Evidence #412 | July 10, 2023

Doctrinal Guide and Handbook

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Scripture Central


The Book of Mormon contains a distinctive and consistent set of doctrines, principles, and practices. These features—which functioned as a valuable doctrinal and administrative guide to the early Church—would likely have been difficult for Joseph Smith to fabricate.

It has sometimes been assumed that early leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mostly ignored the Book of Mormon after it was published. According to John W. Welch,

Some people have searched for, and for the most part not found, much evidence that early Church meetings and practices were being modeled on directions taken from the Book of Mormon. But newly published documents, databases, and search engines yield more evidence than has been previously set forth. … I believe that people should no longer ignore this elephant in the room, namely the Book of Mormon, as a persistent and even dominant source of Church administrative genius.1

Welch further argues,

Although most modern Latter-day Saints do not regularly recognize their deep indebtedness to the Book of Mormon for many of their institutional assets, the administrative character and personality of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has indeed grown directly from the genetic material found in the Book of Mormon, which can easily be seen as the nucleus in the germination of the Restoration.2

Early Revelations

Evidence that the content of the Book of Mormon was indeed tied to the latter-day Restoration movement can be seen in some of the first revelations given to Joseph Smith. The data in the following chart was originally identified by Welch to help track the timing and sequence of the Book of Mormon’s translation. Yet a side benefit of this study is that it shows how contemporaneous revelations (found today in the Doctrine and Covenants) may have drawn upon and interacted with the Book of Mormon itself.3

Date (1829)

Possible Chapters Translated

Associated Revelations/Documents

April 9


Mosiah 811

About this time, D&C 8 was received, directed to Oliver, about the power to translate. Compare Mosiah 8:11–16, speaking of King Mosiah’s power to translate.

April 26

Alma 3940

About this time, D&C 9 was received (compare D&C 9:14, “a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day,” with Alma 11:44; 40:23).

May 21

3 Nephi 2830 and 4 Nephi

About this time, D&C 7 may have been received, speaking about John not tasting death. Compare material in the account about the Three Nephites in 3 Nephi 28:1 (“what desirest thou?” D&C 7:1); 28:2 (“speedily,” D&C 7:4); 28:7 (“never taste death,” “power over death” in D&C 7:2).

May 30

Moroni 58

About at this point, D&C 12 was received, directed to Joseph Knight Sr. (compare D&C 12:8, “full of love,” “faith, hope and charity,” with Moroni 7:1; 8:14).

May 31

Moroni 910 and title page

About this time, D&C 11 was revealed, directed to Hyrum. Compare D&C 11:16 (“my gospel”), and D&C 11:25 (“deny not”) with Moroni 10:8, and the previously translated 3 Nephi 27:21.

June 9

1 Nephi 1316

About this time, D&C 18 was received (compare D&C 18:20, “church of the devil” with 1 Nephi 14:10).

June 21


About this time, Oliver Cowdery composed the “Articles of the Church of Christ.” This document quotes extensively, verbatim, from the Original Manuscript of 3 Nephi 9:15–16, 18; 11:23–27, 32, 39–40; 18:22, 28–33; 27:8–10, 20; Moroni 3:1–4; 4:1–2; 5:1–2; 6:6; and also from D&C 18:4, 22–25, 31, 34.

June 22

2 Nephi 2831

About this time, D&C 17 was received, authorizing Oliver, David, and Martin to obtain a view of the plates (D&C 17:2; compare 2 Nephi 27:12).


These correspondences suggest that even before the Book of Mormon was published, it proved to be a foundational document upon which other revelations were built or with which they were linked.

Early Governing Documents

Another clear example of dependence on the Nephite record can be seen in an early Church document titled “Articles of the Church of Christ” (which is briefly mentioned in the chart above). It was created in 1829 by Oliver Cowdery, based on a revelation commanding Oliver to “rely upon the things which are written; For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church” (D&C 18:3–4). As explained by F. Scott Faulring,

Oliver selected relevant material from the Book of Mormon manuscript and used these excerpts to compose the earliest procedural regulations for the soon-to-be reestablished Church of Jesus Christ. More than half of Oliver’s document … consisted of either direct quotations or close paraphrases from the Book of Mormon.4

Not only did Cowdery’s original document influence the establishment and governance of the fledgling religious movement in 1829 and early 1830, but some of its “most important passages from the Book of Mormon”5 were repackaged soon after in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, similarly titled “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ,” and later known as D&C 20.

Chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments (later designated as section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants). The description "The Articles and Covenants of the church of Christ" is given in the heading, pointing to its relationship with an earlier document titled "The Articles of the Church of Christ." Image via josephsmithpapers.org. 

The Book of Mormon’s influence on this document can be seen in several crucial topics, such as its discussion of priesthood ordination, administration of the sacrament, baptism, Church membership, and requirements for eternal life.6 Welch writes, “These details qualify section 20 to stand as strong supporting evidence that the Book of Mormon was consciously seen and used, in the first instance, as the basic source for priesthood and administrative instructions for the fledgling Church.”7

Writings of Early Church Members

It would also be a mistake to presume that early Church members never utilized the Book of Mormon in their teaching, preaching, and personal study. For instance, we have reports that the book was read on a weekly basis in the Kirtland temple as part of worship services.8 Some members, such as Orson Pratt, rigorously integrated the text into their personal study habits. According to Pratt, “I had, for the two years during my first acquaintance with the book, read it so much that I could repeat over chapter after chapter, page after page, of many portions ... and could do it just as well with the Book closed or laid to one side.”9

We find also extensive use of the Book of Mormon in detailed journal entries made by William McLellin. After analyzing this resource, Welch concluded, “we can now see that the Book of Mormon was read, quoted, and drawn upon almost incessantly, at least by McLellin and most of his companions.”10 Church leaders such as Wilford Woodruff and Joseph Smith himself likewise regularly cited, quoted, or alluded to the Nephite record.11 This can be readily seen in a survey of The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, revealing that “numerous ideas and phrases that most likely originated with distinctive passages in the Book of Mormon.”12

Wilford Woodruff journal, 1837; portrait of Wilford Woodruff, circa 1850–1860. Image and description via history.churchofjesuschrist.org.

Evidence of Administrative Use

Finally, Welch has identified dozens of passages in the Book of Mormon which outline administrative procedures, activities, and principles. Topics and subtopics extracted from his list include at least the following:13

  • the Christ-centered name of the Church,
  • the principle of priesthood authority needed for Church governance,
  • the unique role of singular prophetic leaders,
  • the role of councils, including a quorum of apostles with three special leaders chosen among them,
  • the principle of presiding priesthood authority,
  • the need for continual regulatory and uniting efforts in the Church,
  • the role of revelation in instituting change,
  • the role of the members of the Church in accepting or rejecting proposed changes,
  • the pastoral duty of church leaders,
  • the creation of new congregational units,
  • the organization of priesthood offices and duties,
  • the need for authorized priesthood ordination,
  • the connection between Melchizedek and priesthood,
  • the crucial doctrines, principles, and ordinances of the gospel,
  • the covenant nature of baptism and other ordinances,
  • the mode and wording for ordinances like baptism,
  • the principle of needing to be of an appropriate age and mental capacity in order to need saving ordinances,
  • the principle of recording the names of members,
  • the principles of daily righteous living (regular prayer, fasting, etc.),
  • admonitions against various types of sin (adultery, drunkenness, lying, etc.),
  • the potential for God to command plural marriage,
  • principles of welfare and providing for the poor and needy,
  • the paying of tithes and offerings,
  • the principle of establishing and gathering to Zion,
  • the need for and purpose of regular church meetings,
  • the activities that should take place at church meetings,
  • the principle that all are invited to attend church meetings,
  • principles guiding a primarily volunteer lay ministry (avoiding priestcraft),
  • the role of temples and the importance of temple worship,
  • principles and examples of missionary activities,
  • principles of Church discipline,
  • principles of teaching and education,
  • and principles of recordkeeping.

As explained by Welch,

The large quantity of these passages tends to increase the likelihood that the Book of Mormon was a conscious source for this set of administrative practices. Moreover, on several occasions, historical sources are cited to show that these practices were in place early in Church history. The early presence of these practices tends to enhance the plausibility of the claim that the Book of Mormon was the primary source for these practices, for in those early days there were few other sources that could have been drawn upon.14


As demonstrated by the evidence outlined above, the Book of Mormon contains a distinctive set of doctrines, principles, and administrative practices scattered throughout its pages. Together, they offered a foundational template upon which Christ’s restored Church could be—and, to a significant extent, was—modeled in the last days. In effect, when he translated the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith revealed a full-blown ancient religion, one which he and other early Church leaders actually turned to for guidance.

For those who assume Smith simply fabricated the Book of Mormon using his own intellect, these details add a significant layer of difficulty to an already daunting task. For it requires that amidst all the other complex and ancient literary features in the text,15 he was able to intersperse a unique and consistent combination of tenets that would serve as a practical guide to a religious movement that hadn’t yet been founded. That is a pretty tall order for a twenty-three-year-old with no prior literary or ecclesiastical experience to speak of.16

Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

In addition, these findings demonstrate that the Book of Mormon was much more than just a prop. Alongside its function as a sign of the Restoration (3 Nephi 21:1–2) and as an evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophet calling (2 Nephi 27:26), the book’s pragmatic religious value provides a satisfying rationale for why its discovery and translation was necessarily prior to the organization of the Church. In short, it adds to the overall plausibility and coherence of the Restoration narrative.

Janiece L. Johnson, “Becoming a People of the Books: Early Converts and the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 1–43.

John W. Welch, “The Book of Mormon as the Keystone of Church Administration,” in A Firm Foundation, ed. David J.  Whittaker and Arnold K. Garr (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2011), 17–57.

Scott H. Faulring, “The Book of Mormon: A Blueprint for Organizing the Church,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7, no. 1 (1998): 60–69, 71.


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