Section 67

In November 1831, Joseph convened a council at the Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio and laid the manuscript Book of Commandments before the church leaders. It was the archive of dozens of his revelations. He felt that “the Lord has bestowed a great blessing upon us in giving commandments and revelations.”[1] He had testified that the contents of the book should “be prized by this Conference to be worth to the Church the riches of the whole Earth.” It was time to publish the revelations.[2]

Oliver Cowdery asked “how many copies of the Book of commandments it was the will of the Lord should be published in the first edition of that work?” The council voted for 10,000.[3]  The Lord revealed a preface for the book in which he said “these commandments are of me & were given unto my Servents in their weakness after the manner of their Language.”[4]

The question arose, “was the simple language of Joseph Smith worthy of the voice of God?”[5] Joseph’s history says that a discussion followed “concerning Revelations and language.”[6] Other fears went unspoken during the discussion. After all, everyone in the room must have recognized that they were being asked to aid a poorly educated, twenty-six year-old farmer who was planning to publish ten thousand copies of revelations that unequivocally declared themselves to be the words of Jesus Christ in a Protestant culture that widely believed the Bible to be all the word of God there ever would be. If that was not enough to make the elders consider carefully, the revelations Joseph proposed to publish called the saints’ neighbors idolatrous and Missourians enemies, commanded them all to repent, and foretold calamities upon those who continued in wickedness. Finally, the revelations were not properly punctuated, the spelling was not standardized, and the grammar was inconsistent.    

Though lacking confidence in his own literary skills, or perhaps even because of his limitations, Joseph was sure that his revelation texts were divine if imperfect productions. He promised the brethren present that they could know for themselves as well. Just a few days earlier Joseph had predicted that if the saints could all “come together with one heart and one mind in perfect faith the vail might as well be rent to day as next week or any other time.”[7] Seeking confirmation of the revelations, the brethren tried to rend the veil like the Book of Mormon’s brother of Jared. They failed. Joseph asked why and received Section 67.  

The revelation challenges widespread but unfounded assumptions about what constitutes a revelation.

Must it be literarily lovely? Some are, but not all. That or any other standard set by mortals will be subjective. The Lord will never satisfy all self-appointed editors. He does not seem worried about that. In contrast to the elders’ fears about that, the Lord seems utterly unconcerned. He does not ask whether Joseph dangled any of his participles or spelled everything just right. He asks whether the revelations are righteous.  He thus sets a standard for truthfulness that involves observations and experiments, but in the end can only be spiritually known for sure. For the things of God are known certainly only by communication from the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-14).  

Section 67 does the work of giving the brethren a certain testimony of the revelations even if it was not the dramatic one they hoped for. In section 67 the Lord read their minds, provided them with a scientific, hands-on way of observing the properties of the revelations and using a sample from them as a control in an experiment. The Lord gives the kind of testimony the brethren were suited to receive and gently urges them become humble and spiritual enough to part the veil between him and them completely. He invites them to touch, feel, hear, see, taste, and testify of the revelations. He invites them to know him insofar as they are able, and to “continue in patience” until they know him face to face.  

Joseph’s history and other sources tell us how the brethren acted out the instructions in the revelation and became willing to testify before the world. William McLellin, who had the preceding week written as Joseph dictated section 66, “endeavored to write a commandment like unto one of the least of the Lord’s, but failed.”[8]</a Joseph asked the men present “what testimony they were willing to attach to these commandments which should shortly be sent to the world. A number of the brethren arose and said that they were willing to testify to the world that they knew that they were of the Lord,” and Joseph received a revelation for them to sign as witnesses.  McLellin signed along with four others, and John Whitmer copied the revelation and their signatures into the manuscript Book of Commandments.[9]

Twelve more elders signed the statement in Missouri when the book arrived there for printing. Joseph undoubtedly appreciated these witnesses. He knew he was no writer.  He felt imprisoned by the “total darkness of paper, pen and ink;-and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”[10] He considered it “an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord.”[11] Yet he knew the responsibility was his.  The revelations said God had “called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments” and declared to him that “this generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 1:17, 5:10).  

As section 67 acknowledged, these witnesses knew the limits of Joseph’s imperfect language. It was a striking vote of confidence in Joseph and his revelations for eighteen men who knew him to declare their testimonies that the revelations were true.  The discussion about revelations and language concluded as “the brethren arose in turn and bore witness to the truth of the Book of Commandments. After which br. Joseph Smith Jr arose and expressed his feelings and gratitude.”[12] The bold project of publishing the revelations required fearless believers to sustain Joseph in his awesome responsibility.

Section 68

Four newly-ordained high priests were among the Church leaders who gathered for conference in Hiram, Ohio in November 1831. They “requested of the Lord to know his will concerning them.” The Lord obliged them with the first twelve verses of section 68. He then adds an amendment to previous revelations about the office of bishop. Then he comments on the implications of the bad parenting he sees in the church.[1]

The saints resolved to act on this revelation’s instructions regarding bishops and church discipline.[2] Oliver Cowdery took this revelation and others to the saints in Missouri. The brethren who sought the Lord’s will and received it acted on it pretty well in the short term. Orson Hyde, William McLellin, and the Johnson brothers would all be chosen as apostles in 1835, largely because of their faithfulness to the Lord’s commission in this revelation to preach the gospel by his Holy Spirit. All of them struggled to endure in that commission and were at one time or another antagonistic to the church.  

Section 68 gives a unique definition of scripture as the voice of God communicated by his Holy Spirit to his authorized servants in real time. In dictionaries of Joseph’s day, the word scripture literally meant what is written. Then and now the word connoted very old sacred writing. The sooner we get past that confining idea the better.  In 1838 Ralph Waldo Emerson urged Harvard Graduates “to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.”[3] Joseph Smith already had.

The Lord uses this revelation and others to give instruction on parenting.

Children come weak and helpless.  Powerless to act for themselves but innately divine, children can be empowered to act for themselves if properly parented. Out of love, God empowers his children to act as he acts. God empowers his children by teaching them law, beginning with the law of the gospel. If children are not taught God’s laws as they mature, they will never have agency or power to act for themselves. Teaching children the law of the gospel is a prerequisite to their gaining the ability to choose and act for themselves. 

Teaching children the laws of God does not guarantee they will keep them. It does guarantee that they will be able to choose for themselves whether to keep them. Parents who do not teach and therefore do not endow the children with agency will answer to God for deciding for the children rather than empowering them to choose for themselves.  This revelation, together with Sections 29 and 121, shows how the Lord both teaches and models how to endow children with power by giving them laws and, thus, agency.

Section 69

Joseph spent the first two weeks of November 1831 in Hiram, Ohio closely reviewing the revelations and counseling with his brethren about their publication. The church’s press was in Independence, Missouri.  The handwritten copies of the revelations and the money to print them was in Ohio. John Whitmer wrote that “it was in contemplation for Oliver Cowdery to go to Zion and carry with him the Revelations and Commandments, and I also received a revelation to go with him.”[1]

Seeing that it would not be wise to send Oliver Cowdery alone to Missouri with the invaluable Book of Commandments and quite a bit of cash in his possession, the Lord appointed John as his companion. The Lord, moreover, gave John the command to continue to document the important history of the church (see section 47) and to be counseled and assisted as church historian by Oliver, William Phelps, and perhaps others in Missouri who know important historical information or are good writers. The missionaries in the field should write about their experiences and send the accounts to Zion for John to use in keeping the church history. Zion is the place for John to do this work and the saints to send him their documents. He should, however, travel often to the various branches to gather knowledge. He can preach and explain at the same time he writes, copies, selects and obtains historical information.

Joseph told the council that the revelations should be prized more than the riches of the earth, and that he wanted to dedicate them, together with Oliver and John, to the Lord.[2] Then John went faithfully with Oliver to Missouri, carrying with them the revelation to parents in Zion (section 68), the priceless Book of Commandments to be published by William Phelps in Independence, Missouri, and considerable cash for printing and for Bishop Partridge to buy land in Missouri.[3]

John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847 [front cover]. Image courtesy of
Together with Sections 21 and 47, section 69 give the commandments to document the history of the church. In the  restored Church of Jesus Christ, history functions much as theology does in other Christian traditions. Latter-day Saints don’t refer to the philosophical creeds of traditional Christianity to describe the nature of God. They tell, rather, of historical events like Joseph’s first vision in which God revealed his nature. We know priesthood needed to be restored and was because ministering angels brought it to Joseph Smith. We know of these experiences because they are described in documents. Without those documents, we lose what was restored. If we cannot document our history, we are back in the apostasy. Thus, revelations like Section 69 are perhaps more important than they might seem.

Manuscript History of Joseph Smith, 1838–1856. Image courtesy of

John Whitmer wrote a history because of Sections 47 and 69.  It is an important but sketchy source of early church history. As John’s selfish interests overwhelmed him he became bitter toward the church in 1838. That is reflected in the last chapters of his brief history. When John stopped writing Joseph started. With help from a host of assistants, Joseph compiled a much fuller history of the church to document the restoration.

Section 70

Section 70 created what is often called the Literary Firm, a corporation assigned by the Lord to receive, write, revise, print, bind, and sell the revelations according to the law of consecration. Section 70 has to be read in light of the law of consecration in section 42, which says that everyone who devoted themselves full time in Church service could be “supported out of the property which is consecrated to the Lord.”[1] So, when the plan was laid for six members of the Church to form a firm dedicated to publishing the revelations, section 70 was given to apply the law of consecration specifically to their case. It solves the problem of how to pay the bills when you spend all your time, talent, and energy working for the Lord’s church. 

Church leaders had counseled for nearly two weeks early in November 1831 about publishing Joseph’s revelations. They had decided to send the manuscript revelations with Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer to Independence, Missouri, where church printer William Phelps would publish them on a press he was to purchase in Cincinnati. 

Books don’t publish themselves.

Joseph was thankful for those who had helped him with the church’s publishing projects. He noted that Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris had labored with him from the beginning to scribe and publish the Book of Mormon, that John Whitmer and Sidney Rigdon had long scribed and transcribed revelations and Joseph’s new translation of the Bible. Joseph then explained that if the saints valued the revelations enough to want them published, the Church should compensate those who gave their time and means to get them published.[2]

Section 70 appoints and ordains the revelator, the financier, scribes, a transcriber, and an editor as “stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them; and an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment.” 

Members of the Literary Firm had the stewardship of managing the revelations from receipt to publication to sale. The Lord commanded them not to give the problems of getting the revelations published, or the profits from selling the Book of Commandments, to anyone else.  Rather, they are to use the profits to provide for their families. Whatever is left after that they are to consecrate by giving it to the storehouse for the saints in Zion and their descendants who obey the laws of God. This is what the Lord requires of every steward that he appoints.  

No Latter-day Saints are exempt from this law of consecration—not Bishop Partridge, nor his agent Sidney Gilbert, nor anyone the Lord appoints to do any job whether the work is physical or spiritual. 

Joseph modeled and taught his brethren the law of consecration as section 70 sets it forth.  When William Phelps began acting like the owner of the Lord’s press rather than a steward over the revelations (D&C 70:3), Joseph gently but directly sent him the following postscript. It penetrates to the heart of consecration and Section 70: “Bro. William – You say ‘my press, my types, &c.’  W[h]ere, our brethren ask, did you get them & how came they to be ‘yours’?  No hardness, but a caution, for you know that it is We, not I, and all things are the Lord’s, and he opened the hearts of his Church to furnish these things, or we should not have been privileged with using them.”[3]

Most of the six members of the Literary Firm had already been deeply involved in the publishing work and remained so through the 1833 publication of the Book of Commandments and, along with others, the 1835 publication of the Doctrine and Covenants. Martin Harris funded the publication of the Book of Mormon and perhaps the Firm’s later projects. Sidney Rigdon often scribes of revelations and Joseph’s new translation of the Bible, and he proofread the manuscript revelations. John Whitmer transcribed these texts as a human copy machine. Oliver Cowdery assisted in all stages of receiving, editing, and printing. He and John Whitmer carried the revelations and money to print them to Missouri where the Lord’s choice for an editor, William Phelps, printed the Book of Commandments.    

Joseph received the revelations. He also edited and amended them as he saw fit.

One of Joseph’s stewardships in the Literary Firm was to “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the holy Spirit.”[4] Joseph believed in his revelations more than anyone, but he never believed that any scripture was literarily pristine.[5] He edited his own revelations because he regarded them as his best efforts to represent the voice of the Lord condescending to speak in what Joseph called a crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language.     

Most of the other members of the Firm were more literary than Joseph. That was a blessing that occasionally annoyed him. After William Phelps criticized one revelation, Joseph responded defensively in behalf of himself and Oliver Cowdery. “We would say, by way of excuse, that we did not think so much of the orthography [spelling], or the manner, as we did of the subject matter; as the word of God means what it says; & it is the word of God, as much as Christ was God, although he was born in a stable, & was rejected by the manner of his birth, notwithstanding he was God.” Joseph implicitly and a bit defensively blamed the revelation’s spelling and punctuation errors on his limited education and explicitly on his proofreader, Oliver’s, fatigue, he having recently returned from Missouri and then New York, where he purchased the church a new press amidst opposition.[6]

The members of the Firm gave their best efforts to publish the revelations, impoverishing themselves in the process. Then, when William Phelps had nearly finished printing the Book of Commandments, a mob of Missourians destroyed the press and burned his home and office and as many copies of the revelations as they could. Some of the printed sheets were rescued by various saints and a few incomplete copies of the Book of Commandments were published.

Today there are fewer than thirty known copies, and they sometimes sell for astronomical amounts. We should remember what the revelations originally cost. Joseph and the other members of the Literary Firm made themselves poor and persecuted by publishing them. They all voiced their conviction just prior to organizing the Literary Firm according to section 70.  Joseph made a motion, and the other brethren approved it unanimously, that they should “prize the revelations to be worth to the Church the riches of the whole earth.”[7]

Section 67 notes

[1] “Minutes, 1–2 November 1831,” p. 16, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[2] “Minutes, 12 November 1831,” p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,; Oliver Cowdery Letterbook, 30-36, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

[3] “Minute Book 2,” p. 15, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[4] “Revelation, 1 November 1831–B [D&C 1],” p. 126, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020, 

[5] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 173-74.

[6] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 161, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[7] “Minutes, 25–26 October 1831,” p. 11, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[8] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 162, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,; Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, editors, The Journals of William E. McLellin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 251.

[9] “Revelation Book 1,” p. 121, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[10] “Letter to William W. Phelps, 27 November 1832,” p. 4, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,   

[11] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 162, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[12] “Minute Book 2,” p. 15, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

Section 68 notes

[1] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 163, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020,; “Revelation, 1 November 1831–A [D&C 68],” p. 113, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020,

[2] “Resolved: that the mode and manner of regulating the Church of Christ, take effect from this time, according to a revelation received in Hiram, Portage County, Ohio, Nov. 11, 1831.”Far West Record, July 3, 1832, p. 34.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, “An Address,” July 15, 1838, Harvard Divinity School, in Brooks Atkinson, editor, The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Modern Library, 1950), 80.

Section 69 notes

[1] “John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847,” p. 38, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[2] “Minutes, 12 November 1831,” p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[3] John wrote that he and Oliver left Ohio on November 20, 1831 and arrived safely in Independence, Missouri on January 5, 1832.  Book of John Whitmer, 38.

Section 70 notes

[1] “Revelation, 9 February 1831 [D&C 42:1–72],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[2] “Minutes, 12 November 1831,” p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[3] “Letter to Edward Partridge and Others, 30 March 1834,” p. 36, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[4] “Minutes, 8 November 1831,” p. 16, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[5] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 174.

[6] “Letter to Edward Partridge and Others, 30 March 1834,” p. 31, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

[7] “Minute Book 2,” p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 5, 2020,

The post Come, Follow Me: Doctrine & Covenants 67-70 appeared first on Steven C. Harper.

Continue reading at the original source →