Doctrine and Covenants/Textual changes
|Doctrine and Covenants|
Relationship to the Book of Mormon:
- Joseph Smith made revisions, additions, and deletions to his early revelations when preparing them for publication. Critics claim that revelations from God are inerrant and should never be changed, and this proves that Joseph Smith did not receive revelation.
- Critics claim that the revelations in the Book of Commandments were modified because they were "showing their age," "contained outdated information," "included erroneous statements" and "abandoned doctrines." Some of the revelations "revealed too much information about LDS beliefs."
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.
- Adam and Michael conflated in Doctrine and Covenants 137—
The name "Michael" was deleted from Joseph Smith's vision of the Celestial Kingdom because Adam is Michael. Critics claim that the Church was trying to hide a "slip up" by Joseph Smith, who had identified Adam as Michael on multiple occasions in the past. (Link)
How do the LDS understand prophetic revelation?
It is important to realize that the LDS Church does not believe in a doctrine of prophetic inerrancy. Prophets are not fax machines; they do not simply "download" messages from God. Rather, God inspires prophets through a variety of means: the prophet may be given precise words to speak or simply receive information which he is to communicate in any way which suits his listeners. Many critics come from conservative Protestant backgrounds and religious traditions which endorse doctrines of Biblical inerrancy. (Some members of the Church may also have absorbed some 'fundamentalist' ideas about scripture and prophets.) Both groups of people will be troubled by this doctrine because it does not match their preconceptions, but Joseph Smith cannot be faulted for not following a prophetic model which he never endorsed and which the Church does not teach.
Furthermore, revelation is not always an instantaneous event—it may often be a process of studying a matter out, and applying reason and effort to achieve greater clarity and understanding.
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
Thus, the Doctrine and Covenants acknowledges the weakness of the prophets through which they came, and insists that the wording is in the manner of their language, not direct, word-for-word divine sound bites.
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 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...
- The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fulness; 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...
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" version of the revelation. (See DC 124:12-16.)
Who made the changes?
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. BYU Studies 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.
Thus, the First Presidency of the time supervised the revisions.
Reasons for the changes
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.
Critics attempt to trouble Latter-day Saints who have not considered the fact one aspect of the prophet's mission includes the editing and modification of revelation prior to publication. The critics often act as if these changes are a type of "dirty secret" which the Church is "hiding" from its members.
Unfortunately for the critics, there is plenty of evidence that the Church has done nothing to hide the fact that changes were made.
Nineteenth century discussion
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. 
Oliver clearly understood that some changes were corrections, and some were additions given by revelation which were made prior to publication.
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.
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)
Present day discussion
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
What changes were made?
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.)
- 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.’
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.)|
|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.)|
- [note] See DC 8:1-3 and DC 9:7-10.
- [note] Brigham Young, "The Kingdom Of God," (8 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 1:314.
- [note] 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
- [note] Marlin K. Jensen, "The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books," Ensign (July 2009), 46–51. off-site
- [note] History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints, 1805-1890, Volume 1, p. 580-81.
- [note] Orson Pratt, “Explanation of Substituted Names in the Covenants,” The Seer 2.3 (March 1854): 227-9.
- [note] ?, "Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchisedek Priesthoods," Millennial Star 19 no. 17 (25 April 1857), 260. (Scripture references modernized for wiki linkage.)
- [note] 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.
- [note] 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 BYU Studies link
- [note] Joseph Smith, “Journal History 1830–1833,” Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
- [note] All examples from Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign (February 1985), 14. off-site