Doctrine and Covenants Commentary is one of few official LDS Church produced and approved books. It contains the text of the scriptural book, The Doctrine and Covenants, and also some commentary. The first edition (1919) carried the name of Elder Hyrum M. Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a son of President Joseph F. Smith (also European Mission president at the time much of the work was done) as author of the introduction and explanatory notes; however, most of the actual writing was performed by Janne M. Sjodahl (editor at the time of the mission periodical Millennial Star), with others also assisting in various capacities—Orson F. Whitney, Joseph Fielding Smith, John E. Cottam, George F. Richards Jr., and Junius F. Wells. From the available historical evidence, it would seem that Janne Sjodahl had the original idea to write it and got Hyrum M. Smith’s permission and cooperation; then Sjodahl wrote it and Hyrum Smith approved it (along with other church authorities at headquarters in Salt Lake City).
Elder George F. Richards, also of the Twelve, succeeded Elder Smith as president of the mission when the work was well underway (August 1916) but had little to do with it. George F. Richards Jr. remembered: “That project had been proceeding before we came in to the mission. Brother Sjodahl was living at mission headquarters working in the printers office (the business office at headquarters) and in his room. Of course then all of his conversions of thought and extensions and additions and his proof sheets could and were presented to Brother Hyrum Smith right there. … They may have been sent back to the Church for others to approve, they probably were. Anyway, all of his work was directly under the immediate sponsorship of President Hyrum M. Smith. When we got there that influence no longer prevailed. Father [Elder George F. Richards] didn’t have anything to do with what Brother Sjodahl was doing on his record. I don’t think Father was shown the proofs, he could have been; maybe he saw them, but I don’t think he did. But Brother Cottam and I got everything to proofread and then the material was sent back to Salt Lake, looked over and approved by certain other of the authorities, and then sent back. Then Brother Sjodahl was at liberty to set it up and print it. That’s the way it was done all the time we were there. Then when he’d get it all set up, I’d have to put his forms in the press, get them to working. A good bit of that first volume I printed. I couldn’t say just how much, but I imagine half of it anyway” (George F. Richards Jr. interview, as cited in Dale C. Mauritsen, A Symbol of New Directions: George Franklin Richards and the Mormon Church, 1861-1950 [BYU doctoral dissertation, 1982], 177-78).
In 1917, President Joseph F. Smith wrote the following note to Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve, inviting him to become part of the reading/correction committee for the manuscript:
March 22, 1917.
Elder Orson F. Whitney, City.
Dear Brother Orson:
I should be pleased to have you and Joseph F. Jr. act as a committee to hear the reading of a work on the Doctrine and Covenants by Hyrum M. You will please render your best assistance to see that no error in doctrine or inaccuracy in history, should there be any, escapes notice. Hyrum will confer with you as to the time that will be convenient for the reading.
The review committee went right to work: “Spent the forenoon in my office, reading with Hyrum M. and Joseph F. Smith Jr. part of the ms [manuscript] of Hyrum’s work referred to in his father’s letter. We have had several previous sessions thereon.” Whitney’s diary indicates the reading/correcting committee meetings continued into July of 1917.
Issued from mission headquarters in Liverpool, England, in 1919, it contained 1100 pages and was the first D&C commentary ever written. The original royalty agreement was that for the first 15,000 copies sold, Elder Smith, Janne Sjodahl, and the Church would each get a third of the profits; however, the financial aspects were complicated when before the book was even published Hyrum M. Smith died (Jan. 23, 1918); then a short time later his widow and heir died (Sept. 24, 1918), and then President Joseph F. Smith died (Nov. 19, 1918), leaving royalty and ownership arrangements in a state of confusion. Only after Sjodahl returned from England to Salt Lake City were things sorted out and the ownership of the book given to Sjodahl who by that time had become editor of the Improvement Era.
Over thirty years later a new First Presidency (who by then owned the copyright for the book) assigned the Publication Committee, consisting of Elders Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Marion G. Romney, to “revise the volume” for republishing. (It seems that Joseph Fielding got to be a part of two different reading committees for the same book.) The preface to the revised edition states: “while laboring in the European Missions, Elder Hyrum M. Smith, of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Janne M. Sjodahl, were impressed very fervently with the desire to prepare a commentary dealing with the revelations given by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith. In their odd moments, when not otherwise engaged, during the years 1913-1916, these brethren carried on a careful research and study and prepared this volume which has met with popular favor.”
As to the years here mentioned, “The information in the Millennial Star and in Sjodahl’s letters during this period, also the fact that Sjodahl did not arrive in England until September 22, 1914, all point to the fact that the suggestion that they worked on the book jointly between the years 1913-1916 must be incorrect” (Brent Lundgren, Janne Mattson Sjodahl…, BYU Masters’ Thesis, 1971, 85). 1915 to 1917 are probably more accurate.
The 1951 revised edition Publication Committee editors indicate that at least some of what they updated in the book included the following: “Since the time of the first publication many world-wide events of the greatest importance have occurred many of which have a bearing on the fulfillment of the prophecies found in the Doctrine and Covenants; these have been noted.” However, again, “It should also be noted that the most recent edition  of the book is still very much the same as the original 1919 edition. The changes and revisions have been very minor” (Lundgren, 85). One might wonder about this conclusion since the first edition has about 200 more pages than the revised, although it is also printed on smaller pages.
The new Church Publication Committee also wrote:
For a number of years the commentary has been out of circulation, and because of the increasing demand for it, the First Presidency instructed the Publication Committee to take the matter in hand and revise the volume ready for a re-printing. This the committee has done and after many months of labor has fulfilled the assignment given.…
The Doctrine and Covenants is a sacred volume of Scripture, and in the revision and preparation of this book, the members of the committee have felt their weakness in commenting on these sacred commandments and revelations coming from the Lord. (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, revised edition. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1951], preface to revised edition.)
A few of the changes between editions that I have noticed include the following: Sjodahl’s prefatory comments following Hyrum M. Smith’s preface were omitted from the revised edition (it is not called a “second” edition, but a “revised” edition)—probably as part of an effort to emphasize the Church’s current ownership and approval. Sjodahl’s name was also added as coauthor. The inconvenient and clumsy roman numerals were changed to modern numbering.
Worth noting theologically, there is an alteration of the doctrine taught on page 1021 of the first edition and on 829 of the revised edition, in regards to correctly interpreting D&C 132:26, something Joseph Fielding Smith felt to be a very important correction; evidently he missed it during the first 1917 readings/corrections (see the quotations from the book below). Also worth noting, and remaining the same in both editions— in Isaiah 9:6 among the name-titles given for Jehovah/Jesus Christ is that of “Wonderful”, and “Counsellor.” In the Commentary, that rendering is given as “Wonderful Counselor” as a two-word name-title without the coma (see the Commentary for D&C 88:106-7, either edition).
The first edition of Doctrine and Covenants Commentary has become collectible because of its history, scarcity, and approved status; the revised edition has been reprinted a number of times but has not seemed to catch on as a commonly used or cited reference work among church members.
D&C 132:26 has been called one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood verses of scripture. There is little doubt that Joseph Fielding Smith himself wrote the revised commentary for this verse: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God.”
The first edition of Doctrine & Covenants Commentary contained this explanation of the verse:
[D&C 132:]26. Any sin or transgression] In this paragraph, the great and glorious truth is revealed that the adversary has no permanent power over those who have entered the new and everlasting marriage covenant, under the celestial law, unless he can prevail upon them to shed innocent blood. He may, possibly, lead them into temptation and cause them to do wrong; even to blaspheme. In that case they will be destroyed in the flesh and left to the buffetings of Satan till the day of redemption. But they will come forth in the first resurrection and enter into their exaltation. Paul teaches the same truth when he urges the Corinthians to separate from them a certain licentious member and deliver him to Satan, “for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). The destruction here referred to is aimed at the “flesh,” which means the carnal lust, and not the body and the purpose of it is the salvation of the spirit. (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 1st ed., 1021.)
The revised edition removed the above and replaced it with this language:
[D&C 132:]26. Any sin or transgression] This verse has been greatly misunderstood and by some grossly abused. Unfortunately there are some who seem to think that after they are married for time and all eternity, the Lord, in this passage, grants them immunity against sin, as long as they do not shed innocent blood or deny the Holy Ghost. It should be remembered that the Lord taught during his ministry this same doctrine as given in the Doctrine and Covenants. (Matt. 12:31-32.) He has never granted to any person the privilege of sinning willfully and then obtaining the reward of faithfulness without repentance. John said:
“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he should pray for it.” (1 John 5:16.)
In this passage we are taught that all manner of sin which is forgivable on repentance, or “not unto death,” may be forgiven on repentance, but some sins may call for a most dreadful punishment even then—the destruction in the flesh and being turned over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption. This punishment is most severe. The Lord has not at any time contradicted Himself and he has said: “And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. (2 Nephi 9:38. Compare Mormon 9:3-4.) (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, revised edition, 829; italic in original. See also Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957-66], 1:68-74.)
While reviewing this subject it is worth noting this further comment from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, President Smith’s son-in-law, who was as emphatic about correcting the errant doctrine as President Joseph Fielding Smith was:
The fact that you are married in the temple does not guarantee exaltation. The fact that you are married in the temple opens the door to exaltation, on condition of subsequent conformity. That is vital [to understand]. I don’t know how common this [misunderstanding] is in the Church; it doesn’t seem to be quite as common as it was a few years ago. A few years back there were clusters of people all over who were preaching and believing and supposing and thinking, that Oh well, we have been married in the temple now, and it would be a good idea if we did right, we know that; but on the other had we have been married in the temple, and so even though we commit all manner of sin, eventually we are going to get the blessing anyway. That kind of a doctrine is a deterrent to personal righteousness. It really is a doctrine of the devil because it is an enticement, in a manner of speaking, to live contrary to the principles of personal righteousness that the gospel requires.
I remember going to a stake in central Utah years ago, where someone had been preaching this to the extent that they had most everybody converted and this just casually came up in the leadership meeting, and I said this was wonderful, except that it was the doctrine of the devil, and forthwith I had carloads of people traveling hundreds of miles to Salt Lake City [Church headquarters], to weep and condemn me for preaching that people have to keep the commandments to be saved. You can get all kinds of nonsense into your thinking if you don’t have an overall perspective. (Bruce R. McConkie, University of Utah Institute, “Holy Spirit of Promise,” unpublished lecture, 22 April 1968.)
A similar work to Doctrine and Covenants Commentary is Joseph Fielding Smith’s Church History and Modern Revelation (4 vols. paperback; 2 vols. hardback) which was used as an official study manual for the Church in the mid-1950s. This Doctrine and Covenants study guide was published by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles through Deseret Book and copyrighted by President David O. McKay, making it another of the relatively few official authored book publications of the Church. The two-volume hardbound edition is the rarest and most sought after by collectors. Because the dates (around 1950) wherein Joseph Fielding Smith served on the second D&C Commentary reading committee was near the time (1953) that his Church History and Modern Revelation work was issued, one wonders if there was some correlation or overlap with the work involved.
As an item relating to the above quotations, one of the more interesting statements that I have found in Church History and Modern Revelation is the following: “It is a far more serious matter for a husband and wife to seek a separation [divorce] than many seem to think. The words of the Lord as recorded in Matthew 19:3-9, should be carefully considered. I am convinced that the Lord will force some couples who separate, without justification after they have been sealed in the House of the Lord, back again to each other, or else they will lose their reward” (2:359).
Both of these lesser-known church-approved publications on the Doctrine and Covenants were largely written or influenced and approved by apostle sons of President Joseph F. Smith. Hyrum M. Smith is far less well-known, almost unknown, in the Church today, than was his younger brother Joseph Fielding Smith, who later became its President.
As a side note, Elder Orson F. Whitney’s diary recorded some of the last days of Elder Hyrum M. Smith’s life:
At about 1 am was summoned to the bedside of Elder Hyrum M. Smith, who was seriously ill at his home. . . . Dr. James E. Talmage was with me. We hired a taxi from the Hotel Utah, the electric cars having stopped running for the night, and were soon at Bro. Smith’s residence. The family were much agitated and Bro. Hyrum was suffering great agony. We blessed him repeatedly, and he went to sleep. We stayed till 6:30 am, and then took car for home. . . . I went back to bed and slept till noon, and after eating went to the LDS Hospital to see Bro. Smith who had been taken there. He was in the operating room just about to be operated on for appendicitis. . . . Returning, went again to Hospital and administered to Hyrum M. [Smith]. (January 20, 1918)
Also, speaking of January 23, 1918: “A sad day for Israel. Elder Hyrum M. Smith died last night at the LDS Hospital. I did not learn of it until this morning.” (January 24, 1918)