D&C 107. Part 3. (Background continued some more)

We continue our discussion of the November 11, 1831 revelation (see part 1 and part 2) with the second portion, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery.

This part divides naturally into two segments, properly corresponding to what were probably two separate revelations. The first segment below ends with the first “Amen.” This “Amen” terminates judicial discussion and begins a discussion of internal priesthood structure. So, if we include the base text of D&C 69, three revelations possibly occurred on Nov. 11.

thus shall he be a judge even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion until the borders are enlarged, & it becomes necessary to have other Bishops or judges. & inasmuch as there are other Bishops appointed, they shall act in the same office. & again, verily I say unto you, the most important business of the church, & the most difficult cases of the church, inasmuch as there is not sufficient satisfaction upon the decsision of the judge, it shall be shall be handed over, & carried up unto the court of the church before the president of the high Priesthood & the president of the Court of the high priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve to assist as counsellors, & thus the president of the high priesthood, & his councellors, shall have power to decide upon testimony, according to the laws of the church; & after this desision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest court of the church of God & a final desision upon controverses, all persons belonging to the church are not exempt from this court of the church & inasmuch as the president of the high priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common court of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve councellors of the high Priesthood, & their desicision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him. thus none shall be exempt from the justice of the Laws of God, that all things may be done in order, & in solemnity before me, to truth & righteousness. Amen. A few more words in addition to the Laws of the church. And again, verily I say unto you, the duty of the president over the office of a Deacon, is to preside over twelve Deacons, to set in council with them, & to teach them their duty, edifying one another as it is given according to the covenants. And also the duty of the president over the office of the Teachers, is to preside over twenty four of the Teachers, & to set in council with them, & to teach them the duties of their office as given in the covenants. Also the duty of the president over the priesthood is to preside over forty eight priests, & to set in council with them, & to teach them the duties of their office, as given in the covenants. And again the duty of the president over the office of the Elders, is to preside over ninety six Elders, & to set in council with them, & to teach them according to the covenants. And again the duty of the president of the office of the High Priesthood, is to preside over the whole church, & to be like unto Moses. behold here is wisdom: yea, to be a Seer, a revelator, a translator, & prophet, having all the gifts of God, which he bestoweth upon the head of the chuch: Wherefore now let every man learn his duly duty, & to act in the office in which he is appointed., in all diligence. he that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand. & he that learneth not his duty & sheweth himself not approved, shall not be counted worth to stand; even so: Amen.

The establishment of church “courts” finds its beginning here. There is a court of common pleas (headed by the common judge) in line with the common law courts of antebellum America and particularly in Ohio. The word “common” takes its meaning from a standard name for lower state courts of the period which heard civil and minor criminal cases (and that in turn from the English counterpart (OED: common pleas)).

The bishop is assigned this role of judge in the lower court. There may be a “jury” attached to a case in certain instances, but we will leave that for the moment. The courts of common pleas typically handled civil disputes and the bishop’s court would do the same. Cases where a church member had a complaint against another member could be handled by the common court. The name implies that lesser infractions would be the province of the bishop and that any church member had access to this court for redress of complaint.

Following the set up of the lower court system, the revelation continues with the establishment of a superior court structure. The superior court is attached to the president of the high priesthood and this court functions as both an appeals court (indeed, the court of final appeal) as well as one of original jurisdiction in complex or serious cases. This court may not function without what is essentially an ad hoc twelve man jury, made up of high priests, who don’t have any permanent status beyond a given court session it seems. Again, this superior (supreme) court handles difficult cases of church discipline, disputes between church members or such cases on appeal.[1]

As a final provision, the president of the high priesthood may be tried, obviously not by the superior court system, but by the “common council.” This is an augmented common court (i.e., the bishop) with a twelve man jury (again they are to be high priests). The bishop [2] together with his jury would pass judgement on the president of the high priesthood. One glaring lack in the provision exists. If the president of the high priesthood is disciplined, perhaps removed or even cut off (excommunicated), then how is he to be replaced? It would be some time before this would be addressed. Late in the Kirtland period (1837), the president of the high priesthood would go before the common court but by then there was some provision for succession.[3] But that discussion lies in the future. As the revelation says, “none shall be exempt from the justice of the Laws of God,” a phrase which defines the jurisdiction of these courts as applying to church matters, or at least involving church members.

The judicial provisions end what was probably a separate revelation consisting of the text given in part 2 of this post down through the trial provisions for the president of the high priesthood.

The establishment of the president of the high priesthood changed some provisions in revelations given earlier in the month. For example a revelation given November 1 outlined provisions for selecting new bishops, who were to be high priests. They were to be selected by a “conference of high priests.” The text of that revelation would evolve considerably by the time of its publication in the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) due mainly to the establishment of the president of the high priesthood. But that is for another time.

The last portion of the revelation sets out group organization for existing priesthood offices, deacon, teacher, priest, high priest. There is no provision for “presidencies” in the revelation. Each office gets a president. The sizes of these groups, (“quorum” would not be used for some time), seem small (12 for the deacons) but this was not a real issue at the time, most men when ordained at all, were ordained elders up to the June 1831 conference. Church conferences where records exist in this period would document mostly small numbers. The October 25, 1831 conference at Orange, Ohio had 12 high priests, 17 elders, 4 priests, 3 teachers and 4 deacons. The idea of having multiple quorums of deacons, teachers, priests and elders is left open, but naturally suggested by the numerical restrictions.

The high priests have no numerical restriction and the concept of quorum was vague, but implicit in the establishment of the president.[4]

One interesting bit in the revelation clarifies the way the early church used titles. The phrase “Also the duty of the president over the priesthood is to preside over forty eight priests” signals that the word “priesthood” was used in exactly the same way that “high priesthood” was: priesthood referred to the office of priest. Remember, there was no concept of Aaronic and Melchizedek divisions at this point.[5] When John the Baptist said “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron” this would have meant that they were thereby made “priests.” Priesthood would gradually be understood differently after 1835 and the original usage essentially lost by the 20th century. But in revelations prior to that, phrases like “lesser priesthood” (for example D&C 84:30) referred to the office of priest. Reading the revelations without that in mind causes ad hoc explanations to exist. As we noted before, “high priesthood” always refers to high priest, in the revelations.[6]

In the next installment, we briefly recount evolutionary developments between the November 11 revelation and the 1835 version of D&C 107. Bonjour.

[Part 4 is here.]

[1] Naturally one sees the beginnings of the high council system here, which would be formalized in February 1834. High Council of course, is a title originating in civil government just as “common council.” Both are judicial in origin. Church government issues prior to formal high councils were handled by the ad hoc high priesthood councils.

[2] The role of the bishop’s counselors is not completely clear from the text. In ordinary cases they seem to act as lawyers, presenting the aspects of the case. Their role would evolve with further regulation such as the later development formalized in 1877 Utah that counselors to the bishop must be high priests.

[3] Church judicial formalities with regard to the president of the high priesthood would be modified in August 1835 and January 1838.

[4] Joseph Smith would of course become president of the high priesthood, but not until the following year. The establishment of a presidency would wait for several months following that.

[5] The idea that the bishop would be president of the priest’s quorum was a later development. At this point, a priest was to be assigned as president of the priest quorum. When the present information was incorporated in D&C 107 in 1835, an “error” remained. See if you can find it. I’ll bring it up in a later post.

[6] Unfortunately, the section headings of the current edition of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants perpetuate misunderstanding on these points. (See for example the heading of D&C 84.)

7 Responses to D&C 107. Part 3. (Background continued some more)

  1. Dustin says:

    I’m really enjoying this series. An excellent follow-up to the posts on John Pack. Thanks!

    • WVS says:

      Thank you, Dustin. Joseph F. Smith’s point of view which he expressed to John Pack was clearly directed by the version of the Nov. 11 revelation which appears in D&C 107.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    I think you should consider pulling this all together for publication.

  3. Pingback: D&C 107. Part 4. KRB Text. « Boap.org's Blog

  4. Pingback: D&C 107. Part 6. Interregnum. « Boap.org's Blog

  5. Pingback: D&C 107. Part 12. Epilogue. Further Light and Knowledge. « Boap.org's Blog

  6. Pingback: D&C 10. Part 1. External Characteristics. « Boap.org's Blog

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