Elijah’s Visit to the Kirtland Temple


As a member of the LDS church, I never once questioned Elijah’s visit to the Kirtland temple. I had no need, and it was always described as a matter of fact. However, when I started to really critically examine things then I swung completely in the opposite direction and began to believe every idea that was counter to the official narrative. This seemed natural because my eyes started to open, and I saw many things in a totally different light. However, now I have realized that truth doesn’t always follow convenient ideological boundaries and most often the truth is comfortably in the middle.

LDS Belief

In the LDS church, Elijah’s visit to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple, was canonized as D&C 110, and is believed to be when Joseph and Oliver received the sealing power. This sealing power is the highest power a human can hold as it binds earthly things in heaven and is the authority that is used in order to seal marriages so that they can be endure into the next life. This is an incredibly significant point in the history of the church and is seen as more evidence of God’s divine approval for the young church.

The issue with this though is that the entire concept of being sealed to God or sealing in general has changed drastically from what it originally was. It is not my intent to describe that as I already have in some depth. However, it is important to realize that scripturally there is no concept of sealing other than being sealed to God or Satan. The description of Elijah’s visit however does not describe Elijah as transferring any keys or authority at all. It doesn’t describe anything even remotely close to a power to seal in heaven that was given to Joseph. Therefore, it is entirely unclear why a claim of this magnitude is made based on evidence such as this.

Reasons to Doubt

In my previous look at the importance of the Kirtland temple, I described how the visit from Elijah was never talked about by Joseph or Oliver during their lives. This is certainly strange if the visit was a culmination of spiritual power as the LDS church believes it was. It is not very clear why Joseph would have the vision recorded and then hide it if he was then authorized to seal couples in eternal marriage. However, it is also important to keep in mind that Joseph almost never taught from the Book of Mormon itself. In virtually all of his teaching he referenced the Bible. Does this mean then that the Book of Mormon didn’t happen?

If the vision did happen then it most certainly was not a spiritual advancement, but a degradation. At that point the church had rejected the fulness that was given them and had chosen instead to collectively live a lower law. It is important to keep in mind though, that just because Joseph didn’t mention the vision that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Through the historical records we have, we can only see an incredibly small glimpse of what actually transpired. I am not suggesting we don’t use these records in our consideration. I am however simply saying that the lack of evidence is not evidence.

It is very clear however, that Joseph always spoke of Elijah as being part of a future work and never in the past or present. This can be seen in several different discourses that were given by Joseph. This doesn’t of course mean that Elijah couldn’t have visited and performed some kind of work or transferred keys or authority. Elijah certainly could have visited and then described, to Joseph, a future work he would perform. The records we have are entirely unclear on this point.

In order to demonstrate Joseph speaking of Elijah as having a future mission it is helpful to briefly analyze some of Joseph’s statements on this subject. In an October 5th, 1840, address on the Priesthood Joseph mentioned:

Elijah was the last Prophet that held the keys of this priesthood, and who will, before the last dispensation, restore the Authority and deliver the keys of this priesthood in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness.

Joseph Smith – October 5, 1840

Another occurrence of this was published in an October 3rd, 1841, edition of the Times and Seasons. This was a discourse on Baptisms for the Dead in which Joseph mentioned:

The dispensation of the fulness of times will bring to light the things that have been revealed in all former dispensations, also other things that have not been before revealed. He shall send Elijah the prophet &c., and restore all things in Christ.

Joseph Smith – October 3, 1841

One last occurrence that we can look at is a discourse that Joseph gave on August 13th, 1843, and was recorded by Willard Richards. Joseph mentioned:

The world is reserved unto burning in the last days—— he shall send Elijah the prophet . . . and he shall reveal the covenants of the fathrs in relation to the childrn,— and the covenants of the children in relation to the fathrs.—

Joseph Smith – August 13, 1843

As was mentioned, Joseph always spoke of Elijah as having a future mission and being part of the events immediately preceding those of the last days. It is however logically inconsistent to conclude that if Elijah had a mission in the future, then he couldn’t or wouldn’t also have a mission that involved visiting Joseph in the Kirtland temple. It is quite possible that Elijah has many purposes to fulfil that we simply don’t know about. Therefore, based on Joseph not speaking about the vision and Joseph speaking of Elijah as being part of future events, then we honestly can’t conclude anything aside from Elijah being part of the future work of God.

Reasons to Accept

In determining whether the visitation of Elijah in the Kirtland temple actually happened, there are a few key pieces of evidence that we can use to help us reach a specific conclusion. The first that I believe would be helpful to consider is an article that was published in the December 1898 edition of the Improvement Era. This article was written by Samuel W. Richards who was a close friend of Oliver Cowdrey and had first met Oliver when Oliver was separated from the church. This chance meeting happened during a fortunately timed snowstorm in January 1848 where Oliver was stuck with Samuel for nearly two weeks. It was during this time that Samuel became personally acquainted with Oliver and the many things that Oliver had to share regarding his history.

After this event, Samuel continued to maintain correspondence with Oliver until Oliver’s death on March 3rd, 1850. As a tribute to Oliver, Samuel published a brief summary of Oliver’s life which was published in the December 1898 Improvement Era. In this tribute, Samuel also published Oliver’s last testimony, in writing, of the work of God that Oliver was a personal witness to. In the article, Samuel wrote:

On April 3rd, 1836, he was favored, with the Prophet Joseph, to witness the marvelous manifestations which occurred in the Kirtland Temple, when they saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit … Immediately after this, also appeared in succession Moses, Elias, and Elijah, each delivering up the keys and powers of their several missions and dispensations to Joseph and Oliver

Samuel W. Richards – December 1898

This is of course, Samuel’s interpretation of things and several years after the chance meeting. However, Samuel would be an excellent person to know whether the events actually happened. In addition, if there was anything amiss with the events or anything leading up to them then Samuel would also very likely know. This is not to suggest that Samuel knew everything about Oliver. It is however quite likely that they would discuss consequential events such as these.

I think the most compelling argument in favor of the visitation though is that we actually have the written account in Joseph’s journal as written by Warren A. Cowdrey. Warren was the brother of Oliver Cowdrey and would occasionally act as a scribe for Joseph. In this particular case, we are fortunate enough to have the Kirtland temple dedicatory activities written by Warren and we can use this information to help us understand the written account.

Historically we know that Warren and Oliver both had difficulties with the church, which eventually resulted in Oliver being excommunicated on April 12th, 1838. Warren separated from the church and continued to live in the Kirtland area until his death on February 23rd, 1851. This is important though because Warren would have had to have written the account prior to his becoming disaffected with the church in 1838. This leads to a very strong likelihood that the account was dictated to Warren who transcribed it in Joseph’s 1836 journal around the time that the event purportedly happened. This seems incredibly likely since Warren was also a scribe for Joseph during this time.

Some have speculated that this account is part of a vast conspiracy from Brigham Young to forge this and numerous other records for a specific purpose. I don’t claim any credentials in handwriting analysis, however if we look at the hundreds of examples of Warren’s handwriting then we can see that the handwriting is quite consistent. Therefore, either Brigham accurately forged Warren’s handwriting, for no apparent reason, forged all of Warren’s documents that we have, or the handwriting of the vision is in fact Warren’s. Certainly Warren could have made it all up, however why would Warren have done that?

It is also important to keep in mind that the written account mentions nothing about sealing, polygamy, or anything remotely close. Therefore, if Brigham did forge the record as some claim, then it is very confusing as to what he was attempting to accomplish. Just because some associate the vision with polygamy, doesn’t mean that’s true, and it doesn’t mean that it should be rejected outright.

The last compelling piece of evidence is that starting in 1839, Joseph began what was referred to as the Manuscript History of the Church. This was a comprehensive history of the church and spanned several volumes. When Joseph died in June 1844, the history was complete up until August 5th, 1838, which of course was past the purported vision on April 3rd, 1836. Therefore, if we look at the written record then we can clearly see this vision included for that date. I don’t see how this would be possible unless they wrote the account during the life of Joseph or wrote the entire volume after Joseph’s death which we know didn’t happen. Certainly, Joseph’s wouldn’t have been aware of every written word. However, it would be incredibly brazen to conclude that Willard Richards, who was the scribe at the time, would have manufactured a completely fraudulent vision in order to support a narrative that didn’t need to be supported at the time.


Certainly, we can’t know for sure whether the vision happened in the Kirtland temple or not. I do though believe the Kirtland temple dedicatory week was very special and illustrated the love of God for Joseph and the struggling church. However, I completely disagree with the LDS church that the vision, if it happened, resulted in the transfer of the sealing power from Elijah to Joseph. There is no evidence of this, and it does entirely seem to be an invention to support a narrative.

However, I believe there is clear evidence to support the idea that the vision actually happened, and it was a culmination of Christ forgiving the church and mercifully allowing it additional time to qualify for the great blessings of God. Historically we know however that the church was driven from city to city, which was tragically what we were told would happen, in an August 21st, 1834, revelation to Joseph. This was the consequence to the church if the elders didn’t qualify themselves to redeem Zion. The elders didn’t purify themselves sufficiently, God’s people weren’t redeemed, and the church was afflicted with a scourge and cast back into the wilderness.

I do however think that whether Elijah visited the Kirtland temple in 1836 or not, it doesn’t impact the fact that Elijah still has a future work to perform. In the LDS church, we like to think of Joseph as being the one to usher in the restoration. However, from the information we have, Joseph was the one to create the foundation so a future Elijah could help usher in the restoration of all things. From a March 1832 revelation, which was canonized as D&C 77, we know that the restoration hasn’t even happened yet.

What is to be understood by the two witnesses, in the 11th chapter of Revelation?
They are two prophets that are to be raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration, and to prophesy to the Jews after they are gathered and have built the city of Jerusalem in the land of their fathers.

Author: Patrick