Previous editions of the Doctrine and Covenants called the explanatory pages the “preface,” such as in the earliest edition in 1835. Since section 1 has always been referred to as the Lord’s preface, this seeming discrepancy of two prefaces has led to some confusion over the years. To resolve the confusion, in the 1921 edition the preface was renamed the “Explanatory Introduction.”
This Explanatory Introduction for the 1981 edition was completed under the direction of President Spencer W. Kimball, with Elders Thomas S. Monson (acting as chair), Bruce R. McConkie, and Boyd K. Packer supervising the work of Ellis T. Rasmussen and Robert J. Matthews. It is noteworthy that this introduction was authored by general authorities of the Church who sought the spirit of revelation as they wrote it.
The text of this Explanatory Introduction (in bolded blue text) will be interrupted on a few occasions by a few words of commentary (in regular black text).
The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days. Although most of the sections are directed to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the messages, warnings, and exhortations are for the benefit of all mankind, and contain an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation.
Most of the revelations in this compilation were received through Joseph Smith, Jun., the first prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Others were issued through some of his successors in the Presidency. (See headings to Sections 135, 136, and 138, and Official Declarations 1 and 2.)
The book of Doctrine and Covenants is one of the standard works of the Church in company with the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. However, the Doctrine and Covenants is unique because it is not a translation of an ancient document, but is of modern origin and was given of God through his chosen prophets for the restoration of his holy work and the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth in these days. In the revelations one hears the tender but firm voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking anew in the dispensation of the fulness of times; and the work that is initiated herein is preparatory to his second coming, in fulfillment of and in concert with the words of all the holy prophets since the world began.
With few exceptions, the speaker in the revelations is the resurrected Jesus Christ. On occasion, Christ speaks as if he were the Father by the principle of divine investiture of authority. The language of the revelations, with the exception of a few words by heavenly angels (see D&C 2; 7; 13), is the language of Joseph Smith. As the inspired ideas and thoughts came into his mind, he composed the revelatory language from his own linguistic background (see D&C 1:24).
Joseph Smith, Jun., was born December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. During his early life he moved with his family to Manchester, in western New York. It was while he was living near Manchester in the spring of 1820, when he was fourteen years of age, that he experienced his first vision, in which he was visited in person by God, the Eternal Father, and his Son Jesus Christ. He was told in this vision that the true Church of Jesus Christ that had been established in New Testament times, and which had administered the fulness of the gospel, was no longer on the earth. Other divine manifestations followed in which he was taught by many angels; it was shown to him that God had a special work for him to do on the earth, and that through him the Church of Jesus Christ would be restored to the earth.
In the course of time Joseph Smith was enabled by divine assistance to translate and publish the Book of Mormon. In the meantime he and Oliver Cowdery were ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood by John the Baptist in May 1829 (D&C 13), and soon thereafter they were also ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood by the ancient apostles Peter, James, and John (D&C 27:12). Other ordinations followed in which priesthood keys were conferred upon them by Moses, Elijah, Elias, and many ancient prophets (D&C 110; 128:18, 21). These ordinations were, in fact, a restoration of divine authority to man on the earth. On April 6, 1830, under heavenly direction, the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Church, and thus the true Church of Jesus Christ is once again operative as an institution among men, with authority to teach the gospel and administer the ordinances of salvation. (See Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith–History 1:1-75; D&C 20.)
These sacred revelations were received in answer to prayer, in times of need, and came out of real-life situations involving real people. The Prophet and his associates sought for divine guidance, and these revelations certify that they received it.
A number of the revelations are directed to specific individuals. There are 136 individuals mentioned by name in the Doctrine and Covenants. From these revelations, a number of personal instructions, warnings, commands, and counsels emerge. The revelations warn against murder, theft, dishonesty, adultery, pride, and idleness—to name a few. Also included is counsel on Sabbath-day observance, loving the Lord and one’s neighbor, treating others as equals, supporting one’s family, seeking an education, and teaching one’s children. Though these revelations and instructions are to specific individuals, they hold great importance in that many of them are expressions of gospel principles from which all can benefit. As the Lord said, “What I say unto one I say unto all” (D&C 93:49). Readers should therefore each apply the principles included in the Lord’s instructions to themselves.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we observe the pattern of how the Lord deals with his people, particularly in helping them solve their problems. He insists that we reach out to him in order to obtain his counsel and blessings: “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 4:7).
In the revelations one sees the restoration and unfolding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times.
Beginning with the First Vision, we can follow—in the Doctrine and Covenants— the unfolding of the restoration of the Church and gospel to the earth. We read of such seminal events as the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; the calling of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon; the restoration and reestablishment of the order of the priesthood (including the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, the keys of the priesthood, and the extending of the blessings of the priesthood to all men regardless of race); and the establishment of the Church organization.
The westward movement of the Church from New York and Pennsylvania, to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and finally to the Great Basin of western America, and the mighty struggles of the saints in attempting to build Zion on the earth in modern times, are also shown forth in these revelations.
The westward movements of the Church, as detailed in this section, all took place in the spirit of the doctrine of gathering (see D&C 29:8).
Several of the earlier sections involve matters regarding the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon (see Sections 3, 5, 10, 17, 19). Some later sections reflect the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith in making an inspired translation of the Bible, during which many of the great doctrinal sections were received (see, for example, Sections 37, 45, 73, 76, 77, 86, 91, and 132, each of which has some direct relationship to the Bible translation).
The Joseph Smith Translation (actually Joseph’s inspired revision) of the Bible had a substantial influence on the content of the Doctrine and Covenants, particularly on those revelations received during the years 1830-33. Joseph’s translation of the Bible was a primary source for many of the doctrinal statements in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often Joseph’s work on the Bible was the “trigger” that resulted in his inquiring of the Lord about certain doctrines. See the supplemental article, Joseph Smith’s Inspired Revision of the Bible—The JST. The Doctrine and Covenants also contains counsel from the Lord to Joseph on the project of doing this translation. Joseph was told when to begin (see D&C 9:1-2), when to pause (see D&C 37:1-4), when to recommence translation (see D&C 41:7), who the scribe was to be (D&C 35:20: 47:1), and the time in which the parts of the Bible should be translated (see D&C 45:6062). These came with the exhortation to move more rapidly (see D&C 73:3-4; 93:53) and to make plans for publication (see D&C 94:10; 124:89).
In the revelations the doctrines of the gospel are set forth with explanations about such fundamental matters as the nature of the Godhead, the origin of man, the reality of Satan, the purpose of mortality, the necessity for obedience, the need for repentance, the workings of the Holy Spirit, the ordinances and performances that pertain to salvation, the destiny of the earth, the future conditions of man after the resurrection and the judgment, the eternity of the marriage relationship, and the eternal nature of the family.
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches the doctrines of salvation. This is seen in part in the 598-page Topical Guide to the Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price. In fact, every doctrine taught by the Church is found or referred to in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is the most important doctrinal book we have in the Church, teaching some doctrines that are not taught in the other books of scripture.
Likewise the gradual unfolding of the administrative structure of the Church is shown with the calling of bishops, the First Presidency, the council of the Twelve, and the Seventy, and the establishment of other presiding offices and quorums.
The Doctrine and Covenants instructs the small initial body of priesthood holders how to act in the administrative affairs in the kingdom. The revelations teach of the nature, the offices, and the ordinances of the priesthood of God. Examples of the latter include blessings of children, healing the sick, baptism, the sacrament, the endowment, baptism for the dead, and dedicatory prayers for a new temple. The revelations teach the necessity of membership records, the keeping of a history of the Church, and the conduct of meetings. In short, these revelations constitute the first handbook of instructions for Church leaders.
Finally, the testimony that is given of Jesus Christ—his divinity, his majesty, his perfection, his love, and his redeeming power—makes this book of great value to the human family and of more worth than the riches of the whole earth.
A number of the revelations were published in Zion (Independence), Missouri, in 1833, under the title A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ. Concerning this publication the elders of the Church gave solemn testimony that the Lord had borne record to their souls that these revelations were true. As the Lord continued to communicate with his servants, an enlarged compilation was published two years later in Kirtland, Ohio, with the title Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. To this publication in 1835, the written testimony of the Twelve Apostles was attached as follows:
TESTIMONY OF THE
TWELVE APOSTLES TO THE TRUTH OF THE
BOOK OF DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS
The Testimony of the Witnesses to the Book of the Lord’s commandments, which commandments He gave to His Church through Joseph Smith Jun., who was appointed by the voice of the Church for this purpose:
We, therefore, feel willing to bear testimony to all the world of mankind, to every creature upon the face of the earth, that the Lord has borne record to our souls, through the Holy Ghost shed forth upon us, that these commandments were given by inspiration of God, and are profitable for all men and are verily true.
We give this testimony unto the world, the Lord being our helper; and it is through the grace of God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, that we are permitted to have this privilege of bearing this testimony unto the world, in the which we rejoice exceedingly, praying the Lord always that the children of men may be profited thereby.
The names of the Twelve were:
- Thomas B. Marsh
- David W. Patten
- Brigham Young
- Heber C. Kimball
- Orson Hyde
- Wm. E. McLellin
- Parley P. Pratt
- Luke S. Johnson
- William Smith
- Orson Pratt
- John F. Boynton
- Lyman E. Johnson
In successive editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, additional revelations or other matters of record have been added, as received, and as accepted by competent assemblies or conferences of the Church.
Beginning with the 1835 edition a series of seven theological lessons was also included; these were titled the “Lectures on Faith.” These had been prepared for use in the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834-1835. Although profitable for doctrine and instruction, these lectures have been omitted from the Doctrine and Covenants since the 1921 edition because they were not given or presented as revelations to the whole Church.
In the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants  three documents have been included for the first time. These are Sections 137 and 138, setting forth the fundamentals of salvation for the dead; and Official Declaration 2, announcing that all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.
It is evident that some errors have been perpetuated in past editions, particularly in the historical portions of the section headings. Consequently this edition contains corrections of dates and place names and also a few other minor corrections when it seemed appropriate (such as discontinuing the unusual names beginning with Section 78). These changes have been made so as to bring the material into conformity with the historical documents. Other special features of this latest edition include maps showing the major geographical locations, in which the revelations were received, plus improvements in cross references, section headings, and subject-matter summaries, all of which are designed to help readers to understand and rejoice in the message of the Lord as given in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Doctrine and Covenants is challenging book to comprehend because it reads more like a compilation of random historical accounts and doctrinal dissertations. Unlike the Book of Mormon, there is no story line other than the history of the Church. Reading the Doctrine and Covenants is more like reading the letters of Paul. Each one has its own topic containing its own insights and background. Yet, the reader must persist, and he will learn, as the Explanatory Introduction explains, that the Doctrine and Covenants is “of great value to the human family and of more worth than the riches of the whole earth.”
Brief Historical Setting
Joseph Smith, Jr., was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, December 23, 1805, the fourth son and fifth child of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. His eldest brother had died during childbirth, but he had two living older brothers, Alvin and Hyrum, and an older sister, Sophronia. He would yet have four more brothers and two sisters. His younger brothers were Samuel Harrison, Ephraim, William, and Don Carlos. Little Ephraim died shortly after his birth. His younger sisters were Catherine and Lucy.
Joseph was born into a family of modest means. His father had lost a considerable sum of money some years prior on an investment that turned sour. The family did not lack industry, but were relegated by their lack of funds to becoming tenant farmers and were forced to move frequently during Joseph’s childhood in order to find sufficient work and earn an adequate living.
In 1812, when Joseph was six years old, a typhoid fever epidemic swept through Lebanon, New Hampshire, the area where the Smiths were then living, and all of the Smith children fell ill. Joseph developed, as a result of the infection, a large abscess under his arm which was drained of a large amount of pus. He later developed a serious osteomyelitis, or bone infection, involving his left shin. In those days, when no antibiotics were available, the only hope of cure was either amputation of the affected extremity or surgical removal of the infected bone. Both young Joseph and his mother Lucy refused to consider amputation, and it was decided to proceed with excision of the diseased bone. Joseph refused wine or brandy to dull the pain and assured the doctors that tying him down was unnecessary. Thus, with Joseph held in the arms of his father, but having the benefit of no anesthetic, the doctors proceeded to bore holes in his leg bone and chip away pieces of that diseased bone. Afterward, Joseph lay on the bed “pale as a corpse, and large drops of sweat were rolling down his face, whilst upon every feature was depicted the utmost agony” (Lucy Smith, Biographic Sketches, 65). As the incision healed over the next several weeks, some fourteen additional pieces of bone worked their way to the surface (Joseph Smith “History,” Book A-1, 131-32, LDS Church Historian’s Office).
After three months of constant pain, Joseph had passed the crisis, and the leg bone began to mend. The disease and pain so wasted his body that his mother and his brother Hyrum easily carried him about in their arms. Convalescence dragged on for three years. Until the family moved to New York in 1816, he hobbled about on crutches. To the end of his life he limped slightly, as the trauma had stunted the growth of the affected leg.
The medical bills incident to the typhoid epidemic and Joseph’s illness left the Smith family close to destitution. After unsuccessfully trying farming back in Vermont, they finally moved to the more fertile land of New York in 1816. They settled first in the village of Palmyra. Within two years they had raised enough money to begin purchasing a one-hundred acre farm two miles south of the center of Palmyra in the township of Farmington. In 1821 or 1822 the village and township of Manchester were formed and the Smith farm was then located in Manchester Township immediately adjacent to the line between Palmyra and Manchester Townships. Before moving from the village of Palmyra, the Smiths built a small four-room log cabin on this farm, and in 1818 all ten members of the Smith family—eight children and two parents—moved into this snug log house.
In western New York the years from 1799 to 1820 were marked by a series of religious revivals among the Protestant churches in the area. These included the Baptists, the Methodists, the Society of Friends, and particularly the Presbyterians. The ministers were rallying to halt the infidelity, or unbelief, they perceived was rampant in the area. All of the ministers pressed for new members. Because of the ministers’ enthusiastic preaching, the question “What must I do to be saved?” was on everyone’s mind. The Smith family was caught up in the spirit of revivalism. Joseph was later to remark that there was an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. Mother Lucy, Hyrum, Sophronia, and Samuel Harrison joined the Presbyterian Church. Joseph, Sr., and all the other sons held back. Joseph, Jr., was partial to the Methodists but could not overcome his reservations. Between ages twelve and fifteen, he seriously studied the scriptures, but was confused by the disparities between his interpretation of the scriptures and the teachings of the churches in the area. He wondered, “Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If anyone of them shall be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (HC, 1:3-4).
In this state of mind, he came across the Bible verse, James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally . . . and it shall be given him.” “Never did any passage of scripture,” he later recalled, “come with more power to the heart of man than this did . . . to mine. . . . If any person needed wisdom from God, I did. . . . At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is ask of God” (HC, 1:34).
Accordingly in the early spring of 1820, Joseph went to a place in the woods near the family cabin and prayed out his dilemma. After wrestling with satanic power, he was favored to converse personally with God the Father and Jesus Christ (see Joseph’s account of his vision in JSH 1:15-20). He asked which of all the churches he should join, and he was instructed to join none of them. The reader may wish to review Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 10. This chapter provides a history of the evolution of the account of Joseph’s vision.
Meanwhile, this vision did not interrupt the necessity of daily back-breaking work on the farm by all able members of the Smith family, including Joseph. The work, however, did not deter him from what seemed to be a normal childhood and teenage upbringing, including “light-minded pleasure with his friends,” “all kinds of temptations,” “mingling with all kinds of society,” “many foolish errors,” “weaknesses of youth,” “the foibles of human nature,” and “levity and [associating] with . . . jovial company.” He was doubtless guilty of only the normal frivolity of youth, but he did not measure up to his own perceptions of “that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been” (HC, 1:9-10).
His remorse came to a head in the fall of 1823. On September 21, after the other family members had fallen asleep in the crowded little cabin, Joseph remained awake to pray “for forgiveness of all of my sins and follies” (HC, 1:11). While praying, he noticed the room growing brighter than broad daylight. A heavenly messenger named Moroni appeared to him and taught him of the vital mission and responsibilities which lay ahead. Moroni informed him of a book written on gold plates that gave an account of the former inhabitants of a certain portion of the American continent and contained the fulness of the everlasting gospel. These plates were buried in a hill later named Cumorah, three miles from the Smith farm. The site where the plates were buried was shown to Joseph in vision. Moroni also paraphrased the Old Testament quotation of Malachi (4:5-6) that predicted the coming of the Prophet Elijah [D&C 2 -Elijah the Prophet]. The vision ended but recurred twice more the same night.
It is interesting that Joseph experienced these visits from Moroni in the crowded family cabin without disturbing his sleeping family. Perhaps the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon them or perhaps this type of heavenly vision is a private experience discerned only by the person for whom it is intended.
The same vision was repeated a fourth time on the following day when Joseph, who had insufficient strength to work in the fields after his experience of the previous night, fainted as he was returning to the family cabin, having been sent home by his father. This time Moroni commanded Joseph to return to the fields and inform his father of the visions. Joseph, Sr., expressed no skepticism but counseled his son to do exactly as the angel had instructed. Moroni had commanded that Joseph go to the place where the plates were deposited, and later that day Joseph went to the site he had seen in vision. He uncovered and pried the lid off the stone box which contained the plates, and he beheld the plates and also two stones in silver bows fastened to a breast plate. These stones, known as the Urim and Thummim, were seers in ancient times which God had prepared for the purpose of translating the plates. As Joseph touched the plates, Moroni again appeared and informed him that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived. Joseph was then commanded to return to this site yearly on September 22 to receive instructions. For a more detailed description of the Urim and Thummim, see “Two Instruments Used in the Translation” in The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon, in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, Appendix A.
Joseph’s first visit to the site of the plates’ burial may have been somewhat more colorful than the above paragraph (from Joseph Smith’s HC, 1:16) suggests. The prophet’s mother gives the following account of that first visit:
Having arrived at the place, he put forth his hand and took them up, but, as he was taking them hence, the unhappy thought darted through his mind that probably there was something else in the box besides the plates, which would be of some pecuniary advantage to him. So, in the moment of excitement, he laid them down very carefully, for the purpose of covering the box, lest some one might happen to pass that way and get whatever there might be remaining in it. After covering it, he turned round to take the Record again, but behold it was gone, and where he knew not, neither did he know the means by which it had been taken from him.
At this, as a natural consequence, he was much alarmed. He kneeled down and asked the Lord why the Record had been taken from him; upon which the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and told him that he had not done as he had been commanded, for in a former revelation he had been commanded not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key, and contrary to this, he had laid them down with the view of securing some fancied or imaginary treasure that remained.
In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him.
Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and return to the house weeping for grief and disappointment (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet [Liverpool: 1853] 85-86).
Joseph Knight, Sr., would later record his version of this incident:
He went and found the place and opened it and found a plain box. He uncovered it and found the Book and took it out and laid it down by his side and thought he would cover the place over again thinking there might be something else here. But he was told to take the Book and go right away. And after he had covered the place he turned round to take the Book and it was not there and he was astonished that the Book was gone. He thought he would look in the place again and see if it had not got back again.
He had heard people tell of such things. And he opened the box and, behold, the Book was there. He took hold of it to take it out again and, behold, he could not stir the Book any more than he could the mountain. He exclaimed, “Why can’t I stir this Book?” And he was answered, “You have not done right; you should have took the Book and gone right away. You can’t have it now.” Joseph says, “When can I have it?” The answer was the 22nd day of September next if you bring the right person with you. Joseph says, “Who is the right person?” The answer was “Your oldest brother [Alvin]” (From an original holograph by Joseph Knight, Sr., reported by Dean C. Jessee in “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History” in BYU Studies 17:1, spelling and punctuation changes added for clarity.)
Regarding the gold plates, Hugh Nibley wrote:
Nothing in the Book of Mormon itself has excited greater hilarity and derision than Joseph Smith’s report that the original record was engraved on gold plates, the account being condensed from much fuller records on bronze plates. Today scores of examples of ancient historical and religious writings on sacred and profane plates of gold, silver, and bronze make this part of Joseph Smith’s story seem rather commonplace. But it was anything but commonplace a hundred years ago, when the idea of sacred records being written on metal plates was thought just too funny for words (Prophetic Book of Mormon, 245; see also Nibley, Approach to the Book of Mormon, 21-28).
- Michael J. Preece