Section 60

Having dedicated western Missouri as Zion and a spot near the courthouse in Independence as the site for the temple centered in New Jerusalem, Joseph Smith and his companions sought to know what the Lord would have them do next. The Lord answered with section 60, which John Whitmer described as a “COMMANDMENT given in Missorie Jackson County Independence August 8th 1831 directions to some of the Elders to return to their homes & own land.”[1]

The Lord tells the elders planning to return to Ohio quickly that he is pleased with their trek to Missouri, with the exception of those whose fears kept them from preaching the gospel. He is upset with them and says they will lose what he has given them if they do not offer it freely to others. 

About the return trip to Ohio, the Lord tells the elders to get a boat that seems to them best suited for the purpose of heading down the Missouri, River toward St. Louis.  It doesn’t matter to him whether they make it or buy it, only that they do not waste time. Once in St. Louis, Joseph, Sidney Ridgon, and Oliver Cowdery are to head for Cincinnati to declare the gospel with faith, not anger. 

Alluding to his Old Testament title, I Am, a variation on the name rendered in English as Jehovah, the Lord commands them to “lift up holy hands upon them. For I am able to make you holy, and your sins are forgiven you” (D&C 60:7, cross reference Exodus 3:14 and D&C 68:6).

The remaining elders should leave St. Louis in companionships and thoroughly preach the gospel to those who have not yet repented until the elders arrive in Ohio.  This will benefit the branches of the church, which is why the Lord gave the command.  Bishop Partridge should give them enough of the Lord’s money to fulfill their missions.  Those who are able should pay the Lord back by giving the money to Sidney Gilbert, the bishop’s assistant.  

The Lord also speaks about the elders who left Ohio for Missouri but have not arrived, due to the missionary work in which they engaged on the way. He commands them: “Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13). Once they arrive in Missouri, now Zion, and preach there, they should return to Ohio quickly, preaching along the way to those who have not repented.  They should preach thoroughly, kindly, and without provoking the people. 

Rather than condemning openly those who chose not to receive the gospel, as Parley Pratt did to the Believers at North Union, Ohio (see section 49), the elders are to signify that they have freely offered the gospel by washing their feet privately as a testimony, on judgment day, that they did not hide the good news from anyone. This act signifies that knowledge and therefore accountability have been transferred from the missionaries to the people. 

Joseph and his companions obeyed Section 60 and headed for home in Ohio as directed. On August 9, Joseph and ten other brethren headed down the Missouri River on canoes bound for St. Louis.[2]

Section 61

The interpretation history of section 61 is a good example of what happens when scripture is not read in context, and when it is too quickly applied universally instead of limited to the situation it was originally about. It does not say that Satan controls the water.

The Missouri River was well known to be dangerous, “ever-varying,” and full of submerged trees that could capsize or sink at steamboat, not to mention a canoe.[1] Joseph and the elders launched their canoes at the Missouri River landing just north of Independence, Missouri, and headed home to Ohio. They camped at Fort Osage and “had an excellent wild turkey for supper.” The good food did little to keep the men satisfied under the stressful conditions. 

During their second day on the river “a spirit of animosity and discord” infected the group. “The conduct of the Elders became very displeasing to Oliver Cowdery.” He prophesied: “as the Lord God liveth, if you do not behave better, some accident will befall you.”[2] At some point William Phelps “saw the Destroyer, in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters,” though what that means is uncertain, and ought not to be interpreted to mean that Satan controls the waters without more revelation.[3]

Contention continued the next day. Joseph got frustrated. Some of the elders refused to paddle, and at least one of the canoes hit a submerged tree and nearly capsized.  Joseph urged the frightened group to get off the river. Some of the men called him a coward. They landed on the north side of the River at McIlwaine’s Bend (now Miami), set up camp as best they could, and convened a council to address the contention. Some of the elders were critical of Oliver’s rebuke. Some criticized Joseph for being “quite dictatorial.” Joseph got defensive and the council went on for some hours until, early in the morning, everyone reconciled.[4] Speaking of Section 61, Joseph’s history says “the next morning after prayer, I received the following.”[5] John Whitmer described the revelation as a “commandment given Aug 12th 1831 on the Bank of the River Distruction (or Missorie) unfolding some mysteries.”[6]

In section 61, the omnipotent Lord commands the elders gathered on the banks of the Missouri River to hear and obey him. He forgives their sins. He mercifully forgives the sins of all who humbly confess them. He says they don’t all need to travel quickly down the river while settlers on either side need to be taught the gospel. 

The Lord explains that he let the elders experience the River’s terrors so they could testify of the danger to others. The Lord has angrily decreed that water will be a destructive element, especially the Missouri. But he holds mankind in his hands and will preserve the faithful among this group of elders from drowning. The Lord has kept the group together this long so they be corrected and purified from their sins and become unified and thus escape the punishment for their wickedness.  Now it’s time to split up, and the Lord gives specific assignments and instructs Sidney Gilbert, the bishop’s assistant, to give them enough money to fulfill their assignments.

Close reading of section 61 shows that the Lord controls the waters, not Satan. That is true for dry land as well. God blessed the waters during the creation process. He later cursed them (see Revelation 8:8-11). The day will come when only the honest-hearted will be able to safely travel to Zion by water. The Lord explains that after the fall, he cursed the land for Adam’s sake, but in the latter days he blessed it to be fertile for the saints’ sake. The Lord commands the elders to warn the other saints not to travel on the dangerous Missouri without faith. 

William Phelps carried out the commandment in this revelation to tell all the saints about the dangers of traveling to Zion in Missouri on the Missouri River.  He published the revelation in the church’s newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, along with an editorial listing the most notable “risks and dangers.” First, there were frequent disasters on the river. Second, he warned, there was cholera, a devastating water-born illness “which the Lord has sent into the world, and which may, without repentance, ravage the large towns near the waters, many years, or, at least, till other judgments come.”[7]

Phelps also wrote a short history of his stay in Missouri, in which he told how Section 61 influenced his return to Ohio. “I, in company with Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and others started by water for Ohio, but being cautioned in a Revelation given at, McElwains bend, that Missouri River was cursed, all the company save myself and brother Gilbert left the river and proceeded by land. I was assured by revelation, to be safe by land or water.”[8]

Section 62

Section 62 is one of many revelations in which the Lord tells us much about himself. He is our advocate. He knows our weakness. He knows just how to run to our relief when we are tempted. He keeps his promises. He cannot lie. Who wouldn’t gladly travel hundreds of miles to obey one of his revelations?   

Leaving the Missouri River to travel by land, Joseph and the elders who had been to Missouri ran into a group of their brethren—Joseph’s brother Hyrum, David Whitmer, John Murdock, and Harvey Whitlock—still en route to Zion. They had been preaching the gospel with great success along their way. The joyful meeting would not have occurred had Joseph’s trip down the Missouri been tranquil, but it fulfilled the Lord’s promise that the brethren would meet in Missouri to rejoice in the land of Zion.  Joseph sought and received a revelation concerning the elders who had not yet been to Independence.[1]

Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, Harvey Whitlock, John Murdock, and others who joined them obeyed this revelation. They pursued their journey to Independence and held a solemn meeting with the members of the bishopric there. They sang hymns, prayed, read scriptural prophecies about Zion and the second coming, and then turned around and returned to Ohio.  

The revelation, as with so many others, is full of conditional clauses. It thus empowers the elders to control their own destiny by choosing to do the things that will bring the Lord’s promised blessings.

Section 60 notes

[1] “Revelation, 8 August 1831 [D&C 60],” p. 100, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 5, 2020,

[2] Times and Seasons 5 (15 March 1844): 464.  Reynolds Cahoon, Journal, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

Section 61 notes

[1] See “Historical Introduction” to “Revelation, 12 August 1831 [D&C 61],” p. 101, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 5, 2020,

[2] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio, 1834), 204.

[3] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 142, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 5, 2020, Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 164. 

[4] Ezra Booth to Edward Partridge, 20 September 1831, in the Ohio Star, 24 November 1831.

[5] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 142, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 5, 2020,

[6] “Revelation, 12 August 1831 [D&C 61],” p. 101, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 5, 2020,

[7] William Phelps, “The Way of Journeying for the Saints of the Church of Christ,” The Evening and the Morning Star (December 1832): 1:52-53.

[8] Short History of WW Phelps’ Stay in Missouri, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. 

Section 62 notes

[1] “Revelation, 13 August 1831 [D&C 62],” p. 104, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 5, 2020,

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