Doctrine and Covenants Study
Joseph Smith’s Revelations, Doctrine and Covenants 20
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“Doctrine and Covenants 20,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)

“Doctrine and Covenants 20,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers

Doctrine and Covenants 20

Articles and Covenants, circa April 1830

Source Note

“Articles and Covenants,” [Fayette Township, Seneca Co., NY, ca. Apr. 1830, though parts may have been received as early as ca. summer 1829]. Featured version part of “The Mormon Creed,” in Painesville (OH) Telegraph, 19 Apr. 1831, vol. 2, no. 44 (second series), p. [4]. The microfilm copy of the text transcribed herein was filmed by the Microfilm Corporation of Cleveland, OH, 1947, copy at CHL.

Historical Introduction

The “articles and covenants of the Church of Christ” set forth the offices, ordinances, and procedures that were to be part of the newly formed church. On 9 June 1830, at the first conference of the church following its organization, this document was presented to the membership for approval. The minutes of that meeting recorded, “Articles and Covenants read by Joseph Smith jr. and recieved by unanimous voice of the whole congregation, which consisted of most of the male members of the Church.”1 The importance of Articles and Covenants to the church is suggested by the fact that it was the first revelatory document selected for printing in the church’s earliest periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, and the only one published there twice.2 In the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the compilers placed Articles and Covenants as the second section, preceded only by the revelatory “preface.”3

In many ways, Articles and Covenants is unique. No other early revelatory text produced by JS was presented to a conference of the church for the approbation of the membership. The format and style of Articles and Covenants also differed from other revelations. Rather than the first-person voice of God declaring his will to a specific recipient, as in most of JS’s early revelations, Articles and Covenants instead begins with a third-person historical account of the founding of the church and a brief history of JS. In subsequent paragraphs, the document makes several declarations of belief using the first-person plural statement “we know.” As with some of JS’s other revelatory texts, Articles and Covenants was amended from time to time;4 the most substantive revisions appear to have been made in preparation for its publication in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.5

The dating of the first completed draft of Articles and Covenants is uncertain. JS may have begun working on the document as early as the summer of 1829 (the same time that Oliver Cowdery prepared his “Articles of the Church of Christ”6), but the copy of Articles and Covenants that John Whitmer copied into Revelation Book 1, likely in the spring or summer of 1831, bears the date of 10 April 1830, suggesting that the document may not have been finalized until sometime after the formal organization of the church on 6 April 1830. Whitmer, however, positioned it between two early January 1831 revelations, months out of the chronological order he had faithfully kept up to that point.7 When Articles and Covenants was published in The Evening and the Morning Star in 1832, it was left undated. In the Book of Commandments in 1833, it was dated June 1830, likely reflecting the date of the conference at which it was accepted by the church. And when it was published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the date previously published in the Book of Commandments was dropped and it was again left undated.8 No other revelations in the Book of Commandments had dates similarly discarded by the editors of the Doctrine and Covenants without a different date being inserted.

Further complicating the dating question, JS’s history places the reception of Articles and Covenants in an 1829 context, immediately following the discussion of the heavenly communications in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in June 1829. Referring to these experiences, JS’s history recounts: “In this manner did the Lord continue to give us instructions from time to time, concerning the duties which now devolved upon us, and among many other things of the kind, we obtained of him the folowing [that is, Articles and Covenants], by the Spirit of Prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to his will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once again, here upon the earth.”9 In this account, the date on which the Church of Christ was to be organized was received by revelation in June 1829. However, if Articles and Covenants was in fact first drafted in 1829, then there were revisions to the text following the organization of the church, because the earliest extant versions all speak of the formation of the church on 6 April 1830 as an accomplished fact, not a pending event. Without an extant 1829 version of the text, it is impossible to determine how much of the document may have been written before April 1830. While it is possible that the text was only revised following the organization to reflect the establishment of the church as a past event, it is also possible that much of the content reflecting the history and the duties of church officers was added after the formation of the church.

Notwithstanding the unusual aspects of Articles and Covenants, early church members seemed to view it as they did other JS revelations. In Revelation Book 1, John Whitmer’s heading described it as “given to Joseph the seer by the gift & power of God”; Oliver Cowdery later inserted “& Oliver an Apostle” after “seer.”10 According to JS’s history, in summer 1830 JS responded to an angry letter from Cowdery, disputing a passage about baptism from Articles and Covenants, by asking Cowdery “by what authority he took upon him to command me to alter, or erase, to add or diminish to or from a revelation or commandment from Almighty God.” This report in his history indicates that JS considered Articles and Covenants to be a revelation at least as early as July 1830.11

The version presented here is from the Painesville Telegraph. While this text and the copy in Revelation Book 1 (the two earliest extant copies) are very similar, certain clarifications and the greater specificity found in Revelation Book 1 indicate that it represents a later iteration of Articles and Covenants. For instance, the text in Revelation Book 1 specifically states how often the elders were to meet in conference: “The several elders composing this Church of Christ are to meet in conference once in three Month to [do] Church business whatsoever is nessessary &c.”12 This precision is lacking in the Telegraph version, which simply reads, “The several elders composing the church of Christ are to meet at each of its meetings to do church business, whatsoever is necessary, &c.,” suggesting that this copy is related to an earlier version of the text that had not yet delineated the frequency of conferences. Other significant differences between the Telegraph version and other early versions of the revelation are identified in annotation to the text.13 Differences in punctuation have not been noted. Much of the punctuation in the version below was probably introduced by Telegraph editor Eber D. Howe rather than being copied from a prior manuscript version.

The Telegraph claimed it had obtained its copy of Articles and Covenants “from the hand of Martin Harris, one of the original proprietors of the ‘Gold Bible’ speculation.”14 While this story cannot be corroborated, many years later a Kirtland resident claimed in a letter reflecting on the events of early 1831 that “Martin Harris one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon in the course of the winter came to this place with a revelation from Joseph to the saints & they were commanded not to let the Gentiles see it or know anything of its purport. One evening he was in a large social circle in deep conversation when I discovered the revelation in his hat[,] pocketed it & with a young man by the name of Taneur withdrew unobserved from the company copied it & returned it to his hat before the company broke up & in a few days copies of it were circulating among the Gentiles verry much to their consternation & mystification.”15

The Telegraph included two other revelations at the end of the text of Articles and Covenants as though they were part of the same document. The texts of Revelation, 16 April 1830 [D&C 22], concerning the requirement of rebaptism for those baptized previously, and Revelation, circa August 1830 [D&C 27], concerning the sacrament, sequentially follow the text of Articles and Covenants without any clear break or heading to designate the beginning of a new document. The editor of the Telegraph probably presented these three revelations as a single document because the text he copied also ran the three texts together. This connection was not unique to the version published in the Telegraph—two other early versions of Articles and Covenants, including the first version published in a church-owned newspaper, also appended the 16 April 1830 revelation.16 Since three of the earliest four versions of Articles and Covenants include the 16 April 1830 revelation, it is possible that the text presented to the 9 June 1830 conference also included it. Early church members may have seen the 16 April 1830 revelation as clarifying the topic of baptism in Articles and Covenants and thus may have appended this revelation to their copies for convenience. Here, the Telegraph version of Articles and Covenants is presented without the text of the other two revelations because the official register of the revelations, Revelation Book 1, separated them.

Eber Howe’s introduction of Articles and Covenants in the Telegraph provides some insight into how the document was viewed in early 1831. Howe called Articles and Covenants a “confessional,” apparently recognizing similarities between its format and the published creedal documents of other religions that also outlined the governing beliefs, principles, and offices of their churches.17 Dubbing Articles and Covenants the “Mormon Creed” and bracketing it with sarcastic commentary, Howe also referenced it as one of the “commandments and revelations of Heaven.”18


The articles and covenants of the Church of Christ agreeable to the will and commandments of God.19 [1]The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being 183020 years since the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country,21 by the will and commandments of God, in the 4th month, and on the 6th day of the same, [2]which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, jun.22 who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church, [3]and also to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church, and ordained under his hand, [4]and this according to the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,23 to whom be all glory both now and ever— amen.

[5]For after that it truly was manifested unto the first elder that he had received remission of his sins,24 he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, [6]but after truly repenting, God visited him25 by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, [7]and gave unto him commandments which inspired him [8]from on high, and gave unto him power,26 by the means of which was before prepared that he should translate a book; [9]which book contains a record of a fallen people, and also the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and also to the Jews, [11]proving unto them that the holy scriptures be true, and also that God doth inspire men and call them to his holy work in these last days, as well as in days of old, [12]that he may be the same God forever— amen.

[10]Which book, given by inspiration, is called the Book of Mormon, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and declared unto the world by them.27 [13]Wherefore, having so great witnesses, by them shall the world be judged, even as many as shall hereafter receive this work, [14]either to faith and righteousness, [15]or to the hardness of heart in unbelief to their own condemnation. [16]For the Lord God hath spoken it, for we elders of the church have heard and bear record28 to the words of the glorious Majesty on high, to whom be glory forever and ever— Amen. [17]Wherefore, by these things, we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God. the Maker of heaven and earth, and all things that in them is, and that he is all power, and all wisdom, and all understanding,29 [18]and that he created man male and female after his own image and in his own likeness created he them, [19]and that he gave unto the children of men a commandment that they should love and serve him the only being whom they should worship; [20]but by the transgression of these holy laws, men became sensual and devlish, and became fallen man— [21]wherefore the Almighty God gave his only begotten Son, as is written in those scriptures which hath been given of him, [22]that he suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them, [23]that he was crucified and died and rose again the third day, [24]and that he ascended into heaven to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father, [25]that as many as would believe and were baptized into his holy name and endured in faith to the end should be saved; [26]yea, even as many as were before he came in the flesh, from the beginning, which believed in the words of the holy prophets, which were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, which truly testified of him in all things, [27]as well they which should come after, which should believe in the gifts and calling of God by the Holy Ghost which beareth record of the Father and of the Son, [28]which Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost is one God, infinite and eternal, without end.— Amen.30

[29]And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. [30]And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is just and true. [31]And we also know that sanctification through the grace of31 our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is just and true to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength. [32]But there is a possibility that men may fall from grace, and depart from the living God, [33]therefore let the church take heed, and pray always, lest they enter32 into temptations; [34]yea, and he that is sanctified also. [35]And we know that these things are true33 and agreeable to the revelations of Jesus Christ which was signified by his angel unto John, neither adding nor diminishing to the prophecy of his book;34 neither to the holy scriptures; neither to the revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, neither by the voice of God, neither by the ministering of angels. [36]And the Lord God hath spoken it— and honor, power, and glory be rendered to his holy name both now and ever.— Amen.

[37]And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism, behold whosoever humbleth himself before God and desireth to be baptized, and comes forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnesseth unto the church that they truly repent35 of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him unto the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received the gift36 of Christ unto the remission of their sins, then shall they be received unto baptism into the church of Christ.37

[38]The duty of Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, and members of the church of Christ:— An apostle is an elder,38 and it is his calling to baptize [39]and to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons, [40–41]and to administer the flesh and blood of Christ according to the scriptures, [42]and to teach, expound, and exhort, and to baptize and to watch over the church, [43]and to confirm the church by the laying on of hands and the giving of the Holy Ghost, [44]and to take the lead of all meetings, &c.

[45]The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost.

[46]The priests’ duty is to preach, teach, expound, and exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, [47]and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret, and also to attend to all family duties, [48]to ordain priests,39 teachers, and deacons, [49]and to take the lead in meetings; [50]but none of these offices is he to do when there is an elder present, [52]but in all cases is to assist the elder, &c. [53]The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with them and strengthen them, [54]and see that there is no iniquity in the church, nor no hardness with each other, nor no lying nor backbiting, nor no evil speaking; [55]and see that the church meets together oft, and also see that every member does his duty, [56]and he is to take the lead of the meetings in the absence of the elder or priest, [57]and is to be assisted always and all his duties in the church by the deacons. [58]But neither the teacher nor the deacon has authority to baptize nor administer the sacrament; [59]but are to warn, exhort, expound and teach and invite all to come to Christ. [60]Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon, is to be ordained according to the gifts and calling of God unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains them.40 [61]The several elders composing the church of Christ are to meet at each of its meetings [62]to do church business, whatsoever is necessary, &c.41 [64]and each priest or teacher who is ordained by any priest is to take a certificate from him at the time, which, when shown to an elder, he is to give him a license,42 which shall authorize him to perform the duty of his calling. [68]The duty of the church members43 after they are received by baptism:— The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning this church of Christ to their understanding previous to their partaking of the sacrament, and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders,44 so that all things shall be done in order; [69]and the members shall manifest before the church and before the elders a godly walk and conversation that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures, walking in holiness before the Lord. [70]Every member of this church of Christ having children, are to bring them unto the elders before the church who are to lay hands on them in the name of the Lord, and bless them in the name of Christ. [71]There cannot any one be received into this church of Christ who have not arrived to the years of accountability before God, and are not capable of repentance. [72–79]And the manner of baptism & the manner of administering the sacrament are to be done as is written in the Book of Morman.45 [80]Any member of this church of Christ transgressing, or being overtaken in a fault,46 shall be dealt with according as the scriptures direct, &c47 [81]It shall be the duty of the several churches composing this church of Christ to send one of their priests or teachers48 to attend the several conferences held by the elders of the church [82]with a list of the names the several persons49 uniting themselves to the church since the last conference, or send by the hand of some elder,50 so that there can be kept a regular list of all the names of the members of the whole church in a book kept by one of the elders whomsoever the other elders shall appoint from time to time, [83]end [and] also if any have been expelled from the church so that their names may be blotted out of the general church record of names;51 [84]any member removing from the church where he belongs, if going to a church where he is not known, may take letter certifying that he is a member and in good standing, which certificate may be signed by any elder or priest—if the person52 receiving the letter is personally acquainted with the elder or priest; or may be signed by the teachers or deacons of his church.53