The Law of Witnesses
The Keys of the Priesthood
Elden J. Watson, 09/03/05
We are told by Matthew that the Savior said:
But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. [Matthew 18:16]
The phrase “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established,” finds infrequent repetition within the New Testament and the history of the restoration. This paper is directed toward a better understanding of this phrase and the importance it portrays relative to the restoration of the gospel. The principle of having two or three witnesses seems to derive from two injunctions in Deuteronomy,
At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; [but] at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. [Deuteronomy 17:6]
One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. [Deuteronomy 19:15]
The first reference above is specified for use in the case of a death penalty, and previously in verse three of Deuteronomy 17 the Lord states that he is discussing the case of a man or a woman who has transgressed his covenant, for which the penalty was death. It is in this same regard which the reference is cited by Paul in Hebrews.
He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: [Heb 10:38]
The second reference in Deuteronomy indicates that there should also be two witnesses as a testimony against a man accused of any sin or any kind of iniquity. This is the broader sense in which it appears to be used by the Savior in Matthew 18:16 cited above. Paul also supported this usage in his first letter to Timothy
Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. [1 Timothy 5:19]
This application of the law of witnesses is further supported by a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants directing the use of multiple witnesses in testimony against someone who has committed adultery. In this revelation it is additionally specified that the witnesses shall be members of the Church, and not of the enemy.
And if any man or woman shall commit adultery, he or she shall be tried before two elders of the church, or more, and every word shall be established against him or her by two witnesses of the church, and not of the enemy; but if there are more than two witnesses it is better.
But he or she shall be condemned by the mouth of two witnesses; and the elders shall lay the case before the church, and the church shall lift up their hands against him or her, that they may be dealt with according to the law of God. [D&C 42:80-81]
The intent of this application of the law of witnesses seems to be for cases of serious accusations such as adultery or covenant breaking but for which the death penalty is no longer imposed. From the reference in the Doctrine and Covenants we also verify that the law of witnesses was not just a part of the Law of Moses, because it continued to be in force in Paul’s day, after the Law of Moses had been fulfilled, and continues to be in force today. This also tells us that the law of witnesses would have been in force through all dispensations, from the time of Adam, whenever the gospel was available.
Later, in one of his epistles, Paul again refers to the law of witnesses, but this time in a different context or application when he tells them
THIS [is] the third [time] I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. [2 Corinthians 13:1]
Here, Paul is speaking to the Corinthian saints and declares that each of his visits to them constitutes a separate witness of his message. The implication here is not that of a direct accusation, but more that if you reject the message of two or more witnesses, then at some future time the witnesses will testify against you that their message was presented to you with ample reason to accept it and you will be held accountable. There is a particular efficacy or validity in the testimony delivered by two or three messengers from God, or of a two or threefold repetition delivered by a single messenger from God. The principle of repetition is particularly interesting in light of the multiple reiterating visits of the Angel Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, which shall be mentioned again later. Christ understood the principle and spoke about the validity of the witness of two or three individuals with regard to himself.
31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
32 ¶ There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.
34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.
36 ¶ But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. (John 5:31-37.)
John the Revelator similarly spoke of two witnesses who will prophecy in the streets of Jerusalem in the last days.
3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. [Revelation 11:3.]
The Doctrine and Covenants informs us that these two witnesses will testify in the last days at the time of the restoration, after the gathering of the Jews and the rebuilding of Jerusalem
Q. What is to be understood by the two witnesses, in the eleventh chapter of Revelation?
A. 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. [D&C 77:15]
Within its biblical context it is implied that those who reject the message of two or more of God’s prophets will be held accountable and will be condemned for not accepting their message. This is similar to the implication made by Paul, that those who reject two or more repetitions of a message made by one of God’s prophets will also be under condemnation.
When commenting on the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young quoted Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews indicating that it was necessary for Joseph and Hyrum as witnesses to seal their testimony with their blood (see JD 10:304, 326).
16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (Hebrews 9:16-17.)
This does seem applicable in each of the New Testament cases noted above as Christ and John the Baptist, as well as the two witnesses spoken of by John, were all put to death for their testimony.
With these scriptural references in mind, we shall now turn to an examination of the history of the restoration in this last dispensation of the fullness of times and see what role two or three witnesses played in that restoration. We shall then return to the New Testament for some additional insights.
The First Vision
In Joseph Smith’s first vision, in the spring of 1820, Joseph was alone. There was no second mortal witness present. There were, however, no keys conferred and no priesthood exercised. As far as we have been informed nothing was given except information. It is interesting to note that Joseph does speak of seeing two separate individuals, and the purpose of the presence of the Father appears to have been specifically that of a witness, saying only: “This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!” The Father not only introduced the Son, but he in fact bore witness of him. Thus we find there were two witnesses at the First Vision, but they were both on the other side of the veil.
The Angel Moroni and the Book of Mormon
Again in September 1823, with the visitation of the Angel Moroni, there was no second witness present with Joseph, and at this event as far as we know there was no second witness accompanying the Angel Moroni. As before, however, there were no keys conferred, no priesthood exercised, and when he went to the hill Cumorah, he did not receive the plates of the Book of Mormon, but was only allowed to see them. Again the purpose of the visitation seems to have been only to convey information. In this instance we do have the interesting three fold repetition of both the visitation and the informational vision during the night, and then a fourth repetition in the field on the next day. These repetitive visitations are reminiscent of the three times Paul said he came to the Corinthian saints, which he indicated was an application of the law that in the mouths of two or three witnesses every word should be established.
Joseph was instructed by the angel to return to the hill Cumorah each year, and in one of the accounts of the event as related by Joseph Knight Sr., Joseph Smith was told that he would not be able to receive the plates of the Book of Mormon until he brought the right person with him. When he asked who the right person was, he was told it was his oldest brother Alvin. Just two months later, in November of 1823, Alvin died, and so was not available to accompany Joseph on his return to the hill Cumorah in September of 1824. At the September meeting that year the Angel Moroni told Joseph that he could get the plates on the 22d of September next (1825), if he brought the right person with him. When Joseph asked who the right person was, he was only told “You will know.” According to Joseph Knight, Joseph Smith then looked in his seer stone to see who the right person was, and saw that it was Emma Hale, whom he had met in Pennsylvania, and who later became his wife. Joseph and Emma were not married until January 18, 1827, so Emma was still not available to accompany him to Cumorah on his September 1825 or 1826 visits. When Joseph actually received the plates in September of 1827, the person he took with him was his wife, Emma. Joseph does not mention Emma in his account of receiving the plates, but Joseph’s mother Lucy records in her history that Emma accompanied Joseph to the hill Cumorah to get the plates. We are nowhere told what Emma did on that night, but it is entirely possible that she played some special role as a witness of Joseph’s receipt of the Book of Mormon plates, although at one time she related that she had never actually seen the plates except through a covering. Martin Harris said in his interview with Tiffany’s Monthly, published in 1859, that “while he [Joseph] was obtaining them [the plates], she [Emma] kneeled down and prayed.
Keys and the Law of Witnesses
Of special interest is another reference in the Doctrine and Covenants in which the law of witnesses is invoked in connection with the issuance of keys relating to a particular gift. A special gift or blessing had been bestowed by God upon Joseph Smith, which was the gift to translate (see D&C 3:11). Oliver Cowdery also desired to have that same gift, and it was granted unto him.
25 And, behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph. [D&C 6:25]
Three verses later, however, Joseph and Oliver were specifically given the “keys” of this gift.
28 And now, behold, I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift, which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. [D&C 6:28]
What then is the difference between having the gift to translate and having the keys of the gift to translate? I suggest that an answer to the question may be obtained by a comparison of the distinction between priesthood and the keys of the priesthood. Priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God, but keys of the priesthood consist of the right to direct the use of the priesthood. By Analogy, Joseph Smith was given the ability to translate by the gift and power of God, but he was directed to translate the Book of Mormon. Once Joseph and Oliver were given the keys of the gift of translation by the gift and power of God, then he had the right to direct the use of the gift of translation and therefore to translate whatever he desired to translate. It is of particular importance to note that the gift to translate was given to Joseph Smith in isolation, but when keys of this gift were given, they were given to two individuals, and the law of witnesses was invoked.
Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood
The next recorded instance in this dispensation of a second witness with respect to priesthood being exercised and conveyed was on May 15, 1829 when the Aaronic Priesthood was initially restored. At this time both priesthood and keys were conferred, and there was a second witness present - again Oliver Cowdery. Although it is not obvious from the original account, what we now know about priesthood and keys of the priesthood, allows us to distinguish between the bestowal of priesthood and the receipt of the keys of the priesthood on that occasion. Joseph Smith’s account of the Aaronic priesthood restoration begins as follows:
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, saying:
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness. [Joseph Smith History 1:68-69]
At this point, both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery held the Aaronic priesthood, with the associated authority to baptize. The narrative continues:
. . . and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me. [ibid v 70]
Here is the specific direction from the angel who held the keys, for Joseph and Oliver to use their authority to perform baptisms. This is in accord with the procedure for keys being first restored to men on the earth, as is recorded in the beginning of the “Book of Anointings” as follows,
President Brigham Young as president of the whole church anointed Brother Heber C. Kimball first this being according to the order in which the ordinances of the Lords House are at all times first communicated to the children of men that he who holds the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to minister to men on Earth as President Brigham Young now does should confer the ordinances upon some faithful man who should in turn minister to him according to the pattern of heavenly things.
This is the order observed by the Prophet Joseph he first baptized Oliver then Oliver baptized him. [“Book of Anointings,” as quoted in Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness, pp 86-87]
One might at this point conclude that the ordinance was complete (after the baptism) but interestingly the account continues with an additional ordination:
Accordingly we went and were baptized. I baptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me--after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood--for so we were commanded. [Joseph Smith History 1:71]
Not long afterward, Joseph and Oliver baptized Joseph Smith’s younger brother, Samuel, on their own initiative. That is, they did not have specific direction from the angel to do so. As we now understand, this means that they held not only the priesthood, but the keys of the priesthood as well. It is therefore probable, although not specifically stated, that this second ordination consisted of bestowing the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood upon each other, under the immediate instruction of the angel John, after they had been baptized. It has been argued that neither Joseph Smith nor Oliver Cowdery knew enough about priesthood at this time to know the difference between the priesthood and the keys of the priesthood. This may or may not be true, as all the instruction they received is not necessarily recorded. It does seem reasonable to assume that the administering angel did know the difference and would have seen to it that the ordinance was performed properly in all of its attendant detail.
Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood
The Prophet Joseph Smith has not left us with a specific account of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The only descriptive account available is from Addison Everett written in a letter to Oliver B. Huntington, dated Feb. 17th 1881, some 37 years after the death of the Prophets, and so may contain some inaccuracies. The portion pertaining to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood states that at the recommendation of Mr. Reid, their lawyer, Joseph and Oliver left the scene of a court trial through a back window.
. . . They got into the woods in going a few rods from the house–it was night and they traveled through brush and water and mud, fell over logs, etc., until Oliver was exhausted; then Joseph helped him along through the mud and water almost carrying him.
They traveled all night, and just at the break of day, Oliver gave out entirely and exclaimed, “O Lord! Brother Joseph, how long have we got to endure this thing?’ They sat down on a log to rest and Joseph said that at that very time Peter, James, and John came to them and ordained them to the apostleship.
They had sixteen or seventeen miles to go to get back to Mr. Hales, his father-in-law’s, but Oliver did not complain any more of fatigue. [Young Woman’s Journal 2:75 as quoted in Gunn, Oliver Cowdery - Second Elder and Scribe pp 47-48]
In the absence of any description or report of the restoration itself, we are left to assume that it would have proceeded in a manner similar to the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. That is, the angel or angels (the Doctrine and Covenants states that the priesthood was restored by Peter, James and John) laid their hands on the heads of Joseph and Oliver and conferred the priesthood upon them. This could have been done concurrently or sequentially. Joseph would have then laid his hands upon Oliver’s head and given him the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which then would have been reciprocated by Oliver upon Joseph’s head. Since the Church was not organized at this time, none of the church priesthood offices were in existence, therefore all that could have been given them was the fulness of the priesthood, which constitutes the Apostleship.
Brigham Young discussed briefly how Joseph commenced in the priesthood, by receiving the Apostleship, and then explained briefly what that meant. He said:
I speak thus to show you the order of the Priesthood. We will now commence with the Apostleship, where Joseph commenced. Joseph was ordained an Apostle—that you can read and understand. After he was ordained to this office, then he had the right to organize and build up the kingdom of God, for he had committed unto him the keys of the Priesthood, which is after the order of Melchizedek—the High Priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God. And this, remember, by being ordained an Apostle
Could he have built up the Kingdom of God, without first being an Apostle? No, he never could. The keys of the eternal Priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God, are comprehended by being an Apostle. All the Priesthood, all the keys, all the gifts, all the endowments, and everything preparatory to entering into the presence of the Father and of the Son, are in, composed of, circumscribed by, or I might say incorporated within the circumference of, the Apostleship. [Watson, Brigham Young Addresses, Vol. 2, 06 April 1853; JD 1:134-135]
A little later in the same address, President Young reemphasized that point by relating a statement made by the Prophet Joseph Smith:
It was William E. McLellin who told Joseph, that I and Heber were not ordained High Priests, and wanted to know if it should not be done. Said Joseph, "Will you insult the Priesthood? Is that all the knowledge you have of the office of an Apostle? Do you not know that the man who receives the Apostleship, receives all the keys that ever were, or that can be, conferred upon mortal man? What are you talking about? I am astonished!" Nothing more was said about it. [Watson, Brigham Young Addresses, Vol. 2, 06 April 1853; JD 1:137]
There are other statements by Brigham Young which corroborate this important point.
What ordination should a man receive to possess all the keys and powers of the Holy Priesthood that were delivered to the sons of Adam? He should be ordained an Apostle of Jesus Christ. That office puts him in possession of every key, every power, every authority, communication, benefit, blessing, glory, and kingdom that was ever revealed to man. [7 May 1861, JD 9:87]
When the Lord called upon His servant Joseph, after leading him along for years until he got the plates, from a portion of which the Book of Mormon was translated, "By and bye," said he, "you are going to organize my church and establish my kingdom. I am going to have a church on the earth. All these churches you have inquired about are wrong; they have truth amongst them, but not the Priesthood. They lack a guide to direct the affairs of the Kingdom of God on the earth—that is the keys of the priesthood of the Son of God." This tells the story. We possess the Priesthood. The Lord sent John to ordain Joseph to the Aaronic Priesthood, and when he commenced to baptize people he sent a greater power—Peter; James, and John, who ordained him to the apostleship, which is the highest office pertaining to the Kingdom of God that any man can possess on the face of the earth, for it holds the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and has power to dispense the blessings of the kingdom. This  priesthood is that which the Christian world do not possess, for they have taken leave of the kingdom and the priesthood. Joseph bestowed this priesthood upon others, and this Church possesses it and its power, which enables us to detect all error, and to know what is true. [23 June 1867, JD 12:70-71]
Is the apostleship an outgrowth of the high priesthood, or is the high priesthood an outgrowth of the apostleship? Or, in other words, which is the highest office in the church? The office of an apostle. The apostleship is the highest authority that can be imposed upon man upon the earth. [21 May 1877, DNW 26:274-275]
It would therefore appear that after receiving the apostleship from Peter, James and John, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received all the priesthood keys that can be conferred upon mortal man. Why then do we refer to other keys being restored in the Kirtland Temple by Moses, Elias and Elijah?
Commitment of Keys in the Kirtland Temple
By 1836 the First Presidency of the Church had been organized. Joseph Smith at this time had two counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams. One would reasonably suppose that either Sidney Rigdon or Frederick G. Williams or both might accompany Joseph Smith behind the temple veil when the keys were committed in the Kirtland temple, but instead it was again Oliver Cowdery who was with Joseph in receiving the vision. This is our first real indication that the second witness was not any arbitrary individual, but it was necessarily the same witness for all of the priesthood keys which were restored. This may also be an affirmation that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery already held all of the keys of the priesthood which could be restored, and that the appearance of the messengers in the Kirtland temple was not to restore additional keys, but to instruct, teach and commit to Joseph and Oliver, those things which it was necessary to do with the keys they already held, hence the wording that the keys were “committed” to them, rather than saying “restored” or “conferred.” Among other meanings of the word “committed,” Noah Websters 1828 Dictionary of the English language includes the following: “To engage; to pledge; or to pledge by implication. “Commitment” includes the meaning “The act of delivering in charge or entrusting.”
Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants summarizes Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s April 3, 1836 vision of Christ and then sequential visions of several other angels in the Kirtland temple. After the vision of Christ closed, the first of the angels mentioned was Moses.
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. [D&C110:11]
Again, note that the keys are here spoken of as being “committed,” rather than being restored or conferred etc.
Apparently the actual implementation of these keys committed by Moses began on Sunday, the first of June 1837, when the Prophet Joseph Smith approached Heber C. Kimball in the Kirtland Temple and called him on a mission.
On or about the first day of June 1837, the Prophet Joseph came to me, while I was seated in the front stand, above the sacrament table on the Melchizedek side of the temple, in Kirtland, and whispering to me, said brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me, "Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my gospel and open the door of salvation to that nation." [Heber Kimball Journal, Millennial Star 26 (1864), p. 584]
On the fourth of June 1837 Heber C. Kimball was set apart to head the mission to England by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. Orson Hyde was set apart to be his companion on this mission, and four others were set apart to accompany them: Elder John Goodsen, Elder Isaac Russell, and two priests, Joseph Fielding and John Snider. The keys of the gathering of Israel were turned. Thus began the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth. [see Stanley B. Kimball, On the Potter’s Wheel, p 4.]
Although Oliver Cowdery was the second witness and jointly held the keys with Joseph, yet there is no record that Oliver took any active role in either the calling of Heber to his mission in England or in setting him apart for that mission.
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. [D&C 110:12]
So who is Elias? why is he committing the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham? and what is this dispensation of the gospel of Abraham that he committed?
Elias is none other than Gabriel, or Noah (compare D&C 27:7 with Luke 1:11-19) to whom the Lord has committed the keys of the restoration of all things concerning the last days (D&C 27:7). He is second only to Adam in the priesthood, under Christ.
The Priesthood was first given to Adam; he obtained the First Presidency, and held the keys of it from generation to generation. He obtained it in the Creation, before the world was formed, as in Genesis 1:26, 27, 28. He had dominion given him over every living creature. He is Michael the Archangel, spoken of in the Scriptures. Then to Noah, who is Gabriel: he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood; he was called of God to this office, and was the father of all living in this day, and to him was given the dominion. These men held keys first on earth, and then in heaven. [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.157]
A dispensation normally has reference to something that is dispensed, or given out. With respect to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it typically refers to authority, keys, promises or instructions which are given to bestow particular blessings or to perform certain tasks, functions, or ordinances.
It is reasonable that Elias would restore the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham because there was no break in the priesthood between Noah and Abraham and hence the keys of the gospel which Abraham held was not through a new dispensation from the heavens, but came to Abraham through regular priesthood succession through the prophets from Noah.
Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah. [D&C 84:14]
According to section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the dispensation restored was the promise that “in us and our seed, all generations after us should be blessed.” These words have specific reference to the promise which was given by the Lord to Abraham as recorded in Chapter 2 of the Book of Abraham.
My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;
And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal. [Abraham 2:8-11]
The blessings of Abraham, then, include the promise that our descendants will have the right to the priesthood and that through our seed the priesthood and the blessings of the priesthood will be carried to all the families of the earth. Committing the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery would mean that they were authorized and instructed in how to perform gospel ordinances which will give the recipient the same promises and blessings that Abraham received. Brigham Young is very clear on what those ordinances are.
President Young Spoke to the people 58 minutes. He said that the whole Curse of the Earth had got to be taken off from the Earth by the Latter day Saints. We have got to be sanctified & Sanctify all the Earth & we have got to begin by sanctifying our own hearts first & then spread out. How many of the Children of this people are Entitled to the Holy Priesthood & the Blessings of Abraham? All who are born after their parents have received their Endowments & are sealed & all others will have to be adopted to their parents. All who want the Blessings of Abram Isaac & Jacob go & get your Endowments before you get married. Then all your Children will be heirs to the priesthood. There is no Son has a right to the Priesthood & heirship unless their parents had their Endowments before they were born. Such must be adopted to their Parents or they have no right to heirship. Let no youth get married until they get their Endowments & get sealed at the Altar. If young men knew what was for their good they would go hundreds of miles to get married right before they would do as many have. Our boys who are guided by a right hand will be mighty men of God in the Earth. [Watson, Brigham Young Addresses, Vol. 5, 13 July 1865]
Note that it is specifically by receiving the endowment before marriage that the blessings committed by Elias to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple are to be obtained. Joseph Smith indicated that those keys committed by Elias are preparatory keys:
"What I want to impress upon your minds is the difference of power in the different parts of the Priesthood, so that when any man comes among you saying, "I have the spirit of Elias," you can know whether he be true or false; for any man that comes, having the spirit and power of Elias, he will not transcend his bounds.
"John did not transcend his bounds, but faithfully performed that part belonging to his office; and every portion of the great building should be prepared right and assigned to its proper place; and it is necessary to know who holds the keys of power, and who does not, or we may be likely to be deceived.
"That person who holds the keys of Elias hath a preparatory work. But if I spend much more time in conversing about the spirit of Elias, I shall not have time to do justice to the spirit and power of Elijah. [TPJS 336]
It was evidently the instructions and commitment to institute the ordinance we today know as the endowment that was restored by Elias in the Kirtland temple. There was, however, a longer than anticipated delay between the commitment of the keys in the Kirtland temple and the actual initiation of the endowment. Before the endowment could be instituted it was necessary to prepare a facility in which the ordinances of the endowment could be properly administered. The temple in Kirtland was not built with the administration of the endowment in mind, and was not well suited for that application. Some initial ordinances were performed in the Kirtland temple, but these were only a small portion of the endowment and would roughly correspond with what we today call washings and anointings.
Before a great deal could be done toward preparing proper facilities, difficulties arose through a spirit of apostasy which culminated with the Prophet Joseph Smith fleeing Kirtland in January of 1838.
There was little time in Missouri for the saints to build a temple. Still, the Lord kept pushing the saints in that direction. On April 26, 1838, Joseph Smith received a revelation instructing the saints that a temple was to be built at Far West.
Let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto me; and it shall be called most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is holy.
Therefore, I command you to build a house unto me, for the gathering together of my saints, that they may worship me. [D&C 115:7-8]
During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, the temple itself got no farther than the dedication of the site and the laying of the cornerstone on April 26, 1839.
Even prior to the commandment to build a temple in Far West, however, a more serious problem arose. Oliver Cowdery left the Church. He was excommunicated at Far West on April 12, 1838. The second witness was no longer in the church. What implication did this hold with respect to the keys which had been restored in Kirtland?
About the same time Oliver left the church, with most of the Saints having departed Kirtland, the temple was given over to the “Western Reserve Teacher’s Seminary and Kirtland Institute.” The following is from a broadside which was printed and distributed in Kirtland:
The Mormons of Kirtland, Geauga County Ohio, having broken up, and nearly all removed to the State of Missouri, it has been thought expedient to establish an institution of learning in the place, and thus occupy buildings which would otherwise remain comparatively useless. For this purpose the use of their large and commodious Temple, has been secured for five years from the 1st Sept. 1838. In this edifice we have a single room sufficiently large to seat well, two hundred students . . . NELSON SLATER, Principal. Kirtland, July 25, 1838.” [Robison, The First Mormon Temple, p 101.]
With the Kirtland temple no longer in the hands of the Church, there was no place where the keys of Elias and Elijah, which the Lord calls the fulness of the priesthood, could be implemented when Oliver Cowdery returned to the Church. Or, if he did not return, a place where the keys could be restored again to two witnesses.
Apparently even though the keys had been committed to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland temple, nevertheless they could not be implemented with only one witness. Because of this, the keys were effectively lost and would have to be restored again.
The Lord waited for more than a year and a half for Oliver to come back into the Church, and then, in January of 1841 the Lord commanded the construction of a temple in Nauvoo for the purpose of restoring those priesthood keys which had been lost through Oliver Cowdery’s excommunication.
26 And send ye swift messengers, yea, chosen messengers, and say unto them: Come ye, with all your gold, and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities; and with all who have knowledge of antiquities, that will come, may come, and bring the box-tree, and the fir-tree, and the pine-tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth;
27 And with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all your precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.
28 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 124:26-28, emphasis added]
The fulness of the priesthood, although once delivered, was lost to the church and had to be restored again. In the same revelation, given January 19, 1841 the Lord arranged to remedy the situation by calling Hyrum Smith to replace Oliver Cowdery as the second witness.
And from this time forth I appoint unto him [Hyrum] that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph;
That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery;
That my servant Hyrum may bear record of the things which I shall show unto him, that his name may be had in honorable remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever. [D&C 124:94-96]
Several years ago President Henry W. Richards told me that in a private conversation with President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, he had discussed the concept of Hyrum Smith replacing Oliver Cowdery as second witness in the Church. President Smith told him that although it could not be documented, he knew that after being called to replace Oliver Cowdery, his grandfather (Hyrum Smith) had been visited by all of those heavenly messengers who had restored keys to Joseph and Oliver, and each in turn bore witness to Hyrum that they had restored their keys to Joseph and Oliver and at the same time those keys were received by Hyrum. President Joseph Fielding Smith further said that if Oliver Cowdery had not apostatized from the church, it would have been him (Oliver) instead of Hyrum who would have died with Joseph Smith in Carthage jail to seal their testimony with their blood.
We have no record of when Hyrum Smith received these visions and blessings, but there are ways of putting boundaries on the time or times. The restoration by Elias of the keys pertaining to the dispensation of Abraham must have been before May of 1842, because on May 4, 1842 Joseph and Hyrum introduced the endowment to eight men. The Nauvoo temple was not yet sufficiently completed that these ordinances could be performed in the temple, but Joseph felt the urgency of restoring the endowment was so great that he prepared a place in a large room above his store and administered it there. The names of only six others, besides Joseph and Hyrum, are given in History of the Church, but William Law and William Marks were also present. The names of W. Law and W. Marks were intentionally omitted when the history of the church was compiled because of their subsequent apostasy. See Kimball, On the Potter’s Wheel, pp 55-56.
Wednesday, 4.—I spent the day in the upper part of the store, that is in my private office * * * in council with General James Adams, of Springfield, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, and President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessing which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days. And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build; and wait their time with patience in all meekness, faith, perseverance unto the end, knowing assuredly that all these things referred to in this council are always governed by the principle of revelation. (May 4, 1842.) [HC 5:1-2; TPJS p.237]
In accordance with the order in which the ordinances of the Lords House are at all times first communicated to the children of men, which reference was cited above, Joseph and Hyrum first gave these ordinances to the other eight of the assembled council of ten men, and then on the following day they received in return the same ordinances from them..
Thursday, 5.--General Adams started for Springfield, and the remainder of the council of yesterday continued their meeting at the same place, and myself and Brother Hyrum received in turn from the others, the same that I had communicated to them the day previous. [HC 5:2-3]
One would think that with the initial administration of the endowment in May of 1842, it had been fully restored, but there is evidence in church history that the restoration of the endowment was not complete until more than a year later. We read from history of the church that on May 26, 1843, eight of these same men (the two missing were George Miller and William Marks) met in Joseph’s upper room and he “gave them their endowments.”
Friday, 26.—At five p.m. I met in counsel in the upper room, with my brother Hyrum, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Judge James Adams, Bishop Newel K. Whitney and William Law, and gave them their endowments and also instructions in the priesthood on the new and everlasting covenant, &c.[HC 5:409, See also Faulring An American Prophet’s Record p 381]
We are left to wonder whether perhaps some sort of error has been made in church history, but the event is further corroborated by Brigham Young’s journal entry of the same date:
– [May]26 -- Met with the Prophet Joseph, the Patriarch Hyrum, brothers Kimball and Richards, Judge James Adams, and Bishop N. K. Whitney, receiving our endowments and instructions in the Priesthood. The Prophet Joseph administered to us the first ordinances of endowment, and gave us instructions on the Priesthood and the new and everlasting covenant.
[Elden J. Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801-1844, p 129; again, William Law was intentionally omitted because of his apostasy.]]
One wonders why after once having received their endowment once, it became necessary to receive the same ordinance again. D. Michael Quinn in his The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power offers his opinion of two reason for the repetition.
Thus, Joseph Smith re-performed the endowment ceremony he had originally given these same men a year ago (MHBY, which inaccurately ommitted William Law). Smith reconferred the endowment for two reasons. First, to prepare for the next day’s sealing of marriages for time and eternity, which he explained to the men in attendance. Second, because the Presiding Patriarch [Hyrum Smith] had stopped his opposition to polygamous marriages. (p. 494)
A much more reasonable explanation is provided by President Brigham Young in a talk he gave in a priesthood meeting in 1864. Brigham Young indicated that there is a distinction made between the Aaronic portion of the endowment and the Melchizedek portion of the endowment, and that when properly administered, there will be an interval of time between the administration of these two separate portions of the one endowment during which time the individuals can have time to prove that they will honor what they have received before the second portion is given.
Most of you, my brethren, are Elders, Seventies, or High Priests: perhaps there is not a Priest or Teacher present. The reason of this is that when we give the brethren their endowments, we are obliged to confer upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood; but I expect to see the day when we shall be so situated that we can say to a company of brethren you can go and receive the ordinances pertaining to the Aaronic order of Priesthood, and then you can go into the world and preach the Gospel, or do something that will prove whether you will honor that Priesthood before you receive more. Now we pass them through the ordinances of both Priesthoods in one day, but this is not as it should be and would if we had a Temple wherein to administer these ordinances. But this is all right at present; we should not be satisfied in any other way, and consequently we do according to the circumstances we are placed in. The brethren receive their endowments, and you know there are some persons who will not apostatize till they arrive at a certain point. Some apostatize at the Missouri river, and although they may be ever so angry, they will come here to get prepared to leave us; and others will live here a score of years, and then apostatize, and it does appear as if some men were determined to prove that they are fools. [Watson, Brigham Young Addresses, Vol. 4, 11 June 1864; JD 10:309]
This interpretation is supported by Heber C. Kimball’s record of the event which, although recorded under the date of “June 1842" must by its description have been depicting the May 4, 1842 initiation of the endowment:
I was iniciated [initiated] into the ancient order was washed and annointed and Sealled and ordained a Preast, and so forth in company with nine others, Viz. Joseph Smith, Hiram Smith, Wm. Law, Wm. Marks, Judge [James] Adams, Brigham Young, Willard Richrds, George Miller, N. K. Whitney. [Stanley B. Kimball, On the Potter’s Wheel, pp 55-56]
Note in particular that Br. Kimball states he was ordained a Priest in the ancient (i.e. patriarchal) order, whereas in the 1864 quote above, Brigham Young states that there was hardly a Priest present because they are obliged to ordain men to the Melchizedek priesthood when they give them their endowments, but that this need not be the case. It seems reasonable that since Brigham Young states this is the way it should be done if we were not in such a hurry, that perhaps this is the way he received his own endowment from Joseph Smith. The records seem to so indicate.
Thus the ordinances of the endowment were finally instituted for the first time in these last days. The turning of the keys which had been given in 1836, lost in 1838, and restored again in 1841 or early 1842 were finally completed in May, 1843.
It should also be noted that the endowment only prepares one to become a priest of God, it does not make one such. The endowment is therefore administered under the preparatory spirit and power of Elias. And what is the spirit and power of Elias preparatory to? Why the spirit and power of Elijah - the sealing power. This brings us to the next portion of D&C 110 cited above, the committing of the keys of Elijah to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple.
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&C110:13-16]
The keys committed by Elijah were the keys of the sealing power. Whatever is sealed on earth by these keys is also sealed by God in heaven, and the commitment of these keys completed the keys of the dispensation of the fullness of times. The Prophet Joseph Smith gave an example:
"Let us suppose a case. Suppose the great God who dwells in heaven should reveal himself to Father Cutler here, by the opening heavens, and tell him, I offer up a decree that whatsoever you seal on earth with your decree, I will seal it in heaven; you have the power then; can it be taken off? No. Then what you seal on earth, by the keys of Elijah, is sealed in heaven; and this is the power of Elijah, and this is the difference between the spirit and power of Elias and Elijah; for while the spirit of Elias is a forerunner, the power of Elijah is sufficient to make our calling and election sure; and the same doctrine, where we are exhorted to go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, &c." [TPJS 338]
In section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord specifies that the keys pertaining to this sealing power can be conferred on only one man on the earth at a time. He may delegate others to exercise the sealing power, but any ordinance not performed by either the one man who holds the keys or someone whom he delegates, will not be valid in the hereafter.
And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead. [D&C 132:7, emphasis added]
One should not be confused by the fact that only one man on the earth can hold the sealing power at a time, and yet the keys of the sealing power must be restored through the law of witnesses which requires that two men hold the keys. At the death of President Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon explained:
. . .there is only one man at a time who can hold the keys, who can dictate, who can guide, who can give revelation to the Church. The rest must acquiesce in his action, the rest must be governed by his counsels, the rest must receive his doctrines. It was so with Joseph. Others held the Apostleship—Oliver received the Apostleship at the same time that Joseph did, but Joseph held the keys, although Oliver held precisely the same authority. There was only one who could exercise it in its fullness and power among the people. [JD 19:234-235]
The major blessings administered through the sealing keys are the sealing of wives to husbands and the sealing of children to parents. These keys were committed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple in 1836, but when Oliver Cowdery apostatized in 1838, that appears to have caused the same problem which was discussed in connection with the keys committed by Elias. Although D&C 110:16 says “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,” yet four years later, on April 8, 1840 Joseph indicated that this was not the case and that these keys were yet to be restored.
Elijah was the last Prophet that held the keys of the Priesthood, and who will, before the last dispensation, restore the authority and deliver the keys of the Priesthood, in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness. It is true that the Savior had authority and power to bestow this blessing; but the sons of Levi were too prejudiced. "And I will send Elijah the Prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord," etc., etc. Why send Elijah? Because he holds the keys of authority to administer in all the ordinances of the Priesthood; and without the authority is given, the ordinances could not be administered in righteousness. [TPJS p.172]
Nine months later, on January 19, 1841, Hyrum was called to replace Oliver Cowdery as the second witness. In the same revelation, Hyrum was called to be patriarch to the Church, and we know that there was no serious or extensive delay in his receiving the patriarchal office. On October 31, 1841 Hyrum signed a letter as “Patriarch for the whole church” [Corbett, Hyrum Smith, Pariarch 262].
Again, as discussed above, we have no information about the date on which the keys were restored to Joseph and Hyrum, but there were more keys restored than just those committed by Moses, Elias and Elijah in the Kirtland temple. There is some indication that the keys may have been restored before April 28, 1842. On April 28, Joseph delivered a discourse to the ladies of the Relief Society, and in the beginning of that discourse
He spoke of delivering the keys of the Priesthood to the Church, and said that the faithful members of the Relief Society should receive them in connection with their husbands, that the Saints whose integrity has been tried and proved faithful, might know how to ask the Lord and receive an answer; for according to his prayers, God had appointed him elsewhere. (History of the Church 4:604)
But more importantly, near the end of his discourse he added,
You will receive instructions through the order of the Priesthood which God has established, through the medium of those appointed to lead, guide and direct the affairs of the Church in this last dispensation; and I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth; this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy, who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessings on your heads. (History of the Church 4:607, emphasis added)
Before a key can be turned, there must be a key to turn. I believe a reasonable guess for the date of the restoration of the keys might be April 3, 1842, just six years to the day from their initial delivery in the Kirtland temple, and three days short of a year since the cornerstone of the Nauvoo temple had been laid.
I can find no reference in any of the regular histories or journals to anything that happened on April third, but on April sixth general conference convened and I find the following in Pearson H. Corbett, Hyrum Smith Patriarch.
When the conference convened, Hyrum was on the rostrum prepared to present to the Saints the thoughts uppermost in his mind. The topics discussed by the speakers at this conference reflected the conditions of the time. When Hyrum spoke, he gave expression to that which was closest to his heart—the blessings of the temple, and the value of obtaining the blessings of the endowment when the temple should be completed. He reminded the Saints that the missionaries who went from Kirtland, were called in at the dedication of that temple to receive their washings and anointings and that with the completion of the Nauvoo Temple, the missionaries could again receive their endowments and go forth into the world clothed with mighty power.
(Pearson H. Corbett, Hyrum Smith, Patriarch [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 270.)
It is quite possible that the restoration of these keys occurred on the anniversary of the date of the original restoration of those keys, April 3, 1842. Just one month later Joseph and Hyrum initiated the ordinance we call the endowment, even though the temple was not sufficiently completed to allow the restoration to be performed in the temple.
In early September of 1842 Joseph left Nauvoo because of persecution and stayed for a two week period at the home of the father of John Taylor. While there, Joseph wrote two epistles to the church on the subject of baptism for the dead. These two epistles became sections 127 and 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants. On September 1, he wrote
6 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning your dead: When any of you are baptized for your dead, let there be a recorder, and let him be eye-witness of your baptisms; let him hear with his ears, that he may testify of a truth, saith the Lord;
7 That in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven; whatsoever you bind on earth, may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven;
8 For I am about to restore many things to the earth, pertaining to the priesthood, saith the Lord of Hosts. (Doctrine and Covenants 127:6-8, emphasis added.)
The second epistle, written on September 6th, was the one in which Joseph Smith reminisced about the various keys restored at different times and places
20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! 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!
21 And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope! (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20-21.)
. It is entirely possible that in reminiscing, Joseph was not thinking of the original receipt of these keys, but of the much more recent restoration and conferral of them upon his brother Hyrum as the new second witness to the Church.
Joseph was anxious abut the restoration of these blessings, and spoke about it on May 16, 1843, at the home of Benjamin F. Johnson which is now recorded in section 131 of the Doctrine and Covenants see George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, The Journals of William Clayton p 102).
May 16 1843
Instructions given by Joseph Smith, Ramus, Illinois, May 16 and 17, 1843. History of the Church 5:392-93.
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
There was, however, an additional problem with respect to implementing the keys of the sealing power which were committed to Joseph and Hyrum. The principle of eternal marriage necessarily includes the principle of plural marriage. Hyrum was severely opposed to the principle of plural marriage, and in Nauvoo he worked actively against the rumors and allegations which were floating around concerning it. Because the sealing power allows the marriage relationship to extend into the hereafter, Hyrum had a particular problem. Hyrum had married his first wife, Jerusha Barden, on November 2, 1826. Jerusha died on October 13, 1837, leaving Hyrum with five small children. Noting that “It was not because I had less love or regard for Jerusha, that I married so soon, but it was for the sake of my children,” he was wed to Mary Fielding on December 24th of the same year, 1837. With the restoration of the sealing power, Hyrum was suddenly faced with the question of whether he would be married to Jershua or to Mary in the hereafter, or might he be married to both? Hyrum was not unique in this situation. Brigham Young had also lost his wife and had remarried. Perhaps that is why Brigham Young was able to broach the problem with Hyrum and convince him of the legitimacy of plural marriage. Brigham Young leaves us the following account of his discussion with Hyrum.
Right north of the Masonic Hall in Nauvoo the ground was not fenced. This was in the year 1842 [sic, actually 1843]. There were some rails laid along to fence up some lots. Hyrum saw me and said, "Brother Brigham, I want to talk to you." We went together and sat upon the rails that were piled up. He commenced by saying, "I have a question to ask you. In the first place I say unto you that I do know that you and the Twelve know some things that I do not know. I can understand this by the motions and talk and doings of Joseph and I know there is something or other which I do not understand that is revealed to the Twelve. Is this so?" I replied, "I do not know anything about what you know, but I know what I know." Then he said, "I have mistrusted for a long time that Joseph had received a revelation that a man should have more than one wife, and he has hinted as much to me, but I would not bear it." We had heard him say hard things. I recollect in one council where Joseph undertook to teach the brethren and sisters, William Law was there and William and Hyrum and a few others were against Joseph. William Law made this expression: "If an angel from heaven was to reveal to me that a man should have more than one wife, and if it were in my power I would kill him." That was pretty hard, but Joseph had to submit for it. The brethren were not prepared to receive the doctrine.
. . .
I will now go back to where I met Hyrum. He said to me, "I am convinced that there is something that has not been told me." I said to him, "Brother Hyrum, Joseph would tell you everything the Lord reveals to him if he could." I must confess I felt a little sarcastic against Hyrum, although he was just as honest as an angel and as full of integrity as the Gods, but he had not that ability which Joseph possessed to see and understand men as they were. I took advantage of this and I said to him, "Brother Hyrum, I will tell you about this thing which you do not know if you will swear with an uplifted hand before God that you will never say another word against Joseph, and his doings, and the doctrines he is preaching to the people." He replied, "I will do it with all my heart," and he stood upon his feet saying, "I want to know the truth and to be saved," and he made a covenant there, never again to bring forward one argument or use any influence against Joseph's doings. Joseph had many wives sealed to him. I told Hyrum the whole story and he bowed to it and wept like a child and said, "God be praised." He went to Joseph and told him what he had learned and renewed his covenant with Joseph and they went heart and hand together while they lived, and they were together when they died, and they are together now, defending Israel. [Watson, Brigham Young Addresses, Vol 5, 08 October 1866]
Although Brigham Young remembered that this was in 1842, it actually took place within a few days prior to 26 May, 1843. William Clayton documented Hyrum’s conversion to the principle of plural marriage in his contemporary journal of that date. The entry is short, but significant: he says “... President in meeting with the Twelve and Judge Adams. Hyrum received the doctrine of priesthood.” [George D. Smith, An intimate Chronicle, The Journals of William Clayton, p 106. See also Ehat Masters thesis “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Succession Question” p 57] The “doctrine of priesthood,” or “law of my holy priesthood” pertains to the commandment of the Lord to Abraham that he was to take another wife (see D&C 132:28-34).
With Hyrum’s conversion, the preparations for the implementation of the sealing power could be completed. Joseph lost no time in calling together those who had already received the Aaronic portion of the endowment and on the 26th of May 1843 he administered the Melchizedek portion of the endowment as was discussed above, in preparation for the first sealings.
Before the meeting was adjourned each of the men was instructed by Joseph Smith to bring his first wife with him to the meeting on Sunday the 28th so they could be sealed for time and eternity. A very strong case–though a fairly involved one–can thus be made that on 28 May 1843, Joseph and Emma Smith as well as James and Harriet Adams were sealed for time and all eternity–the first occasion of marriage sealings in a Quorum context. On the next day, 29 May 1843, four other sets of sealings took place. First, Hyrum Smith, Jerusha Barden and Mary Fielding Smith were sealed for time and eternity (Mary acted as proxy for the deceased Jerusha). Second, Brigham Young, Miriam Works, and Mary Ann Angell were sealed for time and eternity by Hyrum Smith (Mary Ann acted as proxy for Miriam, who was dead). Third, Willard and Jennetta Richards were sealed. Lastly, Mercy Rachel Fielding was sealed to her deceased husband, Robert B. Thompson. [Ehat thesis, p 63.]
This is the first instance of Joseph Smith performing sealings for those who had received their endowments, thus implementing the keys which had been restored by Elijah the prophet and which the Lord in D&C 124:28 called the fulness of the priesthood. In his thesis, Andrew Ehat states on page 64 that Heber C. and Vilate Kimball, and also John and Leonora Tayor were sealed in eternal marriage sometime in late 1841 or early 1842, but a careful review of his sources for this information shows that he was mistaken in his interpretation. The first sealings which can be documented are those recorded for 28 May, 1843.
Now that Hyrum had accepted the principle of plural marriage, there was one more problem which appeared. Joseph and Emma were sealed on the 28th of May, and then on the 29th of May both Jerusha Barden and Mary Fielding Smith were sealed to Hyrum, and both Miriam Works and Mary Ann Angell were sealed to Brigham Young. Emma had certainly been aware of plural marriage prior to this time having consented to have Emily and Eliza Partridge sealed to Joseph earlier the same month, but Emily Partridge recorded that Emma changed her mind before the day was over. This sealing of two women each to Hyrum Smith and to Brigham Young certainly did not help matters. Emma continued quite bitter against the principle of plural marriage. Hyrum, recently converted himself, believed he could convince Emma if Joseph would write down the revelation. Joseph wrote the revelation, Joseph Kingsbury made a copy of it, then Hyrum took the revelation to Emma and tried to convince her of the validity of the principle of plural marriage, but Emma stood firm. She ended up burning the revelation in the fireplace, but the Kingsbury copy was preserved. This is why the introduction to section 132 states that it was recorded on 12 July 1843. Because of its close association with the keys which were restored by Elijah, I suggest that at least a large portion of section 132 was initially revealed in the Kirtland temple on April 3, 1836.
There is one more allusion to the restoration of the keys in church history. This is found in a talk given by Joseph Smith on July 16, 1843:
P.M. went to the Grove and heard Pres. J. preach on the law of the priesthood. He stated that Hyrum held the office of prophet to the church by birth-right & he was going to have a reformation and the saints must regard Hyrum for he has authority. He showed that a man must enter into an everlasting covenant with his wife in this world or he will have no claim on her in the next. He said that he could not reveal the fulness of these things untill the Temple is completed &c. [William Clayton Diary as cited in Ehat & Cook, Words, William Clayton Diary: 16 July 1843 (2) (Sunday Afternoon), p.232–p.233 emphasis added]
Joseph’s comments about Hyrum having received the keys were not correctly understood, and apparently caused a stir among some members of the church. In another talk given on the ensuing Sunday Joseph said:
I do not know that I shall be able to preach much; but, with the faith of the Saints, may say something instructive. It has gone abroad that I proclaimed myself no longer a prophet. I said it last Sabbath ironically: I supposed you would all understand. It was not that I would renounce the idea of being a prophet, but that I had no disposition to proclaim myself such. But I do say that I bear the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy.
. . .
Last Monday morning certain brethren came to me and said they could hardly consent to receive Hyrum as a prophet, and for me to resign. But I told them, "I only said it to try your faith; and it is strange, brethren, that you have been in the Church so long, and not yet understand the Melchisedek Priesthood."
I will resume the subject at some future time. [HC 5:516, 517-518, 23 July 1843]
Unfortunately, Joseph never did resume the subject.
Misuse of the Keys
One of the reasons given for Oliver Cowdery’s apostasy and excommunication was that he took a plural wife against the direction of Joseph Smith, and before the time was appropriate for the implementation of that practice. It would appear that Oliver, having been present when the keys were committed, assumed that he also held the keys to initiate the performance of marriages, perhaps not fully realizing that there was only one man on the earth at a time in whom the fullness of those keys could be vested. Hyrum Smith experienced a similar confusion, to his own detriment. On the 23rd of June, 1843, while Joseph Smith was out of town, Parley P. Pratt and his wife Mary Ann came to Hyrum’s home because he [Hyrum] was the Assistant President and presided over the Church in the absence of Joseph. After some discussion, Hyrum proceeded to seal Parley P. and Mary Ann Pratt for time and all eternity. When Joseph returned on June 30, he chastised Hyrum quite severely and cancelled the sealing. In a letter to William Smith, dated August 10, 1845, Brigham Young wrote of this event:
You refer to "Joseph's teachings up there in the brick store that the Twelve have power to build up the kingdom of God," which the Twelve will recollect and they also recollect that Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was and never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the keys of the sealing power in the church that all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the president of the church.
Hyrum held the patriarchal office legitimately, so do you. Hyrum was counselor, so are you, but the sealing power was not in Hyrum legitimately, neither did he act on the sealing principle only as he was dictated by Joseph. In every case this was proven for Hyrum did in one case undertake to seal without counsel and Joseph told him if he did not stop it he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him. [Letter, CHO. See also Ehat thesis p 79]
We see it here re-emphasized that there is but one man on the earth at a time who can exercise the keys in their fullness, even though others hold the same authority. Another example of this important principle is documented in 1901 when Brigham Young Jr. as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, came to Lorenzo Snow who was at that time the President of the Church apparently with the intent of asking President Snow for permission to perform a plural marriage. Brigham Young Jr. Recorded President Snow’s response in his journal.
In city, talked with Pres. Snow on plural marriages. He said there cannot be a plural marriage solemnized in this Church without my consent and I have never given consent for this to be done since President of the Church. God has removed this privilege from the people and until He restores it, I shall not consent to any man taking a plural wife. It is just as fair for one as it is for all to go without. The business is taken out from our hands and we cannot fight the U.S. It is them and God to settle this question. We are not in it. There is no such thing as men taking plural wives and keeping it secret. It cannot be done. Has any one of the Apostles a right to seal plural wives to men by reason of former concessions made to them by the Presidency? No, Sir, such right must come from me and no man shall be authorized by me to break the law of the land. [Diary of Brigham Young Jr., March 13, 1901. Copy in the Brigham Young University Library, Provo, Utah. As quoted in Wilburn D. Talbot, The Acts of the Modern Apostles, p 197.]
The Lord carefully maintains control of the keys he has issued and who receives them. He also assures that those who hold them use them appropriately.
The Second Witness in the New Testament
Relating some of the things which we have learned about the second witness in our dispensation brings up some interesting things relating to the second witness in the dispensation of the meridian of time. First of all, there were some differences. Christ is no record of Christ receiving the priesthood. Perhaps he did not have to; it is his priesthood. The Priesthood is similar to a power of attorney, through which one individual gives another person the right to act in his name. You don’t need a power of attorney to act in your own name, that right is inherent. Similarly, Christ did not need to receive priesthood or keys to be able to act in his own name. He bestows those keys, he does not receive them; but perhaps he was ordained to the priesthood like everyone else in receiving all of the temple ordinances of the gospel.
If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord. [TPJS 308]
Although not needing forgiveness of sin, he was nevertheless baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” Baptism is a temple ordinance, and we may safely assume that he also received all of the other ordinances of the temple. When ordinances are administered, witnesses are required, in order to bear witness, if necessary, that the ordinance was performed, and that it was performed properly. It is among those present at the administration of the ordinances that we may look for the second witness for the dispensation of the meridian of time.
The Baptism of Jesus
The record which we have of the baptism of Jesus is from John the Baptist, although it appears in each of the four gospels. The most familiar of these is from Matthew.
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. [Matthew 3:12-17]
It is of interest to note the probability that Jesus and John were alone at Jesus’ baptism. There is nothing to indicate that anyone else was present in any of the accounts. There is of course a necessity of two witnesses, but as was the case with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the participants in the ordinance can be the witnesses. Even if someone else were present, the account tells us that only John witnessed the heavenly manifestations. Matthew says that the heavens were opened “unto him” and “he saw” the spirit of God descending like a dove. The voice of God from heaven would normally indicate a voice that anyone could hear, but Joseph Smith changed that in the Inspired Revision from “And lo, a voice from heaven” to read “And lo, he heard a voice from heaven.”
It was the day following Jesus’ baptism that John saw Jesus and testified to those who were with him that Jesus was the Son of God.
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. [John 1:29-34]
In the above account from the Gospel of John, John the Baptist stated twice “And I knew him not,” implying that he did not know that Jesus was the Son of God until after the saw the Holy Ghost descend upon him. In the inspired revision Joseph Smith changed both of these statements to read “and I knew him.” John the Baptist had apparently known from their childhood that his cousin Jesus was the Christ.
The scriptures therefore indicate that it was John the Baptist who was the second witness in the dispensation of the meridian of time, of which John the Beloved apostle testified.
There was a man sent from God, whose name [was] John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all [men] through him might believe. He was not that Light, but [was sent] to bear witness of that Light. . . .
John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
John 1:6-8, 15]
Near the beginning of Christ’s ministry, John the Baptist was put to death, and suddenly Christ and the early church were in a very similar situation to that which confronted Joseph Smith and the modern Church when Oliver Cowdery was excommunicated. The Church was without its second witness. From a couple of New Testament passages, it would seem that the absence of the second witness was on occasion a difficulty for Christ during his ministry. The Jews confronted him on the subject and to them he said:
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. But I have greater witness than [that] of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. [John 5:31-37]
He was also confronted by the Pharisees:
The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, [yet] my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me. Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also. [John 8:13-19]
Christ may have also been constrained in bestowing keys on his apostles by the absence of a second witness. There is no question that he had all the authority necessary, but he also abides by his own rules, and if a second witness is required, then there would have been a second witness with respect to the bestowal of keys of the priesthood. This may be the reason that Christ told Peter in Matthew 16 that he would give him the keys of the kingdom, rather than just giving the keys to him.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [Matthew 16:19]
It is in chapter 18 that Christ actually gives the keys to his apostles, and when he does, he gives the keys to all of them. The words “you” and “ye” are in the plural in the Greek.
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [Matthew 18:18]
By our suppositions, therefore, the new second witness should have received the keys during the interval between the promise of the keys in Matthew 16 and the bestowal of the keys in chapter 18. As it happens, Matthew 17 contains the account of the events which took place on the Mount of Transfiguration. It was on the Mount of Transfiguration that Joseph Smith says Christ, Moses and Elias gave the keys to Peter, James and John.
The Priesthood is everlasting. The Savior, Moses, and Elias, gave the keys to Peter, James and John, on the mount, when they were transfigured before him. The Priesthood is everlasting—without beginning of days or end of years; without father, mother, etc. If there is no change of ordinances there is no change of Priesthood. Wherever the ordinances of the Gospel are administered, there is the Priesthood. [TPJS 158]
There is some confusion as to who was on the mount of transfiguration with Christ and with Peter, James and John. The New Testament accounts list only Moses and Elias, however, in the Greek the word Elias has reference to the prophet Elijah, so the Gospels indicate that it was Moses and Elijah. Joseph Smith in the citation immediately above, says that it was Moses and Elias who gave the keys to Peter, James and John on the mount, but then, in the inspired revision, he further identifies the individual called Elias:
1 AND after six days Jesus taketh Peter, and James, and John, who asked him many questions concerning his sayings; and Jesus leadeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.
2 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white, as snow; so white as no fuller on earth could whiten them.
3 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses, or in other words, John the Baptist and Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. [JST Mark 9:1-3]
We may ask why would John the Baptist have been on the mount of transfiguration? The answer is suggested by what we know of the law of witnesses. I suggest that John the Baptist had been the second witness in the dispensation of the meridian of time, and he was there to bear personal witness to his replacement, who would then be the new second witness, in a similar manner to the way in which Hyrum replaced Oliver as second witness.
Probably the simplest and most straightforward identification of the new second witness is found in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, once it is correctly understood. In section 93 we read;
5 I was in the world and received of my Father, and the works of him were plainly manifest.
6 And John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John's record is hereafter to be revealed.
7 And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was;
8 Therefore, in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation--
9 The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.
10 The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
11 And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
12 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace.
13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
15 And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.
16 And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;
17 And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.
18 And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful you shall receive the fulness of the record of John.[D&C 93:5-18]
We read here of the fulness of John’s record, which is hereafter to be revealed, but there is some dispute about which John is spoken of. Some of the above testimony is unquestionably that of John the Beloved, while other portions of it is just as unquestionably that of John the Baptist. I suggest that the reason for the confusion is that John the Beloved was shown all of the critical things which John the Baptist saw and of which he bore record.
On the mount of transfiguration, John the Beloved became the new second witness of the dispensation of the meridian of time.
It is interesting to speculate that because John the Baptist had already sealed his testimony with his blood, it was not required that John the Beloved suffer a similar martyrdom.
Finally, in section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants, when discussing baptism for the dead, Joseph Smith indicated that not only should a record of ordinances be made, but there should also be two or three witnesses whenever ordinances are performed.
Now, in relation to this matter it would be very difficult for one recorder to be present at all times, and to do all the business. To obviate this difficulty, there can be a recorder appointed in each ward of the city, who is well qualified for taking accurate minutes; and let him be very particular and precise in taking the whole proceedings, certifying in his record that he saw with his eyes, and heard with his ears, giving the date, and names, and so forth, and the history of the whole transaction; naming also some three individuals that are present, if there be any present, who can at any time when called upon certify to the same, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. [D&C 128:3]
In conclusion, the gospel was restored; the keys were conferred, committed and fully implemented before the two witnesses of the restoration sealed their testimony with their blood.