History of the Creation of the Lectures on Faith
In December 1832, a revelation was given to Joseph Smith that instructed him to establish a "School of the Prophets" to instruct the presidency, officers of the church, and all who are called to the ministry (high priests on down to deacons). The current LDS version of the D&C has this revelation (reference: D&C 88:117-127).
The School of the Prophets began meeting on January 23, 1833, in Kirtland, Ohio, and was intended primarily for leaders of the Church. Joseph typically led the instruction in this class as it ran from January through April of 1833, in an upper room of the Newel K. Whitney store. Some very amazing things happened during this time with the school.
To fulfill the rest of the revelation, the School of the Elders began the next winter and was held from November 1834 through March 1835, and November 1835 through March 1836. With this school, it is believed that some 200-300 people passed through. It is for the School of the Elders that the Lectures on Theology (to be called Lectures on Faith later) were written. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, W.W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, and probably others participated in the creation of these lectures. However, the ultimate responsibility for the lecture content belongs to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Zebedee Coltrin stated in 1883, that the Lectures were not given in the original location of the School of the Prophets, "but in a larger school on the hill afterwards, where Sidney Rigdon presided" (Coltrin's Testimony, 11 October 1883; The School of the Prophets: Its Development and Influence in Utah Territory, BYU Master Thesis, 1970). This "larger school" referred to the printing office built on a lot near the temple site, on land of much higher elevation than the valley where the store was located.
The content of the lessons with the Elders was both theological and secular in nature. English grammar, Greek, and Hebrew were topics in addition to the course in theology that were studied. English grammar was studied due to the fact that many adults of this time period could neither read nor write. It was quickly recognized by the prophet that all missionaries going forth needed to know how to read and be educated to communicate with other educated people. If the missionaries couldn't actually read the Book of Mormon, they would have a hard time convincing people to do the same. This was a class to teach people how to be missionaries so that, as Joseph said, "they might be more perfectly instructed in the great things of God" and these students "gave the most studious attention to the all-important object of qualifying themselves as messengers of Jesus Christ" (History of the Church 2:169-170, 176; hereafter HC).
Joseph records this of the Lectures given in the school: "Our school for the Elders was now well attended, and with the lectures of theology, which were regularly delivered, absorbed for the time being everything else of a temporal nature" (HC 2:175-176).
There are 7 lectures in total, and from a few studies conducted, it would appear that the authorship for them is as such:
- Lecture 1 - Sidney Rigdon
- Lecture 2 - Sidney Rigdon (Joseph edits)
- Lecture 3 - Sidney Rigdon (Joseph edits)
- Lecture 4 - Sidney Rigdon (Joseph edits)
- Lecture 5 - Joseph Smith (another study suggests W.W. Phelps)
- Lecture 6 - Sidney Rigdon (Joseph edits)
- Lecture 7 - Sidney Rigdon
The study showed that Sidney Rigdon's use of function words corresponded very closely with that in Lectures One and Seven, and fairly well with Two, Three, Four, and Six. Joseph Smith's use of function words matched closely those in Lecture Five, with some evidence of his having co-authored or edited Two, Three, Four, and Six ... The data and tests appear, therefore, to assign the authorship of the Lectures on Faith mainly to Sidney Rigdon, with Lecture Five and perhaps some parts of the other lectures, except One and Seven, to Joseph Smith.The study says many more things about the analysis, methods used, etc.; however, the main point and conclusion are all that matter to me at the moment (Phipps, pp. 66-67. Link: here).
Joseph Smith's role may have been more than to author Lecture Five and to add a few explanatory paragraphs to the ending of Lectures Two, Three, and Four and several paragraphs to Lecture Six. It is possible the Lectures were produced by discussion, with Sidney Rigdon as scribe or as the reworker of the rough draft. After reading the rough draft, Joseph Smith could have suggested changes and decided to author his own lecture, the fifth, to round out the series ... If they had been entirely Joseph Smith's or Sidney Rigdon's or any other person's, it seem probable their authorship would have been divulged.
Brief Doctrinal Overview of the Lectures:
- Lecture 1 - Explains what faith is.
- Lecture 2 - Shows the object on which faith rests.
- Lecture 3 - Details the character, perfections, and attributes of God. What is necessary to exercise faith.
- Lecture 4 - True faith in God depends upon correct ideas and knowledge.
- Lecture 5 - Declaration of the nature of God.
- Lecture 6 - Why the knowledge of one's course in life is acceptable to God is necessary.
- Lecture 7 - Shows the effects or results that flow from true faith.
Inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants
Joseph Smith's journal records that: "During the month of January [in 1835], I was engaged in the school of the Elders, and in preparing the lectures on theology for publication in the book of Doctrine and Covenants" (HC 2:180). It seems that Joseph was taking the lectures delivered in the school, and was reworking them for publication in the Book of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church.
On September 24, 1834, the High Council at Kirtland met (HC 2:165). Among some of the things they talked about, one was specific to the creation of a book of revelations with a committee of four men comprised to choose what would be included in the book. Here is a section of the minutes from that meeting:
The council then proceeded to appoint a committe to arrange the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, for the government of the Church of Latter-day Saints, which Church was organized and commenced its rise on the 6th of April, 1830. These items are to be taken from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the revelations which have been given to the Church up to this date, or that shall be given until such arrangements are made.Approximately one year later this same committee of four recommended to the Church the publication of a book they had compiled. The book was to be known as The Doctrine and Covenants, and would consist of two parts:
Councilor Samuel H. Smith nominated President Joseph Smith, Jun., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams to compose said committee, which was seconded by Councilor Hyrum Smith. The councilors then gave their vote in the affirmative, which was also agreed to by the whole conference.
The council then decided that said committee, after arranging and publishing said Book of Covenants, have the avails of the same.
- THEOLOGY. LECTURE [number, like FIRST]. On the Doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints of Faith. ==> This is what we know today as the Lectures on Faith, and each Lecture had a title page for it individually (LECTURE SECOND, etc.).
- PART SECOND. Covenants and Commandments of the Lord to his servants of this church of the Latter Day Saints. ==> This is what today we call the Doctrine and Covenants and currently contains some 138 sections of revelations from the Lord.
It is clear that the Prophet Joseph Smith was deeply involved in the creation and publication of the Lectures for the Church. Of the Lectures, John Taylor said that they were "published with the sanction and approval of the Prophet Joseph Smith."
The preface to the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants reads, in part, as follows:
To the members of the church of the Latter Day Saints -The preface was signed by the First Presidency of the Church: Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams - the same who were appointed to the committee.
We deem it to be unnecessary to entertain you with a lengthy preface to the following volume, but merely to say, that it contains in short, the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe.
The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of Lectures as delivered before a Theological class in this place [Kirtland, Ohio], and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we arranged them into the following work.
The second part contains items of principles for the regulation of the church, as taken from the revelations which have been given since its organization, as well as from former ones.
The recommendation of the committee was given in a Conference of the Church on August 17, 1835.
A general assembly of the Church of Latter-day Saints was held at Kirtland on the 17th of August, 1835, to take into consideration the labors of a committee appointed by a general assembly of the Church on the 24th of September, 1834, for the purpose of arranging the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ for the government of the Church ... [the committee] having finished said book according to the instructions given them, deem it necessary to call a general assembly of the Church to see whether the book be approved or not by the authorities of the Church; that it may , if approved, become a law and a rule of faith and practice to the Church.The last sentence does not differentiate which part of the book becomes law and rule of faith and practice. This acceptance would be for the entire Church. President Joseph Smith, Jr., and Frederick G. Williams were away from Kirtland at this time in Michigan. Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon were in Kirtland to preside at this meeting of the Saints. As an aside, this is the meeting where the section on marriage was read and included in the Doctrine and Covenants by vote of the membership.
After some priesthood organizations, the following is recorded:
President Cowdery arose and introduced the "Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter-day Saints," in behalf of the committee. He was followed by President Rigdon, who explained the manner by which they intended to obtain the voice of the assembly for or against said book.At this point many men stood and testified as to the truthfulness of the book and that it should be accepted and "acknowledged as the doctrine and covenants of their faith," including a written letter signed by the 12 apostles (included in the Introduction to current versions of the D&C). The testimony of John Smith is often cited as showing a difference between the revelations and the lectures that were included in the book. Notice: The revelations "were true," and the lectures "were profitable for doctrine." He didn't say they were true - I realize that is a very small gnat that I'm straining at there. After all of the testimonies were given, the following is recorded:
Elder John Smith, taking the lead of the High Council in Kirtland, bore record that the revelations in said book were true, and that the lectures were judiciously arranged and compiled, and were profitable for doctrine.
The several authorities and the general assembly, by a unanimous vote, accepted the labor of the committee.Unanimous by the authorities and general assembly of the Church in the affirmative to accept the committee recommendation for the book. I find no other explanation of that sentence other than to say that this is simply the canonization of the book which includes the Lectures on Faith as the doctrine and the revelations from God as the covenants and commandments (HC 2:243-251). The Saints finally have their doctrine, and their covenants, in a single book which has been accepted and canonized by all in attendance at conference assembled.
Decanonization of the Lectures on Faith
I say "decononization" because that is what I consider the removal of the Lectures from the D&C to be, a lowering of the standards at which the LDS Church considered the text of the Lectures. No longer were they considered on par with the revelations Joseph received; they were not quite scripture anymore.
It would stand to reason that if the Lectures were included by a unanimous vote of the Church assembled in conference in 1835, that they could and should be removed by a unanimous (or maybe a majority) vote of the Church assembled in conference. It didn't happen that way. In 1921, a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was printed with the Lectures removed, and a note attached explaining why; no conference vote was taken.
In the Introduction of the current edition of the D&C, the following paragraph is found:
Beginning with the 1835 edition a series of seven theological lessons was also included; these were titled the “Lectures on Faith.” These had been prepared for use in the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834-1835. Although profitable for doctrine and instruction, these lectures have been omitted from the Doctrine and Covenants since the 1921 edition because they were not given or presented as revelations to the whole Church.I don't mind the removal of the Lectures, that's fine. However, I do scratch my head about the method in which they were removed. It seemed ... rather ... sneaky; even with the attached note about the removal. Unless Joseph recorded the history wrong, I thought they were "given or presented" to the whole Church as doctrine, and they were voted upon, thus they were binding to the whole church. Right?
If the Lectures weren't a revelation, then was section 134 a revelation? Or section 135? How about the Articles of Faith - revelation? They are all canonized and hold the exact same position with other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants as being scripture for the Church. D&C 68:4 has the definition for scripture: "whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture." If Joseph didn't have the spirit when he helped create the Lecture content, then something was definitely wrong. However, I don't think being classified as a revelation or scripture is the key to being canonized - it is acceptance by the Church in conference assembled.
As I understand it (can't find the reference now), the 1921 committee was interested in including possibly up to 20 other "new" revelations in the D&C that had not been included before. None were allowed or deemed advisable to include. These were revelations received by other prophets (John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff spring to mind immediately), and although they were doctrinally sound, already agreed as revelations by previous administrations of the Church, they were not put in. I'm okay with that as well; but, I would like to read them eventually. The point is, being classified as a "revelation" is not good enough. Being classified as "doctrine of the Church" is not good enough. The Church must ratify whatever doctrine or rule or revelation before it becomes binding.
Reed Smoot Testimony Helps Clarify the Church Rule on Doctrinal Canonization
I've put in a quote from the Reed Smoot hearings from President Joseph F. Smith. This comes from Day #4 of the hearings (March 5, 1904). Mr. Worthington is asking about how rules/revelations become binding upon the Church as a whole:
Mr. Worthington. Let me ask you whether anything which is intended for the government of the church and proceeds from the president and has first been approved by the apostles -Submitted properly. Voted on properly. It doesn't matter if it is a revelation or a rule or a doctrinal point - it is binding (I added the last one, because that makes sense). It doesn't matter what is presented, if the conference votes and accepts - it's binding.
Mr. Smith. How is that?
Mr. Worthington. When it has been introduced by the president, submitted to the apostles and approved by them, and is then submitted to the body of the church and in general conference approved by the church, whether it is binding upon the members of the church - whether it is a revelation or a rule.
Mr. Smith. It is equally binding on the church, whether it is a revelation or a rule.
Mr. Worthington. And a man who disobeys it would be just as much out of harmony if it were a rule as if it were a revelation?
Mr. Smith. Just the same.
This next section of qutoes is from Day #1 of the testimony given by President Joseph F. Smith:
Mr. Smith. I will say this, Mr. Chairman, that no revelation given through the head of the church ever becomes binding and authoritative upon the members of the church until it has been presented to the church and accepted by them.Not much I can comment on here, it just reinforces what was quoted before. This is the rule/law of the Church. It was followed in Kirtland, and appears to have been, well ... not followed in Salt Lake. Again, I don't have a problem with the removal, it was the right move, I just scratch my head about the method.
Mr. Worthington. What do you mean by being presented to the church?
Mr. Smith. Presented in conference.
Mr. Tayler. Do you mean by that that the church in conference may say to you, Joseph F. Smith, the first president of the church, "We deny that God has told you to tell us this?"
Mr. Smith. They can say that if they choose.
Mr. Tayler. They can say it?
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir; they can. And it is not binding upon them as members of the church until they accept it.
Mr. Tayler. Until they accept it?
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir.
I'll see if I can review the history of what happened here.
In 1879, Orson Pratt proposed to President John Taylor that perhaps the Lectures should be removed from the Doctrine and Covenants and published separately, outside of the binding of the Doctrine and Covenants. President Taylor responded to the question with the following reply: "The Lectures on Faith were published with the sanction and approval of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and we do not feel that it is desirable to make any alteration in that regard, at any rate, not at present" (Woodford 1:86-87). President Taylor was staunchly opposed to anything that would go against what the Prophet Joseph had done. He would not remove the Lectures - they would stay where they were for now.
In 1917, a committee was appointed by the First Presidency consisting of George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, James E. Talmage, and Melvin J. Ballard to review and revise the entire Doctrine and Covenants. Later on Joseph Fielding Smith and John A. Widtsoe were added to the committee.
In July, 1940, John William Fitzgerald spoke with Joseph Fielding Smith and John A. Widtsoe about the removal of the Lectures on Faith from the Doctrine and Covenants. Elder Smith gave the following reasons for their removal:
- They were not received as revelations by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
- They are instructions relative to the general subject of faith. They are explanations of this principle but not doctrine.
- They are not complete as to their teachings regarding the godhead. More complete instructions on this point of doctrine are given in section 130 of the 1876, and all subsequent editions of The Doctrine and Covenants.
- It was thought by Elder James E. Talmage, chairman, and other members of the committee who were responsible for their omission that to avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief, it would be better not to have them bound in the same volume as the commandments of revelations which make up The Doctrine and Covenants.
I want to spend a little bit of time just documenting what Elder Talmage thought was problematic with the Lectures on Faith, doctrinally. The Lecture that is at the center of the controversy is Lecture 5. Earlier in this post I documented that Joseph Smith was most likely the author of this Lecture, so that makes the doctrine talked about here all the more interesting and relevant to the reasons it was removed. Quoted below is a piece of a verse from Lecture 5:
Verse 2. There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme, power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made, whether visible or invisible, whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son - the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man ... and is called the Son because of the flesh ... And he being the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fullness of the glory of the Father, possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son, and these three are one ...That is the verse, or section of text, that I believe there are the most problems with. First off this is not congruent with current LDS beliefs. The above statement is even in contradiction to other statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith. This statement (above) was made in 1834-1835 time frame. By 1843, Joseph reframed the doctrine of the Father and the Son with this statement:
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us (D&C 130:22).Comparing the two statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith for doctrinal differences, it is obvious they are completely different in their understanding of God. The first speaks of the Father as a personage of spirit and the Son as having a body. The second records that both the Father and the Son have bodies. The first states that the Holy Ghost is the mind of the Father and the Son together. The second states the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, making three distinct beings that comprise the godhead.
It is also helpful to know that section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants was added in 1876, under the direction of Brigham Young. At that time twenty-six additional revelations were added to the canonization of the scriptures (sections: 2, 13, 77, 85, 87, 108–111, 113–118, 120–123, 125, 126, 129–132, and 136). I mention this because the Lectures were still part of the D&C in 1876. So, with the Lectures in the front, and section 130:22 contradicting Lecture #5, something had to be done. I believe this is why Orson Pratt wrote to President John Taylor some 2 years after Brigham Young's death asking his opinion about removing the Lectures. He may have asked Brigham the same question ("Can we remove the Lectures?") and been told no then as well. Inconsistencies in the scriptures would lead to "confusion and contention" on this extremely vital point of doctrine; Elder Talmage was correct.
I also find it interesting that this verse in Lecture 5 starts out very much like the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed. Perhaps this is the "Mormon Creed" of that era. Here's the original Nicene Creed from 325 A.D (thank you wikipedia).
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.
[But those who say: "There was a time when he was not;" and "He was not before he was made;" and "He was made out of nothing," or "He is of another substance" or "essence," or "The Son of God is created," or "changeable," or "alterable" - they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]
I also find it odd that the Joseph Smith translation of John 4:24 disagrees with the above statement. That scripture says the following (KJV - link):
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.The JST for that verse says the following (link):
For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.By July of 1833, Joseph had finished his translation pass-through of the Bible. Most of this time when he worked on it, Sidney Rigdon was by his side. It was at the end of this year  that the revelation recorded at the beginning of this post was given. I point this out only because Joseph had gone through the scriptures and retranslated John 4:24 - he knew that the "God is a Spirit" phrase didn't fit; and yet, he still wrote out Lecture 5. I have no explanation for that. Some things, like a better explanation of this seeming contradiction, will just have to wait until later - perhaps much later.
However, it was a simple, relatively, matter taken up by the D&C committee appointed by the First Presidency. This had to be fixed, and it was. James E. Talmage made the correct decision by recommending that the Lectures be removed from the same binding as the revelations in the scriptures. In my opinion, all of the points made by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith make sense in light of a full review of the facts.
Yes, there was some things that probably could have been handled better; for instance the removal without Church approval (body of the Church approval). However, all in all, since the right move was made, I find no fault.
I close with a quote from Larry E. Dahl:
The Lectures on Faith were written and published in the Doctrine and Covenants by men called of God to lead the Church in 1834. The decision not to print them in the Doctrine and Covenants was made by men called of God to lead the Church in 1921. I submit both actions were appropriate (Larry E. Dahl and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective, p.19).
Conclusion for me:
I had a blast running through this history learning about the Lectures, the D&C history, and the evolving of LDS doctrine (specific to the Godhead) over the course of time. It's been absolutely a great time learning this history.