Introduction to the
Doctrine and Covenants
John A. Tvedtnes
What we today call the Doctrine and Covenants is actually a revision of an earlier book entitled Book of Commandments. D&C 1 was originally written as a preface to that book (D&C 1:6; see also D&C 67:6) and was received as a revelation on 1 November 1831, when Church members assembled in conference to discuss publication of the collection.
The Book of Commandments was a collection of revelations received by Joseph Smith during the years 1829-1833. It was the volume being printed by William W. Phelps in Zion, Missouri, at the time a mob destroyed the press on 20 July 1833.[i] Only 160 pages had been printed containing 65 revelations, but ending in mid-sentence at what is now D&C 64:36. Two young girls salvaged some of the printed pages, enough to assemble about a hundred copies of the book. The book’s “Appendix,” now our D&C 133, was not yet typeset and did not yet appear in print.
By 1834, Joseph Smith had received many more revelations and it was decided to try once again to publish them. The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants appeared in 1835, printed by Frederick G. Williams, who was then serving as a counselor in the First Presidency. The book comprised two parts, the revelations, called “covenants,” and the “doctrine,” a collection of seven Lectures on Faith delivered in the School of the Prophets in Kirtland. These were not considered to be revelations; rather, they comprised the first priesthood lesson manual. The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants also included articles on Marriage and Governments and Laws in General (now D&C 134), penned by Oliver Cowdery, but approved in the absence of Joseph Smith, who was then in Michigan.
The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants comprised 103 sections, of which two were inadvertently assigned the number 66. Over the years, others were added and some were removed. The article on marriage was removed in 1876, after the practice of plural marriage (and its revelation, D&C 132) were accepted. Beginning with the 1921 edition, the Lectures on Faith were excluded. This led to the irony of the “doctrine” in the title Doctrine and Covenants no longer being included in the volume. Some of Joseph Smith’s revelations were never included,[ii] while others were revised as the Lord revealed more information.
The 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was published in Nauvoo soon after Joseph Smith’s death, added what are now sections 103, 105, 112, 119, 124, 127, 128, and 135. Of these, two (127 and 128) were drawn from letters written by Joseph Smith, while one (135) was an announcement of the death of Joseph and Hyrum, penned by John Taylor, who had been in the room at the time of their demise. Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prepared the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, dividing the various sections into verses for easier reference. He added 26 revelations (our sections 2, 13, 77, 85, 87, 108-11, 113-18, 120-23, 125, 126, 129-32, and 136), some of them taken from Joseph Smith’s history and one a revelation from Brigham Young (section 136). Because section 132 discussed plural marriage and was inconsistent with the 1835 article on marriage, the latter was removed.
Beginning in 1908, each printing of the Doctrine and Covenants included a concordance and excerpts from President of the Church Wilford Woodruff’s “Manifesto,” ending plural marriage (now “Official Declaration 1”). The current (1981) edition added revised footnotes, two revelations (sections 137-138) and Official Declaration 2, extending priesthood privileges to all worthy male members of the Church. The two revelations, dated 1836 and 1918, had previously been included in the Pearl of Great Price and only moved to the Doctrine and Covenants with the latest edition.
For more information on the Doctrine and Covenants, see:
- Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” 3 volumes, PhD dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1974.
- Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1985).
[i] Phelps had previously published some of the revelations in the Church newspaper he edited, the Evening and Morning Star.
[ii] Some of these revelations were subsequently published in the History of the Church. See also John A. Tvedtnes, “Historical Perspectives on the Kirtland Revelation Book,” in Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson (Provo: FARMS, 2000).