Priesthood Restoration

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe Joseph Smith received divine power and authority from God to administer ordinances and govern the church. This power and authority is called priesthood. As with other aspects of doctrine and practice in the early years of the church, priesthood authority and knowledge concerning it developed incrementally.
While translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery read several passages concerning authority and baptism, prompting them to pray about those subjects. According to later accounts, John the Baptist appeared to Smith and Cowdery on 15 May 1829 and bestowed on them the “priesthood of Aaron,” which gave them the authority to baptize; he then promised that they would later receive a higher authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Historical records describing the reception of this higher authority are generally less specific and more complex. Some accounts describe Peter, James, and John, three of the apostles called by Jesus Christ in the New Testament, appearing to Smith and Cowdery and bestowing on them a higher priesthood, later called the Melchizedek Priesthood. Other accounts describe an earlier event at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. when the voice of God commanded Smith and Cowdery to ordain one another to the office of elder in a public meeting of baptized believers.
The following finding aid provides links or citations to the earliest records describing or alluding to the restoration of authority and priesthood.

Firsthand Accounts of Angelic Visitations and Priesthood Reception

Joseph Smith History, ca. Summer 1832, 1 (mentions the reception of the holy priesthood by ministering of angels and then a confirmation and reception of the high priesthood)
Minutes, 12 Feb. 1834 (Minute Book 1) (records Joseph Smith recounting that priesthood office was conferred on him by an angel, by the voice of God, and by the voice of the church)
Minutes and Discourse, 21 Apr. 1834 (Minute Book 1) (gives Joseph Smith’s account of “the revelation of the priesthood of Aaron” and “the revelation of the high priesthood”)
Joseph Smith History, 1834–1836, 17, 5 Dec. 1834 (mentions an angel giving the lesser priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery)
Oliver Cowdery, Norton, OH, to William W. Phelps, 7 Sept. 1834, in LDS Messenger and Advocate, 1:15–16; copied in Joseph Smith History, 1834–1836, 48–49 (description of the angel conferring priesthood authority after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery read passages from the Book of Mormon and prayed)
Revelation, ca. Aug. 1835 [D&C 27:8–14] (Doctrine and Covenants, 50:2–3, published 1835) (includes a revised and expanded version of a revelation originally dating to circa August 1830; text published in 1835 mentions John the Baptist bestowing the first priesthood and Peter, James, and John ordaining Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to be apostles.)
Patriarchal Blessings, 1:8–9 (probably recorded summer/fall 1835) (Oliver Cowdery recounts how Joseph Smith was “ordained by the angel John, unto the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, in company with myself, in the town of Harmony, Susquehannah County, Pennsylvania, on Fryday, the 15th day of May, 1829, after which we repaired to the water, even to the Susquehannah River, and were baptized, he first ministering unto me and after I to him. But before baptism, our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer to know how we might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit, according to the order of God, and we diligently saught for the right of the fathers, and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to admin in the same: for we desired to be followers of righteousness and the possessors of greater knowledge, even the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we repaired to the woods, even as our father Joseph said we should, that is to the bush, and called upon the name of the Lord, and he answered us out of the heavens, and while we were in the heavenly vision the angel came down and bestowed upon us this priesthood; and then, as I have said, we repaired to the water and were baptized. After this we received the high and holy priesthood: but an account of this will be given elsewhere.”)
Blessing to Oliver Cowdery, 2 Oct. 1835 (Patriarchal Blessings, 1:12, recorded 2 Oct. 1835) (mentions ordination to the lesser and holy priesthoods under the hands of those who received the priesthood from Jesus Christ)
Joseph Smith History, vol. A-1, 17–18, 26–27; compare History, ca. June–Oct. 1839, pp. [1], [7]–[8] [Draft 1] (John the Baptist bestows Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on 15 May 1829 and promises the Melchizedek Priesthood will be conferred at a later time; Smith later hears the voice of the Lord in Peter Whitmer Sr.’s chamber, commanding him and Cowdery to ordain each other as elders)
Letter to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” 7 Sept. 1842 [D&C 128:20–21] (Joseph Smith summarizes the restoration of priesthood and keys and mentions Peter, James, and John; he also briefly describes the voice of God in the chamber of “Father Whitmer”)
Oliver Cowdery, Tiffin, OH, to Phineas Young, Nauvoo, IL, 23 Mar. 1846, CHL (Cowdery recounts standing in the presence of John and Peter to receive the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods)
Reuben Miller, Journal, 21 Oct. 1848 (account of Oliver Cowdery discourse recounting that he was with Joseph Smith when angels bestowed the lesser and greater priesthoods)

Early References to Authority and Priesthood

Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 192, 203, 230–231, 238, 259, 260, 478, 490, 493, 574–575 [Mosiah 18:13–16; 23:16–17; Alma 4:7, 18, 20; 6:1; 13:6, 14, 18; 3 Nephi 11:18–25; 18:5, 37, 38; Moroni 2:1–3; 3:1–2]
“Articles of the Church of Christ,” June 1829 (copied between ca. Feb. and Apr. 1830) (Oliver Cowdery records a commandment that he is to baptize with authority from Jesus Christ)
Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18:9] (Book of Commandments, 15:10–11, published 1833) (alludes to Oliver Cowdery being called to be an apostle like Paul)
Articles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830 [D&C 20:2–3] (Painesville Telegraph, Apr. 1831) (states that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery ordained each other elders in the church)
Revelation, 6 Apr. 1830 [D&C 21:1, 10–12] (Revelation Book 1, copied ca. Mar. 1831) (calls Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery apostles of Jesus Christ and elders of the church)
Revelation, 30 Oct. 1831 [D&C 65:2] (Revelation Book 1, copied ca. Nov. 1831) (mentions that the keys of the kingdom are committed to men)
Revelation, 15 Mar. 1832 [D&C 81:1–2] (Revelation Book 2, copied between 15 Mar. and ca. 1 Apr. 1832) (states that the keys of the presidency of the high priesthood are given to Joseph Smith)
Revelation, between ca. 8 and ca. 24 March 1832 (states that the Lord has given Joseph Smith the keys of the kingdom)
Joseph Smith History, vol. A-1, 37 (account of the 6 April 1830 meeting at which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery ordained each other as elders)

Secondary Accounts

“The Golden Bible,” Painesville (OH) Telegraph, 16 Nov. 1830, [3] (mentions visitation of angels and the restoration of ordinances that had not been administered since the days of the New Testament apostles)
“The Book of Mormon,” Painesville (OH) Telegraph, 7 Dec. 1830, [3] (reports Oliver Cowdery’s claims of a divine commission and authority directly from God and Jesus Christ, with whom he conversed)
“Book of Mormon,” Reflector (Palmyra, NY), 14 Feb. 1831, 102 (reports claim by Sidney Rigdon and others that Joseph Smith received authority that was gone for fifteen hundred years.)
Minutes, ca. 3–4 June 1831 (ordination of elders to the high priesthood)
William E. McLellin, Journal, 25 Oct. 1831 (McLellin witnesses church leaders ordaining individuals to a high priesthood and to a lesser priesthood)
Stephen Post, Journal, 27 Mar. 1836 (mentions Joseph Smith discourse about being ordained under the hands of an angel)
John Corrill, Brief History (1839), 18 (Corrill discusses 3 June 1831 meeting where individuals were first ordained as high priests)
John Whitmer, History, 27–28 (copied between 1838 and 1847) (Whitmer states that Joseph Smith began ordaining men to the higher priesthood in June 1831)
Discourse, 10 March 1844 (Woodruff, Journal, 10 Mar. 1844; Burgess, Journal, [303]–[306]; Franklin D. Richards, Scriptural Items, 10 Mar. 1844) (reports Joseph Smith discourse on receiving priesthood authority)
Orson Pratt, “Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchisedek Priesthoods,” LDS Millennial Star, 25 Apr. 1857, 19:260 (summary of priesthood restoration)

Supplementary Resources

Joseph Smith Papers website
“Joseph Smith Documents Dating through June 1831” (volume introduction to Documents, Volume 1, discussing documentation relating to priesthood restoration)
“Priesthood” (glossary entry)
“Aaronic priesthood” (glossary entry)
“High priesthood” (glossary entry)
“Keys” (glossary entry)
 
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