Lesson 1: Doctrine and Covenants 1
A note for those who may use these notes to help them prepare or prepare for Gospel Doctrine lessons:
I assume that those teaching or preparing for the Gospel Doctrine course will take advantage of various materials on Church history, including Our Heritage. Latter-day Saints, especially those who read English, have access to a great many works on Church history. Using these resources will often make the lessons both more interesting and more intelligible. However, these notes will not focus on the historical context of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, but on the revelations themselves, bringing in historical context only as necessary. As a result, the notes may be an aide in preparing a lesson, but they are generally not sufficient.
The Doctrine and Covenants was originally (1833) called “The Book of Commandments,” short for “A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ.” This was an incomplete collection of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelations containing 65 sections (not the same as the first 65 of the present-day D&C). It was incomplete because a mob in Independence, Missouri, had broken into the printing shop where the collection was being printed, destroyed the press and type, and scattered the pages. Some saints gathered what pages they could find and bound them.
In 1835, the printing of the revelations was finally completed and the name “Doctrine and Covenants” was given to it. It contained two parts, the “Lectures on Faith” (the doctrine) and the previous Book of Commandments with new sections added, bringing the total to 101 (the covenants). The “Lectures on Faith” were lessons used in the School of the Prophets the previous winter and were dropped in 1921, perhaps because the doctrine taught in them concerning the Godhead wasn’t consistent with the continuing revelations of the prophets. However, the title “Doctrine and Covenants” was retained.
Since we have retained the word doctrine in the title of this book of scripture, it is reasonable to assume that even without the Lectures on Faith, the book we now have contains doctrine. In the Old and New Testaments, the word doctrine usually translates a word that means “instruction,” with an emphasis on the activity of teaching more than on its content. (In the Old Testament, occasionally it also translates words meaning “announcement” or “chastisement.”) In nineteenth-century English it also meant “instruction,” but with an emphasis on the content. Which meaning do you think best helps us think about the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture?
The word covenant appears 479 times in the English scriptures, one of their most common words. The word translated “covenant” in the Old Testament is from a word meaning “to choose” and also “to cause to eat, to cause to partake.” It means “to form a confederacy, to make a compact.” Significantly, a covenant seems to have been made by exchanging pieces of food, often meat. In Joseph Smith’s time, the English word covenant primarily meant “a mutual agreement to act in certain ways.” How are the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants covenants?
Verses 1-2: The Church was barely eighteen months old when this revelation was received. Why is it addressed not only to the Saints, but also to the rest of the world?
Verse 3: Who are the rebellious? How will they hear the voice of the Lord? How will hearing the voice of the Lord pierce them with sorrow? When have we heard the voice of the Lord? When have we felt as if our iniquities were spoken on the housetops? In other words, when does hearing the voice of the Lord reveal our secret acts?
Verse 4-5: To what does the phrase “the voice” refer to in verse 4?
Verse 6: To what does the word this refer to in the phrase “this is my authority”? For what is it authority?
Verses 7-10: How do those sent out with the message of the restoration seal the unbelieving and rebellious? Why doesn’t the section say something about them also sealing the righteous?
Verse 12: Given the subject matter of this section, what do you think the Lord is admonishing us to do when he tells us to prepare for that which is to come? What does it mean to say that the Lord is nigh? Is he nigh temporally or spiritually?
Verse 13: What does it mean to say that the Lord’s sword is “bathed in heaven”? (The phrase is from Isaiah 34:5.) What does it mean to be cut off from among the people?
Verse 15: Who is “they”? Who is the Lord referring to when he says “they have strayed”? How does one stray from an ordinance? How might we stray from our ordinances? Is the Lord speaking of two things or of one thing when he says “they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant”?
Verse 16: What does it mean to seek the Lord? (Recall that the Book of Mormon frequently uses related phrases.) What is the Lord’s righteousness? How would it be established? What does it mean to say we each walk in our own way? What does it mean to say that our idols have images “in the likeness of the world”? What substance does an idol have? How do our idols have that substance?
Verses 17-18: Why did the Lord call Joseph Smith and others?
Verses 19-23: What are the weak things? What are the strong? Why does the Lord describe them that way? Why does the Lord want the weak things to break down the strong? How will they do so? By what power? In this context, what does it mean to counsel our fellows? What is wrong with doing so? How are speaking in the name of God, increasing faith, establishing his everlasting covenant, and proclaiming the fullness of the gospel the alternative to trusting in the arm of flesh and counseling each other? Why is important for faith to increase in the earth? What is the everlasting covenant? What is the fullness of the gospel?
Verse 24: How can we understand the Doctrine and Covenants as a collection of commandments? Why does this verse begin as it does? Why point out that God is the source of
this revelation? Wouldn’t a person already have to believe that this was from God in order to
believe this verse? Over and over again in the Book of Mormon we saw reference to the weaknesses of the people writing the book. Why does the Lord bring up our weaknesses here? What does it mean to say that these are given in our weaknesses, after the manner of our language?
Verses 25-28: How can we use the Doctrine and Covenants to do these things for us?
Verse 29: How does this verse fit into its context? Is it another part of the list which begins in verse 20? How is it that Joseph’s power to translate comes through the mercy of God?
Verse 30: This verse too seems to follow from something, but from what? How does the Doctrine and Covenants give us power to lay the foundation for the Church? (Is this a repetition of the idea in verse 6?) What does it mean to say that the Church is true? We can easily speak of
sentences or claims being true, but how can a Church be true? What does it mean to say that the Church is living? Why does the Lord add “speaking unto the church collectively and not individually”?
Verse 31: What does it mean that the Lord cannot look on sin with the least degree of allowance? Isn’t that a message of despair: if we have any sin at all, doesn’t that mean he will not look on us at all? What is our alternative?
Verses 32-33: How do we repent? What does it mean to do rather than keep the commandments? How do we lose what light we have? If the Lord won’t always strive with us, he must now be striving with us. How so? Is that a message of hope?
Verses 34-36: What does the Lord being no respecter of persons have to do with the fact that peace will soon be taken from the earth? What are several possible meanings of the phrase “peace shall be taken from the earth”? What is the devil’s dominion? Why so?
Verse 37: How do we go about searching the commandments in the Doctrine and Covenants? What does it mean to say that a commandment is true? To say that it is faithful? How do commandments contain promises?
Verses 38-39: Like verse 24, this begins with the Lord pointing out that these are his words. Why? What is his word which will not pass away? How can a word be fulfilled? How can it be fulfilled by someone speaking, by a voice? Of what does the Spirit bear record? “To abide” means more than merely “to last.” It means “to live with,” “to dwell.” What might the word abide tell us about our relation to truth?