Historical Context and Background of D&C 14-16

Image of a brown log cabin with red trim around the windows and a red door
Photo Credit: John W. Welch, 2003

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Oliver Cowdery kept his acquaintance David Whitmer informed about the translation of the Book of Mormon. When antagonism against Joseph grew in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Oliver wrote to David to ask if he and Joseph could finish translating at the Whitmers’ home in Fayette, New York. David himself came with a wagon to transport them, told them his parents would house and feed them for free while they were translating, and promised them all the help they might need.

By early June 1829, they commenced translating in Fayette. The Whitmers and their neighbors were friendly and supportive. Whitmer sons David, Peter, and John were about the same age as Joseph and Oliver, all in their twenties, and especially “zealous,” Joseph’s history says, “and being desirous to know their respective duties, and having desired with much earnestness that I should enquire of the Lord concerning then, I did so, through the means of the Urim and Thummim and obtained for them in succession the following Revelations.”1

Section 14 was for David. It repeats phrases and themes of the marvelous work about to be made known to mankind and the figurative field that is ready for harvest. It also repeats the emphasis on working for Zion and promises David that if he works to build Zion and endures to the end, God will give him the greatest possible gift: eternal life.

The revelation foreshadows David’s role as one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. David kept many of the revelation’s commands. His testimony of the Book of Mormon, to which he remained faithful, is recorded in every copy. He assisted in the marvelous work. But in David’s case the condition that he “endure to the end” (D&C 14:7) is especially notable. He may not have endured as the Lord intended. Having served for almost four years as president of the Church in Missouri, he was cut off from the Church in 1838. He lived for another five decades as a respected citizen of Richmond, Missouri, and made a conscious effort to affirm the Book of Mormon while finding fault with Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.2

The Lord gave essentially the same revelation to both John and Peter in sections 15 and 16, commanding both to hearken to his words as their Redeemer. They desired to know what would be of most worth to them. The Lord blessed them for this desire and told them the most valuable thing they could do is to “declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my father” (D&C 15:6; 16:6).

Like all of the revelations, these ones have an internal rationale. Declaring repentance is the most valuable thing for John and Peter to do, the Lord explains, because it will enable them to rest with the repentant in God’s kingdom. Sections 18, 84, and 93 explain this logic further, but in these sections we are introduced to the truth that working for the salvation of others is eternally satisfying for ourselves.

1. Dean C. Jessee, editor, The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1989), 1:294.

2. Lyndon W. Cook, editor, David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem: Grandin, 1991).

Additional Context, by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

D&C 14—To David Whitmer

Joseph Smith received the revelation in section 14 on behalf of David Whitmer shortly after Joseph and Oliver moved to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York. The Prophet and his scribe relocated to Fayette for the last month of the translation because of rising conflict between Joseph and the other residents of Harmony, including Joseph’s father-in-law, Isaac Hale. The Whitmer farm is located about thirty miles away from the Hill Cumorah, and the entire area was alive with rumors about the retrieval of the plates. Oliver was acquainted with the Whitmer family and corresponded with them while he was assisting Joseph in the translation. Because of rising persecution in Harmony, Pennsylvania where Joseph and Oliver were working, Oliver wrote a letter asking David Whitmer to find a place where they could move to complete the work of translation. Lucy Mack Smith later recorded, “[Joseph] was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmer, this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say [to] him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and Oliver [Cowdery] back to his house which was 135 miles that they might remain there until the translation was completed. . . . An evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph’s life in order to prevent the work of God from coming forth” (History, 1844–1845, book. 8, p. 8).

According to an interview given later in his life, David described a curious experience that he, Joseph, and Oliver had during the trip from Harmony to Fayette. As David described it,

A very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, “good morning, it is very warm,” at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and, by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, “No, I am going to Cumorah.” This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around enquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared. . . . It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony. (“Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star, 40, December 9, 1878, 772–73)

David, along with the rest of the Whitmer family, became key allies of Joseph Smith in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. Doctrine and Covenants 15 and 16 were received on behalf of other Whitmer family members. David himself became one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Each of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon were either a member of Joseph Smith’s immediate family or a member of the Whitmer family (Hiram Page was a Whitmer brother-in-law, married to Katherine Whitmer). The Whitmer’s prominently participated in a number of other key events in the early Restoration, including the organization of the Church (D&C 20), the incident with Hiram Page and the Seerstone (D&C 28), and the first mission to the American Indians (D&C 30).

See Historical Introduction, “Revelation, June 1829–A [D&C 14],” p. 32, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 12, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-june-1829-a-dc-14/1

D&C 15—To John Whitmer

John Whitmer was among the members of the Whitmer family who warmly welcomed Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery into their home in June 1829. We do not know the exact date, but it is likely that John was baptized the same month, probably around the same time that his brothers Peter Jr. and David received the ordinance (JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, pp. 22–23, JSP). The revelation in section 15 was given around the same time that special revelations were provided to David Whitmer (D&C 14) and Peter Whitmer Jr. (D&C 16). Joseph Smith later recorded in his history that “David, John, and Peter Whitmer, Jr. became our zealous friends and assistants in the work; and being anxious to know their respective duties, and having desired with much earnestness that I should enquire of the Lord concerning them, I did so, through the means of the Urim and Thummim and obtained for them in succession the following revelations” (JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, 22, JSP).

D&C 16—To Peter Whitmer, Jr.

Peter Whitmer Jr. was nineteen years old when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery arrived in his family’s home to complete the translation of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery baptized him shortly thereafter , around the same time that David Whitmer and Hyrum Smith also chose baptism. The revelation given to Peter is identical to the revelation given to his brother John (D&C 15), though the word “unto” is in verse 5 in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C, 1844, 254, JSP). This is the only known case of two of Joseph Smith’s revelations having the same wording.