The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9

  • Formats:
  • PDF
  • ePub
  • MOBI
  • Kindle store
  • NOOK store
  • MP3 Audio
  • Print now
  • Order Print Copy

Abstract: Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 is conventionally interpreted as the Lord’s description of the method by which the Book of Mormon was translated. A close reading of the entire revelation, however, suggests that the Lord was not telling Oliver Cowdery how to translate but rather how to know whether it was right for him to translate and how to obtain the faith necessary to do so. Faith would have enabled Oliver Cowdery to overcome his fear and translate, just as it would have enabled Peter (in Matthew 14) to overcome his fear and walk on water.

In April of 1829 while acting as scribe for Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery desired to be given the gift of translation. In response to Oliver Cowdery’s desire, the Lord provided a revelation through Joseph Smith.1 This revelation, contained in Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) section 8, reminded Oliver Cowdery of spiritual gifts he already possessed, through which he could receive answers to his questions, and then gave him these instructions:

Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not. Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, [Page 220]and that you may translate … and according to your faith shall it be done unto you. (D&C 8:10–11)

The only record we have of Oliver Cowdery’s response to these instructions is a second revelation received the same month.2 This revelation, contained in Doctrine and Covenants section 9, observed that Oliver Cowdery “began to translate” (D&C 9:5) but was ultimately unsuccessful (vv. 10-11). It also provided him additional instructions, including the following:

7. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

8. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it be right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

9. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

The interpretation of this passage depends on what the pronoun it refers to in the three verses. Conventionally, this passage is interpreted as a description of the technique by which the Book of Mormon was translated. Mormon leader and historian B. H. Roberts promoted this interpretation in the Improvement Era in 1906:3

This is the Lord’s description of how Oliver Cowdery could have translated with the aid of Urim and Thummim, and is undoubtedly the manner in which Joseph Smith did translate the Book of Mormon through the medium of Urim and Thummim. This description of the translation destroys the theory that the Urim and Thummim did everything, and the seer nothing; [Page 221]that the work of translating was merely a mechanical process of looking at a supplied interpretation, in English, and reading it off to an amanuensis. This description in the Doctrine and Covenants implies great mental effort, of working out the translation in the mind and securing the witness of the Spirit that the translation is correct.

According to this theory, Oliver Cowdery failed in his attempt to translate because he had “not understood” (v. 7) the proper technique, which involved mentally working out a tentative translation and then asking for divine confirmation that it was correct.4 The summary of section 9 in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants supports Roberts’s interpretation, stating, “the Book of Mormon is translated by study and by spiritual confirmation.”5

However, witness accounts suggest an alternate interpretation.6 These accounts vary in amount of detail but generally describe Joseph Smith [Page 222]placing one or more seer stones (also referred to as interpreters, directors, or Urim and Thummim by early Mormons) into a hat, drawing the hat close to his face, and dictating the English translation to his scribe.7 In his public statements, Joseph Smith gave very little information about how he translated, indicating only that it was “through the medium of the Urim and Thummim … by the gift and power of God.”8 He reportedly provided more information about the process to David Whitmer and others.9 The following account is representative of those given by David Whitmer and other close associates of Joseph Smith:10

[Page 223]I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated by Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.

David Whitmer apparently believed that the “gift and power of God” referred to Joseph Smith’s gift for seeing words illuminated in the darkness of his hat. In Doctrine and Covenants 3:12, Joseph Smith’s gift is described as the “sight and power to translate;” Brigham Young described it simply as “the gift of seeing.”11 In his use of seer stones, Joseph Smith was a “seer” after the manner of old times (Mosiah 28:13 16; Isaiah 30:10), and his gift was to see what others could not (Mosiah 8:13–17).

According to a straightforward reading of the accounts by David Whitmer and others, there was no need for the translator to mentally work out an English translation, as one was provided in the writing that appeared.12 In addition to the general lack of support from witness [Page 224]accounts, four additional factors give reason to question the conventional theory that the Book of Mormon was translated “by study and by spiritual confirmation” and that Oliver Cowdery failed to translate because of his ignorance of that technique.13

First, neither study nor spiritual confirmation is mentioned as a requirement for translating in the instructions to Oliver Cowdery in section 8 or anywhere else in scripture. Second, before his attempt to translate, Oliver Cowdery had been promised that he would be able to translate “according to [his] faith” (D&C 8:11). Based on this [Page 225]promise, his lack of success would have been due to lack of faith, not improper technique. Third, Doctrine and Covenants 9:5 observes that Oliver Cowdery “began to translate,” which suggests that he actually did translate and must have known how to do so. Fourth, Doctrine and Covenants 9:8 indicates the need to “study it out” and ask “if it be right,” but there is no obvious antecedent for the pronoun it in the revelation that is consistent with the conventional theory.

An Alternate Interpretation

A proper interpretation of verses 7–9 must take into account their context, specifically, the remainder of the revelation in section 9:

1. Behold, I say unto you, my son, that because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., even so I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him.
2. And then, behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate.
3. Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time.
4. Behold, the work which you are called to do is to write for my servant Joseph.
5. And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.
6. Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner. …
10. Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.
11. Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now;
12. For, do you not behold that I have given unto my servant Joseph sufficient strength, whereby it is made up? And neither of you have I condemned.
13. Do this thing which I have commanded you, and you shall prosper. Be faithful, and yield to no temptation.
14. Stand fast in the work wherewith I have called you, and a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day. Amen.

[Page 226]In this revelation, the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery that his service is presently needed as scribe, not translator, but indicates that he will be given power to translate at some future time. He notes that Oliver Cowdery “began to translate” (v. 5), but then feared and chose to go back to writing for Joseph Smith. He states that it was right for Oliver Cowdery to translate when he began, but that it is no longer expedient and the privilege has been taken away. The Lord explains why it is no longer expedient for Oliver Cowdery to translate: because he feared, because he did not continue as he commenced, and because Joseph Smith was blessed with strength to do the work. The Lord tells him to stop murmuring over the loss of the privilege and admonishes him to be content with the work he has been called to do. The theme from the beginning to the end of this revelation is whether and when it is right for Oliver Cowdery to translate. The text does not suggest that Oliver Cowdery questioned why he failed to translate initially, only why he is not permitted to translate presently. Nor does the text suggest that there was a problem with his translating technique.

Therefore, a more conservative interpretation of verses 7–9 would be in accordance with the predominant theme of the entire revelation — namely, whether and when it is right for Oliver Cowdery to translate. Perhaps, in these verses, the Lord is telling Oliver Cowdery that before he asks for the privilege to translate, he must find out if translating is the right thing for him to be doing at the time. Before we can accept this interpretation, however, we must see if it is consistent with the possible antecedents of the pronoun it in each verse.

The most obvious antecedent for it in verse 7 is the privilege to translate that has been taken away from Oliver Cowdery (v. 5). The other possibility is the power to translate that the Lord “will give unto” Oliver Cowdery (v. 2).14 There are no other obvious candidates. As a practical matter, the privilege to translate and the power to translate are the same, and it appears that the two terms are being used interchangeably here. If we substitute the privilege for it, verse 7 reads,

[Page 227]7. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give [the privilege] unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

If this is the correct interpretation of verse 7, then a likely antecedent for it in verse 8 is the phrase that I would give it unto you from verse 7. Integrating this phrase into verse 8 gives the following:

8. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right [that I give it unto you], and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

In verse 9, the first it refers to the same antecedent as in verse 8 (that I would give it unto you). The next occurrence of it, in it be given, may refer to the preceding phrase that which is sacred (meaning the translated text). However, elsewhere in scripture, variations of it be given often refer to a power or privilege being granted by God.15 If such is also the case here, then the antecedent of it is the complete phrase write that which is sacred (meaning the privilege of producing sacred scripture) and the verse could be written more clearly as follows:

9. But if it be not right [that I give it unto you], you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save [the privilege] be given you from me.

With this alternate interpretation of verses 7–9, the theme of whether and when it is right for Oliver Cowdery to translate is consistent throughout the revelation rather than interrupted (in the conventional [Page 228]interpretation) by instructions on translation technique. Oliver Cowdery is told to study and seek spiritual confirmation, not in order to verify that a translation is correct, but to learn whether it is expedient for him to be translating at all. If not, he is told, a spiritual silence and accompanying doubt will cause him to “forget,” or give up his intention to translate.16

After teaching Oliver Cowdery how to receive a spiritual confirmation that a decision is correct, the Lord states in verse 10, “Now, if you had known this you could have translated.” This sentence is usually understood as indicating that the Lord had just explained proper translation technique. However, if verses 7–9 are not about translation technique, there must be a different explanation. Verse 11 suggests that Oliver Cowdery abandoned his attempt to translate because of fear. Perhaps the Lord is saying in verse 10 that if Oliver Cowdery had received a spiritual confirmation that he was doing the right thing, he would have had no reason to fear and could have translated with confidence. This raises the question of what reason Oliver Cowdery might have had for fearing in the first place.

Reason to Fear

Prior to Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate, he was told to “trifle not with these things” and to “not ask for that which [he] ought not” (D&C 8:10). Even though he was also encouraged to ask for the privilege to translate (D&C 8:11), these words of warning may have prompted some anxiety. The warning against asking for what he “ought not” would have been especially salient in light of similar wording in Mosiah 8:13, wherein Ammon describes the two Nephite seer stones initially provided to Joseph Smith for translating:

He has 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 no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish.

[Page 229]Oliver Cowdery had likely transcribed this very passage sometime during his first few days of writing for Joseph Smith.17 Joseph Smith’s previous scribe, Martin Harris, had certainly feared looking into the interpreters:18

I never dared to look into them by placing them in the hat, because Moses said that “no man could see God and live,” and we could see anything we wished by looking into them; and I could not keep the desire to see God out of my mind. And beside, we had a command to let no man look into them, except by the command of God, lest he should “look aught and perish.”

Whether Oliver Cowdery shared Martin Harris’s existential fear of seeing God, or merely lacked confidence that he was really doing what God wanted, is unknown. In any case, after he began to translate, he feared and discontinued the attempt (vv. 5, 11). His story is reminiscent of the apostle Peter’s attempt to walk on water:19

And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14:28–31)

[Page 230]Jesus’s words to Peter suggest that with greater faith he could have overcome fear and completed the miraculous experience he had begun. Maybe greater faith was what Oliver Cowdery needed as well.

The Miraculous Power of Faith

The translation of the Book of Mormon was a miracle. The scriptures teach that miracles are wrought by faith (e.g., Moroni 7:37; Matthew 17:19–20; Mormon 9:21; Moroni 10:12,19,23–24). When Peter walked on water, he did not focus on technique; he walked by faith, and for the lack of faith, he began to sink. To move a mountain, the brother of Jared needed only to have faith and say, “remove,” and “it was removed” (Ether 12:30). While God performed the miracle, the actuation of his divine power was dependent on the faith of his servant. The translation of the Book of Mormon was also dependent on faith, as the Lord indicated to Oliver Cowdery: “Ask that you may … translate … and according to your faith shall it be done unto you” (D&C 8:10–11).

A similar emphasis on faith is found in the Book of Mormon relative to the use of oracular instruments. A miraculous brass ball, the Liahona, directed Lehi’s family through the wilderness by pointing the way they should go. Like the interpreters and Joseph Smith’s seer stone, it also displayed writings for their instruction (1 Nephi 16:29). There was no apparent requirement for Lehi and his family to study anything out or receive a spiritual confirmation in order for the pointers to work or for the writing to appear. As Alma explains, the ball’s miraculous function depended solely on faith:

And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle. (Alma 37:40)

Faith is likewise associated with the use of the interpreters, which are described by Ammon as “a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles” (Mosiah 8:18). Other requirements mentioned in the Book of Mormon for translating include looking and divine authorization (Mosiah 8:13). No requirement for study or spiritual confirmation is mentioned.

If faith was what Oliver Cowdery needed to translate, how would the Lord’s instructions in verses 7-9 have helped him obtain that faith?[Page 231]

Faith Burning in the Bosom

Jesus’s disciples received a spiritual witness of truth by a metaphorical burning in their hearts (Luke 24:32): “Did not our hearts burn within us while he … opened to us the scriptures?” Using similar language, the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery, “I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”20 Bosom literally means “chest,” but when used figuratively it can be more or less synonymous with heart as the seat of intimate feelings. The Lord previously told Oliver Cowdery that the Holy Ghost would work through his mind and his heart (D&C 8:2). Now the Lord is being a little more specific, explaining that the Holy Ghost can give him an intimate witness that his desire “is right.”21 Such a witness would have dispelled any fear Oliver Cowdery might have had about asking for what he “ought not” and strengthened his faith in God concerning the miracle he desired. Knowing that his desire to translate aligned with God’s will, he could ask for that miracle with confidence that God would make it happen. Paul taught that faith is a gift of God given by “the manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3-11; also Moroni 10:8-17). A burning in the bosom may be the faith-giving manifestation to which Paul referred.


Before attempting to translate, Oliver Cowdery had been told that his success would depend on his faith. Perhaps it was the importance of faith and the process through which it is obtained that Oliver Cowdery (and Peter) had “not understood.” Peter impulsively demanded, “bid me come unto thee on the water.” Had he first asked if the Lord wanted him to walk on the water, he might have received faith enough to walk without fear of sinking. Similarly, Oliver Cowdery “took no thought” before [Page 232]asking for the privilege to translate.22 If he had first asked for a spiritual confirmation that his desire to translate was right, the resultant burning in his bosom might have provided the faith he needed to look without fear and see sacred writings by “the gift and power of God.” Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 teaches us how to obtain a spiritual confirmation of a righteous desire. A close reading of the context suggests that such a confirmation can not only tell us that our desire is right in the sight of God but can also give us the faith we need to dispel our fear and actuate the power of God in accomplishing that desire.


1. The introduction to this revelation in the earliest extant manuscript reads, “A Revelation to Oliver [Cowdery] he being desirous to know whether the Lord would grant him the gift of Revelation & Translation.” Revelation, April 1829–B [D&C 8], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed 15 May 2015,

2. The introduction to this revelation in the earliest extant manuscript reads, “A Revelation to Oliver he was disrous to know the reason why he could not translate.” Revelation, April 1829–D [D&C 9], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed 15 May 2015, It is unclear from this statement whether Oliver Cowdery wanted to know why his attempt to translate had failed or why he was no longer permitted to translate. The general theme of this revelation suggests the latter.

3. B. H. Roberts, “Translation of the Book of Mormon,” Improvement Era 9 (1906), 429–430.

4. Roberts saw support for this interpretation in D&C 8:2, where the Lord describes the manifestations of the Holy Ghost: “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” Roberts, “Translation,” 429. It is not certain, however, that this verse is referring to the process of translation, as it is prefaced by the promise that Oliver Cowdery would “receive a knowledge of whatsoever things” he would ask about in faith, including “a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records.” A knowledge concerning records is not necessarily a translation of those records. Rather than being specific to the gift of translation, the revelation in section 8 appears to address Oliver Cowdery’s spiritual gifts and desires more broadly, discussing both the gift of the Holy Ghost (vv. 2–5) and the “gift of Aaron” (vv. 6–9), also promising Oliver Cowdery knowledge concerning whatever he should ask (v. 9). It mentions translation only near the end (v. 11), with, “Ask … that you may translate and receive knowledge from all these ancient records.” The “gift of Aaron” refers to the use of a divining or dowsing rod. Jeffery G. Cannon, “Oliver Cowdery’s Gift,” Revelations in Context (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 15 December 2012). Although the Lord expressed a willingness to provide answers (presumably as “yes” or “no”) to Cowdery’s questions through the movements of a rod (perhaps because Cowdery was accustomed to using that instrument), the instructions in D&C 9:8 (also Moroni 10:4–5) suggest that the Lord prefers to provide yes/no answers through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost.

5. This statement first appeared in the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. The prior major edition (1921) instead stated, “It is not sufficient for one merely to ask for a divine gift, without prayerful thought and study.”

6. Much of the translation was done in the Whitmer home in plain view of others, as described by Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery: “I cheerfully certify that I was familiar with the manner of Joseph Smith’s translating the Book of Mormon. He translated the most of it at my Father’s house. And I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating. He would place the director in his hat, and then place his face in his hat, so as to exclude the light.” Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, “Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery Affidavit, 15 February 1870,” in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2003), 5:260.

7. The interpreters were “two stones in silver bows … and use of these stones were what constituted ‘seers’ in ancient or former times.” Joseph Smith — History 1:35. For a brief discussion of the various labels used for the interpreters and Joseph Smith’s seer stones, see Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Light on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 187–192, including notes. A single seer stone was likely used in translating the Book of Mormon after the loss of the original 116 manuscript pages. Richard Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, “Joseph Smith: The Gift of Seeing,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15/2 (1982): 53‒54.

8. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904), 4:537. The title page of the Book of Mormon states that it was interpreted “by the gift of God.”

9. As quoted in 1885 by Zenas H. Gurley, editor of the Saint’s Herald, David Whitmer reported Joseph Smith “stating to me and others that the original character appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in English.” “Questions asked of David Whitmer at his home in Richmond, Ray County, MO, Jan. 14, 1885, relating to Book of Mormon and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, by Elder Z. H. Gurley,” holograph in LDS Church Archives, cited in van Wagoner and Walker, “Gift of Seeing,” 54, emphasis added.

10. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: n.p., 1887), 12. David Whitmer’s descriptions of the translation process are corroborated by an account by Joseph Knight, Sr., a close friend of Joseph Smith: “Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkned his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on.” Dean Jesse, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” Brigham Young University Studies 17/1 (1976), 35. The accounts of other witnesses are generally consistent as well. For additional accounts, see Van Wagoner and Walker, “Gift of Seeing,” 57‒58.

11. In his Journal entry for May 6, 1849, Brigham Young recorded: “We spent the time in interesting conversation upon old times, Joseph, the plates, Mount Cumorah, treasures and records known to be hid in the earth, the gift of seeing, and how Joseph obtained his first seer stone.” Brigham Young, “May 6, 1849” in Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1847–1850, ed. William S. Harwell (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing, 1997), 200.

12. Roberts reconciles his interpretation of D&C 9 with the witness accounts by surmising that the translation worked out in Joseph Smith’s mind was only “reflected in the interpreters.” Roberts saw evidence for his theory in the abundance of grammatical errors in the Book of Mormon text, which he believed must have originated with Joseph Smith as he worked out a translation, the only other alternative being “to assign responsibility for … such errors to God. But that is unthinkable, not to say blasphemous.” Roberts, “Translation,” 428–430. There are, however, other plausible origins of the offending grammar. For example, just because Joseph Smith received a text through a seer stone doesn’t mean that the text was written by God. It could have been produced by one or more (fallible) mortals under God’s direction. Also, many of the “grammatical errors” were acceptable grammar in Early Modern English — see Stanford Carmack’s “A Look at Some ‘Nonstandard’ Book of Mormon Grammar,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 209–262. For more analysis of Book of Mormon language by Carmack, see a listing of his papers at Like Carmack, Royal Skousen (based on his monumental study of Book of Mormon manuscript evidence) concludes that, in “translating” the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith was reading a text that was already translated into English rather than working out a translation in his own mind. Royal Skousen, “The Original Text of the Book of Mormon and its Publication by Yale University Press,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 7 (2013): 95–96. Although Joseph Smith did not translate in the conventional sense, he was an instrument in the miraculous conversion of an ancient text into a modern book, and “translator” may have been the best word at his disposal to describe his role in that miracle. Finally, Joseph Smith and his scribes may have contributed some of the offending grammar to the text inadvertently during dictation. For a brief discussion of evidence for major Book of Mormon translation theories, see Don Bradley, “Written by the Finger of God?: Claims and Controversies of Book of Mormon Translation,” Sunstone 161 (December 2010): 20–29.

13. A role for spiritual confirmation in the translation process does find limited support in the words of Oliver Cowdery: “I … commenced to write the Book of Mormon. These were days never to be forgotten — to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim.” Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps, 7 Sep 1834, Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct 1834): 14. This statement, however, is not presented as a description of the translation process but rather as a celebration of its sacred nature and of Oliver Cowdery’s privilege in participating. Oliver Cowdery’s tone suggests that he is going more for effect than precision. Also, he may be using the term inspiration in a broad sense of a divine influence (in this case, through the words that appeared) rather than of a direct spiritual communication to Joseph Smith’s mind.

14. Even Roberts understood it in verse 7 to refer to the power to translate, as indicated by the bracketed comment in his quotation of the verse: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it [i.e., the power to translate] unto you.” Roberts, “Translation,” 429, brackets in Roberts’s original. Also, Oliver Cowdery had not been told to ask for a translation, but for the privilege of translating (D&C 8:11).

15. In John 6:65, we find an example with a form similar to that of D&C 9:9: “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” Note that it in it were given refers to the entire phrase come unto me. The phrase it be given is used by Moroni in a way that appears to apply directly to Oliver Cowdery’s situation (Mormon 8:15): “For none can have power to bring it [the Book of Mormon] to light save it be given him of God; for God wills that it shall be done with an eye single to his glory.” Oliver Cowdery’s murmuring for having lost the privilege to translate suggests that his eye may not have been single to God’s glory. Alma uses similar language in a statement that could also apply to Oliver Cowdery’s desire to reveal ancient scripture (Alma 26:22): “Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing — unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed.” For more instances in which variations of it be given refer to the granting of a power or privilege, see Job 24:23; John 6:65; Alma 26:22; Mormon 8:15; and D&C 28:1; 42:11; 45:60; 47:4; 48:5; 68:11; and 124:5.

16. This is more or less the meaning of forget that LDS apostle Melvin J. Ballard uses in his interpretation of D&C 9:9 in a 1931 General Conference talk: “But if it is not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought, and your heart will be turned away from that thing.” Conference Report (April 1931), 37–38, cited in Daniel J. Ridges, Doctrine and Covenants Made Easier, (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2012), 1:38.

17. Oliver Cowdery began writing for Joseph Smith’s translation on April 7, 1829. They likely started near the beginning of the Book of Mosiah and progressed at a rate of about eight printed pages per day. John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, ed. John W. Welch with Erik B. Carlson (Provo, UT, and Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University Press and Deseret Book), 90–91, 93–94, 100–101.

18. “Martin Harris Interview with Joel Tiffany, 1859,” in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 2:305.

19. Oliver Cowdery’s and Peter’s experiences are similar in several ways. Both Oliver Cowdery and Peter had seen a miracle and wanted to have the experience themselves. Both had some initial success — Oliver Cowdery “began to translate” and Peter “walked on the water.” Both abandoned their efforts after experiencing fear. Both were instructed on the importance of faith. The opportunity to work the miracle soon passed for both — for Oliver Cowdery because Joseph Smith had been given sufficient strength, and for Peter because he and Jesus had arrived at the boat.

20. Given the similarity in phrasing, the Lord’s reference to a burning in the bosom in D&C 9 may be an allusion to “our hearts burn within us” in Luke 24:32 (KJV), which, coincidentally, is rendered in another translation with, “our hearts keep burning in our bosoms.” Charles B. Williams, The New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People. Boston: Bruce Humphries Inc., 1937. Slightly revised in 1950 (Chicago: Moody Press). For a discussion of spiritual communication, including the popular notion that a burning in the bosom is a physical warmth in the chest, see Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign (March 1997), 6–14.

21. While it’s true that the Lord had already told Oliver Cowdery he could translate (D&C 6:25; D&C 8:11), those words coming through Joseph Smith might not have provided the same faith-producing assurance as a direct spiritual witness.

22. Oliver Cowdery apparently asked twice for the privilege to translate. The first time he asked, the privilege was granted and he “began to translate,” but then the privilege was “taken away” (D&C 9:5) after he feared and chose to return to writing (D&C 9:1,11). The second time he asked, he “supposed that [the Lord] would give it unto” him (D&C 9:7), but that didn’t happen because it was “not expedient that [he] should translate” at the time (D&C 9:3). That time he reacted with impatience and murmuring (D&C 9:3,6).

Posted in Article and tagged , , on . Bookmark the permalink.

About Stan Spencer

Stan Spencer earned a BS from Brigham Young University and a PhD from Claremont Graduate University, both in botany. He has worked as a research scientist at Brigham Young University and the Smithsonian Institution’s Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and now works as a consultant in California. He has a particular interest in the textual origins of Mormon scripture.

24 thoughts on “The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9

  1. Without commenting on the rich assortment of details in this fine essay, I must indicate that I am very pleased that someone has now set out my own reading of that section of the Doctrine and Covenants. I detest efforts to turn that language into the way in which Joseph Smith or anyone else could possibly translate an ancient text in strange language. Instead, I read that section as merely explaining that one who has an urge to “translate” ought to ask God if that is the proper thing to do. And in this instance, no answer and hence a stupor of thought is the proper answer. And i;t was emphatically not telling Oliver how to translate.

  2. Very well done. As said by Jeff, it clarifies how we view the translation process. It also helps me better understand faith. Seeing these scriptures in this way has enlightened my mind. Thank you.

  3. Thank you, Dr. Spencer, for your perceptive comments about D&C 9. I invite you now to extend your thinking to an analysis of the following book: Joseph C. Lundwall, The Truth about Prayer and Divine Revelation (n.p.: Lulu Publishing Services, 2014). I am particularly interested in what you might have to say about Lundwall’s especially critical–perhaps derogatory–language toward Elder Melvin Joseph Ballard and Elder Marion G. Romney and their teachings about D&C 9.

    • Joseph Lundwall is right in dismissing the belief that the Holy Ghost speaks to us through a warm feeling in the chest. That’s not what a “burning in the bosom” meant. But he is wrong in dismissing the testimonies of Martin Harris and David Whitmer, both of whom retained their belief in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and its translation by the power of God as they described. They got it right as far as they went, I believe. I also disagree with Lundwall’s position that God wants to give us answers to prayer without us first applying our God-given brains to the problem in question. He had the brother of Jared “study it out in his mind,” as one example. Lundwall is correct, though, about the ease with which Satan can deceive us when we rely on a single test of revelation. Hartman Rector Jr gave a speech that addressed this called “How to Know If Revelation Is from the Lord.” There are more recent conference talks as well on this topic. Lundwall misinterprets D&C 9 as applying to translation technique, but then again, the scripture can perhaps be applied to broadly. I think the message of D&C 9 is to not ask for a miracle without knowing that it is the right thing to ask for. That’s fairly narrow.

  4. Great article! You harmonize D&C 9 with the statements of the three witnesses who describe how Joseph could see letters of fire or light and how he read off the words to his scribes. This is also consistent with the very solid case for tight control made by Stanford Carmack and Royal Skousen.

  5. The standard interpretation of these verses has always confused me. Neither Joseph or Oliver had any background in Hebrew, Egyptian, or language translation at this point. How could they be expected to stare at a completely foreign script and come up with anything even remotely right?! (Even with a “You’re getting warmer!” and “No, now you’re getting colder…” feedback loop.) It boggles the mind.

    I had never considered a different interpretation though, but this one makes sense. Thank you!

    • Either that or the “burning” is itself the faith–the conviction or feeling that “it is right.” When the Lord says “therefore you shall feel that it is right,” it’s not clear to me whether that feeling “that it is right” (i.e. faith) is a result of the burning or is itself the burning. Faith is supplied by God according to 1 Cor 12:9.

      • Stan

        I believe that we find a good parallel to Oliver’s experience in Alma’s planting of the seed in our heart.

        “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves–It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.” (Alma 32:28-30)

        Similar to the burning in the breast, when the seed sprouts we begin to “feel these swelling motions,” and it begins to:
        1. “enlarge my soul;”
        2. “enlighten my understanding;”
        3. “be delicious to me.”

        Alma said that these manifestations would “increase your faith,” not that they were the faith itself.

        Alma continued by saying that the seed:
        1. swelleth, and
        2. sprouteth, and
        3. beginneth to grow.

        The result of these actions in our heart is to “strengthen your faith.” I see a good parallel between Alma’s swelling seed and Oliver’s burning bosom feeling. Rather than saying that “the ‘burning’ is itself the faith,” I believe that it would probably be more accurate to say that this “burning” (or swelling motion) – as a gift or manifestation from the Lord – was given to strengthen a weak faith.

        • Well, that could be. And I would be especially inclined to see it that way if a burning in the bosom were some kind of sensation limited in time—maybe a warm feeling in the chest. But I see burning in the bosom as more of an understanding or conviction, which are elements of faith. The idea of one’s bosom burning appears to have had its peak in the 1700s. Here are some uses of the phrase “bosom burn” from that period from Google NGram Viewer:

          “There shall my bosom burn with friendship’s flame” (1737)
          “While truth and virtue in thy bosom burn” (1743)
          “He thank’d her care; yet day by day His bosom burn’d to disobey” (1733)
          “Honorius’ bosom burn’d with fierce desire” (1737)
          “And love did with a chaster flame Within my bosom burn.” (1622)
          “With sudden Grief her lab’ring bosom burn’d” (1745)
          “By Tyrants first, then by a Brother spurns, Still, still, with Loyalty his Bosom burn’d” (1745)
          “Whilst the bright Flames which in his Bosom burn” (1708)
          “Genius of Britain ! bid those days return, For Thee, for Virtue, let each bosom burn.” (1780)
          “If e’er thy bosom burn’d with lawless love, Art thou to pining avarice a slave?” (1790)
          “The stage breath’d war— the soldiers bosom burn’d, And fiercer to the field each chief rerurn’d” (1764)
          “With sacred Thirst my Bosom burn’d” (1788)
          “With martial wrath his ardent bosom burn’d” (1795)
          “Each bosom burn’d to meet their foes, and swore to save their native land.” (1798)

          Grief, sacred thirst, truth and virtue, loyalty–I don’t see anything about physical sensation, the chest, or any kind of time-limited experience here. Your bosom is your innermost self, so a burning in your bosom is something you feel deep inside. Based on the examples above, that feeling can be friendship, truth, virtue, desire, love, grief, loyalty, patriotism, spiritual need, or anger. In D&C 9:8, what burns in your bosom is ultimately a feeling that something “is right.” In other words, you feel deep inside that it is right. This deep feeling could also be described as faith or a peaceful assurance that would hopefully be enduring, not just a discrete experience (although I’ve experienced that as well). I’m just presenting another possible interpretation here. I see your view as well and it may be the correct one. I think the “burning in the bosom” merits more study and at least one paper of its own.

          • Stan

            All good points. And, I agree that the meaning is by no means certain to us. Something else to consider: Eight times in the scriptures we find the phrase “I will cause that …” Two of those are from the D&C and the rest are from the Book of Mormon. Here is a summary of the phrases that follow “I will cause that”:

            … they shall be loathsome
            … my people shall rejoice
            … they shall howl all the day long
            … they shall have burdens lashed upon their backs
            … they shall be smitten
            … they shall return again unto me
            … your bosom shall burn within you
            … he shall mourn for her no longer

            Most of these reference some concrete action (rejoice, howl, be smitten, return or mourn). Given the context, “I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you” seems to reference an actual burning sensation inside of the person. The other references appear to be literal, which leads me to believe that this would not be metaphorical usage. But, it is only a supposition.

            I look forward to your next paper which will solve this for us.

        • You might also find Elder Oaks’ statement interesting, which echoes Oliver’s earlier spiritual witness in D&C 6:23:

          “What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.”
          –Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign (March 1997), 6–14.

          • Stan

            I remember when Elder Oaks made this comment and it puzzled me at the time, because it differed from my own experience, since I have experienced and actual “burning” in the bosom. Surely, his experiences are anecdotal, as are mine. Here is another anecdotal experience of Elder Orson F. Whitney, as told by him in General Conference of April 1925:

            “No sooner had I laid my hands upon that woman’s head, than a power came upon me that I had never felt before, nor have I ever felt it since, in the same degree. It was a burning in my bosom, so powerful as to almost deprive me of speech, and it went like fire to the very tips of my fingers. I rebuked the pain in the name of Jesus Christ, and the woman was instantly healed. ‘Thank God!’ she said, ‘the pain has gone.’ I sank into a chair and burst into tears, overcome by this manifestation of the goodness and power of God.”

            There is also the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus when they declared after the Lord had left them:

            “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)

            The Greek word for “burn” here is καίω (kaiō) and means “to set on fire, i.e. kindle or (by implication) consume:—burn, light” (Strong G2545). While this could imply that they were enlightened by the Lord, a more plain explanation would be that they felt an actual burning sensation inside. Had the author meant to imply enlightenment rather than burning, a better fit would have been φωτίζω (phōtizō) which means ” to shed rays, i.e. to shine or (transitively) to brighten up (literally or figuratively):—enlighten, illuminate, (bring to, give) light, make to see” (Strong G5461). This verb (phōtizō) is used eight times in the New Testament, like here:

            “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18).

            Perhaps this “burning” can be experienced in different ways, tailored to each individual. I imagine that we do not all see colors or experience tastes and smells in the same way. Perhaps the Lord works with us in ways that are suited to our unique physical nature, disposition and preparation. Perhaps also this passage is left purposely undefined to allow for a variety of personal understanding and expression.

  6. It seems that a plain reading of D&C 8 says to oliver that if he asks in faith the Lord will tell him what the “engravings of old records” meant so he could translate. It looks like he already had permission to translate there. Also, a plain reading of D&C 9 seems to be saying that oliver should have known that he needed to study it out in his mind first. However, the Lord had not told him this beforehand. So, was the Lord giving oliver a head fake in D&C 8 in order to teach a lesson? Was it really evidence of an early power struggle?

    • I agree that these sections have been interpreted as the Lord (or Joseph Smith, depending on your inclination) putting Oliver in his place, and that it’s easy to get that idea from a conventional interpretation of verses 7-9. But I don’t read the text that way. If Oliver had already had permission, he would not have been instructed to “ask…that you may translate.” The thing Oliver had “not understood” was that the Lord would not give “it” to him for the mere asking–“it” being the “privilege” or “power” to translate. He had been clearly told that more would be required–that his success would be “according to [his] faith,” and to “remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith.” When fear overcame him for lack of faith, the Lord gives him some advice for how he can go about strengthening his faith the next time. The Lord is not condemning Oliver (“neither of you have I condemned”), and, although his service is presently needed as scribe, he’s invited to be patient and wait for the opportunity to translate again.

  7. I’d like to offer this important entry on Oliver Cowdery’s translation experience from

    “Oliver made some comments to Samuel W. Richards while he and his family stayed at his [S. W. Richards] house during a snow storm at Winter Quarters These Richards deposited with the Church Historian’s Office in 1905. Referring to Oliver’s recollection of the BoM translation, Richards wrote:

    “I was surprised at the bright recollection he seemed to have of his early experiences with the Prophet Joseph, especially in relation to the work of translating the Book of Mormon. He represented Joseph as sitting at a table with the plates before him, translating them by means of the Urim and Thummim, while he (Oliver) sat beside him writing every word as Joseph spoke them to him. This was done by holding the ‘translators’ over the hieroglyphics, the translation appearing distinctly on the instrument, which had been touched by the finger of God and dedicated and consecrated for the express purpose of translating languages. Every word was distinctly visible even to every letter; and if Oliver omitted a word or failed to spell a word correctly, the translation remained on the ‘interpreter’ until it was copied correctly. This was a great mystery to Oliver, how Joseph, being comparatively ignorant could thus correct him, even in spelling, without seeing the word written; and he did not rest satisfied until he himself obtained the gift to translate also. To satisfy Oliver, Joseph went with him before the Lord in prayer, and the Lord bestowed on Oliver the gift by which he was enabled to translate; and thus he learned how it was that Joseph could correct him even to the spelling of words”

    Signed statement of S. W. Richards, Salt Lake City, May 25, 1907.
    Original in Church Historian’s Office.
    Copy in BYU Library Special Collections.”

    This is of course very late, but it is a memory of Oliver’s own account. If taken as reliable this would indicate that Oliver did have some success.

    To me it doesn’t make sense that the Lord would instruct Oliver to get His approval a second time for the sake of faith in divine will. Certainly nothing in section 9 chides him for translating the first time. In fact the Lord explains his reasons for not allowing Oliver to translate a second time as if the first time had been perfectly legitimate. The phrase about not writing that which is sacred except it comes from God is, I think, what gives the traditional take its teeth.

    If D&C 9 were about translation method, then it could be harmonized with the Whitmer description of seer stone translation. In section 8 Oliver is instructed that by inquiry he can learn about the engravings of ancient records. This could mean translation, but if so why not just state it unambiguously like it is in later verses? This could instead be a preliminary step where Oliver was suppose to get some foundational knowledge or some specific knowledge about what he would translate which would allow him to make some intellectual steps (study it out) towards figuring out what he would translate. Then he would seek out divine approval for what he had, with the Holy Ghost’s aid, figured out, and having this confirmation be prepared to tackle full on translation with proper faith (no fear).

    This is fairly speculative, but accounts of Joseph’s having knowledge of BOM people and events prior to beginning translation at least support the idea. The oft quoted account of Joseph informing his family about the ancient inhabitants of the Americans demonstrates that Joseph was getting BOM related knowledge pre-translation. A second example is from the miner’s cave treasure dig where he claimed that a king of the ancient inhabitants had been buried in the hill (or imprisoned? I don’t remember the exact wording) during a great battle (I’ve got this pretty accurately but feel free to google and double check me). Anyways he clearly has some inkling of great wars fought by ancient inhabitants of America before starting translation. Also, JS’s attitude towards revelation and translation, that it could always be revised after it was received, at least parallels the idea that some forethought could be put into the formulation of the translation as well. If JS were translating with alot of specific foreknowledge of BOM content then that could help him pick up where they left off without cue (like Emma describes). Finally, there is also the precedent of section 132 which, when prompted to dictate via the seer stone, Joseph said was unneeded because he had the revelation memorized. Of course we know that revelation is likely built from earlier revelations, but it is an example of a revelation dictated from memory of which some of the content was likely either new or at least unwritten/dictated previously. Essentially, I’m suggesting that the above examples align with a theory in which translation/revelation has preliminary thought and even formulation before the big reveal and that this is what the Lord is suggesting Oliver should have done in D&C 9.

  8. While I appreciate the effort—which raises a possibility I had not previously contemplated—I offer a respectful dissent from Dr. Spencer’s analysis.

    I would note that in carefully considering the antecedents for “it” in context, Dr. Spencer seems to have skipped two occasions of the word. I see nothing which suggests a different antecedent for these other occurrences, and they seem to me to weaken Dr. Spencer’s thesis. Expanding his paraphrase:

    8. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study [out your desire for the privilege, or whether it is the right time for you to have the privilege] in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right [that I give it unto you], and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right [that you should have the privilege].

    I have followed Dr. Spencer’s substitution method, inserting his concept in place of the word “it,” or as he did, putting a phrase at the end of the verse to clarify. The underlined phrases (if the underlining survived the insertion into the online comments) are the pieces that I have added; they are the missing “its.”

    To me at least, by filling out the unused its, the idea that Oliver was to contemplate whether and when he should translate becomes weaker. And I am not clear why Dr. Spencer dropped the word “out” from his paraphrase (D&C 9 says “you must study it out . . .”), for it seems a key element to me. “Study it out” fits much better with pondering how to render a translation (more below), than it does with reflecting on one’s desires.

    (Attempting) To follow Dr. Midgley, I would not make Brother Joseph’s translation into a process where he studied the characters, proposed his understanding of the strange language, and then asked for confirmation. But, despite the testimony of David Whitmer, I am unable to read the Book of Mormon as an ironclad translation where God controlled each and every word through the confirmation of the spirit.

    I believe Brother Joseph was given conceptual understanding of the characters on the plates. It was then his struggle, the studying out part, to render those concepts into acceptable, accessible, understandable English. Anyone who translates knows what a struggle it is to render ideas into another language, trying one’s best to neither add to nor subtract from the original, and yet, to make good sense in the target language.

    I believe the church has, from the beginning, supported the idea that as a translator, Brother Joseph made choices. That’s how we explain most of the so called anachronisms in the book. It’s also the reason Brother Joseph felt at liberty to modify and correct words and phrases in the Book of Mormon, in subsequent editions. He came to understand and see—as the years rolled on—that there was clearer language for expressing the ideas or concepts that were given to him by the gift and power of God. The confirmation of the spirit didn’t mean that Joseph’s language was perfect. It meant that the ideas, commandments and doctrines were correct. I believe this explanation is the gist of the Roberts interpretation.

    The back story for D&C 67 was that some of the brethren felt that they could improve upon Brother Joseph’s language. I don’t think any presumed to improve upon God’s doctrines or commands, just the expression of those things in English. And yet the attempt to better the language utterly failed. Was not Oliver’s fear about the responsibility that one bears when laboring to get God’s word into language that is true and correct, without any loss or embellishment? One can translate, and yet never get past the worry about being true to what is in the original. I myself (recognizing that I am not working by the gift and power of God) can never stop fiddling with the language, seeking clarity, brevity, accuracy and decent sounding English. And, as the brethren found when trying to improve upon the language of D&C section 1, “it [is] an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord.”

    • ” ‘Study it out’ fits much better with pondering how to render a translation (more below), than it does with reflecting on one’s desires.”

      I don’t know that that is a supportable assertion.

      “It was then his struggle, the studying out part, to render those concepts into acceptable, accessible, understandable English.”

      Here you ignore a large amount of substantive textual evidence — which I will not attempt to list here — that argues against this view.

      • Thank you Stanford.

        Mine was a supportable assertion because I said that’s the way the language seems or reads to me, which is undeniably the case.

        I am familiar with the textual evidence to which you refer. Yet it is clear that as part of his work Joseph made choices, and it is historical fact that he later felt at liberty to make changes, where he saw the need to clarify.

        While I appreciate Dr. Spencer’s thoughts, I am not persuaded.

    • I appreciate your thoughtful comment. Thanks for finding the typo. It did not intend to leave “out” out of “study it out.” The “out” changes the meaning slightly. “Study it out” suggests that something is studied until a logical conclusion is reached. “Study it” does not. Either way makes sense in the context, but I think “study it out” makes better sense.

      If I were attempting to render spiritual impressions (or a conceptual understanding) into my own language, I would be working out (not studying out) a translation. Then I could ask if the translation that I had worked out was correct. There would really be nothing to “study out,” since the conceptual understanding had already been given to me. On the other hand, if I’m reflecting on whether a desired course of action is appropriate, I would “study out” its implications, given the current situation, and then ask for a spiritual confirmation.

      The antecedent for the two instances of “it” that you mentioned would be the same. I simply didn’t want the text to sound too redundant. I don’t see the sense weakening with the “it”s replaced.

      I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is an ironclad translation either. David Whitmer doesn’t say that the text was tested by the spirit, but by reading it back:

      “before his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment, on which would appear the characters of the plates in a line at the top, and immediately below would appear the translation in English, which Smith would read to his scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe would then read the sentence written, and if any mistake had been made the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they faded from sight to be replaced by another line. ”

      The scribe writes what he hears Joseph dictate, then repeats it back to Joseph as would be normal for verifying a dictation. If Joseph is satisfied with what he hears, the text advances. (If the Spirit and not JS was doing the verifying, why have the scribe read the text back at all?). Spelling errors would not necessarily have been detected by hearing a text read back, and we do see many spelling errors in the original manuscript. It seems to be the first spellings of proper names that are verified in an “ironclad” manner. We should also allow that Joseph may have chosen to do some smoothing of the text he was seeing and dictating. You make a good point that he felt free to modify the text somewhat. As for anachronisms, there are various solutions. They would be expected for a translation whether Joseph, or God, or 16th-18th century mortals translated the plates. The KJV text quoted in the BoM is itself anachronistic, but it has it’s purpose. The English text was created for us to use and understand.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged.