In April 1835, and —who, along with , made up the presidency of the church in —commenced a three-week journey from , Missouri, to , Ohio. Phelps and Whitmer were among fifteen church leaders selected in a 23 June 1834 meeting to travel to to receive the long-awaited of power in the . During their nearly one-year stay in Kirtland, Phelps and Whitmer labored on the church’s printing endeavors, including the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate and the church’s first hymnal. Phelps also acted as a scribe for JS during the late summer and early fall.
On 8 November, JS dictated a revelation in which and were chastised for their “iniquities.” What precipitated the rebuke is unclear; it may have been related to the men’s work in the or to their roles as assistant presidents in the presidency. Blessings given by JS to both men on 22 September, while overwhelmingly positive, give some indication of concern: Phelps was warned that “the Lord will chasten him because he taketh honor to himself, and when his Soul is greatly humbled he will forsake the evil”; similarly, Whitmer was told that he “shall truly be chastened wherein he steps aside.”
Five days before he dictated the 8 November revelation, JS reminded the men in the of the necessity of “our rightly improving our time and reigning up our minds to a sense of the great object that lies before us, viz, that glorious endowment that God has in store for the faithful.” In this context, the revelation directed to and can be seen as part of a larger effort by JS to correct what he saw as improper behavior and to prepare church members for the much-anticipated and endowment of power.
On the same day the revelation featured here was recorded, JS corrected several other church members. During the Sunday morning worship service, arose and confessed to unspecified actions that had led to his excommunication. Apparently unsatisfied with Hill’s confession, proposed that Hill “make a public confession of his crime.” Following Smith’s motion, arose and “verry abruptly militated against the sentiment of Uncle John.” JS was not pleased with any of these actions, believing that Hill’s confession was “not satisfactory,” that Smith had been “wrong” in his proposal, and that Rigdon’s speech had “destroy[ed] his [John Smith’s] influence, . . . misrepresented Mr. Hill’s case and spread darkness rather than light upon the subject.” Following the meeting, JS visited with John Smith and Rigdon separately to convince them of their errors. Later that day, JS’s journal indicates, he “took up a labour” with for his failure to partake of the and chastised his wife for leaving the Sunday meeting “before sacrament.”
After they arrived in Kirtland, Whitmer was appointed editor of the Messenger and Advocate, presumably to allow Oliver Cowdery to focus on publishing the Doctrine and Covenants. Phelps assisted Cowdery in his work with the Doctrine and Covenants and helped Whitmer with the Messenger and Advocate, as well as the hymnbook. (William W. Phelps, Kirtland, OH, to Sally Waterman Phelps, Liberty, MO, 14 Nov. 1835, in Historical Department, Journal History of the Church, 14 Nov. 1835; “To the Patrons of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, June 1835, 1:135–137; JS History, vol. B-1, 592.)
Historical Department. Journal History of the Church, 1896–. CHL. CR 100 137.
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.
Sometime after the revelation was recorded in the journal, Phelps made some changes to the entry. Close inspection of the document suggests that Phelps knife-erased the word “iniquities” and wrote the word “errors.” Following the word “errors,” Phelps inserted the phrase “for which they made satisfaction the same day.” It is not known precisely when he made these changes, though it was likely while he was helping to write JS’s history, sometime after mid-1841. Phelps began his contribution to JS’s history following the death of Robert B. Thompson on 27 August 1841; he assisted Willard Richards with the history until at least 1843. (See JS, Journal, 8 Nov. 1835; and Jessee, “Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” 439, 441, 446.)