Tracing the formation of the Priesthood in Mormonism is not an easy task. Dates get confused, concepts change over time, offices are added or refined, and duties are not always clearly delineated. Like all institutions, the organization was not fully formed on the first day. However, in order to get a correct understanding of how the modern LDS Church works, the history of its authoritative structure must be explained. Joseph Smith wrote, “There is no salvation between the two lids of the Bible without a legal administrator. Jesus was then the legal administrator, and ordained His Apostles” (TPJS, pg. 319). Doctrine and revelation are of no value if the proper leadership is not in operation.
Historians start talking about Mormonism with the First Vision of Joseph Smith, where he witnesses God and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees after a day at work on the family property. Next in line is the vision of the Angel Moroni, with the eventual translation and publication of the Book of Mormon. Essential as these two events are for tracing what would be called Mormonism, it is the development of Priesthood that makes it of any importance. This more than anything for believers gives it purpose and meaning. The “Great Apostasy” is the loss of authority that the “Restoration” regains. The Priesthood is the Power of God to officiate in the ordinances of Salvation, and regulate the government of the Church.
During the process of translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and his scribe Oliver Cowdery ran into the concept of authority to baptise. They questioned how anyone would be given the authority to baptise others. Joseph Smith stated, ““We still continued the work of translation, when, in the ensuing month (May, 1829), we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us,” to the Aaronic Priesthood (JS-H 1:68). Oliver Cowdery later wrote they were, “ordained by the angel John, unto the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, in company with myself, in the town of Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, on Friday, the 15th day of May, 1829,” in a preface to a book of formal blessings.Having been given the Aaronic Priesthood, the two baptised each other in the Susquehanna River before returning to the duty of translation.
The Aaronic Priesthood ordination would only be the beginning of Priesthood confiral. John the Baptist promised more power would be given them by other messengers. Generally speaking, a higher priesthood having the authority to give the gift of the Holy Ghost would be bestowed on them. This promise was realized when the angels Peter, James, and John ordained them to the Melchizedek Priesthood on an unspecified date. The missing date has created a level of confusion amplified by possible differences between how the Priesthood was first understood and now. Continue reading