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#HearHim in The Doctrine and Covenants

As part of the Church's Come, Follow Me curriculum this year, we are studying The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). I used to think of this standard work as a compilation of guidance on church organization and individual missionary assignments, but a recent study served to open my eyes and mind a bit more. I can now better appreciate D&C for its textual/linguistic purity and relevance for our day, especially in terms of heeding the Prophet's guidance to "Hear Him" and draw closer to Jesus Christ by considering how we receive personal revelation.


While living in Brazil last year, I developed a spiritual goal to rubricate all of the standard works (as part of a larger project relating to a non-fiction book, perhaps further down the road). Rubrication (from Latin rubricare, meaning “to make red”) played a significant role in Medieval scriptoria as scribes used red ink to emphasize or draw attention to headings and various words in manuscripts, often making the first letter of a Biblical chapter a large, red letter. This technique was later adapted by publisher Louis Klopsch, who, on June 19, 1899, was purportedly inspired to use red text to denote Christ’s personal speech in the Gospels of the New Testament after reading a variation of Luke 22:20 in the course of his work: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which I shed for you.”[1] He began publishing the first editions of a red letter edition of the Holy Bible at the beginning of the 20th century, printing Dominical words, or those spoken by Christ, as red text. This practice became widespread among Christians as various denominations adopted this tradition, which endured for at least eighty-five years before the convention’s popularity waned in recent decades.[2] The red letter edition of the Holy Bible has been heralded as one of the greatest innovations in scripture study, along with novelties like footnotes and cross-references. I saw these types of Bibles frequently as a young member of the Catholic Church, before I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Figure 1: Red Letter (Dominical) Text in the New Testament

The LDS Church does not use a red letter edition of the Holy Bible, nor is there an official red letter edition of the Book of Mormon or other scriptures constituting the accepted canon. Even so, it is a common practice among church members to laboriously underline words spoken by Christ or circle verses containing His speech within their personal scriptures. Isolated case studies and research projects by university students and amateurs have involved identifying Christ’s speech or analyzing particular phrases or his words during certain events. H. Donl Peterson, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, describes one such example when one of his graduate students sought to write a paper clarifying visitations of celestial beings on the earth. The student tried to distinguish speakers among God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and various types of angels, but the student later returned discouraged and explained the task was nearly impossible due to ambiguities and instances of divine investiture of authority.[3] This project would have yielded some form of text identifying Jesus Christ’s speech, admittedly with a degree of inconsistency or inaccuracy, but no such classification of text resulted as the project was abandoned due to challenges in positive identification of speakers in scripture.


I developed a rigorous methodology for the project with criteria to determine which text should or should not be rubricated, based on modern revelation and doctrinal principles (not included here). Luckily, I found and validated red letter versions of the King James Version (KJV) Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon. I personally completed the process for The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price (Books of Moses and Abraham). The following chart displays one important and relevant insight (this is a draft version with approximate numbers for total word count by standard work).


Chart 2: Red Letter Word Count and Percentage by Standard Work

As the chart highlights, The Doctrine and Covenants is a clear outlier in terms of red letter text. Christ's speech, recorded as revelation, accounts for over 75 percent of the standard work's text. Section 1 emphasizes the fact that prophets serve as the Lord's spokesmen on the earth, but the work largely consists of Christ's personal, direct guidance. Another facet of D&C is its purity. Of course, the Holy Bible has lost many plain and precious truths through translation efforts, as well as nuances such as poetic features in the Book of Lamentations in its original language. The Book of Mormon is a pure translation, having been translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith through the power of God from reformed Egyptian to English, but there are some terms that lack a direct translation to English (hence, a lack of understanding regarding terms like sheum in Mosiah 9:9, discerning only that it must have been some type of grain because there may not be a direct translation or because it is a hapax legomenon in The Book of Mormon, appearing only once). The Doctrine and Covenants, however, was not translated to English, as the revelations and writings were originally in English. There is a clarity and purity unique to the work for Latter-day Saints studying the text in English. It is an excellent standard work to study to "Hear Him," whose personal words comprise most of the work.


Textual analysis reveals certain themes in D&C, especially Jesus Christ, prophets, revelation, and church organization, and missionary work. One predominant topical group involves the terms voice, Gospel, and hear (accounting for 8% of thematic elements, based on term co-occurrence in context, among the 150 most frequent terms within the text). The figure below displays a network diagram depicting word frequency (node size) and interrelatedness (community color and connectors), with the remaining nodes, connectors, and topical groups grayed.


Figure 3: Network Diagram for D&C Text (Topical Group voice-Gospel-hear displayed)[4]

In D&C, the term hear is closely linked to missionary work and preparation for the Second Coming.


Returning again to the red letter text of D&C, another insight concerns time orientations and perceptual processes. The chart below displays relevant measurements for the red letter text extracted from each of the standard works for these two variables (with a color scale, for comparison by variable). The measurements represent the percentage of words from those corpora falling under each of the header categories, based on the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (2015) English dictionary and word categorization.


Chart 4: Time Orientation and Perceptual Processes for Standard Work Red Letter Corpora[5]

While D&C is not an outlier for either variable, the text is clearly focused on the present and hearing. D&C is mainly focused on the present, with some geared toward the future. Despite much of the guidance being addressed to individual members of the early Church, we can easily relate it to us and receive personal guidance through study. Much of the text involving hearing in some way, including words like voice, say, listen, ear, and hear. These are often in conjunction with invitations to "hearken," or "hear." D&C is an excellent text to do so as members seek to follow the Prophet's guidance to "Hear Him," whose personal words comprise most of this work.

[1] Brent Nelson & Research Group, “Chapter 10: The textual habitat: The development of new knowledge environments,” Digital Studies/le Champ Numérique, 6 (6). DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/dscn.8, available at https://www.digitalstudies.org/articles/10.16995/dscn.8/ (accessed 11 June 2020). [2] Ibid. [3] H. Donl Peterson, “How can one distinguish the meaning of the word Lord in a particular case?,” Ensign 8, 10 (October 1978).

[4] Created using Infranodus, https://infranodus.com/.

[5] Created using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) 2015, https://liwc.wpengine.com/.

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