Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 85

/ Doctrine & Covenants 85 / Commentary

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

Verses 1-5

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


The Lord’s clerk referred to in this passage is John Whitmer, the Church historian. He was directed to keep a history of the Saints in Zion, including those who consecrated and received inheritances from the bishop in Missouri, Edward Partridge. Whitmer was also directed to record those who left the Church after entering into consecration. The Lord had earlier given instructions about what was to happen if a person left the Church after entering into consecration. The individual was allowed to retain the stewardship that was given to them, but the portion of their means that had been consecrated to the Lord remained with the Church (D&C 51:4–6; 54:4–5). The reference to tithing made here (D&C 85:3) is not the same as the law of the tithe, which was later given in July 1838 (see D&C 119), and appears to be a more general reference to the principle of tithing.


Unfortunately, it is a fact of that people sometimes leave the Church. Not everyone who makes gospel covenants will keep them. At times the Church must also withdraw membership from individuals because of serious sins or transgressions.1 As taught in this revelation, leaving the Church causes an individual to lose many of the blessings that come from being a member of the Church. Such actions should not be taken lightly. These actions can also cause heartache for the loved ones of the person who leaves.


Even though it can be difficult for us when people leave the Church, we should also remember to deal gently with those who have chosen a different path. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf counseled, “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.”2


If we continue to love and build our relationships with loved ones who leave the Church, we can be instruments in the Lord’s hand in holding on to them. Elder Ulysses Soares taught, “It is hard to understand all the reasons why some people take another path. The best we can do in these circumstances is just to love and embrace them, pray for their well-being, and seek for the Lord’s help to know what to do and say. Sincerely rejoice with them in their successes; be their friends and look for the good in them. We should never give up on them but preserve our relationships. Never reject or misjudge them. Just love them! The parable of the prodigal son teaches us that when children come to themselves, they often desire to come home. If that happens with your dear ones, fill your hearts with compassion, run to them, fall on their neck, and kiss them, like the father of the prodigal son did.”3


1. See General Handbook, 32.11.4.


2. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” October 2013 General Conference.


3. Ulisses Soares, “How Can I Understand,” April 2018 General Conference.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 6-7

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

These verses and the reference to “one mighty and strong” who will set in order the house of God have been the source of frequent speculation. Some splinter groups from the Church have used this passage to justify their attempts to reform the Church or start their own Church. The most authoritative commentary on this passage comes from a statement issued in 1905 by the First Presidency, consisting of Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund. In an official statement the First Presidency discussed the circumstances of this revelation and the identity of the “one mighty and strong”:


It is to be observed first of all that the subject of this whole letter, as also the part of it subsequently accepted as a revelation, relates to the affairs of the Church in Missouri, the gathering of the Saints to that land and obtaining their inheritances under the law of consecration and stewardship; and the Prophet deals especially with the matter of what is to become of those who fail to receive their inheritances by order or deed from the bishop. . . .


It was while these conditions of rebellion, jealousy, pride, unbelief and hardness of heart prevailed among the brethren in Zion—Jackson county, Missouri—in all of which Bishop Partridge participated, that the words of the revelation taken from the letter to William W. Phelps, of the 27th of November, 1832, were written. The ‘man who was called and appointed of God’ to ‘divide unto the Saints their inheritance’—Edward Partridge—was at that time out of order, neglecting his own duty, and putting ‘forth his hand to steady the ark’; hence, he was warned of the judgment of God impending, and the prediction was made that another, ‘one mighty and strong,’ would be sent of God to take his place, to have his bishopric—one having the spirit and power of that high office resting upon him, by which he would have power to ‘set in order the house of God, and arrange by lot the inheritance of the Saints’; in other words, one who would do the work that Bishop Edward Partridge had been appointed to do, but had failed to accomplish. . . .


And inasmuch as through his repentance and sacrifices and suffering, Bishop Edward Partridge undoubtedly obtained a mitigation of the threatened judgment against him of falling ‘by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning,’ so the occasion for sending another to fill his station—‘one mighty and strong to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the Saints’—may also be considered as having passed away and the whole incident of the prophecy closed.4


4. James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency, 4:112, 115, 117.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 8-9

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


The phrase “to steady the ark” makes reference to an episode in the Old Testament in which David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem after the Philistines returned it. During the journey, the ark was shaken by the oxen pulling it and a man named Uzzah put forth his hand to steady the ark. The record reads, “Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:6–7).


The record gives us no insight into Uzzah’s motives for reaching out to steady the ark. But the phrase “to steady the ark” has become shorthand for stepping outside of a person’s given stewardship to interfere in a matter in which he or she has no authority. We may be sincere in our concern or our desire to help, but we must also show faith and trust in those the Lord has placed in positions of leadership. As explained in this and other revelations, concerns need to go through the proper channels of authority. In this case, God warns Edward Partridge, the bishop in Zion, to follow the counsel of Church leaders. Bishop Partridge repented and remained a faithful steward in the Church and a wise leader among the Saints in Missouri.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 10-12

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


Those who refuse to follow counsel given in revelation by the Lord’s chosen leaders, however, lose the blessings promised to them. Verse 12 refers to Ezra 2:61–62, which reads, “And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.”


These verses refer to the time when the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity around 539 BC. As the returning people worked to rebuild the temple, they also sought to reconstitute the priesthood of the temple. During this time, it became clear that many who claimed the priesthood through the lineage of Levi could not prove their claim through any kind of official records. Because of this, they were dismissed from priesthood service (Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64). In a similar fashion, those who do not honor their covenants in our time will similarly not find their names in the sacred records kept both on earth and in heaven that documents the works of the faithful. The scriptures themselves frequently refer to records of those who fulfill their covenants (see Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12; 2 Nephi 29:11; 3 Nephi 27:25–26; D&C 128:6–7).


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)