All scripture is given by inspiration of God…?

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him. (D&C 130:22-23)

This scriptural passage is probably very familiar to most of us. It is the only scriptural source that clearly teaches that the Holy Ghost is a personage. It also purports to give a reason why a member of the Godhead does not have a body of flesh and bones, in the sentence I emphasized above — so the the Holy Ghost can “dwell in us”. The problem is that the source of this teaching is not only not from a prophet, but actually contradicts the prophetic teaching that the rest of the scriptural passage is based on.

The source of this teaching is Joseph Smith’s corrections to a talk by Elder Orson Hyde at a conference in Ramus, Illinois on April 2, 1843. In the morning, Elder Hyde had preached that “it is our privilege to have the father & son dwelling in our hearts.” After the morning meeting, at Joseph’s sister Sophronia’s house for dinner, Joseph indicated that he would correct Elder Hyde, who indicated his willingness to accept correction. Joseph then taught what we have in D&C 130:1-3, that “the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.”

When they returned for the evening session of the meeting, Joseph referred the congregation back to Elder Hyde’s statement to give them the correction as well. This time he additionally taught (emphasis mine):

The Father has a body of flesh & bones as tangible as mans the Son also, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. –and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart he may receive the gift of the holy Ghost. it may descend upon him but not to tarry with him (Joseph Smith diary as recorded by Willard Richards)

The Holy Ghost is a personage, and a person cannot have the personage of the Holy Ghost in his heart. A man receive the gifts of the H. G., and the H. G. may descend upon a man but not to tarry with him. (William Clayton diary)

(Source for these documents is The Parallel Joseph, found at: http://www.boap.org/LDS/Parallel/1843/2Apr43.html)

So how is it that we got from Joseph’s teachings as recorded by Willard Richards and William Clayton that the personage of the Holy Ghost cannot dwell in us to the teaching in the Doctrine & Covenants that he is a personage of spirit precisely so that he can dwell in us?

Orson Pratt was given the assignment to select teachings of Joseph Smith for inclusion in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants (see the December 1984 Ensign article The Story of the Doctrine & Covenants). In doing so, he relied on the compilations of Joseph’s diaries and teachings by church historians (see http://www.boap.org/LDS/History/HTMLHistory/v1c1history.html#N_1_ for details on who these historians were and when they wrote). Joseph himself wrote very little of his diary; it was actually kept by various people assigned to do so. Church historians compiled these various accounts into a cohesive whole (changing the text to the first person to appear as though Joseph had written it) and it formed the basis of the volumes of History of Church eventually edited by B.H. Roberts — the ones most of us are familiar with.

Leo Hawkins was the historian who compiled the account that includes this scriptural passage from D&C 130. He added the sentence in question about the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. Heaven only knows why he made such a change, but it contradicts what Joseph taught as recorded contemporaneously by his secretary.

In my mind, this illustrates a few important principles: 1) The process of establishing canonized scripture, ancient and modern, is rife with difficulties of this sort and we should not be surprised “that the text of recorded revelation can be edited and ‘changed.’” (quote from Ensign article); 2) Scripture alone is insufficient for correct doctrine, as it not only may contain errors such as this one, but also requires interpretation. Therefore, we must also have revelation to guide us; and 3) We should be willing to apply the same caveat “as far as it is translated [or transmitted] correctly” not only to the Bible, but to all the standard works.

Further sources for this information:

Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p.341

George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle; The Journals of William Clayton, p.97

The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, compiled and edited by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980], entries for 2 April 1843 (see particularly footnote 5)

23 thoughts on “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…?

  1. I would also add that the comprehensive D&C dissertation by Robert Woodford, which covers history and text-critical issues of every section, is available in .pdf format frm the University of Michigan dissertation service at http://www.umi.com

    This is the direct link, but I’m not sure it will work for non-university connections.

  2. Ben, I can’t get that link to work from a non-UMI connection. Robert Woodford is the author of the Ensign article I linked to.

  3. Nice post Grasshopper. In this specific case, though, it seems that the true and original doctrine is what is taught in the church today — that it is the influence of the Holy Ghost we all feel rather than his personage. This, in spite of the apparent contradiction in the verses you mentioned. I suspect most just assume there is just some sort of semantics/linguistic problem with that verse or something (or they never even pay attention to it). I think the “as far as it is translated correctly” caveat applying to all standard works is a very interesting (and probably useful) idea.

  4. My point in bringing this up has less to do with the specific doctrinal issue (though I think it is an interesting question) and far more to do with the implications for the overall sufficiency and reliability of scripture, particularly when we start doing close reading that tends to rely on specific wording and short passages.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with the original post. Many people are probably familiar with my hesitancy with accepting everything Mc Conkie and Joseph Fielding Smith taught, but this is one of the biggest issues I have with them, namely that they insist that modern revelation must bow before ancient revelation as contained in the scriptures. Now I understand that there is some good advice to be taken from such a rule of thumb, but to adopt it whole stock seems to me to be getting the cart before the horse.

  6. D&C 137 has a similar issue. If I recall correctly, the origianl refers to Father Adam and Michael as separate individuals. It was not cannonized until 1978 so I wonder if this change was known. Maybe the retention of the change was deliberate.

  7. Your title is a very interesting choice, since the verse you are quoting is a little tricky: note the JST (which, in this case, agrees with the preferable Greek reading).

  8. I think that nicely illustrates the point of my post. :-)

  9. I wonder, then, what the phrase “receive the Holy Ghost” refers to?
    I have always thought that the phrase used in section 130 referred to the companionship not the actual occupation by the Holy Ghost. If we understand section 88:3 properly, then I think the parsing of section 130 in terms of “as far as it is translated correctly” puts us in some danger of parsing everything the Prophet says to suit some bias we might hold on any doctrine.
    Just a thought.

  10. This is excellent, Christopher. Bibliographic research is difficult, tedious and unglamorous, but crucially important for any kind of textual studies (including scripture study). It’s especially so for the D&C, I think, because the form in which we currently encounter it can lead the reader to believe that Joseph, and only Joseph, received the revelations verbatim, effortlessly, just as we find them now in the D&C. Because we don’t see present-day prophets receiving the same kind of divine communication, it can seem as if revelation has slowed or stopped in our time. While prophetic revelation has changed qualitatively and quantitatively over the history of the church–and it’s valuable to attend to these changes–we ought not rely on too simplistic a notion of Joseph’s form of revelation.

  11. Rosalynde,

    I’m not sure what it is you are saying. Are we at the point where we can’t rely on modern scriptures as they are written? Is it too simplistic to believe that they are correct as written?
    Not being knowledgeable in textual studies, or literature for that matter, I guess I’m just a naive fool who believes that modern scripture doesn’t need to be corrected – but obviously that puts my salvation in jeopardy because what I see I believe – and it just ain’t so.

  12. Larry,

    I think this post demonstrates quite clearly that it is too simplistic to believe that modern scriptures are correct as written. Moreover, I think the overall textual history of modern scriptures makes this even clearer. If you read the Ensign article I linked to above, it gives several examples of changes and corrections made to modern scripture by modern prophets, often in consultation with historians. If you believe in modern prophets, and they believe that modern scriptures need correction, then it seems you must also believe that modern scriptures need correction. I don’t think there’s any way of getting around that.

    As for your question about what the phrase “receive the Holy Ghost” refers to: it apparently refers to something other than having the personage of the Holy Ghost in us. If by “companionship” you mean something like the companionship of another person, I think you may be right (though there might be some points of discussion about spatial limitations of a spiritual being and whether more than one person could “receive the Holy Ghost” at the same time, etc.). But interpreting it that way differs from the point of the passage in D&C 130 that purports to give an explanation for why the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit and not of flesh and bone — and differs in a way that would be compatible with what Joseph Smith actually taught, which is contradicted by the passage in D&C 130.

    With regard to D&C 88:3, if Joseph was right in teaching that the personage of the Holy Ghost cannot dwell in our hearts, then D&C 88:3 must be speaking about the influence of the Holy Ghost in our hearts and not the personage himself. I don’t think this is a bad reading of that verse, and is in keeping with the prophetic teachings of Joseph Smith that underlie the D&C 130 passage.

  13. Christopher,

    “Scripture alone is insufficient for correct doctrine, as it not only may contain errors such as this one, but also requires interpretation. Therefore, we must also have revelation to guide us; and 3) We should be willing to apply the same caveat “as far as it is translated [or transmitted] correctly” not only to the Bible, but to all the standard works.”
    What this tells me is that I really can’t trust the modern scriptures. Further it implies that even though we believe in modern revelation, the Brethern have been uninspired through the many editions, on this important doctrinal point.
    Then, I’m forced to rethink what Nephi said: “…feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2Ne.32:3)

    When I read the article in the Ensign, I did not get the impression that important doctrinal issues had to be changed, rather it appears to have been grammatical and punctuation problems.

    Since the vast majority of Saints are not, and never have been, and probably never will be, literary critics, how much faith are we building in those who are not even “the weakest among us” when comments like yours are made.

    We believe in a living Church, continued revelation etc.. We also believe in personal revelation. However, when we tie your comments of “as far as it is translated correctly” it implies that we can question anything that, by reason of education, we don’t think accurately describes a theological point. Hence we can throw in our wisdom. Doesn’t that sound eerily like priestcraft.

    It seems to me that if questions were to be raised regarding the correctness of the scripture, that the Brethern would have been the ones to make the point publicly and make appropriate changes to more clearly describe what is meant. They haven’t done it. I wonder why?

  14. Larry, you said:

    However, when we tie your comments of “as far as it is translated correctly” it implies that we can question anything that, by reason of education, we don’t think accurately describes a theological point. Hence we can throw in our wisdom.

    Now wait just a second — where did I ever say anything about throwing in our own wisdom? Rather, I indicated that what it takes is revelation. If you want to read that as me wanting to throw in my own wisdom in priestcraft, you’re free to do so. But it is not at all what I am saying. What I am saying is that, in my view, continuing revelation has primacy over scripture. And how many times have modern prophets taught that scripture alone is insufficient; hence the need for modern revelation? This post just illustrates one reason why this principle is true.

    Of course we are free to question any theological point we read in the scriptures — it’s part of pondering the gospel and trying to learn. But to imply that I am saying that therefore we can simply rely on our own ideas in the absence of revelation, either institutional or personal, is simply incorrect.

    You are right that the Brethren have the role to make any corrections they deem necessary to the scriptures. Perhaps they do not view this an “important doctrinal point”, or perhaps it is among a series of changes to come forth in a future edition (after all, it’s impractical to create a new edition of the scriptures for every potential change). I do know that the Brethren value scriptural textual scholarship; for example, see the support they have given Royal Skousen in his critical edition of the Book of Mormon, which includes numerous suggested changes. What the Brethren do with those suggestions is their business and not mine or Royal Skousen’s. But I object to the suggestion that offering observations about the textual history of scripture, either thousands of years old or merely 150+ years old, is undermining the Brethren.

  15. Christopher,

    It may not be that that you would ever undermine the Brethern, but saying:”Scripture alone is insufficient for correct doctrine, as it not only may contain errors such as this one, but also requires interpretation”, leaves the door wide open for those who are so caught up in themselves spiritually, and consider themselves qualified in every academic sense, to reduce the scriptures to nothing more than poor writing by the uneducated.
    When caught up in the lamp of their own conceit, the scriptures will eventually become meaningless drivel that need their deep insight to clarify what God said originally – because, heaven knows, revelation can come in the form of academic intelligence too.
    I am not familiar with the changes recommended by Royal Skousen (and I should be – please direct me to where I can find it).
    I know of the changes made from the 1st edition of the Book of Mormon that appear doctrinal, but are in fact the same thing said a different way. However, those changes were done by the Brethern.

    Back to the original scripture, you correctly point out that it is the defining scripture on the Holy Ghost. That being the case, it would be of paramount importance to ensure the information therein was accurate from the beginning. So, again I ask why haven’t they changed it in any of the previous editions? Are they ignorant of this member of the Godhead, or do they just not care how He is portrayed – in which case they could be guilty of serious neglect – right?

    And, by the way, thank you for this post. I love this sort of discussion even when we disagree, because one of us is going to learn a great deal and it probably will be me.

  16. It may not be that that you would ever undermine the Brethern, but saying:”Scripture alone is insufficient for correct doctrine, as it not only may contain errors such as this one, but also requires interpretation”, leaves the door wide open for those who are so caught up in themselves spiritually, and consider themselves qualified in every academic sense, to reduce the scriptures to nothing more than poor writing by the uneducated.

    Maybe it does, but people like that hardly need permission from me to ignore the scriptures. And I did immediately follow up that statement with “Therefore, we need revelation to guide us,” thereby effectively shutting that door. Besides all that, it is hardly anything more than a paraphrase of what has been taught many times by modern prophets. For example, in a post of mine last month, I related the famous story of Brigham Young, under the supervision of Joseph Smith, teaching of the primacy of modern revelation over the scriptures:

    Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, “Brother Brigham, I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.” Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the word of God from the beginning of the world, almost to our day.” “And now,” said he, “when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.”

    I don’t see that my point is significantly diffferent than this teaching of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (I’m hardly calling the scriptures “nothing” :-) ).

    I am not familiar with the changes recommended by Royal Skousen (and I should be – please direct me to where I can find it).

    FARMS has published the first couple of volumes, including Skousen’s own description of his work and how it relates to the Brethren. http://farms.byu.edu (If you need more specific references, let me know and I can find them.)

    Back to the original scripture, you correctly point out that it is the defining scripture on the Holy Ghost. That being the case, it would be of paramount importance to ensure the information therein was accurate from the beginning. So, again I ask why haven’t they changed it in any of the previous editions? Are they ignorant of this member of the Godhead, or do they just not care how He is portrayed – in which case they could be guilty of serious neglect – right?

    I don’t pretend to know why the Brethren haven’t changed this scripture. I suggested a couple of options in my earlier reply. While this is a defining scripture in our understanding of the nature of the Holy Ghost, it may be that the reasons for his lack of a physical body have not been revealed or simply are not important right now. It may be that the Brethren care very much, but the Lord has not seen fit to give more knowledge on this specific point yet.

    I do find it a little bit ironic that you seem to resist my suggestion that something is wrong with Leo Hawkins’ decision to change Joseph Smith’s teaching — after all, he’s wasn’t one of the Brethren.

  17. Christopher,

    ” I do find it a little bit ironic that you seem to resist my suggestion that something is wrong with Leo Hawkins’ decision to change Joseph Smith’s teaching — after all, he’s wasn’t one of the Brethren.”

    No, but the Brethern have never questioned or changed it.

    By the way, I’m not going to let you get off easy on this point:
    “Maybe it does, but people like that hardly need permission from me to ignore the scriptures. And I did immediately follow up that statement with “Therefore, we need revelation to guide us,” thereby effectively shutting that door.”

    Revelation to whom? If you are talking about individual revelation, then I can show 2000 years of what that has done to Christianity.
    If you are talking about revelation to the Brethern then maybe we can agree.

    Thanks for the link to Farms.

  18. I don’t think either of us knows whether the Brethren have questioned this passage. True, they have not changed it. Do you interpret this to mean that they believe Joseph Smith was wrong and Leo Hawkins was right?

    As for what kind of revelation we need: we need both individual revelation and institutional revelation. (But really, I view those both as essentially the same thing; the only difference is the stewardship of the person receiving the revelation.)

  19. Oh, and just to be as clear as possible: when I say that we need revelation, I mean real revelation, not just calling whatever you prefer to believe “revelation”. This requires real humility on our part and a willingness to examine ourselves to see if we are simply putting forth our own ideas as “revelation”.

  20. Um, isnt this kind of a tempest in a teapot? Granted, its an oddity, but its been well documented (e.g., Lyndon W. Cook’s _The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith_ contain the original Clayton journal entry) so anyone bothering to pay attention would notice. It seems likely to me that nobody has really bothered with this because there really isnt anything to fix. The author’s assertion is:

    So how is it that we got from Joseph’s teachings as recorded by Willard Richards and William Clayton that the personage of the Holy Ghost cannot dwell in us to the teaching in the Doctrine & Covenants that he is a personage of spirit precisely so that he can dwell in us?

    But thats not what D&C 130 is saying. D&C 130 does not say “the Holy Ghost can dwell in a man’s heart” and the journal entry does not say “The H.G. does not dwell in us”. So, there is no real contradiction, it is only perceived. If someone can explain what “dwell in us” means, as opposed to “a person cannot have the personage of the H.G. in his heart”, and make that actually contradictory, then I would suppose there was something worthy of being addressed. If one argues these are only semantical differences, then I can just as easily argue there are only semantical similarities.

    The only legitimate question raised is “Where did Leo Hawkins get his inverted paraphrase from?” Which question remains unaswered. Is his rather eliptical paraphrase incorrect? No. So whats the big deal? Mole hill => mountain ?

  21. Kurt, yes, it’s possible to interpret the Joseph Smith version and the Leo Hawkins version in a way that would render them mutually compatible. But the fact remains that D&C 130:22-23 does not make the same claim that Joseph Smith made, so the D&C is at least incorrect in attributing it to Joseph. This may not be a mountain, but it’s at least a Cumorah (the NY one) to me.

    As far as doctrinal changes to the D&C, I would say that the removal of the Lectures on Faith is a significant doctrinal change. In fact, if I understand correctly, originally the “Doctrine” in the title “Doctrine and Covenants” referred specifically to the Lectures on Faith.

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