Lectures on Faith: Science of Theology

Lectures on Faith” is a set of seven lectures on the doctrine and theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, first published as the doctrine portion of the 1835 edition of the canonical Doctrine and Covenants, but later removed from that work by both major branches of the faith. The lectures were originally presented by Joseph Smith to a group of elders in a course known as the “School of the Prophets” in the early winter of 1834–35 in Kirtland, Ohio.

So says Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has some interesting info.

Although authorship of the lectures is uncertain, studies suggest that the actual wording was largely by Sidney Rigdon,[1] with substantial involvement and approval by Joseph Smith and possibly others. (See Dahl & Tate at 7–10, 16 n. 8.) Smith was involved, both in their authorship in November 1834 and in their later preparation for publication in January 1835. (See History of the Church 2:169–70, 180.)

The original title of each lecture was “Of Faith”. It was not until 1876, in an edition of the Doctrine and Covenants edited by Church Historian Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), that the title was given as “Lectures on Faith”.

Possibly the most famous quotation is from Lecture 6:7: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation”.

The lectures were published in 1835 as the “Doctrine” portion of the volume entitled Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God. The lectures were selected for that volume by a committee appointed on September 24, 1834, by a general assembly of the church to arrange the doctrines and revelations of the church into a single volume. That committee of Presiding Elders, consisting of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, stated that the lectures were included “in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation,” and that the lectures, together with the church-regulatory sections that followed, represent “our belief, and when we say this, humbly trust, the faith and principles of this society as a body.” (See 1835 D&C, Preface.) Accordingly, the church body accepted the committee’s compilation on August 17, 1835, as “the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by a unanimous vote” (History of the Church 2: 243–46).

Some Latter Day Saint denominations have subsequently removed the lectures from the Doctrine and Covenants. The lectures were removed from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints version of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1897, although that denomination began publishing the lectures in a separate volume in 1952. The LDS Church removed the lectures from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition, with an explanation that the lectures “were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons”. (See Introduction, 1921 edition.) This is in contrast to the remaining pages of the original Doctrine and Covenants, which are officially recognized by nearly all Latter Day Saint denominations as divine revelation given specifically to the church.

Mormon apologists give several reasons to explain why the Lectures were removed from the scriptural volumes of the LDS Church. According to church apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, the reasons were:

“(a) They were not received as revelations by the prophet Joseph Smith.
“(b) They are instructions relative to the general subject of faith. They are explanations of this principle but not doctrine.
“(c) They are not complete as to their teachings regarding the Godhead. More complete instructions on the point of doctrine are given in section 130 of the 1876 and all subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants.
“(d) It was thought by James E. Talmage, chairman, and other members of the committee who were responsible for their omission that to avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief, it would be better not to have them bound in the same volume as the commandments or revelations which make up the Doctrine and Covenants.”[2]

Brigham Young University‘s Thomas G. Alexander has stated in a Sunstone article:

Revision [of the Doctrine and Covenants] continued through July and August 1921, and the Church printed the new edition in late 1921. The committee proposed to delete the ‘Lectures on Faith’ on the grounds that they were ‘lessons prepared for use in the School of the Elders, conducted in Kirtland, Ohio, during the winter of 1834-35; but they were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons.’ How the committee came to this conclusion is uncertain. The general conference of the Church in April 1835 had accepted the entire volume, including the Lectures, not simply the portion entitled ‘Covenants and Commandments,’ as authoritative and binding upon Church members. What seems certain, however, is that the interpretive exegesis of 1916 based upon the reconstructed doctrine of the Godhead had superseded the Lectures.[3]

Other commentators have theorized that the lectures represented official church doctrine in 1835, but that by 1897 or 1921, when the work was decanonized by the major Latter Day Saint denominations, the doctrine concerning the Godhead had changed, and the lectures were no longer generally consistent accepted doctrines. For instance, in Lecture 5, paragraph 2, it defines the Father as a “personage of spirit, glory and power,” whereas in section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 22 states that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” In addition, the Father and Son are said to possess the same mind, “which mind is the Holy Spirit” (Lecture 5, paragraph 2). The Holy Spirit is not a personage, as defined at the beginning of paragraph 2: “There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things …. They are the Father and Son.” This could cause confusion when compared with section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “The Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.” Section 130 was added in the 1876 edition and hence co-existed with the Lectures on Faith.

One leader in the LDS Church praised the lectures as follows:

“In my judgment, it is the most comprehensive, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language—that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying what kind of being God is. It was written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the spirit of inspiration. It is, in effect, eternal scripture; it is true.”[4]

During a recent wheatmeister poll it was noted that Lectures on Faith was de-canonized, I purchased a copy to read the lectures for myself.  The book is rather short, and I read it over an hour flight.  It definitely reads differently than the D&C and other scriptures, but quotes the Bible liberally.  Each paragraph is numbered, similar to verses.  Reason (c) above was interesting.  I noticed a few times in Lecture 2 that there were a few references that seemed to refer to trinitarian doctrine.

Lecture 2: 2 – “We here observe that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwells; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days….

Do Mormons believe God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient in the same way protestants do?  No.  I think this is more of a trinitarian doctrine.  Certainly in 1835, the corporeal nature of God wasn’t known.  At the end of Lecture 2, there is a Q&A (seems oddly non-scriptural compared to other D&C verses) and once again references omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient:  (Versing stops at 56 and a bunch of questions and answers follow.)

Lecture 2:56 Q&A

Q.  Is there a being who has faith in himself independently?

A.  There is.

Q.  Who is it?

A.  It is God.

Q.  How do you prove that God has faith in himself independently?

A.  Because he is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life, and in him all fullness dwells.  Ephesians 1:23: “Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.”  Colossians 1:19:  “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell” (Lecture 2:2)


Lecture 5 seems to confirm trinitarian ideas a bit.

Lecture 5:2 – There are two personages who constituted the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things–by whom all things were created and made that are created and made, whether visible or invisible; whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space.  They are the Father and the Son:  The Father being a personal of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness.  The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man–or rather, man was formed after his likeness and in his image.  He is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father, possessions all the fullness of the Father, or the same fullness with the Father, being begotten of him; and was ordained from before the foundation of the world to be a propitiation for the sins of all those who should believe on his name; and is called the Son because of the flesh–and descended in suffering below that which man can suffer, or in other words, suffered greater sufferings, and was exposed to more powerful contradictions than any man can be….

This paragraph continues on for quite a bit, but I’ll stop here as is sure seems to contradict D&C 130:22

22 The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.

Is this why it was jettisoned from canonization in the D&C?

Lecture 3 Q&A had an interesting question about “preventing faith.”

Q. Where do you find the revelations which give us this idea of the character of the Deity?

A.  In the Bible and Doctrine and Covenants and they are quoted in the third lecture (Lecture 3:9-11).

Q. What effect would it have on any rational being not to have an idea that the Lord was God, the creator and upholder of all things?

A. It would prevent him from exercising faith in him unto life and salvation.

Q. Why would it prevent him from exercising faith in God?

A. Because he would be as the heathen, not knowing but there might be a being greater and more powerful than he; and thereby he be prevented from fulfilling His promises (Lecture 3:19)

There were some good quotes in there too.  There is the idea that doubt cannot exist with faith.

Lecture 6:12 … where doubt and uncertainty are, there faith is not, nor can it be.  For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time.  So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence; and where unshaken confidence is not, there [sic] faith is weak; and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations, and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.

(Note: This lecture is so plain, and the facts set forth so self-evident, that it is deemed unnecessary to form a catechism upon it.  The student is therefore instructed to commit the whole to memory.)

Lecture 7 had some cool quotes as well.

Lecture 7:3 – Let us here offer some explanation in relation to faith that our meaning may be clearly comprehended.  We ask then, what are we to understand by a man’s working by faith?  We answer, We understand that when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force.  It is by words instead of exerting his physical powers, with which every being works when he works by faith.  God said, “Let there be light; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).  Joshua spake, and the great lights which God had created stood still.  Elijah commanded, and the heavens were stayed for the space of three years and six months, so that it did not rain.  He again commanded, and the heavens gave forth rain.  All this was done by faith, and the Savior says, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove (Matthew 17:20); or “ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be though planted in the sea; and it should obey you: (Luke 17:6).  Faith then works by words, and with these its mightiest works have been, and will be, performed.

Paragraph 5 goes even further, saying “So then faith is truly the first principle in the science of Theology…”

As I read from the pages, what struck me was how important faith is to miracles, visions, etc.  It made me wonder if we have no miracles because we don’t emphasize faith anymore.  Could this be why church seems so dead?  I mean I don’t hear this kind of stuff very often any more, and when someone says you can move mountains to yonder place, does anyone actually believe (or have faith) that such a thing can happen?

Lecture 3:10 referred to the “Book of Commandments,” a precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants.

Lecture 3:10 – Book of Commandments, chapter two, commencing in the third line of the first paragraph:  “For God doth not walk in crooked paths; neither doth he turn to the right hand nor the left; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; therefore his paths are strait and his course is one eternal round” (D&C 3:2).  D&C 35:1:  “Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday and forever”

Once again, from Wikipedia:

The Book of Commandments was planned as a compilation of Joseph Smith Jr.‘s early prophecies. Smith, leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, gathered several of his revelations for a High Priest’s council in November 1831. The ten-man council voted to print 10,000 copies, but the actual number of prints was reduced to between three and five thousand.

W. W. Phelps publisher of the book, ran a press in Independence, Missouri. A faithful Mormon, Phelps also edited an historically important Mormon periodical, The Evening and Morning Star from September 1831 to July 1833. Most revelations in the Book of Commandments were previously published by Phelps in the Star.

The title page of the book reads “Book of Commandments, for the government of the Church of Christ, organized according to the law on the 6th of April, 1830. / ZION: published by W. W. Phelps & co. / 1833.”

On July 20, 1833 an anti-Mormon and pro-slavery mob destroyed the press. The mob, purportedly frightened of Mormon political power, was incensed by an editorial in Phelps’ Evening and Morning Star perceived to be abolitionist. Breaking down the door, they razed Phelps’ home and business in less than an hour. At that point, 65 revelations of the Book of Commandments, about two thirds the total, were already printed. Totaling 160 pages, most of the uncut and unbound sheets were destroyed in the ensuing fire. However, some neighbors including teenage sisters Caroline and Mary Elizabeth Rollins[1] saved remnants of nearly 100 copies.

Fewer than 30 are known to exist today, including several incomplete versions. Further enhancing the book’s scarcity, several copies of the Book of Commandments are held in permanent collections. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and the Community of Christ have multiple copies, and the rare books divisions of the University of Utah Marriott Library, Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library, and the New York Public Library each own a copy. When sold on the open market, the book regularly fetches over $100,000. An incomplete copy changed hands for $200,000 in 2001, and a complete volume sold at auction for $391,000.[2] Rare books dealer Ken Sanders claims a copy was sold privately in Utah for $500,000.[3]

Have you read the Lectures on Faith?  What are your thoughts? Why do you think the church de-canonized the Lectures on Faith?  Does it teach false doctrine concerning God?  Have you found faith promoting/inspiring parts of the Lectures on Faith?  Could Lectures 2 &5 have been modified or removed, leaving the others set of lectures alone in promoting faith?


4 comments on “Lectures on Faith: Science of Theology

  1. MH: This is Jim Harris. James E. Talmage is a person of interest to me. A couple of years ago I wrote a short articel for Sunstone subsequently titled “Sacrificing the Lectures on Faith.” Issue 172–August 2013. I think your conclusions are totally correct but I believe there was another factor. Below is the unedited version of what I submitted to Sunstone:

    On 17 April 1920 Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve took a train to Eureka, Utah with the intent of investigating alleged activities by a group of “Separatists” that had come to the attention of the First Presidency. The next day in his journal he wrote “…I had occasion to investigate the alleged organization of a body of people who are said to have claimed that the time had arrived for the establishment of the United Order and that they were the ones to start the movement. I found that the rumors and reports that have reached the First Presidency concerning this matter have been greatly exaggerated. The so-called ‘movement’ is confined to the people belonging to the West Tintic branch, not more than forty families in all, under the supervision of Brother Moses Gudmundsen as presiding Elder. It appears that before the organization of the branch Brother Gudmundsen and a few relatives, together with some other interested people took up a tract of land and tried to establish a system of cooperative farming. Their motives appear to have been good; but others have come in who claim to have received divine manifestations that this marked the beginning of the re-establishment of the United Order and that they were commanded to enter it. Since the organization of the branch, Church rules have been observed so far as I could learn.” Moses Samuel Gudmundsen (1879 – 1964), was the leader of the group, Branch President, and professionally was a music instructor at Brigham Young University.
    Less than two months later (6 June 1920) Talmage returned to West Tintic and with Stake President E. Franklin Birch interviewed some brethren involved in the Gudmundsen movement. After the interviews Talmage’s attitude toward the group had reversed. “I am convinced that the evil one is acting upon the minds of certain men and women in this locality, thereby seeking to undermine their faith and confidence in the leadership of the Church. There is a woman here…who is said to speak in tongues frequently and generally to interpret the tongues herself; and she has influenced a number by telling them that the movement is really the beginning of the establishment of the United Order and of the Law of Consecration.”
    Talmage returned to West Tintic on 17 July 1920. On this occasion he visited the colony settlement where he found, “The rumors afloat, representing this undertaking as the initial step in the establishment of the United Order, appear to have this foundation of fact — that the members claim to be preparing themselves for the United Order, and, in consequence, they live a semi-community life. They no longer eat at one table, but the cooking is done for the community and each family takes its portion of the food. Without doubt there are fanatics among them; but in general the people are good at heart, though I believe they have undertaken more than they can carry through.” Talmage and Elder Charles H. Hart of the First Council of the Seventy decided that it would be best to release Moses Gudmundsen as Branch President. Talmage said that Gudmundsen “very promptly requested his release, which was granted.”
    Talmage recorded no more activity regarding the West Tintic Branch until February 1921 when he had various consultations regarding “the evil conditions prevailing in the West Tintic branch.” (10 February 1921). On 20 February 1921 he returned to West Tintic with Elder Rudger Clawson (Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve). Talmage writes, “We were in consultation with the [Stake] Presidency during the greater part of the time until 2 p.m., when we went into session with the High Council which was organized as a tribunal. Complaints of wicked and dangerous teachings and practices had been made against Moses S. Gudmundsen…and others; and the Council of the Presidency and Twelve had directed that President Clawson and I be present at the trial.” Talmage continues “The testimony adduced proved conclusively that these men and other residents of the West Tintic branch had been so far misled as to disregard the sanctity of the marriage obligation, as administered in the Temples, and had adopted a system of ‘wife-sacrifice,’ whereby men were required to give up their wives to other men, and this under a diabolical misinterpretation of Scripture as to the law of sacrifice requiring one to give up all he has, even wife and children.” The trial continued the next day ending with 12 in total either being excommunicated or disfellowshipped. Additionally, “By further action taken on unanimous vote of the High Council the branch hitherto known as the West Tintic branch of the Tintic Stake of Zion was disorganized. Thus all semblance of Church supervision in the affairs of that unfortunate little group of people has been taken away.”
    Talmage said of the trial, “The best I can say of the people is that they have become fanatical through the power of evil. They have made sacrifice their hobby. The eating of meat, the taking of animal life even to provide food, and many other practices common with other people have been forbidden there; while long fasts and particularly the sacrificing of comforts and wholesome desires have been held up as ideals. Now they have reached the abominable status of men sacrificing their wives to other men; and by this means they have put themselves under the laws of Church discipline and have made themselves subject to the punishment provided for by the law of the land. The present state is one of abominable immorality. Some of the women, notably the wife of Moses Gudmundsen…withdrew promptly from the colony rather than countenance in any degree these ungodly practices. I believe that the judgment of the High Council in these cases is just; and that others than those already tried are involved.”
    To my knowledge, the only academic exploration into the West Tintic movement was Carlton Culmsee with his essay “A Modern Moses at West Tintic” (Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah, Monograph Series, Vol. XIV, April 1967, No. 1). Culmsee reviewed the newspaper literature and was able to interview some of those involved in the movement. He said that “Gudmundsen could argue for hours proving from the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church that revelation was the foundation of religion.” As a result of this emphasis “…they felt that they had progressed far beyond the LDS Church and authoritative interpretation of sacred literature.” (p. 24) “Sacrifice became a keynote. Gudmundsen admonished them that they must sacrifice everything – home, family, all. Day in, day out he stressed that they must ‘lay everything on the altar.’ Until they were ready to do this they were not in a condition to receive the promptings of the Spirit. He built much upon the discussion of sacrifice in the Sixth Lecture [on Faith] of the Doctrine and Covenants. Love your fellowmen and sacrifice all.” (p. 25)
    Culmsee was referencing Lecture on Faith 6, paragraph 7, which reads in part: “Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.”
    During the period of dealing with the West Tintic group, Talmage was involved as a member of the Book of Mormon committee which provided the then updated headings and footnotes to the Book of Mormon along with double columns. On 11 March 1921 Talmage writes that “…the Book of Mormon committee assembled this morning to consider the advisability of revising and reissuing the Doctrine & Covenants…The footnotes and references require revision, and in places amplification; and the need of an adequate index has been long and keenly felt.” Talmage headed this committee which consisted of him, and Elders Joseph Fielding Smith and John A. Widtsoe. That same day Talmage also wrote “During the afternoon I had a long interview with one of the presidency of the Tintic Stake, and with others concerned in the investigation of West Tintic affairs.” There were additional trials held and more members of the West Tintic group were either excommunicated or disfellowshipped.
    The actions of the West Tintic Branch, taking place as this committee was considering revamping the Doctrine and Covenants, begs the question; Did the West Tintic group with their emphasis on “the sacrifice of all things,” which devolved into “wife sacrifice,” contribute to the decision to remove the Lectures on Faith from that book of scripture?
    The only direct source we have for why the Lectures on Faith were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants comes from John W. Fitzgerald, a BYU student who wrote his Master’s Thesis on “A Study of the Doctrine and Covenants.” Fitzgerald interviewed Elder Joseph Fielding Smith on 22 July 1940. The reasons Elder Smith gave Fitzgerald for their removal were:

    (a) They were not received as revelations by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
    (b) They are instructions relative to the general subject of faith. They are explanations of this principle but are not doctrine.
    (c) They are not complete as their teachings regarding the Godhead. More complete instructions on this point of doctrine are given in section 130 [verse 22] of the 1876 and all subsequent editions of The Doctrine and Covenants.
    (d) It was thought by Elder James E. Talmage, chairman, and other members of the committee who were responsible for their omission that to avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief, it would be better not to have them bound in the same volume as the commandments or revelations which make up The Doctrine and Covenants.

    In speaking of the Lectures on Faith historically, Elder Smith said “that they were not received on a parallel with the revelations, but were accepted as helps in the study of the doctrines of the Church.” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:194). In a masterful article titled “What of the Lectures on Faith?”, Leland Gentry adds, “Some have wondered why the Lectures on Faith were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants. The answer is not difficult to find. Their inclusion in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants had gained for the lectures a position of honor not likely intended by those who first placed them there. They were study helps, not revelations. When it became apparent that some in the Church were according these doctrinal aids dignity equal to, and sometimes surpassing, that of the revelations themselves, the lectures were removed.” (BYU Studies 19:1, Fall 1975, p. 11)

  2. Thanks for the info Jim. It seems mind-boggling that they would de-canonize based on a small fringe group.

  3. I’ve never believed the commonly quoted statement about requiring the sacrifice of all things. If this is true, then lots of Mormons, including most GAs will not be saved, because they haven’t sacrificed all things. And don’t start in about being “willing” to sacrifice all things. That’s not what the Lectures say. The Lectures on Faith were dumped because they are theologically problematic. Nice summary, though.

  4. Do we not agree to sacrifice all things in the Temple? It’s required of us yet we do not have to do it.

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