After the death of Jesus and the Apostles, the priesthood power was no longer available to the people of the Old World and the great apostasy began. The Christian world was left with only the revelations that had been written and passed on to the early Saints. Later these were collected and placed with writings from the ancient prophets to form the Old and New Testaments. The impact and value of the Bible in the history and development of Christianity cannot be underestimated. With no additional scriptural revelations being given to the people in general, it is not surprising that soon the Bible was the only source of God’s word.
From this very book, which many considered closed and complete, came the words that caused young Joseph Smith to seek God in prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5).
It was in answer to his humble prayer that a glorious vision burst forth. The heavens that had been silent for fourteen hundred years were opened, and revelation began to pour upon the earth once again. For more than one thousand years there had been no living, mortal prophets on the earth. Now, God himself appeared, angels ministered, ancient scriptures were translated, and the Church was restored.
From that spring day in 1820 when Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son, until the dreadful day in 1844 when the Prophet was killed, revelation upon revelation flowed through the man chosen to open the last dispensation.
But even at the Prophet’s death revelation did not cease. The mantle of authority was passed on from man to man, prophet to prophet, and is still borne today by a living prophet. Revelation continues with the transfer of priesthood keys of authority.
Latter-day divine revelations and inspired declarations have been brought together in what we now call the Doctrine and Covenants. This special book of scripture contains the Lord’s counsel for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on earth in the last days. Although most of the sections within the book are directed to members of the Church, the messages, warnings, and exhortations are for the benefit of all mankind. Through its pages, people everywhere are invited to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation.
The book of Doctrine and Covenants is one of the standard works of the Church in company with the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. However, the Doctrine and Covenants is unique because it is not a translation of an ancient document, but is of modern origin.
The Lord confirmed the source of the Doctrine and Covenants when he said:
“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.” (D&C 1:24.)
He went on to say that the revelations were given so that “inasmuch as [his servants] erred, it might be made known;
“And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
“And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
“And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.” (D&C 1:25–28.)
The sacred revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received “from time to time,” in answer to prayer as the Prophet and his associates sought for divine guidance. That guidance was for real people in real-life situations.
In the revelations the doctrines of the gospel are set forth with explanations about such fundamental matters as the nature of the Godhead, the origin of man, the reality of Satan, the purpose of mortality, the necessity for obedience, the need for repentance, the workings of the Holy Spirit, the ordinances and performances pertaining to salvation, the destiny of the earth, the future conditions of man after the resurrection and the judgment, the eternity of the marriage relationship, and the eternal nature of the family.
In addition, the Doctrine and Covenants reveal the governing structure of the Church, outlining the callings and responsibilities of the various priesthood offices.
Finally, the testimony that is given of Jesus Christ—his divinity, his majesty, his perfection, his love, and his redeeming power—makes this book of great value to the human family and “of more worth,” said the Prophet Joseph, “than the riches of the whole earth.”
The Lord counseled us to:
“Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall be fulfilled.
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heaven and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.
“For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen.” (D&C 1:37–39.)
How did we get the book of the Doctrine and Covenants?
Shortly after the Church was organized in April 1830, the Prophet Joseph began to prepare a copy of the revelations he had received. He may have considered their future publication because Church members were asking for copies for their own use and study.
On November 1st and 2nd, 1831, a conference of the elders meeting at Hiram, Ohio, decided that the revelations should be compiled and published. On the first day of the conference, the Lord gave his approval of the plan by giving a revelation which he called his “preface unto the book of my commandments, which I have given them to publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth” (D&C 1:6). The Lord’s “preface,” became Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, although it was not the first revelation received by the Prophet.
In response to the Lord’s commandment, the Prophet promptly selected and prepared the revelations for publication in Independence, Missouri, where Church member W. W. Phelps operated a printing press. The important responsibility of carrying the prepared revelations from Hiram, Ohio, to Independence, was assigned to Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer.
By the summer of 1833, about two-thirds of the revelations had been set in type and printed. But the work was halted when an anti-Church mob destroyed the press and most of the printed forms. Church members were able to salvage some of the printed sheets and published a few bound copies under the title of the Book of Commandments. There were sixty-five sections.
Two years later the first Doctrine and Covenants was published. It contained 102 sections corrected and rearranged by a committee headed by the First Presidency. The book also contained seven “Lectures on Faith,” which had been presented as lessons to the School of the Elders in Kirtland during 1834–1835. The lectures were included as a help to the Saints to better understand Church doctrine, not as revelation. Two other articles of interest, one on marriage and one on government, were also included. The new volume was approved at a Church conference held in August 1835.
An enlarged version of the Doctrine and Covenants containing 111 sections was published following the Prophet’s death in June, 1844. A new edition, containing 136 sections divided into verses by Elder Orson Pratt under the direction of President Brigham Young, was published in 1876. Three years later, Elder Pratt added footnotes to the sections, and the article on marriage was taken out.
Some forty years later, in 1921, Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve, was assigned to revise the Doctrine and Covenants. He produced the basic format we now know: the text was divided into double-column pages, summary headings were prepared for each section, footnotes were revised and expanded, and an index was prepared. An 1890 statement by President Wilford Woodruff renouncing plural marriage was included, but the seven lectures on faith were deleted because they were not considered formal revelation.