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Aaronic Priesthood: Restoration

by Larry C. Porter

On May 15, 1829, John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery near Harmony, Pennsylvania, and bestowed the Aaronic Priesthood on them (see Aaronic Priesthood: Powers and Offices). This ordination gave the two men authority to baptize (see Baptism), and they immediately performed that ordinance for one another in the Susquehannah River. The Prophet Joseph Smith had received no previous revelations authorizing him to baptize; to perform that ordinance properly required specific authorization from God. The return of John to bestow the Aaronic Priesthood confirmed that divine authority had been lost from the earth and that a heavenly visitation was necessary to restore it.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were engaged in translating the Book of Mormon (see Book of Mormon Translation by Joseph Smith) at the Prophet's homestead on the Susquehannah River in Harmony when the question of baptism arose. A passage in 3 Nephi 11 (see Book of Mormon: Third Nephi), in which the resurrected Savior instructed the Nephites on the subject, led the two men to wonder about their own baptism. Determining to pray about it, they went to the woods, where, as Oliver later recounted, "on a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the Gospel of repentance" (JS—H 1:71). Joseph said that the angel placed his hands on them and ordained them, 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" (JS—H 1:69; D&C 13).

The angel informed them that the Aaronic Priesthood did not have the power of laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that that authority would be given to them later. He told Joseph to baptize Oliver, and Oliver to baptize Joseph, and each to ordain the other to the Aaronic Priesthood. The messenger 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 would be conferred later. (JS-H 1:72; see Melchizedek Priesthood: Restoration)

In the time of Jesus, John the Baptist preached repentance to the Jews and baptized in the Jordan River. He baptized Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17; cf. 2 Ne. 31:4-13). John was a direct descendant of aaron, through both his priestly father Zacharias and his mother Elisabeth, one of the "daughters of Aaron" (Luke 1:5). A later revelation to Joseph Smith said that an angel bestowed authority on John to perform his earthly mission when he was eight days old (D&C 84:28).

By ordination and calling, John the Baptist held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood. These include the keys of the "ministering of angels," meaning that holders of the Aaronic Priesthood are eligible to have angels minister to them. This priesthood also has the keys of the preparatory gospel, which embraces the "gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments" (D&C 84:27).

As others were also to enjoy the blessings associated with baptism for the remission of sins administered under priesthood authority, a revelation was given in 1829 regarding the exact words and procedure that were to be followed in conducting the ordinance for those who repent and ask for baptism.

Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying, Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in water [Cowdery, 1829 Ms.].

In the LDS Church today, only those having either the office of priest in the Aaronic Priesthood or the Melchizedek Priesthood may baptize people.

Monuments commemorating the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood have been erected at Temple Square, Salt Lake City (1958), and in Harmony, Pennsylvania (1960).


Cowdery, Oliver. "Written in the year of our Lord & Savior 1829—A True copy of the articles of the Church of Christ." Ms. in handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, LDS Church Archives.

McConkie, Oscar W. Aaronic Priesthood. Salt Lake City, 1977.

Palmer, Lee A. The Aaronic Priesthood Through the Centuries. Salt Lake City, 1964.

Porter, Larry C. "The Priesthood Restored." In Studies in Scripture, ed. R. Millet and K. Jackson, Vol. 2, pp. 389-409. Salt Lake City, 1985.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Aaronic Priesthood, Restoration

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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