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The Nature of Revelation


Joseph Antley

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I wanted to hear what others thought about this. Growing up, I assumed the revelations contained in the D&C that are in the voice of the Lord coming to Joseph Smith directly as they were in front of me--that the words I was reading were those that God spoke or gave to the Prophet.

Later, I realized this was not the case (or rather, not always the case). Many of the revelations I read were not in their original state; several were edited by Joseph Smith with the help of his scribes. Sometimes words and phrases (or even paragraphs) were added, sometimes they were deleted, sometimes they were replaced. Sometimes different revelations were merged together, and sometimes phrasing and wording were switched around. Sometimes language was edited to sound more poetic and "scriptural" than it originally did.

Of course I believe this editing was done under inspiration. But, when I read the heading of D&C 8 that says it was given in April 1829, am I reading the actual revelation that the Lord gave? The scriptures say that God reveals himself according to man's understanding, but I am still a little thrown off by the fact that the words I'm reading aren't the original words that the Lord revealed.

Assuming that the Lord reveals himself in words -- which this editing process leads me to believe that he doesn't, if words can be deleted, replaced, etc., to make things more clear or to add greater insight. If this is what the Lord was trying to get across, then 1) he didn't do the best job when he first gave the revelation, so the prophet had to make it clearer, or 2) the Lord revealed the "revelation," and the prophet was left to put the revelation into words.

But, if the latter, I don't understand how Joseph Smith had had D&C 132 memorized for so many years, unless the Lord had revealed to him the words he had memorized. And, again if the latter, that leads me to believe that the nature of these revelations wasn't special, as I had supposed they were. If God didn't reveal himself in words, then he revealed himself through the same impressions that I feel. But, as an example, if I prayed about whether or not I should marry a girl, and I receive a spiritual impression that I should, I can't imagine ever transforming that into the words, "Thus saith the Lord, you should marry Girl X, if that is your desire, etc."

Okay, that last bit was sort of a tangent. What are your thoughts on all of this?

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Assuming that the Lord reveals himself in words -- which this editing process leads me to believe that he doesn't, if words can be deleted, replaced, etc., to make things more clear or to add greater insight.

We're each told line upon line. Not necessarily in words - but sometimes in impressions that have to be wrestled down to the page.

Why assume revelation isn't an iterative process? Which could include clarification. Expansion. And even rewriting.

It appears that even the Nephites had difficulty wrestling their realities into writing - a process they referred to as awkward.

But, if the latter, I don't understand how Joseph Smith had had D&C 132 memorized for so many years...

Understanding and remembering the gist of God's will in a certain matter is one thing.

But I'm **not** of the opinion that Joseph stored the word-for-word passage in his head for years.

If the paragraph above is an accurate approximation of his reality, why would he need to?

Hoping some of that is helpful....

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We're each told line upon line. Not necessarily in words - but sometimes in impressions that have to be wrestled down to the page.

Why assume revelation isn't an iterative process? Which could include clarification. Expansion. And even rewriting.

It appears that even the Nephites had difficulty wrestling their realities into writing - a process they referred to as awkward.

But again, if they have trouble putting it into writing, that implies that the revelation wasn't given word-for-word. If it had been, then it would be clear how to write it.

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But again, if they have trouble putting it into writing, that implies that the revelation wasn't given word-for-word. If it had been, then it would be clear how to write it.

Yep.

That's probably also why the caveat of potential mistakes in the text also makes sense, within that framework. Because people are windows or lenses for light and truth. And how much diffusion and defraction that takes places on the receiving end hinges on the individual, and perhaps at times on the distractions they happen to be dealing with at that juncture.

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But again, if they have trouble putting it into writing, that implies that the revelation wasn't given word-for-word.

We should probably also add the caveat that it isn't necessarily an either/or.

Sometimes people hear a distinct voice. Or see text.

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We should probably also add the caveat that it isn't necessarily an either/or.

Sometimes people occasionally hear a distinct voice. Or see text.

How do you know that they see text?

And if someone hears a distinct voice -- is the voice actually the voice of God? If so, how is it that that voice can be altered for clarity? Why does a perfect being need his words clarified?

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How do you know that they see text?

That's how some have described things.

There are scriptural examples too. Daniel comes to mind.

And if someone hears a distinct voice -- is the voice actually the voice of God?

Sometimes.

If so, how is it that that voice can be altered for clarity? Why does a perfect being need his words clarified?

? On such occasions, no more clarity would be needed.
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Then it stands to reason that most the revelations in the D&C did not come by the literal voice of the Lord, as I had once thought.

God speaks to different people, at different times, in different ways.

An impression, for example knowing he loves you, is arguably as much (if not more) of his voice as anything else.

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Most of the changes I have seen so far have involved the evolving Church structure. I started a thread on this topic a few days ago but didn't get any responses. Check this blog post:

http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2009/10/in-their-weakness-after-manner-of-their.html

I reached this line and had to pause: "It is pregnant with possibilities for Mormon scholarship."

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But again, if they have trouble putting it into writing...

That also brings to mind the furthest extreme of that reality - where some things simply can not be put into words.

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When I first found out about the changes and revisions I felt uncomfortable with it. I remember reading how the revelations where dictated word for word through revelation directly through Joseph. I always found the accounts given on how the revelations occurred to be astonishing and unique. To my amazement when I found that those revelations where changed and altered in various degrees I was of course concerned. Personally I can be satisfied with the idea that the Lord reveals line upon line and precept upon precept and over time Joseph saw this pattern in past revelations and clarified the revelations with his newer and better understanding. The words of Brigham regarding the scriptures and the prophet of God come to mind that in effect teach the living prophet takes priority over the words of dead prophets. If Joseph is what he claimed to be I see no reason why he could not alter and clarify past words even though they came directly from God.

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