FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 16
Response to claims made in "Chapter 16: The Priesthood"
A FAIR Analysis of: Criticism of Mormonism/Books, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
|The Changing World of Mormonism|
Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 16: The Priesthood"
Jump to Subtopic:
- Response to claim: 442 - The concept of "priesthood" was added later to the Church and was a creation of Sidney Rigdon
- Response to claim: 443 - Revelations on the restoration of the priesthood are not present in the Book of Commandments
- Response to claim: 443-444 - The Aaronic priesthood was abolished at that death of Christ
- Response to claim: 445 - The date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is not known and the record of the event was added later
- Response to claim: 445-446 - The idea of the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordaining men to be High Priests came from Sidney Rigdon
Response to claim: 442 - The concept of "priesthood" was added later to the Church and was a creation of Sidney Rigdon
The concept of "priesthood" was added later to the Church and was a creation of Sidney Rigdon.
- David Whitmer, An Address To All Believers In Christ, p.64.
How does Whitmer know? Why did he say nothing about it at the time? How do the Tanners or Whitmer know what Sidney talked Joseph into doing? The scanty evidence for this claim will require the Tanners to simply repeat it in a few pages (see p. 445-446).
Response to claim: 443 - Revelations on the restoration of the priesthood are not present in the Book of Commandments
Revelations on the restoration of the priesthood are not present in the Book of Commandments.
This is correct.
Question: Was the revelation comprising the current Doctrine and Covenants 27 altered to include mention of the priesthood restoration?
The revelation was originally printed in the 1833 Book of Commandments
The revelation in question is Doctrine and Covenants 27 in the modern edition. In it's original form, the revelation said the following (original spelling preserved):
Revelation, circa August 1830 [D&C 27] 28th. Commandment AD 1830 A Revelation to the Church given at Harmony susquehannh County State of Pennsylvania given to Joseph the Seer at a time that he went to purchase wine it for Sacrament & he was stoped by an Angel & he he spok to him as follows Saying Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ your Lord your God & your Redeemer whose word is quick & powerful for Behold I say unto you it mattereth not what ye <shall> eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory Remembering unto the father my Body which [was] laid down for you & my blood which was shed for you the Remission of your sins Wherefore a commandment I give unto you that ye shall not Purchase Wine neither strong drink of your enemies Wherefore ye shall partake none except it is made new among you yea in this my Fathers Kingdom which shall be built up on the earth Behold this is wisdom in me [p. 35] Wherefore marvel not for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the Vine with you on the Earth & with you all those whom my father hath given me out of the world Wherefore lift up your hearts & rejoice & Gird up your loins & be faithful untill I come even so amen 
The revelation was expanded in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants to include a description of all of the prophets who were or would be involved with the restoration, starting with Moroni
Two years after this revelation was supposed to be published in the Book of Commandments, it was substantially expanded for publication in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as Section 50 with the addition of the names of a number of prophets who held various keys, starting with Moroni. The revelation was expanded to talk of much more than just the priesthood restoration. This is, in essence, a new revelation that was combined into the original August 1830 revelation text:
1 Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God, and your Redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful. For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins. Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies; Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.
2 Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim; And also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days; And also 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, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron; And also Elijah, unto whom I have committed 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; And also with Joseph and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, your fathers, by whom the promises remain; And also with Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days;
3 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 and of the same things which I revealed unto them; Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; And also with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world. Wherefore, lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all, that ye may be able to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, which I have sent mine angels to commit unto you; Taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of my Spirit, which I will pour out upon you, and my word which I reveal unto you, and be agreed as touching all things whatsoever ye ask of me, and be faithful until I come, and ye shall be caught up, that where I am ye shall be also. Amen. 
Brigham Young (1855): "I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness"
I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities...
Response to claim: 443-444 - The Aaronic priesthood was abolished at that death of Christ
The Aaronic priesthood was abolished at that death of Christ.
The idea that the Melchizedek Priesthood superseded the Aaronic Priesthood is a correct one. But this does not necessarily imply that there is no Aaronic Priesthood.
Question: Why do Mormons use the Aaronic Priesthood, since Hebrews 7 states that the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood was "changed" to the unique priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" held by Jesus Christ?
The idea that the Melchizedek Priesthood superseded the Aaronic Priesthood is a correct one, but this does not necessarily imply that there is no Aaronic Priesthood
As other Christians see it, the Aaronic Priesthood is like a small glass of water that is replaced by a fruit juice (the Melchizedek Priesthood). They are distinguished from each other, in most Christians' eyes, as quite separate things.
The LDS would use a different metaphor to explain things: they might compare the Aaronic Priesthood to a glass of water that is filled only part way. Instead of being replaced by an entirely different drink, more water is poured into it until it is a full glass (the Melchizedek Priesthood).
From a Mormon perspective, the two priesthoods are really the same substance: the power of God delegated to man
From whence do the two priesthoods originate? The same source—God. What is the purpose of the two priesthoods? They bring mortals to the Lord (note that only the Melchizedek Priesthood can do so entirely—see Hebrews 7:11—but the Aaronic Priesthood was instrumental in keeping ancient Israel holy and pure). The Aaronic Priesthood is merely a limited form of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or (as LDS scriptures call it) an "appendage" to it (D&C 107:13–14).
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles illustrated the doctrine clearly:
Since all priesthood is Melchizedek, the Aaronic Priesthood being a portion of it, one does not lose the Aaronic Priesthood when he is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood [...]
Why does the Aaronic Priesthood persist in the Church?
So, if the Church possesses the Melchizedek priesthood, then why would the Aaronic Priesthood persist today? The Aaronic priesthood serves as a 'preparatory priesthood' (see D&C 84:26.) Just as the Levitical authority in ancient Israel acted as a "schoolmaster" to prepare Israel to receive Christ (see Galatians 3:24–25), in the modern Church the Aaronic priesthood serves to school young men for service in God's kingdom on earth.
The modern Aaronic priesthood's organizational structure follows the pattern established by the New Testament Church, and consists of Deacons (see Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8,10,12–13), Teachers (Acts 13:1,1 Corinthians 12:28–29), and Priests (see Acts 6:7), and countless references in the Old Testament to Levitical/Aaronic 'priests').
Each Aaronic priesthood office is trusted with more responsibility, providing LDS young men with the opportunity to progress and mature until they are ready to receive the priesthood in full—the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Aaronic priesthood duties and function similar to ancient Israel
Despite some modern differences from ancient Israel, the Aaronic Priesthood is not much different compared to ancient times.
The Aaronic priesthood performs two ordinances (some Christian groups would call these 'sacraments').
- Baptism: John the Baptist held the Aaronic Priesthood, which holds the keys of baptism, and baptism is of course a fundamental part of salvation through Christ (see Acts 2:38).
- Sacrifice: The modern Church does not, of course, sacrifice animals because Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us, giving us the last great sacrifice (see Ephesians 5:2). Yet, the Church rejoices in and recalls His sacrifice for us by partaking of the sacrament ("communion" or "the Lord's supper" in other denominations) Matthew 26:26-29). Thus, the modern priest repeats a ceremony of atonement and sacrifice through the sacrament of the Lord's supper; this plays a similar theological role to the animal sacrifices offered by Aaronic priests anticipation of Christ's atonement and resurrection.
Separation of priesthood duties in the New Testament Church
It should be noted that all priesthood was not equivalent in the New Testament Church either. For example, many members had been baptized with water (an ordinance of the Aaronic priesthood) but had not yet received the Holy Ghost until one of the apostles laid hands upon them (a Melchizedek priesthood function). (See Acts 8:15–19, Acts 19:2–6).
Response to claim: 445 - The date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is not known and the record of the event was added later
The date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is not known and the record of the event was added later.
- History of the Church 1:40, footnote
This is correct.
Question: What is the date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood?
There is a narrow May 15 to 30, 1829 ordination window
Knowing that the prophet already had the Melchizedek priesthood prior to the organization of the church we can look at the following clues of the May 15 to 30, 1829 ordination window in order of progressively narrowed parameters:
- Year 1829: There is a manuscript in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting recording part of D&C 18: saying, “Written in the year of our Lord & Saviour 1829.” 
- June 1829: In D&C 18:9 we read “And now, Oliver Cowdery, I speak unto you, and also unto David Whitmer, by the way of commandment; for, behold, I command all men everywhere to repent, and I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called.”
- Before June 14, 1829: Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to Hyrum Smith. The letter has some wording that quotes and refers to section 18 in the D&C. 
- Before June 1, 1829:
- Joseph Smith said that he, Emma, Oliver and David Whitmer traveled to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. “In the beginning of the month of June.” 
- David Whitmer is quoted as saying “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.”  If those dates are exact then the Prophet was in New York during the entire month of June.
- Orson Pratt asked David Whitmer, “Can you tell the date of the bestowal of the Apostleship upon Joseph, by Peter, James and John?” To which he replied: “I do not know, Joseph never told me.” From this we can tell that the visitation either:
- Happened during the traveling when Joseph and Oliver were away from David and did not tell him about the occurrence (their trusted friend with whom they shared many other events).
- Happened at another time than their travel from Harmony to Fayette.
Question: What criticisms are put forth regarding the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood?
Historical documents do not give an exact date for the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood
One critic of the Church claims that "Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834."  Common questions asked include the following:
- Was the restoration of the priesthood was "back dated" later by Joseph Smith to justify a desire to dominate the Church?
- Does anyone know "when or how" Joseph Smith received the Melchizedek priesthood?
- Why did several years pass before Oliver talked about the priesthood restoration?
If Joseph was making the story up, why not just pick a date and stick to it? The uncertainty of dates is typical of real world events; any one clever enough to "fake" the restoration and organization of the Church could certainly pick a date off the top of his head. Who could argue with him?
The approximate time of the Melchizedek priesthood' restoration can be plausibly narrowed down
When all the circumstantial evidence is studied, the approximate time of the Melchizedek priesthood' restoration can be plausibly narrowed down. Although historical documents do not give an exact date for the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood we can pinpoint its occurrence to a 17 day window between the 15 and 31 of May, 1829. The window that is known is small enough to preclude a later fabrication of events by the Prophet to "increase his authority."
There are non-Mormon accounts that indicate that Joseph and Oliver had received visits from apostles and angels
Some have claimed that Joseph only began to mention apostolic ordination to the priesthood several years after the Church's organization. Contrary to this claim, there are clear references to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’.
Response to claim: 445-446 - The idea of the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordaining men to be High Priests came from Sidney Rigdon
The idea of the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordaining men to be High Priests came from Sidney Rigdon.
- Whitmer, An Address To All Believers In Christ, p.35, 62-63
Making the same claim twice makes it no more convincing (see p. 442).
- Revelation Book 1, The Joseph Smith Papers off-site
- Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, The Joseph Smith Papers off-site
- Brigham Young, "The Kingdom Of God," (8 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:314.
- M. Russell Ballard, cited in Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 72.
- Oliver Cowdery, “Written in the year of our Lord & Savior 1829—A true copy of the articles of the Church of Christ,” MS 1829, LDS Church Archives.
- Letter of Oliver Cowdery to Hyrum Smith, 14 June 1829, Fayette, New York, LDS Church Archives.
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:48–49. Volume 1 link; Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:293.
- Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881.
- Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com