Detailed response to CES Letter, Priesthood Restoration

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Detailed response to CES Letter, Priesthood Restoration



A FAIR Analysis of: [[../|Letter to a CES Director]], a work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Chart CES Letter priesthood restoration.png

Response to section "Priesthood Restoration Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author states, "Like the First Vision story, none of the members of the Church or Joseph Smith’s family had ever heard prior to 1834 about a priesthood restoration from John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John. Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834. Why did it take five years for Joseph or Oliver to tell members of the Church about the priesthood?"


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Response to claim: "'The late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.' – LDS Historian Richard Bushman"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The author quotes Richard Bushman: "'The late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.' – LDS Historian Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 75"

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author only includes part of Richard Bushman's quote, so that it makes it appear that Bushman is suggesting the Joseph may have fabricated these accounts. This is incorrect. Bushman goes on to make his point: "Did Joseph add the stories of angels to embellish his early history and make himself more of a visionary? If so, he made little of the occurrence. Cowdery was the first to recount the story of John’s appearance, not Joseph himself." [1]

Logical Fallacy: Contextomy (Citing out of context)—The author has created a false attribution in which he or she removed a passage by an authority from its surrounding context in such a way as to distort or reverse its intended meaning.

  • The author misrepresents Richard Bushman's comment by removing it from its context, thereby making it appear that he was saying something that he never intended to.
  • The author then claims that Bushman is in agreement with his own position, which is that Joseph fabricated these accounts.
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Response to claim: "none of the members of the Church or Joseph Smith’s family had ever heard prior to 1834 about a priesthood restoration from John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Like the First Vision story, none of the members of the Church or Joseph Smith’s family had ever heard prior to 1834 about a priesthood restoration from John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Records indicate that the visit of Peter, James and John for the purpose of ordination was being discussed in 1830.

Logical Fallacy: Argument from Silence—The author has formed a conclusion that is based on the absence of statements in historical documents, rather than on their actual presence.

The author has no idea whatsoever Joseph may have told his family about the priesthood restoration, because there are no historical documents to support his position one way or the other.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Why did it take five years for Joseph or Oliver to tell members of the Church about the priesthood?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834. Why did it take five years for Joseph or Oliver to tell members of the Church about the priesthood?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author wishes to persuade the reader that Joseph and Oliver made up the story several years after the fact.


Christensen: "Notice again the shift from an original argument against the priesthood restoration based on 'no such claim until 1834' to a much softer complaint about the general membership being 'unfamiliar with the now official story.'"

Kevin Christensen:

In his original Letter, Runnells says, “Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834.”[2] He uncritically repeats [Grant] Palmer’s claims about an 1834 date and leaves this crucially important information from 1832 off the table. When FairMormon points out the 1832 account, he labors to devalue the significance of this passage, and of other earlier sources that FairMormon mentions: “FAIR’s above answer actually confirms my point that the general Church membership was unfamiliar with the now official story of the Priesthood restoration until 1834. The best FAIR can do after scouring through everything for their rebuttal is this?”[3]

Notice again the shift from an original argument against the priesthood restoration based on “no such claim until 1834” to a much softer complaint about the general membership being “unfamiliar with the now official story.”[4]


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did not teach anyone or record anything prior to 1834 that men ordained to offices in the Church were receiving 'priesthood authority'"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did not teach anyone or record anything prior to 1834 that men ordained to offices in the Church were receiving 'priesthood authority'

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The newspaper Painsesville Telegraph claimed in 1830 that Oliver Cowdery was teaching "by this authority" after claiming to have "conversed with angels." The newspaper Palmyra Reflector claimed in 1831 that Cowdery said that he had "frequent interviews with angels."


Source to Consider:

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Response to claim: "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants...

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is a fact which has been discussed at length in Church publications such as the Ensign. Sidney Rigdon also helped edit the revelations.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John as if those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John as if those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations in the Book of Commandments, which they weren’t.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The editing of revelations is a fact which has been discussed at length multiple times in Church publications such as the Ensign. Sidney Rigdon also helped edit the revelations. Some copies of the Book of Commandments were saved after the press was destroyed and the revelations were passed around. Does the author think that nobody actually noticed that some revelations had been expanded?


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "David Whitmer...'I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834..."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

David Whitmer, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, had this to say about the Priesthood restoration:“I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834[,] [183]5, or [183]6 – in Ohio…I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver…” – Early Mormon Documents, 5:137

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author only includes the portion of Whitmer's quote the serves his purpose.

David Whitmer gave this interview in 1885, long after he had left the Church due to his disagreements with Joseph Smith. Here's what else he said during that interview ("David Whitmer Interview with Zenas H. Gurley, 14 January 1885," Early Mormon Documents, 5:137):

in the year 1829, on our way I conversed freely with them upon this great work they were bringing about, and Oliver stated to me in Josephs presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command-And after our arrival at fathers sometime in June 1829. Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the Church of Christ. <and during that year Joseph both baptized and ordained me an elder in the church of Christ.> Also, during this year the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, And we preached, baptized and ordained some as Elders, And upon the Sixth day of April 1830, six Elders together with some fifty or sixty (as near as I recollect) of the members met together to effect an organization. I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834[,] [183]5, or [183]6 - in Ohio, my information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revealment through Joseph. I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some. I regard that as an error, a misconception...[5]

One of Whitmer's major disagreements with Joseph was with regard to the priesthood, yet he talks of Joseph and Oliver baptizing and ordaining one another, and of them ordaining others to the office of Elder. Here is the 1828 Webster's Dictionary definition of "ordain":

ORDA'IN, verb transitive [Latin ordino, from ordo, order.]

1. Properly, to set; to establish in a particular office or order; hence, to invest with a ministerial function or sacerdotal power; to introduce and establish or settle in the pastoral office with the customary forms and solemnities; as, to ordain a minister of the gospel. In America, men are ordained over a particular church and congregation, or as evangelists without the charge of a particular church, or as deacons in the episcopal church.

Note the words "sacerdotal power" in the definition of the word "ordain". In Spanish, the word "priesthood" is "sacerdocio." Here is the definition of the word "sacerdotal" in the 1828 dictionary:

SACERDO'TAL, adjective [Latin sacerdotalis, from sacerdos, a priest. See Sacred.]

Pertaining to priests or the priesthood; priestly; as sacerdotal dignity; sacerdotal functions or garments; sacerdotal character.

Therefore, to "ordain" someone by the 1828 definition is to "invest with a ministerial function or sacerdotal power," which is, in this case, "priesthood power."

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Response to claim: "If Joseph was already an elder and apostle, what was the necessity of being ordained again?"

The author(s) of Debunking FAIR's Debunking (Debunking FairMormon) make(s) the following claim:

If Joseph was already an elder and apostle, what was the necessity of being ordained again?" - Richard Lyman Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p.157-158

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author only includes the portion of Bushman's comments on this to serve his purpose and hopefully stump the reader.


There is a bit more to consider besides just this snippet from Rough Stone Rolling from before and after this incident is described. Bushman adds more nuance to this conversation then is being expressed by the critic. On page 157 right after "Later accounts applied the term retroactively, but the June 1831 conference market its first appearane in contemporary records..." he writes:

The term "authority" frequently appeared, but not "priesthood." The absence of the word to this point may have been cause of its general negative associations for radical Protestants in Joseph's time. Priesthood was associated with Roman Catholicism and the old regime of Europe. The radical religious tradition from which many Mormon converts came denounced priesthood as popish, emphasizing preaching rather than sacraments administered by priests. Universalists like Joseph Smith's grandfather linked priesthood with priestcraft and reaching the gospel for hire. In most New England churches, ministers were ordained as pastors of specific congregations and were not admitted to a priesthood at all. The idea of priesthood descending in a line of authority was Roman, not Puritan.

Because priesthood was an alien concept to Yankee Christians, Joseph may have considered it prudent to say nothing about priesthood in the early years, or possible he did not understand it himself.

This isn't entirely congruent with these references to the priesthood restoration before June 1831 but may add understanding to the issue. Additionally, the Book of Mormon needs to be mentioned with its references to "Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God..." (Alma 13:18) and Alma who "...confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy." (Alma 4:20). These were some of the first verses to be translated by Oliver Cowdery as he and Joseph Smith began with Mosiah and proceeded through Moroni to then return and finish 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. These verses became the catalysts for Joseph and Oliver to enquire of the proper mode of baptism and from there the authority to do such was apparently restored.

After quoting from the June 1831 conference, Bushman offers some suggestions for the resolving the confusion:

The confusion may indicate that the division into two priesthoods, with elders in the higher and priests and teachers in the lower, was not clear before 1831. Joseph may not have realized that elders were part of the Melchizedek Priesthood already and were being ordained to the office of high priest rather than receiving the powers of the high priesthood. Although he understood the distinction by the 1840s, he seems to have fallen back into the confusion of those early years when he wrote about the ordinations. In this case, experience may have outrun comprehension. Because he knew so little about priesthood at the beginning, Joseph could no more grasp its meaning than he comprehended the full significance of the First Vision as a teenager. Although he understood such Church offices as teacher and elder, it took time to comprehend that the powers of the priesthood were included in the authority that went with those offices. Priesthood would grow into one of the defining principles of Mormonism. Despite Protestant aversion to the term, Joseph continued to expand priesthood down to his final days in Nauvoo. The June 1831 conference ordinations hinted at the direction his theology would take. Joseph had hoped for an endowment of power at the conference. He had tolerated exorbitant behavior in hopes of receiving a pentecostal manifestation. Thought disappointed, his reaction indicated a line of thinking: that the endowment of power would come to the Saints by way of priesthood. A year later, a revelation would say that in the ordinances of the priesthood, "the power of godliness is manifest; and without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh."

Another author that responded to this argument from the CES Letter posed good questions:

1. Why would Lyman Wight think he had the authority to give Joseph Smith the priesthood? (Because he had already received that priesthood moments before under the hand of Joseph Smith. So clearly this was an ordination to an office, not the first bestowal of the priesthood.) 



 2. Why would Joseph Smith think he needed Lyman Wight to give him the priesthood after Joseph gave the priesthood to Lyman Wight and four other men moments earlier? 
 (Because this was an ordination to an office in the priesthood, not the bestowal of the priesthood itself.) 
 


3. Why do Section 20 of the Doctrine & Covenants, written in 1829, and the Book of Mormon, written in 1830, describe the high priesthood in great detail if it wasn’t invented until 1831? (Because the concept of the high priesthood wasn’t a later invention as the CES Letter erroneously posits.) [6]

Simply put, the issue isn't nearly as clear-cut as the author thinks.

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LDS Truth Claims: Criticism from 1st Vision and Priesthood Restoration



Notes

  1. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 75.
  2. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 49.
  3. Runnells, “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”
  4. Kevin Christensen, "Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 10 (2014): 206.
  5. "David Whitmer Interview with Zenas H. Gurley, 14 January 1885," Early Mormon Documents, 5:137
  6. Jim Bennett, "A Faithful Reply from a Former CES Employee," <https://canonizer.com/files/reply.pdf> (Accessed 6 December 2018).


A FAIR Analysis of:
[[../|Letter to a CES Director]]
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
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