Historical Context and Background of D&C 28

Early D&C 28 Copy
Early Copy of D&C 29
Source: JosephSmithPapers.org

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

As the Church’s second conference approached in September 1830, Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon plates, began receiving revelations through a stone “concerning the upbuilding of Zion the order of the Church and so forth, but which were entirely at variance with the order of Gods House, as it is laid down in the scriptures. and our own late revelations.”[1] Newel Knight wrote that Hiram “had quite a roll of papers full of these revelations, and many in the Church were led astray by them,” including Oliver Cowdery and many of the Whitmer family. Joseph was perplexed, but not for the reason that is sometimes assumed.[2]

Hiram Page’s seer stone was not the problem. Joseph’s revelations and personal teachings encouraged others to use their spiritual gifts, including when those gifts involved seeric objects like Oliver Cowdery’s rod (see section 8). If Hiram had received real revelation through his stone about how to be a better husband, there would have been no problem. The problem was that Hiram’s revelations were “entirely at variance with the order of God’s house.” He was a teacher in the Aaronic priesthood. He had not been appointed by God’s authorized servants, nor sustained by the common consent of the Saints, to receive revelations and commandments about issues that involved all the Saints.

Joseph spent most of a sleepless night prayerfully seeking and receiving Section 28. His history says, “We thought it best to enquire of the Lord concerning so important a matter.” Maybe the “we” included Oliver, because the Lord’s answer is addressed directly to Oliver, which is an important key to seeing what the revelation does, rather than just what it says.

The Lord speaks through the first elder of his Church to the second elder—a point of order­—clarifying Oliver’s role to teach the revelations given to Joseph. Likening Joseph to Moses and Oliver to Aaron, the Lord reminded Oliver of his role to “speak or teach” (D&C 28:4) but not to write revelations for the Church or to command Joseph. The Lord directed Oliver to go on a mission to the Lamanites, or Native Americans, in the West, hinting that Page’s predictions for the location of Zion were wrong: “it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites” (v. 9). But before his mission, Oliver was assigned to visit Hiram privately to “tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him” (v. 11). The Lord did not renounce personal revelation or seer stones. He reminded Oliver of the revealed order and showed him that Hiram was out of order. “For all things must be done in order, and by the common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith” (v. 13).

By speaking through Joseph to Oliver, the Lord illustrated the order in which revelation flows for the Church. By countering the information in Page’s revelation with accurate details about Zion, the Lord led Oliver to the conclusion that either Joseph or Hiram Page was the true revelator. By commanding Oliver to teach Hiram Page these principles, the Lord reinforced them in Oliver’s mind and illustrated the order of the Church at work at a critical moment. Oliver obeyed the revelation and “after much labor with these brethren they were convinced of their error, and confessed the same, renouncing the revelations as not being of God, but acknowledged that Satan had conspired to overthrow their belief in the true plan of salvation.”[3]

[1]History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” 53–54, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 24, 2020.

[2] Newel Knight, Autobiography and Journal, 1846, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

[3] Newel Knight, Autobiography and Journal, 1846, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

Additional Context, by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Doctrine and Covenants 28 marks the first ecclesiastical crisis in the young Church. The conflict centered around one simple question: In a church in which anyone can receive revelation, who has the right to receive revelation for the whole church?

The first signs of trouble appeared in the weeks following the acceptance of the Articles and Covenants (D&C 20) by the body of the Church. The Articles and Covenants were “received by the unanimous voice of the whole congregation” at a Church conference held on June 9, 1830 (Minutes, 9 June 1830, JSP). A few weeks later, Oliver Cowdery sent a letter to Joseph Smith, ordering the Prophet to change part of the document. Oliver objected to the statement in the Articles and Covenants that before baptism, a candidate must “truly manifest by their works that they have received the gift of Christ unto the remission of their sins” (D&C 20:37). Oliver wrote to Joseph saying, “I command you in the name of God to erase those words, that no priestcraft be amongst us.”

Concerned, Joseph wrote back to Oliver, asking “by what authority he took upon him to command me to alter, or erase, to add or diminish to or from a revelation or commandment from Almighty God.” Joseph then traveled to Fayette, where Oliver was staying with the Whitmer family, to discuss the issue. With the help of Christian Whitmer, Joseph persuaded Oliver and the Whitmers to relent in their efforts to change the document; however, Joseph noted that “it was not without labor and perseverance that I could prevail with any of them to reason calmly on the subject” (JS History, vol. A-1, 51, JSP).

A few months later, in September 1830, a second challenge from the Whitmer family arose to Joseph Smith’s leadership. Joseph and Emma had moved from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Fayette, New York. Upon their arrival they found that Hiram Page, who was a Whitmer brother-in-law and one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, “had got in his possession, a certain stone, by which he had obtained to certain revelations.” We do not know the content of these revelations, but Joseph Smith later wrote that Page had received “two revelations, concerning the upbuilding of Zion [and] the order of the Church” and that the revelations “were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house, as laid down in the New Testament, as well as in our late revelations” (JS History, vol. A-1, 53–54, JSP). Page suggested these revelations were binding upon the whole Church.

Newel Knight visited Fayette during this time. “I found Brother Joseph in great trouble of mind on account of Hiram Page,” Newel later wrote. According to Newel, Page “had managed to bring some dissension of feeling among some of the brethren by pretending to revelation which he had got through the stone which were in direct contradiction to the New Testament and also to the revelations of God to us in these last days” (Mackay and Hartley, The Rise of the Latter-day Saints, 2019, 21). Emer Harris, another early Church member, recalled, “Bro. Hiram Page dug out of the earth a black stone [and] put it in his pocket. When he got home, he looked at it. It contained a sentence on paper to befit it. As soon as he wrote one sentence, another sentence came on the stone, until he wrote 16 pages” (Provo Utah Central Stake General Minutes, 6 April 1856, vol. 10, 273).

After counseling with other Church members, Joseph decided to settle the matter at a conference planned for September 1. He later wrote, “I thought it wisdom not to do much more than to converse with the brethren on the subject, until the conference should meet. Finding however that many (especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery) were believing much in the things set forth by this stone, we thought best to enquire of the Lord concerning so important a matter, and before conference convened, we received the following:” (JS History, vol. A-1, 54, JSP).

See Historical Introduction, “Revelation, September 1830–B [D&C 28],” p. 40, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 10, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-september-1830-b-dc-28/1