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Doctrine and Covenants 20-22

Section 20 was known originally as the Articles and Covenants of the Church, setting forth basic beliefs and duties. Pictured here is an 1835 letter, or license, indicating that Edward Partridge was the authorized bishop of the Church (cf. D&C 20:63-64, 84). It is signed by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, John Whitmer, and Sidney Rigdon.

by Grant Underwood

Sections 20-22 of the Doctrine and Covenants are fundamental, formative documents in early Church history. They continue to serve as a definitive statement of beliefs and priesthood functions. Originally sections 20 and 22 were published together as "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ." They were first published in the Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph in April 1831 and later on the first page of the first issue of The Evening and the Morning Star in June 1832. The earliest known version of section 20 is dated June 1829. Many early copies were made of a draft in Oliver Cowdery's hand.

Sections 20-22 were officially adopted as doctrinal revelations by the Church at its first conference on June 9, 1830, and were the first sections of the Doctrine and Covenants to be thus approved. Later, missionaries often would read manuscript copies of these "Articles" at public meetings and conferences because they had been instructed to include the "Church Articles" in their teachings (D&C 42:13). Section 20 was Chapter II in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, right after the revealed Preface. The present order was established in the 1876 edition.

Section 20 is a composite text that divides into a historical prologue (verses 1-16), a statement of beliefs (verses 17-36), and a collection of policies and procedures (verses 37-84). While its principles continue to guide Latter-day Saints today, its provisions also provide glimpses of Church life in its initial years. The prologue contains the earliest published references to the ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as apostles (verses 2-3) and to Joseph Smith's first vision: "It was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins" (verse 5). The personal dimension of this account is consistent with Joseph's 1832 and 1835 accounts of his First Vision.

Section 20 also contains the Church's earliest known declaration of faith. It affirms basic Christian doctrines, following the sequence common to most Protestant confessions, beginning with the nature of God (verse 17), the creation (verses 18-19), the fall (verse 20), Jesus Christ, the Atonement, and the Plan of Salvation (verses 21-28). Additional comments discuss the possibility of "falling from grace" and the nature of sanctification, which were lively issues in the 1820s. Sensitivity to the surrounding Christian world is shown in verse 35, which assures that these articles are "neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of [John's] book, the holy scriptures, or the revelations of God that will come hereafter."

Most of section 20 gives guidelines for Church government. Drawing partly upon texts from the Book of Mormon, it explains the ordinances of baptism and the Sacrament, and the duties of baptized members. Originally, priests, teachers, and deacons were local adult priesthood leaders, which explains the significant pastoral charge given them (verses 46-59) and their role in signing certificates of worthiness for members moving from one branch of the Church to another (verse 84). The Aaronic Priesthood had a public ministry to "preach, teach, expound, exhort" (verse 46) and needed to be properly "licensed" (verse 64).

Received on the day the Church was incorporated, section 21 defines Joseph Smith's leadership of the new Church as "a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (verse 1), with Oliver Cowdery as an elder "under his hand" (verse 11). Church members are counseled to keep records and to receive Joseph's words "as if from mine own mouth" (verses 1, 5).

Section 22, received the same month, requires all people, even those previously baptized, to be baptized into "a new and an everlasting covenant" (verse 1).

Together, these three sections provide a firm organizational foundation for the restored Church of Christ.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page; Scriptual Writings home page; Doctrine and Covenants home page; Overview of the Doctrine and Covenents home page)


Anderson, Richard L. "The Organization Revelations: D&C 20, 21, and 2 2." In Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1, pp. 109-123, ed. R. Millet and K. Jackson. Sandy, Utah, 1984.

Woodford, Robert J. "The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ and the Book of Mormon." In Doctrines for Exaltation, pp. 262-73. Salt Lake City, 1989.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Doctrine and Covenants Section 20-22

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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