Backdating & Retrofitted
CES Letter Core Question
Are Joseph's updates to the D&C signs of fabricated stories?
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of an earlier revelation when they compiled the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants, adding verses about the appearances of Elijah, John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John as if those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelation in the Book of Commandments, which they weren’t.
Compare the 1833 Book of Commandments Chapter 28 (XXVIII) to the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants Section 50 (L). The chapter in modern Doctrine and Covenants is D&C 27. This section claims to be a revelation from the Lord to Joseph Smith in August 1830.
The following text is what Joseph and Oliver added to the 1830 revelation in 1835 while presenting it as if this was already part of the original revelation given to Joseph by the Lord in August 1830. Notice how it’s packed with miraculous claims of visitations and receptions of authority by these resurrected beings that the original 1830 revelation does not contain.
2. ...and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel; to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim; and also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things, or the restorer of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days: and also John the son of Zacharias, which Zachari as he (Elias) visited and gave promise that he should have a son, and his name should be John, and he should be filled with the spirit of Elias; which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, jr. and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto this first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron: and also Elijah, unto whom I have committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse: and also, with Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham your fathers; by whom the promises remain; and also with Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days:
3. And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry: and of the same things which I revealed unto them: unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things both which are in heaven and which are on earth: and also with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world: wherefore lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all ye may be able to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth; having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace which I have sent mine angels to commit unto you, taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of my Spirit, which I will pour out upon you, and my word which I reveal unto you, and be agreed as touching all things whatsoever ye ask of me, and be faithful until I come, and ye shall be caught up that where I am ye shall be also. Amen.
You can see and compare for yourself on the Joseph Smith Papers (LDS owned and operated) website. The direct links are above.
It wasn’t until the 1835 edition Doctrine & Covenants that Joseph and Oliver backdated and retrofitted Priesthood restoration events to an 1829-30 time period – none of which existed in any previous Church records; including Doctrine & Covenants’ precursor, Book of Commandments, nor the original Church history as published in The Evening and Morning Star.
CES Letter, Pages 81-83
Early changes in dictated revelations were not an attempt at deception. Many people knew of the process
Editing or expanding earlier versions of revelations, even substantially, was commonplace for Joseph Smith. He viewed scripture as dynamic, not static, and accordingly made prophetic additions when warranted.
The Prophet Jeremiah performed the same kind of editing of sacred writings:
Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added besides unto them many like words. (Jeremiah 36:32.)
Expansions or changes to the original text by Joseph Smith do not need to be interpreted in the worst possible light. Joseph knew that the original forms were available for comparison; he was not trying to trick anyone.
Latter-day Saints do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture, or that scripture is static and unable to be altered, revised, or updated. It is a type of fundamentalist thinking which holds those expectations.
Newell Knight later recollected that the relevant portions of D&C 27, which details the visits of John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, were revealed to Joseph in September 1830 even though those verses were not published until 1835.