Changes in the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants

Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism) have a short list of books that they consider as scripture in addition to the New Testament and Old Testament. Most people are familiar with the Book of Mormon, but many people are unaware that Latter-Day Saints also believe in two other books as scripture that they often turn to before the Bible that we know as Christians called the Doctrine of Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

Upon doing some reading I have come to understand some significant changes The Doctrine of Covenants. In its first publication in 1833, it was titled the Book of Commandments. This text is believed to be the inspired words of God as a revelation given to Joseph Smith and as such, it is viewed as scripture. It would be one thing if the LDS church was simply creating its own manifesto of church doctrine of their understanding, but the Doctrine of Covenants is the inspiration from God himself and therefore it should not err in any way. Men creating their own understanding of correct doctrine can be flawed, but men under the inspiration of God to write down Gods words should not be writing down fake news about what God has said.

One such example of these changes is in Chapter 6 where Joseph Smith is claiming to interpret a letter written by the Apostle John. Between the 1833 publication and the next 1835 edition, 109 words were added to the letter. One might wish to argue, as some LDS apologists do, that Smith simply did not translate the entire letter but only some and added the rest in the next addition. The problem with this is that Smith gives no indication in the original publication that some of the words were left out. Even in Smith’s time it was common practice to leave three dots (. . .) to indicate words are left out of a quote.

Book of Commandments section containing the supposed letter of John, additional text from 1835 edition written in.

This change leaves only three options regarding what could have happened. First, it may be that Joseph Smith has attributed words to John the Apostle that are not from John which would mean that Joseph Smith was a deceiver. Second, God could have shown Joseph Smith that he mistranslated while using the instruments God had given him for translation and told him the words he must add. This, unfortunately, would leave Smith as a very poor translator and cast doubts on his ability to translate any text correctly. Finally, we could assume that Smith understood the full translation but simply decided not to translate some of the document. This, of course, makes us ask what other sections he may have left out of any other text he interpreted can we really trust anything he writes if he leaves out large sections of inspiration?

There are many other changes between the two editions of the book as well including 3,700 deleted words. Other doctrinal changes include the following: 1) Joseph Smith only being gifted to interpret the Book of Mormon, therefore, excluding the Doctrine of Covenants and Pearl of Great Price from being inspired by God. The 1835 edition changed it so Smith could be inspired by God to write other books. 2) Changes in wording to clarify doctrines. This would seem fine if Smith was making his own manifesto, but it seems audacious he has the right to change the words of God regarding doctrine God is giving directly to him. 3) The 1835 edition adds a warning that Smith should not start his ministry till he is ordained, while the 1833 edition contains no such warning. It seems odd for God to wait two years to warn his prophet not to do ministry. You don’t tell your kids not to eat ice cream while you’re gone after you’ve been gone for three days. 4) Changes in the organization of the church and new positions. Perhaps God forgot how he wanted to organize his church or he changed his mind?

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This is only a short list of the changes, there are many others, (the slideshow demonstrates some of the others) but one should get the sense that Smith is clearly not writing under the inspiration of God. Smith was clearly not inspired in these moments or he was suppressing some of the truth given to him which should make us ask “what things may still be missing?”

For more information on the changes check out:
Lighthouse Ministries under the section Doctrine and Covenants



One comment

  1. Your logic is horribly flawed in almost everything.
    First, the changes to not allow for only three options. There is also the option that God only revealed part of the translation in the first version, and gave the rest in the next. There is also the option that the manuscript given to Brother Phelps was damages when the first edition was made. Since we know that during the printing of this first addition in Missouri a mob destroyed the press and tried to destroy all the documents, the idea that pieces may have been lost at the time is not inconceivable.

    As to your other points, the slide show is nearly illegible and you give no actual references in the text. However, let me say a few things about them.
    1. There is no change in meaning. Some scholars believe that because of the wording of the Book of Commandments that no other gift would ever be given to Joseph Smith. That is absurd as the fact that he was writing the passage in the first place shows that he had the gift of revelation. Thus the text must be seen as a temporary injunction that Joseph Smith would be given nothing further (in the way of gifts) at the present time.
    2. It would also be fine if God choose to alter the wording due to people misunderstanding what He said the first time. Your logic here assumes that the clarifications were made without consulting God, which assumption is unfounded.
    3. On this a reference would be nice, as I can’t seem to find any reference to such a warning. However, it wouldn’t matter anyway. You are again assuming that God would have wanted all things that he had revealed to Joseph Smith to be printed in 1833. As this is not change in doctrine, but rather additional knowledge regarding Joseph Smith and his ministry on earth, why would it matter that God chose to have it given to the world at a later date?
    4. This is the silliest one you have. God reveals His will a little at a time, as he told Isaiah. In the beginning, with only a few dozen members, the church didn’t need all the organizational positions and callings. But as it grew God told Joseph how to organize and accommodate that growth. Where is the problem?

    So, what you have are changes that have enlightened and expanded our knowledge of God and the gospel. Until you can show an actual change in meaning and doctrine, something with real substance, than you really have no argument.

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