You may have heard that the Journal of Discourses was not an official church publication. The whole thing can be a bit confusing, so let’s clear it up!
The church’s current official statement regarding the Journal of Discourses is found here. The most relevent part being the first sentence says:
The Journal of Discourses is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the bottom of the page, it ives a link to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a BYU site. The first two sentences read as:
The Journal of Discourses was a sixteen-page semimonthly subscription publication privately printed in Liverpool, England, in 1854-1886. It served as the printed word of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, particularly for members who had no access to the Salt Lake City Deseret News.
So here we have LDS.org saying its not an official publication, and BYU.edu saying it is.
The LDS article goes on to blame the transcriber, George D. Watt, for any and all inaccuracies. However, in this church video published on 4/30/2013 it gives nothing but praise for him.
For such confusion, we should really see what the source material says about itself to break the tie. But first, a bit of history.
The Journal of Discourse was proposed by scribe/reporter George D. Watt. He needed a job, and thought that transcribing sermons, discourses, and many other public speeches given by church leaders would give him great job security and help the saints in Europe to have access to the teachings. Watt was proficient in Pitman Shorthand, which allowed him to write much faster and more accurately than any other scribe. Brigham Young and the First Presidency supported and approved Watt’s idea. The JoD was edited and published in England, where printing costs were less. It was almost exclusively published by the Mission President of the Europe mission. Many of these mission presidents went on or were concurrently in the Q12 (one whom was Joseph F. Smith). Regardless, Brigham Young gave his approval for each one by allowing himself to be listed as the author for all 26 volumes.
Nearly every volume had a preface by that edition’s publisher. The prefaces shine a very specific light as to how they were meant to be received by the membership, and I have listed the full quotes at the end. For simplicity’s sake, I have Frankensteined together the prefaces to create an accurate review of how the creators of the Journal of Discourses viewed it’s importance.
The Journal of Discourses is a vehicle of doctrine, counsel, instruction , information on eternal life , God’s law’s, and the Gospel of Christ, all of which are lucidly explained . By the writings in these books, a man may gauge his progress towards eternal life . When it’s teachings are adapted to your life it will help you gain the favor of God  and exhaltation  in the Celestial Kingdom . It is the sacred writings of inspired men  and the word of God . It ranks as a standard work and scripture of the church , as it is where the prophet declares “Thus saith the Lord;” . It is the written embodiment of the fire of the Almighty that burned in His prophets and Apostles . No saint can afford to do without the teachings found within , and all saints are expected to sustain it’s publication .
It unnecessary to dwell on how important the Journal of Discourses is, because it so significant .
If that wasn’t enough, in 1963 Axel J. Andresen, the assisstant manager of all of Deseret Book, found it ludacrous that anyone would doubt that the Journal of Discourses wasn’t an official publication.
Today there are several indications that the church does consider the Journal of Discourses as valuable:
- The church has scanned copies of every single page of every single volume of the JoD.
- The church ranks the Journal of Discourses along with the other standard works on scriptures.byu.edu.
- Another valuable indication is by searching how often JoD is used on LDS.org, the website that discredits it. When searching through google, I typed in “site:lds.org/general-conference “Journal of Discourses”” and got 480+ results. When searching “site:lds.org/manual “Journal of Discourses””, I got 1,410+. That seems like a lot of mentions for something that isn’t an official church publication.
- The final nail in the coffin is that Deseret Book currently publishes a $500 set of the JoD (which conveniently doesn’t have an index, which makes reading such a publication much harder)
To me, its crystal clear that the Jod was intended to be as important and authoritative as the Bible, BoM, D&C, and PoGP. For some reason they stopped publishing the JoD, and eventually stopped emphasizing it. As we can see today, the church is starting to actively distance itself from the craziness in the JoD by prevent/scaring TBMs from reading it.
For other great discussions regarding the validity of the JoD, visit here:
- Sent my brother the CES letter. He sent an inquiry to the church history dept. about whether History of The Church or Journal of Discourses were legit. This is their response. by /u/bomonomo
- JoD citation count? by /u/dragman77
- Deseret Book confirms Journal of Discourses is an official publication of the church. by /u/LeSchmall
- Proof the Journal of Discourses was considered official church publication. by /u/LeSchmall
P.S. Nerdgasm (/u/Mithryn you might be interested): George D. Watt left many works untranslated from Pitman shorthand. They remained untranslated until very recently. You can find what the church is choosing to release here. I’m sure there’s tons of juicy stuff they’re choosing not to release though.
Dear Brethren – It is well known to many of you, that Elder George D. Watt, by our counsel, spent much time in the midst of poverty and hardships to acquire the art of reporting in Phonography, which he has faithfully and fully accomplished; and he has been reporting the public Sermons, Discourses, Lectures, &c., delivered by the Presidency, the Twelve, and others in this city, for nearly two years, almost without fee or reward. Elder Watt now proposes to publish a Journal of these Reports, in England, for the benefit of the Saints at large, and to obtain means to enable him to sustain his highly useful position of Reporter. You will perceive at once that this will be a work of mutual benefit, and we cheerfully and warmly request your co-operation in the purchase and sale of the above-named Journal, and wish all the profits arising therefrom to be under the control of Elder Watt.
Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, First Presidency, JoD 1: Letter from the First Presidency
The Second Volume of the Journal of Discourses … contains the principles of the Gospel of Salvation to this generation. By the rules and precepts found in it, he that reads with the light of the Holy Spirit may measure himself and the progress he has made in the way of Eternal Life.
Franklin D. Richards, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, JoD 2: Preface
We are privileged to present to the Saints and the world, the Third Volume of the Journal of Discourses, containing the principles of the Gospel of salvation delivered to this generation through the Apostles and Prophets of the Most High, by the power of the Holy Ghost. … Each successive Volume of these Discourses is a rich mine of wealth, containing gems of great value, and the diligent seeker will find ample reward for his labor.
Orson Pratt, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, JoD 3: Preface
It would be altogether gratuitous and uncalled for, on our part, to write a commendatory preface to the Discourses of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles of this Church. To the Saints their words are as the words of God, their teachings fraught with heavenly wisdom, and their directions leading to salvation and eternal lives. … [JoD 4] is the written embodiment of the fire of the Almighty that burned in His prophets and Apostles … throughout the whole Volume, we see signs that the day of God’s power is at hand, and that the fire of the Almighty is processing forth from the leaders of Israel.
It is unnecessary for us to dwell on the importance of the Discourses contained herein and the value of this Volume to the Saints’ library, seeing that it represents a part of the most trying season of the Church. We therefore commend it to its readers without further preface, and we are confident that in years to come the value of the Fifth Volume to its possessors will be enhanced
In publishing the last two Volumes of the Journal of Discourses, there have been more than ordinary difficulties to labor under. One of the effects of the wicked Expedition against the Saints in the Mountains was a suspension in the delivery of Discourses by the leading Elders of the Church. Nor was this all. As Jesus the Beloved Son was once left by his Father, that he might show forth the great integrity of his soul, so also it seemed at this time wisdom in the Father to leave his beloved Saints to manifest the vast integrity of their souls. Therefore, the Lord and his Prophets and Apostles, for a moment, as it were, hid themselves and the voices of the shepherds were not so often heard.
Of course, all this told upon the publication of the Journal of Discourses; for if there were no Discourses delivered, they could not be published; so that, to prevent the Journal from being discontinued, we were compelled to publish Sermons delivered in past years, some of which had been already published in the Star.
… we cannot close this Preface without expressing gratitude to our heavenly Father that the voices of the Shepherds of Israel are again heard, which gives us the prospect of publishing in the Seventh Volume many of their words of inspiration, power, and salvation.
The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every number (issue) as it comes forth.
George Q. Cannon, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, JoD 8: Preface
After a long night of darkness, which has covered Christendom like a pall, the light of Heaven has again burst forth to cheer and bless mankind. The keys of knowledge, long lost from among men, have been, with the Priesthood, once more restored to the earth. For centuries there has been no man in Christendom authorized to say “Thus saith the Lord;” and men have had to be dependent upon the knowledge and experience of those who in former generations received the revelations of Jesus. But now this has changed. Through the Gospel which has been restored, with the Priesthood, in its fullness and purity, the mind of the Lord respecting the inhabitants of the earth is being made known unto men.
The Journal of Discourses goes forth to the world as another record corroborating those already extant, bearing the same testimony to the immutable principles of salvation which they have borne, and giving additional light upon many points concerning the salvation of this generation on which they are silent. All men can be profited by perusing its pages and pondering over the words of truth and salvation as they flow in beautiful simplicity and power from the mouths of the Living Oracles.
George Q. Cannon, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, JoD 9: Preface
The “Journal of Discourses” is a vehicle of doctrine, counsel, and instruction to all people, but especially to the Saints. It follows, then, then, that each successive volume is more and more valuable as the Church increases in numbers and importance in the earth, and its doctrines become more abundantly developed and are brought into practical exercise by His peculiar people. Every step of its advancement is fraught with the greatest possible importance to the human family.
No Saint can afford to do without these precious precepts until they are able to exemplify them in their daily lives and conversation.
Brigham Young Jr., Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, JoD 11: Preface
While Zion is so rapidly and prosperously lengthening her cords and strengthening her stakes, it behooves all to be acquainted with the teachings pertaining to her advancement and the perfecting of the Saints; and inasmuch as the affords such excellent facilities for an acquaintance with those teachings, it is both desired and expected that the lovers of truth and of their own best interests will at all times sustain its publication and profit by its perusal so far as may be in their power.
The Thirteenth Volume of the “Journal” contains discourses upon a great variety of subjects of interest to all Saints, and is well worthy of being carefully preserved and frequently referred to for instruction and encouragement in their endeavors to live by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God, through His servants who hold the Holy Priesthood.
… the discourses of the leaders of Israel cannot be else than of the highest interest to every soul who has embraced the Gospel for the love of the truth. …
WE take great pleasure in presenting to the Saints and the world the Fifteenth Volume of the JOURNAL of DISCOURSES, which they will find contains rich treasures of information concerning the glorious principles of Eternal Life, as revealed through God’s anointed servants in these last days.
All who read the discourses contained in this Volume are earnestly recommended to adapt them to their lives by practice, and we can confidently assure them that, in doing so, they are laying up a store of knowledge that will save and exalt them in the Celestial kingdom.
WE now present to the Latter-day Saints, and all lovers of truth, the Sixteenth Volume of the JOURNAL or DISCOURSES of President Brigham Young, his Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and others; confident that all who feel an interest in the advancement of the great Latter-day Work, and the spread of truth upon the earth, will peruse its pages with joy and profit unto themselves, and preserve it as containing sacred writings of inspired men.
Joseph F. Smith, Counselor in the First Presidency (and future prophet), JoD 16: Preface
We regret that the circulation of the Journal of Discourses is so limited. Its importance would warrant a thousand-fold greater extension of this work. We anticipate a time, not distant in the future, when a copy of the present volume will be more precious than gold. It is even now almost impossible to obtain a complete series. Copies should therefore be carefully preserved by all subscribers.
Joseph F. Smith, Counselor in the First Presidency (and future prophet), JoD 18: Preface
We take pleasure in presenting to the lovers of truth the Twentieth Volume of the JOURNAL OF DISCOURSES.
It contains lucid explanations of the laws and doctrines of the true Gospel of Christ, and inspirational teachings suited to the circumstances of the people to whom they were delivered.
Those who read the utterances of the servants of God, contained in this book, under the same influence by which the speakers were inspired, cannot fall to receive profit from the perusal. Therefore, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
In presenting the Twenty-first Volume of the JOURNAL OF DISCOURSES to our readers, we pray that those who read the counsels therein given, may do so by the light of the Holy Spirit of Truth, that great benefit may be obtained therefrom, and that by a wise application of the teachings of God’s servants, from time to time, the Saints may finally be exalted in His Heavenly Kingdom.
With much pleasure we present to our readers the Twenty-second Volume of the trusting that the inspired remarks of God’s servants, therein compiled, will prove an additional source of happiness and peace to the Saints, and of general instruction to all who peruse its pages.
The Twenty-third Volume of the Journal of Discourses, now complete, will, we feel assured, be considered as acceptable reading matter by the Latter-day Saints who may be favored with its perusal. That they may be stimulated to greater faithfulness by the valuable instructions and exhortations therein contained is the desire of the publisher
John Henry Smith, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, JoD 23: Preface