Lesson 8: The Restoration of the Priesthood #DandC2017

The restoration of the priesthood can be somewhat difficult to approach because there have been so many layers of re-reading. For example, we often say that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood and later Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. The thing is, those terms and their meanings didn’t exist for another five or six years after the events occurred.

A good place to start if you want the deep dive is WVS’s “Early Mormon Priesthood Revelations: Text, Impact, and Evolution,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 46, no. 4 (Winter 2013), 1–84. There is a lot to work through there, but a fundamental idea to think about is what priesthood is. I know we can repeat the modern catechismal values, but what is priesthood in 1829? What about 1832? And then in 1835?

Worth checking out is Oliver Cowdery’s account of the experience with the Baptist. Remember this was written several years before what we have in the Pearl of Great Price, and even the folks over at BYU Studies suggest that it is probably more accurate. The editors of the JSP describe it:

In the first letter, Oliver Cowdery recounted his experiences with JS beginning when the two first met in April 1829. The letter includes an account of the vision he and JS had of John the Baptist, who gave them the authority to baptize.

Why would they describe it that way? How does the Book of Mormon talk about it?

A fun game: In what order were the priesthood offices revealed?

Some of the implications of the chronology are interesting. For example D&C 84:19-22 (Earliest Text):

19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. 20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. 21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; 22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

What are the ordinances of the high priesthood? Remember this is 1832, so the “Melchizedek Priesthood” has not been revealed yet. Are the “ordinances” in any way a function of what we talked about last week?

The printing of the 1835 D&C crystallize things pretty well, but there are other things happening, only some of which get’s a textual footprint. Some things that I am not touching on is keys, because I don’t have a good thing to point to, and it isn’t nearly as tidy as many think. But the lineal priesthood is interesting. It is there in the post-1835 revs, but I don’t think there is time in this lesson to do much with constructively.

By the time the Saints arrived in Nauvoo, pretty much all the priesthood offices we are familiar with had been revealed. The basic structure of presidencies and councils as well. Still when JS arrived in Nauvoo he gave a revelation (D&C 124), including this bit:

28 For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.

What priesthood had been taken away and had yet to be restored in 1841?


  1. In the early days in makes sense to think in terms of offices: priest-hood, deacon-hood, high priest-hood, etc.

  2. Nice post, Jonathan. When you dig into the early texts, you realize that what we understand as “priesthood” did not exist in 1829 or 1830 or 1832. It did not exist in the Bible or the Book of Mormon either. It evolved over the years into what we understand it to be today, which brings up questions regarding how we bestow it and how we withhold it, and why. Priesthood, as we understand it today, is an entirely modern development.

  3. Wally, I might venture to say that things like priesthood are always constructed in the present. To be fair there are periods of more dramatic change or development than others. The development of tradition is particularly interesting to me. I also think we also might be surprised at the level of self awareness of some major contributors to our tradition. E.g., JFSII talking about how priesthood hasn’t always been conferred by the laying on of hands.

  4. The DyC 124 bit refers to the endowment, and ordinance that is a symbol of the fulness of the priesthood, both to women and men. We are endowed with no other power than that of the priesthood.

  5. Paxton, while I think that the verse is evocative of the temple liturgy, I’d argue fairly emphatically that it is not a reference to the endowment ritual specifically. Contextually, I also think that the preposition matters here. That is the endowment of power as formalized in the Nauvoo liturgy is not an endowment of the power of the priesthood.

  6. Ha! Always fun stuff, J. And thanks for the shout out.

  7. I read Oliver’s account, using the link you provided, but in it he never identifies the angel as the Baptist (unless I missed it). Whats the source for the identification of the personage that conferred the priesthood to him and JS as the Baptist?

  8. J. Stapley says:

    Carey, I can’t double check right now, but I believe it was with the ca. 1835 revelations edits for the 1835 D&C.

  9. “I also think we also might be surprised at the level of self awareness of some major contributors to our tradition. E.g., JFSII talking about how priesthood hasn’t always been conferred by the laying on of hands.”

    This is an important point, I think. And a not widely understood one.

  10. J., if you have time, please cite to a source for “JFSII talking about how priesthood hasn’t always been conferred by the laying on of hands.” I haven’t yet found it.

  11. J. Stapley says:

    JR, it is in a bit that talks mostly about conferring the Holy Ghost. See Answers to Gospel Questions 4:93.

  12. James Hunter says:

    This a topic I wondered about recently. LDS and many christians believe the following:
    “1 Timothy 2:5
    5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”

    Definition of mediator: “a person who attempts to make people involved in a conflict come to an agreement; a go-between.”
    So, why is priesthood necessary? Wouldn’t make one or more person(s) a mediator(s) between god and men? Via performing ritual and interviews for ‘worthiness’.

  13. James, it seems like your question asks whether any church is necessary at all. There are alot of answers to that question, though I’m not sure which would be more interesting to you. If it is simply a question of how much structure that church (or in the Hebrew Bible, the covenant) is appropriate, again, I am not sure what will be most interesting to you. What about the ancient temple? Modern ordinances? Church governance?