has a wand or a rod like Jannes & Jambres who withstood Moses in Egypt – that he can tell the distance from India to Ethiopia &c another fool story, many other things alike ridiculous” (Jesse Smith, 1829)…Jesse Smith’s letter to his nephew provides independent substantiation for the neighborhood claims that Joseph Sr., in the 1820’s used a divining rod for treasure hunting (Ingersoll 1833, 233;  Lapham 1870, 384;  Mather 1880, 198-99;  Kennedy 1888, 19).  These Palmyra reports in turn verify Jesse’s condemnation of his brother for using a divining rod…

“…Richard L. Anderson, a professor of religion at BYU, observes that Jesse Smith’s objection to his brother’s rod was ‘not because it leads to treasure, but because it leads to information’ (1984, 526).  Fundamental to the magic world view was the concept that successful use of the divining rod was a godly gift, whether exercised to locate underground water or buried treasure, to identify criminals, or to reveal answer to specific questions.  It was this view rationalists reacted to in their efforts to explain “scientifically” the movement of the forked rod and its success in locating sources of water and minerals.  On the other hand, existing evidence indicates that from the perspective of the magic world view, divining rods, as the name implies, were regarded as instruments of revelation….

“The way in which early Americans obtained revelation from forked hazel rods in response to specific questions was best described in an 1850 publication about an “Old Rodsman” nicknamed “Commodore”….[he] used his divining rod for treasure digging for sixteen years in Maine, and moved to Palmyra, New York, in 1813. “Commodore” left Palmyra two years before the Joseph Smith family moved there.  This rodsman “course of procedure was to swear the rod…and looking reverently upwards [he] administered in a  solemn tone the usual form of an oath;  directing it to tell him the truth to such questions as he should ask, in relation to these [ancient] monuments.  He then inquired whether the French, the Spaniards, the English, the Dutch, the Romans, and several others nations, had erected them;  to all which the rod remained immovable.  Finally he asked if it was the Welsh, or the same people who had built the mounds.  To this it gave a gentle nod,  which the rodsman knew from former trials, meant yes” (“History of the Divining Rod”  1850, 200, 223, 319;  M. Hill 1984, 476-77).   In folk magic, a lack of movement by the forked rod was the answer “no,” while movement of the rod was the answer “yes”….

“…[in] about 1800 a religious group began using forked divining rods for revelatory purposes in Vermont, not too far from the families of Joseph Smith, Sr. and William Cowdery (father of Oliver)….Nathaniel Wood was instructing his followers that “they….were  the lawful inheritors of the whole country.”   They used a “cleft stick, or rod” to discover “the hidden treasures of the earth” and to receive instruction by a “rod of assent…from the rods,”  including revelation “that they must build a temple”….

“….Because of the Wood group’s civil prominence, their religious fervor, and their open conflict with the non-believers, it is unlikely that the Cowdery family six miles away would have been unaware of the so-called “Wood Scrape.”…

“…In fact, an early history of Vermont reported that Joseph, Sr. and  William Cowdery had more than a casual awareness of the Wood group.  Based on interviews with residents of the town, Barnes Frisbie wrote in 1867, “I have been told that Joe Smith’s father resided in Poultney at the time of the Wood movement here, and that he was in it, and one of the leading rods-men.  Of this I cannot speak positively, for the want of satisfactory evidence…I have before said that Oliver Cowdery’s father was in the ‘Wood scrape.”  He then lived in Wells.” …The rumored association of the Smiths and the Cowderys with the “Fraternity of Rodsmen” in Rutland County has recently been disputed (R.L. Anderson 1984, 521-24), and certainly Frisbie could have based some of his statements on the well-known 1833-34 affidavits of E.D. Howe published in Mormonism Unvailed  about Joseph Sr.’s use of a divining rod in Palmyra.  Still, Fisbie was unaware of other evidence linking Oliver Cowdery with the divining rods, and it is unlikely that coincidence alone can account for Frisbie’s accuracy….

” [speaking of D&C 8]…This would not be the only magical instrument that would become divinely approved for use in Mormonism, and it is important to understand that the revlation to Oliver Cowdery is only one example in early Mormonism of God’s ratifying the previous and continued use of folk magic” (Quinn, pg 28-35).

From FAIR:

“It has been assumed on the basis of this that Oliver Cowdery was a “rodsman,” or someone who used a divining rod to search for treasure, water, or other things hidden.  Evidence used to support this assertion is the fact that in 1801, a religious sect led by the Wood family enjoyed a brief popularity, and they sought for treasure with divining rods (Vogel).  The Wood group was reportedly taught this skill by a counterfeiter/forger named either Winchell or Wingate. Winchell/Wingate had been a guest at the home of Oliver’s father, William. Attempts have been made to tie William Cowdery to the Wood group, but there is no evidence that he had any connection with them aside from knowing Winchell/Wingate. As Richard L. Anderson observed:

‘An 1828 newspaper history of the Wood episode refers to neither the mysterious counterfeiter nor Cowdery. The main group of Middletown survivors of the 1800 period–“more than thirty men and women”–were interviewed up to 1860, and they said nothing of a counterfeiter or of Cowdery. The 1867 recollections of a minister who visited the group in the final weeks of their movement include mention of the counterfeiter but not Cowdery–when a disciple was asked where the criminal stayed, he answered: “He keeps himself secreted in the woods.” Frisbie’s own claims about the Cowdery connection to the Wood group are both unclear and unsupported. This is the patchwork of folklore, not tightly woven history’ (Anderson, “Mature Joseph”).

It is therefore not clear whether Oliver used a rod, and (if so) what he used it for. The critical association of Oliver’s possible use of a rod with the activities of local “rodsmen” seeking treasure is used to imply that Oliver was also a treasure seeker.”

The FAIR explanation seems less than satisfying to me.

So, why was Oliver’s explicit use of a divining rod edited out of the 1835 D&C?   Was Joseph embarrassed by his past folk magic practices?   Was there a concern that leaving it in the text would distract from a greater,  possibly more important narrative, that Joseph wanted to be clear?

Steven Harper a member of the LDS Church says:

“By 1829, when D&C 8 was given, such gifts were beginning to be questioned…Perhaps that is the reason Joseph revised the revelation before its 1835 publication, taking out the mention of Oliver’s rod and referring to it more generally as “the gift of Aaron”. What bible believer could fault the legitimate use of a divining rod like Aaron’s or Moses?  Far from discouraging Oliver from using his revelatory gifts, the revelation teaches him how to use them legitimately…”

Richard P. Howard of the CoC says:

“When Joseph Smith approached the reinterpretation and revision of Section 8, he reassessed the place of the forked stick in his theology.  He saw the meaning of Cowdery’s gift of “working with the rod of nature” in a different light.  Both he and Cowdery had grown away form depending on the religious or mystical meanings in such  mechanical objects as the water witching rod and seer stones.  Joseph’s 1835 wording of Section 8 expressed in more general and symbolic terms the promise of the relationship of trust still existing between Cowdery and himself.  It left behind the 1829 reliance on external media, which by 1835 had assumed in Joseph’s mind overtones of superstition and “white magic”.

I personally find the explanation offered by Richard P. Howard as more plausible and accounts for more of the historical data points.  The explanation by Steven Harper almost seems duplicitous.   Hooray for the Community of Christ for doing a better job with this one.  Woot!! Woot!!

So why don’t Mormons use divining rods and seer stones any longer to receive revelation?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks remarked:

“It should be recognized that such tools as the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona, seerstones, and other articles have been used appropriately in biblical, Book of Mormon, and modern times by those who have the gift and authority to obtain revelation from God in connection with their use. At the same time, scriptural accounts and personal experience show that unauthorized though perhaps well-meaning persons have made inappropriate use of tangible objects while seeking or claiming to receive spiritual guidance. Those who define folk magic to include any use of tangible objects to aid in obtaining spiritual guidance confound the real with the counterfeit. They mislead themselves and their readers.”

Dr. D. Michael Quinn stated:

“Like many early Americans, Joseph Smith and his family were religious seekers who did not accept the limits imposed by secular rationalists and mainline Protestant clergymen…[they] occasionally experienced the traditional gifts of visions and dreams of the early apostolic church, just as these early American folk believers also used folk methods of divining and occasionally participated in treasure digging. Although understandably sensitive to the ridicule of those who rejected this amalgam, Joseph Smith, and his family and other early Mormons, evidently saw themselves as simply drawing upon a larger frame of reference in their religious quest…For me, sympathetic and empathetic analysis of the past does not require endorsement and certainly not emulation of such practices. These and other magic techniques facilitated the religious quest of persons who already perceived reality from the magic world view, at the same time that other church leaders and believers without that view or those techniques enjoyed an equally rich experience of divine communication, charismatic gifts, and personal spirituality without using folk magic. The record of the past indicates that culture and personal perspectives help to shape the expression of the interactions between the individual and God. What was natural, good, and effective for some individual’s religious quest in the 1820’s and 1830’s would be artificial and undoubtedly ineffective for equally ardent believers today who have a different perspective of reality.” (Quinn, pg. 226, 228)

Although divining is not commonly used today, it is still used by some in locating well water. Just as a fun side note, when my parents-in-law built their house, they hired a ward member who used a dowsing rod to locate water for their well.  My dad-in-law, in telling me the story, chuckles because not only were they told where to dig the well, but  exactly how deep to dig in order to find water.   The dowser was spot-on.

Publication Note:  Section 8 was first published as chapter 7 in the BoC in 1833.

Revision:  1835 D&C 34 (df. LDS D&C 8:6-11;  CoC D&C 8:3)

Original Inscription in Revelation Book 1:  John Witmer

Revisors – from Revelation Book 1:   Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, John Whitmer, Unidentified 

Doctrine and Covenants Section 9 (from BoC 8 (cf. LDS and CoC D&C 9))

Date:  April 1829

Place:  Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania

Historical Note:  Receiving permission in D&C 8, The Book of Mormon began to be revealed to Oliver as it had to Joseph.   In doing so, Oliver eventually failed.  Pursuant to this failure, Joseph received section 9.  Therein the Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery to resume his role as scribe and promised that Oliver would assist in future translations.

Publication Note:  Section 9 was first published as chapter 8 in the BoC in 1833.

Original Inscription in Revelation Book 1:  John Whitmer

Revisors – from Revelation Book 1:  Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, John Whitmer, Unidentified



Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith:  A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants, Deseret Book, 1985

H. Michael Marquardt, The Joseph Smith Revelations:  Text and Commentary,  Signature Books,  1999

Richard P. Howard, Restoration Scriptures:  A Study of Their Textual Development, Second Edition, Herald Publishing House, 1995

Steven C. Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants:  A Guided Tour through Modern Revelations, Deseret Book, 2008

Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder, Knopf, Borzoi Books, 2005

Richard E. Turley Jr., William W. Slaughter, How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants, Deseret Book, 2012

Joseph Smith, Junior – Compiler,  The Parallel Doctrine and Covenants, The 1832-1833, 133, and 1835,  Editions of Joseph Smith’s Revelations,  The Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009

Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, Steven C. Harper- Volume Editors, The Joseph Smith Papers:  Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books, The Church Historian’s Press, 2009

Oaks, Dallin, “Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents,” Ensign (October 1987), 63

history.lds.org click here to read more

Quinn, Michael, , Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st edition

Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:599–621.

Anderson, Richard, L. , “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching,” Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984) click here to read article – caution should be used when reading this article as it was published before the Hofmann forgeries were discovered.  Click here for a list of known forged documents.

Anderson, Richard L.  “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised.”  BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283-314 – click here to read article.

Smith, Jesse.  Letter to “Hiram” Smith, 17 June 1829, Joseph Smith, Jr., Letterbook 2, pp. 59-60.  Joseph Smith Collection, Microfilm, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, Utah.  Quoted in Tanner and Tanner 1983, 30: R.L. Anderson 1974, 526-7.

Ingersoll, Peter, Affidavit, 2 Dec. 1833.  Howe 1834

Lapham, Fayette, Statement, 1870.  Kirkham 1951.

Mather, Fredrick G. “TheEarly Days of Mormonism.” Lippincott’s Magazine 26 (Aug. 1880): 18-21.

Kennedy, J.H. Early Days of Mormonism:  Palmyra, Kirtland, and Nauvoo.  New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888.

“History of the Divining Rod;  With the Adventures of the Old Rodsman.”  United States Magazine and Democratic Review 26 (March 1850):  218-55, (April 1850):  317-27.

Hill, Marvin, S. “Money Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism:  An Interpretive Suggestion.”  BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984):  473-88 – click here to read article.

Miguel is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.

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