The Journal of Discourses is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a compilation of sermons and other materials from the early years of the Church, which were transcribed and then published. It included some doctrinal instruction but also practical teaching, some of which is speculative in nature and some of which is only of historical interest.
The content of the Journal of Discourses was transcribed, sometimes inaccurately, and published between 1854 and 1886 in England. The compilation contains some statements of doctrine as well as other materials of interest to Latter-day Saints who lived far from the center of the Church, including speeches given for a variety of occasions, funeral addresses, reports from returning missionaries, prayers, and the proceedings of a trial. The Journal of Discourses was produced under the guidance of those who transcribed the materials, including George D. Watt, David W. Evans, and George W. Gibbs.
Skilled in the use of shorthand, George D. Watt had transcribed many conferences and sermons for the Deseret News. He received little pay for his work. Since the Deseret News was not generally available outside of the United States, Watt proposed to Brigham Young the idea of publishing these materials on a subscription basis. Such a plan would make the materials available to more Saints and allow Watt to earn a living with his work. President Brigham Young supported the plan, and a letter from the First Presidency was included in the first volume encouraging Church members to cooperate in the “purchase and sale” of the journal.
Questions have been raised about the accuracy of some transcriptions. Modern technology and processes were not available for verifying the accuracy of transcriptions, and some significant mistakes have been documented. The Journal of Discourses includes interesting and insightful teachings by early Church leaders; however, by itself it is not an authoritative source of Church doctrine.