Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations

I don’t think it’s a secret that I have an ongoing fascination with the Doctrine and Covenants. I am, after all, publishing a book about it this winter and (as my Mexican Mission Hymns project is coming to a close), I’m beginning work on an annotated edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. But that fascination extends beyond the Doctrine and Covenants to include other documents that are similar to those found within. Thus, I’m excited to note that BYU and Deseret Book recently published a new collection of Joseph Smith’s non-canonical revelations. And the authors recently shared some information about their work on Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to the full discussion.

In the discussion, Stephen O. Smoot and Brian C. Passantino noted some of the impetus for their collection:

Thanks to the scholarly work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, these uncanonized revelations are now better understood and accessible to readers around the world. However, average readers will probably find it difficult or bothersome to sift through all twenty-seven volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers to locate these uncanonized revelations.

Our new book, Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations, published conjointly by the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University and Deseret Book, aims to remove that barrier to help facilitate access to these fascinating documents.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project laid the foundation for this book. (As an aside, I would love to see the annotated edition of the John Taylor revelations that Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Christopher C. Jones, and Jared Tamez were working on back in 2008 published as a sequel to this book.)

What were the revelations they included?

Based on criteria we describe in our book, we have identified forty-two revelations or portions of revelations the Prophet produced that went uncanonized in his lifetime—and that remain uncanonized today. (Despite our best efforts in identifying the uncanonized revelations, we acknowledge the possibility that there are more than have been identified in this volume.)

Compared to the number of revelations canonized during Joseph Smith’s lifetime in the two editions of the Doctrine and Covenants prepared under his supervision (one in 1835 and another in 1844), this is not an insignificant number and serves as a witness to his prophetic proficiency.

For reference, there were 103 sections in the 1835 edition and 111 in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. And 42 is a good amount more than the 10 revelations that the Wikipedia collection of non-canonical revelations in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints highlights.

Most of the revelations were focused on specific situations (publication of the Book of Mormon, rebukes or instruction to specific people, some esoterica), though that doesn’t necessarily differentiate them from the ones that are in the Doctrine and Covenants. Smoot and Passantino gave some explanations as to why the revelations they compiled were never canonized:

By now the inquisitive reader is probably wondering: why weren’t the revelations featured in this new volume ever canonized?

For most of these texts we have no definitive answer because we have no historical evidence that can give us any insight into the decision to leave them uncanonized. That being said, we do have a limited sense as to why some of these revelations went uncanonized—even if we yet lack a full understanding.

Most of the revelations we have collected in our new book are short and deal with administrative matters in the Church or are addressed to individuals on how to fulfill a calling or mission. Some of the other revelations featured in this book, such as those pertaining to plural marriage and the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo, were kept uncanonized because they were meant to be secret.

Others still were expressly instructed not to be published by the Prophet but without providing any further elaboration. …

Their position outside the canon of scripture simply means that they have neither been deemed universally authoritative by Church leaders nor accepted as such by its members according to their common consent as an ecclesiastic body and community (Doctrine and Covenants 26:2; 28:13; 104:21), and should, consequently, not be used “to govern [the] Church” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:59).

That doesn’t mean that these documents aren’t authentic revelations, just that they aren’t accepted as binding on the Church.

For more on Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk to read the full discussion with Stephen O. Smoot and Brian C. Passantino.