To question the restoration of the priesthood events and story as we’ve heard it from correlated manuals. To make people think about why the story is so different and why the correlation committee changed the parts they did.
Take out your wallet from your pocket or purse. Now open it up to your driver’s license. What does it say on it?
That’s right, Jimmy. It tells you about your hair and eye color, details about your height, and weight.
Anyone see anything else?
Yes, it has the date the license was issued, and the expiration date.
What would happen if you tried to renew your driver’s license after that expiration date simply by changing the date on your license?
Would you accept a license that didn’t have a date issued on it as a valid one?
Why are the dates on a license important?
What would happen if you tried to drive an 18-wheel semi truck if you only had a motorcycle license?
The official story – (skip this if you are very familiar)
Issues with the official story
Now, I don’t want to go all “Zeitgeist” with the approach of asking questions about the official story. Conspiracy theory has it’s place, but these are things that make one ask questions similar to those of the driver’s license above.
Historical research in early documents shows that the term “priesthood” was not used until 1831 (Prince, Power from on High, 11-12).
In 1834, Oliver Cowdery wrote the first official Church history, which does mention ordination from an angel, but completely lacks the account of any kind of Melchizedek Priesthood.
The important details that are missing from the “full history” of 1834 are likewise missing from the Book of Commandments in 1833. We would expect to find all the particulars of the restoration in this set of revelations, clearly stating two Priesthoods, but they are conspicuously absent. There is only one reference to an angelic visitation: “But after truly repenting, God ministered unto him by an holy angel . . . that he should translate a book” (Book of Commandments 24:7). This would imply Moroni was the “angelic visitor.”
The notable revelations on priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants previously referred to–Sections 2 and 13–are missing, and Section 28 gives no hint of the restoration which, if actual, should have been known for four years. More than four hundred words were added to this September 1830 revelation (found in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants). The additions made 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, High Priests, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on church organization and government given in 1830, making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original Chapter 24 of the 1833 Book of Commandments. Similar interpolations were made in the revelations now known as Sections 42 and 68.
There seems to be no support for the historicity of the restoration of the priesthood in journals, diaries, letters, nor printed matter prior to October 1834. Indeed, the story was still not clarified fully in Nauvoo, when Joseph recounted:
I went into the woods to inquire of the Lord by prayer, His will concerning me, and I saw and angel, and he laid his hands upon my head, and ordained me to [be] a Priest after the order of Aaron, and to hold the keys of the Priesthood, which office was to preach and baptism for the remission of sins, and also to baptize. But I was informed that this office did not extend to the laying on of hands for the giving of the Holy Ghost (History of the Church, 6:249-50).
The official version we have is from 1838, written just before Joseph goes into Liberty Jail. Even Joseph doesn’t seem to remember the details of his own vision enough to recount the story completely later on.
Joseph Smith was told he could do nothing more than translate
In a revelation from God recorded in the original Book of Commandments, chapter 10, Joseph is told he has only the gift to translate and should pretend no other gift.
This was altered by Joseph two years later along with a slew of other changes to the revelations from God: “And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished” (D&C 5:4).
This set of changes upset David Whitmer, for Joseph asked him and the other witnesses to sign a testimony of the Doctrine and Covenants the same as they had with the Book of Mormon, and the witnesses would not sign because of the changes.
You see, in those days the difference between “revelation” vs. “speaking as a man” was clear. The pattern was well defined. When Joseph said, “Thus saith the Lord,” it was revelation up until he said, “Amen.” The rest was Joseph. But these changes did not come by that method.
This revelation set off a chain of events that led to the formation of the Melchizedek Priesthood. You see, there is no record of the Melchizedek Priesthood until it is mentioned in 1835.
In Grant Palmer’s book, “An Insider’s View,” he recounts the circumstances with sources under which the Melchizedek Priesthood was first mentioned:
When Joseph and Oliver began mentioning their angelic ordinations in late 1834 and early 1835, they were facing a credibility crisis that threatened the church’s survival. In late 1833 a group in Kirtland, Ohio, denounced Joseph Smith for ministering “under pretense of Divine Authority.” They employed D. P. Hurlbut to investigate Joseph’s past, hoping to bring him down “from the high station which he pretends to occupy.” Hurlbut traveled to Palmyra, New York, and collected affidavits from residents about Joseph’s early treasure seeking and other aspects of his youth. Hurlbut began a lecture tour starting in January 1834 to “numerous congregations in Chagrin, Kirtland, Mentor, and Painesville; and … [he] fired the minds of the people with much indignation against Joseph and the Church.” Finding disillusionment spreading among the Saints, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon began preaching against Hurlbut. It was under these circumstances, exacerbated by problems associated with the failure of Zion’s Camp–the paramilitary trek to assist fellow Saints in Missouri–that Joseph mentioned for the first time in public that his priesthood had “been conferred upon me by the ministering of the Angel of God.”
This group that sent out Hurlbut included David Whitmer.
David Whitmer declared that the offices of Elder, Priest, and Teacher–parts of a single priesthood–were in evidence long before the formal organization of the church on 6 April 1830. This conflicts with Joseph’s statement that he and Oliver ordained each other Elders on that historic day and that these ordinations were the first to be made to a definite office since the conferment by the angel. Whitmer contends that the only ordination Joseph received was that of Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and that the idea of dual priesthoods conferred by heavenly beings was not known in the early years of the church.
Elders were once part of the Aaronic Priesthood
Even more curious, however, is that when Oliver and Joseph are made “first and second elder” of the church, they are Elders in the Aaronic Priesthood, as the higher priesthood did not appear until 1831:
3 June 1831: “The authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders” (History of the Church, 1:175-76).
The following is William Smith’s account of the conference which followed at Orange, Ohio, 25 October 1831, “where Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons received some general instructions from the leaders of the church concerning the priesthood of Melchisedec, to which they had not as yet been ordained” (W. Smith. William Smith on Mormonism, 19-20).
Joseph F. Smith and Orson Hyde asked David Whitmer, “Can you tell the date of the restoration of the Apostleship by Peter, James, and John?” He replied: “I do not know, Joseph never told me. I can only tell you what I know: I will not testify to anything I do not know” (Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 25).
Each time the church teaches these lessons, it teaches that the authority from God was clear and concrete without an expiration date. Joseph’s alteration of “pretend no other gift” to “this is the first gift” is similar to changing the expiration date on a driver’s license.
The lack of any historical record of the Melchizedek Priesthood is like a driver’s license with no date of issue attached. The ordination of Elders while only having the Aaronic Priesthood would be like driving Big Rigs around with a motorcycle license.
Joseph and Oliver rewriting the revelations is similar to many other power plays in organizations all over the world, and David Whitmer was correct in calling them on such an alteration.
Indeed, instead of being a great point of faith for members, the restoration of the priesthood should be a large red flag that indicates that the church is not what it claims to be. That the manuals and lessons are altered to make these oddities hidden should suggest a level of deception.