Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 21

/ Doctrine & Covenants 21 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-3

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

This revelation contains the first commandment to keep an official history, the beginning of the vast historical enterprise of the Church, and five titles associated with the President of the Church: a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and an elder of the Church.


Speaking on the role of seer, Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained, “A seer is one who sees with spiritual eyes. He perceives the meaning of that which seems obscure to others; therefore he is an interpreter and clarifier of eternal truth. . . . In short, he is one who sees, who walks in the Lord’s light with open eyes [see Mosiah 8:15–17]” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1960, 258). The Book of Mormon further explains, “A seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known” (Mosiah 8:17).


The President’s role as a translator was first utilized by Joseph Smith in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. As part of his prophetic ministry, Joseph was also called to produce a new translation of the Old and New Testaments and began this work in June 1830, shortly after the organization of the Church. Joseph completed the initial process of translation of the Old and New Testaments in July 1833, though he continued to work on the project throughout the remainder of his life (Old Testament Revision 2, 119, JSP). In addition, he also translated the book of Abraham beginning in 1835, completing additional sections of the translation in 1842 (see “Joseph Smith as Revelator and Translator,” JSP).


The President of the Church is also a prophet. According to the Guide to the Scriptures, a prophet is “a person who has been called by and speaks for God.” The entry continues, “As a messenger of God, a prophet receives commandments, prophecies, and revelations from God. His responsibility is to make known God’s will and true character to mankind and to show the meaning of his dealings with them. A prophet denounces sin and foretells its consequences. He is a preacher of righteousness. On occasion, prophets may be inspired to foretell the future for the benefit of mankind. His primary responsibility, however, is to bear witness of Christ” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Prophet,” emphasis added).


The remaining two titles of elder and apostle are linked, but one denotes authority while the other relies on being a special witness. The Lord gave Joseph and Oliver authority when He designated them as the first and second elders in the Church, the highest offices in the Church at the time (D&C 20:2), and they were apostles in the sense that they were special witnesses of Jesus Christ and his latter-day ministry. They had witnessed the ministry of angels, seen the gifts and power of God through the translation of the Book of Mormon, and received priesthood authority through divine messengers. Joseph and Oliver were both officially ordained elders at the first meeting of the Church, which would have been unnecessary if they had already been ordained to the office of apostle (JS History, vol. A-1, 37, JSP).

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 4-8

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

While the first part of this revelation outlines the role of the prophet, this section outlines the role of the member. In the simplest sense, the Lord expects members of the Church to heed the words and commandments of the living prophets and the sacred scriptures, then seek to walk in holiness before God. Prophets and apostles assist us in walking in holiness before God by providing direction from the Lord and outlining the necessary qualifications for blessings through sacred covenants and ordinances.


Notably, the Lord asks the Saints to receive these things “in all patience and faith” (verse 5). While serving as a counselor in the First Presidency, Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter. Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace” (“Continue in Patience,” April 2010 General Conference). When prophets or apostles teach or announces policies that do not match up with our views and feelings, the Lord expects us to accept the teachings or policy with patience, and work in faith toward understanding.

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 9-12

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

Oliver Cowdery is designated as the “first preacher of this church” in the last part of this revelation. Though Joseph Smith became a powerful and persuasive preacher in the latter part of his prophetic ministry, he was not confident in his public speaking skills earlier in the Restoration. He often deferred to Oliver Cowdery and later Sidney Rigdon to deliver the public discourses of the Church, men the Lord had given powerful speaking abilities.


As designated in revelation, Oliver was given the responsibility of preaching the first public sermon of any Church member. Joseph Smith’s history records, “On Sunday April 11th 1830, Oliver Cowdery preached the first public discourse, that was delivered by any <​of​> our number. Our meeting was held by previous appointment at the house of Mr Whitmer [Peter Whitmer Sr.], Fayette, large numbers of people attended, and the same day the following were baptized.” After the meeting Oliver baptized several people, including Hiram Page, Katherine Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Mary Musselman Whitmer, and Elizabeth Whitmer—Oliver’s future wife—in Seneca Lake (JS History, vol. A-1, 39).

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)