Abide #8: Doctrine and Covenants 90-92
We 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 engage the world of religious ideas.”
In Doctrine and Covenants sections 90-92, the Lord is once again instructing Joseph Smith on how to lead and guide the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Section 90 introduces the First Presidency of the Church, a body that had not yet been organized. The November 1831 revelation also gave the President authority to appoint twelve counselors to form a disciplinary court, introducing the idea that a body of counselors was to support the President. Section 91 details the Apocrypha, books written by members and leaders of the early Church between the end of the Old Testament and several centuries after Jesus’s ministry. Section 92 mentions a publishing house. Together the revelations might be seen as a three part series: declaring authority, declaring whether certain religious texts are authoritative, and how to print authoritative and community building texts.
My name is Joseph Stuart, I’m the Public Communications Specialist at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. My co-host is Janiece Johnson, a Willis Center Research Associate at the Institute and together we will be discussing each week’s block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s 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’ testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and engage the world of religious ideas.
Stuart: Janiece, what sticks out to you about section 90?
Johnson: Well, I think that we’ve got a lot of different things going on here. The Presidency of the High Priesthood, which we would later call the First Presidency, was organized on the 11th of November, 1831. Joseph was ordained the president of the high priesthood the following January and here in verse 6, the keys are given to both counselors. So, this is the elevation of the First Presidency to kind of what we know today. And I think that this is an important reminder to us, that the organization was not all, ya know, dumped in Joseph’s head in an instant––that it took time. And here we now have a functioning First Presidency. Jessie Gauss, who we have talked about previously, was first called as a counselor, and then was later excommunicated and left Frederick G. Williams in his place. But now, we have kind of the elevation of these two counselors to the First Presidency as kind of how we would understand it.
Stuart: Yeah, and something that’s interesting to me is that something as important as the First Presidency wasn’t spelled out right away. It gives me comfort to know that if I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m in good company. But like Joseph Smith and early Saints, I have the ability to ask for help, to pray for revelation, and to expect it in that way when it’s needed.
I was also struck by verse 11 in section 90. It reads, “For it shall come to pass in that day that every man shall hear the fullness of the Gospel in his own tongue,” or her own tongue, “…and in his [or her] own language through those who are ordained to this power by the administration of the Comforter shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I like the phrase, “in his or her own language.” Hearing the Gospel in his or her own tongue. I think that it means more than hearing it in English or Fijian or Spanish or Tongan, but that it also means that we are going to hear it in the way that we need to hear it.
This is something that was comforting to me as a Latter-day Saint missionary that if I was doing the things that I needed to, the Lord would put the words in my mouth to say what I needed to say even if I didn’t totally know what to do in the moment. And even moving beyond oral language, I taught a gentleman on my mission named Tom, and President Monson was the president of the Church at that time in 2008. And President Monson wiggled his ears once during a priesthood session and I remembered thinking, “Oh no! This is going to be the weirdest thing ever to explain.” And Tom came out of the meeting saying, “I know that I should get baptized because that’s just another Tom who just has a big calling and responsibility and if he can do that, that means that I can live up to the covenants that I’m going to make.” So, whether President Monson knew that he was going to be helping someone figure out that they should be baptized, it nevertheless made a difference in Tom’s life.
Johnson: That’s a fantastic example. And I think that really reflects what we get in the first section of the Doctrine & Covenants in what is the preface to the Doctrine & Covenants. But, the Lord says, “Behold, I am God and I have spoken it. These commandments are of me and were given unto my servants in their weakness after the manner of their language that they might come to understanding.” And the Lord has that ability, through the Spirit, to speak to us in a manner that we’re going to understand.
Now, language is also going to be a critical part of that, but to have people around the world hear the Gospel in their own native tongue is going to take some time. This isn’t going to be done in an instant and we’re really not going to have missionaries sent out to non-English countries and beginning the process of translating the Book of Moromon into different languages until 1849. In 1852, we will get the first non-English editions of the Book of Mormon, but we get a flurry of them very quickly. We get, actually it’s 1851 with the Danish edition, and then in 1852 we get a few more, and then in 1855 we get Hawaiian, and then we get this little flurry of non-English editions. It’s going to take some time for that to happen, but this focus has been there, that everyone might hear the Gospel in their own language until we get to “umpteen” ––you know, I don’t even know how many languages we have translated the Book of Mormon into today.
Stuart: I believe more than 100. And that speaks again to the investment that the Church makes in the people that it commissions to translate the Book of Mormon into several languages as well as other scriptures and materials. But also that they are taking the time to make sure that it is done right.
Now, we are at a much better place now as a church, being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in financial matters than we have been at other times in our history. And this section, at least to me, reflects some of the financial insecurity felt by some church leaders at this time. Janiece, you’ve researched the life of Vienna Jakes, can you tell us more about her?
Johnson: Yeah, I––and I’ve always said Jaques, and sometimes Joey I will question what our translation––what our pronunciation is. But, I really love in section 90, in verse 28, we get the second––only the second woman that we’ve had mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants text and that’s Vienna. She came from Boston. When she arrived in Kirtland, she was a single woman in her mid-forties. She was a woman of means. She had a couple homes in the Boston area. She had worked as a nurse. She had worked as a laundress. She did a number of different things, but she was very well to do. And when she first heard of Joseph Smith, she sent for a Book of Mormon. But when she first got the Book of Mormon, it didn’t really hit her, it didn’t seem to make any sense to her. And that evening as she was starting to pray, she had a vision of the Book of Mormon and decided to pray about the Book of Mormon and received a witness that it was true– that it was divinely inspired. And this leads her to travel to Kirtland and meet Joseph Smith where she is baptized. And then she returns to Boston and continues to help missionaries. She shares the Book of Mormon with many individuals, but decides that she wants to gather with the Saints in Kirtland.
So, she travels to Kirtland and when she gets there she offers a significant financial offering. This aids in the purchase of land. So we remember that they are trying to purchase different parcels of land for the temple and to create this space in Kirtland and then this revelation comes in section 90. She hasn’t been in Kirtland for very long, and then the Lord says, “ Verily I say unto you, it is my will that my servant and handmaid Vienna Jaques should receive money to bear her expenses and go up to the land of Zion.” So she’s already traveled so far and then she’s given most of what she had to the Church and the Lord says so the Church needs to help her go even further and get to Missouri. Again, just six weeks after she arrives in Missouri, she is present when Edward Partridge and Charles Allen are tarred and feathered in the Independence Town Square. She is part of those Saints that are pushed out of Jackson County.
After, Joseph, of course, is in Kirtland it takes time for him to hear everything that’s going on– we are going to talk about this more as the section continue. But, he had her on his mind as he heard about what was happening in Jackson County. And he finally sits down to write her a letter. There is this beautiful––her own revelation that he records in this letter. And I want to read part of this, and this is Joseph writing to Vienna. “I have often felt a whispering since I’ve received your letter like this…” I think that whispering is that revelatory voice to Joseph, “…Joseph thou art indebted to thy God for the offering of thy sister Vienna which proved a savior of life as pertaining to thy pecuniary concern. Therefore she should not be forgotten of thee for the Lord hath done this and thou shouldst remember her in all they prayers and also by letter for she oft times calleth upon the Lord saying, ‘O Lord inspire thy servant Joseph to communicate by letter some word to thy unworthy handmaid, canst thou not speak peaceably unto thine handmaid and say all my sins are forgiven and art thou not content with the chastisement wherewith thou has chastised thy handmaid?’ Yeah sister, this seems to be the whisper of the Spirit and judge ye what the Spirit is.” I love the different elements here. Her offering proved a savior for a struggling church. The Church is in the red until we get to the early 20th century. And this is a major concern for Joseph and the other leaders. But also, we have God hearing her prayer and inspiring Joseph to write and to communicate this revelation to her and I think that’s really remarkable.
Stuart: I also think it’s remarkable to know that the Lord answers many people’s prayers, but that often he is answering our prayers through the folks that he puts into our path. Now in section 91, this is a revelation that Joseph Smith receives on the Apocrypha. Janiece, you went to divinity school, what’s the Apocrypha?
Johnson: The word Apocrypha comes from the Greek and it means “those that have been hidden away.” So when we talk about the Apocrypha as a name, as a title, we are usually talking about the 14 books that come from the Greek subtuigent which aren’t in the Hebrew Bible. Today, Catholic Bibles usually maintain the Apocrypha; it has Judo-canonical status, so it’s not as binding as much of a canon as the rest of the Biblical text. But–
Stuart: Because canonical means––sorry to cut you off ––but canonical means something that something is measured by, right? So something that is deutero-canonical or semi-canonical means that it’s something that’s valuable but isn’t something against which the truth of everything else is measured. Is that a fair statement?
Johnson: Yeah, I think that works. When we usually talk about the canon we are talking about official scripture. I think of it as scripture with a capital S. But the Apocrypha has a kind of secondary status. It’s not as binding as the rest of the canon. It’s included in the Catholic Bible today, but in Joseph’s day, many Protestants followed after Martin Luther’s lead dismissing the value of the Apocrypha. But, this wasn’t across the board because you could still decide whether or not you wanted an Apocrypha when you were ordering a new Bible. You can make lots of––particularly if you were ordering a nice family Bible––you can make lots of decisions of what you want your Bible to include. And one of those decisions you could make is to include the Apocrypha.
Joseph’s Cooper’s Town Phinney Bible that he used, where he actually wrote his changes for his Joseph Smith Translation, he actually wrote them on the Biblical pages, this copy did include the Apocrypha. And so Joseph gets to that point where he wants to know, “Okay do I keep going? Do I translate here? Or do I stop?”
Now today, we have found many more books that were contemporaneous to books of the Bible but for various political reasons, or theological reasons, were not included in the Biblical canon. You know, it takes us hundreds of years to collect the Biblical canon as we know it today. But, books like the Dead Sea scrolls, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Judas, these are apocryphal books. Thinking about section 91 and the direction that Joseph receives, also perhaps can guide us as we approach these other books that were perhaps written around the time of Christ and to help us know how to handle them and what to do with them.
Stuart: Great point. I also think that as a Latter-day Saint growing up, I didn’t recognize that the Bible was decided upon by someone in charge, groups of people in charge. There were many writings that were not considered to be canon, decided to be binding upon the church, but that nonetheless provided a lot of value, not only for scholars, but for individual disciples.
In verse 1 of section 91 it reads, “Verily thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha. There are many things contained therein that are true and it is mostly translated correctly, there are many things contained therein that are not true which are interpolations by the hands of men,” or things inserted by the hands of men.
“Mostly” is doing a lot of work here. We can think about mostly in the same way that we think about Miracle Max in the Princess Bride where there’s a difference between dead and mostly dead. There’s a big difference between translated correctly and “mostly” translated correctly. Now this isn’t to say that we should refrain from seeking out these great sources, from learning more about the world around us. I mean, for goodness sakes, the Maxwell Institute––it’s part of our mission to learn about the broader world of religious ideas. But we just need to be careful to recognize that the Church doesn’t recognize them as binding for the Church as authoritative. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t find value in our personal study lives as we study a great deal of things.
Johnson: Yeah, I like to think a lot about Moroni’s words at the end of the Book of Mormon. You know, as he’s quoting his father a lot there’s this idea that disciples seek out good wherever it is. And the Lord is saying here, look, find the good! Rely on the Spirit to tell you what’s good and discard those things that aren’t good.
For me, many of these Apocryphal books that I really appreciate, the Gospel of Thomas is one favorite that I think for many Latter-day Saints, particularly those who have been to the temple, there are many things that ring familiar to us. Yet, when Thomas says that a woman needs to become a man to enter the presence of God, the Spirit’s going to tell me that I can throw that one out and I’m good with that.
Joey Stuart: I think that A) is an incredible example but B) it’s important to remember that we can also think about other great religious thinkers who can bring us closer to our Father in Heaven and to better keep our covenants as disciples of Jesus Christ. For instance, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is someone who brings me closer to the Spirit and helps me to recognize the value of grace in my life.
Johnson: I think Elder Christofferson is on the same page with you there.
Stuart: I think so too. I also think that it’s important to recognize that we can find inspiration from a number of places. And there’s a First Presidency statement from 1978 and in part the statement reads, “Based upon ancient and modern revelation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly [emphasis added] teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an eternal father. The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammad, 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 a higher level of understanding to individuals.” Now, moving a little bit forward, “…We also declare that the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored to his church in our day provides the only way.” I really appreciate the part about how these truths were given to enlighten whole nations and bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from seeking out all the truth that the world has to offer to us. In the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we do not have to abandon truth anywhere we find it. We can find a way to incorporate it into our lives for ourselves.
Johnson: I love that. James Talmage’s headstone reads that “There is room within the gospel of Jesus Christ for every truth known to man.” I think that there is something beautiful there. That as disciples we seek out the good. We use the Spirit to help us discern, but we want to find the good.
Stuart: I can’t think of a better place to stop than that. We look forward to you hearing the reading of the selection from the First Presidency’s statement in 1978 and hope that you find a way to incorporate all the truth that you can find into your life.
Taylor: Based upon ancient and modern revelation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an eternal Father. The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucious, 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 bring a high level of understanding to individuals. The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel. Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given, and will give to all peoples, sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.
We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ restored to His Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter, if not in this life. Our message, therefore, is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same eternal Father.
Stuart: Thank you for listening to this episode of Abide: a Maxwell Institute podcast. Head on over to iTunes or your preferred podcast provider to subscribe, rate, and leave a review, each of which are worth their weight in podcast gold. You can receive show notes, including references to the sermons and articles referenced in this episode by signing up for the Maxwell Institute newsletter at mi.byu.edu. Please also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for more content from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Thank you, and have a blessed week.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“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)