“Revelations of Joseph Smith,” Church History Topics
“Revelations of Joseph Smith”
During Joseph Smith’s prophetic ministry, he received over 100 revelations that were recorded and later canonized.1 The majority were given in the first-person voice of Jesus Christ, and most of these now appear as sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph received his earliest revelation (now Doctrine and Covenants 3) in July 1828 and his last recorded revelation about three months before his death in 1844.2 In almost every instance, these revelations came in answer to prayer, sometimes as individuals asked Joseph to inquire of the Lord to know His will concerning them, and often as Joseph sought answers to doctrinal questions or direction in Church policy and administration. Early Latter-day Saints often distinguished Joseph’s formal revelations from his other writings by referring to them as “the revelations,” “the commandments,” or “the covenants.”3 Several of these revelations were not included in the Church’s scriptures or published during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. They are available today through The Joseph Smith Papers.4
In addition to these formal revelations, Joseph Smith also left accounts of visions, produced inspired prayers and sermons, and translated the Book of Mormon and the book of Abraham and completed a new “translation” of the Bible by means of revelation.5
Most of the canonized revelations to Joseph Smith were given between 1828 and 1835, when the organization of the Church was being established. These revelations answered pressing questions and laid the foundation for Church government. Thereafter, Joseph received fewer formal revelations as Church officers, councils, and quorums were expected to administer the Church in accordance with the revelations already given and to seek further revelation within their own purview, or jurisdiction.
William McLellin, one of Joseph Smith’s scribes, described the way revelations were recorded: “The scribe seats himself at a desk or table, with a pen, ink and paper. The subject of enquiry being understood, the Prophet and Revelator enquires of God. He spiritually sees, hears and feels, and then speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” Joseph Smith proceeded to dictate, waiting for the scribe “to write and read aloud each sentence” until Joseph signaled the revelation had ended by saying “Amen.”6 Parley P. Pratt, who witnessed the recording of several revelations, stated that “there was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject.”7 According to his official history, Joseph used the Urim and Thummim when receiving several of his earliest revelations, but he evidently received revelations without such aids after June 1829.8