Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants

Kurt Elieson

Return to Home Page > LDS Scripture Study Resources

The Story of the Doctrine & Covenants

The easiest scriptures to understand are the ones that have stories. The Doctrine & Covenants is clearly not one of those books, and several Church leaders have said that a key to understanding the Doctrine & Covenants is to become familiar with its story by reading additional sources. That story is told in a single continuous narrative in Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants.

This book has different strengths than a commentary. It immerses the reader in a story full of first-person quotes so the historical background is not only understood, but experienced. Every single section is seamlessly integrated into the fabric of church history, including the problems people faced, how the section was implemented, and its relationship to other revelations that came before and after. The point is for references to people, activities, and circumstances to make intuitive sense.

Each section is also briefly summarized to highlight its message, its train of thought, and its role in the development of Mormon doctrine.

Volume 1: D&C 1-70, 74, 107, 133

Volume 1 covers the years 1820 to 1831 and is available for free here as a PDF file or can be purchased here as a Kindle edition or paperback through Amazon.com. It is also reviewed here in BYU Studies by J.B. Haws of the BYU Religion Department.

Volumes 2-3: D&C 71-73, 75-132, 134-OD2

It took eight years working off and on to turn out Volume 1. Twelve years later I am still a good way out from completing Volumes 2 and 3.But I am still making significant progress.

Status Update, January 2024

Volume 1 came in at 367 pages of text (445 pages after resizing and reformatting my draft a few years ago to improve readability). I had originally intended for Volume 2 to run about another 650 pages, for a total of about 1,100 pages (plus supporting material) in two volumes. As of January 2024 my working draft now runs 1,700 pages of text in three volumes, plus a fourth volume of supporting material such as footnotes and bibliography.

In terms of getting this project to completion, I currently think of it as having three parts.

The first part covers 1820-1831 (D&C 1-70) and corresponds to Volume 1. I occasionally make small revisions and additions to this part, but only a few changes count as more than minor additions. I am happy with how this part turned out, and I do not plan any major rewriting.

For the last few years my efforts have been directed at the third part covering the expulsion from Missouri in 1838-1839 through today. My original plan was for the Nauvoo Period of 1839-1846 to fill about 50 pages, followed by a 30 page epilogue for the last four items received during 1847 – 2020.

This third part has now grown to 465 pages, a project equal in size to the entire first volume. And in contrast to the earliest chapters where the editorial decision was simply to include most of the little that we know, the last three chapters in particular have required much more thought. It is not unusual to have to digest a couple hundred pages of source material just to write a single entry. For example, the beginning of the name extraction program, the internet’s transformation of genealogy, or correlation. And often I have to develop a framework for understanding an issue before I can figure out what to address. For example, the nature of gathering, or the ten pages I then spend on the transformation of gathering under President McKay, or the twenty pages about the Revelation on Priesthood and what it means for us today in terms of both content and precedent. While most of this book is focused on helping to understand the text of the Doctrine & Covenants, I have found this last part to be just as important as it addresses how we relate today to several key themes of the Doctrine & Covenants.

This last part covering Nauvoo to the present is currently broken up into four chapters: #20 The Doctrinal Revolution at Nauvoo (1839-1846 – a monster at 240 pages), another serious pass through the second half incorporating all of my handwritten notes should largely finish off this chapter; #21 Establishing Zion in Utah Territory (1846-1882 – 100 pages, D&C 136), I am just wrapping up small loose ends; #22 The Great Accommodation (1882-1907 – 45 pages, OD 1), I still need to re-write the second half of this chapter relating to impact of the Smoot hearings; and #23 Dispersed Gathering Around the World (1908-2020 – 80 pages, D&C 138, OD 2), I am just wrapping up small loose ends.

I am happy with how this third part is turning out. Despite the length, I think it maintains focus as it provides information not only about the circumstances surrounding the receipt of each of these items, but also about the manner in which several key themes in the Doctrine & Covenants have been implemented since Nauvoo, and with a much deeper discussion of what OD1 and OD2 mean for today. Most of these large themes now flow naturally. For example: the building of temples and the implementation of temple ordinances, genealogy work, the Church’s policy on priesthood ordinations before the Revelation on Priesthood OD 2, the adoption and publication of major editions of the scriptures, gathering, revelation and doctrine, etc. But I do frequently keep finding holes to go back and fill in. I should quit guessing about how long things will take, but I hope to finish the last three chapters by mid 2024, and Nauvoo by the end of 2024.

That still leaves the large middle part covering most of the Ohio-Missouri Period, or 1832-1838 (D&C 71-120). This part currently runs 650 pages, which I feel is probably at least a hundred pages too long, especially the second half of this material. And I still have a handful of major sources to finish working through, including the Manuscript History, as well as several biographies, etc. I did get most of the first three chapters of this part into decent shape about a decade ago (Dec 1831 – May 1833, D&C 71-93). But I have not yet really done anything to wrestle the rest of this material into a coherent narrative, and it is currently nothing more than a collection of too much information. But cutting is faster than writing.

I currently hope to be able to finish off this second part in an additional year, or by the end of 2025. I expect/hope/wish that this part will largely finish writing itself as a limited number of principal characters deal with a limited number of issues derived primarily from a limited number of original sources.

That will still leave a final round of cite checking, converting citations in Volume 1 to the Joseph Smith Papers materials that are now available online, getting copyright permissions, and indexing. Last time it took a month of cheating every spare moment I could find to index the 445 pages of Volume 1, and the completed book will be about four times longer.

So even if everything goes well, I do not realistically expect to have the final finished product out the door until roughly the end of 2026. But that is currently the goal.

When completed, the material will likely be broken up into four volumes. Volume 1 will likely include the introduction and text for 1820 – March 1831 (D&C 1-81) in 10 chapters of about 525 pages. Volume 2 is expected to then include the text for April 1832 – April 1839 (D&C 82-123) in 9 chapters of about 550 pages. Volume 3 would include all of Nauvoo through today (D&C 124-OD 2) in 4 chapters of about 475 pages. All of the supporting material would go into another fourth volume: appendices, endnotes, bibliography, etc. I see no reason for multiple overlapping indexes or bibliographies at the end of each volume, and I believe it is more useful to have endnotes open to the side in a separate volume rather than having to flip back and forth within a single volume.

If you are anxious for me to finish and get this out the door, please know that there is at least one other person in the world who shares that feeling.

Close Menu