Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Revelations in Context: The Unveiling

Revelations in Context: The Unveiling

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 01, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 46 contains some of my favorite verses, quoted often in talks and lessons: “To every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.” Then follows a list of spiritual gifts and their purposes. How many of us have looked over that list, thinking about our own gifts?

But look at how that revelation opens: It seems to be talking about meetings (v. 2), public meetings (v. 3), and specifically sacrament meetings (v. 4). And before we get to the list of gifts the spirit, the Lord warns us against being “seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men” (v. 7). The section seems to be a potpourri of unrelated ideas.

No wonder the Doctrine and Covenants can be hard to read! There is no overall narrative, and even within sections there seems to be little organization. What are you supposed to do as a Gospel Doctrine teacher? No wonder we pick out verses here and there and do proof-texting! How else can we teach from this scripture? What a muddle!


Most of us understand that the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants were given over time, often in response to questions asked and problems needing resolution. In some cases we probably have some understanding of the questions that prompted Joseph Smith or others to seek the Lord’s guidance. But it’s beyond the knowledge and experience of most of us – me included – to know the background of each of the revelations.

Today – I mean right now – just as this post is published – a new resource for understanding the Doctrine and Covenants is going online. “Revelations in Context,” a series of articles addressing the background of each section of the Doctrine and Covenants, is being published by the Church here: Revelations in Context.

Written by historians – real live actual working professional historians who are also faithful members of the Church – drawing on the formidable resources of the Joseph Smith Papers project – illustrated by photographs from the Church History Library – linked to images of the original (or earliest extant) written revelations – footnoted to suit even the giddiest lover of footnotes – Revelations in Context explains what was going on at the time and and in the place when a revelation was given.

These essays identify the people involved, and tell of religious and civil history, about social customs, and the state of science and technology, and the geography related to the revelations, and whatever else is helpful to our understanding. They are long enough to be thorough, yet brief enough to be practical. The writing is authoritative yet accessible to all.

And, wonder of wonders, they are, or very shortly will be, linked to the Gospel Doctrine lesson manuals online, so that teachers and class members alike can be easily directed to these resources we have so long wished for.


What do I find when I am puzzling over Section 46 and the seemingly disconnected subjects covered there?

I turn to the article Religious Enthusiasm among Early Ohio Converts, which addresses the related sections 46 and 50. I read about Levi Hancock, the man who took certain questions to Joseph Smith. This immediately personalizes the history by making it in part the story of a person. I see his photograph and read his words. This section is about the length of a blog post – a bite-sized piece of history.

There is a section on the Second Great Awakening – something I know a little about, but I’m glad to have my memory jogged. I read about how that religious revival affected worship and behavior in the part of the world where new Saints were coming together, why that behavior was of concern to Levi Hancock, why he and others took their questions to Joseph Smith, and how Section 46 fits into the story – and now I understand the fascinating lithographed scene that appears at the top of that essay, which helps to bring the whole story to life.

Suddenly I realize that meetings, and warnings against being seduced by evil spirits, and the long list of gifts of the true Spirit are not scattered, unrelated topics. They are intimately connected, and the connection has a history and an engaging story. The doctrinal assurance that I have a gift now also has a history, a reality. I am one with the early Saints, and the Lord is speaking to me through the pages of this scripture.

With links embedded in the essay, I can jump to images of the handwritten revelations. Because those images are on the Joseph Smith Papers site, I have the benefit of their highly accurate transcriptions, with links to explanatory notes and all else that is rapidly enriching that site.

Since this is a favorite section of mine, my study might expand to take advantage of the footnotes (some of which are linked to online copies of the sources). Even if I don’t pursue that additional study, a glance at the footnotes tells me the level of research that lies behind this Revelations in Context essay.


The essays for the next several months’ Gospel Doctrine lessons are posted, and I understand the remaining essays are in progress and will be posted well in advance of their appearance in the Sunday School year.

If you’re still reading this – if you haven’t raced off to explore Revelations in Context already – please join me in appreciation for those who have produced this wonderful resource – and acknowledge how far we have come as a Church in the past few years in understanding, trusting, and disseminating our history for the benefit of all the Saints.



  1. Wow. An official Church article exploring Oliver Cowdery’s divining rod. Wow.

    Comment by David T — February 1, 2013 @ 9:28 am

  2. David T, “Please join me in appreciation for those who have produced this wonderful resource – and acknowledge how far we have come as a Church in the past few years in understanding, trusting, and disseminating our history for the benefit of all the Saints.”

    Wow! indeed.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2013 @ 9:31 am

  3. Awesome. Thanks for being on top of this, Ardis!

    Comment by Christopher — February 1, 2013 @ 9:31 am

  4. Totally worth it. Awesome.

    Comment by brandt — February 1, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  5. But I have work to do /whine/. Oh, well. Not today.

    Comment by Carol — February 1, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  6. This is awesome. Wow in every regards.

    Comment by David T — February 1, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  7. Thanks for this great introduction, and congrats to everyone who was involved in the project!

    Comment by Ben P — February 1, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  8. Thanks! I’m off!

    Comment by Adam G. — February 1, 2013 @ 9:57 am

  9. The Curriculum Department is adding links in the online manuals today — might take a week or whatever to actually show up publicly, but those links are coming soonest, not sometime down the road.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2013 @ 10:00 am

  10. Thanks Ardis. This is wonderful!

    Comment by Mark B. — February 1, 2013 @ 10:02 am

  11. I ask this in sincerity – are the Church History volumes, I think edited by BH Roberts, worth reading anymore? I’ve referred to them on a number of occasions to understand historical things going on in and around some revelations. I don’t know if this new resource takes the place of or adds to the work reflected in those volumes.

    Comment by IDIAT — February 1, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  12. Woohoo!

    Comment by Paul — February 1, 2013 @ 10:16 am

  13. Congrats to all involved. This is splendid.

    IDIAT, they are valuable for what they are, but they aren’t the best way to approach our history.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 1, 2013 @ 10:17 am

  14. Wow. The tease was worth it.

    Comment by Ray — February 1, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  15. Fantastic.

    Comment by Wm — February 1, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  16. Looks great. However, I did check for one thing, but it wasn’t there:
    That D&C 20:1 is not part of the original revelation, but was a heading written by John Whitmer. It is a big issue the Church needs to discuss, because the current D&C Institute Manual still quotes Elder McConkie stating that Jesus was born on April 6, 1AD, as an interpretation of D&C 20:1 that BH Roberts gave almost a century after the revelation was given.
    I think such issues that affect LDS belief, esp regarding doctrinal teachings, need to be made more apparent for the Saints. Hopefully they’ll do this.

    Comment by Rameumptom — February 1, 2013 @ 10:35 am

  17. Trusting the history and the membership, indeed. Huzzah! Gospel Doctrine just got TONS more interesting and TONS easier to teach!

    Comment by Bonnie — February 1, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  18. Mayhaps I’m a dunderhead, but is there any way to search by section instead of by essay?

    Comment by Adam G. — February 1, 2013 @ 10:56 am

  19. I just checked the D&C Institute Manual regarding D&C 20. I don’t see any reference to Elder McConkie, or to 1 A.D. There are statements from Pres. Lee and Pres. Kimball, both of whom refer to the Lord’s having been born on April 1.

    But that’s the student’s manual. Is there a different, truer version for teachers?

    With all due respect to BH Roberts, and to Presidents Lee Kimball, I don’t think the date of the birth of Jesus is a matter of salvation. Besides, I don’t think they had “April” in Palestine 2000 years ago.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 1, 2013 @ 10:57 am

  20. Adam, I don’t see any way other than visually scanning the section numbers printed under the article title (which doesn’t help, of course, with those listed under “older articles”). If someone else finds a way, I hope they’ll spell it out.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  21. I am stunned about the mention of the divining rod. I can’t wait to look and see what else the church has been honest about. Truly a great day for those who care about the future of the church.

    Comment by anonlds — February 1, 2013 @ 11:14 am

  22. Thanks, Ardis. What a fantastic resource.

    Comment by Christopher Rich — February 1, 2013 @ 11:26 am

  23. Whoa, thinking back at teenage me many of my persnickety, questions and off topics and asides could have had an answer, or at least context to provide understanding, at least for the Doctrine & Covenants. This is a boon! I’ll have a hard time working it into my nursery lessons. Wink.

    Comment by Dovie — February 1, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  24. Wonderful! Someone was asking me the other day if there were any resources like this, so there’s definitely a demand for the information.

    Comment by Amy T — February 1, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  25. Busy working, and missed this! What a great development! I’m blowing off work for an hour to go look now. Thanks, Ardis, for the shout out, and and thanks to all the Church history staff who made this possible.

    Comment by kevinf — February 1, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

  26. Mark B,
    a few years ago, I was subbing in a D&C Institute class. When we got to the lesson on D&C 20, I quickly brought up that we do not know for certain that it occurred in 1 AD, given science and history show Christ was likely born ca 4BC. One student raised his hand and quoted from the manual (and I think it was Elder McConkie he quoted). It took the discussion on a wrong turn, as my point was that it really doesn’t matter when Christ was born, just that he WAS born. Now, with the JSPP, there’s greater evidence to suggest the April 1, 1 AD may be mistaken.

    Comment by Rameumptom — February 1, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

  27. This just makes me giddy! Thanks for the great summary!

    Comment by Kathryn Skaggs — February 1, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

  28. Fantastic! (Thanks for cross-posting on FB)

    @21: I can’t wait to see the historical context for Section 132…

    I wonder if they’ll elucidate about HOW “historical records [show] that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.”

    Comment by The Other Clark — February 1, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  29. Perhaps anonlds (#21) will also be stunned one day to discover that what he blames on others’ dishonesty is susceptible to much less damning explanations. Or perhaps he’ll be stunned to discover that the Lord meant what He said in Matthew 7:2.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 1, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  30. This is great news and I can’t wait to start digesting these essays. Thanks for the heads up.

    Comment by Maurine — February 1, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

  31. Rameumpton

    All I know is what’s in the current online student manual:

    I searched that chapter for McConkie and didn’t come up with any comment on the date of Christ’s birth.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 1, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

  32. Somebody showed me that “sprout” from D&C 7 when it was published in the JSPP. I had not idea what to make of it. This is very useful.

    Comment by John Harrison — February 1, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

  33. Good news. This is going to take some getting used to — church materials as a viable source of accurate historical information.

    Good job JSP folks!

    Comment by Clair Barrus — February 1, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

  34. This really is great. Thanks for pointing to it, Ardis.

    I really liked that article about Oliver and the context of D&C 5-9. Loved the blurb about the divining rod. Stated so matter-of-factly, how could anyone have ever thought that would damage people’s faith? We are now where we should have been decades ago with regard to acknowledgment, reference to, and use of our own historical context in gaining understanding about Latter-day truth and revelation.

    Undoubtedly there is still really far to go. But this is a great step in the right direction.

    Comment by john f. — February 1, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

  35. I plan on making copies of the article on Oliver Cowdrey and his use of the rod and handing them out in Gospel Doctrine this Sunday when we do the lesson on personal revlation.

    I could of handed out the same material from other sources and I would be criticized for bringing in material that “is not in the mannual”.

    Now I can bring the material in and I am covered. I will let the readers of the blog know how things went in the class.

    Comment by john willis — February 1, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

  36. Mark B, I checked my copy of the manual also, and it only mentions Pres Lee and Kimball. Perhaps Elder McConkie mentions it in MD, which I no longer have a copy of. Still, the concept is in the D&C manual and hopefully an updated manual will correct that, and perhaps this new site can help shed light on the matter, too.

    Comment by Rameumptom — February 1, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

  37. So this is what you have been up to. Very cool.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — February 1, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

  38. bravo bravo!

    Comment by Laurenkri — February 1, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

  39. In the past, some Church historians and leaders sought to make an inspirational and faithful portrayal of the Church, often by not discussing many of the details, and sometimes by whitewashing the history.

    That said, we are not the only ones who have done this.

    That the Church has been bringing everything out now, means we can look forward, rather than backward. We will see how messy history is, and LDS history often has been, and we will be amazed at how Joseph Smith and others could accomplish so much with such messy things going on at the same time. I’m excited that Ardis is involved in this project (or at least it seems she is, which is a good thing).

    Comment by Rameumptom — February 2, 2013 @ 7:15 am

  40. To clarify: This isn’t my project. I’ve been aware it was in progress, and have been enthusiastic about it, but the project I’m helping the Church with is something else entirely.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2013 @ 9:48 am

  41. Thanks, Ardis! Now I’ve just got to follow your link and take a look!

    Comment by Sam Brunson — February 2, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

  42. This is great info about the sections covered at

    But at risk of sounding like a dufus, let me ask where can I find info about other D&C sections?

    Related to that question, do you know where the linkage between the Gospel Doctrine Manual and these essays will be?

    Comment by Don — February 3, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  43. Don, the essays are still being written and will appear on the Revelations in Context page over the next few months as fast as they are ready. As far as I know, all sections will be addressed (but that’s only my assumption, so understand that I may be wrong. It’s possible that they will address only those sections used in the current Sunday School Gospel Doctrine lessons, since they were intended chiefly as an aid to Sunday School teachers and class members).

    Although they haven’t appeared yet (they should start showing up any day now), the links will be embedded in the online version of the Gospel Doctrine manual posted at, here. You’ll see that there is a column on the right side of the page that has links to other media (pictures, sound and video). I expect that the links to Revelations in Context will appear somewhere in that right-hand column (although again, that is only my assumption; we’ll both have to watch for their appearance).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

  44. Ardis, thanks for the explanation. I appreciate your help in disseminating this valuable info. I may actually start attending SS again if we can get some substance back into SS lessons.

    Comment by Don — February 3, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

  45. Links to Revelations in Context have begun showing up in the online Sunday School manual. See this page, for example (in the righthand column, below the listen-print-download links).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 8, 2013 @ 7:01 am

  46. Good news!

    Comment by Amy T — February 8, 2013 @ 7:22 am

  47. Two new articles posted to this series as well as an index by section…

    Comment by Matt M — February 13, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

  48. Matt, where on the page is the index? It may be there but I’m not seeing it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 13, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

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