Two gifts

Two of the most significant verses in the Doctrine and Covenants deal with spiritual gifts. They often get little more than a cursory review in lessons or study on the topic, because they use familiar, mundane-sounding language.   D&C 46:13-14:

13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

Today we routinely use the word “know” to describe our spirit-born conviction of gospel concepts.  We call that conviction a “testimony”, and we encourage one another, including small children, to share that conviction with the words “I know”.   Most would place a testimony of Christ as the son of God and savior of the world on the thumb or index finger of their “testimony glove”.

Because we use “know” in this way, we may read this scripture and suppose that we have gained the spiritual gift of knowledge spoken of in verse 13.  We hope that our friends and potential converts will “believe” on our words, and gain their own testimony.  In this paradigm their “belief” would last until their first contact with the Spirit, where their belief would turn to knowledge.  They will then be expected to say they “know” as well.     Since we expect all members to have this gift of knowledge before baptism, it seems like a gift not worth dwelling on in our lessons or personal study.

This raises questions:

If the Spirit grants us” knowledge” when it testifies to us, then how would “belief” be a gift of the spirit as well?

Would “knowledge” simply come with a stronger feeling than “belief”?

Do “know” and “believe” mean something different here than they do in contemporary LDS discourse?

Why, in verse 14, does it say that those to whom the spirit grants belief will “also” inherit eternal life?

Who is inheriting eternal life before them, that they “also” might inherit it?

Since the scriptures should be the measuring rod for the truth of our discourse and doctrine, we should study them to see how closely our teachings and traditions align with their concepts.

Are there examples in the scriptures of people gaining the specific knowledge “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world,”  or is there counsel on how to obtain that specific knowledge? 


3 Nephi 11 – The Nephites

This knowledge came to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11:

6 And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them:

Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.

8 And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them.

9 And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying:

10 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.

 11 And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.

12 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words the whole multitude fell to the earth; for they remembered that it had been prophesied among them that Christ should show himself unto them after his ascension into heaven.

13 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying:

14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.

15 And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.

These were people who had been faithful and righteous enough to be spared, who had heard Christ’s voice speak to them out of the darkenss, who had heard the Father’s voice introducing the Son, who saw Christ descend and stand before them.  Yet, to them, Christ said they had to come to him, handle him, and see him “that ye may know“.   It would not make sense to give this instruction if they already had this knowledge.   For them, true “knowledge” had to come by close, personal, physical experience with him.


Ether3 – The Brother of Jared

This knowledge also came to the Brother of Jared in Ether 3.  The Brother of Jared cries to the Lord, and he Lord  tests his knowledge and faith in an interview through the veil.  During this process, the Brother of Jared testifies that he knows certain things:

“we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually”

“I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man;”

“We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.”

“I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.”

We are told that “because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus.”   Seeing the finger of Jesus granted him further knowledge: “when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.” This further knowledge granted him further access to the Lord. “Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him.”

As Christ tells him “Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.” 

The things the Brother of Jared knew are listed above.  They do not include the knowledge spoken of in D&C 46, of Christ’s divine sonship and sacrifice.  However, these granted him access to Christ’s presence.  Here, further knowledge is granted:

Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.

15 And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.

16 Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.

17 And now, as I, Moroni, said I could not make a full account of these things which are written, therefore it sufficeth me to say that Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites.

18 And he ministered unto him even as he ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that he was God, because of the many great works which the Lord had showed unto him.

The brother of Jared, like the Nephites, was taught about the Lord’s identity by the Lord personally.  Again, the showing of His body was integral to giving this particular knowledge.  Like the Nephites, the Brother of Jared was also shown “many works,” that would confirm his knowledge of Christ’s identity.   Verse 18 implies that the Brother of Jared could not have truly known Christ without “all this”, though he had long had faith to converse with Christ and had known things about Him.


D&C 93 – “see my face and know that I am”

D&C 93:1-3:

 1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;

And that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;

And that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one

This verse invokes the principle by which God dispenses graces, referenced in D&C 130:20-21

20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

The obedience required is for a soul to

forsake his sins,

come to Christ,

call on his name,

obey his voice,

and keep his commandments.

The blessing promised is to

see Christ’s face

know that he is

know that he is the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world

know that he is in the Father, and the Father in him, and that he and the Father are one

This is the path walked by the Nephites and the Brother of Jared, explained in different words. Here, again, it is personal communion that endows a person with knowledge of Christ’s existence, identity, and nature.   Surely the recipient already “knows” that Christ “is”, if he is calling on him!  Apparently, though, even while we receive and obey his voice, our knowledge about his true character and attributes, our understanding of his nature, and even our conception of his existence, are matters of belief and faith.

If the gift of knowledge ultimately requires such sacred experience, how does one acquire the gift of belief?


The gift of belief – gaining a testimony

D&C 46:14

To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

This verse outlines an exchange between a “believer” and a “knower”.   First, someone has to receive the knowledge of Christ like the Brother of Jared, Moses, Enoch, etc.  Then they offer their testimony of truth to someone else.  That person can then receive a witness from the spirit that the testimony was true.  At this point, the hearer becomes a believer.

The story of Nephi illustrates this process.  Lehi returned from the throne room of God, where he communed with Christ and received a prophetic burden.  He, like the Brother of Jared, saw “great and marvelous…works” that endowed him with knowledge of the Lord’s identity and nature.  He was then commanded to flee Jerusalem by night, taking his family with him.  In 1 Nephi 2, Nephi says:

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.

Nephi cried out to the Lord and received a manifestation.  It was a visitation of the spirit that softened his heart and gave him a belief in and a conviction of his Father’s testimony.  He could not yet claim knowledge, because he had not shared Lehi’s experiences.  Lehi gained knowledge by experience, and Nephi would have to do the same.  Simply gaining a witness that Lehi was honest was not enough to give Nephi the knowledge of Lehi.

This process is familiar to Latter-day Saints.  We call it “gaining a testimony”.   It is the same process we use to determine the truth of the Book of Mormon and the truth of Joseph Smith’s testimony.  While we use the words “I know” to describe this witness, the book of which we are witnessing suggests that we should use the term “believe” instead.


Given by the Holy Ghost to know – Nephi’s growth

So if a witness of the spirit to the heart and mind of Nephi was not enough to endow him with “knowledge”, why does the wording in D&C 46:13 say that knowledge will come by the Holy Ghost?  “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.”    Didn’t we read earlier that knowledge of these things comes by vision of and personal communion with God?  So what is the role of the Holy Ghost here?

We can look again to Nephi’s development and learn from him.   We read in 1 Nephi 8-10 that Lehi reported another great vision, including the vignette of the tree of life.  Nephi already has had a witness that allows him to believe that Lehi is honestly reporting his visions.   He has already conversed with the Lord through the spirit and even seen an angel.   When presented with this new revelation, he desires to become one who knows, rather than one who simply believes on Lehi’s words.  From 1 Nephi 10:17-19:

 17 And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Here, Nephi gives us an understanding of how “knowledge” comes by the Holy Ghost.  Believing Lehi’s dream, even having a witness of the spirit that Lehi’s visions were true, did not give Nephi the knowledge of Lehi.

The knowledge was available to Nephi, and he knew that he could obtain it by diligently seeking just as those “in times of old.”  This phrase should give us hope.  In 600 b.c., just as today, there was a tendency to think of miracles, visions, and prophecy as past events, belonging to mythical figures.  We can put ourselves beside Nephi as he reassures us that we can also “see, hear, and know” the mysteries of God for ourselves.   In fact, it is knowledge of those mysteries that frees us from the adversary’s power and saves us (Alma 12:9-11).


Joseph Smith on gaining knowledge by your own experience

St Paul exhorts us to make our Calling & Election shure. This is that sealing power spoken of by Paul in other places (See Eph I. 13.14. In whom ye also trusted, that after ye heard the work of truth; the gospel of your salvation, in whom also after that ye believed ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise. Which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession unto the praise of his glory.) That we may be sealed up unto the day of redemption, this principle ought. (in its proper place) to be taught, for God hath not revealed any thing to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve & even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to–bear them. for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor know ye the Lord for all shall know him (who Remain) from the least to the greatest, How is this to be done? It is to be done by this sealing power & the other comforter spoken of which will be manifest by Revelation. (June 27, 1839, Willard Richards Pocket Companion)

Here we begin to get an answer to two of our initial questions about D&C 46: “Why, in verse 14, does it say that those to whom the spirit grants belief will “also” inherit eternal life [if they continue faithful]?  Who is inheriting eternal life before them, that they “also” might inherit it?”  The knowledge of God goes hand in hand with being sealed up to eternal life.  Just as the personal ministry of Christ as the Second Comforter gives us a true knowledge of his identity and nature, it also brings us the promise of salvation.

Could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam, on the relation of man to God and angels in a future state, we should know very little about it. Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject. (TPJS P. 324)


Prest. Smith rose; read the 14th Chap. of Ezekiel–Said the Lord had declared by the prophet that the people should each one stand for himself and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish Church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the church of Latter Day Saints–

Said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the prophet hence were darkened in their minds from neglect of themselves–envious toward the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy. (May 26, 1842 Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes)