On April 5, 1829, Oliver Cowdery finished a 150-mile journey across the state of New York. As the sun set, he arrived at his destination in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania, and met Joseph Smith for the first time.
Oliver had been walking with Joseph’s brother Samuel for days through spring rain and mud to reach the little house near the river where Joseph and his wife, Emma, lived. Samuel planned to help on the farm. Oliver had heard stories about an angel and an ancient record written on golden plates and felt God’s Spirit prompt him to go and help Joseph bring the book’s message to light.
Joseph was glad to see him. Before Oliver’s arrival, Joseph had worked with Emma, Martin Harris, and other scribes to start translating the Book of Mormon. But the work had been slow, with many setbacks.
Martin Harris helped as a scribe and financial supporter. He insisted on showing the manuscript to others. Joseph allowed him to do so, despite warnings from the Lord. As a result, the first portion of the translation was lost.
Joseph and Emma had moved away from New York to translate in peace, but most of the work had to wait until they were out of Emma’s parents’ house and in a home of their own.
Joseph’s calling from God didn’t spare the Smiths from tragedy. In 1828, Joseph and Emma’s first baby died at birth. Emma was sick for weeks afterward, and Joseph barely slept as he cared for her.
Physical and spiritual work competed for Joseph’s attention. As a young farmer facing a harsh winter, Joseph used his time and energy to meet his family’s basic needs.
Before Oliver arrived, Joseph had been praying for help—and now God had sent it. Just two days after his arrival, Oliver began writing full-time as Joseph translated.
The two began in the book of Mosiah and covered generations of history in just a few weeks. “Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated,” Oliver recalled. With Oliver’s help as scribe, and with Samuel working on the farm, the Book of Mormon translation progressed quickly.
By the middle of May, Joseph and Oliver had reached 3 Nephi. They learned about Christ’s visit to the ancient Americas. As they read the Savior's instructions on baptism, they were filled with a desire to be baptized. “No men, in their sober senses, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites from the mouth of the Savior,” Oliver wrote, “without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave.”
Oliver remembered the voice of the Lord speaking peace to his heart as an angel came down with a message. The angel was John the Baptist, now a glorified and resurrected being, and he brought the authority Joseph and Oliver needed for baptism.
“What joy filled our hearts,” Oliver wrote, “as he said, ‘Upon you my fellow-servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer this Priesthood and this authority.’”
That same day, Joseph and Oliver waded into the flooded banks of the nearby Susquehanna River and baptized each other in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, with the authority of the restored priesthood.
After the baptism, Joseph and Oliver ordained each other to the priesthood. It was the same authority Aaron and his descendants had used in the Bible to serve the people, the same authority John had used to baptize Jesus Christ.
And it was only the beginning. Over the coming months and years, additional priesthood authority was restored to bless God’s people on earth and seal families together for eternity.
John had promised that Peter, James, and John would come after him, bringing the authority to give the gift of the Holy Ghost. This authority came to be known as the Melchizedek Priesthood.
At the Whitmer home, the voice of God instructed Joseph and Oliver to delay their ordinations as elders until after the Church was formally organized and its members could sustain them.
In the Kirtland Temple, Moses, Elijah, and other messengers brought vital priesthood keys back to the earth.
Some priesthood ordinances connected with the temple were restored in Nauvoo near the end of Joseph Smith’s life.
The priesthood authority that John the Baptist restored is still with us today, honored by those who hold it and by those whose lives it blesses. As young priesthood holders prepare themselves to act in the name of God, they join John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdery as fellow servants of Jesus Christ in the work of salvation.