The Pearl of Great Price is the smallest volume of LDS scripture, comprising about sixty pages in the current 1981 edition (this includes footnotes and illustrations). The book was the last among those constituting the LDS canon to be officially recognized (1880). Other groups claiming a common heritage with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reject it either wholly or in part. The book was originally compiled by LDS apostle Franklin D. Richards in England in 1851. Hence it is fundamentally a text of the Brigham Young led Utah Church.
The Pearl of Great Price became part of the official body of LDS scripture on October 10, 1880 with the vote of a general conference of the Church.
Elder Richards originally compiled the text after arriving in England to supervise Church work there. At that time, Church membership in the British Isles was nearly triple that of Utah and double that of the United States. Elder Richards felt it deplorable that the members of the Church in Britain had very little in the way of published material originating with Joseph Smith. He noted the early Church periodicals had small circulation, and that material in them was rare, but important. To correct this rarity, he drew together a number of texts in his private possession and published them. Richards noted in his original introduction that the text was
not adapted, nor designed, as a pioneer of faith
among unbelievers, still it will commend itself
to all careful students of the scriptures . . .
and to the beginner in the Gospel, will add
confirmatory evidence of the rectitude of his faith . . .
These segments changed over the years. After the Pearl of Great Price was adopted as an official body of scripture, it was felt to be unnecessary to have the excerpts of those revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants appear in the Pearl of Great Price. The explanation of "The Revelation of St. John," even though eventually appearing in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876, continued as part of the Pearl of Great Price until 1891. All other duplicated Doctrine and Covenants material was removed from the Pearl of Great Price in 1902 under the editorial hand of James E. Talmage when the text was divided into chapters and verses. The editions that followed the 1902 edition used the Talmage format. In 1921 the Pearl of Great Price was divided into double column pages to match the other LDS scripture texts.
The manuscripts of the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible remained in Nauvoo with Joseph Smith's wife Emma after Brigham Young and the great majority of Mormons went west. Consequently the Utah Church could not publish this work and then viewed it with some suspicion when it was published by the RLDS Church (The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - organized in 1860 - now headquartered in Independence, MO. The Church has since undergone a name change to "Community of Christ." Since the Church was known as the RLDS church during the relevant periods discussed here, we use that title.) The RLDS Church at the time of its organization consisted largely of those members and former members of the faith who were dissatisfied with the developments in Church doctrine and practice Joseph Smith introduced in his later Ohio period and in Missouri and especially at Nauvoo. 1
Since Emma Smith, Joseph Smith's wife, had become one of this dissatisfied group by the time of his death in 1844,2 the hopeful "reorganizers" later found a somewhat sympathetic ear in Joseph Smith's oldest surviving son, Joseph Smith III. Joseph Smith III eventually agreed to lead this reorganization. Relations between the LDS (Utah) Church and Reorganized Church were naturally somewhat cool, with each sending missionaries to the other attempting to quash supposed disillusions. When the Reorganization published Joseph Smith's Bible translation in 1867 as the Holy Scriptures (with a later edition carrying the subtitle "Inspired Version"), Utah Mormon leaders found themselves in somewhat of a quandry. LDS Church leaders were of course aware that Joseph Smith had intended publication. 3 But now that it had happened, the ill feelings between the two groups prevented the LDS Church from fully embracing the RLDS work and RLDS archivists did not want to allow access to the manuscripts. Fortunately, the Utah Church did have significant portions of the work4 and many of the most stunning additions were already found in Elder Richards' Pearl of Great Price. Eventually, feelings between the two groups moderated and when a new edition of the KJV was published by the LDS Church in 1979, many of the Joseph Smith alterations were included as footnotes and in an appendix.
Following Elder Richards' publication of his Pearl of Great Price booklet, and a translation into Welsh by John S. Davis shortly after, no new printing/edition appeared until 1878. Partly the reason for this scarcity stemmed from a financial retrenchment by President Brigham Young. The Church had many pressing expenses with helping the Church become established in Utah and assisting migration there. The Church's publication effort in Britain was expensive, and no adequate printing facility existed in Utah. Moreover, the booklet was not a big seller. Several thousand copies of the 1851 printing (of about 12,000) were still available in 1876. Following the death of President Young, finances had eased somewhat and the need for republication was apparent. The 1878 edition was published in Utah and edited by Elder Orson Pratt. Elder Pratt expanded the material from Joseph Smith's inspired translation of the Bible using the RLDS 1867 publication. The 1878 edition also included the revelation on marriage and plural marriage now published in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 132). The revelation was removed from the Pearl of Great Price in 1902 along with the other duplicate material between the two books, as noted.
With one exception, the Pearl of Great Price remained essentially unchanged between the 1921 edition and the 1981 edition. The 1921 edition was again edited by (now Apostle) James E. Talmage who divided the text into double column pages. The one major change made between 1921 and 1981 was the addition of several new documents in 1976. But these additions were removed in 1979 and placed in the Doctrine and Covenants as sections 137 and 138. After 1902, the Pearl of Great Price was published more and more frequently with the Doctrine and Covenants and also with the Doctrine and Covenants and The Book of Mormon (colloquially referred to as a "triple combination").
In 1981 some minor textual changes were made to the Pearl of Great Price after consulting available mss, but the list of included texts remained the same as the 1921 edition.
Over the years since the 1880 official adoption of the Pearl of Great Price, there have been a few changes to the Articles of Faith. 5 It hardly seems necessary to point out that this document is not a revelation in the usual sense. However, the succinct statement of distinctive LDS views makes it an excellent summary of fundamental LDS beliefs. Of course it does omit unique LDS ideas like salvation for the dead and temples. On the other hand it is at heart an open-ended document which allows for revelatory additions in Church structure and doctrine. 6
The current (1981) texts of the Pearl of Great Price are:
These texts may be accessed by clicking on the links below.
One additional text has been added to the list in this electronic archive which is not part of the official contents. This is a parallel version of Matthew chapter 24 consisting of the text from the Pearl of Great Price with parallel text from KJV Matthew, Mark and Luke and Doctrine and Covenants section 45 which contains another version of part of the text of Matthew 24. A few notes have been inserted in this parallel text.
Copyright © 1999 W. V. Smith and the Book of Abraham Project
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1. RLDS Church officials sometimes laid the blame for developments like polygamy, the book of Abraham, temple ordinances, etc. at the feet of others than Joseph Smith. RLDS adherents occasionally repeated stories to the effect that Joseph wanted to repudiate the new doctrines just before he died. Such testimony is now largely regarded as either being of unknown provenance or hopeful folklore. Since the diaries and other early records of many of the principals have become available it is clear that Joseph carried on the new developments to the grave. On the other hand since it was not until the latter part of the 20th century that historians were able to examine many of the primary sources regarding the Nauvoo doctrines, RLDS (Community of Christ) thinking has been slow to migrate away from the old prejudices. Similarly, historians out of the LDS tradition took some time to disgard old suspicions.
2. For example, Emma Smith, mother of Joseph Smith, III had assured the boy that Joseph Smith had had nothing to do with the practice of plural marriage. She told him it was the invention of Brigham Young. Other Nauvoo doctrines such as the plurality of gods were eschewed by the Reorganization. William Clayton's Nauvoo diaries clarify Emma's position on several of Joseph Smith's ideas. See Andrew F. Ehat, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Succession Question," Brigham Young University Master's Thesis, 1982; Lucy Messerve Smith statement, George Albert Smith collection, University of Utah Special Collections.
3. George Q. Cannon's famous quote of Brigham Young (HC1:324) stating that Joseph Smith intended to do another pass on the manuscript became the standard response of Latter-day Saints when the subject of the JST came up. The idea that Joseph Smith felt the translation was unfinished is not supported by contemporary documents however. It seems clear that if circumstances had allowed, Joseph Smith would have published the translation on the Church's Missouri press in Independence. The continual difficulties of the Church intervened to make the priority of publishing the translation a low one. See Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation:" Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible, (Provo, Utah, 1975).
4. John Bernhisel had made a partial copy of the translation which came west to Utah. The incomplete nature of this copy may have helped to give rise to the notion that the translation was incomplete. On the other hand, it is clear that Joseph Smith kept thinking about the Bible and in his Nauvoo sermons and letters offered alternate translations of various passages such as Matthew 24 for example. See The Words of Joseph Smith, Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon Cook, eds., (Grandin, 1991); Matthews, 116. See also The Parallel Joseph.
5. For example, the tenth article read "Zion will be built upon this continent." The obvious reference was to North America, but was made explicit as the Church expanded with significant membership on other shores. Other changes involved spelling and removal of uncommon abbreviations like "viz." The fourth article once read "We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith . . . ." It was decided by the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles on November 29, 1893 that it should be changed to "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith . . ." at the inquiry of James E. Talmage who was then writing his book "The Articles of Faith." The change from "ordinances" to "principles and ordinances" was partly one of change in terminology over time. The word "ordinances" was often employed in the early days of the LDS Church as it is in the OT, referring to both rule and ritual (e.g., D&C 1:15; 53:6; the use of the word to mean "law" is still maintained in "city ordinance," for example). Additionally, the change to "first" principles, etc. left room for other important ordinances and principles.
6. The original author of the articles of faith has been somewhat debated. Generally, it is assumed that Joseph Smith adapted them from statements of Orson Pratt. See David J. Whittaker, "The 'Articles of Faith' in Early Mormon Literature and Thought," in New Views of Mormon History: A Collection of Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington, eds. Davis Bitton and Maureen U. Beecher, (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987).