“Chapter 6: Doctrine and Covenants 7; 13; 18,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 6,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
During the work of translating the Book of Mormon in April 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had a difference of opinion about whether the Apostle John had died or whether he continued to live on the earth. The Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord with the Urim and Thummim and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 7. “The revelation is a translated version of the record made on parchment by John” (D&C 7, section heading) and teaches that the Lord granted to John his desire to live and bring souls to Jesus Christ until the Second Coming.
While translating 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon plates, Joseph and Oliver learned about the authority to baptize for the remission of sins. On May 15, 1829, they retired to the woods near Joseph Smith’s farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and prayed about this authority. In response to their prayer, John the Baptist appeared as a resurrected personage and conferred upon them the Aaronic Priesthood. The words spoken by John the Baptist are contained in Doctrine and Covenants 13.
In June 1829, as the translation of the Book of Mormon neared completion at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation containing instructions about building up Christ’s Church. This revelation, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 18, called Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer to preach the gospel and appointed them to search out twelve men who would serve as Apostles. The revelation also detailed many duties of those who would be called as Apostles.
- April 1829
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery continued translating the golden plates.
- April 1829
Doctrine and Covenants 7 was received.
- May 15, 1829
John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood (see Doctrine and Covenants 13).
- May–June 1829
Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood.
- June 1829
The Three Witnesses were shown the golden plates.
- June 1829
Doctrine and Covenants 18 was received.
The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s question of whether the Apostle John had died or whether he would continue on the earth until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was likely based on John 21:18–23. In this passage the Lord prophesied of Peter’s death, and then Peter asked the Savior what would happen to the Apostle John. The Lord responded, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (John 21:23). The question about John’s fate was common among Christians during Joseph Smith’s time.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery decided to settle their question by asking the Lord through the Urim and Thummim. After asking the Lord, Joseph received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 7. This revelation “is a translated version of the record made on parchment by John, and hidden up by himself” (D&C 7, section heading). We do not know whether Joseph Smith had the actual parchment in his possession. He may have seen the parchment in vision or received the translated words through the Urim and Thummim.
The Lord granted the Apostle John’s request for power over death so that John might continue to live and bring souls unto Christ (see John 21:21–23). The Lord’s blessing to John did not mean that John would never die; rather, it meant that he would not die until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; 3 Nephi 28:7–8). In order for John to live on the earth until the Second Coming, his mortal body was changed to become a translated being. Translated beings are “persons who are changed so that they do not experience pain or death until their resurrection to immortality” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Translated Beings,” scriptures.lds.org).
In response to Peter’s question about the Apostle John’s fate, the Savior explained that John had desired to remain upon the earth and continue his work. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used John’s desire to illustrate the importance of preaching the gospel:
“The Apostle John asked the Lord if he, John, might remain on the earth beyond the normal span of life for no other purpose than to bring more souls unto God. In granting that wish, the Savior said that this was ‘a greater work’ and a nobler ‘desire’ even than that of desiring to come into the presence of the Lord ‘speedily’ [see D&C 7].
“Like all prophets and apostles, the Prophet Joseph Smith understood the deep meaning of John’s request when he said, ‘After all that has been said, [our] greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel’ [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 113]” (“Witnesses unto Me,” Ensign, May 2001, 16).
Although we know that the Apostle John was permitted to tarry on the earth, we do not know much about his ministry as a translated being. We do know that John appeared with the resurrected Peter and James to confer the Melchizedek Priesthood on the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Also, according to John Whitmer’s account of a conference of the Church in June 1831, in Kirtland, Ohio, “the Spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph [Smith] in an unusual manner, and he prophesied that John the Revelator was then among the Ten Tribes of Israel who had been led away … , to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion” (in History of the Church, 1:176).
The Lord promised Peter, James, and John that they would have the keys of the ministry for their dispensation until the Second Coming (see D&C 27:12–13; see also Matthew 17:1–9). President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained what these keys are: “The keys of the ministry which John says … were given to Peter, James and himself, constituted the authority of Presidency of the Church in their dispensation” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:49). Peter, James, and John bestowed these same keys upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, giving them authority to preside and direct God’s Church upon the earth in this last dispensation, the dispensation of the fulness of times.
The miraculous work of translating the Book of Mormon plates progressed rapidly in April and May 1829. Oliver Cowdery described his feelings about the process: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he [Joseph Smith] translated with the Urim and Thummim” (Joseph Smith—History 1:71, note).
In May, the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating “the account given of the Savior’s ministry to the remnant of the seed of Jacob, upon this [the American] continent” (Joseph Smith—History 1:71, note). That account included 3 Nephi 9–28, in which baptism by proper authority is mentioned several times. Joseph and Oliver desired to know more and went into the woods to ask the Lord in prayer for direction.
The Prophet recorded, “While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us” (Joseph Smith—History 1:68).
The angelic messenger was John the Baptist, now a glorified, resurrected being, and he instructed Joseph and Oliver to baptize each other. Accordingly, they went to the nearby Susquehanna River, where Joseph baptized Oliver, and then Oliver baptized Joseph. After being baptized, they ordained each other to the Aaronic Priesthood, as instructed by John the Baptist. (See Joseph Smith—History 1:70–72.)
John the Baptist also told Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. He explained that in due time Joseph and Oliver would also receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. (See Joseph Smith—History 1:72.) Historical evidence suggests that Peter, James, and John appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery before June 1, 1829, and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon them (see Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 33).
The restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods occurred when heavenly messengers bestowed authority and keys upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 13:1; 110:11–16; 128:20–21). President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) explained the difference between priesthood authority and priesthood keys:
“The Priesthood in general is the authority given to man to act for God. Every man ordained to any degree of the Priesthood has this authority delegated to him.
“But it is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 141)
The Doctrine and Covenants illustrates that angels are the Lord’s servants who deliver messages and minister to God’s children on earth (see D&C 7:5–6; 20:5–10; 29:42; 43:25; 84:42; 103:19–20; 109:22). We learn from the Book of Mormon that “it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain” (Moroni 7:37). Angels can minister to men, women, and children (see Alma 32:23).
John the Baptist explained to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that the Aaronic Priesthood “holds the keys of the ministering of angels” (D&C 13:1). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered the following insight:
“What does it mean that the Aaronic Priesthood holds ‘the key of the ministering of angels’ and of the ‘gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins’ [D&C 84:26–27]? The meaning is found in the ordinance of baptism and in the sacrament. Baptism is for the remission of sins, and the sacrament is a renewal of the covenants and blessings of baptism. Both should be preceded by repentance. When we keep the covenants made in these ordinances, we are promised that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. The ministering of angels is one of the manifestations of that Spirit. …
“… As a young holder of the Aaronic Priesthood, I did not think I would see an angel, and I wondered what such appearances had to do with the Aaronic Priesthood.
“But the ministering of angels can also be unseen. Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind. …
“… Most angelic communications are felt or heard rather than seen. …
“In general, the blessings of spiritual companionship and communication are only available to those who are clean. As explained earlier, through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels, for ‘angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ’ (2 Ne. 32:3). So it is that those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels” (“The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 37–39).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained what it means to hold the keys of the gospel of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins:
“Not one of [us] has lived without sin since [our] baptism. Without some provision for further cleansing after our baptism, each of us is lost to things spiritual. …
“We are commanded to repent of our sins and to come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and partake of the sacrament in compliance with its covenants. When we renew our baptismal covenants in this way, the Lord renews the cleansing effect of our baptism. In this way we are made clean and can always have His Spirit to be with us. …
“We cannot overstate the importance of the Aaronic Priesthood in this. All of these vital steps pertaining to the remission of sins are performed through the saving ordinance of baptism and the renewing ordinance of the sacrament. Both of these ordinances are officiated by holders of the Aaronic Priesthood under the direction of the bishopric, who exercise the keys of the gospel of repentance and of baptism and the remission of sins” (“The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” 38).
In ancient times, God commanded His people to offer up animal sacrifices as part of their worship. The purpose of shedding the blood of an animal was to help people look forward in faith to the time when the blood of Jesus Christ would be shed to atone for their sins. From Moses’s time to the death of Jesus Christ, the law of Moses dictated that animal sacrifices and burnt offerings be performed by priests officiating at the tabernacle or temple. These priests were descendants of Levi who were designated by the Lord to serve in the sanctuary (see Numbers 18:20–21). Thus the term “sons of Levi” refers to holders of the priesthood.
The scriptures describe a few important ways that Church members can make “an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (D&C 13:1). The Book of Mormon teaches us to “come unto Christ … and offer [our] whole souls as an offering unto him” (Omni 1:26). Isaiah prophesied that in the last days, those who have been gathered by the Lord “shall bring all [their] brethren for an offering unto the Lord” (Isaiah 66:20), meaning those who are converted are to be brought to the temple. Additionally, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave the inspired instruction that Latter-day Saints should “offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and … present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead” (D&C 128:24).
In regards to animal sacrifice, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) gave the following explanation:
“It is generally supposed that sacrifice was entirely done away when the Great Sacrifice [i.e., the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus] was offered up, and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of sacrifice in future: but those who assert this are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the priesthood, or with the Prophets.
“The offering of sacrifice has ever been connected and forms a part of the duties of the Priesthood. It began with the Priesthood, and will be continued until after the coming of Christ, from generation to generation. …
“These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. This ever did and ever will exist when the powers of the [Melchizedek] Priesthood are sufficiently manifest; else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the holy Prophets be brought to pass? It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the Prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses’ day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued” (in History of the Church, 4:211–12).
President Joseph Fielding Smith provided further clarification about animal sacrifice in the last days: “The sacrifice of animals will be done to complete the restoration when the temple spoken of is built; at the beginning of the millennium, or in the restoration, blood sacrifices will be performed long enough to complete the fulness of the restoration in this dispensation. Afterwards sacrifice will be of some other character” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie , 3:94).
The Lord had revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, possibly as early as 1828, that His Church would be reestablished once again on the earth (see D&C 10:53–55). In June 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery continued the translation of the Book of Mormon in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York. During this time, Joseph and Oliver also sought to know how to exercise the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood that had been recently conferred upon them by heavenly messengers. While praying in a room of the Whitmer home, the word of the Lord came to them and directed them to exercise the priesthood to ordain elders, administer the sacrament, and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, the Lord instructed them to wait to perform these ordinances until a group of believers could be assembled. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, ed. Karen Lynn Davidson and others , 326, 328.)
Meanwhile, as they awaited the Lord’s command to organize the Church, the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery were nearing completion of the translation of the Book of Mormon, which included translating the books of 3 Nephi and Moroni. Both of these books contain instructions on priesthood ordinances and Church procedure, which likely inspired and guided them as they contemplated the time when the Lord would direct them to organize His Church anew upon the earth.
It was in the context of these events that the Prophet received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 18. This revelation was addressed to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, giving direction about building up the Church. It also contains instructions to those who would be called as the Twelve Apostles.
In June 1829, as the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were concluding the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord revealed direction concerning how to build up the Church in anticipation of the time when the Church would be formally organized (see D&C 18, section heading). To guide Oliver in this effort, the Lord counseled him to rely upon the things that were written in the Book of Mormon. Before the Church was organized, Oliver used the Book of Mormon to compile a list of essential ordinances and covenants into a document called “Articles of the Church of Christ.” This document may have served to guide believers in the intervening months before the Church was formally organized on April 6, 1830. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay and others , 368–69.)
Soon after Moroni appeared to the Three Witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, two of those witnesses, were commanded to “cry repentance unto this people” (D&C 18:14). The Lord said that they were “called even with that same calling with which [the Apostle Paul] was called” (D&C 18:9). As recorded in Acts 26:15–20, Paul explained to King Agrippa that the Lord had called him to be “a minister and a witness” of the things that he had seen (Acts 26:16). Paul said his calling was to preach “unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea” (Acts 26:20) as well as among the Gentiles, “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light” (Acts 20:18). Following his conversion, Paul labored the remainder of his life to help others repent and become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were reminded that preaching the gospel was essential because the souls of God’s children are valuable (see D&C 18:10). President Thomas S. Monson gave the following account about the worth of a soul:
“In March of 1967, early in my service as a member of the Council of the Twelve, I was attending a conference of the Monument Park West Stake in Salt Lake City. My companion for the conference was a member of the General Church Welfare Committee, Paul C. Child. …
“When it was his opportunity to participate, President Child took in hand the Doctrine and Covenants and left the pulpit to stand among the priesthood brethren to whom he was directing his message. He turned to section 18 and began to read [verses 10 and 15]. …
“President Child then raised his eyes from the scriptures and asked the brethren: ‘What is the worth of a human soul?’ He avoided calling on a bishop, a stake president, or a high councilor for a response. Instead, he selected the president of an elders quorum—a brother who had been a bit drowsy and had missed the significance of the question.
“The startled man responded, ‘Brother Child, could you please repeat the question?’
“The question was repeated: ‘What is the worth of a human soul?’
“… I prayed fervently for that quorum president. He remained silent for what seemed like an eternity and then declared, ‘Brother Child, the worth of a human soul is its capacity to become as God.’
“All present pondered that reply. Brother Child returned to the stand, leaned over to me, and said, ‘A profound reply; a profound reply!’ He proceeded with his message, but I continued to reflect on that inspired response” (“My Brother’s Keeper,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 43).
President Monson later declared: “We have the responsibility to see individuals not as they are but rather as they can become. I would plead with you to think of them in this way” (“See Others as They May Become,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 70).
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that “crying repentance simply means helping people return to God” (“Preparing for Your Spiritual Destiny” [Brigham Young University fireside address, Jan. 10, 2010], 7, speeches.byu.edu).
Doctrine and Covenants 18:20 should not be viewed as a command to quarrel or debate with others about the gospel. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “When we are commanded to ‘contend against no church save it be the church of the devil,’ we must understand that this is instruction to us to contend against all evil, that which is opposed to righteousness and truth” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:83). It is not a call to oppose other churches or their members.
Through repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end, we demonstrate our desire to take Christ’s name upon us. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency explained what that means: “We promise to take His name upon us. That means we must see ourselves as His. We will put Him first in our lives. We will want what He wants rather than what we want or what the world teaches us to want” (“That We May Be One,” Ensign, May 1998, 67).
For more information about taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ, see the commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79 in this manual.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was organized in February 1835. However, six years earlier, in June 1829, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 18. This revelation contains instructions about the mission of the Twelve in anticipation of their call. It explains that the Twelve would need to declare the gospel unto Gentiles and Jews, to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, to provide essential ordinances, and to organize the work as directed by the Holy Ghost.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained what it means for Apostles to take upon them the name of Christ: “Many scriptures that refer to ‘the name of Jesus Christ’ are obviously references to the authority of the Savior. This was surely the meaning conveyed when the seventy reported to Jesus that ‘even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.’ (Luke 10:17.) The Doctrine and Covenants employs this same meaning when it describes the Twelve Apostles of this dispensation as ‘they who shall desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart.’ (D&C 18:27.) The Twelve are later designated as ‘special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world,’ and as those who ‘officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church.’ (D&C 107:23, 33.)” (“Taking upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 1985, 81).
The Lord told the future Apostles that the words contained in Doctrine and Covenants 18 were not given by man but were given through His voice. Elder Kim B. Clark of the Seventy explained what we must do in order to hear the voice of the Lord: “If we will look to Christ and open our eyes and our ears, the Holy Ghost will bless us to see the Lord Jesus Christ working in our lives, strengthening our faith in Him with assurance and evidence. We increasingly will see all of our brothers and sisters the way God sees them, with love and compassion. We will hear the Savior’s voice in the scriptures, in the whisperings of the Spirit, and in the words of the living prophets” (“Eyes to See and Ears to Hear,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 125).
At the time that the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 18 was given, Martin Harris was not addressed in the Lord’s instructions. However, Martin later joined with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer in selecting the Twelve Apostles. The Three Witnesses, who had received a special witness of the truthfulness of the Restoration, fulfilled their assignment to “search out the Twelve” (D&C 18:37), who were then ordained as Apostles. When the Apostles were called in February 1835, Oliver Cowdery stated that from the time this revelation was received in 1829, “our minds have been on a constant stretch to find who these Twelve were” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 70).
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency taught how the Lord does His work through us:
“As we emulate [the Savior’s] perfect example, our hands can become His hands; our eyes, His eyes; our heart, His heart. …
“… Let our hearts and hands be stretched out in compassion toward others, for everyone is walking his or her own difficult path. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our Master, we are called to support and heal rather than condemn. …
“… Let us commit to become His hands, that others through us may feel His loving embrace” (“You Are My Hands,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 68–69, 75).