John and Elsa Johnson Home and Farm, Part 1: Birthplace of the Doctrine and Covenants in Hiram Ohio Transcript

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Dr. Craig J. Ostler: This farm home located about 30 miles south and a little east of Kirtland Ohio, was the home the Prophet Joseph Smith and Emma, along with twin son and daughter they adopted for about one year. They were here from September 1831-1832 at the invitation of John and Elsa Johnson, who provided rooms for them in which they could live. Parlor room, they converted to a bedroom. And also an upstairs office where Joseph could translate the Bible.1 Along with Joseph and Emma, they also invited Sidney Rigdon and his family to come and live here so that he could serve with Joseph in the translation of the Bible as Joseph’s scribe. There was an earlier home the Johnsons had built, a log home, and they gave that to Sidney and his wife, located across the street from this large farm home.2 This home, then during that year that Joseph was here, served as one of the most important locations in the history of the restoration.3

Dr. Kenneth Alford: Joseph comes to Hiram, Ohio, because things are just too busy in Kirtland for him to get much done. And so John Johnson offers for him to come to this great farm house and while he’s there, in November of 1831, during the first week, beginning on the first of November, Joseph calls a conference because Joseph has received about 20 revelations in the Hiram area.4 Over a dozen of them are eventually canonized, but he receives some that are not canonized. And the leaders of the Church are gathering to see how best to put these forth before the world, to publish them, so that Joseph’s revelations can go out to the world. This is one of the reasons why the John Johnson’s farmhouse is called the birthplace of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Dr. John P. Livingstone: This may well be the room where November 1831 conference was held as the brethren planned on the publication of the Book of Commandments to be done down in Missouri.5

Dr. Kenneth Alford: The group of leaders that have assembled in the John Johnson farm is an amazing group of early brethren in the Church. Joseph Smith is there, Oliver Cowdery is there, Sidney Rigdon is there, the Whitmer brothers are there, that’s David, John, and Peter Jr. Four future apostles in the quorum of the twelve are there; William E. McLellin, and we’ve got Orson Hyde, and then two of the Johnson sons, Luke and Lyman Johnson.6

Dr. Craig J. Ostler: There were several revelations that were received during those days of the conference and during that time, as they were determining that publication to go forth, the Lord gave preface to what would become known as the Book of Commandments, it’s now section one of the Doctrine and Covenants. Among the many things the Lord gave at that time he said,

17 Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
18 And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—

He also continued,

37 Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.
38 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.
39 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. (D&C 76:17-18, 37-39)

Dr. Kenneth Alford: So, as they gather together, they decide that they need to publish these. And they begin talking about the language that’s been used in these revelations because Joseph has written these down many times. It’s direct from the Lord, but sometimes Joseph is left to put it in the best words that he can to convey the meaning of the Lord.7 And so some of the attendees are picking at the language that Joseph is used, feeling that it’s not scriptural enough.8 And so they’re discussing this, and it’s in this setting that section, what we today refer to as Section 67, is received. In Section 67, the Lord states His challenge this way, beginning in verse six, He says,

6 Now, seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you; or, the Lord says in verse seven,
7 If there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true.
8 But if you cannot make one like unto it, [even the smallest or least of the revelations] ye are under condemnation if you do not bear record that they are true. (D&C 67:6-8)

Well one of the attendees William E. McLellin, who is a school teacher by trade, takes Joseph up on the challenge, and he tries to write a revelation. He tries, he fails miserably. He comes back basically with hat in hand to the conference attendees and acknowledges that he can’t write even the smallest of these revelations that Joseph has received. Shortly thereafter then, the conference attendees all sign their name to a document that testifies to the world of the truthfulness and the importance than the reality of the fact that Joseph is receiving these revelations from God.9 Following the conference being adjourned, Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer were directed by the Lord in section, what is today, Doctrine of Covenants 69, to travel together and to take what we know today as the manuscript revelation book one, or as it was known then, the Book of Commandments and Revelations, put it in the hands of William W. Phelps who has the church press and who is preparing to eventually print the Book of Commandments. And so they leave on the 11th of November, travel directly to Missouri and publication work begins on that volume. Now while the book is gone, this is the main copy of the revelations, while that book is gone, Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith continue working at the John Johnson farm on what’s known at the time as the new translation, and which we know today as the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible.10

Dr. Craig J. Ostler: The home of John and Elsa Johnson served as the residence of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Emma and as the headquarters of the Church for about one year, from September 1831 through September 1832. Part 2 of John and Elsa’s home will provide insights from the Prophet’s inspired Bible translation and what has become known as the Vision, now recorded in Section 76 of the Doctrine & Covenants.



Notes

1http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/intro/documents-volume-2-part-2-introduction-hiram-ohio-fall-1831?p=1&highlight=september%2012%201831
2Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1983), 82-83.
3Ibid.
4Doctrine and Covenants 1, 65-71, 73-74, 76-81, 99, 133.
5“Revelation, 1 November 1831–A [D&C 68],” p. 113, The Joseph Smith Papers http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-1-november-1831-a-dc-68/1?highlight=November%201831%20Conference
6Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1983), 26-29.
7Teaching this principle Brigham Young said, “I am so far from believing that any government upon this earth has constitutions and laws that are perfect, that I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fullness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities. . . .” Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-86), 12:314.
8“History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 161, The Joseph Smith Papers, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/167.
9“History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 162, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 3, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/168.
10In the History of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith indicates, “After Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer had departed for Jackson county, Missouri, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures and continued to labor in this branch of my, <​calling​> with elder Sidney Rigdon as my scribe.” (“History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 175, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 3, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/181)