What If … Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 1

I told you I wasn’t done with the Doctrine and Covenants yet.

 

Follow me, and ponder the question: What if?

It’s the year 2023 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has decided to produce a new edition of their scriptures.  For reasons that are unclear, the project was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable:  Chad Nielsen, of Times and Seasons.  Challenged to produce a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Chad goes to work, planning out what he will do.

Now, in reality, I know full well that the Church doesn’t care about any suggestions I might have and that I would be very far from their first candidate for a project like that.  That is why I opened by presenting this as a Mormon multiverse story (sorry about using the moniker, the alliteration was just too good to pass).  This series of posts is entirely for fun and also entirely hypothetical.  It is, I will also note, a logical outgrowth of my spending the entire last year focused on the Doctrine and Covenants and then important documents in Latter-day Saint history.

 

Disclaimer out of the way, now, what would I do if I was tasked with an update to the Doctrine and Covenants?  I might start out by laying out guiding principles, looking at the updated hymnal guidelines for inspiration.  Excluding the guideline about inviting joyful singing, the relevant guidelines from there would be 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.

I would also add a goal of strengthening faith that leaders of the Church are guided by revelation from God.  Now, I’m not going to go into the controversial territory of wholesale removal of any sections in the Doctrine and Covenants.  So, most of my comments will focus around reorganizing, editing existing sections, and things to add.  I’ll cover each of these in turn, throughout the series of posts, focusing on the organization I might follow.

 

Thus, this puts us here in the series:

  1. Organization
  2. Editing of documents
  3. Additions

 

When it comes to organization, the first thing I would do would be to collapse the Pearl of Great Price into the Doctrine and Covenants.  The boundary between the two has been porous over the years, with sections being included in both or moving from one to the other at different points in history.  For example, Sections 137 and 138 were originally included in the Pearl of Great Price before the decision was made to move them to the Doctrine and Covenants.  In addition, the Pearl of Great Price is very small—too small to devote an extended period of time to studying in Sunday School, for example, so it often gets folded into other discussions anyway.  My thought here is—why continue to deal with an artificial boundary between two collections of documents produced in the modern dispensation?  Why not just group them together into one book of scripture that serves as anthology of important documents from the modern Church as well as smaller translation projects?

Combining the Doctrine and Covenants in the Pearl of Great Price would necessarily lead to a shift in organization in the Doctrine and Covenants.  The idea of blocs of sections, which is what I would follow, has precedent in the original edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.  In fact, it was given that name rather than the original Book of Commandments (commandments and covenants being interchangeable terms for the revelations of Joseph Smith) because the Lectures on Faith was added (the Doctrine part of the Doctrine and Covenants) in addition to the revelations (the Covenants part of the Doctrine and Covenants).  Even within the current Doctrine and Covenants, there are different types of documents—revelations, records of visions, minutes of meetings, excerpts from letters, records of sermons, and statements of the Church.  And, technically, the Sections and Official Declarations do form two separate blocs within the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.  With that in mind, I would rearrange the Doctrine and Covenants into several different sections, most likely the following:

  • Doctrine—Sermons and statements that explain the doctrines and policies of the Church
  • Covenants—Written revelations that are presented in the voice of the Lord
  • Visions—Records of visionary experiences
  • Official Declarations—Declarations put out by the Church (just as it currently is)
  • Prayers and Poetry—What the name implies (somewhat analogous to the poetry section of the Hebrew Bible)
  • Histories—Documents that are meant to function as historical presentations
  • Translations—Documents that come from various projects that Joseph Smith referred to as translations

Granted, even these get a bit messy at times (i.e., is Section 102 doctrine or history? Does 113 belong under doctrine or covenants?), but it seems like a comprehensive approach to include all the different content from the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, while also laying a foundation for further expansion.

Using only the current contents of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, this organization would look something like this:

Division New Name Current Name
Introductory Materials
  Title Page Title Page
  Introduction Introduction
  The Lord’s Preface Section 1
  Testimony Section 135
Doctrine
  Doctrinal Document 1 Section 20
  Doctrinal Document 2 Section 102
  Doctrinal Document 3 Section 134
  Doctrinal Document 4 Section 127
  Doctrinal Document 5 Section 128
  Doctrinal Document 6 Section 129
  Doctrinal Document 7 Section 130
  Doctrinal Document 8 Section 131
  Doctrinal Document 9 Articles of Faith
Covenants
  Covenant 1 Section 3
  Covenant 2 Section 4
  Covenant 3 Section 5
  Covenant 4 Section 6
  Covenant 5 Section 8
  Covenant 6 Section 9
  Covenant 7 Section 10
  Covenant 8 Section 11
  Covenant 9 Section 12
  Covenant 10 Section 14
  Covenant 11 Section 15
  Covenant 12 Section 16
  Covenant 13 Section 17
  Covenant 14 Section 18
  Covenant 15 Section 19
  Covenant 16 Section 21
  Covenant 17 Section 22
  Covenant 18 Section 23
  Covenant 19 Section 24
  Covenant 20 Section 25
  Covenant 21 Section 26
  Covenant 22 Section 27
  Covenant 23 Section 28
  Covenant 24 Section 29
  Covenant 25 Section 30
  Covenant 26 Section 31
  Covenant 27 Section 32
  Covenant 28 Section 33
  Covenant 29 Section 34
  Covenant 30 Section 35
  Covenant 31 Section 36
  Covenant 32 Section 37
  Covenant 33 Section 38
  Covenant 34 Section 39
  Covenant 35 Section 40
  Covenant 36 Section 41
  Covenant 37 Section 42
  Covenant 38 Section 43
  Covenant 39 Section 44
  Covenant 40 Section 45
  Covenant 41 Section 46
  Covenant 42 Section 47
  Covenant 43 Section 48
  Covenant 44 Section 49
  Covenant 45 Section 50
  Covenant 46 Section 51
  Covenant 47 Section 52
  Covenant 48 Section 53
  Covenant 49 Section 54
  Covenant 50 Section 55
  Covenant 51 Section 56
  Covenant 52 Section 57
  Covenant 53 Section 58
  Covenant 54 Section 59
  Covenant 55 Section 60
  Covenant 56 Section 61
  Covenant 57 Section 62
  Covenant 58 Section 63
  Covenant 59 Section 64
  Covenant 60 Section 65
  Covenant 61 Section 66
  Covenant 62 Section 67
  Covenant 63 Section 68
  Covenant 64 Section 69
  Covenant 65 Section 133
  Covenant 66 Section 70
  Covenant 67 Section 71
  Covenant 68 Section 72
  Covenant 69 Section 73
  Covenant 70 Section 74
  Covenant 71 Section 75
  Covenant 72 Section 77
  Covenant 73 Section 78
  Covenant 74 Section 79
  Covenant 75 Section 80
  Covenant 76 Section 81
  Covenant 77 Section 82
  Covenant 78 Section 83
  Covenant 79 Section 84
  Covenant 80 Section 85
  Covenant 81 Section 86
  Covenant 82 Section 87
  Covenant 83 Section 88
  Covenant 84 Section 89
  Covenant 85 Section 90
  Covenant 86 Section 91
  Covenant 87 Section 92
  Covenant 88 Section 93
  Covenant 89 Section 94
  Covenant 90 Section 95
  Covenant 91 Section 96
  Covenant 92 Section 97
  Covenant 93 Section 98
  Covenant 94 Section 99
  Covenant 95 Section 100
  Covenant 96 Section 101
  Covenant 97 Section 103
  Covenant 98 Section 104
  Covenant 99 Section 105
  Covenant 100 Section 106
  Covenant 101 Section 107
  Covenant 102 Section 108
  Covenant 103 Section 111
  Covenant 104 Section 112
  Covenant 105 Section 113
  Covenant 106 Section 114
  Covenant 107 Section 115
  Covenant 108 Section 116
  Covenant 109 Section 117
  Covenant 110 Section 118
  Covenant 111 Section 119
  Covenant 112 Section 120
  Covenant 113 Section 121
  Covenant 114 Section 122
  Covenant 115 Section 123
  Covenant 116 Section 124
  Covenant 117 Section 125
  Covenant 118 Section 126
  Covenant 119 Section 132
  Covenant 120 Section 136
Visions
  Vision 1 Section 2
  Vision 2 Section 13
  Vision 3 Section 76
  Vision 4 Section 137
  Vision 5 Section 110
  Vision 6 Section 138
Official Declarations
  Official Declaration 1 Official Declaration 1
  Official Declaration 2 Official Declaration 2
Prayers and Poetry  
  Kirtland Temple Dedicatory Prayer Section 109
Histories
  Joseph Smith’s 1838 History Joseph Smith–History
Translations
Book of Abraham Abraham
  Book of Moses Moses
  Account of John Section 7
  Joseph Smith-Matthew JS-Matthew

 

That being said, what would you do if this episode was “What if … You Updated the Doctrine and Covenants?”

15 comments for “What If … Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 1

  1. I was prepared to hate this idea (usually the proposals end up as “Take out the things I don’t like and canonize the things I like”), but I kind of like this idea. The one thing I’d change is the order of the translations – put Moses/Abraham first, then John/Matthew, to parallel the OT/NT and Creation/End Time order. Of course then you’d have to decide if a vision of the pre-existence takes precedence over a vision of creation, and if the NT-related visions should follow the NT order or put the apocalyptic material of Matthew last.

  2. Ah, I should have thought of that. I was just adding things in the order I encountered them looking through the D&C and the PoGP. I’ll switch it around when I get the chance.
    To your earlier point, though, I suspect you’ll hate the third part of the series, then, since that will probably end up along the lines of “canonize what I like.”

  3. I’ve played around with the idea of stripping the D&C down to sections that are directly relevant to the Church today (adding currently uncanonized documents that are considered binding, such as the Second Manifesto and some others from your February 1 list) and moving the rest to a separate Book of Joseph Smith (which would be studied primarily in Institute classes, not Sunday School). I am not prepared to map it out completely as you have done above, but large chunks before Section 76 would go in the latter. Probably the translations too, but I’m not sure.

  4. I would leave the order of the Doctrine and Covenants alone. It serves to preserve the historical document in the same way the King James Version serves to preserve historical context. Error and redaction in religious text is valuable. Study manuals might evolve beyond the sadly mundane chronology of “Come Follow Me.” No doubt, D&C study manuals would be more relevant, if they were organized closer to what you propose for reprinting.

    A few hymns could be added to the text after the fashion of wisdom psalms. It would be interesting to model how to decide which hymns might be included. For comfort, for unity, for inviting an atmosphere to receive the Spirit, hymns should be part of our historical canon. I think we take for granted the power hymns offer to missionary work, sacrament, and service. As an act of worship, the singing of hymns demonstrates love in a way scripture alone cannot.

  5. I agree with what you’re saying about hymns, Travis. When I get there, hymn texts will be a major part of the poetry section I would do.

    Lemuel, what would be your reasoning for wanting to include the Lectures on Faith?

  6. Without wanting to go toe to toe with Lemuel–I have to say that I’m glad the Lectures were taken out. They’re too systematic–and they’re heavily influenced by Sidney Rigdon’s protestant background.

    IMO, the Book of Mormon serves as the perfect–and most powerful–foundational document on the subject of faith.

    That said, I admit that I like some of lecture #5–even though there are questions about its description of the Godhead and whatnot.

  7. standard edition the church publishes (whether your updates or not) should come with significant contextual explanations of each revelation, IMO, rather than just the short headers we now have.

  8. You probably could have waded into the dangerous waters of removing some D&C sections. There are a handful which are little more than missionary callings. Their primary purpose seems to be something that certain church members can anchor to because it’s their ancestor who is named. They little more than name dropping at this point.

  9. My reports (from some close to those involved at the time) indicate that for the 1981 editions, the Lectures were considered for canonization, along with the JST, the King Follet Discourse and the “Sermon at the Grove.” The Q15 was not unanimous (14-1) so they didn’t do it. As recent research has indicated, this was probably the right decision, not withstanding the factor of inspiration for each of them.

  10. I thought about it jader3rd. There are also some sections that are a bit redundant to each other or to JS-H. It just seemed like it wouldn’t be worth going down that path to me, though.

  11. Anon, I get the part about the Lectures on Faith, but what about the other documents you listed makes them good to not canonize?

  12. The question of a fully reliable text for the two Nauvoo sermons (with King Follett being more reliable than the others), but our lack of understanding about everything Joseph did with the JST (although I believe it is inspired) would create more issues if it were canonized than merely studied and individuals can relay on it in varying degrees as a result. An example is the question as to what extent, if any, Joseph relied on contemporary Bible Commentaries. There are articles in various places both pro and con for that. Its also important to remember that the 15 at that time probably didn’t have all the research information we do at the time. I think that they also would have been concerned about claims of “adding” to the Bible that are a major attack against the Book of Mormon and Latter Day Scripture in some quarters. Note, it was 14-1, so they didn’t do it.

  13. PS. For a long time, I was disappointed in the lack of canonization of the three you asked me about (not so much the Lectures), but as I’ve matured in my study and life experience, I’ve grown more comfortable with that decision.

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