1. Why is the Doctrine and Covenants organized the way it is?
The introduction of the Doctrine and Covenants states, “The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days.” The book is divided into sections, not chapters; it also includes two official declarations issued by the Church.
Many of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were published first in various Church newspapers and periodicals. The Book of Commandments, the first attempt to collect these sections in one volume, was published in 1833. In 1835, these revelations were published again—with additional sections added—as the Doctrine and Covenants. While sections at the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants were generally received before later sections, they are not arranged in strict chronological order. Rather, sections are arranged in a way that takes both chronology and topical relationships into account. (There is a list of the sections in chronological order.)
2. Where can I find manuscripts of the original revelations?
Many of the oldest extant copies of those revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants received by Joseph Smith can be viewed at the Joseph Smith Papers website. The companion book from the Joseph Smith Papers project, Joseph Smith’s Revelations, contains a chart listing which volume of the Joseph Smith Papers contains which section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
If you are searching for the manuscripts of those sections not received by Joseph Smith, consider the following:
Section 135 (1844)
For a long time, it was assumed that John Taylor was the sole author of this section; however, recent scholarship has cast doubt on this. Currently, we are not sure who wrote it, but Taylor and Willard Richards likely contributed to section 135 in some capacity.1 For example, the section’s wording resembles Willard Richards’s journal entry for July 27, 1844, which records some of the earliest details about the attack.2
Section 136 (1847)
The original manuscript of section 136 is viewable in the collection “Revelations collection, circa 1829–1876” (MS 4583).
Section 138 (1918)
A signed typescript copy of section 138 is viewable in the collection “Joseph F. Smith papers, 1854–1918” (MS 1325). For more information, see the Church History Library blog article “Joseph F. Smith and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead.”
Official Declaration 1 (1890)
Wilford Woodruff first gave this declaration as a speech in the Cache Stake in Logan, Utah. In the past, it has often been referred to as “The Manifesto.” A transcribed copy of the speech is available in the library catalog. (Note, however, that the origins of the transcription are unknown.) The first published versions of the declaration are “Manifesto of the Presidency and Apostles Issued December 12, 1889” and “President Woodruff’s manifesto. Proceedings at the Semi-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Monday Forenoon, October 6, 1890.”
Official Declaration 2 (1978)
President Spencer W. Kimball composed this statement, which was read during general conference on September 30, 1978. It should be noted that this declaration is not a revelation in the same way that much of the Doctrine and Covenants is; rather, this is the report of a revelation that was received.
3. When have sections been added or removed from the Doctrine and Covenants?
The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835. Once presented to a general assembly of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio, it was unanimously voted upon to become authorized scripture for the Church.3 The 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants had 103 sections. Two sections (numbered 101 and 102 in the 1835 edition) were not considered revelations but were considered expressions of belief about marriage and government, respectively.4 The 1835 edition also contained a series of theological lectures that would later be published separately as the Lectures on Faith.
The 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants retained the previous contents from the 1835 edition and included seven new revelations to Joseph Smith, as well as a tribute to Joseph and Hyrum, both of whom were martyred just prior to publication.5
The next major emendation to the Doctrine and Covenants came in 1876.6 Church Apostle Orson Pratt, acting as Church Historian, had been charged with updating the Doctrine and Covenants. Under the direction of Brigham Young, Pratt added an additional 26 sections and divided each section into verses.7 The new sections included portions of Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail, a revelation on celestial marriage, and teachings given by Joseph Smith about the Godhead as recorded in the journals of William Clayton. It also included a revelation received by Brigham Young, making it the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants to include a revelation received by someone other than Joseph Smith.8
The 1876 edition was also the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants to delete a section: the article on marriage. The article on marriage had been drafted by Oliver Cowdery in 1835 and appeared in the Doctrine and Covenants since that time. However, the article on marriage contained material that was incompatible with the Saints’ understanding of celestial marriage as put forth in later revelations (at the time of the 1876 edition’s publication, the Saints practiced plural marriage). Consequently, it was removed from the Doctrine and Covenants.9
The 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was completed under the supervision of six members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. One of the noteworthy changes in this edition was the removal of the Lectures on Faith, as the lectures “were prepared for use in the School of the Elders, conducted in Kirtland, Ohio, during the winter of 1834–1835; but they were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons.”10 The 1921 edition also contained Official Declaration 1, which officially ended the practice of plural marriage within the Church. Beginning in the 1908 printing of the Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 1 had been included as a concordance; it became an official part of the text in the 1921 edition.11
The most recent additions to the text of the Doctrine and Covenants came in 1979. In 1976, the Church added two revelations to the Pearl of Great Price; then, in 1979, the revelations were transferred to the Doctrine and Covenants.12 Official Declaration 2 was also added to the next edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. The first revelation, now section 137, is a vision Joseph Smith had while in the Kirtland Temple. Section 138 was a vision received by President Joseph F. Smith describing the spirit world. Official Declaration 2 is a revelation received by President Spencer W. Kimball that “removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood” and the receiving of temple ordinances. It made it clear that men of all races, particularly those previously excluded due to their African ancestry, could receive the priesthood, and faithful sisters of African ancestry could receive their temple ordinances.13
4. Why were code names and code words used in the Doctrine and Covenants?
To avoid providing evidence for lawsuits against Church members, code names were occasionally used for people mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. The code names were replaced with the actual names in the 1981 edition; accordingly, these links go to the 1835 edition (or, where noted, the 1844 edition).
Code Words in the Doctrine and Covenants:
Baneemy: First considered to be Lyman Wight. For the 1876 edition, Orson Pratt replaced it with “Mine elders,” possibly from the Hebrew phrase בניי , “My sons.” Charles B. Thompson, an early Latter-day Saint who later formed a breakaway group called the Congregation of Jehovah’s Presbytery of Zion, also claimed the name referred to him, as in the title of his periodical, Zion’s Harbinger, and Baneemy’s Organ. (Doctrine and Covenants 86:8 )
Ozondah: The Newel K. Whitney & Co. white store, Kirtland, Ohio (Doctrine and Covenants 98:7)
Shinelah: [To] Print (infinitive verb): “… For this purpose I have commanded you to organize yourselves, even to shinelah [print] my words …” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:10; emphasis added)
Shinelane: Printing (gerund verb): “… Make use of the stewardship which I have appointed unto you, exclusive of the sacred things, for the purpose of shinelane [printing] these sacred things …” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:11; emphasis added)
Tahhanes: Kirtland, Ohio, tannery (Doctrine and Covenants 98:3)
5. How many languages has the Doctrine and Covenants been translated into?
In 1850, John Davis, a Welsh convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began translating the Doctrine and Covenants into Welsh. In February 1851, his translations began appearing weekly in the Udgorn Seion (Zion’s Trumpet), the official Latter-day Saint periodical in Wales. After 27 weeks of publication, he had completed the entire Doctrine and Covenants and prepared to publish it as a standalone book of scripture.18 It became the first non-English translation of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Since the Welsh translation, the Doctrine and Covenants has been translated into a plethora of languages. In 1984, it was announced that the Doctrine and Covenants had been translated into 27 languages other than English.19 As of the time of this writing, the Doctrine and Covenants has been translated into 74 languages.
For those seeking information about the translation process itself, the Liahona published an article in 2016 which profiles several translators’ experiences and explains their processes.20
Bonus Question: What is the 1854 Liverpool edition?
By 1854, having only been in the Salt Lake Valley for seven years, the Saints didn’t have access to many resources for printing, yet they needed to publish another edition of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Some previous editions of the scriptures had been published by the British Mission in Liverpool, England; thus, rather than ship a new press, paper, and other publishing-related supplies to Salt Lake City, Brigham Young directed Samuel Whitney Richards, president of the British Mission, to print editions of the Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Mormon for the Saints in Utah. Richards brought the books back with him upon completing his mission, taking a boat from Liverpool to Boston, taking the train to St. Louis, then loading the books on pack mules to carry them across the plains.
In 1855, these editions were available for purchase at the home of Parley P. Pratt on South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, across the street from Temple Square. Pratt preferred cash but also accepted “wheat, and other grain, butter, cheese, beef, pork, lumber, wood, store goods and labor”;21 he did not take credit.
President Hinckley owned an 1854 copy of the Book of Mormon and wrote a note inside: “This is a valuable book—1854 Liverpool edition.”22
Top Image: The 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.