Studying the Doctrine and Covenants

I would imagine that I know less about the Doctrine and Covenants than your average seminary student.

Since I am teaching Gospel Doctrine, now seems like an ideal time to remedy this situation. (Who was it who said, “The thought that one is to be hanged in a fortnight concentrates the mind wonderfully?”) So, I cobbled together a little study program so I can put together semi-respectable lessons. (BTW, one critical component of my plan–Jim’s notes–has yet to materialize and it is Friday. Jim, help!) At any rate, I’ve been in awe of the resources that are available, and how much fun it is to use them, so I wanted to share:

(1) Looking up footnotes no longer requires shuffling pages. Using the scriptures at, you can click on the first footnote in the verse in order to get a new page that shows the verse and all of the footnotes on that verse–not just the references to other texts, but the entire text. See here for an example.

(2) Wanna hear BYU Religion professors in a semi-informal discussion of the text? Click here. Some of the discussion is banal, but there are enough gems to make it worth the time. An added benefit is that each episode has a list of relevant Ensign articles included.

(3) Perhaps this is a subject for another post, but where is the venue for scholarly study of the D & C? (FARMS didn’t have anything that I could find. I guess we have to wait until the D & C is ‘ancient’ for that to happen . . .) What little I could find is available online through the Harold B. Lee Library in BYU Studies (and a few articles in The Religious Educator, including an excellent one relevant to this week’s lesson by Richard Bushman about language and revelation.)

Let me know if I have missed any good online resources for studying the D & C. Are any of the print commentaries worth buying?

Also, there seems to be two different strains of thought on the best way to study the D & C. This from President Joseph Fielding Smith, as quoted in the intro to the Institute manual:

“I heard a brother say he could not read the Doctrine and Covenants because it was so much like a dictionary. It is not a consecutive story—it changes the subject, and so on—well of course it does. Many years ago when I was a president in a quorum of seventies—and in those days we did not have any supervision so far as our study was concerned—it was decided by that quorum of seventies that they would study the Doctrine and Covenants, and I was appointed to be the class teacher. We took it up section by section. You are not going to get all there is out of it in any other way. You may take it up if you want to by topics, or doctrines, that is good; but you are not going to understand the Doctrine and Covenants, you are not going to get out of it all there is in it unless you take it up section by section; and then when you do that, you will have to study it with its setting as you get it in the history of the Church.� (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:199.)

This, of course, is different from the topical approach taken by the Sunday School curriculum. Would anyone who has spent some time studying the D & C like to weigh in on the relative merits of the two approaches?

(I should also mention that the recently revised Seminary Student Study Guide is a surprisingly good basic resource.)

10 comments for “Studying the Doctrine and Covenants

  1. Julie —
    “Church History in the Fullness of Times”, which was prepared by the Church Educational System, and published by the church, is a great source for me in studying LDS church history, though it is not a doctrinal commentary per se. It is for the Religion 341-343 series — and maybe you have encountered it already as an institute teacher.

    I used it to help me as a Gospel Doctrine teacher a few years ago. I like the topical approach, or taking one section and rounding out the particular topic(s) by going to other sections.

  2. I like Lyndon Cook’s The Revelations of the Prophet JS. It gives terrific background to each Section.

    Some people like to use the History of the Church, which contains most, if not all, of the sections in its text, in their historical context and setting.

    John Welch has a book that reorganizes the D&C according to themes. I haven’t used it, but that might be an interesting resource.

  3. I’d second Cook’s book as a great resource. (Although I confess I don’t have it in my library)

    The problem with the History of the Church is that it is so unreliable. Further it has a lot of padding. It’s an valuable resource, but I’m of the opinion that frequently it is more of a hindrance than a help.

  4. Julie,

    I think Stephen Robinson and Dean Garret’s four volume commentary is pretty good (the fourth volume isn’t out yet, but should be soon). It gives good historical information–a must for many sections. Robinson’s views are interesting and helpful. There are many commentaries around, but I’ve liked this one best. I know the others well enough to say that they often simply present the same sort of things and the same qoutes by certain brethren. Robinson and Garret’s do better. (I’ll also be eager to see Jim’s questions that get posted on T&S.)

    I’ve taught the D&C at the university for a few years now. It’s a great book to teach, but it does have the difficulty of not really having a narrative unity. This can present a challenge in how to present it in class. And, of course, some sections seem to be richer and have more to say to us than others.

  5. I ditto Keith’s recommendation of Robinson’s and Garrett’s volumes–much better than most LDS commentaries. My prayer is that perhaps this year’s study will convince the members of my class to read some Church history other than that in the Work and the Glory volumes.

    Julie, it probably won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me, but I very much favor the chronological or serial over the topical approach. If I am preparing for a talk or something like that, then I will think about the scriptures in topical terms, but I don’t think I understand them if I don’t understand them as they have come to be given to us, in other words, in the order we have them. Approaches that are merely topical, that harmonize the Gospels, etc. drive me crazy.

  6. I agree with Jim on this one. I was disappointed to open the D&C class study guide and see that we’re approaching the material topically (again). There is so much good stuff in Church history that the majority of Latter-day Saints are unaquainted with. Studying it in context with the unfolding of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times is remarkably enlightening.

    And don’t get me started on “Our History”, the required “other reading.” Calling it a “primer” would be a compliment.

    (Gripe session concluded.)

  7. I too was just called to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher in a new ward. I have appreciated some of the lessons on the Internet (particularly Ted Gibbons’ insightful approach), and other resources mentioned here, but I really wish there were a forum somewhere where I could discuss my thoughts and concerns about the upcoming week’s lesson with others who are preparing to teach that same lesson. Does anyone know of such a forum, blog, or bulletin board?

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