This is a guest post by HarJIT, who now affiliates with Community of Christ, having previously been raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints.

Background and notes on canon

There is more than one tradition of section numbering of the Doctrine and Covenants (narrowly the Book of Covenants; the term Doctrine and Covenants sensu strictissimo refers to the combination with the Lectures of Faith, though modern editions do not follow this), since multiple section numberings were used for it during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and both the LDS and RLDS Churches defined their own numbering traditions independently of one another. There are considerable differences in content, especially in portions subsequent to the Kirtland period; the most obvious of these are those originating from Presidents following Joseph Smith (two sections and two declarations in the LDS Church version, fifty-two sections[1] in the Community of Christ version) but the LDS Church includes considerably more post-Kirtland content attributed to Joseph Smith. In contexts where both might be referred to various approaches are taken to make reference to one particular edition. These include “LD&C” or “LDC” versus “RD&C” or “RDC”, using “Utah edition” for the LDS Church edition,[2] or using “D&C SLC” for the LDS edition versus “D&C IND” for RLDS editions.[3]

Although the Community of Christ has indeed actively removed some of the material which appears in the LDS D&C (the sections IND 107, 109, 110 and 113, numbered SLC 124, 127, 128 and 135 in the LDS Church edition),[4] these are only four sections out of a total of thirty-two absent from the Community of Christ edition. Rather, the majority (twenty-six of them)[5] were first canonised in the 1876 LDS Church edition, prepared by Orson Pratt under Brigham Young, which also introduced the current LDS section numbering.

Three of these sections are 121, 122 and 123. They derive from writings of Joseph Smith when in Liberty Jail; 121 and 122 are well known for “where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place”, unrighteous dominion, “thou art not yet as Job” (which CES Old Testament Seminary presents as modern-day revelation confirming the historicity of Job, something never actually claimed by the text itself) and “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good”. Sadly, they are not a complete or uncompromised witness to the Prophet’s words.

The Prophet’s epistles from Liberty Jail

Thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers project, you can from the comfort of your own home peruse the manuscripts of the two linked epistles to the Church written by Joseph Smith from Liberty Jail.[6] Not that I advise doing so except to check other transcripts againts: they are written with no paragraphs, barely any punctuation, and no consideration for standard spelling. There is a cleaned up transcript here which also marks up the canonised sections; note that the second “D&C 121:1” is a typo and should (as can be guessed from context) be “D&C 122:1”.

Something which is not stated, although not denied, by the section header of D&C SLC 121 is that it is a collection of piecemeal excerpts taken from mostly the first epistle, stuck together with no explicit marking where a part has been omitted, plus the unrighteous dominion discourse from the second epistle. In fact, the last part of 121 immediately precedes the first verse of 122 in the original (surely, any sensible handling of the text would have included it at the start of 122?). D&C SLC 122 and 123 are both single excerpts from the second epistle.

The portions excluded from D&C SLC 121

The beginning of D&C SLC 121 is treated comparatively sensibly compared to its subsequent portions, not that that is saying much, although it misses out a considerable quantity of the content before verse 1, and between verses 6 and 7. Although both of these omitted sections are quite lengthy, I draw your attention to the following excerpt preceding verses 7–25. This is the only excerpt I shall be quoting that I feel there might be reasonable justification for removing if only to shorten the text, though I still do not feel it should have been.

“We received some letters last evening—one from Emma, one from Don C. Smith, and one from Bishop Partridge—all breathing a kind and consoling spirit. We were much gratified with their contents. We had been a long time without information; and when we read those letters they were to our souls as the gentle air is refreshing, but our joy was mingled with grief, because of the sufferings of the poor and much injured Saints. And we need not say to you that the floodgates of our hearts were lifted and our eyes were a fountain of tears, but those who have not been enclosed in the walls of prison without cause or provocation, can have but little idea how sweet the voice of a friend is; one token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling; it brings up in an instant everything that is passed; it seizes the present with the avidity of lightning; it grasps after the future with the fierceness of a tiger; it moves the mind backward and forward, from one thing to another, until finally all enmity, malice and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings and mismanagements are slain victorious at the feet of hope; and when the heart is sufficiently contrite, then the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers, [start of verse 7] ‘My son, peace be unto thy soul; […]'”

Fairly touching, no? Although there doesn’t seem to be much sense excluding it, excluding it at least doesn’t materially change the meaning of the retained text. Which is more than can be said for the omitted section between verses 25 and 26. This omission is again quite lengthy, but here is the last part leading up to verse 26:

“How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God, according to the purposes of His will, from before the foundation of the world! We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now. Some have tasted a little of these things, many of which are to be poured down from heaven upon the heads of babes; yea, upon the weak, obscure and despised ones of the earth. Therefore we beseech of you, brethren, that you bear with those who do not feel themselves more worthy than yourselves, while we exhort one another to a reformation with one and all, both old and young, teachers and taught, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female; let honesty, and sobriety, and candor, and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and meekness, and simplicity crown our heads in every place; and in fine, become as little children, without malice, guile or hypocrisy. And now, brethren, after your tribulations, if you do these things, and exercise fervent prayer and faith in the sight of God always, he shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit […]”

Verse 26, as canonised, simply starts, “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit […]”. Notably, this retains none of the “if…then” conditions which the Prophet places on this statement, just, God will give his Church revelation. It retains none, either, of his criticism/confession of the existing conduct of the Church leaders (including himself).

As a sidenote while we’re on verses 26–32, for the sake of completeness, I would like to acknowledge a claim leveled, at least by some traditionalist RLDS groups (i.e. separate from the main-line CofC), that verses 28–32 were deliberately modified by the LDS to insert references to plurality of Gods, citing the initial printing of the epistles in Times and Seasons which omitted them.[7] Reference to the original manuscripts[6] is adequate to reveal that those references did in fact originate in the original manuscripts, and that they were removed (along with, for instance, the entire iconic interrogative “How long can rolling waters remain impure?”) in the printed version prepared during the Prophet’s lifetime.

Verse 33 has the unusual status that it is neither followed by verse 34 nor preceded by verse 32 in the original epistle. Indeed, verse 34 is from the second epistle. The omitted portion between verses 32 and 33 is the shortest of all the skipped portions, and consequently perhaps the most conspicuous in its omission. I quote it in full, with the entirety of verse 33 in context, below:

“[…] and into His immortal rest. [end of verse 32] But I beg leave to say unto you, brethren, that ignorance, superstition and bigotry placing itself where it ought not is often-times in the way of the prosperity of this church. Like the torrent of rain from the mountains, that floods the most pure and crystal stream with mire and dirt and filthiness, and obscures everything that was clear before, and all hurls along in one general deluge, but time weathers​ tide and, notwithstanding we are rolled in for the time being by the mire of the flood, the next surge peradventure as time rolls on may bring us to the fountain as clear as crystal and as pure as snow, while all the filthiness, flood wood and rubbish is left and purged out by the way. [start of verse 33] How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven, upon the heads of the Latter Day Saints.”

Again, a similar observation might be made. The bit that says that God will lead his Church by revelation is kept. The bit which, assuming the same analogy is extended, laments how contaminated the water being used as an analogy for the word of God is by the time it reaches the membership? Silently removed with nary an indication that anything was ever there. I might of course be being too cynical to suggest this to be because Follow Your Leaders, perhaps, because Their Words Are God’s Words, perhaps? That served the Martin Handcart Company well, sure. Be that or be that not so, it is in any case all very well endeavouring to read the scriptures in context and not as a library of numbered disjointed quotations to draw from, but if the context has been stripped out to support the party line, how can the mere student of the scriptures do that?

This passage, read in full, might be read as setting down an interesting teaching which does not come through in the canonised verse 33 alone very well, if at all. The Lord’s word is clear water like rainwater or springwater, but it collects sediment and flotsam by the time it reaches us due to various human factors, so is not really in a drinkable state when it reaches us. Yet it inexorably comes, and will overcome any attempt to stop it, and will flush out the past contamination as it flows.

So if the Lord’s word is so contaminated when it reaches us, how are we to view or approach it? To complete the discourse, here is the text following verse 33, but before the sign-off part of the first epistle, also missed out in the canonised version. I have removed the scarequotes around “Mormonism” as perhaps-undue editorialisation by the transcriber, since they do not appear in the original manuscript:

“What is Boggs or his murderous party, but wimbling willows upon the shore to catch the flood-wood? As well might we argue that water is not water, because the mountain torrents send down mire and roil the crystal stream, although afterwards render it more pure than before; or that fire is not fire, because it is of a quenchable nature, by pouring on the flood; as to say that our cause is down because renegades, liars, priests, thieves and murderers, who are all alike tenacious of their crafts and creeds, have poured down, from their spiritual wickedness in high places, and from their strongholds of the devil, a flood of dirt and mire and filthiness and vomit upon our heads. No! God forbid. Hell may pour forth its rage like the burning lava of mount Vesuvius, or of Etna, or of the most terrible of the burning mountains; and yet shall Mormonism stand. Water, fire, truth and God are all realities. Truth is Mormonism. God is the author of it. He is our shield. It is by him we received our birth. It was by his voice that we were called to a dispensation of his Gospel in the beginning of the fullness of times. It was by him we received the Book of Mormon; and it is by him that we remain unto this day; and by him we shall remain, if it shall be for our glory; and in his almighty name we are determined to endure tribulation as good soldiers unto the end.”

A powerful teaching, to be sure. “[M]ight we argue that water is not water”, i.e. that God’s word is not God’s word, because it comes to us corrupted through human vessels? How, then should we approach the teaching of leaders, or of scripture, that we may discern the spark of God’s word from within it? Joseph seems to be suggesting that the message will become less corrupt over time, as continued revelation inexorably purges the existing considerable contamination in spite of considerable adversity resisting it. So, maybe we should take particular care to be ready to accept continuing revelation, even if it corrects what we might for now believe to be part of God’s word?

Closing remarks

The traditional polemic against the Brighamite approach to the D&C, from back when conflict on this front was more mainstream, was: why did the 1876 LDS edition add mostly historic material from the period before the 1844 edition, i.e. which had not been accepted for canonisation in 1844, rather than adding continuing revelation? Why had the addition of new revelation to the LDS D&C all but stopped since the LDS entered Utah?[2] If God had more material that he wanted canonised, would he not continue to reveal it?

My own perennial observation is that, in comparison to the Community of Christ, the LDS Church has a greater tendency to cleave unto the presumed virtues of the past as a shield against the presumed vices of the present. It any case, it seems averse to canonising recent material: its last full-fledged D&C section was canonised in 1976 but recieved more than half a century earlier, in 1918,[8] and only two full-fledged sections or four canonised elements postdate Joseph Smith at all. In some cases (LGBTQ issues, for instance), I (and others) might view them as cleaving unto the vices of the past. The LDS Church’s associated culture loves to reference “standards” as an us-vs-them, and accuse defectors of not wanting to live their “standards”—increasingly, though, it may well be the LDS Church which does not live up to the defectors’ standards in this regard. Arguably, its institutional culture has difficulty (an optimist might say, growing pains) letting go of the mire and flotsam which the unheeding torrent threatens to purge them of.

God’s word comes to us through human vessels, but this is not to say that scripture should be thrown out because it is flawed, only that it should be read with that awareness and with the intent to discern the spark of inspiration within. To give some relevant quotations from the Community of Christ’s Affirmations on Scripture:[9]

“Scripture is a library of books that speaks in many voices. These books were written in diverse times and places, and reflect the languages, cultures, and conditions under which they were written. God’s revelation through scripture does not come to us apart from the humanity of the writers, but in and through that humanity. […] Faith, experience, tradition, and scholarship each have something to contribute to our understanding of scripture. In wrestling to hear and respond to the witness of scripture, the church must value the light that each of these sources may offer. […] As the church tries to interpret scripture responsibly, it seeks the help of the Holy Spirit.”

The remainder of D&C SLC 121 is an iconic teaching on unrighteous dominion taken from the second epistle. Thankfully, this has been kept more-or-less intact, apart from the aforementioned unjustified section break. Indeed, the assertion in the verse range synopses that section 122 (“the ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name”, et cetera) refers specifically to Joseph Smith is not particularly supported by the context in the letter, where it appears more to be simply a continuation of of the consequences of righteous leadership listed at the end of section 121.

One might be inclined to argue that this is a counter-example, since it gives conditions by which the Spirit might withdraw from a Priesthood holder, although it only really holds the Priesthood accountable to itself and God and, unlike some of the removed material, does not seem to imply flaws in pre-existing established revelation. But especially given how much to a similar effect was removed, I am thankful that this powerful discourse was kept in mostly intact, albeit without the context of the Prophet’s other comments to this regard.

Another point to consider is that some of the omitted material might have been removed to as to cast some parts as more explicitly God’s word rather than Joseph Smith’s, or rather, removing the literary devices casting it as an inspired epistle rather than a direct verbatim revelation.[10] This may be another factor, though I would say it does not excuse the change in substantive meaning of the remaining portions taken out of context—and if epistles from church leaders are not to be esteemed scripture when framed as epistles and included in their entirity, surely most of the New Testament is written off?

In connection both with this and with the implications of the passages, more honest portrayal of how scripture was received in practice is somewhat called for in general; several D&C sections were revised between the 1833 Book of Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenants two years later—some stark examples being Comm 4 (now D&C 5 in both editions) and Comm 28 (now D&C SLC 27 or D&C IND 26)—a process which would only have been justifiable if the role of the human receiver is understood as more than just a transcriber of dictation.[11] David Whitmer of the Three Witnesses notably cited some of these changes to support his claim that Joseph Smith had only been called to bring forth the Book of Mormon, and had subsequently pretended to other gifts and led the church into apostasy and false doctrine,[12] which is not the mainstream LDS or RLDS view, but I am led to believe is given stronger weight in some smaller groups such as the Temple Lot group.[13]

I am also left curious as to whether more complete versions may exist for some of the other Brighamite-only sections; D&C SLC 130 and 131 stand out as a collection of sayings possibly excerpted from sermons, making me wonder what they were excerpted from or whether anything else was written down of their source sermons.


[1] 114–165, but skipping number 123 since 1990 and including a number 149A. Section IND 123 (or Appendix E) is this, for the curious.

[2] Smith, Elbert A. (1943). Differences that Persist. Independence, Missouri; Herald House.

[3] Shields, Steven L. (2019). “Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon: Co-Founders of a Movement“. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 52(3), pp. 1-18. ISSN: 00122157; E-ISSN: 15549399.

[4] The last of these is John Taylor’s eulogy for Joseph Smith, the one that proclaims him second only to Jesus in terms of bringing about salvation. The other three are temple-related documents from the Nauvoo period. The section numbers are still printed, but only above section headers which describe their decanonisation, with no content below them; earlier editions between 1970 and 1990 designated these sections as Appendices A through D, with Appendix A boasting a considerably lengthy section heading explaining how it is considered historical “local” instruction to the Nauvoo community, and not binding upon the Reorganisation in the absence of God proceeding to issue equivalent instruction to the Reorganisation. The section headings of Appendices B and C referred back to that of Appendix A, while the eulogy (Appendix D) bore a somewhat clinical section heading (“This section is not a revelation. […] The Reorganized Church has deemed it better to leave it as it is rather than to omit or revise it. As far as the facts are stated, they are a part of the history of the event discussed.”). The appendices were later removed in 1990, in the extended aftermath of the murderer Mark Hofmann being unearthed as the actual author of Appendix G. (For anyone wondering, Appendix E is linked from footnote [1] here, and Appendix F was this.)

[5] The remaining two were canonised in 1976[8] and added in 1981, under Spencer Kimball.

[6] First one, second one.

[7] Tandy, Jon. “Differences between the RLDS and LDS Doctrine and Covenants on the subject of Godhood“.

[8] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1976). “Scriptural Text for Visions Added to Pearl of Great Price“. Ensign, May 1976.

[9] Community of Christ (2018). Sharing in Community of Christ (4th ed.). Independence, Missouri; Herald Publishing House. ISBN: 978-0-8309-1715-0.

[10] Oman, Nate (2010). “How to write a revelation“. Times & Seasons (blog), 1st July.

[11] FAIR Latter Day Saints. “Why and how revelations were modified in the Doctrine and Covenants“. FAIR Answers Wiki.

[12] Whitmer, David (1887). “Chapter VII—The Changes and Additions to Some of the Revelations“. An Address to All Believers in Christ.

[13] I do sometimes ponder on how the current practice of LDS members and investigators being told simultaneously that (a) the Three Witnesses (including Whitmer) testified of the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness to their deathbed and (b) that the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness implies that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the latter’s successors are prophets, in the same breath, must surely be rendering Whitmer’s corpse a source of perpetual motion.