Historical Context and Background of D&C 99

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Section 99 fits chronologically between sections 83 and 84. Generically it is like sections 32–34 and 66. It is a mission call for John Murdock, but his is unique. No other missionaries were given the option to inherit Zion or serve as missionaries for the rest of their lives.1

John was among the early converts in Ohio, and from the time of his baptism in November 1830, he had hardly stopped preaching the gospel. His wife Julia had died after giving birth to twins, giving John five children under age seven to care for.

Then section 52 called John to preach and travel to Missouri in the summer of 1831. John shouldered and balanced his family and missionary calling as best he could. He made a selfless decision to accept an invitation from Emma and Joseph Smith, whose twins had just died, to adopt John and Julia’s twins. John left his other children in the care of relatives and fellow Saints and endured a long, sickly, and extremely successful mission to Missouri and back. He found his children well with the exception of little Joseph, who had succumbed to measles in March 1832.

John nurtured his children, regained his health, and served in the Church at headquarters until August 1832, when section 99 called him back to the mission field. The revelation shows the Lord’s familiarity with John’s family situation and tells him how to both provide for his motherless children and perform his mission. John, meanwhile, is given the unusual choice to inherit Zion in a few years or continue his missionary labors for the rest of his life.

John wrote that having received section 99, “I immediately commenced to arrange my business and provide for my children and send them up to the Bishop in Zion,” Edward Partridge. Then John set out to preach the gospel. Some received him as section 99 predicted. Others, including his in-laws, rejected his message. When John “met with a Dr. Matthews, a very wicked man” who rejected his offering, John and his companion followed the revelation’s instruction: “We bore testimony according to the commandment and the Lord helped us in tending to the ordinance” of cleansing their feet “in the secret places by the way for a testimony against them” (D&C 99:4).2

1. “Revelation, 29 August 1832 [D&C 99],” p. 19, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 9, 2020.

2. John Murdock, “An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock, Taken from His Journal by Himself,” typescript, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

This revelation was given to John Murdock in late August 1832. John Murdock was among the first people converted to the Church in the Kirtland area when Oliver Cowdery and the missionaries to the Lamanites arrived in the area in November 1830, and later John served as one of the first missionaries in the region. On April 30, 1831, John suffered a terrible loss when his wife, Julia, died just a few hours after giving birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The same day Emma Smith gave birth to two twins, who both passed away. A widower with three other children to care for, John asked Joseph and Emma to adopt the twins, and they gladly did. Joseph and Emma named the female twin Julia after the twins’ mother, and they named the male twin Joseph. The infant Joseph died ten months later as a result of exposure suffered during a mob attack on Joseph Smith at the John Johnson home, but Julia eventually became the first Smith child to live to adulthood.1

After John received the revelation in section 99, He left on a mission to the East while his three children traveled to Missouri. John recorded the following regarding this revelation: “I then continued with the church preaching to them and strengthening them and regaining my health till the month of Aug. [1832] when I received the Revelation [D&C 99], at which time I immediately commended to arrange my business and provide for my children and sent them up [to] the Bishop in Zion, which I did by the hand of Bro. Caleb Baldwin in Sept [1832]. I have [sic] him ten Dollars a head for carrying up my three eldest children [Orrice C., John R., and Phebe C.]”2 It was two years before John was reunited with his children, a moment that only happened when John arrived in Missouri as a member of Zion’s Camp.3

Revelation Book 1, Revelation Book 2, and John Murdock’s own journal date the revelation found in section 99 to August 1832, as does every published version of the revelation until the 1876 Doctrine and Covenants.4 Because of an error in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the revelation’s date was listed as August 1833. The error remained until it was corrected in the 2013 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. In proper chronological order, this revelation was received after section 83 but before section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 29 August 1832 [D&C 99].

1. Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1997, 202.

2. Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1985, 201–3.

3. Lisa Olsen Tait, “I Quit Other Business: Early Missionaries,” in Revelations in Context, 2016, 87–89.

4. Revelation Book 1, p. 148; Revelation Book 2, p. 19, JSP; John Murdock Journal, MSS 1194, fd. 2, Church History Library.