"Commissioned of Jesus Christ" : Oliver Cowdery and D&C 13
You Shall Have My Word : Exploring the Text of the Doctrine & Covenants
Salt Lake City, UT ; Provo, UT
Deseret Book ; Religious Studies Center, BYU
During 1875 and into 1876, Orson Pratt, acting under the direction of Brigham Young, rearranged the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants into a generally chronological order and added a significant number of additional revelations to the volume, including Moroni’s words promising priesthood restoration (section 2) and John the Baptist’s words restoring priesthood authority and keys (section 13). John the Baptist’s words were already available to members in two different accounts published by Franklin D. Richards in the 1851 Pearl of Great Price, where he included not only Joseph Smith’s history but also a footnote with Oliver Cowdery’s retelling of the same event. But those accounts were not yet considered scripture, and the inclusion of section 13 elevated Joseph’s recitation of John the Baptist’s words, making them more widely available as part of the official canon.
Even though many members of the Church consider both recitations of John the Baptist’s words as scripture, a few scholars have noted there are subtle differences in Joseph’s and Oliver’s accounts, with one concluding that Oliver’s account is “a bit more precise.” But they have not addressed all of the differences or attempted to explain why, if Oliver’s account is more precise, Joseph’s account deserves a place in our scriptural canon.
I believe that Oliver Cowdery cited John the Baptist’s words exactly as they were spoken but that Joseph Smith drew on revelation he received afterward and used his mantle as a prophet of God to add inspired commentary to those words. Oliver’s account focuses on the fulfillment of revelation in Malachi, while Joseph’s account focuses on the role of priesthood in the Church until that revelation is fulfilled. As a result, D&C 13 is not only more complete doctrinally but more useful to the restored Church of Jesus Christ. [From the text]