Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 71

/ Doctrine & Covenants 71 / Commentary

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

Verses 1-4

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


Joseph and Sidney were called on this mission largely to refute the falsehoods being spread by Ezra Booth and Symonds Rider. While Booth’s apostasy is thoroughly explained in the letters he wrote to the Ohio Star, the reasons why Symonds Rider became antagonistic toward the Church are less clear. One possible reason for his leaving may be that, according to a popular rumor, Rider’s name was misspelled in his mission call, and this mistake led to his apostasy. This story can be traced back to the Reverend Burke A. Hinsdale, a friend of Rider, who declared, “His [Symonds Rider’s] commission came, and he found his name was misspelled. Was the Holy Spirit so fallible as to fail even in orthography?” Upon closer examination, the reasons for Rider’s dissention are undoubtedly more complex.


One evidence for Rider’s reasons being more complex is that a copy of the revelation exists in Symonds Rider’s own handwriting, and in this copy, he misspells his own name as “Simonds.” Members of the Campbellite Church that Rider was part of commonly misspelled his name as “Simonds” as well. Furthermore, Rider may have used different spellings for his name at different times, and he himself never mentions the misspelling in his own writings. Given these and other factors, it is unlikely that the misspelling was major factor in his decision to apostatize.[i] Such a factor would be ironic because, in the current Doctrine and Covenants (2013), the spelling of Rider’s name does not match the spelling on his headstone, where the name is written as “Symonds Ryder.” In the Doctrine and Covenants, the name is spelled as “Simonds Ryder” (D&C 52:37). In materials produced for the Joseph Smith Papers project, the name is spelled “Symonds Rider.”[ii] All of these attempts are best guesses based on the multiple ways in which Rider appears to have spelled his own name.


A more likely reason for Rider’s discord was his concern over the law of consecration, which was revealed in February 1831 (D&C 42:30–42). While other elders of the Church departed on missions in the Spring of 1831, Rider remained behind in Ohio, fixated on the law of consecration. He later gave a copy of the law (D&C 42) to the Western Courier. In an account provided by Reverend Hinsdale, Rider wrote to a friend, saying, “When they [Joseph Smith and other Church leaders] went to Missouri to lay the foundation of the splendid city of Zion, and also of the temple, they left their papers behind. This gave their new converts an opportunity to become acquainted with the internal arrangement of their church, which revealed to them the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Joseph Smith the prophet.”[iii]


Whatever his reasons for leaving the Church, Rider became one of the most bitter enemies of Joseph Smith. Simmering throughout the winter of 1831–32, his rancor reached its peak on March 24, 1832, when Rider and Booth led a mob attack on the John Johnson home where Joseph Smith was staying. The Prophet and Sidney Rigdon were badly beaten and tarred and feathered by the mob. Symonds Rider was never brought to justice for this action and remained an elder in the Campbellite Church until his death in 1870.


[i] Mark Lyman Staker, Hearken O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Revelations, 2009,  294–95.

[ii] See Historical Introduction, Revelation 1 December 1831 [D&C 71], JSP. I have used the spelling favored by the Joseph Smith Papers project in this commentary.

[iii] Quoted in Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 257.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 5-11

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


At times, Church members must turn the other cheek toward their enemies, but at other times, they must respond and correct falsehoods told about their faith. In this revelation, the Lord instructed Joseph and Sidney to “confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private” (D&C 71:7). Following the instructions in this revelation, Sidney Rigdon paid the Ohio Star to insert a notice in the newspaper challenging Ezra Booth and Symonds Rider to a public debate over their accusations. Sidney announced his intention to preach in the brick schoolhouse in Ravenna on Christmas Day and invited Booth and Rider to meet him there to contest his claims. Neither of them accepted Sidney’s challenge.[i]


The meeting held in Ravenna on Christmas Day, 1831, was only one of many meetings held during this time to dispel the falsehoods spread by Booth and Rider. Joseph Smith’s later history records state,


From this time until the 8th or 10th of January 1832 myself and Elder [Sidney] Rigdon continued to preach in Shalersville, Ravenna, and other places, setting forth the truth; vindicating the cause of our Redeemer; shewing that the day of vengeance was coming upon this generation like a thief in the night: that prejudice, blindness, and darkness, filled the minds of many, and caused them to persecute the true church, and reject the true light: by which means we did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published in the “Ohio Star,” at Ravenna, by the before mentioned apostate Ezra Booth.[ii]

Joseph and Sidney answered the anti-Mormons (as they were then called) of their day, but how do we respond to those who seek to tear down the faith of others in our day? Lawrence E. Corbridge, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, spoke once about how his assignment as a general authority was to read many of the publications written to attack the faith of Church members. He noted the endless array of questions raised by those who seek to destroy faith and then offered this counsel:


Begin by answering the primary questions. There are primary questions and there are secondary questions. Answer the primary questions first. Not all questions are equal and not all truths are equal. The primary questions are the most important. Everything else is subordinate. There are only a few primary questions. I will mention four of them.

      1. Is there a God who is our Father?
      2. Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the world?
      3. Was Joseph Smith a prophet?
      4. Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on the earth?

By contrast, the secondary questions are unending. They include questions about Church history, polygamy, people of African descent and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, how the Book of Mormon was translated, the Pearl of Great Price, DNA and the Book of Mormon, gay marriage, the different accounts of the First Vision, and on and on.

If you answer the primary questions, the secondary questions get answered too, or they pale in significance and you can deal with things you understand and things you don’t and things you agree with and things you don’t without jumping ship altogether.”


[i] Staker, Hearken, O Ye People,  301.

[ii] Joseph Smith— History, vol. A-1, p. 179, JSP.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)