Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ensign magazine discusses changes to revelations

Excerpts of "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Gerrit Dirkmaat, Ensign Magazine
--The ongoing Joseph Smith Papers Project at the Church History Library has highlighted the essential role that Joseph Smith's revelations played in building the faith of early members of the Church. They understood that the process of revelation was not static and that the Lord sometimes commanded Joseph to revise, update, or correct the written revelations.

Some of the Prophet Joseph's earliest revelations came through the same means by which he translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates. In the stone box containing the gold plates, Joseph found what Book of Mormon prophets referred to as "interpreters," or a "stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light" (Alma 37:23–24). He described the instrument as "spectacles" and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim (see Exodus 28:30).2

He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called "seer stones" because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones.

Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations.

Many Revelations Were Later Revised by Joseph Smith through Inspiration

Over the course of the first five years of the Church, Joseph and others under his direction made changes and corrections to some of the early revelation texts in an attempt to more closely portray the intent of the revelation. Other times, especially as the revelations were being prepared for publication, Joseph was inspired to update the contents of the revelations to reflect a growing Church structure and new circumstances. At times this process resulted in substantial additions to the original text.5 As early as November 1831, a Church conference resolved that "Joseph Smith Jr. correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit while reviewing the revelations and commandments and also the fullness of the scriptures."6

Some of the needed changes stemmed from errors made by scribes as Joseph dictated the revelation to them. Other changes were made as later revelations incorporated more teachings that had not been a part of the initial revelation. 

Most of the changes to the revelations were made as they were prepared for publication, particularly in 1833 and 1835. Many of these changes made the revelations easier to read and understand; others clarified and expanded upon ideas in the previous revelations as a result of continued revelation on the topic.

While many members today may look at the revelations as being static and unchanging, the Prophet Joseph Smith saw the revelations as living and subject to change as the Lord revealed more of His will.

Early Church members accepted the revelations Joseph Smith received as the literal voice of God speaking to them.
The Joseph Smith Papers Project at the Church History Library is in the process of making the project's documents available to readers either in printed volumes or online (in English). At http://JosephSmithPapers.org, readers can see images and transcriptions of hundreds of Joseph Smith's documents, including revelations, letters, and journals.