Historical Context and Background of D&C 68

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Four newly ordained high priests were among the Church leaders who gathered for conference in Hiram, Ohio, in November 1831. They “requested of the Lord to know his will concerning them.” The Lord obliged them with the first twelve verses of section 68. He then added an amendment to previous revelations about the office of bishop. Then he commented on the implications of the bad parenting he saw in the church.1

The Saints resolved to act on this revelation’s instructions regarding bishops and Church discipline.2 Oliver Cowdery took this revelation and others to the Saints in Missouri. The brethren who sought the Lord’s will and received it acted on it pretty well in the short term. Orson Hyde, William McLellin, and the Johnson brothers would all be chosen as apostles in 1835, largely because of their faithfulness to the Lord’s commission in this revelation to preach the gospel by his Holy Spirit. All of them struggled to endure in that commission and were at one time or another antagonistic to the Church.

Section 68 gives a unique definition of scripture as the voice of God communicated by his Holy Spirit to his authorized servants in real time. In dictionaries of Joseph’s day, the word scripture literally meant “what is written.” Then and now the word connoted very old sacred writing. The sooner we get past that confining idea the better. In 1838 Ralph Waldo Emerson urged Harvard graduates “to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.”3 Joseph Smith already had.

The Lord uses this revelation and others to gives instruction on parenting. Children come weak and helpless. Powerless to act for themselves but innately divine, children can be empowered to act for themselves if properly parented. Out of love, God empowers his children to act as he acts. God empowers his children by teaching them law, beginning with the law of the gospel. If children are not taught God’s laws as they mature, they will never have agency or power to act for themselves. Teaching children the law of the gospel is a prerequisite to their gaining the ability to choose and act for themselves.

Teaching children the laws of God does not guarantee they will keep them. It does guarantee that they will be able to choose for themselves whether to keep them. Parents who do not teach and therefore do not endow the children with agency will answer to God for deciding for the children rather than empowering them to choose for themselves. This revelation, together with sections 29 and 121, shows how the Lord both teaches and models how to endow children with power by giving them laws and, thus, agency.

1. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 163, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020. “Revelation, 1 November 1831–A [D&C 68],” p. 113, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020.

2. “Resolved: that the mode and manner of regulating the Church of Christ, take effect from this time, according to a revelation received in Hiram, Portage County, Ohio, Nov. 11, 1831.” Far West Record, July 3, 1832, p. 34.

3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “An Address,” July 15, 1838, Harvard Divinity School, in Brooks Atkinson, editor, The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Modern Library, 1950), 80.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Doctrine and Covenants 68 was received during the November 1–2, 1831, conference in Hiram, Ohio, where the decision was made to publish Joseph Smith’s revelations. During the conference, four elders, Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson, Lyman Johnson, and William E. McLellin, approached Joseph Smith and asked for a revelation to know the Lord’s will for them. Joseph later wrote in his history, “As the following Elders were desirous to know the mind of the Lord concerning themselves, I enquired and received [D&C 68]” (Joseph Smith—History, vol. A-1, p. 163). The first part of the revelation, consisting of verses 1–12, is addressed to these four elders.

The second part of the revelation, consisting of verses 13–35, is addressed to the Church generally. This part of the revelation provides valuable information about the office of bishop and gives instruction to the members of the Church about parenting, living the gospel, and prayer. Though this section clearly consists of two separate revelations, every form of the written revelation we know of presents both parts as one. In 1835, additional instructions and clarifications were added to the original 1831 revelation. These additions first appeared in the Evening and Morning Star, a Church-owned newspaper, in June 1835. The publication of the revelation was in line with procedures established at the conference in 1831 that determined to print the revelations. In the conference minutes, the elders present resolved that “Brother Joseph Smith Jr. correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit” (Minutes, 8 November 1831, p. 16, JSP). The new additions provided some clarifications about how bishops could be called and described the creation of the First Presidency as a governing council in the Church. The restoration of the council of the First Presidency took place a few months after the original revelation was received.

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 1 November 1831–A [D&C 68]

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, circa June 1835 [D&C 68]