Section 68: Bishops. Teach. Scripture.
On November 1, 1831, Joseph Smith had convened a special group of four short conferences in Hiram, Ohio, of ten leading elders to discuss publication of his collected revelations in a book to be called the Book of Commandments. At the end of the first two days of this conference, four brethren—Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson, Lyman Johnson, and William E. McLellin—came to Joseph and were desirous “to know the mind of the Lord concerning themselves.” Joseph inquired of the Lord and received what is now section 68. Though this revelation was given at the specific request of these brethren, it was not intended for them alone, but for the guidance of all officers and members of the Church.
There are three important themes in section 68, thus the explanation for the peculiar “title” assigned to it. These three major themes are:
Law of the office of the bishop (verses 14-24). If a man could be found who fulfilled all of the following requirements, then he would have the right to be a bishop. The requirements are: (1) He is a literal descendant of Aaron as attested to by revelation or patriarchal blessing. (2) He is a firstborn son. (3) He desires the office. (4) He is worthy of the office. (5) He is called to the office and ordained by the First Presidency. President Joseph Fielding smith pointed out that these provisions applied only to the office of presiding bishop of the Church. “It [this set of provisions] has no reference whatever to bishops of wards” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:92).
Not only would this man have the right to be bishop, but he could serve without counselors, and would not need to hold the Melchizedek priesthood. Aaron in his lifetime was given the keys of presiding over the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 29:4-9). Since no one in the Church has yet been found who meets these qualifications, today a man must be a high priest in the Melchizedek priesthood to serve as bishop or presiding bishop (verse 15).
Teach the gospel to your children (verse 25-32). In section 68, the Lord placed directly upon the parents the responsibility of teaching their children faith in Christ, the doctrines of repentance and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, prayer, and Sabbath day observance all before they reach the age of eight years. Parents are also to teach them to walk uprightly before the Lord (verse 28) and how to work (verse 30). It is a sin not to do so (verse 25).
At the time this revelation was given in November 1831, there was no First Presidency in the Church, and the concept of the “stakes of Zion” was not fully developed. Yet these concepts appear in section 68. Section 68 was not published until the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. As more was revealed between 1831 and 1835, this revelation was edited and augmented to harmonize with the increased understanding gained during those years. Actually the same is true of those verses which apply to the office of bishop (verses 16-21). These verses were not in the original revelation but were added some time before 1835.
Scripture (verse 4). Section 68 provides a unique definition of the concept of “scripture.” When a person who is called by the Lord and is in the service of the Lord speaks, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, what that person says is scripture. It is the will, mind, word, and voice of the Lord and the power of God unto salvation (verse 4). This type of scripture might be referred to as “oral scripture.” In the Church we have evolved three uses of the term “scripture”:
- canonized scripture—That material accepted by a group as a spiritual guide or standard of behavior or teaching.
- written scripture—When a prophet writes anything under the direction of the Holy Ghost, it may be considered scripture.
- oral scripture—Material spoken, preached, or taught by a servant of the Lord under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
D&C 68:3-4 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
D&C 68:25 Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion and teach them not . . . the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
1 My servant, Orson Hyde, was called by his ordination to proclaim the everlasting gospel, by the Spirit of the living God, from people to people, and from land to land, in the congregations of the wicked, in their synagogues, reasoning with and expounding all scriptures unto them.
verse 1 “Orson Hyde” See the character vignette for Orson Hyde at the end of section 67. At the time Joseph received section 68, Orson Hyde had been a member of the Church only one month; he had been a high priest for only one week. As a new member bearing the responsibilities of the high priesthood, Orson wanted to know the Lord’s will concerning him.
“called by his ordination to proclaim the everlasting gospel” The prophecy pronounced in Orson’s priesthood ordination was literally fulfilled. In 1832 Orson and Samuel H. Smith traveled in the states of New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode, island, a total distance of some 2,000 miles, on foot. In 1837 he was sent to England. His mission in Jerusalem in 1840-41 is mentioned above.
“congregations of the wicked” See the commentary for D&C 60:8.
2 And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth—
verse 2 “this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood” The word ensample is an old spelling for example. This phrase indicates that the pattern or model of missionary work outlined in verse 1, is applicable to all who are called to serve a mission.
“unto this priesthood” This phrase refers to the office of high priest, to which Orson and several other elders had been ordained a week earlier. At this time the office of high priest was the highest office in the Church, because the offices of general authorities as we understand them were established later. Thus, verses 4-6 are not directed to all Melchizedek Priesthood holders but to the presiding high priesthood of the Church. Today the promises of verses 4-6 apply primarily to the general authorities of the Church, but they may also be extended to high priests who preside over wards, stakes, missions, and such when they are acting within the boundaries of their stewardships.
Thus, this verse explains that the call of Orson Hyde is the example for all of those who, like Brother Hyde, have been ordained as high priests. Just as he “was called by his ordination to proclaim the everlasting gospel, by the Spirit of the living God” (verse 1), so are other high priests called by their ordination to “speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost” (verse 3).
3 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
verse 3 See the commentary for verse 2.
verses 4-6 The promises in these verses are give exclusively to the leaders of the Church at that time, the high priests.
4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
verse 4 See the introductory commentary for this section, specifically the section on “scripture.”
“whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture” Elder J. Reuben Clark, Jr. asked and answered an important question concerning this phrase:
The question is, how shall we know then the things they [the brethren] have spoken were said as they were “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”? I have given some thought to this question, and the answer thereto so far as I can determine, is: We can tell when the speakers are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” only when we, ourselves, are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” In a way this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak (“When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” 7).
5 Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.
6 Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.
verse 6 “Wherefore, be of good cheer” Faithful and obedient members of the Church are entitled to, as an earned gift of the Spirit, feelings of peace, comfort, and joy. This may be referred to as the gift of hope and is the reassurance that all will be well in the eternities. When faithful members are not cheerful and confident of their standing before God, something is wrong. Something important has been misunderstood, neglected, ignored, disobeyed, or, perhaps, was just never learned. A correct understanding of the gospel by faithful members brings joy, peace, confidence, and hope.
verses 7-8 Unlike the promises of verses 4-6, which were given to high priests exclusively, the injunction of verses 7-8 is given to every faithful Melchizedek Priesthood holder.
7 This is the word of the Lord unto you, my servant Orson Hyde, and also unto my servant Luke Johnson, and unto my servant Lyman Johnson, and unto my servant William E. McLellin, and unto all the faithful elders of my church–
verse 7 “Orson Hyde” See the Character Vignette on Orson Hyde at the end of section 67.
“Luke Johnson, and . . . Lyman Johnson” See the Character Vignette on John Johnson at the end of section 63.
“William E. McLellin” See the introductory commentary for section 66.
8 Go ye into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature, acting in the authority which I have given you, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
verse 8 “Go ye into all the world” Every faithful Melchizedek Priesthood holder must preach the gospel somewhere, in some manner, to someone. President Spencer W. Kimball has stated: “The question is asked: Should every young man fill a mission? And the answer of the Church is yes, and the answer of the Lord is yes. Enlarging this answer we say: Certainly every male member of the Church should fill a mission, like he should pay his tithing, like he should attend his meetings, like he should keep his life clean and free from the ugliness of the world and plan a celestial marriage in the temple of the Lord. . . . Every LDS male who is worthy and able should fill a mission” (Ensign, May 1974, 87).
9 And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.
10 And he that believeth shall be blest with signs following, even as it is written.
verse 10 “even as it is written” Verses 8-10 refer back to the charge of the resurrected Christ to his apostles recorded in Mark 16:15-18 (see also Matthew 28:1920).
11 And unto you it shall be given to know the signs of the times, and the signs of the coming of the Son of Man;
verse 11 The Lord seldom gives time references. On the other hand, the Lord has promised to keep his saints informed. Here he promises them, “Unto you it shall be given to know the signs of the times, and the signs of the coming of the Son of Man” (D&C 68:11), noting that, though the coming of the Lord will overtake the world as a thief in the night, “that day shall not over take you as a thief” (D&C 106:4-5). The caveat, however, is that the saints must pay attention. For a discussion of the “signs of the times” and the “signs of the coming of the Son of Man,” see three chapters in volume 3 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine: chapter 24, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Introduction, chapter 25, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Those that Warn, and chapter 26, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Those that Punish and Cleanse.
12 And of as many as the Father shall bear record, to you shall be given power to seal them up unto eternal life. Amen.
verse 12 “of as many as the Father shall bear record” There are several other scriptural phrases similar to this one. Let us consider a few: John 6:37—“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” John 6:44—No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” John 10:29—“My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” John 17:11—“Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” When taken literally, these phrases all suggest that in some way the Father has given to the Son all of those of his children who will eventually become the Son’s “people” or “children” and will be eventually exalted. These statements, rather than being intended to be literal, apparently are simply figurative statements, by the Son, of profound deference to his Father. He has taught on more than one occasion that he came to earth not to do his own will, but his Father’s (see, for example, John 6:38; compare John 5:19). He also taught that that the doctrine he preaches is not his, but his Father’s (John 7:16; 3 Nephi 11:32-34).
“to you shall be given power to seal them up unto eternal life” To the priesthood holders of the Lord’s earthly Church, the Lord will eventually give the power to seal up other mortals to eternal life, to render their calling and elections sure. Please review the discussion of the sealing power in the commentary for Helaman 10:7. The fulness of this power and its keys will not be given to Joseph by the ancient prophet Elijah, however, until April 3, 1836 in the temple at Kirtland (see section 110).
“Amen” With this closure, the Lord indicates that his specific responses to Orson Hyde and the three high priests inquiring of him was at an end. What follows in verses 13-35 are items of additional instruction for the entire Church.
13 And now, concerning the items in addition to the covenants and commandments, they are these—
14 There remain hereafter, in the due time of the Lord, other bishops to be set apart unto the church, to minister even according to the first;
verse 14 “There remain hereafter . . . other bishops to be set apart unto the church” At the time of this revelation, Edward Partridge, who was living in Missouri, was the only bishop in the Church. The growth of the Church made ordination of other bishops for specific areas a logistical necessity. One month after this revelation, Newell
K. Whitney will be ordained the bishop for Kirtland (see D&C 72:2, 8). Neither of these brethren was the Presiding Bishop in the modern sense, since neither presided over the other. Rather, they were both general bishops each presiding over a specific geographical area of the Church—Bishop Partridge in the West and Bishop Whitney in the East.
15 Wherefore they shall be high priests who are worthy, and they shall be appointed by the First Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood, except they be literal descendants of Aaron.
verse 15 “Wherefore they shall be high priests” The office of bishop is an office in the Aaronic Priesthood, together with those of deacon, teacher, and priest. When the Aaronic Priesthood was established anciently, however, the right to preside over that priesthood, as a bishop now does, was designated as a privilege of lineage (see Exodus 28:1; 29:9, 29). Because worthy Levites of the family of Aaron, whose right it was to preside over the Aaronic Priesthood, were not available to the early Church in this dispensation, the Lord directed that high priests should function in that office in their place. Today, a bishop actually presides over the Aaronic Priesthood in his ward and is also the presiding high priest in his ward.
“they shall be appointed by the First Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood” In 1831, when this revelation was first given, there was no First
Presidency, and the original text of the revelation read “appointed by a conference of high priests,” in other words, by the leadership of the Church as it was then loosely organized. After the First Presidency was organized in 1833, the reading of verse 15 was changed to use the correct terminology. This is also true of verses 22-23. D&C 107:59-100 gives additional information about the offices of bishop and Presiding Bishop.
verses 16-21 Under the direction of Joseph Smith, these verses were first added to the text of section 68 in The Evening and the Morning Star reprinted at Kirtland in June 1835, and also in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
16 And if they be literal descendants of Aaron they have a legal right to the bishopric, if they are the firstborn among the sons of Aaron;
verse 16 President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
The office of Presiding Bishop of the Church is the same as the office which was held by Aaron. It is the highest office, holding the presidency in the Aaronic Priesthood. It was this office which came to John the Baptist, and it was by virtue of the fact that he held the keys of this power and ministry that he was sent to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to restore that priesthood, May 15, 1829. . . . Should it be shown by revelation that there is one who is the “firstborn among the sons of Aaron,” and thus entitled by the birthright to this presidency, he could “claim” his “anointing” and the right to that office in the Church (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:259).
17 For the firstborn holds the right of the presidency over this priesthood, and the keys or authority of the same.
18 No man has a legal right to this office, to hold the keys of this priesthood, except he be a literal descendant and the firstborn of Aaron.
19 But, as a high priest of the Melchizedek Priesthood has authority to officiate in all the lesser offices he may officiate in the office of bishop when no literal descendant of Aaron can be found, provided he is called and set apart and ordained unto this power, under the hands of the First Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
20 And a literal descendant of Aaron, also, must be designated by this Presidency, and found worthy, and anointed, and ordained under the hands of this Presidency, otherwise they are not legally authorized to officiate in their priesthood.
verse 20 “must be designated by this Presidency” Joseph Fielding Smith also wrote:
The person spoken of in the revelations as having the right by lineage to the bishopric is the one who is the firstborn. By virtue of his birth he is entitled to hold “the keys or authority of the same.” This has reference only to the one who presides over the Aaronic Priesthood. It has no reference whatever to bishops of wards. Further, such a one must be designated by the First Presidency of the Church and receive his anointing and ordination under their hands. The revelation comes from the Presidency, not from the patriarch, to establish a claim to the right to preside in this office. In the absence of knowledge concerning such a descendant, any high priest, chosen by the Presidency, may hold the office of Presiding Bishop and serve with counselors (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:92).
21 But, by virtue of the decree concerning their right of the priesthood descending from father to son, they may claim their anointing if at any time they can prove their lineage, or do ascertain it by revelation from the Lord under the hands of the above named Presidency.
22 And again, no bishop or high priest who shall be set apart for this ministry shall be tried or condemned for any crime, save it be before the First Presidency of the church;
23 And inasmuch as he is found guilty before this Presidency, by testimony that cannot be impeached, he shall be condemned;
24 And if he repent he shall be forgiven, according to the covenants and commandments of the church.
verses 22-24 The church discipline guidelines set forth in these two verses apply only to the general bishops Partridge and Whitney, and later to Presiding Bishops, because their stewardships did and do not fall under the control of local church authorities.
If the Presiding Bishop of the Church is guilty of transgression, in which “court” or disciplinary council is he tried? In case of the transgression of the presiding bishop of the Church, he could not be tried by a high council in the stake in which he lives, but he would have to be tried by [the court of] the First Presidency of the Church. The reason for this is that he . . . is not under the jurisdiction of any ward or stake in this capacity. This order given for the trial of the presiding bishop does not apply to a local bishop in a ward. Local ward bishops may be disciplined by the local authorities under whose jurisdiction they operate—usually a stake president. Additional information on this subject is found in D&C 107:15-17, 68-69, which clearly illustrates that the office referred to is that of a general or Presiding Bishop and not that of a local ward bishop.
25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
verse 25 Parents—not teachers, bishops, home teachers, or anyone else but parents—bear the primary obligation of teaching their children the basics of the gospel and seeing that they are baptized at the proper time, teaching them to pray, and teaching them to behave properly and to walk uprightly. The Church, through its auxiliaries and programs, will assist in many of these obligations, but the primary responsibility still rests with parents.
“the sin be upon the heads of the parents” The key word in this phrase is sin. It is not plural but singular, and it refers not to the sins children may subsequently commit but to the sin of the parents’ not teaching them better. Some parents, due to their misunderstanding of this verse, try to take responsibility upon themselves for the sins of their children, and shield their children from blame by doing so. But this is not possible. In order to sin at all one must have knowledge and understanding, and even poorly raised children know for the most part what they should and should not do. Parents will be held accountable for not teaching their children the gospel, but parents cannot take the blame for the sins of their children, nor can they protect them from suffering the consequences of those sins.
26 For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.
verse 26 “this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion” In verse 25, the Lord is not expressing a mere hope or suggestion; rather, he is giving a law or a commandment.
27 And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.
verse 27 “when eight years old” The significant doctrinal statement concerning the age of accountability of children (D&C 68:25, 27) was given by revelation in November of 1831. This, however, was not the first time in our dispensation where such information was made known. While translating Genesis 17 (sometime between February and April 1831), Joseph Smith recorded the following regarding the Abrahamic covenant and the token of circumcision:
And I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old (JST, Genesis 17:11).
Thus we see that the concept of an age of accountability of children was known by the Prophet Joseph through his work of Bible translation some six to nine months before section 68 was received.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote of the concept of accountability:
Accountability does not burst full-bloom upon a child at any given moment in his life. Children become accountable gradually, over a number of years. Becoming accountable is a process, not a goal to be attained when a specified number of years, days, and hours have elapsed. . . . There comes a time, however, when accountability is real and actual and sin is attributed in the lives of those who develop normally. It is eight years of age, the age of baptism (“Salvation of Little Children,” 6).
28 And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.
verse 28 “they shall also teach their children . . . to walk uprightly before the Lord” The obligation is not just to teach children to understand intellectually what proper behavior is. The full obligation is to teach them to behave properly. In other words, parents in Zion must discipline their children. They must teach them what proper behavior is, and then they must do all they appropriately can to see that their children do, indeed, behave.
29 And the inhabitants of Zion shall also observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
verse 29 “observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy” See D&C 59:9-12 and its commentary.
30 And the inhabitants of Zion also shall remember their labors, inasmuch as they are appointed to labor, in all faithfulness; for the idler shall be had in remembrance before the Lord.
verse 30 “the inhabitants of Zion also shall remember their labors” One great obstacle to establishing Zion is the human tendency to do less than our best in the belief that others will make up for our laziness. In D&C 42:42 the Lord stated the principle of Zion that the idler would “not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.”
This may be termed the “entitlement mentality.” It would seem that once the possibility of obtaining something for nothing has been experienced, there is a tendency to become addicted to and dependent on the system that so provides. Elder David B. Haight warned about the ability of the government welfare system to produce idleness:
What has this monstrous thing called government welfare done to the people? Today we have second-and third-generation welfare recipients. Millions have learned how to live off the government. Children are growing up without knowing the value and the dignity of work. The government has succeeded in doing what the church welfare program seeks to prevent. . . .
But church members are not immune to the perils of the government dole. There is evidence that some of our people are receiving something for nothing from the government. The fact that this condition exists in the Church highlights the need for our members to be knowledgeable about church welfare principles. President Kimball has stated: “No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able, will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family’s well-being to someone else” (Ensign, May 1978, 86) (CR, October 1978, 86).
We thus learn that entitlement mentality is a sin.
31 Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness.
32 These things ought not to be, and must be done away from among them; wherefore, let my servant Oliver Cowdery carry these sayings unto the land of Zion.
verse 32 “These things ought not to be” Such sins are below the celestial standard, and “And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself” (D&C 105:5).
33 And a commandment I give unto them—that he that observeth not his prayers before the Lord in the season thereof, let him be had in remembrance before the judge of my people.
verse 33 “in the season thereof” The Lord commands that we should pray at the appropriate times (“in the season thereof”) and if we neglect our prayers, the common judge, the ward bishop, should know. These appropriate times are not spelled out exactly for us, but they probably ought to include daily personal prayers, daily family prayers, and regular prayers of thanks for specific blessings. To neglect our prayers at their proper times, perhaps especially our prayers of thanks, is an offense to God (D&C 59:21).
34 These sayings are true and faithful; wherefore, transgress them not, neither take therefrom.
verse 34 “These sayings are true and faithful” One meaning of the adjective faithful is that which can be trusted or relied upon.
35 Behold, I am Alpha and Omega, and I come quickly. Amen.
verse 35 “I am Alpha and Omega” See the commentary on D&C 19:1.
- Michael J. Preece