Possible contradictions in the Doctrine and Covenants

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Possible contradictions in the Doctrine and Covenants

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Question: Why does Doctrine and Covenants 132 speak favorably about some Old Testament practitioners of plural marriage, while Jacob 2 is negative?

Jacob demonstrates that some of David and Solomon's actions were contrary to Torah, and contrary to God's established order

Jacob demonstrates that some of David and Solomon's actions were contrary to Torah, and contrary to God's established order. If God will not justify even the kings of Israel in such behavior (Jacob seems to argue) why do you think he will justify you in taking plural wives which I, Jacob, have not approved as God's representative among you?

On the other hand, the Doctrine and Covenants' intention is to explain under what circumstances God has and would not only permit but command plural marriage through his prophets.

These two texts are not discussing the same thing at all. This is not immediately obvious, but becomes clear as we look closer.

At some point after David and Solomon, it was encoded into Mosaic law that a man was not to have many wives

One of the challenges is that at some point after these events (David and Solomon), it was encoded into Mosaic law that a man was not to have many wives—and this (back when polygamy was still considered acceptable in mainstream Judaism) was later interpreted by the Rabbis to mean that a man could have as many as four wives.

This injunction on the number of wives seems to be carried over into the polemic given in Jacob. The key in this interpretation of the text is the phrase "Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines...". This is a citation of the Old Testament text found in Deuteronomy 17:17, although the rendering is much closer to the NIV than to the KJV. (Deuteronomy in its present form was probably not written before the Lehites' departure, but a similar body of law and thought would have gone back to Lehi's day.)

Here is the relevant passage from the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), which describes the responsibilities and powers of the king.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (NIV, emphasis added)

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,"
15 be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.
16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, "You are not to go back that way again."
17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.
19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees
20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

Compare this with the KJV:

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (KJV, emphasis added)

14 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

It is probable that Jacob is effectively quoting this passage (or a precursor to it) from the Brass Plates

It is probable that Jacob is effectively quoting this passage (or a precursor to it) from the Brass Plates, and whether or not some of those wives/concubines were given to these men by God is to an extent irrelevant to his point. In other words, the passage in the Book of Mormon and the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants, quite possibly, are really not discussing the same issue at all.

Jacob was not just saying that David and Solomon had more than one wife, he says that they "truly had many wives," as if to say, "there is no question that David and Solomon had many wives." The fact that the Old Testament strictly forbade the practice of taking many wives for a king (both Solomon and David were kings) leads one to conclude that they were in violation of Torah. The reason to suggest it as a recitation of Deuteronomy 17:17 is because of the context.

If it is not a recitation, then there is no previous indication that this is an abomination (at least within the scriptures that we have today) and that this would be a new rule. How then could it be retroactively applied to Solomon and David? This ultimately is the point—Jacob was defending the new 'party line' on polygamy from the scriptures.

The Book of Mormon account is basing its statements on an interpretation of Mosaic Law to defend a new (to them) negative position on polygamy. The Doctrine and Covenants, by contrast, wishes to explain how and when polygamy can be acceptable to God. One states that the abomination of Solomon and David was in their breaking the commandments in Torah according to the text, and while there are many polygamous figures in the Old Testament, very few "truly had many wives." It is doubtful that the Nephite proponents of polygamy restricted their proof texts to only David and Solomon.

It was the murder of Uriah and the taking of his wife that was the sin David committed, not polygamy

What were the wrongdoings of David and Solomon from Jacob's perspective? Was polygamy the sinful act they committed, or was it something else? Obviously, polygamy was accepted by the Lord at times, since many of His prophets participated in the practice. In fact, the Bible says that God gave David his plural wives:

2 Samuel 12:7-8 (emphasis added)

7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8 And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

Would God give anyone something that was sinful, wrong, or evil? Absolutely not. If polygamy was not the sin that David committed, then what was it? The very next verse in the Bible explains the sin.

2 Samuel 12:9 (emphasis added)

Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

It was the murder of Uriah and the taking of his wife that was the sin David committed, not polygamy. David already had plural wives. These wives were given to him by God. Polygamy was not the sin David was guilty of, but murder and coveting another's wife was. David committed this murder (or rather caused it to happen) so he could have Uriah's wife as his own. In other words, David took an additional wife that the Lord did not give him. But the fact that he had plural wives was in no wise a sin.

The Doctrine and Covenants confirms what the Bible tells us concerning this matter.

DC 132:39

David's wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife;

It was the fact that Solomon allowed some of his wives to turn his heart away from the Lord that resulted in sin, not polygamy

What of Solomon? Was polygamy his sin? Not according to the Bible.

1 Kings 11:1-6 (emphasis added)

1 BUT king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;
2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.
3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.
4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.
6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father.

It was the fact that Solomon allowed some of his wives to turn his heart away from the Lord, just like Uriah's wife did with David, that resulted in sin or evil. It was not polygamy that was evil. The Book of Mormon explains that only when God commands it can a man have more than one wife at a time.

Now, let's return to the second chapter of Jacob:

Jacob 2:23 (emphasis added)

But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures...

Remember that verse 30 could be the "exception clause." That is why it is important to look at the full account in the scriptures, and not selectivity pick one or two verses.

Jacob 2:23 (emphasis added)

...for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.

The Lord had not given permission for the people to have more than one wife at that time. The people were selectively using the scriptures to obtain more than one wife. Because the Lord had not given His permission, it was wrong to have more than one wife at a time, and Jacob can demonstrate how both these kings were also condemned by the Law for their unapproved actions.

Jacob 2:24

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

It was not the concubines or the multiple wives that was abominable, but the fact that not all of it was specifically approved by the Lord

It was not the concubines or the multiple wives that was abominable, it was abominable because there was some abuse and not all of it was specifically approved by the Lord.

Jacob 2:27-30

27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; OTHERWISE they shall hearken unto these things.

Their plural wives and concubines were an abomination in that not all of them were approved by the Lord. They were kings who used their temporal power to take that which God had not approved.

Question: Does Doctrine and Covenants 84 say that one cannot see God without holding the priesthood?

This argument is fatally flawed by an improper interpretation of D&C 84:21-22 and also by not taking into account additional texts that were produced by Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith claimed that he saw God in 1820 and also claimed that he received the priesthood in 1829. However, in a text which he produced in 1832 (DC 84:21-22) it is said that a person cannot see God without holding the priesthood. Some have misinterpreted section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants in an effort to destroy the testimony of Joseph Smith with regard to the reality of the First Vision. Their effort fails when the text is seen in its proper context and then compared with other writings that were prepared by the Prophet.

When D&C 84:21-22 is analyzed in context then an interpretation emerges that does not support the one proposed by the Prophet's critics. The relevant words read:

19 "And this greater [i.e., Melchizedek] priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live."

The word "this" in verse 22 does not refer to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but rather to "the power of godliness"

The word "this" in verse 22 does not refer to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but rather to "the power of godliness." [1] One of the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood is the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (see DC 49:14). As the Lord explained in an 1831 revelation, "no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God" (DC 67:11).

Moses was transfigured in order that he could see God and endure his presence

An example of this happening is seen in the Pearl of Great Price where it is recorded that Moses "saw God face to face, and he talked with Him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure His presence" (Moses 1:2). Moses confirmed that it was because he was transfigured by the glory of God that he did not die when he saw the Lord's face while in mortality (see Moses 1:11). The Lord verified to Moses in yet another text that sinful mortals cannot see His face and live (see JST Exodus 33:20).

Joseph Smith recorded that he was "filled with the Spirit of God" during the First Vision

This brings us to the case of Joseph Smith in 1820. In the earliest known account of this heavenly manifestation (written in 1832 - the same year as D&C 84) the Prophet made note of the fact that when the experience began a pillar of fire rested down upon him and he was "filled with the Spirit of God." Once the heavens were opened the Savior appeared and said, "Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee." The Redeemer tied these elements together in a Book of Mormon passage where He informed a multitude of His disciples that certain persons would be "visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins (3 Nephi 12:2). Since the Prophet's experience followed the same pattern, it is reasonable to believe that this is what happened to him in the Sacred Grove.

There are two further pieces of evidence pointing to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was transfigured during the First Vision event. First, there is Orson Pratt's 1840 recounting of the incident wherein he relates that the pillar of fire or light "continued descending slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and [Joseph Smith] was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system." [2] Joseph noticed that there was some sort of change wrought upon his body and it was of an extraordinary nature—something he was apparently not accustomed to. Second, we find a parallel between what happened to Moses after his transfiguration and that which happened to young Joseph after his theophany ended. In Moses chapter 1 we read:

9 "And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that His glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. [10] And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man."(Moses 1:9-10)

In the Charles Walker account of the First Vision, it is indicated that Jesus touched Joseph's eyes in order for him to be able to see him

Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, as told by John Alger:

2nd Feb Thurs [1893] Cold and chilly. Attended Fast Meeting.... Br John Alger said while speaking of the Prophet Joseph, that when he, John, was a small boy he heard the Prophet Joseph relate his vision of seeing The Father and the Son, That God touched his eyes with his finger and said “Jospeh this is my beloved Son hear him.” As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior. After meeting, a few of us questioned him about the matter and he told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith in Kirtland when Joseph made this declaration, and that Joseph while speaking of it put his finger to his right eye, suiting the action with the words so as to illustrate and at the same time impress the occurence on the minds of those unto whom He was speaking. We enjoyed the conversation very much, as it was something that we had never seen in church history or heard of before.[3]

In three of the Prophet's retellings of the First Vision story he mentions that he too lost his strength and fell to the earth

1838 Main Text and Note B
"When I came to myself again I found myself lying on my back looking up into heaven; When the light had departed I had no strength, but soon recover[ed] in some degree."
1843 David N. White Interview
"when I came to myself, I was sprawling on my back and it was some time before my strength returned."
1844 Alexander Neibaur Diary
"I endeavored to arise but felt uncom[monly] feeble."

Some early Christian authors saw things in the same way as Joseph

For example, in an early Christian document called the Clementine Homilies the apostle Peter is portrayed as agreeing:

For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light. . . . For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light. [4]

Question: Who authored the Gospel of John?

The Criticism

In the 93rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ, in order to make theological points of his being and person, quotes material from the Gospel of John to Joseph Smith. Critics, in light of modern biblical scholarship, point out that the Gospel of John likely wasn’t written by John, son of Zebedee (as is commonly assumed by Latter-day Saints and conservative Chrisitians) who is understood to have be one of the original apostles of Jesus Christ.

For instance the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible writes:

Like the other Gospels, this one never names an author. Since at least the late second century CE, tradition has attributed the authorship of the Gospel to Jesus’s disciple, John the son of Zebedee, who purportedly wrote the Gospel in Ephesus. Doubts about the accuracy of this tradition have existed since antiquity. Eusebius mentions a different figure, John “the Elder,” living in Ephesus (Hist. eccl. 3.39.3). The conclusion to the Gospel (21.24) points to the memories of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as a

source of its traditions. But the narrative never identifies this figure, although if the “other disciple” in 18.16 is a reference to this same disciple, it may suggest that he is from Jerusalem rather than Galilee. Today most scholars think that Johannine traditions stem from an unidentified follower of Jesus, not one of the twelve disciples. This anonymous disciple developed a group of followers, a “Johannine school,” who were responsible for writing down his witness. This figure was idealized in the community, as the model believer who is called the “beloved disciple” in the Gospel narrative (19.25–27).[5]

The question then becomes, if John, son of Zebedee did not write the Gospel of John, then why would Jesus quote material from the Gospel as if he did?

The revelation does not state that John wrote the Gospel. Rather, it suggests that this record is a lost revelation of the apostle John.

The revelation does not state that John wrote the Gospel. Rather, it suggests that this record is a lost revelation of the apostle John. It states that the prophet would receive a "fulness of the record of John" at the end. What is this "record of John"? Is it a part of the same record revealed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine and Covenants 7? Or is it part of the Gospel of John as recorded in the Holy Bible? Or is it a lost Gospel? We can't know for sure. But the revelation still echoes certain language in the Gospel of John, so how do we look at that?

1. Scholarship is wrong and John the son of Zebedee actually did write the Gospel of John.

The first approach would be to deny the current conclusions of scholarship and to assert that the Gospel of John was actually written by John, son of Zebedee as has been long assumed in Christianity in general. This seems to be the least attractive option by the author, especially since we should be open to how scholarship informs our view of the Gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79) though this remains an option nonetheless.

2. John may have written the thoughts expressed in the Gospel which were then summarized later by the “beloved disciple”.

John, son of Zebedee, may have written the thoughts or taught the things expressed in the Gospel of John which may have been summarized by the later editor aka “the beloved disciple” of the Johannine community. Evidence of this might be found in the fact that the revelation and the Gospel of John’s wording do not match precisely. Additional evidence may be found in the high likelihood of this happening for the authoring of the Book of Revelation.

2a. John, son of Zebedee, may have used similar language found in the Gospel of John to convey ideas about Christ.

In light of the fact that the revelation does not match the language of the Gospel of John precisely, it may be pointed out that John, speaking to the Savior who used John’s language to speak to Joseph, may have used language as found in the Gospel of John to describe the Savior which the Savior transmitted to Joseph. This may have taken place in a celestial setting with John telling the words to Christ or Christ may be remembering the words spoken to him by John and then repeating them to Joseph Smith.

These options (2 and 2a) appear to be the most attractive to the author and what the author believes will be most healthy approaches for Latter-day Saints.

3. Another person named John may have written the Gospel of John.

Another person named John may have written the Gospel of John. As evidence of this, it may be pointed out that nowhere in the revelation does it state that John, son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel. The “beloved disciple” may have been a disciple named John like the quote from The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible suggests.

4. The Savior may have been using Joseph’s understanding to teach him in parable about his nature.

It may be that Joseph had an incorrect assumption that was frozen into scripture. Perhaps the Savior used Joseph’s then understanding of the authorship of the Gospel to teach him about his nature and confirm other important things about Latter-day Saint Christology without feeling the need to correct this thing in particular.


In any case, we have seen that under no circumstances does this have to affect Latter-day Saint testimony in any substantial way.


  1. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants: Volume Three (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 32-33.
  2. Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 5. off-site off-site Full title GL direct link
  3. Karl Larson and Katharine Miles Larson, eds., Diary of Charles Lowell Walker (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2:755–56 [recorded 2 February 1893]
  4. Apostle Peter (claimed), "Clementine Homilies," in 17:16 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)8:322–323. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  5. Colleen Conway, “The Gospel of John” in The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible fifth edition eds., Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Pheme Perkins, and Carol Newsome (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018), 1521