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.
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).
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:
Wow! 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.
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.
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.
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.”
The revelation on tithing.
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:
This was already recorded in Joseph Smith History, but added as a section in 1876. No new information.
This too was already in the Joseph Smith History, but added as a section in 1876. No new information.
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.
The prophecy on war received in December 1832. It was added in 1876.
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.
Dealing with Joseph’s trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Added in 1876.
Answers to questions about Isaiah. Added in 1876.
Instructions for David Patten. Added in 1876.
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.
One verse about Adam-ondi-Ahman. This area had also been abandoned years before 1844. Added in 1876.
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.
Command for the Twelve to depart from the Far West temple site to preach in Europe. Added in 1876.
One verse about disposition of tithes. Added in 1876.
Excerpts from a letter written from Liberty Jail. Added in 1876.
The will of the Lord concerning the saints in Iowa. Added in 1876.
Three verses for Brigham Young. Added in 1876.
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.
The problematic revelation on celestial polygamy. Discovered in 1852. Added in 1876.
Announcing the death of Joseph Smith. Not a revelation. Added in 1876.
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.