I recently read two articles dealing with a “forerunner” to D&C 20 that I previously knew nothing about: Robert J Woodford’s “The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ and the Book of Mormon” and Scott Faulring’s article “An examination of the 1829 “Articles of the Church of Christ” in relation to section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants.”
In 1829, Oliver put together a document outlining some of the same basic procedures outlined in D&C 20. Like D&C 20, much of the language was taken directly from the Book of Mormon with little or no variation. It also made reference to some previous revelations, such as D&C 18.
Looking at these two articles on Oliver’s document gave me at least two different ways of thinking about it:
Woodford seemed to suggest that Joseph likely took up the document and just edited it for what we have as section 20. Faulring, on the other hand, suggests that (our current) D&C 20 was a new revelation, and that this frustrated Oliver. At one point Oliver wrote to Joseph and was angry at something Joseph had included in this new revelation. Joseph had to censor Oliver and Faulring suggests this may be part of what led to the clarification that only Joseph had authority to receive revelations for the church. We tend to think of Hiram Page when we read section 28, but it begins with these words to Oliver:
Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given.
But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
…But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom
Woodford and Faulring suggest that during the time between their ordination to the priesthood and the organization of the church, Joseph and Oliver were both focused on building up the church and the correct ways of doing so. In D&C 18, it appears that Oliver had been given some responsibility, or at least felt some strong concern, that the church know how to proceed in its growth. The Lord commands Oliver:
And if you know that they [the things which you have written] are true, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written;
For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.
Wherefore, if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.
[Note: Our D&C 18 is actually the updated version of the revelation and the original did read a bit differently. But the idea remains from the original that Oliver should “rely upon the things which are written.”]
At the end of Oliver’s Articles, he writes “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 & I was weary with forbearing & I could forbear no longer.” Woodford and Faulring suggest that Oliver took D&C 18 as a command to rely on the the scriptures and write up a document for the church.
Here is an outline of the document Oliver produced.
The title of Oliver’s document was “Articles of the Church of Christ.”
1st paragraph: quotes parts of D&C 18:4, 6, 9, and 17, including the wickedness of the world and the call to repent.
2nd paragraph: baptism prayers, method, doctrine from 3 Nephi 11
3rd paragraph: ordination of priests and teachers from Moroni 3
4th paragraph: duty of the priest- ???
5th paragraph: sacrament prayer for bread from Moroni 4
6th paragraph: sacrament prayer for wine from Moroni 5
7th paragraph: direction that unworthy shouldn’t partake of sacrament but should not be cast out from 3 Nephi 18. (Note that Oliver even copies over the word “Synagogue.”)
8th paragraph: meet together oft,
… more to come