Can you imagine what it would have been like to watch Joseph Smith receive the great revelations recorded in modern scripture? He often had more than 10 people in his presence. Many of these bore witness of the Spirit and the outward manifestations that were present as these revelations came to him. Typically, they spoke of a whiteness or brightness that surrounded Joseph.
For example, as section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given, Philo Dibble wrote that Joseph “seemed to be dressed in an element of glorious white, and his face shone as if it were transparent.” 1 Orson Pratt was present when section 51 was received, and he testified that “Joseph’s face was exceedingly white, and seemed to shine.” 2 Brigham Young testified, “Those who were acquainted with him knew when the Spirit of revelation was upon him, for his countenance wore an expression peculiar to himself while under that influence. He preached by the Spirit of revelation, and taught in his council by it, and those who were acquainted with him could discover it at once, for at such times there was a peculiar clearness and transparency in his face.” 3
Many were impressed with how smoothly these revelations from the Lord flowed and how, except for minor corrections such as spelling or punctuation, they required no correcting. Parley P. Pratt wrote:
“Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand. … There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject; neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings, or corrections. As he dictated them so they stood, so far as I have witnessed; and I was present to witness the dictation of several communications of several pages each.” 4
Those who knew Joseph best were the most astonished at this process. It was beyond Joseph’s natural ability and schooling to be able to dictate such revelations from God.
One of Joseph’s companions, an educator, testified to this in amazement: “I have known [Joseph and his scribe] to seat themselves, and without premeditation, … deliver in broken sentences, some of the most sublime pieces of composition which I ever perused in any book.” 5
Joseph’s wife, Emma, the person who knew Joseph best, marveled that during the Book of Mormon translation, which occurred barely three years before most of the Kirtland revelations, Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon” [or no doubt the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price]. She then testified, “It is marvelous to me, a marvel and a wonder, as much so as to anyone else.” 6
Emma’s testimony is similar to Parley Pratt’s as she continued to be amazed at the process by which revelations came. She said in an interview near the end of her life, “I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when [I was] acting as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” 7
The revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received through the power of God similar to the way the Book of Mormon was translated.
Can you sense how great a miracle is the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price? They are not man-made books, but the literal word of God to us! As the Lord said, “These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; … for it is my voice which speaketh them unto you” (D&C 18:34–35).
“Early Scenes in Church History,” in B. F. Johnson, Four Faith Promoting Classics (1968), 81.
Millennial Star, 11 August 1874, 498.
In Journal of Discourses, 9:89.
Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt (1950), 48.
The Ensign of Liberty, of the Church of Christ, August 1848, 98–99.
“Excerpts from Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints Herald, 1 October 1879, 290.