With both Joseph and Emma working on the translation, it was difficult to maintain a living, so at the start of April 1829, Smith called upon Jesus to send him a new scribe, and was promised by an angel that one would arrive soon. Three days later a man Smith had never met knocked on their front door. He introduced himself as Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher who had been boarding with Joseph's parents.
Cowdery had learned of Joseph Smith Jr. and his project while boarding at the Smith residence in Palmyra. After deep study on the matter, he became convinced that it was the will of God that he should visit the young prophet at the end of the school term, and take part in this great work. Two days after Cowdery's arrival in Harmony, Smith resumed translating with his new scribe.
Translation of the plates proceeded faster than ever with the help of Oliver Cowdery. Just over a month later, on May 15, the two men were working on the book of 3 Nephi including Jesus's visit to America and his instructions on baptism. Desiring to find out how they could obtain the blessing of baptism, Smith and Cowdery went to a secluded area in the woods along the banks of the nearby Susquehanna River to pray and inquire about the matter.
Suddenly an angel appeared, saying, "I am John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament." He lay his hands on the heads of Smith and Cowdery, and said, "In the name of the Messiah, I confer upon you the Priesthood of Aaron and with it, the power to baptize." He then commanded the two men to baptize each other.
So the two men baptized each other by immersion in the Susquehanna River. John the Baptist informed them that the Aaronic Priesthood did not have the power to give the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, but that they would receive this power at a later time when the Melchizedek Priesthood would be bestowed upon them. He also said that Smith and Cowdery should be called the First and Second Elders of the Church.
This being Cowdery's first visit from a heavenly messenger, he was filled with awe and wonder, and could no longer have any doubt. Just after his baptism, the Holy Ghost fell on Cowdery, and he began to prophesy the future rise of the Church. Both Smith and Cowdery were given insight into the meaning of the scriptures, but they had to keep such things a secret out of fear of persecution from local religious leaders.
Just two weeks later at the end of May, Jesus's chief apostles Peter, James, and John appeared to Smith and Cowdery on the banks of the Susquehanna River in western Pennsylvania. As John the Baptist had promised, they bestowed upon the two men the Melchizedek Priesthood which has the power of apostleship and the power to give the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands.
Smith and Cowdery now had the necessary authority to act as legal agents for Jesus and reestablish his Church upon the earth. On another occasion at the banks of the Susquehanna River there appeared what seemed to be an angel of light. But the archangel Michael revealed to Smith that it was actually Satan attempting to deceive him.