Historical Context and Background of D&C 44

Early D&C 44 Copy
Early Copy of D&C 44
Source: JosephSmithPapers.org

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Shortly after he relocated to Kirtland, Ohio, as commanded (D&C 37 and 38), Joseph wrote an urgent letter to Martin Harris, still living in New York: “Inform the Elders which are there that all of them who can be spared will come here without delay if possable this by Commandment of the Lord,” the prophet said.[1]

Section 44 was Joseph’s motivation—the commandment he mentioned to Martin.[2] The rationale of the revelation goes like this: The Lord explains that it is expedient, or a means to a highly desired end. Often, as in section 44, the Lord says something is “expedient in me,” meaning that the thing is a vital means to accomplish his purposes. The means, in the case of section 44, is to gather all the elders of the Church who can possibly attend. At least that is the first premise of the means, or what is expedient.

Here is a paraphrase of the rest of the Lord’s rationale in section 44:

  • Gather all the elders.
  • If they are faithful they will have the Lord’s Spirit poured out upon them when they assemble.
  • That will make them powerful preachers of repentance.
  • That will lead many people to convert.
  • That will give the Saints power to organize economically in ways that are legal (and so not vulnerable to suits by enemies).
  • That will give the Saints power to organize economically in ways that are also legal in terms of the Lord’s law of consecration.

Meanwhile, the Lord explains, “You must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief” (D&C 44:6).

That all makes more sense when you know that Ohio law demanded that twenty members of a church meet to elect officers and have their organization recorded by the county clerk in order for that church to have legal recognition and be able to own property.[3] The gathering of the Saints in Ohio led prominent and powerful men, including Eber Howe and Grandison Newell, to oppose the church economically, in the press, and in the courts. Foreseeing the need to organize and the antagonism the Saints would experience, the Lord revealed section 44.

Joseph wrote to his brother Hyrum, “I think you had better come into the country immediately for the Lord has commanded us that we should call the elders of this Church together unto this place as soon as possible.”[4] There was a “special meeting of the Elder[s] of the Church of Christ held at Kirtland” on April 9, 1831, but it seems like the meeting that best fulfills the command and prophesied blessings in section 44 was held in early June.[5]

[1]Letter to Martin Harris, 22 February 1831,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 28, 2020.

[2]Revelation, February 1831–B [D&C 44],” p. 70, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 28, 2020.

[3] “Act for the Incorporation of Religious Societies,” Acts Passed at the First Session of the Seventeenth General Assembly of the State of Ohio, Vol XII (Chillicothe, Ohio: Office of the Supporter, 1819), chapter LIV.

[4]Letter to Hyrum Smith, 3–4 March 1831,” p. [2], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 28, 2020.

[5]Minute Book 2,” p. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 28, 2020. “Minutes, circa 3–4 June 1831,” p. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 28, 2020.

Additional Context, by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

The revelation in section 44 was among the outpouring of instructions Joseph Smith received when he first arrived in Ohio. We do not know the exact date this revelation was received, but its placement among the others given around this time suggests that it came late in February 1831. The revelation calls for a gathering of elders to assemble themselves together. This commandment may have been fulfilled in a meeting held on April 9, 1831, but it was more likely in a conference held later that year on June 6. In his later history, Joseph Smith tied this revelation directly to the meeting held on June 6, 1831, where the Prophet and others were ordained to the high priesthood (JS History, vol. A-1, 103, JSP).

The revelation was given during an exciting and challenging time for the Church. Around this same time, Joseph wrote to Martin Harris, asking him to “inform the Elders which are there that all of them who can be spared will come here without delay, if possible . . . by Commandment of the Lord as he has a great work for them all in this our inheritance” (Letter to Martin Harris, 22 February 1831, JSP). A few days later Joseph wrote to his brother Hyrum, saying, “I have been engaged in regulating the Churches here as the disciples are numerous and the devil had made many attempts to overthrow them. It has been a serious job, but the Lord is with us, and we have overcome, and have all things regular. The work is breaking forth on the ​right​ hand and on the left and there is a great Call for Elders in this place” (Letter to Hyrum Smith, 3–4 March 1831, JSP).

“Historical Introduction,” Revelation, February 1831–B [D&C 44]