Doctrine and Covenants
| A dime a dozen|
History and contents
One signal advantage of having living prophets is that you get to update your sacred texts. Doctrine and Covenants is a revision of the 1833 Book of Commandments, a text containing new revelations from Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and other early Mormon leaders. Most copies of this book were destroyed during one of the outbreaks of vigilantism that the early Mormon movement attracted, this time in Missouri.
Doctrine and Covenants was the revised result that appeared in 1835. The first part of the original text is a set of "Lectures on Faith", touching points of Mormon theology. These were dropped from the Church of Latter Day Saints edition of the text in 1921.
The "Covenants" section is more significant. It is a text giving 103 revelations, which "contain items or principles for the regulation of the church, as taken from the revelations which have been given since its organization, as well as from former ones." Most of the Covenants are from the hand of Joseph Smith; other authors include Cowdery, John Whitmer, and Sidney Rigdon. Several of the texts claim to have been revealed to their named authors by angels.
Later editions of the Doctrine and Covenants as published by the Church of Latter Day Saints include further revelations from Mormon leaders. The most recent addition was made in 1978. This revelation established that African-Americans and other Black people would no longer be debarred from the Mormon priesthood by virtue of their race.
Subsequent revisions of the Doctrine and Covenants have revised the teachings of the earliest editions. In particular, the original section 101 said:
“”Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.
This was dropped by Smith in 1843, after Joseph Smith received the revelation that authorized polygamy for men. The superseding section 132 teaches, not only that polygamy is authorized; it is in fact mandatory to achieve deification in the Mormon afterlife. The civil celebration of polygamous marriages was abandoned by the Church of Latter Day Saints in 1890, by virtue of a revelation that appears in the text as "Official Declaration 1".
“”Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place. For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
Smith's original text, like in the Book of Mormon, is written in his highfalutin' pastiche of early modern English as an attempt to sound biblical. More recent additions to the scripture are in more conventional formal prose.
While Doctrine and Covenants is Mormon scripture, unlike the Book of Mormon, evangelists for the church do not carry around copies to hand out to potential converts. It represents a later development of Mormon theology, and many of the aspects of the faith that make Mormonism weirdly distinctive from other Christian denominations, including polygamous marriage and personal deification, are too obviously on display in its pages. In fairness, the LDS church makes the current official text available online.
Other divisions of the Latter Day Saint movement, such as the Community of Christ, also consider Doctrines and Covenants to be Scripture. But like the Church of Latter-Day Saints, for these religions the text, while Scripture, is a living document, and updates are issued with some frequency by the Community of Christ.
- Doctrine and Covenants Official Church of Latter Day Saints edition
- Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 version.
- Doctrine and Covenants, variorum edition from an anti-Mormon website (archive)
- Doctrine and Covenants, preface.
- Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 2
- Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, ss. 101.4
- Doctrine and Covenants, 132.19-20
- Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 1
- Doctrine and Covenants 87
- See, e.g. Doctrine and Covenants 165 (Community of Christ edition)