Chapter 2: Doctrine and Covenants 1

“Chapter 2: Doctrine and Covenants 1,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)

“Chapter 2,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual

Chapter 2

Doctrine and Covenants 1

Introduction and Timeline

By November 1831, the Lord had given more than 60 revelations through the Prophet Joseph Smith for the benefit of the Church and individual members. To make these revelations more accessible to Church members, Church leaders decided to publish them as a volume to be called the Book of Commandments. On November 1, 1831, the Prophet convened a conference of elders at the home of John and Alice (Elsa) Johnson in Hiram, Ohio, during which a committee of elders consisting of Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and William E. McLellin attempted unsuccessfully to write a preface for the Book of Commandments (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents Volume 2, July 1831–January 1833, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others [2013], 104). After this attempt, Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 1. In it the Lord declared, “This [revelation] is … my preface unto the book of my commandments” (D&C 1:6). He also declared that all people would hear His “voice of warning” (D&C 1:4) and that those who refused to heed His voice and the words of His servants would be cut off from among God’s people. The Lord testified that the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith are true and commanded His people to search them.

September 1831

Joseph and Emma Smith moved from Kirtland to Hiram, Ohio.

November 1831

A conference of elders voted to publish 10,000 copies of the Book of Commandments.

November 1, 1831

Doctrine and Covenants 1 was received.

November 20, 1831

Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer left for Missouri with the manuscript of the Book of Commandments for printing.

Doctrine and Covenants 1: Additional Historical Background

On November 1, 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith convened a special conference of 10 elders in Hiram, Ohio, to discuss the collection and publication of the revelations that he had thus far received. The proposed publication would give Church members access to the Lord’s revelations and would stand as a testimony to all the world that God once again had begun to reveal His mind and will to His children on earth.

During the conference the attendees decided to print 10,000 copies of the compiled revelations (this number was later reduced to 3,000 copies) in a single volume that would be titled the Book of Commandments. A committee of elders was asked to write a preface for the publication. When the committee presented its draft of the preface, the assembled group rejected the attempt and asked the Prophet to petition the Lord for direction. “After [Joseph Smith] and the elders bowed in prayer, [Joseph], who was ‘sitting by a window,’ dictated the preface ‘by the Spirit,’ while [Sidney] Rigdon served as scribe. ‘Joseph would deliver a few sentences and Sidney would write them down,’ [recalled William E. McLellin], ‘then read them aloud, and if correct, then Joseph would proceed and deliver more’” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 2, July 1831–January 1833, 104). This revelation was published as the preface to the 1833 Book of Commandments and is now section 1 of our present-day Doctrine and Covenants.

Map 5: The New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio Area of the United States

Doctrine and Covenants 1:1–23

The Lord’s voice of warning is to all people

Doctrine and Covenants 1:1. “Hearken, O ye people of my church”

The Lord began His revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 1 by commanding His people to hearken. The word hearken is found 69 times throughout the Doctrine and Covenants. President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that “the Hebrew language of the Old Testament in most instances uses the same term for both hearkening (to the Lord) and obedience (to His word)” (“Listen to Learn,” Ensign, May 1991, 24). It is only by hearkening to, or obeying, the Lord that we can escape the judgments that will come upon the world.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:2. “The voice of the Lord is unto all men”

The Lord taught that His words and warning are not only intended for the people of His Church but for all people. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained how the Lord’s voice of warning will be raised to all people:

“I do not understand … that it is necessary that every heart be penetrated and every ear hear in this life. But if they have not heard, if this opportunity has not come to them through the preaching of the Elders and through the things that have been published in the word of the Lord that has gone forth by revelation, the opportunity is going to come to them and they must hear it in the spirit world.

“And so the Lord in his kindness and mercy intends to bring these truths of this restored Gospel to every soul living or dead. In this manner every heart shall be penetrated and every ear shall hear” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1931, 16).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:8–9. Seal the “unbelieving and rebellious”

Those who accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, receive the saving ordinances, and remain obedient to the commandments will obtain eternal life (see D&C 14:7; 20:25, 29). The wicked who refuse to believe or who choose to rebel against the light of the gospel they have received will suffer the penalty for their disobedience (see D&C 133:71–72).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:14. “Give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles”

The Lord warned that those who do not heed His voice and the words of His prophets and apostles will be “cut off” from God’s people. To be “cut off” is to be separated from God’s power, influence, and blessings and ultimately from His presence. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency testified of the blessing of heeding the counsel of prophets: “Every time in my life when I have chosen to delay following inspired counsel or decided that I was an exception, I came to know that I had put myself in harm’s way. Every time that I have listened to the counsel of prophets, felt it confirmed in prayer, and then followed it, I have found that I moved toward safety” (“Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, May 1997, 25).

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught of the blessings that come to us when we promptly heed prophetic counsel: “It is no small thing … to have a prophet of God in our midst. Great and wonderful are the blessings that come into our lives as we listen to the word of the Lord given to us through him. … When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt. History has shown that there is safety, peace, prosperity, and happiness in responding to prophetic counsel as did Nephi of old: ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded’ (1 Ne. 3:7)” (“His Word Ye Shall Receive,” Ensign, May 2001, 65).

Sister Carol F. McConkie, counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, taught the importance of heeding prophetic teachings even when it may seem inconvenient or unpopular:

“Our Father in Heaven loves all of His children and desires that they know and understand His plan of happiness. Therefore, He calls prophets, those who have been ordained with power and authority to act in God’s name for the salvation of His children. …

“We heed prophetic word even when it may seem unreasonable, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. According to the world’s standards, following the prophet may be unpopular, politically incorrect, or socially unacceptable. But following the prophet is always right. …

“When we heed the words of the prophets, we build our homes and our lives upon an eternally sure foundation, ‘the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God’ [Helaman 5:12]” (“Live according to the Words of the Prophets,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 77–79).

the Sacred Grove

The Sacred Grove, near Palmyra, New York, where the young Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in the spring of 1820 (photograph ca. 1926)

Courtesy Church History Library and Archives

Doctrine and Covenants 1:16. “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god”

As recorded in this inspired preface to the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord described some of the unrighteous and apostate conditions that exist in the world because “every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16). Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles illustrated how people today do that:

“The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as ‘value judgments.’ As the Lord describes it, ‘Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god’ (D&C 1:16).

“As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion” (“Moral Discipline,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 106).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:16. “Babylon the great”

The Lord referred to the wicked world as “Babylon the great” (D&C 1:16). Because of the worldliness and corruption of ancient Babylon, and because it was a place to which the children of Israel were carried away and held captive, Babylon is often used figuratively in the scriptures to represent the sin and wickedness of the world and the spiritual captivity it can impose upon God’s children (see D&C 133:14).

Elder David R. Stone of the Seventy described Babylon and its pervasive influence today:

“There is no particular city today which personifies Babylon. Babylon was, in the time of ancient Israel, a city which had become sensual, decadent, and corrupt. The principal building in the city was a temple to a false god, which we often refer to as Bel. …

“However, that sensuality, corruption, and decadence, and the worshipping of false gods are to be seen in many cities, great and small, scattered across the globe. …

“Too many of the people of the world have come to resemble the Babylon of old by walking in their own ways, and following a god ‘whose image is in the likeness of the world’ [D&C 1:16]” (“Zion in the Midst of Babylon,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 90–91).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:17. Preparing the world for “the calamity which should come”

With divine foresight, God called the Prophet Joseph Smith to help prepare the world for “the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth” (D&C 1:17). Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that by heeding the words of the prophets we can avoid the calamity of the last days: “If we listen to the prophets of this day, poverty would be replaced with loving care for the poor and needy. Many serious and deadly health problems would be avoided through compliance with the Word of Wisdom and the laws of sexual purity. Payment of tithing would bless us and we would have sufficient for our needs. If we follow the counsel given by the prophets, we can have a life in mortality where we do not bring upon ourselves unnecessary pain and self-destruction. This does not mean we will not have challenges. We will. This does not mean we will not be tested. We will, for this is part of our purpose on earth. But if we will listen to the counsel of our prophet, we will become stronger and be able to withstand the tests of mortality. We will have hope and joy” (“Hear the Prophet’s Voice and Obey,” Ensign, May 1995, 17).

I Saw a Light

I Saw a Light, by Jon McNaughton. Depiction of the First Vision, when God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to the young Joseph Smith as he prayed

Doctrine and Covenants 1:24–33

The Lord gave Joseph Smith power to translate the Book of Mormon and establish His true Church

Doctrine and Covenants 1:24. “Given unto my servants in their weakness”

The Lord said He gave commandments and revelation to His servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24). In explaining the nature of revelation communicated by divine beings to mortal men and women, President Brigham Young (1801–1877) taught: “The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities” (“Discourse,” Deseret News, Aug. 1, 1855, 162).

Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy explained that the Prophet Joseph Smith “seemed to regard the manuscript revelations as his best efforts to capture the voice of the Lord condescending to communicate in what Joseph called the ‘crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language’ of men” (“The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books,” Ensign, July 2009, 49).

Some of the early members of the Church criticized the language of the revelations, not understanding that the truthfulness of the teachings contained in them did not refer to spelling, punctuation, or grammar. As the revelations were prepared for publication, Joseph Smith, and others under his direction, made changes and corrections to some of the texts in an effort to clarify the revelations’ wording and intent.

As early as November 1831, a Church conference resolved that “Joseph Smith Jr correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the holy Spirit while reviewing the revelations [and] commandments [and] also the fulness of the scriptures” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 2: July 1831–January 1833, 123).

The Prophet Joseph Smith, however, understood that the Lord’s revelations are subject to being amended or expanded as the Lord continues to reveal His truth (see Gerrit Dirkmaat, “Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God,” Ensign, Jan. 2013, 47).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:29. The Lord made possible the translation of the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith received from the angel Moroni the ancient record referred to in Doctrine and Covenants 1:29 as “the record of the Nephites.” At the time the Book of Mormon came forth, the young Prophet did not know any language other than English. Therefore, his ability to translate the Book of Mormon came as a merciful gift given through the power of God (see also D&C 5:4; 135:3).

Hill Cumorah

The Hill Cumorah (background), near Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith obtained the ancient Book of Mormon plates (photograph ca. 1907)

Courtesy Church History Library and Archives

Doctrine and Covenants 1:30. The Church will come forth “out of obscurity”

The Lord gave power to His servants to establish His Church and to “bring it forth out of obscurity” (D&C 1:30). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught what this expression means:

“The past obscurity of the Church is giving way to visibility. Obscurity denotes that which is ‘generally unknown’ and ‘withdrawn from the centers of activity’: hence, the obscure is often misunderstood.

“The Lord described how He will bring His latter-day work ‘forth out of obscurity and out of darkness.’ (D&C 1:30; see also 1 Ne. 22:12; 2 Ne. 1:23; 27:29.) Thus, as foreseen, Christ and His work are becoming a light which can no longer be hidden. (See D&C 14:9.)” (“Out of Obscurity,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 8).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:30. “The only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth”

The Lord plainly testified that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency explained one reason why it is the only true Church:

“As we sustain [the prophet and other general authorities], we have seen and felt evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is both true and living. …

“This is the true Church, the only true Church, because in it are the keys of the priesthood. Only in this Church has the Lord lodged the power to seal on earth and to seal in heaven as He did in the time of the Apostle Peter. Those keys were restored to Joseph Smith, who then was authorized to confer them upon the members of the Quorum of the Twelve” (“The True and Living Church,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 20).

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles further explained how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is both true and living: “The Lord has declared that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (D&C 1:30). This restored Church is true because it is the Savior’s Church; He is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6). And it is a living church because of the workings and gifts of the Holy Ghost. How blessed we are to live at a time when the priesthood is upon the earth and we can receive the Holy Ghost” (“Receive the Holy Ghost,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 97).

Because the Church is a living church, guided and directed by the Lord through the Holy Ghost, it continues to grow and adapt to changing circumstances and conditions in the world through ongoing revelation from God to His prophets. The Lord’s testimony declaring The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be the only true and living church does not mean that other churches do not possess some truth. President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

“This is not to say that the churches, all of them, are without some truth. They have some truth—some of them very much of it. They have a form of godliness. Often the clergy and adherents are not without dedication, and many of them practice remarkably well the virtues of Christianity. They are, nonetheless, incomplete. By his declaration, ‘… they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’ [Joseph Smith—History 1:19.] …

“Now we do not say [that other churches] are wrong so much as we say they are incomplete. The fullness of the gospel has been restored. The power and the authority to act for Him is present with us. The power and the authority of the priesthood rests upon this church” (“The Only True and Living Church,” Ensign, Dec. 1971, 40–41).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:31–33. “He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord”

In Doctrine and Covenants 1:31–33, the Lord unequivocally declared how He views sin. Mercifully, He added to His declaration the promise of forgiveness for those who repent and obey His commandments. Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how obedience to the commandments aids in forgiveness of sins: “That scripture [D&C 1:31–32] emphasizes that the Lord cannot abide sin but He will forgive the repentant sinner because of His perfect love. It also teaches that not only is it important to keep a commandment you have broken, but by obeying all of the commandments you will obtain additional power and support in the process of repentance” (“To Be Free of Heavy Burdens,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2002, 87).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:34–39

The Lord’s words and revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants are true and “shall all be fulfilled”

Doctrine and Covenants 1:37. “Search these commandments, for they are true”

The Lord bore witness of the truthfulness of the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants and exhorted His Saints to “search these commandments” (D&C 1:37). President Brigham Young testified: “The Book of Doctrine and Covenants is given for the Latter-day Saints expressly for their everyday walk and actions” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 120).

title page of the Book of Commandments

A copy of an 1833 Book of Commandments owned by President Wilford Woodruff

Doctrine and Covenants 1:38. “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants”

The Lord reveals His words and warnings through His chosen and called servants. When prophets speak as authorized servants of the Lord, it is as though the Lord Himself is speaking. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: “I have discovered in my ministry that those who have become lost [and] confused are typically those who have most often … forgotten that when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice, it is the voice of the Lord for that time. The Lord reminds us, ‘Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ [D&C 1:38]” (“Stay in the Boat and Hold On!” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 90).

Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained how the voice of the Lord is made known to His prophets and apostles:

“The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelation to him (see, for example, D&C 138). Doctrinal exposition may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see, for example, Official Declaration 2). Council deliberations will often include a weighing of canonized scriptures, the teachings of Church leaders, and past practice. But in the end … the objective is not simply consensus among council members but revelation from God. It is a process involving both reason and faith for obtaining the mind and will of the Lord.

“At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that ‘a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such’ [Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 5:265]” (“The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 88).