Priesthood Restoration Timeline (Church vs Historical Record)
The timeline of course is not going to be perfect due to limited records and accounts, but we have tried to combine the timelines of both the official church accounts along with sourced materials that give more insight into the restoration by following the changing/conflicting details that arrived well after the LDS church claims the priesthood was fully restored. Below we present both timelines below to show the differences between official church narrative and what history now tells us:
Official LDS Timeline of the priesthood restoration (from lds.org):
May 15, 1829: John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in Harmony, Pennsylvania. From the official History of the Church:
"[W]e ... 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 [Book of Mormon] .... 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:
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.
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.
Accordingly we went and were baptized.
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.
Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation." (Joseph Smith–History 1:68)
May 1829: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John near the Susquehanna River between Harmony, Pennsylvania, and Colesville, New York. From the History of the Church:
April 6 1830: Organization of the Church in Fayette Township, New York.
Historical Timeline of the priesthood restoration:
1827: The Disciples of Christ, from which many early members of the Church converted, for example, had developed its own priesthood doctrines, influenced by Alexander Crawford, a Scottish minister living in Canada. In 1827, Crawford had delineated the existence of three distinct priesthoods: a patriarchal priesthood (which he also called a priesthood after the “order of Melchisedec”), an Aaronical priesthood (originally held by Aaron), and a priesthood held by Jesus Christ. Crawford regarded Melchizedek as a greater priest than Abraham, citing the fact that Abraham paid tithes to him; indeed, according to Crawford, Melchizedek was one of the key players in the order of the patriarchal priesthood. Crawford also considered the patriarchal priesthood and the Aaronical priesthood as branches of the Levitical priesthood... Regardless, as one historian has claimed, Campbell taught his understanding of priesthood “to many of his followers who [became] part of the Mormonite community and continued to believe the same doctrine.” (BYU Studies)
(Sidney Rigdon was a Campbellite (joined reformed Baptist, later Disciples of Christ or Campbellite) movement and became influential preacher) between 1824-1827. Rigdon later joined the church before these priesthood terms were revealed – this is important. (Joseph Smith Papers))
1829 (May 15): As per official LDS timeline, Joseph Smith claims he was called by the Spirit to restore the priesthood. In the Joseph Smith history (written in 1838) that we have in the official church narrative, this is when the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were restored by Peter, James, and John.
As we will show below, this story is anachronistic to 1829 as Joseph Smith does not mention the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods for years to come, and there will be no mention of Peter, James, and John for 5 years after this event.
In fact, the original revelation that discusses the baptism for Joseph and Oliver in the Book of Commandments (what is now D&C 18), there is no mention of either priesthood nor does it mention any visitation from Peter, James, or John. (Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18])
1829: "The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ" is released in second half of 1829 and is written down by scribe Oliver Cowdery (also Ch 24 in Book of Commandments). There is no mention of priesthood divisions. In fact, in this revelation apostles were elders - this waters down authority in the church (there is no Quorum of the Twelve here). (This is not changed until the D&C revelation is changed in 1835, now known as D&C 20)
In these articles, Joseph Smith dictates the following: "God visited him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high, and gave unto him power, by the means of which was before prepared that he should translate a book" (Original manuscript, Joseph Smith Papers)
Again, there is no mention of angelic ordinations, priesthood restoration, or Peter, James, and John.
1830: With the formation of the Church, both Joseph Smith and Olivery Cowdery were ordained simply as elders – there is no mention of holding the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood for either men.
1830 (November): Sidney Rigdon is baptized and ordained an elder in the church (eom.byu.edu/index.php/Rigdon,_Sidney). This is important as Rigdon has been teaching the Aaronic/Melchizedek priesthood idea as a Campbellite, and the timeline will show that it is going to be introduced to Mormons shortly after his arrival.
1831 (June): At a conference of Elders, “the authority of the Melchizedek [Page 176] Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders.” (BYU Studies) This further clarifies that until 1831 the title of “elder” in the church did not equate to priesthood as we stated above with the "The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ."
Journals for this conference refer *only* to the ‘high priesthood’ and not the Melchizedek priesthood, further adding to the idea that the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were retrofitted into church history. ("Ezra Booth …was present when the Elders first received the ordination of the High Priesthood. They met together in June, 1831. …While they were there, the manifestation of the power of God being on Joseph, he set apart some of the Elders to the High Priesthood. …The Priesthood was conferred on a number of the Elders."— Journal of Discourses)
On a side note, it is also interesting that many of the elders claimed spiritual visions like the early witnesses claimed under Joseph Smith. Lyman Wight bore testimony that he saw the face of the Savior. We note this because there were multiple occasions when groups would have these kinds of visions when Joseph Smith was present and they took the sacrament. It is impossible to know if it was the wine that made people see the visions or if Joseph Smith was able to guide their visions, but this is something that has just not been replicated in the same manner since Joseph's time, but was very common in these gatherings early in the church. (Journal of Discourses)
In addition, Joseph himself was ordained to the high priesthood by church elder Lyman Wight. "During the turbulent meeting, Joseph ordained five men to the high priesthood, and Lyman Wight ordained eighteen others, including Joseph. The ordinations to the high priesthood marked a milestone in Mormon ecclesiology. Until that time, the word 'priesthood,' although it appeared in the Book of Mormon, had not been used in Mormon sermonizing or modern revelations. Later accounts applied the term retroactively, but the June 1831 conference marked its first appearance in contemporary records… The Melchizedek Priesthood, Mormons now believe, had been bestowed a year or two earlier with the visit of Peter, James, and John. If so, why did contemporaries say the high priesthood was given for the first time in June 1831? Joseph Smith himself was ordained to this 'high priesthood' by Lyman Wight. If Joseph was already an elder and apostle, what was the necessity of being ordained again?" (Rough Stone Rolling, p 157-158)
This entry into the History of the Church also negates the story that will evolve in 1835, which is that Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek priesthood. If that was truly the case, how could the church have recorded in 1831 that it was the first time the "high priesthood" had been conferred on elders in the church, including Joseph Smith? This is also the first time that there was any mention of two priesthoods, which is important given how the narrative evolves in the coming years. It also shows that elders were originally part of the lesser, or Aaronic, priesthood.
1831 (August): Joseph Smith travels to Missouri and engages in a dispute with Bishop Edward Partridge over which land to purchase to establish the new City of Zion in Missouri. According to Ezra Booth (who later left the church), Partridge claimed that"the land which [Smith] and Oliver [Cowdery] had selected, was inferior in point of quality to other lands adjoining." (Ohio Star, November 24, 1831)
Because Partridge had been ordained as a bishop, he felt he had the authority to run the church in Missouri as he felt would be best for the church.
1831 (November): Following the altercation with Edward Partridge, Joseph Smith dictates a revelation that calls for him to be the President of the High Priesthood, which makes clear that "the office of a Bishop is not equal." (Revelation 11, 1831)
1831: Lucy Mack Smith writes letter to her brother to discuss the beginnings of the new church, but there are no mentions of angelic visits for priesthood restoration. (Elders' Journal (1 Nov 1906):60-62)
1832 (January): Sidney Rigdon ordains Joseph Smith as President of the High Priesthood in Ohio, and Joseph was sustained in April in Missouri.
1832 (July): Joseph Smith again visits the church in Missouri to see that it is still in discord, and Bishop Partridge continued to challenge his leadership. This leads Joseph Smith to tell W.W. Phelps "Tell brother Edward to remember Ananias & Sophria [Sapphira]." (Joseph Smith to William W. Phelps, July 31, 1832) Ananias and Sappphira were two individuals in the New Testament who withheld money obtained by selling land and were struck dead by the power of God. (Acts 5:1-11)
1832 (Summer): Joseph Smith first mentions that angels were a part of the priesthood restoration as he writes his 1832 history, which includes the original First Vision that mentions only Jesus appearing. With regards to the priesthood, Joseph Smith writes among his miraculous experiences: "thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of—Aangels"
This is important, because this entry does not mention John the Baptist but is consistent with the early, generic account of angels, because the John the Baptist story has not evolved yet.
The history continues: "Forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinence from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit"
This refers to the June, 1831 conference where Joseph was ordained to the high priesthood (notice there is no mention of Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods yet), but again does not mention Peter, James, and John.
It is apparent that this 1832 history was amost certainly written to address growing infighting from the Missouri branch of the church, and to establish Joseph Smith's authority over the church. This also explains the First Vision account appearing at the same time, which directly gives Joseph Smith unmatched credibility as the lone member who can speak for God.
1832 (September 22): Joseph Smith dictates the revelation now known as D&C 84, which officially structures the lower and higher priesthoods for the first time. (Revelation 22-23, September 1832)
What is interesting about this revelation is the following section:
"And this greater Priesthood adminestereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the misteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God therefore in the ordinences thereof the power of Godliness is manifest and without the ordinences thereof, and the authority of the Priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest unto man in the flesh, for without this no man can see the face of God even the father and live."
The reason this passage is so interesting is because Joseph Smith claims to have seen the face of God during the First Vision, which was clearly before he received either priesthood and yet he lived. Apologists argue that the "this" is the "power of Godliness" that is being referred to, but the "power of Godliness" can not be manifest until you receive the priesthood as stated above ("without the ordinences thereof, and the authority of the Priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest unto man in the flesh"), so either way Joseph Smith could not have seen God and lived in the First Vision.
1833: The Book of Commandments is released, with all revelations through the release date included. There is no mention of a restoration of the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood included in the Book of Commandments whatsoever. There is also no mention of Peter, James, or John being present.
1834 (May/June): Joseph Smith launches Zion's Camp to regain the land lost in Zion, Missouri. This trip turns out to be a failure, as Joseph Smith records a revelation to not help the church in Missouri once he is unable to secure enough help, which shakes confidence in his authority as prophet and leader. From our write-up of the new church history book Saints (Saints part 2, Chapter 18):
Where this revelation takes a completely different turn than the earlier messages to Missouri is that "the Lord also indicated that Zion could be reclaimed by power." This leads Joseph to command the church in Ohio to begin forming a group that will march to Missouri to take the land back. “The redemption of Zion must needs come by power,” the Lord declared. “Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake.”
The revelation calls for 500 men to go to Missouri, but "the force was only a small fraction of the five hundred the Lord had called for." Even though the force did not match the revelation, they carried on to Missouri with a lot of details about the journey including mentions of Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff, two future prophets of the church.
Upon arriving in Missouri, Joseph finds out that Governor Dunklin had refused to provide militia support for the church to go back to their land. Joseph decides to carry on, and the camp continued on to Missouri knowing they would not have any backup beyond the church members who had been relocated after being expelled.
Without the aid of Governor Dunklin, Joseph began seeking out local officials to seek help for the church to reclaim their lands. The officials "agreed to help calm the anger of their fellow citizens, but they warned the camp not to go into Jackson County." They feared if church members went into Independence, violence could escalate quickly.
The very next day, Joseph Smith recorded a revelation that “Zion cannot be built up,” He declared, “unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.” This followed by a commandment that the church members should wait to rebuild Zion until they had further prepared themselves with more learning. “And this cannot be brought to pass,” He explained, “until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.”
This revelation pleased many members, but angered some who did not understand why they were led all the way to Missouri only to turn around, leaving the Missouri church members stranded after spending so much time and money getting there. After all of the cost, stress, and risk traveling to Missouri, Joseph Smith was going to turn around and leave them helpless for longer.
I would ask anyone interested to read D&C 105 to get a context for the revelation. Again, the blame is put on the Missouri church members for not being faithful enough ("But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them"), and the revelation then calls for no further action to be taken to help them.
We were told in previous chapters (in Saints) that God promised to protect the church in Missouri, and now we're being told that because they are "full of all manner of evil" that not only were they not saved, but will not even be helped by Joseph now.
A critical reading of D&C 105 leads some to believe that Joseph was nervous about undertaking a battle with such small numbers, and received this revelation as a way out of what had been such a difficult mission to begin with. It is also worth noting that the revelation in D&C 105 gives himself and the top church leaders an out: "I speak not concerning those who are appointed to lead my people, who are the first elders of my church, for they are not all under this condemnation." (D&C 105:7) (Saints part 2, Chapter 18)
1834 (September): Oliver Cowdery writes a letter to W.W. Phelps, and this is a very important event in the priesthood restoration story. From historian Dan Vogel: "Cowdery wrote a letter to W. W. Phelps in Missouri and told him for the first time about an angel ordaining him and Joseph Smith in May 1829. The purpose of the letter, as Cowdery explained, was to strengthen the Missouri church in their faith. According to Cowdery, the angel said "in the name of Messiah, confer this priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon Earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness." However, the word priesthood did not appear until June 1831 and connecting the lesser priesthood to the Levites until September 1832. Revealing this event to the church raised Cowdery to almost equal status with Joseph Smith."
"Only a few months later on the fifth of December 1834, Oliver Cowdery was ordained an assistant president or co-president to Joseph Smith, by Joseph Smith. About this time, Cowdery made a suspicious entry in Joseph Smith's large journal which tried to explain his sudden rise to the top. The angel in May 1829 commanded it to be done, according to Cowdery, but things got in the way and delayed it for five years. The idea that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knew about President and Assistant President of the High Priesthood in 1829 is not believable. The office of President of the High Priesthood came about because Partridge had challenged Joseph Smith in November 1831 and assistants were not added until 1832. Cowdery's excuse for the delay is also unbelievable, since there were several opportunities before December 1834 to ordain Cowdery. Cowdery even assisted Joseph Smith on the 19th of April 1834 before Joseph Smith left with Zion's Camp and confirmed upon Sidney Rigdon authority as First Counselor to preside over the church in the absence of Brother Joseph. When the Quorom of Twelve Apostles was organized in February 1835, Oliver Cowdery did not mention Peter, James and John restoring the keys of the apostleship. Instead, he said, "You have been ordained to this holy priesthood. You have received it from those who have the power and authority from an angel." By this, he was referring to Moroni. It was the duty of the three witnesses to ordain the twelve apostles. The three witnesses received their commission from the angel Moroni." (Dan Vogel, Sunstone History Podcast: "Resoring What Was Lost")
1834-1835: Joseph Smith first mentions that the angels were actual, physical beings – details from Joseph Smith on priesthood move from generic to sharp/specific over time, which is also true of the evolution of Joseph Smith's First Vision accounts.
"In 1829 Joseph said he was called by the Spirit; in 1832 he mentioned that angels attended these events; in 1834-35 the spiritual manifestations became literal and physical appearances of resurrected beings." (Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins)
1835 (March-August): Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery change the wording of earlier revelations when they compile the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist along with Peter, James, and John. The Book of Commandments, which later became the D&C, says nothing about these appearances, nor is there any explanation for the incredibly consequential additions into existing revelation. They appear in the D&C with no justifications for the changes nor are they backed up by any historical records to show that Joseph Smith ever had that vision.
From Dan Vogel: "Between about March and August 1835, Joseph Smith added mention of the coming of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John to his early revelations. To section 27 dated September 1830 he added, "John the Baptist, I have set unto you my servants Joseph Smith Jr and Oliver Cowdery to ordain you onto this first priesthood, which you have received that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron and also Peter, James, and John, whom I have set unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and special witnesses of my name." Note that the first public mention of the three ancient apostles ordaining Smith and Cowdery associated this visitation with the apostleship rather than the eldership as commonly assumed. One might therefore conclude that the story of Peter, James, and John was invented after February 1835 when the Quorum of Twelve was organized and Cowdery did not mention it and before it was published in The Doctine & Covenants in September 1835." (Dan Vogel, Sunstone History Podcast: "Resoring What Was Lost")
1835 (March-August, continued): More from Dan Vogel on the process of the evolving priesthood story:
"To Section 107, which was originally given in November 1831 about Joseph Smith being President of the High Priesthood, Joseph Smith added a genealogy of high priests from Adam to Enoch and then stated that the details of this are given in The Book of Enoch, which was to be testified of in due time. This never happened. Instead, the Book of Abraham appeared. In July 1835 Joseph Smith procured two Egyptian scrolls. One he identified as the Book of Abraham and the other as the Book of Joseph. The first thing just Smith did was to translate an alphabet of the Egyptian language which contained a mixture of the "pure language" and Egyptian. Part of its content dealt with a lineage of the high priests."
"About this time, Joseph Smith dictated the first three verses of the Book of Abraham to W. W. Phelps. The remainder of the first two chapters of Abraham won't be dictated until November 1835. These verses mention Abraham's seeking the right to be a high priest from his fathers. Here, as in D&C 107, Joseph Smith is attempting to establish a lineage for the high priesthood. This was a problem, no doubt for some members of the church as well as those outside the church, who believed that high priests were associated with Aaronic priesthood and that Jesus was the only Melchizedek high priest." (Dan Vogel, Sunstone History Podcast: "Resoring What Was Lost")
1835 (September-October): Dan Vogel the explains how Oliver Cowdery retrofitted the priesthood restoration into the patriarchal blessings book:
"Late in September 1835, Oliver Cowdery was copying 1833 blessings of Joseph Smith Sr into the patriarchal blessing book. Cowdery wrote an introduction that explained the authority by which Joseph Smith Sr gave blessings and uses the same language as Abraham 1:2 about the right of the priesthood. He then tried to claim that the visitation of John the Baptist was predicted by ancient Joseph, evidently alluding to one of the Egyptian papyri that Oliver Cowdery identified in the December 1835 issue of the Messenger and Advocate. This is what he wrote: "We repaired to the woods, even as our father Joseph said we should - that is, to the bush. The angel came down and bestowed upon us this priesthood." That is, he explains, they were ordained by the Angel John unto the lesser or Aaronic priesthood."
"Still writing in the patriarchal blessing book in early October 1835, Oliver Cowdery altered and expanded and blessing Joseph Smith gave him in 1833, deleting some negative comments and adding a reference to priesthood restoration. He wrote, "These blessings shall come upon him, Oliver, according to the blessings of the prophecy of Joseph in ancient days, which he said should come upon the seer of the last days and the scribe that should sit with him and that should be ordained with him." He then mentions the ordination by John the Baptist then states, "and after received the holy priesthood under the hands of those who had been held in reserve for a long season. Even those who received it under the hand of the Messiah, while he should dwell in the flesh." The expansion of the 1833 blessings without notice, Cowdery even claimed that he was copying faithfully, creates a highly suspicious situation in which Oliver Cowdery inserts ancient Joseph's prophecy about priesthood restoration. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were apparently planning to use the papyri to support priesthoood restoration to put authority claims and their leadership on a firmer foundation. (Dan Vogel, Sunstone History Podcast: "Resoring What Was Lost")
1836 (March): Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery claim a vision in the Kirtland temple where they receive additional priesthood keys from Moses, Elias, and Elijah. This claim gives them an ultimate authority in the church, but does not come without problems. Elias and Elijah are actually the same person even as Joseph treats them as separate visions - Elias is the Hebrew translation and Elijah is Greek. Nonetheless, this effectively finishes the priesthood restoration by confirming an authority to Joseph Smith that can not be challenged by anyone else in the church.
1838: Joseph Smith writes his new history, which is canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. This entry matches the official church narrative we outlined above, including the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods along with the visitation of Peter, James, and John.
1845: Lucy Mack Smith again writes about the formation of the church, recounts the introduction of baptism, but does not mention John the Baptist or other angelic visits which were to have taken place that same day: "One morning …[Joseph and Oliver were translating in Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon] the first thing that presented itself to Joseph was a commandment from God [through the stone in a hat] that he and Oliver should repair to the water & each of them be baptized.They immediately went down to the susquehana (sic) river and obeyed the mandate given them ... They had now received authority to baptize." (Lucy Smith's Preliminary Manuscript, dictated to Martha Jane Coray, 1844-45, original in the archives of the Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter LDS archives).
1848: Oliver Cowdery: "I was also present with Joseph when the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred by the holy angel on high. This Priesthood, we then conferred on each other by the will and commandment of God" (recorded by Bishop Reuben Miller and quoted in History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 40 footnote). – This is interesting because it was Oliver Cowdery who introduced the John the Baptist story in 1834, but here he is goiing back to the original story of an angel conferring it. In fact, he not only reverts back to the initial story about the priesthood restoration, but does not even specifically claim he witnessed it - he instead uses the words "I was also present with Joseph."
1881: Oliver Huntington’s journal pinpoints the date of the Melchizedek priesthood restoration on a night after Joseph and Oliver had been on trial in Colesville, New York (Journal of Oliver B. Huntington, 13 January 1881). Joseph Smith dated this incarceration in mid-to-late June of 1830 (History of the Church 1:84-85, 92-94). Wesley Walters located the court bill for this trial, which was dated "July 1st 1830" (Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y., Court Trials, p.125). This puts the priesthood restoration, at best, weeks after the church was founded.
Important quotes about Joseph Smith's changing story on the priesthood restoration:
Richard Bushman: “the late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication” (Note: Richard Bushman is still a believing Mormon, so while he does not come to the conclusion it ultimately was fabricated, he is upfront that the events do not match the history). Bushman goes on to add "Did Joseph add the stories of angels to embellish his early history and make himself more of a visionary? If so, he made little of the occurrence. Cowdery was the first to recount the story of John’s appearance, not Joseph himself." (Rough Stone Rolling)
Richard Bushman: “He revised his own revelations, adding new material and splicing one to another, altering the wording as he saw fit. He felt authorized to expand the revelations as his understanding expanded...Joseph once said that Methodists 'have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of the church. I want the liberty to believe as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled. Revelation meant freedom to Joseph, freedom to expand his mind through time and space, seeking truth wherever it might be...The balance between freedom and control makes it difficult to keep Mormonism in focus. Was it authoritarian or anarchic, disciplined or unbound? The printed word of God constituted a doctrinal authority that at the same time was open-ended, allowing visionary freedom to Joseph's successors after his death.” (Rough Stone Rolling)
BH Roberts: "…there is no definite account of the [Melchizedek Priesthood restoration] event in the history of the Prophet Joseph, or, for matter of that, in any of our annals…" (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 40 footnote) – While apologists have worked to narrow the timeline, there is no recorded date for the restoration of the priesthood or visits from John the Baptist.
David Whitmer: “I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834[,] 5. or 6—in Ohio... I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver...”
David Whitmer: “In August, 1829, we began to preach the gospel of Christ. The following six elders had then been ordained: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowder, Peter Whitmer, Samuel H. Smith, Hyrum Smith and myself... We preached, baptized and confirmed members into the Church of Christ, from August, 1829, until April 6th, 1830, being eight months in which time we had proceeded rightly; the offices in the church being Elders, Priests and Teachers... We were as fully organized—spiritually—before April 6th as were on that day... In no place in the word of God does it say that an Elder is after the order of Melchisedec, or after the order of the Melchisedec Priesthood. An Elder is after the order of Christ. This matter of "priesthood," since the days of Sydney Rigdon, has been the great hobby and stumbling-block of the Latter Day Saints. Priesthood means authority; and authority is the word we should use. I do not think the word priesthoods mentioned in the New Covenant of the Book of Mormon. Authority is the word we used for the first two years in the church—until Sydney Rigdon's days in Ohio.
This matter of the 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. He explained these things to Brother Joseph in his way, out of the old Scriptures, and got Brother Joseph to inquire, etc. He would inquire, and as mouthpiece speak out the revelations just as they had it fixed up in their hearts. As I have said before, according to the desires of the heart, the inspiration comes, but it may be the spirit of man that gives it …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.(Whitmer, An Address To All Believers in Christ: By a Witness To The Divine Authenticity Of The Book Of Mormon, pp. 32, 33, 64)”
William McLellin: I joined the church in 1831. For years I never heard of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver. I heard not of James, Peter, and John doing so... [A]s to the story of John, the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver on the day they were baptized; I never heard of it in the church for years, altho I carefully noticed things that were said (William E. McLellin to Joseph Smith III, July 1872, RLDS church archives).
Book of Commandments 15: Jesus commands Joseph to baptize Oliver, not John (D&C 18). Again, no mention of Aaronic of Melchizedek priesthood or need for priesthood to ordain others.