Response to Apologetic Responses on Priesthood Restoration
There have been a number of common apologetic responses to answer the many issues with Joseph Smith's evolving story of the priesthood restoration. It is important to address those quickly here, because many members trust these apologetic sites to give them true, accurate information, when in reality they continue to gaslight and twist the historical information to make you think you are the crazy one for having doubts about what you can read with your own eyes.
The following are FAIR responses to the basic priesthood issues in the CES letter:
CES LETTER CLAIM: Like the First Vision story, none of the members of the Church or Joseph Smith’s family had ever heard prior to 1834 about a priesthood restoration from John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John.
FAIR RESPONSE: Records indicate that the visit of Peter, James and John for the purpose of ordination was being discussed in 1830.
OUR REPLY: FAIR gives *no* sources and the above sentence is their *entire* reply to this claim. They later follow up with “The author has no idea whatsoever Joseph may have told his family about the priesthood restoration, because there are no historical documents to support his position one way or the other,” which only further proves our point that this event was not spoken of to anyone on record.
CES LETTER CLAIM: Was the restoration of the priesthood "back dated" later by Joseph Smith to justify a desire to dominate the Church?
FAIR RESPONSE: When all the circumstantial evidence is studied, the approximate time of the Melchizedek priesthood' restoration can be plausibly narrowed down. Although historical documents do not give an exact date for the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood we can pinpoint its occurrence to a 17 day window between the 15 and 31 of May, 1829. The window that is known is small enough to preclude a later fabrication of events by the Prophet to "increase his authority."
FAIR continues: Some have claimed that Joseph only began to mention apostolic ordination to the priesthood several years after the Church's organization. Contrary to this claim, there are clear references to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’. (My comment: Again, no sources given by FAIR beyond this, because Joseph Smith never made the conclusion that FAIR does.)
FAIR continues: “Joseph learned from Moroni in 1823 that “when [the golden plates] are interpreted the Lord will give the holy priesthood to some, and they shall begin to proclaim this gospel and baptize by water, and after that they shall have power to give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their hands.”” (The footnote from FAIR leads to a letter written by Oliver Cowdery in **1835** which only further adds to idea this has been backdated)
Question: In what manner was the Melchizedek Priesthood restored?
Aug 1830, the Lord spoke to the Prophet Joseph Smith of “Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them.” D&C 27:12 (This was altered in 1835 to retrofit in the addition of Peter, James, and John.)
Apr 1830, “And to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, and ordained under his hand.” D&C 20:2-3 (Again, these chapters were heavily altered - please see images below)
“Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sought after this higher authority, and the Lord gave it to them, before the rise of this Church, sending to them Peter, James and John. What for? To bestow upon them the Apostleship.” -Elder Parley P. Pratt  (This quote is from the 1870s, which is long after the story changed and hardly proof it happened as stated)
Hiram Page, a son-in-law of Peter Whitmer Sr., and one who was present on the day of the Church’s 6 April 1830 organization, later confirmed that “Peter, James and John” had come and bestowed the Holy Priesthood “before the 6th of April 1830.”  (This is from 1848, 13 years after Joseph Smith changed the priesthood revelation to add in Peter, James, and John.)
“I know that Joseph received his Apostleship from Peter, James, and John, before a revelation on the subject was printed, and he never had a right to organize a Church before he was an Apostle.” -Brigham Young 
Compare the Book of Commandments versus the Doctrine and Covenants to see just how vast the changes were, and how significantly the story changes. (Click either image to open the full page PDF in a new window with a larger view)
CES LETTER CLAIM: Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834. Why did it take five years for Joseph or Oliver to tell members of the Church about the priesthood?
FAIR RESPONSE: It should first be noted that many critics ignore versus in the Book of Mormon that refer explicitly to the High Priesthood of Melchizedek such as Alma 13:18. Alma was "confined [to the] high priesthood of the holy order of God..." (Alma 4:20). It is therefore unlikely that these accounts are a pure fabrication since we know that these versus and versus in Mosiah would prompt Joseph and Oliver to enquire about the proper mode of baptism under this authority (This is a major assumption being made here). We don't know when Oliver first mentioned the priesthood restoration to anyone - we only know when he first put it in print. But consider this: If Oliver was covering up a fraud on the part of Joseph Smith when he talked of receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, then why didn't he expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church? Why, in fact, did Oliver continue to insist that the events related to the restoration of the Priesthood actually happened?
There are many reasons that the witnesses did not deny their testimony after leaving the church. The reputation of their families would be forever destroyed if they admitted to leading others in a lie that led to families being destroyed by polygamy, life savings lost in a fake bank, and people dying over a religion with no true basis. It’s also possible they did believe they had a spiritual vision as it was very common in those days for both Mormons and non-Mormons to claim they saw God, angels, and revelations. Second, the mention of Melchizedek is from the New Testament in Hebrews 7 and is not unique to the Book of Mormon:
1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
FAIR: Many ignore that Joseph Smith mentioned the ‘holy priesthood’ in the 1832 first vision account and that they soften their stance by ignoring that fact.
OUR REPLY: This is after the 1831 elder meeting were the priesthood was first conferred. It again does not mention Aaronic or Melchizedek nor does it mention a visitation from John the Baptist and still relies on a generic term of angels. In addition, there are many who believe the 1832 First Vision account was actually written later – it is undated and was torn out of its original book for years which makes that specific timeframe unknown. More to he point, why is this story still generic years after the church was formed? Why does it only get more specific and grand as time goes on? How could Joseph Smith forget the God visited him or the John the Baptist was there? The answer is obvious and if anyone but Joseph Smith claimed this in our current timeframe no one would give them a second glance.
FAIR: The priesthood was mentioned before 1834 in newspapers:
Painesville Telegraph, 7 December 1830: Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name. By this authority, they proclaim to the world, that all who do not believe their testimony, and be baptized by them for the remission of sins . . . must be forever miserable. (Again no mention of the priesthood nor specifics about being ordained with Aaronic/Melchizedek priesthood. This quote is about baptism and forming a new church, but FAIR is trying to conflate it with the priesthood dishonestly.)
Painesville Telegraph, 16 November 1830: About Two weeks since some persons came along here with the book, one of whom pretends to have seen Angels, and assisted in translating the plates. He proclaims the destruction upon the world within a few years,--holds forth that the ordinances of the gospel, have not been regularly administered since the days of the Apostles, till the said Smith and himself commenced the work . . . . The name of the person here, who pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels, is Cowdray.” (Angel story was part of the translation/witness of plates/etc. This again does not mention priesthood specifically and FAIR is using this as a way to conflate subjects).
The Palmyra Reflector, February 14, 1831: They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years,--that no one had been authorized to preach &c. for that period—that Jo Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose . . . . Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personally—Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels. (Again, no mention of priesthood – just of angels. This is insultingly dishonest.)
Reverend Richmond Taggart to Reverend Jonathan Goings, Cleveland, Ohio, March 2, 1833: The following Curious occurrence occurred last week in Newburg about 6 miles from this Place [Cleveland, Ohio]. Joe Smith the great Mormonosity was there and held forth, and among other things he told them he had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them, and that he could perform miracles. (Again, no mention of priesthood and no mention of specifics of Aaronic/Melchizedek priesthoods. This is Joseph Smith trying to grow the church *years* after it was being formed. This is also a second hand account that mentions Apostles, which is something FAIR would discount if it was the other way around. It should lastly be noted that Joseph Smith performed no miracles during his time, and the translations we have source materials for have been thoroughly discredited with time.)
CLAIM: JS changed the revelations in 1835
FAIR SUMMARY: This is correct, but unfair. They then use quotes to say the D&C has been changed as needed
Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote: First Presidency members were assigned to compile "the items of the doctrine" of the Church from the standard works, including "the revelations which have been given to the Church up to this date or shall be, until such arrangement is made" (Kirtland High Council Minute Book, 24 September 1834; also cited in History of the Church, 2:165. Volume 2 link). This resolution might suggest the correction of former wording through revelation. [The revised D&C was] issued in August 1835 with a 17 February 1835 preface signed by the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, the revision committee.  (This implies the changes are more for wording than for content/meaning/etc. That grossly misstates what happened).
Elder Marlin K. Jensen in 2009: In a few cases, more substantive changes were made as revelations were updated for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. For example, section 20 was originally received in 1830, before much of the leadership structure of the Church as we know it today was revealed to Joseph Smith. By 1835 Joseph had organized many offices and quorums by revelation. To include this newly revealed ecclesiastical order, several text changes and additions were incorporated into section 20. Our current verses 65–67 on ordaining men to priesthood offices, for instance, had been revealed after the 1833 publication and were subsequently added to the 1835 publication.
Joseph Smith reviewed many of his associates’ editorial changes and made slight alterations in his own hand before A Book of Commandments was published in 1833. He made additional changes, including adding surnames to individuals mentioned in the revelations, just before the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835.
Sometime around 1834–35 in Kirtland, Ohio, Revelation Book 2 was used for the preparation of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and all but eight items in the manuscript book were published in that 1835 volume. In contrast, just three of the revelations copied into the book were published in A Book of Commandments in 1833. Two of the manuscript book’s revelations were first published in the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants. (Again, this continues to imply the changes are slight or grammatical… clearly not the case in the most important instances)
Oliver Cowdery: On the revelations we merely say, that we were not a little surprised to find the previous print so different from the original. We had given them a careful comparison, assisted by individuals whose known integrity and ability is uncensurable. Thus saying we cast no reflections upon those who were entrusted with the responsibility of publishing them in Missouri, as our own labors were included in that important service to the church, and it was our unceasing endeavor to have them correspond with the copy furnished us. We believe they are now correct. If not in every word, at least in principle. For the special good of the church we have also added a few items from other revelations.  (Again, this continues to imply the changes are slight or grammatical… clearly not the case in many instances)
The rest of the FAIR document provides more quotes about changes to revelation with many saying it can be done by prophets and most were grammatical/insignificant.
They also contend that Whitmer’s quote is out of context and present the fuller quote: in the year 1829, on our way I conversed freely with them upon this great work they were bringing about, and Oliver stated to me in Josephs presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command-And after our arrival at fathers sometime in June 1829. Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the Church of Christ. <and during that year Joseph both baptized and ordained me an elder in the church of Christ.> Also, during this year the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, And we preached, baptized and ordained some as Elders, And upon the Sixth day of April 1830, six Elders together with some fifty or sixty (as near as I recollect) of the members met together to effect an organization. I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834[,] 5, or 6 - in Ohio, my information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revealment through Joseph. I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some. I regard that as an error, a misconception... (I am not sure how this helps the case of it happening as stated, although FAIR then uses dictionary definitions of ordained to try and make the point that they still initiated the priesthood even as Whitmer contends the story doesn’t add up.)