Exploring Mormon Institute 2013 – D&C Lesson 15: “Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts”



To help class members identify gifts of the Spirit, seek to obtain them, and use them to serve others understand them in context, and see through issues with them.

Attention Activity

The teacher should begin by standing up on a desk and rambling for a long time in a language no one understands. I would recommend Quenya[2] or, if you must, the lowly Sandarin[3], but any gibberish will do.

Prepare a student to stand up and “interpret” the gibberish into something intelligible. Perhaps the Gettysburg Address.

Ask the students how they could identify a correct translation. Have the students discuss common techniques for cryptography such as “E” being the most common letter in the English language, or identifying the word “the” (the most common word). Look for spaces, pauses, and repeated consonants. A guide can be found here[4].

Gifts of the spirit

D&C 46:11 “and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.”

Got that? Every man (and presumably woman due to context of “man” in the 1830s meaning human) has a gift.

And why do we all have gifts?

9 “they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do.”

Oh, so it’s every man who keeps commandments. OR we all get them to help us keep commandments. Or something. But people who don’t want to keep the commandments don’t get gifts, or they do, but can’t use them. Or something. Nevermind.

“To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.”

So these gifts have a synergistic effect. Everyone doesn’t have the same gift so that we work together. That’s a nice thought.

The Gift List

1) 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.

First off, we get to know that Jesus Christ is the son of God. That’s a nice gift, but please realize the implication is that some people do not have this gift, and hence, I guess, will never know that Jesus Christ is the son of God. This is pretty much scriptural backing for atheists.

Oh I know, one might say, “Faith, they can still have faith,” but that’s another gift we’ll discuss later. Some have it, some don’t, and there is no reason to assume you have one or the other. Personally, I want to see the atheist with the gift of tongues, but I’m still waiting.

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

It is a gift to believe others’ words. So some get to know, and others get to believe. I guess that’s how it works in heaven, but it would be nice if one of the gifts was scientific rigor, to prove by deduction and induction what others claim. I guess that’s asking too much.

3) To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration.

No one knows what this means. Seriously. Look up three faithful websites on the subject and you’ll get 4 different answers. Some of you out there have a gift that no one can identify or use. How nice.

4) It is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God.

Again, not a lot of detail what this means. I mean, I can tell the difference between the multiplication operation and the division operation… I’ve played Operation. Maybe I burned up my gift right there?

More notably, these two do not appear in Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 12-13. I’m not sure whether God changed the gifts (some had to be returned to the store they were bought from) between dispensations or if Joseph was just trying to leave some open ended things he could claim later when in a tight spot.

5) I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom.

This was just to screw with people. You see, God knew that later he would reveal the “Word of Wisdom” as a health law, and that forever people would read this and be confused. It’s God’s way of making a little scriptural joke: “Your gift is to not drink wine… bwa ha ha ha.”

7) To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.

Now here is more evidence of God’s humor, because the people with the word of knowledge also have the ability to teach “to be wise,” so they trump those with the “Word of Wisdom.” But also, here we have good evidence that there is a “Word of Knowledge” out there to be revealed. Maybe it was supposed to be the 90th section of the D&C, right after the “Word of Wisdom,” but it was never revealed.

Can’t help but think that Boyd K. might not be so against the wrong kind of knowledge if we’d ever received the “Word of Knowledge.” Ah, well. But one more little God pun. You see how it says you’ll know wisdom? Well He has another definition of “Wisdom”: (Alma 34:35)[5], “learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.”

So the “Word of Wisdom” or the “Word of Knowledge” that teaches wisdom is really just a calling to be home teacher, or EQ instructor, or some other instructor that teaches to keep commandments. What, were you expecting to be Socrates?

8) To some it is given to have faith to be healed.

For the others they just have to use band-aids I guess.

9) To others it is given to have faith to heal.

In my head there is instantly an equation. If the healer has faith to heal, but the wounded has no gift to be healed, is the person healed? If a healer has faith to heal, and the gift to be healed, does it double the hit points recovered, or is it only a flat +6?

10) To some is given the working of miracles.

I have no idea if this indicates that the other gifts here don’t count as miracles, or if this is a catchall.

11) To others it is given to prophesy.


12) To others the discerning of spirits.

Actually, I’d like my prophesying giftees to also be able to tell if the spirits are good/bad/boring/etc. because if they just prophesy without knowing if it is from the Devil… ah nevermind. It just seems to me that many of these gifts MUST go with other gifts for them to make sense.

I mean, this isn’t the end-all instruction guide for gifts, it’s really just the table of contents. I wish God had the foresight to know the “Dummies” books were being written, because these gifts could have totally used a “Gifts of the Spirit for Dummies” book so we could use them correctly. sigh

Okay the big ones, 12 and 13. Just a note, to Catholics there are only 7 gifts of the spirit, and they are key at confirmation of teenagers. Just an interesting difference.

12) It is given to some to speak with tongues.


13) To another is given the interpretation of tongues.

I want to be absolutely clear here, this changed dramatically. We no longer practice these gifts and I can see your hand in the back Jimmy, yes we have an MTC and yes people learn languages there, but that is NOT what Joseph was talking about. It was clear back then as to what “speaking in tongues” meant. The idea that missionaries speak in tongues is totally a modern concoction and thus has no relevance when taking these verses in context.

Speaking in Tongues – How it was done historically

“When Joseph asked Brigham Young to pray, Brigham spoke in tongues, using strange sounds and unfamiliar words. The others looked at Joseph in some perplexity, for this type of spiritual phenomenon was not common to them. It was Joseph’s first experience with the puzzling speech and he called it ‘pure Adamic’ and stated that it was ‘of God.’ Speaking in tongues spread through the Pennsylvania branches of the church first, then occurred in Mendon, New York. Brigham Young brought it to Kirtland. The practice became a part of the Saints’ worship – particularly among women – until well into the next century.”

  • King and Newell, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, p. 46

“To describe the scene alluded to would be beyond my pow’r. Suffice it to say the spirit of the Lord was pour’d out and we receiv’d a blessing thro’ our belov’d mother Chase & sis Clarissa by the gift of tongues.”

  • Patty Bartlett Sessions journal, see Smart, Mormon Widwife

“Brother Leonard spoke in tongues in an Indian language, and prophesied of the destruction of this nation before the coming of the Savior. The power that rested upon him was so great as to produce such an intense sympathy with those in the room, that they were all wonderfully affected. Sister Eliza R. Snow walked the floor to keep her breath. All felt the distress and agony that awaited the nation, more particularly the priests and harlots being destroyed in their wickedness. Sister Eliza Snow spoke afterwards in the pure language of Adam, with great power, and the interpretation was given.”

  • Wells, “A Venerable Woman,” Women’s Exponent, v. 12, June 1, 1883, p. 2

“I [Eliza Snow] spoke & she [Patty Sessions] interpreted. I then blest the girls in a song, singing to each in rotation.”

  • Eliza Roxcy Snow journal, June 6, 1847, see In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton, p. 323

“That fall, after Miriam’s death, he, Heber Kimball, and several relatives traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, where he first met the twenty-six-year-old Prophet Joseph Smith. Invited to evening prayer in the Smith home, Brigham was moved by the Spirit and spoke in tongues, the first speaking in tongues witnessed by the Prophet.”

  • Brigham Young, by Leanord Arrington (Church historian)

Got that? Joseph Smith did not know about the gift of tongues until after Brigham Young stood up and performed. After a shocked moment, I’m sure, Joseph picked it up pretty quickly. Brigham loved to speak in tongues, and did so on all kinds of occasions including mid-argument (Brigham Young’s biography, by Turner, has some humorous moments with this).

“We received the gift of tongues and interpretation a few days after we were baptized. The brethren who brought the Gospel to us belonged to the first Branch of the Church that received the gift of tongues, and the Branch at Mendon was the next. Brothers Brigham and Joseph Young and myself went to Kirtland, with my horses and wagon, to visit the Prophet, a distance of three hundred miles. We saw brother Joseph Smith and had a glorious time; during which brother Brigham spoke in tongues before brother Joseph, it being the first time he had heard any one speak in tongues; he testified that the gift was from God, and spoke in tongues himself. Soon the gift of tongues became general in the Church in Kirtland. We had a precious season and returned with a blessing in our souls.”

  • Millennial Star, Heber C. Kimball

So we can learn two things by this: 1) God didn’t bother to tell Joseph about things but let him stumble upon things in other religions, which looks a bit like grafting a religion together from all the contemporary religions, and 2) There should be someone to interpret tongues and they are typically in some unknown language.

There is no “MTC-style” tongues until Joseph totally cons a crowd later on.

“I have now preached a little Latin, a little Hebrew, Greek, and German; and I have fulfilled all. I am not so big a fool as many have taken me to be. The Germans know that I read the German correctly.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6 pg. 11)

He’d been studying Hebrew, German, Latin, and a few other languages (From Nibley’s great grandfather and others), and when the immigrants gather he says a few words in each language, making everyone feel like he was “magic” when really they were the same languages he was learning.

I want to be clear here, if you hold yourself up as a prophet and you pretend to magically know a language, when really you’ve been studying for weeks and months just to say a line or two, that is deceptive and con-artistry.

Okay, more tongue wackiness:

[Brigham] taught [a branch of the church] that when they spoke in tongues the language might be from the Lord, but with that tongue they spoke the things which were in their hearts, whether they were good or evil; the gift of tongues was given for a blessing to the Saints, but not to govern them, nor to control the elders, or dictate the affairs of the church.”

“In informal gatherings at Winter Quarters, Eliza and other women, many of them plural wives of Joseph Smith, repeatedly received the charismatic gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. These spiritual outpourings Eliza described as ‘a glorious time,’ ‘a rejoicing time,’ ‘a refreshing time'” (http://livingtext.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/mormons-and-tongues-2/[5]).

Good news, ladies. You don’t need gifts of the spirit; you get them all naturally.

In her book, White Roses on the Floor of Heaven, Susanna Morrill discusses a poem called “Lines,” by L.L. Greene Richards:

The circumstances surrounding the composition of the poem are telling, however, because the messages were conveyed through the gift of tongues by Clara H. James, then interpreted by Rida Taylor, and finally put into polished verse by L.L. Greene Richards…In order to most authentically communicate the revelations delivered in the gift of tongues, often identified as the primordial language of the Garden of Eden, or the Nephite language, Greene rendered them into poetic verse, in this way capturing both the message and the mood…

Ian G. Barber has noted that, within the LDS community, women were seen to be “natural” seers and visionaries who could more easily than men tap into supernatural and divine messages and powers.

Women rather than men most often exercised the gift of tongues. While men sometimes attended and headed these meetings where women spoke in tongues, they rarely seem to have joined in the tongue-speaking themselves. As the community settled in Utah and as the practice of tongue-speaking became routinized, this gender separation became even more pronounced, as did a separation based on age and prestige within the church. This is not to necessarily say that those who spoke in tongues were the ones who wrote the poetry. Sometimes this was the case as, for instance, with Zina D.H. Young who was well known to regularly speak in tongues during Relief Society meetings, but who was also a sometime author, poet, and contributor to the Exponent. Rather, it is more accurate to say: the same forces that led to tongue-speaking also led to nature and flower poetry.

Um… yeah. I love the part that people closer to Joseph, such as secret polygamist wives, more often spoke in tongues.

And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.

Here is one of the most misquoted sections in the D&C and abused, in my opinion.

What it DOES say:

The Bishop of the church [Edward Partridge at the time], which everywhere else is interpreted to mean the presiding bishopric, can identify true gifts from false ones to prevent the devil from misleading people.

What it DOES NOT say:

The bishop of your ward has all the gifts of the spirit, or the gift of discernment.

Got that? If they translate “The Bishop” in all the other D&C verses to mean “presiding bishopric,” there is no reason to interpret this “bishop” any differently.

I hope that the bishop up in the COB is busying himself identifying true spiritual gifts rather than huge tracts of land in Florida, or the church might be misled.

How to fake these gifts.

Gift of Healing[6]

Gift of Tongues[7] (I love the madman story)

Gift of Discernment – This one has practically gone out of use, but I’m sure James Randi would have a lot to say on this.

Gift of Knowledge – Yay for the scientific method!

Gift of the Word of Wisdom – Yeah, about them barley drinks…

Gift of Prophesy – We’ll cover all the failed prophesies later. Right now let’s just say “Prophesy statistically better than a coin would and we’ll consider it.”

Gift of Faith – Well, let’s just settle for some people having this, and mostly it has to do with not understanding the value of a skeptical mind.


The gifts of the spirit support the argument that Joseph was not learning from God, but was quick on the uptake of what would move people and grafted those things into his religion. Correlation smooths out the issues and teaches people to focus on the non-measurable ones such as “Faith.” Faith healing is dangerous, tongues are wacky, and overall people should probably stick to textbooks and study over hoping for magic gifts.

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Last edited by EmmaHS on February 15, 2013 at 1:22 am

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