What is the Doctrine and Covenants?

Malcolm Tatum

Considered an important part of the scriptural canon by the majority of Latter Day Saints, the Doctrine and Covenants has a special place in the worship and theology of both the LDS Church and the Community Christ. Containing writings that define many of the unique beliefs of the faith, the Doctrine and Covenants provides a mechanism for the two churches to affirm and practice their belief in an open canon of scripture.

The Salt Lake Temple, a Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Salt Lake Temple, a Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.

One of the unique characteristics of Latter Day Saint beliefs is the concept of continuing corporate revelation. Essentially, the president of the church is responsible for providing the membership with counsel that is inspired by Deity. In the earliest years of the movement, written records of the pronouncements of church president Joseph Smith, Jr. were published in church periodicals, and referred to as revelation. Within a year and a half of the formal organization of the church, members expressed a desire for these revelations to be published in book form.

The Doctrine and Covenants joined the Book of Mormon and the Bible as Mormon scripture.
The Doctrine and Covenants joined the Book of Mormon and the Bible as Mormon scripture.

The first attempt to assemble the early revelations began in 1831, and was nearing completion when the printing press was destroyed on 20 July 1833. This effort to organize and publish the revelatory documents, entitled the Book of Commandments, was not revived until 1834, when church leadership authorized a second attempt.

On 17 August 1835, the completed work that became known as the Doctrine and Covenants was presented to the General Assembly of the church. Each leading quorum endorsed the writings contained in the volume and the members in attendance voted to accept the book as scripture to the church, along with the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon. Each revelatory document was designated as a section, and assigned a number. Being able to refer to a section by number made it very easy to refer to specific sections in sermons and the print publications of the church. Later editions organized the text of each section into verses, which enhanced the ability of key passages to be cited by speakers in church meetings, and for quotations to be used in educational and devotional materials.

After the splintering of the Latter Day Saint movement in 1844, some Latter Day denominations chose to not endorse the Doctrine and Covenants as part of the accepted canon. However, the volume has continued to be scripture for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Community of Christ. Each church publishes their own version of the Doctrine and Covenants, with the two editions sharing roughly a hundred sections in common. Of note is the fact that the Community of Christ edition continues to include the 1835 authorized section on marriage, in which monogamy is affirmed as the standard of marriage within the church. The LDS edition of the Doctrine and Covenants does not include this section, and the church rarely chooses to add new sections.

By contrast, the Community of Christ has added a number of sections since 1844. At their 2007 World Conference, the Community of Christ authorized the inclusion of a new section that is understood to be inspired counsel given through their current president, designating the new addition as Section 163.

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