Roles and Ecclesiastical Offices

This document briefly traces the development of the significant roles and the ecclesiastical offices that JS introduced by June 1831. In identifying those holding offices such as elder, priest, and teacher, this document relies exclusively on church minutes of this period. Such minutes generally identify only those officers who were present or newly ordained at the meeting being reported on. It is possible other individuals had been ordained to offices but were not present at any of the meetings whose records provide this data. In this document, names of officers are listed in the order in which they appear in the minutes.
Detailed definitions of many of these offices and roles are found in the glossary.
By June 1829
By June 1829, the Book of Mormon manuscript and the “Articles of the Church of Christ” compiled by had identified ecclesiastical roles to preach, , and administer the . These documents identified the specific offices of , , and and outlined their respective duties, but it is not clear that anyone was ordained to these offices before the formal organization of the church on 6 April 1830. The terms and were also in use by June 1829: the Book of Mormon manuscript used both terms, and a June 1829 revelation commanded Oliver Cowdery and to call twelve disciples.
, Reuben Hale, , , , , and one or more unidentified individuals assisted JS as scribes for the Book of Mormon prior to the end of June 1829. Eleven witnesses of the Book of Mormon were called by revelation and commanded to testify of the and the translation. Their names are listed below.
Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
June 1829 to February 1831
JS may have begun working on the text titled “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ” as early as summer 1829, but in any case the document was in more or less complete form by 10 April 1830. The church voted upon and unanimously accepted the document at the first of the church on 9 June 1830. Articles and Covenants built upon the structure and offices described in the Book of Mormon to become the Church of Christ’s official ecclesiastical document.
Two April 1830 documents designated JS and as apostles. Later accounts explained that Peter, James, and John JS and Cowdery as apostles during this period (at some point after 15 May 1829), but there are no contemporary accounts that explain the meaning of the visit and it is unknown whether it was public knowledge at the time. In 1835, the Quorum of the was organized and twelve men were selected as apostles in that quorum.
JS and were ordained the first and second elders of the on 6 April 1830 at the church’s organizational meeting. A revelation dictated just after the meeting stated that JS was to be called “a seer & Translater & Prop[h]et an Apostle of Jesus Christ an Elder of the Church” and instructed Cowdery to ordain him. Cowdery later affirmed that on this date he ordained JS “to be a Prophet, Seer, &c., just as the revelation says.”
JS’s later history indicates that other ordinations occurred at the organizational meeting but does not provide specific names or offices. Minutes of church conferences held on 9 June 1830 and 26 September 1830 reveal the growing ecclesiastical structure, identifying those men who had previously been ordained as elders, priests, and teachers or who were ordained at those conferences. (Minutes are not extant for the church’s conference held in January 1831.) Though Articles and Covenants mentions the office of , the first known ordinations to that office occurred in October 1831.
At the June 1830 conference, was appointed the keep the church record and conference minutes, and he kept minutes of that conference and the one held September 1830. At the September conference was appointed to keep the church records until the next conference, which was held January 1831, but there are no extant minutes with his signature. During the period from mid-1829 to February 1831, Oliver Cowdery, , , , and possibly others served as scribes for JS.
The following chart outlines the ecclesiastical structure as it existed in February 1831.
Seer, Translator, Prophet, Apostle, Elder
Joseph Smith Jr.
Apostles First and Second Elders
Joseph Smith Jr. Joseph Smith Jr.
Elders Priests Teachers
Joseph Smith Jr.
February 1831 to June 1831
In February 1831, soon after he moved to , JS dictated the revelation known as “the Law,” which provided additional information about the duties of elders, priests, and teachers. This revelation also gave instructions to the , an office that had just been introduced, and called for the bishop to have two assistants. In March 1831, a JS revelation called to “keep the church record and history continually.” A May 1831 JS revelation commanded that an agent be appointed to assist with temporal affairs.
At a conference on 3 June 1831, nearly two dozen men were ordained to the , adding one more office to the church’s unfolding organization. Many individuals were also ordained to the offices of elder and priest at the same conference. By mid-June, a few additional men were ordained elders.
During the period from February to June 1831, , , and possibly other individuals assisted JS as scribes.
The following chart outlines the ecclesiastical structure as it existed in mid-June 1831.
Seer, Translator, Prophet, Apostle, Elder
Joseph Smith Jr.
Apostles First and Second Elders
Joseph Smith Jr. Joseph Smith Jr.
Bishop Historian and Recorder
Assistants to the Bishop
Ordained to the High Priesthood Elders Priests Teachers
Solomon Chamberlain
Lorin Page
Jacob Sherman
Benjamin Bragg
Isaac Beebe
Major N. Ashley
William Carter Samuel Day
Thoret Parsons
Jacob Chamberlain
Ebenezer Abbott
John Woodard
Jacob Scott William Mitchell
Ebenezer Page
Alpheus Gifford
Joseph Smith Jr.