Lesson 17: Doctrine and Covenants 9

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


In April 1829, Oliver Cowdery was also promised that he could have the gift to translate (see D&C 6:25–29). Later, Oliver was instructed on receiving revelation in the translation process (see D&C 8:1–4), and he attempted to translate. Although he apparently started well, he did not “continue as [he] commenced” (D&C 9:5). The Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation explaining why Oliver’s efforts to translate had not been successful. In the revelation, the Lord said that it was no longer expedient for Oliver to translate. The Lord also gave additional counsel on receiving revelation.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 9:1–6, 11

The Lord explains why Oliver Cowdery struggled to translate

Ask students to name some of the significant decisions they will be making in the next year. Then ask them to list significant decisions they will make in the next 5 to 10 years. As students respond, you may want to write their answers on the board. Ask students to think about one of these decisions in relation to the following question.

  • How would seeking guidance from the Lord help you make this decision?

After one or two students have responded, inform students that in this lesson they will learn about an experience Oliver Cowdery had while trying to translate. Encourage students to look for doctrines and principles as they study Doctrine and Covenants 9 that can help them receive and recognize the guidance of the Lord as they make significant decisions.

Remind students that the Lord had given Oliver a gift of translation and permission to translate if he desired to do so (see D&C 6:25–28). The Lord told Oliver that this gift of translation would come by the power of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:1–2). Oliver’s attempt to translate began well, but in the end he was unsuccessful. Following Oliver’s attempt to translate, Joseph Smith received the revelation that is now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 9.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 9:1–4 aloud, and ask the class to look for the work the Lord called Oliver to do instead of translating.

  • What work did the Lord ask Oliver to do?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 9:5–6, 11 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for reasons Oliver was not successful when he attempted to translate.

To help students better understand the phrase “you did not continue as you commenced” (D&C 9:5), invite a student to read the following explanation by President Joseph Fielding Smith:

President Joseph Fielding Smith

“Oliver’s failure came because he did not continue as he commenced, and the task being a difficult one, his faith deserted him” (Church History and Modern Revelation [1953], 1:51).

  • According to President Smith, why was Oliver unable to continue as he had started? (His faith faltered.)

  • What are some ways that fear, or a lack of faith, could prevent us from receiving or acting on revelation from the Lord?

  • What can Oliver’s experience teach us about how to receive revelation from the Lord? (One principle students may identify is that to receive revelation, we must act in faith. You may want to write this principle on the board.)

To help students better understand this principle, ask a student to read the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

“In the process of revelation and making important decisions, fear plays a destructive, sometimes paralyzing role. To Oliver Cowdery, who missed the opportunity of a lifetime because he didn’t seize it in the lifetime of the opportunity, the Lord said, ‘You did not continue as you commenced.’ Does that sound familiar to those who have been illuminated and then knuckled under to second thoughts and returning doubts? …

“… After you have gotten the message, after you have paid the price to feel His love and hear the word of the Lord, go forward. Don’t fear, don’t vacillate, don’t quibble, don’t whine. … Dismiss your fears and wade in with both feet” (“Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence,” Ensign, Mar. 2000, 10).

  • When have you received an answer from the Lord and acted on it without hesitation? (Make sure students understand that they should not share experiences that are too personal or private.)

Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–10

The Lord reveals principles governing revelation

Explain that the Lord revealed an important principle concerning how to seek His direction. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for another reason Oliver struggled to receive the Lord’s help in his efforts to translate.

  • According to Doctrine and Covenants 9:7, what did Oliver suppose was the only thing he would need to do to receive revelation while he translated?

  • What did the Lord teach Oliver he should do before asking for guidance?

As students answer, you may want to suggest that they mark the Lord’s counsel in their scriptures. To help students analyze the meaning of these verses, ask the following questions:

  • What do you think it means to “study it out in your mind”? (To consider decisions and options, weighing alternatives carefully.) How have you done this when you have needed to make decisions?

  • According to Doctrine and Covenants 9:8, what do we need to do after we have studied out the matter we are considering? (Decide which choice we believe is right and then take our decision to Heavenly Father in prayer.)

  • What lesson can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 9:8 about what the Lord expects of us as we seek His direction and guidance? (Students may respond with something like the following truth: Receiving and recognizing revelation require effort on our part. Write this truth on the board.)

    To help students understand this truth, ask the following question:
  • How do you think studying out a matter in your mind can help you receive revelation?

To help students understand how this truth could relate to situations in their lives, read the following examples. After each one, invite students to explain how the individuals described could use the truths in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–8 to receive revelation.

  1. 1.

    A young man receives an offer for a good job, but it requires him to work on Sunday. He is trying to decide whether to accept the job.

  2. 2.

    A young woman has been thinking about the friends she is associating with and the negative influence they have on her. She wants to stop hanging out with them, but she does not know the most tactful way to withdraw from them.

  3. 3.

    A young woman is considering what she should do after she completes high school. She knows she wants to continue her education but is unsure of which educational institution she should attend.

After discussing these examples with the class, allow students to reflect on their experience with this principle by writing the following question on the board: When have you felt that effort on your part has helped you receive revelation from the Lord?

Invite students to ponder this question for a moment. Then ask a few students who are willing to share their experiences with the rest of the class.

Invite students to review Doctrine and Covenants 9:8, looking for how Oliver could know whether his conclusion or decision was right.

  • What can we learn from verse 8 about how the Lord answers our questions? (Revelation can come through our feelings as we ask the Lord for guidance. Write this truth on the board.)

You may want to clarify that the burning in the bosom promised to Oliver is only one way the Spirit might confirm a correct choice. Confirmations of the Spirit can come in a variety of ways that are personal and profound.

To help students understand how the Lord might cause us to “feel that [a decision] is right” (D&C 9:8), invite a student to read the following explanation by Elder Richard G. Scott:

Elder Richard G. Scott

“The feeling of peace is the most common confirming witness that I personally experience. When I have been very concerned about an important matter, struggling to resolve it without success, I continued those efforts in faith. Later, an all-pervading peace has come, settling my concerns, as He has promised” (“Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 10).

  • When have you felt the Lord confirm a decision that you have made? How did that confirmation feel to you? (Remind students that they should not share experiences that are too personal or private.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 9:9 aloud. Ask students to identify phrases that describe how we can know if a decision we have made is not correct. To help students understand the phrase “stupor of thought,” invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott, in which he explains one way a stupor of thought may be experienced:

“That [stupor of thought], for me, is an unsettling, discomforting feeling” (“Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” 10).

Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals what they have learned about receiving revelation that can help them make important decisions.

Doctrine and Covenants 9:12–14

The Lord encourages Oliver to continue in the work he has been called to do

Remind students of Oliver’s calling to be a scribe for the Prophet (see D&C 9:1, 4). Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 9:12–14 silently, looking for words or phrases that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery may have found encouraging at this time. Invite students to share words and phrases they find meaningful and explain why.

To conclude this lesson, you may want to share your testimony that we can receive personal revelation as we follow the principles outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 9.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9. Discerning answers to prayer

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave counsel on why we sometimes feel like we have not received an immediate answer to prayer:

“What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision” (“Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 10).

Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9. What is a burning in the bosom?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained:

“I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them.

“What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.

“Truly, the still, small voice is just that, ‘still’ and ‘small’” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 13).

Supplemental Teaching Idea

Doctrine and Covenants 9:5. Video presentation—“This Is the Spirit of Revelation”

Show students the video “This Is the Spirit of Revelation,” which can be found on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Visual Resource DVDs and on LDS.org. (If time is limited, you might want to fast forward the video to 5:56, where Oliver attempts to translate. The first segment of the video is best used to teach Doctrine and Covenants 6.)

Begin playing the video before students read Doctrine and Covenants 9:5. Pause the video after Oliver asks Joseph, “Why was I only able to translate a few words?” Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 9:5, and then continue with the lesson. Resume the video after students have identified the following truth: Revelation can come through our feelings as we ask the Lord to confirm our decisions. Encourage students to ponder how they might seek the Lord’s help in making decisions.