Lesson 1: Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants #DandC2017

I don’t feel educated enough to truly appreciate the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament is probably the most poignant scripture for me.  It calls me to a deep and severe repentance, while filling me with hope.  The Book of Mormon gives me Alma 7, what I believe is Mormonism’s greatest gift to Christianity—an empathetic atonement.  It is a powerful call to Christ.  But, the Doctrine and Covenants is the door to something wholly different—an exploration of the mechanics of religion and its making. Because we have so many of the documents and so much of the context within reach, we can truly witness the restoration. On the one hand it is a book of revelation texts with little if any context or story.  On the other it is an invitation to find it.  It takes work, but there has never been in the history of the Restoration a better time to do this work.  This process makes simple stories complicated, but it consequently makes them more real.

Questions to Consider

What is the purpose of the Doctrine and Covenants today?

What role should canonized revelations have in guiding our life or church?

Does context matter? How do revelations for a specific context matter outside that context?

What written revelations have we had since JS died?

  • Technically visions aren’t revelations
  • Neither are official declarations
  • Answer: Word and Will of the Lord (BY), John Taylor had several, they are cool.
  • Shift from written to oral/performative
    • e.g., High Council, Temple Liturgy, RS’s Living Constitution, “inspiration.”

Are written revelations better?

How are written revelations and unwritten revelations interpreted differently over time?

Let’s break the Doctrine and Covenants into three developmental stages for discussion.  1) Oral Text, 2) Manuscripts, 3) Publications.

Oral Text

  • On Oral Text and the revelations more generally, you really need to read Robin Scott Jensen, “‘Rely upon the Things Which Are Written’: Text, Context, and the Creation of Mormon Revelatory Records” (MLIS thesis, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2009), which is not widely accessible. However he did answer some questions for us a while back; this is a nice intro to the idea.
  • Dictation with and without seer stone
    • From the intro to JSPP D1: Joseph Smith apparently received many of his early revelations through the spectacles or a separate seer stone in a manner similar to the way he translated the Book of Mormon. For example, while they were translating in 1829, Smith and Cowdery sought an answer to a biblical question and “mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummin,” a reference to either the spectacles or a separate seer stone.41 Orson Pratt, who sought instruction from Joseph Smith in November 1830, later told an interviewer that Smith used a seer stone to receive the requested revelation. Pratt explained that “on arriving there Joseph produced a small stone called a seer stone, and putting it into a Hat soon commenced speaking.”42 After 1830, however, Joseph Smith apparently dictated revelations without the use of an external instrument.43 Although he spoke the words as if God were speaking to him, the divine voice was apparently not audible to others present when Smith received them. Even so, in one revelation Jesus Christ declared, “It is my voice which speaketh them unto you: For they are given by my Spirit unto you.”44 Joseph Smith once told his associates, “By it [the Spirit] these things were put into my hart.”45 Such statements lend credence to a later, more elaborate description by William E. McLellin, who served as a scribe for a revelation: “The scribe seats himself at a desk or table, with pen, ink and paper. The subject of enquiry being understood, the Prophet and Revelator enquires of God. He spiritually sees, hears and feels, and then speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost, the ‘thus saith the Lord,’ sentence after sentence.”
    • Also check out the JSPP topics entry for Seer Stone
  • Exception to this form of dictation notably being the dedication prayer for the Kirtland temple, Letter excerpts, all non-JS sections, and Orson Pratt’s additions (see below).


  • Not all revelations were written. What does writing a revelation do?
  • Multiple Copies. How were these texts used?  Missionaries sometimes wrote them in their journals and leave.


  • Read the intro to JSPP R2.
  • Also, if you have access to it: Turley and Slaughter, How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants
  • Newspapers (pro and anti)
    • Sometimes the earliest text
  • Book of Commandments 1833
  • Doctrine and Covenant 1835
    • Addition of the “Doctrine” (Lectures on Faith).
    • Editing, expansion, harmonization
    • Crystallization of Revelation
  • D&C 1844
    • Tithing, Nauvoo Revelation, and Baptism for the Dead
    • JS Eulogoy
  • D&C 1876
    • Versification
    • 26 new sections
      • OP canonizing polygamy and Temple
      • JS Teachings, Priesthood Restoration, etc.
  • D&C 1921
    • Removal of the “Doctrine” (Lectures on Faith).
    • Enhanced Footnotes (first ones put in during the late 1870s by OP).
  • D&C 1981
    • OD2
    • 137 – JSJ Vision from Journal as support for:
    • 138 – JFS Vision (previously in the PoGP)
  • D&C 2013
    • Updated/corrected intros. Note that if you are using your old scriptures, that in many cases, the head notes are not accurate, and you should check online.
    • Side by side comparison of changes.
    • JSPP explanation for changes.
    • It looks like they were really interested in maintaining pagination. I understand that they didn’t want people to feel like they needed to buy new scriptures (I guess people still do that). I would have loved to see much more extensive revision.

A fun graph, I threw together:





  1. Nathan Grout says:

    Does context matter? I think it’s crucial. We tend to assume that God initiates revelation, but Doctrine and Covenants shows us the opposite. Joseph finds revelation when/because he seeks it.

    Context is key to understanding more recent inspired pronouncements as well. Current events played a huge part in the story of the revelation to give the priesthood to all and in the decision to create The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

    D&C not only shows how the context gives rise to revelation, but speaks explicitly about the role of the recipient of revelation in studying the issue first. This suggests that revelation is truly line upon line: always a single step ahead of the recipient’s previous understanding.

    Thus, D&C’s demonstration and explication of the mechanics of revelation helps me understand how revelation can and does work in my life and the lives of my priesthood leaders. Understanding these mechanics, and the limitations they impose, helps me receive inspired teachings with both patience and faith.

  2. J – what do you mean by “OP” in “OP canonizing polygamy and Temple”?
    Are you talking about the removal of the original D&C 101 opposing polygamy, and the addition of D&C 132 canonizing polygamy post martyrdom?

  3. Rulon, I should have been more clear. OP is Orson Pratt. BY had OP update the D&C (how is that for acronyms?). But yes, the removal of the Kirtland statement on monogamy, and the addition of the Nauvoo bits (including 132).

  4. Nathan, I tend to agree. Thanks for the comment.

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