Section 43 is one of the loveliest, most poetic of Joseph’s revelations. It is an eschatological text, meaning that it addresses the end of the world and the events that lead up to the Savior’s return. But perhaps its most significant contribution is its solution to the old and perplexing problem of revelation. Avoiding the extremes of no revelation at all or a completely chaotic free-for-all, section 43 validates personal revelation and sets boundaries for what such revelations will contain. Only Joseph or his authorized successors will reveal the Lord’s will for the entire Church of Jesus Christ.
Oliver Cowdery and his companions converted well over one hundred people in northeastern Ohio in the fall of 1830, then left for the western frontier to fulfill their mission call. Meanwhile, the natural leaders of the converts, Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge, went to New York to meet Joseph. So almost overnight there was a large group of new, leaderless converts.
The enemy of all righteous had . . . made them think that an angel of God appeared to them, and showed them writings on the outside cover of the Bible, and on parchment, which flew through the air, and on the back of their hands, and many such foolish and vain things, others lost their strength, and some slid on the floor, and such like maneuvers.1
Into the chaos stepped a woman we know only by her surname, Hubble. She claimed to be a prophetess. She testified that the Book of Mormon was true, and she received revelations that included commandments and laws. The Saints believed her.2
When Joseph arrived, he had a problem. Critics of revelation complain that God no longer reveals his will to women and men on earth. Believers in revelation, meanwhile, receive revelations themselves and many believe in counterfeits. Joseph did not want to make the false claim that God would not reveal himself to ordinary people, including women. Like Moses, he wished “that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29, emphasis added). But how could he affirm that God continues to reveal his will while simultaneously maintaining the revealed order of the Lord’s Church?
Hubble’s gender was not the issue. Hiram Page had created a similar problem by presuming to receive revelations (D&C 28). To Emma Smith, meanwhile, the Lord had promised the power to expound scripture and exhort the Church by the spirit of revelation to her (D&C 25:7). The question was not whether women could receive revelation. They could, and did, and do. The question was to whom the Lord would reveal his will for the whole Church. The confusion required clarification.
after this commandment was received the saints came to understanding on this subject, and unity and harmony prevailed throughout the church of God: and the Saints began to learn wisdom, and treasure up knowledge which they learned from the word of God, and by experience as they advanced in the way of eternal life.3
Section 43 makes an important distinction between revealed commandments and teachings about how to act on the revealed commandments and teachings. They are not of the same importance even if they come from the same source. The revelations of the Lord through Joseph are more important and binding than the teachings of Joseph about them.
In section 43, Saints are commanded not to receive the teachings of anyone as if they were revelations or commandments (D&C 43:5, emphasis added). The Lord commands Saints to instruct and edify each other—to produce teachings—about “how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given” (v. 8). Inspired teachings about how to obey commandments are good, but they are not the same as the Lord’s actual commandments and revelations. A Saint who feels guilty for seeking and receiving personal revelation that runs counter to the teachings of a Church leader is actually obedient to the Lord’s command in section 43 to not equate anyone’s teachings with the Lord’s commandments and revelations. Section 43 was necessary, John Whitmer said, so Saints could “learn to discern.”4
2. “John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847,” p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 28, 2020. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 101, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 28, 2020. Ezra Booth letter November 29, 1831, in Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio) December 8, 1831.
3. Ezra Booth letter November 29, 1831, in Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio) December 8, 1831. Book of John Whitmer, chapter 3, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri. Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1, pages 101–3; History of the Church, 1:154.
From Doctrine and Covenants Minute
Joseph Smith received the revelation in section 43 shortly after his arrival in Ohio. The need for guidance seems to have arisen from a challenge to Joseph’s role as revelator for the entire Church. Similar to the controversy a few months earlier involving Hiram Page and his seer stone (see D&C 28), the question arose over who has the right to receive revelation on behalf of the Church. Church Historian John Whitmer later wrote of the incident, “About these days there was a woman by the name of Hubble who professed to be a prophetess of the Lord, and professed to have many revelations and knew that the Book of Mormon was true; and that she should become a teacher in the Church of Christ. She appeared very sanctimonious and deceived some, who were not able to detect her in her hypocrisy: others however had a spirit of discernment and her folies and abominations were made manifest. The Lord gave Revelation that the saints might not be deceived” (John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847, 18, JSP).
We do not know the precise identity of the woman involved in the controversy. Whitmer may have been referencing Laura Fuller Hubble, the older sister of Edson Fuller, a man who had joined the Church and been ordained an elder. Another possibility is that he was referring to Louisa Hubbell, a convert from the Disciples of Christ who left the Church and rejoined her prior faith a few months after the revelation was received (Mark Staker, Hearken, O Ye People, 79–80, 111–114). Regardless of the identity of the prophetess in question, the incident represented a larger issue among the Saints in Kirtland. The issue centered around their confusion about spiritual manifestations and the nature of personal and ecclesiastical forms of revelation. Joseph Smith saw the need to establish the order of the Church among the new converts in Kirtland. Reflecting on the experience, he later wrote, “A woman came with great pretentions to revealing commandments, laws and other curious matters; and, as every person, (almost) has advocates for both theory and practice, in the various notions and projects of the age, it became necessary to inquire of the Lord” (JS History, vol. A-1, 101, JSP).
The dispute was only one of the struggles the new converts in Kirtland were experiencing. John Whitmer later noted,
The enemy of all righteous had got hold of some of those who professed to be his followers, because they had not sufficient knowledge to detect him in all his devices. He took a notion to blind their minds of some of the weaker ones, and made them think that an angel of God appeared to them, and showed them writings on the outside cover of the Bible, and on parchment, which flew through the air, and on the back of their hands, and many such foolish and vain things, others lost their strength, and some slid on the floor, and such like maneuvers, which proved greatly to the injury of the cause.” (Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847, 10, JSP)
During this time Joseph received several revelations that were intended to quell the controversies among the Saints and to create a house of order for the new converts. This revelation and several others given soon after (D&C 46, 50, 52) in particular show the gentle reasoning the Lord used to help His disciples find their way amid the challenges they faced. This was a time of stretching and growth for the Saints. While noting the challenges among them, John Whitmer also recognized the growing progress of the work, recording, “The Lord also worked and many embraced the work, and the honest in heart stood firm and immovable” (Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847, 10, JSP).