Why Did the Lord Quote the Book of Mormon When Reestablishing the Church?

March 3, 2017
KnoWhy #282
Christ and the Nephites by John Zamudio
Christ and the Nephites by John Zamudio
“And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say.”
3 Nephi 11:24

The Know

On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith and more than 50 others gathered in the log home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, NY, to reorganize Christ’s church on the earth in modern times.1 Joseph and his associates had been anticipating and preparing for this day well in advanced of that time. Nine months earlier, in June 1829, as they were finishing up the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord told Oliver Cowdery to “rely upon the things which are written,” meaning the Book of Mormon, “for in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:3–4).2

In response to this revelation, Oliver began drafting the “Articles of the Church of Christ,” a first effort to set forth the basic administrative and procedural standards for the Church.3 According to historian Scott Faulring, “more than half of Cowdery’s Articles are either direct quotations or paraphrases with slight deviations from the Book of Mormon.”4 Between April and June 1830, Joseph began bringing forth what would soon become Doctrine and Covenants 20, which replaced Oliver’s 1829 Articles as the guiding administrative document of the Church.5 As with Oliver’s 1829 Articles, much of what was contained in that revelation was similar to what is found in the Book of Mormon.6

For example, the sacrament prayers, found in Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79, quote almost verbatim from the Book of Mormon.7 The two are so similar that, as John W. Welch has noted, in the first known printing of Doctrine and Covenants 20, which appeared in a newspaper account, simply states: “And the manner of baptism and the manner of administering the Sacrament are to be done as is written in the Book of Mormon,”8 rather than spelling out the full text of those prayers.9 Not only the words of the sacrament prayers, but also the instructions on how to administer the sacrament come from the Book of Mormon nearly verbatim (Doctrine and Covenants 20:76; Moroni 4:1–2).10

The procedures for baptism also show the same heavy reliance on the Book of Mormon, as illustrated by a side-by-side reading (see table).11

Doctrine and Covenants 20:72–74 3 Nephi 11:23–26

The person who is called of God …

shall go down into the water

with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and

shall say, calling him or her by name: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Then shall he immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water.12

Behold, ye

shall go down and stand in the water,

and in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold, these are the words which ye

shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water”.13

Other examples could be cited, as well as more general similarities.14 As Welch noted, in both the Doctrine and Covenants, as in the Book of Mormon, “leaders of the Church are told to keep a list of the names of all members, numbering those who have been baptized and to blot out the names of those expelled from the Church.”15 Other similarities include leaders being “called” of God (1 Nephi 2:22; Jacob 2:3; Moroni 6:4; 7:2; 8:1), the purpose and conduct of meetings (Moroni 6), the principle that worship buildings should be simply decorated (Mosiah 11:7–10; Mormon 8:37), fasting together (Alma 6:6; 4 Nephi 1:2; Moroni 6:5), singing together (Alma 6:6; 4 Nephi 1:2; Moroni 6:5), preaching as led by the Holy Ghost (Moroni 6:9), meeting one day every week (Mosiah 18:25), and holding conferences (Mosiah 2–5; Alma 5, 7) are all laid down in the Book of Mormon.16

The Why

The similarities between Doctrine and Covenants 20 and texts in the Book of Mormon show the importance of the Book of Mormon for the Restoration. They also show that the Lord organized His church in a similar way in each dispensation. The Lord told Joseph, “I will establish my Church yea even the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.”17 The points of contact between these texts show that He did just that.

Reading the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon side by side shows that Joseph relied on the Book of Mormon in reestablishing the Church. This reliance on the Book of Mormon allowed him to make the Church similar to Christ’s ancient church in both the Old and New World. This is a reminder to modern readers of the Book of Mormon that Christ’s church today is remarkably similar to His church in ancient times, and that God is indeed “unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity” (Mormon 8:18).

The organizing principles of Christ’s church were not simply created in modern times. They are the same as they were in ancient times and are found in the Book of Mormon. As Welch has noted, the Book of Mormon’s “ordinances and administrative principles are not just convenient or optional things to do in a would-be church of Christ. They provide the essential and integral organizational principles and framework upon which the Church of Christ is truly established.”18

Further Reading

John W. Welch, “The Book of Mormon as the Keystone of Church Administration,” Religious Educator 12, no. 2 (2011): 83–117, reprinted in A Firm Foundation: Church Organization and Administration, ed. David J. Whittaker and Arnold K. Garr (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 15–58.

Scott H. Faulring, “An Examination of the 1829 ‘Articles of the Church of Christ’ in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants,” BYU Studies 43, no. 4 (2004): 57–91. 

John A. Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar (Salt Lake City, UT: Cornerstone Publishing, 1999), 291–316.

Scott H. Faulring, “The Book of Mormon: A Blueprint for Organizing the Church,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7, no. 1 (1998): 60–69, 71.