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D&C 4 is given to Joseph Smith Sr., but the text is directed to "all ye who embark in the service of God" (D&C 4:2).
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- Received: probably in January (but perhaps February) 1829 at Harmony, Pennsylvania
- Prior section in chronological order: D&C 3
- Next section in chronological order: D&C 5
In July 1828 Martin Harris lost the 116 page manuscript, and Joseph Smith was placed on probation. In September, Joseph again received the plates and the urim and thummim from Moroni. In October 1828 Joseph's parents came down from Manchester-Palmyra, New York to visit Joseph and Emma at Harmony, Pennsylvania, and they stayed for about three months until January 1829. D&C 4 was probably received, not in February, but in January shortly before Joseph's parents returned home.
For a brief overview of D&C 4 in historical relation to the rest of the Doctrine & Covenants, see Historical Overview of the Restoration Scriptures. For lengthier discussions of the historical setting, see Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants, chapter 3 or Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 5.
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- D&C 4:3: Desires plus worthiness. Elder Ballard's talk "The Greatest Generation of Missionaries" in Oct. 2002 explains the bar for missionary service has been raised. Thus having a desire may not be sufficient in light of past transgression to be called as a full-time missionary. "Please understand this: the bar that is the standard for missionary service is being raised. The day of the “repent and go” missionary is over. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, my young brothers? Some young men have the mistaken idea that they can be involved in sinful behavior and then repent when they’re 18 1/2 so they can go on their mission at 19. While it is true that you can repent of sins, you may or you may not qualify to serve."
- D&C 4:4: White already to harvest. This phrase is a reference to the same phrase in John 4:35. As noted in the discussion there, the meaning of this phrase is "already white for harvest."
Outline and page map
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Prompts for further study
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- D&C 4:1: What is the marvelous work that is about to come forth? The use of the word “about” suggests that, at the time this revelation was given (February 1829), it had not yet come forth. When do you think it either did or will? Notice that this verse is repeated in D&C 6:1, D&C 11:1, D&C 12:1, and D&C 14:1, and it is paraphrased in D&C 18:44. It also appears in the JST version of Isaiah 29:26 (=Isaiah 29:14), and it occurs regularly in the Book of Mormon (eight times). What does the word “marvelous” mean in this context?
- D&C 4:2: The literal meaning of “embark” is “to get on board [a ship].” What does that word suggest here? The phrase “heart, might, mind, and strength” occurs only here. But other combinations of these words are frequent. See, for example, Deuteronomy 6:5, 28:65; 1 Samuel 2:35; 2 Kings 23:25; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Job 9:4; Psalms 38:10, 73:26, 84:5; Daniel 5:20; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30,33; Luke 10:27; 2 Nephi 1:21; Mosiah 7:33; and Ether 4:15. Does looking at other uses of the phrase suggest anything about how to understand it here? Is this a list of four different things, or four different ways of saying the same thing?
- D&C 4:3: How applicable is this verse? Is it true that everyone who has a desire to serve is called? It doesn't seem reasonable to suggest that desire is sufficient to be called to any of God's work no matter the type. (It isn't the case that having the desire to be called as the Bishop of one's ward or that having a desire to serve as a missionary when serious transgressions have been committed is sufficient—see the Elder Ballard talk below.) What then is meant here by "the work"?
- D&C 4:4: Why is the work of the gospel often compared to reaping a field? How does the image in this section compare to other, related images in the scriptures? For example, how does it compare to the Parable of the Sower ( Mark 4:3-8) or the Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly ( Mark 4:26-29)? What does “salvation” mean in this verse? Doctrine and Covenants 88:15 says that the spirit and the body of man are the soul. Is that the definition that applies here? If so, what does this verse promise?
- D&C 4:5: Why does this verse speak of both charity and love? In other scriptures, don’t the two mean the same? Are they distinct things here, or is the Lord repeating the same thing in different ways to emphasize it? What does it mean to have one’s eye single to the glory of God? When is my eye not single to his glory? Compare this qualification with the promise made in Doctrine and Covenants 88:67. What does the word “single” mean in this context? Compare this to Matthew 6:22 (Luke 11:34), where the Lord says that if our eye is single, then our whole body will be filled with light. Does “single” mean the same in both cases? The Greek word translated “single” in the New Testament could also be translated either “healthy” or “pure,” but it is difficult to understand what “pure to the glory of God” or “healthy to the glory of God” might mean. Does that mean that the passage in Matthew is irrelevant to explaining the meaning of this verse? Does Mormon 8:15 give us a definition of what “eye single to the glory of God” means, or does it give us an example of what it means?
- D&C 4:6: Why do you think the Doctrine and Covenants implicitly refers to these verses in 2 Peter 1:5-9 so often? Look at this comparison of the two lists:
|2 Peter||D&C 4|
- What does that comparison tell us about the qualifications for the work and about the goal of the work? Do you see any significance in the change of order ("brotherly kindness” and “godliness” are reversed)? Why might “humility” and “diligence” have been added in the Doctrine and Covenants revelation?
- Here are some alternate translations of the Greek words of 2 Peter:
|virtue = excellence|
|knowledge = knowledge of what really is|
|temperance = self-discipline|
|patience = steadfastness, endurance|
|brotherly kindness = brotherly love|
|charity = love, good will.|
- Are any of these meanings also helpful in understanding the admonition of the Doctrine and Covenants?
- D&C 4:7: How do you square this verse with the fact that all of us have had the experience of asking and not receiving what we asked for? What does it mean to knock and to have “it” opened? In other words, what is promised and how do we obtain that promise? The word “amen” means something like “so let it be” and signifies agreement. Why does a revelation from the Lord end with that word?
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- The oldest surviving partial copy of D&C 4 is the one copied by John Whitmer into Revelation Book 1, p. 2-3, presumably during the summer of 1830. The oldest surviving complete copy is ______.
- D&C 4 was first published in the 1833 Book of Commandments, the earliest edition of what we now call the Doctrine & Covenants.
- The text of D&C 4 in significant editions of the Doctrine & Covenants can be found at:
Related passages that interpret or shed light on D&C 4
- Several sections addressed to Joseph Smith's early supporters share similar language beginning with "A great and marvelous work is about to come forth ..."
- This language is thus circulated to all four centers of activity in New York-Pennsylvania. But D&C 6:1-6 is repeated in the later sections almost word for word. And D&C 6 is placed closer to the front of the 1835 and 1844 editions of the Doctrine & Covenants than those other sections. So while D&C 4 is now much better known, it appears that the content of D&C 6 likely received greater emphasis in the early days of the Church than did these other sections.
Doctrinal references cited on this page.
Historical references cited on this page.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.