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What Is the Doctrine and Covenants? Part II.4, The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants

Posted by joespencer on September 15, 2010

In my three previous posts on specific models of canonicity in early Mormonism, I have presented models that were, in effect, passing, passing because they were never embodied in fully published and promulgated volumes that were accessible to the Church at large. Things changed drastically with the publication of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, a volume that was widely available, that went through various printings, and that became a standard canonical text for the Saints. The fact that we still employ the same title originally given to the 1835 volume—even though so much of the organization and intention of the volume has changed drastically—bears witness to the irrepressible normativity of the volume. With the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, we finally reach the first fully canonical presentation of Joseph Smith’s modern revelations.

But what a strange volume!

The Organization of the 1835 D&C

Before turning to historical circumstances of import surrounding the publication of the volume, I would like to detail the contents of the volume, since they, in their organization, will be the most crucial detail of all in assessing the volume. The full title of the 1835 publication was Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God, and Compiled by Joseph Smith Junior., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, Presiding Elders of Said Church, Proprietors. Several details here will receive attention only when I turn to the historical questions relevant to the 1835 publication. But what should be recognized immediately is: (1) that the book understood itself to have two major parts, the “doctrine” and the “covenants”; (2) that these were “carefully selected from the revelations of God.”

So far as the first of these details goes, it must be recognized that the title was a major clue to the organization of the Book in 1835. After a brief preface, the 1835 D&C was divided into two major parts, one entitled “Theology. . . . On the Doctrine of The Church of the Latter Day Saints,” and the other entitled “Part Second. Covenants and Commandments of the Lord, to His Servants of The Church of the Latter Day Saints.” The first of these, subtitled “Of Faith,” consisted entirely in what is now known as the Lectures on Faith. The second, in turn, consisted of the revelations we usually associate with the Doctrine and Covenants.

If that much is clear, it must be recognized that the second of these two major divisions was itself divided (or at least is itself dividable) into a several subsections. At the highest level, the “Covenants and Commandments” half of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants is dividable into two halves that could be given the titles of “Covenants” and “Commandments” (note that the section numbers here do not correspond to the section numbers of the current edition of the D&C):

(1) Sections 1-29 – “Covenants”
(2) Sections 30-102 – “Commandments”

What most clearly marks the division between these two major parts is the internal ordering of the revelations included in each part. The “Covenants” are (sort of) ordered in a non-chronological fashion, while the “Commandments” are, among themselves, ordered in an unvarying chronological ordering. This very difference seems to confirm that the second part here should be understood to fall under the title of “Commandments” since that part of the volume is effectively the updated-and-included Book of Commandments, inserted into the Doctrine and Covenants as a larger volume. That the first part thus bears the name of “Covenants” seems clear, and the assignation of this title seems to have something to do with the general theme of the revelations privileged to be included in the first part.

Of course, things are still more complex than just that. The “Covenants” part is itself dividable into two further sub-parts, a division marked again by internal arrangement of the revelations: sections 2-7 all clearly bear quite directly on the organization of the priesthood, and they are ordered among themselves in terms of their institutional importance with regard to that question; sections 8-29 are, among themselves, ordered more or less (though not strictly) in chronological order, and they seem all to bear on the question of learning about and then establishing Zion (in Jackson County, Missouri). (Note that the chronological ordering of sections 8-29 is strictly internal. The chronological ordering of the “Commandments” is entirely separate from the chronological ordering of the second part of the “Covenants,” such that the chronology starts over again as one moves from section 29 to section 30.)

The second of these two sub-parts may actually itself be two distinct sub-parts, something that has only become strictly recognizable with the recent publication of the Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR). Eight revelations in the BCR manuscript happen to have written next to their titles in parentheses a number (“(No. 1)” for instance) without, to all appearances, any reason. However, they mark, in order, the revelations that make up sections 22-29 in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and these eight revelations mark the most distinct departure from strictly chronological ordering of sections 8-29. It therefore seems likely that sections 8-29 should be divided into two sub-parts, sections 8-21 and section 22-29, though it isn’t at all clear what is behind this further subdivision.

Whatever is behind these several subdivisions, it is possible to lay out the basic parts, sub-parts, and sub-sub-parts of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as follows:

I. The “Doctrine” – Content: The Lectures on Faith
II. The “Covenants and Commandments” – Content: The Revelations
—A. The “Covenants” (sections 2-29) – Content: Institutionally Privileged Revelations
——1. “On Priesthood” (sections 2-7) – Content: Revelations on Priesthood Organization (Order: Institutional Importance)
——2. Without title (sections 8-21) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Strictly Chronological)
——3. Without title (sections 22-29) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Numbering in the BCR)
—B. The “Commandments” (sections 30-99) – Content: The Rest of the Revelations (Order: Strictly Chronological)

(In this way of making sense of the structure of the volume, I’ve left out the preface—section 1 of the “Covenants and Commandments”—and the appendix—sections 100-102 of the “Covenants and Commandments.” I’ll be dealing with them in detail further along.)

A Series of Details

So much, for the moment, for the internal arrangement of the volume’s contents. Let me turn next to a series of important details that might be overlooked if the eye is trained only on the actual ordering of the revelations and other materials in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

(1) In the “Covenants and Commandments” half of the book—that is, in the part of the book made up of revelations (rather than lectures)—the documents included have become sections of the book, whereas they appeared in the Book of Commandments much more familiarly as chapters. The source for this term (“section”) seems relatively obvious: the volume is presented more as a constitution than as a book.

(2) The “Covenants and Commandments” half of the book is introduced (section 1) by what had been the first chapter of the Book of Commandments: the revealed “preface” to the earlier volume. It is out of place in at least two ways. On the one hand, it could be said to have no place in the Doctrine and Covenants at all, since it was clearly given to introduce the earlier volume that arranged in a quite distinct fashion. Because it explains the aims and purposes of the never-actually-published Book of Commandments, and because the Book of Commandments had aims and intentions that are essentially foreign to the 1835 D&C, it seems to be at odds with the (half of the) book it nonetheless introduces. On the other hand, it could be said that the preface is out of place simply in that it is to be found at the beginning of the whole series of revelations. Arguably, the Book of Commandments has found its way into the 1835 D&C in the shape of the “Commandments” subsection of the second half of the book (sections 30-99), and it would be appropriate therefore for it to have been placed at the beginning of that series of revelations, perhaps with a clearer division between the two halves of the “Covenants and Commandments” section. But, for all its out-of-place-ness, there the preface remains, section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

(3) The “Covenants and Commandments” half of the book is concluded, as the Book of Commandments was intended to be, by an appendix. The same revelation that was revealed (in November 1831) as the appendix for the Book of Commandments forms the first part of the appendix in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (it is the revelation we now know as section 133). But the Doctrine and Covenants adds two sections to the appendix that go beyond that revealed appendix. The first is a statement on marriage, written by Oliver Cowdery. It is clearly meant to correct popular beliefs about Mormon marital practices, including—already in 1835—polygamy. The second is a statement on government, also written by Oliver Cowdery. It is similarly meant to correct popular beliefs, this time about Mormonism’s relationship to political authority. This second statement has remained in the Doctrine and Covenants, and we know it today as section 134. (The first statement was removed in from the D&C in 1876.)

(4) A preface introduces the whole volume with some explanation about the decision to print the volume: “There may be an aversion in the minds of some against receiving any thing purporting to be articles of religious faith, in consequence of there being so many now extant . . . . The church viewing this subject to be of importance, appointed, through their servants and delegates the High Council, your servants to select and compile this work. . . . They knew that the church was evil spoken of in many places—its faith and belief misrepresented, and the way of truth thus subverted. . . . We have, therefore, endeavored to present, though in few words, our belief, and when we say this, humbly trust, the faith and principles of this society as a body.” The motivations outlined here obviously bear on the meaning of the volume.

(5) A number of the revelations have bold headings. I’ll provide them here: (a) sections III, IV, and VI (now sections 107, 84, and 86, respectively) have the title “On Priesthood”; (b) section XXX (now section 3) has the title “On Priesthood and Calling.” As for the last of these titles, it seems clear (in part from the discussion of the ordering of the revelations internally to the volume) that the title is meant not to introduce section XXX (now section 3) only, but is meant to serve as a title for the whole “Commandments” part of the “Covenants and Commandments” half of the volume: the commandments are collectively to be taken as so many words from the Lord on priesthood and calling. Why sections III, IV, and VI (now sections 107, 84, and 86) are privileged with a bold title (“On Priesthood”) is not entirely clear. They are obviously being privileged in some way, even above the other revelations contained in the string of priesthood organization revelations that make up sections II through VII. More attention needs at some point to be given to these questions.

(6) The Lectures on Faith were not written by Joseph Smith, though that idea circulates a good deal in the Church. There is abundant evidence that they were the work of Sidney Rigdon. This is not, of course, to suggest that they are therefore somehow “false,” but it is to suggest that they should not be taken as Joseph Smith’s prophetic teachings, as they so often are. One might, without question, point out that they appear in the Doctrine and Covenants, and that they appeared there by the permission or even approval of Joseph Smith, and such is certainly the case. However, there appearance there is not to be taken as somehow granting them a normative status automatically—as the whole of this project is meant to make clear. The status of the Lectures on Faith will be one of the major questions to be addressed in this and subsequent posts.

(7) Many of the revelations were heavily edited for inclusion in the volume. This deserves, however, a separate discussion of its own.

The Editing of the Revelations for the Doctrine and Covenants

Before efforts were undertaken to produce the Doctrine and Covenants (and here the efforts to produce the Book of Commandments are not to be included), the revelations Joseph Smith had received had been edited only very lightly. Occasional changes were made to correct grammar, or to alter diction, or even to revise slightly the meaning of a phrase, before a given revelation appeared in print (whether in a Church newspaper or in the Book of Commandments). But editing had been minor at most, primarily concerned to increase the presentability of the revelations. Things changed drastically with the preparation of the revelations for publication in the Doctrine and Covenants. Revelations were edited heavily, sometimes whole passages removed, sometimes lengthy passages added, sometimes the whole bearing of a revelation altered, etc. Some examples might make clear how heavy the editorial hand was. (Note that what follows is only a few examples. There was barely a revelation that did not receive editing, and many of them were drastically altered. The following sample is meant to be representative and illustrative, not anything like exhaustive or encyclopedic.)

(1) Let me begin with a commonly cited example of editing, one I choose in part because it is relatively well known, in part because the recent publication of the Book of Commandments and Revelations has provided more light on it, and in part because it illustrates very well some of the motivations behind the editing of the revelations. Here is the passage we know today as D&C 8:5-9 (words directed to Oliver Cowdery), and it appeared exactly like this in 1835:

Oh, remember these words, and keep my commandments. Remember, this is your gift. Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you. Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God. And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.

Here, though, is how it was originally written into the BCR (I’ve italicized major differences):

O remember these words & keep my commandments remember this is thy gift now this is not all for thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the sprout Behold it hath told you things Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands for it is the work of God & therefore whatsoever ye shall ask to tell you by that means that will he grant unto you that ye shall know

Incidentally, this revelation was edited in a few ways before its appearance in the Book of Commandments itself. These changes for the Book of Commandments were made directly in the BCR. Here is the passage in the Book of Commandments (I’ve bolded altered material):

O remember, these words and keep my commandments. Remember this is your gift. Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God; and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know.

The heaviest editing, it is clear, was made in preparation for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

Why the changes? It is perhaps too quickly assumed in the literature (meaning, in literature on Mormon history) that the changes to this passage represent an attempt, by 1835, to bury or at least to obscure early Mormon connections to folk magic (Oliver Cowdery was using a divining rod and God seemed to have approved of it!). I don’t doubt that there was concern on part of the publication committee about how non-Mormons not given to the idea of an enchanted world might interpret such a passage, but I think that there was more to the change than “embarrassment.” Indeed, the motivation behind the change seems relatively clear, I think: there was a concern that the real significance of the revelation—particularly as it was connected with other revelations to Oliver Cowdery during 1829 and 1830—might be missed by those focused on the practical details of Oliver’s gift. The editorial changes make clear that Oliver’s gift associated him directly with the ancient figure of Aaron (it was Aaron who sported a rod, and particularly one that sprouted), implying that Joseph’s command of the Urim and Thummim directly associated him in turn with the ancient figure of Moses. There was—and, I think, still is—a justifiable concern that what looked like folk magic might actually be taken for folk magic, whereas Joseph and Oliver understood the whole business in terms of prophetic/priestly relationships, etc. The edits do not obscure the revelation, but actually, I think, clarify it. Once the revelation has been made clearer, one can actually go back to the “original” or “earlier versions” and make sense of them. Otherwise, the original context might actually be lost through the unthinking preservation of the original wording.

A first point, then: editorial changes to some of the revelations seems to have been motivated by a desire to ensure that revelations were not misinterpreted, but rather were fitted into a context that might too easily be missed because of the way certain details appear out of that context.

(2) Let me turn next to a revelation that was not so much edited as massively expanded, namely, the revelation we know today as section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In pre-1835 renderings, this revelation consisted of only seven verses, whereas since 1835 it has consisted of eighteen verses. The first four verses of the present text (that is, D&C 27:1-4) appears exactly the same in pre-1835 renderings as they do now. But things get more complicated after that. These verses were followed in the Book of Commandments by the following simply two verses:

Behold this is wisdom in me, wherefore marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you, on the earth, and with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world: Wherefore lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins and be faithful until I come:—even so. Amen.

All of these words, almost, still appear in the revelation. But a good deal has been added. Between “drink of the fruit of the vine with you, on the earth” and “and with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world,” the 1835 version of the revelation adds a whole string of verses, listing important key-holding figures who will appear at the event described almost in passing in the “original” version: Moroni, Elias, John the Baptist, Elijah, Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Michael/Adam, Peter, James, and John. Each of these is described with a bit of detail, making clear that they are being regarded in this connection as holders of keys, as heads of dispensations and figures associated with the covenant. Collectively, the several descriptions in addition make clear that the event in question is not simply “the second coming” or some obscure apocalyptic event, but rather specifically Adam-ondi-Ahman.

This massive expansion of the revelation is coupled further along with another, less grandiose, but nonetheless important addition. After “gird up your loins” there follows three full verses on the “armor of God,” more or less directly borrowed from Ephesians 6. Following this, the phrase “and be faithful until I come” has been expanded to read “and be faithful until I come, and ye shall be caught up, that where I am ye shall be also.”

These 1835 changes are obviously of an entirely distinct nature from those to be found in D&C 8. Here there seems to have been less a concern motivating the changes than a recognition of opportunity. The revelation made oblique reference to Adam-ondi-Ahman, but this could be expanded to add a whole series of clarifications about the event: that it will be a question of keys, that it will be associated with a particular series of key-holders, that it will be a question of connecting dispensations, and so on. A simple piece of instruction on conducting the sacrament thus becomes a beautiful revelation of events to come, events that profoundly clarify the meaning of the Restoration.

Moreover, the additions bring the earlier revelation up to speed on institutional developments that had occurred only after the revelation had been originally given. Though both John the Baptist and the trio of Peter, James, and John had indeed already visited Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by August/September of 1830 (when the revelation was originally given), Joseph and Oliver were not talking about that publicly in 1830 (for a variety of reasons, I believe, that I won’t detail here), and there was in 1830 almost no understanding of the crucial role of Adam/Michael in the Restoration. Having these ideas worked into the revelation make clear that, though the Church didn’t realize it in 1830, a good deal was already happening in the Restoration with regard to the priesthood.

Of course, because these changes do not simply mark an attempt to clarify, one might express concern that here Joseph Smith went too far. Isn’t it simply anachronistic to project these kinds of things back into an early revelation, before the Church knew of priesthood, of Adam-ondi-Ahman, of keys, of Michael’s importance to the Restoration, etc.? Of course, one can suggest that these words were indeed spoken to Joseph Smith (or something very like them—perhaps these are only an abridgment?) on the occasion, words that Joseph did not feel he could circulate in 1830. I think that is a real possibility, though it is not likely to be taken seriously by historians, for obvious reasons. But it may not actually be anachronistic on Joseph’s part: it may be, especially given that he had indeed been in contact with John the Baptist, and with Peter, James, and John, that he already knew a good deal more than he was telling the Church in 1830. Part of faith, here, is trusting Joseph Smith that he wasn’t just “making it up.”

(3) Next, I want to tackle something a bit more difficult: what is now section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In the case of this revelation, two distinct kinds of editing were undertaken. First, two entirely distinct revelations were molded into a single revelation for the 1835 publication, one originally given on February 9, 1831, and one given on February 23, 1831. (Note that these two revelations were published as two distinct revelations both in the Evening and Morning Star and in the Book of Commandments.) Second, there was very heavy editing on a few verses in particular in the revelation, editing that changed the meaning of the original words quite drastically. Each of these two kinds of change deserves attention.

First, then, regarding the decision to combine two distinct revelations, creating out of them a single section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This move was, really, a rather odd one. The two revelations that were stitched together were obviously connected, and indeed, quite closely: the first of the two revelations was “the law of the Church,” and the second was a relatively short set of clarifications of points of that law. But nonetheless, there are strong reasons not simply to have collapsed the two revelations into one. They were not received one after the other: between them, two other revelations were received (now sections 43 and 44 of the Doctrine and Covenants), and one of those revelations (section 43) largely explains the generation of the second of the two revelations stitched together (section 43 contains instructions about how the Saints were to seek clarification of the law, and that seems to have been behind the revelation that became the second half of section 42). Those important historical developments are effectively obscured by the stitching together of the two revelations. At the same time, of course, because the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants was not ordered chronologically (and what is now section 42 appeared there as section 13, not at all within the chronological part of the volume), no real violence appears within the volume as constructed in 1835. Thus, the motivation behind the combination of the two revelations seems first and foremost to have been simply to ensure that the law and its clarifications appeared together, near the beginning of the volume.

If that is clear enough, let me turn to the more complicated issue of the heavy editing. The editing in question is more or less limited to a ten-verse stretch: what is now D&C 42:30-39. Importantly, these verses are those precisely that first introduced and outlined the law of consecration and stewardship. The changes can be seen in the following. I’ve copied out below the Book of Commandments version from 1833, but then edited it to show the changed made for 1835. The brackets and bolded text is material that was added; the strikeouts represent deletions.

If thou lovest me, thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments; and behold, thou shalt [wilt remember the poor, and] consecrate all [of] thy properties [for their support], that which thou hast [to impart] unto me [them], with a covenant and a deed which can not be broken; [—and inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me—] and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church, and [his counsellors] two of the elders [or high priests], such as he shall [or has] appoint[ed] and set apart for that purpose. And it shall come to pass, that [after they are laid before] the bishop of my church, [and] after that he has received [these testimonies concerning the consecration of] the properties of my church, that it [they] can not be taken from the church [agreeable to my commandments], he shall appoint every man [shall be made accountable unto me] a steward over his own property, or that which he has received [by consecration], inasmuch as is sufficient for himself and family: And [again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support, after this first consecration, which is] the [a] residue [to be consecrated unto the bishop, it] shall be kept to administer to him [those] who has [have] not [from time to time], that every man [who has need] may [be amply supplied and] receive according as he stands in need [to his wants]: And [Therefore] the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and [the] needy, as shall be appointed by the elders [high council] of the church and the bishop [and his council]; and for the purpose of purchasing lands, [and for the public benefit of the church and building houses of worship] and the building up of the New Jerusalem, which is hereafter to be revealed; that my covenant people may be gathered in one, in the [that] day that [when] I shall come to my temple: And this I do for the salvation of my people. And it shall come to pass, that he that sinneth and repenteth not shall be cast out [of the church], and shall not receive again that which he has consecrated unto [the poor and the need of my church, or in other words, unto] me [for inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these ye do it unto me]: For it shall come to pass, that which I spake by the mouths of my prophets shall be fulfilled; for I will consecrate [of] the riches of [those who embrace my gospel among] the Gentiles, unto [the poor of] my people which [who] are of the house of Israel.

Obviously, a great deal can be said about all of the changes marked above. The short version, though, goes something like this. In the “original” version of the revelation, the law of consecration was a question of deeding over to the bishop all of one’s property; the bishop then outfits the individual/family with whatever is needed to assume the work of fulfilling a specific stewardship; whatever is not needed is then used in a pool that is employed first to outfit others in their stewardships, and then to be used in whatever ways necessary for the building up of the New Jerusalem; the stewardships are intended to produce excess capital which is then always turned over again to the bishop for the same purposes; and the whole idea seems to have been specifically to build a city where the scattered Lamanites could gather according to the promises in the scriptures. But this “original” version of the revelation was heavily edited, so that something like the following took the place of the earlier system: the law of consecration was now a question of individually seeking the welfare of the poor; when an individual sees a need, the materials to be provided to the needy are channeled through the bishop as a kind of mediator; once the poor have all been taken care of in this way, each individual/family is to ensure that any overabundance is given to the bishop’s storehouse for the use of the Church as a centralized institution; and this whole system seems to have been oriented first and foremost to the relieving of the poor among the Church, the Church itself being understood as Israel.

These changes are, to say the least, significant. They are, moreover, profoundly intertwined with a whole series of complex historical developments, ranging from law suits over consecrated properties to the wholesale loss of Jackson County, from increasing poverty among the Saints to a changed understanding of the Anglo-American Saints’ relationship to the bloodline of Israel, etc. In this instance of editing, then, the motivation seems to have been less a question of clarification, of revelatory opportunism, or of the desire for expansion, and more a question of simply updating the revelation to fit drastically altered circumstances. The concerns behind the changes, that is, were in this case more practical than others seem to have been: if the law of consecration and stewardship were not updated itself, it would become either (a) a thing simply of the past that was of no importance to readers of the D&C or (b) something that the zealous would endeavor to imitate in a time when doing so would be dangerous at best. In order to sustain the relevance of what had been declared to be “the law” of the Church, it was necessary to adjust it to immediate concerns.

(4) Let me turn last to a really odd example, that of what is now section 78 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Unlike the preceding examples, this revelation had never been printed in any form before the 1835 volume. Whether it was intended originally to appear in the part of the Book of Commandments that was never printed is unknown. The original version of this revelation, as it appears in the Kirtland Revelation Book, for example, is a relatively homely revelation: it provides some instructions about what the Lord wanted done with the United Firm. Some promises were given, but there was nothing particularly unique or striking about the wording of the revelation in itself. All of this changed, however, when the revelation went through the hands of the editors.

By 1835, the United Firm had actually been disbanded, in accordance with subsequent instruction in the revelation that we now know as section 104 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Those who had been involved in the United Firm were very heavily in debt, and they were trying to avoid serious law suits. As a result, there was concern in 1835 about publishing the actual names of those who had been members of the United Firm. Since what is now D&C 78 provided those names (it was, in fact, the revelation that called for the organization of the United Firm), it would be dangerous to circulate the revelation as it was.

The difficulty was avoided first by changing the names of the individuals in the revelation to “code names”: “Whitney” was changed to “Ahashdah,” “Joseph” was changed to “Gazelam or Enoch,” and “Sidney” was changed to “Pelagoram” (these changes were made by W. W. Phelps right in the BCR manuscript of the revelation). Alongside of this, the word “firm” (for United Firm) was changed to “order,” a change that has had enormous ramifications for how people have interpreted the history of consecration (and/or the United Order). Then, and here things began to get interesting, even the name “Jesus Christ” was replaced with a code name: “the Son Ahman.” If the first changes were clearly meant just to cover basic identities and avoid legal trouble, here it seemed that the changes were beginning to outstrip the concern. Or were they?

As the further changes made to the revelation make clear—and it is clear that these were all made subsequent to those noted above, since they do not appear in the BCR manuscript itself—it appears that there followed a full attempt to mask the whole revelation, and not just to obscure the names of the individuals and the firm referenced in the revelation. Some examples should clarify what it is that I have reference to: (a) whereas the revelation originally simply began “Hearken unto me saith the Lord your God,” it was edited to read “The Lord spake unto Enoch, saying, Hearken unto me saith the Lord your God”; (b) what in the original appeared as “it must needs be that there be an organization of the litterary and the Mercantile establishments of my Church,” the edited version read “it must needs be that there be an organizing the people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people”; (c) “in the land of Zion” became “in the land of Zion, or in other words, the city of Enoch”; (d) and “the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion” became “the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion, who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman; who hath appointed Michael, your prince, and established his feet, and set him upon high; and given unto him the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One, who is without beginning of days or end of life.”

This little series of changes is most significant. Whereas they might at first seem simply to be an expansion of the revelation in light of understanding received by 1835, it actually seems best to see a rather brilliant attempt to obscure in a systematic way the original setting of the revelation. Read as it stands in the 1835 D&C, this revelation appears to be part of the New Translation of the Bible, to be a historical revelation: it reads, for all intents and purposes, as a revelation originally given to Enoch, anciently. (I recognize, of course, that “Enoch” was a codename for Joseph Smith. But the way the revelation reads in the 1835 D&C does not sound that way.) It seems to me that there was a systematic attempt to make a modern revelation appear to be an ancient revelation. Outsiders reading the volume would never have guessed that they were reading instructions for the organization of the United Firm; they would have thought they were reading something like the revelations that are now D&C 7, D&C 45, or D&C 93.

The motivations behind this particular editorial effort are clear enough: it was undertaken in order legally to protect the individuals and the organizations involved. In order to do that most effectively, it apparently seemed necessary to turn the revelation into what appeared to be a fully ancient revelation. But there is more than just motivation to talk about here: wouldn’t there have been a concern on the part of the editors that the revelation would no longer speak to the readers? Indeed, why include it at all in the volume? In light of this, one might wonder whether the editorial work was meant not only to protect, but also to provide to the Saints something that they would have taken for a clarification of what had happened anciently: this revelation would have been read as the Lord’s original words to Enoch about setting Zion in order, establishing the possibility of fulfilling the promises made during Adam-ondi-Ahman, etc. Those few who would have known what the revelation was really about would have been able to get even more from the text than they had in the original: the changes would allow them to contextualize their own humble efforts within a much larger, interdispensational picture.

Whatever the motivations behind and the implications of the changes made to what is now D&C 78, the editorial work done on this revelation is among the strangest and most provocative to appear in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

Some Historical Points

Finally, before turning directly to the task of drawing implications for canonicity, I would like to visit a bit of the history surrounding the publication of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

I have already discussed in previous posts the destruction of the Church’s press in Missouri, an event that brought the earlier endeavor to an end. Meanwhile, the organizations that had been brought into existence in order to make the publication of the Book of Commandments happen had grown into much larger projects, such that they did not cease to exist when the Book of Commandments was abandoned. The Literary Firm was, in March of 1832, combined with other organizations into the United Firm, a Kirtland-and-Independence organization that managed all the business affairs associated with the Church (see D&C 78). This had in turn been dissolved in 1834 by commandment (see D&C 104), and was effectively replaced by the High Council (see D&C 102). The High Council was in turn associated with the systematic organization of the priesthood quorums (see D&C 107), and these were closely intertwined with the plans to build the Kirtland House of the Lord. This string of developments all clearly turned on the question of Zion’s loss and irredeemability (see D&C 101, 103, and 105).

The dissolution of the United Firm in April 1834 was a complex move. In many ways, it marked a kind of return to, but careful redefinition of, the 1831, pre-United Firm version of consecration (though now without the land of Zion thrown into the mix). But because the United Firm was an outgrowth of the efforts specifically to print Joseph’s revelations, it might have seemed that the disbanding of the United Firm meant that producing something like the Book of Commandments was also to be abandoned. As if recognizing that concern, the Lord directly addressed this question in the revelation that ended the United Firm’s existence:

But, verily I say unto you, I have appointed unto you to be stewards over mine house, even stewards indeed. And for this purpose I have commanded you to organize yourselves, even to print my words, the fulness of my scriptures, the revelations which I have given unto you, and which I shall, hereafter, from time to time give unto you—For the purpose of building up my church and kingdom on the earth, and to prepare my people for the time when I shall dwell with them, which is nigh at hand. (D&C 104:57-59)

It appears here that the Lord wanted to make clear that while the firm that had been put in place to produce the funds for publication of the revelations had been done away with, the responsibility to promulgate the revelations had not therefore been rescinded.

This revelation was given in April of 1834. It is therefore not surprising that the same month saw the beginning of plans to publish what would become the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. That month, both Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery received blessings, recorded in the History of the Church, “to have the Spirit . . . in arranging the Book of Covenants” (2:51). And at about the same time, the project is also mentioned in private journals. The Church had, interestingly, been in possession of a new printing press, this one located in Kirtland, since at least December 1833, and had been printing a newly revamped version of the Morning and Evening Star with Oliver Cowdery as editor.

Things really began to get underway, however, only in September of 1834. During a High Council meeting, the minutes of which are quoted in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, plans were discussed to publish a “book of covenants,” to consist, interestingly, of “items” taken from “the bible, book of Mormon, and the revelations which have been given to the church up to this date.” It seems, from these details, that the volume was intended from the very start to be quite different from the Book of Commandments. Because its sources were apparently to be drawn from several sources, even including the Book of Mormon, it seems best to understand the project originally to have been an institutional handbook of sorts, one in which some or perhaps all of Joseph’s modern revelations would appear, but one in which a good deal more would be available as well. At the same meeting, it seems, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams were appointed as the committee for arranging and publishing the volume.

Nearly a year was spent in the actual work of producing and printing the book. Efforts to edit the revelations began almost immediately, something made clear by Oliver’s publication of edited versions of the revelations in the Star, as well as by the marginalia in both the Kirtland Revelation Book and the Book of Commandments and Revelations. Moreover, there are extant letters making clear that Oliver Cowdery sought original copies of revelations from at least Newel K. Whitney, who had collected personal copies of many early revelations. From this it seems clear that Oliver intended in part to ensure that he had the most original copies of the revelations on hand. It appears that, as the printer, Oliver Cowdery did most of the work in preparing the volume, though it is clear that everyone involved had a strong hand in the production.

The printing was complete by August of 1835, though the printed pages would not be bound until September, after the volume had been presented to and accepted by the Church. A good deal of information about the 17 August meeting during which the volume was presented to the Church is to be found directly in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants itself: the minutes from the meeting were included. The collection of revelations was first “introduced” during the meeting by Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, the only two members of the printing committee who were present. (Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams were both out of town.) After the book was introduced, a handful of testimonies of the revelations was offered. Following this, W. W. Phelps read the “testimony of the Twelve” to the congregation (more on this testimony below). After that, the representatives of the several quorums each in turn offered individual testimony of the volume and then gave official acceptance on behalf of their quorums. Once this had been done, Phelps read the “statement” on marriage, and Cowdery read the “statement” on government. These were then both received by a vote of the congregation, which was unanimous. Finally, the meeting was brought to an end with a blessing from the First Presidency.

So soon as the meeting was over, the printed sheets were sent to Cleveland for binding, and the volume was available to the Saints officially by mid-September, 1835.

A note about the “testimony of the Twelve” must be made. Interestingly, this testimony is precisely the one that had been revealed during the November 1831 meeting, originally intended to be published as part of the Book of Commandments. It even retained, in its printed state in the 1835 D&C, the original title: “The testimony of the witnesses to the book of the Lord’s commandments,” etc. Curiously, though the names of the Twelve were attached to the document, none of the Twelve was present in Kirtland to have actually endorsed it, since they were all on missions in the East. Their names were attached to the document apparently without their prior approval, though none of them seems to have complained when they returned—at least not immediately. However, by the time that members of that quorum began to apostatize a few years later, this endorsement-without-endorsement turned out to be a point of contention: at least one member of the Twelve began then to claim that the testimony was a “forgery.” (This detail I owe to Robert Woodford’s dissertation on the history of the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 44.)

The timing of all of these events is significant. The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants was profoundly intertwined with the building of the Kirtland Temple (and its associated organization of the priesthood quorums, which clearly oriented the arrangement of the revelations within the volume), with the rise of the School of the Prophets (which provided the material that made up the Lectures on Faith, included in the volume), with the disbanding of the United Firm and the return of sorts to the original Law of Consecration and Stewardship (which guided a good deal of the careful editing of the revelations associated with consecration, and called for their displacement from the organizational revelations), with the postponement of serious attempts to redeem the land of Zion (outlined in several revelations and clearly behind much of the Kirtland-centered institutional emphasis of much of the volume), and so on. As complicated as all the history is, and as unfamiliar as much of it might be to the average Latter-day Saint, it is crucial for making sense of the Doctrine and Covenants. Here it has, of course, only been taken up in outline.

Canon in 1835

At last, it is time to draw implications from all the above regarding the nature of canon as embodied in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. What can be said about the canonicity of this volume, and how did that model of canonicity differ from previous models? To begin with, let me return to the organization of the volume as I presented it in the first part of this post:

I. The “Doctrine” – Content: The Lectures on Faith
II. The “Covenants and Commandments” – Content: The Revelations
—A. The “Preface” (section 1) – Content: The Revealed Preface from the Book of Commandments
—B. The “Covenants” (sections 2-29) – Content: Institutionally Privileged Revelations
——1. “On Priesthood” (sections 2-7) – Content: Revelations on Priesthood Organization (Order: Institutional Importance)
——2. Without title (sections 8-21) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Strictly Chronological)
——3. Without title (sections 22-29) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Numbering in the BCR)
—C. The “Commandments” (sections 30-99) – Content: The Rest of the Revelations (Order: Strictly Chronological)
—D. The “Appendix” (sections 100-102) – Content: The Revealed Appendix, Two Official Statements, and the General Assembly

What has this organization to say about the model of canonicity at work in 1835? (Let me note briefly that I have added the preface and the appendix to this mapping of the organization of the volume.)

In what might be called the “classic” model of canon—that is, the model of canon worked out in canonical criticism of the Bible—canonical shape is first and foremost a question of detectable theological intention. That is, to speak of the canonical shape of a text is to speak of the way in which everything in the text has been indexed onto (edited, ordered, expanded, streamlined, etc., with an eye to) some guiding theological principle or principles. The idea here is that there would be no reason to “tamper” with “originals” unless there were some ideological motivation, and so the task of interpretation is in part to extrapolate the ideological motivation that seems to have guided the shaping of the “final” text.

Arguably, something like this classic model of canonicity is at work in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. It has already been made clear that heavily institutional concerns guided the 1835 project. This is strongly reflected in the mapping provided just above: non-revelatory material that serves a clearly institutional purpose is to be found alongside revelatory material (the “Doctrine,” of course, but also most of the “Appendix”); three sets of institutionally privileged revelations have been, as it were, excerpted from the rest and give a dominant position (the “Covenants” collectively); one particular set of institutional privileged revelations have been especially privileged, all of them dealing quite thoroughly with organizational and sacerdotal matters (the stretch of revelations titled “On Priesthood”); and even the unprivileged rest of the revelations have been assigned an institutionally oriented title, namely, “On Priesthood and Calling” (the “Commandments” collectively). There is little doubt that institutional concerns first and foremost guided the canonical shaping of the 1835 volume.

This same emphasis on the institutional is reflected a number of other details: that, for example, the “chapters” of the Book of Commandments have been replaced with “sections”; or that, to take another example, both the preface (not the revealed preface of section 1, but the preface that introduces the entire volume) and the last item of the appendix (which, like the preface just mentioned, is “outside” the numbering system of the sections) explicitly discuss the institutional concerns behind the volume; or that, yet again, there is anything in the volume that did not originate specifically with Joseph Smith; etc. And of course a great deal of the editing of the individual revelations strongly reflects the same institutional concerns.

If all of this is rather straightforward, however, it must be noted that there are aspects of the volume that complicate this simple picture. What, for example, is to be made of the employment of both the revealed preface and the revealed appendix from the Book of Commandments? And how is one to make sense of what I argued above should be understood as an inclusion of the whole of the (now obviously modified) Book of Commandments in the last part of the volume? And how again should the non-revealed preface, with its clearly expressed concern about helping outsiders to come to an understanding of the movement, be understood? All three of these details suggest that, while there are obvious discontinuities between the Book of Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenants, there were important points of continuity as well. To what extent is the model of canonicity at work in the 1835 D&C inflected by the earlier model of canonicity at work in the 1833 Book of Commandments?

Perhaps, on this point, it should first be noted that there were those in the Church who did not see any strong continuity between the two volumes. David Whitmer, unsurprisingly, would eventually claim that the editing of the revelation for the 1835 project was apostate, and that the only true revelations were to be found in the Book of Commandments. Of course, Whitmer made these claims only after he had left the Church, but it should be noted that Lyman Wight was brought up before the High Council while he was still a member of the Church for claiming “that the book of Doctrine and Covenants was a telestial law,” while “the Book of Commandments . . . was a celestial law” (see History of the Church, 2:481). From these examples, it seems clear that there were at least some who saw a very sharp break indeed between the two attempts to put the revelations in circulation. At the same time, however, the fact that the High Council would have to intervene in the case of Lyman Wight’s claims makes clear that the Church officially did not want to draw such a sharp distinction.

So what, ultimately, is the relationship between the model of canonicity at work in the Book of Commandments and the model of canonicity at work in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants? In the end, it seems to me that what is carried over from the Book of Commandments is simply and straightforwardly the insistent concern to ensure that the revelations help to present a public face for the Church. If in 1833, there was less concern about using the revelations to establish internal institutionality, there was nonetheless, as I argued in my post on the Book of Commandments, a strong impulse to set the Church, via its revelations, before the world, to forestall misunderstandings, etc. By 1835, and especially after the unfortunate expulsion from Jackson County, it was necessary to show the world not only that nothing dangerous was secretly going on behind closed doors, but also to help members of the Church to understand how the hierarchization of the Church was taking shape.

In other words, the 1833 and 1835 volumes mediate the relationship between the Saints and the world in rather distinct ways. The Book of Commandments seems to have been intended to mediate that relationship simply by putting on display the revelatory backbone of Mormonism’s early history. If the Saints were to peruse the contents, it would benefit them, but the volume had no strong institutional orientation, and it therefore had a relatively weak normativity within the Church. The Doctrine and Covenants, on the other hand, seems to have been intended to mediate the relationship between the Saints and the world not only by putting the revelatory history of early Mormonism on display (something it effectively did only by incorporating, complexly, the whole of the Book of Commandments), but also by giving the Saints a clear idea of what Mormonism was or had become. This later volume, then, bore a much stronger sense of normativity, providing something like “the rules”—perhaps something like today’s Handbook of Instructions—to be followed by members of the Church.

These two intertwined approaches to the model of canonicity at work in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants—on the one hand, the strong institutional orientation; on the other hand, the way the volume served to clarify Mormonism for non-members—complicate the apparently “classical” notion of canon that can be said to characterize the book. On the classical model, canonical shape is determined by a specifically theological intentionality. While the 1835 volume was clearly organized toward a series of guiding principles as in the classical model, it is difficult strictly to align theological intentions with strictly institutional intentions, whether these latter are inflected primarily by internal or primarily by external motivations. The 1835 D&C thus seems to be like a classical canon, but with a strong institutionality replacing a strict interest in theology.

In part, this replacement of theological concerns with institutional concerns seems to be connected to early Mormonism’s anti-creedalism. By 1835, there was nothing like an “established” Mormon doctrine. Something of a genuinely or uniquely Mormon theology could certainly have been extrapolated from the revelations and translations, but nothing like this had been attempted. The first tracts and pamphlets that would begin to do something along those lines would not appear in print until after the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants, and then they would only take shape over the course of decades. Joseph Smith, it seems, had no theological axe to grind in 1835 (though he might have a decade later). Indeed, that the whole first “half” of the volume could be titled “Doctrine” or “Theology,” though it did nothing like organize a systematic theology, and though it was produced by Sidney Rigdon rather than Joseph Smith, is telling.

Another likely factor that differentiates the theological intentions of the classical canon from the institutional intentions of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 is the fact that the 1835 volume was produced in the age of printing. The Hebrew Bible was, for all intents and purposes, a national treasure. It was not written or organized in order either to give Judaism a public face or to systematize an institutional Judaism (nothing of the sort existed). Rather, its theological intentions were guided primarily by liturgical concerns, and its seems to have been produced for internal use principally with an eye to worship. When canonical critics speak of theological intention, they usually mean something like liturgical intention, and it is not difficult to recognize how thoroughly liturgical the whole of the Bible ultimately is. The Doctrine and Covenants was produced, on the other hand, in the age of printing, and it was produced by a small group that was living in the midst of a much larger society not inclined in its peculiar directions. The Doctrine and Covenants is thus more essentially propagandistic than liturgical.

Finally, then, what we seem to have in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants is a model of canonicity that is not terribly unlike the classical model derived from the Bible in that it seems to have been shaped by a set of overarching concerns, but that is ultimately distinct from the classical model because it replaces theological or liturgical concerns with strictly institutional concerns. The Doctrine and Covenants of 1835 was canon, but it was canon in a very specific sense: it fused canon with a strong sense of internal normativity, and with a strong sense of external public relations. It official acceptance in an elaborate ceremony sealed its canonicity—its canonical status has never really been questioned in all the years since—but its model of canonicity was unique, even in its own history, as subsequent posts will show.

The real importance of the 1835 volume’s model of canonicity, in fact, can perhaps only make full sense when it is placed side by side with the models provided by its successors.

6 Responses to “What Is the Doctrine and Covenants? Part II.4, The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants”

  1. Robin Jensen said

    Excellent series Joe. I can’t recommend it enough. Many of the points you raise regarding the makeup of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants are also raised in the second volume of the Revelation and Translation Series of the Joseph Smith Papers. We will be presenting the history and reproductions of the various sets of revelations printed during JS’s lifetime (Book of Commandments, 1835 and 1844 D&C, The Evening and the Morning Star, and Evening and Morning Star. There’s a fascinating story behind each publication.

    • joespencer said


      I’m glad to know you’re reading along. And I’m glad to hear that things are moving along with the second volume of the Revelation series. I’m eager to see what you guys have put together.


  2. WVS said

    Enjoying the series. 1835 D&C is fascinating.

  3. […] What Is the Doctrine and Covenants? Part II.4, The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants […]

  4. Robert C. said

    Joe, perhaps I just wasn’t listening closely enough, but this issue regarding the external aspect of canonization in our unique age of books is new to me, and very interesting. This significantly alters the way I think about the temple, and the role of personal revelation quite generally, including the role of prophets at General Conference and the intertwinement with our canonized texts. Hmmm….

  5. joespencer said

    Yeah, flesh that out a bit, Robert. This was something I unexpectedly stumbled on while studying this. I’d not thought about it before.

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