Latter-day Saints believe in a loving God who speaks to His children “in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come” (1 Nephi 10:19). This fundamental principle of the restored gospel is reflected in Latter-day Saint scripture, which contains records of God’s dealings with His children in the remote past, as well as His words to Joseph Smith and other latter-day prophets.
The book of Doctrine and Covenants is a witness of this outpouring of continuing revelation. Each section answers pressing questions, reveals important truths, or gives practical guidance. These revelations are the fruit of an ongoing dialogue between the Lord and His people. But in many cases, the Doctrine and Covenants contains only half of the dialogue—the Lord’s revealed responses. In this way, it is unique among Latter-day Saint books of scripture. In the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price, gospel teaching is often couched in narrative. The narrative gives us clues that help us interpret the teachings and see how they influenced the lives of the men and women of the scriptures. But the Doctrine and Covenants does not contain the stories behind the revelations.
While the section headings, updated in 2013, provide some context for the revelations, instructions, and declarations in the Doctrine and Covenants, they don’t tell the complete story. What were the questions that prompted the revelations? What did the Lord’s responses mean to those to whom they were addressed? How did those who heard the revelations respond to new teachings? Revelations in Context is a collection of stories that attempts to answer these questions. Told from the point of view of people who experienced them in their immediate context, these narratives give us insight into the meaning of the revelations and help us see them with new eyes.
The stories in this collection, which treat almost all of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, were written by historians in the Church History Department. In telling these stories, the authors brought to bear both their faith in the restored gospel and their training and expertise in American and Mormon history. Particularly important to this series was the Joseph Smith Papers Project, which has provided a foundation of meticulous scholarship upon which all historical interpretation of Joseph Smith’s life and work should build. Citations to the Joseph Smith Papers in Revelations in Context typically direct the reader to the documents and materials generously made available on josephsmithpapers.org.
We hope that these narratives will provide Church members not only with a clearer understanding of the revelations themselves, but a deeper appreciation for the way God speaks to His children “in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24).