The Priesthood Story of Joseph Smith — Rich Kelsey

The Priesthood Story of Joseph Smith:

The Priesthood Story of Joseph Smith:

At one point in time Joseph Smith began telling a story about John the Baptist, who was now an angel, appearing to him and Oliver Cowdery and ordaining them to the priesthood:

“The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this [Aaronic] Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us… It was on the fifteenth day of May, 1829, that we were ordained under the hand of this messenger, and baptized. (Joseph Smith, 1838 History, 2:72)

Although Joseph Smith claimed this event happened in 1829, there is no record of it during the Church’s formative years. The first revelation to mention that the Aaronic and/or Melchizedek Priesthood were offices to be conferred on members,

“in the church,”

is found in section III of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants:

“There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely: the Melchizedek, and the Aaronic, including the Levitical priest-hood. Why the first is called the Melchizedek priesthood, is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest: before his  day it was called the holy priesthood, after the order of the Son of God; but out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek priesthood. (1835 Doctrine and Covenants p. 82)

The Term Priesthood Cannot Be Found:

Today the LDS Church touts the restoration of the Priesthood as a foundational teaching. Yet, the term Priesthood cannot be found in the 1833 Book of Commandments, which was a forerunner to the Doctrine and Covenants, neither can the story of John the Baptist appearing to Joseph Smith and/or Oliver Cowdery:

“The important details that are missing from the ‘full history’ of 1834 are likewise missing from the Book of Commandments in 1833. The student would expect to find all the particulars of the Restoration in this first treasured set of 65 revelations, the dates of which encompassed the bestowals of the two Priesthoods, but they are conspicuously absent…. The notable revelations on Priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants before referred to, Sections 2 and 13, are missing, and Chapter 28 gives no hint of the Restoration which, if actual, had been known for four years. More than four hundred words were added to this revelation of August 1829 in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the additions made to include the names of heavenly visitors and two separate ordinations. The Book of Commandments gives 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, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on Church organization and government of April, 1830, making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original, Chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments three years later. Similar interpolations were made in the revelations known as Sections 42 and 68.” (Problems In Mormon Text, by LaMar Petersen, pp. 7-8).

The 1833 Book of Commandments contains the first 65 of Joseph’s Smith’s revelations, dating from July 1828, to September 1831. The revelations from the Book of Commandments were reprinted in the Doctrine and Covenants. Beginning with the fourth edition in 1876, an additional revelation was inserted between revelation #1 and #2: 

1981 Doctrine and Covenants

Section 2

1 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

2 And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promise made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

3 If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.

While addressing the issue of whether a revelation mentioning the Priesthood should rightfully have its place amongst the Church’s foundational works, scholars from Brigham Young University spelled out:

“Details regarding the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, including John the Baptist’s role in the event, were seldom if ever shared prior to 1832…” (Priesthood Restoration Documents, Brian Q. Cannon and BYU Studies Staff, BYU Studies 35. no. 4, 1995-96, p. 164)

David Whitmer[1] was an eye-witness to the rise of Mormonism.[2]  He was there when the Church was formed, about two years later David also witnessed the formation of the priesthood story.  That troubled him greatly.  Then, the day came when David had to choose between accepting what he knew to be false; or, taking a stand for the truth.”

Changing A Revelation To Include The Priesthood:

The truth was more important to David than what his friends and family might think of him; so, he testified:

“The next change of importance is in a revelation given in Fayette, New York, June, 1830. It [the change in the revelation] was not given through the stone. (Chap. 4., Book of Commandments, Sec. 17, Doctrine and Covenants). The change or addition to this revelation is of such a bold character, that the compilers of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants put it in that book without the heading, which is over it in the Book of Commandments, which heading shows it to be a revelation. They have put it in the Doctrine and Covenants as ‘Section 17,’ but it is a revelation. The old church papers speak of it as a revelation, and the heading in the Book of Commandments shows that it is a revelation. I was present when Brother Joseph gave this revelation.

The heading over it in the Book of Commandments is as follows: ‘The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, given in Fayette, New York, June, 1830.’ Two paragraphs have been added to it, having been thrust into the middle of it: Paragraphs 16 and 17 is the part added, which part speaks of high priests and other high offices that the church never knew of until almost two years after its beginning: As if God had made a mistake in the first organization of the church, and left out these high important offices which are all above an elder; and as if God had made a mistake and left these high offices out of that revelation when it was first given. Oh the weakness and blindness of man! This revelation as it is in the Book of Commandments, speaks of the duties of all the spiritual officers in the church; of elders, priests and teachers; but does not mention a word about the office of high priest, president of the high priesthood, high counselors, etc. The part added to this revelation was put there to give the duties of these high officers in ordinations. I repeat that the church never heard of or thought of having in it any of these offices, until we moved to Kirtland, Ohio, in the days of Sidney Rigdon.”  (An Address To All Believers In Christ, p. 59-60)

David also wrote:

“This matter of two orders of priesthood in the Church of Christ, and lineal priesthood of the old law being in the church, all originated in the mind of Sydney Rigdon. He explained these things to Brother Joseph in his way, out of the old Scriptures, and got Brother Joseph to inquire, etc. He would inquire, and as mouthpiece speak out the revelations just as they had it fixed in their hearts. As I have said before, according to the desires of the heart, the inspiration comes, but it may be the spirit of man that gives it…. This is the way the High Priests and the ‘priesthood’ as you have it, was introduced into the Church of Christ almost two years after its beginning—and after we had baptized and confirmed about two thousand souls into the church” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, David Whitmer p. 64 / also see p. 35) 

Other articles of interest:

■ Urim and Thummim of LDS Tradition — Rich Kelsey

The Golden Plates of Joseph Smith — Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith on Trial — Rich Kelsey

LDS SERIES

Endnotes:

[1] “David Whitmer, like Joseph Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, has greatly influenced our perceptions of Mormon beginnings. Interviewed on more than fifty occasions, Whitmer related over and over again what he knew about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the organization of the church, and his experience as a restoration witness.” (David Whitmer and the Shaping of Latter-day Saint History, Kenneth W. Godfrey, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute)

[2] “Brethren, it is solemn mockery before God to have established in the church to-day this important office of which Christ alone is worthy. The office of Elder is spoken of all through the New Testament as being in the church, but not one High Priest; then of course they had no High Priests in the church upon the eastern continent.

Now Brethren, seeing they had no High Priests in the church of Christ of old, and none in the church of Christ in these last days until almost two years after its beginning–when the leaders began to drift into error; remembering the fact of the revelation being changed two years after it was given to include High Priests; taking these things into consideration, how is it that any one can say that the office of High Priest should be in the church of Christ to-day? I can account for it only on the grounds of your spiritual blindness. This matter is so plain and self-evident that any one should see and understand it. Brethren, your blindness must be utter blindness. May God have mercy on you is my prayer. In no place in the word of God does it say that an Elder is after the order of Melchisedec, or after the order of the Melchisedec Priesthood. An Elder is after the order of Christ. This matter of ‘priesthood,’ since the days of Sydney Rigdon, has been the great hobby and stumbling-block of the Latter Day Saints.” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, David Whitmer, p. 64)