Power from on High
by Gregory A. Prince
[p.1]A revelation to the three-year-old Church of Christ (also called Mormon) declared in 1833 that God would “give unto the faithful line upon line precept upon precept.”1 The concept of authority was not initially addressed in the Restoration movement2 but developed gradually, or “line upon line.” Now viewed as the founding Restoration event, the epiphany known as the “first vision” resulted from Joseph Smith’s mourning “for my own sins and for the sins of the world.”3 In response, “the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee.” Despite the importance attached to the first vision by subsequent generations of Latter-day Saints, it did not serve as Smith’s call to the ministry or claim to divine authorization.
That claim began with another vision, in the autumn of 1823, when “an angel of the Lord came and stood before me.” The angel [p.2]called Moroni entrusted to Smith “plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by the commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them.”4 Translating the plates into the Book of Mormon marked the beginning of Smith’s ministry. It established among his followers his credentials as a prophet. Such authority, however, was implied, for Smith never claimed that Moroni bestowed formal authority by the laying on of hands, the manner sanctioned by ancient and modern Christianity.
As the Mormon restoration unfolded, the essence of divine empowerment assumed a more concrete form. Almost six years after Moroni’s visit, angelic beings bestowed authority on Smith and his assistant Oliver Cowdery by the laying on of hands. Although in the Mormon church today the term “priesthood” refers to this bestowed authority, such a relationship did not develop until years after the founding of the church. Initially authority was understood to be inherent in what are now termed “offices.” Three offices—elder, priest, and teacher—were present by August 1829, as were the ordinances of baptism, confirmation, and ordination, but the word “priesthood” was not used in reference to these for another three years.
In June 1831 a modern “pentecost” occurred in which supernatural powers, similar to those reported in the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, were bestowed upon latter-day disciples through their ordination to the “high priesthood,” thus coupling the concepts of “authority” and “power.” Between 1831 and 1835 an organizational consolidation occurred, resulting in the 1835 designation of the “Aaronic Priesthood” and “Melchizedek Priesthood,” which incorporated the elements of authority and power which had developed over the prior dozen years.
Perhaps the most important and certainly least understood development began in 1836 when Smith and Cowdery recorded a vision of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet. Although Elijah did not become associated with priesthood for another two years, he gradually became the most important figure for Latter-day Saint authority. Indeed, after 1840 Smith never associated Moroni, John the Baptist, or Peter, James, [p.3]and John—previous angelic ministers—with the concept of priesthood, opting instead to emphasize Elijah.
The concept of bestowed authority was present prior to the organization of the church, but the structure and nomenclature developed gradually throughout the remaining years of Smith’s life. Although the development occurred along a continuum, the continuity was punctuated by several key events. In attempting to understand the developmental process, it is useful to divide the continuum into several phases on the basis of those events.
Phase 1: Implied Authority, September 1823-March 1829
Visions surrounding the gold plates of the Book of Mormon provided the earliest confirmation of Joseph Smith’s divine calling. Within weeks of Smith’s obtaining the plates in September 1827, neighbor Martin Harris “became convinced of the visions and gave [Smith] fifty Dollars to bare my expences and because of his faith and the righteous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and showed unto him his marvilous work which he was about to do.”5 A similar manifestation in 1829 converted a man whose role in Latter-day Saint priesthood would be second only to Smith’s: “[The] Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate.”6
While it was apparent that Smith had a calling, the basis of his authority was implicit in his work, not the result of any “hands-on” ordination. Prior to 1829 neither Smith nor his followers claimed to have received the type of divine authorization which ultimately would become known as “priesthood.”
Smith’s primary concerns during this time were his own status with God and the translation of the gold plates. He expressed no intent to organize a church or to confer authority or ordinances on others. Three revelations date from this period, none of which addressed these issues. In the first, from July 1828, Smith was chastised for having lost part of the Book of Mormon manuscript and was told that he would be allowed to resume translating, but no author-[p.4]ity was mentioned.7 In the second, dated February 1829, a ministry extending beyond publication of the Book of Mormon was implied. The qualifications for that ministry were listed: “Faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God” (BC III:1). Formal authority evidently was not required. The third revelation, given to Joseph Smith one month later in behalf of Harris, described for the first time the establishment of a church, “like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old” (BC IV:5), but stipulated no prerequisites.8
Phase 2: Angelic Authority, April 1829-October 1830
In April 1829 itinerant schoolteacher Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to serve as Joseph Smith’s new scribe. Within days their work on the Book of Mormon produced passages dealing with baptism. The first of these was from “The Book of Mosiah”9:
And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying, O Lord, pour out thy spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart. And when he had said these words, the spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered [p.5]into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body; and may the spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, which he hath prepared from the foundation of the world. And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam was [sic] buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the spirit. And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.10
Of particular importance is the idea that before Alma baptized he received authorization simply from “the spirit of the Lord.” There is no mention of angelic appearance, laying on of hands, or ordained office. Alma baptized himself and Helam simultaneously.
Cowdery received the following communication from God at about this time:
Now therefore whosoever repenteth & humbleth himself before me & desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them. And after this manner did he [the Lord] command me that I should baptize them[.] Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying[,] Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in the water & come forth again out of the water & after this manner shall ye baptize in my name.11
Smith’s and Cowdery’s baptisms in the Susquehanna River in May 1829 were thus divinely authorized, though not as a prerogative based on the duties of any office. Later accounts described additional elements such as authority from an angel conferred by the laying on of hands [p.6]and tandem rather than simultaneous baptism, in contrast to the Book of Mormon model.
Although they possessed authority to baptize, Smith and Cowdery lacked the authority mentioned in later passages of the Book of Mormon, which enabled recipients to confer the Holy Ghost and to ordain priests and teachers. In these passages those holding this “higher” authority were simultaneously called disciples and elders and were equivalent to Christ’s apostles in Palestine (BM, 1830, 574-75). Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer later said that Smith and Cowdery obtained this authority early in June 1829, after he took them to his father’s farm in Fayette, New York, and that following this they ordained each other elders.12 Shortly thereafter, Whitmer was baptized and ordained as the third elder of the Restoration.13
Inasmuch as a revelation dated mid-June stated that Cowdery and Whitmer had been “called even with that same calling” as the Apostle Paul (BC XV:11),14 the ordinations as elders must have occurred within the first two weeks of June 1829. The revelation reinforced the idea that their new, higher authority was the same described in the Book of Mormon by commissioning Cowdery and Whitmer to choose twelve disciples who were then “to ordain priests and teachers,” the same duty given the twelve disciples/elders in “The Book of Moroni” (BC XV:35; cf. BM, 1830, 575).
The following early Mormon and non-Mormon records support the claim of divine restoration of authority, including (beginning in 1830) the appearance of angels, (beginning in late 1832 but not explicit until late 1834) the receipt of priesthood from angels, and (in 1835) the naming of angels:
[p.7]1829: Cowdery wrote that the authority “given me of Jesus Christ” was essential to performing baptisms.15 Later accounts which mentioned the voice of Jesus in association with the visit of the angel are consistent with this earliest account.
1 June 1830: The Palmyra Reflector referred to Cowdery as an “apostle…under a command.”16
16 November 1830: The Painesville Telegraph, referring to Cowdery, reported that he “pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels.”17
7 December 1830: The same newspaper reported claims that “Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has his credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name. By this authority, they proclaim to the world, that all who do not believe their testimony, and [allow themselves to] be baptised by them for the remission of their sins … must be forever miserable.”18
14 February 1831: The Palmyra Reflector published an account of Mormon missionaries, saying that “they then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years,—that no one had been authorized to preach and for that period,—that Joseph Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose. … Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personally—Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels …”19
19 April 1831: The Painesville Telegraph published a letter [p.8]from Martin Harris which included the earliest published version of “The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ.” Greatly expanded compared to its 1829 predecessor, it stated that Smith and Cowdery were each “called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church.”20
Late 1832: Smith, when he began to write his autobiography between July and November 1832,21 opened the account by reciting the early events of the Restoration, the third of which was “the reception of the holy Priesthood by the minist[e]ring of Aangels to admin[i]ster the letter of the Gospel[,] the Law and commandments as they were given unto him and the ordinenc[e]s.”22
2 March 1833: A Protestant minister in Ohio, in a letter to another minister, wrote: “The following Curious occurrence occurred last week in Newburg about 6 miles from this Place [Cleveland]. Joe Smith the great Mormonosity was there and held forth, and among other things he told them he had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them, and that he could perform Miracles.”23
18 December 1833: A blessing given by Smith to Cowdery spoke of the fulfillment in Cowdery “of a prophecy of Joseph, in ancient days, which he said should come upon the Seer of the last days and the Scribe that should sit with him, and that should be ordained with him, by the hand of the angel in the bush, unto the lesser priesthood, and after receive the holy priesthood under the hands of those who had been held in reserve for a long [p.9] season even those who received it under the hand of the Messiah.”24
12 February 1834: In a meeting preparatory to the organization of the first High Council, Smith said: “I shall now endeavour to set forth before this council, the dignity of the office which has been conferred upon me by the ministering of the Angel of God, by his own voice and by the voice of this Church.”25
October 1834: In a letter published in the church newspaper Cowdery described the authority to baptize and, for the first time in a published Mormon source, specifically linked the visit of an angel with this restoration: “‘Twas the voice of the angel from glory … we received under his hand the holy priesthood, as he said, `upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer this priesthood and this authority …'”26
21 February 1835: In instructing the newly chosen Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Cowdery said: “You have been ordained to the Holy Priesthood. You [p.10]have received it from those who had their power and Authority from an Angel.”27
Mid-1835: With the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants several previously published revelations were revised, among which was one dated September 1830. Whereas the earlier 1833 Book of Commandments version made no mention of angelic visitations, this 1835 version now included the restoration of two levels of authority, identifying for the first time the restorers as “John the son of Zacharias, which Zacharias he (Elias) visited and gave promise that he should have a son, and his name should be John, and he should be filled with the spirit of Elias; which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, jr. and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto this first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron … 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 …” (DC, 1835 L:2, 3).
While it is not known why Smith and Cowdery delayed naming the messengers until 1835, the answer may reside in the role the Book of Mormon played during the earliest months of the Restoration. In addition to authorizing and initiating Smith’s ministry, the Book of Mormon served as a blueprint for the early church. The form of the early church beginning in the summer of 1829 paralleled that described in the Book of Mormon. Its emphasis on the necessity of baptism and formal authority to baptize initiated Smith’s and Cowdery’s journey to the Susquehanna River. It described the mode of baptism and even specified the exact wording of the baptismal prayer. In this context one might appreciate that the actual conferral of authority to baptize (and subsequently the higher authority of the apostleship) could have been viewed by Smith and Cowdery of lesser significance. It is important to realize that Smith himself publicly associated John the Baptist and Peter, James, and [p.11]John with priesthood restoration only from 1835 to 1840, after which time Elijah pre-empted them in Latter-day Saint theology, even as Moroni appears to have pre-empted them prior to 1835.28
The status of Mormon authority in 1829 was as follows. Motivated by passages in the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery had sought and received authorization to baptize. Later they encountered additional Book of Mormon passages describing a higher authority which was needed to confer the Holy Ghost and ordain to offices, which they subsequently received. Neither level of authority had yet been called “priesthood.” Prior to 1831 the only use of the term was in the Book of Mormon, where it was used synonymously with the office of high priest (BM, 1830, 258-60), an office which did not exist in Mormonism until late 1831. Prior to then men acted by virtue of the office to which they had been ordained, either elder, priest, or teacher. In performing ordinances they sometimes referred to their authority explicitly, as in the baptismal prayer, though without using the term “priesthood.”29 Authority was generally implied, as in the blessing of [p.12]the bread and wine (BM, 1830, 575-76) and in the ordination of priests and teachers (BM, 1830, 575).30 It was not until several months after the June 1831 general conference, when the “high priesthood” was conferred, that the term “priesthood” entered Mormon usage at all.
Two offices—priest and teacher—were named in the Book of Mormon as possessing lesser authority. Neither office was specifically bestowed on Smith or Cowdery.31 The Book of Mormon stated that both offices had authority to baptize (BM, 1830, 265), though a revised version of the “Articles and Covenants” of the church in 1831 restricted the performing of baptism to the former office.32
The higher authority, according to the Book of Mormon, resided in elders whose authority equaled that of Jesus’ ancient apostles (BM, 1830, 574-75). Initially the term “disciple” referred to those possessing this authority (BC XV:28), but in late 1829 the term switched to “apostle.”33 In a revelation dated 6 April 1830 (the day the church was formally organized), Smith and Cowdery were called “Apostles” and “Elders” (BC XXII:1, 13, 14). Two months later the first general conference was held at which licenses to preach were given to two teachers, three priests, and five elders.34 Two of those licenses still exist. Smith’s father’s states that “he is a Priest of [p.13]this Church of Christ,”35 while John Whitmer’s says “he is an Apostle of Jesus Christ, an Elder of this Church of Christ.”36 A year later the “Articles and Covenants” further clarified the dual nomenclature by stating that “an apostle is an elder.”37 William McLellin later explained that “an Apostle is not an administrative officer. When they ministered they did it as Elders.”38 That apostles may have been selected as early as 1830, is further suggested by the following sources:
David Marks, an itinerant preacher, stayed in the home of the Whitmer family on 29 March 1830, just eight days before the church was organized. In his memoirs published in 1831 he said of his conversation with the Whitmers, “they further stated, that twelve apostles were to be appointed, who would soon confirm their mission by miracles.”39
An article in The Cleveland Herald, dated 25 November 1830, said that since the Book of Mormon “would not sell unless an excitement and curiosity could be raised in the public mind, [the leaders of the new church] have therefore sent out twelve Apostles to promulgate its doctrines, several of whom are in this vicinity expounding its mysteries and baptising converts to its principles …”40
[p.14]In December 1830 letters of introduction written by Sidney Rigdon in behalf of John Whitmer called Whitmer “an Apostle of this church,”41 and by Joseph Smith and John Whitmer called Orson Pratt (ordained an elder on 1 December 1830) “another servant and apostle.”42
By the end of 1830 new elders were no longer also called apostles.43 [p.15]The use of the term declined quickly. By 1835, when the Quorum of Twelve Apostles was organized, no mention was made of the earlier apostles.
Another development at the end of 1830 proved to be of even greater impact on the church and was initiated by the baptism of former Campbellite preacher and bishop Sidney Rigdon. Having been converted in Kirtland, Ohio, by four missionaries sent to the “borders of the Lamanites” (Native Americans), Rigdon was convinced that these men had authority from God but was troubled by their apparent inability to prophesy and heal. Blaming Cowdery “for attempting to work miracles” and saying that “it was not intended to be confirmed in that way,”44 Rigdon went East to meet the prophet.
Phase 3: High Priesthood, December 1830-November 1831
Sidney Rigdon’s influence on Joseph Smith was immediate and favorable. Within days of his arrival in New York, Rigdon’s status in the Restoration was declared by revelation: “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works. I have heard thy prayers and prepared thee for a greater work. Thou are blessed, for thou shalt do great things. Behold thou was sent forth, even as John, to prepare the way before me, and before Elijah which should come, and thou knew it not” (BC XXXVII:3-6).
Several days later, with Rigdon as scribe, Smith received a revelation changing the qualifications for the ministry. The church was directed to move to Ohio where the elders would “be endowed with power from on high”—something Rigdon had concluded was lacking in missionaries who converted him—and thus be prepared to “go forth among all nations” (BC XL:28). Using the terminology of the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24, the revelation likened the elders to the ancient apostles who were told that although they had been ordained, they lacked something essential to their forthcoming missions, namely “power from on high.” Not until they were endowed with power on [p.16]the Day of Pentecost could they leave Jerusalem on their missions. The nature of the new “endowment”45–how and when it would be given, and of what it would consist—was not described in this revelation but emerged over the next five months.
Two February revelations gave additional insight into the endowment. The first stated the necessity of personal preparation on the part of recipients (BC XLV:16). The second reinforced the similarity between the modern and ancient elders by promising a pentecostal experience: “I will pour out my spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together” (BC XLVI:2). The same revelation announced that the assembly would be held in Kirtland the first week of June.
Shortly after receiving this revelation, Smith, with Rigdon as scribe, revised the 14th chapter of Genesis which contains one of two Old Testament references to Melchizedek. They added sixteen verses defining an ancient order to which Melchizedek was ordained as a high priest and through which he possessed tangible power to break mountains, divide seas, dry up waters, and put armies at defiance.46
In May an unpublished revelation through Smith to Ezra Thayre stated:
Let my servant Ezra humble himself and at the conference meeting he shall be ordained unto power from on high and he shall go from [p.17]thence (if he be obedient unto my commandments) and proclaim my gospel unto the western regions with my servants that must go forth even unto the borders by the Lamanites for behold I have a great work for them to do and it shall be given unto you to know what ye shall do at the conference meeting even so amen.47
This revelation linked for the first time the endowment of “power from on high” to ordination48 though not yet specifying the “order” of priesthood which gave Melchizedek tangible power. That the elders expected to receive power and that their expectation was public knowledge was verified by an Ohio newspaper article published at the time: “In June they are all to meet, and hold a kind of jubilee in this new `land of promise,’ where they are to work divers miracles—among others that of raising the dead.”49
The conference began on 3 June 1831 in a schoolhouse in Kirtland. On the second day a series of unusual events transpired. Of the many accounts later written, the most concise was that of John Corrill:
Previous to this there was a revelation received, requiring the prophet to call the elders together, that they might receive an endowment. This was done, and the meeting took place some time in June. About fifty elders met, which was about all the elders that then belonged to the church. The meeting was conducted by Smith. Some curious things took place. The same visionary and marvellous spirits spoken of before, got hold of some of the elders; it threw one from his seat to the floor; it bound another, so that for some time he could not use his limbs nor speak; and some other curious effects were experienced, but, by a mighty exertion, in the name of the Lord, it was exposed and shown to be from an evil source. The Melchizedek priesthood was then for the first time introduced, and conferred on several of the elders. In this chiefly consisted the endowment—it being a new order—and bestowed authority. However, some doubting took place among the elders, and considerable conversation was held on the subject. The elders not fairly understanding the nature of the endowments, it took some time to reconcile all their feelings.50
[p.18]Other participants who later wrote of the experience included Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Levi Hancock, Lyman Wight, Newel Knight, Ezra Booth, Philo Dibble, and Zebedee Coltrin,51 all of whom described the event as a pentecost consisting of revelation, prophecy, vision, healing, casting out of evil spirits, speaking in unknown tongues, and, according to one witness, an unsuccessful attempt to raise a dead child.52 A new order was introduced at the [p.19]conference into which about half the elders present were inducted by ordination. The new order was called the Order of Melchizedek, a name derived from the Book of Mormon and Genesis, chapter 14. It was also called the High Priesthood, a term used in the Book of Mormon but not in Genesis (BM, 1830, 260). There was not yet an office of high priest, even though Book of Mormon passages referred to Melchizedek as a high priest. Conference minutes from 4 and 24 August; 1, 6, 12 September; 10, 11, 21 October; and 1, 8, 9, 11, and 12-13 November still listed as “elders” men who had been ordained to the High Priesthood.53 The term “high priest” was not used in conference minutes until 26 April 1832.54
Booth acknowledged that conference participants professed “to be endowed with the same power as the ancient apostles were.”55 This was chronicled most dramatically by Jared Carter. Shortly after the conference a woman belonging to the church fell from a wagon on her way to a meeting and sustained injuries feared to be fatal. Carter wrote:
In my conversation with her, I told her that she need not have any more pain, and also mentioned my Brother Simeon who was endowed with great power from on high, and that she might be healed, if she had faith. Brother Simeon also conversed with her, and after awhile took her by the hand, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to arise and walk.” And she arose and walked from room to room.56
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 [p.20]contemporary accounts of the conference mentioned only “High Priesthood” or “Order of Melchizedek.”57
Enthusiasm and expectations were high following the conference, as the elders traveled from Kirtland to Independence, Missouri, to dedicate a site for a temple.58 A national periodical commented that “some of them affect a power even to raise the dead, and perchance, (such is the weakness of human nature), really believe that they can do it!”59 Yet their journey resulted in disappointment and lowered expectations. At another conference back in Kirtland on 25 October, Smith introduced a new dimension to the High Priesthood and simultaneously took the first step in the development of the unique Latter-day Saint theology of afterlife, by stating “that the order of the High-priesthood is that they have the power given them to seal up the Saints unto eternal life. And said it was the privilege of every Elder present to be ordained to the Highpriesthood.”60 Prior to this, authority and power, by whatever title or description, had been “here and now.” With this pronouncement the priesthood was extended beyond the grave. Within two weeks, elders exercised their new power, sealing entire congregations “up unto eternal life.”61
Shortly after the October conference, a revelation directed to four men further defined priesthood. The office of high priest was formally established. After this, High Priesthood meant the office of high priest, with no further reference to an endowment.62 Further, the inspired [p.21]words of high priests were proclaimed “scripture.” The revelation reaffirmed the authority of the High Priesthood to seal people to eternal life, while adding that prior divine confirmation was required.63 Another revelation given simultaneously added a darker dimension to the sealing power, declaring that the wicked could be sealed up to condemnation (BC I:2).64
Phase 4: Organizational Consolidation, November 1831-March 1836
A revelation given in November 1831 initiated a process of organizational rearrangement which continued over a period of nearly five years, culminating in the hierarchical seating at the dedication of the Kirtland House of the Lord in 1836. When the Latter-day Saint movement began in August 1829,65 its government was democratic. Although Joseph Smith clearly occupied a favored position as translator of the Book of Mormon and as God’s spokesman, administrative titles such as “President” or “First Elder” were absent during the early period.66 At the first general conference in June 1830, Smith was called “first Elder” and Cowdery “second Elder,”67 and church growth was forcing other changes. As a departure from Book of Mormon precedent and the early revelations which stated that only elders could ordain other [p.22]officers,68 by 1831 priests were authorized to ordain deacons, teachers, and other priests, perhaps as a concession to the overburdened elders.69
More significant was a revelation received that November “regulating the Presidency of the church.”70 This revelation outlined for the first time both the need for and structure of a formal presidency: “Wherefore it must needs be that one be appointed of the high Priesthood to preside over the Priesthood, and he shall be called President of the high priesthood of the Church, or in other words the presiding high Priest over the high priesthood of the Church.” More than a figurehead, this president would hold the power to authorize all other officers within the church to administer “ordinances and blessings upon the church by the laying on of hands.” He would serve a judicial role, as president of the court of the High Priesthood, “the highest court in the church,” thus bringing the informal church judicial system under central control.71 The revelation concluded by stating [p.23]that “the duty of the President of the office of the high Priesthood is to preside over the whole and to be like unto Moses.”72
At a conference in Ohio on 24 January 1832, Smith was “acknowledged President of the High Priesthood” and formally ordained to that office by Sidney Rigdon. At the same time, Rigdon “ordained” Orson Pratt, who was already an elder, to “preside over the Elders,” thus underscoring the recent distinction between the offices of elder and high priest.73 Simultaneously a second conference in Independence, Missouri, moved towards centralized control of all ordinations, unanimously resolving “that there be no person ordained in the churches in the land of Zion to the office of Elder Priest Teacher or Deacon without the united voice of the Church in writing in which such individual resides.”74
The consolidation of centralized authority was strengthened several weeks later with the selection and ordination of Rigdon and Jesse Gause as Smith’s “councellors of the ministry of the presidency of the high Priesthood.”75 An unpublished revelation given to Bishop Newel K. Whitney the same month reaffirmed the primacy of the “presidency of the high Priesthood” in “all the concerns of the church.”76
[p.24]Nearly two years passed before the next significant step occurred in the process of centralization. Having seen in vision the manner in which ancient church councils were organized, Smith convened a conference in Kirtland on 17 February 1834 and organized “the high council of the Church of Christ,” consisting of twelve high priests.77 Strictly judicial in function, the high council exercised both original and appellate jurisdiction.78 Although delegating substantial powers to this body, Smith signalled the continuity of strong, centralized control by placing himself and his two counselors at its head. In recognition of the growth of the church beyond Kirtland and Independence, provision was also made at this conference for ad hoc councils to settle “the most difficult cases of church matters” abroad. These councils would be temporary and subordinate to the standing high council, which could upon appeal reverse their decisions.
One week later a revelation called Smith to lead an expedition known as Zion’s Camp from Ohio to Missouri to rescue persecuted church members and “redeem Zion.”79 Although the mission failed, and several members died of cholera, Smith succeeded in organizing a high council while he was in Missouri.80 Four days later he confidently stated “that he had lived to see the Church of Jesus Christ established on earth according to the order of heaven; and should he now be taken from this body of people, the work of the Lord would roll on.”81
Smith’s conclusion that the church organization was now com-[p.25]plete proved to be short-lived. After returning to Kirtland, he met with the Young brothers, Brigham and Joseph, and related a vision he had experienced while praying to know the fate of those who had died on the expedition. He said, “Brethren, I have seen those men who died of the cholera in our camp; and the Lord knows, if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more.”82 Then, drawing from the same vision, he outlined the formation of the final two bodies of centralized authority, the twelve apostles and the seventy.83 The following Saturday, 14 February 1835, the twelve were appointed; two weeks later, the First Quorum of Seventies was chosen. Nearly all the men in both groups had proven their dedication by serving in Zion’s Camp.
Although the initial mission of the twelve was “to open the door of the gospel to foreign nations,” with the seventy “under their direction to follow in their tracks,”84 it soon became apparent that other missions awaited the twelve. Two weeks later Smith told them that they were to be a “traveling high council, who are to preside over all the churches of the Saints among the Gentiles, where there is no presidency established”85—that is, everywhere except Kirtland and Independence, where standing high councils presided. That the traveling high council would ultimately overshadow the standing high councils may have been indicated by a revelation given through Smith at the request of the Twelve on 28 March 1835.86 While stating that four councils all had “authority and power” equal to that of the First Presidency, listing the twelve ahead of the seventy and high councils suggested a favored status (DC, 1835 III:12-15). Furthermore, to the twelve was given the exclusive authority “to ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church” (v. 30). By August 1835 the revelation which had established the standing high councils was [p.26]changed to give further priority to the twelve: whereas decisions of the standing high councils (and of ad hoc councils of traveling high priests) could still be appealed, those of the twelve could not (DC, 1835 V:13).
By late 1835, then, the centralization of authority was complete. Ordinations were under central control,87 church members in the stakes were under the control of the standing high councils and bishops, and those outside of the stakes came under the jurisdiction of the twelve apostles and the seventy. All of these bodies, in turn, answered to the president who was “to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses” (DC, 1835 III:42). Although changes would yet be made in the responsibilities of these governing bodies, no new units of ecclesiastical government would be added during the remaining nine years of Smith’s ministry.
In the earliest days of the Restoration only three offices existed: teachers, priests, and elders/apostles. Teachers and priests were ordained without regard to number or organization. Elders/apostles, though initially a group of twelve men, did not function as a unit. In November 1831 the revelation which appointed a president also mandated that each office be organized into well-defined groups: deacons88 into groups of twelve; teachers, twenty-four; priests, forty-eight; and elders, 96. Each group was to be presided over by a president “to sit in council with them and to teach them their duty edifying one another as it is given according to the covenants.”89 Although the [p.27]blueprint for group function was drawn, no group was able to respond effectively at the time. When the Kirtland House of the Lord was completed in 1836 only teachers had established a significant tradition of group function.90
As shown earlier, the concept of dual levels of authority was present in the Book of Mormon and formed the model for the Restoration. Both levels were restored in 1829, though neither was named at that time nor were the offices within each layer specified. Through mid-1832 the only use of the word “priesthood” was in conjunction with “high priesthood” which first referred to an order of elders, then to the office of high priest. A revelation in September 1832 expanded the meaning of the word “priesthood” and for the first time made some offices subordinate to others (DC, 1835 IV). The revelation is confusing, for it deals with three terms—”holy priesthood,” “high priesthood,” and “lesser priesthood”—the first two having since become interchangeable. Furthermore, the revelation was given to two groups of men over a two-day period—seven elders on 22 September and “Eleven high Priests save one” the following day—and for two separate purposes—”explaining the two priesthoods” and “commissioning the Apostles to preach the gospel.”91 Without the original manuscript, it is impossible to identify with certainty the seam connecting the two parts.
The revelation describes a “holy priesthood” which Moses received from his father-in-law, Jethro, who had inherited it lineally from Adam through Melchizedek, “which priesthood continueth in the church of God, in all generations” (DC, 1835 IV:2). It then describes a second “priesthood” which the Lord confirmed “upon Aaron and his seed,” which “continueth and abideth forever, with the [p.28]priesthood which is after the holiest order of God” (v. 3). What the revelation does not clarify is how these two levels of priesthood corresponded to the three events of 1829 and 1831. Clarification comes from Smith’s diary, written at the same time, in which he recounts the events of the Restoration92: “firstly he receiving the testamony from on high”; “seccondly the ministering of Angels”; “thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to administer the letter of the Gospel—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—and the ordinencs”; and “forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God [and] power and ordinence from on high to preach the gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit.”93
Comparison of the autobiography with the revelation shows that the term “high priesthood” (DC, 1835 IV:5) referred to the office of high priest and not to the authority of Peter, James, and John. This office, according to the revelation, is superior to its two appendages: the offices of elder and bishop. Similarly, the “lesser priesthood,” that is, the office of priest, or “lesser priest” (v. 22 of the same revelation), is superior to its two appendages: the offices of teacher and deacon (ibid.).94 While not yet using the term “Aaronic Priesthood” for authority restored by John the Baptist on 15 May 1829, the revelation moved in that direction by associating such priesthood with “Aaron and his seed.” Similarly, while the term “Melchizedek Priesthood” was not yet used, the connection between this priesthood and Melchizedek was firmly established. The relationship between offices, while perhaps implied in earlier records, was explicit. Lesser priests and high priests were dominant, with teachers and deacons subordinate to the former and elders and bishops to the latter.
Prior to this revelation there had been no indication that ordination to an office or to a level of authority was a right. But by stating that [p.29]the lesser priesthood was conferred on “Aaron and his seed throughout all their generation,” a doctrine of priesthood-through-lineage emerged. Several weeks later this was formalized in a revelation stating that “ye are lawful heirs according to the flesh,” and that “the Priesthood hath remained and must needs remain through you and your lineage untill the restoration of all things …” (DC, 1835 VI:3, 6 Dec. 1832).
The next step in defining priesthood came through a revelation in March 1835 (DC, 1835 III)95 introducing the terms “Aaronic Priesthood” and “Melchizedek Priesthood,” which have since been used by all Latter-day Saint churches to refer to formal authority. In contrast to the September 1832 revelation, this one used the word “priesthood” generically to refer to all officers in each of the two levels of authority. Thus, whereas the 1832 revelation had teachers and deacons as appendages to the “lesser priesthood”—the office of priest—the three offices of priest, teacher, and deacon were now part of the Aaronic Priesthood which in turn served an umbrella function with reference to no specific office. Similarly, the offices of elder and high priest were now part of the Melchizedek Priesthood, rather than elders being appendages to high priests, as the earlier revelation had outlined. Finally, the office of bishop, previously an appendage to the high priesthood, was part of the Aaronic Priesthood.96
The collected revelations were soon assembled and edited for publication as Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Among the textual changes was an addition to a revelation dated September 1830. Whereas the earlier form was silent on angelic intervention, the new version described John the Baptist as the [p.30]messenger who restored the “first priesthood,” while Peter, James, and John were the restorers of the apostleship, this being the first time that the ancient apostles had explicitly been linked to the June 1829 restoration (DC, 1835 L:2-3). The use of the word “apostles” rather than “Melchizedek Priesthood” was significant, for while apostleship formed a part of Melchizedek Priesthood, the latter term had come to encompass more than just the apostleship. It is unfortunate that this distinction did not remain clear. After 1835 references to earlier events, including those of June 1829 and June 1831, frequently made use of the term “Melchizedek Priesthood.” The failure of later commentators to understand the anachronism led to elaborate gyrations in attempting to deal with such statements as “I was also present with Joseph when the higher or Melchizedek priesthood was restored by the holy angels of God [in 1829],”97 and “the Melchizedek priesthood was then [June 1831] for the first time introduced.”98
The central purpose of the Ohio gathering in 1831 and June conference that year had been the endowment of elders with “power from on high,” such that they, as the ancient apostles, would be prepared to spread the message of the gospel. There had been no repeat of the pentecostal experience for elders who had not attended the June conference, nor was it mandatory thereafter that elders be ordained to the High Priesthood prior to embarking on their missionary journeys.99 [p.31]Yet near the end of 1832, when several missionaries had returned from their travels, Smith received a revelation indicating that further preparation was required, “that ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again” (DC, 1835 VII:21).100 This preparation was to be both spiritual and intellectual. In order to facilitate the preparation, Smith was commanded to establish a school for the elders (v. 36).
The opening of the “School of the Prophets” occurred on 23- 24 January 1833. Although never referred to as an “endowment,” the school’s opening resembled the 1831 conference. Both included new ordinances: in 1831 initiation into the High Priesthood, whereas in 1833 the washing of the feet by President Smith in similitude of the gesture of Jesus to his apostles. This latter was accompanied by a pentecostal outpouring, including speaking in tongues, prophesying and “many manifestations of the holy spirit,”101 which was not repeated with subsequent admissions of elders to the school. However, the continuing expectation existed, as underscored in a letter written by Oliver Cowdery the next year:
God has appointed a school for his faithful Elders: In it they are to be taught all things necessary to qualify them for their ministry: In it they are to learn: In it they are to be endowed with power from on high: but when entrusted with the great office and authority to preach and are sent out, it is with the expectation and consideration they will do so.102
Coincident with the 1833 decision to build the “House of the Lord” in Kirtland was a coupling of the ideas of empowerment and sacred space. A revelation in June 1833 stated: “I gave unto you a commandment, that you should build an house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high” [p.32](DC, 1835 XCV:2, 1 June 1833). The same sentiment was stated more forcefully a year later by Oliver Cowdery: “We want you to understand that the Lord has not promised to endow his servants from on high[,] only on the condition that they build him a house; and if the house is not built the Elders will not be endowed with power, and if they are not they can never go to the nations with the everlasting gospel.”103 Several weeks later, during the return from the Zion’s Camp expedition, Smith received a revelation that the redemption of Zion “cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high; for, behold, I have prepared a greater endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them.”104
During the winter of 1835-36 the elders worked to complete the House of the Lord and prepare themselves for the anticipated endowment.105 The dedication occurred on 27 March 1836 and involved the general membership of the church. Three days later in the same building a “solemn assembly” was conducted which involved only adult males. As in 1831 and 1833, the 1836 endowment was pentecostal: “The brethren continued exhorting, prophesying and speaking in tongues until 5 o clock in the morning—the Saviour made his appearance to some, while angels minestered unto others, and it was a penticost and enduement indeed, long to be remembered.”106 Having received the required empowerment, the elders embarked on foreign missions beginning with the British Isles in 1837.
[p.33]On 18 December 1833 Smith gathered his family and gave them blessings. To his father, he said:
He shall be called a prince over his posterity, holding the keys of the patriarchal priesthood over the kingdom of God on earth, even the Church of the Latter Day Saints; and he shall sit in the general assembly of patriarchs, even in council with the Ancient of Days when he shall sit and all the patriarchs with him—and shall enjoy his right and authority under the direction of the Ancient of Days.107
While the term “Patriarchal Priesthood” would be used a decade later in a markedly different context, in 1833 it referred to the office of patriarch, even as the terms “Lesser Priesthood” and “High Priesthood” used at this same time referred to the respective offices of lesser priest and high priest.108 Although Joseph Smith, Sr., was likened by this blessing to the Old Testament patriarchs, no explanation was given of his duties in the newly created office.109 In the first year following Joseph Sr.’s ordination, there is no evidence that he functioned in any other than honorary duties.
During the return of Zion’s Camp in 1834 the subject of “patriarchal blessings” was raised by Joseph Young. His brother Brigham later reminisced:
My brother, Joseph Young, and myself were in this camp. When we [p.34]were on our return home my brother Joseph spoke very frequently with regard to patriarchs and patriarchal blessings, and finally said he, “When we get to Kirtland I am going to ask Brother Joseph Smith if we can have the privilege of calling our father’s family together and receiving a patriarchal blessing under the hands of our father.” Brother Joseph Young saw the Prophet Joseph Smith, and said he, “I do not see any inconsistency in this at all, and I think it would be a good thing.” A day was appointed for the family to gather together, and Brother Joseph Smith was asked to attend this meeting. He came, and while we sat chatting together on the things of the kingdom, the Prophet said, “I believe it will be necessary for Father Young to receive his patriarchal blessing and be ordained a patriarch, so that he can bless his family;” and after our little meeting was opened Brother Joseph Smith laid his hands upon Father Young and blessed him and gave him an ordination to bless his family—his own posterity. When this was done Father Young laid his hands upon the children that were there, commencing at the eldest and continuing until he had blessed all that were in the house. We were not all there, some of the brothers and sisters were absent. After that, Brother Joseph Smith said, “I think I will get my father’s family together and we will have a patriarchal blessing from Father Smith.” He did so. In a few days he called his father’s house together and gave him the authority to bless his children, and Father Smith blessed his children. In the course of a few weeks, I think, Brother Joseph Smith received a revelation to ordain patriarchs, and he called his father’s family together again, and gave his father the full ordination of patriarch for the church; and in this revelation the Lord instructed him to have a record kept, in which should be written all the blessings of the patriarch of the church, and from these circumstances were ordained a few, but only a very few, patriarchs.110
The first recorded blessings given by Joseph Smith, Sr., were on 9 December 1834 to Smith family members and their wives.111 Beginning in 1835 he gave blessings to other church members. By the time the Kirtland House of the Lord was dedicated in 1836 the patriarchal blessing had become an important rite of passage for Latter-day Saints.
In addressing the elders at the solemn assembly in the Kirtland House of the Lord on 30 March 1836, Joseph Smith said “that I had [p.35]now completed the organization of the Church and we had passed through all the necessary ceremonies.”112 Four days later the vision of Elijah may have given him second thoughts.
Phase 5. Elijah and the Fullness of Priesthood, April 1836-April 1844
On Sunday morning, 3 April 1836, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sequestered themselves behind curtains in the House of the Lord. As they prayed they experienced a series of visions, first of Jesus, then Moses, Elias, and finally Elijah:
After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he (Elijah) should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—
Therefore the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors (DC, LDS 110:13-16).
From an obscure figure in the early years of the Restoration, Elijah emerged as the dominant figure both in priesthood and in afterlife theology. At the time of Smith’s death in 1844, Elijah’s importance was second only to that of Jesus Christ. In order to understand this important doctrinal development, it is necessary to examine the references to Elijah according to the time at which they were written. For example, the account of Moroni’s 1823 visit to Joseph Smith, which included a promise of Elijah’s return, was not written until 1838113 and reflects the theology of the later date.
That the expectation of Elijah’s return dates to the early Restoration is indicated by a revelation dated December 1830 in which Sidney Rigdon was told that he had unknowingly been a forerunner both of [p.36]Jesus (whose return to initiate the Restoration had already occurred) and of Elijah (whose return was still anticipated).114 However, Elijah’s role in the Restoration was not described, nor does any other record exist from the period between 1830 and 1835 to further clarify his role. But in preparing revelations for publication in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, Smith added several verses to the Rigdon revelation. Whereas the 1830 text stated merely that Elijah would come, the new verses added that Elijah held “the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse,” repeating the essence of Malachi’s prophecy (DC, 1835 XXIX:2).115
One year later, when Smith and Cowdery experienced the vision of Elijah, the essence of Malachi’s prophecy was unchanged. The hearts of fathers and children would be turned to each other. But whereas the redacted revelation of 1835 only spoke of Elijah’s keys, the vision of 1836 committed them to Smith and Cowdery (DC, LDS 110:16). No explanation was given regarding what this may have meant.116 Two years later, in 1838, when Smith began to dictate the history of the church, he returned to the prophecy of Malachi. The history described the initial visit of Moroni in 1823 and Moroni’s quotation of Malachi with a significant change from the biblical text. While earlier references spoke of fathers and children, Moroni focused on children’s adherence to tradition and said the earth would otherwise be “utterly wasted”: “And he [Elijah] shall plant in the hearts of the [p.37]children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers, if it were not so the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”117 In addition, the 1838 account quoted Moroni linking for the first time Elijah and priesthood: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood by the hand of Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”118
In the summer of 1839 Smith gave a discourse on priesthood in which he again referred to Elijah, this time making explicit a necessary relationship between living and dead: “The hearts of the children will have to be turned to the fathers, & the fathers to the children living or dead to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man. If Elijah did not come the whole earth would be smitten.”119 The following summer Smith gave form to the relationship between living and dead when he announced that it was the privilege of Latter-day Saints to be baptized in behalf of their deceased kin who had died without baptism.120
On 5 October 1840 Smith returned to the relationship of Elijah [p.38]and priesthood. In what was apparently the only discourse for which he ever prepared a text, he acknowledged that in spite of the Restoration events of 1829, 1831, and 1836, there was more to “priesthood” than had yet been revealed:
As it is generally supposed that Sacrifice was entirely done away when the great sacrif[ic]e was offered up–and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of Sacrifice in the future, but those who assert this, are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the priesthood. or with the prophets[.] The offering of Sacrifice has ever been connected and forms a part of the duties of the priesthood. It began with the pries[t]hood and will be continued untill after the coming of Christ from generation to generation–We freequently have mention made of the offering of Sacrifice by the servants of the most high in antient days prior to the law of moses, [and will] See which ordinances will be continued when the priesthood is restored with all its authority power and blessings. Elijah was the last prophet that held the keys of this priesthood, and who will, before the last dispensation, restore the authority and delive[r] the Keys of this priesthood in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness.
It is true the Saviour had authority and power to bestow this blessing but the Sons of Levi were too prejudi[ced]. And I will send Elijah the Prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord &c., &c.
Why send Elijah[?] [B]ecause he holds the Keys of the Authority to administer in all the ordinances of the priesthood and without the authority is given the ordinances could not be administered in righteousness.121
This discourse stated explicitly that the concept of priesthood was fluid, that one could not point to a single date when “the priesthood was restored.” The events of 1829, 1831, and 1836 were all part of the gradual restoration of priesthood, a restoration best understood as a process rather than an event. Smith not only linked Elijah with priesthood but placed Elijah at its forefront. Perhaps it is not surprising that only once after this discourse did Smith ever refer to the Restoration events of 1829 and 1831 and then mentioned only an unnamed [p.39]angel who restored authority to baptize. This reference was part of an 1844 discourse highlighting the priority of Elijah’s authority.122
One year after the initiation of baptisms for the dead Smith delivered a discourse which specifically linked Elijah to the restoration of that ordinance.123 Two epistles in September 1842 further reinforced the relationship among Elijah, priesthood, and salvation of the dead. The first, written on 1 September, stated “for I am about to restore many things to the earth, saith the Lord of Hosts” (DC, LDS 127:8).124 The second, written five days later, connected St. Paul’s reference to being “baptized for the dead” (1 Cor. 15:29) to the mission of Elijah. Quoting Malachi’s prophecy of Elijah, Smith continued:
The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect… . It is necessary … that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place (DC, LDS 128:18).125
A year later, in August 1843, Smith applied for the first time the term “sealing” to the relationship between parents and children, invoking in the process the name of Elijah: “A measure of this sealing is to confirm upon their head in common with Elijah the doctrine of election or the covenant with Abraham–which when a Father & mother of a family have entered into[,] their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal where with the Parents have been sealed.”126
[p.40]Two weeks later Smith preached a sermon on priesthood, deriving his remarks from Hebrews, Chapter 7, and stated that the author of the epistle was referring to three priesthoods: Melchizedek, Patriarchal, and Aaronic (or Levitical). The account of Franklin D. Richards reported: “There are 3 grand principles or orders of Priesthood portrayed in this chapter[:] 1st Levitical which was never able to administer a Blessing but only to bind heavy burdens which neither they nor their father [was] able to bear[;] 2 Abrahams Patriarchal power which is the greatest yet experienced in this church[;] [and] That of Melchisedec who had still greater power.” James Burgess wrote: “Hebrews 7 chap. Paul is here treating of three priesthoods, namely the priesthood of Aron, Abraham, and Melchizedeck, Abraham’s priesthood was of greater power than Levi’s and Melchizedeck’s was of greater power than that of Abraham.” Levi Richards wrote: “J. Smith … afterwards preached from Hebrews 7 upon the priesthood Aaronic, Patriarchal, & Melchisedec.”127 Of these, only the Aaronic and Patriarchal had yet been fully experienced in the church. While it sounds inconsistent to say that the highest of the three, Melchizedek, was not yet fully developed, Smith was about to embark on the ultimate step in its restoration. Only one month after this discourse he bestowed on members of his inner circle the “second anointing,” also termed the “fullness of the Priesthood.”128 Wishing to place this in a separate category, Smith used the text of Hebrews, Chapter 7, to validate the concept of three priesthoods rather than the two which previously had been formulated. Abraham (a patriarch) paid tithes to Melchizedek and was thus portrayed as subordinate to him. Having previously associated Abraham (and other Old Testament patriarchs) with Melchizedek priesthood, Smith merely kept the essence of what had been called [p.41]Melchizedek Priesthood, renamed it after the patriarchs, and applied the former term to the new order. Since the second anointing had not been introduced at the time of this sermon, Smith was correct in saying that the newly renamed Patriarchal Priesthood was the greatest yet experienced in the church.129 In discussing the highest of the three priesthoods (now to be called Melchizedek), Smith again invoked the name of Elijah, stating: “how shall god come to the rescue of this generation. he shall send Elijah.”130
On 21 January 1844, Joseph Smith delivered a sermon in which he summarized the mission of Elijah as he then understood it:
What is the object of this important mission [of Elijah] or how is it to be fulfilled[?] The keys are to be deliverd[,] the spirit of Elijah is to Come, The gospel to be esstablished[,] the Saints of God gatherd Zion built up, & the Saints to Come up as Saviors on mount Zion[.] [B]ut how are they to become Saviors on Mount Zion[?] [B]y building their temples[,] erecting their Baptismal fonts & going forth & receiving all the ordinances, Baptisms, confirmations, washings anointings ordinations & sealing powers upon our heads in behalf of all our Progenitors who are dead & redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection & be exalted to thrones of glory with us, & herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children & the children to the Fathers which fulfills the mission of Elijah.131
Not only had Elijah become the paramount figure in priesthood theology, he now was seen as primarily responsible for all salvific ordinances for the living and the dead. Three months prior to his own death, Smith reinforced Elijah’s position at the pinnacle of the priesthood hierarchy and indeed the entire Kingdom of God on earth:
The spirit power & calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers & endowments of [p.42]the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood & of the Kingdom of God on the Earth & to receive, obtain & perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God even unto the sealing of the hearts of the fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fathers even those who are in heaven… .
This is the spirit of Elijah that we redeem our dead & connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven & seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection & here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those who dwell in heaven. This is the power of Elijah & the keys of the Kingdom of Jehovah.132
In the same discourse Smith returned to a bipartite model of priesthood. Patriarchal Priesthood was now folded into Melchizedek Priesthood, which continued to include the “fullness of the Priesthood,” or second anointing.133 Smith’s final reference to Elijah came in the famous King Follett Sermon on 7 April 1844 when he stated that “the greatest responsibility in this world is to seek after our dead.” He equated that responsibility with the mission of Elijah.134
In reviewing the development of Latter-day Saint priesthood during Joseph Smith’s ministry, one might be reminded of the work of Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould who described biological evolution as “punctuated equilibrium”—that is, a gradual process of development accented at irregular intervals by major changes over brief periods of time. In the case of priesthood the “punctuation marks” are readily identifiable in 1823, 1829, 1831, and 1836. Between the punctuation marks came periods of incremental change, as Smith gradually came to understand the implications of his visionary experiences and changed policy and doctrine to reflect his own under-[p.43]standing. Nevertheless, these “quiet periods” were of enormous significance, seen most clearly in the case of the theology surrounding Elijah. Whereas the vision of Elijah was important, he was but one of four figures appearing to Smith and Cowdery that day. It was not the vision alone but the added process of reflection, prayer, and gradual enlightenment over the following eight years that moved Elijah from obscurity to virtually unparalleled importance.
The development of priesthood is evident in contemporary accounts of the early years of the Mormon restoration. Five relatively distinct phases have been identified. In the earliest years no explicit notion of authority was mentioned in any records relating to the Restoration. Smith acted in his unique position by virtue of his relationship with Moroni rather than by formal ordination. The dictation of the Book of Mormon was accompanied by a May 1829 bestowal on Smith and Oliver Cowdery of “authority” to baptize each other, followed in early June 1829 by “authority” to confer the Holy Ghost and ordain other officers. The term “priesthood” was not used; rather, men acted by virtue of the office to which they had been ordained. The terms “elder” and “disciple” were interchangeable and implied authority equal to that of the twelve apostles of Jerusalem. By the latter part of 1829 preference was given to the term “apostle.” It was later explained that “elder” was an administrative title, while “apostle” referred to witnesses of Jesus Christ.
In 1831, as Smith revised the book of Genesis, he added several verses describing an ancient order to which Melchizedek belonged as a high priest which entitled him to immense this-worldly powers. At a conference in June 1831 ordinations were performed to a new order called both the Order of Melchizedek and the High Priesthood. This was accompanied by a pentecostal outpouring of miracles. A revelation in November formally established the office of high priest which then became synonymous with High Priesthood.
During this important period a number of parallel yet interrelated developments took place. Church government was centralized, and Smith was designated “President of the High Priesthood.” Four governing bodies were formed to assist him, but Smith’s primacy over all these was explicit. The offices of elder, priest, teacher, and deacon were organized into formal groups, each with a president chosen from among its members.
Amidst these organizational developments a new understanding of priesthood emerged, while a hierarchy of offices—with bishops and [p.44]elders being appendages to high priests, and teachers and deacons as appendages to priests—was formulated. In March 1835 priests, teachers, and deacons became offices in an “Aaronic Priesthood,” while elders and high priests were in a “Melchizedek Priesthood.”
Shortly after this 1835 revelation Smith first identified the angels who years before had bestowed on him the authority to baptize and ordain: John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, respectively. Just a year later, however, their roles began to be eclipsed by the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It gradually became apparent that through Elijah’s instrumentality all salvific ordinances for the living and the dead were made both possible and essential.
Oliver Cowdery had participated with Smith in each of the angelic ministrations associated with priesthood: John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John in 1829, and Elijah in 1836. However, at the time of Cowdery’s dissociation and subsequent excommunication in 1838, Smith had not begun to make the association among Elijah, priesthood, and salvation theology. Shortly after Smith’s death, Cowdery began to show renewed interest in the church, eventually rejoining in 1848. In 1846, writing to Phineas Young, he spoke only of the events of 1829: “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 Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and look down through time, and witness the effects these two must produce.”135 Similarly, when he reentered the church in 1848 Cowdery recounted the events of 1829 but was silent concerning Elijah.136 Since Cowdery was the only living witness to the events he described, it is likely that his audience, both immediate and extended, focused on what he described, not on what he did not describe. Alternatively, church members did not yet understand Elijah theology in the same light as Smith. Since Smith was sole exponent of the theology, his death, and the abrupt halt it brought to the developing theology, was [p.45]probably sufficient to effect the subsequent silence on the subject. This would explain the otherwise baffling silence of both churches on a matter so important to Joseph Smith.
1. Revelation dated 8 Aug. 1833, in “Kirtland Revelations Book,” 67, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter LDS archives), also published by Modern Microfilm, Salt Lake City, 1979; also in Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God (Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams & Co., 1835), LXXXV:3 (hereafter cited in the text as DC, 1835).
2. The term “Restoration” applies generally to the Latter-day Saint tradition during the ministry of Joseph Smith. “LDS” refers to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah; “RLDS” to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquartered in Independence, Missouri.
7. A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized According to Law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Independence, MO: W. W. Phelps & Co., 1833), II:1-6 (hereafter cited in the text as BC).
8. When this revelation was revised prior to its 1835 republication in DC, 1835, three new passages were added reflecting a subsequent consciousness regarding “ordination”: “hereafter you shall be ordained and go forth and deliver my words unto the children of men” (DC, 1835 XXXII:2); “whom I shall call and ordain … you must wait yet a little while; for ye are not yet ordained” (v. 3).
9. Although references to baptism occur in the first two books of Nephi, which open the Book of Mormon and precede “The Book of Mosiah,” they were in fact the last two books translated. After the first 116 or so pages of translation were lost, translation resumed with “The Book of Mosiah.” Oliver Cowdery also mentioned that references to Christ’s ministry to the Americas, found in the Book of Third Nephi, toward the end of the Book of Mormon, motivated the two men to seek baptism (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate [Kirtland, OH] 1 [Oct. 1834]: 15-16).
10. The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon, Upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), “The Book of Mosiah,” Chap. IX, 192 (hereafter cited in the text as BM, 1830). Compare the current LDS edition of the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 18:12-13. Since the 1830 edition was not divided into numbered verses, citations throughout this book, unless otherwise specified, refer to the current LDS edition.
11. “The Articles of the Church of Christ,” written by Oliver Cowdery in 1829, original in LDS archives; published in Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974, 288.
12. “Questions asked of David Whitmer at his home in Richmond Ray County Mo. Jan 14—1885. relating to Book of Mormon, and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS by Elder Z. H. Gurley,” Ms d 4681, LDS archives.
14. For the dating of this revelation, see Woodford, 263-67. The restoration of higher authority remains a topic of considerable debate, with disagreement over the date and circumstances. For an alternate viewpoint, see D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994).
24. Blessing given 18 Dec. 1833 by Joseph Smith, Jr., to Oliver Cowdery, original in Patriarchal Blessing Book, Vol. 1, LDS archives, photocopy in my possession; also in Irene M. Bates Collection, Library-Archives, The Auditorium, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (hereafter RLDS archives). Although this blessing was given in 1833, it was not recorded in the Patriarchal Blessing Book until 2 Oct. 1835. While it could be claimed that Cowdery “updated” the content when he entered it in the book, two factors argue in favor of its integrity. First, the angels were not named, even though revised revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, published earlier in 1835, had named them. Second, the same book used the terms “Aaronic Priesthood” and “Melchizedek Priesthood,” yet the 1833 blessing retained the earlier terms, “lesser priesthood” and “holy priesthood,” rather than borrowing later terminology.
28. Two prominent Mormons, David Whitmer and William E. McLellin, a charter member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles organized in 1835, denied angelic restoration of authority. While it is possible that neither had heard of angelic restoration of authority prior to publication of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, other people, both in and out of the church, were familiar with the story. The refusal of either man to acknowledge the story may have been due to the time between its occurrence (1829) and their accounts (forty-three years for McLellin, fifty-six years for Whitmer); bitterness over having been excommunicated (both in 1838); or a belief that all necessary authority came through events surrounding the Book of Mormon or, in the case of Whitmer, refusal to acknowledge as valid any visitations or visions in which he himelf had not participated. Thus Whitmer defended the Book of Mormon and his own vision of Moroni yet declined to validate Smith’s first vision, the restoration events of 1829, the vision of the “degrees of glory” in 1832, the vision of the Celestial Kingdom in 1836, or the 1836 appearances of Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias, and Elijah in the newly dedicated Kirtland “House of the Lord”—none of which he had participated in. (The vision of the “degrees of glory” is contained in DC, 1835 XCI; the vision of the Celestial Kingdom in the current LDS edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Chist of Latter-day Saints, 1981) [hereafter DC, LDS] 137; and the appearances of Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias, and Elijah in DC, LDS 110.)
30. Prayers currently used for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and for baptism are essentially the same as those used in 1829 and 1830. By contrast, use of the ordination prayer for priests and teachers prescribed by the Book of Mormon was discontinued. The officiator now acts by authority of the “priesthood.” See General Handbook of Instructions (Salt Lake City: Corporation of The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989), Sec. 5, 1-5.
31. Smith’s most detailed account, published in 1842, which applied the term “priesthood” retroactively, stated that (1) the angel conferred on them the “Priesthood of Aaron,” whereupon (2) they baptized each other, and (3) they subsequently ordained each other to the Aaronic Priesthood but not to the office of priest or teacher (see Times and Seasons 3 [1 Aug. 1842]: 865-66).
38. McLellin to Joseph Smith III, July 1872, RLDS archives. The term “apostle” may have carried a connotation of “witness,” while “elder” was an officer with administrative responsibilities. Since the Book of Mormon spoke of twelve “disciple/elders,” it appears that the total number of apostle/elders was initially limited to twelve. As growth required more administrative officers, additional elders were called without the title of apostle.
39. Mariella Marks, ed., Memoirs of the Life of David Marks, Minister of the Gospel (Dove, NH: Free-Will Baptist Printing Establishment, 1846), 236-37. Note that the first edition was published in 1831.
40. The Cleveland Herald, 25 Nov. 1830. Although no 1830 list of apostles exists, a strong case may be made for at least eight men having been called to this position. (1) Joseph Smith and (2) Oliver Cowdery were each called “an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the Church” (Painesville Telegraph, 19 Apr. 1831). (3) David Whitmer was “called even with that same calling” as the Apostle Paul (BC XV:11). (4) John Whitmer was identified in his license, issued at the general conference on 9 June 1830, as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ, an Elder of this Church of Christ.” (5) Peter Whitmer, (6) Ziba Peterson, and (7) Samuel H. Smith were ordained elders and issued licenses at the same time as John Whitmer. Although copies of their licenses do not exist, one may assume that they were identical to Whitmer’s (Far West Record, 1). (8) Orson Pratt, in a letter of introduction, was called “another servant and apostle” (see text below). Four other men had been ordained Elders prior to the publication of The Cleveland Herald article (Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, Parley Pratt, and Thomas Marsh), however there are neither copies of licenses nor other references to them as apostles (an entry at the end of the 1830 section of the “Journal History” of the LDS church, copies of which are at the LDS archives and the Marriott Library of the University of Utah, states that these four men were ordained elders on or before 30 September 1830).
41. E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion, From its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, OH, 1834), 110. This book was reprinted in 1977 by AMS Press, Inc., New York, as part of its series “Communal Societies in America.”
43. For example, the license of Edward Partridge, ordained an Elder on 15 December 1830, stated simply that he was “ordained as an Elder,” with no mention of the word “apostle.” See Orson F. Whitney, “Aaronic Priesthood,” The Contributor 6 (Oct. 1884): 5. A letter from Ezra Booth to Rev. Eddy, 21 Nov. 1831, suggests that although no new apostles were designated, a defined group of Twelve Apostles existed as late as 1831: “And thus by commandment, poor Ziba [Peterson], one of the twelve Apostles, is thrust down; while Oliver the scribe, also an Apostle, who had been guilty of similar conduct, is set on high” (Painesville Telegraph, 6 Dec. 1831). Furthermore, a revelation dated 23 Sept. 1832 and addressed to “Eleven high Priests save one” who are present this day” stated that “you are mine Apostles even Gods high Priests” and repeatedly compared these men to the ancient Apostles (“Kirtland Revelation Book,” 20-31; see also DC, 1835, Sec. IV).
46. For a comparison of the King James text and the “Inspired Version” produced by Joseph Smith, see Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1970), 78. This chapter of Genesis was revised by Smith and Rigdon between 1 Feb.-8 Mar. 1831 (see Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation:” Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, A History and Commentary [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975], 96). While the Book of Mormon spoke of Melchizedek being a high priest and taking upon himself “the High Priesthood forever,” it did not link tangible power to priesthood, nor did the King James version of Genesis 14 (see BM, 1830, 260). David Whitmer insisted that the office of high priest was Rigdon’s doing. See, for example, Whitmer’s letter to Joseph Smith III, in Saints’ Herald 34 (1887): 92-93. While it is true that Rigdon, as Smith’s scribe, would have had ample opportunity to discuss his views with Smith, the fact that High Priesthood was mentioned in the Book of Mormon suggests caution in accepting Whitmer’s claim.
50. John Corrill, Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints … (St. Louis: Printed for the Author, 1839), chap. 10. Corrill, writing in 1839, incorrectly used the term “Melchizedek priesthood” in referring to the conference.
51. Joseph Smith, “History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons 5 (1 Feb. 1844): 416; Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 68; Levi Hancock, “1854 Autobiography,” LDS archives; Lyman Wight to Wilford Woodruff, 24 Aug. 1857, Lyman Wight Letterbook, RLDS archives (the original letter is in LDS archives); Newel Knight, “Autobiographical Sketch,” LDS archives; Ezra Booth to Rev. Ira Eddy, Sep. 1831, in Howe, 180-90; Philo Dibble: Juvenile Instructor 27 (15 May 1892): 303; and Zebedee Coltrin, “Autobiography,” LDS archives.
52. Ezra Booth to Rev. Ira Eddy, 31 Oct., 1831, in Painesville Telegraph, 15 Nov., 1831. Booth was ordained to the High Priesthood at the conference (Far West Record, 6-7) but left the church a few weeks later. His letters to Eddy are unsympathetic, and it is tempting to dismiss his account as false. Since all other first-hand witnesses are silent on the subject of raising the dead child, it is not possible to verify his allegation. However, several pieces of evidence lend credence. First, newspaper articles both prior to and following the conference described claims by the “Mormonites” that they had power to raise the dead (see Western Courier, 26 May 1831; Niles’ Weekly Register, 16 July 1831; Vermont Patriot and State Gazette, 18 Sept. 1831). Second, the death of Joseph Brackenbury, an early Mormon missionary, on 7 March 1832 was followed by a much-publicized and similarly unsuccessful attempt by fellow elders to raise him from the dead (see Burlington Sentinel [Burlington, VT], 23 Mar. 1832; and reprints of this article in the Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, NY], 11 Apr. 1832, and the Ohio Star, 12 Apr. 1832). Two decades later LDS Churh Historian George A. Smith wrote to Brackenbury’s widow asking “the circumstances of his death, burial, and attempted resurrection” (George A. Smith to Elizabeth Brackenbury, 29 Aug. 1855, Henry Stebbins Collection, P24/F1, RLDS archives). Third, when E. D. Howe reprinted the Booth account in 1834, he told of an interview with the parents who said “that they were prevented from procuring medical aid for the child, by the representations of the elders, that it was in no danger—that it would certainly be restored” (Howe, 190).
57. A revelation dated 16 February 1832 refers to “priests of the most high after the order of Melchisedeck” rather than “Melchizedek Priesthood” (“Kirtland Revelation Book,” 5; see also The Evening and the Morning Star 1 [July 1832]: 10-11; and DC, 1835 XCI:5).
58. A local newspaper reported, “They still persist in their power to work miracles. They say they have often seen them done—the sick are healed—the lame walk—devils are cast out;—and these assertions are made by men heretofore considered rational men, and men of truth” (Geauga Gazette [Painesville, OH], 21 June 1831).
63. This revelation probably was intended to be published in BC, but the printing press was destroyed before type was set. The first published version was in The Evening and the Morning Star 1 (Oct. 1832): 35. An expanded version was published in DC, 1835 XXII.
65. David Whitmer wrote that this was the date when he, Smith, and Cowdery, the first three elders, began to preach and baptize. By the time of the “formal” establishment of the church on 6 April 1830, there were already three congregations with an aggregate membership of about seventy (An Address to All Believers in Christ, 32-33).
66. For example, although the 1835 version of the “Articles and Covenants of the Church” called Smith “the first elder of this Church,” all earlier versions referred to him simply as “an elder of this church” (compare Painesville Telegraph, 19 Apr. 1831, and BC XXIV:3 to DC, 1835 II:1).
70. This revelation, although received in November 1831 (see “Kirtland Revelation Book,” 84-86), was not published until 1835, when it was included in an expanded revelation dated 28 Mar. 1835 (DC, 1835 III).
71. Judicial matters were addressed informally as early as 1830 in a revelation calling upon teachers to “see that there is no iniquity in the church.” (The earliest known version of this revelation was published in the Painesville Telegraph, 19 Apr. 1831.) The following year elders were empowered to judge church members accused of adultery or fornication (BC XLVII, dated Feb. 1831). The role of bishop was expanded by a revelation dated 1 August 1831 “to be a judge in Israel, like as it was in ancient days” (BC LIX:21). The November 1831 revelation authorized the president to call twelve counselors if he chose, and thus set the pattern for the formation of high councils two and a half years later. George A. Smith later said, “There had been several Councils of twelve High Priests called for special cases, but they organized it permanently on the 17th Feb 1834″ (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool, Eng.: Latter-day Saints’ Bookseller’s Depot, 1855-86), 11:7, 15 Nov. 1864).
73. Orson Pratt journal, 25 Jan. 1832, in Elden J. Watson, ed., The Orson Pratt Journals (Salt Lake City: Elden J. Watson, 1975), 11. See also B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971), 1:243 (hereafter HC). Although this appears to have presaged the formation of “quorums” of elders, Pratt’s ordination to the High Priesthood only one week later delayed for years the emergence of organized, functional groups of elders. (See Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Provo, UT: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981], 49, for the date of Pratt’s ordination.)
74. Minutes of a conference in Independence, Missouri, 23-24 Jan. 1832, contained in a letter from Oliver Cowdery to Joseph Smith, 28 Jan. 1832, photograph of original letter in RLDS archives, Miscellany, P19, f4. This was later amended to require the consent of a conference of high priests rather than of the entire church. (See Far West Record, 28 Aug. 1833.)
78. Ibid. The draft version of the minutes placed the high council subordinate to the bishop’s court, but the amended version authorized the high council to settle “important difficulties … which could not be settled by the Church, or the bishop’s council to the satisfaction of the parties.”
81. Lyman Wight diary, 7 July 1834, in The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Lamoni, IA: The Board of Publication, 1896), 1:515-16. See also Far West Record, 7 July 1834.
83. A revelation dated the following month stated that the Seventies had been organized “according to the vision,” although it gave no further information regarding the vision (DC, 1835 III:43; see also HC 2:201-202).
87. The third historian of the church, John Corrill, wrote: “For some time after the commencement of the church, an elder might ordain an elder, priest, teacher, or deacon, when and where he thought proper, but, after Stakes were planted, and the church became organized, they established a rule that none should be ordained without consent of the church or branch that he belonged to; neither should any man be placed over a branch or take charge of it without consent of same” (Corrill, chap. 13).
88. The office of deacon did not exist either in the Book of Mormon or in the early Restoration. For example, as late as February 1831 a revelation listing the offices in the church identified only elders, priests, and teachers (BC XLIV:13). The earliest known mention of deacons was in the “Articles and Covenants of the Church,” published in the Painesville Telegraph, 19 Apr. 1831.
89. “Kirtland Revelation Book,” 84-86. Although the term “quorum” would not be applied to these groups for several years, the concept established by this revelation remains the guiding principle today.
90. The earliest known record began on Christmas Day 1834. See “Teachers Quorum Minute Book, December 25, 1834—February 12, 1845,” MS 3428, LDS archives. To complete preparations for the March 1836 solemn assembly and endowment, “the quorums of the Church were organized in the presence of the Church, and commenced confessing their faults and asking forgiveness” (Oliver Cowdery diary, 17 Jan. 1836, in Leonard J. Arrington, ed., “Oliver Cowdery’s Kirtland, Ohio, `Sketch Book,'” Brigham Young University Studies 12 [Summer 1972]: 416).
94. Adding to the confusion, a later portion of this revelation, known as the “oath and covenant” of the priesthood, refers first to “these two priesthoods” (i.e., those of Moses/Peter, James, and John, and Aaron/John the Baptist) then merely to “the priesthood,” apparently a generic reference to both (see v. 6).
95. The revelation as published in DC, 1835 and subsequent editions of Doctrine and Covenants does not indicate that many of the verses are from the earlier November 1831 revelation, which is in the “Kirtland Revelation Book,” 84-86, but which was never published in its 1831 format. All of the material referenced here is from the 28 March 1835 portion of the revelation.
96. The office of seventy was introduced in the 1835 revelation but not specifically placed under the Melchizedek Priesthood umbrella. This suggests that the verses relating to seventies were from a third revelation. Verse 43 reads: “And it is according to the vision, showing the order of the seventy,” a vision not described in this or any other known revelation.
98. Corrill, chap. 10 (written in 1839). In editing Joseph Smith’s history for publication, B. H. Roberts devoted a lengthy footnote to a discussion of the “apparent” problem of the Melchizedek Priesthood restoration at the June 1831 conference rather than in 1829. He concluded, incorrectly, that the accounts meant to describe the restoration of the office of high priest (HC, 1:176). In dealing with the same dilemma RLDS apostle Heman C. Smith concluded, again incorrectly, that the accounts placing the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1831 actually “had reference to the fullness of the Melchisedec priesthood being bestowed for the first time in June, 1831″ (The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1:193, emphasis in original).
99. For example, Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde were appointed on 25 January 1832 to serve a mission to the Eastern States. Smith had received the endowment at the June 1831 conference, while Hyde had not. Yet Hyde in his missionary diary never mentioned Smith’s endowment, never mentioned that he, himself, had not received it, and nowhere indicated that his position as a missionary was subordinate to Smith’s.
101. Zebedee Coltrin diary, 24 Jan. 1833. The most detailed accounts are the Coltrin diary; the “Kirtland High Council Minutes,” 23 Jan. 1833; and Lucy Mack Smith’s manuscript history, 162-63, LDS archives, photocopy in my possession.
104. “Kirtland Revelation Book,” 97-100, revelation dated 22 June 1834. It is significant that the phrase “greater endowment” was used, apparently a reference to the 1831 endowment whose power had been insufficient to redeem Zion. Without explanation the word “great” was substituted for “greater” in published versions of this revelation.
105. In addition to preparing oneself spiritually, it was necessary that one’s body be washed and anointed and that the feet be washed in a manner similar to that used in the opening of the School of the Prophets in 1833. The best descriptions of the preparations during the winter of 1835-36 are found in the diaries of Joseph Smith (in Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1987]) and Oliver Cowdery (in Arrington).
107. Patriarchal Blessings Book, Vol. 1, copy in Irene Bates Collection, RLDS archives. For a comprehensive treatment of the office of Presiding Patriarch, see Irene M. Bates, “Transformation of Charisma in the Mormon Church: A History of the Office of Presiding Patriarch, 1833-1979,” Ph.D. diss., 1991, University of California, Los Angeles.
108. The Irene Bates Collection contains seventy blessings given by Joseph Smith, Sr. Those which specify the authority by which Smith gave the blessings cite only the “Holy Priesthood.” In no instance does the phrase “Patriarchal Priesthood” appear, thus strengthening the assertion that the 1833 use of “Patriarchal Priesthood” referred merely to the office of patriarch.
109. That the office was intended to be passed to the oldest son was indicated in a blessing which Joseph Smith, Jr., gave to his brother Hyrum at the same time: “He shall stand in the tracts of his father and be numbered among those who hold the right of patriarchal priesthood” (ibid.). Blessings given by Joseph Smith, Jr., to his other brothers (Samuel, William, and Don Carlos) at the same time made no reference to “Patriarchal Priesthood.”
113. This account, written as part of Joseph Smith’s history of the church, was first published in Times and Seasons 3 (15 Apr. 1842): 753 but was not published in LDS editions of the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876; subsequent LDS editions have included it as Sec. 2. RLDS editions have never included this account.
114. The earliest publication of this revelation was BC XXXVII (1833). An earlier reference to Elijah was published in the Book of Mormon, p. 505, wherein the resurrected Jesus Christ quotes the Old Testament prophecy of Malachi. There is no inference in this passage of Elijah’s return in the context of the Restoration.
115. In revising the King James Bible, a project completed in July 1833 (see Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” 96), Smith made no changes to Malachi’s prophecy (Mal. 4:5-6). In editing the above revelation, Smith clearly drew from the King James text without changing its meaning. As will be seen, however, subsequent references added new meaning to the biblical text.
116. The turning of hearts of fathers and children to each other is now associated by the LDS church with the temple-based ordinance of “sealing” children to parents. At the time of this vision (1836) neither the word “seal,” nor the concept, nor the formal ordinance had been introduced.
117. Jessee, Personal Writings, 204. Although not explicitly referring to deceased fathers, this account represents an incremental step towards a doctrine of salvation of the dead through intervention by the living.
118. Ibid. Several lines of evidence suggest that this account, though cast in a setting of 1823, reflects the understanding of 1838 and is thus anachronistic. As has been shown, the term “priesthood” was not used until 1832—three years after the Restoration events and nine years after Moroni’s visit.
119. Although some writers have dated this sermon 2 July 1839, it appears more appropriate to leave the date uncertain but prior to 8 Aug. 1839. For a detailed explanation of the dating, see Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 22.
120. The announcement was made during a sermon at the funeral of Seymour Brunson on 15 August 1840. Eyewitness accounts, written by Jane Neymon and Simon Baker, are in the Journal History of the LDS church under that date, LDS archives.
121. Joseph Smith discourse, 5 Oct. 1840 (emphasis added). The original manuscript, in the hand of Robert B. Thompson, is in LDS archives. The discourse was published in its entirely in Ehat and Cook, 38-44.
125. Times and Seasons 3 (1 Oct. 1842): 934-36. Although the similarity between “welding” and “sealing” is obvious, the latter term had not yet been used in the context of binding one person to another, although in 1831 it had been used in a related context wherein “sealing up to eternal life” indicated binding an individual to God.
126. Joseph Smith discourse, funeral of Judge Elias Higbee, 13 Aug. 1843. Accounts of this discourse by Willard Richards, Howard and Martha Coray, Franklin D. Richards, William Clayton, and Levi Richards are in Ehat and Cook, 238-42. The passage quoted here is from the Coray account.
128. For discussions of this subject, see Andrew F. Ehat, “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982; and David J. Buerger, “`The Fullness of the Priesthood': The Second Anointing in Latter-day Saint Theology and Practice,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 (Spring 1983): 10-44.
129. Brigham Young, knowing of the forthcoming anointing, had said three weeks earlier that if any in the church had the Melchizedek Priesthood, he did not know it. “For any person to have the fulness of that priesthood he must be a king & a Priest” (Wilford Woodruff diary, 6 Aug. 1843, in Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1983], 2:271).
132. Joseph Smith discourse, 10 Mar. 1844, in Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:359-66, 10 Mar. 1844. The account of Woodruff, plus those of James Burgess, Franklin D. Richards, Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, and John Solomon Fullmer are in Ehat and Cook, 327-36.
133. The Lesser Priesthood had undergone little change since 1835, although a variety of synonyms—Aaronic, Levitical, Lesser, and Priesthood of Elias—had been used at various times. It was not changed by Smith’s reversion to the bipartite model.
135. Oliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, 23 Mar. 1846, Ms 3408 fd 3, LDS archives. This letter was quoted in an LDS general conference address by Alonzo A. Hinckley on 8 April 1934 and published in One Hundred Fourth Annual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: LDS Church, 1934), 129.