Paul A. Douglas
19. Restoration of the Priesthood
Because of the necessity of authority, would not the priesthood have to be restored in order to properly organize the LDS Church, that is, prior to April 6, 1830 – the Mormon Church’s official date of organization.
Joseph Smith created the Mormon Priesthood after organizing the church not before as many members believe. This is another example of Smith’s practice of revising revelations to match his evolving theological ideas.
LaMar Petersen explained, “The important details that are missing from the “full history [of priesthood restoration of 1834 are likewise missing from the Book of Commandments in 1833.]” 1
One might expect the particulars of the restoration in this first set of 65 revelations, the dates of which encompassed the conferral of the two Priesthoods, but they are conspicuously absent….
Chapter 28 gives no clue to the restoration which, if real, had been known for four years. As well, the notable revelations on the Priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 2 and 13, are also missing.
Almost five hundred words were added to this revelation on the Priesthood of August 1829, Section 27 of the D&C. The new material added the names of heavenly visitors and two separate ordinations.
The Book of Commandments listed the duties of Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons and refers to Joseph’s apostolic calling but there is no mention of Melchizedek Priesthood, High Priesthood, Seventies, High Priests, or High Councilors. These were later inserted into the revelation on Church organization and government of April 1830, making it look like they were known at that date. But they do not appear in the original, Chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments three years later. 2
Researchers who have examined the D&C and primary source accounts found that the official narrative of priesthood restoration contains numerous gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Scholars also raise important questions that expose potential weaknesses in Smith and Cowdery’s story of their miraculous ordinations. For example, if Joseph and Oliver had experienced events as remarkable and life-altering as divine visitations by John the Baptist and three of Christ’s apostles, why would they not tell others? These miraculous ordinations were not publicly revealed or documented until five years after they supposedly occurred. Moreover, if the restoration of the priesthood is a fundamental tenet of the LDS Church, why was this revelation excluded from the Book of Commandments when it was originally published in 1833, only being revealed in the revised and re-named Doctrine and Covenants in 1835?
- Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery failed to testify to the members nor record anything about the appearances of “John the Baptist” and “Peter, James, and John” in any publications prior to 1834 (five years after the events purportedly took place)—nor did they teach that men ordained to offices in the church were receiving “priesthood authority”.
- Nobody in or out of the church knows the exact date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Oliver Cowdery was inconsistent in describing which heavenly being(s) had come to confer that authority.
- Joseph Smith and other early members stated that the first conferral of the Melchizedek priesthood happened in June 1831 in Ohio at a conference of Elders and that Joseph himself was ordained to the high priesthood by church elder Lyman Wight at that time.
- Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 D&C, adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John AS IFthose appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations, which they weren’t. The Book of Commandments, which later became the D&C says nothing about these appearances. 3
David Whitmer Indicates the High Priesthood ended with Christ
David Whitmer, undoubtedly, stuck to his testimony up to the very last. He did however in publishing the following sworn statement in which he expresses his approval of polygamy and :
“Unto All Nations, Kindred, Tongues, and People, unto Whom These Presents Shall Come:
It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell County, Mo., that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the “Book of Mormon.”
To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement:
That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published in that Book, as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all of my statements, as en made and published.
“He that hath an ear to hear let him hear;” it was no delusion! What is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand.
And that no one may be deceived or misled by this statement,
I wish here to state: that I do not endorse polygamy or spiritual wifeism. It is a great evil, shocking to the moral sense, and the more so, because practiced in the name of religion. It is of man and not of God, and is especially forbidden in the Book of Mormon itself.
I do not endorse the change of the name of the church, for the wife takes the name of her husband so should the church of the Lamb of God take the name of its head, even Christ himself. It is the Church of Christ
As to the High Priesthood, Jesus Christ himself is the last Great High Priest, this too after the order of Melchisedec, as I understand the Holy Scriptures.
Finally, I do not endorse any of the teachings of the so-called Mormons, [of] Latter Day Saints, which are in conflict with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as taught in the Bible and Book of Mormon; for the same gospel is plainly taught in both of these books as I understand the word of God.
And if any man doubt should he not carefully and honestly read and understand the same, before presuming to sit in judgment and condemning the light which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way of eternal life as pointed out by the unerring hand of God.
In the spirit of Christ who hath said, “Follow thou me, for I am the life, the light, and the way,” I submit this statement to the world. God in whom I trust being my judge as to the sincerity of my motives and the faith and hope that is in me of eternal life.
My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain and simple statement of the truth.
And all the honor be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, which is one God.
To this statement is subjoined the following certificate:
We, the undersigned citizens of Richmond, Ray County, Mo., where David Whitmer has resided since the year A. D. 1838, certify that we have been long and intimately acquainted with him and know him to be a man of the highest integrity, and of undoubted truth and veracity. Given at Richmond, Mo., this March 19, A. D. 1881.
Gen. Alexander W, Doniphan. Hon. Gen. W. Dunn, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Thos. D. Woodson, President of Ray Co. Savings Bank. J. T. Child, editor of Conservator. H. C. Garnet, Cashier of Ray Co. Savings Bank. L. C. Cantwell, Postmaster, Richmond. Geo. I. Wasson, Mayor. Jas. A. Davis, County Collector. C. J. Huges, Probate Judge and Presiding Justice of Ray County Court. Geo. W. Trigg, County Clerk. W. W. Mosby, M. D., W. A. Holman, County Treasurer. J. S. Hughes, Banker, Richmond, James Hughes, Banker, Richmond. D. P. Whitmer, Attorney-at-law. Hon. James W. Black, Attorney-at-law. Thos. McGinnis, ex-Sheriff Ray County. J. P. Quisenberry, Merchant. W. R. Holman, Furniture Merchant. Lewis Slaughter, Recorder of Deeds. Geo. W. Buchanan, M. D., A. K. Reyburn.”
Apostle William McClellan excommunicated in 1838 states that he had no knowledge of any priesthood restoration by angelic visitors. “But I never heard one word of John the Baptist, or of Peter, James, and John’s visit till I was told some year or two afterward in Ohio.” Likewise, Joseph Knight who had written so much about important Mormon events in 1833 made no mention of these visits either. Book of Mormon witness, David Whitmer had no knowledge of
the angelic visitations of John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John, until 1834. He even went on to state, “I do not believe John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver
Richard Bushman states that Joseph Smith was often reticent to tell others about his revelations and angelic visits. The earliest known account of this visit by Peter, James, and John was referenced by Oliver Cowdery in 1834. Certainly, these angelic visitations were not known by general church membership until Cowdery’s introduction in an 1834 history of the church referencing only John the Baptist. From page 20-21,
As well, Oliver Cowdery’s 1834 published history made no reference to an angelic visitation after John the Baptist’s ministration.
Even pro-LDS historian Richard Bushman admits in his biography on Joseph Smith (Rough Stone Rolling, p.75): “the late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication”
It is also important to note that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants, adding the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John as if those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations in the Book of Commandments, which they certainly were not.
1 Problems in Mormon Text, by LaMar Petersen, pp. 7‐8.
2 Gregory A. Prince, Power on High: The Development of the Mormon Priesthood, Signature Books, 1995.
4 DAVID WHITMER, Richmond, Mo., March 19, 1881.
5 Alexander Neibaur, May 24, 1844, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City
6 February 15, 1841, Letter and Testimony, p.6-9.
“Why was the restoration of the priesthood not reported by Joseph and Oliver Cowdery until years later and then earlier revelations changed to match that account?”
We don’t know when Oliver first mentioned the priesthood restoration to anyone – we only know when he first put it in print. But consider this: If Oliver was covering up a fraud on the part of Joseph Smith when he talked of receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, then why didn’t he expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church? Why, in fact, did Oliver continue to insist that the events related to the restoration of the Priesthood actually happened?
The implication is that Oliver was dishonest, yet his associates during the time that he was a lawyer after leaving the Church viewed his character as “irreproachable.” 5
Is this the same Oliver Cowdery that Joseph described as, “…too mean to mention, and we had liked to have forgotten.”
Is this the same Oliver Cowdery that Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in the First Presidency called, “…a lying, thieving, counterfeiting man who was ‘united with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs in the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, by every art and stratagem which wickedness could invent…” 6