LDS Discussions Blog
What D&C 132 Tells Us About Revelation (March 13, 2019)
One of the concepts we have highlighted in many areas of this website is that the concrete claims to significant revelation ended with Joseph Smith. In the entire Doctrine and Covenants there are just two sections not written by Joseph Smith (136 and 138). We're not really looking to dissect those two sections, but if you read them you can see how differently they read than what Joseph Smith produced in the other 136 sections - Brigham Young's section is effectively a game-plan to move west, and Joseph F Smith's is recapping a claimed vision as opposed to direct revelation. We would also note that visions from prophets have turned out to be debunked, such as Wilford Woodruff's vision of the Founding Fathers.
Critics often point out that there has been no revelation since Joseph Smith, even though the church implies that major revelations have taken place. For example, the lifting of the priesthood ban on black members is talked about as revelation, but the process as described by Apostle LeGrand Richards makes it clear that it was a decision by committee that came about due to needing attendance at the upcoming Brazil temple. You can read that interview in our LDS Gospel Topics Annotated Essay on Race and the Priesthood.
The lifting of polygamy (in this life only as it is still doctrine for eternity) is often discussed as revelation, but as the history tells us is was anything but revelation. In fact, after Official Declaration 1, the church continued to practice polygamy in secret with evidence making it pretty clear that even Wilford Woodruff took a polygamous wife post-manifesto. If the Official Declaration 1 was truly revelation, there is no way the church would've continued to practice polygamy in secret and away from the United States.
In a recent blog post we talked about how the concept of revelation itself has been rebranded. We have highlighted this on our other pages, but the recent changes from Russell Nelson are given the impression of revelation, but the issue of dropping the terms "Mormon" and "LDS" was something that Nelson spoke of in 1990 and was promptly rebuffed by two prophets afterwards.
So much attention has been given to D&C 132 due to the doctrines of polygamy, but what I have found to be incredibly interesting is the origins of D&C 132 and the details behind the recording of it. While we will touch on polygamy in this post, the actual doctrine of polygamy will not be the focus. You can find much more detail regarding the actual doctrine of polygamy and polyandry in our annotated LDS Gospel Topics essays on Polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo and Polygamy in Utah.
As you go through church history, it's difficult not to notice what critics would call a "convenience of revelation." (#19) By this, we highlight how often Joseph Smith claimed to receive revelation when he found himself in conflict with church members or even with Emma. Among those examples:
When Joseph Smith needed to push Martin Harris for more money to get the Book of Mormon printed, Harris was being pressured by his suspecting wife Lucy that Joseph Smith was not a prophet. Soon after, Joseph Smith receive a revelation that instructed Martin Harris to sell whatever property he needed to sell and give the money to to Joseph or face eternal damnation. "Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not… And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon…" (D&C 19:15&26)
When Martin Harris lost the original 116 pages after Lucy Harris took them to force Joseph to prove himself as a prophet, Joseph Smith was able to receive revelation to help get out of a really bad predicament. In D&C 10, God tells Joseph not to re-translate the original 116 pages as Lucy wanted, because evil people would prove him a fraud by altering his pages (even though it would be incredibly obvious if they made any changes in an era without computers). Joseph Smith continued to translate the supposed plates, but knew that he couldn't publish a book with the beginning missing. God then gives Joseph Smith a further revelation as he finished that He knew this was going to happen all along, so He had Nephi make a second set of plates that would cover the exact same time-frame but without all of the historical details that someone like Lucy Harris could use to claim that Joseph was making it all up.
In September 1830, Hiram Page found his own seer stone and claimed to receive revelation through it just as Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon (and receive revelations) through his stone. Page “looked at [the stone]. It contained a sentence on paper to befit it. As soon as he wrote one sentence, another sentence came on the stone, until he wrote 16 pages.” This is almost identical to how Joseph claimed to translate the Book of Mormon and early revelations, and original witnesses Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer believed Hiram Page. Joseph Smith quickly received a revelation, now D&C 28, where God says that only Joseph can receive the words of God. "But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses." After the revelation re-establishes Joseph's authority, God then says: "And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him." A critic would argue that it's convenient that Joseph Smith can receive revelation from a stone he found while digging a well/treasure digging, but when someone else claims to receive revelation that way, it's from Satan.
In 1831, Joseph Smith was traveling with 10 others when they experienced unusually rough waters. Elder William Phelps even claimed to see "the destroyer in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters." After this happened, Joseph Smith received a revelation that God "cursed the waters.... Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters." (D&C 61:14-15) God then gives a commandment that Joseph, Sidney Rigdon, and Olivery Cowdery should travel by land and let the other 8 continue on in the cursed waters. "And now, concerning my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, let them come not again upon the waters, save it be upon the canal, while journeying unto their homes; or in other words they shall not come upon the waters to journey, save upon the canal. Behold, I, the Lord, have appointed a way for the journeying of my saints; and behold, this is the way—that after they leave the canal they shall journey by land, inasmuch as they are commanded to journey and go up unto the land of Zion."
As more people began finding out about what was happening with Polygamy, Joseph Smith produced the revelation we are going to be focusing on here upon Hyrum's request to present to Emma, who had little idea what Joseph had been up to. This revelation contradicts what was in D&C 101:4 (now removed, but stated the church did not practice polygamy) and is even more interesting because the revelation itself states that Joseph was the one asking God why others were allowed plural wives... which adds to the critic's reasons that Joseph Smith had been involved in polygamy/extramarital relationships before this revelation and used this revelation to justify his actions. (D&C 132)
There are many other revelations that can be attached to times when Joseph finds himself in trouble that we cover in our Saints chapter-by-chapter review such as telling Olivery Cowdery to be patient when Oliver wanted to translate (D&C 9), convincing members to sell their property in New York to move to Ohio (D&C 38), when members then needed to move from Ohio to Missouri (D&C 54), when Joseph needed Newel Knight to consecrate more property to help in Missouri (D&C 54), when members (and Edward Partridge) were frustrated with the land in Missouri (D&C 58), when Ezra Booth wrote letters critical of Joseph Smith (D&C 64), when Joseph Smith read about trouble brewing in South Carolina (D&C 87), when Emma Smith is frustrated with cleaning up tobacco stains (D&C 89), when Joseph takes a team to Salem to look for lost treasure and comes up empty (D&C 111), when members are upset with Joseph after the Kirtland Safety Society goes bankrupt (D&C 112), etc.
We're not trying to beat a dead horse before we begin here, but we're just trying to outline how frequently Joseph receives revelation when he finds himself in trouble or when his authority is being challenged. There are plenty more examples than what we noted above, but we feel like the point has been made. In addition to claiming revelation in these instances, Joseph Smith also changed many revelations significantly (priesthood restoration being the biggest one) as his theology changed which we note on our 'Changes to the D&C' page.
And one more note before we get to D&C 132: One of the faith promoting stories about Joseph Smith's ability to receive revelations is when they are compiling the Doctrine and Covenants (originally the Book of Commandments). Some of the members of the church "were embarrassed that the word of the Lord had come to them filtered through Joseph’s limited vocabulary and weak grammar." As such, Joseph claimed that God issued a challenge to select one man to write a revelation, and if it was he "was unable to do it, everyone in the room would know and be responsible to testify that the Lord’s revelations to Joseph were true."
The task was given to William McLellin, who was unable to write a revelation in the manner of Joseph Smith's revelations. The church uses this to promote the the idea that no one could write a revelation like Joseph Smith could unless it was directly from God. Critics have long argued that this was not the problem, but that these men were afraid of the blasphemy of writing a revelation in God's voice along with the more obvious problem that everyone around them knew he wrote it, so how could it possibly live up to the word of God?
This intro might feel long, but It's important to outline Joseph Smith and revelation because it is crucial to the information below regarding D&C 132. Understanding these details illustrate both how Joseph Smith produced revelation along with why no church leaders since have produced any significant revelation.
We discuss in our annotated essay on polygamy why the church's contention that the revelation was first given to Joseph Smith in 1831 is not supported by the evidence, and because of that it is necessary to establish a brief timeline with D&C 132. Here is a very brief timeline of the events that lead to D&C 132:
1833: Joseph Smith has a polygamous/extramarital relationship with Fanny Alger. The church claims this was a marriage, but no records exist and the only mention of a marriage comes 60 years after the event.
1836: Joseph Smith claims a vision of Elijah and Elias to restore the sealing keys.
1841: Polygamous marriages for Joseph begin in Nauvoo.
1842: Joseph suspends polygamous marriages as John Bennett's 'spiritual wifery' is exposed.
1843: Joseph resumes polygamy, marrying over a dozen women and bringing the total to over 30.
1843: On July 12, Joseph gives revelation to William Clayton on polygamy (now D&C 132).
Again, this post isn't really meant to discuss the doctrine of polygamy but to look at some of the details that D&C 132 gives to how he produced revelations, and why they are so important to understanding the bigger picture. The timeline is meant to show that Joseph Smith had been practicing polygamy for years without claiming a revelation from God, and Fanny Alger was before he even claimed to have the sealing keys restored. The only references we have to Joseph claiming revelation is from the women he would approach, including the "angel with a drawn sword" story that we cover in the annotated essay.
But as polygamy became more difficult to keep under wraps, Joseph slowly began telling those close to him about it. Hyrum Smith had heard the rumors but felt it was an awful practice, but when Joseph finally confronted him and told him of the practice, Hyrum was a believer.
After Hyrum was convinced that polygamy was from God, he asked Joseph to receive the revelation from God so that he could convince Emma that she needed to accept it as from God. From Saints:
"On the morning of July 12, William Clayton was in Joseph’s office when the prophet and Hyrum entered. “If you will write the revelation,” Hyrum told Joseph, “I will take and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.”
“You do not know Emma as well as I do,” Joseph said. That spring and summer, he had been sealed to additional women, including a few whom Emma had personally selected.17 Yet helping Joseph choose wives had not made obeying the principle easy for Emma.
“The doctrine is so plain,” Hyrum said. “I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity, and heavenly origin.”
“We will see,” Joseph said. He asked William to take out paper and write as he spoke the word of the Lord.
Much of the revelation was already known to Joseph. It described the new and everlasting covenant of eternal marriage, along with associated blessings and promises. It also revealed the terms governing plural marriage, which Joseph had learned while translating the Bible in 1831. The remainder of the revelation was new counsel for him and Emma, addressing their questions and current struggles with plural marriage."
What Saints implies here is that Joseph learned this revelation in 1831, which is contradicted by their own source. We discuss that in the annotated polygamy essay, but the 1831 revelation was to marry Native Americans who God (through Joseph) called Lamanites, even though DNA has proven the Native Americans came from Asia. By marrying Native Americans, the church members could help make them 'white and delightsome' again, removing their cursed skin color.
But the bigger implication here is that Joseph Smith produced this revelation in the same manner he produced earlier ones, meaning with the seer stone or in deep vision/prayer. Instead, William Clayton, who dictated the revelation, described it this way: "Hyrum very urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph, in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end." (History of the Church)
That entry by William Clayton is so important to understanding Joseph Smith's revelations in the following ways:
First, D&C 132 is over 3,200 words long. Joseph Smith claimed to know the entire revelation "perfectly from beginning to end" to the point that he did not want to utilize the Urim and Thummim (stone) as he had done for previous revelations. There is no way that anyone could retain and memorize a 3,200 word revelation in the way that Joseph Smith claims here - this is a revelation Joseph would have been given many years earlier that was never recorded.
While humans are capable of memorizing long pieces of writing (actors/actresses would be a good example), they would be working with a script that they would be reading constantly to retain to memory. Apologists could argue that Joseph was given this revelation on a repeated basis, but we have no record of that in any of Joseph's writings nor would that make sense given the other accounts of revelation that we have. The story that Joseph told some of his polygamous brides of an angel visiting Joseph with a drawn sword does not mention the revelation being given to Joseph again, but a warning for Joseph to obey what had already been given to him.
From an apologetic view, one could argue that Joseph remembered the basic parameters of the revelation and that he expanded upon it when dictating to Clayton. This would be along the response that is given to anachronisms in the Book or Mormon or even to explain why the Book of Abraham translation does not match the papyri. But as Joseph Smith is writing this revelation in the voice and word of God, it would be problematic to expand on God's word and would only create more problems - this is also why it is so problematic that Joseph Smith altered previous revelations.
Second, as alluded to above, the revelation is written in the same language as the other revelations Joseph claimed to receive from God. Critics have long contended that Joseph Smith had a very distinct way of speaking 'in the language of God,' and this revelation shows just how quickly and effortlessly he was able to do it. If you read D&C 132 against Joseph's other revelations, you can see how well they fit together. Because this was not dictated while Joseph Smith claimed to be receiving it directly from God, it becomes clear that this is how Joseph constructed these revelations to take upon him the voice of God.
While we won't go through this line by line, the writing is obviously intended as if it is directly from God as it is being dictated and is written in the language of the King James Bible just as the Book of Mormon is written. It also includes many of the similar phrases that occur in Joseph's other revelations such as "I am the Lord thy God," "Behold, I am Alpha and Omega," "I am the Lord thy God," etc. Again it's not so much the exact phrases but the overall style -- compare this revelation to Joseph Smith's 'first' First Vision account in 1832 that Joseph wrote himself. It becomes pretty clear how gifted Joseph was at switching between a 'normal' manner of speaking and the 'voice of God,' even in a setting where Joseph is simply dictating a revelation he claimed to receive before he began polygamy.
Last, because this revelation was effectively dictated "on the fly" at the request of Hyrum in order to convince Emma, it gives more context as to why so much of the revelation is justifying Joseph marrying women without Emma's knowledge while also threatening to 'destroy' Emma if she does not comply. While apologists would argue that Joseph could've received these instructions years earlier, the fact that he never recorded them previously (while recording so many others) gives more weight to the overall argument by critics that he used the voice of God as needed to reestablish his authority or justify his actions.
Furthermore, the revelation is written as if it was given to Joseph before he entered into polygamous relationships, but the section about Emma reads as if it was given after Emma became more aware of Joseph's polygamous wives.
D&C 132:51: Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
It has been long speculated as to what exactly Joseph Smith offered Emma, so it is difficult to pin down exactly what the offer was. Critics have long pointed to a journal entry made by William Clayton just a few weeks before D&C 132 was dictated that states: "This A.M. President Joseph took me and conversed considerable concerning some delicate matters. Said [Emma] wanted to lay a snare for me. He told me last night of this and said he had felt troubled. He said [Emma] had treated him coldly and badly since I came…and he knew she was disposed to be revenged on him for some things. She thought that if he would indulge himself she would too." (William Clayton Journal, June 23, 1843)
Apologists have countered that perhaps Joseph had offered Emma Smith a divorce. From FAIR: "Some have seen this as Emma claiming she would practice plural marriage (a strange idea, given how she felt about it), and these readers have then extended the reading to include a belief that she was threatening to marry William Law. Others have seen these verses (perhaps more plausibly) as Emma simply threatening divorce if Joseph didn't cease plural marriage."
But the overall point here is that Joseph Smith claimed to know this revelation perfectly and would've needed to receive before he started taking polygamous wives, yet he includes material in D&C 132 that references what appears to be a very recent offer from Joseph to Emma. With no use of the Urim and Thummim to receive revelation as he did with other revelations, how would Joseph Smith know to add this clause in? The inclusion of this instruction to Emma implies to me that Joseph Smith was customizing the revelation as he dictated, knowing that Hyrum would be taking it to Emma.
This would also explain why the language towards Emma is exceptionally harsh, with the threat of destruction if she did not abide by the revelation. "But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law."
And while apologists would likely claim this is more of a blanket statement unrelated to polygamy, it is noteworthy that God would be asking Emma to forgive Joseph for his mistakes in a revelation that we are to believe was given before Joseph took additional wives: "And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me."
More importantly, when you look at the implications of the origins of D&C 132, it makes a lot of the revelations mentioned at the beginning of this post make more sense. It explains why Joseph was so quickly able to get a revelation to pressure Martin Harris to sell property, destroy Hiram Page's seer stone, or to explain why he could not recreate the first 116 pages by God's command.
Many critics always want to find the "smoking gun" to prove the church wrong, and I would argue there are a few of them (Book of Abraham, Deutero-Isaiah, DNA and the Book of Mormon), but sometimes it makes a lot more sense to take a step back and look at the patterns you see that are prevalent throughout these issues.
With revelation, you can sense the pattern that emerges with Joseph Smith in recording revelations, and with D&C 132 you get a better glimpse into just how quickly he could produce them when pressure was applied to his situations. Furthermore, it also helps to explain why future prophets just could not replicate the flow of revelations like Joseph Smith could, and why the current church has to work so hard to imply that changes are revelation while being careful to never say it outright.
On a final note, once you can look at D&C 132 being open to at least the possibility that Joseph produced the revelation himself, it also explains why the entire justification for polygamy is incorrect. In D&C 132, God tells Joseph why "I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines"
The problem is that Abraham was never instructed to take a second wife and as has been pointed out many times before, David and Solomon's polygamy was called "abominable" in the Book of Mormon. These contradictions have long bothered critics because it just does not make sense that God would so plainly contradict His own scriptures, but when you look at the production of D&C 132 in the context of William Clayton's own words during the dictation, it helps to make sense of a lot of issues with Joseph Smith's works overall.
Again, I would not call this a "smoking gun" against the church, but I feel that it is a very important insight into the issues that come with Joseph Smith's works. The fact that Joseph refused to use the seer stone as Hyrum requested before dictating a 3,200+ word revelation from memory is puzzling, but also shows how Joseph could create material in the voice of God with ease.
We often talk about Occam's Razor on this site because it really helps sometimes to take a step back and just look at what makes the most sense. When looking at the many problems with D&C 132 combined with the circumstances of how it was produced, to me, it points to a bigger pattern of deception by Joseph Smith, and that is the only outcome that makes sense when you focus solely on research instead of what we want to be true. Look at what we need to assume as truth in order to make D&C 132 the true word of God:
Joseph Smith received a revelation before he began taking on additional wives, which was as early as 1832/1833 with Fanny Alger, even though he did not record the revelation until 1843 nor tell anyone close to him until the early 1840s.
An angel with a drawn sword would threaten the life of Joseph Smith unless he entered into polygamy against his will just as we are taught that God allows all of us to exercise our free agency.
Joseph Smith was able to recreate a 3,200+ word revelation that he himself claimed to know "perfectly from beginning to end" that had to be given to him years earlier.
God would tell Joseph Smith that he commanded Abraham to take additional wives when that is not supported by the scriptures.
God would call the polygamy of David and Solomon "abominable" in the Book of Mormon only to tell Joseph Smith that He justified them having polygamous wives in D&C 132.
God commanded Joseph Smith to take polygamous wives before he gave him the sealing keys, as Fanny Alger's relationship was before Joseph claimed to receive those keys.
Emma Smith would be threatened with destruction if she did not abide by Joseph's polygamy, which again goes against the entire concept of free agency.
An angel with a drawn sword would threaten Joseph's life for not entering into polygamy, but would not correct Joseph for not asking Emma's permission first or for marrying other men's wives through polyandry (non-virgins).
We can go on and on here, but the reason we like Occam's Razor is that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. You would need to reconcile all of the above issues just to make D&C 132 work, or you have to try and tackle all of the problems and ultimately use the apologetic phrase of "it will all work out in the end."
Obviously we can only speak for ourselves, but there is just no way to make these problems go away without engaging in apologetics that just do not stand up to scrutiny, which we detail at length in our annotated essay on polygamy. This exercise is one that can also be applied to the other major problems with church doctrines/history and as you read our different annotated essays, I hope you can understand why we feel so strongly that this just does not add up and that the simplest, most evidence based conclusion is that this church is not from God.
Understanding how Joseph Smith produced revelations gives much better insight into prophets of the church that followed him, as many prophets were unable to receive revelation about important issues of the time even as Joseph would receive them frequently on everything from personal problems to backlash from church members. One question I've asked myself before is: Why would God continually threaten Joseph Smith for not entering into polygamy, but allow doctrines like banning black members to live in the church for 130 years uncorrected? There is no way to reconcile those two problems without jumping through some serious mental hoops, which is why Occam's Razor is such a great tool in trying to get to the bottom of "what makes sense" when looking at church history as well as current church practices.
I hope that anyone who has read this post will continue to research this topic and I absolutely think you should read apologetic arguments as well. Research is the only way to know the truth, and there's no way to find that truth unless you're willing to tackle both sides of the issue with an open mind.
We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey.