“Lesson 5: Restoration of the Priesthood and Witnesses of the Book of Mormon,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 5,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
On May 15, 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery went into the woods in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to ask the Lord how they “might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit” (Oliver Cowdery, quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 79). In response to their prayer, John the Baptist appeared and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them. Sometime later, the Apostles Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph and Oliver. As persecution intensified in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Joseph and Oliver traveled to Fayette, New York, where they stayed with the Peter Whitmer Sr. family and continued translating the Book of Mormon. In fulfillment of the Lord’s promise, the angel Moroni showed the golden plates to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris in Fayette. Later, Joseph Smith showed the golden plates to eight other men in Manchester, New York.
- May 15, 1829
John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
- May–June 1829
Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
- Early June 1829
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery arrived at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York, to continue translating the Book of Mormon.
- June 1829
Moroni showed the golden plates to the Three Witnesses.
- June 1829
Joseph Smith showed the golden plates to the Eight Witnesses.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapter 7
Display the following question: In what ways would your life be different if you did not have access to the power and blessings of the priesthood?
Invite students to ponder their response to this question. Consider asking one or two students to share their response with the class if they feel comfortable doing so.
Based on your reading of chapter 7 of Saints: Volume 1, what led Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to pray and ask the Lord about priesthood authority?
If necessary, help students understand that as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translated the Book of Mormon in May 1829, they came to the account of the Savior’s personal ministry among the Nephites. Joseph and Oliver learned that the Lord gave authority to His disciples to perform the ordinance of baptism for the remission of sins. This authority had since been lost from the earth because of apostasy.
Display the accompanying image, and explain that it shows a grove of trees near Joseph Smith’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania, the area where Joseph and Oliver went to pray.
Invite a student to read the following statement by Oliver Cowdery aloud. Ask the class to listen for what Oliver and Joseph specifically prayed for.
“Our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer … to know how we might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit, according to the order of God, and we diligently sought for the right of the fathers and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to administer in the same” (Oliver Cowdery, quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 79–80).
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Joseph Smith—History 1:68–74. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Joseph and Oliver’s prayer was answered.
Based on these events and the words of John the Baptist, what truths can we identify about the Aaronic Priesthood? (Students may give several correct responses, including the following: John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The Aaronic Priesthood “holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” [Joseph Smith—History 1:69; see also D&C 13:1].)
Display the accompanying image, and explain that it shows a bank of the Susquehanna River near the location where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were baptized.
What blessings did Joseph and Oliver experience immediately after they received the Aaronic Priesthood and were baptized by proper authority? (See Joseph Smith—History 1:73–74.)
Invite a student to read the following statement aloud. Ask the class to follow along, listening for what happened shortly after the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood.
“[Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery] pressed forward in their work of translating the Book of Mormon. But the Prophet had not yet received an important blessing—one that was necessary before he could organize the Church, establish priesthood offices and quorums, and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. He had to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.
“As promised by John the Baptist, this blessing was given to Joseph and Oliver shortly after they received the Aaronic Priesthood. The ancient Apostles Peter, James, and John appeared to them in a secluded location near the Susquehanna River and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon them. Joseph later declared that he heard ‘the voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!’ (D&C 128:20)” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 101).
Why was it essential for the Melchizedek Priesthood to be restored?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 27:12–13 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord declared about the visit of Peter, James, and John to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
What did the Lord declare about the visit of Peter, James, and John to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery? (If necessary, point out that the phrase “by whom I have ordained you” in verse 12 refers to the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Help students identify the following truth: Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood and the keys of the kingdom on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.)
Point out that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery repeatedly testified that Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon them, although they did not record the precise date that the event occurred. However, historical evidence suggests it occurred in May or June of 1829, with some evidence suggesting mid- to late May 1829 as a likely time frame (see Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 30–47; see also The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay and others , xxxviii–xxxix).
Invite students to take a moment to write down some of the ways they or their families have been blessed because of the restoration of the priesthood. Ask students to share what they wrote with a classmate. You may also want to briefly share your testimony of the restoration and importance of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.
Explain that as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery continued translating the Book of Mormon, people in Harmony, Pennsylvania, became increasingly hostile toward them. Oliver wrote his friend, David Whitmer, regarding his testimony of the work and the difficulties he and Joseph faced while translating. With the encouragement of his father, Peter Whitmer Sr., David invited Joseph and Oliver to live with them in Fayette, New York, while they completed the translation. When Joseph and Oliver (and later Emma) moved to the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, it added pressure and stress on Mary Whitmer, David’s mother. She already had a busy house to run, and the newcomers added to her workload.
Based on your reading of Saints: Volume 1, what experience did Mary have that eased her burden? (Moroni appeared to her and showed her the golden plates.)
How do you think this sacred experience may have helped Mary endure her burdens and stress?
Display the following account by David Whitmer, who described a time when the Prophet lost his ability to translate. Invite a student to read this account aloud.
“One morning when [Joseph] was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went upstairs, and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; [he] was gone about an hour, [and then he] came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness, and then came upstairs where we were and then the translation went on all right” (David Whitmer, quoted in B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:131).
Why do you think Joseph was unable to translate while he was upset with Emma?
Display the following conclusion of David Whitmer’s account, and invite a student to read it aloud.
“[Joseph Smith] could do nothing save he was humble and faithful” (David Whitmer, quoted in B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:131).
How might this account help strengthen your testimony that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God?
Inform students that less than a month after Joseph Smith moved to Fayette, New York, “Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris were moved upon by an inspired desire to be the three special witnesses” (D&C 17, section heading). They pled with the Prophet for the opportunity to be eyewitnesses of the golden plates. They had learned earlier from the translation of the Book of Mormon that three witnesses would be designated to see the plates (see 2 Nephi 27:12; Ether 5:2–4; see also D&C 5:11–15). The Prophet inquired of the Lord and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 17.
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 17:1–6. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord told these three men.
According to verse 3, what responsibility would these men have after they saw the plates?
Based on the Lord’s command in verse 3, what responsibility do we have after we have obtained a witness of the truth? (After we obtain a witness of the truth, we have the responsibility to testify of the truth to others. Write this principle on the board.)
Ask students to locate chapter 7 in Saints: Volume 1. Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from page 73, starting with the paragraph that begins “Later that day, Joseph led …” and concluding with the paragraph on page 74 that begins “’Tis enough! ’Tis enough! …” Ask the class to follow along, looking for the witness these three men received.
In what ways did Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris receive a confirming witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon on this occasion?
Inform students that after this remarkable experience, Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses returned to the Whitmer house. Invite a student to read aloud the following account written by the Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith:
“[Joseph and the Three Witnesses] returned to the house, … [and] Mrs. Whitmer [and] Mr. Smith and myself were sitting in a bedroom. … When Joseph came in he threw himself down beside me. ‘Father! Mother!’ said he. ‘You do not know how happy I am: the Lord has caused the plates to be shown to [three] more besides me. [They] have also seen an angel and will have to testify to the [truth] of what I have said, for they know for themselves that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I do feel as though I was relieved of a dreadful burden which was almost too much for me to endure, … and it does rejoice my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world” (Lucy Mack Smith, “Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845,” book 8, page 11, josephsmithpapers.org; capitalization and punctuation standardized).
In what ways would Joseph Smith no longer be “entirely alone in the world”?
Why do you think having three more witnesses was such a relief to Joseph?
Explain that in obedience to the Lord’s command to “testify that [they] have seen [the plates]” (D&C 17:5), the Three Witnesses issued “The Testimony of Three Witnesses,” which has been included in every published copy of the Book of Mormon since its publication in 1830. Later, each of these men was excommunicated from the Church because of personal apostasy. Eventually Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris were rebaptized into the Church, but David Whitmer did not return to the Church.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency:
“The Three Witnesses never denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon. They could not because they knew it was true. They made sacrifices and faced difficulties beyond what most people ever know. … That they continued to affirm what they saw and heard in that marvelous experience, during long periods of estrangement from the Church and from Joseph, makes their testimony more powerful” (Henry B. Eyring, “An Enduring Testimony of the Mission of the Prophet Joseph,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 90).
How does knowing that the Three Witnesses continued to affirm their testimony even after they were excommunicated from the Church make their testimony more powerful?
Explain that eight other men were also appointed to see and bear testimony of the plates. Invite a student to summarize from their reading of Saints: Volume 1 the experience of the Eight Witnesses. (If necessary, you could invite a student to read aloud “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses” at the beginning of the Book of Mormon.)
How did the experience of the Eight Witnesses differ from the experience of the Three Witnesses?
Why do you think the Lord provided two different kinds of experiences for the Three and Eight Witnesses? (Help students understand that if critics of the Church accused the Three Witnesses of imagining their vision, that would not explain the tangible experience the Eight Witnesses had with the plates. On the other hand, if critics accused Joseph Smith of simply forging the golden plates to deceive the Eight Witnesses, that would not explain the divine manifestations the Three Witnesses experienced.)
Refer to the principle on the board: After we obtain a witness of the truth, we have the responsibility to testify of the truth to others.
How have you come to know that the Book of Mormon is true?
What have you done recently to share your testimony of the Book of Mormon with others?
Encourage students to seek opportunities to share their testimony of the Book of Mormon with others.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapters 8–9 of Saints: Volume 1.