Lesson 26: Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–36

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord commanded that His restored Church be organized on April 6, 1830. He also taught about the importance of the Book of Mormon and gave instructions about the government of His Church, including priesthood offices, ordinances, and procedures of the newly restored Church. This revelation, which was called the “Articles and Covenants” in the early days of the Church, is now found in Doctrine and Covenants 20. This revelation was recorded a few days after April 6, 1830, but the Lord may have revealed parts of it to the Prophet as early as the summer of 1829. Due to its length, Doctrine and Covenants 20 is divided among three lessons in this manual.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–4

God commands that the Church be established

Invite students to think of the last meeting they attended in which testimonies were shared. Ask them to describe how bearing a testimony is different from telling a story or expressing gratitude.

Ask a student to read the following definition of a testimony by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true” (“Testimony,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 26).

Write the following on the board: We know that …

Invite students to turn to Doctrine and Covenants 20. Explain that Church leaders read this section aloud at conferences of the Church held on June 9, 1830, and September 26, 1830, which helped remind the members of the new Church of many important gospel truths. Encourage students to search for doctrines and principles in this section that could be preceded by the phrase, “We know that …”

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–2 silently, looking for insights about the Restoration of the gospel.

  • What truths concerning the Restoration of the gospel do these verses testify of? (One of the doctrines students may identify is that Joseph Smith was called of God and commanded to organize the Church of Jesus Christ. Invite a student to write this doctrine, along with others students identify, on the board under the phrase “We know that …” Students may want to create a similar list in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.)

To help students understand the importance of these truths, encourage them to ponder their own testimonies of the divine calling of Joseph Smith and the truthfulness of the Church. You may want to ask students to share with the class how they have come to know these things are true.

  • What do you think the word “rise” in Doctrine and Covenants 20:1 means in relation to the organization of the Church? (You may need to remind students about the Apostasy and the need for the Restoration.)

  • How can we help the Lord’s Church to continue to “rise” in our day?

Doctrine and Covenants 20:5–16

The Lord briefly recounts some of the events of the Restoration

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:5–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for things that prepared Joseph Smith to organize the Church again on the earth.

  • What did Joseph experience that enabled him to organize the true Church again on the earth? (He was instructed by God and angels and was given power to translate the Book of Mormon.)

Explain that when the Church was organized in April 1830, the Book of Mormon had just been printed. Ask students to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:9–12 silently, looking for truths the Book of Mormon teaches. You may want to suggest that students mark what they discover. After sufficient time, write the following incomplete statement on the board: The Book of Mormon proves to the world that …

Invite several students to come to the board and complete the sentence using phrases they have found in Doctrine and Covenants 20:9–12. You might point to their list of answers and ask the following questions:

  • Why is it so important to gain a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true?

  • If the Book of Mormon is true, then what does that imply about Joseph Smith?

Testify that the Book of Mormon is evidence that God has restored the gospel in our day. This truth could be written on the board under the heading “We know that …”

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:14–15 aloud. Ask the class to look for what the Lord promises to those who receive the Book of Mormon and live by its teachings.

  • What blessings does the Lord promise to those who receive the Book of Mormon in faith?

  • What will happen to those who harden their hearts in unbelief and reject the Book of Mormon?

  • What are some ways we can receive the Book of Mormon in faith?

  • How can the Book of Mormon lead a person to “work righteousness”?

Ask students to ponder (1) how their testimony of the Book of Mormon has helped them be more obedient to God’s commandments and (2) what they can do to strengthen their testimony of it.

Doctrine and Covenants 20:17–36

The Book of Mormon teaches and clarifies key doctrines of the gospel

You may want to invite a student to read the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson:

President Ezra Taft Benson

“In the twentieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord devotes several verses to summarizing the vital truths which the Book of Mormon teaches. (See vs. 17–36.) It speaks of God, the creation of man, the Fall, the Atonement, the ascension of Christ into heaven, prophets, faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, endurance, prayer, justification and sanctification through grace, and loving and serving God” (“A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 7).

Invite students to scan Doctrine and Covenants 20:17, 29, 30, 31, 35 and identify the phrase that is repeated near the beginning of each verse. (Students should identify the phrase “we know that” or a variation of it.) Explain that in Doctrine and Covenants 20:17–36, we can find several important doctrines that the Lord’s Church declares to the world as a result of the First Vision and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Among these are truths about Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost and what we must do to be saved in the kingdom of God.

Write the following references on the board: Doctrine and Covenants 20:17–19; Doctrine and Covenants 20:21–25; Doctrine and Covenants 20:26–28.

To help students fulfill their role in the learning process and prepare them to identify gospel truths, divide them into pairs and assign each pair one of the passages on the board. Invite them to study their assigned verses together, looking for truths about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and what They have done for our salvation.

After sufficient time, invite several students to share one truth they have identified about Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost and explain why it is significant to them. You may want to encourage students to write truths that are particularly meaningful to them in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.

As students identify these truths, you may want to add them to the list on the board under the heading “We know that …” Some of the doctrines students may identify include the following:

God lives and is infinite, eternal, and unchanging (verse 17).

We are created in the image and likeness of God (verse 18).

God gave His Only Begotten Son to be crucified and rise again so that all who believe, are baptized, and endure in faith may be saved (verses 21–25).

The Holy Ghost testifies of the Father and the Son (verse 27).

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost work together to prepare us for eternal life (verses 17–28).

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:29–34 aloud. Ask the class to look for responsibilities we have if we want to inherit eternal life. To help students understand these verses, you may need to explain that justification (verse 30) means to be forgiven, pardoned, and declared not guilty. Sanctification (verse 31) means to become clean, pure, holy, and Christlike.

  • What do these verses teach that we must do to be saved in the kingdom of God?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 20:35–36 aloud. Ask the class to look for what they can do to show that they know these things are true.

  • How can we give honor and glory to the Lord’s name?

Ask students to review the list on the board under the phrase “We know that …” Ask them to quietly consider which of those principles they know are true. If they have been writing the same list in their class notebooks or scripture study journals, you might invite them to place a checkmark next to those truths.

Conclude the lesson by inviting students to choose one of the highlighted principles and share how they have come to know of its truthfulness.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 20:5–8. An outline of historical events

The following table outlines some of the events of the Restoration that are alluded to in Doctrine and Covenants 20:5–8:


Historical event

Doctrine and Covenants 20:5

“After it was truly manifested unto this first elder [Joseph Smith] that he had received a remission of his sins”

Spring 1820: Joseph Smith receives the First Vision (see JS—H 1:15–20; see also Milton V. Backman Jr., “Joseph’s Recitals of the First Vision,” Ensign, Jan. 1985, 13).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:5

Joseph Smith “was entangled again in the vanities of the world”

1820–1823: “During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three … I was left to all kinds of temptations; and … I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature” (JS—H 1:28).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:6

“God ministered unto him by an holy angel”

September 1823: The angel Moroni ministers to Joseph (see JS—H 1:30–33).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:7

“And gave unto him commandments which inspired him”

September 1823: The angel Moroni gives instructions to Joseph (see JS—H 1:34–42).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:8

“And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon”

September 22, 1827–Summer 1829: Joseph obtains the gold plates and the Urim and Thummim and translates the Book of Mormon (see JS—H 1:59–75).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:30–31. Justification and sanctification

The following statement comes from an article by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The portion quoted below only briefly explains the doctrines of justification and sanctification. You may want to read the entire article to gain a more complete understanding of these doctrines.

“Because of ‘the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice,’ Jesus Christ can satisfy or ‘answer the ends of the law’ on our behalf. Pardon comes by the grace of Him who has satisfied the demands of justice by His own suffering, ‘the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Pet. 3:18). He removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. We become, like Him, without sin. We are sustained and protected by the law, by justice. We are, in a word, justified.

“Thus, we may appropriately speak of one who is justified as pardoned, without sin, or guiltless. For example, ‘Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world’ (3 Ne. 27:16; emphasis added). Yet glorious as the remission of sins is, the Atonement accomplishes even more. That ‘more’ is expressed by Moroni:

“‘And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot’ (Moro. 10:33; emphasis added).

“To be sanctified through the blood of Christ is to become clean, pure, and holy. If justification removes the punishment for past sin, then sanctification removes the stain or effects of sin. The Prophet Joseph Smith testified:

“‘And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—

“‘That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear [justify] the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness’ (D&C 76:40–41)” (“Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, June 2001, 20–22).