In the previous post we introduced the scripture-based model for the Holy Priesthood and the offices and appendages to that priesthood. Here’s the graphic as a reminder.
Let’s walk through LDS history and see how this developed.
As mentioned in the first post, the term “Aaronic Priesthood” was not introduced until 1835, and was then applied retroactively. For example, in 1838 Joseph Smith wrote about the visit of John the Baptist. He wrote:
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron…”
Notice he calls it the Priesthood of Aaron, because in 1838 that’s what people understood it to be. It’s like reading a history referring to New York City being founded in 1660. In 1660, it was called New Amsterdam. In 1666, the Dutch handed the city over to the British and it was renamed New York. So what was the Priesthood of Aaron called before 1835?
In 1834, Oliver wrote an account of the encounter with John the Baptist, wherein John says:
Upon you my fellow-servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer this priesthood and this authority…
It is interesting to note that no account says that Joseph and Oliver were ordained to a specific office within the Aaronic Priesthood. Using our model, the office of Priest and the lesser priesthood are synonymous, and the offices of Teacher and Deacon are appendages. So whether Joseph and Oliver were ordained to the office of Priest or given the lesser priesthood, the net effect was the same. They had the authority to baptize. Here’s a scriptural proof:
The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.
The whole reason John the Baptist appeared was because Joseph and Oliver wanted to be baptized and knew that required an ordination. Baptism is only administered by Priests in the Aaronic Priesthood, so the power and authority of the Aaronic Priesthood is the office of Priest. They are synonyms. The other offices in the Aaronic Priesthood are appendages:
The offices of and deacon are necessary appendages belonging to the lesser priesthood, which priesthood was confirmed upon and his sons.
It’s important to note that at no time during Joseph’s ministry were Deacons and Teachers given authority to administer any ordinances. Priests were the only office in the Aaronic Priesthood with authority to administer ordinances.
The office of Deacon is also noteworthy. It is not mentioned in the Book of Mormon, though it is in the New Testament (Timothy 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.) This office was created in 1831.
So the office of Priest is the Aaronic Priesthood, and within that exists the authority to ordain people to the appendages of Teacher and Deacon.
The office of Elder
Keeping in mind that the term Melchizedek Priesthood wasn’t introduced until 1835, look at how Joseph describes the next step in the revelation of the priesthood:
The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second.
Joseph wrote this 1838, well after the fullness of the priesthood had been lost. Notice that what Joseph and Oliver “would in due time” receive was the office of Elder, which is an appendage to the High Priesthood, not the High Priesthood itself.
On March 23, 1846, Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter in which he stated:
Had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater…
Notice what Oliver doesn’t write. He doesn’t say they received the Melchizedek Priesthood, he says the Greater [priesthood]. Is the office of Elder greater than that of Priest? Yes. But is it the Melchizedek Priesthood as defined by D&C 107 and 84? No, the office of Elder is an appendage to the Melchizedek Priesthood. Here’s another proof:
Wherefore, from deacon to teacher, and from teacher to priest, and from priest to elder, severally as they are appointed, according to the covenants and commandments of the church. Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all.
Elder is greater priesthood than Priest, but the High Priesthood (or High Priest) is the greatest of all. I think these nuances in language are important – there is a difference between greater and greatest. Unfortunately for Brigham Young, this part of Section 107 was recorded after Brigham had already been called to be an Apostle. Claiming the apostleship is higher than the High Priesthood is contradicting scripture. But I digress.
It would seem from the scant historical record that Peter ordained Joseph and Oliver to the office Elder, which is an appendage to the Melchizedek Priesthood…enough authority to get the church up and running. The historical record makes it clear that the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood was not restored until June 1831.
Here’s some more data points:
Which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was of God, and an of Jesus Christ, to be the of this church; and to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the elder of this church, and ordained under his hand.
In April 1830, Joseph and Oliver were ordained Elders and Apostles…yet by Joseph’s own account the Melchizedek Priesthood wasn’t restored until June 1831. How could this be?
An is an
An apostle is not higher than a high priest. An apostle does not hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. Remember, the office of Elder is an appendage just like the Aaronic Priesthood is an appendage. Peter holds the keys of the apostleship and the appendage office of Elder. It appears that Peter ordained Joseph and Oliver to that appendage office of Elder/Apostle, but he did not restore the Melchizedek Priesthood.
There is no record designating the time frame when Peter ordained Joseph and Oliver to the appendage office of Elder. It apparently happened after May 15, 1829 and before April 6, 1830.
In June 1829, Oliver Cowdery recorded a revelation he received, which became the Articles of the Church of Christ. In this revelation, the Lord tells Oliver, “I speak unto you even as unto Paul my apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called.” Oliver concludes his account of the revelation by stating, “Behold I am Oliver. I am an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I take that as proof that Peter had conferred the office of Elder on Joseph and Oliver by June 1829.
The office of High Priest, or the Melchizedek Priesthood
As with much of the official LDS history, the explanations for the June 1831 revelation of priesthood are both true and false. SLC will admit that the office of High Priest was introduced here, but claims that despite what was written, the Melchizedek Priesthood had actually already been restored earlier by Peter, James, and John 1829. That is incorrect. As already shown, Peter restored the appendage office of Elder (aka Apostle).
Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1838
On the 3rd of June, the Elders from the various parts of the country where they were laboring, came in; and the conference before appointed, convened in Kirtland…and the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders.
Let that sink in. The Elders are receiving the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood for the first time. That means these Elders didn’t previously hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. When you understand that the office of Elder is an appendage, this makes sense.
John Whitmer, History
The Lord made manifest to Joseph that it was necessary that such of the elders as were considered worthy, should be ordained to the high priesthood. The spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner…After he had prophesied, he laid his hands upon Lyman Wight to the High Priesthood after the holy order of God.
Lyman Wight, Journal
Here for the first time I saw the Melchizedek priesthood introduced into the church of Jesus Christ as anciently.
John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1839
The Melchizedek priesthood was then for the first time introduced, and conferred on several of the elders.
Parley Pratt, Autobiography, 1874
Several were then selected by revelation, through President Smith, and ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of the Son of God; which is after the order of Melchizedek. This was the first occasion in which this priesthood had been revealed and conferred upon the Elders in this dispensation, although the office of an Elder is the same in a certain degree, but not in the fulness.
Before his day it was called the Holy , after the of the Son of God. But out of or to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood. All other authorities or offices in the church are to this priesthood.
When you discard the false model of Melchizedek Priesthood taught by the SLC church, this statements all become consistent. The Elders, who possessed only an appendage of the Holy Priesthood, now received the Melchizedek Priesthood, the fullness of the priesthood, for the first time.
The seeds of confusion
Unfortunately, Joseph’s introduction of the term Melchizedek Priesthood occurred during the downgrading of the church, after the fullness of the priesthood had been removed. The appendage office of Elder still existed, and because that was the only vestige of the Melchizedek Priesthood remaining in the church, the term Melchizedek Priesthood began to be used to describe the office of Elder.
On August 28, 1843, Joseph gave a sermon that discussed three priesthoods. According to James Burgess, Joseph said, “Abraham’s priesthood was of greater power than Levi’s, and Melchizedek’s was of greater power than that of Abraham.” According to Franklin Richards, Joseph taught this about the three priesthoods:
1st Levitical which was never able to administer a blessing but only to bind heavy burdens which neither they nor their father able to bear
2nd Abraham’s patriarchal power which is the greatest yet experienced in this church
3rd That of Melchizedek who had still greater power, even power of an endless life
When you realize that the church in 1843 was not the same church in 1831, this statement makes sense. The Church of Christ ceased to exist in 1834. It was replaced by the Church of Latter Day Saints, which morphed into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1838. By 1843, the appendage office of Elder (aka the Abraham’s patriarchal priesthood) was the greatest priesthood experienced in the downgraded church. We have confirmation of this in D&C 124 where the Lord confirms the fullness of the priesthood had already been taken away.
Priesthood Cheat Sheet
|High Priest||Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God
|Teacher / Deacon / Levite||Appendages to Aaronic Priesthood|