The restoration of the priesthood and why it matters: New Church history podcast explores context, events

On May 15, 1829, the boat traffic on the Susquehanna River near Harmony, Pennsylvania, was likely heavy. The river had likely flooded, as it usually did every spring. And farmers and loggers likely took their boats to bring their goods to the markets.

When picturing John the Baptist conferring the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that day, many may imagine it happening on an “idyllic riverbank,” said Spencer McBride, a historian and documentary editor for the Joseph Smith Papers.

“But the reality is they most likely went to a grove of sugar maple trees on the property — and then later that day went down to the river when it was quieter to be baptized.”

Looking at the big picture, these details don’t dramatically change the story, McBride noted. “But in the way that we imagine the story when we read the Doctrine and Covenants, when we read Church history, having a sense of what things looked and sounded like for Joseph and Oliver, I think it helps us get a more accurate and better kind of mental picture of these pivotal moments.”

The restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood is one of many topics in “The Priesthood Restored: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast” — a new miniseries released Thursday, Jan. 14, that explores the context and events of the restoration of the priesthood and developments of priesthood organization and structure over time. 

The six-episode podcast hosted by McBride helps illuminate concepts included in the Feb. 8-14 “Come, Follow Me” lesson in conjunction with Doctrine and Covenants 12–13 and Joseph Smith—History 1:66–75 on the restoration of the priesthood.

Reconstructed Joseph and Emma Smith home, Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Reconstructed Joseph and Emma Smith home, Harmony, Pennsylvania. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is featured in Episode 6 and discussed what the restoration of the priesthood means for Latter-day Saints today. 

“I hope everyone gains clarity on what the priesthood is and its function,” Elder Renlund said in the podcast. “For too long, the power of the priesthood has only been taught to men in priesthood quorums. And yet, the sisters of the Church have the same need to come to understand that the power of the priesthood applies to everyone who has received ordinances and made covenants with God.”  

Ben Godfrey, product manager, said the objective of the Priesthood Restored podcast is to help listeners better understand what the priesthood is, the events and circumstances of its restoration and why it matters today. 

Though the Joseph Smith Papers can be a little intimidating for some, “this podcast is not at all,” Godfrey said. “Spencer and the guests do a really great job at helping kind of boil down these decades of scholarship and turn it into something that feels fun to listen to and learn about.”

While researching and interviewing historians and others for the podcast, McBride said he learned Joseph Smith’s understanding of the priesthood developed with time — the Lord worked with him step by step, “line upon line.”

“If we look at the full history, we see this is an ongoing restoration. … What happened in 1829 is very important, but that process continued as Joseph got more priesthood keys, as he got more revelation and more understanding,” he said. 

Joseph Smith’s Journal, Church History Library.
Joseph Smith’s Journal, Church History Library. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In 1829 and 1830, Joseph Smith’s understanding of the priesthood as shown in the Doctrine and Covenants was about Church administration and priesthood authority and offices, McBride continued. “By the time we get to Nauvoo, Joseph Smith is teaching that the priesthood is also about bringing the power of godliness into the lives of every man, woman and child on the earth.”

Some questions listeners might have — perhaps on race and the priesthood, details about organization or ambiguity around restoration dates — are covered thoughtfully and in insightful ways, Godfrey added.  

For example, Episode 3 “The Voice of Peter, James and John” explores what historians know and don’t know about the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 

Episode 5 “The Priesthood Organization” describes how the priesthood organization developed in response to the needs of the growing Church, including when young men started to be ordained to the priesthood. This episode also explains how temple and priesthood restrictions based on race began and ended — and includes an interview with Marcus H. Martins, the first man of Black descent to serve a mission after restriction lifted.

The Priesthood Restored podcast is now available on a variety of listening platforms, including Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, the Latter-day Saint Channel and on JosephSmithPapers.org.

Later this year, the Church History Department plans to release a miniseries podcast on the Nauvoo Temple.