Like the New Testament and other books of scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants is made up of several types of documents, including dictated revelations, epistles, visions, minutes, a dedicatory prayer, and even a translation.1 The most common component of the volume is dictated revelations—that is, documents in the voice of the Lord dictated by the Prophet Joseph Smith and others and recorded by scribes.2
One of Joseph Smith’s associates, Parley P. Pratt, witnessed the dictation process and left an account of what he saw. “Each sentence,” he wrote, “was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand.”
A remarkable aspect of this dictation was its fluency. “There was never any hesitation, reviewing or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject,” Parley explained, “neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings or corrections. As he dictated them so they stood, so far as I have witnessed; and I was present to witness the dictation of several communications of several pages each.”3
Over time, the revelations did undergo revision—sometimes quite substantial—primarily for three reasons. One was that scribes made errors in their recording and transcription. A second reason was to prepare the revelations for publication. The third was to update, supplement, or refine the texts as additional light and knowledge came “line upon line and precept upon precept.”4
1. Epistles, or extracts of epistles, include sections 85, 121, 122, 123, 127, and 128 of The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981). Sections 2, 76, 110, 137, and 138 are examples of recorded visions. Section 102 is the original minutes of the Kirtland High Council. Section 109 is the dedicatory prayer for the temple in Kirtland, Ohio. Section 7 is a translation.
2. Doctrine and Covenants 1 through 134 and 137 come from the Joseph Smith period. Section 135 is a tribute to the martyred Prophet and his brother Hyrum. Section 136 was received by Joseph’s successor, Brigham Young, and section 138 is the record of a vision of sixth Church president Joseph F. Smith.
3. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1985), 48.
4. 2 Nephi 28:30; see also Isaiah 28:10, 13; Doctrine and Covenants 92:12; 128:21. For an understanding of these processes, see 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); Robin Scott Jensen, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Riley M. Lorimer, eds., Published Revelations, vol. 2 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, 2011).