Priesthood Restoration

The hallmark that sets the LDS Church apart from all other religions is its claim that God’s authority has been restored on Earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. LDS historians suggest that the first restoration occurred sometime in May 1829 in an unknown location near Joseph Smith’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Joseph and his scribe Oliver Cowdery claimed that they were in the midst of prayer when they were visited by a heavenly messenger, John the Baptist, who conferred upon them the Priesthood of Aaron. Joseph and Oliver later claimed that a second visitation soon occurred in a separate location, this time by the ancient apostles Peter, James, and John, where the higher priesthood, or Melchizedek Priesthood, was also conferred upon them.  

Similar to Joseph’s first vision, the restoration of God’s authority by John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, passed without mention for years. This seminal event remains documented in just a few altered verses, the totality of which was inserted years later into previously canonized LDS scripture. This episode lacks any customary corroborating support – such as scribe notes, journal entries, press materials, first or second-hand accounts, and occurred during an intensely challenging period in Kirtland, Ohio as senior church leaders were questioning Joseph Smith’s sole authority. Elijah’s supposed appearance in the temple is equally dubious in terms of historical records.

Other foundational problems with the LDS priesthood restoration narrative include questions about what exactly the priesthood is, separate from a priest, and what if any efficacy its exercise demonstrates. There is little evidence that there were biblical ideas of priesthood power either in Old Testament or New Testament times. Recently, the LDS Church has backed away from claims of miraculous healings, even pivoting to suggest that members should exercise faith not to be healed, perhaps because there is absolutely no evidence to support the notion of superior healthcare outcomes via regular priesthood blessings in Utah or anywhere else.

The timing and manner of introduction of Smith’s authority claims, coupled with irrefutable evidence of the awkward scriptural alterations supporting them, remains a significant challenge to the LDS Church’s claim of unique and superior authority. Even Richard Bushman, esteemed LDS historian, observed that “the late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.” [1] 



The pattern of fabricating stories of miraculous visions and visitations can be clearly seen in the early documents of the LDS Church. The Book of Commandments (BoC), which contained a compilation of significant early revelations, was printed in 1833 with very limited distribution before the Missouri-based printing press was destroyed by opponents of Mormonism. This canonized publication remains the baseline against which latter alterations are compared. The Book of Commandments was expanded and revised in 1835 to become the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C).

The original office of leadership in the church was ‘elder’. Joseph Smith was called as “an elder” in BoC chapter 24:3, with Oliver Cowdery in the following verse being called to the same office. As Cowdery’s status and power grew in the early church, this revelation was surreptitiously changed in the 1835 D&C section 2 to read “Joseph Smith jr. who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church,” with Oliver Cowdery being “called of God… to be the second elder of this church” [emphasis added]. This edit from the 1833 BoC to the 1835 D&C represents the first major evolution of Joseph Smith’s authority claims to elevate his status above Oliver Cowdery’s and any other ‘elder’ ordained to church leadership. As Smith navigated the possibilities of his new church, it seemed his ambitions grew year by year.

In the revised edition, D&C Section 27 was suddenly expanded to include over 400 additional words. The expansion which delivered Joseph’s new and unique authority claims was the very first mention of John the Baptist, Peter, James and John’s visitation. Prior to the publication of the D&C, the miraculous priesthood restoration was unknown within the Church. Even if we accept the possibility that Smith had legitimate reasons for withholding his miraculous visitations and authority until many years later, how can the silent insertion of significantly altered revelation into previously canonized scripture be glossed over without comment?

A prominent historian of Mormonism, Dan Vogel, observed, “Indeed, there was nothing thus far in the Book of Mormon to cause Smith and Cowdery to seek angelic ordination. Alma received authority to baptize through the Spirit (Mosiah 18:13). Similarly, Alma II taught that holders of the high priesthood were preordained to their office (Alma 13:3), and Jesus’ commission to Nephi and other disciples seem to have been conveyed verbally (3 Nephi 11:21). In this setting, the subsequent claim to angelic ordination seems anachronistic.” [2] However, there were specific organizational pressures at the time of these changes that make it clear why Smith needed to possess a greater authority than that of the Holy Spirit alone – a power that anyone could obtain.

The Church has been in possession of Wilford Woodruff’s original, signed Book of Commandments, yet for many decades refused to make the contents public. Upon learning that the Tanners, prominent Mormon history researchers, had secured the first 41 pages, the Church expressly forbade BYU from allowing them additional access. Like Joseph’s 1832 first vision account, which was withheld from public examination for decades, the Tanners were responsible for educating LDS members about these significant alterations. Similar institutional obstruction of academic research has been a common theme which scholars have had to overcome for well over a century, and continues to this day.

Consolidation of Power

Most scholars concede that the restoration text was created in 1834-5 by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Smith’s credibility and authority were particularly threatened, as multiple church leaders other than Smith himself purported to be in direct communication with the Lord as new prophets or prophetesses. Smith’s delivery of the restoration and visitation narratives secured his role as the lone prophet while discrediting rivals. In charismatic religious sects, a careful balance must remain between personal revelation and top-down control by the leadership. Smith’s evolving priesthood and hierarchy correlates directly with many specific instances of various leaders challenging his claims to be sole leader of the church.

LDS apologists suggest that Smith and Cowdery remained secretive about their restored authority due to intense persecution. Regarding the secrecy and role that persecution may have played, historian Dan Vogel observed, “While this might explain why they didn’t tell the residents of Harmony, at least for the two weeks they remained in that neighborhood, it doesn’t explain why Smith and Cowdery kept this information from the Whitmer family and others who joined the church in Fayette, which neighborhood Smith admitted was much friendlier to his message. Nor does it explain why he maintained this secrecy for nearly five years in Ohio and Missouri.” Indeed, the historical record suggests that whatever actually happened, Smith’s reasons for publicly revealing a higher authority stemmed from the complexities of managing a growing church.




There are additional reasons to be suspicious about the later introduction of a visitation by John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John into the LDS narrative. Many of Smith’s closest and most devout early followers later admitted that they had never heard of these miraculous events.

David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses of the golden plates and a founding member of the Church, confirmed, “I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834, 5 or 6… I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver…” [3] Whitmer further elaborated on his witness to alterations. “Some of the revelations as they now appear in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants have been changed and added to. Some of the changes being the greatest importance as the meaning is entirely changed on some very important matters; as if the Lord had changed his mind a few years after he gave the revelations…The revelations were printed in the Book of Commandments correctly. This I know, and will prove it to you.”

Whitmer explained why he thought the alterations were prompted by nothing more than Smith’s desire to consolidate power. He said, “When the Book of Commandments was printed, Joseph and the Church received it as being printed correctly. This I know. In the winter of 1834 they saw that some of the revelations in the Book of Commandments had to be changed, because the heads of the Church had gone too far, and had done things in which they had already gone ahead of some of the former revelations. So the book of Doctrine and Covenants was printed in 1835, and some of the revelations changed and added to.”

“There is nothing in the New Testament part of either the Bible or Book of Mormon concerning a one-man leader or head to the church… And we had no such an office in the Church in these last days for the first eight months of its existence, until Brother Joseph went into this error on April 6, 1830, and, after unwittingly breaking a command of God by taking upon himself such an office, in a few years those revelations were changed to admit this high office, which otherwise would have condemned it. They were changed to mean something entirely different from the way they were first given and printed in Book of Commandments; as if God had not thought of this great and important office when he gave those revelations.” [4]

The Book of Commandments, and subsequently the Doctrine & Covenants, are canonized as the revelations of God to his prophet, seer, and revelator. What does it say about the divinity of God’s words if they can so easily be secretively and significantly changed whenever Smith desired them to say something else that suited his immediate needs? Further, what does it say about the LDS Church that it successfully suppressed this information from independent researchers for over a century? The evidence suggests that the priesthood wasn’t restored so much as manufactured in times of need.


There are many other immediate family members and prominent leaders of the time period who did not record any memories of a priesthood restoration event, further bolstering doubt about what happened.

Lucy Mack Smith’s (Joseph’s mother) 1831 letter to her brother defending the Church lacks any mention of any angel or authority restoration.

Joseph Knight (a founding member and financial supporter of the Book of Mormon translation), in 1833, wrote a history of important events in Mormonism up to that year, yet makes no reference to either John the Baptist or Peter, James, John. This omission is particularly significant because Knight’s history is the only LDS source for details of angel Moroni’s annual visits with the Smith from 1823 to 1827.

William McLellin (an early apostle in the church who left in 1836) shared, “As to the story of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver on the day they were baptized; I never heard of it in the church for years, altho I carefully noticed things that were said.” [5] William’s story remained consistent, reporting years later, “I joined the church in 1831. For years I never heard of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver. I heard not of James, Peter, and John doing so…” [6]

B.H. Roberts, as official historian for the church wrote, “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… This lack of historical proof will not alter belief in the divine commission. These matters are to be accepted by faith.” [7]

Joseph F. Smith (nephew of Joseph Smith and son of his brother Hyrum) and Orson Hyde (a member of the First Quorum of the Twelve and early practitioner of polygamy) 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.” [8]

All of these witnesses testify of their ignorance of any miraculous visitation by those personages later introduced as a key component of testimony in the Mormon faith. It is of course possible that Smith and Cowdery chose not to tell the general public about their experience; but why withhold such key authority from family and founding church members who, at least at the time, wanted the church to succeed? 


A further challenge to the notion of Mormon priesthood is how it does not fit with any New Testament understanding of God’s power. If it did not exist in the times of Jesus and his disciples, if it is merely an nineteenth century anachronism placed upon long deceased characters, why would they need to return and confer it on Smith and Cowdery?

Charles Harrell, as associate professor at BYU, contrasts the notion of modern LDS priesthood with its traditional biblical operation. “In Biblical times, priesthood wasn’t spoken of as an abstract principle independent of priests. Priesthood was simply a state or quality of being a priest. It wasn’t receiving the priesthood that made one a priest, but rather being made a priest gave one priesthood – just as being dubbed a knight gives one knighthood. The New Testament doesn’t explicitly state that the priesthood was given to any of Christ’s disciples.” [9]

Similarly, The Book of Mormon is said to be the most correct of any book, created to be the scripture which guides and governs God’s one true restored church after its absence during the Great Apostasy. [10] The sixth Article of Faith proclaims, “We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, namely apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” However, the authority structure found in the LDS Church today is nowhere to be found in the pages of the Book of Mormon. The resemblance of the LDS Church to any church Christ may have organized is debatable, since women were also apostles during the Book of Acts, and there are no pastors or evangelists. 

The LDS Church today teaches that there are two priesthoods: Aaronic and Melchizedek, named after figures in the Old Testament. The word “priesthood” is often used for an array of overlapping but subtly distinct concepts, such as priesthood power, priesthood authority, priesthood keys, priesthood offices, priesthood blessings, priesthood leaders, priesthood quorums, and priesthood ordinances. In the modern LDS church, priesthood is everywhere, and always patriarchal.

This immersion in the modern Church’s understanding of “priesthood” can make it difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of members who were present at the time of its restoration. To accurately understand events as they unfolded, we must attempt to imagine how the revelations would have been seen by the first converts, who came from Methodist, Baptist, and other backgrounds. The editors of the Joseph Smith Papers project have noted that this difficulty was present even as far back as 1838-1839, when later terminology was already being retroactively applied to early church events:

Additionally, the narrative itself, composed beginning in 1838, necessarily reflects the perspective of Joseph Smith and his collaborators at the time of its production, thus inadvertently introducing terminology and concepts that were not operative a decade earlier in the period the narrative describes. Examples include using later priesthood nomenclature such as “Aaronic” and “Melchizedek” and calling the church Smith established “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” a name not designated until 1838. Such usage makes it difficult to trace the details of the unfolding of church governance and doctrine in the faith’s dynamic early years.

The timeline below outlines relevant events and revelations surrounding the restoration of the priesthood. In hopes of avoiding anachronisms, it lists documents and events in the order that they appear in the historical record, rather than in the order of the modern restoration narrative.


The priesthood restoration was incremental, constantly changing, and its true history presents significant challenges to devout believers. This timeline shows the evolution of a number of ideas surrounding authority and priesthood.

Date Event
1827-1829 Alexander Crawford, a Scottish minister in Canada, teaches the existence of three priesthoods: a patriarchal priesthood after the “order of Melchisedec”, an “Aaronical” priesthood, and a priesthood held by Jesus Christ. The Disciples of Christ, a group committed to restoring primitive Christianity, is influenced by Crawford’s teachings in creating its own priesthood doctrine. [11] The Disciples of Christ are also known as “Campbellites.”

Sidney Rigdon, a Campbellite minister, has great success building up his congregation in Mentor, Ohio and nearby towns, including Kirtland. [12]

May 15, 1829 John the Baptist visits Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
Mar 26, 1830 The Book of Mormon is published. It sometimes uses the term “high priest” to describe the top religious official in a region, but other times refers to groups of “high priests” together. (Mosiah 26:7 and Helaman 3:25) It uses the word “priesthood” in two chapters (Alma 4 and Alma 13), always referring to it as the “high priesthood”, and sometimes expanding it with variations of “high priesthood according to the holy order of God.” Alma 13 describes Melchizedek as a high priest but does not identify an order of the priesthood as bearing his name. The book describes a number of people baptizing, leading churches, serving missions, or speaking for God with no record of them receiving power or authority to do so from a priesthood holder. These include Lehi, Nephi, Alma (though some may argue he was given the priesthood because he was a priest of King Noah), Samuel the Lamanite, and others.

In 3 Nephi, Jesus gives power to Nephite disciples that he visits after his resurrection, but he does not use the word “priesthood”. He gives one prophet “power that ye shall baptize this people” by verbal decree, without laying on of hands. (3 Nephi 11: 20-21) A later group of Nephite disciples is given “power to give the Holy Ghost” by Jesus after they are “touched with his hand.” (3 Nephew 18: 36-37)

Near the end of the book, Moroni speaks of elders ordaining teachers and priests by the laying on of hands. (Moroni 3) The Book of Mormon makes no mention of a lower priesthood associated with Aaron.

Apr 1830 The Church of Christ (not yet The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is founded by Joseph Smith. Joseph dictates a revelation titled The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, which lays out the offices of elder, priest, teacher, and deacon. [13] The revelation does not use the words “priesthood”, “Melchizedek”, or “Aaronic”, or distinguish between a higher and lower order. This revelation would become chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments (BoC) and eventually section 20 of today’s Doctrine and Covenants (D&C).

The office of ‘elder’ was considered the highest church authority, with Smith designated as “elder”. As the church grew and additional elders were ordained, the office evolved to “first elder.” The office would later be reduced in rank as higher priesthood offices were implemented.

At the founding meeting, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith ordain each other as elders “unto this church of Christ”, with no reference to an order of priesthood. [14]

Aug 1830  The Church claims D&C 27 (originally a revelation solely about the Sacrament) was received this month.
Oct 1830 Parley P. Pratt shares the Book of Mormon with Sidney Rigdon, who then joins the church along with his formerly Campbellite congregation. Over the next several months, Sidney’s preaching leads to the conversion of over a thousand people in the Kirtland area. [15]
Feb 1831 Joseph and Emma move to Kirtland, Ohio.
June 3, 1831 At a conference of church leaders in Kirtland, Joseph is ordained to the “high priesthood” by Lyman Wight. “The authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders.” [16] Over 20 other men are also ordained, most by Lyman but a few by Joseph. This is the earliest occurrence of the word “priesthood” in modern Mormon teachings or revelations. [17] Joseph Smith’s own history, written years later, claims this as the first time.  B.H.Roberts, as church historian, recognized the problem and inserted footnote denying the textThere is no apparent need to have authority from any previous apostle at this time.

Note that the conference allegedly included evil spirits which threw one from his seat to the floor, bound another, and inflicted others with an inability to speak or use their limbs.

Nov 1831 Joseph receives a revelation stating that those holding each office (elder, priest, teacher, deacon) should be organized in groups with those of the same office, and presided over by someone of that same office. It also lays out a progression between offices from deacon to teacher to priest to elder and finally to “the high Priesthood”. The word “priesthood” is used only in reference to this top office, and not in reference to the lower ones. [18] The progression of offices in this revelation reiterates the progression instituted at a meeting a month earlier. [19]

This revelation would later become a portion of section 107 of today’s Doctrine and Covenants.

Feb 1832 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon together receive a vision (now D&C 76) in which those who “come forth in the resurection of the just” are described as “priests of the most high after the order of Melchesadeck which was after the order of Enoch which was after the order of of the only begotten son”. [20] Again, no mention of conferring of the priesthood by laying on of hands by resurrected beings.
June 1832  The Evening and Morning Star, the Church’s first periodical, which often introduces revelations to members, yet no mention of the first vision, John the Baptist, Peter, James or John.
Summer 1832 In the preface to an unfinished history, Joseph refers to “reception of the holy priesthood by the ministering of Angels to administer the letter of the Gospel the Law and commandments as they were given unto him and the ordinances, forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinance from on high to preach the gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit the Kees of the Kingdom of God conferred upon him…” (This is the same document that contains the 1832 First Vision account.) [21]
Sep 1832 Over the course of two days, Joseph dictates a revelation (D&C 84) that teaches in detail about two orders of priesthood: a “Holy Priesthood” that the revelation repeatedly associates with Moses, and a “lesser priesthood” that the revelation associates with Aaron. The line of Moses’s ordination is traced back to a previously-unknown “Esaius”, who received it directly from God, and is said to have lived at the same time as Abraham. Abraham’s priesthood line is also traced back through Melchizedek, Noah, Enoch, Abel, and Adam. [22]

This revelation also introduces specific links between church offices and the two priesthoods. “[T]he offices of elder and bishop are necessary appendages belonging unto the high priesthood”, says the revelation, and “the offices of teacher and deacon are necessary appendages belonging to the lesser priesthood”. Still there’s no mention or differentiation between Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods.

1833 Book of Commandments published by W.W. Phelps, predecessor to D&C, Verse 28 is very important – no mention of Peter, James, John, nor mention of Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods.
1833 Joseph Knight writes history of important events in Mormonism up to that year – no mention of either John Baptist or Peter, James, John.
Nov 15, 1833 Mormonism Unvailed printed – written by a contemporary antagonist within 30 miles of the church’s Kirtland, Ohio headquarters – no mention of first vision, John the Baptist, Peter, James or John.
Feb 1834 At a council in Kirtland, Joseph Smith says “I remarked, that I should endeavor to set before the council the dignity of the office which had been conferred on me by the ministering of the angel of God, by his own voice, and by the voice of this church”. [23]

Oliver Cowdery’s account was the first time Mormons learned that a heavenly conferral of authority supposedly occurred before the church’s organization. 

1834 Oliver Cowdery writes Full History of the Rise of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Such a comprehensive history of the early years should surely contain the details of multiple miraculous events, yet we find only the ecstatic account of ordination by an unidentified angel. If Joseph and Oliver then knew him to be John the Baptist they did not reveal it. There is no mention of two priesthoods, Aaronic or Melchizedek, lesser or higher, no promise of the Holy Ghost, no visit of Peter, James, and John (which in 1834 should have been a matter of historical record for five years), no mention of the baptism and ordination of each other, and finally, a different wording of the angelic conferment.
Apr 1834 The minutes of another Kirtland council meeting include: “Bro Joseph Smith Jr. … then gave a relation of obtaining and translating the Book of Mormon, the revelation of the priesthood of Aaron, the organization of the Church in the year 1830, the revelation of the high priesthood and the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the church…”[24] The higher priesthood is mentioned but not designated explicitly as ‘The Melchizedek Priesthood’.
Oct 1834 Oliver Cowdery publishes an account of angelic ordination in the Messenger and Advocate. The angel’s language is very similar to that which would appear later in Joseph’s 1839 history, but the angel is not identified as John the Baptist, and the angel refers to “this priesthood” rather than the “priesthood of Aaron”. There is no mention of a second ordination by Peter, James, and John. [25]
Aug 17, 1835 Updated and heavily revised Doctrine & Covenants presented at conference, containing numerous unannounced changes and expansions to previously published revelations. PETER, JAMES, JOHN retroactively inserted into D&C 27 – FIRST TIME ANYBODY HEARS OF THE CURRENT RENDITION OF THE PRIESTHOOD RESTORATION. 

To the existing revelation on church offices (BoC 24, today’s D&C 20) is added a reference to the “high priesthood” and the offices of traveling bishop, high councilor, and high priest.

The revelation on sacramental wine (BoC 28, today’s D&C 27) is more than doubled in size, adding the names of several scriptural prophets who will participate in a special sacrament ceremony at Jesus’s second coming. After mentioning John the Baptist the additional verses say “Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron;” and later in the same section “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 especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them”. [26]

In the wake of the Zion’s Camp debacle, many of Smith’s most loyal followers who participated in the thousand-mile trek were inducted into the newly-formed Quorum of Seventy. The Quorum of Twelve was also formed as a proselytization committee with Joseph Smith and his presidency presiding over all newly-formed quorums. This marks another evolution of Mormon hierarchy likely influences by external factors.

This 1835 change to an 1830 revelation is the earliest mention of being ordained by resurrected biblical figures.

1835 Oliver Cowdery 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 …” [27]
1839 Joseph records a new history of the founding events of the church, which we have today as Joseph Smith History. This includes the account of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver to the “priesthood of Aaron”, and relates John saying 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.”

This is the first account giving a date for the Aaronic priesthood restoration (May 15, 1829). [28]

Joseph explained the absence of earlier accounts of this event by saying “we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood.” The history goes on to describe Joseph and Oliver ordaining each other to be elders, but does not provide an account or a date for ordination by Peter, James, and John. [29] It seems that perceived persecution is regularly advanced as an apologetic whenever the historical record is devoid of any evidence to support astonishing claims. 

1842 In an epistle to the church, Joseph recounts hearing “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!” This letter comprises section 128 of today’s Doctrine and Covenants. [30] It limits the possible locations of the Melchizedek priesthood ordination to an approximately 50 mile stretch of river between Colesville and Harmony. (The entire distance is more like 350 miles, but most of it does not run along the Susquehanna river).

1842 also marks the introduction of the greatest rite practiced by holders of the Priesthood, the endowment. At no point prior to 1842, despite Smith’s numerous secret marriages, was this sacred sealing ritual performed in the ‘restored’ gospel. Though it is purported to stem from ancient times, even the temple of Solomon, most LDS temple rituals can be directly traced to Masonic ceremony which originated much later.

1876 The words of John the Baptist from the 1839 priesthood restoration account are added to the Doctrine and Covenants as section 13.
1885 In an interview, David Whitmer says the following:

I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834[,] [183]5, or [183]6 – in Ohio, my information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revealment through Joseph. I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some. I regard that as an error, a misconception…” [31]

1887 David Whitmer publishes An Address to All Believers in Christ. It reaffirms his testimony of seeing the gold plates, but also says this about the priesthood:

“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 Brother Joseph to inquire, etc. He would inquire, and as mouth-piece speak out the revelations Just as they had it fixed up in their hearts.” [32]

Whitmer also describes some church members being troubled and leaving the church over changes made to the revelations when the Doctrine and Covenants was published: “When it became generally known that these important changes had been made in the Doctrine and Covenants, many of the brethren objected seriously to it, but they did not want to say much for the sake of peace, as it was Brother Joseph and the leaders who did it.” [33]

Apologists argue that Joseph Smith did not fully understand what the priesthood was until later. Even if one accepts such an improbable notion, it does nothing to explain its absence in the Book of Mormon, or the troubling manner by which Smith retroactively inserted the previously unknown narrative. It requires much less conjecture to accept to accept that he invented LDS priesthood when it became convenient to bolster his authority in a difficult time.



The pattern of conveniently backdated visitations reoccurs with the supposed appearances of Christ, Moses, Elias, and Elijah to Smith and Cowdery in the Kirtland temple on April 3, 1836. This visitation is credited as the moment additional salvific priesthood keys were restored surrounding the LDS temple ceremony. According to Smith’s claims, the Savior appeared to accept the offering of the saints (D&C 110:3), Moses appeared to restore the keys of the gathering of Israel, Elias appeared to restore the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant, and Elijah appeared to restore the temple sealing power. There are three significant challenges with this narrative.

First, Smith apparently remained unaware that two of these seemingly different biblical figures are in fact the same person; Elias is merely the Greek form of the Hebrew Elijah. He describes both figures as fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy regarding the return of the prophet Elijah. Thus, the two beings described separately by Smith in the context of Malachi’s prophecy would be the same person.

Some Mormon scholars attempt to reconcile the dilemma with the notion that the name Elias has been applied to other men besides Elijah, who were seen as precursors or subsequent figures who had the same prophetic role, such as Noah, John the Baptist and others. Or perhaps Smith’s Elias was merely a preparatory messenger who goes before one greater than himself. Such arguments rely upon incorrect Biblical and linguistic context, while avoiding the fact that Smith also clearly refers to two distinct Elias and Elijah prophets in D&C 27:6-9.

Richard Packham provides a thorough examination of the issue, suggesting “Now, which explanation makes more sense and is more likely the case? …Elias is a hitherto unknown prophet of Abraham’s time, with a Greek name, or maybe Abraham himself, or Melchizedek, or Gabriel – who is also Noah – and Christ, and Elijah, and John the Baptist, and John the Revelator, and a ‘spirit or doctrine’? Or the more obvious conclusion that Joseph Smith was simply ignorant of the fact that the King James New Testament uses the Greek version of Old Testament names?”  

The second problem with Smith’s Elijah narrative stems from a lacking doctrinal need for additional binding powers. Malachi 4:5-6 is interpreted by the LDS Church as the restoration of the sealing powers which enables families to be sealed together. Yet Malachi’s prophecy as it appears in the Old Testament gives no indication that Elijah would restore priesthood keys or reveal sealing ordinances either for the living or the dead.

The New Testament interprets Elijah’s coming as having been fulfilled in John the Baptist. There is no mention of John exercising what Mormons understand as sealing powers for families. The view of a future coming of Elijah is refuted by traditional Christian theologians, who point to Christ’s own assertion that John the Baptist was this second coming of Elias.

Why Elijah’s authority would have been needed to make any ordinance binding is unclear, since Peter, James and John restored “the keys of the kingdom, which included the authority to “bind on earth” and “in heaven.” (Matt 16:9) Significantly, in all versions of Malachi’s prophecy revealed to Joseph Smith prior to 1838, there is no change in the wording from the King James Bible, nor is there any indication that Elijah would restore any sealing authority. This includes passages in the Book of Mormon, the D&C and even JST Malachi 4:4-5. [34]

The Third problem with Smith’s Kirtland Temple restoration narrative is the absence of the endowment following this ‘complete restoration’. The Kirtland Temple was completed and dedicated in Spring of 1836 and the headquarters of the church would remain in Kirtland until early 1838 when Smith fled Ohio for the Mormon settlement of Far West, Missouri. In that period of roughly 20 months, the temple endowment ceremony was never implemented and would not be for another 6 years after the Temple’s dedication.

If the keys were indeed fully restored upon the completion of the Kirtland Temple, we should expect to see the endowment ceremony practiced, yet it was not introduced until the spring of 1842, coincidentally mere weeks after Smith was initiated as a Master Freemason. For the ultimate ceremony practiced by the Melchizedek Priesthood (the endowment) to be implemented 12 years after the restoration officially occurred causes one to question the definition of “restoration,” and question the impetus behind implementing these evolving leadership positions and practices with tenuous post-hoc scriptural justifications. Occam’s Razor suggests a less than supernatural explanation.



Moving past the historical questions surrounding a restoration authority, important questions remain about its ongoing efficacy as a real power of any discernible kind. The LDS Church continues to promote a ritual which calls upon God’s healing power via its exclusive priesthood authority. Despite the potential to alleviate vast human suffering while reaping trillions of dollars of economic benefit, ample evidence indicates that God is not altering the healthcare outcomes of LDS members.

Ponder for a moment the real world outcomes of Utah healthcare service providers, particularly in the most heavily LDS regions, where significant blessings have been occurring for generations. The U.S. Government, for-profit insurance companies and private healthcare providers all carefully measure outcomes, which are compared to regional and national averages. None of Utah’s largest providers – Primary Children’s Hospital, LDS Hospital, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and others, demonstrate superior outcomes.

Joseph Smith appears to have quickly learned from his brief and unsuccessful attempt at faith healing, when Zion’s Camp was plagued by cholera and 68 men fell ill, 14 of whom died. Joseph attempted the sacred LDS ritual of laying on of hands to affect the health outcomes of his closest followers, ‘But I quickly learned by painful experience, that when Jehovah decrees destruction upon any people, and makes known his determination, man must not attempt to stay His hand. The moment I attempted to rebuke the disease I was attacked, and had I not desisted in my attempt to save the life of a brother, I would have sacrificed my own.” [36] Smith placed the failure of his priesthood power squarely on God’s will, a theme which continues today among members, along with the stigma of not being faithful enough to be healed. 

Another real world test of the LDS Church’s ability to heal was provided by the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. As the world grew weary of fighting a protracted world war and began returning home to start anew, the virus found ample hosts to disperse it far and wide. Influenza soon took strong hold of Utahns in similar fashion as the rest of the country. Despite the faithfulness of LDS members and abundant priesthood blessings, Deseret News confirmed that Utah suffered “the second highest death rate from the disease in the country.” [35]

Arguably the strongest evidence disproving faith healing’s veracity is provided by the LDS Church itself. If Mormon priesthood could demonstrate the slightest measurable outcome whatsoever, the world would never hear the end of it; it would be forcefully testified of in talks and become a primary missionary tool. Ironically, the prophets have more recently pivoted to encourage members to exercise sufficient faith not to be healed. 

Learn More: Hospital Compare
• NY Times, Medical Study Questions Power of Prayer
• Does Prayer Affect Healing?
Radio Free Mormon: Episode 037 – General Conference Death March


Members of the LDS Church are taught of a ‘restored’ priesthood, yet the restoration process passed completely unnoticed and evolved under very different timing and circumstances than most members understand. The words of an immutable and unchanging God appear to have been surreptitiously altered to satisfy the temporal needs of Joseph Smith while overcoming authority challenges from his inner circle, continually elevating Smith above all other leadership offices. A convoluted trail of altered and retrofitted documentation make it particularly challenging for truth seekers to understand the true timing of events and the introduction of important terminology and philosophies. Further, the scriptural justifications for the specific LDS multi-tier authority structure are simply not present in the Bible, Book of Mormon, or even in Joseph Smith’s earliest revelations.

As the LDS Church defines priesthood as the power and authority to act in God’s name, what are we to make of the fact that it fails every common sense evaluation of its efficacy? The disconnect between the restoration narrative members are taught, verifiable history and observable modern outcomes represents a critical flaw in Mormon truth claims.


Links to Rough Stone Rolling references:

  • Pages 157-59 discuss how Joseph Smith was ordained to the high priesthood (Melchizedek Priesthood) for the “first time” one to two years AFTER Peter, James, and John were said to have bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph and Oliver.
  • Page 75 summarizes how “The late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.”

[1] Rough Stone Rolling, 75.
[2] Joseph Smith, The Making of a Prophet, 307.  
[3] Zenas Gurley Jr., Questions asked of David Whitmer at his home in Richmond, MO, Jan 14, 1885 / EMD 5:137.  
[4] An Address To All Believers in Christ, Whitmer.  
[5] McLellin to Joseph Smith III, July 1872.  
[6] McLellin to J.L. Traughber, Aug 25, 1877. 
[7] History of the Church,1:40. Paragraphs believed to substantiate the priesthood restoration in D&C 18:9; 20:2, 3 ; 27:12; 128:20 are cited.  
[8] Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 25.  
[9] This is My Doctrine, 373-6.
[10] History of the Church, 4:461.  
Note: See
The Restoration of the Priesthood at for historical facts surrounding this topic and chronology.
[11] Godfrey, Matthew C. A Culmination of Learning: D&C and the Doctrine of the Priesthood, in You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants. Scott C. Esplin, Richard O. Cowan, and Rachel Cope (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), p. 167–81.
[12] McKiernan, F. Mark. The Conversion of Sidney Rigdon to MormonismDialogue vol. 5 No. 2 p. 75.
[13] Articles and Covenants, circa April 1830 [D&C 20]The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Feb. 19 2017.
[14] Bushman, Richard L. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. p. 109. See also D&C 21:10-11
[15] McKiernan, F. Mark. The Conversion of Sidney Rigdon to MormonismDialogue vol. 5 No. 2 p. 77.
[16] History of the Church, 1:175-76.
[17] Bushman, Richard L. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. p. 157-158.
[18] Revelation, 11 November 1831–B [D&C 107 (partial)]The Joseph Smith Papers.
[19] Godfrey, Matthew C. A Culmination of Learning: D&C and the Doctrine of the Priesthood, in You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants. Scott C. Esplin, Richard O. Cowan, and Rachel Cope (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012).
[20] Vision, 16 February 1832 [D&C 76]The Joseph Smith Papers.
[21] History, circa Summer 1832The Joseph Smith Papers.
[22] Revelation, 22–23 September 1832 [D&C 84]The Joseph Smith Papers.  
[23] History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 23 December 1805–30 August 1834 p. 424. The Joseph Smith Papers.
[24] Minute Book 1The Joseph Smith Papers.
[25] Cowdery, Oliver. Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct. 1834) p. 16.
[26] A Book of Commandments – Chapter 28 (comparison with Doctrine and Covenants section 27).
[27] Early Mormon Documents 2:452-453.
[28] Compare the 1835 D&C Section 22 with the original Revelation, 1 November 1831–A.
[29] Joseph Smith—History 1:68-73.
[30] History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2]The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Feb 20, 2017.
[31] Doctrine and Covenants 128:20.
[32] David Whitmer Interview with Zenas H. Gurley, 14 January 1885,” Early Mormon Documents, 5:137.
[33] Whitmer, David. An Address to All Believers in Christ. Richmond, Missouri, 1883. p. 63.
[34] This is My Doctrine, 74-76.
[35] Deseret News, Flu Epidemic Hit Utah Hard in 1918-1919, March 28, 1995.
[36] Joseph Smith, History of Joseph Smith, June 24, 1834.

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