Presiding Bishopric, V. The First Presiding Bishops.

The First Presiding Bishop, Newell K. Whitney

After the death of Joseph Smith in June 1844, it became clear that the Latter-day Saints would leave Illinois. The majority of Nauvoo Saints went west with the apostles, and they needed assistance in dealing with those who required food, transportation, and shelter. In the lay over region called Winter Quarters, near present day Omaha, Nebraska, the need was great enough in 1846 that small wards of roughly 500 persons were created with a bishop for each.[1] As Utah was established a similar pattern developed but the office became richer yet.

Church leaders finally appointed a Presiding Bishop in 1847, Newell K. Whitney. Whitney was one of the first bishops in the church, but this was a new assignment. As Presiding Bishop, Whitney served without counselors until his death in 1850. At the same time, Whitney presided over a corps of other bishops that developed over time: “traveling bishops,” who moved among various communities, stake bishops who operated within the boundaries of one stake, general bishops, who supervised various stakes, regional bishops, who moved among the Mormon communities, regulating the work of “located” bishops in those communities and collecting donations-in-kind for redistribution.

When Whitney died in 1850, Edward Hunter became his successor:[2]
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Presiding Bishopric, IV.

With the revelations of November 1 and 11, 1831 helping to define the role of the bishop,[1] you can see that the road was being paved for more bishops in the Church. As temporal ministers, it was only a matter of time before more were called as Church population increased (when Partridge was called there were about 150 members in Ohio). At first, two population centers developed: Zion (Missouri) and Kirtland (Ohio). Bishop Partridge was a leading voice in governance in Zion. At the end of 1831, another bishop, Newel Kimball Whitney, was called for the Kirtland area (by that time Ohio membership numbered about 1,500) and among other things to work in tandem with Partridge in the United Firm (UF — the Church “corporation” if you will). Partridge, Whitney and their counselors formed an important financial administrative body in the firm. Whitney was relatively well off and his business operations in Kirtland became the heart of the firm there.[2]
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Presiding Bishopric, III.

Doctrine and Covenants section 68 contains important material regarding bishops. It is also interesting its textual evolution. I’ll begin by considering a proto-version of verses 13 through 24 (as they appear in Revelation Book 1, Joseph Smith Papers Manuscript Revelations volume) and then I’ll look at the current text of the D&C. In the RB-1 text, observe that the blue text is omitted from the current edition. In verses 13-24 in the current imprint, the text in red is additional text added to the 1831 revelation—this additional text appeared first in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
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