Data mining the Doctrine and Covenants

A few years ago I was sitting in Gospel Doctrine class talking to a ward member. I don’t remember how we got onto the topic, but we were looking in the Doctrine and Covenants at the Chronological Order of Contents, just before D&C Section 1.

D&C Chronological Order

We noticed how few revelations were received after Kirtland. I remember the other person saying, “I wonder why that is.” I wondered too. The traditional story is that Joseph received further light and knowledge right up until the end – but the canonized data doesn’t support that. That curiosity drove me to do a lot of research, and continues to drive me to this day.

One problem with the table above is that there is no scale. It’s tough to really understand how the revelations are distributed through time. Here it is in a graph. (I didn’t include Sections 136 and 138 because they were outside the time period I was concerned with).

1981 D&C

When viewed this way, you can see a concentration of revelatory activity in the early years of the church, with a burst in 1831. By 1834 this flow of revelation had slowed to a slow trickle compared to previous years. Specifically, there were 6 times more revelations per year in the six years before January 1835 than in the 10 years after January 1835. In 1838 Joseph wrote what became the 9th Article of Faith that said that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” The data shows that God hasn’t done that yet.

This data is actually overly optimistic. Not all of these sections in the D&C were revelations.  Section 135 was written after Joseph’s death as a type of eulogy. Sections 129-131 weren’t even written by Joseph, but were someone else’s writings of what they heard Joseph say in conversation. Joseph didn’t review these for accuracy. In a court of law this would be considered “hearsay” and inadmissible. I removed some of these from the data but realized it was highly subjective as to what stayed and what was removed. Then the thought hit me: use the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants!

The 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was prepared by Joseph shortly before his death. The first copies returned from the printer about two months after his death. This would give us a very good indication of what Joseph considered to be the essential revelations up until a few months before his death. In the current version, the last published revelation before his death was in 1843, so there was plenty of time between that last revelation and when Joseph sent the 1844 version off the printer. Here’s what that 1844 version looks like:

1844 D&C

D&C ratesWow! Only 6% of the revelations came in the 10 years after 1834. 94% came within the first 6 years. This is a staggering disparity. The first six years averaged 17 revelations per year, while the remaining decade averaged less than one revelation per year! What was only a 6:1 ratio between the early years and the later years in the 1981 edition explodes to a 26:1 ratio with the 1844 D&C.

The slow trickle depicted in the 1981 edition becomes almost nothing in Joseph’s 1844 compilation. If you’re familiar with Watcher’s or Searcher’s blogs, you know that in April 1834 the Lord stated that the church had broken the covenant (Section 104) and by December declared the church to be under condemnation. Joseph’s final compilation of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1844 supports this condemnation and that the church did not come out from under it during the next 10 years.

Side note:
With only one canonized section received after 1847, the flow of further light and knowledge as measured by canonized scripture has effectively stopped completely. That averages 0.006 revelations per year for the last 171 years. The revelatory rate between 1829-1834 was 1,500 times higher than since the death of Joseph!

October 1918 was the last canonized revelation. Next month we will mark 100 years with no new published revelations. That’s a sobering thought.

Revelation Rate

 

The first question that comes to mind is what are these five revelations after 1835 that Joseph did choose to include? Those are probably significant.

Section 112
The command for the Twelve to go abroad among the nations. This was received less than two months after Joseph said “God has revealed to me that something new must be done for the salvation of His Church.”

Section 119
The revelation on tithing.

Section 124
This revelation was packed full of critical information. The commandment to build the Nauvoo Temple and Nauvoo House and the consequences if it wasn’t done on time. Confirmation that the fulness of the priesthood had been lost and needed to be restored. Anything more or less than the Book of Mormon and the published revelations comes of evil and will be attended with cursings. Commandment to publish the new translation of the Bible. Calling of Hyrum to be a prophet, seer, and revelator.

Sections 127 and 128
Not a revelation, but letters from Joseph explaining baptism for the dead.

There were also two revelations from 1834 that weren’t in the 1835 edition but Joseph added to the 1844 edition: Sections 103 and 105. These deal with organizing Zion’s camp and disbanding it.

Those are some significant topics. What are the revelations that are now canonized but weren’t chosen by Joseph Smith in 1844? Why wouldn’t Joseph canonize them but Brigham would? Here they are with a brief description:

Section 2
This was already recorded in Joseph Smith History, but added as a section in 1876. No new information.

Section 13
This too was already in the Joseph Smith History, but added as a section in 1876. No new information.

Section 85
Received in November 1832, this section sets forth some rules for living under the law of consecration and contains the well-known “one mighty and strong” prophecy. By 1835 the church had broken the covenant and was no longer living the law of consecration, possibly explaining why Joseph didn’t include it in either the 1835 or 1844 editions. It was added in 1876.

Section 87
The prophecy on war received in December 1832. It was added in 1876.

Section 108
A revelation for Lyman Sherman in December 1835. Added in 1876.

Section 109 and 110
Section 110 remained unknown to the church until 1852. What’s interesting is that Joseph also chose not to put Section 109, the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, into the 1844 edition either. There was no scriptural record of the Kirtland Temple events left by Joseph. These sections were added in 1876.

Section 111
Dealing with Joseph’s trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Added in 1876.

Section 113
Answers to questions about Isaiah. Added in 1876.

Section 114
Instructions for David Patten. Added in 1876.

Section 115
Commandment in 1838 to build the Far West Temple. This had been abandoned over five years before the 1844 edition was compiled. Added in 1876.

Section 116
One verse about Adam-ondi-Ahman. This area had also been abandoned years before 1844. Added in 1876.

Section 117
Commandments to William Marks and Newel Whitney to leave Kirtland and move to Missouri in 1838. The Saints had abandoned Missouri by 1844. Added in 1876.

Section 118
Command for the Twelve to depart from the Far West temple site to preach in Europe. Added in 1876.

Section 120
One verse about disposition of tithes. Added in 1876.

Sections 121-123
Excerpts from a letter written from Liberty Jail. Added in 1876.

Section 125
The will of the Lord concerning the saints in Iowa. Added in 1876.

Section 126
Three verses for Brigham Young. Added in 1876.

Sections 129-131
These were remarks made by Joseph and recorded by various people. There are inconsistencies between versions that someone resolved before canonization 30 years after the fact. There is no indication that Joseph reviewed these or that they accurately capture what he said. Added in 1876.

Section 132
The problematic revelation on celestial polygamy. Discovered in 1852. Added in 1876.

Section 135
Announcing the death of Joseph Smith. Not a revelation. Added in 1876.

Section 137
Received in 1836, this record of a vision about those who die without a knowledge of the gospel was not added until 1981.

What does it all mean?

I don’t have any definite conclusions about the sections that were added after Joseph’s death. Some were incredibly significant, like Section 110, but likely were intentionally held back. Some repeated information Joseph had already published (Sections 2 and 13). Several contained hearsay of conversations, not revelations. There doesn’t appear to be one consistent reason for Joseph not publishing these in 1844. (If you have a theory, please share it.)

What we can definitely conclude is that the church has never again experienced a revelatory period like it did from 1829 to 1834. Sadly, the revelatory doldrums the church experienced from 1835 to 1844 look like a Category 5 hurricane compared to what the church has experienced over the nearly 175 years since Joseph’s death.

Something changed after 1834. And it changed even more after 1844. We should all ponder why that is.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Data mining the Doctrine and Covenants

  1. Thank you for laying this out succtinctly. It is something worth pondering, studying, and praying about. I am wondering, given the online buzz over snowflake changes versus those of a snowstorm, if an announcement of publishing more recent or newer revelations will be made at the upcoming general conference. I could see it happening.

  2. “Sections 129-131
    These were remarks made by Joseph and recorded by various people. There are inconsistencies between versions that someone resolved before canonization 30 years after the fact. There is no indication that Joseph reviewed these or that they accurately capture what he said. Added in 1876.”

    I knew something was up with these revelations. Where did you find this info? I’d love to read more about it!

    1. The best place to start is josephsmithpapers.org and look at the original manuscripts. February 9, 1843 notes by Willard Richards and William Clayton became Section 129. April 2, 1843 notes by Willard Richards and William Clayton became Section 1830. May 16-17 notes by William Clayton became Section 131.

      There isn’t a smoking gun, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. For example, William Clayton on April 2 records nothing about the Father having a body of flesh & bones. Willard Richards writes that Joseph “again revertd to Elders Hyde mistake. &c the Father has a body of flesh & bones as tangible as mans the Son also, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.” So was Elder Hyde’s mistake that he believed the Father has a body of flesh and bones, or did Elder Hyde teach the Father didn’t have body of flesh and bones and Joseph corrected it? What is written could go either way.

      Nowhere else in scripture does it say the Father has a body of flesh and bone, even the Lectures on Faith make that clear. So if Joseph taught this new doctrine, why didn’t William Clayton also record this ground breaking doctrine? If it is true doctrine, where are the second and third scriptural witnesses to back up this idea that the Father has a body of flesh and bone? And if this was true, and if “an acquaintance with these attributes in the divine character is essentially necessary in order that the faith of any rational being can center in him for life and salvation” (Lectures on Faith 3), why didn’t Joseph have this canonized in the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants?

      1. Yeah, I read “Elder Hyde’s Mistake”. It’s hard to think that we’re basing our understanding of one of the key natures of God, on an ambiguously directed comment that was made as a correction.

        Also, it should have been places in a more appropriate book like TPJS, not the official cannon. This is because it’s his teaching and not a revelation. Similar to the King Follet Discourse.

  3. I have carefully read the original source for the statement that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man” at the Josephsmithpapers site.

    When looking at the entire account in context there is no question that Joseph Smith was saying that Elder Hyde was in error for teaching that the Father did NOT have a body of flesh and bones. If you read the entry from start to finish this becomes clear.

    It’s only when one looks at the short snippet from where the actual phrase that is now in the D&C comes from that there might be some confusion.

    This of course does not prove that Joseph Smith was right.

    The King Follett discourse is certainly a second witness that Joseph Smith taught that God has a body of flesh and bones, as he clearly taught that God the Father was once a mortal man. This would mean He was resurrected and now has that resurrected body.

    These teachings of Joseph Smith are also authenticated in the infamous Nauvoo Expositor.

    So there are at least 3 witnesses for you.

    As for scriptural references there are a few of these as well.

    Joseph Smith changed the following verse in John 4 in his inspired translation of the New Testament:

    KJV
    24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

    JST
    26 For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.

    Why would the Lord inspire Joseph Smith to change this verse and eliminate the statement that God is a spirit if God the Father is in fact a spirit?

    That wouldn’t make any sense.

    There are other scriptures, too.

    1. Hi LDS Watchman. Welcome to the conversation!

      Can you quote the phrases from the April 2, 1843 notes by Willard Richards and William Clayton that you think support the “Father has a body of flesh and bones” argument? William Clayton makes no reference to this at all. Both record Hyde being corrected about teaching that the Father and the Son dwell in our hearts, and that this verse in John referred to an actual visitation. But that in no way implies or mandates a body of flesh and bone.

      Three of the four King Follett sermon transcripts do have Joseph saying the Father laid down his body and took it up again, and the Son did the same. There is no explicit reference to the Father having a body of flesh and bone, but it would be implicit in that context. So that does give a bit of weight to the possibility that he taught earlier about the Father having a body of flesh and bone.

      The Nauvoo Expositor rails against Joseph teaching a plurality of Gods above the Father. There is no mention of the Father having a body of flesh and bone in the list of complaints.

      The John 4 changes don’t require that the Father have a body. The Greek reads “pneuma ho theos”, which translates to “God is Spirit”, not “God is a Spirit”. Most modern translations read as “God is Spirit”. So to change from “God is Spirit” to “God has promised his Spirit” doesn’t seem to reinforce the argument about the Father having a body of flesh and bone.

      Please share the other scriptures.

      1. Thanks for the prompt and thorough reply.

        I did my review of Willard Richards’ and William Clayton’s minutes some time ago, after Searcher wrote his article with a similar conclusion as yours.

        Without digging through it again for a specific quote, I’ll just ask you this:

        Is it logical to conclude that Orson Hyde was teaching that the Father has a body of flesh and bones and dwells in a man’s heart?

        Or is it logical that Orson Hyde believed that the Father could dwell in a man’s heart because he was a spirit?

        Think about it.

        Joseph Smith then corrected him and said that the idea that the Father dwells in a man’s heart is false secretarian idea.

        What do the secretarians believe about the nature of God? That He is a spirit and can be everywhere all the time including in a man’s heart.

        He then refered back to Hyde’s error and stated that the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.

        What is the logical conclusion here, especially in light of Joseph’s teachings about the Father in the King Follett discourse?

        The King Follett discourse also states that the Father was once a man like ourselves and that we have to learn how to become Gods ourselves.

        One of the scriptures that defend the idea that the Father has a body of flesh and bones is actually quoted by Joseph Smith in his King Follett discourse.

        John 5
        19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

        If the Son can only do what He has seen the Father do then the Father must have laid down His life and been resurrected as Joseph Smith taught. If the Father is resurrected then He has to have a body of flesh and bones per the teachings in the BOM on resurrected bodies and how once someone is resurrected their body and spirit are never again separated.

        As for the Nauvoo Expositor, without going back and checking I’m pretty sure it also stated that Joseph Smith was teaching that God fell with all of His creations. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If it wasn’t in the Nauvoo Expositor it was in some other contemporary hostile source.

        If Joseph did in fact teach that God fell with all His creations, this would justify Brigham Young’s Adam God teachings which were quite clear about our Father Adam (God) coming to this earth with a resurrected body and then falling and once again becoming temporarily mortal in order to be the physical Father of the human race (His creation).

        As for the change in verbiage in JST John 4, you are correct that it doesn’t prove God has a body of flesh and bones. It is however very interesting that Joseph Smith would change it to no longer state God is a spirit to God promising to send His spirit, especially since Joseph Smith would later teach that God has a body of flesh and bones.

        Can you think of any reason why Joseph Smith would have changed that phrase and eliminated the statement that God is a spirit?

        What purpose would it serve to change that? There must be some reason. The only logical one I can think of is that Joseph Smith either new that the Father was not a spirit, or the Holy Ghost inspired him to make the change before he figure this mystery out later.

        What’s your take?

        I’ll try to dig up some more scriptures. I don’t have a list made up and will have to search a bit.

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