From the Church

How did the Doctrine and Covenants come to be? A look at publishing Joseph Smith’s revelations


This article is from The Joseph Smith Papers and is shared with permission. 

In July 1831, a Joseph Smith revelation appointed William W. Phelps to be church printer and Oliver Cowdery to assist him. They were charged with, among other things, publishing Joseph Smith’s revelations. Before Phelps and Cowdery began their work, a few of the revelations were printed in newspapers not published by the church, but the Church’s first official effort to publish the revelations began with a conference in Hiram, Ohio, on 1 November 1831, where ten elders gathered to discuss publishing a compilation of revelations called the Book of Commandments.

The conference voted to publish ten thousand copies of the book, though this number was later reduced to three thousand. Revelation Book 1 served as the major source for the publication of the revelations in both the Book of Commandments and the church newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star. Phelps began printing the Book of Commandments in Missouri in 1833 but never finished because the printing office in Independence was destroyed by vigilantes in July of that year. During this same period, the Church published many revelations in The Evening and the Morning Star (later edited and reprinted in Ohio as Evening and Morning Star). A comparison of the revelations printed in each of these newspapers is found in Revelations Printed in The Evening and the Morning Star.

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Shortly after the destruction of the Independence printing office, church leaders established a press in Kirtland, Ohio, and the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published there in 1835. The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants included all sixty-five of the revelations published in the Book of Commandments, plus an additional thirty-eight sections and seven “Lectures on Faith” that were given at the Elders School in Kirtland.

The second edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was printed in Nauvoo in 1844, shortly after Joseph Smith’s death; it was largely a reprint of the 1835 edition but included five new revelations, two Joseph Smith letters, and a tribute to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, written in the aftermath of their deaths.

For further introductory information, see Introduction to Manuscript Revelation Books, and Joseph Smith–Era Publications of Revelations. This finding aid does not include a list of all of Joseph Smith’s published revelations, but such a list can be found here.

Documents relating to the publication of the Book of Commandments (1833):

Documents relating to the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants (1835):

Documents relating to the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants (1844):

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