Section 8: Oliver Cowdery Given Permission to Translate
While Joseph and Oliver were translating the Book of Mormon in April 1829, Oliver asked if he might try his hand at translating. Joseph inquired of the Lord, and section 8 is the Lord’s answer. It was received sometime in the latter half of April 1829. The answer was that Oliver would be allowed to translate if he would prepare himself and ask in faith. In D&C 6:25-28, Oliver Cowdery had already been given the gift of translation. Since he had been given this gift, he quite naturally wondered if he could succeed in translating.
Some intriguing questions are raised by this incident. Did Oliver use the Urim and Thummim or Joseph’s seerstone? Did he use the plates? Did Joseph copy some of the characters off the plates for him to use? Why did Joseph consent to such a thing? Didn’t he explain to Oliver how much he had been taught by Moroni and others in order that he might become properly prepared to translate?
D&C 8 Oliver Cowdery Given Permission to Translate
D&C 8:2-3 I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost.
1 Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.
verse 1 Here the Lord reiterates a promise to Oliver Cowdery that is available to all faithful saints. The Lord will give liberally to the spiritually prepared if they will only “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6). It is important for us to pause for a few moments over the phrase, “ask in faith.” What does that actually mean? Our intuitive notion is to believe it means simply that we must deliberately suspend any inclination for disbelief. We must ask with full expectation that we will receive. It is important to acknowledge another crucial aspect of asking in faith, perhaps the most crucial aspect. It is that we must deliberately do anything that is required to allow the Lord to grant our request. This type of deliberate faith is not merely something we hold in our mind. Deliberate faith is a principle of action. After requesting anything of the Lord, we must then rise from our knees and deliberately set about to make the thing happen. Then and only then can we expect the Lord to grant our request. We would suppose that Oliver was willing to deliberately suspend any disbelief, yet he will fail in his efforts to translate. It will be because he was unwilling to do the requisite things in order to prepare himself to translate.
For a discussion of the different types of faith, including deliberate faith, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapters 9-11. These chapters are Revealed Faith, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith, and Other Notes on Faith.
“engravings of old records” This expression refers to the Book of Mormon plates and possibly to other records. Oliver would be able to translate them if he so desired and if he properly prepared himself to do so.
2 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.
verse 2 “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart” Here is a reminder that the Lord works with both aspects of man—the mind (the intellect), and the heart (our feelings). The translation process would involve both Oliver’s intellect and his feelings.
Revelation is neither emotion devoid of logical sense nor intellect without feeling, but a combination of both working together in harmony. Revelation can never be “mindless” or illogical; nor can it ever be pure dispassionate logic or reason.
3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
verse 3 “the spirit of revelation” The spirit of revelation is a characteristic of deserving individuals. It is a gift of the Spirit earned incrementally by those who prove themselves, over time, to be diligently obedient to the Lord’s commandments. The spirit of revelation is the ability to perceive and respond to revealed information from the Holy Ghost.
4 Therefore this is thy gift; apply unto it, and blessed art thou, for it shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies, when, if it were not so, they would slay you and bring your soul to destruction.
verse 4 “this is thy gift” This gift is the gift of revelation, the spirit of revelation (see verse 2). To possess such a gift, however, is not the same as knowing how to use it. In order to successfully exercise his gift, Oliver would have to himself supply an added ingredient—real effort (see D&C 9:7-9). When Oliver learned to “apply unto” the gift of revelation the Lord had given him, it would deliver him in times of need.
“apply unto it” Each of us comes into this mortal existence with unique latent and potential abilities. These were acquired in the old fashioned way (incrementally— line upon line, precept upon precept) in the premortal world. However, there is nothing of entitlement here. The veil clouds and partially obscures our gifts. In order to actually exercise those gifts here in mortality—though we doubtless did what was necessary in the premortal world to acquire them—we must rediscover and redevelop them. And this requires real effort. A talent is wasted unless we “apply unto it.”
“and bring your soul to destruction” A “soul” or an individual cannot actually be destroyed to the point of annihilation. This phrase then means to be cut off from the presence of God, banished from his presence, to die spiritually. Any individual who neglects his native gifts is in danger of suffering spiritual death. Our talents or gifts are a stewardship for which each of us is responsible. We will be added upon if we seek out our talents and work to redevelop them. The prophet Nephi wrote: “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Nephi 28:30).
Such a person (“them that shall say, We have enough”) is in danger of losing the influence of the Spirit and eventually suffering spiritual death.
5 Oh, remember these words, and keep my commandments. Remember, this is your gift.
verses 1-5 There is only one way to receive revelation—through the Holy Ghost. Whether you are a prophet of God receiving revelation for the Church or an individual praying for personal guidance, the Holy Ghost is instrumental in the revelatory process. Oliver already had the gift of revelation (see D&C 6:10-13).
These verses contain the formula for revelation. The key to proper asking is: Ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that an answer will come. Also you must then “study it out in your mind” (D&C 9:8). This “studying” make take many forms. The seeker must be willing to do anything required of him to obtain the desired blessing. If the proper steps are followed, the Holy Ghost will deliver the answer in the form of ideas and feelings.
6 Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things;
verse 6 Oliver’s special gifts, then, included the gift of revelation (D&C 6:10-13) and the gift of translation (D&C 6:25-28). This verse refers to yet another of Oliver’s gifts. This is the “gift of Aaron.” It was referred to in the original manuscript of this revelation (the 1833 Book of Commandments) as “the gift of working with the rod.” Ancient Aaron was the elder brother of Moses, and with his rod in his hand he went before Moses as a spokesman. God had instructed that Moses’s rod (originally his shepherd’s staff—see Exodus 4:2-4) was to be the instrument by which he and Aaron would perform signs and wonders. This rod was then carried by Aaron, and was sometimes called the rod of God (see Exodus 4:20; 17:9) and sometimes the rod of Moses (see Exodus 9:23; 10:13; 17:5), but usually it was called the rod of Aaron (see Exodus 7:10, 12, 19; 8:5, 16). It was a tangible symbol of Aaron’s authority and stewardship, of his relationship to Moses and to God, and an instrument by which he accomplished what God commanded him through the mouth of Moses.
The use of such special rods was quite common in New England and New York at the time for such practical tasks as finding water and minerals. Perhaps Oliver had a rod and a gift for using it for practical or even for spiritual things (see verses 8-9).
It is clear, however, that Joseph and Oliver occupied the role in the modern Church once held by Moses and Aaron anciently. They were a modern Moses and Aaron (see D&C 28:2-3). Later in 1833, Sidney Rigdon will be given a commission similar to Oliver’s—that of spokesman (see D&C 100:9-11).
7 Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you.
8 Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God.
9 And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.
10 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.
11 Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
verses 9-11 “whatsoever you shall ask . . . ask in faith” “Ask that you may know the mysteries of God” In these verses, the Lord emphasizes the necessity of asking for what we want. Apparently this message did get across to Oliver, as he did ask if he might translate.
It would seem that the Lord was perfectly willing that Oliver should, along with Joseph, become a translator of the Book of Mormon plates. Possibly also he was to receive mysteries that would be revealed to the Church through him and Joseph. The Lord did, however, outline the qualifications which would be necessary to become successful in that enterprise. Oliver must possess sufficient faith. We will learn that Oliver failed to exert sufficient effort to accomplish those things for which he had the gift.
verse 11 “mysteries of God” It is appropriate, now that Oliver had been given the gift of revelation, that he also be encouraged to ask questions of the Lord and exercise his gift in receiving answers. As explained previously, the term mystery is used two ways in the modern Church. Used positively, it means necessary or useful information that can be obtained only by revelation from God. In this sense, Oliver was encouraged to seek “the mysteries of God.” The scriptures always use “mysteries” in this positive sense. On the other hand, the term mysteries is used more commonly in the contemporary Church in a negative sense to mean information unnecessary for our salvation or for our personal progress, information which the Lord has chosen, for whatever reason, to withhold from us. A preoccupation with such things can distract us from the really important truth that has been revealed and often leads to a loss of spiritual balance, then to contention, doubt, and apostasy.
12 Behold, it is I that have spoken it; and I am the same that spake unto you from the beginning. Amen.
- Michael J. Preece