Lesson 55: Doctrine and Covenants 47–48

“Lesson 55: Doctrine and Covenants 47–48,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)

“Lesson 55,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 55

Doctrine and Covenants 47–48


In March 1831, almost one year after the organization of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelations that are now recorded as sections 47 and 48 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Prior to this time, Oliver Cowdery had been acting as a historian and recorder for the Church. In this role, he kept a record of the revelations the Prophet had received. However, Oliver Cowdery had been on a mission since October 1830 and was therefore unable to continue as a historian and recorder. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 47, the Lord called John Whitmer to replace Oliver in this position. During this time, the Saints in Ohio also sought direction on how to help the Church members migrating from New York. In the revelation now included in Doctrine and Covenants 48, the Lord instructed the Saints to share their land with those in need and to prepare to lay the foundation of Zion.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 47

The Lord appoints John Whitmer to record a history of the Church

Ask students to think of spiritually significant experiences they have had that they feel are worth remembering. (For example, they might think of events like a temple dedication or a Church meeting, or they might reflect on a time when they received an answer to a prayer or felt the presence of the Holy Ghost.) Invite a few students to share these experiences. Ask each of these students the following questions:

  • Why was this experience meaningful to you?

  • Why do you think it is important to remember this experience?

  • How could a record of this experience bless your posterity?

Invite a student to read the section introduction of Doctrine and Covenants 47 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord called John Whitmer to do. Then invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 47:1–3 silently and identify more details about John Whitmer’s calling. Ask students to report what they learn. (You may want to remind students that in a previous revelation, the Lord said, “There shall be a record kept among you” [D&C 21:1]. Explain that in the Church today, the First Presidency calls a Church Historian and Recorder [usually referred to as the Church Historian] and presents him for a sustaining vote.)

  • Why do you think it is important that the history of the Church be recorded?

  • What are some stories from Church history that are especially inspiring to you?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, who served as Church Historian from 2005 to 2012:

Elder Marlin K. Jensen

“There are other great stories in our history that deserve to be known and taught at church and at home. The lessons of Kirtland, the trials of Missouri, the triumphs and eventual expulsion of the Saints from Nauvoo, and the westward trek of the pioneers are stories that inspire Latter-day Saints in every land and language. But there are equally moving stories about the rise and progress of the Church and the impact of the gospel in the lives of ordinary members in every nation touched by the restored gospel. These need recording and preserving as well.

“… Many of the Church’s greatest stories are contained in personal and family histories, and these are a part of our individual and family heritages” (“There Shall Be a Record Kept among You,” Ensign, Dec. 2007, 31).

  • Why do you think personal and family histories matter?

Refer to the experiences students remembered at the beginning of class. Ask them to imagine that their children and grandchildren are reading their personal accounts of those experiences. Invite each student to ponder the following questions:

  • Which part of the experience would you emphasize? What would you want your family to feel and know as a result of reading your account?

Explain that the principles John Whitmer followed as Church Historian and Recorder can also apply to our personal and family histories. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 47:4 silently to learn what the Lord promised if John Whitmer would be faithful in his efforts.

  • What did the Lord promise John Whitmer? (The Lord promised that the Comforter—the Holy Ghost—would help him in his effort to write the history of the Church.)

  • How can we relate this to our efforts to keep personal and family histories? (Help students recognize the following principle: If we are faithful in our efforts to keep personal and family histories, the Holy Ghost will help us. You may want to write this principle on the board.)

  • How might the Holy Ghost help a person as he or she keeps a personal or family history?

As students discuss this question, help them see that the Holy Ghost can bring things to our remembrance (see John 14:26) and help us write about events and situations in a way that will bless family members and others.

Encourage students to ask for the help of the Holy Ghost as they keep their personal and family histories.

Doctrine and Covenants 48

The Lord instructs the Saints in Ohio to assist those coming from New York

Ask students to imagine that Saints in a distant area have had to evacuate their homes. Church leaders have asked the students’ families to provide food and shelter for some of the displaced families for several months.

  • What questions and concerns might you and your family have about this request?

  • What concerns and feelings do you think those moving into your home would have?

Invite students to turn to Map 3 (“The New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio Area of the USA”) in the Church History Maps section of their scriptures. Ask them to locate Fayette, New York, and Kirtland, Ohio, and determine the approximate distance between these cities (about 250 miles or 400 kilometers). Remind students that in December 1830, the Lord commanded the Saints in New York to move to Ohio (see D&C 37:3).

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 48:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what the Lord told the Saints in Ohio to do for Church members moving into the region. Then ask students to report what they have learned.

  • What did the Lord command the Saints in Ohio to do? (He commanded those with land to share it with the Saints who were moving to the area.) What is a principle we can learn from this commandment? (Students’ answers should reflect the following principle: The Lord commands Latter-day Saints to share what they have with those in need. It may be helpful to point out that not all the Saints in Ohio had land to share and that some members from New York were required to purchase their own land.)

  • What are some ways we can share what we have with others?

Ask students to share experiences they have had when they have witnessed people sharing with those in need. You might also invite them to describe times when they have benefited from someone else’s generosity and service.

To provide an example of helping those in need, ask a student to read the following account by President Thomas S. Monson about an experience he had with his Primary class as a young boy:

President Thomas S. Monson

“We undertook a project to save nickels and dimes for what was to be a gigantic Christmas party. Sister Gertsch kept a careful record of our progress. As boys with typical appetites we converted in our minds the monetary totals to cakes, cookies, pies, and ice cream. This was to be a glorious event. Never before had any of our teachers even suggested a social event like this was to be.

“The summer months faded into autumn. Autumn turned to winter. Our party goal had been achieved. The class had grown. A good spirit prevailed.

“None of us will forget that gray morning when our beloved teacher announced to us that the mother of one of our classmates had passed away. We thought of our own mothers and how much they meant to us. We felt sincere sorrow for Billy Devenport in his great loss.

“The lesson this Sunday was from the book of Acts, chapter 20, verse 35: ‘Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ At the conclusion of the presentation of a well-prepared lesson, Lucy Gertsch commented on the economic situation of Billy’s family. These were Depression times, and money was scarce. With a twinkle in her eyes, she asked: ‘How would you like to follow this teaching of our Lord? How would you feel about taking our party fund and, as a class, giving it to the Devenports as an expression of our love?’ The decision was unanimous. We counted so carefully each penny and placed the total sum in a large envelope. A beautiful card was purchased and inscribed with our names.

“This simple act of kindness welded us together as one” (“Your Personal Influence,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 21–22).

  • What can we learn from this account? How can kindness and service bless the life of the giver as well as the receiver?

Invite students to share an experience they have had when they have helped (or have seen others help) those in need. Encourage students to think of one way they can help someone in the next week.

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 48:4–6 by explaining that the Lord wanted the Saints to prepare to purchase land when He would reveal the location of the city of Zion, or New Jerusalem. The Lord commanded the Saints to save all the money they could in preparation for laying the foundation of that city (see D&C 48:4–6). Tell students that they will learn more about the Saints’ efforts to establish the city of Zion in future lessons.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 47:1. “Keep a regular history”

The Prophet Joseph Smith described the result of failing to record significant events in our Church history:

Prophet Joseph Smith

“It is a fact, if I now had in my possession, every decision which had been had upon important items of doctrine and duties since the commencement of this work, I would not part with them for any sum of money; but we have neglected to take minutes of such things, thinking, perhaps, that they would never benefit us afterwards; which, if we had them now, would decide almost every point of doctrine which might be agitated. But this has been neglected, and now we cannot bear record to the Church and to the world, of the great and glorious manifestations which have been made to us with that degree of power and authority we otherwise could, if we now had these things to publish abroad” (in History of the Church, 2:198–99). (See also Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2001], 103.)

Doctrine and Covenants 47. What is the calling of the Church Historian and Recorder?

Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, who served as Church Historian and Recorder from 2005 to 2012, explained:

Elder Marlin K. Jensen

“The work of the Church historian and recorder is largely one of record keeping. It includes the gathering and preserving of Church history sources, the recording of ordinances, and the collection of minutes. The scriptures also suggest there is a responsibility to ensure the records are used ‘for the good of the church, and for the rising generations’ (D&C 69:8).

“The roles of historian and recorder are complementary and at times almost indistinguishable. I think that’s why, in the early days of the Church, sometimes a recorder was appointed and sometimes a historian and why over time the roles were joined together in one calling” (“There Shall Be a Record Kept among You,” Ensign, Dec. 2007, 28).

Doctrine and Covenants 48:6. “By the presidency and the bishop of the church”

Doctrine and Covenants 48:6 includes the phrase “by the presidency and the bishop of the church.” However, when the revelation was given, the First Presidency had not been organized. The earliest manuscript of this revelation contains the phrase “by the Bishop & Elders of the Church” (see Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers [2013], 288). The wording was changed after the First Presidency was organized. Such changes were made occasionally as the Church grew and as the priesthood organization was expanded according to revelation.