The Doctrine and Covenants is one of four books of scripture used by Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The other three books are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. These four books combine together into what is known as “The Standard Works” of the church. The LDS Standard Works are extensively cross referenced, and are studied in harmony together. Each book of scripture is revered individually, but we believe it is the combination which offers powerful clarity and validity to all.
The Doctrine and Covenants (commonly abbreviated to D&C) is a book of scripture containing 133 revelations from the Lord directly to the Prophet Joseph Smith, along with 5 more revelations and 2 declarations given through other Mormon prophets [namely, Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and Spencer W. Kimball].
Nearly a third of all the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received between August 1831 and April 1834. It is important to note that not all of the revelations received by Joseph Smith are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. The book includes a prayerful selection. Currently underway is an ambitious privately funded undertaking, endorsed by the LDS church, called the Joseph Smith Papers Project . This project is endeavoring to compile and publish all of Joseph’s extensive history, revelations, transactions and correspondence. It is projected to be a historic 30 volume set.
The Doctrine and Covenants is a unique book of scripture, because it is not a translation of ancient documents. It is also considered an ‘open cannon’ – meaning that new revelations may be added in the future, as given by the Lord to the modern-day prophet. The decision about which revelations need to be included in the Doctrine and Covenants is made by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The initial decision to compile the revelations received by Joseph Smith into a book took place in Hiram, Ohio on Nov. 1, 1831. The printed revelations were to be bound into a book called the Book of Commandments.
The work of printing commenced in Independence, Jackson County Missouri, in 1833 by William W. Phelps. Mr. Phelps was an editor, printer, poet, songwriter and preacher, baptised into the LDS church in 1831. He relocated to Independence, and opened a printing and newspaper office on the upper floor of his home.
After the first 160 pages of The Book of Commandments had been printed a devastating attack by an anti-Mormon mob took place. Mrs. Phelps was alone with her children when the threatening mob began to surround her house. She quickly took her sick baby in her arms and hurried with her other children to hide in the nearby woods. The mobsters ransacked the home, throwing the Phelps belongings into the muddy street. They proceeded upstairs, destroying the printing equipment, throwing the press and type as well as unbound manuscripts from the building windows. One shouted “So much for the Mormon commandments!” and dumped large sheets of printed pages on the growing pile outside.
An excerpt of an eye-witness account by Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner] tells of the riveting rescue story:
“My sister Caroline [age 13] and myself [age 15] were in a corner of a fence watching them; when they spoke of the commandments, I was determined to have some of them. Sister said if I went to get any of them she would go too, but said ‘they will kill us.
“While their backs were turned…we went, and got our arms full, and were turning away, when some of the mob saw us and called on us to stop, but we ran as fast as we could. Two of them started after us. Seeing a gap in a fence, we entered into a large cornfield, laid the papers on the ground, and hid them with our persons. The corn was from five to six feet high, and very thick; they hunted around considerable, and came very near us but did not find us.”
This courageous act by two young girls helped preserve the printed text of the Prophet Joseph’s early revelations, paving the way for subsequent partial publication of the Book of Commandments in 1834, and then a more complete publication in 1835, with the name changed to Doctrine and Covenants.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn about the eternal nature of families, what happens after death, the degrees of glory in heaven, and the organization of Christ’s Church on earth today. We also read about the covenants (sacred promises) God makes with those who are willing to keep His commandments.
In the preface, the Lord states:
“Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:37–38).
The Doctrine and Covenants is a treasure for all who will study from its pages. Even at a young age, the Rollins sisters recognized the importance of the revelations. Joseph Smith said of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“[It is] a benefit to the world, showing that the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom of our Savior are again entrusted to man” (section heading D&C 70).
In the October 2009 General Conference of the church, LDS apostle Elder Russell M. Nelson expounded upon the concept of mysteries being revealed:
“Revelation from God is always compatible with His eternal law. It never contradicts His doctrine. It is facilitated by proper reverence for Deity. The Master gave this instruction:
‘I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.. . . To them will I reveal all mysteries [and] my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom’ (D&C 76:5–7).”
To faithful Mormons, the Doctrine and Covenants is the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ literally speaking to the earth. It adds a another witness to the power of the Savior’s voice, as found in the New Testament, and reveals additional insight to His personality and teachings. The book offers amazing truths which may not be fully appreciated unless read carefully. For instance, one of the first laws of the universe is unveiled, that we receive our blessings on the basis of obedience to laws (see D&C 130:20–21).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell promised:
“The prayerful reader of the Doctrine and Covenants will enlarge his testimony, and draw closer to the Savior than he has ever been before!”
VIDEO: “God’s Words Never Cease” Understanding Mormon Scripture
1. “Autobiography of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner (1818-1913),” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, vol. 17 (July 1926)
2. Website: Crandall Historical Printing Museum
3. Steven E. Snow, “Treasuring the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, Jan 2009, 50–53
4. Russell M. Nelson, “Ask, Seek, Knock,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 81–84
5. Neal A. Maxwell, “The Doctrine and Covenants: The Voice of the Lord,” Tambuli, Sep 1979, 4
6. Robert J. Woodford, “The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, Dec 1984, 32
7. Website: Mormon Wiki
8. Website: “The Joseph Smith Papers Project”
9. Video courtesy: Mormon Messages Channel