Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Book of Commandments vs. The Doctrine and Covenants

I recently received a question on one of my blogs in reference to the Book of Commandments. The individual asked:
How do you reconcile or refute others when they bring up the scripture in D&C 5 about JS "pretending to no other gift" and they are quoting from Book of Commandments not a 1835 version or later?
This is an excellent question, and since it deals with the integrity of Joseph, I thought it would be a good subject for a new blog.

The Book of Commandments Issue

Throughout the years the issue of using the revelations in the Book of Commandments instead of the corresponding ones in the Doctrine and Covenants has surfaced many times in the RLDS Church. Indeed, there are substantial differences between many of the same revelations in both books. Because the revelations in the Book of Commandments were printed first and they were allegedly copied from the originals, many assume these revelations are correct, or true. In addition, they also assume that the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants differ from those in the Book of Commandments because they were changed by Joseph to support his evolving theology. Thus, some point to the Book of Commandments as the more pure doctrine of the Restoration, while others say the discrepancy between the revelations in the two books is proof Joseph was not a prophet of God but was making up church doctrine as he went along.

Answering the Question

Before I get into the explanation of which set of revelations is correct, I wish to address the specific difference mentioned in the above question. According to Book of Commandments 4:2:
...and he [Joseph Smith, Jr.] has a gift to translate the book and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.
The same part of the revelation found in RLDS Doctrine and Covenants 5:1d (LDS D&C 5:4) states:
And you have a gift to translate the plates, and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you, and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.
By using a little logic it is obvious to me which version of this revelation is correct, or true. As we look at the life and ministry of Joseph Smith, Jr., God bestowed on him many gifts. Among other things, he was a prophet, seer, and revelator to the Church and at various times in his adult life expressed all the gifts of the Spirit as enumerated in D&C 46. After he finished the translation of the Book of Mormon, by the power of God he corrected the Bible which was published by the RLDS Church as the Inspired Version. And he led the priesthood and members of the Church to receive a partial endowment of the Spirit at the Kirtland Temple in 1836. So to me, it is obvious that the scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants is correct because he received gifts from God in his life other than the gift to translate the plates of the Book of Mormon.

The Sources

Because I did not know the intricacies of this subject very well, I had to quickly find sources to use as a basis for this blog. I chose to use two RLDS sources because the information in them seems to be well documented and I am familiar with the integrity of the authors. However, there may be LDS sources just as good as these of which I am not aware. The first is the pamphlet, Book of Commandments Versus the Doctrine and Covenants, reviewed by President Joseph Smith, III, which is a cursory presentation of the subject. The second is the book, Our Beliefs Defended, by Apostle J. F. Curtis, which contains a discussion of the subject in detail. Both of these sources can be purchased online from the Restoration Bookstore by clicking the above links for the respective sources. Since my explanation will be a very brief summary of the issues, I strongly recommend the purchase of these sources for those wanting a more complete study of this subject with full documentation.

The Explanation of which Set of Revelations Is Correct

On November 1, 1831, a special conference was held in Hiram, Ohio, where Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were preparing the Inspired Version of the Bible. This conference discussed and decided to print all of the revelations received by Joseph. On the above date, Joseph received a revelation which the Lord designated as the preface to the Book of Commandments (D&C 1). After this revelation was received, the language of all the revelations was questioned by the elders and some felt they could use better language than Joseph did. As a result, the Lord spoke to the elders through Joseph (D&C 67) challenging the elders to choose the greatest among them to write a revelation better than the least of all the revelations Joseph had written. In response to the challenge, William E. McLellin (who, according to Joseph, felt he was the wisest man among them) was chosen to write the revelation, but he failed. It was then decided that Joseph should prepare the revelations for printing (make copies from the originals) and send the copies with Oliver Cowdery to Independence where W. W. Phelps would print and publish them in the Book of Commandments. The Lord appointed Joseph, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Sidney Rigdon, and William W. Phelps "to be stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them..." (RLDS D&C 70:1 and LDS D&C 70:1-3).

From the beginning date of the conference to when Oliver left for Missouri with John Whitmer on November 10, Joseph had only 10 days to copy all the revelations received to date. While the Lord had designated the above six men to do the work, there is some discrepancy who actually prepared the copies. David Whitmer said that Joseph, Sidney Rigdon, Orson Hyde, and others prepared the revelations for publication. William E. McLellin stated that he presided over the meeting where the revelations were prepared for publication. He also stated that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon copied the revelations but changed them to suit themselves. However, this was not true. During this ten day period, Joseph attended four conferences. While he stated that he and John Whitmer "began to arrange and copy the revelations" (Our Beliefs Defended, 27; Millennial Star, vol. 14, supplement, 36), because of the conference activities, Joseph would have had very little time to do any of this work. In addition, prior to the preparation of the revelations, Oliver Cowdery left Hiram to prepare for the trip to Missouri and W. W. Phelps left for Independence making a stop in Cincinnati to purchase the printing press. Thus, while William E. McLellin may have presided over the preparation process, Joseph, Oliver Cowdery, and W. W. Phelps had very little, if anything, to do with this work. Thus, according to J. F. Curtis, William E. McLellin may have been directly involved in changing the revelations when copying them. McLellin admitted that he presided over the work and that the copies of the revelations were changed before being sent to Independence for printing. Since he was the one who thought he could improve the revelations, Curtis believed he had motive to make the changes. While it is really unknown who changed the revelations, it is certain that the copies were changed prior to sending them to Independence and that Joseph was not the one who changed them.

After the revelations were prepared, they were taken by Oliver Cowdery to Independence where W. W. Phelps began to print them for inclusion in the Book of Commandments. During the printing the mob in Independence destroyed the press and strewed printed revelations in the street. After the assault, the printed revelations were gathered up and loosely bound into several copies. The printing of the Book of Commandments was never completed. What exists today as the Book of Commandments are those revelations which were loosely bound after the press was destroyed.

After the mob action against the press in Independence, Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, and John Whitmer returned to Kirtland and compared the original revelations to the copies they had been given for the Book of Commandments. They found that the copies were substantially different than the originals.

When the revelations were prepared for the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, great care was taken to ensure that the revelations published were exactly the same as the original ones. Many who were on the committee for publishing the Book of Commandments were on the committee for publishing the Doctrine and Covenants. By the time the Doctrine and Covenants was published, all who were on the Book of Commandments committee approved the revelations printed in the Doctrine and Covenants as correct according to the originals. In addition, all the quorums of the Church (including McLellin in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles) plus the General Assembly approved the revelations printed in the Doctrine and Covenants as correct. Because the Book of Commandments was destroyed in mid-printing, it was never approved by the quorums or the General Assembly. Thus, it was never an authorized publication of the Church. Only the revelations in Doctrine and Covenants were approved by a vote of the people and the quorums of the Church. For these reasons plus the fact that the revelations in the Book of Commandments are inconsistent with the originals, the Doctrine and Covenants contains the revelations which are correct.