The Council of Fifty minutes on perfect revelation

The Council of Fifty minutes include a fascinating quote on “perfect revelation,” or whether a revelation requires perfect wording to be the word of God.

The Council of Fifty was an exclusive organization founded by Joseph Smith in 1844. The minutes of the council were published by the Church Historians Press in 2016 as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The minutes include a wide variety of topics ranging from spiritual teachings to discussions about Indians to desires to form a new government.

The context for the quote is a series of discussions within the Council of Fifty about drafting a new constitution. The committee was somewhat paralyzed by fear of making a mistake and thus had difficulty getting started. One of the viewpoints shared was that of Brigham Young, who commented on Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority.

Included in his commentary is a fascinating quote about the word-for-word perfection of revelation. Due to the fact the clerk referred to both Brigham Young, and Joseph Smith, whom he was quoting, as “he,” it is difficult to discern precisely who is the genesis for this idea. Nonetheless, whether referring to Brigham Young or Joseph Smith, we see an early Mormon viewpoint on whether inspiration from the Holy Ghost is expected to always result in exact wording.

The text from the minutes reads as follows:

“He supposed there has not yet been a perfect revelation given, because we cannot understand it, yet we receive a little here and a little there. He should not be stumbled if the prophet should translate the bible forty thousand times over and yet it should be different in some places every time, because when God [speaks], he always speaks according to the capacity of the people.”

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