In the LDS church, the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is heralded as one of the greatest events in modern times. It ushered in a newfound connection to God and a return to the proper ordinances of God’s kingdom. However, upon inspection of historical records the dominate narrative quickly collapses and a much clearer explanation emerges.
In the LDS church we are taught that John the Baptist appeared on May 15th, 1829, to confer the Aaronic priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey and then a short time later Peter, James, and John appeared to confer the Melchizedek Priesthood and the office of apostle which is claimed to be the highest office in the church. While it is true that John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic priesthood, which is described in D&C 13, it is far more ambiguous as to what and when transpired for Peter, James, and John. You would think though that far more specifics could be given for such a monumental event.
The LDS church does say that the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood was likely between May 15th, 1829 and August 1830. This is because of a number of sources point to this time range in one way or another. Each of the sources hold various clues however none are very definitive as to when the event occurred and what exactly transpired.
Why Does It Matter
In the LDS version of events, Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph, confirmed him as an apostle and gave him all the priesthood authority he would need to govern the church. Later visits from individuals conferred keys, however he never received any higher authority. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that apostle then is the highest priesthood office in the church. This is in fact the official doctrine of the LDS church. This distinction is vital to show that Brigham Young had all the authority he needed in order to govern the church since he was an apostle. However, as will be shown shortly, this is very inaccurate.
While there is no doubt that Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph and confirmed him to be an apostle. This visit is canonized in D&C 27:12 which was added in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. There is however literally no evidence to suggest that Joseph was given the High Priesthood at this time and there is a large amount of evidence to suggest that he wasn’t. This distinction is vital to show that the office of apostle is not the highest priesthood office in the church and there is a higher priesthood for select individuals.
This will be shown in some detail however it is pretty clear, our current understanding of things is not wholly accurate because of scriptures like D&C 20:38, which states “an apostle is an elder”. If the office of apostle is contained in the larger office of elder and an elder is not a high priest, then logically it is impossible for apostle to be a high priest also. If apostle is not a high priest, then we would of course need that authority in order to officiate in the church of God.
We can see this requirement in D&C 107:64-66, which states:
Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all. Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church; or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.D&C 107:64-66
Therefore, we can see that the president of the church must have the high priesthood and therefore be a high priest in the church of God.
Brigham Young recognized this issue however he didn’t need to concern himself with this because he was already leader of the church. He remarked:
Now will it cause some of you to marvel that I was not ordained a High Priest before I was ordained an Apostle? Brother Kimball and myself were never ordained High Priests. How wonderful!Brigham Young
It is honestly not clear how Brigham could claim to have the high priesthood when he explicitly denied having it. It is also not clear how an apostle can be a high priest when an apostle is an elder which is not a high priest.
Morley Farm Conference
In February 1831, Joseph received a revelation which we now have as D&C 44 in which Joseph is instructed to call the elders together for an important conference. In that revelation, God says:
It is expedient in me that the elders of my church should be called together, from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south, by letter or some other way. And it shall come to pass, that inasmuch as they are faithful, and exercise faith in me, I will pour out my Spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together.D&C 44:1-2
Joseph was obedient and called several elders together for the important conference that was held Jun 3rd, 1831, on the farm that was owned by Isaac Morley. We have several accounts of the amazing manifestations that happened during that conference. Listed below are just a few. I don’t want to overwhelm you with quotes. However, it is important to realize the sheer magnitude of what is being described. Joseph even remarked before the conference that, “not three days should pass away, before some should see their Savior face to face”.
On the 6th of June, the Elders from the various parts of the country where they were laboring, came in; and the conference before appointed, convened in Kirtland; and the Lord displayed His power to the most perfect satisfaction of the Saints. The man of sin was revealed, and the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders.Joseph Smith
The most important thing to note from that statement is the idea that the Melchizedek Priesthood was introduced for the “first time”. This of course wouldn’t make sense if it was already there.
It is very curious to note that Willard Richards crossed out key aspects of that entry and hand wrote a more modern interpretation. However, the original certainly fits the rest of the statements much better. As was mentioned previously, it is very important when studying church history to ensure the records are as original as possible.
After the business of the church was attended to according to the Covenants, The Lord made manifest to Joseph that it was necessary that such of the elders as were considered worthy, should be ordained to the high priesthood. The spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner … After he had prophesied, he laid his hands upon Lyman Wight to the High Priesthood after the holy order of God. And the Spirit fell upon Lyman and he prophesied concerning the coming of Christ.John Whitmer
A conference was held at Kirtland, represented by all the again saw the visible manifestations of the power of God as plain as could have been on the day of Pentecost and here for the first time I saw the Melchisedec priesthood introduced into the church of Jesus Christ as anciently; whereunto I was ordained under the hands of Joseph Smith, and I then ordained Joseph and Sidney and sixteen others such as he chose unto the same priesthood. The spirit of God was made manifest to the heeling of the sick, casting out devils, speaking in unknown tongues, discerning of spirits, and prophesying with mighty power.Lyman Wight
The Melchizedek priesthood was then for the first time introduced, and conferred on several of the elders.John Corrill
Several were then selected by revelation, through President Smith, and ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of the Son of God; which is after the order of Melchizedek. This was the first occasion in which this priesthood had been revealed and conferred upon the Elders in this dispensation, although the office of an Elder is the same in a certain degree, but not in the fulness.Parley P. Pratt
From these statements we can see that several people, including Joseph Smith felt that at that conference the Melchizedek Priesthood was introduced for the first time into the church along with the office of High Priest. This was of course after the visitation of Peter, James, and John. It was also recorded that after Lyman Wight’s ordination then “he stood on his feet and testified that he could see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God”. This is obviously a major event in the church however we have received almost no information pertaining to the conference.
In the newly compiled history of the church, Saints Volume 1, this is the entire mention of that conference:
As the family cared for Eliza, her father attended an important church conference at a schoolhouse near the Morley farm. He was gone several days, and when he returned, he told the family he had to leave again.Saints, Volume 1
That is certainly very light information for such an important conference. It is also very light considering the conference was where Joseph received D&C 52, which called several people on missions. Therefore, you would expect the official history of the church to have at least a bit more information considering this “important” conference.
Lastly, why did several people testify to the fact that Lyman Wight ordained Joseph and Sydney to the High Priesthood when we know he was already an apostle? According to the official LDS explanation then apostle is higher than a high priest therefore Joseph certainly didn’t need any additional priesthood authority. Why also was the Melchizedek priesthood given to elders, shouldn’t they have already had it? From the conference we know 23 people where ordained as High Priests and all were elders expect Martin Harris who was a priest. Therefore, according to traditional LDS belief he shouldn’t have been a high priest.
Joseph also stated that the office of apostle had nothing to do with this higher priesthood, or Melchizedek priesthood as we would call it today. Joseph stated that the Melchizedek priesthood:
Was not the power of a Prophet nor apostle nor Patriarch only but of King & Priest to God to open the windows of Heaven and pour out the peace & Law of endless Life to man & No man can attain to the Joint heirship with Jesus Christ without being administered to by one having the same power & Authority of MelchisedecJoseph Smith
In this same talk Joseph actually described how there were 3 orders of the priesthood, namely Levitical, Patriarchal, and Melchizedek and at that time in 1843 the Patriarchal priesthood was the “greatest yet experienced in this church”. This is a very fascinating discussion which warrants its own dedicated focus. However, it certainly should be noted that as of 1843 Joseph mentioned that the church didn’t enjoy the Melchizedek priesthood anymore. The book Joseph in the Gap describes this quite well and I would recommend that book to anyone interested in this subject.
In the LDS church today almost every male, if they simply show up to church, is given the Melchizedek priesthood however God doesn’t seem to treat the priesthood as trivially as the LDS church does. In the JST of Genesis 14, Joseph wrote:
For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course; to put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world. And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.JST Genesis 14
I frankly wasn’t worthy of this priesthood power when I turned 18 and I seriously doubt most 18-year-olds are currently either. This power should only be given to the most trusted and proven of all of God’s servants. The Melchizedek priesthood is the highest power of God available to us and we haven’t seen this level of power since the very early Kirtland era of the church. Certainly, we haven’t seen this level of power recently. The recent pandemic would have been a perfect opportunity for the leaders of the church to demonstrate the power of God. However, we sadly saw instead the power of government over men.
It is certainly clear that Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph and transferred the apostolic authority. according to D&C 27:12. However, there is no mention of the High Priesthood being conferred and many records suggest that it actually was at the Morley farm conference. It is also clear, from things like D&C 20:38, that the office of apostle is not part of the High Priesthood and therefore this high priesthood is needed separately in order to govern the church and have more fully the blessings from God.
This distinction is very important in order to realize that as of at least 1843 the LDS church no longer had the Melchizedek priesthood according to Joseph Smith and there is no record of it having been given back to the church. This matches exactly with what Joseph received on January 19th, 1841, which was canonized as D&C 124 where God confirms that the higher priesthood was indeed removed from the church.
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.D&C 124:28
Frankly, if Brigham had all the authority he needed to continue on after the death of Joseph, then what in the world was God referring to in 1841? If the “fulness of the priesthood” was removed, then how did we get it back? If it was removed, then what are we giving men in the church as soon as they turn 18? Are we claiming to have the highest priesthood available, and yet we don’t? Are we taking the sacred name of God in vain by perpetuating the false traditions of our fathers?