- Follow up with any commitments your investigator has made. You might want to watch a video with them. Anything from Mormonstories.org is recommended.
We’ve talked about many important things in our previous meetings. Did you have any concerns or thoughts that you wanted to share with us?
- Resolve any concerns. Thank them for any commentary.
Today we want to talk about priesthood. Many people, when they being to wonder about Joseph Smith and early church history, immediately think about revelations, moments of priesthood power being used, and other miracles to help support their previously held notions.
Our goal is not to destroy or weaken any belief you’ve previously held, or experience you’ve gone through, but to help you understand how such real experiences can come through such a questionable medium.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did not record any of their experiences with the priesthood at the time they received it, contrary to how it is typically portrayed.
Joseph Smith History, for example, did not record the priesthood restoration until 1839, a decade after the event.
Many members are familiar with the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood restoration stories. Let’s read them together:
We still continued the work of translation, when, in the ensuing month (May, 1829), we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying:
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter… (Joseph Smith–History 1:68-70).
What do you notice about this scripture?
- Please note, if the investigator is struggling with what has been presented, they will probably discuss positive faith-promoting aspects of the story above. Do not discourage this, simply be mindful.
Some aspects of this story that stand out to us:
1) Laying on of hands is specified
2) A later expectation of a further priesthood is specifically mentioned
3) What the Aaronic priesthood was able to do (baptize, but not confer the Holy Ghost) was specified
4) Keys are mentioned.
What are some things we should expect from Joseph and Oliver if this story is true?
- Some answers may include: “They should mention keys.” “They should not try to give people the Holy Ghost.” “They should talk about the higher priesthood coming.”
Let’s look at the historical record:
At the organization of the church on April 6, 1830, the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods were not clearly defined as they are now. On April 6, 1830, Joseph was referred to as the First Elder of the church (rather than prophet), and Oliver was the Second Elder. Another example to illustrate the evolution of priesthood is to note that there were not 12 apostles called until 1835.
In these early days of the church, men were baptized and immediately ordained to the priesthood. There was no hierarchy as we have now, and, in fact, there was no distinction between the offices of teacher, priest, and elder. This would imply that “elders” were offices in the Aaronic Priesthood, for example.
For example, at the June 1830 conference the Book of Mormon witnesses divided up among the three offices without any reference to age or status. The two oldest men, Joseph, Sr. and Martin Harris, were priests. The two teachers, Hiram Page and Christian Whitmer, were older than all the elders with the possible exception of Ziba Peterson, whose birth date is unknown. Smith’s older devoted brother Hyrum was a priest, and his equally devoted younger brother Samuel was an elder. Thus, in June 1830 the church’s seven elders included two of the Three Witnesses, three of the Eight Witnesses, and one regular church member.
This aversion to ranking in priesthood office continued through the conference for a full year later. Martin Harris was still a priest, and two of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon were teachers even though thirty-eight Mormons of far lesser distinction held the office of elder (D. Michael Quinn, Extensions of Power, p. 28)
Apostle William McClellin (who was excommunicated in 1838 for apostasy) states that he had no knowledge of any priesthood restoration by angelic visitors.
Joseph Knight had written about many important Mormon events in 1833, and made no mention of these visits either.
Book of Mormon witness, David Whitmer, had no knowledge of angelic visitations of John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John until 1834.
The earliest known account of this visit by Peter, James, and John was referenced by Oliver Cowdery in 1834.
His manuscript history of 1835 dated John the Baptist’s visit precisely as “Friday the 15th of May, 1829,” then referred to the second priesthood restoration only as “After this we received the high and holy priesthood” from “others…those who received it under the hand of Messiah” (Joseph Smith diary, 16 January, 1836).
The revelations containing the words of John the Baptist were printed without citation in the Morning and Evening Star in 1833.
A recent study has demonstrated that the center portion on priesthood (now D&C 27:6-13) is also missing from the revelation’s only manuscript. The added text cannot be found in any document before 1835, nor can any similar wording or concept be found prior to 1834…
Erastus Snow, an 1833 convert and apostle after 1849, described as surrounding the visit of Peter, James, and John. According to Snow, Smith and Cowdery “were being pursued by their enemies and they had to travel all night.” Peter, James, and John appeared to them “in the dawn of the coming day when they were weary and worn.” This would have been the morning of 6 July, 1830, exactly three months after the church’s organization (D. Michael Quinn, Origins of Power).
In “A Revelation on Church Government” that Smith received in April 1830, there was no mention of either priesthood (History of the Church 1:64-70). Some time later, Smith went back and added three verses to the revelation, one of which mentions a “high priesthood” (D&C 20:67).
The first time that any mention of angelic messengers is documented was in 1834 at a meeting of the Kirtland High Council. Soon after, Cowdery also started to talk about angels. In 1835, he said, “[Smith] was ordained by the angel John, unto the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, in company with myself… After this we received the high and holy priesthood …” (Early Mormon Documents 2:452-453).
We’ve read a lot about the history of the priesthood restoration. B.H. Roberts, Mormon apostle and historian assigned by the brethren to investigate this, writes that, “There is no definite account of the event in the history of the Prophet Joseph, or, for matter of that, in any of our annals…” (History of the Church, 1:40fn).
Even Joseph Smith’s own family did not know about the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Quinn writes, “Smith’s own mother made no reference to angelic restoration of authority in an 1831 letter she wrote to her brother about the new church” (Origins of Power, p.19).
Joseph Smith III, the son of the founder of Mormonism, admitted that “there is no historical evidence of such an event. Nor is there any evidence that Peter, James, and John were present…. It is not safe then to write historically that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ever ordained literally” (Reorganized History of the Church 1:64-65).
In 1835, David Witmer, as well as many other founding members of the church, were challenging Joseph’s claim to be the head of the church.
We invite you to think about some of the things you expected from reading the official version of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood and the predictions you made. Do you think your predictions lined up with the actual history?
Power in the Priesthood Today
Primary Children’s Medical Center in Utah is arguably the location that has the most priesthood blessings per incident per capita in the world.
If the priesthood has power to heal today, one might expect recovery rates to be amazingly higher. Indeed, government studies and private doctors alike would be interested in the secret to such a working system. Unless, of course, God lets people die to keep the averages low.
So, have such studies been done at Primary Children’s? Does their recovery rate top the world? The answer is, sadly, no. They do have some areas in which the recovery rate is higher, but sadly those rates map on to when new technologies arrived or new doctors with specialties came on staff, not with an increase of blessings.
Similarly, we have no stories, even in mormon history, of an amputee being blessed with a restored limb. It seems that God’s power is limited to healing those who already have a chance of recovery to the level that science has achieved, and is not able to bless any better than that.
What if I lose my priesthood
The final concern may be that, if an individual were to question the church, they might lose the power of God.
It is interesting to note that when Joseph Smith excommunicated any number of members in the early days of the church, he never had to reinstate their priesthood.
In fact, the priesthood restored the church, not the other way around.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the church declared that it had the power to take someone’s priesthood away, almost 100 years after its founding.
This was to remove the claims of authority that Apostle John W. Taylor had towards continuing plural marriage. This schizm in the church resulted in the creation of the FLDS church.
- Ask your investigator how they could tell if there really was power in the priesthood. This is an excellent time to review the scientific method from discussion 2, as well as remind them of logical fallacies.
- Bare your testimony that the priesthood was not restored as the correlated church claims it was, and that the investigator need have no fear of any loss by questioning authority.
We invite you to stop attending church. There is a wide world out there that you can enjoy every Sunday. Three hours a week over the next 20 years is enough time to write whole novels, take up a hobby, or create great works of art.
We know that the men at the top of the church are aware of these issues and that they are afraid that the common member will learn of them. We hope to come back and talk more of their deception, as well as the hopes of what you can do with the rest of your life, next time.