Seven Tips from Historians for Studying the Doctrine and Covenants

Scripture study

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The Doctrine and Covenants — this year’s focal point for “Come, Follow Me” curriculum for members of the Church around the world — is a compilation of revelations given to prophets in answers to prayers as they worked to establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and do the Lord’s work.

Historians Matt McBride, director of the Church History Department’s Publications Division, Lisa Olsen Tait, with an expertise on Latter-day Saint women’s history, and Matthew Godfrey, managing editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, shared seven ways and resources that can help those studying the Doctrine and Covenants:

Doctrine and Covenants
  1. Real People in Real Situations: McBride suggested: “Do what you can to understand the setting and circumstances in which each section was given or produced.” The headings can help provide some of the context quickly. (See Episode 14: Sunday School general presidency on Doctrine and Covenants and seeking revelation)

  2. Looking for the Savior in the Scriptures: Godfrey explained that the Doctrine and Covenants testifies of the Savior and the Atonement, “There’s these passages in the Doctrine and Covenants where we will learn a lot about the mercy of the Lord, about the Savior’s Atonement and what it took for Him to do the things that He did and what it means for us … to help us get through the trials we face.”

Jesus Christ

For example, Section 76 provides a description of the Savior, Section 19 focuses on the Atonement, Section 122 offers comfort, and Section 45 explains the Savior as the Advocate.

  1. Building Zion: Godfrey explained, “You see in the Doctrine and Covenants many revelations from Joseph Smith that talk about how do we build the city of Zion? And what is it supposed to look like? And how can we be unified?” These revelations help us understand how to build Zion communities.

  2. Connections to Scriptures: One of the ways Tait studies the scriptures is to look for connections between the books of scripture, saying, “It helps us to be aware of this idea that the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants are really connected. And that the Lord brings together all the dispensations.”

  3. Fulfilling Revelations: Godfrey explains, “These revelations had some very specific applicability to the people living at the time.”

For example, when the Saints were being driven out of Missouri, they were instructed to “purchase all the lands with money … which I have appointed to be the land of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:70-73). This revelation prompted the branch leaders in Lewis, New York to donate as much money as they could and take this money to Missouri to help purchase the land. A 21-year-old Caroline Tippet donated $250 of the $850 the branch raised to send to Church leaders. She accompanied her brother Harrison Tippet and her cousin John to deliver the money. When they stopped by Kirtland, Ohio, all three of them were asked to loan some of the money to Joseph Smith. Joseph wrote in his journal that he and Oliver Cowdery knelt down and thanked the Lord for this financial relief.

Such experiences invite us to consider how are we going to fulfill God’s commandments today.

  1. Receiving Revelation: Many of the revelations came in a way similar to how people can receive answers to prayers. Godfrey pointed to a description by William E. McLellin that Joseph “spiritually sees, hears and feels and then speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost … That’s something that has helped me understand a little bit better that the Lord works with our prophets and apostles the same way that He works with us.”

Couple Prayer
  1. What We Know and What We Don’t Know”: McBride explained, “We really have to be humble about our knowledge of the past because it comes with so many limitations. And I also try to be humble about what I think I know.”

Resources to Studying Church History

The historians pointed to several resources to help understand challenging aspects of the Church’s history. In addition to the “Come, Follow Me” manuals, McBride, Godfrey and Tait suggested considering several additional resources:

Church History
  • Revelations in Context”: Contains information about the people, places and context of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants (Found in Gospel Library, then Restoration and Church History, and under Doctrine and Covenants Study; also available in print).

  • Church History Topics: Similar in format to the Gospel Topics, with an alphabetical list of terms and definitions. (Found in the Gospel Library under Restoration and Church History).

  • Doctrine and Covenants Historical Resources”: Organized along the dates of the “Come, Follow Me” lesson, this draws from the Joseph Smith Papers, “Saints,” “Revelations in Context” and others Church history resources for specific sections. (Found in Gospel Library, Restoration and Church History, Doctrine and Covenants Study).

  • Church magazines: In addition to articles and resources throughout the year, here are some monthly features. (Found in Gospel Library, then Magazines).

  • The Friend: Church History Cards with a person and a brief biographical sketch.

  • For the Strength of Youth: People from Church history with an illustration and facts about him or her.

  • Liahona: Early Women of the Restoration highlights a woman from Church history.

Other resources — including videos, the Church’s history in many different countries and women’s history — are also available on the website and in the Gospel Library app under Restoration and Church History.

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