Historical Context and Background of D&C 114

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

What would happen if one-third of the apostles apostatized or were killed? Section 114 is an answer. Elder David W. Patten was second in seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when he and his wife, Ann, moved from Kirtland, Ohio, to Far West, Missouri, in late 1836 or early 1837. With his quorum president, Thomas Marsh, David led the Saints in Missouri as several Church leaders apostatized in the early months of 1838. After Joseph arrived in Missouri that spring, David asked Joseph to seek a revelation for him. Section 114 was recorded in Joseph’s Scriptory Book, his journal for 1838.1 That book is full of records of councils in which several of the apostles, as well as Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, were disciplined or excommunicated from the Church.

The brief revelation instructed David and other apostles to prepare for a mission the following spring (1839). Although the revelation does not mention where the apostles would serve, apostles Heber Kimball, Orson Hyde, and their companions had sent reports of their success in Great Britain. Section 114 implies a call to the entire quorum to serve a follow-up mission to the British Isles the next year. David Patten did not live to serve that mission. He was killed on October 25, 1838, after being wounded in a conflict between Saints and Missouri militiamen. The apostles did go to Britain, however. On July 8, just over two months following the receipt of this revelation, Joseph received another with more details of their call (see section 118).

The vacancies left by David Patten’s death and the apostasy of Oliver Cowdery, the entire presidency of the Church in Missouri, and a third of the apostles, did not remain. Rather nonchalantly, the revelation says their “bishopric,” or office, can be filled by others; the Lord seems unconcerned. Section 114 shows how the Lord grants individual agency, including the potential for apostasy, without compromising the Kingdom. Sad as the casualties are, the work rolls forward when someone opts out. Replacements are ready. In this case, men named John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, among others, were called and filled in nicely (see section 118).

1. “Revelation, 11 April 1838 [D&C 114],” 32, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 25, 2020.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Doctrine and Covenants 114 was given to Apostle David W. Patten. At the time Elder Patten was serving with Apostles Thomas B. Marsh and Brigham Young in the temporary stake presidency of the Church in Missouri. The revelation directed Elder Patten to settle his affairs and prepare to depart for a mission the next spring. This command relates to a similar commandment the Lord gave to the entire Quorum of the Twelve: they were to “depart to go over the great waters” to Great Britain and “there promulgate my gospel” in the spring of 1839 (D&C 118).

Elder Patten, an original member of the first Quorum of the Twelve called in this dispensation, was known for his courage in the face of trials and afflictions. One description of him reads, “Elder Patten has become almost legendary in the history of the Church for his courage and personal power in the face of adversity. He was a fearless defender of the faith and also of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Elder Patten stood six feet, one inch tall and weighed over two hundred pounds; he was a man of great physical strength.”1 Among the Saints at Far West, Elder Patten was known as “Captain Fear-not.”2 With tensions rising in Missouri, Elder Patten’s courage was put to the test just a few months after this revelation was given.

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 11 April 1838 [D&C 114].

1. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2005, 4:104.

2. Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1997, 219.