The late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.
Like the first vision story, none of the members of the Church or Joseph Smith’s family had ever heard prior to 1832 about a priesthood restoration from John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John. Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1832, if that. Even in 1832, there were no claims of a restoration of the priesthood (just a ‘reception’ of the priesthood) and there certainly was no specific claims of John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John. Like the first vision accounts, the story later got more elaborate and bold with specific claims of miraculous visitations from resurrected John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John.
LDS historian and scholar, Richard Bushman, acknowledges this in Rough Stone Rolling 2:
Summarizing the key events in his religious life in an 1830 statement, he mentioned translation but said nothing about the restoration of priesthood or the visit of an angel. The first compilation of revelations in 1833 also omitted an account of John the Baptist. David Whitmer later told an interviewer he had heard nothing of John the Baptist until four years after the Church’s organization. Not until writing in his 1832 history did Joseph include ‘reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministering of angels to administer the letter of the Gospel’ among the cardinal events of his history, a glancing reference at best...The late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.
Why did it take 3 plus years for Joseph or Oliver to tell members of the Church about the restoration of the priesthood under the hands of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John?
David Whitmer, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, had this to say about the Priesthood restoration:
I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834[,] 5, or 6 – in Ohio...I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver...
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of an earlier revelation when they compiled the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants, adding verses about the appearances of Elijah, John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John as if those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelation in the Book of Commandments, which they weren’t.
Compare the 1833 Book of Commandments Chapter 28 (XXVIII) to the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants Section 50 (L). The chapter in modern Doctrine and Covenants is D&C 27. This section claims to be a revelation from the Lord to Joseph Smith in August 1830.
The following text is what Joseph and Oliver added to the 1830 revelation in 1835 while presenting it as if this was already part of the original revelation given to Joseph by the Lord in August 1830. Notice how it’s packed with miraculous claims of visitations and receptions of authority by these resurrected beings that the original 1830 revelation does not contain.
You can see and compare for yourself on the Joseph Smith Papers (LDS owned and operated) website. The direct links are above.
Absence in Book of Commandments
Had the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood under the hand of John the Baptist been recorded prior to 1833, it would have been expected to appear in the Book of Commandments. However, nowhere in the Book of Commandments is this miraculous and doctrinally vital event recorded.
Had the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood under the hands of Peter, James, and John been recorded prior to 1833, it likewise would have been expected to appear in the Book of Commandments. However, nowhere in the Book of Commandments is this miraculous and doctrinally vital event recorded.
It wasn’t until the 1835 edition Doctrine & Covenants that Joseph and Oliver backdated and retrofitted Priesthood restoration events to an 1829-30 time period – none of which existed in any previous Church records; including Doctrine & Covenants’ precursor, Book of Commandments, nor the original Church history as published in The Evening and Morning Star.
Ordained by Lyman Wight
Melchizedek Priesthood given by Lyman Wight – not Peter, James, and John:
During the turbulent meeting, Joseph ordained five men to the high priesthood, and Lyman Wight ordained eighteen others, including Joseph. The ordinations to the high priesthood marked a milestone in Mormon ecclesiology. Until that time, the word ‘priesthood,’ although it appeared in the Book of Mormon, had not been used in Mormon sermonizing or modern revelations. Later accounts applied the term retroactively, but the June 1831 conference marked its first appearance in contemporary records... The Melchizedek Priesthood, Mormons now believe, had been bestowed a year or two earlier with the visit of Peter, James, and John. If so, why did contemporaries say the high priesthood was given for the first time in June 1831? Joseph Smith himself was ordained to this ‘high priesthood’ by Lyman Wight. If Joseph was already an elder and apostle, what was the necessity of being ordained again?
IF PETER, JAMES, AND JOHN ORDAINED JOSEPH SMITH TO THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD IN 1829, WHY DID LYMAN WIGHT ORDAIN JOSEPH SMITH TO THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD AGAIN IN 1831?
The actual minutes of this June 1831 conference showing “Joseph Smith jr. & Sidney Rigdon were ordained to the High Priesthood under the hand of br. Lyman Wight” can be viewed on the official Joseph Smith Papers website.