Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Passing the Heavenly Gift/Claims about priesthood ordination

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Response to Passing the Heavenly Gift: Claims about priesthood ordination

Summary: Portions of this wiki response are based upon Gregory L. Smith, "Passing Up The Heavenly Gift Part 1 Part 2," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 7 (2103), 181–341. The text here may have been expanded, reworded, or corrected given the nature of a wiki project. References in brackets like this: (xx) refer to page numbers in Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., Passing the Heavenly Gift (Salt Lake City: Mill Creek Press, 2011).

A FAIR Analysis of: 'Passing the Heavenly Gift', a work by author: Denver C. Snuffer

Response to Passing the Heavenly Gift: Claims about priesthood ordination

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Response to claim: Priesthood conferred by ordination is just a potential and not actual bestowal of power

Writes Snuffer:

[A]ny person who has priesthood conferred upon him will need to go into God’s presence, and receive it through the veil for power in their priesthood. That is, for any person who has priesthood conferred upon them, they will not gain power in the priesthood until they come to God from whom this power comes through the veil. Not as a mere ceremony delivered by the church, but through contact directly with God. It is the voice of God, through the veil, which activates the dormant power conferred by ordination (36).

Response to claim: Power versus authority of the priesthood

Snuffer quotes President Packer:

We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be.[1]

Snuffer couples such remarks with a repeated appeal to D&C 121:36, which rightly notes that “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” Snuffer takes this vital observation, however, and then concludes: “the power of the priesthood comes only one way, and, as the revelation to Joseph Smith states, men do not have any right to either confer it, or prevent it from being conferred” (28). This, however, is a distortion of what the text says: it speaks of conferring the priesthood, but it says nothing about having priesthood power without ordination. Surely whether power comes is dependent upon God’s will—in that Snuffer is correct—but this does not mean that ordination is of no real importance.

In addition to the all-or-nothing view of power that we see above, part of the confusion arises because Snuffer falls victim to the fallacy of equivocation. This logical error involves a word or expression that has more than one meaning. The fallacy occurs when differences in meaning are blurred or ignored. Snuffer does so repeatedly with the term “authority”. President Packer speaks of distributing the authority of the priesthood (i.e., the legal right to carry out priesthood ordinances). He also speaks of how those with authority do not always measure up and receive power. So far so good, and he and Snuffer agree that power is contingent upon God, not mere ordination. (That is, it seems to me, President Packer’s point.[2])

Snuffer draws, however, repeatedly on D&C 121:37, which warns that “when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness,” then “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37, emphasis added). Snuffer concludes (sometimes implicitly) that this use of the term authority means the “legal right to carry out priesthood ordinances.” If this is so, then he sees a grave problem—since we cannot know that a priesthood holder is worthy, if real priesthood power and authority are contingent, then ordinances performed by priesthood authority must be of relatively little importance: otherwise, members would forever be at risk of receiving ordinances that are null and void because “Amen” has been said to the authority of the man performing them (319–324, 336).

This is, however, only a problem because of Snuffer’s fallacy of equivocation around authority. In D&C 121, the scripture is not speaking about the right to perform ordinances. Instead, the “power” and “authority” to which it refers is power and authority over other people. The scripture is concerned with those who “aspire to the honors of men,” because they will interpret their ordination as a right “to exercise unrighteous dominion,” but “[n]o power or influence can” be exercised on anyone by virtue of priesthood office. This says nothing about the right or authority to provide necessary ordinances—it is a simple declaration that any authority over a person than one presumes to have based upon priesthood ceases to exist. The only “dominion” that one gets now or in the future because of priesthood comes “without compulsory means” (D&C 121:35–46).

To distinguish these two uses of the term “authority,” I will refer to the right to officiate in priesthood ordinances as “right of legal administration” or “being a legal administrator.” As we will soon see, Joseph used such expressions and indicated that such rights were absolutely essential.[3] It is in this sense that President Packer uses the term “authority”—we have not done well in distributing the right to have authority or dominion over people (because such a right does not exist), but have rather done well in creating many legal administrators. Whether those legal administrators receive any power in their own lives is, of course, entirely up to them—just as whether recipients of the ordinances receive any power or benefit is dependent upon their personal righteousness.[4]

Response to claim: Authority not vital for ordinances

Snuffer insists elsewhere, with some justification, that

The ceremonies and ordinances of the church all point to [God]. They are not the end of the search but instead teach you how to conduct the search. If all you receive are ordinances, you have nothing of real value. They are dead without a living, personal connection with God. God alone can and will save you (55).

This is certainly true. Yet, Snuffer seems determined to always deny the importance of the Church’s role as the sole authorized source of the necessary ordinances.[5] “God wants you to know Him,” Snuffer tells us, “You can know Him. You do not need another person to speak to Him for you. You should speak to Him directly” (55). This is all true—but Snuffer ignores another theme that is equally prominent in Joseph Smith’s revelations and thought: an authorized representative is also necessary to perform vital and non-negotiable ordinances. This is something that cannot be done by oneself—the priesthood officer must play a role. But, Snuffer says that “[s]ince the language of the baptismal covenant was given by revelation, it has been approved by the Lord. Using the language for the ceremony authorizes the covenant to be performed” (421). “If the Holy Ghost will visit you even without an authoritative ordinance,” Snuffer declares, “then the responsibility to live so as to invite the Spirit is all you need to have that same companionship the ordinance could confer” (460, compare 33). This view contradicts Joseph Smith:

There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him.[6]

“Even if you give the most optimistic assessment of the restoration and current condition of the church,” declares PTHG, “it can do nothing for the individual Latter-day Saint. We must all find salvation for ourselves” (305). Yet, in contrast, D&C 121:19 regards being “severed from the ordinances of the Lord’s house” a grave consequence—suggesting that they offer something which cannot be had (despite Snuffer’s insistence) outside of the Church. Less than two months before his death, Joseph would declare: “I advise all to go on to perfection and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness—a man can do nothing for himself unless God direct him in the right way, and the Priesthood is reserved for that purpose.”[7]

As an example of this neglect of priesthood authority, in an extensive list of what Joseph Smith accomplished, PTHG says that Joseph restored “Understanding of Aaronic…Priesthood [and]….of Melchizedek Priesthood….[and] [k]nowledge of a third order of priesthood referred to as Patriarchal Priesthood” (57–58) but completely omits Joseph’s role as restorer of that priesthood authority. The omission is telling, given that the author regards priesthood ultimately as something that comes only from God direct to each individual, and unnecessary for ordinances. PTHG later downplays the ordinances:

Rather than trust ordinances which may have become invalid, blessings which may have been unauthorized, and messages which may have become tainted, I will seek for Christ and His presence. I want to know my standing before Him, not whether a man has recommended me (344).

We again see an example of PTHG taking a true statement and drawing a false conclusion. The necessity of Christ’s approval is certainly paramount—but, PTHG then claims (contrary to Joseph Smith and the scriptures he gave) that one can seek Christ’s approval and acceptance without the necessity of ordinances performed by authorized administrators, promising the reader that “the required priestly authority is still available through the veil” (468). Yet, Joseph taught that there were now authorized mortal administrators upon the earth, and said that any claim to ordination by divine messengers was evidence of either lying or deception:

the angel told…Cornelius that he must send for Peter to learn how to be saved: Peter could baptize, and angels could not, so long as there were legal officers in the flesh holding the keys of the kingdom, or the authority of the priesthood. There is one evidence still further on this point, and that is that Jesus himself when he appeared to Paul on his way to Damascus, did not inform him how he could be saved. He had set in the church firstly Apostles, and secondly prophets for the work of the ministry…and as the grand rule of heaven was that nothing should ever be done on earth without revealing the secret to his servants the prophets….so Paul could not learn so much from the Lord relative to his duty in the common salvation of man, as he could from one of Christ's ambassadors called with the same heavenly calling of the Lord, and endowed with the same power from on high -- so that what they loosed on earth, should be loosed in heaven; and what they bound on earth should be bound in heaven….[8]

Orson Pratt reported Joseph’s attitude toward one who claimed angelic ordination:

One Francis G. Bishop, an Elder in our church, was very anxious to be ordained a High Priest, but he was not considered a proper candidate to fill the office at that time; and his urgent solicitations to be promoted to the High Priesthood, confirmed the Saints in the opinion that he wanted a high station without meriting it, or without being called by the Spirit of God to that work. He was sent forth into the world to preach in capacity and calling of an Elder; but he was not long out before he declared himself to be a High Priest–and that he was ordained from heaven. This made much stir in the branches of the church and also in the world. But when the news of his proceedings reached the prophet Joseph, he called Bishop home forthwith. He was introduced into the school of the prophets, and there closely questioned upon his course. He said he was ordained by an angel to the High Priesthood; yet, on a more close examination, he crossed his own testimony and statements–became confused, and blushed with shame and guilt–he fell down upon his knees and confessed that he had lied in the name of the Lord–begged to be forgiven and cried aloud for mercy. We all forgave him, but we could not give him our confidence, for he had destroyed it.… Brother Joseph observed to [Bro.] Bishop that he knew that he had lied before he confessed it; that his declarations were not only false in themselves, but they involved a false principle. An angel, said Joseph, may administer the word of the Lord unto men, and bring intelligence to them from heaven upon various subjects; but no true angel from God will ever come to ordain any man, because they have once been sent to establish the priesthood by ordaining me thereunto; and the priesthood being once established on earth, with power to ordain others, no heavenly messenger will ever come to interfere with that power by ordaining any more… [Joseph tells the story of Cornelius as above.] You may therefore know, from this time forward, that if any man comes to you professing to be ordained by an angel, he is either a liar or has been imposed upon in consequence of transgression by an angel of the devil, for this priesthood shall never be taken away from this church.[9]

Thus, Snuffer’s view cannot—despite his strenuous efforts—be squared with Joseph Smith’s approach, nor later prophets’ and apostles’. The Doctrine and Covenants insists upon the ordinances as vital, and as a good gauge for judging the religious pretensions of others:

Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances. He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances (D&C 52:15–16, emphasis added). To those who sought to be right with God without rebaptism by authority, the Lord said:

Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works. For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old. Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God (D&C 22:2–4)

Response to claim: Legal Administrators

And Joseph Smith insisted that John the Baptist’s legitimate Aaronic priesthood required even Jesus to submit to him:

There was a legal administrator, and those that were baptized were subjects for a king; and also the laws and oracles of God were there; therefore the kingdom of God was there; for no man could have better authority to administer than John; and our Savior submitted to that authority Himself, by being baptized by John; therefore the kingdom of God was set up on the earth, even in the days of John.[10]

Snuffer concedes that “It would be good to have an authorized minister to perform the ordinance,” but insists that “It does not matter whether there is an officiator with authority from God on the earth or not” (418). He justifies this distortion of Joseph’s teaching by claiming:

…the language of Section 20 [of the Doctrine and Covenants] is not contingent upon authority. Rather, it is the faith of one receiving baptism which determines the ordinance’s validity. The church offices described in Section 20 are not dependent on priesthood authority. Nor is authority given to the church dependent upon a man. The direction to organize the church is all that was required (418).

It is certainly true that faith is necessary for the baptismal ordinance to be valid—without faith, even with a legal administrator, Heber C. Kimball said, one might as well give all the ordinances to “a bag of sand,” “if you do not live up to your profession and practice your religion…. except through faith and obedience.”[11]

However, PTHG again draws a false inference from a true statement. If an authorized minister is not necessary, why did John the Baptist ordain Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery prior to their baptism (D&C 13:1) and then promise that this authority “would never be taken again from the earth”? The same D&C 20 to which he appeals declares that “an Apostle is an Elder & it is his calling to Baptize & to ordain other Elders, Priests, Teachers & Deacons…The Priests duty is to…baptize…& ordain other Priests, Teaches & Deacons,” while “neither the Teachers nor the Deacons have authority to baptize,”[12] which makes it clear that not every member (or even every priesthood holder) may baptize.

Joseph Smith’s revelations also taught that “they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the church, as well as the lesser priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the Saints of the Most High” (D&C 85:11). “[W]o unto them,” declares the Lord elsewhere to Joseph, “who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world” (D&C 50:8). Snuffer’s doctrines contradict Joseph Smith’s. Contrary to PTHG, both the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:35, 36) and the Doctrine and Covenants seem to condemn his approach: “they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant…” (D&C 1:14–15).

If Snuffer is correct, why did Joseph teach that there was “[n]o salvation between the two lids of the bible without a legal administrator”?[13] Why does the Book of Mormon place such great emphasis on the necessity of valid priesthood authority for baptism and other ordinances (Mosiah 21:33, Moroni 2–5), including a concerted effort by the resurrected Christ to make this perfectly clear (3 Nephi 11:21–28)? Christ did so precisely so no one would dispute—as Snuffer is doing—over the proper form or requirements for baptism. Joseph Smith taught:

Whenever men can find out the will of God & find an Administrator legally authorized from God there is the Kingdom of God but whare these are not, the Kingdom of God is not[.] All the ordinances Systems, & Administrations on the earth is of no use to the Children of men unless they are ordained & authorized of God for nothing will save a man but a legal Administrator for none others will be acknowledge either by God or Angels.[14] Snuffer’s reading is idiosyncratic and smacks of desperation.

This muddled thinking leads Snuffer to compare the LDS “dilemma” to that faced by the Catholics during the Donatist heresy (321). He quotes Daniel C. Peterson,[15] and notes that “the winning side in the dispute decided priestly authority was not dependent on the officiator’s worthiness” (319). He concludes that this would mean that “Catholics could not have forfeited priesthood” in the Great Apostasy since “[w]ickedness, error, and foolishness would never be a reason to remove their authority” (320). (In all these cases, “authority” is being used in my sense of legal administration.)

But Snuffer is mistaken—if one is authorized to perform an ordinance by those holding the keys, then one may act as a legal administrator. But, once the keys have been lost—with, for example, the passing of the apostles—then even a legal administrator has no right or authority to call new leaders, pass on priesthood authority, and so on.[16] A legal administrator cannot create more legal administrators without the approval of those who hold the keys, nor can he perform essential ordinances without that same approval—and so, the authority comes to a halt because such administration would not be legal. The legal administrator is not constrained only by death as Snuffer claims (320), because no one can grant him the right to use his authority in a legal way without keys.[17] But Snuffer is determined to reject the idea of apostolic stewardship and guidance based upon the keys, so he sees a dilemma where there is none.[18] Yet he accuses others of shoddy reasoning because “the result you want to avoid absolutely CANNOT be true” (322, emphasis in original). His treatment of these concepts is unintentional evidence for this proposition, applied to his own reasoning.

Perhaps the most deadly argument against Snuffer’s reading is simply that Joseph Smith didn’t embrace the conclusions to which PTHG’s confusion leads. I am aware of no evidence—and Snuffer cites none—to suggest that Joseph Smith or the early Mormons ever repeated ordinances that were performed by priesthood holders who subsequently proved to be unworthy. Given the apostasies and dissident groups which formed throughout Joseph’s prophetic career, considerable attention ought to have been given to this matter if Snuffer’s conclusion is the proper one. But the early Mormons seem to have agreed with Peterson—one’s status as a lawful administrator was not contingent on righteousness, though one’s personal status before God certainly was, as was the true power or authority to influence others that one could wield in his behalf.

Response to claim: To truly receive priesthood power, a type of divine theophany is necessary

With respect to the sealing power, Snuffer cites a long list of prophets in an effort to demonstrate that “this kind of covenant is established between God and man in the first person; never through another” (85). The prophets mentioned include Nephi, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He then concludes that “Brigham Young[’s] [claim] that Joseph Smith had the capacity to confer such power independent of the Lord’s direct involvement is a marvelous, even unprecedented claim” (87). No Latter-day Saint would dispute the idea that the sealing power must come from God, and that he is personally involved. It is not clear, though, why another prophet cannot be involved in the transfer of that authority or power (which transfer God would, of course, have to ratify and endorse). However, Snuffer insists that Joseph cannot have transferred it to Brigham.

PTHG also makes a link between having one’s calling and election made sure, and the sealing power:

Nephi [the son of Helaman] received his calling and election. Calling and election is connected with holding the sealing power….Sealing power is always connected to calling and election….Only through that personal contact with heaven were their calling and election, sealing power and covenant established (81, 85, 86).

It is not entirely clear to me exactly what PTHG is arguing—do all who have their calling and election made sure receive the sealing power? Are a sure election and the sealing power interchangeable terms? These readings of PTHG seem unlikely given that “there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood [sealing] are conferred” (D&C 132:7). I think he means that having one’s calling and election made sure is a necessary prerequisite to receiving the sealing power, or that they must at least happen at the same time.

In any case, we should not be surprised that many prophets granted the sealing power would have a theophany experience—those in scripture are often the founding prophet of a dispensation or for a specific group of people. A theophany is their only option, since no legal administrator is to be found.

In scripture receiving one’s calling and election does not require that one see God or Christ personally. Alma the Elder, for example, was one of the wicked priests consecrated by King Noah (Mosiah 17:2). Converted by Abinadi’s preaching, he escaped the king’s court and taught while in hiding (Mosiah 18). He eventually led a group of believers to Zarahemla (Mosiah 23–24), where King Mosiah made him the supreme head of the Nephite Christian church, giving him “power to ordain priests and teachers over every church” (Mosiah 25:19, 26:8). Later, when troubled by a matter of internal dissention, Alma received a revelation:

And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying: Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi….Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep (Mosiah 26:14–15, 20).

Alma is the head of the church. He here has his calling and election made sure—he is promised eternal life. Yet, God explicitly points out that Alma has believed simply because of Abinadi’s words. Until now, he has had no theophany, seen no angels, nor seen the face of God. Even now, he only hears God’s words. Enos likewise hears a voice, but reports no vision (Enos 1:5, 10).

The death knell for PTHG’s claim that mortals cannot be involved in the transfer of the highest priesthood power occurred on 27 August 1843, when Joseph spoke of Abraham’s receipt of “a blessing under the hands of Melchesideck even the last law or a fulness of the law or preisthood which constituted him a king and preist after the order of Melchesideck or an endless life.”[19] This is significant for two reasons—(1) it defines precisely how Joseph saw the “fullness of the priesthood,” the last and final power that could be given on earth: he spoke of it in the same terms used to describe the higher temple ordinances; and (2) Joseph declares that Abraham received it by ordination under the hands of another mortal.[20] The Prophet offers as a paradigmatic example—for who can be a greater disciple than Abraham?—something that Snuffer declares to be impossible. If Joseph is an authority, then Snuffer’s thesis is false.

Response to claim: Could Brigham Young Qualify to Claim Sealing Power?

Despite this, Brigham Young also meets Snuffer’s criteria for receiving the sealing power: “by the calling of [God’s] own voice” (314, citing JST-Gen. 14:29). Orson Hyde described a heavenly manifestation given to all the Twelve. It has close affinities with Alma’s account:

In the month of February, 1848, the Twelve Apostles met at Hyde Park, Pottawattamie County, Iowa, where a small Branch of the Church was established….We were in prayer and council, communing together; and what took place on that occasion? The voice of God came from on high, and spake to the Council. Every latent feeling was aroused, and every heart melted. What did it say unto us? "Let my servant Brigham step forth and receive the full power of the presiding Priesthood in my Church and kingdom." This was the voice of the Almighty unto us at Council Bluffs, before I removed to what was called Kanesville. It has been said by some that Brigham was appointed by the people, and not by the voice of God. I do not know that this testimony has often, if ever, been given to the masses of the people before; but I am one that was present, and there are others here that were also present on that occasion, and did hear and feel the voice from heaven, and we were filled with the power of God. This is my testimony; these are my declarations unto the Saints—unto the members of the kingdom of God in the last days, and to all people.

We said nothing about the matter in those times, but kept it still.[21]

Of note is the reluctance of the Twelve to talk too freely about a divine manifestation. Hyde went on to describe the earth shaking, which led non-members to believe there had been an earthquake. Brigham confirmed the account, adding:

Brother Hyde, in his remarks, spoke about the voice of God at a certain time. I could tell many incidents relating to that circumstance, which he did not take time to relate. We were in his house, which was some ten or twelve feet square. The houses in the neighbourhood shook, or, if they did not, the people thought they did, for they ran together and inquired whether there had been an earthquake. We told them that the voice of God had reached the earth—that they need not be afraid; it was the power of God. This and other events have transpired to satisfy the people—you, and all who belong to the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth.[22]

Snuffer claims that “this higher priesthood.…comes from God’s own voice declaring it to the man” (295). Well, in addition to ordination by Joseph, here we have the voice of God declaring before all the Twelve that Brigham should have “the full power of the presiding priesthood.”

Snuffer also quotes Brigham Young denying that he can “commune in person with the Father and the Son at my will and pleasure” (90) and not having been “able to talk with some Being of a higher sphere than this” (91). Snuffer interprets this to mean that Brigham denied having “any being, angelic or otherwise, from a higher sphere speak to him” (90). This presumes too much. Brigham reported a vision of and instructions from the martyred Joseph Smith at least twice—Joseph himself would thus be acting in an angelic role, though Brigham apparently did not regard him as being of “a higher sphere.”[23] Brigham likewise reported visions on several occasions.[24] Brigham may not, then, be ruling out all such contacts as absolutely as Snuffer believes—denying that one can speak with the Godhead at one’s “will and pleasure” is not the same as denying one has ever been spoken to by them at Theirs: “I hold myself in readiness that he can wield me at his will and pleasure” (90)..

Brigham also said that he had had revelation on Church organization as soon as he was back in Nauvoo following Joseph’s death:

When I met Sidney Rigdon, east of the temple in Nauvoo, I knew then what I now know concerning the organization of the Church, though I had told no man of it. I revealed it to no living being, until the pioneers to this valley were returning to Winter Quarters. Brother Wilford Woodruff [p.198] was the first man I ever spoke to about it. Said he—"It is right; I believe it, and think a great deal of it, for it is from the Lord; the Church must be organized." It then went to others, and from them to others; but it was no news to me, for I understood it then as I understand it now.[25]

We also have Joseph Smith’s witness of Brigham’s worthiness to enjoy the divine presence. Heber C. Kimball reported Joseph’s anxiety for the Twelve on their mission to England:

He saw the Twelve going forth, and they appeared to be in a far distant land. After some time they unexpectedly met together, apparently in great tribulation, their clothes all ragged, and their knees and feet sore. They formed into a circle, and all stood with their eyes fixed upon the ground. The Savior appeared and stood in their midst and wept over them, and wanted to show Himself to them, but they did not discover Him.[26]

Snuffer might conclude from this section that he is correct—that the Lord would have unveiled himself to the Twelve, but they failed to be ready because they did not realize they were in his presence. Yet this was not Joseph’s conclusion, as the vision continued:

He (Joseph) saw until they had accomplished their work, and arrived at the gate of the celestial city; there Father Adam stood and opened the gate to them, and as they entered he embraced them one by one and kissed them. He then led them to the throne of God, and then the Savior embraced each one of them in the presence of God. He saw that they all had beautiful heads of hair and all looked alike. The impression this vision left on Brother Joseph's mind was of so acute a nature, that he never could refrain from weeping while rehearsing it.[27]

Brigham would report that Joseph had told him that his and the apostles’ “calling and election” had been made sure:

Before Joseph's death he had a revelation concerning myself and others, which signified that we had passed the ordeal, and that we should never apostatize from the faith of the holy gospel; "and", said Joseph, "if there is any danger of your doing this, the Lord will take you to Himself forthwith, for you cannot stray from the truth." When men and women have travelled to a certain point in their labors in this life, God sets a seal upon them that they never can forsake their God or His kingdom; for rather than they should do this, He will at once take them to Himself.[28]

In like manner, Heber C. Kimball’s diary of 6 April 1839 noted,

the following words came to my mind, and the Spirit said unto me, 'write,' which I did by taking a piece of paper and writing on my knee as follows:….'Verily I say unto my servant Heber, thou art my son, in whom I am well pleased; for thou art careful to hearken to my words, and not transgress my law, nor rebel against my servant Joseph Smith, for thou hast a respect to the words of mine anointed, even from the least to the greatest of them; therefore thy name is written in heaven, no more to be blotted out for ever, because of these things….[29]

Heber too could have this privilege, despite also saying “I know this. I know it by revelation by the Spirit of God, for in this way my Heavenly Father communes with me, and maketh known unto me his mind and will. I have never seen him in person, but when I see my brethren I see his image, and I discover the attributes of God in them.”[30] This ought to call into question Snuffer’s tidy conclusion:

Those who fall short of [receiving the Holy Spirit of promise], and do not receive this witness from Christ in mortality but receive it afterwards, will be Heirs of the Terrestrial Kingdom. These good but deluded souls trusted in men, rather than in Christ (432, emphasis added). Alma, Heber, Brigham, and the Twelve could claim God’s power and authority—all had heard the voice of God. Callings and elections could be made sure without a dramatic vision.[31] Might it not be sign-seeking for Brigham to insist upon a theophany when Joseph had already given him a revelation regarding his status? “Blessed are they,” said the risen Lord, “that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27). Snuffer ought not to ignore these historical and scriptural witnesses, or the implications of the promise which described the ways in which God would unveil himself:

sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will (D&C 88:68, emphasis added).


  1. Boyd K. Packer, “The Power of the Priesthood,” general conference, April 2010; cited by Snuffer on p. 27.
  2. Compare with his earlier discussion in Boyd K. Packer, “The Aaronic Priesthood,” general conference, October 1981.
  3. See Wilford Woodruff Journal (22 January 1843), cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 158..
  4. See JD 3:124. .wiki (6 October 1855).
  5. Snuffer concedes that “[b]aptism continues to be essential to salvation for any soul” (421), but doesn’t believe a legal administrator is necessary (418, 421).
  6. Joseph Smith, cited in "For the Times and Seasons. SABBATH SCENE IN NAUVOO; March 20th 1842," Times and Seasons 3/12 (15 April 1842): 752; see History of the Church 4:555.
  7. Thomas Bullock report, discourse of 14 May 1844; cited in WJS, 365, emphasis added.
  8. Joseph Smith, “Baptism,” Times and Seasons 3/21 (1 September 1842): 905. Snuffer tries elsewhere to defuse these statements as they apply to the sealing power (300), but here we apply them to matters such as baptism and confirmation.
  9. [Orson Hyde], “Although Dead, Yet He Speaketh: Joseph Smith’s testimony concerning being ordained by angels, delivered in the school of the prophets, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the Winter of 1832–3,” Millennial Star 8/9 (20 November 1846): 138–139, emphasis added.
  10. History of the Church 5:237–238; this entry is based on Wilford Woodruff’s diary for 22 January 1843, also reproduced in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1980), 156–158. (This work cited as WJS hereafter.)
  11. JD 3:124 (6 October 1855). Kimball would agree with Snuffer’s uncontroversial claim that “If all you receive are ordinances, you have nothing of real value. They are dead without a living, personal connection with God. God alone can and will save you” (55). No Latter-day Saint apostle or informed member has ever presumed otherwise.
  12. Dean Jessee (editor), Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books, The Joseph Smith Papers, Facsimile ed. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church Historian's Press, 2009), 85; see D&C 20:38–60.
  13. Joseph Smith Diary (23 July 1843); cited in WJS, 235.
  14. Wilford Woodruff Journal (22 January 1843), cited in WJS, 158.
  15. Daniel C. Peterson, "Authority in the Book of Mosiah," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 149–185. Snuffer claims that Peterson “even cites to [sic] the Catholic precedent to justify Mormon claims!” (322, citing Peterson’s footnote 40). This is false, as can be seen from the section cited by Snuffer. Peterson merely draws an analogy between the two traditions, where both faced the same issue and came to the same conclusion “for good reason” (322), because the alternative is utter chaos and uncertainty about which ordinances are valid or legal. Peterson has confirmed to me that I have read him correctly.
  16. It is also dubious to suggest that the Catholic Church ever held divine authority, from the perspective of LDS doctrine. The formation of Catholicism post-dated the passing of the apostles and their keys. See Noel B. Reynolds (editor), Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2005), particularly Reynolds’ introductory essay. PTHG’s command of early Christian history seems as muddled as his its version of LDS history.
  17. Snuffer shortchanges the LDS view: “it does not matter how wicked or evil a man is who holds the priesthood power, the keys of the church will guarantee it cannot be lost” (336). In fact, the LDS claim is that one can remain a legal administrator of essential ordinances despite sin if one is authorized by those who hold the keys. Ultimately those key holders are the apostles, who despite their weaknesses the Saints do not concede to be “wicked or evil” or deprived of that authority.
  18. For more examples, see here.
  19. James Burgess Notebook, discourse of 27 August 1843, cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 245–246.
  20. The mortal Melchizedek is also one whom Snuffer agrees held the sealing power—see pages 295–296.
  21. Orson Hyde, “Testimonies of the Truth, &c.,” Journal of Discourses 8:233–34 (7 October 1860).
  22. Brigham Young, “Persecution—the Kingdom of God, &c.,” Journal of Discourses 8:197 (7 October 1860).
  23. History of the Church 7:435–436 (17 August 1845); Manuscript History of Brigham Young (23 February 1847), 528–530; reprinted in Juvenile Instructor (15 September 1883): 283–284.
  24. Journal of Discourses 1:132–133 (6 April 1853); 3:208–209, 212 (17 February 1856); 12:153 (12 January 1868); 18:241, 243–245 (23 June 1874); Richard O. Cowan, Temple Building Ancient and Modern, Provo: BYU Press, 1971, p. 13; JD 18:241
  25. Young, Journal of Discourses 8:197.
  26. Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1988), 93–94.
  27. Whitney, 94. See note 53 herein regarding the identity of these apostles.
  28. Brigham Young, “The Witness of the Spirit—How to Continue to Be Sons of God—Necessity of Prayer,” Journal of Discourses 12:103 (17 November 1867); cited in Ehat thesis, 138. (Note that this section of the thesis includes a reference to the Joseph Smith III blessing, now known to be a Hofmann forgery.)
  29. Heber C. Kimball, Journal, Library-Archives, the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; cited in WJS, 17–18 n. 6.
  30. Heber C. Kimball, “Men Ought to Practise What They Teach, etc.,” Journal of Discourses 11:82 (19 February 1865).
  31. It is of note that the members of the Twelve who were in England, and thus were the subject of Joseph’s vision regarding their salvation, did not experience any apostasy: Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Brigham Young. Two quorum members who did not attend the mission as commanded would apostatize after Joseph’s death (John E. Page and William B. Smith), while the third went west to Utah (Orson Hyde). One spot in the quorum was vacant at the time. [James B. Allen and Malcolm R. Thorpe, “The Mission of the Twelve to England, 1840–41: Mormon Apostles and the Working Classes,” Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 502–503.] All eight of the English missionaries plus Hyde would also receive the full temple ordinances from Joseph at Nauvoo, including the second anointing—see claim #7 herein. Page would receive nothing, and William Smith only the endowment (Ehat, 194).