What If …. Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 2

Continuing my hypothetical series about what I would do if I were asked to update the Doctrine and Covenants (and still keeping in mind that I have no plans to actually do so and I’m 110% sure the Church doesn’t have any plans for me to do so either), we come to looking at editing documents currently included in the Doctrine and Covenants.  In the last couple decades, we’ve had an explosion of research into and availability of the root documents behind the Doctrine and Covenants in the form of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  This provides us with the opportunity to examine sections and to work to bring them into greater conformity to what Joseph Smith said and did, as well as some potential opportunities for expanding sections here and there.  Along those lines, I will examine Section 130 and Section 131.  On the other hand, there are a few opportunities to edit sections that do not reflect current understandings in the Church (I’m looking at you, Section 132).  There aren’t a huge number of edits that I would make, so the aforementioned three sections with be the focus of the post.

Reviewing from last time, the goals I have in mind in this theoretical project are that updates to the scriptures must do the following:

  • Increase faith in and worship of our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ
  • Teach core doctrines with power and clarity
  • Comfort the weary and inspires members to endure in faith
  • Unify members throughout the Church
  • Strengthen faith that leaders of the Church are guided by revelation from God

In approaching this topic, I’m breaking the approach into three main areas, which means that the series will flow as follows:

  1. Organization
  2. Editing of documents
  3. Additions

Each of the sections I’m looking at in this post pose a different opportunity for editing.  But one thing I would do in general while editing the Doctrine and Covenants is an effort to shift towards gender-neutral language as part of the goal of unifying members throughout the Church (as was suggested in one of the comments).  The male-specific language would be replaced by terms that are more inclusive of women throughout.  In that time, it was general practice to use these masculine terms to refer to everyone, but that is no longer the general practice in modern English.  Thus, an effort to shift to gender-neutral language would be geared towards preserving and clarifying the original meaning.  This is similar to the approach taken in some of the more highly respected English translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version. When that translation was created, the translators decided that “many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language towards the masculine gender, a bias that in the case of the Bible has often restricted or obscured the meaning of the original text”. They do include footnotes to provide information about whether the words in the original text were definitively masculine, which could be done here, and with the original texts freely available with the Joseph Smith Papers site, the original wording would still be accessible for historical reference.  The goal, here, however, is to make a functional text that can be used in unifying members throughout the Church.

 

Reversion to Original Text

Section 130 provides an example where the resources made available through the Joseph Smith Papers allow us to edit a section to better align with both the original documents and with current Church doctrine.  Section 130 is a compilation of statements made by Joseph Smith over the course of April 2, 1843.  At the conclusion of the section, we find the statement that:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.  A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.[1]

Originally, however, the two records we have of what Joseph Smith said are as follows:

The Father has a body of flesh & bones as tangible as mans the Son also, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.— and a person cannot have the personage <of the H G. [Holy Ghost]> in his heart he may recive the gift of the holy Ghost. it may descend upon him but not to tarry with him.[2]

And in the second account:

The Holy Ghost is a personage, and a person cannot have the personage of the H. G. in his heart. A man may receive the gifts of the H. G, and the H. G. may descend upon a man but not to tarry with him.[3]

There is a significant difference here between the original documents and current text of the Doctrine and Covenants about the nature of the Holy Ghost.  The current edition was based off of the official history that was published in 1856 and was edited as part of that history to reflect the then-current understanding of the Holy Ghost as a substance or influence rather than a person.  Hence the references to the Holy Ghost being a personage of Spirit, and “were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.”  However, we have shifted to an understanding that is closer to what Joseph Smith seems to have believed in 1843 when he stated that: “The Holy Ghost is a personage, and a person cannot have the personage of the H. G. in his heart.”  This is much closer to the current doctrine about the Holy Ghost being a person who is limited in omnipresence, such as when Elder LeGrand Richards taught that: “The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit in the form of man (See I Nephi 11:11) and hence confined in his personage to a limited space.”[4]  Hence, the edit I would make to Section 130 is to revert the wording to reflect the original records in order to teach core doctrines with greater power and clarity, as follows:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit, and a person cannot have the personage of the Holy Ghost in his heart.  A person may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost may descend upon them, but not to tarry with them.

 

An Opportunity for Expansion

Section 131 provides a different opportunity—that of using original sources to expand and clarify the current text of the section.  As currently presented in the Doctrine and Covenants, the section reads:

In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it.  He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.

(May 17th, 1843.) The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood.

It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

The original source is the William Clayton journal, which reads as follows (three entries):

“Nothing but the unpardonable sin can prevent him [Clayton] from inheriting eternal glory for he is sealed up by the power of the priesthood unto eternal life having taken the step which is necessary for that purpose [plural marriage],”  except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity while in this probation by the power and authority of the Holy priesthood they will cease to increase when they die (i e) they will not have any children in the resurrection, but those who are married by the power & authority of the priesthood in this life & continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost will continue to increase & have children in the celestial glory. The unpardonable sin is to shed innocent blood or be accessory thereto. All other sins will be visited with judgement in the flesh and the spirit being delivered to the buffetings of Satan untill the day of the Lord Jesus.” …

prest. J. said that they way he knew in whom to confide. God told him in whom he might place confidence. He also said that in the celestial glory there was three heavens or degrees, and in order to obtain the highest a man must enter into this order of the priesthood and if he dont he cant obtain it. He may enter into the other but that is the end of his kingdom he cannot have an increase. [5]

He shewed that knowledge is power & the man who has the most knowledge has the greatest power. Also that Salvation means a mans being placed beyond the power of all his enemies. He said the more sure word of prophecy meant, a mans knowing that he was sealed up unto eternal life by revelation & the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy priesthood. He also showed that it was impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance. Paul had seen the third heavens and I more. Peter penned the most sublime language of any of the apostles.[6]

The 7th verse of c 2 of Genesis ought to read God breathed into Adam the his spirit or breath of life. but when the word “ruach” applies to Eve it should be translated lives.

Speaking of eternal duration of matter he said. There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter but is more fine or pure and can only be discerned by purer eyes We cant see it but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.[7]

Thus, there is some material in the original source that could be added to flesh out the section.  There would have to be some editing and selection that went into the process of deciding, but a finished product for an updated Section 131 might read something like this (current text bolded):

Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity while in this probation by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die (i.e., they will not have any children in the resurrection), but those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory.

The unpardonable sin is to shed innocent blood or be accessory thereto.  All other sins will be visited with judgement in the flesh and the spirit be delivered to the buffetings of Satan until the day of the Lord Jesus.

In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a person must enter into this order of the priesthood; and if they do not, they cannot obtain it.  He or she may enter into the other, but that is the end of their kingdom; they cannot have an increase.

(May 17th, 1843.) Knowledge is power and the person who has the most knowledge has the greatest power.  Salvation means a person’s being placed beyond the power of all their enemies.

The more sure word of prophecy meant a person’s knowing that they were sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood.

It is impossible for a person to be saved in ignorance.

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

It’s an expansion of the section that gives greater clarity to the doctrines that Joseph Smith taught on those days.

 

What to do with 132?

Finally, what do we do with Section 132?  It’s certainly one of the most controversial sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, with various people suggesting that it should be entirely removed from the Doctrine and Covenants, some saying that it needs to stay in as an important part of our history, and others proposing keeping an edited version of the document.  I would propose the final solution—including a trimmed down version of the document for ongoing use in the Church.

This solution was proposed by William V. Smith in his volume-length study of the section.  As part of his justification for an edited version, he cited a statement from President Joseph F. Smith that:

When the [plural marriage] revelation was written, in 1843, it was for a special purpose, by the request of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, and was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form. There are personalities contained in a part of it which are not relevant to the endeavor.[8]

He also noted that: “There is precedent for both modification of written revelations and deletion of elements from the Mormon canon by Smith himself (important examples were revelations that now appear as sections 68, 78, and 107 in the Doctrine and Covenants, and the article on marriage that appeared in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants).”[9]  Smith’s goal in creating a theoretical edited version was to: “Eliminate the imperative to practice plural marriage but preserve important details about sealing, including the salvific pessimism (or unguaranteed salvation) that was introduced after Nauvoo.”[10]  In presenting his version in his book, William V. Smith also included an introduction noting that: “The text pertaining specifically to Joseph Smith’s family and plural marriage has been removed from the revelation. Full texts of Joseph Smith’s revelations are available as a part of the Joseph Smith Papers, Documents Series.”[11]  It is an intriguing idea, and one worth considering.

In the hypothetical situation that the post proposes (i.e, if I edited the next edition of the Doctrine and Covenants), I would follow a similar approach to William V. Smith, including a trimmed down version of Section 132.  Rather than the full section, my goal would be to preserve the doctrinal basis for temple sealings while dropping some of the worst attacks on women (Emma in particular) and support for plural marriage as an ongoing practice.  In essence, I would include only verses 4-25.  This section covers the necessary parts to know while cutting out the worst of the sections that either do not match current Church teachings or which are focused on the very specific circumstances in Joseph Smith’s family that surrounded the creation of the document.  That doesn’t negate the existence of the document (the full thing would be available in previous editions of the Doctrine and Covenants and on the Joseph Smith Papers site), but would keep the focus on the most relevant parts for Latter-day Saints today.

 

Conclusion

So, there you have it—three edits to existing documents in the Doctrine and Covenants based on information made readily available in the Church today and to better meet the needs of the Church today.  Section 130 could be edited to reflect the original text more closely, Section 131 could be expanded to include more details from the original text, while Section 132 could be trimmed down to remove portions that do not reflect the values and teachings of the Church today.  In addition, I would make a general shift to gender-neutral language when possible.  In the “what if” question posed in this article, these are the edits I would make while preparing a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants for the Church.

 

Footnotes:

[1] D&C 130:22-23.

[2] “Instruction, 2 April 1843, as Reported by Willard Richards,” p. [43], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed August 14, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/instruction-2-april-1843-as-reported-by-willard-richards/7

[3] “Instruction, 2 April 1843, as Reported by William Clayton,” p. 70, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed August 14, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/instruction-2-april-1843-as-reported-by-william-clayton/5

[4] LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1953), 103.

[5] “Instruction, 16 May 1843, as Reported by William Clayton,” p. [14], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 2, 2022, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/instruction-16-may-1843-as-reported-by-william-clayton/2

[6] “Discourse, 17 May 1843–A, as Reported by William Clayton,” p. [16], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 2, 2022, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-17-may-1843-a-as-reported-by-william-clayton/1

[7] “Discourse, 17 May 1843–B, as Reported by William Clayton,” p. [18], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 2, 2022, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-17-may-1843-b-as-reported-by-william-clayton/1

[8] Joseph F. Smith, June 23, 1878, Journal of Discourses, 20:29.

[9] William V. Smith, Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation (Contemporary Studies in Scripture) (p. 180). Greg Kofford Books. Kindle Edition.

[10] Smith, Textual Studies, 181.

[11] Smith, Textual Studies, 181.

9 comments for “What If …. Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 2

  1. I think I’m in the “less is more” camp. Your rationale for editing Sections 130 and 131 makes sense, but the result would be to more firmly entrench beliefs to which I do not subscribe. Specifically, (1) the Holy Ghost that I believe in is not a personage in the sense Joseph intends and can indeed “dwell in” multiple people simultaneously without diminishing its (nongendered) influence over the rest of the universe; and (2) I believe that only resurrected celestial couples will be able to have celestial children and that achieving such an ability is a worthy goal, but I also believe that resurrected terrestrial couples will be able to have terrestrial children and so forth. As for Section 132, I think more of it could be salvaged than just verses 4-25, but I see no compelling reason to do so–your proposal probably represents the most elegant solution.

  2. I’m generally opposed to removing sections of scripture. Among other problems, it makes the scriptural motivation for a long and essential period of church history less clear. I think revelatory abundance is a better strategy than scriptural scarcity: rather than parsing each verse of a limited corpus as closely as possible, rely on more and frequent revelation to increase understanding and clarify intent.

  3. To Jonathan’s point, that’s a large part why I decided to not go down the path of wholesale removal of any sections (and also why I would still point to sources for the full 132 if it was trimmed down). Also, that’s why I’d love to add more to the Doctrine and Covenants. But we will talk more about adding in the next post in the series.

  4. “I think revelatory abundance is a better strategy than scriptural scarcity…”

    We know there’s a lot more coming down the pike. I wish I could be here a hundred years from now–just to see what the canon might look like then.

  5. The D&C (and Book of Mormon, PoGP, etc.) in English badly need to have their persistent references to males (“brethren” only in numerous BoM discourses, “children of men,” “man,” “men,” “he,” “him,” etc.) updated to be gender-neutral or gender-specific. Chad’s revisions are still depressingly male-oriented. For example, “Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant” instead of “Except husbands and wives into an everlasting covenant”; “Knowledge is power and the man who has the most knowledge … man’s being placed beyond the power of all his enemies” instead of “the person who has the most knowledge … humans being placed beyond the power of all their enemies.” This type of male-specific language is horrifying to many women as it so totally excludes us. And don’t justify it by saying, “Oh, that’s just how men spoke back then and they really mean to include everyone.” If the Church could remove archaic abbreviations from the Articles of Faith years ago and change “this American content” in #10 to “the American continent,” they can certainly use 21st-century nouns and pronouns to make the scriptures more expansive and universal. I regularly read several LDS blogs and have never commented before, but I’ve noticed that T&S seems to be far more male-written and male-oriented than the others. A head’s up–there are women out here! And we do notice!

  6. If revelatory abundance is good for the past, it would also good for the present. Be careful what you wish for, the Proclamation on the Family could easily be canonized soon.

  7. womenexist, you are right. I was more focused on looking at the original texts, but a move to more gender-neutral terms is warranted and I am ashamed that I didn’t think to include that here. Thank you for calling it out. Inclusivity is something that is important to me, even though I still fall short in carrying it out. I will work on updating this post when I have time to do so.

    For the next post, where I talk about what to add, I am being more intentional about including women’s voices, though I still have a ways to go in learning the sources in that area. As a result, it is, admittedly, not an equal amount of material to one by men that I am presenting.

  8. Chad, I’m going to push back a little. If the apostles chose to update the canon–making the language more gender-neutral–I’d certainly support their decision to do so. But even so, I wonder sometimes at the seeming double standard coming from the more liberal minded folks on this issue. My sense is that they generally favor a translation that is as close to the original as possible–thereby preserving the essence of the culture, history, mindset, etc., of the authors involved. Wouldn’t seeking to update ancient texts in ways that would make them more socially palatable to us moderns be rather counterintuitive to preserving the originals?

  9. It depends, Jack. There are parallels here to Bible translations. One of the more highly respected English translations is the New Revised Standard Version. When that translation was created, the translators decided that “many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language towards the masculine gender, a bias that in the case of the Bible has often restricted or obscured the meaning of the original text”. They do include footnotes to provide information about whether the words in the original text were definitively masculine. I personally appreciate what they did in that version.

    I do feel like a similar approach could be taken with the Doctrine and Covenants. It would functionally serve as an update to preserve the original intent of the text for a modern audience. We have seen some minor efforts to do that very thing over the years, such as the infamous comma in Section 89. In any case, with the Joseph Smith Papers available online, it’s not like the original texts would suddenly become unavailable.

Charitable Comments Welcome. Please follow our comment policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.