The January 2013 Ensign magazine seems to reflect a new effort toward transparency in the Mormon Church. In an article by LDS historian Gerrit Dirkmaat, “Great and Marvelous are the Revelations of God,” the author discloses “Many Revelations Were Later Revised by Joseph Smith through Inspiration”:
“Over the course of the first five years of the Church, Joseph and others under his direction made changes and corrections to some of the early revelation texts in an attempt to more closely portray the intent of the revelation. Other times, especially as the revelations were being prepared for publication, Joseph was inspired to update the contents of the revelations to reflect a growing Church structure and new circumstances…
“Some of the needed changes stemmed from errors made by scribes as Joseph dictated the revelation to them. Other changes were made as later revelations incorporated more teachings that had not been a part of the initial revelation.” (Ensign, January 2013, 46)
Dr. Dirkmaat uses D&C 27 (found in the 1833 Book of Commandments as chapter 28) as one example of a revelation later revised by Joseph Smith. He notes that Joseph Smith’s history says “the first part of the revelation was written down in August 1830 and ‘the remainder in the September following.’” The section 27 heading included in the current Doctrine and Covenants says the same thing. Dr. Dirkmaat adds,
“In the earliest manuscripts, only verses 1–5 and parts of 15 and 18 were included, but as the text of the revelation was being prepared for publication in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the second portion of the revelation was added, nearly tripling the size of the revelation.”
The impression given to Ensign readers is that Joseph Smith received this revelation in two parts over the course of a few weeks’ time: a third of it in August 1830 and two-thirds more in September 1830; then he joined the two parts together for publication in 1835. But history doesn’t bear this out.
In The Joseph Smith Revelations Text & Commentary, author H. Michael Marquardt notes that the added text found in the current verse 11 (i.e., “Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days”) indicates a later textual addition. He cites a January 1st, 1834 letter written by Apostle and “Second Elder of the Church” Oliver Cowdery. In this letter Mr. Cowdery wrote, “Since I came down I have been informed from a proper source that the Angel Michael is no less than our father Adam, and Gabriel is Noah.” According to Mr. Marquardt, “This idea was not known to Cowdery until the end of 1833.” After citing a few more anachronistic additions to Book of Commandments (BOC) 28, Mr. Marquardt concludes, “It appears that all the added material dates from after the time when the commandment was received. The additions are too developed, the product of a later stage of theological evolution.” (74-75)
These later theological thoughts have been placed into the previously existing text of the original revelation. Though readers of the Ensign article might assume that the newer two-thirds of D&C 27 were added at the end of the original –- a different text received at a different time and appended to the first revelation — this is not the case. Joseph Smith’s revisions to the revelation were not appended onto the end of the existing text, but were inserted into the middles of two complete verses from the original revelation (i.e., vv. 6 and 7 in BOC 28). These verses were split apart by new, major blocks of text that were inserted in the middle of what, up until that point, had been understood to be a full and complete revelation (to illustrate, compare BOC 28:6 with D&C 27:5-14: “I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you, on the earth, and with [insert 322 new words] all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world”). Thus, Joseph Smith’s scripture resembles the drafting of a term paper – a work in progress – rather than a direct revelation from God. Indeed, according to the Ensign article, “Joseph Smith saw the revelations as living and subject to change as the Lord revealed more of His will.”
An important aspect regarding the revised revelation that is missing from the Ensign article is the significance of the added content. Of course, since Mormons consider these revelations to be scripture, any and all content is significant. Even so, the 1835 additions to this revelation (D&C 27) speak of the alleged restoration of the Aaronic priesthood at the hands of John the Baptist (v. 8) and the Melchizedek priesthood/apostleship bestowed on Smith and Cowdery shortly thereafter via a visitation by Peter, James and John (vv. 12-13). As H. Michael Marquardt notes, “This 1835 addition is the earliest known record of Christ’s apostles being sent to visit Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery” (80). Author Grant Palmer concurs: “Accounts of angelic ordinations from John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John are in none of the journals, diaries, letters, or printed matter until the mid-1830s” (An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, 223-224).
The point of all this is that the basis for the authority of the Mormon Church, the restoration of the priesthood, appears to have been a bit of an afterthought. Claims of the restoration and bestowal of this divine authority did not exist in the first years of the Mormon Church. Even the scriptural references to this foundational power have been slipped in under a falsified (or at least misleading) early date.
It’s good that the Mormon Church is making an effort at historical transparency, but it still has a long way to go.