Prophets in Mormonism/Part 32

By: Marvin W. Cowan; ©2009
In the January 2009 Ensign, the LDS Sunday school General Presidency said “The Doctrine and Covenants (is) a marvelous book of revelation that was written in our day and for our day.” But is that true when the newest content in the Doctrine and Covenants is President Kimball’s 1978 statement about a revelation he said he had allowing black men the LDS priesthood?

Our series on Prophets in Mormonism has focused on the Doctrine and Covenants since it contains many of Joseph Smith’s prophecies. LDS leaders often ask members to study one of their four books of scripture for a year and in 2009 it is to be the Doctrine and Covenants. On page 47 of the January 2009 Ensign, the LDS Sunday school General Presidency said “The Doctrine and Covenants (is) a marvelous book of revelation that was written in our day and for our day.” But is that true when the newest content in the Doctrine and Covenants is President Kimball’s 1978 statement about a revelation he said he had allowing black men the LDS priesthood?

Two old “visions” were added to the Pearl of Great Price in 1976 and then moved to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1981. One was Joseph Smith’s 1836 “vision” and the other was Joseph F. Smith’s 1918 “vision,” so neither one was new in 1981. But until 1978 the newest addition to the Doctrine and Covenants was President Woodruff’s 1890 manifesto advising LDS to stop being polygamists. And before 1890 the newest addition to the Doctrine and Covenants. was Brigham Young’s 1847 instructions on how to organize the LDS move to Utah. Most of the other revelations were by Joseph Smith between 1828 and 1843 and many were about men living then, not today. Yet, the writers of the Ensign article said, “We testify that the Doctrine and Covenants is truly the Lord’s voice in our time to each child of God…” (p. 47). Many of us were alive in 1978, but very few were alive in 1918. And no one today was alive in 1890, so was the Doctrine and Covenants really “written in our day and for our day”?

Joseph Smith’s 1836 vision was recorded in his diary on January 21, 1836, but it became LDS scripture 140 years later in 1976 when it was added to the Pearl of Great Price. In 1981 it was moved to the Doctrine and Covenants and became Doctrine and Covenants 137. When it became LDS scripture, Smith’s 1836 vision was edited and abbreviated from what he wrote in his diary. It was also slightly altered in the History of the Church, volume II, pages 380-381.

Smith’s original 1836 vision was published in An American Prophet’s Record, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, published by Signature Books in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1987, pages 118-119. It is easy to see the changes by comparing that with the content in Doctrine and Covenants 137. For example, Doctrine and Covenants 137:5 says, “I saw father Adam and Abraham and my father and my mother….” But, in his diary Smith wrote, “I saw father Adam and Abraham and Michael and my father and mother….” Why was “Michael left out of Doctrine and Covenants 137:5 and History of the Church, Volume II, page 380?

Before his 1836 vision, Smith recorded two revelations which said Michael is Adam on the earth. Doctrine and Covenants 27:11, dated August 1830 and Doctrine and Covenants 107:54, dated March 28, 1835 both say that Adam is Michael. Doctrine and Covenants 128:21, dated September 6, 1842 also identified Michael as Adam. So, Smith could not see Adam and Michael as two different beings if Michael is Adam as stated in those revelations!

In the ten brief verses of Doctrine and Covenants 137 Smith said, “I saw” or “beheld” five times. He used those same words five more times in his diary right after the last words in Doctrine and Covenants 137, so he was still relating his vision! Doctrine and Covenants 137 contains about half of the 1836 vision in Smith’s diary. Why did only half of Smith’s 1836 vision become LDS scripture? The answer lies in the content left out of Doctrine and Covenants 137. In Smith’s diary the next words right after Doctrine and Covenants 137 ends are: “I saw the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth, who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle, much fatigued with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior looked upon them and wept.” Later it says, “And I finally saw the Twelve Apostles in the celestial kingdom of God.”

The first Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church were chosen on February 14 and 15, 1835. Since Smith’s 1836 vision was on January 21, 1836, it was less than a year after the Twelve LDS Apostles were chosen. So Smith’s 1836 vision was referring to those Twelve Apostles. Smith said he received the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 118 on July 8, 1838 which told the Twelve Apostles to depart from Far West, Missouri, on April 26, 1839 and “go over the great waters” (ocean) to preach their gospel. But by 1839, half of the original LDS Apostles had apostatized and the Mormons had been driven out of Far West, Missouri! Three of the original Twelve Apostles and a few other LDS slipped back into Far West for a few hours on April 26, 1839, to try to fulfill Doctrine and Covenants 118. Those three and Parley Pratt plus four new Apostles ultimately did arrive in England by April 6, 1840, where they served missions until April 1841, according to the June 1987 Ensign. But that did not fulfill what Doctrine and Covenants 118 said. Nor is there is any record of “The Twelve” LDS Apostles standing in a circle in England with Christ in the midst of them. Since half of the original LDS Apostles apostatized, it is highly unlikely they made it to the “celestial kingdom of God!”

Smith’s 1836 vision in his diary also says “I saw Elder McLellin in the south, standing on a hill surrounded by a vast multitude, preaching to them, and a lame man standing before him supported by his crutches; he threw them down at his word and leaped as a hart [deer], by the mighty power of God.” But “Elder McLellin” was one of the original Twelve Apostles who apostatized, so he never did what Smith saw in his vision! Smith’s 1836 vision in his diary also says, “I saw Elder Brigham Young standing in a strange land, in the far south and west, in a desert place, upon a rock in the midst of about a dozen men of color, who appeared hostile. He was preaching to them in their own tongue….” There is no record of Brigham Young doing that. If he had it would still be one of the favorite stories told by Mormons!

The Doctrine and Covenants version of Smith’s vision raises some interesting questions:

  1. Did God reveal what Smith originally wrote in his diary? If so, why was it changed?
  2. Did Smith fail to record accurately what God revealed? If so, can his other revelations be trusted?
  3. Did God give a defective vision to Smith? If so, why did God wait 140 years to change it?
  4. Why don’t LDS leaders explain why Doctrine and Covenants 137 was changed and state who God inspired to make the changes?

More changes in the Doctrine and Covenants can be seen in The Doctored Covenants, by Greg Anderson, published privately in Salt Lake City, UT, about 1960. Next time we will look at Doctrine and Covenants 138.

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