Are There Ten Commandments for Latter-day Zion?

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Abstract: New faith traditions often modify existing religious tenets to accommodate the particulars of their membership’s needs. A specific example is how different faith communities have modified the Ten Commandments both inside and outside the historic Jewish community. This paper argues that Joseph Smith received a Latter-day Decalogue that was canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants but went unrecognized as such by either Smith or the early Saints. While some of the commands in this new set of commandments are familiar (thou shalt not kill, steal, nor commit adultery), others are specific to the conditions of the latter days. This paper also argues that this revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 59) warrants elevated consideration whenever Latter-day Saints discuss soteriology. When a Latter-day Saint asks the age-old question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?,” section 59 should reside in the proverbial quiver of response arrows alongside the Deuteronomist, the Pauline epistles, Nephi’s appendix, the words of Alma, the sayings of Jesus from the Gospels and the New World, and the temple covenants.

Every Easter as a child, I was re-introduced to the story of Moses through Cecil B. Demille’s epic movie, The Ten Commandments, which aired on network television. During my formative years, that movie had a greater impact on my understanding of the Exodus than any Church talk, Sunday School lesson, Institute class, or my own limited reading of the Old Testament.

As I approached this paper, I had to shelve my nostalgic remembrance of gray-bearded Charlton Heston shouting, “Let my people [Page 498]go,” and mentally free myself from the modern-day cultural narrative surrounding the Decalogue. This allowed me to better place the Ten Commandments in an ancient historical context and to ask questions about the Decalogue’s relevance to non-Jewish communities, one of which included my own. This paper is the result of those inquiries.

A Brief Overview of the Theological Importance of the Ten Commandments

It is difficult to overstate the impact the Ten Commandments have had on Western civilization and culture. The Decalogue has been called “the universal alphabet of religion for all mankind,”1 it arguably serves as the foundational pillar of the “Western legal tradition”2 and as the basis of our modern culture’s collective sense of right and wrong.

The Decalogue and ancient Israel

Modern Jewish commentators extol the theophany described at the beginning of Exodus 20 as “the crowning moment”3 that serves as the climax of the entire Torah. Biblical scholar James L. Kugel states:

At Mt. Sinai, God made his great covenant (an agreement or compact) with Israel, by which they became His special people. For ancient interpreters, this was a most—perhaps the most—significant event in the whole Hebrew Bible.4

For example, note how the event is described by the Jewish writer of Biblical Antiquities (first to second century CE):

And I brought them to the foot of Mt Sinai, and I bowed the heavens and came down . . . for all things were set in motion when I came down, and everything was brought to life when I arrived.5

[Page 499]Ancient writers were far more focused on the miracle of God physically manifesting himself to the people at Mt. Sinai and the importance of the Law in its entirety than the specific text of the Ten Commandments (or Ten “Words”). In this modern-day retelling of the theophany from The Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg emphasizes the visceral and human experience Israel had with the divine and symbolism of the covenant they made with the Lord to follow the law. The Ten Commandments are only introduced after Israel has committed to follow the law.

The trembling of heaven and earth that set in upon the perception of the Divine voice, alarmed Israel so greatly that they could hardly stand on their feet. God hereupon sent to every one of them two angels; one to lay his hand upon the heart of each, that his soul might not depart, and one to lift the head of each, that he might behold his Maker’s splendor. They beheld the glory of God as well as the otherwise invisible word when it emanated from the Divine vision, and rolled forward to their ears, whereupon they perceived these words: “Wilt thou accept the Torah, which contains two hundred and forty-eight commandments, corresponding to the number of the members of thy body?” They answered: “Yea, yea.” Then the word passed from the ear to the mouth; it kissed the mouth, then rolled again to the ear, and called to it: “Wilt thou accept the Torah, which contains three hundred and sixty-five prohibitions, corresponding to the days of the year?” And when they replied, “Yea, yea,” again the word turned from the ear to the mouth and kissed it.6

This suggests that the status of the Decalogue in the ancient world may not have been as elevated as it is today. There are a handful of reasons for this. First, most biblical scholars argue that the version of the Decalogue found in Exodus 20 was not part of the original text but rather an insertion made by a later editor of the text.7 Joseph [Page 500]Blenkinsopp argues that the text was a late insertion into the Exodus narrative:

While the version in Deuteronomy fits naturally into the narrative context, which speaks of a revelation at Horeb during which YHWH promulgated the Decalogue directly to the assembly, it is generally assumed that the Exodus version was at some point inserted into the narrative. On the assumption, defended earlier, that a D editor played an important part in the production of that narrative, it is entirely possible that the same hand was responsible for the insertion.8

As important as we assume the Decalogue should have been to the ancient world, only four versions of it are found in ancient Jewish writings and each has slight differences.9 While there are allusions to it found in other ancient Hebrew writings, these mainly focus on the second half of the Decalogue rather than its entirety. Two examples from the Hebrew Bible are Hosea 4:2 (“by swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery”) and Jeremiah 7:9 (“will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely?”).

Second, it has also been suggested that many of these prohibitive commandments were based on pre-existing legal traditions and thus would have been part of the natural cultural milieu of the ancient world. As an example, Raymond F. Collins, referencing a dissertation by E. Gerstenberger, concludes that it “clearly demonstrated that the [Page 501]content of the second group of commandments is not unique to Israel and that it has much in common with other ancient expressions of family ethics.”10 J. J. M. Roberts clarifies:

Not only are these collections of cuneiform law older than the legal collections in the OT, comparative study shows that they constitute particular embodiments of a common law tradition that, for all its local and temporal variations, was basically shared throughout the region of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine.11

Third, modern scholars and even some ancient writers have suggested that the Decalogue might have been created as a summary of the many laws found in the Torah.12 At its most basic level, the Decalogue can be winnowed down to a few easily memorized words and some scholars argue that it was likely developed as a mnemonic device to simplify the 600+ laws found in the Torah.

Some interpreters reasoned that, if God had indeed given Israel many other laws besides the Decalogue, then perhaps the Decalogue had been specially singled out because it constituted some kind of summary of epitome of these other laws as well. After all, a body of more than six hundred rules and regulations—governing all sorts of matters both sacred and profane—might not be the sort of thing an ordinary person could memorize and keep constantly in mind. At a relatively early point, therefore, interpreters theorized that the Decalogue had been given because it in itself constituted not only ten particular commandments but a list of ten general categories of laws, a precis from which all the other laws might be derived.13

[Page 502]This suggestion that the Decalogue was meant to be a memory device helps explain this rendering of Exodus 24:12 from the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (a translation of the Torah with commentary that has a likely date of the fourth century CE):

And God said to Moses, ‘Climb up the mountains to My presence and stay there and I will give you the stone tablets on which are intimated the rest of the words of the Torah and the six hundred and thirteen commandments which I have written down to instruct them.’14

Fourth, Richard Elliott Friedman makes a compelling argument that the Torah’s only textual mention of the “Ten Commandments” actually refers to a different set of commandments (Exodus 34) than the well-known Decalogue.15 Exodus 34:14–26 lists an alternate ten laws; the first three are similar to those found in Exodus 20 (“worship no other god,” “make no molten gods,” and “seventh day thou shalt rest”) but the final seven are “ritual” based laws (e.g., “observe the feast of weeks”). Notably, after listing this alternative set of commandments, Exodus 34:27–28 then immediately exclaims:

And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

[Page 503]The Hebrew here is aseret haddebarim, which literally means the “ten things” or “words.” Friedman argues that this title refers to “the J text of the Ten Commandments”16 and that it was the original Decalogue that was supplanted by the Deuteronomist code a few centuries later. Alternately, in what is possibly a spirit of compromise with other scholars, Friedman allows that the tablets that Moses put into the ark might have included the Exodus 20 commandments on one side and the Exodus 34 commandments on the other side; thus twenty commandments and not just ten.17 But Friedman remains adamant that the reference here is to the ritualistic commandments and not the commandments of Exodus 20.

Fifth, scholars have also proposed many different Decalogue candidates in the Hebrew Bible. These include the two manifestations of the traditional Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) and the list of ritual commandments found in Exodus 34. But scholars intimate that there are others such as the “plural Decalogue” in Leviticus 19:3–12, one in Exodus 23:10–19, the “singular Decalogue” in Leviticus 19:13–18, the “priestly Torah” in Ezekiel 18:5–9, the “guides for self-examination” found in Isaiah 33:14–16, and the wisdom instructions in Job 31.18 While the strength of the scholarship regarding any [Page 504]of these individual cases varies, what is clear is that the Decalogue format was a common means for transmitting sets of laws in ancient Israel. Nahum M. Sarna argues that the number ten was attractive to ancients:

The number of laws is ten. It makes it possible to use the fingers as a mnemonic aid. Thus there is reason to believe that the number ten was deliberate, to make memorization easier.19

Sixth, scholars such as Clines and others have suggested that the Ten Commandments are best understood as contextual laws vis-à-vis generalizable laws.

A recent exception to this can be found in an article by D.J.A. Clines (1995), who enquired into the motivations which lie behind the writing and reading of the commandments. In line with the aim of the book as a whole, Clines resisted the natural meaning of the text and asked instead whose interest the commandments served. It is quite clear, from even the most superficial reading of the text, that they are written in the interests of those with property, hence the prohibitions against stealing and covetousness.20

Finally, most scholars conclude that the original commandments differed to some degree from what was recorded in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. Based on the work of A. Alt, some scholars have argued “that the original form of the Ten Commandments consisted of a negative particle and a verb, each commandment thus presumed to have been expressed as a single word.”21 In his historical commentary on the Old Testament, Cornelis Houtman reasons that because the “decalogue is not marked by a balanced structure and consistency,”22 the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions differ, and “at certain points [Page 505]one can detect the hand of the compiler(s),”23 the commandments must have been altered over time from their original state.

What conclusions should be drawn from the peculiarities just mentioned? It is usually assumed that the decalogue in its current form is the product of a process of transmission and that way back there was an ur-decalogue consisting of uniformly formulated commandments of approximately equal length. Presumably this ur-decalogue was drastically altered in the transmission. In some places the text was greatly expanded and in other places abbreviated and altered. New commandments were inserted as well. Because the number ten needed to be maintained and no commandments were to be dropped, a new division of the commandments was required.24

The objective of this paper is not to resolve these thorny issues or to attempt to resurrect the original revelation given to Moses. Rather, it is sufficient to point out that there were alternative and potentially competing Decalogues within ancient Judaism and the religions that sprung from that tradition.

New faiths appropriate the Decalogue

Many modern Jews argue that the specifics of the Ten Commandments are peculiar to the Jewish people alone and that the rest of the world is beholden to the seven Noahide Laws.25 The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides writes:

Anyone who wants to may convert from the other nations . . . anyone who does not wish to is not compelled to accept the Torah and the commandments. Instead [Moses] commanded, at the word of the Almighty, to compel all those who come into the world to accept the commandments which were commanded to Noah.26

[Page 506]While the Decalogue contains some universal laws (e.g., kill, steal, and lie), there are also several that are specific to the Jewish community. As Christianity emerged from Judaism, some of these commandments were modified and/or reinterpreted to better align with the needs of the new community of believers.

“The [New Testament] does not give the entire list of the Ten Commandments” nor does it globally refer to them.27 Jesus does refer to the Decalogue when he is queried about what one should do to “inherit eternal life.” His response, “Thou knowest the commandment, do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, defraud not, honor thy father and mother” (Mark 10:19), is an allusion to the Ten Commandments. But just as importantly, Jesus then makes four additions to the list for his inquisitor; a) sell whatsoever thou hast, b) give to the poor, c) take up the cross, and d) follow me (Mark 10:21). Significantly, when the story is retold by Matthew, Jesus’ recounting of the Decalogue substitutes “defraud not” with “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 19:19), indicating that there was some fluidity regarding the specifics of the Ten Commandments among the Gospel writers.

In one of the most famous passages of the New Testament, Jesus redefines the idea of the Law and the commandments when he gives the “Great Commandment,” love God and love thy neighbor (Matthew 22:35–39), and exclaims that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).28 Houtman claims that “from the many laws of the [Old Testament] Jesus selected and combined two texts (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18)” to create a “succinct summary of the entire law.”29 Thus, these two instances demonstrate that Jesus was willing to rethink and repurpose the Decalogue and the Law to fit the circumstances of the new emerging faith.

Two of the Decalogue’s commands, in particular, caused tensions in early Christianity. Jesus often clashed with the religious authorities of his time and many of these tensions had to do with the interpretation of the rules of Sabbath worship.30 As Paul began to introduce [Page 507]Christianity to a non-Jewish audience, the questions of Gentiles observing a) dietary laws, b) circumcision, and c) Sabbath day rituals were hotly debated. New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman summarizes the situation.

But in order to worship the God of the Jews, did they [pagans] not have to become Jewish? The Jewish God, after all, had given the Jewish Law to the Jewish people. And the way his people knew they were his people was by keeping his Law, a Law that gave specific guidelines, say, about how they were to worship and live together in community. This Law stipulated that God’s people should avoid worshiping pagan idols and should obey certain broadly acceptable ethical regulations, such as not murdering or committing adultery. But it also indicated that his people should be set apart from all other peoples in distinctive ways, for example, by keeping the seventh day holy, free from work, so as to worship him; by following certain dietary laws and avoiding such foods as pork and shellfish; and, if they were male, by receiving the sign of the covenant God had made with his people, the sign of circumcision. . . . Some of Jesus’ Jewish followers insisted that converts were to adopt the ways of Judaism. Paul, however, appears to have been the leading advocate of a moderating line on the issue. Paul did insist that Gentiles who became followers of Jesus had to accept the God of the Jews and worship him only. But he was equally emphatic that they did not need to adopt the “Jewish ways” or, as we might call them, “Jewish boundary markers” as spelled out in [Page 508]the Jewish Law. They did not need to observe the Sabbath or Jewish festivals, keep kosher, or be circumcised.31

Ultimately, a new tradition of Sabbath worship took hold in early Christianity. “The predominant Christian position . . . holds that Lord’s Day (Sunday) celebrations already began to replace Sabbath observances during New Testament times.”32 In the second century, Ignatius, “lauded the Christians who ceased to keep the Sabbath” and observed that Jewish Christians had begun to observe both days.33 Thus Paul asks his followers to not judge others based “in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Colossians 2:16). Moving forward into the third and fourth centuries, the vast majority of Christians celebrated the Lord’s Day as their primary day of worship with traditions unique to the new faith (i.e., the eucharist, liturgical observations, etc.). Although a few writers like Eusebius identified the Lord’s Day with the term Sabbath, most ancient writers did not. Thus, it is safe to conclude that the Christian tradition, by this time, had redefined the meaning of the command to “keep the Sabbath day holy.”

Christ’s followers found another original commandment difficult to accommodate during this early period. As Jewish Christians taught within the Jewish community, they quickly learned that they were asking their new followers to abandon their old traditions and, often, their familial heritage. According to David Flusser, “Jesus knew that uncompromising religious commitment was bound to break family ties.”34 There was an inherent tension between the command to “honor thy father and mother” and the desire to grow the Kingdom of God. This [Page 509]tension helps explain biblical statements such as this one found in Luke:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)35

Thus Jesus adapted the Decalogue to formulate a new “Great Commandment.” He and his followers also redefined the nature and purpose of several of the commandments to fit the unique needs of the Christian community.

Other faiths have also repurposed the Decalogue to fit their particular circumstances. Muslim scholars argue that three verses of the Quran (6:151–153) are equivalent to a Quranic or Islamic Decalogue.36 After listing the new commandments, the Quranic text concludes with an attribution to Moses—“We gave Moses the Book, completing (our favour) to those who would do right, and explaining all things in detail”37—thus establishing linkage to Mt Sinai. Modern Muslim scholars hold the view “that the Ten Commandments were already given to Abraham, the ‘first Muslim’ as Muslims believe, and then to Moses.”38 They argue that these passages in the Quran are likely based on the [Page 510]Abrahamic tradition and that they are “particularly crucial for a deep understanding of Islam and the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.”39

Three Decalogues in the Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon writers both restate the Ten Commandments and offer two alternative Decalogues. The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi recounted the Exodus 20 version of the Ten Commandments in front of King Noah’s court (Mosiah 13:11–24) and he intimated surprise that they had not been “written in” the hearts of his listeners (Mosiah 13:11). John W. Welch has identified a separate Decalogue in the sermons given by the prophet Jacob (2 Nephi 9) where “Jacob’s inspiration formulates a set of principles relevant to his people and their cultural needs and concerns.”40 Jacob does not use the traditional “thou shalt” language to communicate his Decalogue but rather employs a “woe unto” idiom that is similar to the format of Deuteronomy 27.41

Nephi also shares a version of the Decalogue couched within a discussion of how salvation and God’s goodness are available to all. After lamenting the pride and malice of the Gentiles (2 Nephi 26:20–21), Nephi nevertheless expresses hope by proclaiming that all are free to “partake of [God’s] salvation” (2 Nephi 26:27). Immediately before offering a Decalogue, Nephi makes the following statement declaring the universality of God’s salvific promises:

Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. (2 Nephi 26:28)

Then, over the next four verses, Nephi lists ten commandments with echoes to both the Exodus 20 Decalogue and Jacob’s ten “woe” [Page 511]idioms. These commands are intended for “all men” and not just his followers. Like Jacob and the recorders of the original Decalogue, Nephi does not specifically use the label “Ten Commandments,” but the interdependence between Nephi’s commands and Exodus 20 is straightforward.42 Here is Nephi’s Decalogue presented in the same order as listed in 2 Nephi 26:

  1. There shall be no priestcrafts
  2. All men should have charity
  3. Men should not murder
  4. They should not steal
  5. They should not lie
  6. They should not take the name of the Lord in vain
  7. They should not envy
  8. They should not have malice
  9. They should not contend one with another
  10. They should not commit whoredoms (2 Nephi 26:29–32)

The primary emphasis of Nephi’s text is on the first two of these commandments while the final eight commandments are given quickly in summary format. After listing the commandments, Nephi then returns to the theme that all can partake of God’s goodness if they follow these directives, which are meant for all men and women. Nephi then concludes with one of the most famous passages in the Book of Mormon.

[Page 512]For he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. (2 Nephi 26:33)

All three Book of Mormon writers, Abinadi, Jacob, and Nephi, specifically identify the audiences for their Decalogues. Abinadi’s audience was the court of King Noah who should have been familiar with Moses and the Law. Because they were not well-versed in the Law of Moses, Abinadi reviewed the Ten Commandments with them. Jacob was preaching to his people and tailored his commandments to their needs, proclivities, and weaknesses. Nephi was writing to an audience of “all men” and thus his commands are similar in scope to the Noahide laws. Nephi suggests that the Lord “inviteth” all to come unto him and that he “denieth none that come unto him” (2 Nephi 26:33). His stated audience is both Jew and Gentile. Thus it is presumed that all can enjoy these blessings as long as they adhere to the set of commandments that he shares.

Is There a Latter-day Decalogue?

Joseph Smith was the ultimate conduit of the two Decalogues authored by Nephi and Jacob. Neither of these Decalogues claims to apply to the needs of a future church. Is it possible that Joseph Smith was also the conduit of another Decalogue; one that would help guide his Latter-day Saints?

The Ten Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenants

The full title of the first attempt to publish the revelations of Joseph Smith is A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ.43 Therefore, the earliest revelations were deemed, first and foremost, as commandments for a new church that had been incorporated less than two years earlier.

Upon publication of the first of these revelations in The Evening and Morning Star, the editor, William W. Phelps, explained:

[Page 513]When we remember that the commandments of God, came by the gift and power of God: or, in other words, holy men spoke moved by the Holy Ghost, we ought to rejoice with great joy: for in this manner spake the prophets for the saint’s good, even in these last days.44

To my knowledge, no one has ever counted all of the actual commandments found within the final collection of these revelations, the Doctrine and Covenants, but the number must be substantial. And, as one would anticipate, there is a great commonality between these newly revealed commandments and the canonical declarations from the Torah, Jesus, Paul, and Mormon. Often when one of these newly received revelations alludes to a biblical passage, the revelation conducts a type of interpretive midrash to help “liken” the passage to a latter-day audience.

Under the heading “Commandments” on the Church’s website, we find the following explanation:

Many people throughout the world are familiar with the Ten Commandments that Jehovah revealed to Moses. These divine laws have been reemphasized in our day along with other important truths.45

Joseph Smith’s revelations often allude to both the Decalogue and Moses’s Law but is it possible that he received a new set of Ten Commandments for the Church of Jesus Christ and either did not emphasize it or possibly not even recognize it as such? Not just a re-emphasis upon the old Decalogue but an actual update that is better suited for Zion and the latter days than the traditional Decalogue? And how would one find and locate a Latter-day Decalogue if it were included in these new revelations? The position of this paper is that Joseph Smith did receive a new Decalogue and that it was published in section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

When issuing a commandment in the Doctrine and Covenants, the verbiage used varies. The most direct phrase, “I command,” is often used when immediate action is expected, as in “I command you, all my saints, to build a house unto me” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:31) or “I the Lord command him, my servant Martin Harris, that he shall say no [Page 514]more unto them concerning these things” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:26). Another commonly used action-oriented phrase for giving a commandment is the phrase “go forth” as in “go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:6). Other types of direct commands includes phrases such as “murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:4). There are slightly more passive forms of issuing commandments as well. Some examples of passive commandments include the phrases “ye shall” [as in “ye shall assemble yourselves together” (Doctrine and Covenants 41:2)] and “thou wilt” [“and behold, thou wilt remember the poor” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:30)].

While these each of these phrases appear sporadically in the Doctrine and Covenants, they are not used frequently enough to warrant further examination when searching for a Decalogue. There are two phrases that are used much more frequently and that echo classical biblical commands: “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not.” It is the use of this classic Biblical verbiage that proves to be the best indicator of whether or not a Doctrine and Covenants revelation is associated with the traditional Ten Commandments.

The phrase “thou shalt”46 appears 125 times in the Doctrine and Covenants and can be classified into four types of usage: a universal commandment, a commandment given to an individual or small group, a promise, and miscellaneous uses. As shown in table 1, 34% of the “thou shalt” mentions are used in the context of conveying universal commandments similar to those found in the Ten Commandments. The vast majority of these universal uses are found in just three sections of the Doctrine and Covenants: 42 (twenty-three instances), 59 (nine instances), and 98 (seven instances).47 Since all of the uses in section 98 are repetitions of the phrase, “thou shalt forgive him,” within the context of extolling a conditional commandment about how one should entreat one’s enemies;48 the remainder of this analysis will focus [Page 515]solely on the two sections of the Doctrine and Covenants that include a meaningful number of “thou shalt” universal commandments, sections 42 and 59.49

Table 1. Doctrine and Covenants Mentions of the Phrase “Thou Shalt.”

Context of Use Universal Command Individual Command Promise Miscellaneous
Example Thou shalt give heed unto all his words (21:4) Thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page (28:11) Thou shalt know mysteries (6:11) Thou shalt weep for the loss of them (42:45)
Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart (42:22) Thou shalt go with him at the time of going (25:6) Thou shalt have great faith (39:12) Thou shalt do it with all humility (19:30)
Thou shalt not kill (132:36) Thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion (24:7) Thou shalt be exalted (112:3) If thou shalt ask (42:61)
Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God (59:7) Thou shalt do great things (35:4) Thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven (128:11) If thou shalt find that which thy neighbor has lost (136:26)
Frequency 43 (34%) 26 (21%) 48 (38%) 8 (6%)

On 2 January 1831, members attending a church conference in Fayette, New York, were given a commandment “that ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:32). A month later in Kirtland, Ohio, this much-anticipated revelation was received. It was rightfully nicknamed “the law” and was ultimately [Page 516]canonized as section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This section employs the phrase “thou shalt” twenty-three times when referring to universal commandments and the first usage, “thou shalt not kill,” hearkens the reader immediately to the Decalogue. Consider the first four commands of this new law:

And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come. And again, I say thou shalt not kill; but he that killeth shall die. Thou shalt not steal; and he that stealeth and will not repent shall be cast out. Thou shalt not lie; he that lieth and will not repent shall be cast out. Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:18–22)

Thus, the newly revealed “law” references many of the prohibitory commandments in the Decalogue and provides explanatory details about each of these for a modern-day audience (e.g., “be cast out”). The introduction of this revelation as the “law” strongly suggests that this could be a latter-day update upon the Decalogue and the Law of Moses. This law was received by direct revelation and the first few commands reference Exodus 20. But there are just too many commandments given in section 42 to be considered a Decalogue50 and it is clearly presented as an updated version of the Law of Moses. Because much of section 42 delves into the details of “laws governing fornication, adultery, killing, stealing, and confession of sins,” it is more thematically akin to the Levitical writings than the summarized Decalogue in Exodus 20.51

This leaves section 59 as the only viable candidate in the Doctrine and Covenants for a Latter-day Decalogue. As previously stated, it is [Page 517]the position of this paper that Joseph Smith received ten latter-day commandments on 7 August 1831 and that these were canonized in section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The historical evidence suggests that neither Joseph Smith nor any of his contemporary followers understood this revelation to be a Decalogue when it was first received. But it fits the criteria for a Decalogue and, when viewed in this light, provides a complete and powerful summary of the essence of the laws and commandments found within the Doctrine and Covenants.

On 14 July 1831, a party of church elders including Joseph Smith arrived in Independence, Missouri where Joseph Smith remained for approximately three weeks before departing for Ohio on 9 August 1831.52 During this period, Independence was declared “the centre place” (Doctrine and Covenants 57:3) of the land of Zion, the location for the temple was chosen, the cornerstone laid, and a church conference with forty-five members was held.53

On 7 August 1831, Joseph Smith attended Polly Knight’s funeral, which was held at the home of Joshua Lewis. After the funeral, Joseph Smith received and shared a revelation that was recorded by Oliver Cowdery.54 The surviving copy in Oliver’s handwriting was written on one single loose-leaf piece of paper, folded for filing by Newel K. Whitney, and has “How to Spend the day Calld Sunday &c &c” written on it as a title in Whitney’s hand.55 The revelation was first published in The Evening and Morning Star in July 1832 and was one of the first of Joseph Smith’s revelations to be published. It was later published as part of “Chapter LX” in the original Book of Commandments and is now known as Doctrine and Covenants 59.

Consistent with Newell Whitney’s handwritten label on the original document, early Latter-day Saint exegesis assumed that the overarching theme of the revelation was Sunday worship. The revelation [Page 518]was titled “COMMANDMENT FOR KEEPING THE SABBATH, &c.” when it was first published.56 When it was published in the Book of Commandments, it included the heading, “[I]nstructing the sa[i]nts how to keep the sabath & how to fast and pray.”57 Other than the aforementioned titles and headings, however, it is unclear what Joseph Smith’s thoughts were about this specific revelation.

The First Presidency published a pamphlet in 1959 that quoted parts of section 59 along with the following statement:

That modern Israel might know this law still stood, and giving emphasis thereto, the Lord gave a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding the Sabbath.58

Modern exegesis, however, has focused on both Sabbath and Decalogue themes. John A. Widtsoe gave these insights in a talk at the 1937 General Conference:

Some people hold that the Ten Commandments belong to a by-gone age. That cannot be so, for I remember that the Lord in this generation reiterated to the Prophet Joseph Smith the principles that are found in the Ten Commandments as reported by Moses; and he made them more emphatic.59

Note that Elder Widtsoe both acknowledges the interdependence between the Ten Commandments and Doctrine and Covenants 59 and emphasizes that the “Lord” altered some commandments (“made them more emphatic”).

In their modern-day summary on section 59, Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler highlight both themes as well.

This revelation not only reestablishes the law of the Sabbath in this dispensation but also reinstitutes the Decalogue, affirming that the Ten Commandments as given to Moses on Sinai were part of the higher law rather than the law of carnal commandments.60

[Page 519]But is section 59 really “affirming . . . the Ten Commandments as given by Moses” as McConkie and Ostler claim, or is it doing something else, as Widtsoe implies? Importantly, recent commentators have recognized that while Doctrine and Covenants 59 references the Ten Commandments of Moses and Exodus 20, it is also attempting to update some of those commandments and it also does not directly comment on several of the others (e.g., honor thy father and mother, Lord’s name in vain). Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett also point out that the revelation employs a decidedly Christian lens when referring to the Decalogue.

While some of these commandments may sound like certain parts of the law of Moses, they are, with the exception of the first part of verse 6, either New Testament commandments or parts of the old law that are here given a new gospel context.61

The Church-produced student manual to the Doctrine and Covenants takes the analysis a step further. It lists the Exodus 20 Ten Commandments and adds the corresponding passages from sections 42 and 59, which parallel each commandment. Only three of the original Exodus 20 commandments do not have obvious parallels in these two sections; 1) graven images, 2) honor thy father and mother, and 3) coveting. These authors conclude that “the Lord in modern times has reiterated the basic laws that define man’s relationship with God and to his fellowman . . . as can be seen, there is not a strict parallelism between each of the three sources, but additional insights are often given in sections 42 and 59 or both.”62 Therefore, the thrust of modern-day exegesis is recognition of and a renewed emphasis on the Decalogue but so far it has not been suggested that section 59 serves as a replacement, revision, or reimagining of the Decalogue per se.

So what is the evidence that section 59 presents a Latter-day Decalogue? As mentioned earlier, there are precisely nine uses of the [Page 520]phrase “thou shalt” in this section; one short of the necessary ten.63 Further examination suggests that one of the “thou shalt” mentions is not a direct commandment but rather a modification of another commandment. The first two appearances of the phrase “thou shalt” commandment are found in this sentence:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5)

This is the “Great Commandment” from Deuteronomy and Matthew restated with two important modifications. Although the phrase “thou shalt” is used twice, this is just one commandment, because the two indirect objects in the sentence (“the Lord thy God” and the pronoun “him”) are the same. Thus, instead of “love” God, the modified commandment is to “love and serve” God. The second alteration is that proper worship is to be done in the “name of Jesus Christ.” For the purposes of uncovering ten “thou shalt” statements, this conclusion lowers the count of independent “thou shalt” commandments in Doctrine and Covenants 59 to eight.64

The second half of the next verse reads “thou shalt not steal, neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:6). The word shalt is a modal verb that requires another verb to make a complete sentence. To make grammatical sense, therefore, the phrases “neither commit adultery” and “nor kill” both require an independent “thou shalt not” statement. Therefore, the only way to read this verse is to substitute three thou shalt not statements into the compound sentence: 1) thou shalt not steal, 2) thou shalt not commit adultery, and 3) thou shalt not kill. Thus, while there is only one “thou shalt” statement in this sentence, there is the equivalent of three “thou shalt” statements.

But what about the final part of the sentence—“nor do anything like unto it”? Doesn’t that phrase require a “thou shalt” modal verb as well? It does not, because this phrase is meant to modify either the[Page 521] other three “thou shalt” verbs or the single verb “kill.”65 This dependent clause cannot stand alone because of the use of the third-person singular pronoun “it.”

Thus, this analysis leads to the conclusion that there are exactly ten “thou shalt” commandments in Doctrine and Covenants 59. Given the relative infrequency of the use of the phrase “thou shalt” to introduce universal commandments, this is strong and compelling evidence that this list of commandments could be considered a Decalogue.

Further evidence of the existence of a Latter-day Decalogue is that the revelation in section 59 is encased by a framing device that includes an inclusio that brackets the revelation with opening and ending promises of blessings that one will receive dependent upon one’s works. The term works refers to willingness to follow the commandments listed in the heart of the revelation. This framing device is a strong indicator that the commandments given in verses 5–14 are meant to be considered as a “whole” rather than as disparate parts.

According to Biblical scholar Jack R. Lundbom, an inclusio “is a structural device by which one returns at the end to the point at which they began. It is widely used in both oral and written discourse of today—including poetry—and we find it in ancient discourse as well.”66 Lundbom further elaborates that “some scholars use inclusio to refer to almost any repetition, but the term should be reserved for repeated or balanced vocabulary or else a clear return of thought that brings about closure. In ancient as in modern discourse the inclusio returns the audience to the point of the beginning.”67 The strongest examples of inclusios also employ keywords or phrases that do not appear elsewhere in the body of the specified text.68

Doctrine and Covenants 59 begins and ends with an inclusio. There is a “clear return of thought which brings about closure” with a repeated word that appears nowhere else in section 59.69 The section [Page 522]opens with a promise of temporal and heavenly blessings and ends with a repetition of these same blessings:

For those that live shall inherit the earth [A], and those that die shall rest from all their labors, and their works [B] shall follow them; and they shall receive a crown in the mansions of my Father [C], which I have prepared for them. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:2)

But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness [B'] shall receive his reward, even peace in this world [A'], and eternal life [C'] in the world to come. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23)

While section 59 elaborates upon the blessings received while on the “earth,” the inclusio is the only place is section 59 that mentions heavenly rewards (C-C'). Importantly, the keyword “works” (B-B') is also only mentioned in the opening and closing brackets of the inclusio (B: their works shall follow them—B': doeth the works of righteousness), and it is pivotal to the overall theme of section 59 because the promised blessings (A-A' and C-C') can only be obtained via one’s “works.” Thus, all three themes of the opening bracket, temporal rewards, heavenly rewards, and the contingency of works, are repeated in the closing bracket and, importantly, there are no other extraneous themes in these verses. Of these three themes, two of the themes, heavenly rewards and the contingency of works, are also only mentioned in the inclusio.

An inclusio often declares the thematic intent for the body of the text. In section 59, the inclusio declares that those who do the works of righteousness will receive earthly and heavenly blessings. Interestingly, this is quite similar to an inclusio that brackets the presentation of the Decalogue found in Deuteronomy. According to Lundbom, Deuteronomy 5–11 is bracketed by an inclusio whose primary point of emphasis is that Israel should “observe to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day” (Deuteronomy 11:32).70 This is thematically akin to the “do the works of righteousness” declaration in section 59 and it is evidence that the presentation of [Page 523]commandments in section 59 carries a similar weight and salvific importance for latter-day Zion as the presentation of the Decalogue by the Deuteronomist did for the children of ancient Israel.

Following the opening bracket of the inclusio, section 59 then promises those who establish Zion shall 1) “receive for their reward the good things of the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:3) and 2) they shall receive “commandments not a few, and with revelation in their time” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:4). The presentation of the commandments in verses 5–14 is followed immediately by a list of detailed blessings that correspond with the aforementioned promises found in verse 3. The “good things of the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:3) which adherents shall receive include the beasts of the field and fowls of the air, food, raiment, gardens, vineyards, and orchards (Doctrine and Covenants 59:16–20). These promises are available to all as long as they recognize God’s hand in all things and obey his commandments.

Figure 1 illustrates section 59’s framing device and illustrates how the earthly promises offered before the presentation of the Decalogue are then listed in greater detail after the Decalogue is given. The entirety of section 59 is thus focused on the center or heart of the revelation—the Commandments found in verses 5–15. Nothing before or after the presentation of the Decalogue makes sense without this centerpiece. The inclusio both alludes to it and promises eternal rewards for doing the “works of righteousness.” The verses before and after the presentation of the commandments are framed as anticipatory and promissory covenant blessings for those in Zion who keep these commandments; specifically, this set of commandments.

To ensure that the framing device is viewed separately from the actual list of commandments, the revelation introduces these commands with a direct admonition, “Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5), and, after the commandments have been given, the revelation marks the closure with the statement, “And inasmuch as ye do these things” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:15). Thus, this centerpiece is meant to be considered as a whole with each command equally important if one desires the resultant blessings.

[Page 524]

Figure 1. The Framing Device in Doctrine and Covenants 59.

Another indication of the importance of this revelation is the way the revelation closes. Nearly every revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants ends with some type of definitive closure phrase. Many sections close simply with the single word “amen” or the phrase “even so amen.”71 The ending to section 59 is much more elaborate. [Page 525]It declares, “I, the Lord, have spoken it, and the Spirit beareth record. Amen” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:24). This combination of 1) the Lord’s declarative voice and 2) the promise of the comforter’s affirmation is a rare closing in the Doctrine and Covenants; it happens only one other time (at the end of the preface to section 1).72 As will be discussed later, this is further evidence that this revelation was intended to be a type of theophany with two members of the Godhead willing to bear individual testimony of it.

A final compelling piece of evidence regarding the importance of the Decalogue in section 59 requires a short exploration into the Latter-day Saint theology regarding the doctrines of salvation and exaltation.

A few thoughts on Latter-day Saint soteriology

Scholars argue that two New Testament sources, Matthew and Paul, espouse differing opinions about the salvific importance of the Judaic Law. As presented by Matthew, Jesus states that he came to “fulfill the law” (Matthew 5:17) and warns condemnation upon any who “shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so” (Matthew 5:19).

New Testament scholar James Dunn observes that, in Matthew, Jesus “is not to be understood as superseding it [i.e., the Law], or leaving it behind. On the contrary, “fulfillment” is defined as the antithesis with “destroy”: Jesus came not to abolish . . . but . . . to realize or complete the law and thus establish it, set it on a firmer basis.73

On the other hand, Paul argues that Jesus “abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments” (Ephesians 2:14) by “nailing it [Page 526]to his cross” (Colossians 2:14).74 New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce explains Paul’s position:

It is sometimes said that Christ is the end of the ceremonial law (including not only the sacrificial cultus but circumcision and the observance of the sacred calendar) but not of the moral law [i.e., the Ten Commandments]. . . . This is a perfectly valid, and to some extent an obvious, theological and ethical distinction; but it has no place in Pauline exegesis. It has to be read into Paul, for it is not a distinction that Paul himself makes.75

When approaching scripture, doctrine, and theology, Latter-day Saints often subscribe to what might be called the myth of doctrinal uniformity. The underlying assumption of this myth is that all prophets and scriptures, as long as they are God-inspired, teach a common doctrine if mistranslations, blatant interjections, and substantive eradications are accounted for. Latter-day Saint scholar Charles R. Harrell summarizes this idea:

In addition to viewing the scriptures as essentially inerrant, there is also a tendency among many Latter-day Saints to view them as being uniformly consistent in the doctrines they teach. LDS religious scholar Philip Barlow notes that most Saints assume that “inconsequential details aside, all Bible theology is perfectly compatible with itself and with twentieth-century LDS conceptions.” . . . More discriminating LDS students of the scriptures frequently see variation in the doctrinal teachings of the scriptures and find that different prophetic authors had different theological perspectives. . . . Biblical scholarship affirms that, far from presenting a single unified theology, the Bible contains a kaleidoscope of doctrines reflecting multiple theological perspectives.76

Once the “myth of doctrinal uniformity” glasses are removed, it is natural to assume that Matthew and Paul would have had different opinions regarding the importance of the law given their circumstances and audiences. Scholars have rightly observed that [Page 527]“Mormonism also exhibits a changing theology,”77 a finding applicable to some Latter-day Saint perceptions concerning the topics of salvation and exaltation.78 John Dillenberger highlights how broad-based the soteriological themes found within Latter-day Saint theology are.

A burning issue during the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation which continues to our time is the relationship of divine grace and human works in the process of salvation. Because Mormonism insists on the universal and exceptionless requirement of Christ’s ordinances and the absolute prerequisite of his authority in their performance, it has sometimes been called sacerdotal and even Catholic. Because it stresses the vital priority of faith and repentance through Christ before his ordinances can have validity whatever, it is sometimes called Protestant and even occasionally identified with movements that speak of “faith alone.” Because Mormonism stresses the power of man to respond to or to reject Christ’s law both during and after conversion, it is sometimes called Judaic and even Mosaic in its legalism.79

One difficulty with having a soteriological framework that potentially appeals to Catholics, Protestants, and Jews is determining how to collect all of these diverse elements and still pinpoint a single, simplified theory of salvation.80 Latter-day Saints theologians have attempted to accommodate the cornucopia of canonical writings by producing a flurry of salvation theories that attempt to satisfy a simultaneous [Page 528]need for ordinances and authority (Catholicism), reliance upon faith, repentance, and grace (Protestantism), and a desire to retain Mosaic legalism and obedience (Judaism). The result is a soteriology which, bluntly, struggles to provide a simple answer to the question posed by a “certain lawyer” to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke—“Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25).

It appears as if section 59 aspires to provide a simple direct answer to this question and may be the only revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants that can offer a reply that is complete, unified, and self-sufficient.81 The final verses of section 59 signal its lofty aspirations.

But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. I, the Lord, have spoken it, and the Spirit beareth record. Amen. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23–24)

Sealed with a testimony attributable to both the Lord and the Holy Ghost, this passage declares that those who do “the works of righteousness” are promised eternal life. Just as the Jewish people revere Exodus 20 as a moment of theophany, this revelation also claims to be a type of theophany with this promise of eternal life spoken directly from the Lord. Due to both the power and uniqueness of this concluding proclamation, Latter-day Saints must consider this revelation when discussing theories of salvation. The possible existence [Page 529]of a new Decalogue in the body of this revelation further enhances its import to the Saints.

If, as some commentators have suggested, the promises in the second half of section 59 pertain to just the Sunday worship portion of the revelation, the salvific promises of eternal life seem excessive and inconsistent with other canonical sources. On the other hand, the unique assurances of eternal peace are consistent with the presentation of a wide-reaching and expansive revelation of commandments; truly a new Latter-day Decalogue or a modern-day Ten Commandments. Not a single one of Joseph Smith’s other revelations from this period offers the same promise of eternal life.

When the “law” (section 42) was revealed to Joseph Smith in February 1831, there was no direct promise of eternal glory for those who followed the law.82 When Joseph and Sidney received the vision of the celestial glory in February 1832 (section 76), two of the most important attributes of those who have a part in the first resurrection are dependent upon section 59, a revelation that had been received just a few months earlier. First, those in the celestial glory have kept “the commandments” that were given to them. As has been previously discussed, only two full sets of commandments, section 42 and section 59, had been revealed up to this point. Second, those destined for celestial glory are “they into whose hands the Father has given all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:55). This is the same blessing proclaimed in the latter portion of section 59—“it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man”—and this is also where one learns how to receive “all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:20).83

Thus, a third evidence for a Latter-day Decalogue is the unique salvific declaration made by the revelation if one does the required “works.” So what are these “works of righteousness” that are so important to the Saints’ eternal salvation? These “works” are listed in the text of the revelation and embody what appears to be a Latter-day Decalogue.

[Page 530]The Latter-day Ten Commandments

In summary, these are the latter-day Ten Commandments found in Doctrine and Covenants section 59:

  1. Thou shalt love and serve the Lord thy God
  2. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself
  3. Thou shalt not steal
  4. Thou shalt not commit adultery
  5. Thou shalt not kill nor do anything like unto it
  6. Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things
  7. Thou shalt offer a sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit
  8. Thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up sacraments on the Lord’s day
  9. Thou shalt offer thine oblations confessing thy sins on the Lord’s day
  10. Thou shalt do none other thing on the Lord’s day, that thy fasting and prayer are perfect (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5–14)

Jesus proclaimed that “the law and the prophets” hang on the “two commandments,” so it is not surprising that the Latter-day Decalogue begins with the only restatement of the “great commandment” found in the Doctrine and Covenants. This first commandment, “thou shalt love thy God,” is modified to include “serving” God “in the name of Jesus Christ.” The second commandment, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” however, is rendered identically as the Matthew KJV version.84

All you need is love

It is only fitting that the Ten Commandments of the Restoration begin with the doctrine of love. Latter-day Saint theologian Blake T. Ostler argues that this is the best place to begin any discussion about restored gospel theology.

The place “to start aright” in the Mormon worldview is the realization that the primary purpose of life is to learn to experience God’s love and to freely choose to reciprocate that love.85

[Page 531]The Deuteronomist was the first biblical author to emphasize this great commandment. As discussed previously, Deuteronomy 5–11 is bracketed by an inclusio that emphasizes the importance of following the statutes and judgments. But there are other interesting parallels between this portion of Deuteronomy and section 59. After restating the Ten Commandments, Deuteronomy 6:5 then states, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This commandment is repeated a few chapters later (chapter 11) and there are similarities between the Deuteronomist’s presentation here and that found in section 59 (see table 2). The Deuteronomist emphasizes both loving and serving God and promises detailed temporal blessings similar to those proffered in section 59; the only missing element is the Lord’s promise in section 59 of eternal salvation in addition to the temporal blessings.

Table 2. Similarities between Deuteronomy 11 and Doctrine and Covenants 59.

Deuteronomy 11 Doctrine and Covenants 59
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments, which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (v. 13) —Love the Lord thy God
—Serve God
That I give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. (v. 14) —Fulness of the earth
—Herb and good things from the earth
—All things in the season thereof
And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. (v. 15) —Beasts of the field
—Fowls of the air
—Food for raiment
Then will the Lord drive out all these nations from before you. (v. 22) —Inherit the earth
—Peace in this world
—Crown in the mansions of my Father
—Eternal life in the world to come

Near the end of his life, Nephi appears to have had a similar epiphany regarding the importance of love.86 After he shares a checklist [Page 532]of redemptive actions—faith, repentance, baptism, endure to the end—he then poses the following hypothetical:

And then ye are in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son. . . . And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? (2 Nephi 31:18–19)

Famously, Nephi answers his hypothetical with a resounding “nay!” He then shares a promise that echoes the aforementioned Doctrine and Covenants 59:23 in scope, intent, and source.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:20)

Thus, Nephi’s formula for “eternal life” is centered upon faith in Christ, hope, and, most importantly, love. Notice that Nephi presents this formulation as a theophany and specifically quotes the Father as the one who made the proclamation, “Ye shall have eternal life.” This is very similar to the exclamation in section 59 that the “Lord” has spoken these things (“shall receive . . . eternal life in the world to come”) and that the Spirit beareth record.

Thus, each of the major Latter-day Saint canonical sources testify that the most important commandment is to love God and three of the four immediately follow this admonition with the complementary commandment to love one another. Ostler further argues that this second commandment tells us who we are and what we can become.

Joseph Smith grasped the present reality of what God is and what we are as a result. He wanted to teach persons how to be gods here and now by reflecting on the nature of the divine relationship in every aspect of all human [Page 533]relationships. This intimate picture of God became the core of his prophetic mission. He understood that apotheosis or deification of humans was implicit in the commandment to love one another as God loves us.87

Immediately after restating the “great commandment,” section 59 then addresses the historical Ten Commandments. The next three commandments—thou shalt not steal, commit adultery, nor kill—are immediately recognizable as formulaic of the Decalogue. One is reminded of both Jeremiah’s [“will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery” (Jeremiah 7:9)] and Jesus’ [“do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal” (Mark 10:19)] summaries of the commandments. It is these three commandments that are always included in ancient short-hand lists of the Decalogue and, therefore, it is not surprising to find them restated immediately after the “great commandment.”

Therefore, the Latter-day Decalogue pays homage to both the Old and New Testaments; restating the most important commandments from both canonical sources; and offering interpretative modifications when appropriate. However, the remainder of the Latter-day Decalogue, while consistent in tone and theme with New Testament commandments, is unique to a Latter-day Saint audience desiring to establish a Zion society.

“Becoming” and commandments unique to latter-day Zion

In October 2000, Dallin H. Oaks gave a General Conference address about salvation and the final judgment. His talk, entitled “The Challenge to Become,” argues that salvation is not about “what I have done” but rather “what have I become.”

From such teachings we can conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is [Page 534]a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.88

While certainly this was not the first time the word becoming was used in relation to theories of salvation, this talk marked a slight shift away from transactional and obedience-centered models of salvation that had been more prevalent in earlier Latter-day Saint theology.89 Oaks’ words are different in subtle but important ways from others who have emphasized the transactional nature of the judgment. Consider the following from Robert L. Millett as a way of reconciling Oaks’ teachings with more transactional models of salvation.

When my heart is truly changed, my works will follow. The scriptures teach that we will be judged by our works. That message is sounded over and over in the New Testament and Book of Mormon. But I do not believe we will be saved by the merits of our works, but rather by the merits and mercy of the Holy Messiah; rather, our works will evidence the kind of people we have become.90

This shift is consistent with a similar movement among the soteriological thinking of more liberal Protestant theologians. Consider the following argument from Protestant theologian John Hick:

If we define salvation as being forgiven and accepted by God because of Jesus’ death on the cross, then it becomes [Page 535]a tautology that Christianity alone knows and can preach the source of salvation. But if we define salvation as an actual human change, a gradual transformation from natural self-centeredness (with all the human evils that flow from this) to a radically new orientation centered in God and manifested in the ‘fruit of the Spirit,’ then it seems clear that salvation is taking place within all of the world religions—and taking place, so far as we can tell, to more or less the same extent. On this view, which is not based on theological theory but on the observable realities of human life, salvation is not a juridical transaction inscribed in heaven, nor is it a future hope beyond this life (although it is this too), but it is a spiritual, moral, and political change that can begin now and whose present possibility is grounded in the structure of reality.91

By its very definition, the nature of the first commandment, to love God, can be paradoxical. For love to be freely given by someone, it cannot be artificial, manipulated, or in any way coerced by the recipient of that love. In short, it cannot be considered real love if it is “commanded” by the intended object of that love. So it is probably more appropriate to view this command as an invitation to join in a mutually beneficial loving relationship with God that one can always freely choose to sever. But it is important to emphasize that this invitation sets us on the path of joy, happiness, and peace as “we share mutually glorifying love if we choose to enter it” and that if we ignore the command and choose to live our lives sans loving relationships with others, the natural consequences will follow.92 Ostler elaborates on this idea in his treatise on God’s love.

We cannot have the joy and happiness that naturally arise from loving relationships if we choose not to love. God cannot save us if we do not freely choose to give our love and to receive his love. . . . The law of love is objective and universal in two senses. First, the force and effect of the law of love cannot be escaped. The results of failing to live the law of love follow naturally. If we refuse to open up and love, no power in the universe can give us the joy that is known [Page 536]only in intimate, loving relationships. . . . We cannot enjoy loving and intimate relationships if we choose not to love; it is that simple. On the other hand, living the law of love as one’s entire way of being in the world inevitably results in the happiness and joy that can come only from being in intimate and loving relationships. The law of love is universal in yet another sense. It is the same for everyone, although its expression is as individual and unique as each of us.93

God promises that if we choose this loving relationship with him, the interactive benefits will cause us to become something different. The implication of the Decalogue in section 59 is that without learning how to love God and to love others, we risk losing the blessings of eternal life. Elder Oaks elaborates:

The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness he cited is that charity, ‘the pure love of Christ,’ is not an act but a condition or state of being. . . . Charity is something one becomes. Thus, as Moroni declared, ‘except men shall have charity they cannot inherit’ the place prepared for them in the mansions of the Father.94

In a recent article about Moroni’s writings on charity, authors Newell D. Wright and Val Larsen conclude that the goal of this life is to “become” a child of God via the gift of charity.

We are to pray with all the energy of heart to receive the gift of charity, to be possessed of and then possess it, so that we may become the children of God, be like him, have hope, and be pure even as he is pure.95

Thus, by their very nature, the first two commandments (love God and love others) challenge “us to become something.”96 The next three commandments are behavioral prohibitions and can be observed without necessarily experiencing a change of heart. Commandments six and seven return to this theme of becoming and are more about [Page 537]the attitudes and character traits that one will require to inherit eternal life than behaviors one should avoid. Aristotle argued that “virtues are formed in a man by his doing the actions”97 and by actively attempting to model one’s life around these attitudinal and idealized “commands,” one becomes progressively more righteous and Godlike.

Thank the Lord thy God in all things

Commandment six, “thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:7), asks that Latter-day Saints live their lives with a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness. This is a concordant theme shared by all major world religions and while the Abrahamic scriptures are replete with advice on possessing a thankful heart,98 this is the only time the topic of gratitude is elevated to the status of a commandment in a setting as important as a Decalogue.

Latter-day Saints leaders emphasize the topic of gratitude often. For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Russell M Nelson issued a gratitude challenge to all Latter-day Saints and asked them to post messages of thankfulness for seven days on social media.99 In a seminal talk on gratitude, prompted by his reading of section 59, James E. Faust argued that having gratitude to God is both a “binding commandment” and a “saving principle.”

It seems as though there is a tug-of-war between opposing character traits that leaves no voids in our souls. As gratitude is absent or disappears, rebellion often enters and fills the vacuum. . . . I refer to rebellion against moral cleanliness, beauty, decency, honesty, reverence, and respect for parental authority. A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the[Page 538] development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.100

While it is noteworthy that Church leaders have taught the importance of gratitude and that Latter-day Saints, in general, attempt to live lives of gratitude, it is not a topic that Latter-day Saint academics have actively and intently studied. With all of this emphasis from leaders, one would expect that Latter-day Saint scholars and theologians would have developed unique theories and theologies regarding gratitude. Gratitude, however, is not a topic that has engendered particularly deep thought within the Latter-day Saint academic community. There is only a short mention of the topic in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.101 The journal of Latter-day Saint philosophers and theologians, Element, has not published an article on the topic.102 This is not a criticism per se, but rather the identification of an opportunity for Latter-day Saint scholars to develop their own theories of gratitude given the abundance of restoration scriptures on the topic.

Secular philosophers, legal ethicists, and Judeo-Christian theologians, on the other hand, actively discuss, define, and debate gratitude and have developed theories regarding its importance. The conversation began as early as Aristotle and continues to this day. While a final definition of gratitude and consensus about how to classify it into different types has eluded philosophical consensus, scholars agree that while gratitude is most easily described as an emotion, it also can be viewed as an attitude, a character trait, a mood, a virtue, or an affect. As an emotion, gratitude is often fleeting and can be quickly forgotten. But the other types of gratitude have proven to have more permanent effects on human behaviors.

Another definitional conversation delineates between prepositional [Page 539]gratitude (the type that has an identifiable benefactor and benefice—“I am thankful to you for this thoughtful birthday gift”) and propositional gratitude (the type that does not have an identifiable benefactor—“I am grateful for the beautiful fog rising over the lake this morning”). Theologians, especially those of the Christian faith, have proposed theories that attempt to explain the uniqueness of devotional gratitude (and specifically “gratitude to God”) from the prepositional gratitude valued by philosophers. In a recent review, scholar Kent Dunnington summarized six attempts to explain the “distinctiveness of Christian gratitude.”103

Most Christian theologians have had something to say about gratitude, and some—Luther and Calvin, for example—have made it central to their theology. . . . Some theologians argue that Christian gratitude significantly relativizes gratitude to merely human benefactors, in a way that represents a threat to traditional forms of human community. Some theologians argue that the inscrutability of God presents an obstacle to normal human psychology such that the “natural man” is incapable of genuine gratitude to God, making most exercises of gratitude to God delusional or counterfeit. Some theologians think that Jesus Christ transforms the Christian such that she may be grateful for her self in a way that makes constant gratitude a reality in the life of the Christian.104

As Latter-day Saints become more active in this conversation, a theory of gratitude that seems to have particular promise for Latter-day Saint theology is one developed by Herbert McCabe, a British Dominican philosopher active in the late twentieth century. McCabe’s central argument is that love and gratitude are intertwined in a symbiotic sense.

The greatest gift of God to you is not just that he made you, but that you love him. The greatest gift of God is that you can speak with him and say “thank you” to him as a friend—that you are on intimate speaking terms with God. . . . He has given us not just our existence, our life, but a share in his [Page 540]life. We converse familiarity with God on equal terms as the Son does with the Father. We love God with the same love that Jesus had for him. . . . And we love ourselves not only because we came forth from God but because our life is God’s life, the life of the Spirit.105

According to McCabe, it is the act of gratitude towards God that facilitates our loving relationship with him. “For Christians, gratitude is not something we exercise or experience after we have seen the goodness of ourselves, others, and the world around us. Gratitude is what allows us to see the goodness of ourselves, others, and the world around us.”106 For believers, expressing gratitude to God is often the first step on the journey of learning to love God. While resentment, entitlement, and self-aggrandizement seem to come naturally to man, learned gratitude can be seen as an antithesis to these traits. Thus, by following the command to “thank the Lord thy God,” along with exercising portions of hope and faith, one can begin to learn to love God and to, subsequently, love others.

In the past two decades the topic of thankfulness, under the moniker of the “Science of Gratitude,” has been injected with a figurative “shot in the arm” through the emergence of a considerable body of psychological research that demonstrates a link between the attribute of gratitude and several positive personal health outcomes.107 Scholar Summer Allen explains how popular the topic has become academically:

In 2000 . . . only three peer reviewed papers published that year listed “gratitude” as a major subject or keyword; that number grew to 21 papers published in 2008; and to 111 published in 2015.108

[Page 541]The result of much of this research is that some psychologists argue the virtue of gratitude is one of the keys to living a positive and happy life. Robert A. Emmons, a pioneer of the latest wave of research, has recently postulated that the collective research supports the claim that gratitude positively impacts ten health and wellness measures:109

  1. Facilitates coping with stress
  2. Reduces toxic emotions resulting from self and social comparisons
  3. Reduces materialistic strivings
  4. Improves self-esteem
  5. Enhances accessibility to positive memories
  6. Builds social resources
  7. Motivates moral behavior
  8. Grateful people are spiritually minded
  9. Facilitates goal attainment
  10. Promotes physical health

As an example of one of the benefits, several researchers have found that subjects who exhibit gratitude traits have lower incidences of depression and are better equipped to cope with stress.110 Other researchers have found that gratitude motivates positive moral behavior. “Compelling evidence suggests that gratitude evolved to stimulate not only direct reciprocal altruism but also upstream reciprocity.”111 Emmons concludes that “gratitude promotes optimal functioning at multiple levels of analysis—biological, experiential, personal, relational, familial, institutional, and even cultural.”112

Most recently, a small handful of Christian researchers have begun to focus on the relationship between “gratitude to God” and benefits that are uniquely spiritual or religious. The focus of this research [Page 542]is often upon propositional forms of gratitude since the only logical benefactor is the divine.

There are three closely-related ways in which religiously motivated feelings of gratitude may differ from feelings of gratitude that arise elsewhere. First, by fostering a sense of gratitude, religious institutions provide a way for worshipers to express their faith and communicate their religious convictions to others. Second . . . every major faith tradition in the world encourages people to feel grateful. Consequently, individuals who practice these teachings are likely to feel a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in their faith. Third, if fellow worshippers also feel grateful, then this shared sense of gratitude may help promote more positive in-group feelings and foster greater congregational solidarity.113

So far, researchers have established correlations between gratitude and some religious attributes such as the ability to manage chronic financial strain,114 church attendance,115 “God-mediated” control,116 scripture reading,117 “spiritual self-transcendence,”118 perceived nearness to God,119 religious commitment,120 and overall religious well-being.121 Consider the discussion from a recent study that found a strong positive correlation between gratitude and long-term religious well-being.

It seems reasonable to propose that gratitude to God should enhance one’s relationship with God. Indeed, we found that dispositional gratitude to God predicted enhanced intimacy with God over time. It is also possible that gratitude to God decreases doubt about the existence of God, thus [Page 543]increasing religious commitment and a sense of nearness to God.122

Thus, research suggests that the sixth commandment, “thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things,” may enable our desire and willingness to follow the other commandments and help us to “become” more Christ-like. As Emmons states, “Gratitude, the affirmation of a bond between giver and receiver, is central to the human-divine relationship”123 and, therefore, a logical addition to the Latter-day Decalogue whose purpose is to help Saints become more godlike.

Broken heart and contrite spirit

Likewise, there is another spiritual trait that is important for Latter-day Saints to develop to in order to be worthy to inherit eternal life. The seventh commandment is like unto the sixth: “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:8). In other words, the Saints are to be both grateful and humble.

The conjoining of the phrases “broken heart” and a “contrite spirit” originated with the Psalmist (“the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit”) and is presented in a soteriological context in Psalm 34.124 While not using these exact terms, the Psalmist also proclaims that God is pleased by the individual sacrifice of “a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). Surprisingly, this formula of a sacrifice of a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” is not found within the New Testament, and, based on an admittedly non-exhaustive search, seems to be only found in the following two places in early Christian writings: an exposition on Psalm 51 by St. Augustine125 and a statement found in the Teachings of Silvanus that “the acceptable sacrifice is a contrite heart.”126 In contrast, the phrase is used often in the Book of Mormon with the most notable mention being at Christ’s appearance in 3 Nephi as a condition for baptism.127 Importantly, within the Doctrine and Covenants, section 59 is only one [Page 544]of a small handful of references to having a “broken heart and contrite spirit.” Each of the other Doctrine and Covenants references also highlights the salvific importance of this character trait.128

While some commentators liken the words contrite and contrition to repentance, most associate the phrase “broken heart and contrite spirit” with the character trait of possessing a deep sense of humility, open-heartedness, and a willingness to change. Commenting on Psalm 51 for example, St. Augustine concluded that “if you have humbled yourself, He (God) will draw near to you.”129 A contrite and broken heart seems to be both a necessary condition to recognize and respond to God’s love and a character trait that enables one to progress “grace upon grace.” The antithesis of a broken heart is a hardened heart, and, as Blake Oster notes, the scriptures regularly warn against this condition.

Throughout the Book of Mormon, but particularly for Alma and Amulek, the basic problem from which we suffer is a hard heart—a condition of being self-enclosed and isolated, a refusal to be open to God and others. . . . The metaphor of a hard heart occurs so many times throughout the Book of Mormon and the book of Alma that it must be seen as a central and vital theme. However, there is something [Page 545]curious about the hard/soft dichotomy. Whenever our hearts are hard, it is because we as human agents have chosen to harden our hearts. However, when a heart is softened, it is the Lord or God who softens our hearts through his compassion and love for us.130

The chicken/egg paradox is whether or not we first require a broken heart to respond to God’s love or if the omnipresence of God’s love within our hearts triggers a broken heart. Either way, there is a reciprocal relationship between possessing true humility and developing a selfless love for God. Those who are unable to open their hearts to God run the risk of becoming self-isolated and self-centered. Ostler elaborates:

Is there a universal characteristic of human experience that can explain sin conceiving in our hearts? The scriptures refer to a “hard heart” as both a cause of and also a result of “sinfulness.” Although the term is clearly a metaphor, it refers to a real human experience of becoming hardened to others, shutting others out, closing off and building walls that cannot be broken down from the outside by others. It refers to a refusal to be open to others as persons and to be enclosed in our own hard heart. As a result of a hard heart, others are not merely shut out, we are shut inside of ourselves and adopt a self-absorbed and selfish way of being.131

Although not as advanced as the science of gratitude, researchers have also begun to study the effects of the character trait of humility on health and wellness. Despite false starts due to 1) drawn-out discussions about definitions and measurement parameters, 2) a wealth of evidence regarding the negative impact of narcissism,132 and 3) an exaggerated emphasis on “intellectual humility,”133 researchers are [Page 546]just beginning to present evidence that the general trait of humility has a positive impact on wellness and life balance. Scholar Pelin Kesibir calls humility “the soil in which happiness grows” and has concluded that “humility as an approach to one’s self, others, and life in general . . . is most conducive to enduring happiness.”134 She and others argue that humility helps “soothe the soul,” offers more self-control, leads to less prejudice, more empathy in relationships, and encourages people be more helpful to others.135

The Lord’s day

The final three “thou shalt” statements relate, in one way or another, to worship on the Lord’s day. It is interesting to note that there are four references to the day of worship in these verses, but none of them mention the word Sabbath.136 Instead, alternative terms such as “my holy day,” “the Lord’s day,” and “a day” are employed. A possible (but very speculative) reason for this might be the desire to mitigate possible confusion between the rabbinical Sabbath rules of the Torah and the distinctive Sunday worship rules outlined in this new Decalogue.

Culling out the final three commandments from verses 9 to 14 is also more difficult than the previous seven commandments. Commentator Roy W. Doxey has argued that there are eight “Sabbath day”-related [Page 547]commandments in these verses.137 This is because there are several modifiers and tangential ideas presented in these verses. Employing a disciplined “thou shalt” model enables one to glean an outline of these final three commandments.

Commandment eight reads, “Thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9). This commandment is also prefaced with the promise that church attendance will keep “thyself unspotted from the world.” Thus, this commandment appears fairly straightforward. Members are encouraged to attend church services on the Lord’s holy day (generally, but not always, Sunday) and are promised benefits for doing so.

The next commandment, nine, is more difficult to parse. Verses 9 and 10 discuss the purposes of the Lord’s Day (“day appointed to rest from your labors” and “to pay thy devotions unto the Most High”) but does not offer another “thou shalt” commandment per se. The next actual “thou shalt” commandment says, “Thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.” While it is tempting to conclude that “oblations” are equivalent to tithes, the oblation referred to in this passage is one of “confession” and repentance. Thus, commandment nine is to confess and repent and specifically to each other, which is, at least in theory, beneficial for both the bearer and the receiver.

The final commandment can also be difficult to clearly understand. Referring to individuals’ actions on the Lord’s Day, it reads, “Thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart, that thy fasting be perfect” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:13). Understandably, some have thought that this commandment was either 1) to do no other thing on this day or 2) to prepare food with a singleness of heart. While the former is impractical and over-restrictive, the latter seems trivial and harkens to Torah-based food preparation restrictions. Each of these phrases are tangential to the real commandment, which is to “do none other thing that thy fasting be perfect.” This is supported by the next verse, which concludes, “Verily, this is fasting and praying, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:14). Recall that this revelation was published in the Book of Commandments under the heading “instructing the sa[i]nts how to keep the sabath & how to fast and pray.” So it appears that this commandment, when read in its entirety, is to do both perfectly; [Page 548]fasting and prayer. It is reasonable, however, to limit the focus of this commandment to the fast (and interpret the mention of prayer as intentionally restricted to the time of the fast).

Thus, in today’s vernacular, the final three “Sunday” commandments require the Saints to 1) attend church regularly, 2) repent and confess their sins, and 3) fast and pray perfectly. This is consistent with the Restored Church’s 2015 renewed focus on “Sabbath” observance.138 A few months earlier, Elder Nelson had emphasized the joyful nature of the day and how sabbath-day observance helps renew and rededicate our souls.

What did the Savior mean when He said that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”? I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal.139


This paper is the first attempt to argue that one of the purposes of section 59 is to present a new Decalogue for those “whose feet stand upon the land of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:2). As previously discussed, there are points and counterpoints to this argument. The supporting points are:

  1. The most famous portions of the Decalogue—“thou shall not” steal, kill, or commit adultery—are quoted along with Deuteronomy’s “thou shalt love the Lord.” This is an indicator that this revelation is meant to be viewed in the context of the Exodus 20 Decalogue.
  2. There is an equivalent of ten “thou shalt” commandments given in section 59.
  3. There is an inclusio that brackets the revelation, and it is thematically similar to the one that brackets the presentation of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy. The overall framing [Page 549]structure focuses the reader’s attention upon the new Decalogue (the center of the revelation).
  4. The Lord ties this revelation to temporal blessings and “eternal life in the world to come.” The revelation closes with a declarative statement from the Lord (“I, the Lord have spoken it”). This formula is similar to one found in Deuteronomy 11 and 2 Nephi 31.

There are also counterpoints:

  1. There is no known Joseph Smith statement specifically about section 59 being a new Decalogue.
  2. The early Saints viewed the revelation as a commandment about keeping the “Sabath” day.
  3. Doxey argues that there are up to eight commandments regarding Sunday worship in verses 9–14, presenting a difficulty of wrestling out just three commandments from the “holy day” portion of the text.
  4. The final two commandments are more difficult to parse than the first eight.

The strongest argument that the commandments presented in verses 9–14 are intended to be something unique and special is a typological one; the comparison between the soteriological testimony of the book of Deuteronomy, Nephi’s so-called “appendix” in the Book of Mormon, and section 59. The most important commandment in each of these texts is to “love the Lord” and the promised blessings in each of these texts are based on following this primary command and its derivatives. This command is repeated twice in Deuteronomy (6:1 and 11:1) and is bracketed by an inclusio that is thematically similar to the one bracketing section 59. It is significant that both section 59 and the Deuteronomist present Decalogues encased within inclusios with thematically similar keywords: “observe to do all the statutes and judgments” vis-à-vis “doeth the works of righteousness” (Deuteronomy 11:32 and Doctrine and Covenants 59:23).

In his end-of-life sermon, Nephi gives a similar soteriological formula—“press forward with a steadfastness in Christ . . . and a love of God and all men”—and concludes with the following declarative statement: “Thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20). Thus, what Nephi offers, in its essence, is the same promise that closes section 59: “He . . . shall receive . . . eternal life in the world to come, I, the Lord, have spoken it, and the Spirit beareth record.” [Page 550]Typologically, all three sources offer strongly worded salvific promises, extol the primary importance of “loving God,” and present themselves as revelatory theophanies. Even if one concludes that there are nine or eleven commandments in section 59, this conclusion underlines the importance of heeding this particular set of commandments. No such declarative promise is included (or even inferred) in other important revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants such as sections 42 or 76 (“The Vision”).

The heart of the Latter-day Decalogue is also well-aligned with recent soteriological theories being discussed by Latter-day Saints and their leadership. In the past, there has been much focus on obedience or transactional theories of salvation. While one’s actions remain important, theologians have realized that the notion of action-oriented “checklists” and scorecards seems to be missing the point of the Gospel of Christ—specifically, the foundation of God’s grace and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thus, as Neal A. Maxwell has stated, “The Lord loves each of us too much to merely let us go on being what we now are, for he knows what we have the possibility to become.”140 The Decalogue of Exodus 20 can be viewed, hypothetically, as a checklist of behaviors. As the Pharisees of Christ’s time proved, it was possible to follow every jot and tittle of the ancient Law and yet be condemned as a “viper” by Jesus himself (Matthew 3:7). The foundation of the Latter-day Decalogue, on the other hand, appears to be righteous virtues and characteristics that enable one to become more Godlike. It is entirely possible through self-discipline and the suppression of natural desires for one to refrain from breaking prohibitive commands (such as saying the “Lord’s name in vain” verbally out loud) and yet remain inwardly rebellious and profane. But virtues such as love, gratitude, broken heartedness, humility, and repentance are not easily feigned. These virtues are emblematic of modeling Christ-like behavior, and as one develops these traits, it is likely that one will become something different from one’s natural self. It is possible to become one with the Father and the Son and to be fully prepared to inherit eternal life — to become Godlike.

In its most simplistic form, the Latter-day Decalogue can be described as follows: love God, love thy neighbor, don’t steal, kill, or commit adultery, be grateful, be humble, go to church, repent, and [Page 551]fast/pray. The final five commandments are specific to the restored church and, arguably, might have been difficult for other ancient worship communities to adhere to. For example, most ancient Israelis lived in rural familial communities without communal worship facilities; thus the importance of the family structure and “honoring thy father and mother.” Given these societal restraints, a commandment to weekly “go to the house of prayer” would have been impossible for the vast majority of ancient Jews to follow.141

Because of the nostalgic cultural milieu that surrounds the original Decalogue, it is sometimes difficult to realize that those commandments were meant for a particular religious community during a specific age. The emergence of Christianity from its Jewish roots required adjustments to the original Decalogue of Exodus 20. Nephi offers a different Decalogue for all persons, “bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). And, not surprisingly, the restored church also received an updated Decalogue, grounded in the best traditions from both the Old and New Testament, and yet distinctly applicable to the latter days.

Concerning Joseph Smith’s understanding of section 59, I have been unable to locate commentary by him about this specific text. “Joseph once said his revelations ‘have been snatched from under my hand as soon as given.’”142 When the original Book of Commandments was being prepared, Smith gave his trusted companions editorial authority to ensure the correctness of the texts. John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and William W. Phelps made slight editorial changes to the [Page 552]revelation when it was copied for publication in “Revelation Book 1.” No substantive alterations have been made since. Because the early Saints consistently viewed section 59 via the lens of “Sabbath” worship, it is likely that Joseph Smith did not fully recognize section 59 as a new Decalogue.143 This should not be overly surprising to Latter-day Saints, both early and modern. During the formative phases of the restored church, “Joseph’s followers reacted quite differently to the words spoken as revelation and the words he spoke as a man.” For example, “When Joseph asked John Whitmer to be Church historian, Whitmer agreed only if the Lord would ‘manifest it through Joseph the Seer.’ Whitmer complied only when he was told in the voice of the Lord, ‘Behold it is expedient in me that my servant John should write and keep a regular history.”144 Thus, Joseph’s contemporaries perceived his revelations as separate, distinct, and more theologically authoritative than the prophet’s everyday words and opinions.

Modern readers and scholars have discovered richness, depth, difficulties, and complexity within Smith’s revelatory writings that it is likely Joseph did not fully appreciate at the time. A list of some of the discoveries by just one scholar, John W. Welch, illustrates the unlikelihood that Joseph Smith fully understood all of the complexity contained in his revelations. For example, Welch has discovered the use of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, the aforementioned Decalogue in the Book of Jacob, echoes of ancient legal traditions in Lehi’s words, temple themes in 3 Nephi, and a pseudepigraphic text with interesting parallels to the Book of Mormon called the Narrative of Zosimus.145 These are just some of the hundreds of examples of insights gleaned [Page 553]by students of his vast revelatory corpus that Joseph Smith likely did not foresee.

Now I wish to offer one last speculative comment. According to scholar Gerhard Hasel, the covenants of the Pentateuch each had a resulting “sign.”

As the Noahic covenant has a “sign” in the rainbow and the Abrahamic covenant has a “sign” in circumcision, so the Sinai covenant has a “sign” in the sabbath.146

Because of the predominance of the “Lord’s Day” in the new Decalogue, I believe that the sign for the Latter-day Decalogue should be similar to that of the Sinai covenant: Latter-day Saints wear their “sign” whenever they attend worship services with others, attend church, confess their sins, share their testimonies, and enjoy communal fasting. In short, our sign is our participation in our church family and community. And, most importantly, this communal association and support nurtures and intensifies our love for the Lord and for each other.

In his 2015 talk entitled “The Sabbath is a Delight,” Russell M. Nelson tells of his personal insights about the Sabbath and how he views the day as a sign of faithfulness.

How do we hallow the Sabbath day? In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.147

A Personal Note

My sister’s reaction upon reading a draft of this paper was the same as what I would predict your reaction probably has been: “Why wouldn’t the Lord have let Joseph Smith know?” There is no suitable answer [Page 554]to this question because it requires that we speculate about the Lord and the way that he interacts with his prophets and his people. Every time I read an article by Stanford Carmack I have the same guttural response: “Why would the Lord use an archaic form of English as the vehicle for the Book of Mormon text” and “Why would Joseph Smith alter so much of that text in later editions?” While I have taken each of these questions privately to the Lord, the best I can do publicly is to share the results of my academic inquiries and encourage more conversation about the miracle of the revelatory corpus that Joseph Smith has bequeathed to his followers. I fully embrace that while I may personally view section 59 as a Decalogue applicable to my personal life, the only way for it to receive a more universal status within the church is for those with the proper authority to inquire of the Lord.

With regards to Joseph Smith and section 59, I find an analog about the history of the discovery of the Quranic Decalogue enlightening. Early commentators argued that Quran 6 and 17 were a refashioning of the revelation given to Moses, even pointing to an instance where Mohammed is said to have used a variation of Quran 6 when discussing Moses with two Jewish acquaintances. Later commentators differentiated between the commands given to Moses and those found in the Quran; the critical distinction being the new claim that the Quranic commandments had already been given to Abraham generations before Moses ascended Mt. Sinai and now were found in the Quran. Ultimately, Muslim scholars now argue that Quran 6 and 17 have universal worth as commandments and that they are especially applicable to Islam; even calling the Quranic Decalogue an outline of the Islamic faith and the most essential element in the life of the human conscience. Thus, as I track the evolutionary progression of the interpretation of Quran 6 and 17, I find it unlikely that Mohammed could have predicted his followers would view this text as, progressively, 1) the Moses Decalogue, 2) a universal Decalogue given to Abraham, and, ultimately, 3) an Islamic Decalogue that serves as an outline of the faith. By not limiting all exegesis to just the recorded sayings and understanding of the prophet, the revelation found in the Quran has been allowed to breath, to grow, and to develop into something far greater.

As a people, I believe our growth hinges upon our willingness to allow Joseph Smith’s revelations the same freedom.

[Page 555][Author’s Note: I would like to thank George and Marcia Bennet for 1) saving countless numbers of newborn children across the globe as retired service missionaries teaching neonatal resuscitation techniques and 2) for randomly inviting me to share a “few thoughts off the cuff” at one of their morning devotionals. This was the first time I ever shared my thoughts on the Latter-day Decalogue.]

1. W. Gunther Plaut, “The Decalogue—General Introduction; The First Three Commandments,” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. W. Gunther Plaut (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981), 532.
2. Steven K. Green, “The Fount of Everything Just and Right? The Ten Commandments as a Source of American Law,” Journal of Law and Religion 14, no. 2 (2000): 525.
3. Plaut, “The Decalogue,” 531.
4. James L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible as It Was at the Start of the Common Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 634.
5. Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 23:10. Translation from Kugel, Traditions of the Bible, 635.
6. Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. 3, Bible Times and Characters from the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. Paul Radin (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1911), 95–96, Ginzberg declares that “this was the sixth revelation of God upon earth since the creation of the world. The tenth and last is to take place on the Day of Judgement.” Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 3:93.
7. “Contemporary critical scholarship is reluctant to ascribe the Ten Commandments, in their present form, to the Mosaic era. There is a wide consensus that the present form of the Ten Commandments is the result of a long historical development, whose individual steps cannot be identified with certainty. . . . Given the complexity of the process, it is virtually impossible to reconstruct any original form of the decalogue.” Raymond F. Collins, “Ten Commandments,” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 6:383.
8. Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 207. Friedman makes the following comments about Exodus 20: “The text of the Ten Commandments here does not appear to belong to any of the major sources. It is likely to be an independent document, which was inserted here by the Redactor. A slightly different version was used by the Deuteronomistic historian in Deuteronomy 5.” Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed: A New View into the Five Books of Moses (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2003), 153.
9. “The Pentateuch contains two versions (Ex 20:2–17; Deut 5:6–21), another version has come down to us in the Nash papyrus from about 100 B.C., and fragments of the decalogue have turned up at Qumran, including the phylacteries published by Yigael Yadin.” Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch, 207.
10. Collins, “Ten Commandments,” 6:384.
11. J. J. M. Roberts, The Bible and the Ancient Near East: Collected Essays (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2002), 45.
12. It is interesting to note that despite the order of presentation in Exodus (Decalogue followed by Laws), the consensus among Biblical scholars is that the modern version of the Decalogue was produced after many of the laws had been revealed. This is consistent with the Ginzberg story referenced earlier.
13. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible, 639. Kugel also quotes the following passage from Philo’s The Decalogue 19: “Those [laws] which were uttered by Him personally and by Him alone [that is, the Decalogue] were [at the same time] laws and general legal categories, while those which were uttered through the prophet [Moses] were all [merely] the former.” Kugel, Traditions of the Bible, 639. Another modern example is Cornelis Houtman, who states, “In my view, one should seriously consider the possibility that the decalogue is a compilation which was put together for the purpose of stating succinctly, in a few clear and essential precepts, the basic rules on which the pact between YHWH and Israel rested.” Cornelis Houtman, Exodus, vol. 3, Chapters 20–40 (Leuven, BEL: Peeters, 1993), 7.
14. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Exodus 24:12. Translation from Kugel, Traditions of the Bible, 640. A similar reference from a medieval Jewish text is, “The Ten Utterances of the Torah contain the essence of all celestial and terrestrial commandments . . . so as to conceive and behold the secret of the 613 commandments of the Torah.” Yitro 569, Zohar,
15. “There have been dissident opinions which hold that the words inscribed on the tablets were not those of this chapter but were from another ‘Decalogue,’ and most likely the ritual prescriptions of Exodus 34:14–26. This assumption was first put forward by a fifth-century writer, then vigorously pursued by the youthful J. W. von Goethe and later taken up by J. Wellhausen and the school of biblical criticism known by his name.” Plaut, “The Decalogue,” 531–32.
16. Friedman, Bible with Sources Revealed, 179.
17. Referencing Exodus 34:27, Friedman speculates, “Perhaps we should understand this to mean that God writes the words on one side of the tablets, and Moses writes the words of the second set of commandments on the other side.” Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2003), 294. Scholar Donald E. Gowan provides a useful summary of the difficulties of reading Exodus 19–34. Consider these two statements: “No part of the Bible contains as many literary and historical problems as this section of Exodus. It is impossible to write the history of the wilderness of Sinai experiences, and no one has offered a satisfactory explanation of the puzzling structure of chapters 19–24,” and, “It seems safe to say that the structure of Exodus 19–24 presents more unanswerable questions than any other part of the Old Testament. At the most elementary level, it is not even possible to be certain how many times Moses is supposed to have ascended and descended Mount Sinai. The Decalogue interrupts the context in a highly puzzling way. An innocent, first reader would not know what was inscribed on the stone tablets until Ex. 34:28 says it was the Ten Commandments.” Donald E. Gowan, Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 169, 173–74.
18. Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. David E. Green (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968), 69. Cornelis Houtman states, “The decalogue is not the only catalogue of stipulations in the OT. Various passages (e.g., 34:14–26; Lev. 18:6–17; 19:2–18; 20:2–21; Deut. 27:15–26; Ezek. 18:5–9, Ps. 15:2–5) are thought to contain decalogues.” Houtman, Exodus, 3:9.
19. Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), 6. Another possible reason for the importance of the number ten is the Jewish tradition of the minyan. Ten individuals (usually men in Orthodox Judaism) are also required for a minyan, the minimum number of adults required to be considered a community.
20. Paula Gooder, The Pentateuch: A Story of Beginnings (London: Continuum, 2000), 94.
21. Collins, “Ten Commandments,” 6:383.
22. Houtman, Exodus, 3:6.
23. Houtman, Exodus, 3:8.
24. Houtman, Exodus, 3:6–7.
25. “These laws consist of prohibitions against (1) idol worship, (2) blasphemy, (3) murder, (4) sexual sins, (5) theft or robbery, and (6) eating flesh cut or torn from a living animal. To these was added the injunction to (7) establish courts of justice.” Claire Foley, “The Noachide Laws,” Studia Antiqua 3, no. 2 (2003): 22.
26. Wikinoah, s.v. “Maimonides’ Law of Noahides,” last modified 10 May 2021,
27. Collins, “Ten Commandments,” 6:386.
28. Paul reaffirms Christ’s teaching when he says, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14).
29. Houtman, Exodus, 3:7.
30. See Mark 2:23–28, 3:1:6 and Luke 14:1–6 as examples. “The Gospels present Jesus often in conflict with the Pharisees’ legalistic view of sabbath laws.” Willard M. Swartley, “Sabbath,” in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. Everett Ferguson, 2nd ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 1007. One of the most entertaining tales of Sabbath conflict comes from a “noncanonical proto-orthodox forgery” called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. “The narrative opens with the young Jesus playing by the ford of a stream. Taking some clay, he models twelve sparrows. But, we are told, it was a Sabbath when he did this. A Jewish man passing by sees what Jesus has done and hurries off to tell his father, Joseph, that his son has profaned the Sabbath (by ‘making’ things). Joseph comes and upbraids Jesus for violating the Law. Instead of apologizing or repenting for a sin, Jesus claps his hands and cries to the sparrows, ‘Be gone!’ They immediately come to life and fly off chirping.” Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 205. According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, “The four Gospels record among eight sabbath incidents six controversies in which Jesus ‘rejected the rabbinic sabbath.’” Gerhard F. Hasel, “Sabbath,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 5:854.
31. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 97.
32. Swartley, “Sabbath,” 1008.
33. Swartley, “Sabbath,” 1008.
34. David Flusser, “Jesus, His Ancestry and the Commandment of Love,” in Jesus’ Jewishness: Exploring the Place of Jesus within Early Judaism, ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1997), 163. Flusser makes an interesting argument that Jesus’ own family, during his ministry, mostly rejected him. “There is, however, a psychological element in the life of Jesus that we may not ignore: his rejection of the family into which he was born. . . . As we have seen, an emotion-laden tension seems to have arisen between Jesus and his family. . . . Mark reduces this psychological background to a very simple formula: when Jesus left his workshop and set off to preach the Kingdom of God, his family thought he had gone mad. Mark reports that his family ‘went out to seize him, for they said, ‘he is beside himself.’ (Mark 3:21)” Flusser, “Commandment of Love,” 162–63.
35. The Gospel of Thomas’ version is, “Jesus said, ‘Whoever does not hate his father and mother cannot be a disciple of me and whoever does not hate his brothers and sisters and bear the cross as I do will not be worthy of me” (Gospel of Thomas 55). Latter-day Saint scholars have argued that Christ was engaging in hyperbole here to make a point. See S. Kent Brown, The Testimony of Luke (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2014), 709. Further evidence for this is the fact that Jesus listed “honor thy father and thy mother” when asked about eternal life (Mathew 19:19). In addition, Ephesians says to “honor thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise)” (Ephesians 6:2).
36. The “Quranic Ten Commandments” are 1) Do not associate anything with God, 2) Be good to your parents, 3) Do not kill your children because of poverty, 4) Do not even come close to shameful deeds, 5) Do not kill a human soul except for a just cause, 6) Do not touch the orphans’ property, except to improve it, 7) Give full measure and weight with fairness, 8) Speak justly even if it is against a close relative, 9) Fulfill your covenant with God, and 10) Follow my straight path and do not follow other paths. Hussein M. Naguib, The Quranic Ten Commandments: “This Is My Straight Path” Al An’am (6:153), 2nd ed. (self-pub., 2016), 1:5–6.
37. The Holy Qur’an 6:154.
38. Sebastian Gunther, “O People of the Scripture! Come to a Word Common to You and Us (Q3:64): The Ten Commandments and the Qur’an,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies 9, no. 1 (2007): 43,
39. Gunther, “People of the Scripture,” 43.
40. John W. Welch, “Jacob’s Ten Commandments,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS]; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 72. On a personal note, I am indebted to Welch’s paper for first alerting me to the possibility of alternative Decalogues.
41. Welch, “Jacob’s Ten Commandments,” 71. Jacob’s Ten Commandments are 1) Wo unto those who transgress God’s commandments, 2) wo unto the rich that despise the poor, 3) wo unto the deaf who will not hear, 4) wo unto the blind who will not see, 5) wo unto the uncircumcised of heart, 6) wo unto the liar, 7) wo unto the murderer, 8) wo unto them who commit whoredoms, 9) wo unto those who worship idols, and 10) wo unto all those who die in their sins. Welch, “Jacob’s Ten Commandments,” 69–70.
42. This article is the first published reference to this Decalogue. Brant Gardner has recognized the interdependence with the Ten Commandments but is puzzled by the prohibition against priestcrafts in verse 29. “It is not clear how this passage fits into Nephi’s narration. It recounts Yahweh’s basic laws, based upon the Decalogue. However, why would it come in the context of a discussion on priestcrafts?” Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, Second Nephi-Jacob (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 373. There is also an interdependence between Jacob’s “woe” idioms and Nephi’s commandments. Elsewhere I have argued that Nephi references Jacob’s sermon (2 Nephi 9–10) four times in 2 Nephi 2:25–30. See Dennis Newton, “Nephi’s Change of Heart,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 20 (2016): 282–83, Although Nephi’s Decalogue differs from Jacob’s, there is some verbiage that is unique to the two brothers. For example, both issue a command to avoid committing “whoredoms,” a common Old Testament term but one that is not found in the Decalogue. The fact that both Jacob and Nephi use this term implies some form of relationship between the two texts.
43. Robin Scott Jensen, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Riley M. Lorimer, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, vol. 2, Published Revelations (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2011), xxx.
44. Jensen, Turley, and Lorimer, Revelations and Translations, 2:xix.
45. “Gospel Topics—Commandments,” Topics and Questions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
46. Of these, twenty use the phrase “thou shalt not.”
47. Universal commands are also found in sections 21 (one instance), 132 (one instance), and 136 (two instances).
48. Doctrine and Covenants 98:39–45 reads, “If after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy—And so on unto the second time and third time; and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven. And if he trespass against thee and repent not the first time, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him. And if he trespass against thee the second time, and repent not, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him. And if he trespass against thee the third time, and repent not, thou shalt also forgive him. But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forgive him, but shalt bring these testimonies before the Lord; and they shall not be blotted out until he repent and reward thee four-fold in all things wherewith he has trespassed against thee. And if he do this, thou shalt forgive him with all thine heart; and if he do not this, I, the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred-fold” (emphasis added).
49. The only other mentions are Doctrine and Covenants 21:4, where the church is told that “thou shalt give heed unto all his words”; Doctrine and Covenants 132:36, where the commandment “thou shalt not kill” is reiterated; and Doctrine and Covenants 136:25–27, which concerns attempts to restore borrowed property (“thou shalt make diligent search”).
50. There are sixteen different “thou shalt” commandments given in this revelation: Thou shalt 1) not kill, 2) not steal, 3) not lie, 4) love thy wife, 5) not commit adultery, 6) not speak evil of thy neighbor nor do him any harm, 7) remember the poor, 8) not be proud in heart, 9) not be idle, 10) live together in love, 11) stand in the place of stewardship, 12) not take thy brother’s garment, 13) give into my storehouse, 14) ask and my scriptures shall be given, 15) take the things received as law to govern the church, and 16) observe all these things. An online commentary has the list at fifteen commandments. “DC 42,” DNA Tree, Koo Seung-Hoon, Note that this does not diminish the importance of section 42 and “the law” that was revealed to Joseph Smith. But it does not appear to be an alternate set of “Ten Commandments.”
51. Heading for Doctrine and Covenants 42:74–93.
52. The party that arrived on this date included Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, Edward Partridge, William W. Phelps, and Joseph Coe.
53. For verification of this historical summary, see Matthew C. Godfrey, et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, vol. 2, July 1831–January 1833 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 4–5.
54. Nearly all commentaries on Doctrine and Covenants 59 conclude that Joseph Smith gave this revelation after attending Knight’s funeral. One exception is the Joseph Smith Papers, which states that “it is unclear whether this revelation was dictated before or after JS was informed of her death.” Matthew C. Godfrey, et al., Documents, 2:31.
55. Matthew C. Godfrey, et al., Documents, 2:30.
56. Dennis L. Largey, ed., Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 105.
57. “Revelation, 7 August 1831 [D&C 59],” Historical Introduction, Joseph Smith Papers,
58. Roy W. Doxey, The Latter-day Prophets and The Doctrine and Covenants, vol. 2, Sections 42 to 76 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1964), 273.
59. Doxey, Prophets and Doctrine, 2:271.
60. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 429. McConkie and Ostler do list a set of ten revised commandments in their analysis but do not suggest that this an updated Latter-day Decalogue.
61. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001), 164.
62. Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (1981), 125.
63. The Exodus 20 Decalogue only has nine “thou shalt” statements as well. It is also important to point out that it remains unclear what the specific ten commands are in Exodus 20 because the answer is generally a function of one’s historic religious tradition.
64. Further support for this position is found in Doctrine and Covenants 42:29, which reads, “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.” Here both love of God and service of God are presented as intertwined elements; one logically flows from the other.
65. Commentators have debated whether this qualifier is meant to also apply to stealing or adultery; my own opinion is that it best fits grammatically as a modifier to just the last prohibition listed, “to kill.”
66. Jack R. Lundbom, Biblical Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015), 233.
67. Lundbom, Biblical Rhetoric, 29.
68. “If a word or word combination repeats at what appears to be the beginning and end of a rhetorical unit, but occurs nowhere else in reasonable proximity to that beginning or end, one may reasonably propose that the said repetition is an inclusio.” Lundbom, Biblical Rhetoric, 33.
69. Lundbom, Biblical Rhetoric, 29.
70. “The controlling structure for chap[ters] 5–11, however, is a keyword inclusio appearing at the limits of the unit warning about being careful to do the covenant demands. . . . The initial admonition is in 5.1, the repetition coming in 11.32. The whole is also chiastic: ‘And Moses summoned all Israel, and said to them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak to your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them (5.1). . . . [Y]ou shall be careful to do all the statutes and the ordinances which I set before you today (11.32).’” Lundbom, Biblical Rhetoric, 110.
71. Examples include “Even so. Amen.” (Doctrine and Covenants 62:9); “This is my voice unto all. Amen.” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:16); “By the power of my Spirit have [I] spoken it. Amen.” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:47); and “I am with you to bless you and deliver you forever. Amen” (Doctrine and Covenants 108:8).
72. Doctrine and Covenants 1:38–39 reads, “What I the Lord have spoken I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen.” While a number of revelations close with words that indicate that the Lord is the source of the revelation (e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 8:12 states, “It is I that have spoken it,” Doctrine and Covenants 12:9 states, “I am the light and the life of the world, that speak these words,” and Doctrine and Covenants 29:50 states, “And now I declare no more unto you at this time”), only these two invoke the testimony of both the Lord and the Spirit.
73. Charles R. Harrell, “This is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011), 299.
74. I acknowledge the consensus among New Testament scholars that Paul was likely the author of neither Colossians nor Ephesians.
75. F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 192–93.
76. Harrell, Development of Mormon Theology, 5.
77. Harrell, Development of Mormon Theology, 5.
78. Although there are a number of definitions for the term salvation, I consider it equivalent to the phrase “eternal life” described in the scriptures. Bruce R. McConkie provides a definition of the term that I find useful for this discussion. “Although salvation may be defined in many ways to mean many things, in its most pure and perfect definition it is a synonym for exaltation.” Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 257.
79. John Dillenberger, “Grace and Works in Martin Luther and Joseph Smith,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1978), 175.
80. Nonetheless, it is difficult to accommodate equivalence with ancient Jewish beliefs. “Salvation in the hereafter was never a stated objective in the Old Testament. Whenever the word ‘save’ or ‘salvation’ appears in the Old Testament, it refers to salvation from hardship and oppression in this life—most often from human hostility.” Harrell, Development of Mormon Theology, 297.
81. The phrase “eternal life” appears regularly in the Doctrine and Covenants (approximately thirty times). Many of the occurrences involve specific promises to individuals such as Martin Harris (section 5) and William McLellin (section 66) that are action dependent. Nine mentions apply to the full membership of the church and appear to address, both directly and indirectly, the question posed in Luke 10. With the exception of section 59, all of these mentions are thematically tangential to the gist of the revelation. For example, section 20 has a vast scope documenting the organization of the newly formed Church of Christ. The phrase “eternal life” is twice mentioned, the first as a reward for those who receive the restoration in faith and work righteousness (verse 14) and the second referring to those who are baptized and endure in faith (verse 25–26). Likewise, another mention in section 101 is included as a ray of hope to those who have been suffering from Missouri persecutions and specifically mentions “patience” as a key to “eternal life.” But this revelation and the aforementioned others are not soteriological-themed revelations. The conditional elements of the other mentions include faithfulness (sections 46 and 50), repentance (section 133), belief in Christ’s name (section 45), and a willingness to lay down one’s life for the Lord’s cause (section 98), but none individually offer a complete answer to the question posed in Luke 10.
82. The Saints are told, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:61). It is unclear whether this knowledge that brings life eternal is personal or institutional.
83. Doctrine and Covenants 59:18 also states that the faithful Saints are entitled to “all things which come of the earth,” and Doctrine and Covenants 59:3 states that they shall “receive for their reward the good things of the earth.”
84. Compare with Matthew 22:40.
85. Blake T. Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, vol. 2, The Problems of Theism and the Love of God (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2006), 3. Later, Ostler writes, “Joseph Smith’s most breath-taking and frankly audacious insight is that God seeks a peer relationship with us! He wants to bring us to relate to him and to one another with the very kind of interpenetrating love that the divine persons in the Godhead have for one another. To share the very kind of love shared by the divine person, it is necessary to be as they are: It is necessary to share a peer love.” Ostler, Problems of Theism, 3.
86. In addition to the referenced epiphany found in his so-called “appendix,” Nephi also lists the following as the second of his universal ten commandments: “Wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing” (2 Nephi 26:30).
87. Blake T. Ostler, Fire on the Horizon: A Mediation of the Endowment and Love of Atonement (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 5.
88. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, November 2000, 32–34, This quote appears to be particularly important to Oaks. He repeated this specific passage, verbatim and unattributed, in a talk entitled “Kingdoms of Glory,” Liahona, November 2023, 26–29,
89. Transactional leaning examples include statements like the following: “Records are kept of our works and will be used at the Judgment.” Terry B. Ball, “The Day of Judgment,” in Leon R. Hartshorn, Dennis A. Wright, and Craig J. Ostler, eds., The Doctrine and Covenants: A Book of Answers (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 193. “Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest.” McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 539. “The gospel plan consists first of a set of principles and ordinances which entitle one to membership in the church and admittance in the hereafter to the celestial kingdom.” Harrell, Development of Mormon Theology, 296.
90. Robert L. Millett and Gregory C. V. Johnson, Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation between a Mormon and an Evangelical (Rhinebeck, NY: Monkfish, 2007), 53. Note how expertly Millett weaves the Atonement into this soteriological equation.
91. John Hick, “A Pluralist View,” in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, ed. Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 43.
92. Ostler, Problems of Theism, 7.
93. Ostler, Problems of Theism, 114.
94. Oaks, “Challenge to Become,” 34.
95. Newell D. Wright and Val Larsen, “The Holy Ghost in the Book of Moroni: Possessed of Charity,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 57 (2023): 67, emphasis added,
96. Oaks, “Challenge to Become,” 32.
97. Aristotle, Ethics Book II,
98. Examples include, “Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name” (1 Chronicles 16:8); “O give thanks to the Lord of lords” (Psalm 136:3); “In every thing give thanks” (Thessalonians 5:18); “Giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17); “Every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God” (Mosiah 18:23); “I will give thanks unto my God forever” (Alma 26:37); “Ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:32); and, “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:19).
99. See Sarah Jane Weaver, “President Nelson Invites Us to #GiveThanks. Read His Full Message on the ‘Healing Power of Gratitude,’” Church News, 20 November 2020,
100. James E. Faust, “Gratitude as a Saving Principle,” Ensign, May 1990, 86,
101. Gary L. Browning, “Thankfulness,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed., Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 4:1472–73. The article focuses on scriptural exclamations for the need to be thankful and discusses proper expressions of gratitude.
102. The journal Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology, along with the annual meeting of the Society of Mormon Theologians and Philosophers, is a reasonably good barometer of topics actively being discussed in the theological community. Topics similar to gratitude such as grace, love, atonement, soteriology, hope, and faith are well represented in this journal.
103. Kent Dunnington, “The Distinctiveness of Christian Gratitude: A Theological Survey,” Religions 13, no. 10 (September 2022): 1,
104. Dunnington, “Christian Gratitude,” 3.
105. Herbert McCabe, God, Christ and Us (London: Continuum, 2003), 73–74. Cited by Dunnington, “The Distinctiveness of Christian Gratitude,” 10. There is a lot in common between Faust, “Gratitude as Saving Principle,” and McCabe’s work.
106. Dunnington, “Christian Gratitude,” 11.
107. “Research on how people benefit from gratitude, and ways to cultivate it, were not particularly popular topics of study until Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, and colleagues published a series of landmark papers, reporting of the results of research largely funded by the John Templeton Foundation, in the early 2000s.” Summer Allen, The Science of Gratitude (Berkeley: Greater Good Science Center, 2018), 11,
108. Allen, Science of Gratitude, 11.
109. Robert A. Emmons and Anjali Mishra, “Why Gratitude Enhances Well-Being: What We Know, What We Need to Know,” in Designing Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward, eds. Kennon M. Sheldon, Todd B. Kashdan, and Michael F. Steger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 248–62,
110. As examples see Neal Krause, “Religious Involvement, Gratitude, and Change in Depressive Symptoms Over Time,” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 19, no. 3 (July 2009): 155–72; and Jo A. Iodice, John M. Malouff, and Nicola S. Schutte, “The Association between Gratitude and Depression: A Meta-Analysis,” International Journal of Depression and Anxiety 4, no. 1 (2021),
111. Emmons and Mishra, “Why Gratitude Enhances,” 253.
112. Emmons and Mishra, “Why Gratitude Enhances,” 249.
113. Krause, “Involvement, Gratitude, and Change,” 157.
114. Krause, “Involvement, Gratitude, and Change,” 155.
115. Krause, “Involvement, Gratitude, and Change,”155.
116. Krause, “Involvement, Gratitude, and Change,”155.
117. Robert A. Emmons and Teresa T. Kneezel, “Giving Thanks: Spiritual and Religious Correlates of Gratitude,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 24, no. 2 (2005): 140.
118. Emmons and Kneezel, “Giving Thanks,” 140.
119. Philip Watkins, Michael Frederick, and Don E. Davis, “Gratitude to God Predicts Religious Well-Being over Time,” Religions 13, no. 8 (July 2022): 1,
120. Watkins, Frederick, and Davis, “Gratitude to God.”
121. Watkins, Frederick, and Davis, “Gratitude to God.”
122. Watkins, Frederick, and Davis, “Gratitude to God,” 9.
123. Emmons and Kneezel, “Giving Thanks,” 140.
124. Psalm 34:18.
125. St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 51,
126. The Teachings of Silvanus 104,20, Silvanus is a Nag Hammadi text from Corpus VII.
127. 3 Nephi 9:20. “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” The other mentions are 2 Nephi 2:7, Helaman 8:15 (“contrite spirit” only), Ether 4:15, and Moroni 6:2.
128. One reference, Doctrine and Covenants 20:37, emphasizes the association of contrition with humility and requires the those who desire baptism reflect these traits: “All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins . . . shall be received by baptism into his church.” The only other reference has to do with the Saints who had been persecuted in Jackson County, Missouri. Doctrine and Covenants 97:8 states “Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me.” Note the salvific language associated with broken heartedness and contrition here; the Lord says this condition (along with covenant observation) leads to his acceptance of them.
129. St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 51, His comments on verse 17 are that “utterly he despises bull, he-goat, ram: now is not the time that these should be offered. They were offered when they indicated something, when they promised something; when the things promised come, the promises are taken away. ‘A heart contrite and humbled God despises not.’ You know that God is high: if you shall have made yourself high, He will be from you; if you have humbled yourself, He will draw near to you.”
130. Ostler, Problems of Theism, 209.
131. Ostler, Problems of Theism, 161.
132. See as an example Don Emerson Davis Jr. and Joshua N. Hook, “Measuring Humility and Its Positive Effects,” Observer, 30 September 2013,
133. See as an example Tenelle Porter, Chayce R. Baldwin, Michael T. Warren, et al., “Clarifying the Content of Intellectual Humility: A Systematic Review and Integrative Framework,” Journal of Personality Assessment 104, no. 5 (September 2021): 1–13, Because intellectual humility has been defined as “the degree to which people recognize that their beliefs might be wrong,” it is a strain of investigation that is probably not consistent with the “broken heart” imagery found in section 59. Mark R. Leary, Kate J. Diebels, Erin K. Davisson, et al., “Cognitive and Interpersonal Features of Intellectual Humility,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 43, no. 6 (2017),
134. Pelin Kesibir, “Humility: The Soil in Which Happiness Grows,” in Jennifer Cole Wright, ed., Humility (New York: Oxford Academic, 2019), 17,
135. Jeremy Dean, “Benefits of Humility: 8 Ways Being Humble Improves Your Life,” PsyBlog, 29 May 2021,
136. There are only five mentions of the word Sabbath in the Doctrine and Covenants, and none of them are in revelatory text. Four of the mentions are in the summary material (sections 58, 59, 68, and 110). The only textual mention is Joseph Smith’s commentary in Doctrine and Covenants 127:10, which states, “Addressed them from the stand on the subject of baptism for the dead, on the following Sabbath.” It is clear that the term Sabbath was part of the vernacular of the early Saints. The summary to section 59 reads, “Early members characterized this revelation as ‘instructing the Saints how to keep the sabbath and how to fast and pray.” But it was not the term received via revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 59. Note that the evidence suggests that it was not common for the Doctrine and Covenant revelations attributed to the Lord to refer to the “Lord’s day” as the Sabbath day.
137. Roy W. Doxey, The Doctrine and Covenants Speaks, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1964), 448–51.
138. “Church Leaders Call for Better Observance of Sabbath Day,” Church News, 15 July 2015,
139. Russell M. Nelson, “The Sabbath is a Delight,” Ensign, May 2015, 129,
140. Neal A. Maxwell, “In Him All Things Hold Together,” BYU Speeches, 31 March 1991,
141. The vast majority of ancient Israelis lived in rural villages. Here is how archaeologist William G. Dever describes their life: “The family was the essential element of the society, economy, and polity. ‘Family’ included the multigenerational nuclear family, plus the extended family both by birth and marriage, plus related families in the village and the next village. . . . Beyond that world there was no other into which one needed to venture. Most people in the villages had never traveled to a big market town twenty miles distant. They had never encountered a government official, unless one came around to levy taxes, or conscript the young men for military service. Few had ever met an official priest, or visited the temple in Jerusalem. Traveling on donkey back meant making about five miles a day, sleeping overnight in a cave or shelter, trying to carry enough food to tide one over. A long journey was simply not worth the effort.” William G. Dever, The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: Where Archaeology and the Bible Intersect (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 203–4.
142. Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 130.
143. In the absence of direct commentary from Joseph Smith about section 59, it is important to recognize that all conjecture about his thoughts or understanding on this topic is purely speculative.
144. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 129.
145. See John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structures, Analyses, Exegesis, ed. John W. Welch, reprint ed. (Provo, UT: Research Press, 1981); Welch, “Jacob’s Ten Commandments;” John W. Welch, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008); John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount: A Latter-day Saint Approach (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1990); and John W. Welch, “The Narrative of Zosimus (History of the Rechabites) and the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997).
146. Hasel, “Sabbath,” 5:852.
147. Nelson, “Sabbath is a Delight,” 130.

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