Sections 71 & 73

Ezra Booth was a talented Methodist preacher who visited Joseph Smith at his home in Kirtland in 1831 with his wife, John and Elsa Johnson, and some others. An early history of Disciples of Christ in northern Ohio reported that “Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview, the conversation turned on the subject of supernatural gifts, such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said, ‘Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men now on the earth to cure her?’ A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: ‘Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole,’ and immediately left the room.”[1]

Ezra Booth and the Johnsons joined the church. They knew God had restored the New Testament gift of healing to Joseph Smith. Knowing that God worked through Joseph, however is not the same as being converted by the Savior’s gospel. Ezra went with Joseph and many others to Missouri in the summer of 1831. He judged everything Joseph said and did with a jaundiced eye. He found fault with Joseph’s personality and prophecies. Then, casting himself as a public servant, Ezra wrote nine letters against Joseph that were published in the Ohio Star newspaper.[2]

The Ohio Star, Thursday, December 8, 1831.

Ezra’s letters claimed that Joseph’s revelations were false and that Zion in Missouri was a scam. Ezra justified his failures to do what the revelations commanded and persuaded himself and perhaps others that Joseph was “quite dictatorial” and no prophet after all. What about that nagging miracle Ezra had witnessed?  The fact that Elsa Johnson was healed could not be denied, even by Joseph’s most outspoken antagonists. So a subsequent history explained that the “infinite presumption” of Joseph Smith gave Elsa Johnson a “sudden mental and moral shock–I know not how better to explain the well attested fact–electrified the rheumatic arm–Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it up with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain.”[3]

Ezra’s letters raised public consciousness of Joseph Smith and the restoration.[4] In section 71, the Lord called Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to take a break from revising the Bible to take advantage of the opportunity Ezra gave them to declare the gospel in the area and set the record straight.   

Joseph and Sidney enjoyed obeying this revelation. “Knowing now the mind of the Lord,” Joseph wrote, “that the time had come that the gospel should be proclaimed in power and demonstration to the world, from the scriptures, reasoning with men as in days of old, I took a journey to Kirtland, in company with Elder Rigdon, on the 3d day of December to fulfill the . . . Revelation.”[5] Sidney Rigdon replied to Ezra Booth in the pages of the Ohio Star and invited him to meet publicly.[6] For nearly six weeks Joseph and Sidney “continued to preach in Shalersville, Ravenna, and other places, setting forth the truth; vindicating the cause of our Redeemer: showing that the day of vengeance was coming upon this generation like a thief in the night: that prejudice, blindness, and darkness, filled the minds of many, and caused them to persecute the true church, and reject the true light: by which means we did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published.”[7]

Since Ezra Booth, many others have wielded weapons against the restored gospel. The Lord’s policy, as stated in Section 71, is to “let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.” Such opposition facilitates agency and fulfills prophecy. It compels people to consciously choose whether to believe in Joseph Smith’s testimony and it honors Moroni’s unlikely promise to the obscure, teenage Joseph that his “name should be had for good and evil among all nations . . . or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (Joseph Smith-History, 1:33).    

In section 73, the Lord told the elders to continue preaching the good news while Joseph and Sidney returned to revising the Bible while preaching locally as best they could.[8]

Section 72

Church members in Ohio, wanting to learn their duty and worried about their “spiritual and temporal welfare,” gathered on December 4, 1831.[1] The church grew larger and more complicated to manage. Many of the ablest saints, including Bishop Edward Partridge, had migrated to Missouri to obey earlier revelations, leaving a large number of saints in Ohio without a bishop. In a revelation a month earlier than Section 72, the Lord had promised to call other bishops when he saw fit (D&C 68:14).   

He saw fit in Section 72, which is actually a series of three related revelations given to answer the questions Joseph and others were asking. Verses 1-8 address whether the time is right for the appointment of a new bishop? If so, who should it be? Verses 9-23 outline the duties of the new bishop. The saints worried about overtaxing their resources in gathering to Zion in Missouri. They could not wisely arrive faster than Bishop Partridge could make land available for them to inherit. Verses 24-26 are an amendment to earlier revelations, given to regulate the gathering of saints to Zion.[2]

“I cannot see a Bishop in myself,” Newel Whitney told Joseph after section 72 called him to that office, “but if you say it’s the Lord’s will, I’ll try.” Joseph replied that Newel “need not take my word alone. Go and ask Father for yourself.” Newel prayed privately for confirmation and “heard a voice from heaven tell him, ‘thy strength is in me.’” He found Joseph and told him he would accept the calling as the Lord’s bishop.[3] He confided to his wife, Ann, “that it would require a vast amount of patience, of perseverance and of wisdom to magnify his calling.”[4]

Early bishops like Edward Partridge and Newel Whitney did not preside over wards as bishops do today. That began in the 1840s. Their primary duty was to implement the law of consecration. They managed the Lord’s property and assets, relieved poverty, paid the church’s bills, and literally built Zion as best they could. Having received his calling and confirmation of it by revelation, Newel Whitney did his best to serve as a bishop for the rest of his life. He was a great choice for the job. Not only was he an experienced and able manager of properties, inventories, and accounts. Perhaps most important of all, he knew he was incapable of being a bishop unless he relied on the Lord for the patience, perseverance, and wisdom he needed. 

The bishops were responsible to assist the members of the Literary Firm (see section 70) so they could concentrate on publishing the Lord’s revelations and selling the Book of Commandments widely, thus raising funds to support their own families and, hopefully, surplus to benefit the church. In this way, assistance from the bishop would enable members of the Literary Firm to be faithful and wise stewards.  

Section 72 is a blueprint for appointing bishops in all large branches of the church to facilitate obedience to the law of consecration.  If the saints act on this blueprint, they will be obeying the law of consecration’s principles of agency (acting of one’s own free will to obey God’s will), stewardship (taking care of the Lord’s property and business as commanded), and accountability (reporting to the Lord’s appointed servant, the bishop).      

The saints struggled to obey section 72’s command to gather to Zion only after receiving a recommend from the bishop to do so. Joseph wrote to church leaders in Missouri that he rejoiced at the news that a group of saints had arrived there safely, but “they left here under this displeasure of heaven.” Why? For “making a mock of the profession of faith in the commandments by proceding contrary thereto in not complying with the requirements of them in not obtaining recommends.”[5] William Phelps reminded the saints of the revelation. He wrote in the church’s newspaper that emigrating saints would not be welcome in Zion “without regular recommends.”[6] Slowly the saints began to comply with the revelation by receiving recommends before moving to Missouri.[7]

Section 74

The context of section 74 is mysterious but the content is a commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:14, where Paul counseled Christian women who were married to Jewish men regarding the tension between their religions when it came to raising children.[1]

This remarkable revelation makes one think of Joseph’s teenage struggles to understand the Bible. “The teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible” (JSH 1:12). Joseph had learned then to take his questions to the Lord himself. In Section 74, as in several others, the Lord himself interprets the Bible for Joseph. In doing so he subtly solves an important theological problem that often occurs to parents of three-year-olds. It concerns original sin. Are mortals sinful by nature or not? Ask a group of Latter-day Saints if they believe that people are inherently evil and, all evidence from themselves and their own children aside, they will overwhelmingly answer no.  

Ask the Book of Mormon writers and you get a different answer. They knew and taught that mortals are inherently evil, at least in part (2 Nephi 2:29, 2 Nephi 4:17-20). As the Brother of Jared put it, “because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2).  Though the scriptures are plain on this point, sometimes modern Latter-day Saints underestimate the effects of the fall. Perhaps we fear that it makes us sound too much like other Christians. But by merely being born as mortals, we inherit a sinful nature. We are naturally vicious, selfish, carnal, mean, and often flat out evil. 

Doesn’t section 74 say that little children are holy? Yes. They are, but not because they are inherently so. The revelation says they are “sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ.” Section 74 teaches us one more of the profundities of Christ’s infinite atonement. Since children inherit fallenness helplessly without having exercised any agency in the matter, Jesus Christ atones for them. He sanctifies them and sets them on a course to become free agents at about age eight if properly taught the law of the gospel (see sections 29 and 68). As long as children are not yet free agents, too helpless to understand or do much about the fallen part of their nature, Jesus sanctifies them according to his will. That is what section 74 teaches. It is beautiful doctrine, restored through Joseph Smith, and it resolves an important theological problem.

Section 75
Manuscript of Section 75 in Sidney Rigdon hand, Newel K. Whitney Collection, BYU. Likely original manuscript.

The church convened quarterly conferences in its early years, including an important one in January 1832 in Amherst, Ohio, the home of several Latter-day Saint families about fifty miles east of church headquarters in Kirtland. The Lord had recently revealed that at this conference the elders would learn what he wanted them to do next (See section 73). Joseph’s history says they “seemed anxious for me to inquire of the Lord that they might know his will, or learn what would be most pleasing to Him for them to do.”[1] Joseph asked and received two revelations and Sidney Rigdon wrote them down.[2] Combined, they now comprise section 75.  

Many of the early elders kept journals of their missions or wrote letters to the church newspaper to report on their service. They intended to document their obedience to the revelations, or, in some cases, justify their disobedience. We can use their records to tell whether they obeyed section 75. When they did, the Lord unfailingly granted them the blessings he promised on conditions of their obedience.  

William McLellin started his mission to the south with Luke Johnson but was soon overwhelmed by doubts. The Lord promised him that continual prayer would sustain him, that if William and Luke would pray, then “I will be with them even unto the end.” William said he could not bring himself to pray in faith. He had his eyes on a young lady named Emiline Miller.  He quit his mission and took a job so he could marry her, noting, meanwhile, that he was too sick for missionary work.[3] “Preferring not to proceed alone,” Luke returned to Hiram, Ohio where Joseph called Seymour Brunson to replace William. Luke and Seymour filled their call and enjoyed the Lord’s promised blessings on their mission in the “south countries,” Virginia and Kentucky.[4]

Orson Hyde noted that he and companion Samuel Smith did “one of the most arduous and toilsome missions ever performed in the Church.”[5] For eleven months they walked from Ohio to Maine and back. Samuel wrote that they followed the revelation as they “went from house to house” and shook the dust from their feet as a testimony against those who rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ.[6]

Lyman Johnson and Orson Pratt went east, as commanded, ending up in New England.  They baptized many, including a future apostle, and at Charleston, Vermont, twenty-two-year-old Orson Pratt pronounced a priesthood blessing that raised Olive Farr from bed where she had lain invalid for seven years. “Thank God,” she wept, “I’m healed!” Such evidence that the Lord was with the elders, as he said he would be in the revelation, greatly increased their success. They immersed 104 sons and daughters of God for the remission of their sins and organized them into branches before returning to Ohio after walking nearly 400 miles.[7]

No known records tell whether Asa Dodds, Calves Wilson, Major Ashely and Burr Riggs obeyed section 75. Simeon Carter and Emer Harris did with great success, though they each ended up serving with their brothers as companions.[8] Ezra Thayre and Thomas Marsh apparently served their mission. Hyrum Smith and Reynolds Cahoon obediently served together, and on his return home Hyrum set out to obey other instructions in the revelation. He noted that he “went to work with mine hands for the support of my family.”[9] Seymour Brunson reported his mission with both Daniel Stanton and Luke Johnson. They baptized fifty-three and organized them into a branch.[10]

Sylvester Smith and Gideon Carter obeyed the revelation. Sylvester had it in mind the next summer, too, when he went out again “resolved to blow the trumpet of the Gospel.” He knew that if he would the revelation promised that the Lord would be with him. “I trust I shall continue to receive the grace of God to support me even to the end.”[11] There is no known evidence that Ruggles Eames and Stephen Burnett obeyed this revelation. Micah Welton and Eden Smith obeyed. Eden’s journal shows that he was especially mindful of the revelation’s instructions to preach and provide for his family as best he could. “Preachd and then returned home and Laboured for the support of my family,” he wrote, echoing the Lord’s instructions.[12]

Section 71 & 73 notes

[1] A.S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio (Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875), 250.

[2] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 153, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June5, 2020,

[3] A.S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio (Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875), 250.

[4] Wesley Perkins to Jacob Perkins, 11 February 1832, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. 

[5] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 176, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June5, 2020,   

[6] Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 599 fn. 2.  Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1994), 111.

[7] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 179, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June5, 2020,

[8] “Revelation, 10 January 1832 [D&C 73],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020,

Section 72 notes

[1] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 176, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020,

[2] “Revelation, 4 December 1831–A [D&C 72:1–8],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020, “Revelation, 4 December 1831–B [D&C 72:9–23],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020, “Revelation, 4 December 1831–C [D&C 72:24–26],” p. [2], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020,

[3] Orson F. Whitney, “Newel K. Whitney,” Contributor 6 (January 1885): 126. Poulsen, “The Life and Contributions of Newel Kimball Whitney,” 33054.  “Aaronic Priesthood Minutes,” 1857-1877, 3 March 1877, Church History Library.

[4] Elizabeth Ann Whitney,  “A Leaf from an Autobiography, Continued,” Woman’s Exponent 7 (September 1, 1878): 71.

[5] “Letter to William W. Phelps, 31 July 1832,” p. 1, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020,

[6] “The Elders Stationed in Zion to the Churches Abroad, In Love, Greeting,” The Evening and the Morning Star, 2 (July 1833), 111.

[7] See, for examples, Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, editors, The Journals of William E. McLellin (Urbana and Provo: University of Illinois Press and BYU Studies, 1994), 138.

Section 74 notes

[1] “Historical Introduction” and “Explanation of Scripture, 1830 [D&C 74],” p. 60, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 5, 2020,

Section 75 notes

[1] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 180, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 6, 2020,

[2] Elden J. Watson, Orson Pratt Journals, January 25, 1832.  Edson Barney statement reported in St. George, Utah Stak General Minutes, December 23, 1860, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.  Manuscript copies of Section 75, Newel K. Whitney Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

[3] William McLellin to Beloved Relatives, August 4, 1832, typescript, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.   In Shipps and Welch, The Journals of William E. McLellin (Urbana and Provo: University of Illinois Press and BYU Studies, 1994), 79-86.   See Porter, “Man of Diversity,” in Shipps and Welch, 301-02. 

[4] Millennial Star 26 (December 31, 1864): 835.

[5] Orson Hyde, “History of Orson Hyde,” Millennial Star 26 (3 December 1864): 776.

[6] Events in the Life of Samuel Harrison Smith Including His Missionary Journal for the Year 1832, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

[7] Breck England, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985), 29-31, 306.

[8] The Evening and the Morning Star volume 1 (February 1833): 69-70, (March 1833): 84, volume 2 (May 1834): 156.  Mark B. Nelson and Steven C. Harper, “The Imprisonment of Martin Harris in 1833,” BYU Studies 45:4 (2006): 113-15.

[9] Hyrum Smith diary, 1831-1835, Church History Library, page 27.

[10] The Evening and the Morning Star 2 (June 1833): 100.

[11] Sylvester Smith to Dear Brother, 16 May 1833, The Evening and the Morning Star 2:14 (July 1833): 107.

[12] Eden Smith, Journal, typescript, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. 

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