I noticed in your post that you said that the missing date of the restoration of the Priesthood was your weakest argument. The issues in the claim of an actual Priesthood restoration should actually be some of your strongest arguments, because the issues in Joseph Smith’s story go far beyond a missing date. I believe that when he started telling his story, after the Book of Mormon was published, he realized that he had a problem and he tried to fix it because the story had to occur prior to publishing the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the Church. However I don’t think he realized how serious the problem was, and the fix he created actually disproved the story and destroyed his claim of a Priesthood restoration and his claim to be a prophet. The claim to the possession of the Priesthood by virtually every worthy male member of the Church is a foundation issue that supposedly gives validity to the claim of a restoration of the Church itself. If the story is false then the claims of a restoration of the Priesthood and restoration of the Church are also false.
I hope this article helps. It is very long, so get a cup or two of coffee.
THE INVALID NON-EXISTENT PRIESTHOOD IN THE MORMON CHURCH
1. The AARONIC PRIESTHOOD
The only source for the concept of the Aaronic Priesthood comes from the Old Testament Scriptures found in the Bible. Joseph Smith claimed to believe the biblical scriptures, but he was selective about which scriptures he chose to use and how he used them. The scriptures that did not conform to his new teachings were rejected and only those that he claimed supported his new teachings were retained and even those that he retained were completely changed from what they originally said.
One of the concepts that he retained was the idea of the Aaronic Priesthood; a major portion of historic Jewish religious belief. However, Joseph Smith did not accept the explanation and definition of its origin as found in the Old Testament Scripture, so he created his own version. Joseph Smith became his own authority just because he could do it and no one challenged his statements.
In the Old Testament, the Aaronic Priesthood was granted to the one specific Tribe of Levi and restricted to one exclusive family group within that Tribe to the exclusion of all other Tribes and family groups. The family was the family of Aaron who was the brother of Moses. Even Moses did not possess the Aaronic Priesthood. Aaronic priests in the Old Testament were born already in possession of the Priesthood. It was part of their being. They were priests in and from the womb of their mothers. The Priesthood was not granted to them by another person or conferred to them by the laying on of hands and they could not convey it to another person by the laying on of hands, Exodus 29:9; 40:15; Numbers 3:10; 16:39-40; 18:7.
The specifics of the origin and possession of the Aaronic Priesthood found in the Old Testament were not applicable to Joseph Smith or to Oliver Cowdery. Neither man had claimed to be from the Tribe of Levi or lineal descendants from Aaron. They could not be in possession of the Aaronic Priesthood under those conditions. Joseph Smith had to change the rules, so he totally ignored the Old Testament Scripture and invented a new story rooted in his own imagination. He claimed that the Aaronic Priesthood was conveyed, transmitted or passed on by the laying on of hands. Any person who possessed the Aaronic Priesthood could transfer it to another person, even to a person who was not of the Tribe of Levi or a lineal descendant of Aaron. Joseph Smith’s claims were in total opposition to and in violation of all the Old Testament Scriptures in relation to the descriptions of the Aaronic Priesthood. Joseph Smith pointed to the newly defined authority that he attributed to John the Baptist in order to provide support for his new doctrine, and claimed an appearance by John the Baptist to validate his claim of receiving the Aaronic Priesthood. John the Baptist was from the Tribe of Levi and the family line of Aaron so he was an Aaronic Priest, however he was dispossessed of the office upon his death, Hebrews 7:23. Even if he could have made an appearance to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery he would no longer have had the Aaronic Priesthood and he could not have conferred it to them since neither man was from the Tribe of Levi or the family of Aaron. Joseph Smith ignored the New Testament as well.
Here is Joseph Smith’s strange and convoluted story describing the appearance of John the Baptist:
“68 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:
69 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.
70 He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; 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.
71 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.
72 The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second. It was on the fifteenth day of May, 1829, that we were ordained under the hand of this messenger, and baptized.”
Pearl of Great Price, “Joseph Smith History,” Chapter 1, vss. 68-72
Two of the purposes for baptism in the Mormon Church are for, (1) the remission of sins, and (2) admitting a person into membership in the Church (specifically the Mormon Church as the only true Church). The person who has not received a proper baptism, by means of a duly authorized representative of the Church who has the Priesthood, is still a sinner because their sins have not been remitted, is not a member of the Church and cannot hold the Priesthood or participate in any action to which the Priesthood is a part.
However, Joseph Smith claimed that he and Oliver Cowdery received the Priesthood from John the Baptist in 1829, prior to their baptism, which makes their claim to Priesthood authority to be invalid since neither was baptized as a member of the true Church and their sins had not been remitted by means of baptism. No person can hold the Priesthood without first being baptized, because baptism conveys membership in the Church and membership is necessary in order for a person to be qualified to receive the Aaronic Priesthood.
Joseph Smith gave the most ridiculous account of how he baptized Oliver Cowdery and Oliver Cowdery baptized him and then they both conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on each other after their baptisms, all the while claiming that they had both already received the Priesthood from John the Baptist prior to their baptisms. Apparently John the Baptist forgot the reason for which he was named, because the entire issue could have been resolved without the confusion if he had just baptized both men prior to conferring the Priesthood. John the Baptist even told the two men to baptize each other and then give each other the Priesthood when he had failed to give them a proper baptism that would have allowed them to engage in those actions.
The issue remains that both men claimed possession of Priesthood authority that was invalid, and every Mormon traces their own Priesthood authority back to that event. Since Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were never legitimately granted the Priesthood by John the Baptist, no Mormon in history has ever possessed legitimate or actual Priesthood authority.
The problem just gets worse.
2. The MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD
Joseph Smith created his story involving the appearance of John the Baptist but he did not think about the problems inherent in the content. It seems that maybe John the Baptist might have received the wrong instructions and appeared for the wrong purpose. Joseph and Oliver went “into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins,” not an issue about the Aaronic Priesthood. John the Baptist mentions that one of the keys of the Priesthood was for the “gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins,” but he never explained what a “key” was or how it was used or how it related to repentance or baptism or the question that Joseph and Oliver were in the woods to inquire about. The Book of Mormon says nothing about the Aaronic Priesthood, so if this event was occurring on May 15, 1829, then Joseph would not have known or been concerned about any type of priesthood whether it was Aaronic or otherwise.
The subject of the Priesthood on May 15, 1829, is an anachronism; an item or idea that is out of place for its time. That issue reveals that Joseph Smith was taking his new concept that he originated after the Book of Mormon was published and was placing it in a time frame prior to the translation of the Book of Mormon being completed. He was attempting to make it appear that he had received prior Priesthood authority previous to the establishment of the Church when he had not even considered the thought at that earlier time. The story was not created until after the Church was established. Joseph Smith thought he had fixed and reinforced his story, so he forged ahead in order to bring the concept of the Melchizedek Priesthood into the story as well.
Bringing the concept of the Aaronic Priesthood into the New Testament Church is an anachronism in itself, because the Christian Church never had that Priesthood as a part of historic Christian beliefs. The Mormon Church has never been able to present the evidence to support the claim of Joseph Smith that the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods were part of the early Christian Church beliefs.
The importation of the Melchizedek Priesthood into the New Testament Church is the ultimate Priesthood anachronism. The Melchizedek Priesthood was never a part of Jewish religious liturgy nor was it a part of the priestly organization of their religious beliefs, and it was never a part of the New Testament Church in the way Joseph Smith incorporated it into the Priesthood system of the Mormon Church. Aaronic Priests in the Old Testament never matriculated to a higher Priesthood order defined as the Melchizedek Priesthood. Aaronic priests were the highest and only order of priesthood in the Jewish liturgical system and they were the only priests who ever officiated in the ceremonies performed in Solomon’s Temple. The concept may have been introduced to Joseph Smith by Sidney Rigdon but there is no way to be absolutely sure. However, regardless of the source, Joseph Smith embraced it and incorporated it into his new system of doctrines. The imposition of the Melchizedek Priesthood as a higher order of the Aaronic Priesthood was a total fabrication by Joseph Smith that had no foundation in the Old Testament Scripture or in Jewish history.
Joseph Smith claimed that John the Baptist appeared on May 15, 1829 to confer the Aaronic Priesthood on himself and Oliver Cowdery. Conversely, Joseph Smith never gave any date for the later appearances of Peter, James and John when they conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on him and Oliver Cowdery, even though that was the most important Priesthood office. The lack of a specific date is not in itself a problem, but it raises questions as to why the lesser Aaronic Priesthood was assigned a date but the greater Melchizedek Priesthood was not. The lesser Aaronic Priesthood was conveyed by one man who was a prophet, but the higher Melchizedek Priesthood was conveyed by three men who were apostles. That would seemingly be a very important date. The flow and details of the story are not consistent throughout which gives the impression that Joseph Smith did not think through the story before he began to tell it.
One point of interest in relation to the persons conferring the Priesthoods is their status in the chain of authority. The lower initiatory Aaronic Priesthood was conferred by a Prophet (John the Baptist). The higher level Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred by three Apostles. In Joseph Smith’s early thinking, Apostles were of a higher status than Prophets. That has all been reversed and changed today, because Apostles are now subservient to the Prophet who is the highest authority. Members of the Church today are told to follow the Prophet, and they defer to the Apostles only so far as the Apostles conform to the doctrines proclaimed and affirmed by the Prophet. In Doctrine and Covenants 7, as cited above, the leader of the Church was not to be referred to by either of those designations but as follows, “. . .and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second.” That is kind of an indication that the Mormon Jesus was not leading in a very logical or consistent manner or, more realistically, that it was Joseph Smith making it all up as he went along.
Joseph Smith’s point of introducing the Priesthood offices was to present himself as having special privilege and additional powers that gave him credibility in relation to his claims of authority to establish and restore the Church. The Aaronic Priesthood did not have enough power or authority to give Joseph Smith the ability to establish the Church. However, the Melchizedek Priesthood was claimed to convey that power and authority, so sometime between May 15, 1829 and April 6, 1830 Joseph Smith should have received the visitation of Peter, James and John. The Melchizedek Priesthood would have to have been conferred prior to April 6, 1830 because that was the date the Church was established.
The placement of the receipt of the Melchizedek Priesthood prior to April 6, 1830 is an anachronism, just as is the 1829 date of the receipt of the Aaronic Priesthood. The first members of the Church never heard of the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthoods as part of the Church structure until 22 months after the Church was organized. Joseph Smith did not introduce his new teachings about the Priesthood until 1831/1832. The terms “priesthood” and “priesthood authority” were unknown until that time as well as the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.
However, 14 months after the establishment of the Church, during a conference in June of 1831, Joseph Smith stated:
"... the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders."
History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 175-76
Yet, members of the Church and even apostles had not actually heard about the concept:
“Authority is the word we used for the first two years in the church . . . This matter of two orders of priesthood in the Church of Christ, and lineal priesthood of the old law being in the church, all originated in the mind of Sydney Rigdon. . . . This is the way the High Priests and the "priesthood" as you have it, was introduced into the Church of Christ almost two years after its beginning—and after we had baptized and confirmed about two thousand souls into the church.”
An Address To All Believers in Christ, by David Whitmer, p. 64, 1887
As quoted in: “Salt Lake City Messenger #102,” May 2004, Jerald and Sandra Tanner
David Whitmer was one of the original 6 members of the Mormon Church, ordained as an elder of the Church by June 9, 1830, to the office of High Priest by Oliver Cowdery on October 5, 1831. On July 7, 1834, Joseph Smith ordained David Whitmer to be the President of the Church in Missouri and his successor, should Joseph Smith "not live to God."
In spite of the claims of Joseph Smith and the teachings of the Mormon Church today, the Church was not founded on the authority of the Priesthood, the idea of which did not even exist at the time of the founding.
In Joseph Smith’s story, Peter, James and John were just as incompetent as was John the Baptist. They did not seem to know that John the Baptist had not baptized Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery before illegally conveying to them the Aaronic Priesthood. They went ahead an illegally conveyed the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who were still two unbaptized, Gentile sinners who had never had their sins remitted through baptism and were not members of the Church.
That issue also brings up another issue, because Joseph Smith stated in his 1832 account of his 1820 First Vision, “. . . I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph (my son) thy sins are forgiven thee.” So, perhaps Joseph Smith’s sins had been conditionally forgiven prior to the appearance of John the Baptist, but the Mormon Jesus is seen to forget to provide the baptism as the condition for the forgiveness to be effective. The Mormon Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John all seem to be clueless about the issue of baptism, something that does not bode well for the claim by Joseph Smith that he was giving a recitation of actual historical events.
There is another problem, related to the First Vision account noted above, where the Lord (Jesus) says,
“. . . Joseph (my son) thy sins are forgiven thee.” The term “(my son)” was a totally erroneous designation given to Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith could not be referred to as a son of Jesus, because in Mormon theology Jesus is the brother of every human being. The term “(my son)” could only be used by God the Father who is said to be the literal father of all human spirits. This brings up a major issue in relation to verses in the original printing of the Book of Mormon (and other verses in the Book of Mormon today) specifying that God the Father and Jesus are the same person. That is a theological concept called Modalism in which God manifests himself in other modes, such as appearing in the guise of Jesus or the Holy Ghost. So, the Jesus appearing to Joseph Smith in his 1820 First Vision would have been God who was simply making an appearance in his mode (or disguise) as Jesus. But that is another issue. Joseph Smith’s new stories and definitions always bring major problems with them.
The problem of the non-baptisms of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery also brings up another issue related to baptism which John the Baptist did not seem to understand. In order to receive both Priesthoods, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery needed to be baptized for the remission of their sins, but they also had to be baptized into the Church. No person can receive the Priesthood without being a member of the Church and that membership is obtained by means of baptism. The problem was, at the time of the appearance of John the Baptist the Church did not exist. The Church ceased to exist as a result of the Great Apostasy according to Joseph Smith. That was the reason that Joseph Smith was given the responsibility to “restore” the Church. However, once again, John the Baptist did not seem to understand the issue, because Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were not baptized for the remission of sins and they could not be baptized into the Church because the Church did not exist for them to be baptized into, and as a result Joseph Smith could not restore the Church even if he had been baptized. Joseph Smith never received a legitimate baptism in the rest of his life since there was never anyone with prior authority who could have accomplished the ordinance.
John the Baptist, the Mormon God and the Mormon Jesus did not see the issue and Joseph Smith did not see the issue as well. When the story was finally introduced into the Church, the members did not see the problem either and Mormon members still do not see it today.
Joseph could have presented a more coherent story if he had just sat down and thought about the issues.
He was the mover-shaker leader, who got things organized and going, so his teachings and doctrines were designed to provide a foundation of the immediate issues at hand, but he did not think about or realize the future consequences of a faulty foundation. In the case of the Priesthood, Joseph Smith’s story is built on a foundation of sand that will not even stand up to the doctrines embraced by the Church today.
The solution to Joseph Smith’s dilemma was actually quite simple and that was to present a better story; a story that he already had written in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. However, to use that story would reveal that Joseph Smith’s role in the restoration of the Church would be unnecessary and the claim of he being the architect of the restoration would be false.
Unfortunately, for Joseph Smith, the story he could have used can be recovered from 3 Nephi 28 and Doctrine and Covenants 7. It is amazing how Joseph Smith’s own stories prove him to be a false prophet.
There were four men whose presence could have been invoked by Joseph Smith and could have baptized Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery for the remission of their sins and for membership into the Church. Those four men were already members of the Church and were preaching the gospel in the Americas and in Israel. They were making converts and baptizing them into the Church, a Church that had never become apostate because it continued to exist as a result of their Priesthood authority. Those four men had been preaching the gospel for the last 1800 years. The four men were the Apostle John and the Three Nephite Apostles. The fact that those four men were still on the earth and were to remain until the second coming of Jesus destroys any claim by Joseph Smith or the Church that the Priesthood had disappeared from the earth as a result of the Great Apostasy. According to historic Church teaching all four men were apostles and held both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. As long as the four men were on the earth, the Priesthood still existed and the Church still existed as well because they were all preaching the gospel, making converts and baptizing them into the Church.
The reality is that the assertion of the existence of those four Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood holding men invalidates any claim by Joseph Smith or future Church leaders that there was a necessary requirement for a restoration of the Church or that Joseph Smith should have any part whatsoever in that claim. Joseph Smith’s own stories destroy his own assertion that he was the Prophet of the Restoration, the necessity of which was non-existent and reveal that Joseph Smith had no reason to exist in relation to his claims.
Joseph Smith took an incident from the New Testament (John 21:21-22) and changed the narrative to say just the opposite of what was written. Using his own story as his foundation and claiming it as a revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 7 - April 1829), Joseph Smith claimed that the Apostle John asked Jesus for the ability to remain alive and preach the gospel on the earth until the Second Coming of Jesus:
“And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.
And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.”
Doctrine and Covenants 7:2-3.
The apostle John explained the issue in John 21:23. Joseph Smith’s new story contradicted what the Apostle John said about himself:
“Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
John 21:23, KJV
Joseph Smith already had the story of the existence of the Three Nephite Apostles written into the
Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 28:4-32, which also included his claim that the Apostle John asked Jesus for the ability to never die:
They, “. . . desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me. . . for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.”
3 Nephi 28:6-7.
Why did John the Baptist come from heaven to confer the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery? The Apostle John could have conferred both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods since he held both. It was unnecessary for John the Baptist or Peter and James to make an appearance. Any one of the Three Nephites could have done the same thing and saved the Apostle John a trip from the Holy Land and saved Peter and James the trip all the way from heaven. The appearances of John the Baptist, Peter, James and John were placed in the story by Joseph Smith in order to make it appear that he had received some powerful extra special authority and was also used as a diversion and distraction so the problems created by 3 Nephi 28 and Doctrine and Covenants 7 would not be noticed.
Strange things happen in Joseph Smith’s stories, because Deity always appears to be deficient and flawed, heavenly messengers can’t figure out the proper protocol or don’t communicate the proper details to do the job for which God sent them, contradictions are unchecked and God and Jesus don’t seem to know that everything has gone wrong.
The reality is that Mormon men have never been given the Priesthood at any level. The Aaronic Priesthood was given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery illegally by John the Baptist so they could not possess that Priesthood. Then the Melchizedek Priesthood was given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery illegally by Peter, James and John because Joseph and Oliver did not possess the Aaronic Priesthood and, and as a result, they could not hold the Melchizedek Priesthood.
No Mormon man of the past has ever held either Priesthood and no Mormon man today holds either Priesthood because they were never received by Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery and could not be conferred on members of the Church by the laying on of hands. Of course, those Priesthoods never actually existed in the manner that Joseph Smith claimed, so they could never have been given in the first place. However, the story that Joseph Smith told is what is believed and taught today although it is totally fallacious.
Joseph Smith’s story of the restoration of the Priesthood is also revealed to be a falsehood by looking at the 1833 Book of Commandments, Chapter 28, and comparing it with the Current Doctrine and covenants, Chapter 27. 1833 Book of Commandments - changes: www.utlm.org/newsletters/no116.htm#text 1835 Doctrine and Covenants - current: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/27?lang=eng
In the current Doctrine and Covenants Chapter 27 in verse 5, it can be seen that the portion beginning with “…Moroni, whom I have sent unto you . . .,” is a later interpolation that extends down to “…and also with…” in verse 14. This interpolation includes the story of the appearance by John the Baptist to restore the Aaronic Priesthood and Peter, James and John to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood. This part of the revelation did not appear in the printing of the Book of Commandments in 1833 but was added to the new printing of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 to make it appear that God was referring to those restorations having occurred previous to the establishment of the Church. Joseph Smith had to change one of his previous revelations and add a reference to his new story in the attempt to create a foundation for his claim to have received the Priesthood restorations prior to the founding of the Church. This is proof positive that he did not originate those concepts until after the Church was founded in 1830. This was the very issue referred to by David Whitmer when he wrote:
"Some of the revelations as they now appear in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants have been changed and added to. Some of the changes being of the greatest importance as the meaning is entirely changed on some very important matters; as if the Lord had changed his mind a few years after he give [sic] the revelations, and after having commanded his servants (as they claim) to print them in the 'Book of Commandments;'... The revelations were printed in the Book of Commandments correctly! This I know,... Joseph and the church received it as being printed correctly. This I know. But in the winter of 1834 they saw that some of the revelations in the Book of Commandments had to be changed, because the heads of the church had gone too far, and had done things in which they had already gone ahead of some of the former revelations. So the book of 'Doctrine and Covenants' was printed in 1835, and some of the revelations changed and added to."
Letter written by David Whitmer, published in the “Saints' Herald,” February 5, 1887
As quoted in “Salt Lake Messenger #71,” April 1989, Jerald and Sandra Tannerhttp://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no71.htm#CHANGING
There are also other problems with Joseph Smith’s Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods that are just as damaging and are the result of the changes he made to the biblical narrative. Joseph Smith could seemingly do, say and claim anything that he wished and his followers never questioned anything. The same mindset exists today.