How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants

May 17, 2021

Like the New Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants is a compilation of several types of records. These range from revelation in the form of direct dictation from the Lord to letters or epistles and even minutes. How the Doctrine and Covenants came together as a book is a fascinating, if somewhat complex, story.

Original Loose Copies

The teenage Joseph Smith, like a lot of youth in the world today, was not a record-keeper. When he had his earliest spiritual experiences and revelations, including the First Vision and his visits from the angel Moroni, Joseph was not in the habit of writing anything down. Only later, as he became sensitized to the importance of record-keeping through what he read in the Book of Mormon as he translated it, did Joseph begin to keep his first records. That is why his first recorded revelations date to 1828, which was when he translated with Martin Harris as his principal scribe.

The earliest of Joseph’s recorded revelations were apparently written on loose sheets of paper as he dictated them to a scribe. These originals might be given to the person for whom they were intended. Copies were made from these and circulated to investigators and members. A good example is the text to section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was intended for Joseph’s father, Joseph Smith Sr.

Record Book Copies

Over time, these loose sheets were copied into record books for long-term preservation. The earliest of these was “A Book of Commandments & Revelations,” which has been published as Revelation Book 1 in the Joseph Smith Papers. A second important manuscript revelation book has been published as Revelation Book 2.

The Evening and the Morning Star

The manuscript revelation books were the source for the Church earliest official publications of the revelations in its first newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, published in Zion, Jackson County, Missouri.

A Book of Commandments

The manuscript revelation books were also the source for the publication of the first compiled book of Joseph Smith’s revelations, A Book of Commandments, which was in the process of being printed in July 1833 when a mob destroyed the print shop and threw out the pages. Only twenty-nine copies of this rare book are known to have survived.

Evening and Morning Star

After the mob destroyed the printing press, copies of The Evening and the Morning Star containing revelations were corrected and reprinted in Kirtland in a smaller format newspaper with a similar name, Evening and Morning Star.

The Doctrine and Covenants

In Kirtland in 1835, the revelations were combined with a series of lectures and published in a new volume titled the Doctrine and Covenants, a name that has remained even after the lectures were removed in 1921. A second edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was underway in 1844 when Joseph Smith was martyred.

For more on the development and publication of the Doctrine and Covenants, see here and the book by Richard E. Turley Jr. and William W. Slaughter titled How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants.

(Credit for image at top of page: Cover of Richard E. Turley Jr. and William W. Slaughter’s How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants, from [accessed Apr. 13, 2021].)

Author: Richard E. Turley Jr.

Richard E. Turley Jr. served for twenty-two years as managing director of the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and eight years as Assistant Church Historian and Recorder. He also served as managing director of the Family History, Public Affairs, and Church Communication Departments.

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