Sunday, December 2, 2012

D&C 5: An Alteration Altercation


When the LDS Doctrine & Covenants was first published in 1835, some noticed that several of Joseph Smith's revelations had been significantly altered from their earlier manuscript counterparts. What follows is an exacting comparison between the manuscript and published versions of one of Joseph's earliest recorded revelations, received at Harmony, Pennsylvania in March 1829. The revelation was provoked by Martin Harris' desire to confirm Joseph's possession of an ancient record inscribed on gold plates.

I have imposed several editorial earmarks on the text for the reader's convenience. [Bracketed Numbers] are inserted in reference to the modern LDS versification of this revelation (D&C 5:1-20). [Bracketed Letters/Words] are inserted for clarification where helpful. Struckthrough Words are significant portions of text from the manuscripts that were omitted for publication. Boldface Words are new additions to the text not corroborated by any of the early manuscripts; sometimes these fragments replace previous terms or phrases and other times are interpolated seamlessly into the original. Italicised Words reflect a change in tense, perspective, or quantity. Capitalization and punctuation are also accurately represented.

“March 1829 Revelation to Joseph Smith, Jr. and Martin Harris," from the Newell K. Whitney Collection (D&C 5):

“[1] Behold I say unto you that my servant hath desired A witness that my servant Joseph hath got the things which he hath testified that he hath got
“[2] and now Behold this shall ye say unto him I the Lord am God I have given these things unto him & I have commanded him that he should stand as a witness of these things
“[3] nevertheless I have caused him that he should enter into a covenant with me that he should not show them except I command him & he hath no power over them e[x]cept I grant it unto him
“[4] & he hath A gift to translate the Book & I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift for I will grant unto him no other gift
“[5] and verily I say unto you that woe shall come unto the Inhabitents of the Earth if they will not hearken unto my words
“[7] for Behold if they will not believe my words they would not believe my servants if it were possible he could show them all things
“[8] O ye unbelieving ye stiffnecked Generation
“[9] Behold I have reserved the things which have been spoken of which I have entrusted to my servant for a wise purpose in me & it shall be made known unto future Generations
“[10] but for this Generation they shall have my word
“[11] yea & the testimony of three of my servants shall go forth with my word unto this Generation
“[12] yea three shall know of a surety that those things are true
“[13] for I will give them power that they may Behold & view those things as they are
“[14] & to none else will I grant this power among this Generation
“[15] & the testimony of three Witnesses will I send forth & my word
“[16] & behold whosoever believeth in my word him will I visit with the manifestations of my spirit & they shall be Born of me
“[18] & their testimony Shall also go forth & thus if the People of this Generation harden not their hearts I will work a reformation among them & I will put down all lieings & deceivings & Priestcraft & envyings & strifes & Idolatries and sorceries & all manner of Iniquities & I will establish my Church yea even the church which was taught by my Desiples [Disciples] & now if this Generation do harden their hearts against my words Behold I deliver them up unto Satan for he reigneth & hath much Power at this time for he hat got great hold upon the hearts of the People of this Generation & how far from the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah do they come at this time & Behold the Sword of justice doth hang above their heads & if they persist in the hardness of the[i]r hearts the time cometh that it must fall upon them
“[20]Behold I tell you these things even as I also told the People of the destruction of Jerusalem & my word shall be verified at this time as it hath hitherto been verrified."

1835 LDS Doctrine & Covenants, section 32 (D&C 5):

“Behold I say unto you, that as my servant Martin Harris has desired a witness at my hand, that you, my servant Joseph Smith, jr.have got the things plates of which you have testified and borne record that you have received of me:
“and now behold, this shall you say unto him, He who spake unto you said unto you, I the Lord am God, and have given these things unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, jr. and I have commanded you that you shall stand as a witness of these things,
“[3] nevertheless and I have caused you that you should enter into a covenant with me that you should not show them except to those persons to whom I commanded you; and you have no power over them except I grant it unto you.
“[4] And you have a gift to translate the Book plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you, and I have commanded him that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.
“[5] and Verily I say unto you, that wo shall come unto the inhabitants of the Earth if they will not hearken unto my words”
“[7] for hereafter you shall be ordained and go forth and deliver my words unto the children of men. Behold if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you could show them all these things which I have committed unto you.
“[8] O this unbelieving and stiffnecked generation, mine anger is kindled against them.
“[9] Behold verily, I say unto you, I have reserved those things which have been spoken of which I have entrusted unto you, my servant Joseph, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations;
“[10] but for this generation they shall have my word through you;
“[11] yea And in addition to your testimony the testimony of three of my servants, whom I shall call and ordain, unto whom I will show these things: and they shall go forth with my words that are given through you, unto this Generation
“[12] yea,  three they shall know of a surety that these things are true:
“[13] for from heaven will I declare it unto them: I will give them power that they may behold and view these things as they are;
“[14] And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony, among this generation, in this, the beginning of the rising up, and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness – clear as the moon and fair as the sun and terrible as an army with banners.
“[15] And the testimony of three witnesses will I send forth of my word.
“[16] And behold, whosoever believeth in my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit; and they shall be born of me, even of water and of the Spirit.
[17] And you must wait yet a little while; for ye are not yet ordained –  
“[18] And their testimony shall also go forth & thus if the People unto the condemnation of this generation if they harden not their hearts against them: I will work a reformation among them & I will put down all lieings & deceivings & Priestcraft & envyings & strifes & Idolatries and sorceries & all manner of Iniquities & I will establish my Church yea even the church which was taught by my Desiples & now if this Generation do harden their hearts against my words Behold I deliver them up unto Satan for he reigneth & hath much Power at this time for he hat got great hold upon the hearts of the People of this Generation & how far from the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah do they come at this time & Behold the Sword of justice doth hang above their heads & if they persist in the hardness of the[i]r hearts the time cometh that it must fall upon them
[19] for a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out, from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away, and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.
“[20] Behold I tell you these things even as I also told the people of the destruction of Jerusalem, and my word shall be verified at this time as it hath hitherto been verified."

Many other revelations received similar treatment in the first publication of the Doctrine & Covenants. What meaning should these alterations communicate to the Latter-day Saints? From the perspective of one having grown up in the church – mission, temple endowment, sealing and all – learning these facts seems to demand a dramatic shift in the orthodox Mormon conception of revelation, prophecy, and scripture. Should the modern D&C rely on the earliest available manuscript versions (like the Bible) or on the 1835 edition as it does currently? Should Latter-day Saints have the opportunity to insert redactions and revisions into their own revelations in like manner? Should the scriptures instead be recognized as subjective, faithful musings, only reflective of their contemporary culture? Finally, if it is the case that God's Word is only truly revelatory in hindsight, of what utility is it for us here in the present?

Sources:
– Marquardt, ed., The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text & Commentary, pp. 26-29
– Bench, ed., The Parallel Doctrine and Covenants: The 1832-1833, 1833, and 1835 Editions of Joseph Smith's Revelations, pp. 5-7

4 comments:

  1. I appreciate that you don't draw conclusions for the reader. Asking questions is a great way to help people introspect (even if it only causes us to reaffirm what we already believe).

    But personally I don't like either version. It's all accusation and doom and gloom. You all have hard hearts and stiff necks and will be utterly destroyed at my coming... unless you become good Mormons.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment, James. I do my best to keep a level-head and provoke thought. That's not to say I don't draw conclusions from the material I present, I would just rather ask the right questions to get us thinking. And if we can discuss the possibilities together, I think we're much more likely to make solid assertions from them. And you're certainly right about the apocalyptic nature of these early Mormon revelations. The most prominent feature of the early Mormon movement was the millenarianistic cause of Zion, not the restoration of a divine church.

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  2. Mabey i didnt read closley enough but there was obviously bad writing and structure in the first part, and the second part cleans up the language and makes it more... eloquent, but in this one i didnt see any dramatic shift in ideology. Its still just rambling on like it does in similar fashion in the old testament. A lot of these statements are just repetition and metaphor. I mean there was substantial revision, but substantial revision was definatley needed because the first one was written so poorly. Mabey you can point out the parts that ypu are trying to emphasize?

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    1. Sure thing, Jeff! One of the most interesting points that becomes transparent in this comparative study is how differently the term “church" was understood in native 1829 environment. In the earliest manuscripts, God speaks of the church as a body of believers and as established, orthodox teaching. This is very much in line with contemporary protestant concepts of the Christian “church" at the time, primarily conceived as a body of true believers who practiced the original teachings of Christ. Hence it is significant that the Lord said to Joseph in 1829, “I will establish my Church yea even the church which was TAUGHT by my Desiples." The church was something to be taught, not legally instituted and incorporated. To demonstrate that point, read this snippet from a revelation received only two months later, in May 1829. Regarding the Book of Mormon, God said:

      “Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up. And for this cause have I said, if this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them. 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: but it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments, but buildeth up churches unto themselves, to get gain; yea, and all those that do wickedly, and buildeth up the kingdom of the devil ... that is they that I will disturb." (D&C 10:52-56)

      So a good analogy for how the term “church" was understood by Joseph (and apparently God) at the time is that of the Book of Mormon and the Bible. In Joseph's view the Bible's teachings had become corrupted and skewed. And yet it was still, holistically speaking, God's word. It was still scripture. The Book of Mormon's avowed role was to restore the plain precious teachings that had been diluted through poor translations and malicious transfer. In the above revelation, God implies the application of these things to the Christian “church" as well. The church is not a corporate entity whose members are legally and formally inducted through witnessed baptismal contract. God's church is made up of those who believe his doctrine and keep his commandments. Hence, God apparently didn't initially intend to replace the Christian churches, but to correct them with pure doctrine, viz. the Book of Mormon. Thus God can speak peace regarding the new scripture to those already belonging to his “church" prior to the establishment of the restored church.

      This is also why it is significant to notice the absence of ordination and priesthood authority in the 1829 manuscripts. You can observe that the 1835 revisions to the March revelation add several clauses and addendums that precipitate a vague institution of authority as well. “They shall be born of me, [added in 1835: even of water and of the Spirit. And you must wait yet a little while; for ye are not yet ordained]," “hereafter you shall be ordained," “whom I shall call and ordain," etc. John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John were not players in that drama for several years after this revelation (and the establishment of the church). I will also point out that Joseph's role as exclusive revelator in “the coming forth of [God's] church out of the wilderness" is retroactively anticipated, whereas the original texts seem to deny that possibility. “I will grant unto him no other gift."

      Knowing these things makes much more sense of statements like “I will work a reformation among them." It seems to me that Joseph's ambitions and views of his work, although initially modest, swelled and expanded to the point that it became necessary to go back and revise those earliest revelations so that they better reflected the foresight God would be privy to.

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