FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.
Mormonism and priesthood/Manner in which the priesthood was restored
The manner in which the priesthood was restored
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Why was a priesthood restoration by the "laying on of hands" required?
- Question: What criticisms are put forth regarding the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood?
- Question: In what manner was the Aaronic Priesthood restored?
- Question: In what manner was the Melchizedek Priesthood restored?
- Question: What is the date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood?
- Question: Where was the Melchizedek Priesthood restored?
- Question: Why did several years pass before Oliver talked about the priesthood restoration?
- Question: Why do Mormons use the Aaronic Priesthood, since Hebrews 7 states that the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood was "changed" to the unique priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" held by Jesus Christ?
Question: Why was a priesthood restoration by the "laying on of hands" required?
It is claimed by some Christians that no restoration of priesthood authority was required.  Was the "laying on of hands" necessary in order to receive priesthood authority? Did the concept of priesthood authority and ordinations actually come from Sidney Rigdon?
Clearly, the conferral and proper transfer of authority is of key importance within the Old and New Testaments. One must accept one of two positions: either this authority continued, unbroken, through the Church of the Middle Ages down to the present day, or the authority was lost and a restoration was necessary. Priesthood authority from designated sources was a common theme in the Old and New Testaments, and ought to be continued into the modern Church.
Some do not believe that any 'divine authority' was deemed necessary by the apostles or early Christians to act in the name of God. This section briefly explores several Biblical instances in which authority is clearly given and clearly required to act in God's name.
In Old Testament times, the authority to act in a religious capacity did not belong to everyone. Even kings could not act as priests of the Lord without authority:
Samuel and Saul
8 ¶ And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. 9 And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. 10 And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. 11 ¶ And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; 12 Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. 13 And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. 14 But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.(1 Samuel 13:11–14).
18 And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God. 19 Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar.(2 Chronicles 26:18–19).
The Bible teaches that priests were called by God through a prophet
Priests in the Old Testament were called by God through a prophet, and the New Testament letter to the Hebrews teaches that the same principle applies.
The letter to the Hebrews teaches that no one 'takes the honor' of acting for God without being called in the same way as Aaron was:
1 FOR every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: 2 Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. 3 And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. 4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.(Hebrews 5:1–4).
How was Aaron chosen? By direct revelation from God to a prophet:
And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons.(Exodus 28:1).
Jesus clearly delegated authority to the Twelve apostles and to others in order to authorize them to act in His name:
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.(Matthew 10:1).
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.(Luke 10:1).
Jesus made it clear that those whom he called had been given authority:
For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.(Mark 13:34).
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.(Matthew 16:18).
A new apostle was chosen by the remaining members of the Twelve
Following the death of Judas, the apostles met to choose a new apostle: thus, the Twelve apostles were meant to continue as a group, and new members were to be called by revelation from God:
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. 23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.(Acts 1:21–25).
Jesus taught that one does not choose himself to receive His authority. Jesus chooses those whom He will, and then has the recipient ordained (by Himself or by someone with delegated authority, as the apostles did):
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.(John 15:16).
The Bible later illustrates, in conjunction with this principle, that using the name of Christ or having good intentions does not confer the authority which He gave. Witness what happens when someone without authority from Christ tries to do what the apostles do:
13 ¶ Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. 14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? 16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.(Acts 19:13–16)
Here the Jews use the name of Christ, use the same type of language as used by the apostles, and even use the name of an apostle (Paul). They are trying to do a good thing: to cast out an evil spirit. However, they have no authority from God: they lack the power given to the apostles by Jesus, and later given to others (such as Paul).
Question: What criticisms are put forth regarding the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood?
Historical documents do not give an exact date for the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood
One critic of the Church claims that "Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834."  Common questions asked include the following:
- Was the restoration of the priesthood was "back dated" later by Joseph Smith to justify a desire to dominate the Church?
- Does anyone know "when or how" Joseph Smith received the Melchizedek priesthood?
- Why did several years pass before Oliver talked about the priesthood restoration?
If Joseph was making the story up, why not just pick a date and stick to it? The uncertainty of dates is typical of real world events; any one clever enough to "fake" the restoration and organization of the Church could certainly pick a date off the top of his head. Who could argue with him?
The approximate time of the Melchizedek priesthood' restoration can be plausibly narrowed down
When all the circumstantial evidence is studied, the approximate time of the Melchizedek priesthood' restoration can be plausibly narrowed down. Although historical documents do not give an exact date for the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood we can pinpoint its occurrence to a 17 day window between the 15 and 31 of May, 1829. The window that is known is small enough to preclude a later fabrication of events by the Prophet to "increase his authority."
There are non-Mormon accounts that indicate that Joseph and Oliver had received visits from apostles and angels
Some have claimed that Joseph only began to mention apostolic ordination to the priesthood several years after the Church's organization. Contrary to this claim, there are clear references to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’.
Question: In what manner was the Aaronic Priesthood restored?
Joseph Smith: "we were ordained under the hand of this messenger, and baptized"
Joseph learned from Moroni in 1823 that “when [the golden plates] are interpreted the Lord will give the holy priesthood to some, and they shall begin to proclaim this gospel and baptize by water, and after that they shall have power to give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their hands.” Two years later the first part of that pronouncement occurred when John the Baptist visited Joseph and Oliver:
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...The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this 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.
We know that the Melchizedek priesthood therefore had not yet been given and must be given either later that day or sometime following that day.
Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were told to re-ordain each other to the priesthood after being baptized. This was to follow proper rules of being a member before receiving the priesthood, but in their case they couldn't become members until having the priesthood to baptize each other.
Question: In what manner was the Melchizedek Priesthood restored?
The ordination to the office of Elder via the higher priesthood could not occur until the church had been established
Similar to this origination complication of baptism and membership, the ordination to the office of Elder via the higher priesthood could not occur until the church had been established. After the church was officially established we have the following evidences that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had already received the higher priesthood:
- Aug 1830, the Lord spoke to the Prophet Joseph Smith of “Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained 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.” D&C 27:12
- Apr 1830, “And to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, and ordained under his hand.” D&C 20:2-3
- “Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sought after this higher authority, and the Lord gave it to them, before the rise of this Church, sending to them Peter, James and John. What for? To bestow upon them the Apostleship.” -Elder Parley P. Pratt 
- Hiram Page, a son-in-law of Peter Whitmer Sr., and one who was present on the day of the Church’s 6 April 1830 organization, later confirmed that “Peter, James and John” had come and bestowed the Holy Priesthood “before the 6th of April 1830.” 
- “I know that Joseph received his Apostleship from Peter, James, and John, before a revelation on the subject was printed, and he never had a right to organize a Church before he was an Apostle.” -Brigham Young 
Question: What is the date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood?
There is a narrow May 15 to 30, 1829 ordination window
Knowing that the prophet already had the Melchizedek priesthood prior to the organization of the church we can look at the following clues of the May 15 to 30, 1829 ordination window in order of progressively narrowed parameters:
- Year 1829: There is a manuscript in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting recording part of D&C 18: saying, “Written in the year of our Lord & Saviour 1829.” 
- June 1829: In D&C 18:9 we read “And now, Oliver Cowdery, I speak unto you, and also unto David Whitmer, by the way of commandment; for, behold, I command all men everywhere to repent, and I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called.”
- Before June 14, 1829: Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to Hyrum Smith. The letter has some wording that quotes and refers to section 18 in the D&C. 
- Before June 1, 1829:
- Joseph Smith said that he, Emma, Oliver and David Whitmer traveled to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. “In the beginning of the month of June.” 
- David Whitmer is quoted as saying “The translation at my father’s farm, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York occupied about one month, that is from June 1, to July 1, 1829.”  If those dates are exact then the Prophet was in New York during the entire month of June.
- Orson Pratt asked David Whitmer, “Can you tell the date of the bestowal of the Apostleship upon Joseph, by Peter, James and John?” To which he replied: “I do not know, Joseph never told me.” From this we can tell that the visitation either:
- Happened during the traveling when Joseph and Oliver were away from David and did not tell him about the occurrence (their trusted friend with whom they shared many other events).
- Happened at another time than their travel from Harmony to Fayette.
Question: Where was the Melchizedek Priesthood restored?
The bestowal of the Melchizedek priesthood occurred in Harmony, but the ordination to offices was deferred until later
The bestowal of the Melchizedek priesthood occurred in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  The time of travel between Harmony, PA and the Whitmer farm would have been three days. The likelihood of the men traveling back to Harmony at the same time as they did the following is near impossible:
- Finished the translation
- Secured the copyright on June 11
- Oliver's letter to Hyrum on June 14
- Joseph's details of how busy they were during this time period at the farm 
As shown above, after receiving the priesthood they were not yet allowed to ordain each other to the offices within that priesthood. They were told to “defer this our ordination until such times as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together, when we must have their sanction to our proceeding to ordain each other.” 
Question: Why did several years pass before Oliver talked about the priesthood restoration?
We don't know when Oliver first mentioned the priesthood restoration to anyone - we only know when he first put it in print
We don't know when Oliver first mentioned the priesthood restoration to anyone - we only know when he first put it in print. But consider this: If Oliver was covering up a fraud on the part of Joseph Smith when he talked of receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, then why didn't he expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church? Why, in fact, did Oliver continue to insist that the events related to the restoration of the Priesthood actually happened?
The implication is that Oliver was dishonest, yet his associates during the time that he was a lawyer after leaving the Church viewed his character as "irreproachable". Harvey Gibson, a political opponent of Oliver's, and another lawyer (whose statue now stands in front of the Seneca County courthouse) wrote:
Cowdery was an able lawyer and [an] agreeable, irreproachable gentleman. 
Webster's 1828 dictionary defines "irreproachable" as "That cannot be justly reproached; free from blame; upright; innocent. An irreproachable life is the highest honor of a rational being." 
Oliver wrote the following to Phineas Young two years after Joseph's death, well after he had left the Church:
I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. 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 looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest. 
Question: Why do Mormons use the Aaronic Priesthood, since Hebrews 7 states that the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood was "changed" to the unique priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" held by Jesus Christ?
The idea that the Melchizedek Priesthood superseded the Aaronic Priesthood is a correct one, but this does not necessarily imply that there is no Aaronic Priesthood
As other Christians see it, the Aaronic Priesthood is like a small glass of water that is replaced by a fruit juice (the Melchizedek Priesthood). They are distinguished from each other, in most Christians' eyes, as quite separate things.
The LDS would use a different metaphor to explain things: they might compare the Aaronic Priesthood to a glass of water that is filled only part way. Instead of being replaced by an entirely different drink, more water is poured into it until it is a full glass (the Melchizedek Priesthood).
From a Mormon perspective, the two priesthoods are really the same substance: the power of God delegated to man
From whence do the two priesthoods originate? The same source—God. What is the purpose of the two priesthoods? They bring mortals to the Lord (note that only the Melchizedek Priesthood can do so entirely—see Hebrews 7:11—but the Aaronic Priesthood was instrumental in keeping ancient Israel holy and pure). The Aaronic Priesthood is merely a limited form of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or (as LDS scriptures call it) an "appendage" to it (D&C 107:13–14).
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles illustrated the doctrine clearly:
Since all priesthood is Melchizedek, the Aaronic Priesthood being a portion of it, one does not lose the Aaronic Priesthood when he is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood [...]
Why does the Aaronic Priesthood persist in the Church?
So, if the Church possesses the Melchizedek priesthood, then why would the Aaronic Priesthood persist today? The Aaronic priesthood serves as a 'preparatory priesthood' (see D&C 84:26.) Just as the Levitical authority in ancient Israel acted as a "schoolmaster" to prepare Israel to receive Christ (see Galatians 3:24–25), in the modern Church the Aaronic priesthood serves to school young men for service in God's kingdom on earth.
The modern Aaronic priesthood's organizational structure follows the pattern established by the New Testament Church, and consists of Deacons (see Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8,10,12–13), Teachers (Acts 13:1,1 Corinthians 12:28–29), and Priests (see Acts 6:7), and countless references in the Old Testament to Levitical/Aaronic 'priests').
Each Aaronic priesthood office is trusted with more responsibility, providing LDS young men with the opportunity to progress and mature until they are ready to receive the priesthood in full—the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Aaronic priesthood duties and function similar to ancient Israel
Despite some modern differences from ancient Israel, the Aaronic Priesthood is not much different compared to ancient times.
The Aaronic priesthood performs two ordinances (some Christian groups would call these 'sacraments').
- Baptism: John the Baptist held the Aaronic Priesthood, which holds the keys of baptism, and baptism is of course a fundamental part of salvation through Christ (see Acts 2:38).
- Sacrifice: The modern Church does not, of course, sacrifice animals because Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us, giving us the last great sacrifice (see Ephesians 5:2). Yet, the Church rejoices in and recalls His sacrifice for us by partaking of the sacrament ("communion" or "the Lord's supper" in other denominations) Matthew 26:26-29). Thus, the modern priest repeats a ceremony of atonement and sacrifice through the sacrament of the Lord's supper; this plays a similar theological role to the animal sacrifices offered by Aaronic priests anticipation of Christ's atonement and resurrection.
Separation of priesthood duties in the New Testament Church
It should be noted that all priesthood was not equivalent in the New Testament Church either. For example, many members had been baptized with water (an ordinance of the Aaronic priesthood) but had not yet received the Holy Ghost until one of the apostles laid hands upon them (a Melchizedek priesthood function). (See Acts 8:15–19, Acts 19:2–6).
- Criticisms of the priesthood restoration are offered in the following works: Search for the Truth DVD (2007) Resources; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) Chapter 7. ( Index of claims ); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 442, 445-6.( Index of claims )
- Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com
- As quoted by Oliver Cowdery in a letter to W. W. Phelps printed in (October 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:199..
- JS-H 1:70-72
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History, 27th ed. (1974), 58.
- Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 16:294-295.
- Letter of Hiram Page to “Brother Wm. [William E. McLellin],” 4 March 1848, Fishing River, Missouri, Second Part, RLDS Archives, Independence, Missouri.
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:137.; emphasis added.
- Oliver Cowdery, “Written in the year of our Lord & Savior 1829—A true copy of the articles of the Church of Christ,” MS 1829, LDS Church Archives.
- Letter of Oliver Cowdery to Hyrum Smith, 14 June 1829, Fayette, New York, LDS Church Archives.
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:48–49. Volume 1 link; Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:293.
- Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881.
- D&C 128:20; Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:40–41. Volume 1 link
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:51–51. Volume 1 link
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:60–61. Volume 1 link; emphasis added.
- Reuben Miller Journal, 21 Oct. 1848, MS 1392, LDS Church Archives.
- Statement of Oliver Cowdery to Samuel W. Richards, 13 Jan. 1849, quoted in Deseret Evening News, 22 March 1884, 2.
- "Letter from General W. H. Gibson," Seneca Advertiser (Tiffin, Ohio) 12 April 1892.
- Webster's Dictionary, off-site
- Oliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, 23 March 1846, Oliver Cowdery Collection, "Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr." (kept by George W. Robinson), 22, LDS Church Historical Department (published in Scott H. Faulring, ed, An American Prophet's Record.— The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), emphasis in original; cited in Scott H. Faulring. “The Return of Oliver Cowdery”, FARMS Featured Paper, no date.
- M. Russell Ballard, cited in Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 72.