Changes to the Doctrine and Covenants
In this section we want to briefly examine the many changes that Joseph Smith made to the Doctrine and Covenants well after they were originally recorded. These changes are extremely important in understanding Joseph Smith's evolving theology as well as trying to understand why the direct commandments from God could be changed so vastly by Joseph as determined was necessary at given times.
This section is important because both church leaders and apologists contend that the changes to the Doctrine Covenants have been mostly for grammar, spelling, or just small changes, but as we will detail here the changes not only altered the original commandments, but changed elements of church theology as well.
Apostle Legrand Richards: "As far as I know there have been no changes at all in any of the revelations. If there have been any changes it would all have been fixing grammar or something like that." (Full interview)
Joseph Fielding Smith: "Inspiration is discovered in the fact that each part, as it was revealed, dovetailed perfectly with what had come before. There was no need for eliminating, changing, or adjusting any part to make it fit; but each new revelation on doctrine and priesthood fitted in its place perfectly to complete the whole structure, as it had been prepared by the Master Builder." (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol, 1, page 170)
Apostle John A. Widtsoe: "Within a few years after its organization, the Church had received practically all necessary supplementary laws and regulations. These also have remained unchanged. There has been no tampering with God's word.... the whole body of Church laws forms a harmonious unit, which does not anywhere contradict itself nor has it been found necessary to alter any part of it." (Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth, pages 119 and 122)
Mormon writer John J. Stewart: "Several of his associates, sitting in his presence when some of the revelations were received, reported that Joseph would dictate them to a clerk at as fast and steady a pace as the clerk was able to write, maintaining an even flow of delivery, and never altering the words spoken." (Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Salt Lake City, 1966, page 57)
Please keep these quotes in mind as you read the sections below. There are many other quotes like this, but the bottom line is that these revelations were received and then many crucial parts were changed to fit evolving church doctrine as we will outline below. More recent apologists such as Hugh Nibley have claimed that "Revelations have been revised whenever necessary. That is the nice thing about revelation—it is strictly open-ended," but that comes out of necessity because source materials are so much more accessible today. David Whitmer, as outlined below, details how the commandments were both received and changed, and why it can not be reconciled with the history and process that Joseph Smith claimed to receive revelation.
It also needs to be noted that a lot of this research (and the photos of the changes) were compiled by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, former Mormons who were considered anti-Mormon before many of these research topics were verified by the church through the essays and other admissions as history became more readily available. Their work brought forth a lot of important details about church history, and without their hard work it is possible we would not even have the 1832 First Vision account. Thank you to the Tanners for uncovering some very difficult truths, and spending decades fighting anti-Mormon charges for ideas that were later proven correct.
Overview of Key Changes:
1. I Will Grant Him No Other Gift
After completing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith was to be done with creating scriptures by the very word of God. In a revelation from March 1829, Joseph is told: "...and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift." (Book of Commandments as chapter 4. Verse 2)
David Whitmer confirms this revelation and the events surrounding it: "After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, early in the spring of 1830, before April 6th, Joseph gave the stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the stone any more. He said he was through the work that God had given him the gift to perform, except to preach the gospel. He told us that we would all have to depend on the Holy Ghost hereafter to be guided into truth and obtain the will of the Lord.(An Address To All Believers In Christ, Richmond, Missouri, 1887, page 32)
However, Joseph Smith contradicted this revelation by "translating" the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible along with working on the Book of Abraham. Because of this, the revelation needed to be changed so that Joseph Smith could 'pretend another gift.' The revelation was thus changed to the following: "And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift, until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished." (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 5, verse 4)
This, of course, completely changes the meaning of the revelation from God in 1829, and as we will note in these pages, the change is very beneficial to Joseph Smith. As David Whitmer noted, "as if God had commanded Joseph to pretend to no other gift but to translate the Book of Mormon, that he would "grant him no other gift," and then afterwards God had changed his mind and concluded to grant him another gift. God does not change and work in this manner. The way the revelation has been changed, twenty two words being added to it, it would appear that God had broken His word after giving His word in plainness; commanding Brother Joseph to pretend to no other gift but to translate the Book of Mormon, and then the Lord had changed and concluded to grant Joseph the gift of a Seer to the Church."
It is difficult to understand why God would change his mind so quickly after Joseph Smith recorded the initial revelation, but the obvious answer is that Joseph Smith decided to take his work beyond the Book of Mormon and needed to change the supposed revelation in order to make it work. These are both church sources above - we are not taking anything out of context or doing anything "anti-Mormon." These are the facts from history.
2. Concerning (the Foundation of) My Church
In June 1829, Joseph Smith claimed a revelation through the seer stone regarding the formation of the church. The part of the original revelation that is the focus here is as follows: "Behold I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written, CONCERNING MY CHURCH, MY GOSPEL, AND MY ROCK. Wherefore if you shall build up my church, and my gospel, and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you." (Chapter 15 Book of Commandments)
In this revelation the "in them" phrase refers to the gold plates, but the problem is that the Book of Mormon did not discuss a lot of the additions to the church that Joseph Smith had been making since the Book of Mormon was finished. There, Joseph Smith ran into a problem where he could not keep the original revelation the same and continue to alter/add new positions to the church that were not already in the scriptures.
To reconcile this problem, Joseph Smith changed the word of God that was given through the seer stone (tight translation) by adding three words that would give him the authority to create new positions in the church: "the foundation of." The newly edited revelation now reads as follows: "Behold I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written, concerning the foundation of' my church, my gospel, and my rock; wherefore, if you shall build up my church upon the foundation of' my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you." (D&C 18)
David Whitmer sums up the problem in his address: "These changes were made by the leaders of the church, who had drifted into error and spiritual blindness. Through the influence of Sydney Rigdon, Brother Joseph was led on and on into receiving revelations every year, to establish offices and doctrines which are not even mentioned in the teachings of Christ in the written word. In a few years they had gone away ahead of the written word, so that they had to change these revelations, as you will understand when I have finished."
That quote is very important, because it was Sidney Rigdon who brought the idea of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods to Joseph, which leads us to our next big D&C change.
3. Priesthood Restoration
The priesthood restoration is an area we go into much more detail on here, but we want to highlight it on this page as well. When Joseph Smith originally published the restoration of the priesthood, there as no mention of John the Baptist being there nor were there any mentions of the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods. Those ideas did not come around until Sidney Rigdon brought them over as part of the Campbellite branch of ministers.
Once Rigdon brought those ideas over, Joseph Smith began using them, but they still do not appear until the revelation was changed in 1835. When Joseph Smith was ordained to the priesthood in 1831 (another change from official history), it was still referred to as the 'high priesthood.'
In order to account for this evolving theology, Joseph Smith had to drastically alter not one but two different revelations. We are going to put the images of both below and highly encourage you to read our two pages on the priesthood: Timeline Issues and Response to Apolgetics. These two pages very clearly demonstrate how Joseph Smith retrofitted these revelations to fit his new beliefs on the priesthood, which are a massive problem for the credibility of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God.
One of the most drastic changes in revelation came with polygamy. Joseph Smith entered a revelation in D&C 101 that included the following: "Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." (D&C 101:4)
Now keep in mind that Joseph Smith revealed this revelation after he was already being accused of taking multiple wives and after the affair with Fanny Alger was already being discussed. Those issues are all covered in-depth in our Kirtland/Nauvoo Polygamy Annotated LDS Essay. You can also see this revelation posted in the Times and Season here.
However, Joseph Smith could not keep this revelation and also continue to marry and have relations with other women, so he added D&C 132 in 1843. Instead of changing D&C 101:4 as he did with other revelations, he just wrote an entirely new one which was necessary in order to properly lay out the very clear and distinct rules for polygamy, as well as offer warnings to the wives of the Saints who did not agree to let their husbands take additional wives.
In our Kirtland/Nauvoo annotated LDS essay you can read about just how badly Joseph Smith abused the rules in D&C 132, and we highly encourage anyone who has not read that annotated essay to do so. It gives a very clear picture of how Joseph Smith had a habit for writing revelations that benefited him as well as how he completely ignored the rules in D&C 132 while continuing to make sure Emma knew the danger her exaltation was in by refusing to cooperate. We've also written a blog post about how D&C 132 came to be, which is really crucial in understanding how Joseph produced revelations especially compared to prophets after him.
The church removed D&C 101:4 from their canonized scriptures in 1876, because it was clearly at odds with D&C 132. It is amazing that we are taught that the word of God does not change, yet we see it change all too often in these examples and usually for the betterment of Joseph Smith. Another interesting thing about D&C 132 is that he did not use the seer stone for that revelation, and instead wrote it straight from his thoughts. It was one of the reasons that David Whitmer believed that Joseph Smith had become a fallen prophet - he claimed to not use the method for translating the word of God and just dictated it straight to his scribes.
One last note in this section is that the church has changed the header to D&C 132 in order to give some wiggle room to Joseph Smith having already been married to other women long before the revelation was recorded. They changed the heading to note that Joseph had been thinking about this revelation since 1831, which is a complete misdirection: The history tells us that the only mentions of polygamy going back to 1831 were for missionaries to marry who they thought were the Lamanites (Native Americans - they did not know yet that DNA testing would prove the Lamanites to not be who Joseph Smith said they were), so that they could turn their children whiter and more delightsome: "[I]t is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles."
5. Consecrate All... I mean... Of Your Property to the Church
In the Book of Commandments chapter 44, Saints are commanded to consecrate all of their properties to the church. This was likely a revelation that was brought forward from Sidney Rigdon, as his Campbellite branch lived in a more 'communistic' order, and Joseph Smith possibly sought to adapt that concept as well.
However, Joseph later changed this revelation from "consecrate all" to "consecrate of" in D&C 42, which of course completely changes the meaning of the revelation. This change was made after charges that the church was being run in a communistic/socialistic manner. Fawn Brodie (former LDS member) wrote that "Joseph's enthusiasm for the United Order was always tempered by the fact that it was Rigdon's conception." (No Man Knows My History, page 108) You can see the changes to this revelation below.
6. A Sprout, a Rod, or the Gift of Aaron?
Oliver Cowdery was a co-founder of the church, and just like Joseph Smith had a background in magic. While Joseph Smith used his seer stone to look for buried treasure, Oliver Cowdery used a diving rod This is a revelation that actually changed multiple times as outlined below:
Original commandment: "remember this is thy gift now this is not all for thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the sprout Behold it hath told you things Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands" (Joseph Smith Papers)
Book of Commandments 7:3: "Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God."
Doctrine and Covenants 8:6-8: "Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you. Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God."
These are incredibly significant changes, and also follows the attempts to suppress Joseph's use of a 'seer stone' to translate the Book of Mormon by calling it the Urim and Thummim. After the Book of Mormon times, the church sought to avoid disussing the magic elements that Joseph and Oliver used to bring forth the Book of Mormon, and as such changed the revelation from a sprout to a rod of nature to the gift of Aaron.
Marvin S. Hill, an assistant professor of history at BYU, even admitted that "when Oliver Cowdery took up his duties as a scribe for Joseph Smith in 1829 he had a rod in his possession which Joseph Smith sanctioned." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1972, p.78) Marvin Hill takes that even further when he states: "Some of the rodsmen or money diggers who moved into Mormonism were Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Orrin P. Rockwell, Joseph and Newel Knight, and Josiah Stowell." It is worth noting that Joseph Smith and two of the three witnesses were known as rodsmen, treasure seekers, or money diggers.
A picture of a divining rod along with the changes to the D&C can be seen below.
7. Adding in New Church Positions
This next change regards chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments. David Whitmer discussed these changes as follows: "The heading over it in the Book of Commandments is as follows: "The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, given in Fayette, New York, June, 1830." Two paragraphs have been added to it, having been thrust into the middle of it. Paragraphs 16 and 17 is the part added, [verses 65-67 in current Utah Ed.] which part speaks of high priests and other high offices that the church never knew of until almost two years after its beginning: As if God had made a mistake in the first organization of the church, and left out these high important offices which are all above an elder; and as if God had made a mistake and left these high offices out of that revelation when it was first given. Oh the weakness and blindness of man!" (An Address To All Believers In Christ, page 59)
Again, Joseph Smith changed the revelations as his theology changed. Are we to believe that God continually forgot to get his revelations to match the church, or that Joseph Smith changed them as needed to make his theology fit the revelations he claimed? This also fits with the priesthood issues in retrofitting details in order to pretend as if God told him these details all along. Occam's Razor would tell us that the most likely explanation is that Joseph Smith was the author of these revelations, and as such took liberties to change them as he saw fit. The changes are outlined below:
8. Emma Smith to be Supported 'From' or 'In' the Church?
In the Book of Commandments, chapter 26 states that Emma Smith would be supported from the church. When the revelation was changed for the Doctrine and Covenants, the wording was changed to Emma being supported in the church. (D&C 25)
This is one of the smaller changes in the D&C, although it is noteworthy that Joseph adds a disclaimer to the beginning of the blessing to note that Emma will receive this "if thou art faithful and walk in the paths of virtue before me, I will preserve thy life, and thou shalt receive an inheritance in Zion."
That, of course, is more striking given that Emma was strongly against polygamy, and Joseph changed this revelation to put her in a position to either obey Joseph's revelation in D&C 132 or be destroyed. We've covered that in more detail during the annotated LDS essays, so we will not go into further details here outside of noting the addition.
The change of language from being supported "from" the church as opposed to "in" the church is more significant in that the church has always found paid ministry to be an abomination, so the change was necessary to say that Emma was not being supported in any way financially because Joseph Smith was the founder. The church has paid leaders over the years, but has always been very careful to avoid calling it a salary because of the opposition to paid ministry from other churches.
There are many other changes to the Doctrine and Covenants that we will add to this page over time, but the point is this: Why did Joseph Smith feel the need to change the words of God in such an arbitrary manner? Any why did these very critical changes always seem so to fit the evolving theology of Joseph Smith?
I highly encourage everyone to continue to research these topics both from LDS and non-LDS sources and continue to ask why God would give revelations to Joseph Smith that are so easily changed or, in the case of polygamy, abused by His prophet. The most obvious answer is that Joseph Smith decided after the Book of Mormon was released to create a church out of it, and the changes all began when Joseph Smith declared that God, in fact, would grant him gifts beyond the Book of Mormon after all. It also makes sense when considering why none of the prophets after Joseph claimed to receive revelations in the same manner, and why none of the prophets in modern times claim to receive visions or prophesy in any meaningful way.
Please check out our other pages including the annotated LDS essays for more info on problems with the Book of Mormon, polygamy/polyamory, priesthood restoration, and a lot more. Thank you for reading!