Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Passing the Heavenly Gift/Necessary authority could only be transmitted in a completed temple

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Response to Passing the Heavenly Gift: Claims that authority could only be transmitted in a completed temple

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 that authority could only be transmitted in a completed temple

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Is it true that necessary authority could only be transmitted in a completed temple?[1]

PTHG claims that D&C 124:28 proves that “[b]y 1841, the fullness of the priesthood had been suspended or ‘lost’ from Joseph Smith. He was no longer authorized to use that fullness on behalf of the church. The details of how it was taken have not been preserved” (97–98).

Perhaps there is no record of the details because Snuffer is in error. When the verse is read in context, such suspicions seem well-founded:

…build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein. For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood. For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead— (D&C 124:27–29)

Snuffer often complains about LDS historians starting with a conclusion and “reasoning backward” (97, 99, 319, 321). He gives us a specimen of that approach here. The scripture says that something has been lost and taken away—but the text then immediately says that this includes the ability to do baptisms for the dead.[2] But, Joseph and the Saints had never done baptisms for the dead prior to August 1840, or had the privilege of doing them.[3] Clearly, when God says something has been lost unto you and taken away, he does not mean taken away from the Church, but rather that the doctrines and powers associated with vicarious work for the dead were lost to mortals during the Christian apostasy. God deigns to restore these, but they can only happen in a temple, “For this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me, only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me” (D&C 124:30). Meanwhile, for now “your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me” (D&C 124:31)—a clear sign that the Saints are not being deprived of a previous blessing or power. They are, instead, called to build a temple so that this work and the other ordinances associated with it can be restored and continue.[4]

“If a red brick store is an adequate substitute for a temple,” Snuffer archly observes, “then there must have been plenty of places that could be found for the Lord to come and restore again the fullness” (335). Yet, Joseph Smith specifically told the apostles and others[5] that the Lord had commanded him to administer the ordinances and all the keys: “He told us that the object he had was for us to go to work and fit up that room preparatory to giving endowments to a few Elders that he might give unto them all the keys of power pertaining to the Aaronic and Melchisedec Priesthoods,” wrote one participant.[6] After Joseph dedicated the upper room for this purpose,[7] “Joseph washed and anointed [us] as Kings and Priests to God, and over the House of Israel, . . . [because] he was commanded of God, [to do so] . . . and [thereby] conferred on us Patriarchal Priesthood.”[8] Joseph told the Relief Society six days earlier, “the keys of the kingdom are about to be given.”[9] Three days later, he preached on the “keys of the kingdom,” saying that there are “certain signs and words by which false spirits and personages may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed.”[10] Brigham Young reported succinctly once all the higher ordinances were given: “Brother Joseph said he had given us all that could be given to man on the earth.”[11]

(This is a far cry from PTHG’s dismissive claim that “Joseph instituted a form of temple endowment in May, 1842” (266). According to Joseph, he instituted all the ordinances, and he did so at God’s command.[12] )

Willard Richards, keeper of Joseph’s journal and among the first nine to be endowed on 4 May 1842, would note that Joseph was “instructing them in the principles and order of the priesthood, attending to washings it anointings, & endowments, and the communications of keys, pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchisedec Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of days & all those plans & principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fulness of those blessings which has been prepared for the church of the firstborn, and come up into and abide in the presence of God.”[13] Observed Ehat:

Though this priesthood order did not confer the fullness of the priesthood, it "pertained to the highest order" in that it presented all the "plans and principles" that would "enable" anyone "to secure" in this life or before the resurrection the fullness of the priesthood….[14]

Almost a year later, at subsequent meetings, the same participants were sealed in eternal marriage.[15] Joseph would then teach publicly:

If a man gets the fullness of God he has to get [it] in the same way that Jesus Christ obtain[ed] it & that was by keeping all the ordinances of the house of the was one reason why Jesus said how oft would I have gatherd you (the Jews) together that they might attend to the ordinance of the baptism for the dead as well as the other ordinances the Priesthood Revelations &c.[16]

Ehat observed:

When Joseph spoke of "all the ordinances of the house of the Lord," the "fullness of the Priesthood" and "revelations as God gives in the most holy place in his temple" regarding becoming gods in eternity, he had in mind the highest ordinance of the temple—the only ordinance he had not as yet introduced. It was the capstone of ordinances essential to full salvation. To the members of the Quorum—still only the original nine members—this seems to have been clear. On 6 August 1843, Brigham Young in public discourse said, "If any in the church [have] the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood [I do] not know it. For any person to have the fullness of that priesthood, he must be a king and priest." Brigham had in 1842 with the eight others of the Quorum received an anointing promising him he would, if faithful, eventually receive another anointing actually ordaining him a king and priest.[17]

The highest ordinances were first introduced on 28 September 1843:

These ordinances, depending on the person's ecclesiastical position, made the recipient a "king and priest," "in," "in and over," or (as only in Joseph Smith's case) "over" the Church. Moreover, the recipient had sealed upon him the power to bind and loose on earth as Joseph explained in his definition of the fullness of the priesthood.[18]

And, on 22 November 1843, Brigham Young became the first of the Twelve to “receive the fullness of the priesthood” with his wife, Mary Ann.[19] Joseph then instructed Brigham to perform the same rite for the other apostles.[20]

Snuffer also ignores the fact that the Saints continued to maintain that a temple was necessary for the fullness of priesthood practice—and not only because the rank-and-file of the Church were to be endowed and receive the other higher ordinances there. The proxy work of endowments and sealings for the dead (as opposed to proxy baptisms)—which Joseph insisted formed part of the fullness—could not be performed outside of a temple, and never was.[21] Joseph taught, however, that all the ordinances for the living and all keys and powers which he had been given could be and were bestowed on the apostles (see claims #4 and #5). In part, PTHG simply has too narrow a definition of the “the fullness,” and refuses to accept Joseph Smith’s statements about the legitimacy of what he did in the maligned upper room of the red brick store, and why he did it. Snuffer’s views are made to trump even Joseph’s, mostly by ignoring the relevant historical evidence.


  1. 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).
  2. Note that Snuffer ends the citation before the line about baptism for the dead on 101–102, and it is also absent from his gloss on 97–98. Necessary context has been omitted, since the citation on p. 102 ends with verse 28, and then resumes with verse 31 on p. 104—the lines which make it most clear that baptism for the dead is the “lost” matter are here absent from Snuffer’s discussion.
  3. H. David Burton, “Baptism for the Dead: LDS Practice,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:95.
  4. Baptisms were discontinued at the conference held between 2–5 October 1841 [Discourse of 3 October 1841, reported in Times and Seasons 2/24 (15 October 1841): 577–578; cited in WJS, 76–79]. The temple font was dedicated on 8 November 1841, and baptisms for the dead resumed there on 21 November [Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1922), 256–257].
  5. Ehat thesis, 272 n. 291 cites as examples: History of the Church, 4: 608; Mills, "De Tal Palo Tal Astilla," 120–21; WJS, 116; Bathsheba W. Smith, "Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith," 245; Lucius N. Scovil, letter to Deseret News Semi-Weekly, 15 February 1884; Justus Morse, affidavit, in Shook, True Origins of Mormon Polygamy, 170.
  6. Lucius N. Scovil letter to Editor in "Higher Ordinances," Deseret News Semi-Weekly (15 February 1884): 2; cited by Andrew F. Ehat, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question," (Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981), 26, italics added.
  7. Ehat thesis, 27.
  8. George Miller to James J. Strang, 26 June 1855, from H. W. Mills, "De Tal Palo Tal Astilla," Annual Publications—Historical Society of Southern California 10 (Los Angeles: McBride Printing Company, 1917): 120–121; cited in Ehat thesis, 28.
  9. Nauvoo Relief Society minutes, discourse of 28 April 1842, cited in WJS, 116–117. See Ehat thesis, 31.
  10. Manuscript History of the Church, discourse of 1 May 1842, cited in WJS, 119–120. See Ehat thesis, 36.
  11. Heber C. Kimball, journal, 26 December 1845; cited by Ehat thesis, 80.
  12. See note 215 herein.
  13. Draft sheet of the "Manuscript History of the Church," in the hand of Willard Richards, 4 May 1842, Historian's Office Church Records Group, Church Archives; cited in Ehat thesis, 29.
  14. Ehat thesis, 29.
  15. Ehat thesis, 60–63.
  16. WWJ, 2:230–231 (11 June 1843); WJS, 213. See Ehat thesis, 77–78.
  17. Ehat thesis, 79–80. Citation for Brigham’s discourse is WWJ, 2:271 (6 August 1843).
  18. Ehat thesis, 95.
  19. Ehat thesis, 121–122.
  20. Ehat thesis, 145–148. See also 122, citing George A. Smith discourse, Millennial Star 37 (2 February 1875): 66, reporting 25 December 1874 discourse.
  21. See Richard E. Bennett, "'Which Is the Wisest Course?': The Transformation of Mormon Temple Consciousness, 1870–1898," Brigham Young University Studies 52/2 (2013): 5–43, especially 19–23.