Historical Context and Background of D&C 78

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Joseph purposely veiled the meaning of section 78. The issue it addresses is intentionally vague in the present form of the revelation. That is because it deals with Church finances and assets. It addresses the problem of paying for the things the Lord has commanded, namely the building of Zion and publishing the Book of Commandments. Joseph—whose job in the Literary Firm was to oversee expensive publication of the Book of Commandments (see section 70)—sat in counsel with Bishop Whitney, whose job it was to meet the Church’s needs from the storehouse, which was literally his store.

Where today’s verse 3 vaguely speaks about “an organization of my people,” the manuscript versions more specifically refer to “an organization of the literary and mercantile establishments of my church.”1 Joseph kept the issues behind section 78 as confidential as possible to avoid giving the Church’s enemies information they could use to cripple it financially and thus undermine Zion. Essentially, the revelation tells how the Church could use its profitable mercantile assets (like Bishop Whitney’s store) to finance its revealed priorities (buying land in Missouri and publishing the scriptures).

Joseph and the other members of the Literary Firm had covenanted to publish the Book of Commandments, but they lacked funding for the expensive project. The Lord commanded Bishop Partridge to buy land, lots of it, on which to build Zion in Missouri. Bishop Whitney had a profitable store and other businesses in Ohio. Based on the law of consecration’s principle of using the surplus of some to meet the needs of others, section 78 provides a solution to these problems.

In obedience to the revelation, Joseph, Bishop Whitney, and Sidney Rigdon traveled to Missouri to counsel with Bishop Partridge and the Literary Firm, members who were there printing the Book of Commandments. Together they created the United Firm, which is often called the United Order, which is not the law of consecration. The United Firm (Order) was a corporation designed to support the Church according to the law of consecration. Technically, it was the joining of the Literary Firm with Newel Whitney’s Kirtland, Ohio, store and the Independence, Missouri, store operated by Whitney’s partner, Sidney Gilbert. Uniting these firms was meant to streamline the building of Zion. It did not ultimately work as intended. That is not God’s fault; it is the fault of free agents (see section 104). It worked great when Saints chose to keep their covenants and were not overwhelmed by their enemies.

1. “Revelation, 1 March 1832 [D&C 78],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 7, 2020; “Revelation Book 1,” p. 145, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 7, 2020.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

During this early period of Church history, leaders constantly worked to balance the needs of the Church in Ohio and in Missouri. This revelation directed Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Newel K. Whitney to travel to Missouri to organize several business ventures of the Church. In July 1831 a revelation commanded Sidney Gilbert, the business partner of Newel K. Whitney, to establish a store in Independence, Missouri, to raise funds “to buy lands for the good of the Saints” and to “plant them in their inheritance” (D&C 57:8).

Another pressing concern was the need to raise funds for the publication of Joseph Smith’s revelations. At a conference held in November 1831, several Church leaders were charged with the “sacred writings which they have entrusted to them to carry to Zion.”1 A revelation given at the conference created the Literary Firm, a consecrated effort by several Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris, and W. W. Phelps, to oversee the publication of the revelations. Funds raised from this venture were to be placed into a storehouse, and the leaders were instructed that “the benefits shall be consecrated unto the inhabitants of Zion, and unto their generations” (D&C 70:8).

The revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 78 directed Church leaders to organize these ventures into one firm. It was originally called the United Firm, but the name was later edited in the revelations to be called the “order” or the “United Order” (D&C 78:8; 82:20; 92:1; 104:1, 5, 10, 48).2 Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Newel K. Whitney were then asked to travel to Missouri to “sit in council with the saints which are in Zion” and organize the members of the Church in accordance with the revelations.

Doctrine and Covenants 78 was the first of several revelations given to Joseph Smith that were published with code names throughout the text. For instance, when section 78 was first published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the code name Enoch was used for Joseph Smith, Pelogoram was used for Sidney Ridgon, and Ahashdah was used for Newel K. Whitney.3 These code names did not appear in the original revelation. Elder Orson Pratt explained why the code names were used in the publication of these revelations: “It was thought wisdom, in consequence of the persecutions of our enemies in Kirtland and some of the regions around, that some of the names should be changed, and Joseph was called Baurak Ale, which was a Hebrew word, meaning God bless you. He was also called Gazelem, being a person to whom the Lord had given the Urim and Thummim. Sidney Rigdon was given the name Beneemy. And the revelation where it read so many dollars into the treasure was changed to talents. And the city of New York was changed to Cainhannoch.”4 Once the need to conceal identities had passed, the code names were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants and replaced with the original names.

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 1 March 1832 [D&C 78]

1. Minutes, 12 November 1831, p. 18, JSP.

2. Craig J. Ostler, “Consecration,” Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, 2012, 107.

3. See Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, p. 204–205, JSP.

4. Robert J. Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, 1974, 3 vols., 2:994.