Section 28: Only the Prophet Receives Revelation for the Church
In addition to Sally Knight, there were other Colesville members who had been baptized, but because of the persecutions they had not been confirmed. Joseph received word that they awaited his return. Thus, on August 29, 1830, Joseph (in company with Hyrum Smith, John Whitmer, and David Whitmer) made the treacherous trip after praying mightily to the Lord to protect them. Joseph’s enemies had advertised a five-dollar reward to anyone who reported Joseph’s appearance in town.
On the way, the party of Mormons came upon a road crew that included some of Joseph’s bitterest enemies. To the amazement of the foursome, “they looked earnest[ly] at us, but not knowing us, we passed on without interruption” (HC, 1:108-9). The group, led by the Prophet Joseph, were able to confirm the Colesville members and slip away without being noticed.
By late August 1830, persecution of Joseph and Emma in Harmony had intensified. Even Isaac Hale had turned against Joseph, and without Isaac’s protection, Joseph and Emma were defenseless. Peter Whitmer, Sr., once again offered his house for a refuge, and in the last week of August, Newel Knight moved Joseph and Emma in a wagon to Fayette.
Joseph’s presence was needed in Fayette for other reasons. Through the summer, Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmer family, including Hiram Page (see Character Vignette on Hiram Page following the commentary on this section), had begun to perceive themselves as independent authorities with the right to correct Joseph and receive revelation. Actually this belief came about quite naturally as all of these people were converts from congregational-type churches. In those churches, anyone could declare doctrine, and if the rest of the congregation agreed, the doctrine became a tenet of their faith. The Whitmers and Oliver Cowdery were as willing to believe revelations from Hiram Page as from Joseph Smith because of their background.
When Joseph arrived in Fayette, the Whitmers and Oliver were studying some revelations that Hiram Page had received. It seems that Hiram had obtained a stone that was four inches wide and a quarter of an inch thick. It had a hole in it so it could be hung around his neck. It was grayish-greenish in color and had light wavy lines running through it. He had used this seer stone to receive some revelations. Apparently one of these revelations pertained to the location of Zion.
In reading Ether 13 in the Book of Mormon, it was learned that the New Jerusalem or Zion was to be built upon the American continent. This caused much speculation in the Church as to the location of Zion. Hiram Page endeavored to settle the question by means of a revelation through his stone. At this point in church history, the members had not yet learned that there was but one appointed of the Lord to receive revelations for the Church.
Earlier in the summer, Oliver had written to Joseph about a mistake in section 20, verse 37. This verse outlines the requirements which a candidate for baptism must fulfill before being received in baptism: “And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.”
Apparently Oliver felt that these requirements for membership placed too much power in the hands of whoever might interview an individual in order to assess his or her worthiness for baptism. He saw in verse 37 the seeds of priestcraft (HC, 1:104-5). The Whitmers had sided with Oliver, and it was only with much difficulty and after much anguish that Joseph was able to convince them of their error.
Oliver’s attempted correction of Joseph’s mistake also may have a plausible explanation. Verse 37 of section 20, without the part Oliver Cowdery objected to, is found in a manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery titled The Articles of the Church of Christ (see the commentary materials for section 20). Since much of that document was included in section 20, Oliver was probably upset that Joseph had made what he thought was an unwarranted insertion into something he had written. Joseph had inserted the phrase “and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins.” Given Oliver’s Protestant background, which included the doctrine of salvation by and through the grace of God and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:19), perhaps Oliver felt that Joseph’s insertion placed too much emphasis on salvation by a man’s works. For a discussion of the issue of grace and works, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 4, chapter 11, Grace and Works.
Probably this incident, as well as the matter of Hiram Page’s revelations, were natural events caused by new converts’ trying to find their way in this new organization. If they had been left unchecked by Joseph, Satan certainly would have used them to his advantage, but let us not be too hard on these early members by thinking they were in some way deliberately trying to subvert Joseph and the Church.
At first Joseph was going to wait for the conference scheduled for September 26, 1930, to address this problem, but when he realized how far the error had spread among the saints, he decided to confront Hiram Page immediately. Initially Joseph was strongly resisted by Oliver Cowdery. Finally, however, he was able to convince Oliver and the Whitmers privately that Hiram Page’s revelations were not genuine. Hiram Page, Oliver, and the others, after becoming convinced of their errors, renounced the revelations as not being of God, and acknowledged that Satan had sought to overthrow their beliefs in the true plan of God.
Then Joseph petitioned the Lord for further direction and received section 28. This revelation came through Joseph to Oliver Cowdery and not to Hiram Page because Oliver was believing in the revelations which his brother-in-law was receiving. The Lord is therefore putting both Oliver and Hiram in their proper places. Oliver is told that he is to declare and teach the revelations and commandments of the Church but not write commandments or scripture. Only Joseph is authorized to receive revelations for the whole Church. Oliver is instructed further to tell Hiram Page that his revelations are not of God but are of Satan. The new converts in Kirtland will later be required to learn this same lesson (see D&C 43).
Newel Knight, who was an eyewitness to this affair, added a few notes of interest: “On my arrival [in Fayette for the conference] I found Brother Joseph in great distress of mind on account of Hyrum [Hiram] Page. . . . That night I occupied the same room that he did and the greater part of the night was spent in prayer and supplication” (Woodward, “Historical Development,” 404-05).
On September 26, 1830, the first item on the agenda for the conference was a discussion of the Hiram Page affair and the reading of section 28. Perhaps Oliver had talked privately with Hiram Page before the conference, according to the Lord’s command (verse 12). At any rate, to Joseph’s great relief, all present at the conference, including Hiram Page, renounced the stone and its “revelations” (HC, 1:115).
Another important aspect of this section is that Oliver is called on a mission to the “Lamanites” or Indian peoples. He is also told that the exact location of Zion will be revealed later.
1 Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given.
verse 1 As a leading authority of the Church and an apostle of the Lord, Oliver Cowdery had the right to be heard by the Church, but he did not have the right to receive revelation for the Church on his own authority. In the priesthood line of authority, Joseph stood between Oliver and the Lord (see D&C 30:7).
2 But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
verse 2 The members already understood that the prophet Joseph received revelations from the Lord, but they did not yet understand that Joseph was the only one who could receive revelation for the Church. Many of these saints had been converted from churches with a very democratic structure, where church governance had been run more like a New England “town meeting”—from the bottom up—than by priesthood authority—from the top down. This religious background made it somewhat difficult for these saints to learn the correct order of the priesthood and made them vulnerable to movements, proposals, and revelations that had no divine authority. Joseph Smith stated the principle this way, “It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them” (HC, 1:338).
We will learn that within six months, the new members in Kirtland will have to be taught this same lesson all over again (see D&C 43:3-7).
3 And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
verses 2-3 “even as Moses . . . even as Aaron” Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were to the Latter-day Saints as Moses and Aaron were to Israel. Joseph was to receive the revelations, as did Moses; Oliver was to preach and make them known, as did Aaron (see D&C 21:12). Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “It was very necessary that Oliver Cowdery should receive this admonition, for he was inclined to take issue with the Prophet even in regard to matters of revelation. Much good came out of this unpleasant incident, for the members were taught that there was order in the Church and only one appointed to receive commandments and revelations for their guidance, and he was the one God had called” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:135).
4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
verse 5 Oliver is told that he may give counsel and advice to the saints, but he is not to establish church doctrine or policy. The latter is the prerogative of the prophet only.
6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
verses 2-6 Joseph, not Oliver, is head of the Church, and only Joseph is authorized to receive revelations for the Church. Through this incident the members were taught that there is order in the Church.
7 For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.
verse 7 The word “mystery” comes from the Greek mysterium which means a secret. Chauncey Riddle has taught that it means to “seal your lips.” Thus, one definition of a mystery is something of a sacred nature, and one should be cautious about sharing with others. This certainly agrees with Alma 12:9: “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart, only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the need and diligence which they give unto him.”
As early as September of 1830, the Lord alludes to the fact that one day Joseph will be replaced by another holding the keys of the kingdom.
8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.
verse 8 Oliver is the first to be appointed as a member of the missionary party to the “Lamanites.” Others will follow including Peter Whitmer, Jr., (section 30), and then Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson (section 32).
By the term “Lamanites,” of course, Joseph had reference to the American Indians.
9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.
verse 9 This is the first clue we have as to the location of Zion—it is “on the borders by the Lamanites.” The specific location “shall be given hereafter.”
10 Thou shalt not leave this place until after the conference; and my servant Joseph shall be appointed to preside over the conference by the voice of it, and what he saith to thee thou shalt tell.
verse 10 This conference will be held September 26, 1830.
11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;
verse 11 It is interesting that Hiram Page could use a seer stone, which is a legitimate medium of revelation from the Lord, and yet receive revelations from Satan. Brigham Young said Joseph Smith taught him that it was intended that all men should have their own seer stones, but they were “kept from them in consequence of their wickedness, and most of those who do find one make an evil use of it” (Millennial Star, 26:118).
12 For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.
verse 12 “contrary to the church covenants” This phrase likely has reference to section 20, the “articles and covenants of the Church” which specifies who presides over the Church (see D&C 20:2-3).
13 For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.
14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.
15 And it shall be given thee from the time thou shalt go, until the time thou shalt return, what thou shalt do.
16 And thou must open thy mouth at all times, declaring my gospel with the sound of rejoicing. Amen.
He was about five years older than the Prophet. He studied medicine at a young age and traveled considerably in New York and Canada practicing medicine. He married Catherine Whitmer in 1825. He left the Church in 1838 when the Whitmers were excommunicated.
Brief Historical Setting
Oliver was asked not to depart on his mission to the Lamanites until after an important conference of the elders of the Church to be held on September 26, 1830. At this conference Joseph was appointed by the voice of the conference as the only one authorized to receive revelations for the Church. Also Joseph presented at this conference another important revelation concerning the Lord’s second coming and calamities to occur at his advent [D&C 29 -The Millennium].
Following the conference, another revelation was given to the Whitmer brothers, David, John and Peter, Jr. [D&C 30 -More Counsel to the Whitmers]. Peter, Jr., was called to accompany Oliver on his mission to the Lamanites. A new convert, Thomas B. Marsh, also received a revelation [D&C 31 -Thomas B. Marsh], and two additional missionaries were added to Oliver’s missionary group, Ziba Peterson and Parley P. Pratt [D&C 32 -Mission to the Lamanites].
- Michael J. Preece