Selected Teachings on
Introductory note: The restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood was not an event but rather an unfolding process which occured over the span of several years. It might be said that it occurred line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. The order and outline of how this occured can be written as follows:
- [Go to details] The Restoration of the Apostleship, the Keys of the Kingdom, and a Dispensation of the Gospel
- [Go to details] The Authorization to Confer the Gift of the Holy Ghost and to Ordain Elders
- [Go to details] The Restoration of the High Priesthood
- [Go to details] The Restoration of the Keys of the Gathering of Israel and the Leading the Ten Tribes from the North
- [Go to details] The Restoration of the Dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham
- [Go to details] The Restoration of the Keys of Sealing Together the Family of God
Who Restored the Apostleship and the Keys?
In D&C 27:12-13 the Lord declared to Joseph, "Peter, and James, and John, ... 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."
Where Were the Apostleship and the Keys Restored?
Joseph declared that he heard "the voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times" (D&C 128:20).
When Were the Apostleship and the Keys Restored?
According to the scriptural and historical record, the timeline of the restoration of the Apostleship and the keys of the kingdom can be estimated as follows:
May 15, 1829. John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery near the Susquehanna river (see Account). At that time John declared to Joseph and Oliver that "he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second" (JS-H 1:72; see also D&C 13 Section Heading).
Latter part of May 1829. In Joseph Smith's history he records, "After a few days [following John the Baptist's conferral of the Aaronic priesthood] feeling it to be our duty we commenced to reason, out of the scriptures, with our acquaintances and friends, as we happened to meet with them. About this time my brother Samuel H. Smith came to visit us." Joseph records that Samuel,
"by secret and fervent prayer ... obtained revelation for himself sufficient to convince him of the truth of our assertions to him and on the [blank] <twenty fifth> day of that same month in which we had been baptized and ordained; Oliver Cowdery baptized him, And he returned to his father’s house greatly glorifying and praising God, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Not many days afterwards, my brother Hyrum Smith came to us to enquire concerning these things, when at his earnest request, I enquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummin, and received for him the following. Revelation given to Hyrum Smith, at Harmony, Susquehanah County, Pensylvania. May 1829. (History, 1838-1856 [23 December 1805-August 1834]; see earliest draft version History, circa June-October 1839 [Draft 1])
Sometime after John the Baptist's visit but before Samuel Smith left Harmony to return to Palmyra and before Hyrum Smith came to Harmony at the end of May, Joseph and Oliver traveled up to Colesville, New York to ask for provisions from their friend Joseph Knight, Sr. so that they could continue their work on the Book of Mormon translation. Joseph Knight Sr. recollects:
Joseph and Oliver Came up to see me if I Could help him to some provisons, [they] having no way to Buy any. But I was [gone] to Cattskill. But when I came home my folks told me what Joseph wanted. But I ... went again and I Bought a Barral of Mackrel and some lined paper for writing. And when I came home I Bought some nine or ten Bushels of grain and five or six Bushels taters [potatoes] and a pound of tea, and I went Down to see him and they ware in want. Joseph and Oliver ware gone to see if they Could find a place to work for provisions, But found none. They returned home and found me there with provisions, and they ware glad for they ware out. Their familey Consisted of four, Joseph and wife, Oliver and his [Joseph's] Brother Samuel. Then they went to work and had provisions enough to Last till the translation was Done. ("Joseph Knight's Recollections of Early History," BYU Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1; see online version)
The significance of this brief trip is that it is the only recorded time in 1829 when both Joseph and Oliver were together "in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river" (D&C 128:20). Furthermore, Joseph Knight's recollection that Samuel Smith was still at Joseph's home in Harmony when he came to visit the Smiths serves to pinpoint the timing of Joseph and Oliver's trip specifically to the latter end of May 1829.
Conclusion: From the foregoing we conclude that Peter, James, and John were sent to Joseph and Oliver sometime near the end of May 1829 and "ordained [them] and confirmed [them] to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name" and "committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times" (D&C 27:12-13). This occurred either when they where on their way up to or on their way back from their visit to Joseph Knight Sr. "in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river" (D&C 128:20).
Who Authorized This? When and Where did it Happen?
Quick Answer: Joseph and Oliver were authorized to ordain Elders and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost by "the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county" (D&C 128:21) before June 14, 1829.
Details: In the beginning of June 1829, Joseph and Oliver move with David Whitmer's help from Harmony, Pennsylvania to the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr. (David's father) in Fayette, New York. Soon after this move the Three Witnesses had their sacred experience in the woods behind the Witmer home and shortly thereafter Joseph and Oliver completed the translation of the Book of Mormon. When Joseph looked back on this time in 1839 he recalled,
"We now became anxious to have that promise realized to us, which the angel that conferred upon us the Aaronic Priesthood had given us, viz., that provided we continued faithful, we should also have the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds the authority of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We had for some time made this matter a subject of humble prayer, and at length we got together in the chamber of Mr. Whitmer's house, in order more particularly to seek of the Lord what we now so earnestly desired; and here, to our unspeakable satisfaction, did we realize the truth of the Savior's promise—"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"—for we had not long been engaged in solemn and fervent prayer, when the word of the Lord came unto us in the chamber, commanding us that I should ordain Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ; and that he also should ordain me to the same office; and then to ordain others, as it should be made known unto us from time to time.* We were, however, commanded to defer this our ordination until such times as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together, when we must have their sanction to our thus proceeding to ordain each other, and have them decide by vote whether they were willing to accept us as spiritual teachers or not; when also we were commanded to bless bread and break it with them, and to take wine, bless it, and drink it with them; afterward proceed to ordain each other according to commandment; then call out such men as the Spirit should dictate, and ordain them; and then attend to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, upon all those whom we had previously baptized, doing all things in the name of the Lord. (History of the Church, 1:60-62; see also History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834])
*Note that in this statement it is assumed that Joseph and Oliver already have the priesthood required to ordain each other but that they were not yet authorized to use this priesthood to ordain one another nor to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Before June 14, 1829. In Joseph Smith's history he places the experience in Father Whitmer's chamber before the reception of D&C 18. It is clear from a letter to Hyrum Smith from Oliver Cowdery that the revelation now known as D&C 18 was received either on, or more likely, before June 14, 1829 (see Oliver's Letter).
Incidently, the Lord declares in D&C 18 that Oliver Cowdery (and perhaps David Whitmer*) is "called even with that same calling with which [Paul, the apostle] was called" (D&C 18:19) confirming that Oliver's ordination to the apostleship had already occurred by June 1829.
*David Whitmer recalls that he was ordained an Elder the same month D&C 18 was received. David stated, "In June, 1829 ... I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained an Elder in the Church of Christ by Bro. Joseph Smith. Previous to this, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had baptized, confirmed and ordained each other to the office of an Elder in the Church of Christ. I was the third person baptized into the church" (An Address to All Believers in Christ, (1887), p.32). Whether at this time being an Elder was equated with being an apostle is not clear. The Lord may only have been referring to Oliver Cowdery's ordination to the apostleship.
When and Where did it Happen?
Quick Answer: During the first few days of June 1831, a general conference was convened on the farm of Isaac Morley in which virtually every priesthood holder in the Church was in attendance. During a meeting on the 3rd of June Joseph Smith conferred "the high priesthood" for the first time in this dispensation upon several elders in attendance. To some degree this was considered to be part of the "endowment of power" which the Lord had promised the saints would receive when they came to Kirtland (D&C 38:32).
Details: The following are accounts of this meeting from those who were in attendance:
Joseph Smith (President)
On the [3rd] 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 in a manner that could not be mistaken. The man of sin was revealed, and the authority of the melchisedec priesthood was manifested and I conferred, the high priesthood for the first time, upon several of the elders. It was clearly evidint that the Lord gave us power in proportion to the work to be done and strength according to the race set before us; and grace and help as our needs required. Great harmony prevailed. Several were ordained; Faith was strengthened; and humility, so necessary for the blessing of God to follow prayer, characterized the saints. (History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]; see josephsmithpapers.org)
Parley P. Pratt
[In] June, 1831, a general conference was convened at Kirtland, consisting of all the Elders, far and near, who could be got together. In this conference much instruction was given by President Smith, who spake in great power, as he was moved by the Holy Ghost; and the spirit of power and of testimony rested down upon the Elders in a marvelous manner. Here also were some strange manifestations of false spirits, which were immediately rebuked.
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. On this occasion I was ordained to this holy ordinance and calling by President Smith. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, edited by his son, Parley P. Pratt [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 53)
Previous to this there was a revelation received, requiring the Prophet to call the elders together, that they might receive an endowment [D&C 38:32]. This was done, and the meeting took place some time in June. About fifty elders met, which was about all the elders that then belonged to the church. The meeting was conducted by [Joseph] Smith. Some curious things took place. The same visionary and marvelous spirits, spoken of before, got hold of some elders; it threw one from his seat to the floor; it bound another, so that for some time he could not use his limbs nor speak; and some other curious effects were experienced, but, by a mighty exertion, in the name of the Lord, it was exposed and shown to be from an evil source. The Melchizedek Priesthood was then for the first time introduced, and conferred on several of the elders. In this chiefly consisted the endowment—it being a new order—and bestowed authority. However, some doubting took place among the elders, and considerable conversation was held on the subject. The elders not fairly understanding the nature of the endowments, it took some time to reconcile all their feelings. (History of the Mormons , p.18)
John Whitmer (Church Historian)
June 3, 1831, a general conference was called, and a blessing promised, if the elders were faithful, and humble before him. Therefore, the elders assembled from the East and the West, from the North and the South. And also many members. Conference was opened by prayer and exhortation by Joseph Smith, Jr., the Revelator. 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. And prophesied that John the Revelator was then among the ten tribes of Israel who had been led away by Salmanasar King of [Assyria], to prepare them for their return, from their long dispersion, to again possess the land of their fathers. He prophesied many more things that I have not written. After he had prophesied he laid his hands upon Lyman Wight [and ordained him] to the High Priesthood after the Holy Order of God. And the spirit fell upon Lyman, and he ... saw the heavens opened, and the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the Father. Making intercession for his brethren, the Saints. He said that God would work a work in these last days that tongue cannot express, and the mind is not capable to conceive. The glory of the Lord shone around.
At the conference these were ordained to the high priesthood, namely, Lyman Wight, Sidney Rigdon, John Murdock, Reynolds Cahoon, Harvey Whitlock and Hyrum Smith [they] were ordained by Joseph Smith, Jr., except Sidney Rigdon.
The following by Lyman Wight by commandment. Parley P. Pratt, Thomas B. Marsh, Isaac Morley, Edward Partridge, Joseph Wakefield, Ezra Thayer, Martin Harris, Ezra Booth, who denied the faith, Harvey Whitlock denied the faith, also Joseph Wakefield, Joseph Smith, Sen., Joseph Smith, Jr., [and] John Whitmer. The bishop then proceeded and blessed the above named and others by the laying on of hands. Isaac Morley and John Correll [Corrill] were ordained as bishop's counsellors to Edward Partridge. ("Book of John Whitmer," Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri; see online version)
When and Where did it Happen?
Quick Answer: In the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, the prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw in successive visions Moses, then Elias, then Elijah. Moses committed unto them "the keys of the gathering of Israel ... and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north" (D&C 110:11); Elias committed unto them "the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham" (D&C 110:12); and Elijah committed into their hands "the keys" of the dispensation "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers" (D&C 110:15-16).
Detailed Answer: On the evening of September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni quoted several passages of scripture to Joseph Smith, among which was Malachi 4:5, which Moroni rendered as follows: "Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (D&C 2:1). At the age of 17, Joseph was learning that one day the Old Testament prophet Elijah would somehow be involved in "revealing the Priesthood." Nearly 13 years later Joseph would participate in the fulfillment of this prophecy in the Kirtland Temple.
On April 3, 1836, one week after the Kirtland Temple was dedicated, Joseph Smith "attended [a] meeting in the Lord's House, and assisted the other Presidents of the Church in seating the congregation, and then became an attentive listener to the preaching from the stand. Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten spoke in the forenoon to an attentive audience of about one thousand persons." Later that afternoon Joseph states that he "assisted the other Presidents in distributing the Lord's Supper to the Church, receiving it from the Twelve, whose privilege it was to officiate at the sacred desk this day. After having performed this service to my brethren, I retired to the pulpit, the veils being dropped, and bowed myself, with Oliver Cowdery, in solemn and silent prayer. After rising from prayer," he explained, a "vision was opened to both of us" (History of the Church, 2:434-435). Joseph described this sacred vision by saying that "the veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the temple" (D&C 110:1-2). Joseph went on to explain that the Lord accepted the Kirtland Temple and promised to manifest himself in that holy house (see D&C 110:7-8).
Following this vision of the Savior, Joseph described that he and Oliver Cowdery were then visited by three heavenly messengers who committed to them certain keys and dispensations of the priesthood. He said,
After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—
Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors. (D&C 110:11-16)
What Meaning do these Keys Have? How are they Used?
The Keys Restored by Moses
Short Explanation: Moses restored the keys to lead scattered Israel together in order to build temples. In other words, Moses restored the keys of temple building.
Extended Explanation: Moses was the first temple builder in scriptural history. The temples built by Solomon, Herod, and the Nephites were all based upon the temple pattern first revealed to and built by Moses. After gathering Israel out from the bondage of Egypt and leading them down to the Sinai peninsula, the Lord revealed the first temple blueprint to Moses atop Mount Sinai (see Exodus 25-27, 30). “I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle,” the Lord told Joseph Smith, “that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might by revealed which had been hid from before the world was” (D&C 124:38). Thus, the Lord established a pattern through Moses of (1) gathering his people in order to (2) build temples so that he could (3) reveal the higher ordinances to them. Joseph Smith confirmed this when he taught that the main purpose of gathering God's people in any dispensation “was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation.... It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings, etc.... Why gather the people together in this place?... To receive the ordinances, the blessings, and glories that God has in store for His Saints” (“The Purpose of the Gathering of Israel,” History of The Church, 5:422-427). This pattern clearly illustrates the purposes of the keys restored in the Kirtland temple by Moses. “These keys,” taught Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “empower those who hold them to lead all Israel, the ten tribes included, from all the nations of the earth ... to the mountains of the Lord's houses, there to be endowed with power from on high” (“The Keys of the Kingdom,” Ensign May, 1983, p. 21-23).
The Keys Restored by Elias
Short Explanation: Elias restored the keys of conferring the promises of the patriarchal priesthood upon couples who marry in the New and Everlasting Covenant. These promises pertain to both the couple and their posterity.
Extended Explanation: Elias restored the "dispensation of the gospel of Abraham" (D&C 110:12). These keys pertain directly to the blessings of eternal marriage. In other words, through Elias "the marriage discipline of Abraham was restored.... The laws and conditions pertaining to this holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant constitute 'the promises made to the fathers,' which, as Moroni said (quoting Malachi), were to be planted 'in the hearts of the children' (D&C 2:2)" (Bruce R. McConkie, "This Final Glorious Gospel Dispensation," Ensign, April 1980, 21). These promises include the blessing of eternal increase, eternal land inheritance, and the promise that "in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed" (D&C 110:12). When a couple marries in the temple today, all of the promises of the New and Everlasting covenant which were extended to the great patriarchs—such as Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—are renewed with that couple. This is so because the couple is actually entering into a new order of priesthood called the patriarchal order (see D&C 131:2). Thus, the moment a couple enters into this patriarchal order of priesthood, the patriarchal promises—or "the promises made to the fathers" (D&C 2:2)—are extended to them on a conditional basis. These blessings will ultimately be realized by each couple through their faithfulness. Thus, Elias restored the keys necessary to introduce couples into this patriarchal order of the priesthood and to pronounce upon them all of the blessings pertaining thereunto.
The Keys Restored by Elijah
Short Explanation: Elijah restored the sealing power. The keys restored by Elijah enable the sealing together of children to parents and parents to children continuously back throughout time "until the whole chain of God's family shall be welded together into one chain, and they shall all become the family of God and His Christ" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 411). This sealing power can also be used to seal up men and women to eternal life.
Extended Explanation: Elijah restored the keys "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers" (D&C 110:15). This somewhat cryptic promise was later elucidated by the prophet Joseph Smith. He taught that "the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal" ("The Sealing Power in the Priesthood," The History of the Church, 6:183-185). Elijah's keys have thus often been referred to as the sealing power. Joseph taught that Elijah would also reveal the covenants needed to seal the generations together, saying, "Elijah shall reveal the covenants to seal the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers" (History of the Church, 5:555; see also "Three Orders of the Priesthood"). Thus, the keys restored by Elijah enable the sealing together of all of humanity—from generation to generation—into the one grand family of God. But this is not all. Joseph further explained that "the spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the ... powers and endowments of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood" ("Elias, Elijah, Messiah," History of the Church, 6:251–53). Joseph taught that this fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood is yet another order of the priesthood. "Those holding the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood," he declared, "are kings and priests of the Most High God" (History of the Church, 5:554-555; see also "The Three Orders of the Priesthood"). He taught that "the power of Elijah is sufficient to make our calling and election sure" ("Elias, Elijah, Messiah," History of the Church, 6:251–53). From these statements we can discern that making our calling and election sure is equivalent with being ordained a king and priest (or queen and priestess), and that the fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood is the highest and holiest order of the priesthood. In summary then, Elijah restored the keys to both seal the generations together into one grand family and to seal couples up unto eternal life as kings and queens, priests and priestesses (see D&C 131:5; 132:7, 19-20; 76:56-58; see also Teachings on Kings and Priests).
Other Relevant Statements
Oliver Cowdery (Second Elder)
The holy Priesthood is here. I was present with Joseph when an holy angel from God came down from heaven and conferred on us or restored the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood, and said to us, at the same time, that it should remain upon the earth while the earth stands. I was also present with Joseph when the higher or Melchisedek Priesthood was conferred by the holy angel from on high. This Priesthood was then conferred on each other, by the will and commandment of God. This Priesthood, as was then declared, is also to remain upon the earth until the last remnant of time. (The Contributor, Volume 5, August 1884, no. 11)
Brigham Young (President)
When Joseph first received the knowledge of the plates that were in the hill Cumorah, he did not then receive the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, he merely received the knowledge that the plates were there, and that the Lord would bring them forth, and that they contained the history of the aborigines of this country. He received the knowledge that they were once in possession of the Gospel, and from that time he went on, step by step, until he obtained the plates, and the Urim and Thummim, and had power to translate them. This did not make him an Apostle, it did not give to him the keys of the kingdom, nor make him an Elder in Israel. He was a Prophet, and had the spirit of prophecy, and had received all this before the Lord ordained him. And when the Lord, by revelation, told him to go to Pennsylvania, he did so, and finished the translation of the Book of Mormon; and when the Lord, in another revelation, told him to come back, into New York State, and to go to old Father Whitmer's, who lived in a place opposite Waterloo, and there stop, he did so, and had meetings, and gathered up the few who believed in his testimony. He  received the Aaronic Priesthood, and then  he received the keys of the Melchisedec Priesthood, and  organized the Church. (Journal of Discourses, 18:240)