“Doctrine and Covenants 21,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)
“Doctrine and Covenants 21,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers
Revelation, Fayette Township, Seneca Co., NY, to JS and Oliver Cowdery, 6 Apr. 1830. Featured version, titled “17th. Commandment AD 1829 Ap[r]il 6 1830,” copied [ca. Mar. 1831] in Revelation Book 1, pp. 28–29; handwriting of John Whitmer; CHL. Includes redactions. For more information, see the source note for Revelation Book 1 on the Joseph Smith Papers website.
JS dictated this revelation at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette Township, New York, after the meeting at which the Church of Christ was organized.1 Such a meeting had been anticipated by JS and his followers for over a year, in part because JS’s revelations had foretold the establishment of a church. A March 1829 revelation to Martin Harris, for example, prophesied that a church would be established after three witnesses testified that they had seen the gold plates and after the words found on the plates were “sent forth.”2 Another JS revelation in spring 1829 confirmed that a church would be established,3 even as the texts translated from the gold plates prompted JS and Oliver Cowdery to consider questions foundational to a church organization and described how Christ established his church in ancient America.4 By June, a revelation commanded Cowdery to “build up my church,” and he subsequently drafted a text, which he titled “A commandment from God unto Oliver how he should build up his Church & the manner thereof.”5 The document read as though it was intended for immediate implementation.
JS, however, later reported that he was directed to delay the establishment of the Church of Christ. His history explained that a revelation “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.” Apparently once a separate June 1829 text, it was incorporated as part of “Articles and Covenants,” a foundational document outlining the governing beliefs, principles, and offices of the church.6 JS’s history described another divine communication, received that June at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York, when the “word of the Lord” instructed JS and Cowdery to wait to ordain each other elders “untill, such times, as it should be practicable” to meet with all the believers who would vote “to accept us as spiritual teachers, or not.” JS and Cowdery were instructed that when the time came they should “then call out such men as the Spirit should dictate, and ordain them, and then attend to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”7
Describing the fulfillment of those instructions, JS’s history explained that JS and his associates “met together for that purpose, at the house of … Mr Whitmer [Peter Whitmer Sr.]” on 6 April 1830.8 Those who attended the meeting, the history further explained, “consented by an unanimous vote. I then laid my hands upon Oliver Cowdery and ordained him an Elder … after which he ordained me also to the office of an Elder of said Church.” They then partook of the sacramental bread and wine and “then laid … hands on each individual member of the Church present that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ.” Then, while the group was “yet together,” JS dictated the revelation featured below.9
It began, “Behold there Shall a Record be kept among you,” and affirmed that in that record JS would be known as a “seer & Translater & Prop[h]et an Apostle of Jesus Christ an Elder of the Church.” The revelation instructed “Oliver mine Apostle” to ordain JS. David Whitmer, who was at the meeting, wrote that “Joseph received a revelation that he should be the leader; that he should be ordained by Oliver Cowdery as ‘Prophet Seer and Revelator’ to the church, and that the church should receive his words as if from God’s own mouth.”10 When Cowdery was later asked, “To what did you ordain Joseph on the 6th of April, 1830?” he answered, “I ordained him to be a Prophet, Seer, &c., just as the revelation says.”11
Eyewitness accounts affirm the date and place this document was dictated; nevertheless, early documents indicate some confusion about both.12 In the heading to the text itself in Revelation Book 1, the earliest extant copy, and in the table of contents to that volume, John Whitmer dated the revelation to 1829.13 Later, that date was crossed out multiple times by Oliver Cowdery, who subsequently inserted “April 1830,” after which John Whitmer inserted the number “6” to specify the date as 6 April. Whitmer may have originally written “1829” because the revelation was situated in Revelation Book 1 next to a revelation that does date from 1829. In any case, the text of the revelation supports Cowdery’s redaction by referring to the establishment of the church in the past tense.
Even though this, the earliest extant version of the revelation, gives Fayette, New York, as the place of dictation, the earliest printed version changed the location to Manchester. The mistake seems to have been the result of confusion on the part of typesetter and printer William W. Phelps in Independence, Missouri, as he prepared this and other revelations for publication in the 1833 Book of Commandments.14 Phelps, who joined the church in June 1831 and therefore had no firsthand knowledge of the date or place of organization, added “6” to five short April 1830 revelations from Manchester and then followed them with this 6 April text—but he ignored the statement “given at Fayette Seneca County” on the manuscript and instead inserted Manchester to match the others for which he had supplied the same date.15 Although Phelps and others elsewhere repeated that the church was organized in Manchester,16 the earliest manuscript and later eyewitness accounts, as well as early financial and legal documents, confirm the correct location as Fayette Township.17
17th. Commandment AD 182918
A Revelation to Joseph the Seer by way of commandment to the Church given at Fayette Seneca County State of New York
Behold there Shall a Record be kept among you19 & in it thou shalt be called a seer & Translater & Prop[h]et20 an Apostle of Jesus Christ an Elder of the Church21 through the will of God the Father & the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof & to build it up unto the most holy faith which Church was Organized & established in the year of our Lord one thousand Eight Hundred & Thirty in the forth Month on the Sixth day of the month which is called April Wherefore meaning the Church thou shalt give heed unto all his words & commandments which he ghall [shall] give unto you as he receiveth them wa[l]king in all holyness before me for his word ye shall receive as if from mine own mouth in all Patience & faith for by doing these things the gaits of Hell shall not prevail against you yea & the Lord God will disperse the Powers of darkness from before you & cause the Heavens to shake for your Good & his names glory for thus saith the Lord God him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in Mighty power for good & his dilligence I know & his prayers I have heard yea his weeping for Zion I have seen & I will cause that [p. 28] He shall mourn for her no longer for his days of rejoicing are come unto the remission of his Sins & the manifestations of my blessings upon his works for behold I will bless all those who Labour in my Vinyard with a mighty blessing & they shall believe on his words which are given him through me by the comforter which manifesteth that Jesus was Crusified by the Sins of the world for the remision of sins unto the contrite heart Wherefore it behooveth me that he should be ordained by you Oliver [Cowdery] mine Apostle this being an Ordinance unto you that ye are an Elder under his hand unto you22 that thou mightest be an Elder unto this Church of Christ23 bearing my name & the first Preacher of this Church24 unto the Church & before the world yea before the gentiles yea
before & thus saith the Lord God Lo. Lo. to the Jews also Amen—