David Whitmer’s Calling
December 1996

“David Whitmer’s Calling,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 37

David Whitmer’s Calling

Along with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer later also served as a special witness of the Lord. In fact, nearly a year before the Church was organized, the Lord told David and Oliver they had been called with that same calling given “unto Paul mine apostle” (D&C 18:9) anciently.

David maintained that he had received the priesthood at the hands of the Prophet Joseph during the month of June 1829,1 and President Brigham Young once told the Saints, “Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were the first Apostles of this dispensation, though in the early days of the Church David Whitmer lost his standing.”2 Even though Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were not yet to ordain to offices within the priesthood, apparently the Prophet felt guided to confer upon David Whitmer Melchizedek Priesthood authority and apostleship. However, the priesthood-ordinance focus of Joseph and Oliver remained one of baptism and not of confirmation of the gift of the Holy Ghost until the organization of the Church.

During an interview with David Whitmer in 1877, visitor Edward Stevenson brought up the matter of David’s reception of the priesthood. Later, in reporting his observations to President Wilford Woodruff, Edward Stevenson wrote:

“Now what strikes me forcably, is, David said soon after his return [1 June 1829] from his little mission to bring Joseph the Prophet and Company from Pa. Joseph Babtized him and Ordained him as the 3d Elder in the Church. Mark it, this was the very next month after the confermation of the Aronic Priesthood in Pa. on the Susquhanah River, now I have always believed that our Prophet recd. the Melchesedic Priesthood soon after the Aronic, and at the same place—before going to Peter Whitmers at Fayett Senaca Co. NY—to continue the Translation of the Book of Mormon. Davids telling me that he was babtized in Senaca Lake or River, in June <1829>, and being ordained, and imediately after called to assist in the great work June 1829, is good evidence to me.”3

  • Larry C. Porter is a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.


  1. See Larry C. Porter, “The Priesthood Restored,” in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture Volume Two: The Pearl of Great Price (1985), 397.

  2. In Journal of Discourses, 6:320. Wilford Woodruff also sustains the understanding that among the very early “elders” of the Church there was a distinctive group of Apostles, albeit when he referenced this matter over 50 years later he mentioned only two of the three Apostles: “There were no Apostles in the Church then [he means no Quorum of the Twelve] except Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery” (in Conference Report, 8 Apr. 1898, 57). President Woodruff likely did not mention, or perhaps did not remember to mention, David Whitmer because of David’s limited service to the Church and his excommunication and resultant disaffection. The issue addressed here is important because critics have said there were no men—Joseph Smith included—who held apostolic power, keys, and authority before the organization of the Church or for a period following its organization; the critics claim that all the ordained brethren were “elder” not only in title but also in similar priesthood authority. President Woodruff’s words clearly show he understood there was apostolic authority in the Church apart from the priesthood authority held by the rest of the brethren.

  3. Letter of Edward Stevenson to President Wilford Woodruff, 6 Oct. 1891, LDS Church Archives; spelling and underlining as per original. For Stevenson’s interviews with David Whitmer, see Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 22–23 Dec. 1877, LDS Church Archives.