I wanted to have some of my favorite parts of Joe’s post on D&C 25 easy for myself to find and quote. So this is just copied over from the post (no commentary of my own). It makes me want to read all of the notes from the first RS meeting! (at josephsmithpapers.org)
Newell and Avery, it seems to me, note the important point in the snippet I quoted from them just above: every conclusion drawn that “Emma had complained of not seeing the record” is ultimately a “speculation.” The Lord doesn’t say to Emma that she had murmured and so done wrong, that she has murmuring to repent of. Rather, the Lord simply tells her not to murmur. All that is implied here, strictly speaking, is that Emma faced a real—and, frankly, obvious—temptation. She would unquestionably have been tempted to murmur. But the crucial question is: Tempted to murmur because of what? Because, as the Lord puts it, ofher marginalized status: “Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen.” Emma has, despite her unfailing support for Joseph, been left out of things, and the Lord explicitly recognizes the fact. It’s crucial to see that it’s in direct response to this recognition on the Lord’s part—to this recognition of Emma’s marginal or marginalized status—that certain appointments and responsibilities are given to her. This revelation thus serves as a kind of call to Emma to move out of the margins, assuming responsibilities that have hitherto been entirely the work of men, as I’ll explain below.
Verse 4 is thus, I want to suggest, indeed the key to understanding the revelation. But it isn’t the key in the sense traditionally assumed. It doesn’t give us to see that Emma was a “proud, fearful, murmuring woman.” It gives us rather to see that she faced a real—and perhaps unavoidable—temptation to wallow in self-pity, to sulk on the margins, if not to use her marginalization as an excuse not to have to take up any serious responsibilities. The Lord cautioned her against such self-congratulatory murmuring, inviting her instead to move out of the margins and into the beating heart of the Church, appointing her to a remarkable position in the young movement.
D&C 25:5-12 details three responsibilities given to Emma in order to bring her out of the margins of early Mormonism. I want to give this series of appointments a very strong reading, one that I think is entirely borne out by the texts themselves. I’ll argue, in effect, that Emma was—originally, at least—asked to take the place of Oliver Cowdery in the budding movement. To make this case, it’s necessary to provide a bit of background about the role Oliver played in the Restoration more generally.
But coming back to 1830: Who assumed Oliver’s central position when the Lord moved him from the center to the margins? According to D&C 25, it was to be Emma! This is clearly the implication of verse 6 in the original (1830) version: “And thou shalt go with him [Joseph] at the time of his going [to the churches in Fayette, Manchester, and Colesville], and be unto him for a scribe, that I may send Oliver whithersoever I will.” Emma was to be Joseph’s new scribe, as well as to take over the other responsibilities Oliver had had, according to verses 7-8: “And thou shalt be ordained under his [Joseph’s] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit. . . . And thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much.” All of these things had been Oliver’s work. It seems clear that Emma was being brought in from the margins not just to assume a token position, but the most central position next to Joseph.
From this sad history, it would seem that Emma’s revelation ultimately failed to have the effect the Lord desired. Rather than bringing her out of the margins and into the heart of the Church, it gave her a somewhat complex position in an edited, canonical revelation, little more.
But this sad history would be, it seems, radically reversed—at least in important respects—in Nauvoo. On March 17, 1842, the Relief Society would be organized, and D&C 25 would serve as its founding document. From the minutes of that organizing event: “President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.” But was this anything like the assumption of a position like that once held by Oliver? I think so. It is clear, at any rate, from the minutes of the earliest meetings of the Relief Society that Joseph intended that organization to be the female counterpart to the male priesthood, and that Emma was its president as Joseph was the president of the male parallel—and it seems clear that the Relief Society was in part meant to prepare women to officiate in the completed Nauvoo temple. Joseph thus said that he wanted Emma and her counselors to “preside just as the [First] Presidency, preside over the church,” only bothering with him “if they need his instruction.” He even went so far as to say that “the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood” in order “to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day.”