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Response to claims in "Changing the Book of Commandments"

A FAIR Analysis of: Watchman Fellowship, a work by author: Rick Branch
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Response to claims in "Changing the Book of Commandments" by Watchman Fellowship

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Response to claim: Because the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants didn’t contain the identical revelations as its 1833 predecessor plus revelations which were theoretically given to Joseph Smith prior to 1833, the Church purposefully deceived its members

The author(s) of Watchman Fellowship make(s) the following claim:

Because the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants didn’t contain the identical revelations as its 1833 predecessor plus revelations which were theoretically given to Joseph Smith prior to 1833, the Church purposefully deceived its members.

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Question: Who made the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants?

The First Presidency of the Church made the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants

The Saints have never believed in inerrant prophets or inerrant scripture. The editing and modification of the revelations was never a secret; it was well known to the Church of Joseph's day, and it has been discussed repeatedly in modern Church publications, as well as extensive studies in Masters' and PhD theses at BYU.

If Joseph could receive the Doctrine and Covenants by revelation, then he could also receive revelation to improve, modify, revise, and expand his revelatory product. The question remains the same—was Joseph Smith a prophet? If he was, then his action is completely legitimate. If he was not, then it makes little difference whether his pretended revelations were altered or not.

Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote:

First Presidency members were assigned to compile "the items of the doctrine" of the Church from the standard works, including "the revelations which have been given to the Church up to this date or shall be, until such arrangement is made" (Kirtland High Council Minute Book, 24 September 1834; also cited in History of the Church, 2:165. Volume 2 link). This resolution might suggest the correction of former wording through revelation. [The revised D&C was] issued in August 1835 with a 17 February 1835 preface signed by the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, the revision committee. [1]

Thus, the First Presidency of the time supervised the revisions.

Question: What changes were made to the Doctrine and Covenants?

Changes made to the Doctrine and Covenants were 1) Grammar and spelling. 2) Added material or expansion. 3) Text removed or reworked. 4) Expressions altered

Grammar and spelling changes

Many changes involved matters of grammar, spelling, and the like. (These examples all taken from one article in the Ensign. Those interested in further examples can see the Further Reading section below. [2]

We have found the following errors in the commandments, as printed: fortieth chapter, tenth verse, third line, instead of ‘corruptible,’ put ‘corrupted.’ Fourteenth verse of the same chapter, fifth line, instead of ‘respector to persons,’ put ‘respector of persons.’ Twenty-first verse, second line of the same chapter, instead of ‘respector to,’ put ‘respector of.’ Fourty-four chapter, twelfth verse, last line, instead of ‘hands’ put ‘heads.’ [3]

Added material or expansions

Some other changes added material which had been gleaned from advancements in Church organization or later revelations, or expanded upon ideas within the original text:

Book of Commandments Doctrine and Covenants
3:2—Remember temperance, patience, humility, diligence, ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you: Amen. D&C 4:6–7—Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen. (1835 edition, 31:2.)
4:2—...and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift. D&C 5:4 And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished. (1835 edition, 32:1)
4:4— … and to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation. D&C 5:14—And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation, in this the beginning of the rising up and coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. (1835 edition, 32:3.)
6:1—And the Lord said unto me, John, my beloved, what desirest thou? D&C 7:1—And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. (1835 edition, 33:1.)
24:14—And that he gave unto the children of men commandments, that they should love and serve him the only being whom they should worship. D&C 20:19—And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship. (1835 edition, 2:4.)
24:32— … to administer the flesh and blood of Christ according to the scriptures. D&C 20:40–41—And to administer bread and wine—the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ—

And to confirm those who are baptized into the Church, by the laying on of the hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures. (1835 edition, 2:8.)

24:35—The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost. D&C 20:45—The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God. (1835 edition, 2:9.)
44:26— … and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church, and two of the elders, such as he shall appoint and set apart for that purpose. D&C 42:31— … and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose. (1835 edition, 13:8.)
44:29—And the residue shall be kept in my storehouse to administer to the poor and needy, as shall be appointed by the elders of the church and the bishop. D&C 42:34—Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council. (1835 edition, 13:10.)
51:6— … as is appointed to him by the bishop and elders of the church, according to the laws and commandments. D&C 48:6— … as is appointed to him by the presidency and the bishop of the church, according to the laws and commandments. (1835 edition, 64:2.)
53:41—Wherefore I am in your midst; and I am the good Shepherd. D&C 50:44—Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall. (1835 edition, 18:8.)
65:30—Behold now it is called today, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people. D&C 64:23—Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people. (1835 edition, 21:5.)

Text removed or reworked

A few revelations removed text, or altered the expression of an idea with a new phrasing or approach:

Book of Commandments Doctrine and Covenants
Chapter 4:5–6—And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them, and I will put down all lyings, and deceivings, and priest-crafts, and envyings, and strifes, and idolatries, and sorceries, and all manner of iniquities, and I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old. And now if this generation do harden their hearts against my word, behold I will deliver them up unto satan, for he reigneth and hath much power at this time, for he hath got great hold upon the hearts of the people of this generation: and not far from the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah, do they come at this time: and behold the sword of justice hangeth over their heads, and if they persist in the hardness of their hearts, the time cometh that it must fall upon them. D&C 5:19—For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming. (1835 edition, 32:3.)
4:8— … but if he will go out and bow down before me …

D&C 5:24— … but if he will bow down before me … (1835 edition, 32:5.)

16:13—Wherefore, I command you by my name, and by my Almighty power, that you repent. D&C 19:15—Therefore I command you to repent. (1835 edition, 44:2.)
16:22—And I command you, that you preach nought but repentance; and show not these things, neither speak these things unto the world. D&C 19:21—And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me. (1835 edition, 44:2.)
24:11—Which book was given by inspiration and is called the book of Mormon, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels. D&C 20:10—which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels … (1835 edition, 2:2.)
44:55–57—Thou shalt contract no debts with the world, except thou art commanded. And again, the elders and bishop, shall counsel together, and they shall do by the direction of the Spirit as it must needs be necessary. There shall be as many appointed as must needs be necessary to assist the bishop in obtaining places for the brethren from New York, that they may be together as much as can be, and as they are directed by the Holy Spirit; and every family shall have a place, that they may live by themselves.—And every church shall be organized in as close bodies as they can be; and this for a wise purpose;—even so. Amen. These verses were omitted. (1835 edition, 13.)

Expression altered

Book of Commandments Doctrine and Covenants
Chapter 7:3—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. D&C 8:6–8—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. (1921 edition, 8:6–8.)

Question: What are the reasons for the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants?

The Doctrine and Covenants was changed in order to correct errors or mistakes due to the human process of writing down revelations, as well as integrate new revelatory material

Wrote Elder Marlin K. Jensen in 2009:

One of Joseph Smith’s tasks in reviewing the manuscripts prior to their publication was to “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit.” Joseph knew from experience that the human process of writing down revelations, copying them into manuscript books, and then passing them through various hands in preparation for publication inevitably introduced unintentional errors. Sometimes changes were required to clarify wording. Occasionally, later revelations would supersede or update previously received revelations, necessitating the editing of documents to alter previous versions. Various other changes were also made from time to time. Most of these, such as dividing the text into verses or clarifying meaning, did not involve substantive corrections.

Joseph seemed to regard the manuscript revelations as his best efforts to capture the voice of the Lord condescending to communicate in what Joseph called the “crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language” of men." The revealed preface to the published revelations also seems to express this principle: “I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (DC 1:24).

Joseph and his associates were appointed by the actions of Church conferences to prepare the revelations for publication by correcting the texts. Recent analysis of both manuscript revelation books reveals how and when many of the changes were made. For example, some changes were made before selected items were published in Missouri, while others were made in Ohio before the 1835 publication of the Doctrine and Covenants.

One common example involves changes made by Sidney Rigdon. He often changed the language in the revelations from the biblical “thee,” “thy,” and “thine” to the modern “you,” “your,” and “yours.” Many of these changes were later reversed. He also corrected grammar and changed some of the language to clarify and modify words and meaning.

In a few cases, more substantive changes were made as revelations were updated for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. For example, section 20 was originally received in 1830, before much of the leadership structure of the Church as we know it today was revealed to Joseph Smith. By 1835 Joseph had organized many offices and quorums by revelation. To include this newly revealed ecclesiastical order, several text changes and additions were incorporated into section 20. Our current verses 65–67 on ordaining men to priesthood offices, for instance, had been revealed after the 1833 publication and were subsequently added to the 1835 publication.

Joseph Smith reviewed many of his associates’ editorial changes and made slight alterations in his own hand before A Book of Commandments was published in 1833. He made additional changes, including adding surnames to individuals mentioned in the revelations, just before the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835.

Sometime around 1834–35 in Kirtland, Ohio, Revelation Book 2 was used for the preparation of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and all but eight items in the manuscript book were published in that 1835 volume. In contrast, just three of the revelations copied into the book were published in A Book of Commandments in 1833. Two of the manuscript book’s revelations were first published in the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants.

Subsequent editing changes through the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants involved occasional word changes, but the major substantive changes occurred under the Prophet Joseph’s guidance for the 1835 edition. [4]

Question: How do Latter-day Saints understand prophetic revelation?

Among the most pressing questions a Latter-day Saint can answer is that of the nature of divine revelation. Critical attacks on revelation demand that we develop a robust understanding of the nature of the Divine Disclosure and how it has come to us. Without a solid understanding of the nature of revelation, criticism will appear to threat or even undermine virtually everything we believe in given the centrality of the doctrine of revelation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article answers that question. To reduce circularity, it is always wisest to start with what the prophets actually say about revelation. Thus, this article will be centered on the scriptures and the statements of living prophets and apostles.

First, who is God?

It is important to first answer the question of who Latter-day Saints believe God to be since the nature of God influences all understanding of revelation. Revelation is the tool that he has given us to describe him best, his nature, and his law, even though at times his purposes and ways of working with his children can be inscrutable. To Latter-day Saints, he is also literally our Father in Heaven with a body of flesh and bone. He is of the same species that we are and because of this is able to communicate with us in a way that we understand through our own human processes. Since he is a man he knows how to communicate with humans. If we weren't of the same species, would it be possible to communicate with us? We understand him to work with us like a father—catering to our needs as he teaches us how to come closer to him. He works beyond "the veil". In other words, he is separated from us for a time and a purpose. He must now communicate his will to us, through agents known as "prophets", to the end of accomplishing that purpose. Latter-day Saints generally understand God to be maximally powerful, knows all that is able to be known, omnipresent but only by means of the Light of Christ (since he is limited in space by virtue of having a body), benevolent, all-loving, all-good, capable of sin but without it, with a fixed past knowledge, immutable in character, passible since he is our father and has a body (though most wouldn't be sure how this is made manifest), and sovereign. This knowledge of who God is frames the way we understand all revelation.

Purpose of Revelation

Revelation for Latter-day Saint is given for the purpose of drawing all mankind into a community of believers, united by special promises made between them and God called covenants, and guided into one heart and mind to becoming like God. All scriptures, from the Holy Bible to the Book of Mormon, from the Doctrine and Covenants to the Pearl of Great Price, have testified that all mankind may be gathered together into Zion, the community of believers as said before, and unite them in a common purpose to make themselves become more like God by emulating his attributes and inviting others to do the same. God knew that not all people would be able to fulfill these demands. Latter-day Saints believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ effectuated the means by which a person could repent of their sins and be brought back to the covenant people in full fellowship. All revelation is given to show people what God's attributes are, invite them to live according to who God is, to invite those people to invite others to live by who God is, to bring people into that group, and to thus stand in one heart and mind in indwelling love and unity one with another by virtue of having one purpose and means of bringing about that purpose.

Since Latter-day Saints believe that the ultimate end to which God has called all humankind is to become like him, orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy; holiness over accuracy; person-truth over idea-truth. Revelation teaches Latter-day Saints much more how to act rather than what to believe. Those are obviously not mutually exclusive, and Latter-day Saints do have doctrines that teach them about their divine ontology and how that leads them to live the Law of Love more fully, but revelation for Latter-day Saints is more about getting people to act morally and to seek the holiness that God enjoys rather than getting them to believe in all the same things.

Revelation comes through a variety of means or methods.

As expressed in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

TYPES OF REVELATION. A dispensation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a series of personal revelations from God. These revelations may be direct manifestations from God, as in the following typical cases:

1. theophanies (seeing God face-to-face), as in the first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which came at the beginning of the present dispensation (JS-H 1:15-20)

2. revealed knowledge from the Father that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:13-17; see also Spirit of Prophecy)

3. visitations of angelic persons, such as the appearance of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith (JS-H 1:30-32)

4. revelations through the Urim and Thummim, by which means Joseph Smith translated the book of mormon

5. open visions, as when Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were shown the kingdoms of the hereafter (see Doctrine and Covenants: Section 76)

6. physically hearing the voice of God, as is recorded in 3 Nephi 11

7. receiving the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, as in the experience of Elijah (1 Kgs. 19);

8. receiving the gifts of the spirit (D&C 46)

9. having a burning in the bosom as an indication of the will of God, as in the explanation given to Oliver Cowdery (D&C 9:8)

10. dreams (1 Ne. 8:2-32)

11. manifestations of the Light of Christ, by which all men know good from evil (Alma 12:31-32; D&C 84:46-48).

Such direct manifestations of the mind and will of God are known as gifts and are contrasted with signs. Gifts always have a spiritual component, even when they have a physical aspect. Signs are physical manifestations of the power of God and are a form of revelation from God, though they may be counterfeited and misinterpreted. Signs may show that God is at work, but spiritual gifts are required to know how one should respond.[5]

Revelation is received, interpreted, transmitted, and recalled through human systems and processes

Revelation is inextricably tied to the human processes we all possess as children of God— most especially our aural, visual ( these perhaps more in the case of visions), sensory (in the case of peace, burning in the bosom, etc.), and cognitive systems and processes (perhaps more in the case of spiritual promptings, dreams, etc.). Since God, angels, and man are of the same species (3 Nephi 28:10; Moses 6:9), the Spirit of Revelation is given by the power of the Holy Ghost (Alma 5:46; Moroni 10:8, 13-14, 17-18), the Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 84:45-53), the Light of Christ gives light and life to all things (Alma 28:14; Doctrine and Covenants 88:7-12), and our souls are composed of our spirit and our physical body intimately intertwined (D&C 88:15), it seems theologically unavoidable to say that revelation will come through these systems and processes. Thus, revelation will be received, interpreted, transmitted, and even recalled (e.g. The First Vision) through those systems and processes.

Revelation is like an ongoing dialogue between God and mankind

Revelation can be given for the first time and then, after its initial dispensation, be added to or expanded, revised, rescinded, clarified, or synthesized via additional revelation. In this way, revelation is like a dialogue between God and mankind. The best way to understand what revelation from God is trying to communicate to us is to read revelation recorded in scripture contextually and holistically so we can carefully take note of the additions, revisions, clarifications, etc. and thus come to accurate conclusions about what God's message is to us today. The article below teaches readers how to read scripture more carefully in order to come to accurate conclusions about its message to us.

Revelation can be recorded on or otherwise be present in a variety of documents

Revelation for Latter-day Saints can be recorded on or otherwise be present in a variety of documents. For Latter-day Saints, a variety of genres of documents are contained in the scriptures. These include letters, journal/diary or notebook extracts, meeting minutes, dictated revelations, histories, genealogies, poetry, proclamations or official declarations, news releases/public statements, and more. Even more kinds of documents in which revelation may be present are book chapters or whole books, magazine articles, newspaper articles, general conference addresses, patriarchal blessings, sacrament meeting talks, and more. The duty of every Latter-day Saint is to defend those documents and particularly those parts deemed to have their origins in divine revelation as true as much as humanly possible.

Revelation is given in a particular historical context.

No revelation occurs in a vacuum. That is, no revelation is given to a prophet without a historical context, and by the same token a particular set of needs, concerns, and pressing events on the prophet leading his people at any given time. This context is either described by the text (as with the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price) or by historical research (as it is generally in the Doctrine and Covenants). This historical context is crucial to understand since the authority of a particular revelation may have only been necessary during the historical context in question. Perhaps this is what is the Lord meant in D&C 46:15 when he states that he "[suits] his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men." This is why we can have doctrines that are revealed yet not ideal (i.e. something to be updated later) such as the legal systems of the Old Testament.

Since every revelation has a historical context and a particular language with which it is expressed , it becomes expedient for us to familiarize ourselves with the culture and language in which that revelation was produced (a specific injunction for which is found in D&C 88:77-79).

Revelation is also accommodated to the particular needs and immediate concerns of the agent receiving it as discussed before. As such the Lord has worked through diverse means to bring about particular outcomes. This means that some things that have been revealed have only been provisional or implemented in case of contingency (see below under "What can change through revelation?" for a fuller discussion of this). This does not mean that prophets cannot overcome their historical circumstances through revelation in at least some regards. They logically have to in order to provide us soteriological or eschatological knowledge. But the point is that even that revelation comes in a historical context.

As the Lord states in Doctrine and Covenants 56:4 —

"Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good...".

Latter-day Saint doctrine states that it is a spiritual gift to understand the "diversity of operations" of the Lord D&C 46:16

Revelation is couched in the language and expression of the agent receiving it.

Every revelation is couched within the language of the agent receiving it which is why we have Hebrew influence in the Old Testament, Hebrew and Egyptian influence in the Book of Mormon, and Jacobean, 19th century English in the Doctrine and Covenants (2 Nephi 31:3).

Revelation is also accommodated to language and the cultural context of the agent receiving it.

Because revelation is trying to describe a perfect being with fallen language, revelation is also accommodated to the languagof the agent receiving it as well as that agent's current understanding of God. For instance, we learn that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), yet how can he be jealous and perfect? The Doctrine and Covenants tells us to strip ourselves from jealousies (D&C 67:10).

This isn't to say that either scripture is "more correct" in how they portray God—only that they are expressing the character, will, and acts of a perfect being through imperfect language so that we can approach an understanding of him.

Another example is the Battle of Gideon in the tenth chapter of the Book of Joshua, Joshua asks God to stop the sun so that the day was lengthened and Israelites won the battle. Read literally, this story implies that the sun was moving and God made it stop moving. Today, we know that the earth orbits around the sun rather than the other way around. So what's going on? God is accommodating the Israelites geocentric view of our solar system to communicate a divine message/miracle. This is important: culture indeed is embedded into all revelation; but it does not fundamentally override the divine origin of that revelation nor the ability that revelation has to communicate accurate truths about God and the world around us.

A final example might be how Scripture consistently uses the word "man" to refer to "male and female"— typical of ordinary conversation then and now. This has understandably drawn some discomfort from female readers of the scriptures—feeling that this might be an example of soft sexism in Scripture. Of course, the scriptures do mean to include both males and females in their messages when saying "man" or "mankind", but typical linguistic conventions were used to communicate that divine message.

The Doctrine and Covenants itself announces that:

Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.DC 1:24

So since people can't learn all that there is to know about God in one revelation, God simply seeks to bring knowledge about himself to that person seeking revelation while not revealing all at once. He reveals himself "line upon line." Just as a teacher teaching 101 students cannot teach them 405 concepts without the 101 students being confused, so God must accommodate learning about him to the cultural context of the agent seeking knowledge about him through revelation.

There is no one perfect way to express revelation

Brigham Young (who authored one of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants—DC 136:) described the process in similar terms:

I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fullness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities...

The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fullness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little today and a little to-morrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive... [6]

And, there were even times when others besides Joseph were assigned to collaborate in writing the revelations—clear evidence that there was not "only one true" way of expressing a revelation. (See DC 124:12-16.)

Revelation is sometimes given "from the top, down."

Revelation is sometimes given "from the top, down." God reveals things suddenly, out of the blue, indepedent of our own cognition. These things generally overcome our present knowledge to give us knowledge about the future, eschatology, soteriology, or knowledge about individuals that we wouldn’t otherwise have. He gives us gifts, he reveals sacred information through prayers or blessings, he gives miracles. This may properly be referred to as "top-down revelation" where the Lord is placing the agent receiving the revelation in the mental state that he/or she needs to be to accomplish a particular task. This type of revelation is most sacred to Latter-day Saints. It increases our confidence that revelation is not "all in our heads" so to speak.

If revelation like this didn't exist, nothing would be "revealed" in any traditional sense and could easily be construed as self-delusion or deception. It would make it so that no law could be given that could then be subsequently subverted with claims that revelation is simply men following the dictates of their own bias. It would undermine any type of authority from revelation which we need for crucial practices and doctrines such as commandments, obedience, and repentance.

Revelation is sometimes a matter of going "from the bottom, up".

Often revelation does require that we first study something out in our mind (D&C 9:8). As President Russell M. Nelson has recently stated

. . .I know that good inspiration is based upon good information. . .[7]

Once we have studied an issue out in our mind, it is then up to the spirit to decide which will be the best for the future. Sometimes it will confirm what we have studied out and sometimes it will cause a "stupor of thought" (D&C 9:9)

Some more "progressive members" of the Church and other critics take "bottom-up revelation" to be something different. Usually it is thought that if one places enough public pressure on the Church that it will change it's doctrines. This should not be expected or practiced (see below under "common necessity, not common demand").

All revelation is wisdom that is largely independent of the agent receiving it.

All revelation, whether more "bottom, up" or "top, down" is wisdom that is largely independent of the agent receiving it. This simply means that God is primarily the one who chooses the symbols that revelation attaches itself to not the prophet. Were it not so, nothing would be "revealed" in any coherent sense and rather be closer to a concoction of bias and self-delusion that can change with any wind of opposition. We have prophets for the opposite reason — to not be swayed with every wind of doctrine and to come to a unity of faith (Ephesians 4:11-15). This does not mean that revelation doesn't have a human component to it — that it isn't couched in human language and expression, that it can't have tensions, updates, etc. Only that, in the moment of revelation, if that revelation is faithfully received, interpreted, and recorded, that it should be authoritative for our lives.

The authority/success of recorded revelation differs between books of scripture

How successful revelation is depends entirely on the agent who receives it and how willing they are to receive, interpret, and record/transmit that revelation as faithfully as possible. Such is why the Book of Mormon so strongly emphasizes the need to keep good records of God's dealings with his children. Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints that:

9 It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?

Thus, how authoritatively the Bible reads may be read differently than how, say, the Doctrine and Covenants reads — where the former relies primarily on oral tradition, memory, and preserved written records to do history that approaches the original revelation and the latter relies primarily on Joseph Smith simply dictating the words that he feels impressed to dictate and having a scribe record it in real-time. This does not mean that the Doctrine and Covenants constitutes "fax-from-God" revelation (i.e. infallibilism), but simply that it is read more authoritatively than the Bible. One will readily see, however, that the emendations to the Doctrine and Covenants do not change the core integrity/idea of the first revelation. If they do, then they remove knowledge that wouldn't be relevant to future Latter-day Saints.

Keep in mind as well that just because a revelation is not recorded nor included in the canon of scripture of the Latter-day Saints, that a revelation was not received. For example, the teachings of Alma to his son Corianton are not expressed in Alma 40 as a dictated revelation from God. Rather, it is clearly just items of instruction from Alma to his son. Just because a revelation is not recorded here nor included in the Book of Mormon, does not necessarily mean that Alma's teachings did not come from revelation. We thus need to be careful of not making the mistake that just because something is not expressed as a revelation that a revelation isn't behind those teachings. There may be no revelation behind such teachings but there may be one.

Revelation is given to prophets "line upon line; precept upon precept"

"Line upon line" has two features:

  1. It reveals core truths over time directly to the prophet.
  2. It makes small addenda to a few previous revelations without threatening the core integrity of the first revelation—immediately suggesting its sometimes corrective nature—and the original revelation being an accommodation to the first people receiving it. This is perhaps what the Lord meant to express in D&C 46:15 when he states that he "[suits] his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men."

An example of this is found in Doctrine and Covenants 19. It states:

6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my glory.

[. . .]

10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore

11 Eternal punishment is God's punishment.

12 Endless punishment is God's punishment.

What can change through revelation?

It becomes the question of some from time to time how we can know what is subject to change and what is not subject to change. To answer this question we should look at it theologically. We should ask ourselves and think logically about what God might want to reveal line upon line and "change" in our theology.

Things that Can Change Day to Day

As it regards hamartiological matters (theology dealing with sin and the nature of sin), these things can change from day to day. The things that God sees as pleasing and not pleasing can change how they like. The Lord tells us this in Doctrine and Covenants 56:4:

4 Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord.

Things That Could Change From Day to Day But Don't for a Reason

Ecclesiological matters (pertaining to Church organization) would logically be subject to change only when there is a particular need to change Church government. In Old Testament times there was a prophet and the immigrating people-nation of Israel. Under Christ, 12 apostles (or "disciples" depending on which Gospel you read) carried authority to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances pertaining to that Gospel and 70 men were called to fulfill a similar call. In modern times, the early restored Church under Joseph Smith started from something slightly different from that and progressed to what was present in the ancient Church quickly. Today, having a First Presidency, Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Seventies, Teachers, Priests, Deacons, Bishops, and so forth acts as an identifier for those seeking the Lord's Church. Additionally, having a wide variety of offices ensures that the needs of a global church are met. Thus, it is unlikely that such offices will change. With a growing populace of members, it is more likely that more men and women will need to be called to provide leadership in those positions without the types of positions changing.

Ordinances necessary for salvation could also change dramatically in amount necessary, type performed, presentation of such ordinances, and so forth. These don't change as they act as effective identifiers for people to find the Lord's Church.

Things That Are (or should be) Revealed in a Linear, Upward Process and Become More Static with Time.

Soteriological matters (that relating to doctrine of afterlife and salvation) come line upon line, precept upon precept, and are crystallized with each subsequent revelation regarding them. The Lord has revealed one reason why we might not know everything about the afterlife right now. As Doctrine and Covenants 19:7 tells us, somethings are revealed as they are to "work upon the hearts of the children of men". Thus, the degree to which we understand the afterlife is contingent upon what will motivate us to repent and what we are prepared to receive. Here we don't have room for contradiction but much more room for adding to a proposition and developing it gradually to a crystallized view of the afterlife. Soteriology as it stands today in the Restored Church is fairly developed with only a few more questions such as progression between kingdoms of glory.

Eschatological matters (relating to understanding of the end of times) really don't have room for contradictory understandings. The Lord has motivation to reveal more relating to eschatology as we progress closer and closer to eschatological times so that we are prepared for them. This is the general pattern followed by the scriptures and will likely continue.

Theogony (or the doctrine of the origin of God) may develop slightly. The only real question remaining is that of the infinite regress of Gods.

Things That have No Reason to be Revealed More than Once or to Have an Ongoing, Crystallizing Understanding

Matters pertaining to cosmology, mariology (theology relating to the character and nature of Mary, mother of Jesus), anthropology (the nature of man in relation to God), angelology (theology regarding angels), christology (theology relating to the character and nature of Jesus Christ), demonology (theology relating to the character and nature of demons), pneumatology (theology relating to the character and nature of the Holy Ghost), the nature of the Godhead and so forth have little room for changing in understanding since they all pertain to the study of essential characteristics or behavior that is independent of all other individuals.

Along with the above, missiology (theology relating to the purpose and manner of performing missionary work) and epistemology (the study of knowledge, its limits, and how it is characterized) in the Latter-day Saint tradition have no reason to change in understanding.

Generally speaking, we should be approaching a static ideal as we get closer to judgement day.

A lot of revelation comes simply by treasuring up the words of God in our minds and having the spirit witness to us in the moment of need what to do or say

We are commanded to treasure up the words of God in our minds. He promises us that they will tell us all things we might do or say in the moment of need (see 2 Nephi 32:3 and D&C 84:85). He promises also that as we study issues out in our mind and ask for confirmation that he will give it (D&C 9:7-9)

Sometimes we are required to actively seek a revelation to receive it

As taught in the Doctrine and Covenants "And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed." (D&C 1:26) We must all be active in our search for revelation on any given matter. God does intervene frequently however. The best way to understand under what circumstances is to read the scriptures and the words of the prophets themselves and judge the matter for ourselves. It does seem that God is revealing new knowledge on a very frequent basis from reading their words.

Many times, we do not need the Lord to command us in action— especially when what we are going to do or are doing is a good thing

Doctrine and Covenants 58:27

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

Some things weren't meant to be made known in this life

States the Apostle Paul: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Cor 13:12).

Elder David A. Bednar compares this pattern of light to walking through fog on a sunny day (and also reveals other patterns of light), where we have just enough light to press into the darkness but not so much as to know exactly where we are going. Eventually, as the Doctrine of Covenants teaches, all will be revealed at the second coming (Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-34)--the light will grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).

Revelation comes because of common necessity and not common demand.

Revelation always comes at a time of common necessity and not common demand. We may demand that a particular thing bend to our political view or whim, however that is not how the Lord operates. As Alma teaches:

21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?

Some believe that if they put enough pressure on the Church that it will change its doctrines regarding things which do not conform to their particular political agenda. If such people actually wanted to build a Zion of "one heart and one mind" (Moses 7:18; Doctrine and Covenants 38:27) they would not seek to build strife in the kingdom and seek more compromise, more patience, and deeper study. They would not seek to subvert authority to follow the God of their own image (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16).

There are good examples of such "bottom-up revelation". However, they usually take the form of new policies and practices that come without any revelation. Such is easily fit into the definition of "being anxiously engaged in a good cause and doing things of our own free will" (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28).

We act in doctrine (D&C 101:78). We accept the light we have received now and receive whatever additional future light is given with gladness. If one does not act in accordance to the commandments of God, such is sin.

Question: Were the changes to the revelations hidden from the Church members?

Oliver clearly understood that some changes were corrections, and some were additions given by revelation which were made prior to publication

One aspect of the prophet's mission includes the editing and modification of revelation prior to publication. There is plenty of evidence that the Church has done nothing to hide the fact that changes were made.

This information has been available since the first publication of the revelations which later became the Doctrine and Covenants. The Saints of Joseph Smith's day had read the revelations in their initial form, many having been published in Church newspapers. Oliver Cowdery wrote, upon the publication of the revised revelations:

On the revelations we merely say, that we were not a little surprised to find the previous print so different from the original. We had given them a careful comparison, assisted by individuals whose known integrity and ability is uncensurable. Thus saying we cast no reflections upon those who were entrusted with the responsibility of publishing them in Missouri, as our own labors were included in that important service to the church, and it was our unceasing endeavor to have them correspond with the copy furnished us. We believe they are now correct. If not in every word, at least in principle. For the special good of the church we have also added a few items from other revelations. [8]

Oliver clearly understood that some changes were corrections, and some were additions given by revelation which were made prior to publication.

Orson Pratt noted that "line was added upon line to several of the sections and paragraphs about to be published"

In 1854, Orson Pratt discussed changes:

We often had access to the manuscripts when boarding with the Prophet; and it was our delight to read them over and over again, before they were printed. And so highly were they esteemed by us, that we committed some to memory; and a few we copied for the purpose of reference in our absence on missions; and also to read them to the saints for their edification. These copies are still in our possession. When at length the time arrived to print the manuscripts, it was thought best not to publish them all, on account of our enemies, who were seeking every means to destroy the Prophet and the Church…. It was concluded, through the suggestions of the Spirit, that by altering the real names given in the manuscripts, and substituting fictitious ones in their stead, they might thus safely appear in print without endangering the welfare of the individuals whose real names were contained therein….

It may be asked, had the Prophet a right to alter names given by revelation and substitute fictitious ones in their stead? We reply, that it is only the printed edition that contains the substituted names, while the original manuscripts, that are safely preserved in the hands of the church, contain the names as they were originally given. Moreover, the substitution of fictitious names for persons and places does not alter or destroy the sense or ideas contained in the revelations. But what the Prophet did in relation to this thing, was not of himself; he was dictated by the Holy Ghost to make these substitutions…. And by revelation line was added upon line to several of the sections and paragraphs about to be published.

But some may inquire, are not the Almighty’s revelations perfect when they are first given? And if so, where was the propriety of the Lord’s adding any thing to them, when they were already perfect? We reply that every word of God is perfect; but He does not reveal all things at once, but adds ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little,’ revealing as the people are able to bear, or as circumstances require…. The Lord, therefore, adds to His own revelations whenever he thinks proper.[9]

"The Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations"

In 1857, the Millennial Star noted:

Joseph, the Prophet, in selecting the revelations from the Manuscripts, and arranging them for publication, did not arrange them according to the order of the date in which they were given, neither did he think it necessary to publish them all in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but left them to be published more fully in his History. Hence, paragraphs taken from revelations of a later date, are, in a few instances, incorporated with those of an earlier date. Indeed, at the time of compilation, the Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations. In this manner the Lord did truly give ‘line upon line, here a little and there a little,’ the same as He did to a revelation that Jeremiah received, which, after being burned by the wicked king of Israel, the Lord revealed over again with great numbers of additional words (See Jeremiah 36:32) [10]

Question: Have edits to the revelations been discussed in the present day?

The official Church magazine, the Ensign has published several discussions of the editing process

  • Robert J. Woodford, "The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants," Ensign (December 1984), 32. off-site
  • Robert J. Woodford, "How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants Were Received and Compiled," Ensign (January 1985), 27. off-site
  • Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign (February 1985), 14. off-site
  • Gerrit Dirkmaat, "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Ensign (January 2013). off-site

Elder Boyd K. Packer also discussed the changes to the revelations in general conference

Elder Boyd K. Packer also discussed the changes to the revelations in general conference:

Some have alleged that these books of revelation are false, and they place in evidence changes that have occurred in the texts of these scriptures since their original publication. They cite these changes, of which there are many examples, as though they themselves were announcing revelation. As though they were the only ones that knew of them.

Of course there have been changes and corrections. Anyone who has done even limited research knows that. When properly reviewed, such corrections become a testimony for, not against, the truth of the books.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was an unschooled farm boy. To read some of his early letters in the original shows him to be somewhat unpolished in spelling and grammar and in expression.

That the revelations came through him in any form of literary refinement is nothing short of a miracle. That some perfecting should continue strengthens my respect for them.

Now, I add with emphasis that such changes have been basically minor refinements in grammar, expression, punctuation, clarification. Nothing fundamental has been altered.

Why are they not spoken of over the pulpit? Simply because by comparison they are so insignificant, and unimportant as literally to be not worth talking about. After all, they have absolutely nothing to do with whether the books are true.

After compiling some of the revelations, the ancient prophet Moroni said, “… if there be faults they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Mormon 8:17) “And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these. …” (Mormon 8:12) [11]

It is difficult to understand how detailing changes and discussing them in general conference constitutes "hiding the truth." Church members pay comparatively little attention to such matters, however, because the mechanism by which revelations are produced are of far less importance than the content of the revelations, and whether the revelations are true.

B.H. Roberts discussed the changes in the revelations

And, B.H. Roberts also wrote of the publication of the revelations in 1833 that they

were revised by the Prophet himself in the way of correcting errors made by the scribes and publishers; and some additional clauses were inserted to throw increased light upon the subjects treated in the revelations, and paragraphs added, to make the principles for instructions apply to officers not in the Church at the time some of the earlier revelations were given. The addition of verses 65, 66, and 67 in sec. XX of the Doctrine and Covenants is an example. [12]

Marlin K. Jensen discussed the changes to the revelations

With the advent of the Joseph Smith papers project, Church Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen wrote an extensive article about changes and their rationale:

  • Marlin K. Jensen, "The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books," Ensign (July 2009), 46–51. off-site

The claim that the changes have been hidden simply cannot be sustained.

Brigham Young (1855): "I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness"

Brigham Young:

I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities...[13]


  1. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  2. All examples from Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign (February 1985), 14. off-site
  3. Joseph Smith, “Journal History 1830–1833,” Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
  4. Marlin K. Jensen, "The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books," Ensign (July 2009), 46–51. off-site
  5. Chauncey R. Riddle, "Revelation," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 6 vols. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992; 2007), 3:1225.
  6. Brigham Young, "The Kingdom Of God," (8 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:314.
  7. Russell M. Nelson, "Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives," General Conference (April 2018).
  8. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints, 1805-1890, Volume 1, p. 580-81.
  9. Orson Pratt, “Explanation of Substituted Names in the Covenants,” The Seer 2.3 (March 1854): 227-9.
  10. ?, "Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchisedek Priesthoods," Millennial Star 19 no. 17 (25 April 1857), 260. (Scripture references modernized for wiki linkage.)
  11. Boyd K. Packer, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," Ensign (May 1974), 93. off-site; also in Boyd K. Packer, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," in Conference Report (April 1974), 137.
  12. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:173, note. note Volume 1 link
  13. Brigham Young, "The Kingdom Of God," (8 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:314.