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)