*Section 2 in the current Doctrine and Covenants is identical to the text in the earliest manuscript available, except for small changes in capitalization and punctuation. Therefore we will compare the text of Section 2 with the text of Malachi 4:5-6 in the KJV, which Joseph Smith, Jr. said Moroni was quoting.
1 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.:
2 And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers., lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
3 If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.
Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)
Moroni’s recitation of Malachi’s prophecy concerning the return of Elijah was the first step toward connecting the entire human family through temple ordinances in the last days. The final prophecies of Malachi are of such importance that the Savior, during His ministry to the Nephites, paused in His own teaching to recite the words of Malachi to ensure their placement in the Nephite canon of scripture (3 Nephi 24–25). Just as the Savior’s endorsement of Isaiah’s words highlight their importance, His emphasis on Malachi’s words points toward their significance for the Saints of the latter days.
Moroni makes several significant changes to the wording of Malachi’s prophecy as it is found in the King James translation of the Bible. Instead of describing a general return of Elijah before the “great and dreadful day of the Lord,” Moroni specifies that Elijah will reveal the priesthood. On April 3, 1836, Elijah, along with Moses and Elias, appeared in the Kirtland Temple and bestowed priesthood keys on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, then the two heads of the Church. According to Joseph and Oliver, Elijah quoted Malachi’s prophecy and then stated, “Therefore the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” (D&C 110:16).
Moroni also alters the original text to read that Elijah will “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” (D&C 2:2); the original reading states, “He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Malachi 5:6). In this textual inversion, the figure of Elijah and the meaning of the word fathers to be “ancestors” are still important, but Moroni’s reading emphasizes that the children of Israel who live in the latter days are primarily responsible for taking action. As the hearts of the children turn to their fathers, this action accelerates the work to bring the gospel to all those who died without the opportunity to receive it, which creates familial bonds through the sealing powers restored by Elijah.
Finally, Moroni alters the phrase “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 5:6) to the much softer “if it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (D&C 2:3). Moroni’s words serve as a potent reminder that if our lives are not focused on creating connections with our family through essential ordinances and then strengthening those familial bonds by serving our loved ones and living the teachings of Jesus Christ, then our lives—like the earth—will have been wasted. President Russell M. Nelson explained, “Grand as it is, planet Earth is part of something even grander—that great plan of God. Simply summarized the earth was created that families might be” (“Creation,” April 2000 General Conference).
While some might assume that Moroni’s statement is the correct translation of Malachi’s prophecy, it should be noted that the Savior still quoted the King James Version of the prophecy, as did Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 128:17. We should consider section 2 to be Moroni’s commentary on Malachi’s prophecy, with the versions found in Malachi 4, 3 Nephi 25, and Doctrine and Covenants 128 still being correct. It is likely that Joseph Smith is referring to Moroni’s reading of the prophecy when he quotes Malachi 4:5–6 and then comments “I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands” (D&C 128:18).
The Prophet also offers his commentary on the meaning of these verses, stating, “It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannon be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect” (D&C 128:18). Speaking in the light of subsequent revelations, we might amend the Prophet’s statement here to say that the welding link includes all work on behalf of the deceased—baptisms, confirmations, endowments, and sealings—carried out in the temples of the latter days.
While it is impressive that such rich meaning can be found in so few verses, perhaps the most important phrase in Doctrine and Covenants 2 is “if it were not so” and the most important word in Malachi 4 is “lest.” The prophecy is conditional. The earth need not be smitten with a curse or utterly wasted as long as the members of the Lord’s Church take advantage of the blessings available in the many temples found around the globe. (Doctrine & Covenants Minute)