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- D&C 19 is "a commandment of God and not of man to Martin Harris" (Manuscript History of the Church, Vol. A-1, p. 61)
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- Received: March 1830 at Manchester-Palmyra, New York
- Prior section in chronological order: D&C 17
- Next section in chronological order: D&C 21
The Book of Mormon translation was completed, and the angel Moroni appeared to the Three Witnesses, including Martin Harris, in late June or early July 1829. Joseph Smith afterward spent most of his time at home in Harmony, Pennsylvania while Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith oversaw the printing at Palmyra, New York.
About nine months later the Book of Mormon became available for purchase at Palmyra on Friday, March 26, 1830, and the Church was organized eleven days after that at Fayette, New York on Tuesday, April 6, 1830.
In late March 1830, shortly before these last two two events, Joseph Knight Sr. took Joseph Smith by wagon from his home at Harmony to his parents' house at Manchester-Palmyra. Upon arriving at Palmyra they found Martin Harris crossing the street with several copies of the Book of Mormon. Martin had previously pledged his farm as security for the cost of printing, and he was therefore worried about losing his farm if the books did not sell. Martin told Joseph Smith three or four times that he must have another revelation or "commandment." Joseph put him off each time and told him to "fulfill what you have got." That night Joseph Smith, Joseph Knight Sr. and Martin Harris all slept at the Smith home.
The next morning Martin again insisted that he must have a commandment and then returned to his own home at Palmyra. That afternoon Joseph Smith received D&C 19, and Oliver Cowdery wrote it down.
For a brief overview of D&C 19 in historical relation to the rest of the Doctrine & Covenants, see Historical Overview of the Restoration Scriptures. For lengthier discussions of the historical setting, see Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants, chapter 4 or Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 5.
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- D&C 19:6.' It is not clear what is going on in this verse. From reading this section we might come up with the following reading (called "first reading" hereafter). Other places in the scriptures say that those who don't repent (see verse 4), or in other words those found on his left hand in the day of judgment (see verse 5), will receive endless torment. And readers may have presumed that this meant that there would be no end to their torment. However, the Lord explains here that "endless" is another name for himself. Thus what reads "endless torment" can be understood as "God's punishment"--which may have an end. This section (following this same reading) explains that if one fails to repent one can suffer as Christ suffered but still inherit a kingdom of glory after.
- Of course, this first reading, goes beyond the text in explaining how someone who suffers as God suffers can inherit a kingdom of glory after "paying" for their sins. But, not without some cause. For the text's stress that "endless torment" does not mean there will be no end to the torment, seems to only have a point if in fact there can be an end to this torment. And in our concept of 3 degrees of glory and outer darkness, the only place left is in one of the degrees of glory.
- This first reading though is not without its problems.
- First, it seems minor, but it is strange that after explaining how "endless" is a name for God, the phrase "endless torment" is replaced with "God's punishment." See further discussion of this point here.
- More importantly this view doesn't fit all scriptures that mention endless torment. Consider those cases where "endless torment" is mentioned in the scriptures (2 Ne 9:19-26, 2 Ne 28:23, Jacob 6:10, Mosiah 3:25, Mosiah 28:3, Moro 8:21). We can categorize these in three sets: (a) those which fit well within the interpetation given in the first reading, (b) those which the first interpretation of D&C 19:6 is irrelevant, and (c) those which seem to contradict the first reading.
- (b) For 2 Ne 9:19-26, 2 Ne 28:23, Jacob 6:10 the first interpretation makes little difference. In these verses endless torment is not used to describe the torment received by someone but rather a place some will go as punishment. Since these verses don't tell us that someone who goes there cannot return, the place can be a place forever of torment without any particular person ever having to stay there forever.
- (c) Mosiah 3:25 is at odds with the first reading. In the previous verse King Benjamin tells the people that at the judgment day people will be judged according to their works, either good or evil. Then in verse 25, King Benjamin says that those who are judged evil will "shrink ... into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return." The difficulty here is that substituting "endless torment" for God's punishment is insufficient to suggest (as needed for the first reading) that this punishment can end because we still have the clause "from whence they can no more return."
- We must also consider D&C 76:44, given two years after this revelation. Though it doesn't specifically use the phrase "endless torment," it does use the phrase "endless punishment" and identifies that with torment. The D&C 76 revelation is prompted by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon meditating on the meaning of John 5:29. John 5:29 says that those who have done good are resurrected "unto the resurrection of life" while those who have done evil are resurrected "unto the resurrection of damnation." It seems the question in their mind was something like "what is a resurrection of damnation" or maybe "who will receive this resurrection of damnation." If we look at verse 44 as an answer to those question we get: All except the sons of perdition receive the resurrection of life and only the sons of perdition receive the resurrection of damnation.
- But if we take this section to be telling us that at least some who receive "endless punishment" can have an end to their punishment and we assume that D&C 76:44 tells us that the sons of perdition cannot have an end to their punishment and then we are left with the odd idea that those discussed in this section as not repenting are those who are resurrected to a resurrection of life. This is odd because John is suggests that in the good from evil division John makes those who do evil and do not repent fall in the good bucket.
- Another possibility is that the sons of perdition do not receive a punishment with no end. That is what this verse (verse 6) is saying. Though this seems to contradict D&C 76:44, a closer reading reveals that D&C 76:44 never explicitly says that there will be no end to their punishment only that the place of punishment has no end--just like the verses discussed in the paragraph above labeled (b).
- Another possibility is that the resurrection of damnation is not a resurrection only the sons of perdition receive, but rather, all who do not repent. It is a resurrection of damnation because, as is explained in this section, those who receive it will have to suffer as Christ suffered. This is explained in this section. What D&C 76 teaches us is that in the group of those who receive a resurrection of damnation the sons of perdition hold a special place because they are not saved after their sufferings.
- Another possibility is that the sons of perdition do receive a torment that has no end and that King Benjamin was referring to the sons of perdition when he says that says that they cannot return from their torment.
- Another possibility is that King Benjamin was wrong when saying that those whose works are judged evil will suffer a torment that has no end. In verse 8 of this section Christ tells us that he is going to explain a mystery known by his apostles. The mystery is that endless torment doesn't mean no end to torment. King Benjamin did not know this mystery. Given what he did know, it was reasonable for him to say that there would not be an end to people's torment whose works had been judged evil. But in light of the knowledge we have from this section, we know that this was wrong.
- [Note these are not mutually exclusive possibilities. This needs further work to clarify the relationship between these possibilities].
Outline and page map
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- Section 19 can be outlined as follows:
- A. Teachings about the atonement and punishment for sin (1-20)
- all men must suffer for their sins on the day of judgment if they do not repent (3-5)
- the length of punishment for sin is not endless, but is instead the punishment meted out by an endless God (6-12)
- the Lord commands Martin Harris, in order to avoid that punishment, to repent and obey the commandments received through Joseph Smith (13-15, 20)
- the intensity of punishment is that same exquisite pain suffered by Christ during his atonement, the smallest portion of which Martin Harris tasted at the time the Lord withdrew his Spirit (15-20)
- B. Instruction to Martin Harris regarding conduct (21-41)
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- D&C 19:8: Even as mine apostles. What apostles does this verse refer to? Is this referring to a particular mystery that the apostles knew about, or is this referring more to a general kind of knowing mysteries—for example, understanding the parables Jesus taught (cf. Matt 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10)?
- D&C 19:11-15: What does this passage teach about the Savior’s suffering for us?
- D&C 19:11-15: Why was Jesus willing to experience such great suffering for us?
- D&C 19:21: What do "these things" refer to?
- D&C 19:28: Is there a difference between praying before the world and praying in public? Or praying in secret and praying in private?
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- The oldest surviving partial copy of D&C 19 (verses 20-41) is the one copied by John Whitmer into Revelation Book 1, p. 27-28, presumably during the summer of 1830. The oldest complete surviving copy of D&C 19 is ______.
- D&C 19 was first published in the 1833 Book of Commandments, the earliest edition of what we now call the Doctrine & Covenants.
- The text of D&C 19 in significant editions of the Doctrine & Covenants can be found at:
Related passages that interpret or shed light on D&C 19.
- D&C 18 and D&C 19 can be read as a pair in which D&C 18 to two of the Three Witnesses emphasizes the joy available through mercy, while D&C 19 to the other Witness emphasizes the dread of justice. In addition, D&C 18:10-18 provides the clearest statement of why missionaries preach, and D&C 18:21-22, 41-45 provides the most detailed instruction so far regarding what they are to preach: repentance, baptism and endurance to the end. D&C 19:21-22, 30-31 likewise instructs Martin Harris, the other of the Three Witnesses, to preach only faith, repentance, and baptism by water and the Holy Ghost, to not preach new doctrines, and to not contend.
Doctrinal references cited on this page.
Historical references cited on this page.
- D&C 19:16-20: Keith R. Edwards, "That They Might Know Thee," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 99–101. Elder Edwards said: "The great and exquisite suffering of the Savior was for us, to keep us from having to suffer as He suffered. However, suffering is a part of life, and few will escape its grasp. Since it is something that each of us has gone through, is going through, or will go through, there is scriptural suggestion that we can learn spiritual lessons if we can approach suffering, sorrow, or grief with a focus on Christ."
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