Articles and Covenants

The Articles and Covenants

of the Church

D&C 20

John A. Tvedtnes

Mormon BishopbricThe original wording of section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants does not include offices such as high priest, bishop, or high councilor, for these did not yet exist in the Church at the time of its inaugural meeting at which D&C 20 was adopted. They were added later, as the Church grew in membership and other officers were needed. As I explain in my book Organize My Kingdom,[i] the process of restoration was not a one-time event; it continues today. It would have been impossible to organize the Church with all of its officers in the beginning, due to its small size.

D&C 20 was known in its early days as “Articles and Covenants of the Church,” the title it bears as Chapter 24 of the 1833 Book of Commandments, and was read at most early Church conferences. As new offices (bishops, high priests, both in 1831; high councilors in 1834) were added to the Church by revelation (apostles and seventies being the last, in 1835), some of them were added to that document, most of which is drawn from the Book of Mormon (and usually from the writings of Moroni, addressed to the latter-day translator of the Book of Mormon).[ii] A number of subsequent revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were intended to be additions to the Articles and Covenants. The first of these, D&C 21-22, were received on the day the Church was organized. Section 42, which commanded the ordaining of the first bishop (Edward Partridge), was also added. Some of the revelations were introduced with wording such as “in addition to the covenants and commandments.” Thus D&C 68, which called for additional bishops and outlined the requirements for calling them, reads, “And now, concerning the items in addition to the covenants and commandments, they are these-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” (D&C 68:13-14).[iii] Section 72, which adds more details concerning the role of the bishop, says, “The word of the Lord, in addition to the law which has been given, making known the duty of the bishop” (D&C 72:9) and later reads, “A few words in addition to the laws of the kingdom, respecting the members of the church” (D&C 72:24). D&C 83 begins, “Verily, thus saith the Lord, in addition to the laws of the church concerning women and children, those who belong to the church, who have lost their husbands or fathers” (D&C 83:1).

D&C 107, labeled “On Priesthood” in the first (1835) edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, refers, in verse 58, to a previously unpublished revelation, then quotes it: “To the church of Christ in the land of Zion, in addition to the church laws respecting church business-Verily, I say unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts, there must needs be presiding elders to preside over those who are of the office of an elder; And also priests to preside over those who are of the office of a priest;[iv] And also teachers to preside over those who are of the office of a teacher, in like manner, and also the deacons” (D&C 107:59-62). Verse 20 also makes it clear that the information in Section 107 was intended to supplement that in D&C 20: “The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.”

One anonymous critic claimed that the wording of D&C 20:2-3 was not included in the 1833 Book of Commandments, but the only addition in the version found in the Doctrine and Covenants comprised the words “first” and “second” for elder. The Book of Commandments version (24:3-4) specifically mentions that Joseph and Oliver had each been “ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of this church.” The same critic also noted that D&C 27 consists of material written at different times. This is not unusual; a number of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants are a compilation of revelations received at different times. For example, there is evidence that parts of D&C 107 were received on at least four different occasions and later joined for publication. This does not invalidate any of the revelations. Rather, it reflects how the Lord continued to organize the Church as it grew in numbers.

[i] John A. Tvedtnes, Organize My Kingdom: A History of Restored Priesthood (Bountiful, UT: Cornerstone, 2000, later issued by Horizon).

[ii] See chapter 44, “The Role of the Book of Mormon in the Restoration of the Church,” in my book, The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar (Bountiful, UT: Cornerstone, 1999, later issued by Horizon).

[iii] Some of the same information is found in D&C 107. I discuss these and related issues in Organize My Kingdom.

[iv] In the early days of the restored Church, three priests presided over a quorum of priests, but a later revelation clarified that the bishop, as president of the Aaronic priesthood, was to preside over that quorum (D&C 107:87-88).