Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 1

/ Doctrine & Covenants 1 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-7

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

While Latter-day Saints generally see the Book of Mormon as the scripture intended for the larger world, it is important to remember that the Lord opens the Doctrine and Covenants by proclaiming that this new scripture is for all men and women everywhere. The Book of Mormon is an introduction to the saving doctrine of Christ; the Doctrine and Covenants includes this doctrine but in addition teaches the intricacies of the workings of God’s kingdom on the earth. President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ’s kingdom. The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation” (“The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, April 1987). The messages in the revelations are intended for all people, with the Lord making no exceptions to His declaration here. The Lord speaks of a work to spread the gospel, which will transcend even the realm of the dead.


The Lord’s message to the people of the latter days begins with a stern warning that the rebellious will be pierced with sorrow and have their sins made manifest, indeed, even shouted from the housetops. The Lord also affirms, and repeats at the end of the revelation for emphasis, that His authority has been given to the servants He has designated in the latter days to carry out His work. To hear the voice of one called with authority, whether it be a prophet of God or a humble missionary, is to hear the voice of Jesus Christ. (Doctrine & Covenants Minute)

Verses 8-16

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

These verses provide the clearest explanation of the Lord’s view of the the need for a restoration in the latter days. The Lord also comments on the causes of the Apostasy in Doctrine and Covenants 86, where He states that after the death of the Apostles, the Adversary planted the seeds that eventually drove the Church into the wilderness. In both section 1 and section 85, He speaks of the falling away still happening in our time, as an ongoing effort by the forces of evil to keep people from the truth.


In the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord clearly indicates the causes of the Apostasy. First, the people rejected the voice of the prophets and apostles. It was not only the death of the original Apostles that led to the destruction of the Church in the meridian of time but the people’s refusal to heed their words. The Lord called new Apostles in the New Testament period, bringing in Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, and others to replenish the ranks of the Twelve. But as more and more of the early leaders of the Church were rejected or killed, the calling of new apostles became futile. With the people unwilling to listen to his servants, the Lord withdrew the privilege of having his servants in their midst. Without the guiding hand of the servants of the Lord, changes, some more sinister than others, began to creep into the Church. Ordinances were changed without divine sanction, and the people broke their everlasting covenant, removing the power of sealings and temple blessings from their midst.


But the most serious change the Lord identifies is one still happening in our day. People engage in idolatry—not in the worship of false idols prevalent in the Old Testament and other scripture but in the creation of their own gods, who fit their needs and desires and excuse their sins. Without the guidance of scripture combined with authoritative servants, it is not difficult to imagine a god who is overly cruel or overly harsh or to imagine no god at all. Many people today turn the philosophies of the world into the foundation of their value system rather than the fulness of the doctrine of Christ as found in the scriptures. (Doctrine & Covenants Minute)

Verses 17-23

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

After outlining mankind’s dilemma, the Lord provides a mission statement for the work of the Restoration. The stern tone in the opening of the revelation is replaced with the pleading tone of a Savior deeply concerned with saving as many people as possible from the calamities of the latter days. As part of His rescue plan, the Lord called and commissioned the prophet Joseph Smith, gave him revelations, and called others to help him proclaim these revelations to the world. The Lord also speaks of others to assist in this rescue, those in authority who have followed in the footsteps of Joseph Smith, including Brigham Young, John Taylor, Russell M. Nelson, and other latter day prophets.


The Lord then outlines more of the plan to rescue humankind before the last great calamities. The weak things of the world will break down the mighty and strong ones. It is remarkable to note the ways this prophecy has been fulfilled since it was given in 1831. The empires then so dominant over the lands and peoples of the earth have broken down and collapsed in the centuries since, laying the groundwork for the millennial kingdom. The Lord also says that every person “might speak in the name of God the Lord,” predicting a universal priesthood available to all believers and ordinances extended to all, the living and the dead, who willingly enter into sacred covenants and eventually available to all people. A stated purpose of the Restoration is “that faith might increase in the earth,” allowing people to have faith unto life and salvation because they know of the true character, attributes, and perfections of God (see Lectures on Faith [1985], 3:2–5).


In addition, the Lord speaks of the reestablishment of the everlasting covenant, given the introductory ordinances of the gospel and through sacred ordinances administered in temples. This promise of the Restoration was among the most challenging for the Saints to fulfill, yet they managed to dedicate two temples in the lifetime of Joseph Smith. The first temple in Kirtland fell into desecration and ruin, while the second in Nauvoo was destroyed by an arsonist. Nevertheless, the Saints persisted, working over the course of decades to build further temples in St. George, Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake City. Today hundreds of temples stand as witnesses to the restoration of the everlasting covenant, temples in locations as diverse as Accra, Ghana; Taipei, Taiwan; Kiev, Ukraine; Sao Paolo, Brazil; and Hong Kong, China. With each temple the everlasting covenant becomes more freely available to God’s family.


It is also remarkable to consider that some of the “weak and simple” stood in the room when the revelation in section 1 was given, with the early elders of the Church going forth to as many nations as possible. Only a few years after this revelation was given, Joseph Smith met with the president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, and Parley P. Pratt wrote a letter to Queen Victoria about the Restoration of the gospel. Two centuries later, it is a common occurrence for the heads of nations to meet with the leaders of the Church. (Doctrine & Covenants Minute)

Verses 24-29

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

With the Savior’s shift to a softer tone in the latter part of the revelation, He expresses mercy and forgiveness to those who willingly humbles themselves and seek the help, wisdom, and comfort of God. The Lord’s plea for humility among the Saints was given at a time when several members of the conference were complaining about imperfections in the revelations. The Lord reminds them of Joseph Smith’s previous work of translating the Book of Mormon and points out that the Nephite record was revealed through the mercy and power of God, not through the power of man.


The Savior also makes a crucial statement about the nature of scripture, explaining that revelations are given to His servants “in their weakness and after the manner of their language that they might come to understanding.” This is a key not only to understanding the Doctrine and Covenants but to understanding all scripture. When the Lord speaks to His people, He considers their linguistic, cultural, scientific, and intellectual background. Hence, the creation accounts found in the books of Genesis, Moses, and Abraham and in the temple endowment ceremony are not scientific explanations for how the earth was created but the Lord’s revelation on why it was created and its purpose in the designs of God. Revelations given to Joseph Smith and other modern prophets take on a different tone, reflecting the scriptural language, knowledge, and cultural background of the Saints in the early American republic. Doubtless when the Lord gives revelations in our time, the tone and message remain consistent, but the Lord also adjusts to account for our weaknesses and speaks after the manner of our understanding. (Doctrine & Covenants Minute)

Verses 30-33

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

One of the most difficult teachings of the Church for members of other faiths to reconcile is the statement found here that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church on the earth. The statement is made here by the Savior but does require some explanation to appreciate what this truly means.


First, saying the Church is the only true church does not mean that Latter-day Saints are the only holders of truth on the earth. As Paul taught, God “hath made of one blood all nations of the earth . . . that they should seek the Lord, if haply they feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:26–27). More recently, the First Presidency has stated that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring to a higher level of understanding to individuals” (First Presidency statement, Feb. 15, 1978).


Second, this statement does not claim perfection for the members of the Church, whom the Lord mentions He is pleased with collectively but not individually. Latter-day Saints are subject to the same foibles, sins, and prejudices as other people and continually strive and fail, seeking the Lord’s grace as all others must do. The Saints are an imperfect people and seek to become like Christ while reaching out in goodwill to all people, regardless of their religious background.


Third, Latter-day Saints do not believe the Church is perfect either, and the Savior makes no such claim here. “True” must be joined with “living” in order to fully understand the way the Lord’s Church operates. The Church is not a static organism. As a living faith, the Church continually undergoes change to adapt to changing circumstances and to continue the long effort to perfect the Saints. Being a living church is essential to also being a true church. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained, “With the keys of the kingdom, the Lord’s servants can identify both truth and falsehood and once again authoritatively state, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ Regrettably, some resent the Church because they want to define their own truth, but in reality it is a surpassing blessing to receive a ‘knowledge of things as they [truly] are, and as they were, and as they are to come’ insofar as the Lord wills to reveal it. The Church safeguards and publishes God’s revelations—the canon of scripture” (“Why the Church,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 110–111).


As the Lord emphasizes in this revelation, the presence of living prophets is a key component in making the Church both “true” and “living.” President Henry B. Eyring taught, “This is the true Church, the only true Church, because in it are the keys of the priesthood. Only in this Church has the Lord lodged the power to seal on earth and to seal in heaven as He did in the time of the Apostle Peter. Those keys were restored to Joseph Smith, who then was authorized to confer them upon the members of the Quorum of the Twelve” (“The True and Living Church,” April 2008 General Conference). In a world of constantly shifting ideas and values, where people are “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14), the existence of a true church led by living prophets and apostles provides a sure foundation for men and women to build on. (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 34-36

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The Lord repeats here His aim to spread the message of the Restoration to all people in all places. He also reiterates His reasons for bringing about the Restoration. The time of calamity is at hand, and peace will be taken from the earth. For men and women to find shelter from the spiritual and physical challenges of the last days, they must seek Jesus Christ and give heed to His servants.

Conflict will intensify as the time of the Lord’s return draws nearer, but the Saints will also increase in power and glory. The Lord’s use of Idumea is a synonym for the world and fraught with meaning. Idumea is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Edom, the name of the people descended from Esau, the brother of Israel. Though Esau and Israel reconciled with each other, their descendants became bitter enemies. The Lord’s use of Idumea here hints at the deep divisions to plague the world before the Savior’s coming. (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 37-39

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

In the closing words of the revelation, the Lord underlines one of the important themes of the Doctrine and Covenants. His servants, though imperfect men and women, are given the authority to act on His behalf and to carry His message to the nations. In a later revelation, the Lord teaches “he that receiveth my servants receiveth me” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:36). The revelation serves as a perfect opening to a volume of scripture containing the Lord’s words to the people in the latter days. The weakness of His servants will be evident, but also glory and power will be found whenever faithful men and women receive a call to act on behalf of God to bring about His purposes. (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)