When was the Mormon priesthood restored?
The following are a few quotes regarding the restoration of the priesthood. I compiled them all except the last few before reading the books by Quinn and Van Wagoner which both deal with the subject. I didn’t realize at the time that someone had already done a similar compilation/analysis. Both books use some of the same quotes and show how the revelations were changed after 1833 in order to incorporate a restoration of priesthood into the later Mormon movement. For more information on the subject see Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon (p. 96-98), and Gregory Prince’s book. I disagree with Quinn’s conclusion that the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored in 1830, but read his interpretation for yourself and see what you come up with. The first quote below on the subject is a B. H. Roberts’ footnote in the official History of the Church. [My notes are in brackets]
RESTORATION OF THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD.–The promise to confer upon Joseph and Oliver the Melchizedek Priesthood was fulfilled; but as 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, the evidences of the fact of their ordination to the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood promised them by John the Baptist, are presented now, together with a consideration of the place where, and the time when the great event occurred.
The Prophet Joseph, in a communication to the Church, under date of September 6, 1842 [more than 12 years after the event supposedly occurred], makes undoubted allusion to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood in the course of an ecstatic review of the great things God had revealed to him. He said: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah. Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets–the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book. The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light.
The voice of Peter, James and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.” (Doctrine and Covenants, sec. cxxviii: 20.)
In one of the early revelations given to the Prophet Joseph, the Lord makes most direct reference to the restoration of the higher Priesthood through the ministration of Peter, James and John. The subject matter of the revelation is the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper; and in the course of it the Lord promises to “drink of the fruit of the vine” with His servants on earth to whom the revelation is addressed; “and with Moroni, * * * and also Michael, or Adam, the father of all, * * * and also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be Apostles, and special witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry, and of the same things which I revealed unto them; unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fullness of times.” (Doctrine and Covenants, sec. xxvii). This revelation was given some time early in August, 1830, but only the first four verses were written at that time. The rest of it was written in September of that year. [My note: If these revelations were indeed received in 1830 as B.H. Roberts says, they were not written until after 1833 as they didn’t appear in the 1833 Book of Commandments in a form including any mention of Peter, James, & John]. These two allusions–the one by the Prophet and the other by the Lord–to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood not only make clear the fact that the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored in accordance with the promise of John the Baptist when conferring the Aaronic Priesthood, but they make it possible to fix upon the place where, and approximately the time when, the event occurred.
Undoubtedly the place where the ordination was performed was on the banks of the Susquehanna river, in the wilderness between Colesville, in Broome county, New York, and Harmony, in Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania; for it is there the Prophet says the voice of Peter, James and John was heard declaring themselves as “possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times;” for which appearing and declaration there could be no other occasion than the ordination of Oliver and Joseph to the Melchizedek Priesthood in fulfillment of the promises made by John the Baptist. The time at which the ordination took place was evidently between the 15th of May, 1829, and August, 1830 [although this was not written until after 1833]. The last named date is the one under which the Lord so definitely referred to the circumstance of having sent Peter, James and John to ordain Joseph and others to be Apostles, even special witnesses of His name, and unto whom He had committed the keys of the kingdom. Hence the time of the ordination must have been between those two dates.
From information contained in other revelations, however, this period within which the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored may be considerably reduced. In April, 1830, a revelation was given concerning the organization and government of the Church, and in that revelation the Lord said: “Which commandments [i.e. to organize the Church] were given to Joseph Smith, Jr., who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ to be the first Elder of this Church; 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.” (Doctrine and Covenants, sec. xx: 2, 3.) [This was not included in the 1833 Book of Commandments] This allusion to the ordination of these men to the apostleship reduces the time of their ordination to the period between the 15th of May, 1829, and April 6, 1830.
But the time within which the ordination took place may be still further reduced. In a revelation bearing the date of June, 1829, making known the calling of the Twelve Apostles in these last days, and addressed to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, the Lord said: “I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine Apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called.” As this could scarcely be said of men who had not been ordained to the same holy apostleship as that held by Paul, and consequently to the Melchizedek Priesthood, the conclusion is reasonable that the ordination promised by John the Baptist, doubtless occurred some time between May 15, 1829, and the expiration of the month of June of that same year.
That there was a distinct administration of angels in the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is sustained by the testimony of Oliver Cowdery. On the occasion of his returning to the Church at Kanesville, Iowa, in the fall of 1848 [18 years after the supposed visitation occurred], after an absence of eleven years from the body of the Saints, in the course of the public address which he then delivered, he said: “I was present with Joseph when an holy angel from God came down from heaven and conferred on us, or restored, the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood, and said to us, at the same time, that it should remain upon the earth while the earth stands. I was also present with Joseph when the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred by the holy angel from on high. This Priesthood, we then conferred on each other by the will and commandment of God.” (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 40 footnote)
[My note: Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that what would have been the most miraculous event in the history of Olivery Cowdery’s life (Peter, James, & John appearing) is recollected as being “conferred by THE HOLY ANGEL”? Oliver doesn’t seem to even remember that there were three personages there and that they were the very same Peter, James, and John of the New Testament. He also doesn’t seem to remember that the angel that restored the Aaronic Priesthood was the one and only John the Baptist.]
“This matter of ‘Priesthood,’ since the days of Sydney Rigdon, has been the great hobby and stumbling-block of the Latter Day Saints. Priesthood means authority; and authority is the word we should use. I do not think the word priesthood is mentioned in the New Covenant of the Book of Mormon. Authority is the word we used for the first two years in the church–until Sydney Rigdon’s days in Ohio. This matter of the two orders of priesthood in the Church of Christ, and lineal priesthood of the old law being in the church, all originated in the mind of Sydney Rigdon. He explained these things to Brother Joseph in his way, out of the old Scriptures, and got Joseph to inquire, etc. He would inquire, and as mouthpiece speak out the revelations just as they had it fixed up in their hearts….according to the desires of the heart, the inspiration comes, but it may be the spirit of man that gives it…. This is the way the High Priests and the ‘priesthood’ as you have it, was introduced into the Church of Christ almost two years after its beginning–and after we had baptized and confirmed about two thousand souls into the church.” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, by David Whitmer p. 64)
“You have CHANGED THE REVELATIONS from the way they were first given and as they are today in the Book of Commandments, to support the error of Brother Joseph in taking upon himself the office of Seer to the church. You have changed the revelations to support the error of high priests. You have changed the revelations to support the error of a President of the high priesthood, high counselors, etc. You have altered the revelations to support you in going beyond the plain teachings of Christ in the new covenant part of the Book of Mormon.” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, p. 49)
“The important details that are missing from the ‘full history’ of 1834 are likewise missing from the Book of Commandments in 1833. The student would expect to find all the particulars of the Restoration in this first treasured set of 65 revelations, the dates of which encompassed the bestowals of the two Priesthoods, but they are conspicuously absent… The notable revelations on Priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants before referred to, Sections 2 and 13, are missing, and Chapter 28 gives no hint of the Restoration which, if actual, had been known for four years. More than four hundred words were added to this revelation of August, 1829 in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the additions made to 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 Melchezedek Priesthood, High Priesthood, Seventies, High Priests, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on Church organization and government of April, 1830, making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original, Chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments three years later. Similar interpolations were made in the revelations known as Sections 42 and 68.” (Problems in Mormon Text, by La Mar Petersen, pp. 7-8)
“Joseph Smith Jun. testified of the Angel of the Lord’s appearing unto him to call him to the work of the Lord, and also of being ordained under the hands of the Angel of the covenant”. (Stephen Post Journal, 27 March 1836)
[Why wasn’t the first vision mentioned in connection with this recounting of the significant early miraculous events in the church as it had supposedly occured 3 years before the Angel Moroni story? Why weren’t Peter, James, & John mentioned instead of “the Angel”?]
Joseph Smith said, “It was the privilege of every Elder present to be ordained to the High Priesthood.” (Far West Record, 25 Oct. 1931 – more than two years after the “High Priesthood” was supposedly restored)
“A general conference was called and . . . the Lord made manifest to Joseph that it was necessary that such of the elders as were considered worthy, should be ordained to the high priesthood.” (John Whitmer’s History, Chapter VII., June 3, 1831)
“The Melchizedek priesthood was then (June 4, 1831) for the first time introduced, and conferred on several of the elders.” (John Corrill, Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1839, Chapter 10)
“here (June 1831) for the first time I saw the Melchizedek priesthood introduced into the Church” (Apostle Lyman Wight to Wilford Woodruff, 24 Aug. 1857, Lyman Wight Letterbook, RLDS archives (the original letter is in LDS archives))
“On the sixth of June, 1831, a general conference was convened at Kirtland, consisting of all the Elders, far and near, who could be got together. In this conference much instruction was given by President Smith, who spake in great power, as he was moved by the Holy Ghost; and the spirit of power and of testimony rested down upon the Elders in a marvelous manner. Here also were some strange manifestations of false spirits, which were immediately rebuked.
Several were then selected by revelation, through President Smith, and ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of the Son of God, which is after the order of Melchizedek. This was the first occasion in which this priesthood had been revealed and conferred upon the Elders in this dispensation, although the office of an Elder is the same in a certain degree, but not in the fullness. On this occasion I was ordained to this holy ordinance and calling by President Smith.” (Apostle Parley P. Pratt in Chapter 10 of his autobiography)
“…the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders.” (History of the Church, Vol. 1, pages 175-176) [My note: How can the Melchizedek Priesthood be conferred for the first time in 1831 on Elders who supposedly already had it and more than two years after it was supposedly given the Joseph and Oliver?! It is fairly obvious to see that the idea for “divinely restoring” the priesthood didn’t occur until long after men were already getting the “priesthood”.]
“Although the new order derived its name from Melchizedek, the term ‘Melchizedek Priesthood’ was not yet used, in spite of what Smith, Corrill, Lyman Wight, and Newel Knight later wrote. The term was first used in 1835 when it became an umbrella encompassing all prior component terms. All accounts of the 1831 conference referring to ‘Melchizedek Priesthood’ were written after 1835, while contemporary accounts of the conference mentioned only ‘High Priesthood’ or ‘Order of Melchizedek.'” (Gregory Prince)
“there was a time when this (LDS) Church was governed by the Lesser Priesthood” (Apostle Orson Pratt)
“No mention of angelic ordinations can be found in original documents until 1834-35. Thereafter accounts of the visit of Peter, James, and John by Cowdery and Smith remained vague and contradictory.”
— D. Michael Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy:Origins of Power, page 15
“Cowdery’s 1834 history puzzles modern Mormons for two reasons. First, he says John the Baptist restored ‘the Holy Priesthood,’ when modern Mormons have been taught that he conferred the Aaronic priesthood not the ‘Holy Priesthood’ of Melchizedek. Second, Cowdery in 1834 does not refer to restoration of a second priesthood.”
— D. Michael Quinn, ibid., page 281 fn73 referring to the first time anyone heard about a restoration by angelic means of the priesthood as recorded by Oliver Cowdery
“…neither did I ever hear of such a thing as an angel ordaining them until I got into Ohio about the year 1834–or later. 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 fathers sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the Church of Christ.”
— David Whitmer, David Whitmer Interviews, page 154.
“I never heard one word of John the baptist, or of Peter, James, and John’s visit and ordination till I was told some year afterward in Ohio.”
— Apostle William E. McLellin