An analysis of the Doctrine and Covenants as it refers to Oliver Cowdery tells a great deal about the man, said Susan Easton Black, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU, in her symposium presentation Nov. 10.
Sister Black noted that of the 138 sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, 101 name at least one individual other than the Prophet Joseph Smith. In those sections, 130 people are mentioned by name. Of those 130, only 72 died in full fellowship in the Church; about 55 percent of them stayed with the Church, others did not and still others fell away for a season and then came back, she noted.
"Knowing that Oliver Cowdery fell away for a season, why should there be in this symposium discussion of him as opposed to others who were faithful all their days?" she asked. "The answer is simple. The answer is that Oliver Cowdery will never be just another name in a category in the Doctrine and Covenants. He was a witness. He was the 'second elder.' He saw God."
From the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, "what do we learn about Oliver Cowdery?" Sister Black asked. "He is so important to the Lord and to this dispensation that there are five revelations given to him and to Joseph. There's one revelation given to him, to Joseph and to David Whitmer."
The revelations she referred to are Sections 6, 7, 13, 18, 24 and 110.
Moreover, there are entire sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that are given through Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery, she noted.
"Now, as you look at these sections, it's so interesting, because they could literally be put into categories, and you begin to see how much the Lord is counting on Oliver in the important things that he is to do," she said. "You can see him literally moving from place to place."
She pointed out that in Section 20, he is called to be an apostle; in Section 21, he is told he is to be ordained an apostle and is to be the first preacher of the Church. "All of these things are to happen before he heads out on a mission. By Section 25, he is named in the scripture we always think was meant for Emma, but notice Oliver has had a lot of responsibility, including being scribe for the Prophet Joseph. In this particular one, Emma is now told she is to be the scribe. What is the purpose? So Oliver can be sent to testify."
Section 30 informs him where he is to testify, that being in Missouri, she said, and Section 32 tells him who is to accompany him on his mission to the Lamanites.
"You see the Lord is trying to move a man," Sister Black said, "and He's trying to move him out of New York. Well, he needs to know he's an apostle like Paul. He also needs to know that he is the first preacher of the Church. It's also important, then, that the assignments he has had in the past will be covered by another."