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20 Things You Didn’t Know About Church History


11. Joseph Smith left on his first international mission in October 1833.

In October 1833, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon traveled to western New York and Upper Canada at the request of new converts Freemand and Huldah Nickerson, who were from the area. As they preached in these areas, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon brought about “the beginning of a great work”—34 people joined the Church in the Mount Pleasant area of Upper Canada during and immediately after that short visit.

12. The “preface” to the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 1) was given only after William E. McLellin, Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon attempted to write one themselves.

Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants was revealed in November 1831 at a conference where Joseph Smith and other Church leaders decided to publish Joseph’s revelations as the Book of Commandments. According to William E. McLellin, he, Sidney Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery were appointed by the conference to write a preface for the publication. When they presented the draft to the conference, the conference participants “picked it all to pieces” and asked Joseph to request a preface from the Lord. Joseph and those at the conference then prayed, after which Joseph dictated the preface “by the Spirit” while “sitting by a window.”

According to McLellin, “Joseph would deliver a few sentences and Sydney [Rigdon] would write them down then read them aloud, and if correct, then Joseph would proceed and deliver more.” In this way, McLellin declared, “the preface was given.” Section 1 served as the preface for both the Book of Commandments (whose printing was interrupted in July 1833 by mobs in Jackson County, Missouri) and the Doctrine and Covenants when it was first published in 1835.

13. Saints needed a recommend before they could move to the city of Zion in Jackson County, Missouri.

After Jackson County had been designated by a July 1831 revelation as the location of the city of Zion, other revelations directed how decisions would be made as to who would go to Missouri. Section 58 in the Doctrine and Covenants, revealed on August 1, 1831, stated that after Bishop Edward Partridge let Church leaders know how many people could be accommodated in Jackson County, the elders of the Church would decide who would go. Section 63, revealed on August 30, 1831, also said that Joseph Smith would be able to determine by the Spirit other individuals who needed to go to Zion. Those going to Zion had to have a recommend from either Bishop Newel K. Whitney in Kirtland or from three elders in the area where they lived before they could depart. Using such a process, the Church had approximately 1,200 members in Missouri by early 1833.

14. The D&C 61 reference to “the destroyer” riding “upon the face” of the waters was likely interpreted by early Saints as death rather than as Satan.

In much of Protestant discourse in 1830s America, the “destroyer” was often equated with death or the “Angel of Death.” In America at that time, diseases often spread along waterways. These rapid-spreading diseases frequently led to numerous deaths. For example, by the end of July 1832 (less than a year after this revelation was given), a cholera epidemic that spread via the nation’s waterways killed 2,000 people in New York City alone.

15. Some revelations now presented as a single section in the Doctrine and Covenants were originally dictated as separate revelations.

Section 72 of the Doctrine and Covenants was originally three separate revelations, while section 75 was two. We know this by looking at early manuscript copies of the revelations. Newel K. Whitney, for example, had a copy of what are now verses 1–22 of section 75 on one sheet of paper, noting that it was given to “10 Elders.” A separate sheet of paper in Whitney’s possession contained what are now verses 23–36 of section 75, stating that it was given to “the Elders.” Likewise, when John Whitmer copied these revelations into a revelation book he kept in Missouri, he presented them separately and under different headings.

16. The “United Order” mentioned in sections 78 and 82 of the Doctrine and Covenants actually refers to the “United Firm,” a governing body operating in the Church from 1832 to 1834.

The United Firm was a group of nine men set up in April 1832 to govern the Church’s mercantile and publishing efforts. The firm included six men—Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and William W. Phelps—who had been appointed “stewards over the revelations” in November 1831 and who constituted what would become known as the Literary Firm.

The United Firm also included the two bishops in the Church, Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney, along with Sidney Gilbert, who was the Church’s agent and proprietor of the Church store in Independence, Missouri. Frederick G. Williams and John Johnson, who held large parcels of property, were added in 1833. The firm served a governing role in Church affairs for two years until it was disbanded in 1834.

20 Things You Didn’t Know About Church History

17. A non-Mormon played an essential role in how we read the Book of Mormon today.

The printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon was not punctuated. Non-Mormon typesetter John H. Gilbert recalled later in his life that he punctuated most of the Book of Mormon, at times interpreting the tricky wording of the text. Gilbert's punctuation still influences the punctuation found in the current English edition of the Book of Mormon. So, in a small way, a non-Mormon assisted millions of Latter-day Saints in reading the sacred scripture.

18. Joseph Smith’s idea to write his life’s history may have come while he was staying in Greenville, Indiana.

In June 1832, Joseph was in Greenville with Newel K. Whitney, who was recuperating from a stagecoach accident that left him with several broken bones. Joseph stayed in Greenville for about six weeks—a sojourn he had not foreseen and that was difficult for him. He wrote Emma that he had “Called to mind all the past moments of my life” while in Greenville and had “Shed tears of sorrow for my folly in Sufering the adversary of my Soul to have so much power over me as he has had in times past.” His sorrow was placated by the knowledge that “God is merciful and has fo[r]given my Sins.”

Sometime in the months thereafter, Joseph composed the first history of his life, emphasizing in it the forgiveness he had obtained for his sins after he had “cried unto the Lord for mercy” and was visited by Him—his first description of the First Vision. You can read this account at josephsmithpapers.org.

19. When Church members first heard of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon’s vision of the three degrees of glory, many of them found it difficult to accept.

Some members struggled to reconcile the idea of three separate degrees of glory with their traditional Protestant notions of just a heaven and a hell. Brigham Young later remembered that when he first heard of this vision, “it was so directly contrary and opposite to my former education, I said, wait a little, I did not reject it, but I could not understand it.” Others, such as Ezra Landon, fell away from the Church because of it. However, many members saw it as containing “great & marvilous things.” As Joseph Smith’s manuscript history stated, “Nothing could be more pleasing to the Saint, upon the order of the kingdom of the Lord, than the light which burst upon the world, through the . . . vision.”

20. The High Priesthood was not given to elders in the Church until early June 1831.

In a conference that lasted for several days in Kirtland, Ohio, the High Priesthood was given to several conference attendees. They had been promised by a revelation a few months earlier (see D&C 38) that after leaving New York to go to Ohio, they would “be endowed with power from on high.”


20 Things You Didn’t Know About Church History

For the rest of these incredible stories about the Church and Saints in Cambodia, check out our September/October issue of LDS Living, found in Deseret Book stores or on deseretbook.com!

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