Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 93

/ Doctrine & Covenants 93 / Commentary

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

Verses 1-5

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

This brief set of verses, particularly verse 1, is one of the most comprehensive, yet simple, descriptions of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Previous to this time the Savior had already made several promises to prominent Church leaders that they might see his face (see D&C 50:45; 67:10, 14; 76:116–118; 88:68), but in verse 1 the promise is made to “every soul” that follows five simple and logically progressive steps to enter into the presence of the Savior. These promises can be applied not only after our death and resurrection but also in this life and the promise to truly know Christ through receiving the Second Comforter (D&C 88:3–4; 68:12).1

 

The five steps provided in verse 1 are simply to: (1) forsake your sins, (2) come unto Jesus Christ, (3) call upon the name of Jesus Christ, (4) obey the voice of Christ, and (5) keep the commandments. This simple sequence gives all men and women the straightforward instructions they need to enter the presence of God. The Savior also explains two advantages that every man and woman who seeks this path already possesses to help them along the way. First, we have “true light,” or the light of Christ, which gives an intrinsic sense of right and wrong to every person born into this world (Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:46–54; 88:5–13). Second, we have the example of Jesus Christ, who gained a body of flesh, received of the fulness of the Father, and demonstrated the works of the Father (2 Nephi 31:7). These two guides—the light of Christ within us and the example of Jesus Christ’s life—prepare our path to eternal life.

 

1. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2005, 3:173–74.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 6-11

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Because of the similarities between the first chapter of the Gospel of John and the opening of Doctrine and Covenants 93, it is easy to assume that the record referred to in verse 6 is the Gospel written by John. However, a close examination of the text shows that the record referred to here is a record kept and recorded by John the Baptist (see verse 15). Several prominent Latter-day Saint scriptural commentators, including Orson Pratt, John Taylor, Sidney B. Sperry, and Bruce R. McConkie, have interpreted this verse in a similar way.2 Bruce R. McConkie urged his readers to carefully compare these verses with Matthew 3:16–17 to identify the writer of this passage.

 

Identifying John the Baptist as the author of this passage connects well with the Savior’s tribute to him: “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). What made John the Baptist truly great was his role as a testator of Jesus Christ. In the Baptist’s words recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 93 and in his words recorded in the New Testament, John was first and foremost a witness of Jesus Christ. John was given the singular honor of performing the baptism of the Savior of the world. But John never cared to shine a light on himself. Instead, he wisely noted the true source of light, the Messiah (D&C 93:9). To his own devoted band of followers, John testified, “I am not the Christ, but I am sent before him . . . he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28–30). These unselfish acts of devotion to Jesus Christ and his unfailing witness of Jesus Christ to the day of his martyrdom set John the Baptist apart as one of the greatest among all the prophets who ever lived.

 

John’s work as a witness of Jesus Christ continues into our time. He was among the first angels to appear in this dispensation to restore “the authority to baptize by immersion for the remission of sins.”3 We look forward to the time when we can receive the fulness of the record written by John the Baptist (D&C 93:18).

 

2. Journal of Discourses, 16:58; John Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, 1950, 55; Sidney B. Sperry, Doctrine and Covenants Compendium, 1960, 472–73, Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1973, 1:70–71.

 

3. “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World,” April 2020.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 12-18

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

One of the most frustrating aspects of the records of the Savior’s mortal ministry is that they share relatively little about it. The time from the Savior’s baptism to His resurrection is recorded in detail in the four New Testament Gospels, but there is little information about His life before that time. Matthew and Luke provide the most information, yet even they remain closely fixated on the story of Mary and Joseph and the nativity of the Savior (Matthew 1–2, Luke 1, 2:1–41). Luke provides a brief glimpse into the childhood of Christ when he tells the story of Jesus being found in the temple sitting with a group of wise men, who were “hearing him [Jesus] and asking him questions” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 2:46). Luke then summarizes the rest of the Savior’s childhood by simply recording, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

 

Because we lack knowledge about the early life of Jesus Christ, a number of folk legends have arisen surrounding what He was like as a child. One beloved Christian hymn speaks of the night of his birth, saying, “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”4 In reality, the Savior probably cried the night he was born. While we may not know many of the details about the Savior’s youth, the record of John the Baptist provides some doctrinal background that the Savior “received not of the fulness at first, but received grace for grace” (D&C 93:12). The underlying lesson here is clear. The Savior came to earth and passed through the veil, losing all the knowledge and power He had previously held as Jehovah, God of the Old Testament. Paul taught, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5–8).

 

Jesus never asked any man or woman to do anything He was not willing to do. Because all men and women lose the memory of their premortal stature when they come to earth, so did He. Lorenzo Snow taught:

 

When Jesus lay in the manger, a helpless infant, He knew not that He was the Son of God, and that formerly He created the earth. When the edict of Herod was issued, He knew nothing of it; He had not power to save Himself; and His father and mother had to take Him and fly into Egypt to preserve Him from the effects of that edict. Well, He grew up to manhood, and during His progress it was revealed unto Him who He was, and for what purpose He was in the world. The glory and power He possessed before He came into the world was made known unto Him.5

 

4. “Away in a Manger,” Hymns, no. 206.

 

5. Lorenzo Snow, Conference Report, April 1901, 3.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 19-20

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

In these short verses, the Savior describes the purpose of the revelation: “that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship” (D&C 93:19). Addressing the first part of this statement, we must ask ourselves what worship really consists of. Bruce R. McConkie taught, “Perfect worship is emulation. We honor those whom we imitate. The most perfect way to worship is to be holy as Jehovah is holy. It is to be pure as Christ is pure. It is to do the things that enable us to become like the Father. The course is one of obedience.”6 In Church worship services, for instance, we ask young men to prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament, actions that Christ Himself first demonstrated. These simple acts of imitation, only a few minutes of every week, is intended to help us worship through direct imitation.

 

In connection with His statement that He wants us to know what we worship, the Savior begins to describe the sons and daughters of God by using the words that John the Baptist used to describe Him. By teaching that men and women must also receive “grace for grace,” the Savior is teaching that humanity is an embryonic form of divinity—and that all men and women have the potential to become like God. However, this teaching ran contrary to the prominent Christian thinking of the day, that Christ was both fully human and fully divine, a philosophy which most Christians have followed since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.7

 

Beginning here, the next few verses (D&C 93:21-35) lead the reader through a sequence of truths that explain the true nature of all people and their relationship to God. Elder Tad R. Callister summarized these truths when he taught, “The difference between man and God is significant—but it is one of degree, not kind. It is the difference between an acorn and an oak tree, a rosebud and a rose, a son and a father. In truth, every man is a potential god in embryo, in fulfillment of that eternal law that like begets like . . . Why is it so critical to have a correct vision of this divine destiny of godliness of which the scriptures and other witnesses so clearly testify? Because with increased vision comes increased motivation.”8

 

6. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 1978, 568.

 

7. “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 6 May 1833 [D&C 93], fn. 8, JSP.

 

8. Tad R. Callister, “Our Identity and Our Destiny,” Education Week Devotional, August 14, 2012.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 21-23

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

After telling us that we must also receive grace for grace, Jesus makes a second connection, related to our premortal existence, between men and women, the Savior, and the Father. Jesus teaches that He was in the beginning with the Father and is the Firstborn. A 1909 declaration of the First Presidency clarifies the status of Jesus as the Firstborn, teaching, “Jesus . . . is the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God.”9 The status of Jesus as “the firstborn of every creature” was also taught by Paul in his letter to the Colossians (Colossians 1:15).

 

Jesus, however, asserts not only that He was in the beginning with God but also that we were in the beginning with God. This is the first place in the Doctrine and Covenants in which the Lord clearly teaches of the premortal existence of men and women. In an earlier revelation given to Joseph Smith during his translation of the book of Genesis, the Lord declared, “I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh” (Moses 6:51). But in stating that all people were also in the beginning with God, the Savior is referring to the eternal, uncreated characteristics of all men and women. Contrary to Christian perceptions of the day, which generally taught that human beings were created ex nihilo, or out of nothing, there is an eternal and everlasting part of every person. This is the revelation’s second great doctrinal contribution: the difference between men, women, and God is one of degree, not one of kind. It is the difference between a majestic oak tree and an acorn.

 

9. James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 1965–1975, 4:203.

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 24-28

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

In the hours leading up to His death on the cross, Jesus was asked by Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). The Gospel of John does not record an answer from the Savior, but the answer is found in this revelation. The Savior declares, “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). In our time there are many who would suggest that all truth is relative, subject to the perceptions of the person who is viewing it. In contrast to this idea, verse 24 teaches that there is an objective truth of things as they are, were, and are to come. While we sometimes preoccupy ourselves with the question of what is coming, the questions of how things were in the past and how things actually are in the present are both important as well. At times the most difficult task is not to know the past or the future but to know the reality of what the truth is in the present.

 

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf once quoted the John Godrey Saxe’s poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” to illustrate the danger of approaching the truth in the wrong way. The poem begins

 

Six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.

 

Elder Uchtdorf added:

 

In the poem each of the six travelers takes hold of a different part of the elephant and then describes to the others what he has discovered. One of the men finds the elephant’s leg and describes it as being round and rough like a tree. Another feels the tusk and describes the elephant as a spear. A third grabs the tail and insists that an elephant is like a rope. A fourth discovers the trunk and insists that the elephant is like a large snake. Each is describing truth. And because his truth comes from personal experience, each insists that he knows what he knows.

The poem concludes:

And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!10

As with the blind men in the poem, we make a mistake when we assume to know the whole objective truth—in reality, we may only know part of it. The Father and the Son, however, see and view the whole truth, which exists objectively in Their sight. We must trust that They see the entire picture and guide us so that we can know what the truth is in relation to the past, present, and future.

 

10. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “What is Truth?” CES devotional, January 13, 2013.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 29-32

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

In Doctrine and Covenants 93:30-32 the Savior explains how men and women can be coeternal with God and still be His children. The eternal element of man is labeled here as “intelligence.” This revelation establishes two things about the nature of intelligence. First, it cannot be created or made (D&C 93:29). Second, intelligence is free to act in the sphere in which God has placed it, or written more simply, all intelligence has agency (D&C 93:30). Beyond these two things, there is little that we know about intelligence. Joseph Fielding Smith warned about the dangers of taking our limited knowledge on this subject too far: “Some of our writers have endeavored to explain what an intelligence is, but to do so is futile, for we have never been given any insight into this matter beyond what the Lord has fragmentarily revealed. We know, however, that there is something called intelligence which always existed. It is the real eternal part of man, which was not created nor made. This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual.”11

 

This revelation about the eternal nature of intelligence and agency has widespread philosophical consequences. Consider, for instance, the problem of evil. Those who question the existence of God often use the existence of evil and suffering in the world as evidence that there is no overseer to the universe. When people of faith point out that men and women have agency and at times use it unwisely, leading to evil, those who question might respond, “Why did God make men and women the kind of beings who could do evil things?”

 

Doctrine and Covenants 93 presents the answer to this question regarding the capactify of men and women to engage in acts of evil. There is a part of men and women, here called intelligence, that God did not create. Intelligence has always existed and has always had agency. Thus, men and women are responsible for their own decisions and have always been. This addresses not only the problem of evil but also the nature of free will and predeterminism. Truman G. Madsen, a professor of philosophy, phrased the issue this way: “Q. If man is totally the creation of God, how can he be anything or do anything that he was not divinely pre-caused to do? A. Man is not totally the creation of God. ‘Intelligence was not created or made, neither indeed can be . . . behold, here is the agency of man.’”12

 

The intelligence part of our beings that was not created by God does not lessen our relationship with Him. God took intelligence, provided it with a body of spirit, and then arranged for the eternal progression of those who follow Him. In this sense, the relationship between God, His sons, and His daughters closely mirrors the relationship between earthly parents and children. Parents do not love their children less because they know they existed before they came into their home. Knowing the eternal nature of each child makes our connection to our Father in Heaven even more profound.

 

11. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man, 1964, 11.

 

12. Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1989, 140–41. See also David L. Paulsen, “Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil,” BYU forum, September 21, 1999.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 33-35

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Anything created cannot be eternal. Air, earth, water, all these had their existence in an elementary state from eternity.”13 He would later teach that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter but is more fine or pure and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We cannot see it, but when our bodies are purified, we shall see that it is all matter.”14

 

Asserting that spirit and matter are forms of the same thing, and that both are eternal, ran contrary to the popular theology of the day. Historically, most Christian religions taught that God created all things ex nihilo, or out of nothing, and that only spiritual things are eternal in nature—they thought that all physical things are only transitory. These ideas, rooted in Greek philosophy, set up the physical world as a prison that spirits are trapped within.15 In contrast to this view, the revelations given in the Doctrine and Covenants establish that both spirit and matter are eternal. People obtain a fullness of joy when these two elements are brought together and find their true, eternal form. In contrast to the tenet that God is a being without bodily parts or passions, we know that God lives in a physical body. All people are created in His image and have the potential to truly become like Him if they only choose to follow His plan.

 

13. Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 4 August 1839–A, as Reported by William Clayton, p. 13, JSP.

 

14. See D&C 131:7–8. Discourse, 17 May 1843–B, as Reported by William Clayton, p. 18, JSP, punctuation modernized.

 

15. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2005, 3:173–74.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 36-37

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

In the revelations given to Joseph Smith, terms such as intelligence, light, truth, spirit, and glory are often used interchangeably. The phrase “the glory of God is intelligence” is often used to highlight the importance of learning. While education is important in this life, some kinds of knowledge are more useful than others. John A. Widtsoe suggested that the gospel meaning of intelligence is more profound than just the acquisition of facts. He taught, “The intelligent man is he who seeks knowledge and uses it in accordance with the plan of the Lord for human good . . . When men follow the light their knowledge will always be used as well. Intelligence, then, becomes another name for wisdom. In the language of mathematics we may say that knowledge, plus the proper use of knowledge, equals intelligence, or wisdom. In this sense intelligence becomes the goal of the successful life.”16

 

16. John A. Widtsoe, Conference Report, April 1938, 50.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 38-40

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

These verses answer one more important philosophical question: are men and women good or evil by nature? The revelation declares that all people are innocent at the time of their birth and do not have a predisposition toward evil. The choices people make cause them to move toward becoming good or evil, but every person begins life with a new start. Whatever sins or transgressions people may have committed during premortal life, they have a new beginning with a lifetime of new possibilities laid before them when they come to earth. The Lord acknowledges that some are born into better and some into worse environments. The traditions of their fathers can at times blur the sense of morality given to individuals through the light of Christ. However, the default setting for mortality is innocence. Men and women are not inherently evil but are sometimes led into making bad choices by the wicked one, and these choices may subsequently cause them to lose the light and truth that is their birthright.

 

Truman G. Madsen phrases it this way: “Q. How can man be a divine creation, and yet be ‘totally depraved’? A. Man is not totally depraved. ‘Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God have redeemed them from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.’”17 This truth does not deny the presence of genuine evil in the world but saying the evil is unnatural. Evil comes when a person’s agency is distorted to work against the greater good and the will of God.

 

17. Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1989, 140-141.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 41-53

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

The last few verses of the revelation may seem to be a departure from the profound doctrinal declarations of the revelation, but thematically they are linked. The truths taught in this section inform the Saints of the sacred nature of all people. In this last part of the revelation, the members of the First Presidency and Bishop Whitney are reproved for not focusing on their families. As a later prophet of the Church would teach, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”18 In the measure of eternity, the role we play in our homes is more significant than the callings we hold in the Church, even the calling of being a prophet.

 

Out of all the grand roles and powers of God that are discussed in the revelations, the most significant role He holds is to nurture and help His children along their path to eternal life. Fatherhood is an inseparable element of how Latter-day Saints conceive, think of, and conceptualize the nature of God. President Dallin H. Oaks taught, “Our theology beings with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them. Under the merciful plan of the Father, all of this is possible through the atonement of the Only Begotten of the Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As earthly parents we participate in the gospel plan by providing mortal bodies for the spirit children of God. The fulness of eternal salvation is a family matter.”19 While not all will be parents in this life, nurturing and helping other people become better aid us significantly in understanding God and becoming like Him. We are learning the nature of godhood when we act as fathers, mothers, teachers, or mentors to another person.

 

18. David O. McKay, quoted from J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization, 1924, 42; in Conference Report, April 1935, 116.

 

19. Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” April 1995 General Conference.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)