I have decided to examine some examples of prophets recording the word of the Lord in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Many critics argue that modern-day LDS revelations, some of which have gone through grammatical and textual changes, are false revelations. They argue that because the revelations are not perfect or went through revisions, then they are not the words of the Lord. Essentially, critics demand that revelations be written in perfect form, without revision, and in one sitting. As far as I know, the assumption that revelations from the Lord must be written in one sitting without change or revision is not based on any Biblical or historical evidence. I will argue that there is absolutely no reason to suggest that when a prophet says “Thus saith the Lord” that every word that comes out of his mouth is what exactly what the Lord said, down to the last exclamation point. The Bible and Book of Mormon are shrouded in mystery on the subject of how revelations are recorded, so I do not claim to know for a surety how revelation is received and recorded in ancient scripture. What I do hope to do is help the reader understand the possibility that when we are criticizing modern-day revelations that we are doing so based on our own assumptions of what revelation should be and not what it actually is as presented in ancient scripture. All of the points I make and questions I ask are pure speculation and are not meant to provide conclusive evidence of how revelation is received. I ask these rhetorical questions because I want to show that the nature of recording prophetic revelations are seldom brought to light in ancient scripture, and unfortunately our own assumptions tend to fill the void. (I will be citing from the King James Version of the Bible and the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon)
Before I begin, I would like to ask some rhetorical questions to help set the stage to challenge assumptions about ancient and modern day revelation:
- Do prophets in the Bible and Book of Mormon, when quoting the Lord, literally quote him word for word?
- What happens when the voice of the Lord comes to a prophet when they do not have a quill and parchment on hand? Do they write what they heard the Lord say according to their memory?
- Did the prophets wait for the Lord to speak to them, and then literally write down every single word that the Lord spoke in real time?
- If prophets write the words of the Lord according to their memory, does that mean that there would be human errors in the revelation? Does the Holy Ghost prevent errors from being made?
I will begin by examining some examples of the Lord commanding his prophets to write his words as found in the Book of Mormon. The following examples have helped strengthen my testimony in the revelations from the Lord through Joseph Smith because it has helped me break down my own assumptions about the nature of recording prophetic revelation.
EXAMPLE #1: The first example is of the Brother of Jared in the Book of Ether.The Brother of Jared has a miraculous vision of the Spiritual Lord Jesus Christ when the Lord touches clear stones in order to provide light in the Jaredite barges. The Brother of Jared quotes the Lord in Ether 3:7,9,11,13-16,21-24. According to Moroni, who abridged the Book of Ether, these writings are much longer, but he is forbidden to write them down (v. 17).
The Brother of Jared quotes the Lord for many verses, and yet he had the vision while he was at the top of a mountain without means to write down what he heard. It is after he has the marvelous vision that the Lord commands him to descend and write down what he saw and heard (Ether 4:1). We do not know by what means he wrote down this miraculous and lengthy vision. It is possible that he wrote it all according to his memory or was guided by the Holy Ghost. It is possible that he wrote it in one sitting without revision, or he wrote it, and revised it several times before being satisfied with it. All of these options are pure speculation.
The prophet Moroni, in Ether 4, then goes on to say that the Lord spoke to him and commanded him to write the words of the Brother of Jared, and he quotes the Lord’s commandment in verses 6-19. In Ether 5:1, Moroni may give us a clue as to what actually happens (on at least this one occasion) when a prophet writes down the words of the Lord. He states: “And now I, Moroni, have written the words which were commanded me, according to my memory; and I have told you the things which I have sealed up…” If Moroni is referring to the words of the Lord in verses 6-19, then the words that are spoken by the Lord may not be word for word what was spoken to Moroni, but rather the words of the Lord as he remembered to the best of his ability.
EXAMPLE #2: The second example I will offer from the Book of Mormon comes from the writings of 1 Nephi. Nephi is commanded to write a record on two separate sets of metal plates (1 Nephi 19:1) after he and his family arrive in the Americas, about 11 years (589 B.C.) after they left Jerusalem. Previous to writing on the plates of ore, Nephi experiences miraculous visions of angels and of the Spirit of the Lord. Specifically, Nephi has the vision of the tree of life and his interactions with the Spirit of the Lord and an angel are found in 1 Nephi 11-14. This vision comprises 12 pages of dialogue between Nephi, the Spirit of the Lord, an angel, as well as physical descriptions of what Nephi saw. While it is possible that, shortly after having them, Nephi wrote down his visions on another source, such as parchment. However, Nephi does not begin to write down his experiences on the plates of ore until nearly 11 years after his experiences. It is possible that Nephi is writing according to his memory, and thus the words of the Lord are not the exact words spoken, but nevertheless they are the doctrines and events that the Lord commanded to be written. Other examples of Nephi receiving the word of the Lord prior to making the small and large plates include 1 Nephi 2:19-24 and 1 Nephi 17:53.
EXAMPLE #3: The third example I will give of prophets writing the words of the Lord well after receiving them comes from Helaman 10. Nephi has decided to return home after validating a prophecy he made about the murder of the Chief Judge. Helaman 10:2-3 states: “And it came to pass that Nephi went his way towards his own house, pondering upon the things which the Lord had shown unto him… And it came to pass as he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him…” The Lord then speaks for 8 verses or 289 words. What happens after he hears the voice of the Lord is important to consider when understanding the nature of recorded revelations. It states in verse 12: “when the Lord had spoken these words unto Nephi, he did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes…to declare unto them the word of the Lord which had been spoken unto him.” In verse 12, we find that Nephi did not receive this revelation in his home, at his desk, with a parchment, quill, and ink to write down the exact words of the Lord. He instead turned around and returned to the city to preach the words of the Lord, and then he or someone else wrote the words afterwards. Just how he went about writing the words of the Lord—whether by memory, the Holy Ghost, or some other means—we are not sure.
EXAMPLE #4: The revelations of Isaiah and the words of Moses in Exodus are hardly put through as much scrutiny by Christians as are the revelations of Joseph Smith. Yet the words of Isaiah and Moses are similar to that of Joseph Smith’s revelations in that they claim to quote the Lord (“saith the Lord”) and they do so uninterrupted for many pages. Unlike the revelations of Joseph Smith, some of which were received and recorded in the presence of witnesses, we know very little about when or how the revelations of Isaiah and Moses were written. In Isaiah 1, Isaiah writes claiming that what he writes are the words of the Lord himself (“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” Isaiah 1:18). This chapter is two pages long in the KJV Bible. What we don’t know about this chapter, as well as other verses in Isaiah quoting the Lord (see Isaiah 7:3-9, Isaiah 6:1,3-10,12), is how this revelation was recorded. Did Isaiah make several revisions of his account? Did he receive the revelation and simultaneously write it down, or did he record it hours, days, or years after the fact? Did the Holy Spirit give him power to remember the exact words spoken to him, or did he record it to the best of his knowledge? Those who criticize the revelations of Joseph Smith do so without understanding that prophets such as Isaiah may have used the exact same methods to produce their writings, such as recording from their memories or making multiple revisions. If it were somehow proven that Isaiah made multiple revisions of his writings and wrote the words of the Lord according to his memory then critics would not have ammunition to criticize LDS revelations. What we do know about ancient prophecies, however, is that we don’t know much about them.
The writings of Moses are also very similar to the revelations given by Joseph Smith because he also claims to quote the Lord God and often records the words of the Lord after he has heard them. In Exodus 19, the Lord is quoted on several occasions. We know he is quoting the Lord because in verse 3 it reads “And the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob…” and in verse 9 it reads “And the Lord said unto Moses…” and he goes on to quote the Lord. (see Exodus 19:3-6, 9-13,20-22,24). Most of Exodus 20 also quotes the Lord, as well as all of chapters 21-23. In Exodus 24 it is suggested that Moses came down out of the mountain, after receiving chapters 20-23 from the Lord, spoke these commandments to Israel, and then wrote them down after he had spoken them to the people. It would be a superhuman feat for Moses to have copied the exact words of the Lord (nearly 7 pages in the KJV) without divine help after having spoken them to the House of Israel. Seldom do Christians question this accomplishment, some of whom believe the Bible to be the perfect word of God. We do not know exactly how this revelation was received or recorded. Similar to the questions asked previously about the revelations of Isaiah, I would like to ask again: did Moses write down the exact words of God? Did he bring a quill and parchment to write word for word the commandments of the Lord on the mountain? Did he write according to his memory, or did the Holy Spirit expand his memory to perfection? Did he make multiple revisions to these revelations, or did he write them perfectly, in one draft and in one sitting?
Once again, the point I am making is that we know very little about how ancient prophets recorded the words of the Lord. How much do we put our perceptions of what revelation “should be” on what revelation actually is? Since we know very little about how the word of the Lord was received in ancient times, it is unreasonable for us to challenge modern-day revelations according to our unfounded beliefs of how revelation from the Lord should be received.