The Book of Mormon prophet Jarom taught about revelation: “And there are many among us [the Nephites] who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.” (Jarom 1:4)
Communion is not a word we use much in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a term used by many other Christian churches for the sacrament. It has broader meaning than partaking of bread and wine. Communion comes from a Latin word meaning common, as in shared. Communion can thus mean sharing intimate thoughts and feelings. Repeating again from Jarom: “As many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit”. Faith and humility lead to close associations with the Holy Spirit and with our Heavenly Father. Communion is us sharing thoughts and feelings with Them but also having Their thoughts and feelings shared with us as revelation and inspiration. Communion is a conversation between individuals who know each other well. This is the process of revelation – conversation with Divinity.
Today I address the nature of revelation. Within broader Christianity, the major and in many instances, the only source of revelation is the Bible. As as result, many people view the scriptures as a fixed process and a fixed result. Thus spake Jehovah through His mouthpiece Moses or Elijah. Thus spoke Peter. This view results in scripture dictated by God as whole and complete. From “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) to “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:21) covers the complete, fixed scriptural canon. This is an incorrect, if understandable, view of scripture. At the time of Jospeh Smith it was the dominant view of scripture. Over time, maybe in part because of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this view of scripture and revelation as a fixed process has weakened but it is still prevalent.
We have the Book of Mormon and teachings of modern prophets to help us understand a different process of revelation. The Book of Mormon came to us in its current form through the work of many different people both ancient and modern. Much of the work anciently was done by a prophet named Mormon, hence the title we use for the book – The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Mormon served as abridger and editor of sacred and secular records that were kept by prophets and other individuals over the years. As inspired, he selected passages that told of the history of small groups of people in the Americas but more importantly, Mormon selected words of prophets that taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mormon compiled and edited the Book of Mormon while watching the end of his civilization – most of his people had either been killed in wars or had turned from following the statutes of God and joined with their enemies. Before he finished the record, Mormon was killed in battle, leaving his son Moroni as caretaker over the sacred records and the finisher of the Book of Mormon. Moroni was a faithful steward, burying the book in a stone box in what would later be upstate New York. The plates Moroni buried in the ground were made of gold, which does not easily corrode or corrupt. Mormon and others engraved words with great difficulty (see Jacob 4:1) so they chose words judiciously. Space was also limited so what Mormon included was what he thought most important. He chose teachings to help those who read the book draw nearer to Christ.
What we have as the current start of the Book of Mormon was not Mormon’s selected start of the book. 116 additional translated manuscript pages existed but they were lost when Martin Harris, who helped Joseph Smith with the translation of the Book of Mormon, convinced Joseph to let him take the manuscript home so he could show his wife. Martin’s wife was was upset at the work Martin was doing with Joseph and wanted to see some evidence of its value. Even though part of the Book of Mormon manuscript disappeared, God, in foresight, inspired Mormon to include writings by Nephi and a few others that covered the same timeframe. The previously translated portion was not translated again. Mormon wrote why he included plates duplicating part of the Book of Mormon story:
“And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin…I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.” (Words of Mormon 1:3).
Mormon made all his abridgments and then discovered the “small plates of Nephi” that included some history but focused mainly on sacred things (particularly on Jesus Christ). Mormon didn’t know why he included them other than the Lord revealed to him they should be included.
As we now have the Book of Mormon, the first part of it was written by an ancient prophet Nephi and a few others, including Nephi’s brother Jacob. Mormon wrote the rest of the Book of Mormon with a few words written by his son Moroni (who buried the gold plates around the year 421 AD). Mormon quoted extensively from various prophets and later, quoted directly from the Savior when He visited the Americas after His resurrection; Mormon’s quoting and commentary are interwoven, often with little differentiation between commentary and quote, so it is sometimes difficult to know when he is quoting and when he is writing.
The book of Ether, which is near the end of the Book of Mormon but takes place before most of the events in the rest of the Book of Mormon, is a transcription of a translation done by Mosiah of records of a group of people called the Jaredites. They lived long before the Nephites, traveling to the Americas thousands of years BC. Their civilization lasted through many wars for over a thousand years until the last of the Jaredites was discovered by another group of people who left Jerusalem separately from Lehi’s family.
The Book of Mormon is called the Book of Mormon in honor of all the work Mormon did compiling, editing, and writing. By volume, Mormon, Nephi, Jacob, and Moroni are the four largest contributors. Mormon compiled a remarkable book that was not written for his family or his people – they were almost all dead – it was written for the purpose of coming forth 1400 years later to teach people of Jesus Christ. Mormon wrote the book to add a joint witness to the Bible of the truthfulness of Christ’s mission.
Why is knowing the authorship and creation of the Book of Mormon important and what does it have to do with understanding revelation? We learned writing the Book of Mormon was a process. The words and stories in it are those of many people. Each lived in different times, many of which were difficult. Mormon, who was a prophet and military leader, selected the stories and teachings to strengthen faith in and understanding of Jesus Christ. It was a lot of work. He edited and wrote between fighting battles and trying to survive. On the title page Mormon wrote: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”
Mormon admitted there might be faults in his book. Humans are not perfect, even prophets. If there are any faults, they do not mean God is somehow faulty, the faults occur because God relies on imperfect people to do much of His work – and that is glorious! God trusts people enough to allow them to do some of His work. We get to be part of God’s work! Faults do not lessen the truth of the Book of Mormon, just as they don’t lessen the importance of the Bible. The Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ. It serves to teach us about salvation through Jesus Christ. It serves to testify of and clarify truths found in the Bible.
Some question why a prophet might make errors, especially with something we consider inspired or revealed, such as the Book of Mormon or Bible. Prophets are human. Who on earth today is free from biases and cultural influences? No one. Those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators are human. They have callings and keys that open up rights to general revelation for the church but they do not receive such revelation all the time.
Elder Bruce McConkie, who was an apostle, wrote: “With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances.” (Mormon Doctrine, 547; as cited by Ben Spackman). Just because prophets and apostles are fallible does not diminish their holy callings or our responsibility to faithfully follow them. Even if the Lord’s chosen prophets and apostles are wrong about something, we are not wrong in following them. Not following the president of the church and the quorum of the twelve apostles when they represent the Savior Jesus Christ is sin.
Any time we sin we go against God. We, in our sins (I’m talking about willful sins, not sins of ignorance) place ourselves above God by thinking or feeling we know better than He does or than His prophets do. Even so, God is forgiving; we can repent of our pride and all our other sins. He understands the difficulties and confusions of mortality; He knows we all sin and will continue to sin — that’s why we have Christ’s Atonement — to bring us back in alignment with God and His laws. Christ’s Atonement also sanctifies us, if we allow it, so we will no longer have the desire to sin. Hopefully at some point in our lives we cease sinning very much. That is one of our main goals in life — to be at a point where we are more like our Father in Heaven through His grace. God’s hand is outstretched to us; as we repent we reach out to Him. Another main goal in life is to stop thinking we know better than God and turn our wills over to Him.
So although prophets are fallible, going against the teachings of the living prophets (and many teachings of dead ones too) even if we do not understand them crosses over the line of sin. This does not mean blind devotion but it means we trust God and those He chose to lead His church. At the April 2012 Priesthood Session of General Conference Pres. Monson taught: “At times the wisdom of God appears as being foolish or just too difficult, but one of the greatest and most valuable lessons we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.” (Monson, Priesthood Session, April 2012). May we always be right by always following the living prophet!
Prophets and apostles are above all, special witnesses of Jesus Christ. They testify of Jesus Christ and of His atonement. That is their primary role as apostles. They also have other responsibilities but they, like the full-time missionaries, are called to testify of Jesus Christ. Broadly, a prophet is anyone who testifies of Jesus Christ. That means many people have the spirit of prophecy but few are set apart as prophets.
This is a lesson taught in the Old Testament and more recent scripture. While the children of Israel followed Moses, sometimes grudgingly and rebelliously, in the wilderness, the administrative roles of managing tens of thousands of people became overwhelming for Moses. The host of Israel received manna daily but wanted more – they wanted meat. Now on top of all Moses did to protect and lead his people, he had to worry about how to get meat to prevent mass rebellion. He was burdened and getting burned out, and not by the divine fire he saw in the bush. He cried to the Lord: “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:14).
To help Moses, Jehovah revealed to him a path of shared stewardship: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.” (Numbers 11:16-17)
In addition, the Lord promised to send enough meat that it would “come out at [their] nostrils, and it be loathsome unto [them]”. (Numbers 11:20). The people would eat so much quail for a month that they would get sick of it. One lesson from this is be careful what you ask for because you might just get it.
In the meantime, Moses called seventy men to assist in the work. He set them apart. These seventy men would assist Moses with both administering and ministering. “And Moses went out…and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.” (Numbers 11:24-25). After being set apart and filled with the Spirit of God, these men prophesied.
The story continues: “But there remained two of the men in the camp…and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:26-29). “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.” We learn lessons from Moses. He was not prideful; he wanted many people to share in the blessings he experienced. Also, even though he struggled with his calling, he stuck with it and the Lord blessed him for that.
John the Revelator wrote: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). If all the Lord’s people were prophets, all would be filled with the spirit of prophecy. All would have strong testimonies of the Atonement of Christ and share them with all around.
Of course, the Lord’s house is one of order. Through Joseph Smith we learn there is only one appointed – the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – who receives commandments and revelations for the church (see D&C 43:1-7). “The duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses.” (D&C 107:91). All members of the church are entitled, however, to receive revelation. This revelation comes through the Holy Ghost.
Revelation to any of us – from the President of the church to the newest baptized member – “is,” as one LDS writer explained, “always mediated to and through human knowledge, culture, and language. God accommodates his revelation to our state. It’s impossible for it to be otherwise, as its necessity is built-in to the system.” (Source)
In an essay released by the Church Newsroom the relationship between revelation, worldly knowledge, and the effort required to obtain revelation is explained, “All understanding, whether spiritual or rational, is worked out in constant questioning and discovery. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, ‘By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.’ Latter-day Saints do not expect God to simply hand down information. He expects us to wrestle with the complications of life through prayerful searching and sound thinking. ‘You must study it out in your mind,’ Mormon scripture teaches, and then answers will come. This pattern of inquiry opens Mormons to expanding spiritual possibilities.” (Source)
Revelation comes only by work. Sometimes the work is simple and short. Sometimes it takes years. When Joseph Smith was 11 or 12 he started thinking deeply about the nature of God, religion, and the universe. He attended different churches or church movements; he read the Bible frequently. He sought truth for years before he went into a grove of trees near his home in upstate New York and offered a humble prayer. God the Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ appeared in radiant majesty to a 14 year old Joseph Smith. They miraculously answered his prayer after he spent years seeking answers. God did not simply hand down information to Joseph Smith without Joseph first working for answers. Blessings come after trials of faith. Oh what blessings came to Joseph Smith! Oh what blessings come to us as we work diligently to receive revelation!
This first vision of Joseph Smith demonstrated the importance of continuing revelation. The teachings of Noah didn’t save the children of Israel from the Egyptians – the people needed Moses. Even Christ didn’t teach all the world; He sent His apostles out after His resurrection to do that, arming them with additional doctrines He did not teach while on the earth. We can therefore conclude that the Bible is not complete. We have a living prophet upon the earth. Christ’s prophets speak to us today and teach us what God wants us to know. But even to them, the Lord does not reveal all things. Revelation comes to each of us line upon line. There is much the Lord will yet reveal to his servants, the prophets. There is much He will reveal to each of us.
“The Latter-day Saint belief in continuing revelation reinforces the process of learning and integration. The windows of heaven are not closed. According to…scripture, learning has lasting significance because ‘whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life’ will follow us in the hereafter. Indeed, Mormons believe that God ‘will yet reveal many great and important things’ to His children.” (Source)
If you want more revelation, if you want more truth and knowledge from God, how do you obtain it? By study and also by faith. Study without righteous living and the subsequent blessing of faith will not yield revelation. You will learn but you will not convert. You will grow but you will not be sanctified. To be learned is good if you hearken to God otherwise your knowledge will condemn you.
The great teacher Truman Madsen taught: “Said the Prophet [Joseph Smith], ‘No generation was ever saved or [for that matter] destroyed upon dead testimony‘ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 159). I think he means by ‘dead’ the record of the remote past. We’re not fully accountable to that, but we are accountable to a living witness who bears living testimony to our living spirit. That’s when we reach the zenith of responsibility. We recognize that and perhaps run from it. When a child runs away with hands over ears, what is happening? Doesn’t the child already pretty well know the message? Do we cover our ears while saying, ‘I didn’t hear you’? “Heber C. Kimball, without being grammatical, put the point elegantly after the outpourings of the Nauvoo Temple. He said, ‘You cannot sin so cheap no more.’” (Madsen, T. G. 1994. On How We Know. BYU Speeches, p. 5).
As we gain more light and knowledge by revelation, we are held to a higher standard. Some might balk at this higher standard but it is God’s standard. Those who receive revelation and are true to it, will receive more and more. Those who reject revelation, will receive less and less.
I pray each of us will revel in the miraculous process of revelation. God blesses us with greater light and knowledge, line upon line, as we are spiritually and intellectually able. Revelation is a growing, expanding, and expansive process. It is not perfect because we are not perfect but it is necessary to have and to understand. May we all have communion with the Holy Spirit; may we all have revelation be a frequent occurrence as we converse with our Heavenly Father.