Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
“This Generation Shall Have My Word
The Lord declared that the people in this dispensation would receive His
word through Joseph Smith.
Many ancient and latter-day scriptures have come through Joseph Smith.
Plain and precious doctrines of the gospel have been restored through Joseph
A study of this lesson will help us appreciate the Prophet Joseph Smith’s
role in bringing forth the word of the Lord in this dispensation.
Scripture references for study:
58; Bible Dictionary, “Joseph Smith Translation,” page 717
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 13 Handout (PDF)
The Prophet Joseph Smith
In March 1829, Martin Harris came to visit Joseph Smith in Harmony. Martin had never seen the plates while serving as scribe and desired a
witness from the Lord that Joseph actually had the plates. Section
5 was given in response to Martin's request. Part of this revelation was
directed to Martin and part to Joseph.
In speaking to Joseph, the Lord declared, "But
this generation shall have my word through you." (D&C 5:10)
At this time, Joseph was still a young man of only twenty-three years. Except
for the work done on the lost manuscript, little of the translation had been
completed. The priesthood had yet to be restored. What do you suppose Joseph's
thoughts were when the Lord made this declaration? The Lord stated
that Joseph Smith was his mouthpiece or prophet. How humbling, possibly
must have been to Joseph when he contemplated the implications of this
In subsequent revelations, the Lord continued to reaffirm the calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Section 21 was given to the Prophet during the organization meeting of
the Church on April 6, 1830 in Fayette, New York.
On that occasion the Lord stated to Joseph: "Behold,
there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou shalt be called
a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of
the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord
Jesus Christ." (D&C 21:1)
Anthony W. Ivins: "The word Prophet defined
in the Hebrew language means one who has been called to denounce sin and
foretell the consequences and punishment of it. He is to be above all else
a preacher of righteousness, to call the people back from idolatry to faith
in the living God, and when moved upon by the Spirit of the Lord, to foretell
coming events. But more particularly a prophet is to be an expounder of
present duties and an interpreter of the meaning and application of the
written word." (CR, Oct 1933)
The Lord continues by stating, "For his word ye shall
receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith"
(D&C 21:5). We are commanded to heed the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith
(and his successors) as if the Lord had spoken directly to us.
Shortly after the organization of the Church there was a challenge to Joseph's
authority as prophet and spokesman for the Lord. After spending time
with Joseph in Harmony, Oliver Cowdery returned to Fayette.
A short time later Joseph received a letter from Oliver commanding him
in the name of God to erase certain words in one of the revelations (Section
20 according to B.H. Roberts).
Joseph replied to Oliver asking him by what authority he commanded a revelation
or commandment from Almighty God to be altered.
It became necessary for Joseph to travel to Fayette. After prayer
and reasoning, Joseph was able to convince Oliver, and a few others, that
the words of the revelation were correct. Joseph then returned to
Harmony. (see CHC 1:217-218)
There were several occasions in the early days of the Church when the Saints had
to be reminded that the house of the Lord is one of order and that only one man
is called to receive revelation for the whole Church.
Not long after the above incident with Oliver Cowdery, the Prophet tells
of another challenge: "To our great grief,
however, we soon found that Satan had been lying in wait to deceive, and
seeking whom he might devour. Brother Hiram Page had in his possession
a certain stone, by which he had obtained certain 'revelations' concerning
the upbuilding of Zion, the order of the Church, etc., all of which were
entirely at variance with the order of God's house as laid down in the
New Testament, as well as in our late revelations. As a conference
meeting had been appointed for the 26th day of September , I thought
it wisdom not to do much more than to converse with the brethren on the
subject, until the conference should meet. Finding, however, that many,
especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery, were believing much in
the things set forth by this stone, we thought best to inquire of the Lord
concerning so important a matter; and before conference convened, we received
the following: [Section 28]." (HC, 1:109-10)
After the reception of this revelation (Section 28) it should have been
abundantly clear to Oliver, the Whitmer's, and others, how the Lord operates.
"But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee,
no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this
church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even
as Moses" (D&C 28:2).
Shortly after arriving in Kirtland, the Prophet said that "a
woman came making great pretensions of revealing commandments, laws and
other curious matters; and as almost every person has advocates for both
theory and practice, in the various notions and projects of the age, it
became necessary to inquire of the Lord" (HC, 1:154).
Once again the Lord declared, "And this ye shall
know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments
and revelations [meaning Joseph Smith] until he be taken, if he abide in
me" (D&C 43:3).
In November 1831, Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer were preparing to go
to Missouri to take care of church business. A special conference
was called to consider any matters that would need their attention prior
to their departure.
One of the matters to be considered at this conference was the publication
of the revelations given through Joseph Smith.
A revelation from the Lord was given to the Prophet at this conference. This revelation, now
Section 1, became the Lord's preface to the Book of
Commandments (early version of the Doctrine and Covenants).
It was decided that 10,000 copies would be published, though this number
was dropped to 3,000 at a later time.
One of those in attendance at this conference, a recent convert, questioned
the language of the revelations. This was William E. McLellin. McLellin became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve when it was first
organized, but later apostatized and became an enemy to the Church.
Because of this challenge to the language of the revelations, the Prophet
was given a revelation from the Lord (Section 67).
In this revelation the Lord issued a challenge: "And
now I, the Lord, give unto you a testimony of the truth of these commandments
which are lying before you. Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph
Smith, Jun., and his language you have known, and his imperfections you
have known; and you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might
express beyond his language; this you also know. Now, seek ye out
of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint
him that is the most wise among you; Or, if there be any among you that
shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do
not know that they are true; But if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye
are under condemnation if ye do not bear record that they are true"
The Prophet wrote of this incident: "After
the foregoing was received, William E. M'Lellin, as the wisest man, in
his own estimation, having more learning than sense, endeavored to write
a commandment like unto one of the least of the Lord's, but failed; it
was an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord. The Elders
and all present that witnessed this vain attempt of a man to imitate the
language of Jesus Christ, renewed their faith in the fulness of the Gospel,
and in the truth of the commandments and revelations which the Lord had
given to the Church through my instrumentality." (HC, 1:226)
The challenges to Joseph Smith and the revelations continued until his
assassination at Carthage. There were often those who
challenged the Lord's confirming witness that Joseph Smith was His spokesman,
"I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to
receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant
Joseph Smith, Jun." (D&C 28:2).
President Wilford Woodruff: "I say to Israel,
the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president
of this Church to lead you astray." (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff,
Based on the principle stated by President Woodruff, Joseph was true to
the will of the Lord to the end of his days. Every revelation received
came from God. Those who turned against the Prophet denied the great
revelations. When they did so, they turned away from the truth which had
A Choice Seer
Many centuries ago the Lord gave a prophecy to Moses: "And
now, Moses, my son, I will speak unto thee concerning this earth upon which
thou standest; and thou shalt write the things which I shall speak. And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and
take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will
raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the
children of men—among as many as shall believe" (Moses 1:40-41).
As recorded by Nephi, when Lehi blessed his son Joseph, he quoted from
the prophecies of Joseph, son of Jacob: "Yea,
Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise
up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among
the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall
do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great
worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants
which I have made with thy fathers....
"Wherefore, the fruit of
thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write;
and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that
which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together,
unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions,
and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them
to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge
of my covenants, saith the Lord." (2 Nephi 3:7, 12)
As revealed to these ancient prophets, a prophet would be raised up in
the latter days. A man who would bring forth the word of God to a
new generation. These ancients foresaw the day when Joseph Smith would
be raised up to deliver the word of the Lord.
Elder LeGrand Richards: "As far as our records show, he has given
us more revealed truth than any prophet who has ever lived upon the face
of the earth." (Ensign, May 1981, p33)
WHAT SCRIPTURES HAVE COME TO US THROUGH THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH?
The Book of Mormon.
We have discussed in past lessons the role of the Prophet Joseph Smith
in bringing forth this remarkable work of scripture. When the translation
was complete, Joseph struggled to get the first edition printed. With the assistance of Martin Harris, sufficient backing was provided to
allow the publication of the first 5,000 copies. Since that day,
publication has continued. Since 1830 over 100 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been
published in dozens of languages. Truly, this generation has had
the word of the Lord through Joseph Smith.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS GREAT WORK? WHAT IMPACT HAVE THESE
MILLIONS OF COPIES HAD ON THE WORLD?
Though the Book of Mormon does not contain every aspect of the restoration
or all the principles of the gospel, it became the catalyst for the continuing
- One example: In the spring of 1829, while Joseph and Oliver were
translating, the record raised questions about baptism. Joseph and
Oliver retired to the woods to pray about their questions. The result
of their prayer was the visit of John the Baptist and the restoration of
the Aaronic Priesthood.
It is a second witness for Jesus Christ. It declares that the gospel
is a gospel for the world and not just a chosen few.
Possibly, the greatest significance of the Book of Mormon is that it brings
men and women to Christ. It is the greatest tool of conversion in
this generation. As Moroni declares, if one reads this work and then
asks the Lord "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in
Christ" one will receive a witness of its truthfulness through the "power
of the Holy Ghost" (see
Moroni 10:3-5). Numerous are the stories
of conversion facilitated by the Book of Mormon.
Consider Parley P. Pratt's experience: "As
I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended
that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends
and knows that he exists" (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt,
p20). One cannot read this book, learn of its truth, and then ignore
it. At the time Parley read the Book of Mormon, he was on a mission
preaching the word of God as he knew it. He had been a recent convert
to the Cambellite faith. Almost immediately, Parley made his way to Palmyra
in search of the Prophet and shortly thereafter Parley was
baptized. The remainder of his life was spent in service to the restored
I have heard it said that President Hugh B. Brown was once speaking to
a group of Saints. In the course of his address he asked the question,
"How many here are converts to the Church?" Several raised their
hands, but most did not, since they were lifetime members of the Church. President Brown said, "I advise the rest of you to get converted!" I don't know if this story is true or if it is Mormon folklore, but the
principle is accurate. I grew up in the Church. I thought I
knew the Church was true, but it wasn't until my testimony was challenged
during the early months of my mission, that I decided to do what I had
been teaching the people. To read the Book of Mormon and verify Moroni's
promise. That testimony of the Book of Mormon, brought forth through
the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, has been the iron rod that has kept
me on the path. Oh,
how thankful we should be for the sacrifice Joseph Smith and others went
through to bring forth this great work!
The Doctrine & Covenants.
The revelations to Joseph Smith, as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants,
were the instructions to Joseph and the early Saints answering many questions
and revealing many of the important truths of the Restoration. Each
revelation has an important story behind it, such as the McLellin incident
related above. These same instructions contain vital information
and doctrine for the continued operation of the Church and for our eternal
President Ezra Taft Benson: "The Book of Mormon
brings men to Christ. The Doctrine & Covenants brings men to Christ's
kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 'the only
true and living church upon the face of the whole earth' (D&C 1:30)....
"The Book of Mormon
is the 'keystone' of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the
capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed
His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone"
(Ensign, May 1987, p83).
The Pearl of Great Price.
"The Pearl of Great Price is appropriately named. Like a pearl, it is small in size but great in worth. Although it
is only 61 pages long, it spans the eternities, including passages about
the Grand Council in Heaven, the restoration of the gospel in the dispensation
of the fulness of times, the Savior's Second Coming, the Millennium, and
everlasting life. It contains valuable teachings on the Creation, the Fall,
the Atonement, and the agency of mankind." (Gospel Doctrine
WHAT ARE THE PARTS OF THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE AND HOW DID WE OBTAIN THEM?
Selections from the Book of Moses.
Shortly after the organization of the Church, the Prophet returned to Colesville and
Harmony. There were troubles between the believers and some of their
neighbors. Joseph went through two trials. He was acquitted
in both instances. The Prophet wrote: "I
will say, however, that amid all the trials and tribulations we had to
wade through, the Lord who well knew our infantile and delicate situation,
vouchsafed for us a supply of strength, and granted us 'line upon line
of knowledge—here a little and there a little,' of which the following
was a precious morsel" (HC, 1:98). This morsel was a revelation
now known as the first chapter in the Book of Moses.
The translation of the Book of Mormon convinced the Prophet that many plain
and precious parts of the Bible were missing. After receiving Moses
1, the Prophet took up a revision of the Bible which occupied much of his
time over the next few years. The remainder of the Book of Moses
is an extract from that revision. The Prophecy of Enoch was restored
in December 1830 and provided information that would enable the Church
to begin the building up of Zion after the pattern of the Zion of Enoch.
The Book of Abraham.
The Book of Abraham came from the Prophet's translation of ancient Egyptian
scrolls that came into his hands through a Michael Chandler of Philadelphia. Chandler had been bequeathed mummies and scrolls from Antonio Lebolo who
had discovered them in Egypt in 1818. Part of the collection was
sold to the Church in 1835.
Joseph Smith: "Soon after this, some of
the Saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies and papyrus, a description
of which will appear hereafter, and with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery
as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics,
and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings
of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.,—a more full
account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold
them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of
peace and truth." (HC, 2:231)
Joseph Smith—Matthew is part of the Prophet's inspired revision of the
Bible and parallels Matthew 23:39 and Matthew 24.
In 1838, Joseph Smith began to write his history, which became known as the
History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The first part of
this history is the content contained in the Pearl of Great Price and includes
the accounts of the First Vision and subsequent visits from the angel Moroni.
The first portion of this to appear in print was contained in the Times and Seasons, published in Nauvoo.
The Articles of Faith.
Elder B.H. Roberts: "One other document
of great historical and even doctrinal importance was published about the
same time as this Book of Abraham, namely, in the spring of 1842. This document is what is called The Wentworth Letter. Mr. John Wentworth,
editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, solicited of Joseph Smith
a statement concerning the history and doctrine of the Church of the Latter-day
Saints, for his friend Mr. Barstow, of New Hampshire, who was writing a
history of that state. Responding to this request the Wentworth Letter
was prepared by the Prophet. Beginning with the birth of Joseph Smith,
in 1805, it traces in admirable manner the development of the great latter-day
work, the story of its persecutions, up to the settlement of the saints
in Nauvoo; and also details their prosperous condition and happy prospects
at the time the letter was written." (CHC, 2:130-131)
The letter closed with the Articles of Faith as a summation of the beliefs
of the Church.
Elder Roberts: "They were not produced by
the labored efforts and the harmonized contentions of scholastics, but
were struck off by one mind at a single effort to make a declaration of
that which is most assuredly believed by the church, for one making earnest
inquiry about her history and her fundamental doctrines. The combined
directness, perspicuity, simplicity and comprehensiveness of this statement
of the doctrine of the church is regarded as strong evidence of a divine
inspiration operating upon the mind of Joseph Smith." (CHC,
Were we to take away all other scripture produced through the instrumentality
of Joseph Smith, the Pearl of Great Price would stand by itself as a powerful
witness of the Prophet's calling. Its teachings and doctrines are
powerful and yet it almost stands in the shadow of the other great works
that came forth through the Prophet.
Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
"We believe the Bible to be the word of God as
far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to
be the word of God" (Article of Faith 8).
As noted above, the Prophet came to learn that the Bible had many passages
that had been translated incorrectly, were missing, or otherwise corrupted. In September 1831, the Prophet moved to the home of John Johnson in Hyrum,
Ohio. It was there that he began making corrections of the King James
version of the Bible. Sidney Rigdon acted as his scribe through this
Milton V. Backman, Jr: "During this project,
Joseph Smith studied the same portions of the Bible on different occasions. Though he had earlier revised a given chapter or passage, he often made
further revisions. For example, there are two successive manuscripts
for parts of Genesis and two for parts of Matthew. It is apparent
that the translation was a gradual process. As he studied the text,
he received revelation and subsequently obtained additional knowledge of
a particular subject. Revelations that he received often came in
response to questions he submitted to the Lord, and this project was a
great stimulator of questions. Many of the doctrines of the Church,
including many of the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants,
were disclosed while Joseph Smith was translating the Bible."
(The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838,
The copyright to the Inspired Version is currently owned by the Community of
Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church. We have portions of the Inspired Version in our current Bible.
We are encouraged to use the Joseph Smith Translation as we study the Bible.
It is a testimony to me of the calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith when
I realize he lived several years less than myself and that he was able
to accomplish the translation and preparation of these great works. Clearly, he was blessed and empowered by the Lord to fulfill this great
calling of bringing forth the word of the Lord to this generation. The Book of Mormon alone stands as a remarkable testimony of this man. Evidence after evidence has come forth revealing things no mortal in Joseph
Smith's situation could have known. Truly, he was the Lord's anointed.
Plain & Precious Doctrines
It is interesting to review some of the doctrines of
the gospel that were restored or clarified through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Again, it helps us realize that Joseph Smith was indeed called of the
Lord to be his instrument in restoring the fulness of the gospel to the
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DOCTRINES THAT WERE RESTORED OR CLARIFIED THROUGH
As we list a few doctrines, consider the prevailing belief at the time
the principle was revealed and what importance each doctrine has in your
|Physical nature of the Godhead
||Joseph Smith—History 1:17; D&C 130:1; D&C 130:22
|Our creation in God's image
|Apostles and prophets
||D&C 107:23; D&C 107:33; D&C 107:35; D&C 107:39;
D&C 107:58; D&C 112:30-32
1835 - The Quorum of the Twelve Organized
||D&C 84:19-25; D&C 107:1-8; D&C 107:18-19
1829 - Restored by Peter, James, & John
||D&C 13; D&C 84:18; D&C 84:26-27; D&C 84:30;
D&C 107:1; D&C 107:13-14; D&C 107:20
1829 - Restored by John the Baptist
|Mode of baptism
||3 Nephi 11:22-26; Moroni 8:8-12; D&C 20:71-74
|The gift of the Holy Ghost
||D&C 20:41; D&C 20:43; D&C 35:6; D&C 121:46
|Pre mortal existence
||D&C 93:29; Abraham 3:22-26
|Baptism for the dead
|The three kingdoms of glory
||D&C 76:50-112; D&C 131:1
||D&C 131:1-4; D&C 132:19
|Our potential to become like
|D&C 88:107; D&C 93:20; D&C 132:20-24
This lesson has provided a glimpse into the person and character of
Joseph Smith. As the Lord's instrument in delivering authority, principles,
doctrines, and practices, the Prophet did a remarkable thing. The
bringing forth of the Book of Mormon was miraculous. The reception of
revelation that clarified and restored important principles is a tremendous
- Joseph was the Lord's mouthpiece, but he was also the Lord's engineer that
began the foundation of the Lord's earthly kingdom. Under the Prophet's
direction, missionaries were sent out, temples erected, and cities constructed.
The gathering of Israel was begun and the building of Zion initiated. We could
do multiple lessons on Joseph Smith. He was a remarkable man and an obedient
servant of Jesus Christ.
Some years ago I had the opportunity of going to Temple Square with some
friends. One of the group was not a member of the Church. We
went through the displays and saw the movies and presentations. As
I discussed the Church with this non-member, she was quite impressed with
the Church and its programs. She told me that it all looked great,
but she could not believe the Joseph Smith part. I tried to explain to her
that everything she saw and heard was built on the foundation that the Lord
established through his servant Joseph Smith.
- Where would the Church be today without the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine
and Covenants? How would the Church be different from any other church if we did
not have the doctrines of priesthood, eternal marriage, and the pre-existence?
We cannot divorce the Joseph Smith experience from the Church. Those that have
done so have failed. He is the Lord's mouthpiece to this generation. If we do
not have a testimony of his divine calling, we need to read the Book of Mormon,
follow Moroni's admonition, and obtain that witness. If we do have a testimony,
we need to strive to keep the principles Joseph taught and do our utmost in
building up Zion.
For additional resources on the Prophet Joseph Smith, see
Topics at LDS.org.
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Record your thoughts and testimony on the Prophet Joseph Smith. How have
the revelations received through the Prophet affected your life?
Resources Used In This Lesson
A Comprehensive History of the Church by B.H. Roberts (CHC).
Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt.
Conference Reports (CR).
Discourses of Wilford Woodruff
History of the Church (HC).
Pearl of Great Price Commentary by Milton R. Hunter.
The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838, by
Milton V. Backman, Jr.
Gospel Doctrine Class
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