Critics attack accounts of Priesthood restoration through John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John, the apostles, because Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery didn’t officially record them until a number of years after the events. This video shows that while Joseph and Oliver were reticent to publish sacred details early on, multiple publications from other sources, such as newspapers, illustrate that they were discussing it verbally shortly after the events occurred. Other compelling aspects of the Priesthood restoration are shared that should silence any critic trying to discredit Joseph and Oliver’s testimony.
We know with the inception of the Church, the priesthood was restored through John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. I just did an evidence video, talking about the critical nature of why is restoration was needed. I highly suggest it in conjunction with this video. On this one I want to really rebuff some very weak claims used against this restoration. The claims, or criticisms, are focused more on that the accounts were kept somewhat confidential, the written accounts anyway, for a period of time, and then Joseph also revised some revelations and added some things about the priesthood restoration. I’ll talk about that, as well. But I’m going to start with the smoking gun on this, which is Oliver Cowdery. And this is a tough one for critics. In fact, I almost wonder if the Lord picked Oliver because he knew how his life would play out.
He was excommunicated in 1838. If there was ever a time to get revenge on Joseph, that would have been it. He did not deny any of these events that happened. He was a second witness to the restoration of those keys being resorted, including the temple. The keys in the temple. Elijah, Elias, and Moses, the Kirtland Temple in 1836. That is really a big smoking gun. He came back the very tail end of his life, last 18 months, but two and a half years before he came back to the Church, listen to what he said here in a letter to Phineas Young. He says, “I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit, but I ought to be so. You would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John with our departed brother Joseph, to receive the lesser priesthood, and in the presence of Peter to receive the greater, and look down through time and witnessed the effects these two must produce. You would feel what you have never felt.” That was powerful.
In 1838-1839 Joseph Smith wrote his history that we now have in the Pearl of Great Price. I want to show a very key line in that, we have these in verses 74 and 75. He said, about giving details there about the priesthood at that point in time, where we did get a lot of detail, he says, “In the meantime, we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood. We had been threatened with being mobbed, from time to time, and this, too, by professors of religion.” Very interesting, very key wording there. And in fact, let me share this from a book, A Reason For Faith, great book. There was a chapter on restoration of the priesthood written by Ronald Barney, who worked in the Church History Department for 33 years. He was an archivist, as well, and associate editor of the Joseph Smith Papers.
This is what he said in this chapter he wrote for that book. He said, “An inquirer may ask if priesthood restoration was of such consequence to the early church, then why didn’t Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery run to the local newspapers after their visitations and publish what had happened to them? There are several explanations for the lack of documentation, only two of which will be given here. The first was given by Joseph himself just after recording his own 1838-1839 account.” He reads what I just read. Forced to keep these secrets there. “Because both men desired to protect their divine experiences from public attention and ridicule, the disclosure of accounts revealing the events of priesthood restoration were initially kept in confidence. During the course of translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph repeated this passage to Oliver. ‘It is given into many to know the mysteries of God. Nevertheless, they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart, only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men.'”
“In other words, those who receive revelation from God are under a strict command to keep it to themselves, and share it only as appropriate. While receiving the revelation known as the Book of Moses, Joseph was twice counseled to be discreet: ‘Show them not unto any except them that believe, and see that thou show them unto no man, until I command you, except to them that believe.’ Clearly, there was a sensibility emphasized here that could not have escaped Joseph, which imposed restraint on sharing the revelations of God before it was appropriate. Joseph tried to teach this precept to church leaders, also helping them to understand that keeping sacred experiences sacred was expected of all to whom the Lord would reveal such things. In November 1835, Joseph taught the newly called Quorum of the Twelve about the anticipated outpouring of spiritual gifts as they prepared for the solemn assembly associated with the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Joseph recorded, ‘Let us be faithful and silent brethren, and if God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourself.’ Thus, it is not surprising that Joseph and Oliver kept their sacred experiences to themselves until it was required and appropriate that they explained the essential restoration of the priesthood.”
I thought this was interesting what Richard Bushman put in his book, Rough Stone Rolling. He says, “The late appearances of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication. Did Joseph add the stories of angels to embellish his early history and make himself more of a visionary?”, which is what critics would say, and I love this. “If so, he made little of the occurrence. Cowdery was the first to recount the story of John’s appearance, not Joseph himself.” If you’re a fraudulent embellisher, you would make a big deal out of this, which is really the opposite of what Joseph was doing.
Now, here’s another thing. Some say, also, that with Joseph the authority was added later. Well, it is interesting to look at the Book of Mormon and what Joseph would have seen in there. And I will say, that it is interesting that Joseph, from a Protestant background, authority would have been a very different issue to him. From the Protestant perspective, it would not have been a big focus. I talk a lot about that in the Evidences videos that I just did. Look at these verses in the Book of Mormon, Joseph would have experienced these in translating the Book of Mormon. I’m not going to read all these verses, but just glance at them. Alma 4:20, it talks about the high priesthood. Alma 5:3, consecrated high priest, authority. Alma 13, the whole thing is talking about priesthood and holy order, about Melchizedek. Mosiah, talks about the power and authority of God to baptize. We see that again in 3 Nephi, Christ giving authority to baptize. And then again in 3 Nephi 12, baptisms and authority. You see it all over the place there.
Now, here’s another smoking gun. This was in writing. It was in 1829, and this is Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 manuscript called A Commandment From God, or Articles of the Church of Christ. And listen to what it says. “A commandment from God unto Oliver, how he should build up his church and the manner thereof … I command all men everywhere to repent and I speak unto you even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling which he was called.” And then he says, “Whosoever repenteth and humbleth before me and desires to be baptized in my name ye shall baptize them. After this manner this is how you should baptize them. Go in the water.” He says, “Take them, and by the name saying ‘having authority, given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you.'” This is pretty powerful. This is an 1829. This is in writing. The case should be closed there, as far as things. Now, there’s not a lot of detail here and there may be some reticence to share a lot of the details that we get later and that may have been on purpose, for the other reasons we just talked about. But that I think is a powerful slide to remember.
Now, it’s interesting to note. I’m going to show you the next four sides are from newspapers in 1830 and 1831. What we have is we have writings, written word, and things, that we don’t have what was being said maybe verbally, and some of the communications and things. It’s hard to say. But, it’s interesting to note what you’ll pick up from what you see in these four newspaper clips. I’m just going to show you some underlying parts here. This is in the newspaper in Ohio, the Painesville Telegraph in November of 1830. In there says, “The name of the person here, who pretends to have a divine mission and to have seen and converse with angels, is Cowdery” Pretty interesting. Okay, Painesville Telegraph, this is same newspaper, I think it’s just a month later, December 7th, “Cowdery claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in His name. By this authority they proclaim to the world.” Sounds like, while there’s maybe not, again, great details, there is clearly things here with angels and authorities that were happening, Cowdery talking.
The Palmyra Reflector, February 1831. “Jo Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose … Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels.” Painesville Telegraph, April of 1831, talking about the Mormon creed. ” … Joseph Smith Jr., who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ … Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church and ordained under his hand.” We do even have in writing great documentary evidence here early on. Now, Joseph Smith’s brief, 1832 history, we do get some words there. First from Joseph in writing. Here he talks about if you look at the underlined thing, ” … thirdly, the reception of the holy priesthood by the ministering of angels to administer the letter of the gospel, the law and commandments as they were given it to him, and the ordinances. Fourthly, a confirmation and reception of the high priesthood after the holy order of the Son of the living God, power and ordinance from on high to preach the gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit, the keys of the kingdom of God conferred upon him.” Thought that was very good.
Now, we started to get some details after about five years, started getting some clarity on exactly who and when, and how the priesthood was restored. This is in 1834, published in the Messenger and Advocate. This was Oliver Cowdery, and here he is talking about the experience. “The voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance … We received under the angel’s hand the holy priesthood … The assurance that we were in the presence of an angel; the certainty that we heard the voice of Jesus, and the truth unsullied as it flowed from a pure personage dictated by the will of God, is to me, past description.” The next year we actually get a few more details from Oliver, including the name of the angel, John, and where. It was in Harmony, Pennsylvania on the 15th of May, 1829. And they then were instructed to baptize each other, as well, and then ordain each other to the priesthood. He gives him some details there.
Now, this is also the year that Joseph then adds to this revelation that critics will complain about, it’s now Doctrine and Covenants section 27. This is where we learn that we can use water instead of wine in the sacrament. He was going out to procure wine for a sacrament service, and the angel stopped him and warned him of poisoning and said, “It doesn’t matter as long as you do it for the right intent and purpose. Doesn’t matter what you use for the sacrament in that sense.” This is the part of D&C 27, Doctrine and Covenants 27, that was added in 1835. It wasn’t in the first, in 1833 when this came out, it was just the part about Joseph being stopped on there. But then in 1835, this is a key part that was added. “John, I have sent unto you my servants, Joseph Smith Jr., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto this first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron … And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained to you and confirmed you to be apostles and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry; and of the same things which I revealed unto them; unto who I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times.”
Now, Brian Cannon in this book, Opening the Heavens, this is great as far as just getting documentation on a lot of divine manifestations. That’s what the whole book’s about. But he’s got a chapter in there on priesthood restoration, and he talks about this specific addition there, and adds a few things. He says there, “These verses did not appear in the earlier text of the revelation printed in the Book of Commandments in 1833. Joseph Smith recalled in 1839 that all of this section was received as a revelation at one time in August 1830, but the most of the revelation, including these verses about priesthood restoration, were not recorded until September 1830.” Here’s Joseph Smith himself explaining this a little bit, the introduction, you can see this briefly in D&C 27, the intro. It says, “Early in the month of August Newel Knight and his wife paid us a visit at my place in Harmony. Neither his wife nor mine had been as yet confirmed. It was proposed that we should confirm them, and partake together of the sacrament before he and his wife should leave us. In order to prepare for this I set out to procure some wine for the occasion, but had gone only a short distance when I was met by a heavenly messenger and received the following revelation, the first paragraph of which was written at this time, and the remainder in the September following.”
The remainder in the September following was all the things about the priesthood restoration. In the 1833, we just had the piece about the sacrament. And then in 1835, Joseph combined the two together and he felt authorized since he said it was really one revelation that he received in August 1830 anyway, on there. Whether Joseph held back on 1833 revelation, just because of the details maybe… We don’t know if there was a certain period they were supposed to be reticent on communicating in detail some of these things there. It does sound like this may have just simply been a mistake, and was not included in the 1833, it was added in the 1835. We do not have … in fact look at the last little piece here from Brian Cannon. He says, “No manuscript copy of these verses dating from before the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 has been identified.” We can’t really go back to the very original on there. I just don’t think that’s a big deal in any way, shape, or form.
In fact, if you want to look specifically with regard to revisions that Joseph made in general to the Doctrine and Covenants, let me share this from B.H. Roberts. He said… B.H. Roberts describes how the 1833 Book of Commandments had revisions by the prophet Joseph Smith for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. He says, ” They were revised by the prophet himself in the way of correcting errors made by the scribes and publishers, and some additional clauses were inserted to throw increased light upon the subjects treated in the revelations, and paragraphs added, to make the principles for instructions apply to the officers not in the Church at the time some of the early revelations were given. The addition of verses 65, 66, and 67 in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants is an example.”
Then I love what Elder Marvin Jensen shared in the July 2009 Ensign. He was the Church historian and general authority at the time. He said this, “The editing and updating of revelation texts in the early years of the Church demonstrate the process of continuing revelation of Joseph Smith. The revelation manuscripts reveal how much men grappled in trying to make certain that the ideas and doctrines Joseph received were transcribed and printed accurately — a process that for the publication of any work risks the introduction of errors. In some instances, when a new revelation changed or updated what had previously been received, the prophet edited the earlier written revelation to reflect the new understanding. Thus as his doctrinal knowledge clarified and expanded, so did the recorded revelations. They were characterized by the changing nature of his understanding of the sacred subject matter. The prophet did not believe that revelations, once recorded, could not be changed by further revelation.” In fact, if you think about it, the responsibilities of the prophet was to do that very thing. It made sense.
Now, back to to a couple more things in Opening the Heavens. David Whitmer, critics will point to this… David Whitmer talked about, “Hey, I didn’t hear about Joseph with the angel for five years, specifically.” I cringe a little bit because if it was in the newspapers at 1830 and 1831, I don’t know about that. But, it may be that he’s splitting hairs on specifics about it. He’s also saying it 50 years after the fact, basically, and with a strong bias towards not seeing authority in the Church, being out of the Church for 50 years. I want to share this with you. Straight from, again, Opening the Heavens. Brian Canon says, “While remaining true to his testimony as a witness of the Book of Mormon, David Whitmer rejected any aspect of the restoration that recognized or promoted central church authority. In 1885, Whitmer stated: ‘In the year 1829, on our way, I conversed freely with them upon his great work that they were bringing about. And Oliver stated to me, in Joseph’s presence, that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command. And after our arrival at father’s sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery, ordained him to be an elder. And Oliver ordained Joseph to be an elder in the church of Christ. And during that year, Joseph both baptized and ordain me an elder.'”
And he says, “‘I never heard that an angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834 in Ohio.’ Notwithstanding numerous attestations to the contrary by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer in 1885 maintained, ‘I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some.’ Earlier, Whitmer had been very impressed, however, by Oliver Cowdery’s testimony regarding the visitation of Peter, James, and John. During an 1861 visit … “, this is even after being out of the Church for quite a while, with David Whitmer. ” … David H. Cannon reported that Whitmer recalled yet another testimony given by Cowdery, regarding the appearance of Peter, James, and John. The thing which impressed me most of all …”, this is the quote, ” …We stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery, the other witness who had come back into the Church before his death, and in describing Oliver’s action, when bearing his testimony, said to the people in his room, placing his hand like this upon his head, saying, ‘I know the gospel to be true, and upon this head has Peter, James, and John laid their hands and conferred the Holy Mekchezidek Priesthood.’ The manner in which this tall gray headed man …”, David Whitmer, ” … 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.”
That’s interesting, what David Whitmer had to say there doesn’t really jive with some of his later reminiscences in 50 years late. Anyways. Take it for what it is. I think you look at it holistically with everything else, and this is not an issue at all. I think it’s just the whole thing is really a weak criticism in general on this. It’s such a critical nature, I think it’s important to be talking about this topic and doing a video on it. Now, last thing is talking about just about the development of priesthood. The whole concept. In the beginning, especially Joseph coming from a Protestant background. It’s a very different world, so watch, again, the Evidences video. To understand this, authority in the beginning and then they understood maybe two different levels. Then, also the unfolding, the gradual unfolding. Look at a couple of quotes here.
Gregory Prince has a phenomenal book on this, Having Authority: The Origins and Development of Priesthood During the Ministry of Joseph Smith. This is a seminal work on this, a lot of research. He said, “The earliest occurrences of the word priesthood in written Mormon sources outside the Book of Mormon begin in 1831. Moreover, although priesthood authority had been restored prior to that time, the terms Aaronic priesthood and Melchizedek Priesthood were not adopted until 1835.” Again, William McLellin, in his journal entry in 1831, speaks of the high priesthood and the lesser priesthood. Again, even these things we just take for granted now, they were developed over time. Even we view the youth holding the priesthood now as just a basic thing, but that was a very fundamental change that happened in 1908, was the big fundamental change where it became a very big focus for the youth there. I actually will recommend this book, just in 2018, The Power of Godliness, which is a great one from Jonathan Stapley, in addition to Gregory Prince’s books on that. Just on the development and our understanding of priesthood, and then also temple specific priesthood. This is The Development of Temple Doctrine, a phenomenal book too, on just our…
And we have a prophet today who is telling us that the restoration is ongoing. It’s continuing to unfold. It reminds me of this last quote, Elder Packer. He said, “Some suppose that the organization was handed to the Prophet Joseph Smith like a set of plans and specifications for a building, with all the details known at the beginning. But it did not come that way. Rather, it came a piece at a time as the brethren were ready and as they inquired of God.” Hope you enjoyed the video. Watch the Evidences one. It’s a fantastic combination with this one. Subscribe for more. Thanks.
Ronald Barney’s chapter in A Reason For Faith, entitled The Restoration of the Priesthood
Brian Cannon’s chapter in Opening the Heavens, entitled Priesthood Restoration
Elder Marlin Jensen’s article in July 2009 Ensign, The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/s…
Fairmormon resources on this topic https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mo…
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.