A case for Cowdery’s Rod as the “gift” of D&C 6 (SS #5)


Within a few weeks of meeting Joseph Smith, D&C 6 & 8 were received for Oliver Cowdery

This week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson (#5, “This Is the Spirit of Revelation“) covers D&C 6,8 and 9 which discuss Oliver Cowdery and revelation.

Both sections 6 and 8 each discuss two gifts regarding Oliver Cowdery. Those who have compared D&C 8 with the earlier versions of that revelation (such as in the Book of Commandments) are aware that one of the gifts  is a revelatory rod owned by Oliver Cowdery. In this post, I’ll provide textual evidence that the first gift mentioned in D&C 6, is the same as the gift of the rod described in earlier versions of D&C 8.*

D&C 8

D&C 8 has a rich textual history. A Book of Commandments & Revelations[i]is a handwritten copy of revelations copied by John Whitmer beginning in 1831.  It provides earlier versions of revelations than published elsewhere, including the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants  or the 1833 Book of Commandments. Four extant versions of this revelation are as follows:

A – The earliest available text of what the Joseph Smith Papers editors titled “April 1829-B” from A Book of Commandments & Revelations as recorded by John Whitmer, copied sometime between the spring and the end of 1831.[ii]

B – Edited text of “April 1829-B.”  This includes handwritten modifications to the text by John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon and an unidentified scribe.  Most of the changes were by Sidney Rigdon, probably in November 1831.[iii]

C – The Book of Commandments, Chapter 7 published in 1833.

DDoctrine & Covenants, Section 8, first published in 1835.

Below, I use A, B, C and D to reference each of the versions of this revelation.

The second gift is discussed in verses 6-12. An amalgamation of A, B, CD reads as follows:

(6) … thou hast another gift which is the {gift of working with the ABC[sprout A/ rod BC] / gift of Aaron D} … behold, it has told you [many D] things.

(7) Behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this [thing of nature A/ rod B/ rod of nature C/ gift of Aaron D] [to work in your hands for it is the work of God ABC/ to be with you D]

(8) {… you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God. D}

(9) & therefore whatsoever ye shall ask to tell you by that means that will [he A/ I BCD] grant unto you that ye [shall know ABC/ have knowledge concerning it D]

(10) remember that without faith ye can do nothing [therefore ask in faith. D] trifle not with these things do not ask for that which ye had not ought

(11) ask that ye may know the mysteries of God & that ye may Translate [and receive knowledge from D] all those ancient Records …

(12) … I am the same which spake unto you from the beginning


Earlier version of D&C 8 recorded by John Whitmer with modifications by Sidney Rigdon and others

The text indicates the rod has been an object of revelation for Oliver Cowdery. “[F]rom the beginning” (before meeting Joseph Smith) it has been telling Oliver “many things”  Only God caused it to “work in [his] hands.” Whatever Oliver asks, the rod will “grant to know” and he is to “not ask for that which [he] had not ought,” but ask to “know the mysteries of God.”

D&C 6

The first of two gifts described in D&C 6 describes Oliver’s “sacred” gift.

10) Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above—

11) And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries … 

12) Make not thy gift known unto any save it be those who are of thy faith. Trifle not with sacred things. … 14) for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. …. [D&C 6:10-14]

The following parallels make it apparent the  gift of D&C 6:10-14 matches the gift of the rod in D&C 8:6-12.


D&C 6 D&C 8
Use it to know mysteries “if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries” (v.11) “[a]sk that you may know the mysteries of God.” (v.11)
It comes from above/God it cometh from above,” (v.10) there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod to work” (v.7)
Physical object? “exercise thy gift” (v.11) work in your hands” [V.7)
Trifle not Trifle not with sacred things” (v.12) “trifle not with these things” (v.10)
Was previously a source of revelation often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.” (v.14) behold, it has told you many things … I am the same which spake unto you from the beginning(v.6, 12)

These parallels provide solid evidence that this gift spoken of in both sections is one in the same.

Revelation for Oliver Cowdery referred to in D&C 6 & 8 were through his revelatory rod

Knowing they both have to do with Oliver Cowdery’s revelatory rod allows these sections to be read in a different light, with a more historically accurate understanding.

* This post is part of a paper presented at the 2010 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, “Oliver Cowdery’s Rod of Nature”

[i]A Book of Commandments & Revelations (also called “Revelations Book 1” by the editors) is the first of two books published in the Manuscript Revelation Books, the first volume of the Revelations and Translations series, edited by Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2009). This is part of the Joseph Smith Papers project published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[ii]Jensen, p. 5

[iii]Jensen, p.5-7.  Michael Marquardt suggests Rigdon would also have had opportunity to edit the revelation in April 1832.


A case for Cowdery’s Rod as the “gift” of D&C 6 (SS #5) — 12 Comments

  1. Now, though comments in GD class about the diving rod may still draw stares and recoils, you can at least say, “It’s on the Church website.” That always helps.

  2. Theodore Besterman published two pertinent books. “The Divining Rod” University Books, 1968. and, “Crystal Gazing” also University Books, 1965. 183 pps. Important stuff. I had to study his other “serious” stuff for my Master’s. He invented the field of Library Science in the 1930s. And his works on the occult are foundational.

  3. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Scholarship Edition! » Main Street Plaza

  4. The mentioning of Cowdery’s Rod at lds.org stands out. When I originally researched this in 2010, a single 1985 reference to “rod of nature” was found in the vast online church materials at lds.org while 239 references to section 8 of the D&C were available.

    The single reference was Melvin J. Petersen, “Preparing Early Revelations for Publication” Ensign Magazine, February 1985.

    Robert Rey Black, thanks for the references.

  5. My hat is off to Larry H. Dahl, my Doctrine & Covenants teacher at BYU over 20 years ago for very matter-of-factly explaining that the “gift of Aaron” was likely a divining rod. Interestingly (and perhaps erroneously) I don’t recall anyone having any problem with that.

    Now my question is how did Oliver try to use the rod to translate? Joseph could look into a stone and see things, but I understand a rod to work more in a kinesthetic way. It certainly explains his difficulty and ultimate failure in his attempt, but would the Lord have set him up for failure?

  6. Rob, as to the mechanics of the use of the rod, some verses suggest a physical use of the rod such as “to work in your hands” and “exercise thy gift.” Divining rods worked through physical means.

    Cowdery’s father probably participated with the “New Israelites” who used rods to get revelatory yes or no answers to questions by their rods dipping. D&C 9:8 suggests a binary (yes/no) confirmation to Cowdery’s proposed translations (although not through his rod).

    Physical use of a rod was a different procedure than Joseph Smith’s use of seerstones to “see” things. Perhaps that difference was part of the reason for Cowdery’s failure to translate. Even though Oliver had been told “many things” by the rod previously, it may have been through yes/no answers. “Yes” and “No” do not provide an easy way to reveal text.

  7. There are many ways to use the rod. One is suspend with a string and use it Ouija board style. I don’t advise doing that though. Look what happened to Linda Blair.

  8. Could it be that Oliver wasn’t accustomed to “study[ing] it out in [his] mind” when using his divining rod, and so he followed the same pattern with his attempt at translation? Could it be that the “art” of seeing through a seer stone requires greater creativity and thought? My only familiarity with these devices and their use is via Brant Gardner’s excellent book The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon.

  9. Rob, you make a good point. Joseph apparently had the gift,or the art, or creativity, or spirituality (however one may view it) to do this, while Oliver apparently did not.

    D&C 9 says that due to Oliver’s “fear” and misunderstanding of how to translate, he was unsuccessful. God explained that to translate, one must “must study [the proposed translation] in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and … you shall feel that it is right” which would occur through a “burning in your bosom.”

    Oliver is to continue as Joseph Smith’s scribe, but “other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate” after the Book of Mormon is finished.

    However we have no record of future attempts by Oliver to translate.