Revelation, , OH, 9 May 1831. Featured version, titled “52nd Commandment May 9th. 1831,” copied [between ca. May and June 1831] in Revelation Book 1, pp. 82–85; handwriting of ; CHL. Includes redactions. For more complete source information, see the source note for Revelation Book 1.
In late fall 1830, and his missionary companions left , Ohio, on their way to preach to the American Indians in the territory just west of after having more than one hundred persons into the church. In addition, several leaders among the converts departed as well. , who accompanied Cowdery on the mission to the Indians, departed in November, and and traveled to soon afterward to meet with JS. The new church members in Ohio were left without an experienced leader until arrived in January 1831. Upon his arrival, Whitmer noted with dismay that “the enemy of all righteous had got hold of some of those who profesed to be his followers, because they had not sufficent knowledge to detect him in all his devices.” When , one of the missionaries who introduced the teachings of the church to Ohio residents, returned to Kirtland from Missouri in spring 1831, he too was concerned with “new and strange” behaviors he saw in the church: “As I went forth among the different , some very strange spiritual operations were manifested, which were disgusting, rather than edifying. Some persons would seem to swoon away, and make unseemly gestures, and be drawn or disfigured in their countenances. Others would fall into ecstacies, and be drawn into contortions, cramp, fits, etc. Others would seem to have visions and revelations, which were not edifying, and which were not congenial to the doctrine and spirit of the gospel. In short, a false and lying spirit seemed to be creeping into the Church.”
Such ostentatious displays did not go unnoticed in the surrounding community. The Painesville Telegraph reported, “Immediately after and the four pretended prophets left , a scene of the wildest enthusiasm was exhibited, chiefly, however, among the young people; they would fall, as without strength, roll upon the floor, and, so mad were they that even the females were seen in a cold winter day, lying under the bare canopy of heaven, with no couch or pillow but the fleecy snow.”
After JS arrived in in February 1831, he worked to curtail what he perceived to be excessive and ostentatious spiritual behaviors among the believers. In early March he wrote to his brother that he had been “ingageed in regulating the Churches here as the deciples are numerous and the devil had made many attempts to over throw them it has been a Serious job but the Lord is with us and we have overcome and have all things regular.” A revelation a few days later urged church members to walk “uprightly before me . . . that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits or doctrines of Devils or the commandments of men for some are of men & others of Devils Wherefore beware lest ye are deceived.”
The problem of discerning between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors apparently continued for several months. When described the 9 May revelation featured here in his later history, he provided this setting for it:
Some had visions and could not tell what they saw, Some would fancy to themselves that they had the sword of Laban, and would wield it as expert as a light dragoon, some would act like an Indian in the act of scalping, some would slide or scoot and [on] the floor, with the rapidity of a serpent, which the[y] termed sailing in the boat to the Lamanites, preaching the gospel. And many other vain and foolish manoeuvers that are unseeming, and unprofitable to mention. Thus the devil blinded the eyes of some good and honest disciples. . . . These things grievd the servants of the Lord, and some conversed together on this subject, and otheers came in and we were at Joseph Smith Jr. the seers, and made it a matter of consultation, for many would not turn from their folly, unless God would give a revelation, therfore the Lord spake to Joseph.
Surviving accounts demonstrate that in the months following this revelation, the of the church employed the revelation’s guidelines instructing them what to do “if ye behold a spirit manifested that ye cannot understand.” JS was involved in one such situation a few weeks after this revelation, when he determined that a manifestation involving was of the devil. A short time later, recounted another attempt to follow the specific directions given in the revelation when he encountered a woman possessed with a spirit during a church meeting.
John Whitmer arrived in Kirtland sometime before 13 January, when he was listed among those Mormons warned out of town by the overseers of the poor in Kirtland Township. (Kirtland, OH, Trustees, Minutes, 1817–1846, p. 76, microfilm 877,763, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.)
Whitmer described the specific behavior of some church members, noting that the devil “took a notion to blind the minds of some of the weaker ones, and made them think that an angel of God appeard to them, and showed them writings on the outside cover of the Bible, and on parchment, which flew through the air, and on the back of their hands, and many such foolish and vain things, others . . . slid on the floor, and such like maneuvers, which proved greatly to th[e] injury of the cause.” Levi Hancock specifically mentioned Heman Bassett in his account of events in Kirtland in January 1831, explaining that Bassett claimed he “had a revelation that he had received in Kirtland from the hand of an Angel he would read it [and] show the Picture of a crown the Angel declared to be gods then would bare testimony of the truth of the work and I beleived it all like a fool.” (Whitmer, History, 10; Hancock, Autobiography, 79.)
Hancock, Levi. Autobiography, ca. 1854. Photocopy. CHL. MS 8174.
Pratt, Parley P. The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Embracing His Life, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from His Miscellaneous Writings. Edited by Parley P. Pratt Jr. New York: Russell Brothers, 1874.
The article continues, “At other times they exhibited all the apish actions imaginable, making grimaces both horid and ridiculous, creeping upon their hands and feet, &c. Sometimes, in these exercises the young men would rise and play before the people, going through all the Indian manoeuvres of knocking down, scalping, ripping open, and taking out the bowels. At other times, they would start and run several furlongs, then get upon stumps and preach to imagined congregations, baptize ghosts, &c. At other times they are taken with a fit of jabbering that which they neither understand themselves nor any body else, and this they call speaking foreign languages by divine inspiration. Again the young men are seen running over the hills in pursuit, they say, of balls of fire which they see flying through the air.” ([Matthew S. Clapp], “Mormonism,” Painesville (OH) Telegraph, 15 Feb. 1831,  –, italics in original.)
Whitmer, History, 26–27. Josiah Jones, a onetime parishioner of Sidney Rigdon who did not convert to Mormonism, wrote a letter in 1831 (published ten years later) that added similar examples. Noting that “those that have these visions are mostly young men and girls from twelve to twenty years old,” he described their efforts “to act, they say, as the Indians did where they were carried by the spirit. . . . But of late their prophesying seems to have ceased, and they have taken to running; the young men after falling down and recovering will start and run half a mile, and then get upon a stump and begin to preach and pray as loud as they can bawl. They have been seen to run to the river or brook and make as though they were baptizing some person.” (Walter Scott, “Mormon Bible.—No. V,” Evangelist, 1 June 1841, 135.)
According to Levi Hancock, during a conference held in early June 1831, “Joseph put his hands upon Harvey Whitlock and ordained him to the high Priesthood he [Whitlock] turned as black as Lymon [Lyman Wight] was white his fingers was set like Claws he went round the Room and showed his hands and tryed to speak his eyes was in the shape of Ovil Oes [oval o’s] Hyram smith said Joseph that is not God Joseph said do not speak against this[.] I will not beleive said Hyrum unless you inquire of God and owns it Joseph bowed his head a short time and got up and commanded satan to leave Harvey laying his hands upon his head at the same time.” (Hancock, Autobiography, 90.)
Hancock, Levi. Autobiography, ca. 1854. Photocopy. CHL. MS 8174.
Carter wrote of an experience in Amherst, Ohio: “At length I proved by a revelation that had ben given to the Elders concerning spiriths that these spirits visionary exercises as they were called were not of the Lord . . . as we was about to atend to the administration of the communion there was a young woman taken with an exercise that brought her on to the floor & be cause I doubted of such maner of influences in a public congragation, I reqested Brother Silvester [Sylvester Smith] that we should try that spirit acording to the revelation that god had given he immediately complied with my request we then neeled down and asked our heavenly father in the name of Christ that if that spirit that that sister possesed was of him that he would give it to us & we prayed in faith but we did not receive that Spirit we then arose & I sat apon my Seat Silent for some minutes but Brother Sylvester arose and laid hands apon the Sister but this was not as the commandment directs.” Carter viewed the revelation featured here as a formula for casting out evil spirits, and his journal continues: “The command reads thus [‘]wherefore it shal come to pass that if you behold a spirit manifest that ye cannot understand & ye receive not that Spirit ye Shall ask the Father in the name of Jesus & if he give you not that Spirit then ye may know that it is not of god & it Shall be given un to you power over that Spirit & ye shall proclaim against that Spirit with aloud voice that it is not of god not with railing accusation that ye be not overcome neither with bosting nor rejoising lest you be Seized there with[’] now after Silvester had made some communication which was not propclameing against the Spirit as I believeed it had ought to have been that is against the spirit that we had prayed concerning I then arose & proclaimed against that spirit with a loud voice . . . and from that time forward that spirit never came in to the meeting when I was preasant in this display of the power of God I had one of the most infalable proofs of the divine origen of the above mentioned revalation.” (Carter, Journal, 24–26, 29.)
let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face now when a man reasoneth he under[stand]eth of man because he reasoneth as a man even so will I the Lord reason with you that you may understand wherefore I the Lord asketh you this question unto what were ye to Preach my Gospel by the spirit even the comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth & then received you spirits which ye could not understand & received them to be of God & in this are ye Justified? Behold ye shall answer this yourselves nevertheles I will be mercyfull unto you he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong verily I say unto you he that is ordained of me & sent forth to preach the word of truth by the comforter the spirit of truth doth he preach it by the spirit of truth or some other way & if by some other way it be not of God & again he that receiveth the word of truth doth he receive it by the spirit of truth or some other way if it be some other way it be not of God therefore why is it that ye cannot understand & know that he <that> receiveth the word by the spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the spirit of truth wherefore he that <preacheth & he that> receiveth understandeth one another & both are edified & rejoice together & that which doth not edify is not of God & is darkness that which is of God is light & he that receiveth light & continueth in god receiveth more light & that light groweth lighter brighter and brighter untill the perfect day & again verily I say unto you & I say it that you may know the truth that you may choose chase darkness from among you for he that is ordaned of God & sent forth the same is apponted to be the greatest notwithstanding he is least & the servent of all wherefore he is possessor of all things <for all things> are subject unto him both in Heaven & on the Earth the life & the light the spirit & the power sent forth by the will of the father through Jesus Christ his son but no man is possessor of all things except he be purified & cleansed from all sin & if ye are purified & cleansed from all sin ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus & it shall be done but know this it shall be given [p. 83]