An Eclectic View of D&C 77: Part 3. Some Textual Variants.

This series constitutes a leisurely stroll through the halls of Doctrine and Covenants section 77. I don’t have any particular schedule in mind, future posts will appear as seemeth me good. Parts 1 and 2 of the series are here and here.

Text Evolution
One of the interesting textual mysteries about D&C 77 concerns the interpretation of the book of Revelation timeline. Some relevant passages:

Revelation Book 1 Text The 1921 Edition Text
Q What time are things of this chapter[1] to be accomplished?
A They are to be accomplished in the sixth thousandth year or the opening of the Sixth seal.
Q. What time are the things spoken of in this chapter to be accomplished?
A. They are to be accomplished in the sixth thousand years, or the opening of the sixth seal.
Q What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets mentioned in the 8th Chap.of Rev.

A We are to understand that <as> God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he finished his work and sanctified it and also formed man out of the dust of the earth even so in the begining of the seven thousandth year will the Lord God Sanctify the earth and to comp lete the Salvation of man and Judge all things and shall redeem all things except that which he hath not put into his power when he shall have sealed all things unto the end of all things and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work in the begining of the seven thousandth year the preparing of the way before the time of his coming

Q. What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets, mentioned in the 8th chapter of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it and also formed man out of the dust of earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things; and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work, in the seventh thousand years–the preparing of the way before the time of his coming.

The text highlighted in red demonstrates a possible difference in meaning. For example, sixth thousandth year may mean sometime between 5000-5999. The reading sixth thousand years may suggest the period 6000-6999. The RB1 reading seems to reflect all readings up to the printing of section 77 in the 1852 Franklin D. Richards edited Millennial Star, when the alternate reading prevailed (Richards produced his Pearl of Great Price in 1851, and included D&C 77 in the compilation). The Star reading was repeated in B. H. Roberts’ edition of the History of the Church (1902). When the next major edition of the Doctrine and Covenants went to press in 1921, the revelations were edited to match the readings in the History, since alterations found in the History were approved by the church presidency. The current editon (2013) has the Star reading in the two instances above.

Theological Context
It seems obvious that the revelation takes for granted a cosmology prefigured by a more or less literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2. That internal logic is both important and perhaps paradoxically, unnecessary. I don’t think Joseph Smith ever moved beyond the Genesis picture as the real physics of the universe. It is clear however that he believed the seven 24 hour day creation was outside reality. The Book of Abraham suggests this, but it also suggests a creation that is something akin to an engineering problem. Joseph put forth the idea that the earth was built from chunks and detritus of (other) broken worlds, a theme championed in some Protestant circles of the day.

By 1835, Joseph is beginning to suggest that God is an inhabitant of the very same physical universe as man (such as it was understood at the time), and this thread is expanded in several ways in the 1840s. I’ll talk more about the connections between D&C 77 and Joseph’s later theologies in another post in this series.
[1] The subject of the question is Revelation chapter 7.


  1. Duke of Balwearie says:

    I was taught that the count of the ‘millennial’ history of the world began with Adam using the “dispensation theory”. As then stated to me, there are, according to the Bible, approximately 2,000 years from Adam to Noah, 2,000 years from Noah to Christ, and 2,000 years from Christ to
    the Second Coming. The millennial Reign adds another 1,000 years and then Satan will be loosed for a ‘short season’ and finally the End comes. Being but a tender convert from Congregational Protestantism at the time, it was further explained to me that when Christ tells John the Revelator, “Behold and lo, I come quickly”, this was in reference to the concept that 1,000 years is but a day to the Lord. Thus the Saviour was saying, “I’ll be returning the day after tomorrow.” Hence, why this Restored Church is of and for the Saints of the very Last Days. By your calculation ranging in the 5,000 to 6,000 A.D. age, I doubt that there will be any Christians left since the Muslims are already counting the days when they become the numerical majority in Europe so that they establish the Islamic Caliphate there, establish Sharia law, double or triple the taxation on the Christians who refuse to convert and close all churches with significant congregations. (I assume that includes our own.)

  2. Duke, new to this series? FYI, using the cosmology or dispensation theory you said you were taught, then the six thousandth year or the Millennium would have begun some 10 to 15 years ago, not 6,000 years AD. You’ve also introduced three words that may potentially say more about you than anything to do with the post at hand: Caliphate, Sharia, and taxation.

    WVS, what are mere mortals like us supposed to read into what clearly are metaphorical answers to questions asked that represent a cosmology that Joseph Smith later modified significantly based on new information? (ie, additional revelation.)

  3. I know people point to Protestant ideas for the “out of existing materials” model. Although it lines up with his view of creation as essentially organizing. If it’s just organizing it must be organizing out of something.

    That said there are some interesting parallels to various Stoic notions as well. The Stoics had the idea of an eternal recurrence where this world culminates in a kind of consumption by fire and then a rebirth occurs. Several other cosmological ideas of Joseph parallel the Stoic ones although clearly Joseph didn’t believe in a strict deterministic eternal recurrence. Orson Pratt’s materialism, as I’ve often noted, has a lot of eerily similar ideas to Stoicsim even though his main philosophical influences were the Scottish Realists and then the scientific atomism of his day.

  4. Duke of Balwearie says:

    Kevin, appreciate your condescension. Yes, I realize that the Millennium should have started begun on Y2K and, of course, it did not. One of the reasons given for this is that each of the aforesaid dispensations isn’t precisely 2,000 years, while another reason given by a General Authority in the 1980s was that the final date is heavily influenced by the actions of we mortals.
    (I would assume this means how long it takes us to reach the “ripe for destruction” stage. As to the three words that I used that you find so shocking, my friends in the UK and Sweden have told me that is the stated goal of the extremist fringe in their respective countries. The Swede, who once taught at a gymnasium [high school] in Malmo, eventually had to leave the city entirely for the protection of his wife and children. There are large portions of Malmo where firemen, ambulance driver and attendants, and police are stoned and attacked when entering many neighborhoods in response to an emergency call. He told me that he knew the country was in trouble when one of his students wore a t-shirt that had the Swedish flag at top and this message in the centre, “Today we are strangers in your country, tomorrow you will be strangers in ours”. Beneath that sentiment was another flag with the same colors as the Swedish flag bur this time the yellow cross was replaced by a yellow crescent and star. As to the UK, Google “Fusilier Lee Ridley” or “Muslim protests in Britain” images. I have heard the very similar sentiments expressed while in Salt Lake City. The radicals do have an agenda and they are very aggressive in advancing it. Is that germane to the discussion at hand? Yes, I believe it is since we are discussing the “end times” [and how they are to be counted/measured]. My apologies if I have offended your sensibilities. I bow to your superior intellect and will not comment further.

  5. Kevinf, if you can expound on your statement about significant modification, I’d appreciate it. That said, I think JS morphed things like D&C 77 and 76 in various ways seemingly deemphasizing parts, blooming others. (For example, there seems to be little appreciation for how the Sons of Perdition became chief theological figures.) As I tried to say in earlier parts, I think JS’s work here is, for me, best seen as a kind of midrash or restoration on or of early cosmologies rather than some crystallization of Absolute Reality. I’ll give an example. Last Sunday in our High Priest Group, the group leader went back to one of his favorite topics, the creation and creationism (for him, true science). He pointed to Ammon’s discussion with Lamoni regarding God and asked why he felt this was important. He was driving at the idea that the biblical story of creation was the foundation to all Truth. I proposed an alternate explanation. I offered that Ammon was trying to turn Lamoni into a proselyte (that’s not what I said exactly but close enough). I think the thousand year divisions of D&C 77 are commentary on the cosmology of the revelator, not necessarily some insight into the nature of earthly timelines.

    If JS went outside this early midrashic cosmology later on, I think the nature of that delivery was similar to D&C 77. That is, I see it as a response to his own time and the claims of his critics and contemporaries and the intellects he encountered.

    Clark! Good to see you around. Difficult sometimes to trace these fragments and I think the internal logics get lost even when we can name connections. Steve Flemming’s dissertation has some interesting things here I think.

  6. “he believed the seven 24 hour day creation was outside reality”
    In fact, in another place JS refers to a collection of tasks or labors as constituting a “day.” Viewed in this way, the days could be of indeterminate length and even overlap.

  7. ricke, he was certainly more liberal than the hardcore fundamentalists. It would be interesting to think about a post-Darwin-big-bang JS.

  8. The “Genesis Picture” is multi-layered in its simplicity and can be interpreted many different ways because it “speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding”.

    With the entrance on the scene of “Adam and Eve” into the “Laboratory” of Eden we possibly see the first entrance of true agency, based on knowledge, and therefore the entrance of accountability. The condition introduced by Adam’s fall descends upon the hitherto heathen (unaccountable) nations outside the lab (garden) in the dark and dreary world. Adam and Eve thereby become the father and mother of all those who now truly live and the authors of death in its now more multifaceted sense.

    It wouldn’t be a difficult stretch to recon dispensations thereafter from the time that the current status quo (temporal existence) was introduced and expect a millennial reign relatively near y2K.

  9. Perhaps I should be a bit more forgiving towards Joseph Smith’s various ideas, interpretations, and commentaries on cosmology. And perhaps it’s asking entirely too much of any mere mortal to be well versed in the works of Brahe, Kepler, Newton, Laplace, Euler, Lagrange, Poisson, or Olber even though all of their respective ideas were on the market place at the time of Smith’s writings. But it appears that there’s a fairly direct line of unmitigated nonsense passed down over the generations that have led to meticulously written 7,000 year histories of the universe, as well as remarks made within the past two years by Elder Nelson apparently denying the big bang (putting him in the rather illustrious company of Hoyle, Burbidge, and Narlikar but for the wrong reasons).

    Most of this would seem harmless or inconsequential for a church so singularly focused on works, and I’d like to give everyone a pass. Until I read Elder Ballard’s talk stating very specifically that the power through which the heavens and the earth are created is the priesthood. Sounds to me like getting cosmology right is critically important.

    Perhaps I should be a bit more kind towards Elder Nelson. As Armand Mauss stated “To the
    extent that such homogeneity seems necessary, we cannot expect today’s Church leadership to recruit ( at any level) the independent intellectuals and scholars of the kind we once saw in Elders B.H. Roberts, John s, John A. Widtsoe, James E. Talmage, or Joseph F. Merrill”. I do find it incredulous that the church is incapable of producing such talent and recruiting them into leadership.

    So, if I could ask WVS only one question concerning this series, it would be: How do you think Joseph Smith’s cosmological writings would look if written in 1916 ? (to pick a not too entirely arbitrary date)

  10. Jeff, it seems as though Joseph engaged the common science of his day. But 1916 I think places him in the middle of a revolution of thought. A gifted person, I mean gifted in the seeric sense, may have had a difficult time of it. Gathering? I don’t know. But suppose all those things happened and Joseph was on board at age 38 sometime in the period. If we can judge his reaction to the new physics/biology by his reaction to other revelators and prophesiers in 1840, then I’d say he’s not an outright skeptic, not a “denier.” And he could be pretty flexible about meanings and interpretations. But who knows? Some things that would have been wholly different in how they played out? The Book of Abraham, polygamy, universal priesthood. Besides, he may have gotten a pro baseball contract, and there goes the restoration!

  11. Pro baseball contract? I guess we should be thankful he didn’t wrestle for the WWF during its heyday. I’m glad to hear he engaged with the science of the day. Sounds like his son David did too.

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