Doctrine and Covenants: The 2021 course of study

A lot has changed in how we can approach the Doctrine and Covenants over the last decade and a half—a revolution really. And now as we think about the 2021 course of study for Sunday School, it is worth thinking about our study regimen. There are various possibilities of engagement, some more accessible than others.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has changed everything. Going through the Documents volumes chronologically is wildly transformative, but also not all that reasonable of an expectation for most church members. That being said, the free reproduction of documents on the JSPP website along with the supplemental introductions and research aids lowers the barriers of entry dramatically.

Here is what I think is important for any serious approach to the Doctrine and Covenants. We could call them the three Cs:

1. Study the revelations contextually:
While personal or bibliomantic readings can sometimes be useful, we need to approach the revelations contextually if we want to understand their content. This requires approaching the settings, characters, and allusions within and surrounding their production. The JSPP does a lot of heavy lifting in this area but they are not all things. For example, they are often weak on religious context. Consequently supplementation in this area is important. And rather remarkedly, the Church Historical Department has produced some great study aids over the years.

First published as a set of online articles, and then gathered into a print volume, Revelations in Context is a really handy set of essays that help situate many of the revelations. This volume is available in the Gospel Library App (under Restoration and Church History>>Doctrine and Covenants Study), online, and as a print volume.

Having a good overall historical framework to situate a lot of this material is extremely useful. Consequently, a narrative overview of church history goes a long way. The church’s Saints volumes are a low cost and accessible options. I also really like Bowman’s The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. Nice regional studies that cover large portions of the chronology include Staker’s Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations and Park’s Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier.

Then there are books that approach the individual revelations. Most of these volumes have been deprecated by the JSPP, but Harper’s Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants: A Guided Tour Through Modern Revelations is still very useful.

2. Study the revelations chronologically:
The JSPP crew have published a handy chronology of revelations [PDF]. By looking at the revelations in the order of their creation, it is then easier to approach the other Cs.

3. Study the revelations critically:
While no “critical edition” of the Doctrine and Covenants currently exists (though we can hope that it will one day), we do have easy access to the earliest revelation texts, and various published revelations texts. The JSPP Documents volumes have published the earliest extant texts along with historical context and important annotation. One can access these documents through the published volumes, or online for free. The JSPP crew have also compiled an e-text of the revelations that is available on the Gospel Library App entitled Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers. It is also available as a free e-pub e-book or for an affordable price in the Deseret Book, and Amazon formats.

A 2021 Curriculum
For the last couple of years I’ve participated in a reading group with some folks in my ward, where we have studied the New Testament (2019) and the Book of Mormon (2020). For the NT we used various translations and primarily Brown’s standard Introduction to the New Testament. For the Book of Mormon we had read sections of text in conjunction with a related supplemental essay (I’ll post a post mortem next month). As I’ve thought about 2021, I think that the best approach will be to divide the chronological revelations into groups, and then use various supplements depending on the sections. This will result in a larger supplement to scripture ratio than in previous years. Tentatively, the first three readings could look something like this:

1 – 1828 [D&C 3]

  • Intro to JSPP R2: Joseph Smith–Era Publications of Revelations
  • Easton-Flake and Cope, ch 5 in Producing Ancient Scripture
  • “The Contributions of Martin Harris,” Revelations in Context

2 – Feb 1829 through Summer 1829 [D&C 4, 5, 6, 10, 8, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 18, 15, 16, 17, 19]

  • JSPP D1: Intro to Part 2: April 1829–March 1830
  • Grua and Smith, ch 10 in Producing Ancient Scripture
  • “The Knight and Whitmer Families,” in Revelations in Context

3 – April 1830 through August 1830 [D&C 20, 21, 23, 22, 24, 26, 25, 27]

  • JSPP D1: Intro to Part 3: April–September 1830
  • Stapley, “The Mormon Creed” at BCC
  • “Thou Art an Elect Lady,” Revelations in Context


  1. This is super helpful. I’ve been trying to engineer a schedule for our family study, which given the kids are 12 and under will not include much scholarship. But the D&C is so devoid of story that I think it’s essential to include some supplemental story. I’m in the midst of trying to match up the Saints text to the lessons and maybe through in some well-produced films for the kids.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Liz, that is a great approach. One thing to consider: the church has released Saints as audiobooks, and that might be a better medium depending on the ages of your kids.

  3. I have (and very much appreciate) Harper’s “Making Sense” but I will also look into a few other books you recommend.

    Thank you for the brief outline for Lessons 1,2 and 3. This is exactly what I’m looking for to aid/supplement my study.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Great stuff.

  5. Very nice!

  6. Is the Maxwell Institute churning anything out or are they taking a year off after the epic amount they’ve given for Book of Mormon studies this year?

  7. That is a good question, David. I haven’t heard anything from there.

  8. Not a Cougar says:

    Why oh why couldn’t the lessons this year be arranged chronologically!?! Thanks for this help, but it makes me worried about the amount of time it will take to turn a boring, text-proofed lesson into something of value for my class.

  9. A big help. Thank you for all the links.

  10. I was really hoping there would be a critical text this year.

    Has been nice to read Hardy’s BoM this year and Wayment’s NT last year.

  11. Chronologically would be a better approach. It would allow a sensible look at church history.

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