Our Heavenly Father loves his children—all mankind—and has from the beginning of time. As an all-wise and understanding Father, he has known that his counsel and advice given orally to man might easily be forgotten or lost, and his children would suffer immeasurably thereby.
From the beginning of man on this earth, therefore, he has encouraged, yea, commanded his prophets to write his instructions and guidance that they might be widely disseminated and freely shared.
Many ancient writings are contained in the four standard works of scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with new revelations given to prophets in this dispensation.
Each of these has a rich history. The story of how we are fortunate enough to enjoy them in this dispensation is a classic illustration of the love of our Heavenly Father for his children.
In carrying the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all mankind, missionaries of the Church boldly use both the Old Testament and the New Testament as they have come down to our day, for they know that the gospel was taught anciently, both before and after the time of Christ. They declare:
“To the Latter-day Saint, Jesus was the Christ, the Only Begotten, the Son of God, a member of the Trinity. All our modern scriptures are to this point, and the true ancient scriptures will neither take away from, nor destroy this everlasting truth.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Our Bible [Bookcraft, 1954], p. 26.)
In reference to the instructions of God to Adam, “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and to his sons Abel and Seth and his grandson Enos, Enoch, a contemporary prophet, wrote:
“And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them;
“And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;
“And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.” (Moses 6:4–6.)
The full record of Enoch is yet to be restored (see D&C 107:57), but in further extracts from his writings and prophecies, restored through Joseph Smith in December 1830, this insight into the standards of scripture of Enoch’s time is given:
“And death hath come upon our fathers; nevertheless we know them, and cannot deny, and even the first of all we know, even Adam.
“For a book of remembrance we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language.” (Moses 6:45–46.)
One story of the life and times of Abraham is given in chapters 12 to 24 in the first book of Moses, called Genesis. Standard scriptures of Abraham’s time are referred to in a translation of a copy of his own autobiography, produced by Joseph Smith from an ancient document through the spirit of revelation. Abraham wrote:
“But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.” (Abr. 1:28.)
Not only did Abraham in 2000 B.C. have a collection of written scriptures in his possession—standard works, if you will—but he also saw the need for their preservation and transmission to his descendants, even if it must be done in an abridged form. Again he wrote:
“But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands … and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.” (Abr. 1:31.)
Modern revelation gives added insight into record keeping and written scriptures in the time of Moses. After Moses had broken the “two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18) because of the unreceptiveness and wickedness of Israel (see D&C 84:19–27), God said to him:
“Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them. …” (JST, Ex. 34:1.)
“And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables … save the words of the everlasting covenant of the holy priesthood, and thou shalt put them in the ark.” (JST, Deut. 10:2.)
Revelations to Joseph Smith, now collected into both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, thus give added insights into the true story of how the Old Testament came to be.
As to the origin of the New Testament, Luke records:
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee. …” (Luke 1:1–3.)
John, in what is perhaps the last of the canonized New Testament books to be written, testified:
“This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:24–25.)
The Doctrine and Covenants contains an additional revelation concerning John, which Joseph Smith received in April 1829. He states that it was received through the use of the Urim and Thummim and was translated from parchment, written and hid up by John himself. (See preface to D&C 7.) The restored text gives added depth and understanding to the statement made in John 21:22–23 that he, John, should tarry until Christ came in his glory.
Again, in February 1832, while “translating St. John’s Gospel,” Joseph Smith became increasingly aware that the transmission of the Bible was far from perfect. He stated in his journal:
“From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.” (DHC, vol. 1, p. 245.)
He then records a vision that he received, and he witnesses to the fact that “that document is a transcript from the records of the eternal world.” (DHC, vol. 1, p. 252.) His grandnephew, President Joseph Fielding Smith, indicated that the passage in John that prompted this vision was John 5:25–29. (See Church History and Modern Revelation , vol. 1, p. 280.)
Modern revelation possessed by the Church and published to the world gives added insight into the story of how the New Testament came to be.
The second of the books of scripture to be adopted and used by the Church was the Book of Mormon. The title page gives a succinct statement of this book’s divine origin, stating in essence that it is an account written by Mormon and that he drew his information primarily from the “record of the people of Nephi.” It states furthermore that the book consists primarily of abridgments of the records of two peoples: the people of Nephi and the people of Jared. It further declares that the interpretation of the records was to be “by the gift of God”; written to show “unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers”; and written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
God has repeatedly expressed the universality of his love and concern for mankind. In his wisdom and love he has desired that all of his children have his counsels preserved in writing. A Book of Mormon prophet records this statement of God’s universal love for mankind:
“Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever;
“For I command all men, both in the east and in the west and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.” (2 Ne. 29:7, 9, 11.)
The Pearl of Great Price contains restored scripture from all the major dispensations of the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the time of Adam to Joseph Smith.
This book of scripture was first published as a pamphlet in England in 1851 by Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Council of the Twelve. He stated its primary purpose was to make available to “true believers in the Divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith” a collection of “precious truths as a Pearl of Great Price that will increase their ability to maintain and to defend the holy faith. …”
He further stated that this “choice selection from the revelations, translations, and narrations of Joseph Smith” would “commend itself to all careful students of the scriptures, as detailing many important facts which are therein only alluded to, or entirely unmentioned. …” (Preface and title page, 1851 edition.)
A second and slightly different compilation was made in the United States by Orson Pratt in 1878, using the same title. This compilation was later reviewed, and Elder James E. Talmage of the Council of the Twelve, working under a committee appointed by the First Presidency, revised its contents. The revision was approved by the First Presidency and by vote of the semiannual general conference in October 1902.
The Doctrine and Covenants contains revelations and instructions given by God through three modern prophets of this dispensation: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff.
The compilation of this collection of divine instructions began at least as early as 1831. Certain of the revelations were first printed in the Evening and Morning Star, official Church periodical, in Independence, Missouri, in 1832. A collection of the revelations was printed in paperback form in Independence, Missouri, in 1833 under the title of Book of Commandments. The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, comprised of revelations of Joseph Smith as selected by a special committee, was published in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1835. Subsequent editions have contained additional revelations.
The preface was given by revelation during a special conference of the elders of the Church on November 1, 1831. It reads in part:
“Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.
“For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men. …
“Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear. …
“That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world. …” (D&C 1:1–2, 11, 23.)
What has been said in this scripture about the Doctrine and Covenants may truly be said of all of the standard works, for in them is found the fullness of the gospel. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye … have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.)