Kenneth W. Baldridge, “Pearl of Great Price: Contents and Publication,” in Latter-day Saint Essentials: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. John W. Welch and Devan Jensen (Provo, UT: BYU Studies and the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002), 70–1.
One of the four standard works accepted as scripture by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Pearl of Great Price includes various documents known as “Selections from the Book of Moses,” “The Book of Abraham,” “Joseph Smith—Matthew,” “Joseph Smith—History,” and “The Articles of Faith.”
It was first published at Liverpool, England, in 1851 by Franklin D. Richards, then president of the British Mission and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in response to requests from converts for further information about their new church. In addition to selected revelations from Genesis in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) and the book of Abraham, the 1851 edition contained Matthew 24 as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1831 (currently titled Joseph Smith—Matthew); “A Key to the Revelations of St. John” (now D&C 77), a revelation received by Joseph Smith on December 25, 1832 (now D&C 87); and Joseph Smith’s 1838 account of his early visions and translation of the Book of Mormon (now Joseph Smith—History). It also incorporated certain extracts from the Doctrine and Covenants (sections 20, 107, and 27), thirteen untitled statements previously published in the Times and Seasons in March 1842 and now known as the Articles of Faith, and a poem titled “Truth” that later became the LDS hymn “Oh Say, What Is Truth?”
The Book of Moses originally consisted of several revelations given to Joseph Smith as he was revising the Bible under inspiration, beginning in June 1830. In the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price, these excerpts were untitled. The 1878 edition added the titles “Visions of Moses” (chap. 1) and “Writings of Moses” (chaps. 2–8). These revelations were first printed in Church newspapers between 1832 and 1851 (Clark, pp. 9–17).
The book of Abraham is linked to Joseph Smith’s work on rolls of papyri that the Church obtained in 1835. Soon after he began studying the rolls, he produced a record of the life of the patriarch Abraham and a description of the creation of the world similar to that in Genesis and the Book of Moses. In 1842 the Nauvoo Times and Seasons and the Millennial Star in England printed the available text and facsimiles. It is certain that the materials incorporated into the books of Moses and Abraham were extracts and that more information was available than has ever been included in the printed editions of the Pearl of Great Price.
The second edition of the Pearl of Great Price, the first American edition, was published at Salt Lake City in 1878 and added “A Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, Including Plurality of Wives,” which is now known as Doctrine and Covenants section 132. On October 10, 1880, in general conference at Salt Lake City, the membership of the Church accepted the Pearl of Great Price as a standard work. When additional changes were made—including page size and format—another vote in 1890 reaffirmed the acceptance of the Pearl of Great Price as scripture.
James E. Talmage, later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, under assignment of the First Presidency, divided the work into chapters and verses, added some titles (such as “The Book of Moses”), and eliminated some portions, such as the materials also published in the Doctrine and Covenants. These changes were formally approved by Church membership at the October conference of 1902.
At general conference on April 3, 1976, Joseph Smith’s vision of the celestial kingdom received in the Kirtland Temple on January 21, 1836, and President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead (October 3, 1918) were added to the Pearl of Great Price. In 1979 these two revelations were transferred to the Doctrine and Covenants as sections 137 and 138.
Clark, James R. The Story of the Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City, 1955.
Millet, Robert L., and Kent P. Jackson, eds. Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2. Salt Lake City, 1985.
Peterson, H. Donl, and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds. The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God. Provo, Utah, 1989.
KENNETH W. BALDRIDGE