Priesthood Restoration


A Closer Look

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Aaronic Priesthood Restoration

Before 1832

CES Letter Core Question

Why didn't Joseph and Oliver more widely share the restoration of the priesthood? Was it because it's a later fabrication?

The reason 'why' things happened is often the key question. It's a question about motive and reason behind things. Often that answer isn't clear. In this case, the CES Letter claims the reason why Joseph and Oliver didn't share about the priesthood more widely was because they made it up later on. A joint collusion. 

However, there are several other reasons why it may not have been shared more widely.

"Owing to the spirit of persecution"

Priesthood Restoration

Opening the Heavens provides excellent insight here:

The historical record clearly identifies the circumstances surrounding the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, including the date that it occurred, and unambiguous evidence links Joseph and Oliver’s quest for that priesthood to knowledge they gained while translating the Book of Mormon. An 1829 document in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting entitled “Articles of the Church of Christ” testified that Cowdery had been given power to baptize “of Jesus Christ.”

Details regarding the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, including John the Baptist’s role in that event, however, were seldom if ever shared prior to 1832 “<owing to> a spirit of persecution,” as Joseph Smith indicated in 1838. Two of Joseph and Oliver’s close associates, David Whitmer and William McLellin, recalled in 1885 and 1878, respectively, that they first learned of John the Baptist’s 1829 appearance two to four years after the Church’s organization.

Opening the Heavens, by John E. Welch

Priesthood Not Liked Among New England Churches

Richard Bushman also indicated that the negative association with the priesthood may have added to Joseph and Oliver's reluctance to widely share the concept.

The term "authority" frequently appeared, but not "priesthood." The absence of the word to this point may have been cause of its general negative associations for radical Protestants in Joseph's time. Priesthood was associated with Roman Catholicism and the old regime of Europe. The radical religious tradition from which many Mormon converts came denounced priesthood as popish, emphasizing preaching rather than sacraments administered by priests. Universalists like Joseph Smith's grandfather linked priesthood with priestcraft and reaching the gospel for hire. In most New England churches, ministers were ordained as pastors of specific congregations and were not admitted to a priesthood at all. The idea of priesthood descending in a line of authority was Roman, not Puritan.

Because priesthood was an alien concept to Yankee Christians, Joseph may have considered it prudent to say nothing about priesthood in the early years, or possible he did not understand it himself.

Rough Stone Rolling, p. 157

David Whitmer

CES Letter Core Question

Did David Whitmer disbelieve that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver?

David Whitmer - Not a Fan of Priesthood or Hierarchy

As Richard Bushman stated above, "many early converts "denounced the priesthood as popish." David Whitmer, was one of those who didn't like the idea of priesthood. David had an unyielding testimony of the Book of Mormon and felt that "the Bible and the Book of Mormon was held to contain God's law in completeness." (David Whitmer Interviews, p. 203). David, however, struggled with the idea of Priesthood or much else beyond the foundation of the church. According to Richard L. Anderson, "David really sought to recreate intimate days of 1829-30 at his father's home in Fayette, New York. His later writings idealize this period when he felt closest to God and the Prophet. So David Whitmer is really a man who declined to grow with the church. His grandson defined his religion as "standing still." If skeptical of further revelations he nevertheless accepted the founding guidance of the church." (Investigating Witnesses, p. 70).

According to historian Michael Quinn, "Whitmer wanted the "Church of Christ" to remain a spiritual community of believers. He felt uncomfortable with the impulse to transform the "Church of Christ" into an earthly formally organized church institution: "we were organized-- spiritually--before April 6th as we were on that day... Although compliant with Smith's directions, Whitmer grew uncomfortable with changes after 1829."  (Quinn, Origins of Power)

Richard Anderson draws the same conclusion about Whitmer, "he [David] resisted change and was jealous of the power and suspected influence of Sidney Rigdon." (Anderson p. 69) Whitmer felt Rigdon was responsible for "the priesthood, the establishment of the high priesthood system, which was the work of Sidney Rigdon, an ambitious biblical scholar who yearned for authority and notoriety."(David Whitmer Interviews, p. 203)

Whitmer didn't like the idea of priesthood restoration and said as much:

There is nothing in the New Testament part of either the Bible or Book of Mormon concerning a one-man leader or head to the church… And we had no such an office in the Church in these last days for the first eight months of its existence, until Brother Joseph went into this error on April 6, 1830, and, after unwittingly breaking a command of God by taking upon himself such an office, in a few years those revelations were changed to admit this high office, which otherwise would have condemned it. They were changed to mean something entirely different from the way they were first given and printed in Book of Commandments; as if God had not thought of this great and important office when he gave those revelations.”

An Address to All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer

CES Letter Core Question

Was 1834 the first time David had ever heard of the Aaronic Priesthood?

David Whitmer CES Letter

Generally speaking David Whitmer was against the idea of priesthood. He preferred an organization where there was no priesthood and rejected it as it became part of the church. One account, however, indicates that Whitmer did believe in the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. David H. Cannon had described an 1861 meeting he had with David Whitmer:

The thing which impressed me most of all was, as we stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery the other Witness, who had come back into the Church before his death, and in describing Olivers action, when bearing his testimony, said to the people in the room, saying 'I know the Gospel to be true and upon this head has Peter James and John laid their hands and confered the Holy Melchesdic Priesthood,' the manner in which this tall grey headed man went through the exhibition of what Oliver had done was prophetic. I shall never forget the impression that the testimony of . . . David Whitmer made upon me."

Early Mormon Documents, 5:218

From the Foundational Texts of Mormonism

Confusing this later declaration is one posited by David Whitmer's collaborator at the time, William E. McClellan, who acknowledged Joseph Smith's acquisition of the 'Melchizedek'. This suggests that in 1848 they considered Smith's priesthood claims were valid.

 Foundational Texts of Mormonism page 80

Foundational Texts of Mormonism


CES Letter Core Question

The 1835 D&C (modern section 27) contains an additional 12 verses with details about the miraculous nature of the Priesthood restoration that are not the 1833 edition. Should the earlier version have contained these details?

Greg Prince, Author of Power From on High: The Development of the Mormon Priesthood had the following to say about Joseph and retrofitting in an interview (see banner)

Greg Prince Priesthood Restoration Angels

Editing and expanding earlier published revelations was a common practice for Joseph Smith. This was not an attempt to trick anyone, but simply prophetic prerogative. The CES Letter reflects a poor understanding of the nature of scripture.

Absence in Book of Commandments

CES Letter Core Question

(Essentially the same as the prior question). Should we expect that an account of restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood would have appeared in the original Book of Commandments?

Had the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood under the hands of Peter, James, and John been recorded prior to 1833, it likewise would have been expected (expected by who?) to appear in the Book of Commandments. However, nowhere in the Book of Commandments is this miraculous and doctrinally vital event recorded.

CES Letter, P. 83

The author of The CES Letter is entitled to his opinion. However, many early revelations given to Joseph were not included in the Book of Commandments. This is another case of making an assumption and then criticizing Joseph based upon the assumption.


CES Letter Core Question

It wasn't until 1835 that the D&C contained priesthood restoration events. Why is this?

Technically speaking, one could charge the author of The CES Letter with "backdating and retrofitting" because the author has changed and updated The CES Letter over time so it resembles less and less the original that was sent to the CES administrator. If the author can somehow claim the right to make changes to his document over time, by what standard does he deny that right to others, including prophets?

Ordained by Lyman Wight

CES Letter Core Question

If Joseph was already an elder and apostle, what was the necessity of being ordained again in 1831?

This was an ordination to an office, not the first bestowal of the priesthood.

FairMormon does a good job addressing this here.