There are 20 thoughts on “D&C 21, George Albert Smith, and Hugh B. Brown: A Fresh Look at Three Incidents in Church History”.

  1. Duane Boyce has again given us a very fine and well-reasoned piece, this time pointing out problematic issues that I also have long been bothered by.

    Wresting the scriptures to agree with personal views is a growing tendency in the church. It has been unfathomable to me how Terryl Givens could interpret D&C 21 the way he does, and it is refreshing to see Boyce provide a strong rebuttal of Givens’ misinterpretation. When issues of faith and doubt are in play, one is always best served by seeking prophetic interpretation over scholarly analysis. A passage of scripture will not mean one thing to a doubter (giving license to doubt) and another to a faithful believer. In one narrow sense, we should not even need this excellent piece from Boyce–the spirit of discernment tells us (or should tell us) the same thing anyway.

    The price is far too high to change the doctrine to keep doubters in; it only leads to muddy waters and eventual personal apostasy.

    Duane repeatedly uses the term “in my experience” to set a stage for examination. I completely concur. In my own experience, I have seen and observed exactly the same manipulations with these same 3 items that he has.

    Right now, one has but to glance over the pages of the SL Tribune website to see LGBT activists wresting and manipulating Jesus and scripture to turn evil to good and good to evil. So this is a common effort from a source other than the Lord.

    Those who believe that the church has disavowed the restriction on the priesthood (lifted by revelation in 1978) need to rethink their conclusion and reread the race and the priesthood essay, where no such thing is said. That restriction was not a mistake and it was not removed until the time was right and the Lord revealed that it should be.

    I have found that I do not need to pray about every matter that comes from the prophet to the people and that such would be a waste of time. I know they are prophets of God already; I happen to agree with everything they say because it fits with the scriptures and prophetic teachings.

    I do not believe there was “reversal” of revelation regarding “children” of LGBT people. I think it a matter of implementation policy and semantics, and that the same foundational issues are at stake. Meaning–do we live the commandments or not?

  2. Duane,
    I appreciate very much your perspective on this topic. Indeed, when I was at BYU ten years after President Brown’s address, I heard him quoted several times, usually by students who were justifying their resistance to the school’s honor code or to some element of living the gospel itself. They would also invoke Revelations 3:16 to give their stance more validity. A few would even accuse those who disagreed with them of being incapable of thinking for themselves.

    I am glad that you brought in Wilford Woodruff’s related remarks and agree that they complement President Brown’s statements very well.

    It is important to recall the context of President Brown’s comments. This was 1969. Communism was on the rise across the globe with internal oppression and active external threats from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. We were losing Viet Nam to this wave and on our doorstep Cuba had succumbed just a few years earlier. Pol Pot would work his atrocities in Cambodia a few years later. All of these regimes were successful at stifling freedom of thought. In such a climate, the Gospel could not be introduced and flourish, nor could the human spirit thrive.

    President Brown’s remark “In this age of speed there seems to be little time for meditation” remains especially relevant for us today.

    Like many who contribute here, I have known a few current General and Area Authorities at a local level prior to their calls. I would say that none of them were blind or passive in applying obedience to counsel; rather, I saw them take First Presidency letters or other counsel and make it a matter of meditation and prayer, including discussions in ward or stake councils. They did not simply and robotically accept and parrot the counsel; instead they tried to understand it and worked to know how best to implement or teach it to their flock. This kind of reaction represents the spirit of what President Brown was teaching, in my opinion (“One may memorize much without learning anything”).

    Passive and robotic acceptance of prophetic counsel is antithetical to the receipt of personal revelation, a necessary ability to which President Nelson has been teaching and exhorting us.


  3. On April 6, 1830, at the organization of the Church, the Lord said this regarding Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants Section 21: “Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me (v. 4); for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (v. 5).2

    Naturally, this statement is understood to refer to all prophets, not just Joseph, and in interpreting it, the prima facie reading would be that the Lord is telling us that following prophets is not easy: doing what the Lord wants, as revealed through his prophets, often requires faith, sacrifice, and perseverance.

    The prima facie reading of the passage admittedly refers solely to Joseph Smith. This literal, facial reading contradicts the alleged “natural understanding” which extends the applicability of the passage to people the Lord is simply not talking about: anyone other than Joseph Smith.

    This “natural” extension of the passage to people the Lord is simply not talking about contradicts not only the text, but also seems to break the commandment contained therein by violating Joseph’s repeated teaching that the proper interpretation of scripture is the literal, facial reading[1], depending on whether Joseph received those words from the Lord while walking in all holiness before him.

    1. See, as just one example among many, “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843],” p. 1459, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed May 28, 2019,

  4. Using the “contradictory” revelations regarding children of gay parents as evidence of prophetic fallibility is very troubling. Following that logic then president Nelson, and the Quorum of the Twelve were dishonest in their assertion that these polocies were both received by revelation. President Nelson combining with the Twelve to give a false narrative? – absurd.

  5. This essay reminds us of the need for historical context in understanding the intent of any “sound bite”, even when we find a different intent more emotionally appealing. I don’t think the essay argues in any way for prophetic infallibility, and in fact, goes to great length to declare that this is a limited discussion involving the accuracy of interpretation of these three statements. I know prophets have made mistakes that have caused much pain and suffering, in the past and in the present. But I don’t see anything in this essay that says otherwise. I’m grateful to have the additional documentation. Thank you.

  6. Great insights! I agree 100%! There is an effort within the LDS scholarly community and the LDS community at large to downplay the role of revelation and the authority of prophets & apostles to make our doctrine & practices more harmonious with the doctrine & practices of the world. But its this mindset and spirit that eventually lead to the overthrow of the primitive church, and will likewise lead (as it already has) to the overthrow of many individuals in the latter-day church.

    This movement within the LDS community is a text-book case of the philosophies of men being mingled with scripture. And almost without fail, those who support it are those who wish to sustain scholarly wisdom (and by extension their own) as on par with if not greater than prophetic council. Such a course, if not forsaken, will always lead to apostasy.

  7. I must agree.

    Nowhere in the article does Boyce acknowledge that modern “prophets” can and do make serious mistakes regarding doctrine. Nor does he point out the responsibility of members to critique the words of authorities to see if they are congruent with God’s word in scripture.

    The apologetic nonsense in this article truly is promoting the concept of de facto prophetic infallibility.

    If “prophets” don’t ever make mistakes then we should still be teaching and believing in the Adam God doctrine and we should still be withholding priesthood from men of color, and a host of other heresies that Brigham Young introduced into the church which have now been rejected by current leaders.

    Brother Boyce would do well to read and ponder the following passages of scripture.

    40 Therefore, if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; or if thy brother offend thee and confess not and forsake not, he shall be cut off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell.

    41 For it is better for thee to enter into life without thy brother, than for thee and thy brother to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

    42 And again, if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.

    43 It is better for thee, to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched.

    44 Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another.

    45 Seek unto my Father, and it shall be done in that very moment what ye shall ask, if ye ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive.

    46 And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.

    47 It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God, with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

    48 For it is better that thyself should be saved, than to be cast into hell with thy brother, where their worm dieth not, and where the fire is not quenched. JST Mark 9:40-48

    • I would just like to point out that the article was not about the overall accuracy of prophetic revelation. It was merely pointing out that three particular incidents that people use to argue against prophetic reliability are actually not helpful for that argument. Anyone who wants to argue for the fallibility of the prophets can do so using the very points you bring up (and others). But I think they should maybe be cautious about using the episodes Boyce mentions here.

  8. Thanks for a clear explanation of the needed for spiritual verification of prophetic instruction. That most members receive such verification quietly as a deep impression without publicly agonizing over a matter, does not mean they follow blindly.

    There is one minor error. Ecclesiastical endorsement was not required for registration at BYU in1969 when I was a student. It began sometime after my graduation in 1970.

    • I think you may be confusing the ecclesiastical endorsement for *continuing* attendance with ecclesiastical interviews for *admission* to BYU. _BYU: A House of Faith_ says: “In 1967, BYU consolidated its admissions criteria to include a combination of high school grade point averages; ACT scores; ecclesiastical interviews; scholastic, creative, and athletic talents; and ‘other personal circumstances.'” This seems to be in harmony with what Boyce has written.

      • Oops! An article in the February 1, 1971, edition of _The Daily Universe_ says that ecclesiastical interviews began “a year and a half ago”.

        That will teach me to trust Signature Books. 😉

  9. Excellent insights. I remember reading the original commentary referenced here and the pushback. Maybe I’m not clued enough — but did Givens and others ever respond? I’m wondering how that interpretation of D&C 21 remains scholarly defensible…beyond the underlying effort to keep those wavering still in the tent.

    • The authors at issue didn’t respond directly that I know of and I’ve followed this particular debate pretty closely.

  10. This article’s misguided attempt to argue for a de facto prophetic infallibility, throwing faithful Latter-day Saints like Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason under the bus, cannot be reconciled with current events in the Church, particularly the issuing of two contradictory policies about the baptism of the children of gay parents. Both policies were represented as the products of revelation, yet they directly contradict each other. If we are to presume all revelation is as crystal clear and free from human error as Boyce insists, we have to contort ourselves into bizarre knots to explain why God changes his mind so quickly and dramatically.

    What’s certain is that this article is not free from significant error, and I am grateful that the Lord does not require me to receive Duane Boyce’s words with patience, faith, or, indeed, at all.

    • I began reading this article with the same attitude, but by the end I was persuaded. The author repeatedly made it clear that his brief was limited: that the three passages did not speak against the reliability of the prophet’s words. The article was not directly concerned with the more general question. To take another example (somewhat the converse of the article) which I maintain though others may disagree: Jacob 2:30 does not countenance polygamy, and such support for plural marriage that exists is to be found elsewhere.

      • Actually, “countenancing polygamy” is exactly what Jacob 2:30 does. (How can you possibly interpret it otherwise?) On the condition though that the Lord expressly commands it, otherwise monogamy is the standard.

        And further, it appears that the Lord’s tone in this verse, as well as the ones preceding & following it, indicates that polygamy is a divinely authorized exception to the general rule of monogamy which the Lord authorizes only when there’s an unusual outsized need to multiply & replenish the earth with the faithful at an exponential rate.

    • He’s not arguing for a de facto infallibility of prophets, he’s simply correcting a fairly widespread misinterpretation & misapplication of D&C 21:4-5. And he’s right. Those verses do not sustain Patrick Mason’s and Terryl Givens’ narrative of erring prophets and unreliable revelation.

      Nor does the contemporary example you sight. Did it ever occur to you that the Lord only intended to implement the baptismal ban of children of gay parents for a short season? And once the time and season thereof was fulfilled, and his purposes accomplished, he directed the Brethren to change the policy? The scriptures as well as church history are replete with examples of this.

      “[For] that which is wrong under once circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, Thou shalt not kill; at another time He said, Thou shalt utterly destroy. This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted: by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God required is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” Joseph Smith

    • I’m not sure I agree. The article does not at all say that every revelation is always crystal clear. It just says that these three episodes don’t show that revelation is faulty. There may be other reasons to prove that revelation is faulty (although I personally disagree that the recent policy changes stand as such proof) but that has nothing to do with this article.

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