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JAMES - Joseph Smith stated that without the ordinances and authority of the priesthood no man can see the face of God and live (D&C 84:21 - 22). He also said that he saw God in 1820 (Joseph Smith 1:17). Joseph Smith, however, never received any priesthood until 1829 (D&C 13). So dose one need the priesthood or not to see God?
JOEL - Yes and no; it depends on the time.
"And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. (D&C 84:21-22)
In these scriptures, Joseph Smith is actually repeating something that Moses said while trying to get his people, who did have access to the priesthood and ordinances, to become sanctified so they could 'behold the face of God" (See verse 23).
"Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;" (verse 23)
The Lord made it a requirement, at the time he gave the D&C revelation(D&C 84:21-22), that when the priesthood is present on the earth, only those holding the priesthood or who have obtained the ordinances would be able to see God. The Lord said later in that section: "this revelation...is in force from this very hour upon all the world..."(D&C 84:75); meaning that prior to this revelation, neither the priesthood nor its ordinances were necessarily required.
The Doctrine & Covenants also states: "No man hath seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God" (D&C 67:11).
When Joseph Smith went into the grove to pray, he had not been ordained to the priesthood by someone on the earth, neither had he received any of the ordinances. However, when the two personages appeared to him he was quickened by the spirit, making it possible for him to see the face of God and live.
In 1966 Joseph Fielding Smith had this to say:
"If you will look at the date of this revelation, you will discover that it was given in September 1832, which was two years after the organization of the Church and several years after the appearance of the Father and the Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Therefore, permit me to emphasize this fact: There is no law or commandment which declares that the Father could not appear to a man in person when the Holy Priesthood was not among men on the earth. In this day when the divine authority is here and men are appointed to officiate in its ordinances, there is no occasion for the Father to come to any man who has no divine authority. At a time when the priesthood is conferred, and there are authorized servants who bear divine authority, there could hardly arise a time when the Father and the Son should have occasion to appear to any man who was without that authority." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1966) Vol. 5., pp. 84-85.)
Because the priesthood, ordinances, and latter-day prophets are on the earth today, there is no reason for God to appear to anyone who does not have access to these things as President Smith explained. But prior to the restoration of the Priesthood, this was not necessarily so. At the time of the First Vision, what was required to see God was humility (D&C 67:10), faith (Ether 12:20), a pure heart(Matt. 5:8), sactification (D&C 84: 23), and the quickening by the spirit of God(D&C 67:11).