Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 29

/ Doctrine & Covenants 29 / Commentary

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

Verses 1-8

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

With the foundations of the Church in place, the Lord turned the attention to the gathering of Israel. The Lord emphasized to the leaders of the Church the importance of beginning the gathering of his elect, and Oliver Cowdery was called to organize the first official mission of the Church. The concept of election is complex and at times means different things in different passages of scripture. The Book of Mormon speaks of leaders “being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (Alma 13:3). Likewise, the writings of the Apostle Peter spoke of those who are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2). Doctrine and Covenants 29 adds that the elect hear the Lord’s voice and “harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7). While God knows all things, personal choices are the most important factor in becoming one of the elect. The elect of God are designated as God’s servants on earth. Often they are the literal descendants of faithful men and women like Abraham and Sarah, though anyone can choose to be a part of this royal family. As President Russell M. Nelson taught, “Some of us are the literal seed of Abraham; others are gathered into his family by adoption. The Lord makes no distinction. Together we receive these promised blessings—if we seek the Lord and obey His commandments” (“Covenants,” October 2011 General Conference).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 9-13

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

Both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants emphasize the importance of the Twelve Apostles who served with Jesus Christ in and around Jerusalem. In the opening chapter of the Book of Mormon, Lehi sees in vision the Savior descending out of heaven followed by “twelve others” whose “brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament” (1 Nephi 1:9). Later, Nephi is given a vision of the Savior’s ministry and beholds the Twelve serving alongside the Lord (1 Nephi 11:29). Nephi also beheld the wicked multitudes of the earth gathered together to “fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 11:34–35). Nephi also taught that the Jerusalem Twelve would judge the entire house of Israel, with twelve ministers called from among the Nephites to assist in judging Nephi’s descendants (1 Nephi 12:9–10; Mormon 3:17–19).

 

The Savior likewise informed the Jerusalem Twelve that at the time of the Second Coming they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). The Jerusalem Twelve and the Nephite Twelve are part of a hierarchy of judges assigned to judge the house of Israel. A later revelation to Joseph Smith revealed that they will serve under the direction of Michael (Adam), who has the keys of salvation and serves under the direction of Jesus Christ (D&C 78:16).

 

Commenting on this principle, President John Taylor taught: “This exhibits a principle of adjudication or judgment in the hands, firstly, of the Great High Priest and King, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God; secondly, in the hands of the Twelve Apostles on the continent of Asia, bestowed by Jesus Himself; thirdly, in the Twelve Disciples on this continent, to their peoples, who it appears are under the presidency of the Twelve Apostles who ministered at Jerusalem; which presidency is also exhibited by Peter, James and John, the acknowledged presidency of the Twelve Apostles; they, holding this Priesthood first on the earth, and then in the heavens, being the legitimate custodians of the keys of the Priesthood, came and bestowed it upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.”

 

President Taylor continued, “It is also further stated that the Saints shall judge the world. Thus Christ is at the head, his apostles and disciples seem to take the next prominent part; then comes the action of the Saints, or other branches of the Priesthood, who it is stated shall judge the world. This combined Priesthood, it would appear, will hold the destiny of the human family in their hands and adjudicate in all matters pertaining to their affairs” (Mediation and Atonement, 1882, 155–57.)

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute) 

Verses 14-21

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The descriptions given here of the conditions leading up to the Second Coming are chilling. How many of these calamities are caused by humans and how many are sent by the hand of providence is unknown. In a discourse given in 1839, Joseph Smith declared: “I will prophecy that the signs of the coming of the Son of man are already commenced, one pestilence will desolate after another. We shall soon have war and bloodshed, the moon will be turned to blood. I testify of these things and that the coming of the Son of man is nigh, even at your very doors. If our souls and our​ bodies are not looking forth for the coming of the Son of man and after we are dead if we are not looking forth we shall be among those who are calling for the rocks to fall upon us” (Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa August 1839-A, as reported by William Clayton, 20, JSP)

 

In a similar vein, President Wilford Woodruff taught, “No man can contemplate the truth concerning the nations of the earth without sorrow, when he sees the wailing, mourning, and death that will come in consequence of judgments, plagues, and war. It has already begun, and it will continue to multiply and increase until the scene is ended and wound up.” He continued, “Do I delight in the destruction of the children of men? No. Does the Lord? No. He gives them timely warning, and if they do not listen to his counsel, they must suffer the consequences of their wicked acts” (Journal of Discourses, Feb. 25, 1855, 2:201).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute) 

Verses 22-28

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

In contrast to the horrific events described in verses 15–21, here the Lord describes the renewal of all things at the end of the Millennium. The work of Jesus Christ resurrects and renews not only the physical bodies of men and women but also the entire ecosystem they exist in. All things are renewed, including plants, animals, and all other works of the hand of God. In a later revelation, the Lord declares, “The earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law—Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it” (D&C 88:25–26).

 

Elder Parley P. Pratt built upon this concept when he taught, “A new heaven and a new earth are promised by the sacred writers. Or, in other words, the planetary systems are to be changed, purified, refined, exalted, and glorified, in the similitude of the resurrection, by which all physical evil or imperfections will be done away” (Key to the Science of Theology, 1943, 60). Joseph Smith likewise taught that “this earth will be rolled back into the presence of God and crowned with Celestial Glory” (Discourse, 5 January 1841, as reported by William Clayton, 8, JSP). The work of Jesus Christ is not just to save mankind but to bring salvation to the very world we live in.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute) 

Verses 29-35

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

At times there is a tendency to create a contrast between the spiritual and the temporal. Spiritual affairs are taken care of by religion, while temporal affairs are best handled separately by governments, communities, or families. However, the Lord here instructs that there is no distinction between temporal and spiritual commandments (D&C 29:35). Commandments like the Word of Wisdom or the law of tithing might seem to be concerned with only our physical or financial welfare. But every commandment has spiritual components to it, and a person who disregards the Lord’s law of health suffers both physically and spiritually. In fact, many of the revelations given to Joseph Smith and his prophetic successors concern temporal affairs.

 

Because of this lack of distinction between temporal and spiritual concerns, the Church deeply involves itself in temporal concerns. President Howard W. Hunter explained: “There are some who ask why the Church is concerned with temporal affairs. The Church is interested in the welfare of each of its members. This interest therefore cannot be limited to man’s spiritual needs alone but extends to every phase of his life. Social and economic needs are important to everyone. Man also has need for physical, mental, and moral guidance. Our lives cannot be one-sided, nor can we separate the spiritual from the temporal. . . . The Lord makes no distinction between temporal and spiritual commandments, for he has said that all of his commandments are spiritual. When we understand the plan of life and salvation this becomes evident to us. Mortality is just one part of our eternal life (“An Everyday Religion,” Conference Report, October 1961, 108).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute) 

Verses 36-39

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

This part of the revelation is parallel with Moses 4:1–4, which was received around the same time. Both passages add important backstory to the drama that unfolded in the Garden of Eden, underlining the motivating cause in Satan’s actions against humankind. Lucifer was involved in a war that he could not win and instead sought to destroy the agency of men and women. The book of Moses reads, “Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:3–4).

 

In Joseph Smith’s time, the word agency was defined as “the quality of moving or of exerting power; the state of being in action; operation; instrumentality” (“Agency,” Webster’s 1828 Dictionary). According to this definition, Satan sought more than just limiting our choice; he sought to limit our very power to act, to do anything of meaning as individuals. It is commonly taught in the Church that Satan’s plan was to force everyone to be righteous, but forced righteousness is a philosophical impossibility. If a person has to be forced to do something right, it is not an act of righteousness (Moroni 7:5–7). How, then, did Satan seek to destroy our agency?

 

Discussing the way Satan can destroy a person’s agency, Elder Paul V. Johnson taught: “Satan tried to destroy agency. Our Heavenly Father wouldn’t allow it and cast him out. Satan now deceives and blinds men, and he leads them captive at his will. If he is leading people captive, doesn’t that sound like he is destroying agency? The fact is, he couldn’t destroy agency in the pre-earth life, and he can’t do it now either. But he leads us captive by enticing us to sin. When we sin, we subject ourselves to him. We, in effect, give part of our agency to him. He can’t take it from us, but we can relinquish it” (“Free to Choose,” Ensign, February 2019).

 

Thus, Satan’s power to destroy agency comes entirely from our willingness to submit to him.

 

According to D&C 29:36 a third part of the hosts of heaven chose to follow Satan. These fallen hosts will endure the same fate as Satan, with later revelations stating, “These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power; Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath” (D&C 76:36–38).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute) 

Verses 40-45

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The Joseph Smith Translation of the book of Genesis restores an important passage relating to the Fall of Adam and Eve. After being cast out of the garden, Adam and Eve were not left hopeless. An angel appeared to them, explaining that the sacrifices they had been commanded to perform were “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:7). The atoning sacrifice and work of Jesus Christ changes death from an ending into a door leading to immortality and eternal life for all men and women.

 

Instead of being left with an unknown fate, Adam and Eve were taught of the plan prepared for them and their children to choose eternal life. The book of Moses records, “And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10). The testimony of Eve is also restored and proclaimed to the world: “And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).

 

The revelations of the Restoration reestablish the Fall of Adam and Eve not as a tragedy but as a critical step forward in the great plan of happiness. They also serve to repair the reputation and emphasize the importance of our first parents. President Dallin H. Oaks taught, “It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same. And thus Eve and ‘Adam fell that men might be’ (2 Nephi 2:25)” (“The Great Plan of Happiness,” October 1993 General Conference).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute) 

Verses 46-50

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

At the conclusion of this revelation, the Lord speaks to the special status of two groups of people in mortality: little children and “he that hath no understanding” (D&C 29:50). The Savior taught this same principle in Moroni, declaring that Jesus Christ atones for transgressions of the law committed by little children (Moroni 8:8). A later revelation to Joseph Smith clarified that “all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10).

 

Those who “hath no understanding” may include individuals with mental or physical disabilities that affect their level of accountability. Determining a person’s accountability is best left to the Lord Himself. In the meantime, Church members are under an obligation to assist those who have disabilities in understanding and obtaining the blessings of the gospel. Joseph Smith taught, “All the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement” (Discourse, 7 April 1844, as reported by William Clayton, 16, JSP). More recently, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé has taught, “God would indeed be unjust if the gospel were only accessible to an intellectual elite. In His goodness, He has ensured that the truths regarding God are understandable to all His children, whatever their level of education or intellectual faculty” (“Even a Child Can Understand,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 32).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)