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Relationship to Doctrine & Covenants. The relationship of Section 1 to the Doctrine & Covenants as a whole is discussed at Doctrine & Covenants: Unities.
Audience. D&C 1 is addressed to "ye people of my church" and to "all men" as the Lord's Preface to the Book of his Commandments published to the "inhabitants of the earth" (D&C 1:-2, 6, 11, 34)
Story. D&C 1 is the preface or introduction to the Doctrine & Covenants. D&C 1 consists of five major sections. It opens and closes with statements that the Lord’s word is unstoppable; it will go forth and it will be fulfilled, whether spoken by himself or his servants. In between these two statements, the Lord gives three lists: (1) reasons why the Lord's anger is kindled against the world, (2) reasons why the Lord's servants are to preach these commandments to the world, and (3) reasons why these commandments have been given to his servants.
- Verses 1:1-10: The Lord’s word will go forth and be fulfilled
- Verses 1:11-16: The Lord's anger is kindled against the world and wicked will be cut off
- Verses 1:17-23: The Lord's servants are to preach these commandments to the world
- Verses 1:24-33: The Lord gave these commandments to his servants
- Verses 1:34-39: The Lord’s word will be fulfilled
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in D&C 1 include:
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- Received: November 1, 1831 at Hiram, Ohio
- First section in chronological order: D&C 2
- Prior section in chronological order: D&C 65
- Next section in chronological order: D&C 67
The immediate setting of D&C 1 was a conference at Hiram, Ohio attended by ten elders including Joseph Smith. The conference was held on November 1-2, 1831, a year and a half after the organization of the Church. The purpose of the conference was to make plans for publishing Joseph Smith’s revelations for the first time. The conference determined to print several thousand copies of the revelations in book form under the name Book of Commandments. D&C 1 was received on the first day of this conference.
William McLellin later recalled that:
- A committee had been appointed to draft a preface [to the Book of Commandments], consisting of himself [William McLellin], [Oliver] Cowdery and [probably] Sidney Rigdon, but when they made their report the conference picked it all to pieces. The conference then requested Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it, and he said that he would if the people would bow in prayer with him. This they did, and Joseph prayed. When they arose, Joseph dictated by the Spirit the Preface found in the book of Doctrine & Covenants [D&C 1] while sitting by a window of the room in which the conference was sitting, and Sidney Rigdon wrote it down.
In Revelation Book 1 the following explanation introduces D&C 1:
- A Preface or instructions upon the Book of Commandments which were given of the Lord unto his Church through him who he appointed to this work by the voice of his Saints through the prayer of faith.
From this background we learn that D&C 1 is the Preface or Introduction to the Doctrine & Covenants, the book of the Lord’s commandments to the inhabitants of the earth. It is thus intended to orient the reader to the content and purpose of the entire Doctrine & Covenants.
For a brief overview of D&C 1 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 9 or Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 10.
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- D&C 1:2: The penetrating voice of the Lord. The mention here of the eye, the ear, and the heart is clearly reminiscent of Isa 6:9-10. The question here is, not the prophetic mission of Isaiah, but the "voice of the Lord" Himself. However, if one considers the implications of Isaiah's prophetic call (see the commentary for Isaiah 6 at Isa 6:1ff), there is little apparent difference between the message in this passage and the message there: the "voice of the Lord" in Isaiah 6 is a voice of silence that only becomes spoken when taken into the mouth of the prophet (cf. 2 Ne 32:3, etc.), and something similar seems to be at work here in this revealed preface to the Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps most significant in the phrasing of this issue as it appears in this verse is the concluding "be penetrated." Whereas "see" and "hear" match up perfectly with Isaiah's wording, "penetrate" is unique here. At the same time, however, it beautifully expresses the same spirit that permeates Isaiah: the violence of "penetrate" matches the (necessary) violence of the message, and the saturation implied in Isaiah's babbling manner of delivering the message is powerfully embodied in "penetrate." In short, the voice comes to all just to penetrate, to find its way to the penetralis, the inner shrine or the Holy of Holies.
- D&C 1:2: None shall escape. Curiously doubling this is the phrase in the first half of the verse: "there is none to escape." Rather than the more common "there is none that shall not hear," etc., the Lord phrases this concept in terms of escape. Those who hear the voice are without means of escaping, without means of getting out of the hold of this "voice of the Lord." Doubling the penetration, which works its way to the inner recesses of one's person, is a hold (a "cape") out ("es" or "ex") of which none can get, an outward seizure accomplished by the freezing voice of the Lord. It might be well to parallel this hold to the "eye" and "ear" of the second part of the verse: this voice will take hold on the eye and on the ear, will take up a hold that cannot be undone by those thereby held. The voice will come in such complete saturation that those hearing and those seeing will be frozen and held.
- Escape seems an interesting word choice here also because it is almost always used in scriptures to describe how the righteous will escape judgment in contrast to the wicked who will not. For example, a righteous remnant is described as escaping the judgment that will befall the wicked majority of Israel (e.g. Isa 37:31-32; 45:20; Jer 44:28; Ezek 6:8-9; see also [[Rom 2:3 for specific mention of escaping judgment and D&C 97:22, 25 for the question-answer form "vengeance cometh speedily upon the ungodly . . . and who shall escape it? . . . Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsover I have commanded her." Thus, the choice of the word escape here which includes the righteous and the wicked, read in light of the more conventional use of the term escape, seems to highlight—by way of analogy with the judgment of the wicked—the violent nature of the heart being penetrated. That is, the conspicuous lack of qualification here for the righteous suggests the violent effect the word of God has on everyone's heart. This seems to echo other scriptural phrase that use violent/dramatic terms for the repentance process, e.g. abase, submit, subject, etc. The lack of qualification for the righteous here also brings the story of Jonah to mind which stands out amongst scriptural texts in that the messenger who tries to escape cannot.
- D&C 1:16: Idolatry. Idolatry seems only to be mentioned one other time in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 52:39), although it is a prominent theme of earlier prophets (see the Bible Dictionary and Topical Guide entries). One reason the otherwise infrequent reference to idolatry may be given here is that in the subsequent verses Joseph's call as a prophet is given and explained. Idolatry then serves as a rhetorical device linking Joseph's prophetic calling to the common theme of idolatry spoken against by many former prophets. Related themes, such as worldliness, riches, vanity, pride, etc. are discussed at length in the Doctrine and Covenants, but in terms other than idolatry per se, thus making the occurrence here notable.
- D&C 1:18. This verse introduces a most curious moment of divine logic, a moment in which the Lord Himself provides reasons for doing His work. Though other moments in scripture present the Lord offering reasons for a particular action, this might be the only occasion in all of scripture where the Lord simply lays out all the reasons He has for getting a plan of salvation under way, for sending messengers to bring further light and knowledge. The list of reasons is surprisingly long (several verses, at any rate), and all of these reasons present vital points of understanding. Each might be considered in turn.
- The first of the Lord's reasons for putting together in the first place a plan of salvation is offered in this first verse, but the anticipatory sense that characterizes the first reason complicates it from the beginning. The first reason, quite clearly, is that "all this" is done so "that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets." The point seems quite clear: the prophets are to be fulfilled, and all of this is to that fulfillment. The Lord gets the work of salvation underway precisely so that the prophets are not ashamed, so that their word is confirmed by historical completion. But then there seems to be some difficulty here, because the next verse goes on as if it were quoted quite specifically the word of the prophets. It must be pointed out--even if a little early here--that verse 19 does not quote any known prophecy. It is closest, perhaps, to 1 Cor 1:27, but there is still something of an important gap between the phrasing of verse 19 and that saying by Paul. All in all, though the prophets are here cited, there does not seem to be any particular saying the Lord has in mind: one is to read verse 19 (and the verses that follow it) as a sort of summary of the prophetic message over all. A first--and a major--consequence: the great majority of the weight of the "reasons" the Lord offers to justify His saving activity in the last days is to be felt in this first mention of things, since the following verses are collectively a sort of explanation of the ancient prophet message. Hence, detailed attention must first be paid to this initiating verse 18.
- The difficulty, however, of working out the meaning of verse 18 from the start is that the following verses, precisely because they summarize the prophetic work of so many millennia, seem to be the undergirding of why the Lord would desire to confirm the prophets at all. For present purposes, the work must begin, unfortunately, somewhat blindly.
- The question to be asked, then, is this: is the whole plan of salvation, as issued through the Prophet Joseph and according to this "last dispensation," entirely motivated by a desire to confirm the ancient prophets? Or perhaps the question to ask is this: if the Lord feels to undertake a justification of sorts, is He here justifying Himself or the prophets? In the end, however the question is asked, the thrust of the difficulty here is bound up with the intertwined roles of the prophet and his God. One must interpret the relation between God and His messengers from the very beginning. The question is perhaps all the more important in the first part of the twenty-first century, because of the radical reinterpretation of the prophetic role that is underway in biblical criticism. If the prophet has been decided now to be a rather political figure, one attuned to contemporary events and one, hence, without the extra-temporal visions that allow his/her words to transcend her/his age, why on earth or in heaven would the Lord feel to justify words one might quite simply bury in the historical melieux of the past? A necessary answer emerges precisely here: the prophets are being misunderstood if they are completely swallowed up in their own history.
- What verse 18, especially as it opens the following few verses, accomplishes is this: God is stripped, as it were, of His absoluteness. One must be careful in stating the point, but it seems quite clear. God is, according to the relativization at work in verse 18, not one to offer absolute reasons for things. The opening of a last dispensation is not simply to bring about "new things," unknown before, but also to hark back to the "former things," to bring the former things out in the new things, just as "Second Isaiah" works out and reinterprets "First Isaiah." In short, if Joseph is a prophet, he cannot--absolutely must not--be separated from the former prophets: the message is the same, and the sender of the messengers is the same. If only a few verses after this, the Lord will quite explicitly introduce the necessity of recognizing the historical context into which the modern prophetic activity falls, He quite explicitly introduces here the necessity of recognizing also that these same prophets transcend their historical context because they are fulfilling ancient prophecies. And with that, the Lord can turn to specifications in the next few verses.
- D&C 1:18-24: A chiasm. As soon as one turns to the passage in which the Lord lays out His very broad interpretation of what has been prophesied all along, one notices that there is a specific structure at work in these verses:
- And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world;
- and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets--
- The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones...
- But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
- That faith also might increase in the earth;
- That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
- That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple... before kings and rulers.
- Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness,
- after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
- The chiastic structure highlights the fact that this is the Lord's voice in this revelation, but it also accomplishes a couple of interesting poetic things: verse 21 is set at the center of things, and the whole passage is wrapped about with the Lord's clear statement of purpose. Moreover, the everlasting covenant is set parallel to every man's speaking in the name of God the Lord, which is certainly suggestive. Also, the doubling of the word "commandments" seems to highlight the nature of what the Doctrine and Covenants (perhaps more strictly, the Book of Commandments) is all about. At any rate, the structure opens the possibility of considering the passage as a whole.
- D&C 1:30: Only true and living church. Although it may be possible to read this as meaning "the only true church" and "the only living church," this reading seems strained because of the fact that the word church is only used once. Instead, a more natural way of reading this phrase seems to be that the church is being described as the only one which is both true and living.
Outline and page map
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A. Lord’s word will go forth and be fulfilled (1-10)
- • Lord's voice will go to all, there is none that shall not hear (1-2)
- • the rebellious will be sorrowful for iniquities will become public (3)
- • Lord's servants are his voice, so none shall stay them (4-6a)
- • this same authority applies to Book of Commandments, so all shall be fulfilled (6b-7)
- • Lord's servants have been given power to seal up the wicked unto Second Coming (8-10)
- B. Lord's anger is kindled against the world and wicked will be cut off (11-16)
- • Lord warns those who will hear to prepare because his anger is kindled against the world (11-13)
- • those who will not hear the Lord's voice will be cut off because they: (14)
- • have strayed from his ordinances;
- • have broken his covenant; and
- • seek after idols that will perish when Babylon falls (15-16)
- B. Lord's servants to preach these commandments to the world (17-23)
- • Lord commands his servants to proclaim these things to the world (17-18a)
- • so the weak might break down the strong so that: (18b-19)
- • every man might speak in name of Lord rather than counseled by neighbor;
- • faith might increase rather than trusting in the arm of flesh; and
- • Lord's covenant might be established (19-22)
- B. Lord gave these commandments to his servants (24-33)
- • Lord gave these commandments to his servants (24)
- • so they might come to understanding so that:
- • his servants might be instructed, corrected, chastened, and strengthened;
- • Joseph Smith might translate the Book of Mormon; and
- • his servants might have power to lay the foundation of the Church (25-30)
- • but light will be taken from those who repent not (31-33)
A. Lord’s word will be fulfilled (34-39)
- • Lord speaks to entire earth and is willing that all should know these things (34-35a)
- • the hour is nigh that peace taken from earth and Lord will return in judgment (35b-36)
- • search these commandments, for all shall be fulfilled (37)
- • whether by Lord's own voice or servants, it is the same (38)
- • the Holy Ghost bears record of these truths (39)
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- D&C 1 was written down by Sidney Rigdon as it was received during a conference on November 1, 1831. The oldest surviving copy is the one copied by John Whitmer into Revelation Book 1, p. 125-27 soon after its receipt.
- D&C 1 was first published and first received widespread circulation in the March 1833 issue (p. 78) of The Evening and the Morning Star newspaper printed by William Phelps in Jackson County, Missouri.
- D&C 1 was first included in the Doctrine & Covenants as Chapter 1 in the 1833 Book of Commandments, which was also printed by William Phelps during 1833.
- The text of D&C 1 in significant editions of the Doctrine & Covenants can be found at:
Related passages that interpret or shed light on D&C 1.
- D&C 1 was immediately followed by D&C 67 and D&C 68. These three sections comprise a group that were all received during the first conference called to consider publishing Joseph Smith's revelations. These sections address the content and truthfulness of the revelations contained in the Doctrine & Covenants. In contrast, D&C 69 and D&C 70, which were received at another conference later that month, address the mechanics of getting the revelations published.
- D&C 1 was followed two days later by D&C 133. These two sections are the bookends of the Doctrine & Covenants. D&C 1 appears at the beginning as a Preface, while D&C 133 was placed at the end as an Appendix. Both sections quote many of the same Bible passages.
Doctrinal references cited on this page.
Historical references cited on this page.
- The Evening and the Morning Star, original series. Independence, Missouri: W.W. Phelps & Co., 1832-1833.</ref>
- Kelly, William H. Interview with William McLellin, 13 September 1881. In "Letter from Elder W.H. Kelly." In The Saints’ Herald (1 March 1882) Vol. 29 / No. 5, p.66-68. Plano, Illinois, Lamoni, Iowa and Independence, Missouri: Reorganized Church of Latter-day Saints (now Community of Christ), 1860-present.
- v 30: Only true and living church. See Edje's blog post: Only (adj) in Modern Scripture, Part 1 of ?.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.
- Revelation Book 1, p.125
- Minute Book 2 (1 Nov 1831), p.15-16
- Kelly, Interview with William McLellin.
- Revelation Book 1, p.125
- "Revelations." In The Evening and the Morning Star, original series (March 1833) Vol. 1 / No. 10, p. 78.