Doctrine and Covenants Theology

Did Joseph Smith Write D&C 76 in Poetic Form?

It’s complicated.

The poetic version of D&C 76 has been lauded since it was first published under Joseph Smith’s name in 1843. However, the latest scholarship suggests that it was ghostwritten by William W. Phelps. While some also think it may have resulted from coordination between the Prophet and Eliza R. Snow or Parley P. Pratt, most scholars agree that Joseph Smith wasn’t the sole author of “The Vision” in poetic form.

See what else scholars have learned about the Prophet of the Restoration in our Joseph Smith cornerstone article.

Table of contents

D&C 76 background

In early 1843, William W. Phelps composed a poem entitled, “Vade Mecum.” While we don’t know exactly why he wrote the verses, Phelps invited Joseph Smith to reply and join him “in contemplating a heavenly paradise.”1

At approximately the same time, Joseph Smith’s lawyer, Justin Butterfield, referred to the Prophet’s lack of prophetic poetry in his closing statement. In particular, Butterfield said that the only thing which separated Joseph from prophets of old was his inability to prophesy in poetic verse.2

When a poetic version of Section 76 was eventually published in Times & Seasons, specific mention was made of the desire to show Butterfield that “modern Prophets can prophesy in poetry.”2 The poem was called “The Answer,” and thus also served as a reply to Phelps’s original poem.

Steven C. Harper, Jordan Watkins, and Carter Charles discuss doctrines of exaltation such as those discussed in the poetic form of D&C 76.

Acclaim and authorship

The poem holds a special place in Latter-day Saint lore, with many members using it as evidence as Joseph’s prophetic abilities. At the same time, questions of authorship are trickier than they seem.

According to Phelps biographer, Bruce Van Orden, the poetic version has received a fair amount of fanfare:

Most of its fans hail the poem as evidence of Smith’s prowess as a poet, even comparing it to the likes of the psalmist David and the poet-prophet Isaiah.

Bruce Van Orden 3

Elder Bruce R. McConkie also attributed the poem’s authorship to Joseph Smith in Mormon Doctrine, and a related snippet was included in the Institute manual for the Doctrine & Covenants.4

The original poem itself also contained seemingly obvious clues about authorship. For example, it was written in the first person (“I, Joseph”)2 and attributed to the Prophet when published in Times & Seasons.5

However, most scholars today don’t think Joseph Smith authored the poetic version of D&C 76. Van Orden argues that Phelps ghostwrote the poem, and suggests that modern scholars also “generally” accept Phelps as the author.3 Similarly, the Joseph Smith Papers Historical Introduction to “The Answer” identifies Phelps as the most likely author, while also allowing that that the Prophet may have worked with Parley P. Pratt or Eliza Snow to produce the poem.2

Poetic structure

“The Answer” comprises 78 verses written in the first person. It can roughly be divided into two halves in which the first portion closely mirrors the text of D&C 76, while the latter portion takes more liberty adding new content or removing existing ideas.2

Notably, the poetic version of Section 76 omits reference to Sidney Rigdon (who jointly received “The Vision” with Joseph Smith). The author also seems to have deliberately attempted to incorporate Joseph’s revelations received after Section 76. For example, Joseph received “the vision” in 1832, but the poetic reply

included language and concepts from the recently published Book of Abraham and added a line discussing the practice of baptisms for the dead.

Historical Introduction, Poem to William W. Phelps, Between Circa 1 and Circa 15 February 1843. 2

Section 76 in poetic form

“The Answer”

I will go, I will go, to the home of the Saints,
Where the virtue’s the value, and life the reward;
But before I return to my former estate,
I must fulfill the mission I had from the Lord.

Wherefore, hear O ye heavens, and give ear O ye earth,
And rejoice, ye inhabitants, truly again;
For the Lord he is God, and his life never ends,
And besides him there ne’er was a Savior of men.

His ways are a wonder, his wisdom is great;
The extent of his doings there’s none can unveil;
His purposes fail not; from age unto age
He still is the same, and his years never fail.

His throne is the heavens—his life-time is all
Of eternity now, and eternity then;
His union is power, and none stays his hand,
The Alpha, Omega, for ever. Amen.

For thus saith the Lord, in the spirit of truth,
I am merciful, gracious, and good unto those
That fear me, and live for the life that’s to come:
My delight is to honour the Saints with repose,

That serve me in righteousness true to the end;
Eternal’s their glory and great their reward.
I’ll surely reveal all my myst’ries to them–
The great hidden myst’ries in my kingdom stor’d;

From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth,
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure and will, what the kingdom will do:
Eternity’s wonders they truly shall know.

Great things of the future I’ll show unto them,
Yea, things of the vast generations to rise;
For their wisdom and glory shall be very great,
And their pure understanding extend to the skies.

And before them the wisdom of wise men shall cease,
And the nice understanding of prudent ones fail!
For the light of my spirit shall light mine elect,
And the truth is so mighty ’twill ever prevail.

And the secrets and plans of my will I’ll reveal,
The sanctifi’d pleasures when earth is renew’d;
What the eye hath not seen, nor the ear hath yet heard,
Nor the heart of the natural man ever view’d.

I, Joseph, the prophet, in spirit beheld,
And the eyes of the inner man truly did see
Eternity sketch’d in a vision from God,
Of what was, and now is, and yet is to be.

Those things which the Father ordained of old,
Before the world was or a system had run;
Through Jesus, the Maker and Savior of all–
The only begotten (Messiah) his son.

Of whom I bear record, as all prophets have,
And the record I bear is the fulness–yea, even
The truth of the gospel of Jesus—the Christ,
With whom I convers’d in the vision of heav’n.

For while in the act of translating his word,
Which the Lord in his grace had appointed to me,
I came to the gospel recorded by John,
Chapter fifth, and the twenty-ninth verse which you’ll see.

I marvell’d at these resurrections, indeed,
For it came unto me by the spirit direct:
And while I did meditate what it all meant,
The Lord touch’d the eyes of my own intellect.

Hosanna, for ever! They open’d anon,
And the glory of God shone around where I was;
And there was the Son at the Father’s right hand,
In a fulness of glory and holy applause.

I beheld round the throne holy angels and hosts,
And sanctified beings from the worlds that have been,
In holiness worshipping God and the Lamb,
For ever and ever. Amen and amen.

And now after all of the proofs made of him,
By witnesses truly, by whom he was known,
This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea, he lives!
And sits at the right hand of God on his throne.

And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour and only begotten of God;
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad.

Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons
By the very same truths and the very same powers.

And I saw and bear record of warfare in heaven;
For an angel of light, in authority great,
Rebell’d against Jesus and sought for his power,
But was thrust down to woe from his glorified state.

And the heavens all wept, and the tears dropp’d like dew,
That Lucifer, son of the morning, had fell!
Yea, is fallen! is fallen and become, oh, alas!
The son of perdition, the devil of hell!

And while I was yet in the spirit of truth,
The commandment was–“Write ye the vision all out,
For Satan, old serpent, the devil’s for war,
And yet will encompass the Saints round about.”

And I saw, too, the suff’ring and misery of those
(Overcome by the devil, in warfare and fight)
In hell-fire and vengeance–the doom of the damn’d;
For the Lord said the vision is further, so write:

For thus saith the Lord, now concerning all those,
Who know of my power and partake of the same;
And suffer themselves that they be overcome
By the power of Satan, despising my name–

Defying my power, and denying the truth:
They are they of the world, or of men most forlorn,
The sons of perdition, of whom, ah! I say,
‘Twere better for them had they never been born.

They’re the vessels of wrath, and dishonour to God,
Doom’d to suffer his wrath in the regions of woe,
Through all the long night of eternity’s round,
With the devil and all of his angels below.

Of whom it is said no forgiveness is found,
In this world, alas! nor the world that’s to come,
For they have deny’d the spirit of God,
After having receiv’d it, and mis’ry’s their doom.

And denying the only begotten of God,
And crucify him to themselves, as they do,
And openly put him to shame in their flesh,
By the gospel they cannot repentance renew.

They are they who go to the great lake of fire,
Which burneth with brimstone, yet never consumes,
And dwell with the devil, and angels of his,
While eternity goes and eternity comes.

They are they who must groan through the great second death,
And are not redeemed in the time of the Lord;
While all the rest are, through the triumph of Christ,
Made partakers of grace, by the power of his word.

The myst’ry of godliness truly is great;
The past, and the present, and what is to be;
And this is the gospel–glad tidings to all,
Which the voice from the heavens bore record to me:

That he came to the world in the middle of time,
To lay down his life for his friends and his foes,
And bear away sin as a mission of love,
And sanctify earth for a blessed repose.

‘Tis decreed that he’ll save all the work of his hands,
And sanctify them by his own precious blood;
And purify earth for the Sabbath of rest,
By the agent of fire as it was by the flood.

The Saviour will save all his Father did give,
Even all that he gave in the regions abroad,
Save the sons of perdition–they are lost, ever lost!
And can never return to the presence of God.

They are they who must reign with the devil in hell,
In eternity now, and eternity then!
Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quench’d,
And the punishment still is eternal. Amen.

And which is the torment apostates receive,
But the end or the place where the torment began,
Save to them who are made to partake of the same,
Was never, nor will be revealed unto man.

Yet God, by a vision, shows a glimpse of their fate,
And straightway he closes the scene that was shown;
So the width, or the depth, or the misery thereof,
Save to those that partake, is forever unknown.

And while I was pondering, the vision was closed,
And the voice said to me, write the vision; for, lo!
‘Tis the end of the scene of the sufferings of those
Who remain filthy still in their anguish and woe.

And again I bear record of heavenly things,
Where virtue’s the value above all that is priz’d,
Of the truth of the gospel concerning the just,
That rise in the first resurrection of Christ.

Who receiv’d, and believ’d, and repented likewise,
And then were baptiz’d, as a man always was,
Who ask’d and receiv’d a remission of sin,
And honoured the kingdom by keeping its laws.

Being buried in water, as Jesus had been,
And keeping the whole of his holy commands,
They received the gift of the spirit of truth,
By the ordinance truly of laying on hands.

For these overcome, by their faith and their works,
Being tried in their life-time, as purified gold,
And seal’d by the spirit of promise to life,
By men called of God, as was Aaron of old.

They are they, of the church of the first-born of God,
And unto whose hands he committeth all things;
For they hold the keys of the kingdom of heav’n,
And reign with the Saviour, as priests and as kings.

They’re priests of the order of Melchizedek,
Like Jesus (from whom is this highest reward),
Receiving a fulness of glory and light;
As written–they’re Gods even sons of the Lord.

So all things are theirs; yea, of life or of death;
Yea, whether things now, or to come, all are theirs,
And they are the Saviour’s, and he is the Lord’s,
Having overcome all, as eternity’s heirs.

‘Tis wisdom that man never glory in man,
But give God the glory for all that he hath;
For the righteous will walk in the presence of God,
While the wicked are trod underfoot in his wrath.

Yea, the righteous shall dwell in the presence of God,
And of Jesus, forever, from earth’s second birth–
For when he comes down in the splendour of heav’n,
All those he’ll bring with him to reign on the earth.

These are they that arise in their bodies of flesh,
When the trump of the first resurrection shall sound;
These are they that come up to Mount Zion, in life,
Where the blessings and gifts of the spirit abound.

These are they that have come to the heavenly place;
To the numberless courses of angels above:
To the city of God, e’en the holiest of all,
And the home of the blessed, the fountain of love;

To the church of old Enoch, and of the first-born:
And gen’ral assembly of ancient renown’d,
Whose names are all kept in the archives of heav’n,
As chosen and faithful, and fit to be crown’d.

These are they that are perfect through Jesus’ own blood,
whose bodies celestial are mention’d by Paul,
where the sun is the typical glory thereof,
And God, and his Christ, are the true judge of all.

Again, I beheld the terrestrial world,
In the order and glory of Jesus go on;
‘Twas not as the church of the first-born of God,
But shone in its place, as the moon to the sun,

Behold, these are they that have died without law;
The heathen of ages that never had hope,
And those of the region and shadow of death,
The spirits in prison, that light has brought up.

To spirits in prison the Saviour once preach’d,
And taught them the gospel, with powers afresh;
And then were the living baptiz’d for their dead,
That they might be judg’d as if men in the flesh.

These are they that are hon’rable men of the earth;
Who were blinded and dup’d by the cunning of men;
They receiv’d not the truth of the Saviour at first;
But did, when they heard it in prison again.

Not valiant for truth, they obtain’d not the crown,
But are of that glory that’s typ’d by the moon:
They are they, that come into the presence of Christ,
But not to the fulness of God on his throne.

Again, I beheld the telestial, as third,
The lesser, or starry world, next in its place,
For the leaven must leaven three measures of meal,
And every knee bow that is subject to grace.

These are they that receiv’d not the gospel of Christ,
Or evidence, either, that he ever was;
As the stars are all diff’rent in glory and light,
So differs the glory of these by the laws.

These are they that deny not the spirit of God,
But are thrust down to hell, with the devil, for sins,
As hypocrites, liars, whoremongers and thieves,
And stay ’till the last resurrection begins.

‘Till the Lamb shall have finish’d the work he begun;
Shall have trodden the winepress in fury alone.
And overcome all by the pow’r of his might:
He conquers to conquer, and saves all his own.

These are they that receive not a fulness of light,
From Christ, in eternity’s world, where they are,
The terrestial sends them the Comforter, though,
And minist’ring angels, to happify there.

And so the telestial is minister’d to,
By ministers from the terrestrial one,
As terrestrial is, from the celestial throne;
And the great, greater, greatest, seem’s stars, moon, and sun.

And thus I beheld, in the vision of heav’n,
The telestial glory, dominion and bliss,
Surpassing the great understanding of men,–
Unknown, save reveal’d, in a world vain as this.

And lo! I beheld the terrestrial, too,
Which excels the telestial in glory and light,
In splendour and knowledge, and wisdom and joy,
In blessings and graces, dominion and might.

I beheld the celestial, in glory sublime;
Which is the most excellent kingdom that is,
Where God, e’en the Father, in harmony reigns;
Almighty, supreme, and eternal in bliss.

Where the church of the first-born in union reside,
And they see as they’re seen, and they know as they’re known
Being equal in power, dominion and might,
With a fulness of glory and grace round his throne.

The glory celestial is one like the sun;
The glory terrestrial is one like the moon;
The glory telestial is one like the stars,
And all harmonize like the parts of a tune.

As the stars are all different in lustre and size,
So the telestial region is mingled in bliss;
From the least unto greatest, and greatest to least,
The reward is exactly as promised in this.

These are they that came out for Apollos and Paul;
For Cephas and Jesus, in all kinds of hope;
For Enoch and Moses, and Peter and John;
For Luther and Calvin, and even the Pope.

For they never received the gospel of Christ
Nor the prophetic spirit that came from the Lord;
Nor the covenant neither, which Jacob once had;
They went their own way, and they have their reward.

By the order of God, last of all, these are they,
That will not be gather’d with saints here below,
To be caught up to Jesus, and meet in the cloud:
In darkness they worshipp’d; to darkness they go.

These are they that are sinful, the wicked at large,
That glutted their passion by meanness or worth;
All liars, adulterers, sorcerers, and proud,
And suffer as promis’d, God’s wrath on the earth.

These are they that must suffer the vengeance of hell,
‘Till Christ shall have trodden all enemies down,
And perfected his work, in the fulness of time,
And is crowned on his throne with his glorious crown.

The vast multitude of the telestial world–
As the stars of the skies, or the sands of the sea;
The voice of Jehovah echo’d far and wide,
Every tongue shall confess and they all bow the knee.

Ev’ry man shall be judg’d by the works of his life,
And receive a reward in the mansions prepar’d;
For his judgments are just, and his works never end,
As his prophets and servants have always declar’d.

But the great things of God, which he show’d unto rile,
Unlawful to utter, I dare not declare;
They surpass all the wisdom and greatness of men,
And only are seen, as has Paul where they are.

I will go, I will go, while the secret of life,
Is blooming in heaven, and blasting in hell;
Is leaving on earth, and a-budding in space:
I will go, I will go, with you, brother, farewell..

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Further reading

Section 76 poetic form resources


1. William W. Phelps, Poem, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, to JS, [Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, between 1 and 20] Jan. 1843. Featured version published in “Vade Mecum, (Translated,) Go with Me,” Times and Seasons, 1 Feb. 1843, vol. 4, no. 6, [81]–82.

2. JS, Poem, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, to William W. Phelps, [Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, between ca. 1 and ca. 15] Feb. 1843. Featured version published in “The Answer,” Times and Seasons, 1 Feb. 1843, vol. 4, no. 6, 82–85.

3. Bruce Van Orden, We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout: The Life and Times of W. W. Phelps, page 333.

4. “Section 76, The Vision of the Degrees of Glory,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2002), 158–66.

5. Casey Paul Griffiths, “Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 76.” Doctrine and Covenants Central.

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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