The Book of Commandments: A Rare Volume

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(This is an excerpt from the book How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants by Richard E. Turley Jr. and William W. Slaughter.)

Because the [Book of Commandments] was never finished, surviving copies end in the middle of one of the revelations.13 Wilford Woodruff had access to a complete copy of the partially printed revelation and added some blank pages to his Book of Commandments when he bound it. On those blank pages, he transcribed the rest of the revelation so that his Book of Commandments had a complete version of it. He then copied in another revelation, the Word of Wisdom, making his copy more complete than others.14

Over the years, some have wondered what other revelations might have been included in the Book of Commandments if the printing project had gone forward to completion. Certainly the remaining verses of the partially printed revelation would have been included. The printers had also marked up nine other revelations for typesetting, and these probably would have been part of the book.15

Three additional revelations had not yet been marked up but came from the same time period as the other revelations and seem likely candidates for inclusion.16 Finally, just as testimonies of witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates had been included in that printed book of scripture, a testimony of witnesses to the Book of Commandments had been prepared and almost assuredly would have been printed at the end of the volume.17

Because only a small number of copies of the Book of Commandments survived, they hardly satisfied the growing need among members of the Church for access to Joseph Smith’s revelations. Those fortunate enough to obtain a copy of the Book of Commandments, of course, could read the revelations and share them with friends. But others could not. To go from a projected ten thousand copies, to a more practical three thousand, and finally to just a few dozen must have been a disappointment to many.

_________________________

13. A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized According to Law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Zion [Independence], MO: W. W. Phelps & Co., 1833), 160, ends at verse 47 in chapter 65, which is Doctrine and Covenants (1981) 64:36.

14. Wilford Woodruff’s copy of the Book of Commandments is in the collections of the Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

15. See Jensen, Turley, and Lorimer, Published Revelations, 174. In today’s Doctrine and Covenants (1981), those nine revelations are sections 66–71, 75, 133, and part of 107.

16. See Jensen, Turley, and Lorimer, Published Revelations, 174–75.

17. See Jensen, Turley, and Lorimer, Published Revelations, 175; Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper, eds., Manuscript Revelation Books, facsimile edition, first volume of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), 214–15.

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