The 1829 “Articles of the Church of Christ” is a little-known antecedent to section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This article explores Joseph Smith’s and Oliver Cowdery’s involvement in bringing forth these two documents that were important in laying the foundation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Section 20 was originally labeled the “Articles and Covenants.” It was the first revelation canonized by the restored Church and the most lengthy revelation given before the first priesthood conference was held in June 1830. Scriptural commentators in recent years have described the inspired set of instructions in section 20 as “a constitution for the restored church.”1 In many respects, the Articles and Covenants was the Church’s earliest General Handbook of Instructions. Although Latter-day Saints typically associate the Articles and Covenants with the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, this regulatory document had roots in earlier events: in the earliest latter-day revelations, in statements on Church ordinances and organization from the Book of Mormon, and in the preliminary set of Articles written by Oliver Cowdery in the last half of 1829.
This article will review those early revelations to show how the organization of the Church was prophetically foreshadowed and instituted. It will then identify certain prescriptions in the Book of Mormon that influenced the steps taken and pronouncements issued as the Church was organized on April 6, 1830. In particular, the contents of the 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ (figs. 1, 2, 3) and the 1830 Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ will be summarized and contrasted. From this, the process through which Doctrine and Covenants 20 came into being will be explored in order to explain more fully how it came to be accepted as scripture.
Prophetic Anticipation of the Organization of the Church
Joseph Smith’s first responsibility as the latter-day prophet was to translate the Book of Mormon plates, which were entrusted to him by the angel Moroni on September 22, 1827. Only later would restoring and organizing the Lord’s Church become an obvious extension of his prophetic mission, for that aspect of the restoration had to wait until the Prophet had finished translating the Book of Mormon in 1829.2 But as the work of translation unfolded, the way was simultaneously being prepared for the imminent restoration and organization of the Church.
The earliest revelation that specifically mentions the impending establishment of the Church was given in late summer 1828. It was received shortly after Martin Harris had carelessly lost the initial 116 pages (containing the book of Lehi) from the Book of Mormon translation. In the revelation that followed, the Lord told Joseph Smith that in reestablishing His Church, this modern generation should be openhearted and spiritually prepared. The Lord admonished: “And for this cause have I said, if this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them. Now I do not say this to destroy my church, but I say this to build up my church: therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.”3
A few months later, in March 1829, the Lord spoke again on this subject, telling Joseph Smith and Martin Harris that the restored Church would be patterned after the New Testament–era organization. Expanding the earlier precondition, the Savior declared, “And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hearts,4 I will work a reformation among them, . . . and I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.”5 The Lord explained to his latter-day disciples that this reformation marked “the beginning of the rising up, and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.”6
After Martin Harris was dismissed as scribe over the loss of the 116-page manuscript of the book of Lehi, Joseph Smith prayed fervently for another assistant to help him complete the work. His prayers were answered when Oliver Cowdery, the district school teacher from Manchester, New York, came to Harmony, Pennsylvania, in early April 1829. As part of his teaching remuneration, Cowdery had boarded with Joseph’s parents, who eventually confided in Oliver about Joseph Jr.’s possession of the Book of Mormon record. After receiving profound spiritual confirmation of Joseph’s calling, Oliver traveled to Harmony with the intention to be Joseph Smith’s scribe. With Cowdery’s assistance, the Book of Mormon translation made substantial progress. Inside of an amazingly productive three-month stretch, from early April to late June 1829, Joseph translated and Oliver, as the main scribe, wrote more than four hundred closely written foolscap pages—almost the entire unsealed portion of the Nephite plates. Also, during these months, Joseph Smith received at least a dozen revelations and accomplished several other important tasks.7
The Nature of Oliver’s Authority
Soon after they met, Oliver asked Joseph to inquire of the Lord to know his (Oliver’s) duty. In response the Lord told Oliver—not once, but twice—to “give heed unto my words.”8 Cowdery was also counseled, “Now as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.”9 The Lord reminded the young schoolmaster, “For thou hast inquired of me, and behold as often as thou hast inquired, thou hast received instruction of my Spirit.”10 Oliver was assured that he would “receive a knowledge of whatsoever things [he] shall ask in faith, with an honest heart.”11
Fascinated by Joseph’s ability to translate the ancient record, Oliver sought for the same blessing. Weeks earlier, the Lord had promised Oliver the gift “to translate even as my servant Joseph.”12 Few details are known about the scribe’s attempt to translate, but, after Cowdery “did not translate according to that which [he] desired” of the Lord, he went back to writing for the Prophet. The Lord told Oliver to continue as scribe until the translation was completed.13
By May 1829, the Prophet Joseph was hard at work translating the book of 3 Nephi. As the work progressed, Joseph and Oliver became inspired by the Savior’s teachings to his disciples in ancient Bountiful. Years later, Cowdery reflected on how the translation spiritually motivated them. He wrote:
No men in their sober senses, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites, from the mouth of the Savior, of the precise manner in which men should build up his church, . . . without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave, to answer a “good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
As the pure, undiluted gospel of Christ in 3 Nephi unfolded before them, Joseph and Oliver wanted to know more about priesthood authority and baptism for the remission of sins mentioned particularly in 3 Nephi 11:18−27. Oliver explained that in reflecting on 3 Nephi they realized that “none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the gospel.”14 The Prophet’s history confirms that a desire for baptism for the remission of sins influenced their subsequent inquiry.15
On May 15, 1829, Joseph and Oliver adjourned to the nearby woods where they prayed for guidance. There along the tree-lined bank of the Susquehanna River, the heavens opened and the Lord’s faithful servant John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to lay his hands upon their heads and bestow upon them the Aaronic Priesthood.16 As Oliver later explained, John the Baptist delivered the keys of the gospel of repentance, which included authority to baptize. The Aaronic Priesthood did not include the power of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (as is made clear in 3 Nephi 18:37), but Joseph and Oliver were promised that they would receive higher priesthood authority in due time. The heavenly minister directed Joseph to baptize Oliver, and Oliver to do the same for Joseph. After these baptisms were performed in the Susquehanna River, the Holy Ghost was manifested. Joseph Smith recounted:
No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery than the Holy Ghost fell upon him and he stood up and prophecied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the Spirit of prophecy when standing up I prophecied concerning the rise of this Church and many other things connected with the Church and this generation of the children of men.17
After their baptisms, Joseph and Oliver laid hands on each other’s head and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood. Thus Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, as companions, received a transcendent understanding of the preparatory events connected to the “rise of this Church” almost a year before the Church was organized on April 6, 1830.
Shortly after John the Baptist’s appearance, the Savior’s three presiding apostles during the meridian of time—Peter, James, and John—came to Joseph and Oliver and bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood and the associated keys, including the apostleship.18 Although Joseph and Oliver were given the keys and powers necessary to reestablish Christ’s Church upon the earth, they did not exercise these keys or bestow the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands until the Church was organized in early April 1830. Shortly after receiving the essential gospel ordinances and priesthood authority, Joseph and Oliver moved, in early June 1829, to Peter Whitmer Sr.’s farmhouse in Fayette, New York. There they could work on the remainder of the Book of Mormon translation without concern for provisions or persecution.
As the translation proceeded, Joseph, Oliver, and Peter Whitmer’s son, David, prayed to the Lord in mid-June 1829 for further “instructions relative to building up the church of Christ, according to the fullness of the gospel.”19 The first part of the revelation that came in answer to their prayer implies that Oliver, in particular, wanted to know how to organize the Church. The Lord told Oliver to “rely upon the things which are written, for in them are all things written concerning [the foundation of]20 my church, my gospel, and my rock. Wherefore if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of21 my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you” (D&C 18:3−5).
Later in the summer of 1829, the Prophet and his closest associates gathered at Peter Whitmer Sr.’s farmhouse and eagerly petitioned the Lord for permission to exercise the Melchizedek Priesthood keys by laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.22 Responding to their solemn and fervent request, the Lord gave a revelation describing the manner in which they should hold the organizational meeting of the Church. This revelation called for Joseph to ordain Oliver an elder in the Church and for Oliver to then ordain Joseph to the same office. Joseph would be called the First Elder, and Oliver the Second Elder. Together they would select and ordain other men to either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood as directed by the Spirit. The assemblage would then vote, by the rule of common consent, to sustain Joseph and Oliver as their presiding officers and spiritual teachers. The sacrament would be administered by priesthood authority, and then Joseph and Oliver would be permitted to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Joseph explained that these actions were to be deferred until “such times, as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together.”23 Months before the organization of the Church, a separate revelation given “by the Spirit of Prophecy” revealed “the precise day upon which, according to his [the Lord’s] will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once again, here upon the earth.”24 The date revealed was April 6, 1830, half a year in the future.
During the second half of 1829, Oliver Cowdery set about to use the as-yet-unpublished manuscript of the Book of Mormon, along with several early manuscript revelations, to compose the statement on Church procedure and organization that he called the “Articles of the Church of Christ.” In doing so, he literally fulfilled the command given to him the previous June when the Lord told him to “build up my church” by “rely[ing] upon the things which are written.”25 Oliver’s Articles are an example of how closely he worked with the Prophet in laying the foundation of the Church. Years later, perhaps reflecting on these early events, Oliver confided to Phineas Young, his brother-in-law, how the Church, “the foundation of which my own hands helped to lay, is constantly near my thoughts.”26
The authoritative tone is what first strikes the reader of the Articles. It is written so that the Lord speaks in the first person, just as many of the revelations to Joseph. It may seem odd that Oliver was the actual compiler of revelation when his role as scribe for the Prophet seems so commonplace. Nevertheless, in the context of the pre-Church organization, Cowdery’s actions were legitimate. Not until a year later, in the summer of 1830, months after the Church was organized, did the Lord specify that Joseph Smith, and Joseph Smith alone, was the Lord’s appointed mouthpiece (D&C 28:1−7). Oliver Cowdery, as a bipartite holder of the restored keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, was entitled to certain gifts of the Spirit. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, who served for many years as Church historian and, later, as Church President, described Oliver’s unique position: “Oliver Cowdery’s standing in the beginning was as the ‘Second Elder’ of the Church, holding the keys jointly with the Prophet Joseph Smith.”27 Heber C. Kimball, a contemporary of Oliver Cowdery and later a counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency, noted that “Oliver Cowdery received revelations and wrote them.”28 However, it should not be automatically assumed that God’s word to Oliver is precisely the same in nature as Joseph’s revelations. The following two sections will highlight many differences.
Still, in his calling as the Second Elder, Oliver apparently held sufficient authority to write the first articles in anticipation of the Church’s organization. Oliver testified that the Spirit of the Lord guided him throughout: “Behold I have written the things which [the Lord] hath commanded me for behold his word was unto me as a burning fire shut up in my bones and I was weary with forbearing and I could forbear no longer.”29
The Contents of Cowdery’s 1829 Articles
The surviving copy of Cowdery’s “Articles of the Church of Christ” is transcribed and printed in full as an appendix at the end of this article. A brief synopsis of its contents shows that Oliver selected doctrinal or essential ordinance passages from the unpublished Book of Mormon manuscript, integrated those passages with material from several of the Prophet’s 1829 revelations, and added a few lines of his own commentary.
The Articles begin simply with the words “A commandment from God unto Oliver how he [Oliver] should build up his [the Lord’s] church and the manner thereof.” The Spirit tells Oliver to “listen to the voice of Christ . . . and write the words which I [the Lord] shall command you concerning my Church my Gospel my Rock and my Salvation.”
The Church is then warned, “Behold the world is ripening in iniquity and it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance both the Gentiles and also the House of Israel.” Thus, a call to repentance is issued and the apostolic calling of Oliver is affirmed: “For behold I [the Lord] command all men every where to repent and I speak unto you [Oliver] even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called.”
Next, the manner and form of baptism are defined (reflecting 3 Nephi 11 and Mosiah 18). The procedure to be used by Church elders in ordaining priests and teachers is then explained (following Moroni 3), duties of the priests are specified, and the manner and form of administering the sacrament are defined (complete with the words of the sacrament prayers from Moroni 4−5). A commandment is given to refuse to allow the unworthy (unrepentant) to partake of the sacrament (echoing 3 Nephi 18:28).
Church members are counseled to meet together often for prayer and fasting and to report their personal progress toward eternal life (as the people are commanded in 3 Nephi 18:22 and Moroni 6). A warning is given against a dozen evils and iniquities (along the lines of Alma 1:32), and instructions are given to dismiss those who will not repent. The Lord calls all to repentance and invites them to come unto him, be baptized, endure to the end, and be saved, using language reminiscent of the words spoken by Jesus Christ as recorded in 3 Nephi 11.
The next sentence reads, “Behold ye must walk uprightly before me and sin not and if ye do walk uprightly before me and sin not my grace is sufficient for you that ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” This is followed by a direct quotation from the earliest revelation given to Oliver Cowdery by the Prophet Joseph Smith in April 1829, found in D&C 6:21: “Behold I am Jesus Christ the Son of the liveing God I am the same which came unto my own and my own received me not I am the light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”
Finally, the Lord bears testimony that “these words are not of men nor of man but of me,” and the closing statement reads, “Now remember the words of him who is the first and the last the light and the life of the world And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God and your Redeemer, by the power of my Spirit hath spoken it Amen[.]”
Oliver appends an assertion of the authority by which this statement is issued: “And now if I have not authority to write these things judge ye behold ye shall know that I have authority when you and I shall be brought to stand before the judgment seat of Christ[.]” Cowdery then bears his apostolic testimony: “Behold I am Oliver I am an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As is further confirmed by the notes to the transcription that follows in the appendix below, Oliver incorporated procedures and ordinances gleaned from the Book of Mormon, supplemented by modern revelation or commentary of his own origination, to write his Articles of the Church of Christ.30
A Brief Comparison of Cowdery’s 1829 Articles
with the 1830 Articles and Covenants
In the last twenty years, several Mormon writers have described Cowdery’s 1829 Articles as the source or as a draft of the later Articles and Covenants (D&C 20).31 By this they imply that Joseph Smith revised and ex-
panded Cowdery’s earlier Articles. For the following reasons, such an interpretation is both inaccurate and misleading.
Comparison of Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles with an original 1830 version manuscript of the Articles and Covenants (D&C 20) is impossible since no surviving copy of the latter predates early 1831. The earliest extant manuscript of D&C 20 is cited herein as Watters-Daily.32 This early copy was made by an unidentified scribe sometime between February 9 and June 19, 1831.33 Careful textual comparison of Cowdery’s 1829 Articles against this early copy of D&C 20 reveals that Oliver Cowdery’s document is far more dependent on the Book of Mormon text than is the latter. Roughly one-fifth of section 2034 relies on the Book of Mormon for its text, while more than half of Cowdery’s Articles are either direct quotations or paraphrases with slight deviations from the Book of Mormon.35
Since the Prophet Joseph Smith left only a brief, general description of the reception of D&C 20, we are left to wonder exactly how the Articles and Covenants information was received.36 Apparently a large percentage of the Articles and Covenants came by direct revelation to the Prophet. While the wording of the baptismal and sacramental ordinances in both documents is similar (as one would expect, given that the restored Church’s use of baptismal and sacramental prayers are derived from the Book of Mormon),37 significant differences exist. Cowdery’s manuscript quotes or paraphrases almost double the amount of words from the Book of Mormon as does the Watters-Daily copy of D&C 20.38 The Articles and Covenants, given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, is a richer, more comprehensive doctrinal and procedural document that in fact bears little or no resemblance to the earlier Cowdery Articles. More than a decade ago, Richard Lloyd Anderson described Cowdery’s Articles not as a draft, but as a “forerunner” of section 20.39 Analysis and comparison of these two early regulatory documents bears this description out. Cowdery’s 1829 document came before the 1830 Articles and Covenants, but Cowdery’s document was not revised, corrected, expanded or specifically used to create section 20.
As shown in the next section, the more comprehensive Articles and Covenants, which was received during the second quarter of 1830, quickly eclipsed Cowdery’s less complex version of the Church articles. Oliver’s 1829 document should be read and understood simply as a preliminary step taken by the Second Elder to assist in laying the administrative groundwork for the organization of the restored Church.
Writing the Articles and Covenants of the Church
The historical heading of section 20 in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants says that the Articles and Covenants was received in April 1830, but does not say where it was received. No explanation or source is given to support this dating. When the Articles and Covenants was published in the 1833 edition of the Book of Commandments, the date and location were given as June 1830 at Fayette, New York.40 Regrettably, we do not have an original manuscript or even a pre-1831 copy of the Articles and Covenants. The two earliest copies are the Watters-Daily manuscript and a version printed in an Ohio newspaper. Both of these items preserve the text as it read in early 1831.41 In analyzing these copies, one needs to remember that the Articles and Covenants was a practical religious text that the Prophet revised and expanded as the Church organization developed.42
Reliable sources provide enlightening details that allow us to approximate the time period for the reception of section 20. It appears that Joseph Smith dictated D&C 20 between late March and the first week of June 1830.43 This dating is derived from the earliest time period in 1830 that Joseph Smith was in western New York for a sustained visit (not a brief visit such as those mentioned by Mother Lucy Mack Smith44) and the June 9, 1830, church conference at Fayette where the Articles and Covenants was first read in public. A manuscript history written by Joseph Knight, a close friend and supporter of Joseph Smith, describes how he transported the Prophet in his wagon from Harmony to Manchester at the time E. B. Grandin was completing the printing of the Book of Mormon, just before the Church’s organization. Mother Lucy Mack Smith, in her family memoir, recalled that Joseph returned from Pennsylvania “about the first of April of the same year in which the Book of Mormon was published.”45
Additional historical evidence suggests that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were together when the Articles and Covenants was written. Oliver was living in the Palmyra-Manchester area during spring 1830 as he, along with Joseph’s brother Hyrum, personally supervised the publication of the Book of Mormon. In late March or early April 1830, Cowdery traveled along with Joseph Smith and others to Fayette, New York, where they participated in the organization of the restored Church of Christ on April 6, 1830.
Though Oliver Cowdery was probably involved in writing section 20, this time it was only in the mechanical sense—as the Prophet’s scribe. Years later, Brigham Young described how Joseph had to struggle with Oliver as the Prophet dictated a revelation on priesthood—evidently the 1830 Articles and Covenants. President Young said, “You read that Oliver Cowdery was the Second Elder and you remember the Revelation on the Priesthood [section 20];46 . . . Joseph was two hours laboring with O[liver] C[owdery] to get him to write the Revelation in humility.”47 The fact that Oliver Cowdery had compiled an earlier set of Articles could at least partially explain his reluctance or difficulty. The Second Elder may have felt that his earlier composition of the Articles was being overlooked or was already sufficient.
It is uncertain whether Joseph Smith had either received or committed the Articles and Covenants to paper by the time the Church was organized at Fayette on April 6, 1830. Since there are no contemporary minutes for the meeting that day, it is not known if D&C 20 was presented or discussed. None of those present in Fayette on that memorable day mentioned the Articles and Covenants in connection with the formal organization.
On the other hand, during the first quarterly conference of elders held in Fayette on June 9, 1830, Joseph Smith read the Articles and Covenants and then called for a sustaining vote.48 The conference minutes reported that the revelation was “recieved [sic] by the unanimous voice of the whole congregation, which consisted of most of the male members of the Church.”49 At this inaugural conference, the priesthood holders were given licenses showing their priesthood office (fig. 4) and certifying that they had been “baptized and received into the Church according to the Articles and Covenants of the Church.” Alongside his official Church leadership title, the Prophet signed his name to these simple handwritten certificates as First Elder, and Oliver Cowdery signed as Second Elder.50
A Brief Overview of the Contents of the 1830 Articles and Covenants
An examination of the contents and structure of the Articles and Covenants (fig. 5) discovers that the revelation has two sections. The first part, verses 1–36 in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, has five subsections or paragraphs that all end with “Amen” and that are beautifully succinct historical and doctrinal statements. The second part, comprising verses 37–84, details the procedural requirements and ordinances of the restored Church of Christ. A brief outline of the contents, referenced by the modern versification, follows.
The five “Amen” sections are:
Verses 1–4: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded according to civil law and “by the will and commandments of God” on April 6, 1830. The Lord gave these commandments to “Joseph the Seer,”51 whom he called and ordained an Apostle of the Savior “to be the first elder”52 of the Church and to Oliver Cowdery, whom the Savior called and ordained an Apostle and “the second elder.”
Verses 5–12: After Joseph Smith received forgiveness for his youthful sins (during the First Vision), he became “entangled again in the vanities of the world.” But Joseph repented, and God sent a “holy angel [Moroni], whose countenance was as lightning and whose garments were pure,” to the Prophet multiple times from 1823 to 1827. In due time, the Lord “inspired him and gave him power from on high” to translate the Book of Mormon plates, “proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true” and that the Book of Mormon is a second witness of Jesus Christ and his eternal gospel.
Verses 13–16: The world will be judged by the testimony of the Three Witnesses. Those who accept the Book of Mormon will “receive a crown of eternal life; but those who harden their hearts and reject it” will be damned.
Verses 17–28: The doctrine of the unchangeable God and the creation, fall, and atonement are explained.
Verses 29–36: The Lord explains the doctrines of repentance, faith, justification, and sanctification. Verse 36 concludes the historical and doctrinal section of the Articles and Covenants.
The remainder of D&C section 20 contains the core administrative procedures and ordinances by which the priesthood and general Church membership are to abide. The Prophet organized the final section of the Church’s constitution in the following order:
Verse 37: The prerequisites for baptism are explained.
Verses 38–67: Duties of the elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the Church of Christ are detailed.
Verses 68–71: Duties of baptized members are explained.
Verses 72–74: The mode of baptism is specified (that is, immersion) and the baptismal prayer is given (compare 3 Nephi 11:25).
Verses 75–79: The Church is commanded to “meet together often” to partake of the sacrament in the “remembrance of Jesus Christ.” The sacramental prayers on the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are specified (compare Moroni 4−6).53
Verse 80: The procedure for dealing with members in transgression is explained.
Verses 81–84: Finally, Church regulations governing membership lists and recommends are given.
Acceptance of the Articles and Covenants
An interesting episode directly connected with the acceptance of the Articles and Covenants occurred a short time after the Church was organized. The Prophet’s manuscript history preserves some of the details of the incident.54 Sometime in either July or August 1830, while Oliver Cowdery was living with the Whitmers at Fayette, he discovered what he thought was an error in the Articles and Covenants. Oliver became alarmed when he read “and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins.”55 Cowdery wrote an angry letter to Joseph, who was working his farm in Harmony, pointing out the alleged doctrinal mistake. It is possible that Oliver associated the requirement of “manifest by their works” as being too closely akin to the requirement that a believer must prove before the congregation that he or she has received God’s grace before being admitted into full fellowship,56 but the basis of his objection remains unstated and obscure. Oliver simply demanded “in the name of God” that Joseph make the deletion so that, as he warned, “no priestcraft be amongst us.”57
In a prompt reply to his assistant, Joseph Smith asked Oliver “by what authority he took upon him to command [the Prophet] to alter or erase, to add or diminish to or from a revelation or commandment from the Almighty God.”58 A short time later, Joseph visited Oliver and the Whitmer family, and, as the Prophet describes, “with great difficulty, and much labour” he reasoned with and convinced them that Oliver Cowdery’s “rash judgment” did not accord with the Spirit of God and that the challenged religious doctrine in the Articles and Covenants was “in accordance with the rest of the commandment.”59 The evidence indicates that after all they had been through—their shared revelatory experiences in the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood and the inspired translation of the Book of Mormon—Cowdery evidently viewed himself as Joseph Smith’s coequal—a position that was not his to claim.
When the Church met for the second quarterly conference on September 26, 1830, at Fayette, conference attendees appointed the Prophet to preside. The minutes show that the first item of business voted upon was the appointment of Joseph Smith as the one “to receive and write Revelations & Commandments for this Church,” and the “voice of the Conference” sanctioned the resolution.60 Oliver Cowdery was not the only prominent individual who had challenged the Prophet’s authority; Hiram Page had attempted to receive revelation “concerning the upbuilding of Zion [and] the order of the Church.”61 Acknowledging Joseph Smith as the only revelator for the Church clarified, for leaders and members alike, that he alone was charged with the prophetic governance of the Church.62
During the conference, Oliver Cowdery read the Articles and Covenants to the congregation, and the Prophet commented upon them.63 Evidently, by autumn 1830, Oliver had become reconciled to and sustained the Articles and Covenants as the procedural authority of the Church, as did all other members at that time.
The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ began to take shape shortly after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery first met in April 1829. The Lord commanded Oliver to “rely upon the things which are written” in shaping the forthcoming Church’s earliest policies and procedures (D&C 18:3). Cowdery’s Articles of the Church of Christ, prepared sometime in the second half of 1829, was a relatively short procedural statement that depended heavily on excerpts from the Book of Mormon and early revelations to the Prophet. Thus it can be concluded that even though Oliver’s Articles were written in the first person of Christ’s voice, it does not rise to the same stature of original and authoritative revelation. At some point between late March and early June 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith, assisted by Oliver Cowdery as scribe, wrote the revelation known as the Article and Covenants, which superceded Cowdery’s earlier Articles. In the more comprehensive and longer Articles and Covenants, the Lord gave to Joseph, Oliver, and the Church a constitutional and procedural guide to regulate Church affairs. Oliver’s 1829 document was simply a preliminary attempt to compile a governing document, but it lacked the organizational details needed to administer to the needs of the Church. The material in D&C section 20 was read in the first two conferences of the Church and was cited authoritatively in official Church documents, such as priesthood licenses and member recommends, from the earliest years of the Church.
Appendix: Oliver Cowdery’s 1829
“Articles of the Church of Christ”
In the early 1970s, while conducting research on the historical and textual development of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, Robert J. Woodford analyzed all extant manuscript copies of Joseph Smith’s revelations, most of which are in the LDS Church Archives.64 Woodford’s analysis of D&C section 20 includes the earliest verbatim transcription of Oliver Cowdery’s Articles of the Church of Christ.65 Woodford’s was the first public presentation of Cowdery’s 1829 document.
The only surviving copy of Cowdery’s Articles was written on a large sheet of paper folded in half, creating a four-page manuscript. Oliver wrote on the first three pages and left the fourth page blank.66 The document’s concluding notation, written by Oliver, indicates that this manuscript is a “true copy” of the Articles of the Church as they existed in 1829. This suggests that an earlier, original Articles manuscript must have once existed. From mid-1831 until the late 1950s, this three-page “true copy” was hidden away and unknown to anyone.
What is unique about Cowdery’s manuscript is that it was once part of the official Church records but was lost (probably stolen) from the Church in summer 1831. Almost 130 years later, in 1960, the Church unexpectedly received Cowdery’s Articles document as part of a larger donation of early church manuscripts. The unsolicited donation came from a non-Mormon descendant of an individual briefly noticed in the Ohio period of Latter-day Saint history. Many readers of early Mormon history will recall the name Symonds Ryder. He had joined the Church by June 1831, but his conversion was short-lived and he apostatized after only a few months. In addition, the official Church history identifies Symonds Ryder as the notorious ringleader of the Hiram, Ohio, mob that tarred and feathered Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in March 1832.67 Earlier, prior to his apostasy, Ryder was mentioned in a revelation (D&C 52:37) when the Lord called him to replace an unfaithful missionary. Unfortunately, in writing the revelation and letter of appointment, the Prophet’s scribe misspelled Symonds Ryder’s name by writing an i rather than a y. This innocent mistake allegedly gave Ryder reason to doubt Joseph Smith’s source of inspiration. Even though Ryder himself was not very consistent, his preferred spelling of the name is Symonds Ryder. Strangely, and with perhaps a touch of humorous irony, the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants still misspells Ryder’s first name.
There is a potential link, recently discovered, between Symonds Ryder’s apostasy and the disappearance of the manuscript of Oliver Cowdery’s Articles of the Church in 1831. Ryder was in Kirtland on June 6, 1831, when he was ordained an elder by Joseph Smith.68 Two weeks after Symonds’s ordination, the Prophet, accompanied by many of the leading brethren in Ohio, departed from Kirtland on their first visit to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri—the site of the prophesied city of the New Jerusalem and the land designated as Zion. Allegedly, with the Church leaders away, Symonds Ryder traveled north from his farm in Hiram, Ohio, up to the Church headquarters in Kirtland. Somehow, without being discovered, he accessed the Church records. Symonds apparently knew what he was looking for. He secured a certain group of manuscript revelations. The documents he took detailed, in one way or another, the organization, procedures, or laws of the Church. Included in these materials was Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles.69 Ironically, also among the manuscripts was a copy of the revelation in which Ryder’s name was misspelled. More than 125 years later, in 1958, Symonds Ryder’s descendants discovered these manuscript revelations tightly rolled up in a linen handkerchief inside the drawer of a dresser that had been in the Ryder family for many years. The family believes that Ryder himself hid these documents for unknown reasons and they remained untouched until being discovered in 1958. It was his great-great-granddaughter who unrolled the precious old documents and flattened them in books. Two years later, the Ryder family, assisted by a Latter-day Saint family living in the community of Ravenna, Ohio, forwarded these priceless historical revelation documents to the Church historian in Salt Lake City.70
The following is a verbatim transcription of the original manuscript now in the LDS Church Archives. Spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and paragraphing are reproduced as in the handwritten document. Angle brackets (as in <eat>) are used to show letters or words inserted in the text by Oliver Cowdery. Editorial additions are indicated with square brackets (as in [it]). Bracketed page numbers (as in [p. 1]) denote the end of a page in the original. Cowdery’s frequent use of the ampersand has been silently replaced with “and.” The entire document is in Oliver’s handwriting.
Transcription of the 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ
A commandment from God unto Oliver how he should build up his church71 and the manner thereof—
Saying Oliver listen to the voice of Christ your Lord and your God and your Redeemer and write the words which I shall command you concerning my Church my Gospel my Rock72 and my Salvation. Behold the world is ripening in iniquity and it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance both the Gentiles and also the House of Israel73 for behold I command all men every where to repent and I speak unto you even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called74 Now therefore whosoever repenteth and humbleth himself before me and desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them75 And after this manner did he command me that I should baptize them Behold ye shall go down and stand in the water and in my name shall ye baptize them And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying Having authority given me of Jesus Christ76 I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost Amen And then shall ye immerse them in the water and come forth again out of the water and after this manner shall ye baptize in my name For behold verily I say unto you that the Father and the Son
and the Holy Ghost are one and I am in the Father and the Father in me and
the Father and I are one.
And ye are also called to ordain Priests and Teachers according to the gifts and callings of God unto men77 and after this manner shall ye ordain them Ye shall pray unto the Father in my name and then shall ye lay your hands upon them and say In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a Priest or if he be a Teacher78 I ordain you to be a Teacher to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ by the endurance of faith on his name to the end Amen79 And this shall be the duty of the Priest He shall kneel down and the members of the Church shall kneel also which Church shall be called The Church of Christ and he shall pray to the Father in my name for the church and if it so be that it be built upon my Rock I will bless it And after that ye have prayed to the Father in my name ye shall preach the truth in soberness casting out none from among you80 but rather invite them to come And the Church shall oft partake of bread and wine81 and after this manner shall ye partake of it The Elder or Priest shall minister it and after this manner shall he do he shall kneel with the Church and pray to the Father in the name of Christ and then shall ye say O God the Eternal Father [p. 1] we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it that they may et <eat> in remembrance of the body of thy Son and witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son and always remember him and keep his commandments which he hath82 given them that they may always have his spirit to be with them Amen83 And then shall ye take the cup and say O God the Eternal Father we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it that they may do [it] in remembrance of the blood of thy Son which was shed for them that they may witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they do always remember him that they may have his spirit to be with them Amen84 And now behold I give unto you a commandment85 that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily when ye shall minister it for whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul Therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him nevertheless ye shall not cast him out from among you but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father in my name and if it so be that he repenteth and is baptized in my name then shall ye receive him and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood but if he repenteth not he shall not be numbered among my people that he may not destroy my people For behold I know my sheep and they are numbered nevertheless ye shall not cast him out of your Synagogues or your places of worship for unto such shall ye continue to minister for ye know not but what they will return and repent and come unto me with full purpose of heart and I shall heal <heal> them and ye shall be the means of bringing Salvation unto them Therefore keep these sayings which I have commanded you that ye come not under condemnation for wo unto him whom the Father condemneth—86
And the church shall meet together oft for prayer and sup[p]lication casting out none from your places of worship but rather invite them to come And each member shall speak and tell the church of their progress in the way to Eternal life
And there shall be no pride nor envying nor strifes nor malice nor idoletry nor witchcrafts nor whoredoms nor fornications nor covetiousness nor lying nor deceits nor no manner of iniquity87 and if any one is guilty of any or the least of these and doth not repent and show fruits mee<a>ts [meets] for repentance they shall not be numbered among my people that they may not destroy my people [p. 2]
And now I speak unto the Church Repent all ye ends of the Earth and come unto me and be baptized in my name88 which is Jesus Christ and endure to the end and ye shall be saved Behold Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father and there is none other name given whereby men can be saved Wherefore all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father for in that name shall they be called at the last at <day> Wherefore if they know not the name by which they are called they cannot have place in the Kingdom of my Father89 Behold ye must walk uprightly before me and sin not and if ye do walk uprightly before me and sin not90 my grace is sufficient for you that ye shall be lifted up at the last day91 Behold I am Jesus Christ the Son of the liveing God I am the same which came unto my own and my own received me not I am the light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not92 these words are not of men nor of man but of me93 Now remember the words of him who is the first and the last the light and the life of the world94 And I Jesus Christ your Lord and your God and your Redeemer by the power of my Spirit hath spoken it Amen95
And now if I have not authority to write these things judge ye behold ye shall know that I have authority when you and I shall be brought to stand before the judgment seat of Christ96 Now may the [manuscript torn] [grace] of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be and abide with you all97 and [manuscript torn] [finally] save you Eternally in his Kingdom through the Infinite atonement which is in Jesus Christ Amen—
Behold I am Oliver I am an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ Behold I have written the things which he hath commanded me for behold his word was unto me as a burning fire shut up in my bones and I was weary with forbearing and I could forbear no longer98 Amen—
Written in the year of our Lord and Saviour 1829—
A true Copy of the articles of the Church of Christ &c.99