Joseph Smith himself, and later the Church, altered key revelations, documents and canonized LDS scripture. The timing and nature of the changes often coincided with evolving doctrinal views, bringing Smith’s ability to reliably receive and record God’s will into serious question.“Doctrinal Changes,” Mormon Stories Truth Claims essays (accessed 8 February 2019).
As usual, what Mormon Stories does not tell us is more important than what it does tell us.
Yes, revelations and scripture have been edited by Joseph Smith and others. And, Joseph Smith and others were not shy about this fact, nor did they attempt to hide it. Many of the early revelations were published in the Church’s periodicals. When revisions became available, the changes were announced by Oliver Cowdery in those same publications. [History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints, 1805-1890, Volume 1, p. 580-81.]
Orson Pratt demonstrates how foolish it would be for Joseph to try to hide changes from his followers:
We often had access to the manuscripts when boarding with the Prophet; and it was our delight to read them over and over again, before they were printed. And so highly were they esteemed by us, that we committed some to memory; and a few we copied for the purpose of reference in our absence on missions; and also to read them to the saints for their edification. These copies are still in our possession…..
And by revelation line was added upon line to several of the sections and paragraphs about to be published.
But some may inquire, are not the Almighty’s revelations perfect when they are first given? And if so, where was the propriety of the Lord’s adding any thing to them, when they were already perfect? We reply that every word of God is perfect; but He does not reveal all things at once, but adds ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little,’ revealing as the people are able to bear, or as circumstances require…. The Lord, therefore, adds to His own revelations whenever he thinks proper.Orson Pratt, “Explanation of Substituted Names in the Covenants,” The Seer 2.3 (March 1854): 227-9.
Mormon Stories’ confusion is thus only about 160 years out of date.
If we buy Mormon Stories’ rather unsophisticated model, none of this makes any sense — if Joseph is really altering scripture and other texts to support a different teaching, why is he so frank and open about it? Why does he involve his other associates to help him do so? Why does he publish about it the Church’s official periodicals? And why does he think he can get away with it when many of his followers have read the originals and even memorized them, as Orson Pratt reports? Furthermore, why did Joseph and the Church keep the original manuscripts so carefully? Wouldn’t it be better to destroy the originals and hope that memory of the changes faded over time? Instead, the Church announced the changes and additions broadly:
Joseph, the Prophet, in selecting the revelations from the Manuscripts, and arranging them for publication, did not arrange them according to the order of the date in which they were given, neither did he think it necessary to publish them all in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but left them to be published more fully in his History. Hence, paragraphs taken from revelations of a later date, are, in a few instances, incorporated with those of an earlier date. Indeed, at the time of compilation, the Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations. In this manner the Lord did truly give ‘line upon line, here a little and there a little,’ the same as He did to a revelation that Jeremiah received, which, after being burned by the wicked king of Israel, the Lord revealed over again with great numbers of additional words.1Millennial Star (1857).
To accept Mormon Stories’ reconstruction, we must conclude that Joseph is both a calculated deceiver and a complete bumbling fool when it comes to keeping his machinations a secret.
If Mormon Stories was interested in understanding and fairly representing LDS doctrine, it would realize that the early Saints did not understand the prophetic office or the revelatory process in the way required for this jejune attack. But, the reader is by now beginning to suspect that understanding and fairness are not high among the Mormon Stories essays’ priorities.