Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 9

/ Doctrine & Covenants 9 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-6

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

After Oliver’s failure to translate, the Lord consoles Oliver, telling him to be patient and to continue to serve as scribe for Joseph. His statement that Oliver “did not continue as [he] commenced” might suggest that Oliver did begin to translate but lost the power shortly after he began. According to the revelation, Oliver’s fear may have played a role in his failure to translate (verse 11). In this sense, Oliver is like the Apostle Peter, who was able to take a few steps on the water until his fear overcame him and he began to sink (Matthew 14:25–33).


Though Oliver was unable to translate, he did not lose his faith in Joseph’s divine gift to translate. In an interview recorded just a few years before the end of his life, Oliver said, “I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet . . . I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the interpreters. That book is true” (Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, 2019, 351).


Those closest to Oliver bore a similar testimony. Oliver’s wife, Elizabeth Whitmer Cowdery, in a 1870 reminiscence, shared, “I cheerfully certify that I was familiar with the manner of Joseph Smith’s translating the Book of Mormon. . . . I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating” (Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, 345). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 7-11

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

Why was Oliver unable to translate? The Lord provides two reasons in verses 7–11, first that “he took no thought save it was to ask” and, second, his fear. Both of these principles became an important part of Oliver’s further seminar on the process of revelation. The first lesson was that revelation takes work. The Lord instructs Oliver, “You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right” (verse 8). The timing of this revelation suggests that Oliver attempted to translate only a few days after he began to assist in the process.


By contrast, Joseph kept and studied the plates and the interpreters for several months, carefully copying characters from the plates and experimenting with translation. In his history, Joseph writes, “I commenced copying the characters of the plates. I copied a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December, and then the February following” (History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, 9). This process took several months before Joseph felt confident enough to fully begin the translation.


Likewise, those who seek the will of the Lord are expected to study the problem using their own reasoning and gifts before approaching the Lord for answers through prayer. As the revelation explains, the Lord’s role in revelation is, rather than to provide the answer outright, to provide a feeling of confirmation of the correctness of the course. At the same time, the Lord tells Oliver that if he has reached the wrong conclusion, he will have a “stupor of thought” (D&C 8:9). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 12-14

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

At an 1834 conference when Hyrum Smith asked Joseph Smith to tell the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, Joseph told the assembled group “that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things” (Minutes, 25–26 October 1831, 13). In later histories, Joseph did relate the historical details surrounding the translation, but of the translation process itself he simply stated, “Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God” (“Church History,” March 1, 1842, 707, JSP).


Of the people involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon, both Joseph and Oliver died fairly young and left behind only a few reminiscences about the process. It can be frustrating that the two people most involved in the translation process are the ones from which we have the least amount of information. At the same time, it is clear that both men sincerely saw the process as anything but a normal translation; rather, they saw the process as one that came through the divine power of God. The strength given to Joseph (verse 12) came not of his learning or his own understanding. It was a divine gift he received to carry out a divine, inspired process. (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)