One-Minute Answers by Stephen R. Gibson

Contents of One-Minute Answers

Why Did Joseph Smith Make Changes In the Doctrine & Covenants?

Question: Don't changes in the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants prove Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God?

If one compares the 1833 Book of Commandments with the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, one will discover various textual differences. Along with the doctrinally insignificant spelling, grammatical and punctuation changes, one will encounter places where words, or even whole paragraphs, have been added.

These additions sometimes required deletions and alterations for the added material to mesh properly with the previously existing material. Critics of the Church insist that the only possible explanation for these changes in the revelations is that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet of God.

To assess the validity of this viewpoint it is necessary to examine the question: Can a true prophet of God add to a God-given revelation? if the answer is "yes," then the fact that Joseph Smith expanded some of the revelations he received is evidence for, not against his prophetic calling. Since we don't have the original manuscripts used for the books of the Bible, nor do we have records of their writing processes, critics cannot claim that Biblical prophets never revised nor added to their revelations--they have no proof. However, the Bible contains an example of the prophet Jeremiah adding to a previously written revelation:

And Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book (Jer. 36:4).
This revelation was read to King Jehoiakim, who didn't like what he heard:
And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he [King Jehoiakim) cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire . . . (Jer. 36:23).
Jeremiah was then instructed by the Lord to rewrite the revelation, which he did. But he did more than simply recreate what Jehoia:kim had destroyed:
Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added besides unto them many like words (Jer. 36:32).
If Jeremiah's additions to the destroyed revelation do not disqualify him as a true prophet of God, neither do Joseph Smith's additions disqualify him. Conversely, if Joseph Smith is rejected as a true prophet of God because he added to previously given revelation, Jeremiah should be rejected for the same reason.

Having said this much, the question may be asked, "Why were changes made in the revelations in the first place?" Many revelations were first published in the LDS newspaper, The Evening and Morning Star, in Jackson County, Missouri, in 1833. The Book of Commandments was published in the same place in the same year. While a comparison shows the revelations to be identical in both of these publications, many changes were made for a reprinting of the Star. The reason for the changes were thus explained:

In the first 14 numbers, in the Revelations, are many errors, typographical, and others, occasioned by transcribing manuscript; but as we shall have access to originals, we shall endeavor to make proper corrections (Evening and Morning Star, Vol II, No.24, Sept. 1834, p.199).
While discussing the substitution of "code names" for people and places in some of the revelations, Orson Pratt remarked:
But what the Prophet did in relation to this thing, was not of himself: he was dictated by the Holy Ghost to make these substitutions . . . . That he was thus inspired is certain from the fact, that at the very time that he made these substitutions, he also received much additional light; and by revelation line was added upon line to several of the sections and paragraphs about to be published. But some may inquire, are not the Almighty's revelations perfect when they are first given? And if so, where was the propriety of the Lord's adding anything to them, when they were already perfect? We reply that every word of God is perfect; but He does not reveal all things at once but adds 'line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little,' revealing as the people are able to bear, or as circumstances require (The Seer, Vol.11, No.3, March 1854, p.228.
Joseph made some additional changes before the revelations were printed in the Doctrine and Covenants. Again, what Joseph Smith did is in full agreement with Biblical precedent.