This guest post is from Jeremiah John, co-editor of Embracing the Law: Reading Doctrine and Covenants 42. The book is now available in print and digital formats. Digital subscribers to the Maxwell Institute can read the entire book online here.
Doctrine and Covenants section 42 draws Latter-day Saints to its message by many paths. Whether it is to study the meaning of consecration, to understand the revealed impetus behind the many attempts at LDS economic communalism in the nineteenth century, or to understand what the Lord called “the Law” given to his people in Kirkland, any reader who wants to understand the heart of the Restored gospel must come to terms with Doctrine and Covenants 42.
At the same time, like many things in the Doctrine and Covenants, we do not know fully what to do with Section 42. A month previous to the revelation that would become section 42, the Lord had declared, “ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high” (D&C 38:32). That Law was given, as promised. But is it still “the Law” for us, and have we received that same “power from on high” promised in January 1831? If it is still our law, what force does it have for today’s Latter-day Saints?
In 2009, six LDS scholars (including myself) dug into these questions and others, in the intensive Mormon Theology Seminar. The results of our efforts are available today in this new volume, Embracing the Law: Reading Doctrine and Covenants 42. It’s the latest volume in the Maxwell Institute’s book series, Proceedings of the Mormon Theology Seminar.
When I think about our essays, I’m struck by how the scriptural text they examine is a beautiful window into the Kirkland era church, with its own hopes and concerns, and I’m also struck by how much it reveals about foundations of the Restored gospel. As though the principles of consecration and stewardship weren’t enough for one revelation, section 42 also teaches us about the relationship between the Law and Gospel, between historical change and enduring spiritual truth, and between the church and its poor.
As Joseph Spencer, my co-editor, argues in his concluding chapter, section 42 is presented as the Law, but it also reveals much about the Doctrine and Covenants as scriptural canon. Revealed truth comes forth line upon line—indeed, in the early 1830s, it was unfolding revelation upon revelation. The story of that coming forth is a sacred narrative that the Doctrine and Covenants captures, but divine truth is more than narrative. Indeed, the tension between the scriptural canon and its coming into existence is a tension that can be seen in section 42 as profoundly as anywhere in LDS scripture.
It is a bit cliché for academics to sign off by hoping that further research will be done. But in my case, those hopes have already been partially fulfilled. For instance, Joseph Spencer recently published his acclaimed monograph For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope in the intervening years. I’m happy to see the essays in this book meet what seems to be an audience of readers who are thinking about these most crucial themes at a time when they are more relevant than ever.