Doctrine & Covenants Lesson 07 (D&C 12–13; JSH 1_66–75)
Surely, the restoration of the priesthood qualifies as one of the greatest blessings of the restoration. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests upon the claim of divine authority. Without divine authority, our worship and ordinances would be in vain. At the time of Joseph Smith, many Christians realized the necessity of priesthood authority and were looking for a restoration of it.
In his first vision, Joseph Smith was told by the Lord that “all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom.” (Times and Seasons, 1 March 1842.) Nine years following the first vision, in 1829, the authority to establish a church and perform divinely sanctioned ordinances was restored in the wilderness near Harmony, Pennsylvania.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE RESTORATION OF THE AARONIC PRIESTHOOD
The restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood was the first bestowal of divine authority in this dispensation. As with so many other revelations, this one came as a result of questions that arose from reading or translating the scriptures (JS-History 68–72) . It occurred while Joseph and Oliver were working on the translation of the Book of Mormon, when, on May 15, 1829, they went into the woods on the banks of the Susquehanna River behind Joseph’s home to inquire of the Lord through prayer regarding baptism for the remission of sins (vv. 68, 72).
In the midst of their prayer, Joseph said: “a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us” (v.68). The messenger identified himself as “John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament” and that he was acting “under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek” (v. 72).
Though Joseph used the words “ordained us” to describe the event, that was not literally true. He said it in the general sense of their having received priesthood authority. The actual steps were as follows.
1. Conferral of the priesthood. John the Baptist conferred the priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The precise words he used were, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron. . . . (v. 69; emphasis added). It is interesting that John the Baptist referred to the Savior as “Messiah,” which an authentic Jew of Jesus’ time would do. Christ is a Greek name, while Messiah is Hebrew. At this stage of his spiritual and scriptural understanding, Joseph Smith could not have known this. It is an evidence of the authenticity of his description of the event.
2. Baptism. John the Baptist then instructed them to immediately baptize each other— Joseph first baptizing Oliver Cowdery and then Oliver baptizing Joseph (vv. 70–71). Because they now possessed the Aaronic Priesthood they could perform this sacred ordinance for each other, by which their sins could be remitted and their covenants with the Lord established. Joseph reports that, “Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation” (v. 73).
3. Ordination. Finally, having been thus baptized, they proceeded to ordain each other to the Aaronic Priesthood in the same order as they had been baptized (v. 71). Thus we see that the conferral of priesthood is one thing (v. 69), and ordination to an office within the priesthood is entirely another (v. 71). The office to which they would have been ordained on this occasion would have been a Priest, since only Priests can exercise all the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, including the ordination of other Priests.
This sacred event made the scriptures on prayer and priesthood more clear to Joseph and Oliver. Joseph said: “Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of” (v. 74). Oliver Cowdery’s feelings about receiving the Aaronic Priesthood are contained in notes 4–7 for JS-History 1:71.
THE KEYS OF THE AARONIC PRIESTHOOD
● D&C 13:1 is taken from JS-History 1:69, and is identical in wording. While conferring the Aaronic Priesthood, John the Baptist said that it contained “the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” He also promised that this priesthood “shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”
● The keys associated with the Aaronic priesthood are as follows: (D&C 84:26–27).
— The ministering of angels.
— The preparatory gospel—the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments.
— It is an appendage to the Melchizedek priesthood.
● The Ministering of Angels (D&C 84:26-27; 107:20, 14). President Gordon B). Hinckley said, “That means . . . that if you live worthy of the priesthood, you have the right to receive and enjoy the very power of heavenly beings to guide you, to protect you, to bless you.”1
President Wilford Woodruff said, “I had the administration of angels while holding the office of a priest. I had visions and revelations. I traveled thousands of miles. I baptized men, though I could not confirm them because I had not the authority to do it. I speak of these things to show that a man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood.”2
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “[The ministering of angels can occur through personal appearances and] “can also be unseen. Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind. . . .Most angelic communications are felt or heard rather than seen.”3
● A preparatory priesthood. During the “revelation on Priesthood” (D&C 84) given in September of 1832, the Lord explained again that the Aaronic Priesthood “holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel” (v. 26). This means “the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments” (v. 27). It is identical with the priesthood that existed among the children of Israel in Moses’ day, “which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until [the time of] John [the Baptist], whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb” (v. 27).
Repentance and baptism help us prepare to receive blessings that are administered through the Melchizedek Priesthood, such as the gift of the Holy Ghost and temple ordinances. For example, John the Baptist preached repentance and baptized people in preparing the way for the Savior (Matthew 3:1–6, 11).
Aaronic Priesthood holders in our day preach repentance through visiting the homes of members, missionary work, testimony bearing, and fellowshipping. Aaronic Priesthood holders participate in the ordinance of baptism under the direction of the bishop, and worthy priests may perform baptisms. They participate in the process of administering repentance to others both by preaching repentance and by officiating in the ordinance of the sacrament.
Jeffrey R. Holland said: “We ask you young men of the Aaronic Priesthood to prepare and bless and pass these emblems of the Savior’s sacrifice worthily and reverently. What a stunning privilege and sacred trust given at such a remarkably young age! I can think of no higher compliment heaven could pay you. We do love you. Live your best and look your best when you participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 89; Ensign , Nov. 1995, 68).
● An appendage to the Melchizedek Priesthood. D&C 107 teaches that the Aaronic Priesthood was so named “because it was conferred upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations” (v. 13). It is referred to as “the lesser priesthood. . . because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power [only] in administering outward ordinances” (v. 14). It holds “the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, [and] the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (v. 20).
● Never . . . Taken Again from the Earth. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “We may be sure that the Aaronic priesthood will never be taken from the earth while mortality endures, for there will always be need for temporal direction and the performance of ordinances pertaining to ‘the preparatory Gospel.’”4 “The promise that the Aaronic Priesthood would remain on the earth “until Sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” should be taken literally. There will be blood sacrifices again, at least for a brief period, at the temple in the New Jerusalem.”5
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings . . . . Else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the Holy Prophets be brought to pass. It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses’ day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued. It may be asked by some, what necessity for sacrifice, since the Great Sacrifice was offered? In answer to which, if repentance, baptism, and faith existed prior to the days of Christ, what necessity for them since that time?”6
THE RESTORATION OF THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD
● Some weeks after John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood, Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and conferred upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood. And although the exact date for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood appears not to have been preserved in current Church records, there is much testimony from both Joseph and Oliver that clearly establishes the reality of these events.
● Heading, D&C 13 An account of this experience is not included in the Doctrine and Covenants, but references to it can be found in these scriptures (D&C 13:Heading; D&C 27:12–13).
Circumstances of the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Though we do not know precisely when the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored, we have a number of scriptures and other historical records that tell us details concerning when, where, and how it occurred.
1. When he conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, John the Baptist explained that it “had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on [them later]” (JSJ-History 1:70). He was acting “under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second” (v. 72).
2. By the time D&C 18 was given—sometime in June 1829—the Melchizedek Priesthood had already been restored (v. 9). Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer had sought to realize the promise made by John the Baptist at the time of the conferral of the Aaronic Priesthood that the Melchizedek Priesthood would “in due time” be conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (JS-History 1:72), and Joseph Smith wrote that section 18 was given to “illustrate the nature of our calling to this Priesthood, as well as that of others who were yet to be sought after.”7 The Lord says in D&C 18:9: “I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called,” which means they were already apostles by the time this revelation was given.
3. It had probably been restored by 14 June 1829. Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter from Fayette , New York , to the Prophet’s brother, Hyrum Smith, who was then residing at his family’s home near Palmyra in Manchester Township , New York . This letter is significant because it contains words identical to D&C 18:10, 14, 21, and 25. This suggests that the revelation (which refers to Joseph and Oliver as “apostles”) had already been received by this date—thus narrowing the window of possible dates to sometime between May 15 th and June 14th, 1829.8
4. It was conferred upon Joseph and Oliver by Peter, James, and John (D&C 27:12–13). They were ordained apostles and special witnesses of Christ (v. 12), and were given the keys of the kingdom for this final dispensation (vv. 12–13).
5. It was conferred somewhere in the wilderness between Harmony, Pennsylvania and Collesville , New York (D&C 128:20). This detail is corroborated by the testimony of two individuals who heard the Prophet Joseph Smith describe the circumstances and location of the event.
6. It occurred 16–17 miles north of Harmony, Pennsylvania , while fleeing their enemies.
Addison Everett said:
[Joseph] “said that at Colesville , New York , in 1829, he and Oliver Cowdery were under arrest on a charge of deceiving the people. . . . [While conferring with their attorney in private he advised them] ‘If they get hold of you they will perhaps do you bodily injury; and I think the best way for you to get out of this is to get right out there,’ pointing tot he window and hoisting it.
“They got into the woods. . . a few rods from the house. It was night and they traveled through brush and water and mud, fell over logs, etc., until Oliver was exhausted. Then Joseph helped him along through the mud and water, almost carrying him.
“They traveled all night, and just at the break of day Oliver gave out entirely and exclaimed, ‘Oh, Lord! Brother Joseph, how long have we got to endure this thing?’
“They sat down on a log to rest, and Joseph said that at that very time Peter, James and John came to them and ordained them to the apostleship.
“They had sixteen or seventeen miles to go to get back to Mr. Hale’s, his father-in-law’s, but Oliver did not complain any more of fatigue.”9
7. It was restored during times of great persecution (JS-History 1:74). The Prophet Joseph Smith said that they were “forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood” (v. 74). The fact that the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood occurred while they were fleeing for their lives underscores the difficult circumstances. It probably also explains why they didn’t have the time or presence of mind to sit down and write about the event, as they had done when the Aaronic Priesthood was restored under more peaceful circumstances.
8. It probably occurred before 1 June 1829. Brigham Young said: “Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were the first Apostles of this dispensation. . . .”10 Yet we know that David Whitmer was not present when Peter, James and John appeared to Joseph and Oliver in the wilderness near Harmony, Pennsylvania . David did not even know the Prophet well until he helped them move away from Harmony to his home in Fayette , New York “in the beginning of the month of June.”11 David Whitmer himself said that he had received his ordination from the Prophet Joseph during the month of June 1829.12
9. Also, this ordination would have had to have occurred before June 1, 1829, because Joseph, Emma, Oliver and David Whitmer traveled to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in time for their translation activities to resume on June 1 st . David Whitmer said: “The translation at my father’s farm, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York occupied about one month, that is from June 1, to July 1, 1829.”13
10. It probably occurred before 29 May 1829. Since it took three days to travel from Harmony, Pennsylvania to Fayette , New York , and since translation activities started again on June 1, 1829, it follows that they must have left Harmony not later than May 29, 1829. And since the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood occurred while they still resided at Harmony, we can reasonably conclude that it must have occurred before they left for Fayette.
Thus, we can reasonably conclude that the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored sometime between May 15th and May 29th , 1829.
THE KEYS OF THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD
● D&C 84:19–22
— The authority to administer the gospel of Jesus Christ
— Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom and knowledge of God
— The ability to see the face of God (obtain exaltation).
The authority to administer the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Melchizedek Priesthood includes the authority to administer the gospel of Jesus Christ—to govern the Church, preach the gospel, and administer the ordinances of salvation. Holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood preside over the Church and its meetings. One cannot serve in a ward bishopric, a stake presidency, a high council, or in any priesthood capacity as a general authority without first being ordained a high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
● D&C 107:8–12, 18–20
— The keys of the spiritual blessings of the Church
— The right to have the heavens opened & receive the “mysteries” (revelation)
— The right to commune with heavenly beings
The right of presidency in spiritual things (D&C 107:8–12). The right of presidency is the right to preside in the Church. The President of the Church is the only person on earth who may use (or authorize another person to use) the keys of the priesthood for governing the entire Church. He authorizes other priesthood leaders to hold the keys that are necessary for presiding in their callings: Temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents, bishops, district presidents, branch presidents, and quorum presidents.
The keys of all the spiritual blessings of the Church (D&C 107:18–19). The spiritual blessings that come to us through the Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances, including among others: the blessing and naming of children, bestowing the Gift of the Holy Ghost, administering to the sick, patriarchal blessings, blessings of comfort and counsel, and all the ordinances of the holy temple. A few of these are described in D&C 84 and 107.
Access to temple ordinances and the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom (D&C 84:19–21). Thus, for a man to receive the temple ordinances he must first have obtained this higher priesthood and shown himself to be a worthy bearer of it. Likewise, to receive all the ordinances of the temple, a woman must be connected to a worthy priesthood holder.
The right to have the heavens opened and receive revelation (D&C 107:19). T he right to commune with heavenly beings. Also, the opportunity to see, commune with, and enjoy the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
The ability to see God and stand in His presence (D&C 84:19, 22). Receiving and honoring the Melchizedek Priesthood is a prerequisite to the ability to “see the face of God” (obtain exaltation). And without this priesthood and the sealing ordinances associated with it, one cannot obtain a celestial glory (D&C 131:2–3). If we desire to see our Father’s face again, to stand in his presence, and to live there eternally, we must obtain the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood and honor the covenants associated with them.
● D&C 110:11–16
— The keys of the gathering of Israel
— The gospel of the dispensation of Abraham
— The sealing power.
The keys of missionary work (D&C 110:11). These are the keys of the gathering of Israel that were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors by the appearance of Moses in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. He conferred “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.”
The keys to perfection of the Saints (D&C 110:12). These are the keys of the “gospel of Abraham” that were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors by the appearance of Elias (Noah) in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. He promised that through these keys “in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.”
The keys of genealogical and temple work (D&C 110:13–16). These keys were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors by the appearance of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. He announced that “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” (v. 15). And he said that because “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands . . . by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” (v. 16).
A Comparison of the Two Priesthoods:
1. Holds the keys of the ministering of angels (D&C 84:26) 84:19)
2. Administers the preparatory gospel (D&C 84:26), including:
a. Faith 84:19)
c. Baptism for the remission of sins
d. The law of carnal commandments
3. Officiates in temporal matters (D&C 20:46–59)
1. Administers the gospel and holds the keys to the spiritual blessings of the Church (D&C 107:18)
2. Holds the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom (D&C 107:19;
3. Necessary to see God and live (D&C 107:19; 84:22)
● Following the time of Moses the greater priesthood was withdrawn from the people as a whole because of their unrighteousness (D&C 84:23–28).
● Only the Aaronic Priesthood continued among the tribe of Levi, John the Baptist being the last to receive it before the ministry of Christ.
THE THREE GRAND ORDERS OF THE PRIESTHOOD
The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
“There are three grand orders of priesthood. . . .
“1st. . . . What was the power of Melchizedek? ‘Twas not the Priesthood of Aaron which administers in outward ordinances, and the offering of sacrifices. Those holding the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam. . That priesthood is as eternal as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.
“The 2nd Priesthood is Patriarchal authority. Go to and finish the temple, and God will fill it with power, and you will then receive more knowledge concerning this priesthood.
“The 3rd is what is called the Levitical Priesthood, consisting of priests to administer in outward ordinances, made without an oath; but the Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant.”14
THE BLESSINGS OF THE PRIESTHOOD
Joseph Fielding Smith said: “This matter of holding the priesthood is not a light or a small thing. We are dealing with the Lord’s power and authority, which he has given to us by the opening of the heavens in this day so that every blessing might again be available to us, as they were when man was first placed upon the earth.”15
Brigham Young said: “An individual who holds a share in the Priesthood, and continues faithful to his calling, who delights himself continually in doing the things God requires at his hands, and continues through life in the performance of every duty, will secure to himself not only the privilege of receiving, but the knowledge how to receive the things of God, that he may know the mind of God continually; and he will be enabled to discern between right and wrong, between the things of God and the things that are not of God. And the Priesthood—the Spirit that is within him, will continue to increase until it becomes like a fountain of living water; until it is like the tree of life; until it is one continued source of intelligence and instruction to that individual.”16
Spencer W. Kimball said: “We commemorate the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, called ‘the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God’ (D&C 107:3), once more this month. It is an event of supreme importance to man in this dispensation, for the priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things pertaining to the salvation of men. It is the means whereby the Lord acts through men to save souls. Without this priesthood power, men are lost. Only through this power does man “hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church,” enabling him to receive “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened” unto him (D&C 107:18–19), enabling him to enter the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and to have his wife and children bound to him in an everlasting tie, enabling him to become a patriarch to his posterity forever, and enabling him to receive a fulness of the blessings of the Lord.”17
1. In Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 64; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 45.
2. The Discourses of President Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham , 298.
3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1998, 51; or Ensign, Nov. 1998, 39.
4. Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [1946–1949], 1:62.
5. Doctrines of Salvation, 3:93–94.
6. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 173.
7. History of the Church, 1:62.
8. Letter of Oliver Cowdery to Hyrum Smith, 14 June 1829, Fayette, New York, Church Archives.
9. Letter of Addison Everett to Oliver B. Huntington, February 17, 1881, Young Women’s Journal, II (November, 1890), 76–77.
10. In Journal of Discourses, 6:320.
11. History of the Church, 1:48–49.
12. Larry C. Porter, “The Priesthood Restored,” in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price , 397.
13. Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881.
14. History of the Church, 5:554–555.
15. In Conference Report, Oct. 1971, 108; Ensign, Dec. 1971, 98.
16. In Journal of Discourses, 3:192.
17. Ensign, June 1975, 3.