Authority or knowledge of God given to humankind. In the earliest records, the term primarily referred to Joseph Smith’s authority to unlock the “mysteries of the kingdom” [Doctrine and Covenants 27:12-13; 64:5; 107:13-20]. Early revelations declared that both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery held the keys to bring forth “those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity,” apparently a reference to Smith’s ability to translate the Book of Mormon [D&C 6:27-28]. Joseph Smith also held the “keys of the mysteries of the revelations” and “those things which have been sealed,” apparent references to Smith’s authorization to receive revelations from God [D&C 28:7; 35:18]. By October 1831, the term was used in reference to the authority to establish the kingdom of God on earth, paralleling its use in the New Testament where Jesus Christ gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” [D&C 65:2; Matthew 16:19]. Another Joseph Smith revelation indicated that these keys were given to Smith and Oliver Cowdery by Peter, James, and John [D&C 27:12-13]. In 1832, revelations specifically connected these keys to the presidency of the high priesthood, declaring that the keys of the kingdom would always remain with the presidency. A September 1832 revelation further explained that “the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God,” was held by the greater priesthood [D&C 84:19; 107:17-19]. The lesser priesthood held keys, or authorization, as well, even “the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel” [D&C 84:26]. Joseph Smith later declared that he and Oliver Cowdery received additional keys in 1836. Smith stated that Moses gave them the “keys of the gathering of Israel” and that Elijah bestowed “the Keys of the authority to administer in all the ordinances of the Priesthood,” including the authority to perform ceremonies sealing spouses and families for eternity [D&C 110:11-16]. He explained there were numerous keys with different applications, including a key of knowledge for the twelve apostles “to detect the devil.” Joseph Smith later bestowed keys on the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo “that they may be able to detect every thing false” and that “knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time” [Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 28 Apr. 1842].
Retrieved with permission from The Joseph Smith Papers.