Changes in the Doctrine and Covenants – Part 9

By: Marvin W. Cowan; ©2013
Some “revelations” in LDS scripture are repeated verbatim as “new scripture.” For example, in the 1833 LDS Book of Commandments, the first two verses of chapters 11 and 12 are exactly the same, but the remaining verses are different.

Changes in the Doctrine & Covenants – Part 9

Some “revelations” in LDS scripture are repeated verbatim as “new scripture.” In the 1833 LDS Book of Commandments (B. of C.), the first two verses of chapters 11 and 12 are exactly the same, but the remaining verses are different. In 1835 those two chapters became Doctrine and Covenants (D. & C.), Sections 12 and 14. The first two verses in the B. of C. chapters 11 and 12 became the first five verses in D. & C. Sec. 12 and 14. The rest of the verses in the D. & C. are different like they are in the B. of C. In the B. of C., chapters 13 and 14 are identical, except chapter 13 is to John Whitmer and chapter 14 is to Peter Whitmer. Those texts are D. & C. Sections 15 and 16, and the only change was in D. & C. 16:5 where “unto” was added, probably as a scribal error. If God is omniscient, why didn’t He give one revelation addressed to both John and Peter Whitmer since the two “revelations” say exactly the same thing?

Joseph Smith said D. & C. 17 was a revealed to him in June 1829 for the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon (B. of M.), Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris. It was not published in the 1833 B. of C., but it became LDS scripture in 1835 as D. & C., Section 42. It became D. & C. 17 in the current edition andthe content is the same in today as it was in 1835. Even before they saw the gold plates of the B. of M., this “revelation” told the three witness to testify that they “have seen” the gold plates from which Smith translated the B. of M. “The Lord” also told them that they would see the gold plates “by your faith” (D. & C. 17:2).When they see the gold plates they are to testify about them so that Joseph Smith, Jun. “may not be destroyed”(D. & C. 17: 3-4). That put pressure on the three witnesses to “see” the plates or their “Prophet” would be destroyed! D. & C. 17:5 says, “Ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun. has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and because he had faith.” That certainly sounds like Smith and the three witnesses only saw the gold plates “by faith” and that may explain why no one else saw them!

The Whitmers invited Smith to live with them until he finished translating the B. of M., so if the plates existed, they had to be with him in the Whitmer home (History of the Church, Volume I, on p. 49). However, when the three witnesses wanted to see the gold plates, Smith took them into the woods near Whitmer’s home to pray to see the plates! If Smith had the gold plates in the Whitmer home, why didn’t he show them to the witnesses there instead of taking them into the woods to pray to see a vision of them? The witnesses testified that they saw the plates “by faith” in a “vision” (History of the Church, Volume I, pp. 54-55).

In D. & C. 17:6 “Jesus Christ” said (through Smith) that Smith translated the gold plates and that the translation is true and the three witnesses must testify it is true. The three witnesses hadn’t even seen the plates yet, but even if they had they couldn’t read the “Reformed Egyptian” language that was supposedly on the plates, so how could they honestly testify that Smith’s translation was true?

In D. & C. 17:7-8 the Lord told the witnesses that they have the same power, faith and gift that Smith has and if they do what He says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.” In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.” He did not say that about individuals! In D. & C. 17:4 “the Lord” told the B. of M. witnesses to testify about the B. of M. or Joseph Smith would be “destroyed” and in D. & C. 17:8 “the Lord” told them they must do as He said or “the gates of hell would prevail against them.” That sounds like they were coerced to do as Smith said or dire consequences awaited them and Smith!

In the Bible, the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection testified about what they saw and heard because they wanted others to know Jesus had risen from the dead. No one coerced them to say, “He arose,” or something bad would happen to them! When Jesus arose from the grave, the authorities tried to bribe the guards of Jesus’ tomb to say that His disciples stole His body (Matt. 28:11-15). So, it wasn’t popular to testify of His resurrection, but the disciple did it because it was true, not because they were coerced or bribed.

Joseph Smith said he received the “revelation” in the B. of C. chapter 15 in June 1829, which was a year before he organized the Mormon Church. That is now in D. & C. 18. We will quote a few verses of D. & C. 18 and highlight the words added to the 1835 D. & C. There were no deletions in these verses. D. & C. 18:1 says, “Now, behold, because of the thing you my servant Oliver Cowdery have desired to know of me, I give you these words.” Verses 4 and 5 say, “For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel and my rock. Wherefore, if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”

Adding Oliver Cowdery’s name clarifies who “the Lord” was addressing in verse 1, but why didn’t “the Lord” do that when He revealed this in 1829? Since the LDS Church didn’t exist in 1829 it was premature to speak of it as though it existed, so “the Lord” inserted “the foundation” in those two verses. Cowdery was told in verse 5 that if he built the LDS Church upon the gospel Smith revealed that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.” So, another threat is made to coerce Cowdery to do what he is told or dire consequences await him!

There are minor changes in the remaining verses of this “revelation,” but they are mostly grammatical and don’t really change the content. If the Lord revealed this message why didn’t He use proper grammar so that it didn’t need to be revised?

A few books, university theses, and articles discuss changes in the D. & C. and some are on the internet for those who are interested. We will continue this study next time.

Read Part 10

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