Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 97

/ Doctrine & Covenants 97 / Commentary

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

Verses 1-2

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

While this revelation generally reproves the Saints in Missouri, the Lord does begin the revelation by proclaiming that many of them are truly humble and are seeking to “learn wisdom and find truth” (D&C 97:1). Among the Missouri Saints who should be commended for their integrity in the face of persecutions were two of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. William McLellin, who was in Jackson County during the persecutions, later recounted:

 

In 1833, when the mobbing reigned triumphant in Jackson Co., [Missouri], I and O[liver] fled from our homes, for fear of personal violence . . . They offered eighty dollars reward for any one who would deliver Cowdery or McLellin in Independence . . . I slipped down into the Whitmer’s settlement, and there in the lonely woods I met with David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery. I said to them, “Brethren, I have never seen an open vision in my life, but you men say you have, and therefore you positively know. Now you know that our lives are in danger every hour, if the mob can only catch us. Tell me in the fear of God, is that book of Mormon true?” Cowdery looked at me with solemnity depicted in his face, and said, “Brother William, God sent his holy angel to declare the truth of the translation to us, and therefore we know. And though the mob kill us, yet we must die declaring its truth.” David said, “Oliver has told you the solemn truth, for we could not be deceived. I most truly declare to you its truth!!” Said I, “boys, I believe you. I can see no object for you to tell me falsehood now, when our lives are endangered.”1

 

During this time McLellin also recorded a mob attack on Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He wrote,

 

While the mob was raging in Jackson Co., [Missouri,] in 1833 some young men ran down Hiram Page in the woods, one of the eight witnesses, and commenced beating and pounding him with whips and clubs. He begged, but there was no mercy. They said he was a damned Mormon, and they meant to beat him to death! But finally one of them said to him, “If you will deny that damned book, we will let you go.” Said he, “How can I deny what I know to be true?” Then they pounded him again. When they thought he was about to breathe his last, they said to him, “Now what do you think of your God, and when he don’t save you?” “Well,” said he, “I believe in God”—“Well,” said one of the most intelligent among them, “I believe the damned fool will stick to it though we kill him. Let us let him go.” But his life was nearly run out. He was confined to his bed for a length of time. So much for a man who knows for himself. Knowledge is beyond faith or doubt. It is positive certainty.2

 

While the Saints in Missouri were reproved by the Lord for their transgressions (see D&C 101:1–8), it is important to remember that many were faithful to their testimonies. The persecutions in Missouri came about through a mixture of the Saints’ transgressions and the bigotry and intolerance of the original settlers of Jackson County, who saw the infusion of the Saints into the region as a threat to their political power.

 

Citing the sources of the outside opposition to the Saints, Parley P. Pratt later wrote, “The portion of the inhabitants of Jackson County which did not belong to the Church, became jealous of our growing influence and numbers. Political demagogues were afraid we should rule the county; and religious priests and bigots felt we were powerful rivals, and about to excel all other societies in the state in numbers, and in power and influence. These feelings, and the false statements and influences growing out of them, gave rise to the organization of a company of outlaws, whose avowed object was to drive the Church of the Saints from the county.”3

 

1. William E. McLellin’s Lost Manuscript, ed. Mitchell K. Schaefer, 2012, 166–67, spelling and punctuation modernized, emphasis in original.

 

2. McLellin’s Lost Manuscript, 166–67, spelling and punctuation modernized, emphasis in original.

 

3. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 2000, 116.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 3-6

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

During this same time, Parley Pratt helped set up a School of the Elders (Prophets) among the Saints in Missouri in accordance with instructions given in Doctrine and Covenants 88, Parley later recorded:

 

This class, to the number of about sixty, met for instruction once a week. The place of meeting was in the open air, under some tall trees, in a retired place in the wilderness, where we prayed, preached and prophesied, and exercised ourselves in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here great blessings were poured out, and many great and marvelous things were manifested and taught. The Lord gave me great wisdom, and enabled me to teach and edify the Elders, and comfort and encourage them in their preparations for the work which lay before us. I was also much edified and strengthened. To attend this school I had to travel on foot, and sometimes with bare feet at that, about six miles. This I did once a week, besides visiting and preaching in five or six branches a week.4

 

The School of the Elders that Parley P. Pratt conducted was another example of the good that was happening among the Saints in Zion. Though the Lord reproved and chastened some of the members of the school, Parley was commended for his work. God promised Parley a “multiplicity of blessings, in expounding all scriptures and mysteries to the edification of the school” (D&C 97:5). This promise can broadly apply to all those who teach in the Church, whether they teach adults, youth, or children. Multiple passages in the Doctrine and Covenants highlight the importance of teaching (e.g., D&C 42:12; 68:25; 88:77; 93:42), and in a larger sense, every member of the Church is a teacher. In the New Testament, Paul placed the role of teachers behind only prophets and apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28).5

 

4. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 113.

 

5. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 2000, 702.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 7-9

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

After commending the humble and the faithful in Zion, the Lord turns to the most immediate and ominous part of His message in this section: Zion is in danger. The wording used in verses 7-9 closely parallels the warnings given by John the Baptist in the New Testament (Matthew 3:10, Luke 3:9) and Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon (Alma 5:52). Alma and John both present their warnings in the shadow of the coming of the true Messiah, and in Alma’s case, the great wars with the Lamanites contained in the latter part of the book of Alma.

 

In this case, the ax had already begun to cut into the tree and the Saints were in the midst of serious opposition already. The Lord provides this warning with an accompanying chance to repent if the Saints will unite and begin their work on the temple in Zion. Parley P. Pratt later noted with some sorrow, “This revelation [D&C 97] was not complied with by the leaders and Church in Missouri, as a whole; notwithstanding many were humble and faithful. Therefore, the threatened judgment was poured out to the uttermost, as the history of the five following years (1833–38) will show.”6

 

6. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 2000, 115–16.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 10-17

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Plans for the city of Zion sent in June, August, and November 1833 all included a complex of twenty-four temples at the heart of the city.7 However, the Saints had to begin building the complex with one structure, and plans were sent to the Saints in Missouri for this first temple in June and August 1833. This temple’s plans resembled the Kirtland Temple in many ways. The interior of the temple would have featured a large congregational meeting space with twelve pulpits representing different offices within the greater and the lesser priesthood at each end of the room.8

 

The plans were sent to the Missouri Saints in early June 1833, but they took no action before the mob attacks began on the Saints the following month. If the Saints in Missouri had complied with these revelations, the city may have been built (D&C 95:18, 25–26). However, the Saints failed to comply, and the Lord, accepting the offerings and sacrifices of the Saints as sufficient to demonstrate repentance for their failure to build the first temple in Missouri, later removed the commandment to build the city (D&C 124:49–51).

 

7. See Plat of the City of Zion, circa Early June–25 June 1833, JSP; Revised Plat of the City of Zion, circa Early August 1833, JSP; and Proposal for Zion’s City Center from Edward Partridge, circa Late September 1833, JSP.

 

8. Plan of the House of the Lord, between 1 and 25 June 1833, JSP.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 18-21

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Even though the land for the city of Zion and its accompanying temples was identified by revelation, the land itself was not the most important component of the city. Ultimately, a city consists of people. Take away the material things, and if the people are united, the city remains.

 

When the city of Enoch was taken up into heaven (Moses 7:69), we assume a large hole was not left in the ground. Likewise, when Melchizedek and the city of Salem were taken up by God (Joseph Smith—Translation Genesis 14:34), the land where the later city of Jerusalem was built remained. Zion is a people.

 

However, the land that the Lord designated as Zion is important. The Lord later decrees that “Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered” (D&C 101:17). The Saints will yet return to Missouri and build the city of Zion in its foreordained place. In verse 21 the Lord reminds the Saints that even though they possessed the land of Zion at the time of the revelation, they had not built the city. All the Saints are to build the city in their hearts before the physical city can come into being. In this sense the city of Zion will be built throughout the world, in all the communities in which the pure in heart dwell, particularly among the Latter-day Saints.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 22-28

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

When initial persecutions erupted in Jackson County, no one could have conceived how long and difficult the road would be to redeem Zion. Almost two centuries later, we are still looking toward building the New Jerusalem. A few months before the persecutions against the Saints in Missouri began, Joseph Smith wrote to them, desperately seeking for them to repent before the window of opportunity to build the city of Zion closed. In January 1833, seven months before the mob attacks began in force, Joseph wrote

 

The Lord will have a place from whence his word will go forth in these last days in purity, for if Zion, will not purify herself so as to be approved of in all things[,] in his sight he will seek—another people[,] for his work will go on until Israel is gathered, and they who will not hear his voice must expect to feel his wrath. Let me say to you, seek to purify yourselves, and also all the inhabitants of Zion, lest the Lord’s anger be kindled to fierceness.

Repent, repent, is the voice of God, to Zion, and yet strange as it may appear, yet it is true[,] mankind will persist in self-justification until all their iniquity is exposed and their character past being redeemed, and that which is treasured up in their hearts be exposed to the gaze of mankind, I say to you—(& what I say to you, I say to all) hear the warning voice of God lest Zion fall, and the Lord swear in his wrath . . . The brethren in Kirtland pray for you unceasingly, for knowing the terrors of the Lord, they greatly fear for you . . . All we can say by way of conclusion is, if the fountain of our tears are [sic] not dried up[,] we will still weep for Zion, this from your brother who trembles greatly for Zion—and for the wrath of heaven which awaits her if she repent not.9

 

9. Letter to William W. Phelps, 11 January 1833, JSP.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)