The most important revelations

A friend recently asked me what I thought the most important revelations in the church have been. This is an interesting question considering that the last published revelation was in 1918. I categorized a quaternary response:

  • First is revelations on Theology.
  • Second, revelations on Policy. The distinction in policy is important as these are revelations that don’t necessarily impact theology. I have included references to the best accounts of the revelations available.
  • Third, doctrinal discourses by the Prophet Joseph – here I am asserting the primacy of Joseph in the exposition of doctrine. I’m not too sure we can accept the beliefs of other prophets as necessarily stemming from revelation.
  • Lastly, policy changes presumed to be executed under revelation, but for which no revelatory account is publicly extant.

Revelations on Theology

  1. Abraham 3 – Yes, the bit about Kolob is out there, but the preexistence and stuff on intelligence is excellent.
  2. D&C 124 – Not everything is great, but it explains why they needed a Temple in Nauvoo and why Hyram was important.
  3. D&C 76 – Three degrees.
  4. D&C 88 – The olive leaf.

Revelations on Policy

  1. The Revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males.
    • Leonard J. Arrington. Adventures of a Church Historian. pg 176-177
  2. Willford’s revelation convincing him to pronounce the Manifesto.
    • 7 November 1891 Deseret Weekly, pg. 626-627
  3. Willford’s revelation ending the Law of Adoption
    • April 18, 1894 The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine. vol. 13 pg. 145-152 (October, 1922). Messages of the First Presidency vol. 3 pg. 251; Collected Discourses. vol. 4 pg 67-75.
  4. The Savior’s appearance to Lorenzo Snow instructing him how to reorganize First Presidency
    • Improvement Era (August 1933) pg. 667

Doctrinal Discourses by Joseph Smith

  1. The King Follett Discourse – “I would let you know that I am not a fallen prophet.”
    • WoJS pg. 340-362
  2. 10 March 1844 sermon at the Temple. Spirit and Power of Elijah.

    ..the spirit power & calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations ordinances, oricles powers & endowments of the fulness of the Melchezedek Priesthood.

    • WoJS pg. 327-336
  3. 16 June 1844 (Morning) sermon in the Grove east of the Temple. Plurality of gods — “he laid down his life and took it up, same as his Father had done before.”
    • WoJS pg. 378-383
  4. 28 April 1842 discourse to the Relief Society. The gift of healing – “these signs such as healing the sick, casting out devils &C. should follow all that believe whether male or female.”
    • WoJS pg. 114-119

Policy changes made under the auspices of revelation

  1. Establishment of the Relief Society. Meetings on 17 March and 30 March 1842.
    • Worthy of a post on of its own…first dibs
    • WoJS pg. 104-110
  2. The 1877 priesthood reformation.
    • Ever wondered why kids are ordained to the priesthood?
    • Messages of the First Presidency pg. 283-295.
  3. Word of Wisdom as a test of fellowship.
    • Alexander, T. G. Mormonism in Transition. Ch. 13: The Adoption of a New Interpretation of the Word of Wisdom
  4. The 1978, 1990 and 2005 changes in the Temple Liturgy.

So, what say you?


  1. Jonathan Green says:

    What, in a nutshell, is the law of adoption? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it.

  2. Jonathan, in a nutshell, the law of adoption was the practice of sealing new converts to established priesthood leaders instead of their own parents. The argument was roughly that everyone needed to be sealed to Celestial-quality parents, and parents who died without ever joining the church might not be Celestial-quality — so why take the risk? There was also, on occasion, an earthly component of this as well, in which sealings turned into adoptive parent-child and sibling relationships.

  3. By the way, J., I pretty much agree — although it’s sometimes unclear to me how much revelatory basis can be claimed for your third and fourth categories. There just hasn’t been consistent clarification of which decisions and teachings are based on revelation and which are grounded in more human factors.

  4. Jonthan, there really is a spot for a good paper, on the topic but this one is the best so far:

    Irving, G. The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900 BYU Studies vol. 14 no. 3 pg. 291

    Basically, for exaltation to work you need an unbroken chain welded together back to Adam. This is problematic and for it to occur, some measure of adoption will likely be necessary. Woodruff basically removed the need to worry about that from this life as it was making, as RT points out, a mess of things.

  5. I agree with your criticisms, RT…but I think the cases I cite are fairly reliably revelatory in nature…the outlier being the WoW.

  6. If I’m not mistaken, the olive leaf is section 88

  7. Thanks bill, I meant 88. Fixed.

  8. “A friend recently asked me what I thought the most important revelations in the church have been…. What say you?”

    The report of the April 2006 General Conference contains the most recent word of the Lord.* Doesn’t it belong in the list? (Okay, this might not be what you are looking for.)


    *  President Harold B. Lee said the latest word of the Lord is found in the most recent general conference talks.

    President Benson taught likewise: “For the next six months your conference edition of the Ensign should stand next to your standard works and be referred to frequently.”

    Beginning in November 2004, all fourth Sunday Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society lessons are taught from talks given “in the most recent general conference.” Thus, even those who don’t perceive much revelation in the average general conference are supposed to be looking for it there.

  9. J., with respect to the specific examples you offered, I don’t really have any objections. I like Joseph Smith’s sermons, and I’m also really glad about the Relief Society. However, it’s unclear to me exactly how revelatory the WoW changes were (as you noted), and the accounts I’ve seen of the temple liturgy changes made the process seem essentially bureaucratic, the changes being made under the theory that the parts of the ceremony that were being changed only involved the presentation of the ordinance, not the ordinance itself. Furthermore, there are certainly Mormons in good standing (and evidently high office, as well) who don’t take too seriously the King Follett discourse, the plurality-of-Gods teachings, or the idea that believing women can perform healings. Again, I’m not inclined to make most of these arguments myself–just to note that they evidently are available. In effect, a lot of different things can slip into or out of the bottom two categories in this hierarchy. That’s not your fault, nor is it a weakness in the categorization. It’s just a reality that makes it hard to say for sure what’s claimed as revelation and what isn’t…

  10. J. — I find your #4 choice in the Doctrinal Discourses of Joseph Smith category particularly interesting. To rate this discourse (that is largely irrelevant or even unknown to a large percentage of church members) on the same level as King Follett, the spirit and power of Elijah or plurality of Gods seems notable. Many of these other discourses seem to be unique to Mormon doctrine and gave the Saints new and unique knowledge. Did Joseph’s counsel on the gifts of healing really impart new knowledge in regards to LDS doctrine or signal a departure from the practices of other faiths?

  11. Gary, you make a good point, however, I might consider them “relatively important.” First, it is not certain what the revelatory basis for any given talk is, though it is certain that it is the will of the Lord that we value the council of His anointned. Second, as you said, it is not objectively important or we wouldn’t move on after six months.

    RT/JNS, I think your points are quite valid and have reconsidered the fourth category. Perhaps, calling it, “Policy changes made by the Lord’s anointed,” would be more precise, though I do think that we shouldn’t rule out the posibility of a revelatory as opposed to a confirmatory basis. And as you note, it is quite certain that 4. trumps 2. institutionally.

    Well Kris, I think we’ll know better how this teaching fit into the puzzle of the restoration when we get some more research on the topic :) It is true that the is a list that is quite subjective, within the categories. So for someone else there might be more important discourses. I think this one has a tremendous theological and practical impact, even though it has been obfuscated by time.

  12. D. Fletcher says:

    Why don’t you consider Official Declaration — 2 (Blacks and the priesthood) to be revelation? It does say “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed…”

  13. D. Fletcher says:

    OIC, you have mentioned this.

    The Revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males.
    Leonard J. Arrington. Adventures of a Church Historian. pg 176-177

    I was confused by the Arrington source. This would of course change your original sentence that the last revelation was published in 1918. Declaration 2 was published in 1978.

  14. Well, D., the revelation was never published. OD2 says that there was a revelation and the Arrington account gives some details about the experiance, but the actual revelation has never been published.

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m confused, why don’t you think it was published?

  16. The Arrington account describes President Kimball starting a prayer and then transferring to the voice of the Lord. There was a Pentecost and outpouring of the spirit that accompanied the revelation. That revelation is not published. Contrast that to President Smith who received the revelation and had a typescript prepared that is now contained in Sec 138 (1918).

    President Smith could have just as easily said he had a revelation, and announced to the Church in a declaration what the substance of it was. Instead, he wrote the revelation and published it.

  17. I prefer Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18/2 (1978):193–208 as the text for KFD.

    Re: the Elias/Elijah sermon, I agree that this is a very important sermon. In fact, I have a paper forthcoming in Dialogue that argues that the sermon and its associated theology is critical to understanding Joseph Smith’s conquest of death. As I recall, this sermon was delivered on the day of Brother Follett’s actual interment (the funeral sermon was delayed several weeks)

    PS, I think that Joseph Smith’s revelatory vision in which he saw his family safely in heaven with the ancient patriarchs (the 1836 Alvin in Celestial Kingdom revelation, which I think is now DC 127 or so) is a critical and visual summary of what has become a core component of the Mormon experience of life, death, and the afterlife.

  18. D. Fletcher says:

    I see now what you’re saying. Nonetheless, the declaration of the revelation could be considered… the publication of the revelation. I wonder how different the words themselves are.

  19. Yep, the Elias/Elijah sermon was at the actual funeral of Bro. Follett (buried with Masonic Honors). What we call the King Follett discourse was actually a general conference address about a month later. I’ll look forward to that article…good stuff.

    I can see some advantages to the new agglomerated text, but I still prefer the source accounts. Also, if I remember right the Larson agglomeration doesn’t consider the George Laub account.

  20. hmm…I think I mispoke. The Entry in the History of the Church is as follow:

    Sunday, 10.—Frost in the night; beautiful day. South wind.
    Brother King Follett was buried this day with Masonic honors.
    I attended meeting at the stand, and preached on the subject of Elias, Elijah, and Messiah. [A sketch of which was reported by Elder Wilford Woodruff, as follows]:—

    Several of the sources for the discourse mention a meeting at the temple in the AM, but have no mention of the funeral. Looks like I conflated the two meetings.

  21. …though, I am now confused. I guess I was remembering correctly. Cannon in his historical background of the sermon (in that 1978 BYU Studies) states that the March 10 discourse was indeed the funeral sermon, though his footnote is less than stellar:

    In this 10 march funeral sermon, the Prophet stressed that the living cannot be saved without their dead, elaborating on the mission of Elijah.

    not that anybody really cares…

  22. Would you add to “Policy changes made under the auspices of revelation” the creation of small temples? I think that was presented as revelation at General Conference (it was certainly presented that way in the business meetings of the Church, but those are not public).

  23. smb: I’m going to have to get my Dialogue subscription renewed so that I can read your article. It sounds like good stuff.

  24. Randall Larsen says:

    The MLF podcast at

    is worth listening to but there are some errors which make it a little misleading. At one point Serenity says, “adoption was something that could be performed in a temple but didn’t have to be.” Actually that was true of marital sealings but not adoptions and sealings of children to parents. According to Brigham (and Joseph) adoptions and sealing to parents had to performed in a temple. Although adoption may have been practiced from 1842 it probably was set up by covenant to later be performed after the Nauvoo temple was dedicated.

    The podcast gives the false impression that Lineal or Patriarchal priesthood is no longer important. Actually that is not the case. A close reading of Joseph Smith’s 27 August 1843 discourse shows us that there are three Priesthoods Levitical, Patriarchal, and the Fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The doctrine on these three priesthoods hasn’t changed.

    All persons are given a preliminary entrance into the family of Israel by performing baptism with the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood in the spirit of Elias. Confirming and bestowing the gift of the holy ghost must be done with a portion of the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood.

    D&C 107:39 to 54 describes the lineage of the Patriarchal Priesthood or Priesthood of Abraham (a greater portion of the Melchizedek Priesthood) going back to Adam through Seth. Joseph and Hyrum were literal descendants of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. They held by virtue of their lineage the Abrahamic birthright to the presiding keys in this priesthood.

    The prophet Joseph received various portions of this priesthood from Peter (the apostleship), Moses(the keys of the Gathering), and Elias (the dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham).[See D&C 110]. .

    D&C 84:6-17 describes the adoptive Priesthood Fathers in the Fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood going back to Adam through the righteous Abel. The fulness of the Priesthood does not necessarily pass from Father to son but it is without Father or Mother being given by revelation. Nevertheless there is a Patriarchal order in this priesthood which pertains to exaltation. The Patriarchal order in this Priesthood is established by the sealing and the adoption ordinances. This is the spirit of Elijah.

    What RoastedTomato says about how Joseph was tied into the chain of priesthood is somewhat misleading. Joseph is tied into the Patriarchal Priesthood or Priesthood of Abraham by being a literal birthright descendant of Joseph who was sold into Egypt.

    Joseph is tied into the order of the Fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood by being adopted to Peter and to Moses and the other persons named in D&C 84:6-17.

    All who are exalted as a result of the efforts of this dispensation will have their lines sealed to Joseph the head of this dispensation. Joseph’s line is sealed back to Adam who from the beginning was sealed to Jehovah and Jehovah to the Father.
    This is according to the 1894 revelation to Wilford Woodruff suggesting we trace our lines back as far as possible and then attend to the the ordinance of adoption sealing the earliest ancestor to Joseph or Joseph’s line.
    The ordinance of adoption was a higher ordinance that was often not performed until after a member had received the fulness of the priesthood. The purpose of the ordinance is to place the person who has the fulness of the priesthood in a Patriarchal order that ties into not only the blood lineage but the Father’s in the Priesthood such as Abraham and Enoch mentioned in D&C 84:6ff.

    According to Alvin R. Dyer’s Education: Moving Toward and Under the Law of Consecration (BYU Studies 1969), sealing is involvement with laws,
    “in order to be sealed to Enoch we would have to become involved in the law of consecration.”
    So the law of adoption is about being sealed through Joseph to the various Father’s in the Priesthood and not just to our blood lineage.

    The ordinance of adoption was intended to be performed in a higher room than either the sealings in marriage or the anointing to a fulness of the priesthood. The East Tower Sealing room in the Salt Lake Temple was originally designed for this purpose the room on the “3rd floor” of the temple is higher than both the sealing rooms in the Celestial room and the special room in which the fulness of the priesthood is bestowed.
    At present no work is to be done for people who lived before 100 A.D. during the Millenium that may change. However whether the genealogical society performs any adoptions to Joseph in this day and age, the 1894 revelation to adopt our lines to Joseph has NOT been superseded to my knowledge.
    IMO its a myth that we are going to research our genealogy back to Adam and skip sealing our lines to the head of this dispensation the Prophet Joseph.

    Our understanding of the plan of Salvation is somewhat incomplete so the reasons for some of the things we are commanded to do are not always clear to us.
    Other people not of the literal descent of Abraham must be adopted to his lineage. Since there has not been an unbroken chain of Active Priesthood lineage down to our natural parents, we have to be sealed to our Fathers (and mothers) with the Earliest ancestor being sealed to Joseph and Joseph being sealed to his Fathers in the Priesthood including Abraham.. Everyone will be sealed back through Joseph and his Fathers in the Priesthood.
    kind regards,

    Randall Larsen PhD.
    Honolulu, Hawaii

  25. Randall? why did you post this?

  26. Randall Larsen says:


    I posted in response to comments 1, 2, 22. I hope as a result of the podcast people are not misinformed about certain aspects of the law of adoption or about the plan of salvation in general.

    Some of what I have written may be controversial. I don’t speak for current church leaders but I gave the doctrine as its presented in the documents through Dyer’s 1969 talk as fairly as I could.

    So actions of the Church leaders are sometiomes difficult to explain. The church’s current reluctance to follow Wilford Woodruff’s recommendation that the earliest ancestors be adopted to Joseph is one case in point.

    Another case in point is Martha Bradley Evans disclosure of the role of leader Mark E. Peterson played in the ill fated raid on the short creek polygamist community in the 1950s. Just what did MEP hope to gain by assisting law enforcement in spliting up non-traditional Families?

    kind regards,

    Randall Larsen

  27. No, I meant why post your comments about the podcast here? It wasn’t our podcast.


  1. The Evening and the Morning Star #2: The Law of Adoption…

    So, several months after the release of episode 1 of our Mormon history podcast (and, in fact, several months after the recording of episode 2), the show has now been finished up, in terms of sound editing and so forth, and is ready for release! Downl…

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