Abide #12: Doctrine and Covenants 107
In early 1835 the first Quorum of the 12 of the Restored Church were called and that spring were tasked with travelling “through the Eastern States, to the Atlantic Ocean, and hold conferences in the vicinity of the several branches of the Church for the purpose of regulating all things necessary for their welfare.” As they prepared to approach their first mission, they requested revelatory instruction from Joseph. This revelation came in response to that request, though the last part of the revelation had actually been received 4 years earlier.
This revelation demonstrates the continuing process of revealing understanding of priesthood particularly building on some of the ideas introduced in section 84. This expanded administrative offices within the church including deacons, teachers, priests, and elders. As the JSP details, the first individuals were ordained to the high priesthood in June of 1831. It likewise opened the way for multiple bishops and a president of the high priesthood. In late 1831 Newell K. Whitney was appointed Bishop of Kirtland and in early 1832 JS became the president of the high priesthood–on the day the church was organized his position had been that of first elder. The ecclesial structure of the church would continue to expand.
We aren’t here to present a lesson, but rather to hit on a few key themes from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to engage the world of religious ideas.”
In early 1835 the first Quorum of the Twelve of the Restored Church were called. That spring they were tasked with traveling through the eastern states to the Atlantic Ocean and hold conferences in the vicinity of several branches of the church for the purpose of regulating all things necessary for their welfare. As they prepared to approach their first mission they requested revelatory instruction from Joseph. This revelation came in response to that request, though the last part of the revelation had actually been received four years earlier. This revelation demonstrates the continuing process of revealing understanding of priesthood particularly building on some of the ideas introduced in Section 84. This expanded administrative offices within the church including deacons, teachers, priests and Elders. As the Joseph Smith papers details, the first individuals were ordained to the high priesthood in June of 1831. This likewise opened the way for multiple bishops and a president of the high priesthood. In late 1831 Newel K. Whitney was appointed bishop of Kirtland and in early 1832 Joseph Smith became the president of the high priesthood. On the day that the church was organized his position had been that of first elder. The ecclesial structure of the church would continue to expand.
My name is Janiece Johnson, I’m a Willes Center Research Associate at the Maxwell Institute and I, along with Joseph Stuart, the public communications specialist at the institute, will be discussing each week’s block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Come Follow Me curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson but rather to hit on a few key themes from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the maxwell institute’s mission to inspire and fortify latter-day saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to engage the world of religious ideas.
Today we’re glad to be joined by Dr. Steve Harper, Professor of Church History of Doctrine at BYU and editor of BYU Studies Quarterly. We’ve been using his fantastic book, Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants, on a weekly basis. We use it to prepare for every episode of the podcast. So, we’re really happy to have you here with us today.
Janiece Johnson: Welcome, Steve.
Steve Harper: Thanks, Janiece. It’s great to be with you and Joseph. I’m looking forward to our visit. I’m most interested in this revelation as the instructions for the first quorum of twelve apostles. Imagine being called to that office for the first time in, I don’t know, 1800 years, and the oldest guy in your quorum is in his mid-thirties and the youngest are in their early twenties; and they don’t have any idea how to be apostles. They’ve had a couple of revelations before that have, you know, that have laid groundwork for this one, but they really desperately feel, they’re humble and they’re feeling pretty keenly their need for instructions. And they seek and, through Joseph Smith, receive this terrific revelation that gives them more and more light.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I can only imagine trying to learn to be an apostle just by reading Matthew chapter 10 right? Or only reading Acts. And trying to work through: what am I supposed to do, as we’ll learn in the revelation, to become a special witness of Jesus Christ?
Janiece Johnson: Steve, is the audience just the Quorum of the Twelve or does it expand beyond that Quorum of the Twelve?
Steve Harper: Well, the immediate audience is, that’s the context as you know well, it’s the apostles who are seeking it, it’s Joseph who’s receiving it on their behalf, but it’s for everybody today. We all read it to figure out what our duty is. It talks about a lot of assignments in the church well beyond just what it means to be an apostle so everybody can profitably learn from it today.
Janiece Johnson: Yeah, I’m particularly intrigued just as I was reading through it this time thinking about what we would talk about today, so we get the revelation begins to lay out these different offices in the priesthood. In verse 9, the presidency of the high priesthood which Joseph of course was called, and the high priest after the order of the Melchizedek priesthood, and then we get Elders, and priests, and teachers, and deacons, and members. And that left me thinking, like, you don’t really think about that as an office– that being a member is actually an office here delineated in this revelation on priesthood.
Steve Harper: Yeah, it’s very cool it’s included. And I like things that, like what President Oaks has recently taught about, you know, what other authority is there than priesthood authority? Anybody in the church who does anything on the Lord’s behalf and serves in any capacity is doing so by virtue of the priesthood that’s mentioned in this revelation so I like that that’s included in there. We could quibble over the semantic terms maybe, right? But the Lord doesn’t do that here, he puts that in, it’s there, verse 10 as you referenced: teacher, deacon, and member. We’re all in it together.
Janiece Johnson: Now, Section 107, as I briefly mentioned in the introduction, is two revelations welded together. And I think that it’s interesting that the first revelation is actually at the end. What do you think about this because this gives us a different structure for thinking about revelations? That not all of the revelations as we see them today were just as they came out of Joseph’s mouth exactly.
Steve Harper: We might have in our mind a kind of image of what Richard Bushman calls the “classic revelations,” right? The clean ones where Joseph sits down or asks a question in prayer and then just begins to dictate. And lots of them came that way, but lots of them are more collaborative in the process and they’re more of what we might think of as a process. This one is certainly one of those. This one comes out of a series of quorum meetings. We can’t even put a specific date on when those first fifty-eight or so verses come. We know that they come in a sequence of events that includes the apostles being called in February 1835, and then meeting together several times in anticipation of a mission to the eastern states in the late spring and early summer. Throughout the summer of 1835 and worried about that mission and what they’re supposed to do and how to be apostles and how to set the church in order, which is what their mission obligation is, they seek and receive this instruction. As you read it, it sounds a lot less like the text where we have the first-person voice of Jesus Christ speaking throughout. This one doesn’t follow that same formula. And then the connective tissue between verses 58 and 59, as you said Janiece, hooks this spring 1835 revelation that’s the first fifty-eight verses, generally, there’s some other stuff in there too, with the last forty or so verses which is a November of 1831 revelation. And there’s some redundancy between the two– they say some of the same things. And they address priesthood and priesthood offices in some different ways, so they complement each other.
Janiece Johnson: This is, I think, really helpful for us to think about all the different ways that we receive revelation but also all the different ways that priesthood is expanded and our notion of priesthood and our understanding of priesthood. Again, sometimes in the modern-day church we set up an equivalency of priesthood with men and yet again and again the Lord reminds us, this is the power by with which the earth was created, this is something much more expansive. But here we’re very focused on ecclesial offices. And then also that genealogy of priesthood and how priesthood is handed down.
I’m really interested in, you know, scripture seems, certain writers of scripture at least, seem very focused on genealogies and laying out how things get passed down. We see that very frequently in the Hebrew bible in the Old Testament. We also see that with certain authors, both Matthew and Luke will start their gospels with a genealogy, even though they both highlight different things and they don’t quite line up. What do you think is the purpose of the genealogy here?
Steve Harper: What work do those passages of scripture do that I sometimes tend, I remember reading the Old Testament, or actually sitting very passively by while my family read the Old Testament when I was a kid and reading those passages about who begat who I thought, this is the least interesting thing I can imagine.
Janiece Johnson: This is like an automatic sign that we skip this, right?
Steve Harper: Yeah haha. And the writers clearly think, this is vital; this is important; this has got to be in there. So, what is it that I’m missing? What work is being done in Section 84, as you know it has one of these passages, and Section 107 again here. We see a very similar passage in the book of Moses in chapter 6 as well as the ones in the Old Testament. I don’t know that I know the answers but Section 84, this priesthood line of authority we might think of it as, actually comes as part of a digression from the main point of the revelation. That revelation begins by saying, temple is everything; you’ve got to have a temple. If you’re going to restore the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the temple is the fulfillment of it. So, we’re going to have a temple and temple is where we get priesthood.
And “we” is expansive there, as you know, Janiece, and as you taught. Priesthood is not men as our president prophet has emphasized again a few times in the recent past. That revelation then goes into a digression where it says, this is where priesthood came from in recorded history. And that chunk of the revelation has in it what might be the most important part of answering your great question because when it comes right down to it that revelation says, Melchizedek priesthood has the key of knowing God and without the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood you don’t get power of godliness and without that power nobody regains God’s presence and is able to abide there. So, we learn in that digression in Section 84 about where the priesthood came from, how it’s been handed down, that the priesthood is absolutely vital because everybody, women and men, need an endowment of priesthood power to regain God’s presence. That’s associated with temple ordinances. That seems to be a key to it. These people, these Old Testament writers, the book of Moses, Section 107 and 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants, I think they’re telling us, it’s really vital to have priesthood because every person, every child of God who wants to regain his presence needs an endowment of that power, that priesthood power, and you can only get it from someone who’s authorized to give it to you so it’s important that we know where it is and who’s got it and who holds the keys of that priesthood. It’s a really crucial passage of Section 107 for example to learn that we have a man like Moses on the earth today who holds all those keys that were vested in any of the prophets and he officiates in all the ordinances of the temple.
Janiece Johnson: Yeah, and I think we have an implicit critique of the protestant ideal of the priesthood of all believers, right? Which is first, not really coined by Martin Luther, but it comes from Luther’s teaching that we’re all priests, we’re all believers if you believe. And it provides a check on that, that we, yes, that belief is essential but we also need to be given that authority by someone else who has been given that authority and that there is a very literal peace of passing on that authority that is necessary. That these ordinances, you know, in the ordinances is godliness made manifest, we can’t just receive, decide, okay I’m going to become godly and that’s all I need, but the ordinances actually help us in that path to become godly and to receive that godliness.
There’s a New Testament scholar who talks about talking about the genealogies of Jesus that begin the gospels of Matthew and Luke. And talks about genealogy as a statement of being but also a statement of direction. And I love that idea that it answers this kind of ontological question about priesthood and how priesthood is passed down and what kind of thing is priesthood. But then it also points us in a direction and lays out not only this ecclesial structure but this larger ideas of what the whole purpose of priesthood is.
Steve Harper: These are really good points, Janiece. They make me think about verse 3, right? This priesthood, the stuff we talk about, it is the Son of God’s priesthood; it’s His; it’s vested in Him. It is the power of God and whatever else we call it, we ought to always remember that. However else we associate it with people or offices or with ordinances and even when they call it Aaronic and Melchizedek, one of the first things to remember from Section 107 is, this is the priesthood after the order of the Son of God. The Book of Mormon teaches us that as well– it’s His and He decides how it will be distributed, how it will be used, how it will be dispensed, what it will accomplish. And we can’t do that, Luther and others, as you know, they did the best they could of what they had, right? If you don’t have priesthood after the order of the Son of God anywhere on earth, you make a priesthood of all believers, you do the best you can. Readers will notice, that the one we have in 107 is different from the one we have in Moses 6, which is different from the one we have in D&C 84, and as you imagine the two genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke are dramatically different.
And, you know, scholars have noticed this. Casual readers have noticed this, and they also will notice that these people lived a really long time. I don’t know what to make of that, I’m okay with that if that’s an actual fact, right? If we were to find out that they did live hundreds and hundreds of years, that would be cool. I’d like to know the secret. If we were to find out that that’s not what the main message is that we’re supposed to take away, I’d be cool with that too. And I think it’s important for us to be open to what the writers of these passages are trying to do with that. It may be different than what we assume they’re trying to do with them. They’re trying to establish a line of authority; they’re trying to connect us back to the priesthood after the order of the Son of God and ancient writers especially would do things like that in symbolic ways that may or may not stand up to a strict genealogical interrogation. As you know, in Matthew we have these three times fourteen generations from Jesus back to Abraham. Different kinds of work are being accomplished and we live in a time and generation when people are uptight about that. They think, well which one of those is right? Well, they’re both right. Matthew is doing work that is accomplished by his genealogy and Luke is doing work that’s accomplished by it and it’s our job to figure out and tap into what they’re trying to say. And I’m saying all that because I think there’s probably something similar at work going on in Sections 84 and especially for our purposes, 107 which is complimented by Moses 6 and I don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to harvest out of it but we should be about the work of figuring it out.
Joseph Stuart: Yes, certainly. It’s been my experience, the Lord doesn’t spoon feed us, right? Like He may say, oh this is interesting, I want you to figure out what to do with it. And I think some folks would like to have all angel and no wrestle so to speak, right? They want all the good stuff but never to have to work for it, and that’s something that we’re continuing working with as latter-day saints is to access all of the light and knowledge that the Lord has for us. I love that you’re connecting the universality of the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but one of our great strengths I think too is with the local stewardship of wards. And both of you have served on councils in local wards and stakes and I’m just curious how the two of you, maybe Janiece you could go first, how does Section 107 factor into your ministry as you’re working together for the betterment of a ward, stake or maybe most importantly for the individuals within those units.
Janiece Johnson: Um, yeah, as I was reading this today I think I’ve thought about it differently than perhaps I have in the past because I have a specific responsibility today. But thinking about when laying out the duties of the Quorum of the Twelve, so they’re called as special witnesses of Christ, and then talking about that making decisions in these quorums, both in the twelve and in the seventy, that these councils are set up and they want, need to make unanimous decision. And thinking about what that required. Verse 30 says, the decisions of these quorums are either of them are to be made in all righteousness in holiness and lowliness of heart, meekness and longsuffering and in faith and virtue and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly (and I’m going to add sisterly when we talk about a broader expanse of councils), kindness, and charity. These are things that are woefully absent in many of our discussions in the larger world today. And unfortunately, a lot of that caustic behavior is seeping into our church experience and our relationships with our sisters and brothers within the church. And how do we work as a council? A council is not just a place for a bishop or presiding member of whatever quorum to tell everyone what’s going to happen and just go forward with it. The purpose of a council is to bring revelation. But that can only be done to get very different individuals to a place of unanimity. That’s going to require a lot of work, a lot of longsuffering and lowliness of heart and a lot of patience. That asks a lot of all of us to try to come to that place.
Joseph Stuart: Certainly. Steve, have you had any experiences that you’ve seen Section 107 work on the ground, so to speak?
Steve Harper: Yeah, it brings out our best. I appreciate you highlighting verse 30 and the promise of those with it, Janiece, in 31. These things bring out our best. Counseling brings out our best selves. There is a desire on my part to sustain, right? To have my view win, and a council, when we do it right, has the effect of moderating that and the revelation comes in council, it doesn’t necessarily come from one person, and when it works really beautifully, by the end you’d forget who even started the idea and the revelation is synergized with the various voices. People with different points of view.
I had this experience as recently as last Sunday I happened to be in a ward council meeting in a very divisive time in the world, in the country, in the church, and the council members were of a variety of opinions on really intensely debated things and it was very beautiful to see that every member of that council was meek enough. They had these attributes in verse 30, willing to confidently assert their views, and then also meek enough to let the council work and let the revelation flow and change, adapt, as it did. And it was a really beautiful thing to witness and to participate in. I have a really abiding testimony that revelation flows through council. I have a lot more confidence in decisions made by a good spirit filled council than I do in decisions that I make by myself.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I joke that every person needs a VP of common sense for their organization where you have to explain why you want to do something and then have a person or a council talk back to you and say, so what is it you’re trying to accomplish here, and you really have to think it through that way. And I think councils really spark that sort of dialogue that you’re both talking about.
In reading Section 107 for today, I was thinking about how remarkably consistent church governance has been since Section 107 was canonized and the only thing that I can think of that’s major, I mean we’ve have updates to offices or more seventies being called or presidents of seventies, things of that nature, but the biggest thing maybe on the ground to me, and maybe this is just to me, is actually in the church handbook not in Section 107 where it talks about church governance, it lays out what we should do, but in many Sections it also says, adapt to local circumstances. And I’m wondering if you all could share experiences of seeing the wisdom of being able to take what’s given and then as a council decide what’s best for the individuals who you’re trying to help as a council operating under priesthood authority.
Janiece Johnson: I think in my ward we’ve just recently divided both our Elders’ quorums and our relief societies. So, we have two relief society presidents and two Elders quorum presidents. Now, my ward is a Provo ward, it’s not a huge ward, but we have, and parts of the ward are very transient, and this was something that both the stake presidency talked about, the bishop talked about and then the bishop talked about those who were called into those positions. So, it didn’t kind of operate as kind of a standard council, but the previous ward council had talked about it quite a bit and discussed the possibilities of this. And ultimately the goal being to better take care of people and to make sure that people are ministered to. And to help some of the things that weren’t happening. Now, how successful we’re going to be with this is going to be an interesting thing to watch. I have seen some really encouraging changes because of this decision that was made. And it’s funny to me because they keep running into a relief society president from another ward and every time she says something like, why would you do this? Why would you want two relief societies? But it’s just clear to me that for her ward, this is not needed, this is not a necessary adaptation. But we have some unique things going in our ward that have required some unique responses.
Steve Harper: Yeah, it’s very cool to think about. As you were talking, Joseph, reminding us how consistent these principles have been from the earliest days of the church and yet how adaptable, that is built into Section 107, right? We’ve got these quorums and councils that are established and then we’ve got kind of accordion-like abilities that are built in if you need other officers’ verse 98 says, who belong not to the twelve, neither the seventy, you can call them. You can call them from all nations, anywhere you need them, they don’t travel, or they can travel as their circumstances allow, but they can hold as high and responsible offices. President Hinkley drew on that when he changed structure of leadership councils and quorums and that continues to adapt as needed as the church gets increasingly global.
Janiece Johnson: In our most recent handbook changes we have activities committees, the possibility. They’re back again. Again, this adaptability, we thought we didn’t need them and now we recognize that in some places we do need them.
Steve Harper: It’s really cool to see, there are some principles that just endure, that have been there from the beginning and the way you practice them, the way you implement them and act on them is as diverse as different wards or branches in different parts of the globe. And I’m grateful for that far-sighted of a revelation.
Another thing we’ve see, a recent adaptation, much to the benefit of the whole church, is the emphasis on including women in councils. They’ve done that at the highest levels of the church now and we’re supposed to follow that instruction at every level and I’m a witness to the enhanced revelation and ability to meet the needs of the saints that comes when sisters are heard and council. It’s common for sisters to be over-talked or neglected in councils and I’m grateful for the ones who won’t let that happen and for others who will listen and make sure that they’re heard. As Janiece will tell us, or could tell us, those Nauvoo relief society minutes have that story written into the very first meeting and Emma would not let it happen and I’m grateful that from the beginning we had a relief society president who was going to be heard in council as she should have been.
Janiece Johnson: She was not going to let John Taylor call this the benevolent society. That was not going to happen. I want to just maybe shift gears a little bit and I want to go back to the genealogy just a little, but just verse 43. Now, I had a friend at BYU who I dated, actually, who quoted this quite a bit because his name was Seth. But what do we think about this, and I don’t know that I need a specific answer here, but what do we think about this little interjection? Because he, Seth, was a perfect man.
Steve Harper: We need to read the rest of it. This is the truest passage in the whole revelation. Verse 43, “Seth was a perfect man, and his likeness was the express likeness of his father.” Which is why I have a son named Seth. So, I’m not sure I’m a credible witness on this. What do you think? Why is it there?
Janiece Johnson: Yeah, it’s a fascinating thing to me. Again, but it points me to perhaps that difference when Jesus says be ye therefore perfect and the Greek is paleos or this mature complete or ripe rather than this idea of unimprovable perfection that we kind of have as a heritage of Greek philosophy. That there is some sort of perfect. Greek philosophy and I think Instagram go together very well there with ideas of unimprovableness. And for me maybe that just leads me to think about being perfect in our mortal condition is being in a covenant relationship. And Seth in a covenant relationship was worthy to receive that priesthood and then to hand on that priesthood.
Joseph Stuart: So just before we wrap up, I’m curious if you all have any thoughts that you’d like to add either about 107 or thinking about the way that Section 107 has been interpreted since it was received and canonized by the church.
Steve Harper: It’s position in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants signals that it’s a big deal. In that book, as you both know, the revelations were not in anything like chronological order. They were put in in kind of order of maybe importance. Almost like a constitutional order and Section 1, which is the Lord’s preface, was first, and then Section 20 and then Section 107. So, Section 20 sort of is the beginning of an ecclesiastical structure and Section 107 goes right next to it. It amends it, it improves it, it builds on it and so from the beginning this has been a really important structural revelation and my dad used to design bridges. And he taught me that really great bridges– he thought concrete was the greatest stuff in the world, especially reinforced with high quality steel. And so, you might think that steel reinforced concrete is rigid, rigid, stuff. Brittle. And he designed bridges made of reinforced concrete and steel that had built in flexibility and tension and the ability to move and expand and contract. That’s brilliant. And Section 107 is an enduring structure. It is built of the most enduring materials and it endures really well because it’s got built in capacity for expansion and contraction and adaptation. And we would have broken– the church would have broken under a too rigid structure. But the church has thrived and adapted to its global growth and diversification because Section 107 and others are built the way they are.
Janiece Johnson: I think that that’s a lovely point for us to end on but I want to add one sort of coda to that. That the structure only works as well as the people do. The very end of the revelation, “Wherefore now let every man learn his duty and act in the office in which he is appointed in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand; he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand, even so amen.”
I, just a couple weeks ago, sent off an article that I’ve been working on with a colleague on Samuel Chambers who is one of the early African-American members of the church and his relationship with scripture. And one of the things that I was struck about, we have this fantastic record from the 1870s. He was, he had not been ordained to a priesthood office, he was called as an assistant deacon in his ward in Salt Lake. And there is a Salt Lake deacons quorum and there is this fantastic Englishman, T.C. Jones, who knows shorthand and takes meticulous notes of all of these deacons’ meetings they have. And so, we have like sixty testimonies from Samuel Chambers. And they are really remarkable that we have this voice in such clarity but one of the repeated themes is that of duty. Samuel was not given the privilege to be ordained to a priesthood office though he clearly desperately wanted that. But he is very aware of his duty and his responsibility to God. And he talks about it all the time, he encourages others to recognize their duty, and he shows his worthiness. He demonstrates that he is a lively member. He quotes Paul, he wants to be, he wants to participate as fully as he can. And this structure only works when we have those of us who are willing to be disciples and to sense that duty and to take part in it. To not be lukewarm or slothful. Not get spat out, but to take an active part. And I am thankful for those saints who demonstrate that even under less-than-ideal circumstances who demonstrate that commitment to the gospel and show their discipleship.
Joseph Stuart: What a perfect place to end. We’re going to close with the words of President Oaks as we’ve mentioned him a few times here. Have a blessed week y’all.
President Oaks: We’re not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their church callings but what other authority can it be? When a woman, young or old, is set apart to preach the gospel as a full time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys, exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.
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“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)