Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants
We think of the Doctrine and Covenants as a tidily defined book, quietly resting with the other scriptures. However, this is not the whole story! The story of how the Revelations of Joseph Smith were written, prepared for publication, and moved through various stages until they reached our present edition is the story of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a moving story of a flood of revealed knowledge different than what the common beliefs of the time were. It is a story of how and why prophets receive revelation for individuals and for the church. It is a story of how scripture becomes scripture and what scripture is! This is the story of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a unique scripture in that it isn't a translation of an ancient document but a compilation of revealed words given to a prophet in this day and age!
Correlation of current Doctrine and Covenants with Earliest Sources on Joseph Smith Papers
What is scripture:
Bible Dictionary - Scripture
The word scripture means “a writing” and is used to denote a writing recognized by the Church as sacred and inspired. It is so applied to the books of the Old Testament by the writers of the New Testament (Matt. 22:29; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15). For an account of the process by which the books of the Old Testament and New Testament came to be recognized as scripture, see Canon. Latter-day revelation identifies scripture as that which is spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost (D&C 68:1–4).
Bible Dictionary - Canon
A word of Greek origin, originally meaning “a rod for testing straightness,” now used to denote the authoritative collection of the sacred books used by the true believers in Christ. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the canonical books are called standard works. The history of the process by which the books of the Bible were collected and recognized as a sacred authority is almost hidden in obscurity. There are several legends extant and these may have some truth in them but certainly are not complete or totally accurate. Though many of the details have not been preserved, we know that the servants of the Lord have been commanded to keep records even from the earliest times, and that those records have been revered by the faithful and handed down from generation to generation.
The official church doctrine comes from Canonized writings - known as scripture.
What is Mormon Doctrine and how is it to be determined?
Mormon Newsroom - article 4 May 2007
Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine.
Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines.
The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center.
Joseph Fielding Smith clarifies how members need to compare what church leaders teach to the standard works:
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.
Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 203.
Is the Ensign Scripture? Yes
However it has not been Cannonized as doctrine for the church. Canonized scripture is our yardstick and by which we should judge doctrine.
Ensign 2012 April Conference
After Paul, Barnabas, and perhaps others spoke in support of Peter’s declaration, James moved that the decision be implemented by letter to the Church, and the council was united “with one accord” (Acts 15:25; see also verses 12–23). In the letter announcing their decision, the Apostles said, “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” (Acts 15:28), or in other words, this decision came by divine revelation through the Holy Spirit.
These same patterns are followed today in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelation to him (see, for example, D&C 138). Doctrinal exposition may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see, for example, Official Declaration 2). Council deliberations will often include a weighing of canonized scriptures, the teachings of Church leaders, and past practice. But in the end, just as in the New Testament Church, the objective is not simply consensus among council members but revelation from God. It is a process involving both reason and faith for obtaining the mind and will of the Lord.
At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.” President Clark, quoted earlier, observed:
Ensign October 1993 - Combating spiritual drift!
Prophets/Bishops/Stake Presidents/Sunday School Teachers have opinions
20 Now, my son, I do not say that their resurrection cometh at the resurrection of Christ; but behold, I give it as my opinion, that the souls and the bodies are reunited, of the righteous, at the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven.
We need to be careful and not take opinion as church doctrine - but as opinion even if it is correct :)
The standard works - the canonized scriptures are our yardsticks for measuring doctrine.
Remember also that:
8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
9 We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
We do not believe commentary A or commentary B is the word of God :) They can be considered as the apocrypha of use for knowledge and good for study but not authoritative for doctrine.
Doctrine and Covenants - Cannonization Date
What is the Doctrine and Covenants:
The book of Doctrine and Covenants is one of the standard works of the Church in company with the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. However, the Doctrine and Covenants is unique because it is not a translation of an ancient document, but is of modern origin and was given of God through His chosen prophets for the restoration of His holy work and the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth in these days. In the revelations, one hears the tender but firm voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking anew in the dispensation of the fullness of times; and the work that is initiated herein is preparatory to His Second Coming, in fulfillment of and in concert with the words of all the holy prophets since the world began. D&C Introduction
The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days. Although most of the sections are directed to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the messages, warnings, and exhortations are for the benefit of all mankind and contain an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation. D&C Introduction
In todays lesson we will look a little bit into the reasons and means by which the Doctrine and Covenants came to be as well as why it is important for us to study and understand it! Let us begin by reading a bit from the recollections of Orson Pratt concerning the coming forth of the Book of Commandments.
What is the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants - why the Book of Commandments!
The story of the Doctrine and Covenants - Ensign 1984 December
At a momentous conference of the Church in Ohio, beginning 1 November 1831, a council of high priests of the Church in Ohio (Joseph Smith presiding) made the decision to publish the revelations under the title Book of Commandments and voted 10,000 copies for the first edition. (D&C 1; Far West Record, p. 15.) The Lord’s will concerning the publication of the revelations was manifested when Joseph Smith received section 1, the Lord’s “preface” to the book, during an interlude. Then began a lively discussion by Joseph Smith asking the elders what testimony they were willing to attach to the commandments. Some said they were willing to testify that the revelations came from God; others, however, expressed criticism of the language in which the revelations were expressed. (Far West Record, p. 16, History of the Church, 1:224.) Out of the discussion emerged a revelation, now section 67, in which a challenge was given by the Lord to anyone present to write a revelation equal to “the least” among those already given. (D&C 67; History of the Church, 1:225.) William E. McLellin, “having more learning than sense,” tackled the project overnight and failed. (History of the Church, 1:226.)
Why do you think there was such a lively discussion concerning the revelations?
Why would there be any doubt concerning the revelations as being from God?
Testimony of the Twelve Apostles that the Book of Commandments are from God:
Doctrine and Covenants Introduction - towards bottom of page
Why did they not like the language of some of the revelations?
Here are some possible reasons...
Recollections of Orson Prat:Ensign 1984 December
“We often had access to the manuscripts [of the revelations] when boarding with the Prophet; and it was our delight to read them over and over again, before they were printed. And so highly were they esteemed by us, that we committed some to memory; and a few we copied for the purpose of reference in our absence on missions, and also to read them to the saints for their edification. These copies are still in our possession.” (The Seer [Mar. 1854]: 228.)
Many other people made copies of the revelations; but because care was not always taken in copying, many errors were made, repeated, and multiplied as the copies were copied. Realizing the importance of having correct copies, the leaders of the Church determined to publish them. Because the originals contained spelling and grammar errors, a Church conference moved that Joseph Smith should make the necessary corrections. (Far West Record, p. 16.) This was the beginning of controversies and charges made by persons who do not know or understand that the text of recorded revelation can be edited and “changed.”
How can word of mouth transmission cause issues/errors misinterpretations to occur?
How can journals and other documents be inaccurate concerning church doctrine?
How does this relate to the document - journal of discourses? Is the Journal of discourses scripture - what of other commentaries?
Why would editing a revelation cause controversy concerning a revelation? Would this be valid?
Who has the right/authority to edit/update a revelation? why?
Who would have this authority today? Has it occurred recently? Yes!
What types of corrections/changes would be ok... or not ok?
Recollections of Orson Prat:Ensign 1984 December
“Joseph, the Prophet, in selecting the revelations from the Manuscripts, and arranging them for publication, did not arrange them according to the order of the date in which they were given, neither did he think it necessary to publish them all in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but left them to be published more fully in his History. Hence, paragraphs taken from the revelations of a later date, are, in a few instances, incorporated with those of an earlier date. Indeed, at the time of compilation, the Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations. In this manner the Lord did truly give ‘line upon line, here a little and there a little,’ the same as He did to a revelation that Jeremiah received. And even though this revelation was burned by the wicked king of Israel, the Lord revealed the central message again with great numbers of additional content. (See Jeremiah xxxvi.32.)” (Millennial Star 17 [25 Apr. 1857]: 260.)
Example of this:
An example appears in section 20 [D&C 20]. When part of this revelation was originally given in 1830, the offices of bishop, high councilor, and high priest were not yet part of the Church, so Joseph Smith added them to the 1835 edition, as footnotes in the editions between 1876 and 1920 explain. Section 107 [D&C 107] is another example. Close textual study shows at least five separate revelations received between November 1831 and 28 March 1835, the latter date being assigned to the compilation.
What is the Doctrine and Covenants then?
In many instances these revelations were compiled/edited and updated through authoritative means to create the revelations that we have in the Doctrine and Covenants(Book of Commandments) The The Joseph Smith Papers describe and annotate this in detail for a variety of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Doctrine and Covenants is not a series of direct Revelations from God - it is an abridged compiled document of inspired visions, and thoughts given to Joseph Smith in answer to prayers and in response to questions that he had. There are some sections that are actually visions/revelations direct from God and written in the spirit at the time that they occurred, but many are not of this type.
Why could this cause controversy concerning a revelation?
How the revelation of the preface of the Doctrine and Covenants was received:
According to McLellin’s recollections, he, Oliver Cowdery, and possibly Sidney Rigdon had been appointed to draft a preface for the Book of Commandments. Yet when the men presented the preface to the conference, its participants “picked it all to pieces” and “requested Joseph to enquire of the Lord about it.” After bowing in prayer with the conference, Joseph, according to McLellin, “dictated by the Spirit the preface,” doing so as he sat by “a window of the room in which the conference was sitting.” McLellin remembered that “Joseph would deliver a few sentences and Sydney [Rigdon] would write them down, then read them aloud, and if correct, then Joseph would proceed and deliver more.” According to McLellin, “by this process the preface”—now Doctrine and Covenants 1—“was given.” History Web Site - Mclelin
How is revelation different from man's wisdom/sophistry?
These revelations were given as described below - not by mans wisdom but by man's request :)
They were given through a man - Joseph Smith and thus used his language and words.
These sacred revelations were received in answer to prayer, in times of need, and came out of real-life situations involving real people. The Prophet and his associates sought for divine guidance, and these revelations certify that they received it. In the revelations, one sees the restoration and unfolding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ushering in of the dispensation of the fullness of times. The westward movement of the Church from New York and Pennsylvania to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and finally to the Great Basin of western America and the mighty struggles of the Saints in attempting to build Zion on the earth in modern times are also shown forth in these revelations. D&C Introduction
Lets read what the Lord says concerning this book and the revealed preface as given to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
1–4, The voice of warning is to all people
5-7 authority of his servants is same as his - their words shall be fulfilled
What do you think it means that his servants have same authority as he does?
8–10, Power given to seal people up for good or evil - according to their works
11-14 Prepare ye for the coming of the Lord
15-16 Ye have strayed from the ordinances, and broken his covenant - and seek evil
In what way had people strayed from his ordinances and broken his covenant?
How has the people in our society done the same..?
What does it mean to bind up the testimony - (this comes up many times later in this book)?
17–23, Joseph Smith is called to restore to earth the Lord’s truths and powers
What calamity which is coming to the inhabitants of the earth?
He then provides a list of the purposes of this book:
20 Every man speak in the name of God
21 That faith might increase upon the earth
22 That his everlasting covenant might be established
23 That the fullness of his gospel preached by weak to ends of world
24–33, The Book of Mormon is brought forth and the true Church is established
24 revelations given unto servants in their weakness - after their language
25 so that if they erred it might be known
26 if they sought wisdom - they would be instructed
27 if they sinned they would be chastened - so they would repent
28 if they were humble - they would be made strong - receive knowledge
29-30 Power to translate Book of Mormon - and lay foundation of church
Notice the following:
How can every person speak in the name of God?
How does the Doctrine and Covenants establish his everlasting covenant?
His servants - are in their weakness - and in their words are these revelations given - what does that mean?
Did his servants err? Did they seek wisdom? did they sin? were they humble?
31-33 Sin is never allowed - he that repents not - shall loose the light they have
34-36 I will make these things known unto all the earth. - peace will be taken from the earth
37 Search these commandments.
38-39 What I have spoken I have spoken - all be fulfilled, by servant of by myself it is the same
What does it mean by the voice of his servants or his voice it is the same?
Consider the Doctrine and Covenants!
What are some of the doctrines that are found in this book that have touched you or encouraged you?
What doctrines are plain and purely taught only there?
- Glories in the Next life (D&C 76)
- The Word of Wisdom (D&C 89).
- Eternal Marriage (D&C 132).
- Obtaining answers to prayer (D&C 9).
I hope you are as excited as I am to study these revelations. An understanding of how they came to be as well as what scripture really is can help us clarify and understand the doctrine taught in the scriptures. It protects us from accepting things that may be spurious or unauthoritative as absolute doctrine. We need to always take our beliefs and doctrines from canonized sources so that we are grounded in the doctrines of Jesus Christ.
Questions brought up during the lesson: (Thanks to all those who asked for clarification on what I was teaching!)
During the lesson there was some comments/concerns concerning scripture vs canonized scripture. There was also some questions about prophetic utterances in the Ensign and how we should interpret them etc.
I think the main misunderstanding that I probably failed to communicate effectively was what canonized scripture means. It is the scripture that has been accepted as the standard works of the church it is the basis by which all doctrine should be judged to confirm its truthfulness. It is the scripture that is the basis and the foundation of all doctrine in the church. If it isn't in the standard works - it isn't doctrine accepted and established by the church as doctrine. Other writings and publications although authoritative are not canonized and are thus not doctrine.
A perfect example of this is a series of Ensign Articles concerning the Book of Mormon and its setting. The actual church doctrine on geographic location is un-stated yet these ensign articles do exist.
Sept Oct 1984 - Digging into the Book of Mormon - Sorenson (Liahona) Mesoamerican setting
Jan 2000 - Evidence for the Book of Mormon Ensign - Peterson Msoamerican setting
Yet there actually is no doctrinal basis for the geographic setting for the Book of Mormon - it could be MesoAmerica - it could be the heartland model, and or others.
Cannonized writings are the yardstick by which all doctrine is to be judged
Ensign 2012 April Conference- The doctrine of Christ
Ensign October 1993 - Combating spiritual drift!
Ensign May 1998 - The Articles of Faith - The pearl of great price revized in 1878 and canonized in 1880 Became official doctrine of the church.
Ensign 1981 Feb - 150 years of Conference - in 1976 two additional revelations canonized in this century - new doctrine of the church
What about discourses in general conference? are they scripture for the church? Yes - but not canonized for doctrine.
Theological questions - New Era Sep 1971
What about discourses in general conference? Are they scripture for the Church? The group concluded that the only canonized books are the four Standard Works—they have been accepted by the Church as binding.
“There is a more general concept that when one speaks under the influence of the Holy Ghost, what he says should be adhered to. And how do you know if someone is speaking with the power of the Holy Ghost? By having it yourself. That’s what Brigham Young taught,” said President McConkie.
One student asked, “How far should we go in answering theological questions? The Lord expects us to be gospel scholars. It is a sin to be in darkness at noonday. Alma said that to some it is given to understand the mysteries of godliness. That is also the promise of the temple endowment.” President Hugh Sorenson, priesthood leader for the Anaheim-Santa Ana region agreed and noted, “Some things have not been revealed to us. But that gives life to the Church, because we know more now than we did five, ten, or twenty-five years ago.”
In conclusion, the discussion leader noted that when the President of the United States once asked Joseph Smith what justification there was for one more church, the Prophet replied, “We have the Holy Ghost.” It was concluded that the basis for personal understanding of all theological questions is an understanding of the scriptures and the witness of personal revelation.
My understanding concerning scripture and canonization would be summarized thus:
Scripture is that which is inspired by the Holy Ghost - and can be understood through the same sprit. These words although inspired and even possibly written down do not constitute binding doctrines of the church. Doctrines of the church can only come through canonized standard works. If a new revelation that has a new doctrine is revealed, that new dotrine, and or new revelation will be put into the doctrine and covenants as a new revelation and then canonized. It will then be binding upon the church as doctrine.
However, doctrine aside, the inspired council given to us by the prophetic utterances of the Apostles and Prophets during conference will be an interpretation of existing doctrine, and encouragement for us to obey that doctrine as well as warnings to us if we do not. Thus we should always listen and obey the inspired utterances of prophets and their words should be scripture to us today.
Can the words of the prophets be - outdated or no longer applicable to us? (I don't like the word outdated...)
The prophetic utterances of prophets are to the people to which they are speaking as well as to us today. However, they may become non applicable depending upon changes in circumstance or situation. This is in accordance with article of faith 9 that there are yet greater things to be revealed which in many cases override that which was known/understood before. This does not minimize them - and to the people they were given to they were the law by which they lived. But... times change as well as what we live and/or are required to live.... so yes they may become not applicable to us. In some cases we are also no longer required to live even a greater law...
Here are a couple of examples:
The Beatitudes - You have heard that it hath been said - yet I say unto you
Math 5:21-48 - A change in doctrine from the Law of Moses to the New Law
The word of wisdom was initially given as a suggestion but not a commandment It is now considered a commandment and is required for entrance into the temple - when initially it was not but rather inspired counsel.
Word of Wisdomwas received on 27 February 1833, its acceptance by individual members of the Church was gradual. On 9 September 1851, some eighteen years after it was given, the Patriarch to the Church, John Smith, delivered a talk in general conference on the Word of Wisdom. During his address, President Brigham Young arose and proposed that all Saints formally covenant to abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco, whiskey, and “all things mentioned in the Word of Wisdom”" (D&C student Manual)
Thus it "became" a new covenant and requirement for worthiness.
The prophetic utterances of the
Law of Moses concerning sacrificesetc. are no longer applicable to us and we do not participate in animal sacrifices today. This because sacrifice has been done away - with the greater sacrifice of the Son of God. However, to the people and the time at which these laws were given them it was directly applicable to them.
So also with the
law of consecration and its implementationEarly members of the Church lived the law of consecration for only a short while. Someday the Church will practice the law of consecration again, but today we as members are asked to live only part of the law. (it became not necessary/required to live it to its fullest) Acts 5:1-11 when a convert joined the church they were to give up their all and give to the apostles etc.
D&C 42:30,34-35 etc. where we currently do not live the law of consecration to the fullest - all things in common
So also with the
law of plural marriageetc.
It is actually now a commandment that we do not - and no one in the church has authority to perform these marriages given to them by the prophet.
So also with the practice of
blacks and the priesthood...
So also with the
perpetual Emmigration fundhttps://archive.org/stream/conferencereport1880a/conferencereport151chur#page/62/mode/2up/search/perpetual
Perpetual Emmigration fund:
President John Taylor's Talk concerning this fund - that it is in operation today - and that they will relieve the oppressed by forgiving 50% of the debt of those in this fund etc.
This is of course - not in effect now nor do we participate in this.
We should never ignore prophetic utterances, nor would I say that they become out dated.They can become no longer applicable as per revelation, but that is just in accordance with prophetic authority clarifying or modifying what is understood or required of us to live.
Thanks to all those who asked questions and or requested clarification on these points of doctrine. I hope that this clarifies what I meant to say - if I didn't :)