“To ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church”

Section 107 has one of the more complicated histories out of the documents presented in the Doctrine and Covenants.  It is not a single revelation, but rather a few that were compiled together and expanded in significant ways, with the individual portions reflecting their original context and some of the later context of the time in which it was combined into the document we experience today.  It is, as Richard Lyman Bushman put it, “it is best understood as an archeological site, containing layers of organizational forms, each layer created for a purpose at one time and then overlaid by other forms established for other purposes later.”[1]  It is, in many ways, a capstone document in the Doctrine and Covenants meant to provide structure and organization to the Church.  And, in providing some of that structure, Section 107 helped laid the foundation for the institution of the Church to function and thrive in enduring ways past Joseph Smith.

There are several sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that effectively functioned as the handbook of the Church at the time they were developed.  As some of the most prominent among them, we have the following:

  • Section 20 (Articles and Covenants)
  • D&C 42 (the Law)
  • D&C 84 (On Priesthood)
  • D&C 86 (On Priesthood)
  • D&C 88
  • D&C 102 (Minutes of the organization of the High Council of the church of Christ of Latter Day Saints)
  • D&C 107 (On Priesthood)

Most of these sections were placed at the front of the “Covenants” section of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, indicating their importance and function in the early Church.  Section 107 of the current Doctrine and Covenants, while being the last revelation to be received that was included in the original edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, was placed very near the front of these as Section 3, only proceeded by the preface (Section 1 today) and the Articles and Covenants of the Church (Section 20 today).  In a way, the 1835 document that we have as Section 107 was an effort to capture and consolidate instructions on how to run the Church that had rapidly evolved since the Church’s founding.

Partly because of the ongoing evolution of the Church, Section 107 is drawn from a couple different time periods of the early Church.  For example, much (though not all) of the content presented today as verses 60-100 is a relatively early revelation, being recorded in November 1831 as instructions for the Saints in Missouri.  The revelation instructed them to establish additional administrative positions in the Church, such as presiding officers over priesthood groups, additional bishops, and the President of the High Priesthood to function as leader of the Church.  It also laid out additional instructions on how to proceed with Church discipline cases.[2]  This early revelation was expanded in April 1835 in response to a request by the newly-organized Quorum of the Twelve to have further instructions on how to organize the priesthood and Church governance as they prepared to visit the eastern branches of the Church.  There are some indications that Joseph Smith had a revelation earlier in 1835 that was incorporated into the document, while other portions seem to draw on the September 1832 revelation that is now Section 84.  Getting even more granular, William V. Smith has proposed that the 1831 revelation itself may have been a combination of two separate revelations, with the modern 107:60-72 corresponding to the first revelation and 107:74-100 corresponding to the second revelation (and with Section 69 being received on the same day as part of the context of the revelation).  He also noted that the 1835 portion of the text seems to be several different visions or revelations woven together, including a “vision of the Seventy, the vision of Adam, the esoterica of bishops, the ‘Enoch’ text and others.”[3]  This means that sections of the text reflect an 1831 and other sections reflect an 1835 context in the early Church.

Since snapshots of priesthood structure across the first five years of the Church are woven together into the text of Section 107, not all of the language used lines up internally.  That is why Bushman compared it to the layers of an archeological site.  For example, in the 1831 section, the term “priesthood” seems to be used as a reference to the office of a priest rather than a broader term for authority.  The structure of Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood as authority pools from which priesthood offices are drawn was introduced in 1835 with the early verses of Section 107 (“There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely: the Melchizedek, and the Aaronic, including the Levitical priesthood”),[4] so that concept is absent in the discussion of the different offices of the priesthood in the 1831 portion of the document.  There is also some tension in the use of the terms “Melchizedek Priesthood”, “high priest,” and “high priesthood” in the revelation since it’s not entirely clear if the Melchizedek priesthood is meant to be synonymous with the term “high priesthood” or whether “high priesthood” is synonymous with the office of a high priest.  (Based on the use of the term elsewhere by Joseph Smith, it seems likely to have been intended to be equated to the office of the high priest, though readings of the revelation in later generations shifted to equate it with the Melchizedek Priesthood.)[5]  There is some changes in terminology over the course of the text due to different eras combined in the sections of the text.

In any case, the text of 107 outlines an expanded outline for Church authority and structure in the priesthood that laid the foundation for the Church’s structure as we know it today.  We have, for example, the development of “The twelve travelling counsellors are called to be the twelve apostles,” “the seventy [who] are also called to preach the gospel,” “a general assembly of the several quorums which constitute the spiritual authorities of the church,” and “the standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion.”   A chain of authority between these groups, with the presidency of the Church at the top, the Quorum of the Twelve acting under their direction, and the Seventy acting under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve, is also laid out.[6]  Publishing the 1831 revelation in this context, with the note that: “It is the duty of the twelve, also, to ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church, agreeably to the revelation,” broadcasted the development of organization in priesthood quorums used in the Church today.  All of this allowed for decentralization of authority, sharing it beyond the Presidency of the High Priesthood to councils like the Quorum of the Twelve, the high councils, the Seventy, etc.  This ultimately allowed the Church to function more fully in Joseph Smith’s absence and to flesh out local Church structures in stakes, wards, and branches.  Richard Bushman observed some of the immediate impact of these developments:

After the organization of the Twelve Apostles, the frequency of canonical revelations dropped precipitously. … Instead, Joseph’s history was filled with the minutes of the Twelve Apostles’ meetings, as if they had become the source of inspiration. … At a moment when Joseph’s own revelatory powers were at their peak, he divested himself of sole responsibility for revealing the will of God and invested that gift in the councils of the Church, making it a charismatic bureaucracy.[7]

While technically the number of revelations was already on the decline after the peak year in 1831 (see Figure 1), Bushman does get at the importance of councils in the Church moving forwards (particularly the Quorum of the Twelve)—they set it up for organizational success by claiming revelation as a group.

Figure 1. Revelations per year during the era Joseph Smith was active (1823-1843) in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants

Section 107 is both one of the more complicated documents in the Doctrine and Covenants and one of the most pivotal.  It brought together revelations received in 1831 and 1835, publishing them as instructions on how to organize priesthood groups in the Church.  This laid much of the foundation of the Church today.  Because of documents like this section, the original Doctrine and Covenants (which was published not long after Section 107 was compiled) functioned both as scripture and as an early edition of the handbook of the Church that laid the foundation for how the Church functions today, even with subsequent developments in priesthood organization being taken into account.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 253.

[2] “Revelation, 11 November 1831–B [D&C 107 (partial)],” p. 122, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 24, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-11-november-1831-b-dc-107-partial/1

[3] William V. Smith, “Early Mormon Priesthood Revelations: Text, Impact, and Evolution,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 46, no. 4 (Winter 2013), https://www.dialoguejournal.com/articles/early-mormon-priesthood-revelation-text-impact-and-evolution/

[4] “Instruction on Priesthood, between circa 1 March and circa 4 May 1835 [D&C 107],” p. 82, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 25, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/instruction-on-priesthood-between-circa-1-march-and-circa-4-may-1835-dc-107/1

[5] See Smith, “Early Mormon Priesthood Revelations,” 45-46.

[6] “Instruction on Priesthood, between circa 1 March and circa 4 May 1835 [D&C 107],” p. 84, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 25, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/instruction-on-priesthood-between-circa-1-march-and-circa-4-may-1835-dc-107/3

[7] Bushman: Joseph Smith, 257-258.

2 comments for ““To ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church”

  1. I suppose if one was teaching a lesson on this material, one could explain the authority and history of the Presidency of the High Priesthood (First Presidency) and examine the history of declarations of that Presidency to connect the lesson with recent developments.

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