Come Follow Me: D&C 20-22
Ever since Elders B.H. Roberts and James Talmage gave their 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.
First, 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 more likely born around 6
Next, 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 header 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 Church membership as doctrine equate to a revelation establishing the date of Jesus' birth? Thanks to the JSPP and the Church's recent 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 revelations are received. 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 "pAnd we know that through the of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;
31 And we know also, that through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who and serve God with all their , minds, and strength.
rophet, 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 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 leading council it is today.
Man and God
We learn of Man's relationship with God:
"And that heman, male and female, after his own and in his own likeness, created he them;
"And gave unto them commandments that they shouldand him, the only and true , and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.
"But by theof these holy laws man became and , and became man." (D&C 20:18-20)
We began as holy children of God, but because of sin, we fell. The scripture continues to explain that the only way to return back into God's grace and presence is through Jesus Christ. We cannot save ourselves. We are in a fallen and depraved state here in this telestial world, and there is no way we can lift ourselves out of it.
Only through repentance and coming unto Christ can we regain holiness and be lifted out of the evil state we are in. In falling, we fell out of God's grace and spiritual family. Through Christ, we regain membership in the family of God.
Justification and Sanctification
"And we know thatthrough the of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;
"And we know also, that through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who and serve God with all their , minds, and strength." (D&C 21:30-31)
To become holy again requires two things: Justification and Sanctification.
Justification is the beginning event. When we develop faith in Christ, come unto Him, and repent, we are washed of our sins. No longer are we in a fallen and depraved state. We are snatched from the depths of hell and torment. No longer do we merit perdition. As with Alma, we are instantly moved from a state of exquisite pain and guilt, to a state of exquisite joy and hope (Alma 36). We are made just by Jesus Christ. This only requires faith and complete repentance. We cannot retain any sins and be justified in Christ. Later, we will read in D&C 132 that the righteous will "suffer the buffetings of Satan" prior to entering into God's kingdom. For any sins we commit and have not yet repented, we will suffer until we complete our repentance - whether in this life or in the Spirit World. It is Justification that rescues us from Outer Darkness, bringing us swiftly into a kingdom of glory.
Sanctification means we are made ever more pure and holy through the Holy Ghost. You'll note in Alma's experience that upon repenting, he was able to see God and Lehi in the distance and wished to be with them. While he had been made just through repentance and the atonement of Christ, he was not holy enough to be in God's direct presence. This would require time, effort, obedience, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost. It is Sanctification that determines our level of glory in the next life.
These concepts were still in their infancy in the Church in 1829. They would be more fully developed through later revelations, such as sections 76 and 88.
In verse 28, we see that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are "one God." This statement is noted several times in the Book of Mormon, as well. In our developed understanding of the gospel, we understand this to mean that they are one Godhead, one in purpose. However, in this early period of the restoration, it is likely that a Trinitarian view was still understood concerning this phrase. At one point, it was thought by church members that the Holy Ghost was a power of God. It wouldn't be until 1843 (D&C 130) that the concepts that God and Jesus have physical bodies and that the Holy Ghost was a "personage of spirit" would be fully clarified.
As we continue studying Church history and restoration, let's remember that the early Saints did not have the benefit of all the revelation and hindsight available at their fingertips. These were new concepts. Strange concepts. We will see many early leaders of the Church balk at certain new concepts, yet retain early teachings of the Church - such as David Whitmer, who was a constant witness of the Book of Mormon his entire life, but rejected several later revelations, leading him away from the Church and Joseph Smith prior to the Nauvoo era.
It would be on the same level as the shock given to many members when the 1978 revelation on Priesthood was given. I know of several who left the Church, because the revelation was unexpected, given the speculations of some Church leaders like Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie.
More recently, it would be as shocking as President Dallin H. Oaks proclaiming that "black lives matter is an eternal principle." How many had their testimonies shaken, because their religious beliefs were challenged by such a statement?
It is a matter of realizing that there really is very little core doctrine: Jesus is the Christ. God lives. First principles and ordinances of the Gospel.
Most of what we personally hold as doctrine is actually mostly speculation. For example, the atonement and resurrection are doctrinal. HOW they occur is speculation. - Going to a kingdom of glory is doctrinal. Being forever damned to a specific kingdom, and progression between kingdoms (as I discussed last week) are both speculative. Modern politics adds an entirely new level of speculation to the gospel. Brigham Young taught that polygamy was an eternal requirement and that there was a priesthood curse - most members accepted these as doctrinal, when both are speculative, at best.
This is exactly why we have continuing revelation.