Throughout 1997, members of the Church will study the Doctrine and Covenants. In doing so, it may be helpful to understand the origin and development of this latter-day book of scripture.
In Section 18:34-35, the Lord declares: "These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man; For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them."A basic doctrine of the restored Church of Jesus Christ is that of continuous revelation from the Lord through His latter-day prophets. Many of these revelations are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. (For article on purpose and function of the Doctrine and Covenants, please see page 6.)
It is important to note, however, that these revelations "were not received or written as a textbook, treatise, or organized curriculum of lesson plans, but were received intermittently when the Prophet Joseph Smith and others sought divine guidance in various circumstances." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:407.)
Of the 138 sections and two official declarations in the Doctrine and Covenants, 133 were received through the Prophet Joseph. The remaining seven were received, written by or under the direction of Oliver Cowdery (sections 102, 134), John Taylor (section 135), Brigham Young (136), Joseph F. Smith (138), Wilford Woodruff (Official Declaration 1) and Spencer W. Kimball (Official Declaration 2). (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:405.)
The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants – known as the Preface – was actually received by Joseph Smith after Sections 2-19 were received. According to a footnote in the April 1982 general conference address by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the Seventy, the words of Moroni in Section 2 were originally placed as Section 1, but after the Preface was received by the Prophet Joseph on Nov. 1, 1831,
during a conference in Hiram, Ohio,T it was made Section 2, and remains so today.
As in all annals of Church history, personal sacrifice and courage went into bringing the Doctrine and Covenants to the world. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:425, Joseph Smith had recorded 70 or more revelations by the fall of 1831. During the 1831 Hiram conference, the Church decided to publish a selection of these revelations or "commandments."
According to the May 15, 1993, Church News, the first five signatures (a signature is a 32-page sheet) comprising 160 pages had been printed when a mob broke into the printing office in Independence, Mo., on July 20, 1833, and threw the press and type out an upper window. Some 70 years later, Mary Rollins reported in the Feb. 12, 1902, Deseret Evening News, that she, then 14, and her sister, Caroline, then 12, watched the mob action. Realizing what the scattered pages were, Mary and her sister gathered up as many pages as they could and ran.
"As we turned away, two of the mob got down off the house and called for us to stop, but we ran as fast as we could, through a gap in the fence, into a large corn field, and the two men after us," Mary recalled. "We ran a long way in the field, laid the papers on the ground, then laid down on top of them. The corn was very high and thick. They hunted all around us, but did not see us."
These few saved portions were individually bound into a 160-page book called the "Book of Commandments." Then, on Sept. 24, 1834, Joseph Smith and a committee began editing the revelations contained in this 1833 edition for scribal and printing errors and text clarification. From this work came the 1835 edition, named the "Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints," which also contained the "Lectures on Faith" by Joseph Smith and additional revelations. This edition contained 103 sections.
By 1840, the Church had sold out of the 1835 edition, and work began on a new edition, which was completed in 1844. This edition, published in Nauvoo, included eight additional revelations. However, the Prophet never saw them in print, as the new edition appeared shortly after his death.
Because the Church had no printing facilities in the Salt Lake Valley for many years after the pioneers came West, Wilford Woodruff printed 3,000 copies of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1845 in Liverpool, England, for the growing LDS population there. Subsequent English printings were in 1849, 1852, 1854, 1866 and 1869. Most of the 1854 copies were shipped to Salt Lake City.
The next edition was published in 1876 in Salt Lake City. That year, Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve, who was also Church historian, divided the text into verses. Twenty-six additional revelations were added. Three years later, Elder Pratt published another edition in England. In 1880, this edition was published in Salt Lake City and was accepted by the Church in the jubilee conference of October 1880.
At least 28 printings of the Doctrine and Covenants were completed between 1880 and 1920. Beginning in 1908, the Doctrine and Covenants included a concordance and Wilford Woodruff's "Manifesto" – Official Declaration 1 – which ended plural marriage.
Two new editions were introduced during the 20th century. In the 1921 edition, the "Lectures on Faith" were deleted, the footnotes were revised and pages were divided into double columns.
The edition most familiar to members today is the 1981 edition, which includes two additional sections and Official Declaration 2. Footnotes were again revised and introductory headings for each section were rewritten. Included in this edition is Section 137, a portion of Joseph Smith's 1836 vision of the celestial kingdom; and Section 138, Joseph F. Smith's 1918 vision of the redemption of the dead. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:425-426.)
Declaration 2 contains the text of a letter read by President N. Eldon Tanner, in behalf of President Spencer W. Kimball, during the October 1978 general conference. The letter explained that the "long-promised day" had come, wherein all worthy male members of the Church could hold the priesthood. The declaration was proposed during the conference and unanimously accepted by Church members. Since 1981, Official Declaration 2 has been included in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Doctrine and Covenants has been published in 34 non-English languages, beginning with the 1851 Welsh edition.