Divining Rod, Gift of Aaron, or Both?

I am highly confused about the editing of the Book of Commandments into the D&C. Surely you’re aware that the D&C and its revelations is not in its original form. Some changes are typography or orthography, but others are meaningful, contextual, revelation-altering changes.

There is an issue about the current status of D&C 8:6 and Oliver Cowdery’s divining rod.

Compare the two official LDS links below. One that claims Oliver’s rod was a gift of God whereas the other claims his “Gift of Aaron” was of God.

Book of Commandments:

Doctrine & Covenants:

Those sympathetic to Mormonism say the gift of Aaron is a companionship gift like Aaron, brother of Moses displayed in Exodus.

D&C 8 approves a rod only for sacred information. It also suggests the rod that displayed God’s power in the Egyptian plagues, in striking the rock for life-giving water or in calling down strength on Israel’s warriors. That rod was a straight shaft, the shepherd’s staff possessed by Moses at his call (Ex. 4:2-4). Used by both Moses and Aaron, it was foremost the “rod of God,” also Moses’ rod, but formally called the “rod of Aaron.” It functioned as a visible sign of authority, just as Judah’s “scepter” was a sign of divine kingship in Jacob’s blessing or Elijah’s staff held by the servant who went in his name. Thus the rod of Aaron was a staff of delegated agency, and the 1835 revision to “The gift of Aaron” suggests Oliver’s spiritual power to assist Joseph Smith as Aaron assisted Moses. [REF]

Those unsympathetic to Mormonism say Cowdery’s interest and practice in “folk magic” attracted him to Joseph Smith’s interest and practice of “folk magic”. (Fold Magic is a charged term, and should be generally described and physical manifestations through physical objects; however, that term is very long.)

I suppose if one believes all the craziness in the Bible, a modern-day divining rod isn’t that far-fetched.

Some people have balked at this claim of physical instruments used in the divine translation process, but such aids to facilitate the communication of God’s power and inspiration are consistent with accounts in scripture. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva to heal the eyes of a blind man. [REF]

However, if one is skeptical of the seemingly unnatural occurrences in the Bible, then it makes no sense to believe in Cowdery’s rod or Smith’s peepstone.

How does one reconcile a belief in an all-powerful God with the distrust of what appears to be folk tales in scriptures? That’s the question I need answered.

Additional links:








Revelations: Foundational vs Directional

I’d like to share a letter I asked a good friend of mine. I’ll share the response in the comments later. How would you respond to my email?


You describe Joseph Smith’s revelations as foundational and subsequent revelations a directional. Here’s my question:

How did the 20th century prophets ask and not get an answer about blacks/priesthood? David McKay asked and didn’t get any revelation to correct the situation. Yet, Joseph Smith asked questions all the time and got answers even to seemingly unimportant questions like in section D&C 40, which are pretty much pointless but nevertheless God offered a timely response. Why can’t modern prophets get that kind of turnaround with God?

Even the method seems so different.

David McKay’s biography says, “In 1954 President McKay is said to have appointed a special committee of the Twelve to study the issue. They concluded that the priesthood ban had no clear basis in scripture but that Church members were not prepared for change.” (ref)

The committee method is much different than Joseph Smith’s direct method asking himself and getting a response.

I’ve heard a comparison to the Children of Israel having the lower law due to their unpreparedness/rejection of the higher law. However, this was neither a law nor a supported doctrine. It was not implemented by God and then removed by Him like the law of consecration and polygamy.

Even if the priesthood ban was secretly implemented by God through a secret revelation to BY, there would still be problems with the “unprepared” argument. My internal counter argument is that the saints weren’t prepared for either Law of Consecration or polygamy but those got thrust on the saints regardless. So the “lower law” line of thinking is not consistent historically.

The point is this: when I hear foundational vs directional revelation arguments, I find it directional revelation more likely to be social pressure vs revelation. Polygamy was not socially convenient, so it seems more like a revelation. Disavowing it seemed socially convenient. Instituting a ban on blacks/priesthood was socially convenient due to the political climate in Utah. It was the only territory that allowed black slaves (ref). Disavowing previous positions regarding blacks/priesthood seems socially convenient in post civil rights America.

But my own counter argument is that sometimes the Lord lets his people do what is socially convenient, like having a king instead of judges like in 1 Samuel 8. If so, the selective nature of God’s blessings comes back into play.

In other words, I am enamored by the thought of prophetic leadership but am clouded in my understanding of modern prophetic leadership examples. I get that God has a history of being exclusive, and there are plenty of biblical examples, especially Christ’s limited ministry to the Jew and then lifting of the preaching ban to include all Gentiles. But none of that came from parallel social pressure from what I can tell. Maybe I’m wrong.

So as I prepare for this talk about prophets, and I consider the role of modern prophets, I am just trying to come to grips with a concept that I have struggled with for some time. I suppose you may not have the magic answer, but it’s something that I just don’t get.


Response to “Where’d Everybody Go?” by Pure Mormonism

Rock Waterman, author of the blog Pure Mormonism, is a name to be had for good and bad in the greater Mormon community. (His positions have been summarized nicely by John Dehlin here.) I can’t say I agree with Rock on everything, but he does make some points that are sound and resonate with me. Rock nailed a few points that require response in his latest article “Where’d Everybody Go?”:

I hear from members who are being threatened with discipline all the time, whether it’s a young mother admitting to giving her own child a blessing in her own home; or someone asking a simple question such as, “if the current President of the Church is said to be a prophet, seer, and revelator the same as Joseph Smith, why doesn’t he ever present revelations to the church the way Joseph Smith did?” (ref.)

To avoid repetition from my previous comments on prophecyless-prophets, let me focus on this point from Rock: the Mormon Church has set its heavy hand of top-down authority on its members, and through recent excommunication/discipline events (here, here, and here), it has established that variation from correlation is a bulls-eye for shaming and punishment. I believe this is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith had in mind, in Volume 5 of the History of the Church, when he said:

I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine. (ref)

How can Mormons in good conscious sit by and let their brothers and sisters get punished for that which Joseph Smith himself declared to be something which should not be done? Another reminder from Joseph Smith, this time from the Doctrine & Covenants:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the natureand disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (ref)

Enough with this. Priesthood leaders have overstepped their boundaries. And the D&C is very clear what happens when Priesthood leader cross the line:

…but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (ref.; emphasis added)

When Prophets Don’t Prophecy & The Absentee God

A God who is obscure in explanation and absentee in governance must have a broad definition of success.” -alotlikelaman

I empathize with Atheists. I understand Agnostics. Chistians don’t have as high of expectations. But Mormons, you are the ones I’m wondering about. How do you deal with your absentee God? Do you know who I’m talking about? That God who was ever so present during the good ol’ days when Brother Joseph and Him were talking all the time. Over 100 chapters in the Doctrine and Covenants (yes, I know they’re called ‘sections’), but then, after the death of Brother Joseph, a long silence. It was almost like the silence after the death of the Jesus’ apostles. The Mormon Church claims a direct channel of revelation, a bat-phone of sorts, to God, and this uniqueness gives it claim to the title of the Living Church, with Jesus Christ himself at the head. But what happens when God stops talking to His church?

Mormons keep the revelations received by their prophets in a book called the Doctrine and Covenants. Currently there are 138 recorded revelations given over the course of roughly 87 years:

The 138 sections in LDS Church’s Doctrine and Covenants break down as follows:


135 sections written during Brother Joseph’s ministry. 5 have since been registered. Where did that God who spoke so frequently and eloquently go? The thought of modern prophets who could utter the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord” was so powerful and inspiring. Yet the absence of the same strikes a similarly powerful chord.

I wish our prophets would come back and tell us something more inspiring than avoid tattoos or avoid multiple piercings. Tell us what God only knows. Tell us if God has a Spouse or many. Tell us why women can’t be ordained. Tell us why Brother Joseph kept Polygamy from his wife. Tell us why Brother Joseph often drank alcohol but we cannot. Tell us why the Church excommunicates free thinking intellectuals. When God is absent from talking to us, shouldn’t we be free to think how we choose until His word is revealed? Don’t punish us because He refuses to comment.

What are your thoughts on God’s absence, modern revelation, or excommunication?