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Section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given as a direct answer to a question from Joseph Smith. Joseph asked the Lord whether he should translate the apocrypha, and this was the answer that he received.
According to the Doctrine and Covenants institute manual, the apocrypha is “a collection of ancient texts that were not included in the Hebrew Bible but were included in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.” Over time, some editions of the bible included it while others didn’t. The bible that Joseph Smith was using had the apocrypha in it, and so Joseph asked whether he should translate it. The answer was no.
What are some of the principles we can learn from this section about why the Lord chose to exclude it in Joseph Smith’s translation of the bible? Let’s look at a couple of phrases from the section to find out.
Interpolations of men
Doctrine and Covenants 91:2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men.
The apocrypha holds some truth, but it also contains interpolations. Interpolations are “the insertion of something of a different nature into something else.” In other words, the apocrypha is different from the rest of scripture. Scripture, according to the Bible Dictionary, is “a writing recognized by the Church as sacred and inspired.” While the apocrypha holds truth, there are also portions that hold the false beliefs of man. Some interpolations we run into today are insidious in nature while others are well-intended but false. For example, someone might try to use a gospel principle to exert control over someone else’s life; this is an insidious example. On the other side, someone may take a gospel principle and get carried away with it so that it no longer reflects the actual principle. This is not meant to do harm, but it is still an interpolation and not scripture. Some interpolations include spiritual guidance that was given to a specific person but does not necessarily apply to the entire church. My grandpa forced my uncle to go to church every Sunday, and eventually, my uncle heard a talk that converted him. On the flip side, my husband’s mother felt prompted to guide but never force. This teaching style suited my husband much better, and he was able to find his own testimony that may not have come had he been forced. We don’t ever want to take personal revelation and turn it into rules that we think should apply to everyone. While doctrine never changes, application of doctrine does. That’s why we have to be careful to not turn those inspirations into something they’re not: rules for everyone. We never want to take inspiration from our Father in Heaven and turn it into something of a different nature. It’s surprisingly easy to do.
Shall obtain benefit
Doctrine and Covenants 91:5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;
If you’re enlightened by the Spirit, you can learn about the gospel from the apocrypha. This goes so far beyond the apocrypha. This applies anywhere. When you are enlightened by the Spirit, you can find truth in the most obscure and random things. You can discern truth and hear what you need to hear at any time. I recall an experience I had in the temple. I went in and met with the temple president and asked him a very specific question. He began to answer my question, and I was surprised to find that the Spirit was telling me something else while he was talking. The temple president wasn’t telling me something wrong; the Spirit was simply telling me something else. My sister recently taught me that she often prays that the person she is speaking to will hear what they need to hear regardless of what comes out of her mouth.
My life has been a little turned upside down lately as I’ve found myself either constantly out of town or surrounded by family coming in to visit. It’s been a blessing, but it’s also been difficult to find time to spend reading the scriptures. Reading a couple of verses every day may seem a little useless, and if this were a worldly endeavor, it probably would be. However, reading the scriptures does more than teach you a story or a couple of facts about Christ. It invites the Spirit to be with you more fully all day. So I read my scriptures and feel a little guilty that it’s not more involved sometimes, but then I find an answer as I’m typing a text or cooking dinner. I do something without thinking only to realize that I was guided by the Spirit later on. Having a conversation with God is different than having a conversation with your mom. You pick up your phone, call your mom for 15 minutes or 60 minutes, say goodbye, and it’s over. With God, you can “pick up the phone” for five minutes, but the conversation can continue after the scriptures have been closed and set aside for the day.
Joseph Smith Translation and the Apocrypha
This is not a specific phrase from the section, but there is a principle that I want to pull out from the entire idea of this section. When you read the “Revelations in Context,” this is part of the excerpt about the Joseph Smith Translation.
“Joseph’s translation was not carried out in the traditional sense. He didn’t consult Greek and Hebrew texts or use lexicons to create a new English version. Rather, he used the King James Version of the Bible as his starting point and made additions and changes as he was directed by the Holy Ghost.
Although Joseph made many minor grammatical corrections and modernized some language, he was less concerned with these technical improvements than he was with restoring, through revelation, important truths not included in the contemporary Bible. Historian Mark Lyman Staker characterized the translation as one of “ideas rather than language.”
As I picture Joseph Smith “translating” the bible, I picture him reading through the King James version. He gets to a specific point, and he feels drawn to a certain verse or phrase. He pauses long enough for the Spirit to whisper something, and then he starts to receive inspiration.
If you were to choose to read the Apocrypha, what does Section 91 teach us about learning from it? In my mind, I picture myself reading from it, feeling drawn to a certain verse or phrase, and then pausing long enough for the Spirit to teach me something. The Lord is inviting us to use the same process as Joseph Smith. Now we need to be cautious in the sense that we’re not prophets. The inspiration we receive is often for us alone, not for the rest of the world. It is either specific guidance for our lives or it is inspiration that should only be shared when prompted by the Holy Ghost. We also have to be extremely careful that we don’t run off with interpolations. We will most likely not receive entire excerpts of doctrine like the Pearl of Great Price (at least not until after we’ve had plenty of practice and even then, we should still keep those things to ourselves). However, we will receive bits of truth here and there just as Joseph Smith did in most cases.
As I read the scriptures or have conversations with inspired priesthood leaders, I’ve found that the Spirit can correct, filter, or expound things. I have received incorrect advice from imperfect (yet still generally inspired) priesthood leaders who love me dearly, and the Spirit has helped me sift through what was inspired and what was not. I’ve read my scriptures and found new insights into the Plan of Salvation, and I’ve found specific phrases that share the words I need for specific life circumstances. I imagine that this was a process very similar to the one Joseph Smith experienced.
One of the most incredible blessings to come from the translation of the bible is the Doctrine and Covenants itself.
My journal has become my personal Doctrine and Covenants. Oftentimes, there are many places that repeat each other as reminders for me at different times in my life. Sometimes the repetitions take on new meaning depending on what I need for different times in my life. As I’ve taken to writing, I’ve learned more about the doctrine of Christ. I’ve received calls to share the gospel. I’ve learned new things about God’s plan for His family. Do you see the parallels to Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants?
Joseph Smith looked at the bible through the lens of the Holy Ghost. We can look at the Apocrypha, the scriptures, our life experiences through the lens of the Holy Ghost and find our own personal Doctrine and Covenants.