D&C 20, 21, 27
The concept that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the "only true and living Church" on earth with which God is "well pleased" (D&C 1:30)) was discussed in Lesson 1.
Since Elder B.H. Roberts gave his opinion on this verse about a century ago, many members have understood it to mean that Jesus was born on April 6, AD 1. However, early Church members, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young never seemed to read this revelation in this manner. A problem arises when one considers archaeology and history. According to the Bible, King Herod the Great sought to kill the infant Jesus, and slaughtered all children from 2 years and under in Bethlehem. Archaeology shows that Herod died in 4 BC, so either the Bible is wrong on this story of Herod, or Jesus was likely born around 6 BC.
With the new Joseph Smith Papers Project, we now see that D&C 20: was not intended to be part of the revelation initially, but was an introduction to the section provided by John Whitmer, the scribe. Somewhere along the line of publishing, it was included as part of the revelation. The question then becomes, does an introduction approved by the LDS membership as doctrine equate to a revelation establishing the date of Jesus' birth? Thanks to the JSPP and the Church's new 2013 online scripture updates, we will be able to understand the revelations we have even better, and perhaps reduce the amount of speculation on just what the scriptures say.
So, when was Jesus born? Around 6 BC, and we do not know exactly which day, although April 6 may be as good a day as any.
The focus is on the basic organization of the Church. The new heading for D&C 20 notes that portions of the revelation were received as early as 1829. It establishes a foundation for the Church's organization, describing key ordinances, such as baptism, the laws/rules of obedience for the Church, and important concepts for the functioning and organization of the priesthood.
We should not be surprised that many of the revelations in D&C were gathered over a period of time, occasionally changed, etc. The concept is that the Church is "living". It is ever growing, changing and adapting, as new revelation are given. For example, at the Church's beginning, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were established as the First and Second Elders of the Church and as apostles (D&C 20:2-3). The concepts of "a seer, translator and a prophet" (D&C 21:1), or the current "prophet, seer and revelator" or even the title "apostle" (D&C 20:38, D&C 21:1) had not been fully formalized as it would be in just a few years. However, by 1835, the LDS Church had grown sufficiently to require major changes in priesthood structure. The First Presidency, and Quorums of 12 and 70 were officially organized, although their final functions were still in the future. In 1835, the Quorum of Twelve was initially a traveling council, equal to the stake high councils. Only later in Nauvoo would the Twelve become the predominant council it is today.
D&C 27 The Sacrament
Here, Joseph went to find wine for a Sacrament service. Along the way, he was stopped and told that wine was not necessary, but water could be used instead. Here we see that the Lord is a pragmatic God. If something isn't available, the Lord will often make allowances.
In the early days of Nauvoo, the saints were allowed to do baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River. The Word of Wisdom was initially given as guidance, and not a commandment. When Joseph lost the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, the Lord had him translate Nephi's record instead.
What we find in all of these instances is that God will work with us, according to our need and diligence. Can't use the wine? Then use water. No temple baptismal font? Use the river until you can finish the temple.
Elder Ezra Taft Benson was sent by the Church to oversee the relief effort in Europe after World War II. He noted later:
"The Saints in Europe taught me a new appreciation for the priesthood of God. I heard them bear testimony of their gratitude for the priesthood in their homes. Many families who had been isolated from other representatives of the priesthood during the bombing and during sickness told of their gratitude that they had in their homes the authority and the power to lay their hands upon members of their families, and under the inspiration of heaven invoke God's healing power upon them.
My brethren and sisters, this is a priceless blessing. I heard them speak of their gratitude that in their homes while isolated from the rest of the members of the mission, they were able to administer the sacred emblems. Yes even at times when they did not have bread, they used potatoes or potato peelings as the emblem but had the sacrament administered to members of their own household." (Ezra Taft Benson, "The Aftermath of War")
The Lord is pragmatic, and will work with his children. If they can't use wine, there is water. If bread is not available, potato peelings are acceptable as an alternative in time of need.