Clyde J. Williams, “Standard Works,” 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), 51–2.
Standard works are the books accepted by Latter-day Saints as scripture: the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. In early Latter-day Saint usage, the term apparently included more writings than the scriptures. In 1874 George A. Smith described “standard works” as the scriptures and other works published by the Church that illustrate “the principles of life and salvation made known in the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Journal of Discourses, 17:161; cf. 11:364). By 1900, however, the phrase “standard works” came to refer only to the scriptures (Smith, pp. 363–65; Talmage, p. 7).
Anciently, the Lord declared to the prophet Nephi that the words of his seed, joined with the Lord’s words, would be declared “unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people” (2 Ne. 29:2). In this sense, a standard is a rule for measuring or a model to be followed. The scriptures contain the doctrine and principles that serve as the rules and models by which Latter-day Saints are to live. Hence, they become the standard by which spiritual and other matters are to be judged or measured.
The standard works are different from other writings in the Church, for they have been formally accepted by the Church as revelation and are viewed as containing the word of God. It is his voice that has given them through his prophets (see D&C 18:34–36). Latter-day Saints accept the Bible as the word of God, but recognize that some errors and omissions have occurred in the processes of transmission and translation (Article of Faith 8). The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, brought forth in modern times by the Prophet Joseph Smith, are likewise accepted as the word of God (see McConkie, p. 364).
Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts the present scriptures as “standard works,” the canon of scripture is not closed. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 9). Latter-day Saints also esteem the words of the living prophets of God as scripture, for when they “speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” they speak the will, mind, and word of the Lord (D&C 68:3–4). Latter-day Saints are encouraged to study and ponder all these in connection with the standard works and to apply them to their own lives, that all “might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23).
Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. London, 1854–86.
McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. Salt Lake City, 1966.
Smith, Joseph F., Gospel Doctrine. Salt Lake City, 1939.
Talmage, James E. Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City, 1988.