“Chapter 1: Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants; Doctrine and Covenants 2,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 1,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
“The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days” (introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, paragraph 1). These revelations were received through the Prophet Joseph Smith and some of his successors and “contain an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation” (introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, paragraph 1).
The earliest dated section in the Doctrine and Covenants consists of words spoken to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni in 1823, when the Smith family lived near Palmyra, New York. During that visit, Moroni shared several important prophecies from the Old and New Testaments, including one from Malachi about the promised mission of the prophet Elijah in the latter days. That prophecy, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 2, is essential to our understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan to redeem His children.
- Late 1816
The Smith family moved from Vermont to Palmyra, New York.
- Spring 1820
God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith.
- September 21–22, 1823
The angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants 2).
- November 19, 1823
Joseph Smith’s older brother Alvin died.
- January 18, 1827
Joseph Smith and Emma Hale were married.
The Lord gave divine guidance to the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding the Restoration of the gospel, the organization of the Church, and the needs and responsibilities of specific individuals. Many of these revelations received by the Prophet were written down by scribes, typically on loose sheets of paper, and were later copied into bound record books.
In November 1831 the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders met in a conference of elders in Hiram, Ohio. During this conference, Church leaders decided to compile and publish a number of the revelations that the Prophet had received into a volume titled the Book of Commandments. William W. Phelps had been called as “a printer unto the church” (D&C 57:11), and copies of the revelations were delivered to him in Independence, Missouri, for printing. The publication was nearly complete in July 1833 when a mob attacked Phelps’s print shop and destroyed the building, the printing press, and most of the printed sheets of revelations. Several individuals, including two young women—Mary Elizabeth Rollins and her sister Caroline—were able to save some of the printed pages, and though incomplete, a small number of copies of the book were eventually bound.
In 1835 a second compilation of the revelations Joseph Smith had received was published and was called the Doctrine and Covenants. This edition contained 103 revelations and a preface. Also included were the Lectures on Faith, seven theological lectures delivered to the School of the Elders during the winter of 1834–1835. This first edition was organized into two parts: part one (doctrine)—the Lectures on Faith; part two (the covenants and commandments)—the revelations that had been received to that point. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others , 382–96.) The Lectures on Faith were omitted in the 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and subsequent editions because they were theological lectures or lessons that were not given or presented as revelations to the Church.
As later editions of the Doctrine and Covenants were printed, new revelations were added, and these editions included slight changes to how the revelations were organized. In 1981 the Church published a new English-language edition of the “triple combination” (the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) with expanded footnotes and cross-references and a new index. At that time the Prophet Joseph Smith’s 1836 vision of the celestial kingdom and President Joseph F. Smith’s 1918 vision of the redemption of the dead were added to the Doctrine and Covenants as sections 137 and 138. Two official declarations were also officially added: (1) the Manifesto, issued by President Wilford Woodruff, announcing that the practice of plural marriage in the Church was to be discontinued, and (2) an announcement by the First Presidency of a revelation received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. The introduction, which had been titled Explanatory Introduction since the 1921 edition, was also revised in the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. This revised introduction gave more information regarding the Prophet Joseph Smith and the nature and purpose of the Doctrine and Covenants.
On March 1, 2013, the First Presidency announced an updated edition of the English scriptures. Along with minor spelling corrections to the text, most of the adjustments that were made in this edition of the scriptures are in the study helps and in the section headings of the Doctrine and Covenants. Also in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Explanatory Introduction was renamed Introduction and a few more details were provided about previous editions along with reasons for revising the Doctrine and Covenants into a new edition.
The Doctrine and Covenants contains many of the divine revelations the Prophet Joseph Smith received. These revelations were given by the spirit of prophecy and revelation through visions (see D&C 76; 137; 138), heavenly visitations (see D&C 2; 13; 27; 110), the Urim and Thummim (see D&C 3; 6–7; 11; 14–17), and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Several of the revelations came as the result of questions the Prophet asked as he worked on an inspired translation of the Bible (see D&C 35; 73; 76–77; 86; 91; 132). Other revelations came during the translation of the Book of Mormon and because of questions about Church structure and the building up of Zion.
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) described the value of this modern book of scripture:
“The Doctrine and Covenants is unique among our books of scripture. It is the constitution of the Church. While the Doctrine and Covenants includes writings and statements of various origins, it is primarily a book of revelation given through the Prophet of this dispensation.
“These revelations open with a thundering declaration of the encompassing purposes of God in the restoration of His great latter-day work. …
“From that majestic opening there unfolds a wondrous doctrinal panorama that comes from the fountain of eternal truth. Some is direct revelation, with the Lord dictating to His prophet. Some is the language of Joseph Smith, written or spoken as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Also included is his narrative of events that occurred in various circumstances. All brought together, they constitute in very substantial measure the doctrine and the practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …
“The variety of matters the book deals with is amazing. They include principles and procedures concerning the governance of the Church. Unique and remarkable rules of health, with promises both physical and spiritual, are set forth. The covenant of the eternal priesthood is described in a manner not found elsewhere in scripture. The privileges and blessings—and the limitations and opportunities—of the three degrees of glory are announced, building on Paul’s brief mention of a glory of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars. Repentance is proclaimed in language clear and compelling. The correct mode of baptism is given. The nature of the Godhead, which has troubled theologians for centuries, is described in language understandable to all. The Lord’s law of finance is pronounced, mandating how funds for the operation of the Church are to be acquired and disbursed. Work for the dead is revealed to bless the sons and daughters of God of all generations” (“The Order and Will of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1989, 2, 4).
The Doctrine and Covenants is one of the standard works accepted as scripture by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The revelations and inspired writings contained in the Doctrine and Covenants constitute a powerful testament of the ongoing work to bring salvation to all of God’s children. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) explained that the Doctrine and Covenants works in conjunction with the Book of Mormon to bring people to Christ and into His kingdom:
“These two great books of latter-day scripture are bound together as revelations from Israel’s God for the purpose of gathering and preparing His people for the second coming of the Lord. …
“Each of these two great latter-day scriptures bears powerful and eloquent witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Virtually every page of both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon teaches about the Master—His great love for His children and His atoning sacrifice—and teaches us how to live so that we can return to Him and our Heavenly Father.
“Each of these two great latter-day books of scripture contains the knowledge and the power to help us live better lives in a time of great wickedness and evil. Those who carefully and prayerfully search the pages of these books will find comfort, counsel, guidance, and the quiet power to improve their lives.
“The Doctrine and Covenants is the binding link between the Book of Mormon and the continuing work of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.
“In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn of temple work, eternal families, the degrees of glory, Church organization, and many other great truths of the Restoration. …
“The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson , 132–33).
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) described how the revelations given in our dispensation increase what we know about the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I say to my brethren that the book of Doctrine and Covenants contains some of the most glorious principles ever revealed to the world, some that have been revealed in greater fulness than they were ever revealed before to the world; and this, in fulfilment of the promise of the ancient prophets that in the latter times the Lord would reveal things to the world that had been kept hidden from the foundation thereof; and the Lord has revealed them through the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 44).
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) noted that most scripture was originally given to people anciently. In contrast, the Doctrine and Covenants contains the word of God given specifically to God’s children in our dispensation. He testified that the “Doctrine and Covenants contains the word of God to those who dwell here now. It is our book. It belongs to the Latter-day Saints. More precious than gold, the Prophet [Joseph Smith] says we should treasure it more than the riches of the whole earth” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie , 3:199).
When Church leaders decided at the November 1831 conference to compile the revelations and organize them for publication, the Prophet Joseph Smith prepared a statement of testimony regarding the divine origin of the revelations (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 2: July 1831–January 1833, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others , 110–14). Those who were present indicated their willingness to bear testimony of the truthfulness of the revelations. It may be that this testimony was going to be published in the back of the Book of Commandments much like the testimonies of the Three and the Eight Witnesses were included at the end of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. However, the statement of testimony does not appear in the existing copies of the Book of Commandments. This may be because the publication was cut short when the print shop was destroyed. The testimony of the Twelve Apostles was included in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
On September 21, 1823, approximately three years after receiving the First Vision, 17-year-old Joseph Smith prayed for forgiveness of his sins as he sought to know his standing before God. In response to this prayer, a heavenly messenger named Moroni appeared and declared that God had a work for Joseph to do (see Joseph Smith—History 1:29–33). After speaking of the coming forth of an ancient record written on golden plates, Moroni quoted a number of scriptures from the Old and New Testaments, including a variation of Malachi’s prophecy about the return of Elijah (see Malachi 4:5–6). The Prophet Joseph Smith included this variation of Malachi’s prophecy in his official history, which he began preparing in 1838. Excerpts from that account were later included in the Pearl of Great Price (see Joseph Smith—History 1:38–39) and were included in the Doctrine and Covenants beginning with the 1876 edition. The importance of this prophecy is evident by how often it appears in the standard works (see Malachi 4:4–6; Luke 1:17; 3 Nephi 25:5–6; D&C 2; Joseph Smith—History 1:38–39). Chronologically, Doctrine and Covenants 2 is the earliest section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Old Testament prophet Elijah played a prominent role in the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he is mentioned by name in several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 2:1; 27:9; 35:4; 110:13–16; 128:17; 133:55; 138:46–48). Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained who Elijah was and why he returned in our day:
“Elijah was an Old Testament prophet through whom mighty miracles were performed. He sealed the heavens, and no rain fell in ancient Israel for 3½ years. He multiplied a widow’s meal and oil. He raised a young boy from the dead, and he called down fire from heaven in a challenge to the prophets of Baal. (See 1 Kings 17–18.) At the conclusion of Elijah’s mortal ministry, he ‘went up by a whirlwind into heaven’ (2 Kings 2:11) and was translated.
“‘We learn from latter-day revelation that Elijah held the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood and was the last prophet to do so before the time of Jesus Christ’ (Bible Dictionary, ‘Elijah’). …
“Elijah appeared with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:3) and conferred this authority upon Peter, James, and John. Elijah appeared again with Moses and others on April 3, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple and conferred the same keys upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 24).
By the time Elijah appeared in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had already received the Melchizedek Priesthood under the hands of Peter, James, and John (sometime during May–June 1829). The promise that the Lord would “reveal … the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah” (D&C 2:1) referred to the keys of the sealing power of the priesthood that were committed to Joseph and Oliver by Elijah when he visited the Kirtland Temple (see D&C 110:13–16).
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) explained how Elijah’s visit was needed to help us receive all of the blessings of the priesthood:
“The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelation, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God, even unto the turning of the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the hearts of the children unto the fathers, even those who are in heaven. …
“… What is this office and work of Elijah? It is one of the greatest and most important subjects that God has revealed. He should send Elijah to seal the children to the fathers, and the fathers to the children. …
“Again: The doctrine or sealing power of Elijah is as follows:—If you have power to seal on earth and in heaven, then we should be wise. The first thing you do, go and seal on earth your sons and daughters unto yourself, and yourself unto your fathers in eternal glory” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 311–12).
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained how Elijah’s visit in 1836 made great blessings possible for God’s children through the power of the priesthood:
“Elijah’s mission was the sealing power. He held the keys by which the parents could be sealed together and children sealed to parents. He bestowed these keys upon the Prophet Joseph Smith. And that applies to the dead as well as the living since the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“… But what was the nature of his mission to the earth in these latter days? It was to restore power and authority which once was given to men on the earth and which is essential to the complete salvation and exaltation of man in the kingdom of God. In other words, Elijah came to restore to the earth, by conferring on mortal prophets duly commissioned of the Lord, the fulness of the power of priesthood. This priesthood holds the keys of binding and sealing on earth and in heaven of all the ordinances and principles pertaining to the salvation of man, that they may thus become valid in the celestial kingdom of God” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:117).
The “great and dreadful day” spoken of in Doctrine and Covenants 2:1 refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It will be a time of joy and rejoicing for those who have prepared for His coming (see Malachi 4:2–3; D&C 101:32–35), but it will be a dreadful time of destruction to the wicked (see Malachi 4:1; D&C 29:9; 101:24–25).
Doctrine and Covenants 2:2 teaches that both children and fathers will be influenced by Elijah’s promised visit in the latter days. Commenting on the prophecy that Elijah “shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” (D&C 2:2), Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Who are the fathers? They are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom the promises were made. What are the promises? They are the promises of a continuation of the family unit in eternity” (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man , 267; see also D&C 27:10).
Latter-day revelation helps us understand that Church members are the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob either by lineage or by adoption (see Abraham 2:9–10). The promises given by covenant to these ancient patriarchs are also available to Latter-day Saints. President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described the promises found in the covenant that God made with Abraham and others:
“The covenant God made with Abraham and later reaffirmed with Isaac and Jacob is of transcendent significance. It contained several promises, including:
“• Jesus the Christ would be born through Abraham’s lineage.
“• Abraham’s posterity would be numerous, entitled to an eternal increase, and also entitled to bear the priesthood.
“• Abraham would become a father of many nations.
“• Certain lands would be inherited by his posterity.
“• All nations of the earth would be blessed by his seed.
“Some of these promises have been fulfilled; others are still pending. …
“… We have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel. We have the right to receive the fulness of the gospel, enjoy the blessings of the priesthood, and qualify for God’s greatest blessing—that of eternal life.
“Some of us are the literal seed of Abraham; others are gathered into his family by adoption. The Lord makes no distinction. Together we receive these promised blessings—if we seek the Lord and obey His commandments” (“Covenants,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 87–88).
A different use of the word fathers is also found in Doctrine and Covenants 2:2, where the prophecy states that “the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” According to President Joseph Fielding Smith, the phrase “their fathers” refers to “our dead ancestors who died without the privilege of receiving the Gospel, but who received the promise that the time would come when that privilege would be granted them. The children are those now living who are preparing genealogical data and who are performing the vicarious ordinances in the Temples” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith , 221).
God’s plan to redeem the dead was not restored all at once but was given step by step to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors. Moroni’s prophecy to Joseph Smith in 1823 was the first teaching on this subject given in this dispensation. That this instruction was received so early in the process of the Restoration emphasizes the importance of the doctrine of the family in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained the role of family in redeeming the dead: “The turning of the hearts of the children to the fathers is placing or planting in the hearts of the children that feeling and desire which will inspire them to search out the records of the dead. Moreover the planting of the desire and inspiration in their hearts is necessary. This they must have in order that they might go into the house of the Lord and perform the necessary labor for their fathers, who died without a knowledge of the gospel, or without the privilege of receiving the fulness of the gospel” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:127–28).
The visit of the prophet Elijah in 1836 in the Kirtland Temple initiated a spiritual influence upon people across the earth. President Russell M. Nelson described the effect as “the Spirit of Elijah”:
“Elijah’s return to earth occurred at the first temple built in this dispensation, where he and other heavenly messengers, under direction of the Lord, entrusted special keys of priesthood authority to the restored Church:
“• Moses committed the keys of the gathering of Israel;
“• Elias committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham; and
“• Elijah came to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to the fathers.
“With that, natural affection between generations began to be enriched. This restoration was accompanied by what is sometimes called the Spirit of Elijah—a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family. Hence, people throughout the world, regardless of religious affiliation, are gathering records of deceased relatives at an ever-increasing rate” (“A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34).
In the Lord’s plan of redemption, one of the earth’s purposes is to be the final celestial home for those who have made and kept their covenants with Heavenly Father (see D&C 88:17–20). It will be a place where families can live together forever. The sealing power of the priesthood restored by Elijah makes possible the welding together of husbands and wives and parents and children—a work essential for exaltation to the living and the dead. Without the sealing power, God’s children could not receive the full blessings of exaltation and this purpose of the earth’s creation would not have been fulfilled.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “Why would the earth be wasted? Simply because if there is not a welding link between the fathers and the children—which is the work for the dead—then we will all stand rejected; the whole work of God will fail and be utterly wasted” (Teachings: Joseph Fielding Smith, 219).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles further clarified that an essential step in the salvation of God’s children was the restoration of the sealing power:
“Without that link no family ties would exist in the eternities, and indeed the family of man would have been left in eternity with ‘neither root [ancestors] nor branch [descendants].’
“Inasmuch as … a sealed, united, celestially saved family of God is the ultimate purpose of mortality, any failure here would have been a curse indeed, rendering the entire plan of salvation ‘utterly wasted’” (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon , 297–98).