"The Laws of the Church of Christ" (D&C 42): A Textual and Historical Analysis

Grant Underwood

Grant Underwood, “‘The Laws of the Church of Christ’ (D&C 42): A Textual and Historical Analysis,” in The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context, ed. Andrew H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book, 2008), 108–41.

Grant Underwood was a professor of history at Brigham Young University and an editor of The Joseph Smith Papers when this was published.

On January 2, 1831, “in the presence of the whole congregation: of the Church of Christ convened in quarterly conference in Fayette, New York, Joseph Smith received the “word of the Lord.”[1] The revelation directed the Saints to gather “to the Ohio” and included the declaration: “There I will give unto you my law” (D&C 38:32). Pursuant to this promise, on February 9, 1831, just days after Joseph and Emma Smith arrived in Ohio, twelve elders “were called together, and united in mighty prayer, and were agreed, as touching the reception of the Law.”[2] On that occasion, Joseph received the “Laws of the Church of Christ,” or simply “the Law” as it was commonly known among the Saints.[3] Two weeks later, on February 22, Joseph wrote to Martin Harris: “We have received the laws of the Kingdom since we came here and the Disciples in these parts have received them gladly.”[4] The following day, February 23, the Prophet and seven elders met to determine “how the Elders of the Church of Christ are to act upon the points of the Law.”[5] As a result, several additional paragraphs of instruction, comprising what is now Doctrine and Covenants 42:74–93, were recorded. The revelations of these two days constitute what is now section 42, the subject of this study. What follows is a detailed textual and content analysis of this important document. Throughout this study, while quotations from the revelations are taken from the earliest manuscript sources, for ease of reference, given the variation of versification and revelation numbering in the early years, the current Doctrine and Covenants section and verse numbers will be cited.

Textual Analysis

Although virtually none of the original dictation copies of the revelations Joseph Smith received have survived, in many instances early manuscript copies made before initial publication are extant. At present, five such copies of the Law exist that are known to have been recorded before July 1832, when Church printers in Missouri published the first extract in The Evening and the Morning Star (referred to as “the Star” by early Latter-day Saints).[6] Only one of the five manuscripts includes all the text given on both February 9 and February 23 (see accompanying chart), but each contains the portion of the February 9 material considered the core of the Law, verses 11–69 in today’s Doctrine and Covenants. Of the five manuscripts, three contain revealed text from both days, indicating that the copyists perceived an organic relationship between the initial articulation of the Law on February 9 and instructions regarding how “to act upon” it recorded on February 23. While the Missouri printers chose to publish each day’s material separately in the Book of Commandments (though they had not done so in one of the two extracts they published the year before in the Star), the First Presidency, in charge of compiling the Doctrine and Covenants in1835, viewed the two days’ revelations as connected and published them as a single section. No mention of its composite nature was included in the section’s heading (nor has it been in any subsequent edition of the Doctrine and Covenants), and the reception date was listed simply as February 1831.[7]

Composition of Known Pre-1835 Versions of Section 42

In addition to the little-known fact that section 42 combines material received two weeks apart, another aspect is equally obscure. The portion received on February 9 appears to consist of answers to five specific questions posed by Joseph Smith and his colleagues. Although these questions were not included in published versions of the revelation, two of the five manuscripts contain them, and they offer valuable insight into the organization and content of this section. In order, the five questions and the distinct textual units they frame are:

  1. “Shall the Church come together into one place or remain as they are in separate bodies?” (answered in verses 1–10);
  2. “[What is] the Law regulating the Church in her present situation till the time of her gathering[?]” (answered in verses 11–69);[8]
  3. “How the Elders are to dispose of their families while they are proclaiming repentance or are otherwise engaged in the service of the Church?” (answered in verses 70–73);[9]
  4. “How far it is the will of the Lord that we Should have dealings with the wo[r]ld & how we Should conduct our dealings with them?” (answered in several sentences that were eliminated when the Doctrine and Covenants was published);
  5. “What preperations we shall make for our Brethren from the East & when & how?” (also answered by text that was eliminated when the Doctrine and Covenants was published).

The latter portion of the Law, recorded two weeks later on February 23, 1831, also falls into discrete units of text: verses 74–77 and 78–93. Before publication in the Doctrine and Covenants, these two units appeared in inverse order in every manuscript or publication that contained both. Thus, verses 74–77 always concluded the document. The chart below shows the different combinations of the seven text units found in each of the extant pre-1835 manuscripts or printed sources. In every instance, the seven individual clusters contain precisely the same textual material, demonstrating that they were consistently perceived as discrete units of text.

VersionsCurrent Verses
Ryder (1831)1–10,11–69,70–73,*,**,78–93,74–77
Whitmer (1831)1–10,11–69,70–73,*,  74–77
Gilbert (1831)1–10,11–69,70–73,*,   
Courier (Sept 1831)1–10,11–69,     
Coltrin (Jan 1832) 11–69,     
Hyde (1832) 11–69,70–73,*, 78–93,74–77
Star (July 1832) 11–69,70–73,   74–77
Star (October 1832)     78–93, 

Book of Commandments chapter 44 (1833)


Book of Commandments chapter 47 (1833)

Williams (1834)      74–77

* Material in the fourth and fifth text units was not included in any printings after the 1833 Book of Commandments.
** This manuscript contains two short paragraphs of unique material.

The Symonds Ryder manuscript is particularly important not only because it is one of the earliest copies of the Law but also because it is unique in two respects. First, as seen in the chart, it is the only manuscript copy containing all the text given on both days. Second, and perhaps more significantly, the Ryder manuscript contains two small paragraphs, some 160 words, of additional text found in no other manuscript or printed version. Though the Ryder manuscript has been in the Church’s possession for more than forty years, the two paragraphs have gone unnoticed and appear below in print for the first time.[10] The first paragraph, really just a long sentence, serves as a bridge between the material received on February 9 and that which was recorded on February 23:

February 23d 1831, the rules and regulations of the <Law> How the Elders of the church of Christ are to act upon the points of the Law given by Jesus Christ to the Church in the presents of twelve Elders February 9th 1831 as agreed upon by seven Elders Feb 23d 1831 according to to [sic] the commandment of God?[11]

Brief as it is, this statement offers important insight into the difference between what was recorded on the two days. Though the grammar is somewhat awkward, the statement communicates that the Law proper was received on February 9 in the presence of twelve elders and that what was added on February 23, when seven elders were present, was inspired guidance about how to “act upon” the Law. Moreover, the phrase “as agreed upon by seven Elders” may imply something more than mere ratification of what Joseph Smith received on February 23. It is possible that the seven elders played an active role in helping the Prophet define the procedures recorded that day that would become verses 78–93 and 74–77. This possibility is strengthened by the fact that the statement in the Ryder manuscript says their action was “according to the commandment of God,” which seems to refer to a directive given to the elders just days before in section 43 and which may have provided the specific impetus for the meeting: “I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall note with a pen how to act . . . upon the points of my law. . . . And thus it shall become a law unto you.”[12] This is precisely what occurred on February 23, and because such procedural decisions did become “a law unto” the Church, they were combined with the February 9 material into a single document.

Originally, this composite document consisted of some 2,395 words. Because the dictation copies of the portions of the Law received on February 9 and February 23 have not survived, it is impossible to do an exact word count or to know with absolute certainty how the originals read. However, there is considerable consistency in wording between the five extant manuscript copies. Even in the minority of instances in which there is some disagreement, usually three or four of the manuscripts are identically worded. This allows reasonable confidence about the likely original wording, or at least the wording of a very early version from which these manuscripts were copied. This consensus early wording (CEW) and the word count it enables provide a baseline for the comparisons that follow.

When the Law was published in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835, it consisted of 2,622 words.[13] That represents a net gain of approximately 230 words from the 2,395 in the CEW. This 9.6 percent gain came from the deletion of some 220 words and the addition of about 450 new words. Most of these revisions were made between September 1834, when the First Presidency was appointed to prepare the Doctrine and Covenants, and September 1835, when the volume came off the press. Some redactions, though, were made no later than November 1831, when the revelations were reviewed and revised in anticipation of their publication in the Book of Commandments. While any assessment of the purpose of particular revisions is subjective, they can be broadly divided between those that clarify meaning and those that change meaning. In the former category, some 110 words were deleted and replaced with about 300, for a net gain of 190, or an 8 percent gain in the Doctrine and Covenants version of the Law. These revisions range from the grammatical to the conceptual, with the latter type, which endeavors to provide greater clarity or adjust the tone of the message, accounting for the greatest number of new words. About one-fifth of the added words explicitly include the female gender (for example, “he or she” or “man or woman”).

Other revisions change the original meaning, usually by updating the revelation to keep pace with new policies or developing ecclesiastical organization. If the Law’s overall size gain between the CEW and the Doctrine and Covenants version is 9.6 percent, and if 8 percent clarifies meaning, that would seem to leave only 1.6 percent that changes meaning. This is misleading, however. In contrast to the “clarifies meaning” category, where virtually all deletions are linked to replacement-verbiage additions, most additions in the “changes meaning” category are new information, unaffected by any previous wording and requiring no deletions. About 150 new words in the Doctrine and Covenants version can be categorized as changing meaning, and they are associated with only 15 deletions from the CEW, for a net gain of 135 words. Thus, actually 5.6 percent of the size increase in the revelation can be attributed to revisions that change meaning. The 4 percent discrepancy between the 9.6 percent overall gain and the 13.6 percent that results from combining the “clarifies meaning” and “changes meaning” percentages is accounted for by the Doctrine and Covenants editors dropping all of text units 4 and 5 (see chart). This represents some 95 words, or 4 percent of the CEW that were deleted to appropriately change the Law. In the final analysis, what is striking is not that some revisions were made, but that more than 85 percent of the Law’s content and phraseology were found suitable to a rapidly developing church several years after their initial articulation. Significantly, there is no record of opposition to the changes that were made. The Saints appear to have embraced them as having been made by the same inspiration that produced the original text.[14]

The following sections discuss significant revisions made to produce the final text of the Law, noting interpretations of the time. It is a work of historical reconstruction, not theological prescription. Readers seeking to understand modern Latter-day Saint practice or the latest interpretations of the Law will need to look elsewhere. Within the Latter-day Saint community, authoritative theologizing is understood to be the prerogative of prophets and apostles. Thus, the approach here is historical rather than theological or pastoral.

D&C 42:1–10

We gain significant insight into this first text cluster by returning to the two unique paragraphs in the Ryder manuscript, specifically the second paragraph, which offers a rare glimpse of early understandings by providing a review and restatement of verses 1–10:

The first commandment in the law teaches that all the Elders shall go unto the regions westward and labour to build up Churches unto Christ wheresoever they shall <find> any to receive them and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ except Joseph [Smith] & Sidney [Rigdon] and Edward [Partridge] and such as the Bishop shall appoint to assist him in his duties according to the Law which we have received this commandment as far as it respects these Elders to be sent to the west is a special one for the time being incumbent on the present Elders who shall return when directed by the Holy Spirit!

Summary statements such as this, by their very distilling nature, provide a useful interpretive window into the text. As initially recorded, the “first commandment” in the Law directed the elders to “go forth in my name every one of you except my servant Joseph & Sidney & I give unto them a commandment that they shall go forth for a little Season, & it shall be given by the power of my spirit when they shall return” (v. 4).[15] Who are the “them” that are to go forth for a little season and return when the Spirit directs? The immediate antecedent is Joseph and Sidney, but the summary paragraph in the Ryder manuscript interprets “them” as the elders and excuses Joseph and Sidney from this particular proselytizing mission altogether. Whether the paragraph reflects the proper understanding of a grammatically ambiguous statement or whether there was a change of plans for the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon in the intervening two weeks is unclear. In the end, however, there is no historical evidence that Joseph and Sidney went off on a mission at this time, even for a little season.

The Ryder paragraph contains two other interpretations worth noting. On February 9, the elders were told, “Ye shall go forth in to the regions westward & in as much as ye shall find my diciples ye shall build up my church.” A modern Latter-day Saint might read the latter part of this passage as an injunction to seek out geographically isolated converts and organize them into a branch of the Church. Actually, “my diciples” seems to be referring to Christians whom Jesus knew to be His true disciples and who therefore were expected to embrace the restored gospel when it was presented to them. This unusual way of labeling such individuals parallels a similar reference to “my church” in section 10. There “my church,” like “my diciples,” appears to identify Christ’s devout followers in any (or no) religious organization. The revelation promises that “if this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them” (D&C 10:53). Then it makes this unusual statement: “Now I do not say this to destroy my church, but I say this to build up my church; therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven” (D&C 10:54–55). At the time this was said, there was no restored church on earth, and there would not be for another year. Thus, “my church” seems to refer to a spiritual fellowship known only to God and consisting of people, regardless of their institutional affiliations, whose private beliefs and behaviors qualified them for membership in it and who, like “my diciples,” were expected to receive the fullness of the gospel and inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Later, when the Law was being prepared for publication in the Book of Commandments, the phrase “my diciples” was replaced with “them that will receive you.” This clarification shifts emphasis from a label, which can be variously construed, to actions, which are unmistakable. It is interesting that a similar clarification first appeared in the Ryder paragraph in which the elders were to “build up Churches unto Christ wheresoever they shall <find> any to receive them.”

The Ryder paragraph also states more clearly than the original that the mission assigned to the elders was “incumbent” on them only “for the time being.” John Whitmer recorded that “after the above Law or Revelation was received, the elders went forth to proclaim repentance according to commandment, and there were numbers added to the church.”[16] One of the elders, John Corrill, reported that he and his preaching companion “went to New London, about one hundred miles from Kirtland, where we built up a Church of thirty-six members in about three weeks time. . . . Other elders proceeded to erect churches in various places, and the work increased very fast.”[17]

D&C 42:11–69

This unit of text constitutes the core of the Law. Indeed, some manuscripts and printed sources reserve the designation of “the Law” only for this particular unit. The heading for the Book of Commandments chapter containing the first two text units distinguishes them as “a revelation given to twelve elders assembled in Kirtland, Ohio; and also the law for the government of the church, given in the presence of the same.”[18] The question that launched this text cluster asks about “the Law regulating the Church in her present situation,” and several manuscripts shorten the heading to simply “The Law” or “The Laws.” Thus, it is not surprising that of the revealed material recorded on February 9, only this text unit, verses 11–69, is included in all five early manuscripts.

In addition to setting forth the Church’s moral code, this text cluster addresses several nettlesome issues that had been troubling the fledgling fold in Ohio. First, in an effort to control the charismatic chaos that Joseph Smith encountered upon his arrival, the Law clarifies that no one can function in the teaching ministry of the Church unless they have been “regularly ordained” by recognized ecclesiastical authority (v. 11). Neither an internal call nor spiritual giftedness was sufficient to appoint one to the ministry, though the properly appointed ministers would be effective only to the degree that they were aided by the Holy Spirit: “Thou shalt be directed by the spirit . . . & if ye receive not the spirit ye shall not teach” (vv. 13–14).

Some months after this revelation was received, recent convert William E. McLellin left a typical description of what it was like to try to teach without the Spirit: “I arose and attempted to preach, but could not, I had no animation in it, no memory, and in truth I had lost the spirit of God. Hence I was confounded, I set down and told bro. H. to preach for I could not.”[19] The need for assistance from the Holy Ghost was crucial in a populist church that eschewed formal ministerial training and relied on ordinary individuals to do the work of evangelism. As historian Richard Bushman notes, Joseph Smith was “a plain man himself, inexperienced in preaching, [and he] trusted ordinary men to carry the message. In a democratic time, the Mormons emerged as the most democratic of churches, rivaled only by the Quakers.”[20]

After discussing qualifications for the ministry, the revelation turns from the elders to the members: “Now behold I speak unto the church” (v. 18). The ethical vision of the Ten Commandments is here reaffirmed by including specific injunctions against murder, theft, lying, adultery, and harming one’s neighbor. The revelation then summarizes such moral codes: “Thou knowest my laws they <are> given in my scriptures. . . . If thou lovest me thou shall serve & keep all my commandments” (vv. 28–29).

Next the Law addresses the economic organization of the Church, in part to correct the well-intended but misguided efforts of some Ohio converts who had formed communal groups called “Families” to imitate the early Christians in having “all things common” (Acts 2:44).[21] Instead of the communalism practiced by these converts, principles were revealed in the Law that were understood to be at the root of how the biblical Enoch brought his people to be “of one heart and of one mind” and have “no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). These principles included the “socialization of surplus incomes, freedom of enterprise, and group economic self-sufficiency.”[22] The key to applying these principles was “consecration,” a word that in the religious terminology of the day meant to “set apart, dedicate, or devote, to the service and worship of God” one’s life or possessions.[23] The Prophet’s vision of consecration coincided with an efflorescence of utopian experimentation in American history. In this era, groups as diverse as the Shakers and the Harmony Society sought to improve people’s social and economic lives through communitarian association.[24] Consecration provided a theological basis for the necessary resource sharing to bring about the imminent migration and settlement of the New York Saints in Ohio and to lay the foundation for the eventual attempt to replicate Enoch’s Zion on the western borders of the United States.

Ultimately, for internal as well as external reasons, implementation fell short of the ideal. Church historian John Whitmer reported that when “Bishop Edward Partridge visited the Church in its several branches, there were some that would not receive the Law. The time has not yet come,” he opined, “that the law can be fully established, for the disciples live scattered abroad and are not organized, our members are small and the disciples untaught, consequently they understand not the things of the kingdom.” Among the problems Whitmer identified were members “who were flattered into the Church because they thought that all things were to be common, therefore they thought to glut themselves upon the labors of others.”[25] As it turned out, the complete consecration of one’s property was practiced only during 1831–33 and then only by some Saints and in certain places.[26] Thus, for publication in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the original declaration “thou shalt consecrate all thy propertys” was edited to read “thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support” (D&C 42:30; revelation revisions are italicized here and hereafter).[27]

The Law stated that such consecration was to be done “with a covenant and deed which cannot be broken” (D&C 42:30). The need for a deed was reiterated several months later when the Colesville (New York) Saints were given the “privilege of organizing themselves according to my laws” (D&C 51:15). Bishop Edward Partridge, who was instructed to so “organize this people” (D&C 51:1), was told that “when he shall appoint a man his portion, give unto him a writing that shall secure unto him his portion” (D&C 51:4). This initial attempt at living the law of consecration unraveled before Partridge could implement the instruction, but he did so the following year in Missouri. Sometime after the Church launched its printing operation in 1832, Bishop Partridge created and began using printed deeds to certify receipt and conveyance of consecrated property. The deeds show how various provisions regarding consecration were actually implemented. Surviving deeds of stewardship, for instance, uniformly illustrate that consecrating individuals were made “steward[s] over [their] own property” (D&C 42:32), rather than over other consecrated property. Though obviously this could not have been universal, because some poor Saints would have required additional property to meet their needs, it does demonstrate that the core of what was “loaned” to a steward as personal property was the very same property he had consecrated initially.

The deeds also preserve the Law’s original intent that consecrated property “cannot be taken from you [later clarified to read the church]” (v. 32) and that “he that sinneth & repnteth not shall be cast out & shall not receive again that which he hath consecrated” (v. 37). The deeds state that should the steward be excommunicated, he would “forfeit all claim to the above described leased [real] and loaned [personal] property, and hereby bind myself to give back the leased, and also pay an equivalent for the loaned,” though most, if not all, had been his own property before consecrating it to the Lord.[28]

Not surprisingly, this arrangement was challenged in court by disaffected Church members, and the nature of stewardships was modified.[29] In May 1833 Joseph Smith wrote to Bishop Partridge instructing him to “give a deed, securing to him who receives inheritances, his inheritance, for an everlasting inheritance, or in other words, to be his individual property, his private stewardship, and if he is found a transgressor & should be cut off, out of the church, his inheritance is his still. . . . But the property which he consecrated to the poor, for their benefit, & inheritance, & stewardship [meaning the “residue” or surplus that stayed in the storehouse (see v. 34)], he cannot obtain again by the law of the Lord[.] Thus you see the propriety of this law, that rich men cannot have power to disinherit the poor by obtaining again that which they have consecrated.”[30]

Reflecting this understanding, when section 51 was later edited for publication in the Doctrine and Covenants, a new statement (now v. 5) was added: “And if he shall transgress, and is not accounted worthy to belong in the church, he shall not have power to claim that portion which he has consecrated unto the bishop for the poor and the needy of my church: therefore, he shall not retain the gift, but shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded to him.” Because charitable donations were legally safeguarded in a way that communal resource sharing was not, in several places in the Law, wording was added to similarly clarify that the poor were the specific beneficiaries of consecrations. Instead of “thou shalt consecrate all thy propertys that which thou hast unto me,” which could be interpreted adversely, the declaration was edited thus: “Thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them” (D&C 42:30). Likewise, the subsequent statement “that which he hath consecrated unto me” was revised to read, “That which he has consecrated unto the poor and the needy of my church, or in other words unto me, for inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these ye do it unto me” (vv. 37–38).

In his letter to Bishop Partridge, the Prophet clarified consecration and stewardship procedures not only with the intention of safeguarding donations to the storehouse as being earmarked for the poor but also to “secure unto [each steward] his portion.” After his letter arrived in Missouri, an editorial appeared in the next issue of the Star emphasizing that when the Saints “are gathered, instead of becoming a common stock family, as has been said . . . each man receives a warranty deed securing to himself and heirs, his inheritance in fee simple [unrestricted ownership] forever.”[31] In July 1833 an anti-Mormon riot broke out in Independence, Missouri, putting the Saints in the area in a precarious position. By year’s end they had been driven from their homes in Jackson County. Under such unsettled circumstances, it appears that the envisioned revised deeds granting fee simple ownership were never actually prepared or issued (at least none have survived). Moreover, it is noteworthy that only a half dozen of the earlier deeds are extant, and of those only one (Joseph Knight Jr.’s) is actually signed. The others, which seem to be drafts, exist only because Bishop Partridge retained them and used their blank back sides for copying personal letters. That neither the bishop responsible for managing the consecration and stewardship program nor any of its stewards (other than Knight) would have retained the official “legal” deeds raises questions about how formally or how systematically consecrations were made and even about how widespread the practice of consecration actually was.[32]

Embedded in the Law’s consideration of consecration is this unusual statement: “For it shall come to pass that which I spake by the mouth of my prophets shall be fulfilled for I will consecrate the riches of the Gentiles unto my people which are of the house of Israel” (v. 39). This alludes to the prophecy of Isaiah that Israel would one day “eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves” (Isaiah 61:6). Reiterated in the Law, some Latter-day Saints seem to have entertained grandiose but misguided visions of the prophecy’s fulfillment. A disaffected Ezra Booth provided this summary of his perceptions of eschatological expectations among the Saints: Zion was “to be a city of Refuge, and a safe asylum when the storms of vengeance shall pour upon the earth, and those who reject the book of Mormon, shall be swept off as with the besom of destruction. Then shall the riches of the Gentiles be consecrated to the Mormonites; they shall have lands and cattle in abundance, and shall possess the gold and silver, and all the treasures of their enemies.”[33] In the face of such misreadings, the Prophet was impressed to make a crucial clarification when he published this passage in the Doctrine and Covenants: “For I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles, unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel” (D&C 42:39; emphasis added).

Nonetheless, the apocalyptic dream of a great reversal in fortunes and relations between believers and their antagonists died hard. In fall 1838, at the height of tensions between Mormons and Missourians, certain Latter-day Saint zealots recalled the Law’s original recapitulation of Isaiah’s prophecy and construed it as justification for plundering their enemies. Morris Phelps remembered in this way the charge of Danite leader Sampson Avard to his men: “Know ye not, brethren, that it will soon be your privilege to take your respective companies and go out on a scout on the borders of the settlements, and take to yourselves spoils of the goods of the ungodly Gentiles? for it is written, the riches of the Gentiles shall be consecrated to my people, the house of Israel; and thus you will waste away the Gentiles by robbing and plundering them of their property; and in this way we will build up the kingdom of God.”[34] Later, a disaffected John Whitmer accused Nauvoo Saints of doing the same things under the same pretext during the Mormon War in Hancock County, Illinois, in the mid-1840s.[35]

Discussion of consecration concludes in this part of the Law with encouragement to dress simply, cultivate cleanliness, and avoid idleness (see D&C 42:40–42). Such ideals were common among contemporary communitarian societies. Idleness, in particular, was to be avoided at all costs. From the beginning, the Missouri Saints seemed to have had trouble with this. A November 1831 revelation declared, “I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them” (D&C 68:31). Several months later, it was put even more directly: “The idler shall not have place in the church” (D&C 75:29). Even the poor, who are rarely condemned in scripture, were not exempt from admonition: “Wo unto you poor men . . . who will not labour with their own hands” (D&C 56:17).

At this point the revelation turns to matters of sickness and healing. It reiterates the New Testament injunction in James to “call for the elders of the church” when someone is sick to “anoint” with oil and offer a “prayer of faith” on their behalf (James 5:14–15). The early years of Latter-day Saint history are filled with examples of dramatic healings.[36] To cite only one of the more notable examples, not long after this revelation was received, Joseph Smith was instrumental in healing Elsa Johnson’s lame arm, a healing that contributed to the conversion of several of her acquaintances.[37]

On the other hand, believers whose faith was insufficient for them to be divinely healed were to be “nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food” (D&C 42:43). In antebellum America, herbal medicine was a popular and relatively successful alternative to such orthodox medical interventions as bloodletting and administration of calomel. Latter-day Saints participated in the era’s growing rebellion against these medical practices and favored faith healing and botanic medicine.[38] Joseph Smith is reported to have expressed the view that “doctors should not heal people[,] that medicine would have no effect. The Gentiles studied medicine, and had use for it.”[39] Botanic medicine received considerable impetus from the activities of Samuel Thomson, who published the immensely popular New Guide to Health; or, Botanic Family Physician. The book sold for two dollars, and a franchise or “right” to apply Thomson’s methods within one’s own family sold for twenty dollars. By 1835 Thomsonian practitioners in Ohio claimed that half the state’s population used botanic medicine. Several prominent early Saints, such as Frederick G. Williams and the Richards brothers, Levi and Willard, were practicing Thomsonian doctors.[40]

In all matters of health and healing, God’s will took priority. Despite one’s faith, only those “not appointed unto death shall be healed” (D&C 42:48). The inclusion of the biblical phrase “appointed to death” (Psalm 102:20; 1 Corinthians 4:9) is significant. Like other Christians, Latter-day Saints used it to acknowledge the overruling providence of God in all aspects of life. As an example, at some point in Joseph Smith Sr.’s decline due to the disease known as “consumption,” his wife, Lucy Mack Smith, “concluded that he was appointed unto death.”[41]

Latter-day Saint ministrations to the sick, including the various scenarios set forth in the Law, were later summarized by Wilford Woodruff:

“Some times we lay hands upon the sick & they are healed instantly other times with all the faith & medicine they are a long time getting well, & others die.”[42] Further, it was stressed that for those who did not have faith to be healed from major ailments such as blindness, deafness, or physical disability, “inasmuch as they break not my Laws thou shalt bear their infirmities” (D&C 42:52)

The Law then returns to a brief discussion of yet another aspect of life in a consecrated community: “Thou shalt not take thy brothers garment thou shalt pay for that which thou <shalt receive> shall receive of thy Brother” (v. 54). Here the Law explicitly eschews the kind of communal ownership of property found in the various “Family” organizations in which some Ohio converts had been living. John Whitmer, who visited the Morley “Family,” wrote, “The disciples had all things common, and were going to destruction very fast as to temporal things for they considered from reading the scripture that what belonged to a brother, belonged to any of the brethren, therefore they would take each others clothes and other property and use it without leave: which brought on confusion and disappointments, for they did not understand the scripture.”[43] The Law’s correction was reiterated in the instructions given to Bishop Partridge about how to organize the Colesville Saints according to the law of consecration: “Let that which belongeth to this people not be taken & given unto that of another church wherefore if another Church would receive money of this Church let them pay unto this church again according as they shall agree” (D&C 51:10–11). Section 42 made clear that one’s stewardship was to be carried out within the ordinary workings of a market economy.[44]

As such, it was expected that in the normal course of “stand[ing] in the place of [one’s] stewardship” (D&C 42:53), a surplus would sometimes accrue: “& if thou obtain more than that which would be for thy support thou shalt give it unto my store house” (v. 55). Bishop Partridge endeavored to institutionalize this as an annual requirement. In the printed deeds he prepared, the agreement “binds” the steward “to pay yearly unto the said Edward Partridge bishop of said church, or his successor in office, for the benefit of said church, all that I shall make or accumulate more than is needful for the support and comfort of myself and family.”[45] Identifying such a surplus, of course, was a subjective judgment, and the Prophet counseled Bishop Partridge that it should be the joint decision of the steward and the bishop:

Evry m[a]n must be his own judge how much he should receive and how much he should suffer to remain in the hands of the Bishop[.] I speak of those who consecrate more than they need for the support of themselves and their families[.] The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties for, to give the Bishop power to say how much evry man shall have and he be obliged to comply with the Bishops judgment is giving to the Bishop more power than a king has and upon the other hand to let evry man say how much he needs and the Bishop obliged to comply with his judgment is to throw Zion into confusion and make a slave of the Bishop[.] [T]he fact is there must be a balance or equalibrium of power between the Bishop and the people and thus harmony and good will may be preserved among you.[46]

At this point, the Law abruptly shifts from discussion of the proper handling of surplus to Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: “Thou shalt ask & my scriptures shall be given as I have appointed & for thy salvation thou shalt hold thy peace concerning them untill ye have received them” (vv. 56–57). The subsequent redaction of this passage provides a rare view of multiple layers of revision. The first revision appears to have been made in November 1831 in conjunction with the conferences held to plan the publication of the Book of Commandments. At a meeting on November 8, the elders resolved that “Br Joseph Smith Jr. correct those errors or mistakes which he m[ay] discover by the holy Spirit.”[47] Among the revisions made at this time was one involving this passage about the New Translation. The unpunctuated original allows for a reading that connects “for thy salvation” to “my scriptures shall be given” rather than to the subsequent phrase “thou shalt hold thy peace concerning them.” Joseph, however, revised the passage to make clear that the link was between salvation, understood temporally, and holding their peace about the New Translation: “For thy safety it is expedient that thou shalt hold thy peace concerning them.”[48]

Apparently not satisfied with this rendition, the Prophet (or those working under his direction) again revised the passage some three years later while preparing the revelation for publication in the Doctrine and Covenants. The later version shifts emphasis from the safety of the Saints to the safety of the scriptures. In its final form, the full passage reads: “My scriptures shall be given as I have appointed, and they shall be preserved in safety; and it is expedient that thou shouldst hold thy peace concerning them, and not teach them until ye have received them in full” (vv. 56–57; emphasis added).

Another example of multiple revisions is found a few lines later, near the close of the long answer to the second question seeking to know “the Law regulating the Church in her present situation till the time of her gathering.” At this point, a summary statement is made: “& these Laws which ye have received are sufficient for you both here & in the New Jerusalem but he that lacketh knowledge let him ask of me.” In the November 1831 revisions, the door left slightly ajar for future clarifications of, or even additions to, the Law is pushed wide open, and possibility becomes certainty: “These laws which ye have received & shall hereafter receive shall be sufficient for you both here & in the New Jerusalem Therefore he that lacketh knowledge let him ask of me.” In 1835 the text is further edited to clarify that “covenants” rather than “laws” would be forthcoming and that while the laws already received were to be observed, it was these covenants in particular that would “establish” the Saints both in Ohio and Missouri: “Ye shall observe the laws which ye have received, and be faithful. And ye shall hereafter receive church covenants, such as shall be sufficient to establish you both here, and in the New Jerusalem. Therefore, he that lacketh wisdom, let him ask of me” (vv. 66–68; emphasis added).

The second unit of text, the core of the Law, concludes with this entreaty: “Lift up your hearts & rejoice for unto you the kingdom has been given, even so, Amen.” The passage was edited in 1835 to include the kind of amplificatory insight Joseph sometimes felt inspired to add when redacting the revelations: “Lift up your hearts and rejoice, for unto you the kingdom, or in other words, the keys of the church, have been given. Even so. Amen” (v. 69; emphasis added).

D&C 42:70–73

The third unit of text in the Law addresses “how the Elders are to dispose of their families while they are proclaiming repentance or are otherwise engaged in the service of the Church.” The answer is that “the Elders are to assist the Bishop in all things & he is to see that their families are supported out of the property which is consecrated to the Lord either a stewardship or otherwise as may be thought best by the Elders & Bishop.” By year’s end, although the newly called bishop Newel K. Whitney is told to “take an account of the elders as before has been commanded and to administer to their wants,” the elders are also encouraged to “pay for that which they receive, inasmuch as they shall have wherewith to pay” (D&C 72:11). In the event that they “have not wherewith to pay, an account shall be taken and handed over to the bishop in Zion, who shall pay the debt out of that which the Lord shall put into his hands. And the labors of the faithful who labor in spiritual things, in administering the gospel and the things of the kingdom unto the church, and unto the world, shall answer the debt unto the bishop in Zion” (D&C 72:13–14).

The following month, the idea of Church support for the elders was broadened from a monetary focus, with its potential for draining the meager resources of the storehouse, to one that relied on the generosity of members at large. Additionally, the elders themselves were to take the initiative in seeking this support. A revelation reminded the Saints that “it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel” (D&C 75:24). Needy elders were to arrange to board their families with willing Church members during their absence (D&C 75:25), but in case an elder was unable to make satisfactory arrangements and was “obliged to provide for his own family,” he was told, “Let him provide, and he shall in nowise lose his crown; and let him labor in the church” at home (D&C 75:28). Thus, within a year of the Law’s reception, practical considerations compelled modification of the initial declaration that the elders’ families were to be “supported out of the property which is consecrated to the Lord.”

Not surprisingly, the 1835 revisions reflected these realities. For publication in the Doctrine and Covenants, the text was edited to narrow “support” to only the elders (and later, high priests) appointed as counselors to the bishop: “The elders, or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counsellors, in all things are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop, for the good of the poor, and for other purposes, as before mentioned; or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services; either a stewardship, or otherwise, as may be thought best, or decided by the counsellors and bishop” (D&C 42:71–72). Without the original prefatory question targeting elders involved in missionary work or “otherwise engaged in the service of the Church,” the restriction of support to bishops’ counselors was a reasonable interpretation of the original statement that “the Elders are to assist the Bishop in all things.” The 1835 revision also added a sentence specifically including the bishop as deserving of temporal assistance: “And the bishop also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services, in the church” (D&C 42:73).[49]

Text Units 4 and 5 (Not in the Doctrine and Covenants)

The fourth and fifth text units are the shortest of the seven in the Law. Combined, they consist of less than a hundred words, or just over 4 percent of the Law’s total. Although they had been included in the Book of Commandments, they were dropped from the revelation when it was published in the Doctrine and Covenants. The fourth question asks, “How far it is the will of the Lord that we Should have dealings with the wo[r]ld & how we Should conduct our dealings with them?” The answer: “Thou shalt contract no debts with them & again the Elders & Bishop shall Council together & they shall do by the directions of the spirit as it must be necessary.” Though this brief statement clearly enunciates the basic position of not contracting debts with “the world,” it also opens the door, when prompted by the Spirit, to do whatever is “necessary” to advance the cause.[50]

With specific reference to this passage in the Law, the counsel was put more elaborately seven months later: “Behold it is said in my Laws or forbidden to get in debt to thine enemies but Behold it is not said at any time that the Lord should not take when he please & pay as seemeth him good wherefore as ye are agents & ye are on the Lords errand & whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lords business & it is the Lord’s business to provide for his saints” (D&C 64:27–30). Not long after this, the Law was clarified to read, “Contract no debts with the world except thou art commanded.” Such a commandment came the following March in response to a question about purchasing paper to print the Book of Commandments:

“Let the purchase be made by the Bishop if it must needs <be> by hire[51] let whatsoever is done be done in the name of the Lord.”[52] This was followed in April by a decision of the United Firm, the partnership of Church leaders who managed Church properties, to take out a “loan [for] fifteen thousand dollars for five years or longer at six percent anually or semianually as the agreement can be made.”[53]

Such “necessary” actions did not come without a cost. By late 1833 the Prophet wrote to refugee Church leaders in Clay County, Missouri, that “it will be impossable for us to render you any assistance in a temporal point of view as our means are already exhausted and are deeply in debt and know no means whereby we shall be able to extricate ourselves.”[54] A month later, on January 11, 1834, Joseph and others united in prayer and made several petitions to God, one of which was “that the Lord would provide, in the order of his Providence, the bishop of this Church with means sufficient to discharge every debt that the Firm owes, in due season, that the church may not be braught into disrepute, and the saints be afflicted by the hands of their enemies.”[55] Regardless of the occasional need to go into debt, the Prophet’s heart on the matter is laid bare in a rare journal entry in his own hand: “My heart is full of desire to day, to <be> blessed of the God, of Abraham; with prosperity, untill I will be able to pay all my depts; for it is <the> delight of my soul to <be> honest. Oh Lord that thou knowes right well!”[56]

It is unclear why this fourth text unit was dropped from the revelation. Certainly in its edited form, it coincided with similar statements made elsewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps it was a casualty of its proximity to the fifth unit, which, as will be seen, was very specific to circumstances in Ohio in 1831 and therefore of limited ongoing relevance to the Church.

The fifth question asks, “What preperations we shall make for our Brethren from the East & when [‘where’ in the Gilbert manuscript] & how?” The revealed answer was, “There shall be as many appointed as must needs be necessary to assist the Bishop in obtaining places [‘houses’ in the Gilbert manuscript] that they may be together as much as can be & is directed by the holy Spirit.” When revisions were made in November 1831, the latter part of this statement was clarified to read, “Obtaining places for the brethren from New York that they may be together as much as can be, and as they are directed by the Holy Spirit.” In spring of 1831 it was anticipated that the New York Saints would soon immigrate to Ohio in compliance with previous revelations directing them to gather there (see D&C 37 and 38). Preparing for that event was a matter of importance and the subject of several revelations at the time (see D&C 48 and 51).

The answer to the fifth question included this directive: “Every family shall have places that they may live by themselves & every Church shall be organized in as close bodies as they can be in consequence of the enemy,” later adding, “And this for a wise purpose: even so. Amen.” The idea of settling the families of the immigrating branches in close proximity to one another, especially since many were kin, made sense for a variety of reasons. Given the Saints’ previous experience with persecution, the benefit of protection from the “enemy” is singled out. How close together the immigrants actually settled once they arrived is generally not known. The one outcome that is well documented is that the Colesville Branch was instructed to move together onto Leman Copley’s property in Thompson, Ohio (see D&C 51). Living together in “close bodies,” however, did not mean living together communally after the fashion of some of the “Family” organizations that the Prophet encountered in Ohio. As the text makes clear, each family was to have a place of its own so that “they may live by themselves.”

D&C 42:78–93

This and the text cluster that follows it were recorded two weeks after the first five units of the Law. As explained in the Ryder manuscript, these final segments, “agreed upon by seven Elders Feby 23d 1831 according to the commandment of God,” consisted of the “rules and regulations” for “how the Elders of the church of Christ are to act upon the points of the Law.” The first half of unit six specifies actions to be taken in cases of murder, adultery, robbery, theft, and lying, each of which had been proscribed in the Law proper. Murderers were to be “delivered up and dealt with according to the Laws of the land for remember that he hath no forgiveness” (v. 79). Justification for handing the murderer over to civil authorities is explicitly grounded in the Law’s earlier declaration that “he that killeth shall not have forgiveness neither in this world neither in the world to come” (v. 18).

Adultery, on the other hand, was to be handled by the Church. The Law decreed that an unrepentant, or repeat, adulterer was to be “cast out” (vv. 24, 26), and this unit articulates the procedures for implementing such a policy. It directs that the accused be tried before two or more elders, with the bishop also present when possible,[57] and it requires the adulterous act to “be established against him” (“or her” was added later) by a minimum of two Church-member witnesses. Because at this time the Law stipulated that excommunication required the consenting vote of the Church, “the Elders shall lay the case before the Church and the Church shall lift up their hands against them that they may be dealt with according to <the> Law” (v. 81). This procedure was to serve as the template for Church discipline generally: “Thus ye shall do in all cases which shall come before you” (v. 83). Several sentences later the revelation declares that if the Saints “do any manner of iniquity,” they shall “be delivered up unto the Law even that of God” (v. 87). Sandwiched between these two statements are explicit instructions that those who “rob,” “steal,” or “lie” were to be “delivered up unto the law” (vv. 84–86). Whether this referred to the law of the land or the law of God was unclear until “of the land” was added in 1835.

In the same 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, a declaration on “Governments and Laws in General” (now D&C 134) elaborated the Church’s position on civil offenses: “We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offence: that murder, treason, robbery, theft . . . should be punished according to their criminality . . . by the laws of that Government in which the offence is committed.” Further, it was affirmed, “We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct according to the rules and regulations of such societies, provided that such dealing be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life . . . neither to inflict any physical punishment upon them,—they can only excommunicate them from their society and withdraw from them their fellowship” (D&C 134:8, 10).

The Law next elaborates what had only been implicit in the Church’s “Articles and Covenants” (D&C 20) regarding Church discipline. “Any member of this Church of Christ,” declared the Articles and Covenants, “transgressing or being over taken in a fault[58] shall be dealt with according as the scriptures directs” (D&C 20:80). For some eighteen hundred years, the classic scriptural text on Church discipline had been Matthew 18:15–17.[59] Not surprisingly, the three-step procedure outlined there is here reiterated in the Law. If a member is “offended” by another, he or she is to seek out the offender and present the grievance to them privately. If the trespasser confesses, the two parties are to “be reconciled.” If the offender does not acknowledge the impropriety, the offended is instructed to “take another with thee,” and if the offender still does not confess, the case is to be turned over to the elders (see D&C 42:88–89).[60] The only variation of significance from Matthew 18:15–17 in the Law is the clarification that to “tell it unto the church” means “not to the members but to the elders” (D&C 42:89).[61] The “Far West Record” and the “Kirtland Council Minute Book” contain many accounts of relatively minor transgressive behavior being aired before the elders of the Church. Latter-day Saint discipline in this era was similar to that practiced by other Christian churches both in terms of its commitment to following Matthew 18:15–17 to resolve interpersonal difficulties as well as serious sin and in its rigorous attempt to maintain the purity and holiness of the body of believers.[62] Today, Church disciplinary councils convene for only the gravest of matters.

The final portion of this textual unit in the Law provides guidelines for public confession and even for public reprimand, aspects of Church discipline that rarely seem appropriate today. While the Bible enjoins, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20), this revelation actually restricts public rebuke only to those who “offend many” or who “offend openly” (D&C 42:90–91). In an earlier era, public shaming was felt to facilitate repentance: “If any one offend openly he shall be rebuked openly that he may be ashamed and if he confess not he shall be delivered up unto the law” of God (v. 91).[63] For secret sinners, though, a private chastisement seemed best. Such a practice would enable the errant one “to confess in secret to him whome he has offended and to God that the Brethren may not speak reproachfully of him” (v. 92). “And thus,” concludes this text unit, “shall ye conduct in all things” (v. 93).

D&C 42:74–77

Though this segment was positioned ahead of the previous unit when published in the Doctrine and Covenants, it had previously followed it in any source that contained both units (see chart). In two other instances, it alone was appended to the Law proper, and in one case it appeared by itself. In several sources, the unit received its own title—”How to act in case of adultery” or “A Commandment how to act in cases of adultery.” Where the unit bears a date, February 23, 1831, is listed.

The segment’s title is somewhat misleading because the actual topic is the relationship of adultery to divorce or separation, rather than adultery per se. The text discusses four specific situations and provides instruction on how to act in those cases. The first instance is when a Church member divorces a spouse because the spouse has been sexually immoral: “Whatsoever person among you having put away their companion for the cause of fornication or in otherwords if he shall testify before you in all Lowliness of heart that this is the case ye shall not cast them out” (v. 74). The wording of this statement suggests that divorce put an individual’s membership at risk, and only if he or she could establish by satisfactory testimony that the divorce resulted from marital infidelity would the innocent party be able to retain membership in the Church. While attitudes toward divorce and the laws allowing it were beginning to soften in antebellum America,[64] the wording here recalls the rigor of the Sermon on the Mount: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32).

The second case is straightforward. The member who leaves a spouse “for the sake of adultery and they themselves are the offender . . . shall be cast out” (D&C 42:75). The third and fourth scenarios are related to the second in that they envision an adulterer who has abandoned his or her faithful companion, but in these cases the adulterer is a nonmember seeking to join the Church. The elders are instructed to “be watchful and careful with all inquiry that ye receive none such among you if [case 3] they are married and if [case 4] they are not married they shall repent of all their sins or ye shall not receive them” (vv. 76–77).

It is noteworthy that in the third scenario, unlike the fourth, no provision is explicitly made for repentance and reception into fellowship. Was this an unimportant oversight because repentance was always understood to be possible in such cases? Or was it an unqualified rejection of the spiritual acceptability of remarriage for a sometime adulterer, along the lines of Matthew 19:9: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery”? Is the seriousness of the case heightened by the fact that “their [aggrieved] companions are living”? The paucity of early sources mentioning divorce makes it difficult to determine with any confidence what the Saints’ attitudes actually were. However, a brief report from the diary of Hyrum Smith shows how remarriage after divorce was suspect unless the cause of divorce was unfaithfulness on the part of the former spouse: “Went to Brother Roundays there we met with Brother morse we questioned him on the Subject of his Situation of his life he Being a man that has had two wifes he living with his Seccond wife the first Being yet a live But She was Put away for the Cause of fornication he Being innosent She the offender He testified in all loliness of Heart and Sett free.”[65] The wording of this journal entry invokes a number of phrases from the text unit under consideration and demonstrates the seriousness with which the elders followed its guidelines.


The Law was clearly one of the most important documents in the early years of Latter-day Saint history. More prepublication manuscript copies of this revelation have survived than of almost any other revelation. It stands alongside the Articles and Covenants in terms of its utility to early Church leaders. The principal contributions of this study have been to probe significant revisions to the Law’s text as well as to provide glimpses into early understandings of its various passages. The quantitative analysis and classification of textual changes have enabled a more precise assessment than previously available of the number and kind of inspired revisions made under prophetic direction. What stands out is that despite the fact that the revelations were given “unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24), the Prophet endeavored to compensate for that linguistic weakness and improve the wording as he felt inspired. He also strove to have the Law reflect current practice, much as the Church today regularly updates its Handbook of Instructions used by leaders at all levels to properly administer Church affairs.

Finally, the overall composition of the Law has also been cast in a new light. While a few historians have previously noticed that parts of the Law were received on two different days two weeks apart, this study illuminates the different nature of, and purpose for, the revealed material recorded on those days. What is more, detailed analysis has demonstrated that that material consisted of seven distinct text units, only one of which, albeit the largest of the clusters (58 percent of the entire document), contains the Law proper. More broadly, this close examination of the Law offers insight into the revelatory process that produced the canonical texts of the Doctrine and Covenants and the profound influence they exerted on the early Latter-day Saint community.


[1] John Whitmer, “Book of John Whitmer,” 6, Community of Christ Library-Archives, Independence, Missouri.

[2] Whitmer, “Book of John Whitmer,” 12.

[3] Capitalization conventions were not standard in antebellum America, so there is no consistent capitalization of “the Law” in early manuscripts; however, for clarity the term will be capitalized throughout.

[4] Joseph Smith to Martin Harris, February 22, 1831, Joseph Smith Collection, box 2, folder 3, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.

[5] The quotation is from a transitional paragraph in the manuscript copy of the Law made by Symonds Ryder (see Revelations Collection, box 1, folder 13, Church History Library).

[6] Yet another manuscript copy of the Law is mentioned in a letter Oliver Cowdery wrote to Newel K. Whitney on February 4, 1835: “Bishop Whitney, Will you have the kindness to send us by the bearer the original copy of the Revelation given to 12 elders Feb. 1831 called ‘The Law of the Church’? We are preparing the old Star for re-printing, and have no copy from which to correct, and kno[w] of no other beside yours. Your Ob’t Serv’t. Oliver Cowdery” (Newel K. Whitney Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah). It is uncertain whether Cowdery had firsthand knowledge that the copy in Whitney’s possession was the actual dictation copy or whether he was merely assuming that it was the original. In any case, the copy is no longer extant.

[7] The current edition provides specific reception dates where they are known, but it lists only February 9, 1831, for section 42.

[8] The answers to the first two questions end with “even so amen,” thus further setting off those text clusters as distinct units.

[9] Verse 73 was not a part of the original answer but was added later when the cluster was revised for publication in the Doctrine and Covenants.

[10] It has been suggested that Symonds Ryder illicitly obtained this and the other manuscript copies of the revelations that were in his descendants’ possession at the time they were acquired by the Church (see Scott Faulring, “Symonds Ryder,” Mormon History Association Newsletter [Fall 1996], 4–5; and Faulring, “An Examination of the 1829 ‘Articles of the Church of Christ’ in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants,” BYU Studies 43, no. 4 [2004]: 75–76). This now appears to be incorrect. It is true that in September 1831, Ryder, along with Ezra Booth, renounced his membership in the Church at a camp meeting in Shalersville, Ohio. It is also true that Ryder loaned his copy (or a copy of his copy) of the Law to the editor of the Western Courier in nearby Ravenna, Ohio, who printed a portion of it in his newspaper, along with a derisive editorial introduction. What is not substantiated by evidence, however, is that Ryder purloined his copies of the revelations while the Prophet was away in Missouri that summer.

The best reading of the evidence is that Ryder made his copies sometime before mid-June 1831, when Joseph Smith left for Missouri, and that he did so, like other early elders, with the permission of the Prophet for his personal use. This seems likely for several reasons. First, such a practice was common and accounts for many of the manuscript copies of the revelations in existence today. Second, there is no reason to believe that Ryder was dishonest. The Prophet never accused him of such behavior, and long after ceasing his association with the Church, Ryder continued as a highly regarded, upstanding member of the Hiram, Ohio, community in which he resided. Third, and most important, he probably made his copy of the Law in May 1831 (see Painesville Telegraph, September 13, 1831) when he clearly was in good standing in the Church (he is mentioned positively in D&C 52:37, given in early June 1831). However he acquired his copy, it is clear that he did not tamper with the text. Its wording is very close to that found in other early manuscripts.

[11] Original scribal corrections in the various manuscript sources cited throughout this study are indicated by the use of angle brackets to show interlinear insertions and strikethroughs to identify words or letters that were either erased or crossed out.

[12] Book of Commandments, 97 (chapter 45, verses 8–9). This wording was later revised for publication in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 43:8–9).

[13] Section 42 contains almost the same number of words in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Although there are dozens of punctuation, grammar, and spelling variations between the two versions, there are no conceptually significant differences. Indeed, textual analysis of the entire Doctrine and Covenants shows that this is true of almost all the revelations. Once they were published in 1835 in the Doctrine and Covenants, their wording seems to have been considered final, and no further updates or other significant revisions appear in subsequent editions.

[14] Of similar changes in the Book of Mormon, President Boyd K. Packer remarked years ago, “Of course there have been changes and corrections. Anyone who has done even limited research knows that. When properly reviewed, such corrections become a testimony for, not against, the truth of the books” (“We Believe All That God Has Revealed,” Ensign, May 1974, 94).

[15] Unless it does not agree with the CEW, the Ryder manuscript will be quoted throughout this study.

[16] Whitmer, “Book of John Whitmer,” 17.

[17] John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (St. Louis: printed for the author, 1839), 17.

[18] Book of Commandments, 89 (chapter 44, heading); emphasis added.

[19] Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 41 (September 18, 1831).

[20] Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 153.

[21] Best known is “the Family,” or “Morley’s Family,” who lived communally on Isaac Morley’s farm in the township of Kirtland, Ohio. Of its origin, Family member Lyman Wight wrote, “I went to Kirtland, about twenty miles, to see Bro. I[saac] Morley and-[Titus] Billings, after some conversation on the subject we entered into a covenant to make our interests one as anciently. In conformity to this covenant I moved the next February [1830] to Kirtland, into the house with Bro. Morley. We commenced our labors together with great peace and union. We were soon joined by eight other families. Our labors were united both in farming and mechanism, all of which was prosecuted with great vigor. We truly began to feel as if the millennium was close at hand” (The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Independence, MO: Herald House, 1977], 1:152–53). Although Isaac Morley’s Family lived together on the same property, others, like the smaller Family in Chardon, Ohio, reportedly shared a single house: “One man has torn away all the partitions of the lower part of a good two story house. Here a large number live together” (The Geauga Gazette [Painesville, Ohio], February 1, 1831).

[22] Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 15.

[23] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828; reprint, San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1989), s.v. “consecrate.”

[24] See Donald E. Pitzer, ed., America’s Communal Utopias (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

[25] Whitmer, “Book of John Whitmer,” 17–18. Church members in Hiram, Ohio, appear to have been among those who “underst[oo]d not the things of the kingdom.” A recollection years later by Symonds Ryder seems to refer to section 42 as the source of their disaffection. A long-since-disaffiliated Ryder recalled that several months after recording the Law, when Joseph and others “went to Missouri to lay the foundation of the splendid city of Zion, and also of the temple, they left their papers behind. This gave their new converts an opportunity to become acquainted with the internal arrangement of their church, which revealed to them the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Joseph Smith the prophet. This was too much for the Hiramites, and they left the Mormonites faster than they had ever joined them” (Symonds Ryder to Amos S. Hayden, February 1, 1868, as cited in Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio [Cincinnati: Chase & Hall, 1875], 221).

[26] See Arrington and others, Building the City of God, 15–40.

[27] Hereafter, for ease of comparison, textual revisions will be italicized.

[28] Levi Jackman, Deed of Stewardship, Edward Partridge Papers, Church History Library.

[29] See, for example, incidents reported in Painesville Telegraph, April 26, 1833; and Star, July 1833, 110.

[30] Joseph Smith to Edward Partridge, May 2, 1833, Joseph Smith Collection, box 2, folder 3, Church History Library.

[31] Star, June 1833, 100. In antebellum America, to be identified as a “common stock” organization or to be said to have “all things common” were characterizations of disparagement. As the editor of the reprinted Star remarked, “This assertion is meant, not only to falsify on the subject of property, but to blast the reputation and moral characters of the members of the same.” Not that there was something intrinsically wrong with a community of goods, as the editor pointed out by citing the apostolic “church at Jerusalem” or the actions of Book of Mormon peoples “after the appearance of Christ,” but the respective “government” under which each lived “was differently organized from ours, and could admit of such a course when ours cannot” (August 1831, reprint [March 1835], 48).

[32] That some had gathered to Zion without consecrating is implicit in the strong warning issued in November 1832: “It is conterary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration agreeable to his law . . . should have there names enrolled with the people of God, neithe[r] is the[ir] geneology to be kept or to be had where it may be found on any of the reccords or hystory of the church there names shall not be found . . . writen in the book of the Law of God saith the Lord of hosts” (Joseph Smith to William W. Phelps, November 27, 1832, Joseph Smith Collection, box 2, folder 1, Church History Library; compare D&C 85:3–5).

[33] “Mormonism.—No. II,” Ohio Star, October 20, 1831.

[34] Morris Phelps, Reminiscence, as quoted in Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:180. This was corroborated by several witnesses at the Richmond Court of Inquiry in November 1838. There John Cleminson testified that “it was frequently observed among the troops, that the time had come when the riches of the Gentiles should be consecrated to the Saints.” And George Hinkle averred, “It was taught, that the time had come when the riches of the Gentiles were to be consecrated to the true Israel. This thing of taking property was considered a fulfillment of the above prophecy” (Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons [Fayette, MO: Published by Order of the General Assembly, 1841], 115, 128).

[35] Whitmer, “Book of John Whitmer,” 91.

[36] For a sampling of early Latter-day Saint healing accounts and a discussion of the doctrinal ideas that sustained them, see Underwood, “Supernaturalism and Healing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” in Religions of the United States in Practice, ed. Colleen McDannell (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 1:299–309.

[37] Milton V. Backman Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 82–83.

[38] Lester E. Bush Jr., Health and Medicine among the Latter-Day Saints: Science, Sense, and Scripture (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1993).

[39] Kirtland Revelation Book, [138], Church History Library.

[40] Robert T. Divett, “Medicine and the Mormons: A Historical Perspective,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 (Fall 1979): 16–25; see also Alex Berman and Michael A. Flannery, America’s Botanico-Medical Movements: Vox Populi (New York: Haworth Press, 2001); John S. Haller Jr., The People’s Doctors: Samuel Thomson and the American Botanical Movement, 1790–1860 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000).

[41] Lavina Fielding Anderson, ed., Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 713.

[42] “Willford Woodruff’s Journal for 1848,” February 23, 1848, Church History Library.

[43] Whitmer, “Book of John Whitmer,” 11. Levi Hancock recorded a similar experience with another Family organization (see Hancock, “Life of Levi Hancock,” 28, Church History Library).

[44] “Each member was free to work as he pleased within the limitations of his stewardship. The profit system, the forces of supply and demand, and the price system presumably would continue to allocate resources, influence production decisions, and distribute primary or earned income. Some of the institutions of capitalism were thus retained and a considerable amount of economic freedom was permitted. Above all, there was to be no communism of goods” (Arrington and others, Building the City of God, 17).

[45] Levi Jackman, Deed of Stewardship, Church History Library.

[46] Joseph Smith et al. to Brethren [in Zion], June 25, 1833, Joseph Smith Collection, box 2, folder 1, Church History Library.

[47] “The Conference Minutes and Record Book of Christ’s Church of the Latter Day Saints,” 16 (November 8, 1831), Church History Library; hereafter cited as Far West Record.

[48] This revision appears in the Whitmer, Coltrin, and Hyde manuscripts, all copied in early 1832 or before, as well as in the excerpt of the Law published later that year in the Star and in the Book of Commandments the following year.

[49] This merely echoes what had been stated as early as May 1831: “Let all things both in money & in meat which is more then is needful for the want of this People be kept in the hands of the Bishop & let him also reserve unto himself for his own wants & for the wants of his family as he shall be employed in doing this Business” (D&C 51:13–14).

[50] That situation-specific guidance from the Spirit always took precedence over general guidelines—”notwithstanding those things which are written it always has been given to the Elders of my Church . . . to conduct all [matters] as they are directed & guided by the Holy spirit” (D&C 46:2)—appears not to have been comprehended initially by some of the Church leaders. Regarding this particular passage in the Law, Ezra Booth reported that in spring of 1831, in order to help settle the emigrating New York Saints, the Prophet felt prompted to direct Bishop Partridge to “secure” a particular land purchase in Thompson by contracting “a debt with the world to the amount of several hundred dollars.” When Partridge “hesitated,” construing the Law’s injunction against debt as an absolute proscription, the Prophet insisted that Partridge “must secure the land” by arranging the loan (“Mormonism VII,” Ohio Star, November 24, 1831).

[51] The phrase “by hire” is an older English expression for “on credit” or “through a loan.” The exact financial arrangements whereby the paper was acquired in Wheeling, Virginia, are not known.

[52] “Revelation as to Paper,” March 20, 1832, Newel K. Whitney Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections.

[53] Far West Record, 26 (April 30, 1832).

[54] Joseph Smith to “Dear Brethren” [in Missouri], December 5, 1833, Joseph Smith Collection, box 2, folder 1, Church History Library.

[55] Joseph Smith, Journal (1832–34), 45–46, Joseph Smith Collection, box 1, folder 1, Church History Library; compare D&C 90:22–23.

[56] Joseph Smith, Journal (1835–36), 1, Joseph Smith Collection, box 1, folder 2, Church History Library.

[57] In the months ahead, the bishop would be “appointed to be a Judge in Israel . . . to Judge his people by the testimony of the Just & by the assistance of his councilors according to the laws of the kingdom” (D&C 58:17–18).

[58] Being “overtaken in a fault” is language from Galatians 6:1.

[59] See John S. Bowden, Encyclopedia of Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v. “discipline.” For a modern pastoral analysis of the passage, see Jay E. Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986).

[60] The identical phrase “if he confess not” introduces both steps two and three. When this passage was first published in the Star in October 1832, typesetters missed the entire second step—”if he confess not thou shalt take another with thee.” Though the error was corrected the following year when the Book of Commandments was published, it was perpetuated in the 1835 reprint of the Star. Because the wording in the Star reprint was almost always followed in the preparation of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the line was similarly omitted there and was not subsequently restored in any edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

[61] Methodists shared this interpretation. John Wesley, in his “Sermon 49,” explained: “It would not answer any valuable end, to tell the faults of every particular member to the church. . . . It remains that you tell it to the elder, or elders of the church, to those who are overseers of that flock of Christ, to which you both belong, who watch over yours and his soul” (John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions [New York: Lane & Scott, 1852], 1:438).

[62] Compare Baptist practice as described in Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785–1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 20–25, 29–31, 37–49.

[63] A probing analysis of the widespread social functions of honor and shame in the contemporary South is Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982). For a particular focus on religious life, see Wyatt-Brown’s chapter “Paradox, Shame, and Grace in the Backcountry,” in his The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s–1890s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 106–16.

[64] See Norma Basch, Framing American Divorce (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

[65] Hyrum Smith, Journal (1832–33), April 4, 1833, L. Tom Perry Special Collections.