D&C 68 – Historical background

Before we jump into D&C 68, I wanted to catch up on what the sections between D&C 20 and 68 say about priesthood. I searched for “priesthood,” “elder,” and “priest,” and found only a few minor references, none of which were trying to explain priesthood or the roles of those offices. There are references to Zion generally, which we may or may not want to consider references to the priesthood. I think we’re still figuring out what the connection really is between Zion and priesthood. But, I did find many references to the office of “bishop” especially as it relates to Zion. Plus, it’s a role that will be important in D&C 68, so it made sense to focus on that office for now.

Revelations from 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio, that mention bishops:

D&C 41:9-11.

(9) And again, I have called my servant Edward Partridge; and I give a commandment, that he should be appointed by the voice of the church, and ordained a bishop unto the church, to leave his merchandise and to spend all his time in the labors of the church; (10) To see to all things as it shall be appointed unto him in my laws in the day that I shall give them. (11) And this because his heart is pure before me, for he is like unto Nathanael of old, in whom there is no guile.

Note that in this revelation, the Saints are still waiting for the law (which comes in the very next section). The important points seem to be 1) God called Edward Partridge, 2) He will leave his livelihood to serve the Church, and 3) He is pure in heart so God (and the Saints) can trust him.

D&C 42:31-35.

(31) And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose…. (34) Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council; (35) And for the purpose of purchasing lands for the public benefit of the church, and building houses of worship, and building up of the New Jerusalem which is hereafter to be revealed—

D&C 42 was the “law” they were waiting for, and of course this is part of what we call the “law of consecration.” The bishop’s role here is as a middle-man between the Saints/their property and the Church/its property. He also receives any extra “residue” which is kept in a storehouse. The Bishop (and the high council) use the residue for the “public benefit” of the Saints as well as for the poor and needy.

Verses 71-73 also note that the bishop and his counselors can take care of their families out of the donated substance from the Church. At first this sounded like he doesn’t have to work on a stewardship like everyone else, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I think that he simply gives himself a stewardship just like everyone else.

Question: How do you see the role of a bishop in D&C 42 as similar or dissimilar from the role of a high priest from Alma 13? Or, at least, from the role that Melchizedek seemed to embody in that chapter?

D&C 46: 26-27.

(26) And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God. (27) And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.

There was considerable disagreement in Kirtland at the time about what constituted a true spiritual experience. D&C 46 came as part of a response to some elders in Kirtland who asked Joseph how to tell which spiritual gifts were Godly and which ones weren’t. I had the misunderstanding for a while that the Bishop could discern because he had all of the gifts. Verse 29 says that there might be someone appointed to have all of those gifts, but it doesn’t connect that with a bishop. Verse 27 is pretty clear that the bishop can discern gifts by the Spirit. (And so can the elders, too.)

Is this parallel to his work with properties in any way? A bishop knows what gifts or properties the Saints brought to consecrate, and he knows what gifts or properties they received to work on. He was a go-between with properties; is that in any way similar here, or am I working too hard to find a connection? He doesn’t give spiritual gifts, of course, but he can discern what what God had given to someone as they began to use (or pretend to use) that gift among the Saints. We could also make a connection between him knowing which gifts were “of God,” just like properties become “of God” through consecration. Though, of course, their spiritual gifts don’t become consecrated by the bishop, he just discerns them. Anyway, maybe there’s something there and maybe there isn’t.

I do like the connection though, that in D&C 42 the bishop used the residue for the “public benefit” of the Church, and here spiritual gifts are given “for the benefit of the children of God” and “that every member may be profited thereby.” Whether or not there’s a parallel role for the bishop, it sounds like there is a parallel role for spiritual gifts. Perhaps in Zion everything (temporal and spiritual) is given, through individuals, for the benefit of all?

That might also help us see consecration of properties in a slightly different way. Sometimes I wonder why God doesn’t simply bless the “Church” itself, as an body, or institution, with great prosperity and then its leaders can provide for the needs of the Saints. But it seems clear that God blesses individuals with talents, money, property, business, learning, etc., which He expects will be shared with the Church body. The individual is the medium through which He blesses the group.

D&C 51. I included a link to entire section because it’s just interesting to see the directions from D&C 42 start to be played out in real, on-the-ground work. It also became “example unto my servant Edward Partridge, in other places, in all churches” (v.18). I have a just two brief comments:

(15) And thus I grant unto this people a privilege of organizing themselves according to my laws.

Whereas we often see the law of consecration as a trial or tough commandment, God saw it as a “privilege” He was granting to the Saints. Of course, when I think of the possible end result being a city like Enoch’s or the Nephites, then that does sound like quite a privilege.

Also, verse 19 ups the stakes of all of this by saying:

(19) And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life.

There’s a lot more going on here that just an wise/unwise economic order, or another “program!”

D&C 52. It’s worth noting for historical reasons that this section was received during the “June Conference” when the first ordinations to high priest were made.

D&C 54. Again it’s worth just the historical context for this section: some of the Saints’ land in Ohio isn’t going to be available anymore (they were living on Leman Copley’s farm, but he changed his mind and decided not to consecrate it!), so that expedites the need to move some Saints to Missouri!

Revelations from the Summer of 1831 (when Joseph Smith visits Missouri) that mention bishops:

D&C 57-60 have are some bits and pieces about the Bishop and an agent who helps him, but nothing very substantial.

Revelations when Joseph Smith was back in Ohio that mention bishops:

D&C 64:34-42.

(34) Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. (35) And the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land … (37) Behold, I, the Lord, have made my church in these last days like unto a judge sitting on a hill, or in a high place, to judge the nations. (38) For it shall come to pass that the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion. (39) And liars and hypocrites shall be proved by them, and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known. (40) And even the bishop, who is a judge, and his counselors, if they are not faithful in their stewardships shall be condemned, and others shall be planted in their stead. (41) For, behold, I say unto you that Zion shall flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her; (42) And she shall be an ensign unto the people, and there shall come unto her out of every nation under heaven.

The section heading explains that there was “a company of brethren who had been commanded to journey to Zion (Missouri) was earnestly engaged in making preparations to leave in October.” Though the revelations was given in Ohio, it shows the shifting focus towards Zion.

Judgement is clearly the theme in these particular verses. Those who aren’t judged willing and obedient are cut off from Zion. The church judges the nations. Zion judges Zion. Including apostles and prophets, and “even the bishop, who is a judge.”

There are different kinds of “judging” going on here too. For example, Zion’s inhabitants will judge whether or not apostles and prophets are really who they say they are (or if they’re “liars and hypocrites”), but they will judge whether or not the bishop and his counselors are “faithful in their stewardships.”

It’s also interesting to me that the “even” comes before “bishop,” rather than apostles and prophets. (We think of a bishop as lower in the hierarchy, so the word “even” would sound more natural before “apostle” or “prophet” in our modern Mormon culture.) Perhaps the emphasis is that the very one who judges stewardships (receives properties, assigns stewardships, evaluates needs, etc.), will also be held accountable for his honesty in his own stewardship.

D&C 67, 68, 69, 70 and part of 107 were all received in Hiram, Ohio as part of the “November Conference.” It was there that they decided to publish the revelations, so sections 1 and 133 also come at that time.

D&C 67 does not mention bishops at all, and I won’t jump ahead past D&C 68. So, the next step is on to D&C 68 itself!


Additional notes on the context of D&C 68:

Steven C. Harper’s book, Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants, says this about D&C 68:

Some of the recently ordained high priests assembled for conference meetings in Hiram, Ohio, and “requested of the Lord to know his will concerning them.” The Lord obliged them with the first twelve verses of Doctrine and Covenants 68. Then, anticipating that the revelation would soon be carried to the Saints in Missouri with the others, the Lord added an amendment to previous revelations, giving more instructions about the office of bishop and the responsibilities of parents in Zion.

The section heading explains:

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Hiram, Ohio, November 1, 1831, in response to prayer that the mind of the Lord be made known concerning Orson Hyde, Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and William E. McLellin. Although part of this revelation was directed toward these four men, much of the content pertains to the whole Church. This revelation was expanded under Joseph Smith’s direction when it was published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has this summary:

On 1–2 November 1831, ten elders convened a conference in Hiram, Ohio, to discuss the publication of the Book of Commandments, a compilation of JS’s revelations.1 According to a later JS history, four of the conference attendees—Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson, Lyman Johnson, and William E. McLellin—approached JS during the conference and requested to know the Lord’s will concerning them.2 This revelation came in response to their inquiry.3 The revelation provided more information about the evangelizing duties of the four men specifically and of elders in general. While Hyde, McLellin, and Luke Johnson were all ordained to the high priesthood at a conference held in Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, a week earlier, Lyman Johnson was ordained to the high priesthood at the Hiram conference on 2 November.4

After closing the portion of the revelation addressed specifically to the four men with an “Amen,” the document shifts its audience to the church in general and gives additional information about the office of bishop, as well as counsel to members of the church “in Zion” about teaching and baptizing their children and avoiding idleness and greed. The text may originally have been dictated as two discrete revelations, which, like some other revelations closely related in time or content, were then copied together and presented as a single, unified text. All extant copies of the text—whether in manuscript or published form—present both parts as one revelation.
The original manuscript of the revelation is not extant, and the conference minutes do not mention the revelation.5 However, the copy in Revelation Book 1 is dated 1 November 1831 and a heading states that it was “given in Hiram Nov. 1. 1831.”6John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery copied the revelation into Revelation Book 1, probably soon after its dictation.7
Are there any other sources you have found particularly helpful for understanding the context of D&C 68?


Filed under D&C 68

11 responses to “D&C 68 – Historical background

  1. jennywebb

    Karen, that’s a lot of historical detail to move through; thank you for bringing it together in a useful (and manageable!) manner.

    I’ve been thinking about your question regarding the relationship between the bishop as presented in section 42 and the role of high priest in Alma 13. Both offices appear to be at least partially centered around actions of mediation: the bishop mediates economics/goods, and the high priest is “ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men” (v.6); in other words, he stands in the middle between man and God, administering the distribution of God’s word/teachings.

    In each case, the space opened by the action and theme of mediation brings me back to the second verse of Alma 13: “And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.” While we’ve focused past discussions on the more technical side of *how* the manner of this ordination teaches people about Christ, another way of looking at this verse in terms of the broader context of priesthood offices would be to say that the ways in which priesthood offices are administered or carried out can witness the way in which Christ functions.

    In other words, the action of mediation can place the actors into a signifying space: their role as a midway point around which things like economies or teachings pivot at least partially signifies Christ’s own pivotal role as the Mediator.

  2. I like that general move, Jenny. Having a midpoint is symbolic of Christ’s role as Mediator. I think I’m going to ponder on that one for a while, but I like it.

  3. For whatever reasons I had resisted that reading of manner previously, but something in the way you explained it made more sense. I’ve been thinking a lot about “weakness” again (in Ether 12, King Benjamin, and elsewhere) and I think making us go through a mediator is one way we are reminded of our weakness. And, it’s also a way we’re reminded of God’s grace. That is, it’s graceful that God has provided priesthood and ordinances and everything we need. But we have to be humble in that we go to another person to receive those things. And same with salvation generally: Heavenly Father has provided for us everything necessary to return to Him, but has also required that we go through His Son to receive it.

    More to think about there. At the least, it reminds me of this verse from 2 Nephi 9:

    “it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him”

    • jennywebb

      Karen, I think linking “manner” with “weakness” is a helpful move: it gives an additional dimension to “manner” that we haven’t really developed. In Alma, we spent a lot of time looking at “manner”/”way”; and above, I’ve pointed towards a sort of “manner”/”position” approach; but I think your thoughts take manner further into a more sense-oriented realm: more of a “manner”/”quality” understanding, no?

      • Hmm, I think so. I like your descriptions of “manner/way” and “manner/position,” but I’m not sure if “quality” is the word to use here — I’m still thinking about that. It’s something like “manner/what’s accomplished by that manner”? Maybe?

        • jennywebb

          Yeah, I don’t think “quality” is the best word either, and I like your formulation. But I want a single word! 🙂 Going to have to think on this one …

  4. I like “effect” best, I think, though “doctrine” is probably more accurate…

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