Revelation, Text, and Revision: Insight from the Book of Commandments and Revelations

Special Feature
Journal: 48:3

This article is one of several in this issue about the Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR), a foundational document of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article explores how the textual revisions preserved in the BCR shed important light on the process by which Joseph Smith received, recorded, and published his revelations. It has long been recognized that revelations published in the 1833 Book of Commandments were revised for publication in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Less well known is that those texts were also edited prior to publication in the Book of Commandments or The Evening and the Morning Star. What has been entirely unknown, however, until the BCR became available, is the extent of those earliest revisions. Literally hundreds of redactions, usually involving only a word or two but sometimes comprising an entire phrase, were inscribed in the BCR between 1831 and 1833. A corollary contribution of the BCR, therefore, is the possibility of seeing the wording behind the revisions. For dozens of revelation texts, this provides the earliest wording now extant. While we cannot be certain that the unrevised wording of the revelation texts in the BCR, or any other prepublication manuscript for that matter, corresponds exactly to the texts of the revelations as Joseph Smith originally dictated them, they appear to be very close.