Church History
Doctrine and Covenants

“Doctrine and Covenants,” Church History Topics

“Doctrine and Covenants”

Doctrine and Covenants

The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of scripture containing revelations given to Joseph Smith and a few of his successors as President of the Church. The Church first attempted to compile and publish a collection of Joseph Smith’s revelations in 1833, but a mob attack disrupted the publication of that first collection, called the Book of Commandments. About a year later, Joseph Smith and other leaders began again to prepare the revelations for publication.1 The Kirtland High Council appointed a committee consisting of the First Presidency and the Assistant President of the Church to compile “items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ” from revelations given to Joseph Smith into a “book of covenants.”2 The committee published this book in 1835 with the title Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. A general assembly of the Church voted unanimously to accept this book as “a law unto the church” and a “rule of faith and practice.”3

Title page of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants

Title page of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Doctrine and Covenants expanded upon the Book of Commandments in several ways: the committee included several revelations not included in the Book of Commandments, prepared and added lectures on theology, and introduced numerous minor corrections to the text. The title, Doctrine and Covenants, described the book’s two divisions. The first, “on the doctrine of the church,” contained the theological lectures later known as “Lectures on Faith.”4 The second, “Covenants and Commandments of the Lord,” contained the revelations. The compilation grew from 65 “chapters” in the Book of Commandments to 103 “sections” in the Doctrine and Covenants.5

Other editions followed, each introducing some changes to the formatting of the volume and including additional revelations. In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith supervised an edition that added several new sections and was published shortly after his death in 1844.6 The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Britain saw the need for British Saints to have access to the revelations and prepared a European edition for use overseas based on the 1844 Nauvoo edition. Reprintings of the Nauvoo and European editions supplied copies to members as the Church grew, but in the 1870s, President Brigham Young directed Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to update the Doctrine and Covenants. The 1876 edition divided each section into verses and added 26 new sections, including a revelation on celestial marriage, an account of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s vision of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple, Joseph’s prophecy on war, and excerpts from his letters from Liberty Jail.7

Three 20th-century editions streamlined and enhanced the Doctrine and Covenants. The 1921 version dropped the Lectures on Faith.8 The 1981 edition standardized section headings, provided extensive cross-references to other books of scripture, and added new items, including Joseph F. Smith’s 1918 vision of the spirit world and President Spencer W. Kimball’s then-recent revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male Latter-day Saints, regardless of their race.9 Over time, additional documentation became available, and in 2013, the Church published a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants with more accurate historical introductions for many of the sections.10

Related Topics: Book of Commandments, Lectures on Theology (“Lectures on Faith”), Revelations of Joseph Smith