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Revelation, 9 May 1831 [D&C 50]

52nd Commandment

Generally, a divine mandate that church members were expected to obey; more specifically, a text dictated by JS in the first-person voice of Deity that served to communicate knowledge and instruction to JS and his followers. Occasionally, other inspired texts...

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May 9th. 1831
A Revelation to the Elders

A male leader in the church generally; an ecclesiastical and priesthood office or one holding that office; a proselytizing missionary. The Book of Mormon explained that elders ordained priests and teachers and administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto...

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of this Church

The Book of Mormon related that when Christ set up his church in the Americas, “they which were baptized in the name of Jesus, were called the church of Christ.” The first name used to denote the church JS organized on 6 April 1830 was “the Church of Christ...

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given at Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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geauga Ohio in consequence of their not being perfectly acquainted with the different opperations of the Spirits which are abroad in the Earth & thus saith the Lord unto them as follows1

John Whitmer likely created this heading when he copied the text into Revelation Book 1.  


Hearken o ye Elders of my Church & give ear to the voice of the living God & attend to the words of wisdom which shall be given unto you according as ye have asked & are agreed as touching the Church & the spirits which have gone abroad in the Earth2

Orson Hyde’s copy of this revelation does not include “in the Earth.” (Hyde and Smith, Notebook, [22] [D&C 50:1].)  


Behold verily I say unto you that there are many spirits which are false spirits which have gone forth in the Earth3

See 1 John 4:1.  


deceiving the world & also Satan hath sought to deceive you that he might overthrow you Behold I the Lord have looked upon you & have seen abominations in the Church which profess my name but blessed are they who are faithfull & endure whether in life or in death for they shall inherit eternal life but wo be unto them that are deceivers & hypocrites for thus saith the Lord I will bring them to Judgement behold verily I say unto you there are hypocrites among you & have deceived some which have given the adversary power but behold such shall be reclaimed but the hypocrites shall be detected & shall be cut off either in life or in death even as I will & wo is them that is cut off from my Church for the same is overcome of the world wherefore let every man be aware lest he do that which is not in truth & righteousness before me & now come saith the Lord by the spirit by the Elders of his Church & let us reason together4

See Isaiah 1:18.  


that ye may understand [p. 82]
52nd Commandment

Generally, a divine mandate that church members were expected to obey; more specifically, a text dictated by JS in the first-person voice of Deity that served to communicate knowledge and instruction to JS and his followers. Occasionally, other inspired texts...

View Glossary
May 9th. 1831
A Revelation to the Elders

A male leader in the church generally; an ecclesiastical and priesthood office or one holding that office; a proselytizing missionary. The Book of Mormon explained that elders ordained priests and teachers and administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto...

View Glossary
of this Church

The Book of Mormon related that when Christ set up his church in the Americas, “they which were baptized in the name of Jesus, were called the church of Christ.” The first name used to denote the church JS organized on 6 April 1830 was “the Church of Christ...

View Glossary
given  at Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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geauga Ohio in consequence of their  not being perfectly acquainted with the different  opperations of the Spirits which are abroad in the Earth  & thus saith the Lord unto them as follows1

John Whitmer likely created this heading when he copied the text into Revelation Book 1.  


Hearken o ye Elders of my Church & give ear to the voice of  the living God & attend to the words of wisdom which shall be  given unto you according as ye have asked & are agreed as touch ing the Church & the spirits which have gone abroad in the  Earth2

Orson Hyde’s copy of this revelation does not include “in the Earth.” (Hyde and Smith, Notebook, [22] [D&C 50:1].)  


Behold verily I say unto you that there are many spirits  which are false spirits which have gone forth in the Earth3

See 1 John 4:1.  


 deceiving the world & also Satan hath sought to deceive you that  he might overthrow you Behold I the Lord have looked upon you  & have seen abominations in the Church which profess my name  but blessed are they who are faithfull & endure whether in life  or in death for they shall inherit eternal life but wo be  unto them that are deceivers & hypocrites for thus saith the  Lord I will bring them to Judgement behold verily I say unto  you there are hypocrites among you & have deceived some which  have given the adve[r]sary power but behold such shall be recla imed but the hypocrites shall be detected & shall be cut off  either in life or in death even as I will & wo is them that is  cut off from my Church for the same is overcome of the  world wherefore let every man be aware lest he do that  which is not in truth & righteousness before me & now  come saith the Lord by the spirit by the Elders of his  Church & let us reason together4

See Isaiah 1:18.  


that ye may understand [p. 82]
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In late fall 1830, Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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and his missionary companions left Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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, Ohio, on their way to preach to the American Indians in the territory just west of Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

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after having baptized

An ordinance in which an individual is immersed in water for the remission of sins. The Book of Mormon explained that those with necessary authority were to baptize individuals who had repented of their sins. Baptized individuals also received the gift of...

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more than one hundred persons into the church. In addition, several leaders among the Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

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converts departed as well. Frederick G. Williams

28 Oct. 1787–10 Oct. 1842. Ship’s pilot, teacher, physician, justice of the peace. Born at Suffield, Hartford Co., Connecticut. Son of William Wheeler Williams and Ruth Granger. Moved to Newburg, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio, 1799. Practiced Thomsonian botanical system...

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, who accompanied Cowdery on the mission to the Indians, departed in November, and Edward Partridge

27 Aug. 1793–27 May 1840. Hatter. Born at Pittsfield, Berkshire Co., Massachusetts. Son of William Partridge and Jemima Bidwell. Moved to Painesville, Geauga Co., Ohio. Married Lydia Clisbee, 22 Aug. 1819, at Painesville. Initially a Universal Restorationist...

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and Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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traveled to New York

Located in northeast region of U.S. Area settled by Dutch traders, 1620s; later governed by Britain, 1664–1776. Admitted to U.S. as state, 1788. Population in 1810 about 1,000,000; in 1820 about 1,400,000; in 1830 about 1,900,000; and in 1840 about 2,400,...

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soon afterward to meet with JS. The new church members in Ohio were left without an experienced leader until John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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arrived in January 1831.1

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.)  


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.”2

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.)  


When Parley P. Pratt

12 Apr. 1807–13 May 1857. Farmer, editor, publisher, teacher, school administrator, legislator, explorer, author. Born at Burlington, Otsego Co., New York. Son of Jared Pratt and Charity Dickinson. Traveled west with brother William to acquire land, 1823....

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, 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 branches

An ecclesiastical organization of church members in a particular locale. A branch was generally smaller than a stake or a conference. Branches were also referred to as churches, as in “the Church of Shalersville.” In general, a branch was led by a presiding...

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, 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.”3

Pratt, Autobiography, 65.  


Such ostentatious displays did not go unnoticed in the surrounding community. The Painesville Telegraph reported, “Immediately after Mr. R[igdon]

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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and the four pretended prophets left Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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, 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.”4

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, [1] –[2], italics in original.)  


After JS arrived in Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

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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 Hyrum

9 Feb. 1800–27 June 1844. Farmer, cooper. Born at Tunbridge, Orange Co., Vermont. Son of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack. Moved to Randolph, Orange Co., 1802; to Tunbridge, before May 1803; to Royalton, Windsor Co., Vermont, 1804; to Sharon, Windsor Co., by...

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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.”5 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.”6
The problem of discerning between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors apparently continued for several months. When John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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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.7

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.)  


Surviving accounts demonstrate that in the months following this revelation, the elders

A male leader in the church generally; an ecclesiastical and priesthood office or one holding that office; a proselytizing missionary. The Book of Mormon explained that elders ordained priests and teachers and administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto...

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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 Harvey Whitlock

1809–after 1880. Physician. Born in Massachusetts. Married Minerva Abbott, 21 Nov. 1830. Baptized into LDS church, 1831. Ordained an elder, by June 1831. Ordained a high priest, 4 June 1831. Served mission to Jackson Co., Missouri, with David Whitmer, 1831...

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was of the devil.8

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.)  


A short time later, Jared Carter

14 June 1801–6 July 1849. Born at Killingworth, Middlesex Co., Connecticut. Son of Gideon Carter and Johanna Sims. Moved to Benson, Rutland Co., Vermont, by 1810. Married Lydia Ames, 20 Sept. 1823, at Benson. Moved to Chenango, Broome Co., New York, by Jan...

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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.9

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.)  


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