Sections 69 and 70: Book of Commandments
The history written by the Prophet Joseph states that four special conferences were held from the first through the twelfth of November, 1831, in Hiram, Ohio. It was decided on November 1, the first day of the first conference, that Oliver Cowdery would carry a copy of the revelations to Jackson County, Missouri, to be printed. Between sessions on that day, Joseph Smith received section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, “The Lord’s Preface, a Voice of Warning.” Still later in the day, Joseph received section 67, and some time on that same day or early the next day, November 2, the testimony of the elders to be published with the Book of Commandments was also received by revelation. On November 2, Joseph received section 68 after inquiring of the Lord in behalf of Orson Hyde and three others. On November 3, Joseph received an important revelation that was to complement the “preface,” or section 1. This was section 133, the “appendix” to the Book of Commandments. The reader may wish to study section 133 at this point, or both sections 1 and 133 to appreciate them in proper chronological order.
Some time between November 3 and 12, during the series of special conferences held at the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Joseph also received section 69, which directed John Whitmer to be a traveling companion for Oliver Cowdery. Joseph Smith stated, “The Book of Commandments and Revelations was to be dedicated by prayer to the service of Almighty God by me; and after I had done this, I inquired of the Lord concerning these things, and received the following” (HC, 1:234)— section 69.
On the last day of the series of conferences held between November 1 and 12 in Hiram, the Prophet received the revelation now numbered as section 70. He recorded these events as follows: “My time was occupied closely in reviewing the commandments and setting in conference, for nearly two weeks; for from the first to the twelfth of November we held four special conferences. In the last, which was held at Brother Johnson’s, in Hiram, after deliberate consideration, in consequence of the book of revelations, now to be printed, being the foundation of the Church in these last days, and a benefit to the world, showing that the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom of our Savior are again entrusted to man; and the riches of eternity within the compass of those who are willing to live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God— therefore the conference voted that they prize the revelations to be worth to the Church the riches of the whole earth, speaking temporally. The great benefits to the world which result from the Book of Mormon and the revelations which the Lord has seen fit in his infinite wisdom to grant unto us for our salvation, and for the salvation of all that will believe, were duly appreciated; and in answer to an inquiry, I received the following [section 70]” (HC,1:235-36).
The business of the conference on November 12 had included a proposal to provide compensation to the Prophet Joseph and to his scribes Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, John Whitmer, and Sidney Rigdon for their labors and sacrifices in receiving, writing, copying, and preparing the revelations of God for the Church. This compensation would come out of any proceeds from the sale of the revelations. The conference voted to sustain this proposal, and Joseph’s subsequent inquiry of the Lord appears to have been designed to secure divine approval for what the conference had done. That approval was received as section 70.
This revelation established what was essentially the first scripture committee of the Church. It created a joint stewardship over the modern scriptures, which included the Prophet, his scribes, and the church printer, W. W. Phelps. This joint stewardship or oversight committee was responsible for any plans or decisions involving the revelations. They were responsible for publishing them to the world, and they were to be compensated for their labors from whatever profits the sale of copies generated. This joint stewardship and financial partnership, organized upon the principles of the law of consecration, soon came to be known as the Literary Firm, a term reflecting its stewardship over the media concerns of the Church (see Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 112-17).
1 Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God, for my servant Oliver Cowdery’s sake. It is not wisdom in me that he should be entrusted with the commandments and the moneys which he shall carry unto the land of Zion, except one go with him who will be true and faithful.
verse 1 “the commandments and the moneys” Oliver was carrying the manuscript of the Book of Commandments that was to be published in Missouri and also the funds collected from the saints in Ohio and elsewhere for purchasing lands in Jackson County. The manuscript was to be delivered to W. W. Phelps, the church printer, and the money was to be delivered to Bishop Edward Partridge.
2 Wherefore, I, the Lord, will that my servant, John Whitmer, should go with my servant Oliver Cowdery;
verses 1-2 It should not be taken from verse 1 that Oliver was untrustworthy. The fact was that much of the one-thousand mile journey between Hiram and Independence was through frontier country where lawless people and lawlessness prevailed. It was at considerable risk that a person traveled through such country, especially when alone and carrying money. It was wisdom, then, for the safety of Oliver, the money, and the sacred manuscripts, that someone go with him that could function as a “true and faithful” companion. Hence in verse 2 John Whitmer is appointed to accompany him (B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:268n.)
“John Whitmer” John was one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He had seen and handled the gold plates and had moved from New York to Ohio in obedience to the command of the Lord. In March 1831, John had been appointed church historian (see section 47). Now he is appointed to travel to Missouri as a companion to Oliver Cowdery. John was not released as church historian at this time, however, and he was to keep a record of the events and continue his history as best he could (see verse 3).
3 And also that he shall continue in writing and making a history of all the important things which he shall observe and know concerning my church;
4 And also that he receive counsel and assistance from my servant Oliver Cowdery and others.
5 And also, my servants who are abroad in the earth should send forth the accounts of their stewardships to the land of Zion;
6 For the land of Zion shall be a seat and a place to receive and do all these things.
verses 5-6 Even though the Prophet lived in Ohio, matters dealing with consecration and stewardship were to be administered from Zion in Jackson County, where Bishop Partridge was still the only bishop in the Church and the only one authorized to receive and disburse under the law of consecration.
7 Nevertheless, let my servant John Whitmer travel many times from place to place, and from church to church, that he may the more easily obtain knowledge–
verse 7 As church historian in an age before electronic communication, John Whitmer was to travel from place to place in the Church learning and recording what he could for future generations.
8 Preaching and expounding, writing, copying, selecting, and obtaining all things which shall be for the good of the church, and for the rising generations that shall grow up on the land of Zion, to possess it from generation to generation, forever and ever. Amen.
verse 8 “Preaching and expounding, writing, copying, selecting, and obtaining” The church historian was not merely to be a clerk or a secretary. John Whitmer’s calling was to bless those whom he visited in his travels by preaching and expounding the gospel, and he was entrusted with selecting and preserving those materials that would bless the whole Church for generations to come.
In the spirit of keeping histories, each of us has the obligation to keep our own journal and personal history. Regarding the need for each church member to keep a journal, President Spencer Kimball counseled:
Your own private journal should record the way you face up to challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity. . . Your own journal, like most others, will tell of problems as old as the world and how you dealt with them. Your journal should contain your true self rather than a picture of you when you are “made up” for a public performance. . . . The truth should be told, but we should not accentuate the negative. . . . Your journal is your autobiography, so it should be kept carefully. You are unique, and there may be incidents in your experience that are more noble and praiseworthy in their way than those recorded in any other life. . . . Your story should be written now while it is fresh and while the true details are available. . . . What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved? Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity. Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. . . . Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events (“The Angels May Quote from It,” New Era, October 1975, 4-5).
In section 70 the Lord will announce that he has made Joseph, Oliver, Martin Harris, John Whitmer, Sidney Rigdon, and William W. Phelps stewards of the Book of Commandments and other printed revelations, and that an accounting of the stewardship of these brethren will be required of them in the day of judgment. Not only are these brethren held responsible for the care of the revelations but also for the printing, distribution, and sale of the book after it is printed. These brethren are also to receive compensation from the sale of the book to the extent of “their necessities and their wants.” The surplus will be given to the bishop’s storehouse. In effect the Lord organized these six brethren into a mini-United Order or the so-called Literary Firm. Their stewardship is the Book of Commandments, the Book of Mormon, and other revelations yet to be received, including Joseph’s inspired version of the Bible, if it should ever be published.
In the future this same group of elders will be appointed to be the board of directors of the United Order of the entire Church and they, and three other elders, will come to be called the “United Firm” or the “Order of Enoch”—that group of nine elders that directly supervised all activities related to the law of consecration.
1 Behold, and hearken, O ye inhabitants of Zion, and all ye people of my church who are afar off, and hear the word of the Lord which I give unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and also unto my servant Martin Harris, and also unto my servant Oliver Cowdery, and also unto my servant John Whitmer, and also unto my servant Sidney Rigdon, and also unto my servant William W. Phelps, by the way of commandment unto them.
verse 1 “also unto my servant William W. Phelps” The Hiram conference had originally proposed that only the Prophet and his scribes be included in the joint stewardship over the scriptures. The Lord here adds the name of the church printer, W. W. Phelps, to this list.
2 For I give unto them a commandment; wherefore hearken and hear, for thus saith the Lord unto them—
verse 2 “I give unto them a commandment” “Them” refers to the newly formed Literary Firm.
3 I, the Lord, have appointed them, and ordained them to be stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them;
verse 3 “stewards over the revelations and commandments” Where other stewards might be given farms or retail stores, the Literary Firm had been given management of the modern revelations and church publishing. If the stewards fulfilled this responsibility, they might at the same time generate revenues out of which they could support themselves and their families.
What is a “steward”? Stewardship is not ownership. Rather it is management with a responsibility to account to the owner or master. The basic principle was taught by the Lord when he said: “I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. . . . Behold, all these properties are mine . . . and if the properties are mine, then ye are stewards; otherwise ye are no stewards” (D&C 104:14, 55-56).
4 And an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment.
verse 4 Every person who receives a calling or has responsibility in the kingdom of God operates under this same condition. God will require an accounting at our hands of all that he has given us, whatever our stewardship may be.
5 Wherefore, I have appointed unto them, and this is their business in the church of God, to manage them and the concerns thereof, yea, the benefits thereof.
6 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not give these things unto the church, neither unto the world;
verse 6 “they shall not give these things unto the church, neither unto the world” “These things” refer to “the benefits thereof” in the previous verse. These are the monetary proceeds from the sale of the scriptures. These moneys were to be kept by these brethren and used for their own needs.
7 Nevertheless, inasmuch as they receive more than is needful for their necessities and their wants, it shall be given into my storehouse;
verse 7 A fundamental principle of the law of consecration and stewardship is that any excess income generated by a steward, whether in the form of money or goods is referred to as a “residual” and is given to the bishop to be placed in the storehouse.
8 And the benefits shall be consecrated unto the inhabitants of Zion, and unto their generations, inasmuch as they become heirs according to the laws of the kingdom.
verse 8 “the benefits shall be consecrated unto the inhabitants of Zion, and unto their generations” The law of consecration and stewardship was not intended to be a one-generation-only project. All succeeding generations would be included, and each new family unit would be provided a stewardship. Hence any family in the present generation who generates a residue will benefit not only others of his own generation but those of succeeding generations.
“inasmuch as they become heirs according to the law of the kingdom” “They” refers to subsequent generations who participate in the law of consecration and stewardship begun by their ancestors. If the law of consecration and stewardship is successful, then these participants of the second and third generations are indeed heirs or beneficiaries of the prior generations.
9 Behold, this is what the Lord requires of every man in his stewardship, even as I, the Lord, have appointed or shall hereafter appoint unto any man.
10 And behold, none are exempt from this law who belong to the church of the living God;
verse 10 “none are exempt from this law” This expression refers to the law of consecration, which is but a part of the larger law of the Church. There is no member who is exempt from the principles of the law of consecration, including the leaders of the Church and those who administer the affairs of the law (see verse 11).
11 Yea, neither the bishop, neither the agent who keepeth the Lord’s storehouse, neither he who is appointed in a stewardship over temporal things.
verse 11 All must participate as equals in the law of consecration and stewardship, including even the bishop and his agent.
12 He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer in temporal things;
verse 12 It does not matter whether one’s stewardship is to manage a farm or to manage publication of the revelations of God for the Church, the principles of consecration remain the same. All must participate on the same footing.
13 Yea, even more abundantly, which abundance is multiplied unto them through the manifestations of the Spirit.
verse 13 Those called upon to manage a stewardship over spiritual things do have some advantage over those whose stewardship is purely temporal. They may enjoy spiritual blessings directly as a result of their stewardship over spiritual things over and above those whose stewardship is purely temporal.
14 Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.
verse 14 Even though a spiritual stewardship might produce more immediate spiritual benefits, this verse reminds those managing a spiritual stewardship that they are just like every other participant in the law of consecration relative to temporal things. They must participate as equals with all other participants. To be “equals” is for each to have according to his needs.
15 Now, this commandment I give unto my servants for their benefit while they remain, for a manifestation of my blessings upon their heads, and for a reward of their diligence and for their security;
verses 12-15 These verses were probably intended by the Lord largely to remind all participants in the law of consecration and stewardship that those members of the Literary Firm required temporal support even though they are commanded to confine their efforts to spiritual matters. Those with spiritual stewardships may contribute little in the way of temporal goods to the storehouse.
verse 15 “this commandment” This expression refers to section 70. It is given specifically for the temporal benefit of those members of the Literary Firm. One can only imagine how the words of approval and blessing contained herein would have been received by the Prophet and his associates who had left all, given all, and suffered much to serve the Lord up to this point. These verses constitute a richly deserved divine commendation and approbation for the members of the Literary Firm, and they provide a fitting closure to the labors of the brethren in preparing the revelations for publication.
16 For food and for raiment; for an inheritance; for houses and for lands, in whatsoever circumstances I, the Lord, shall place them, and whithersoever I, the Lord, shall send them. 17 For they have been faithful over many things, and have done well inasmuch as they have not sinned. 18 Behold, I, the Lord, am merciful and will bless them, and they shall enter into the joy of these things. Even so. Amen.
Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer left Ohio on November 20, 1831, with a copy of the revelations. They also took with them monies that had been contributed for the building up of the Church in Missouri. They traveled by way of Winchester, Indiana, where Levi Hancock and Zebedee Coltrin had established a branch of the Church the previous summer. Oliver and John held conference meetings in Winchester and stayed for about a week while they resolved some difficulties in the branch. They arrived in Independence on January 5, 1832.
Brief Historical Setting
By December 1831, anti-Mormon feelings in Ohio were warming to a boil, and the Lord recommended a surprising solution. He counseled Joseph and Sidney to leave on a brief mission to the surrounding townships, and while there challenge the Church’s detractors to open debate [D&C 71 and 73 -Debate the Enemy]. This seemed to temporarily sooth the feelings building against the Church.
Since Bishop Edward Partridge was now in Missouri, it became necessary to call a second bishop to preside over the United Order in Kirtland. This was done by revelation in December 1831 [D&C 72 -Newell K. Whitney Called as Second Bishop].
- Michael J. Preece