Overview of the Doctrine and Covenants

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 14–16


Introduction

In an address to Church Educational System teachers, Elder Boyd K. Packer, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said:

“There is great value in presenting a brief but very carefully organized overview of the entire course at the very beginning. …

“Those few beginning periods, so brief an investment of time by comparison, make it possible for the students to locate themselves anywhere along the way. They have something of a feeling. They retain much more when they know how all of the pieces fit together, and the light of learning shines more brightly. The preview forms a framework and is more than worth the time and work invested in it” (The Great Plan of Happiness [address to religious educators at a symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants/Church history, Brigham Young University, Aug. 10, 1993], 2; or Charge to Religious Educators, 3rd ed. [1994], 113).

Take the time to develop and teach an overview of the Doctrine and Covenants. This will help your students understand the importance of the Doctrine and Covenants and look forward to what they will read and learn during the school year. An overview will strengthen your own and your students’ understanding of the divine mission of Jesus Christ.

What Is the Doctrine and Covenants?

The Doctrine and Covenants (along with the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price) is one of the four “standard works” of the Church. That means that these four books are accepted by the Church as divinely inspired scripture that members covenant to follow.

President Rudger Clawson, who was President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, described the value of the Doctrine and Covenants this way:

“I have here in my hand a most wonderful book, its value cannot be estimated in dollars and cents. It is one of the sacred books of the world; there are none greater perhaps. It is the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the standard works of the Church. This book, my brethren and sisters, is a book containing the revelations of God given unto this people through Joseph Smith, the Prophet. … They constitute the pure word of God to us. We can depend upon the teachings of this book, and you should know that a deep and thorough study of the book before me is more than equivalent to a university education. You may wonder why I say this, but as a matter of fact the university education does not and could not give us the actual saving principles of eternal life. That information comes direct from our heavenly Father.

“The book of Doctrine and Covenants covers every phase of the Gospel of salvation” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1939, 28).

President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, added:

“The Doctrine and Covenants is unique among our books of scripture. It is the constitution of the Church. While the Doctrine and Covenants includes writings and statements of various origins, it is primarily a book of revelation given through the Prophet of this dispensation.

“These revelations open with a thundering declaration of the encompassing purposes of God in the restoration of His great latter-day work [see D&C 1:1–2]. …

“From that majestic opening there unfolds a wondrous doctrinal panorama that comes from the fountain of eternal truth. Some is direct revelation, with the Lord dictating to His prophet. Some is the language of Joseph Smith, written or spoken as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Also included is his narrative of events that occurred in various circumstances. All brought together, they constitute in very substantial measure the doctrine and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …

“The variety of matters the book deals with is amazing. They include principles and procedures concerning the governance of the Church. Unique and remarkable rules of health, with promises both physical and spiritual, are set forth. The covenant of the eternal priesthood is described in a manner not found elsewhere in scripture. The privileges and blessings—and the limitations and opportunities—of the three degrees of glory are announced, building on Paul’s brief mention of a glory of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars. Repentance is proclaimed in language clear and compelling. The correct mode of baptism is given. The nature of the Godhead, which has troubled theologians for centuries, is described in language understandable to all. The Lord’s law of finance is pronounced, mandating how funds for the operation of the Church are to be acquired and disbursed. Work for the dead is revealed to bless the sons and daughters of God of all generations.

“It is evident from reading the Doctrine and Covenants that Joseph Smith had an all-encompassing understanding of the eternal purposes of God” (“The Order and Will of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1989, 2, 4).

Why Is a Study of the Doctrine and Covenants and the History of the Church Important?

President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“The Doctrine and Covenants is the binding link between the Book of Mormon and the continuing work of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.

“In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn of temple work, eternal families, the degrees of glory, Church organization, and many other great truths of the Restoration.

“‘Search these commandments,’ said the Lord of the Doctrine and Covenants, ‘for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.

“‘What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ (D&C 1:37–38).

“The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (v. 30). I know that.

“The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 105; or Ensign, May 1987, 83).

Keystone and Capstone

How Did We Get the Doctrine and Covenants?

“1. In the summer of 1830, Joseph Smith began to arrange and compile some of the revelations he had received to that time.

“2. At the conference on November 1, 1831, it was decided to print 10,000 copies to be known as A Book of Commandments. It was later decided to print [only] 3,000 copies.

“3. Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer took the compiled revelations to Jackson County, Missouri, to have them printed.

“4. On July 20, 1833, a mob destroyed the W. W. Phelps & Co. printing press and most of the printed revelations. A number of copies of the incomplete work of 65 chapters survived this mob action.

“5. On September 24, 1834, arrangements were made by the high council in Kirtland, Ohio, to prepare another volume of revelations.

“6. On August 17, 1835, a general assembly accepted, from a committee composed of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and Frederick G. Williams, the manuscript of revelations to be printed. This edition of [103] sections, named the Doctrine and Covenants, is known as the 1835 edition.

“7. On June 27, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred. An edition comprising 111 sections was printed after the martyrdom.

“8. The next edition, enlarging the Doctrine and Covenants to 136 sections, was printed in 1876 [by Elder Orson Pratt under the direction of President Brigham Young]. The revelations were divided into verses in this edition.

“9. [A new] edition was issued in 1921, with the omission of the Lectures on Faith, published in earlier editions. Added to the volume were introductions to sections, double-column pages, and revised footnote references and index” (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants: Vol. 1 [1978], xiii–xiv).

“[In 1979], after ten years of intense work by a veritable army of volunteers, the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible was published. This was followed [in 1981] by new editions of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Early manuscripts had become available, making possible the correction of many printer errors.

“… Two revelations were added to the Doctrine and Covenants, the book that will never be closed.

“… An innovative system of cross-referencing all the standard works, containing tens of thousands of footnotes which open hundreds of thousands of possible combinations of information, was added.

“… All chapters were given new headings. …

“An index of over four hundred pages was added to the triple combination, together with Church history maps. It was the first time in [many] years that substantive attention had been given to making the content of the scriptures more accessible to members of the Church.

“The revelation on the priesthood came just in time to be bound into the new editions of the scriptures, evidence of direction from beyond the veil” (Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 1990, 47; or Ensign, May 1990, 36).

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Note: Prayerfully study these introductory materials and consider the principles under this heading before preparing your lessons.

  • “The Doctrine and Covenants is the binding link between the Book of Mormon and the continuing work of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 105; or Ensign, May 1987, 83).

Suggestions for Teaching

Note: Choose from the ideas under this heading, or use some of your own, as you prepare to teach the assigned topic.

Doctrine and Covenants Overview. The Doctrine and Covenants is the binding link between the Book of Mormon and the continuing work of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.

(30–35 minutes)

Place a Doctrine and Covenants in a box and wrap it. Display the box on a table in front of the class and tell students that it is a valuable gift. Ask:

  • What are some of the most valuable gifts you have received?

  • What makes a gift valuable?

  • How do you feel when you give a gift that is valuable to you but the person who receives it doesn’t seem to care?

Have a student open the gift and look inside without allowing the others to see. Ask the student if the gift inside is valuable. Take the Doctrine and Covenants out of the box and show it to the class. Ask:

  • Who gave us this gift?

  • What makes this gift valuable?

  • Why might a person not be willing to receive this gift?

Invite students to join you in opening this gift from the Lord and discovering its value. Have students name some of their favorite doctrines or teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants or Church history stories that relate to the Doctrine and Covenants.

Share this statement by President Ezra Taft Benson, thirteenth President of the Church:

“The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 105; or Ensign, May 1987, 83).

Discuss the meanings of the words doctrine (the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ) and covenants (our promises to God and His promises to us). Have each student choose a section or a page from the Doctrine and Covenants and look for examples of doctrines, covenants, or commandments. Have them share what they find with the class. (For examples of covenants, see D&C 38:18–22; 66:2; 78:11–15; 82:16–21; 84:33–41; 97:8–9; 98:1–3, 13–16)

Several times in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord said, “What I say unto one I say unto all” (D&C 61:18; see D&C 25:16; 61:36; 82:5; 92:1; 93:49). Tell students that, as they study the Doctrine and Covenants, they should read the verses as if the Lord were speaking to them (see D&C 1:2; see also 1 Nephi 19:23). Have students find instructions the Lord gave to individuals in the Doctrine and Covenants (for example, see D&C 4:2–3; 8:1–2). Invite them to explain how these instructions can apply to us.

Tell students that, like gifts in boxes, the Doctrine and Covenants can be discovered and understood only as it is opened, carefully examined, and cherished. Have a student read this statement by President Ezra Taft Benson:

“The Doctrine and Covenants is the binding link between the Book of Mormon and the continuing work of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors. …

“The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 105; or Ensign, May 1987, 83).

Ask: How does the Doctrine and Covenants fulfill President Benson’s statement? Encourage students to approach their study of the Doctrine and Covenants with sincere effort and prayerful hearts.