Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Priesthood Restoration: When Did It Happen?

One thing about the restoration of the priesthood has always seemed a little strange to me. We know with precision when and how the Aaronic Priesthood was restored. It happened on May 15, 1829 when John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the banks of the Susequehanna River. The Melchizedek Priesthood? Well, that’s a different story.

We do not really know when it was restored. We know that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery say that they were visited by Peter, James and John. We know these three restored to Joseph and Oliver the keys of the apostleship. But unlike John the Baptist, Peter, James and John do not get their own section of the Doctrine & Covenants with a handy date.

Putting a date on this appearance has been difficult. “Ben” at The Juvenile Instructor wrote a very interesting post a while ago on dating the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. You can find his post here. Richard Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling, fleshes out his opinion (referred to in the JI post) that the three apostles may have appeared to Joseph and Oliver when they were fleeing a mob near Colesville, Ohio in June 1830. Does it matter when it happened? If so, why? Why the specificity with respect to some important visions and manifestations, but not this one?

To add to the uncertainty, Bushman suggests that it is not entirely clear that the Melchizedek Priesthood, per se, was restored by Peter, James and John in that original vision. Bushman notes that at a June 1831 conference, Joseph ordained several men to the “high priesthood.” At least in some sources, Joseph and others state that this was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood had been conferred in this dispensation. In fact, Bushman says Joseph himself was ordained to the “high priesthood” that day by Lyman Wight.

If Peter, James and John had restored the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1829 or 1830, why was Joseph ordained to the “high priesthood” by Lyman Wight in 1831? And what about those statements that the 1831 conference was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood had been conferred in the last dispensation? I have some thoughts about this, but would like to hear yours.


  1. Especially in the early days of the church, Joseph was more of a visionary, than an organizer. He didn't document things, and I'm not sure he fully understood the implications of certain visions. It has bugged me that the Aaronic priesthood restoration is much better documented than the Melchizedek priesthood.

    If you want to read a more skeptical view of church history, you should also read "An Insiders view of Mormon Origins" by Grant Palmer. He is not so generous to Joseph as Bushman is. I understand that the CoC (RLDS) use Palmer's book as a textbook for the church history class at their BYU-equivalent university.

  2. Teacher,
    It is with great hesitation that I even put my theory out there but after looking at the Post from the Juvenile Instructor I see there are many theories floating here goes.
    I tend to agree with Bushman and Quinn concerning the account of Addison Everett. It is interesting to me that according to the account, when Oliver simply could go no further, and out of necessity was carried by Joseph, that they were endowed with more power from on high.
    This is really very consistent with the Lord's promise wherein He asks us to give all we can and He makes up the difference. Both had exerted all their power to do His work, and he simply then blessed them with more strength.
    Secondly, I have been trying to find out if Oliver Cowdery was ever given a tribal designation by a Patriarch. Do you know the answer to that?
    My theory... In section 8 Oliver is told that he was given two gifts..the first one was revelation, but the second one is very vague.
    Originally the revelation was written that the second gift was the "rod" of Aaron. IMHO this is the very sacred "Budding Rod" discussed in the Old Testament in Numbers.
    The tribes of Israel wanted to know with which tribe the priesthood responsibility to administer would remain. Ten tribes, ten sticks placed in the Tabernacle overnight, only Aaron's budded. (with Almonds,no less, or in other words bore fruit) This was very significant, don't you agree?
    This priesthood power was given because of lineage (plus personal worthiness, as exhibited by Aarons naughty sons) That gift of lineage was given by the Lord. He was the only one that "can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you." (Promise to Oliver...)
    Oliver was promised that he would hold it in his hands ( priesthood blessings etc), and do marvelous works( ie: hold the keys of repentance, baptism and the ministering of angels). No power can take it away (it is lineal!)
    I believe that this is the reason that there were 1st and 2nd Elders of the Church. They were both required to do the Lord's work at the time. The Aaronic is swallowed up in the arms of the Melchizedek (which was also originally lineal, but that is a whole other theory to discuss!).
    Does any of this make sense???
    I am sorry it is hard to write down...hope that I haven't strayed from the topic too much, but I love to study the priesthood and the restoration of it!

  3. *I'm not sure he fully understood the implications of certain visions.*

    I totally agree. I think as your read from Section 13, to 20, to 84 and 107, you definitely get the feeling that Joseph's understanding of priesthood was evolving. I do not think he fully understood what was occurring during the early revelations, and I do not think that is surprising. It is easy to look back at the process with 20/20 hindsight and see how it fit together, but Joseph was learning line upon line.

    In the Dog House: I think your idea is really interesting. I am not aware of any declaration of Oliver Cowdery's lineage. It seems like a commenter on an earlier post found his patriarchal blessing, but no lineage was declared.

    Do you think it is possible that the rod of Aaron could be understood on more than one level? That Oliver had an actual rod, but that God used it as a tool to teach him about his role in the restoration?

  4. Teacher,
    I guess anything is possible. I am certainly not convinced however that it was a "divining rod" like most other theories presume.

    In the Old Testament when the term "rod" is used, it almost always signifies priesthood power of some sort. The "hands" designation is also very common for an offering or sacrifice. The priesthood offerings of today involve hands on so many levels. These just seem to be words that stood out to me.

  5. So, Keepapitchinin has its older lesson materials for lesson 8 here:

    These include some discussion of the difficulties of dating the restoration of the MP. A commenter at Keepa referenced this post at Millenial Star:

    It is a very interesting analysis of Addison Everrett's account of the restoration of the MP.

    Happy reading.

  6. I tried to answer this question with my most recent post.


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