Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dividing Asunder Joint and Marrow

Several early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants begin with the same (or almost identical) verses. See, e.g., D&C 11:1-9. This same introduction is included in revelations directed at Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Knight and others. In this passage the Lord reveals that a “great and marvelous work is about to come forth.” He advises the recipient of the revelation that the “field” is ready to harvest, and that there is plenty of work for anyone who wants to help. Ask and ye shall receive, keep the commandments, seek to establish Zion, etc., etc. Frankly, it gets a little repetitive, and it is easy to gloss over in an effort to get to the good (i.e., more personal, specific) stuff.

There is one verse, though, that I think is kind of intriguing. It is verse 2, where the Lord says:

“Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joint and marrow; therefore, give heed unto my word.”

This verse definitely has the sound of God speaking through a prophet - - an Old Testament prophet. It uses powerful, even violent language to get the recipient’s attention. The most striking image is the two-edged sword, dividing asunder joint and marrow. What does this mean? Certainly, the Lord is trying to convey that his word is swift and strong, living and powerful. You get the sense that what He says goes, so you better listen. But is there more?

Another interesting aspect of this passage is that it is often in striking contrast to other parts of the same revelations, where the Lord adopts a very personal, intimate and gentle tone with the recipient, calling him by name and giving encouragement and advice. Why do you think the Lord uses this sometimes abrupt change in tone?

Finally, I think it is interesting that this distinctive passage appears in a number of early revelations, then drops out of use. Why do you think that is? I do a lot of writing at work, and I have noticed that, if I can just get started on a document, the rest often follows. I have developed the habit of using some common catch phrases and introductory “throat clearing” to get my writing started (thankfully, this often gets edited out). Were these verses just a device Joseph or the Lord used to get Joseph’s revelatory juices flowing? Perhaps as Joseph became more experienced with receiving revelation, he did not need this phrase to get him going.

What do you think? What is the message the Lord is conveying? Is it good news or bad news? Why does he say it over and over to various people? And, why does He not say it in later revelations?


  1. First of all let me say I'm happy to find this blog. Second, I don't have answers to your questions but I do love the imagery in this verse and used it some in my lesson last week.

  2. I am glad you found it, too. I need more commenters! Please stop by again.

  3. I like the 'throat clearing' hypothesis. The imagery, while 'old testament' in tone, is also found in the new testament. Here's my try at the meaning of the verse.

    Joint: easily cut apart, something more superficial to divide.

    Marrow: most difficult to dissect, protected by hard bone, the innermost core of a physical body.

    Joint is to Soul as Marrow is to Spirit.

    The soul refers to the living, physical being. The superficial - the seat of human emotion, perhaps the 'natural man.' The spirit refers to that portion of human that reflects the divine - as children of God.

    The word can not only tease apart the natural man, helping understand how to live better day by day (speak kind words, word of wisdom, etc...), but can also drive deep changes to our character (change of heart, spiritual rebirth, sanctification).

    In this instance the Lord sets forth principles that recommend immediate action (preach the gospel), but also lay the foundation to bring about eventual exaltation.

  4. Joel: Thanks for your coment. I think your analysis of this passage is very good - - more detailed and interesting than the ones I have read in some of the standard Doctrine & Covenants commentaries. I like the layered meaning you apply to the phrase.

  5. It's very similar to a verse in the New Testament (Hebrews 4:12): "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the diving asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

  6. Well im glad i found this blog as well i had to read this verse heb 4:12 for bible study and for some reason it made me want to get deeper into the meaning of what the verse was actually saying.... especially the piercing even to the dividin asunder..... so thanks for the info

  7. If words from the Savior can organize worlds, certainly they have the power to do exactly what the phrase says. Could this also be a reason why we are called on to "fear" the Lord?

  8. two edged sword, when you feel it, the other feels it too. and hears it.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.