Read an Excerpt
James P. Harris
On Friday, 11 September 1891, future LDS apostle James E. Talmage1 made the following entry in his journal: “Today I had an interview with the First Presidency of the Church, relative to the Religion Class system. Being the Superintendent of such classes for the Stake, and having found from the labors of the past, that the Bishops of many of the wards feel they have now all they possibly can carry in the way of special organizations, I asked instructions from the authorities as to the proper procedure [to provide support for such classes]. Plans for some change in the system are pending, and another appointment for an interview was set for Monday next.”2 Three days later Talmage met with the First Presidency and there began a course of events that would eventually result in The Articles of Faith, a classic in the literature and theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Almost eight years passed from Talmage’s first mention of the religion class to 4 April 1899, the day The Articles of Faith was formally released to an eager public. The chapters of the book had passed through a unique evolution culminating in official endorsement by church president Lorenzo Snow and by his successors in years to come.
Talmage’s journals provide a rough outline of his appointment and work on the book. Although not a general authority, he was nevertheless a logical candidate for such an endeavor. When a young man attending Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah, he had come to the attention of church president John Taylor, who consented to send him east to be educated at Lehigh and Johns Hopkins universities.3 In 1888 Talmage was appointed by church president Wilford Woodruff to be the principal of LDS College, the higher end of the Latter-day Saint school system, located in downtown Salt Lake City.4
When he met with the First Presidency three years later on 14 September 1891, Talmage recorded:
Met by appointment with the First Presidency relative to the Religion Class system … It is the intention of the brethren to cause to be published a class-work on Theology, for use in Church Schools, and in Religion Classes generally. The need for such a work has long been felt among the teachers of the Latter-day Saints. The plan of the work is not fully matured as yet, the probability of issuing a series of two or three books is strong. Several preliminaries have to be arranged before the work is begun; but the First Presidency have expressed to me their intention of appointing me to do the labor. I find myself very busy already, but I have never yet found it necessary to decline any labor appointed to me by the Holy Priesthood; and in the performance of duties so entailed as my day, so my strength has ever been.
Talmage makes no other entry regarding this work for the next year and a half, probably because he was preoccupied as principal of the college. He also taught classes, consulted professionally as a geologist, and fulfilled other church commitments. However, he may well have begun already to prepare outlines and lectures and to index the scriptures and church authorities’ statements, as well as to reflect on Mormon theology and how to present it most effectively.5 On 31 January 1893, he recorded:
This day in an interview with Presidents [Wilford] Woodruff and [Joseph F.] Smith of the First Presidency, I was appointed to now proceed with a work before given and subsequently withdrawn,6 I am requested to prepare a work on Theology, suitable as a text-book for our church schools and other organizations. In making the appointment Pres. Woodruff gave me his blessing. Told the brethren that I would accept the appointment as a mission; with no expectation of any pecuniary reward should the work ever be published, hoping that the book would be sold more cheaply if I waived all claim to royalty in the sale. Without the blessing of the Almighty, and the support of the brethren I should shrink from even attempting such a work.
By this time, the treatise had been reduced from a two- or three-volume work to one volume.
Late the next month on 22 February, the First Presidency sent Talmage a letter formally commissioning him:
From conversations we have had with you in the past, we know that you in common with many others who are connected with the educational interests of our Church have seen the great need of properly arranged text and reference books in theological and religious subjects, for use in our Church Schools, Sunday Schools, etc.
It is our desire that a book suitable for the purposes named should be placed in the hands of our people as soon as possible. Knowing your experience in this direction we should be pleased to have you prepare such a work. We understand it is your intention not to make any charge for the preparation of this work so that it may be placed on the market at so low a price that it will be within the reach of all; with this suggestion we hastily concur.
Wishing you the fulfillment of every righteous desire in your calling as a teacher of the youth of Israel, we are
Jos. F. Smith
George Q. Cannon, the other counselor in the First Presidency, was not in the city at the time the letter was signed.
Later that year a formal theological class was organized for LDS University with Talmage as instructor, the class lectures from which would come the substance of Talmage’s later book. A leaflet distributed prior to the first class of 29 October 1893 outlined the topic of discussion, as would be the practice for subsequent sessions. Previously it had been decided that the lectures would be based on the format developed in Joseph Smith’s thirteen Articles of Faith. The October leaflet stated that: “Theology, as taught by the Latter-day Saints, comprises whole scheme of the Gospel. Many leading principles, but not all, are set forth in the ‘Articles of Faith,’ accepted by vote of the people, re-adopted October 5, 1890.” As the first edition of TheArticles of Faith explains: “As these Articles of Faith present the leading tenets of the Church in systematic order, they suggest themselves as a convenient outline for our plan of study … Of the doctrines treated in the authorized standards, the Articles of Faith may be regarded as a fair, though necessarily but an incomplete epitome.”7
Prior to Talmage, other people had similarly found the Articles of Faith a convenient outline for categorizing church doctrine. In 1882 Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder James A. Little compiled A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel.8 In 1887 missionaries from the church’s British mission compiled a cut-and-paste collection of scriptures entitled Ready References that began with the Articles of Faith and scriptural cross references to support each topic therein.9
Talmage kept a notebook entitled “Record of Church University Theology Class” with minutes and newsclippings for each class proceeding. The minutes were kept by a student, Leah Dunford, later the wife of Talmage’s colleague in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, John A. Widtsoe.10 Either Talmage or Dunford clipped articles from the Deseret News and Salt Lake Herald chronicling the progress of each class.11
In his journal entry of 29 October 1893, the date of his first lecture, Talmage noted that “the large lecture room in the University building was filled to overflowing: every seat being occupied. Chairs were brought from the College adjoining and every corner taken possession of while the aisles were filled, and the stand crowded, many sitting on the edge of the platform … So many applicants had to be denied admission that it was decided on the recommendation of Pres[iden]t Angus M. Cannon to adjourn the class at its close to meet next Sunday in the Stake Assembly Hall.”
The following week Talmage stated that “[b]etween 500 and 600 persons attended” his class of 5 November. Attendance increased to over 1,200 by 25 February 1894. The purpose of the class may have been to provide Talmage with a kind of focus group to monitor responses to the material presented. The classes initially included review time during which questions were solicited, but this format was abandoned after 11 February due to time constraints.
Talmage wrote in his journal on 6 November 1893: “Today the Presidency of the Church gave instructions that the lectures delivered before the University Theology Class be published in full in serial form, and that the arrangements for republication in book form be left for subsequent consideration. The ‘Juvenile Instructor’ was selected as the organ of publication.” Indeed, from 15 November 1893 to 15 August 1894, the Juvenile Instructor, a semi-monthly publication, carried eighteen installments commencing with the introduction to theology, the role of Joseph Smith, and the first Article of Faith through the final lecture given in the series on the Gathering of Israel.
A comparison of the Juvenile Instructor and The Articles of Faith reveals that Talmage made several changes to the text. However, most of these pertained to grammar and sentence structure. Accompanying the first installment in 1893, the Instructor‘s editor took liberty with a portion of Talmage’s text on Joseph Smith. The editor stated:
Here followed a graphic description of the conditions which led the boy, Joseph, to the Lord for information concerning the true Church; of his first prayer; and the glorious appearance unto him of the Father and the Son; of the persecution that followed his testimony of the vision; of the visits of the angel Moroni; of his receiving the plates of the Book of Mormon from the angel; of his baptism and the bestowal of the Aaronic and the Melchisedek Priesthood upon him; of the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and of the Prophet’s martyrdom. This, through lack of space, is, with the author’s sanction, omitted from the present report. Ed.
Talmage kept a portion of the removed section in his papers with the note, “omitted from published report,” but the brief, two-page draft offers no new details beyond what was included in the book.12
Talmage proposed that a “Committee on Criticism” be appointed “to avoid serious error,” and the First Presidency responded by appointing Francis M. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as chair, with Abraham H. Cannon, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, George Reynolds of the First Council of the Seventy, Superintendent of Church Schools Karl G. Maeser, and Deseret News associate editor John Nicholson as the remaining committee members.13 This group reviewed and approved the lectures for publication in the 1893-94Juvenile Instructor and was reappointed on 27 December 1898 with Anthon H. Lund of the Quorum of the Twelve replacing Abraham Cannon who had passed away.14
The reason the lecture series ended in 1894 is delineated in Talmage’s journal entry of 1 April that year:
At this the twenty-second session of the Theology Class the attendance was as large as if not indeed larger than that of any previous session. Today marked the last meeting of the class, its discontinuance having been determined upon yesterday or the day before by the First Presidency. The reasons for this action are briefly these:(1) It is plain that in the event of my accepting any prominent position in the State University it would be manifestly inconsistent for me to occupy so distinguished a place among the Theology Class of our people, the University being a strictly non-sectarian institution. There will be I think opposition enough to the change in the University administration without complicating matters by offering other excuses for attack. (2) The Presidency are loath to appoint a successor in the instructorship of the Theology Class, as the projected work is still unfinished; and if such an appointment were made, the work would have to be carried in one of two ways,as the independent treatment of the subject by the new instructor;and this course they deem objectionable, as it is the design to publish the lectures in book form, and the volume would then be the joint work of two; or the lectures would have to be presented as mine being simply delivered by another; this latter course would remove little if any of the objection now offered to my continuing with the work as in the past. (3) The Presidency have warned me repeatedly of my having too much work on my hands: and they seem determined to relieve me of some.
At the session today, I disposed of as many of the incidental questions as possible, then finished the lecture on the Gathering, as per leaflet No. 17: then announced the discontinuance of the class. This announcement caused considerable consternation: and I feel that there has been a true appreciation of the work of the class. A letter from the First Presidency, addressed to myself, advising the discontinuance and citing the reasons therefore, was read by Apostle Abraham H. Cannon, one of the Committee on Theology Class appointed by the First Presidency. He and Elder George Reynolds, another of the Committee[,] made remarks eulogizing the labors of the class. A vote of thanks was heartily rendered the instructor. I feel much regret in seeing the class come to a close,regret that circumstances render such a course advisable for I believe the class has taken a hold on the minds of the members. I would at least have wished to see the completion of the lectures on the Articles of Faith; but the lectures not yet delivered will be published with those already given. For the need of success that has come to the class I reverentially acknowledge the hand of God. May the seed so planted, yet produce a healthful growth and pleasing fruit.
In 1893 Talmage agreed to be president of the University of Utah, a post he would hold for four years, and he accordingly took a hiatus from working on The Articles of Faith until 1898 when he was asked to resume writing. On 27 December of that year, he recorded: “Many requests, personal and official have been made for the continuation of the work. The subjects of the ‘articles’ not presented before the Church University class were subsequently treated before other classes and theological organizations. Not until this autumn have I been able to resume the work of writing the lectures. For three months past I have been suffering from my baneful affliction of sleeplessness, and my nights, often extending until daybreak have been devoted to writing the matter, which is now practically completed.” A few days later he noted, “I was surprised at a suggestion made by the committee a few days ago, and still more so at the approval of the suggestion by the First Presidency that the book be published by the Church. I was not aware that such an honor had ever been paid to one of our writers; and I hardly felt to urge the matter for I don’t think the Church is rightly to be made responsible for the slips and errors which will inevitably appear in the book.”15
Talmage labored on the manuscript with the aid of a student, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., who assisted in typing the final draft of the book.16 The two became good friends, and when Talmage was appointed to officiate as a sealer in the temple, his first act was to marry Clark and his bride, Luacine A. Savage.17 When Talmage passed away on 27 July 1933,18 Clark, who had been recently called to the First Presidency, was at his side.
The Articles of Faith was released on 4 April 1899 in time for the church’s semi-annual world general conference. Prior to its release. President Lorenzo Snow made the following statement:
During the early part of April there will be issued by the Deseret News a Church work, entitled “The Articles of Faith,” the same being a series of lectures on the principal doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by Dr. James E. Talmage. The lectures were prepared by appointment of the First Presidency, and the book will be published by the Church. It is intended for use as a text book in the Church schools, Sunday schools, Improvement associations, quorums of the Priesthood, and other Church organizations in which the study of Theology is pursued, and also for individual use among the members of the Church. The work has been approved by the First Presidency, and I heartily commend it to members of the Church.19
As noted, Talmage intended the book to be a gift to the church with no expectation that he would receive any royalties. In his journal entry of 17 January 1899, he repeated his intent, stating: “If I can feel that the Lord has accepted my humble and imperfect offering I shall count myself richly recompensed.” The matter remained so until 31 May 1901 when Talmage wrote:
When I submitted [the] manuscript for the “Articles of Faith,” the book that I had prepared in response to the appointment of the First Presidency, I asked no royalty on the sales or other pecuniary return; indeed I felt honored in being able to do that little for the good of the Church. There was some hesitation on the part of the First Presidency in accepting the gift, partly owing to a request of mine that the book be sold strictly at cost, and partly because of Pres. Snow’s statement that a proper payment ought to be made. The first edition of 10,500 copies has been sold, and copy for a second issue is now in the hands of the electrotypers … Several times I have been called into conference with the publication committee and with the Presidency relative to the transfer of my copyright to the Church; this the authorities desire, and for the same the Presidency declare a payment ought to be made. The brethren have urged the matter with such kindness that I could not well do otherwise than express acquiescence. I was asked to name a sum that would be satisfactory; this I declined to do, saying that I had offered the work as a gift. Pres. Snow replied that it had been accepted as a gift, but they desired to make a present in return. Today Pres. Snow informed me of the decision reached, and I was handed a check for Fifteen Hundred Dollars. I made the legal transfer of copyright to the work, and assigned all claims incident to the first edition.
In the course of writing The Articles of Faith, Talmage encountered several doctrinal uncertainties. On 29 November 1893, he recorded that he was called out of the temple to meet with the First Presidency on issues related to his theological class instruction. Among those discussed were the following:
1. The changing of Article 4 of the Articles of Faith from the old form:
4. We believe that these ordinances are: First, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth: Laying on of Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
so as to designate faith and repentance in some other way than as ordinances which they are not. The following form was adopted
4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance; (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; (4) Laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
2. The proper form and ceremony of baptism whether in case of rebaptism or in any other occasion, additions to the revealed formula, such as, “for the remission of your sins” or “for the renewal of your covenants.” The decision was that any additions to the revealed form, or any other departure therefrom is unauthorized, and to be deprecated. The authorized form is that given in the Doctrine and Covenants.
3. The authority for rebaptisms:The authorities were unanimous in declaring that rebaptism is not recognized as a regularly constituted principle of the Church; and that the current practice of requiring rebaptism as a prerequisite for admission to the temples, etc. is unauthorized. Nothing should be put in the way of anyone receiving his covenants by rebaptism if he feels the necessity of so doing: and of course, in cases of disfellowship, or excommunication, a repetition of the baptism is required, but the making of rebaptism a uniform procedure is not proper. It was declared to be at variance with the order of true government in the Church to require baptism of those who come from foreign branches to Zion, bringing with them certificates of membership and of full standing. Pres. Geo. Q. Cannon [of the First Presidency] expressed the opinion that the practice of repeating baptism came from the example and teaching of Pres. Brigham Young in the days of first migration to these parts: when the journey meant a long separation from organized branches and wards of the Church: and consequently an interruption in the observance of regular Church duties. The conditions are changed now: and the counsel given for special circumstances should not be made applicable to general procedure under all circumstances. Danger was seen in the practice of repeated baptisms: such may be made like the confessional of the Catholics: a premium on sinning.
Several minor points were ruled upon, comprisingunpardonable sin: murder and shedding of innocent blood.
In the afternoon a meeting of the Presidency and the Twelve was held at the Temple, at which all the points named above were ratified as set forth. I was told by one of the Apostles on our Committee that I was authorized to proclaim this as doctrine in the Theological Class.
Another theme that occupied Talmage’s attention was related to the Holy Ghost. Talmage wrote:
Met with Theological Class Committee and [First] Presidency in lecture work. The subject of “The Holy Ghost” formed the topic. Pres. [George Q.] Cannon in commenting on the ambiguity existing in our printed works concerning the nature or character of the Holy Ghost expressed his opinion that the Holy Ghost was in reality a person, in the image of the other members of the Godhead,a man in form and figure: and that what we often speak of as the Holy Ghost is in reality but the power or influence of the Spirit. However the Presidency deemed it wise to say as little as possible on this or other disputed subjects.20
Talmage mentioned the issue again on 13 January 1899:
One of the questions referred to the First Presidency by the Committee was as to the advisability of reprinting the lecture entitled “The Holy Ghost” which appeared in the “Juvenile Instructor” soon after its delivery in the theology class of the Church University. I remember that considerable discussion attended the reading of the lecture before the former committee prior to its delivery … The question hung upon the expediency and wisdom of expressing views as definite as those presented in the lecture regarding the personality of the Holy Ghost when marked ambiguity and differences of opinion appeared in the published writings of our Church authorities on the subject. The lecture was approved as it appeared in the “Instructor.” I have incorporated it in the prospective book in practically an unaltered form. President [Lorenzo] Snow took the article under advisement today. In conversation Pres. Geo. Q. Cannon supported the view of the distinct personality of the Holy Ghost and stated that he had [here the word "actually" is crossed out] heard the voice of the third member of the Godhead, actually talking to him.
Finally, on 16 January 1899, Talmage recorded that “President [Lorenzo] Snow announced his unqualified approval of the lecture on the ‘Holy Ghost’; and directed its insertion.”21
Not recorded in Talmage’s journal is the level of anxiety this issue aroused. When he was subpoenaed in 1905 to testify before the U. S. Senate committee investigating Utah senator Reed Smoot’s position as an apostle in the LDS church, Talmage was asked whether a charge of apostasy had been levied against him during the writing of The Articles of Faith. He replied, “No charge was actually made, though I was notified I would be so charged. But as one of the church officials had already expressed as holding the views set forth by myself in that work, and he being very much larger game, he was singled out first, and as the proceedings against him ended in a disappointing way, I was never brought to trial.”22 It was never clarified who the “very much larger game” was or what the exact charges were. However, judging from Talmage’s remarks on 13 January 1899, the Holy Ghost lecture may have been what elicited the charge of apostasy against him.
On pages 420-21 of the first edition of The Articles of Faith, Talmage outlines the concept of progression between the kingdoms of glory in the hereafter, ending with this marvelous observation: “Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.” Talmage may have been influenced in his contemplations by Elder B. H. Roberts who had published a similar sentiment, but the way Talmage articulated it, it was the clearest expression yet of this doctrine and in a form that remains accessible to all members of the church.23
A word-by-word comparison of the first edition of The Articles of Faith with its 1924 revised edition shows that there were changes in sentence structure and grammar and that questions for review, originally included at the end of the book, were deleted. In addition, Talmage dropped references to the “Lectures of Faith,” which he had recommended the church remove from the Doctrine and Covenants when it was revised in 1921, with Talmage as a member of the revision committee. The presentation of the concept of the Kingdom of God was softened in 1924 when “kingdom” was no longer capitalized. Other doctrinal explanations were modified or clarified, one of the most notable being on page 454 of the first edition under the section “Social Order of the Saints,” where Talmage speaks of “a plan which seeks without force or violence to establish a natural equality, to take the weapons of despotism from the rich, to aid the lowly and poor … From the tyranny of wealth, as to every other form of oppression, the truth will make men free.” In subsequent editions the phrase “to take the weapons of despotism of the rich” was removed, and “the tyranny of wealth” was modified to “the tyranny of misused wealth.” In other instances where rhetoric was perceived to be threatening or overtly political, it was softened.
One major difference between The Articles of Faith and works such as A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel and Ready References was the elimination of scriptural defenses of plural marriage. Talmage’s approach to plural marriage was to show how the church today submits to secular authority.24 In Talmage’s papers at Brigham Young University is a 16-page, handwritten document entitled “Items on PolygamyOmitted from the Published Book” which appears to have been prepared for The Articles of Faith. Talmage does not record if the decision to omit the section was his, the committee’s, or the First Presidency’s.25
At times, Talmage’s book elaborates themes that earlier church leaders inadequately addressed, in Talmage’s view. He challenges Brigham Young’s 1859 statement that “[m]ankind are here because they are the offspring of parents who were first brought here from another planet.”26 In an eloquent passage discussing the nature of inquiry into the origin of life, he states:
The theorist therefore must admit a beginning to earthly life, and such a beginning is explicable only on the assumption of some creative act, or a contribution from outside the earth. If he admit the introduction of life upon the earth from some other and older sphere, he does but extend the limits of his inquiry as to the beginning of vital existence; for to explain the origin of a rose-bush in our own garden by saying that it was transplanted as an offshoot from a rose-tree growing elsewhere, is no answer to the question concerning the origin of roses. Science of necessity assumes a beginning to vital phenomena on this planet, and admits a finite duration of the earth in its current course of progressive change; and in this respect, the earth is a representative of the heavenly bodies in general.27
The church leader who had the most impact on Talmage was Apostle Orson Pratt. Throughout the notes and in the text of The Articles of Faith, one sees Pratt’s influence. On 9 October 1911, just two months before being called as an apostle, Talmage spoke at a memorial service held during the Pratt family reunion at the Granite Stake Tabernacle. Of Elder Pratt, he said:
It was not my privilege to have personal acquaintance with Orson Pratt. He was born over half a century before my birth, and he died while I was yet a boy in my teens and but a few years after I came to this continent. I never had the privilege of conversing with him, and saw him only from a distance. And yet I feel that I know him … At first but a reader of his works I came to be an admirer of his mind, of his personality, of himself. From a critical analysis of what he said, by spoken speech or written word, I have found he was thoroughly imbued with the scientific spirit,the spirit of search and research, the spirit of investigation and test, the spirit of trial and proof. He knew no dogma nor dictum; he considered proposition, analysis, demonstration.
He went on to praise Pratt’s writings both scientific and spiritual.28
At the close of an address entitled “The Methods and Motives of Science” given at the Logan temple on 5 February 1898, Talmage said, “The scientific spirit is divine.”29 This view best explains his overall approach to the study of Mormonism in The Articles of Faith. Doctrines are categorized, analyzed, and explained, then presented for others to further test and explore. In writing the book, the Spirit was sought through prayer and those in authority were given the opportunity of reviewing the final product. This combination of scholarship and spiritual guidance produced a reliable and authoritative explication of Mormon doctrine and theology.
The disciple-scholar was entrusted with another equally weighty doctrinal assignment a year later when the First Presidency asked him to prepare an edition of the Pearl of Great Price for the church. He worked on the project for two years, removing hymns, deleting items that were duplicated in the Doctrine and Covenants, and adding footnotes. When his compilation was presented to a general conference of the church in 1902, it was accepted as scripture. It would still be nine years before the forty-year-old academic would be called to full-time church service as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In the meantime, he received other church assignments to write a study guide for youth titled The Great Apostasy (1909), a pamphlet titled The Story of Mormonism (1910) to be used at Temple Square, and a richly illustrated book titled The House of the Lord(1911) about LDS temple worship. He was also asked to advise the First Presidency on the topic of evolution in 1909.30
Shortly after his call to the Twelve, he wrote Jesus the Christ, another classic of Mormon literature commissioned by the First Presidency. He also integrated the Ready References into a scripture index for publication in 1916, then was assigned to make corrections, and add chapter headings and footnotes, to the Book of Mormon in 1920.31 All of this provides some context for understanding his assignment in 1930 to prepare a shortened version of the Doctrine and Covenants.
It was a nondescript little book that appeared on the shelves of Salt Lake City bookstores in late 1930 that bore the title Latter-day Revelation: Selections from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The volume carried the imprint of the church, yet it disappeared as quickly as it appeared. It did not pretend to be a substitute for the Doctrine and Covenants. The forward stated:
This little book contains selected Sections and parts of Sections from the Doctrine and Covenants, the selections comprising Scriptures of general and enduring value, given as the Word of the Lord through the First Elder and Prophet in the present dispensation, which is verily the “Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.”
The complete Doctrine and Covenants is a current publication, accessible to all, so that comparison between that volume and this is a simple undertaking.
A simple undertaking it was. Among those who immediately objected were Mormon fundamentalists accusing the church of changing the scriptures. Of most concern was that the new book omitted verses 1-4 of section 131 pertaining to the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” Section 132 regarding the eternal marriage covenant and plural marriage was missing altogether. In all, Latter-day Revelation retained twenty32 and parts of twenty-one sections of the Doctrine and Covenants33 and omitted ninety-five.34
In addition, the new version contained theological terminology not generally used by Latter-day Saints. For example, section 27 is titled “Sacramental Emblems and the Future Communion.” Section 76 is referred to as “Perdition and Graded Kingdoms of Glory.” Section 110 is described as “A Glorious Theophany followed by Visitations of Ancient Prophets.” In the title for Section 130, the Godhead is referred to as “The Holy Trinity.” There is mention of “the imminence of the Lord’s advent,” “commandments comprised in the Decalog,” and “the Twelve [being called] to ordain evangelical ministers, or Patriarchs.”35
According to LDS Institute of Religion professor Dale C. LeCheminant, Latter-day Revelation became scarce almost immediately after it was released. When historian T. Edgar Lyon inquired about it at Deseret Book, an assistant store manager “took him down to the basement vault where he showed him fifty remaining copies. He then told Lyon that the book had been on display a short time. Some copies had been sold when the fundamentalists got one and immediately charged the Mormon Church with changing the scriptures … Heber J. Grant then gave orders for the remaining books to be withdrawn and shredded to avoid further conflict with the fundamentalists.”36
This did not prevent the book from being translated into Dutch, Norwegian, and Spanish. In some countries this would be the only version of the Doctrine and Covenants that would be available for several years.37
Because Latter-day Revelation offers no information about who the compiler was or how the book came to be, there has been speculation about who it might have been and what the process was. The usual choices for editor have been Elder Talmage or Elder John A. Widtsoe, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The speculation regarding Widtsoe came from the doctoral dissertation by Dale C. LeCheminant, who spoke of the appeal the Doctrine and Covenants had for Widtsoe.38 Nevertheless, two journal entries from Elder Talmage reveal that it was he who compiled the book. The first entry is dated 28 June 1930:
By prearrangement I sat with the First Presidency during the afternoon, and together we examined in detail the copy I had prepared for the prospective bringing out of a book containing extracts from the Doctrine and Covenants. The purpose of this undertaking is to make the strictly doctrinal parts of the Doctrine and Covenants of easy access and reduce its bulk, furthermore making it suitable for distribution by missionaries and for general use by investigators. Many of the revelations received by the prophet Joseph related to personal directions in temporal activities incident to the early years of the Church, the immediate importance of which was localized as to time and place. Part of my work in the immediate future will be the carrying of this book of extracts through the press.
For 22 November 1930, he recorded the following:
I had the pleasure of presenting to the First Presidency advance copies of the little book “Latter-day Revelation” which is described on the title pages as “Selections from the book of Doctrine and Covenants.” The selections were decided upon by the First Presidency and the Twelve and the matter of arranging, editing, proof reading, etc., has been under my immediate direction, and I must be held personally responsible for the correctness of the type and the matter.39
Ironically, Talmage reviewed the book in the Improvement Era, and he may also have been responsible for the official 1930 announcement in the Deseret News titled “Timely Doctrinal Treatise.”40
It is interesting to compare Latter-day Revelation to what Talmage mentioned were the criteria for deciding what to include in his redaction. The sections and passages retained in full are, in fact, theological, or spiritual rather than temporal, compared to those that were omitted, and most Latter-day Saints would agree that they form the essential core of the revelations.41 Conversely, many sections of the Doctrine and Covenants contain instructions to specific individuals, calling them on a mission, for instance, or to church callings or assignments. These, along with announcements of meetings, the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, general and repetitive calls to repentance, to be patient and prayerful and to preach the gospel, and procedural means for settling disputes and recording ordinances were all deleted.42
Other sections were excised because, like polygamy, the church no longer advocated the practice of the tenet. An example is the communal experiment known as the United Order (sections 49, 51, 82, 70, 72, 78, 82, 83, 85, 92, 96, 104, and parts of 42 and 84).43 Still, there were other cuts that went further than this and cannot be entirely explained by an appeal to changing church practices or the absence of enduring theological content. Examples are the revelation that Satan rules the waters (61), that male children do not need to be circumcised (74), that animals will be resurrected (77), that the Apocrypha should be read (91), and how to differentiate between good and evil spirits (129). These may have been thought to be of minor importance, or perhaps they were considered to be difficult or controversial.44
Whatever motivation lay behind such changes, the impression left with the reader is one of scripture and revelation that is fluid and adaptable to new circumstances and of a process rather than a terminable event. Indeed, Talmage writes in the Articles of Faith of “the gift of revelation in varying degrees,” existing on a continuum with inspiration, and adds that “by neither of these directing processes does the Lord deprive the human subject of agency or individuality; as is proved by the marked peculiarities of style and method characterizing the several books of holy writ.” Two pages later he continues even more explicitly: “While the revelations of the past have ever been indispensable as guides to the people, showing forth as they do, the plan and purpose of God’s dealings under particular conditions, they may not be universally and directly applicable to the circumstances of succeeding times.” In other words, one would expect to see the revelations added upon, modified to fit new situations, and given varying degrees of emphasis.45
A lingering question might be why Elder Talmage, rather than the prophet himself, was entrusted with such a responsibility, Upon reflection, he appears to have been uniquely qualified for the task due to his previous experience with preparing scripture for publication as well as his scholarly credentials, his spiritual sensitivity, and his willingness to defer to review by the presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Only a few men in the church’s history have been asked to modify scripture, but the assignment came repeatedly to him. He proposed minor changes even before he was called as an apostle in 1911; in 1893, for instance, while writingThe Articles of Faith, he proposed that the wording of the fourth Article of Faith be changed to its current form. His suggestion met with approval by the First Presidency.46
In 1902 he revised the Pearl of Great Price, as previously noted.47 In 1920 he added footnotes to the Book of Mormon. In the processes he made revisions because of the errors he discovered that had crept in over multiple editions. Interestingly, he advised his secretary to tell no one of these changes.48
In 1921 Talmage headed a committee of three apostles that added footnotes to the Doctrine and Covenants and removed the Lectures on Faith. The latter had been canonized as part of the 1833 Book of Commandments.
In 1940 BYU student John W. Fitzgerald wrote a master’s thesis titled, “A Study of the Doctrine and Covenants.” As part of his research, he corresponded with Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve, who had also been a member of the 1921 Doctrine and Covenants Committee. When the student asked why the Lectures on Faith had been removed from the Doctrine and Covenants, Elder Smith responded:
(1) They were not received as revelations by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
(2) They are only instructions relative to the general subject of faith. They are explanations of this principle but not doctrine.
(3) They are not complete as to their teachings regarding the Godhead.
(4) It was thought by Elder James E. Talmage, chairman, and other members of the committee who were responsible for their omission that to avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief [the Godhead], it would be better not to have them bound in the same volume as the commandments or revelations which make up the Doctrine and Covenants.49
In short, Talmage was intimately involved during his lifetime in preparing new editions of scripture, including modifications in content and wording and what could be called the decanonization process. Latter-day Revelation was not in print long enough for the membership to become familiar with it and to be considered for canonization, but it reflected the thinking of the leadership at the time that the Doctrine and Covenants should be simplified and updated. It is often forgotten that, like the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants itself was the result of a selection process that chose from among many more available texts.
It can only be speculated that other discussions took place in the 1920s and 1930s regarding the content of the Doctrine and Covenants. However, except for Talmage’s journal entries, there are no other records available to further explain why a book like Latter-day Revelation was considered necessary. One scholar suggested that because 1930 was the centennial celebration of the organization of the church, this may have been a way to celebrate the new century.50
Latter-day Revelation remains an anomaly because of its association with canonized scripture. The interest shown in the book justifies its reissue, along with the Articles of Faith, as a meditation, for its historical value, and to facilitate further discussion about the nature of continuing revelation.