D&C 107 is important in understanding priesthood. But it’s actually two separate revelations received three and a half years apart. Unless you treat this as two separate revelations, you will come to false conclusions about the priesthood.
Verses 59-100 were received on November 11, 1831. Our current version does have some changes from the original revelation. Verses 90 and 93-98 were added in 1835 to address the newly called Seventy. Verses talking about literal descendants of Aaron (parts of 69-71, 73-74, and all of 76) were added in 1835. If you strip those out, you get a picture of the priesthood as revealed in November 1831, when the fullness of the priesthood was in the Church of Christ.
Verses 1-58 were received in March or April of 1835, when the church had been downgraded from to the Church of Latter Day Saints. By the time of this revelation, not only had the name been changed, but a Patriarch, Quorum of the Twelve, and Quorum of the Seventy had been called. The priesthood organization in the Church of Latter Day Saints is significantly different from the Church of Christ.
Here’s what the scriptures in 1831 said about the priesthood. Words in blue show differences from the version we are familiar with.
||D&C 107:65-66, 91-92
Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church; or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.D&C 81:1-2
Hearken to the calling wherewith you are called, even to be a High Priest in my church, and a counselor unto my servant Joseph Smith Jr., unto whom I have given the keys of the kingdom, which belong always unto the Presidency of the High Priesthood.D&C 107:79-81
The President of the court of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the President of the High Priesthood and his counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church. And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest court of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters. There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this court of the church.
The duty of the president over the office of elders is to preside over ninety-six elders, and to sit in council with them, and to teach them according to the covenants. D&C 20:37-45
An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; and to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons; and to administer the flesh and blood of Christ according to the scriptures; and to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church; and to confirm the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost; and to take the lead of all meetings. The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost.
The duty of the president over the Priesthood is to preside over forty-eight priests, and sit in council with them, to teach them the duties of their office, as is given in the covenants—this president is to be a bishop; for this is one of the duties of this priesthood.D&C 107:68
The office of a bishop is in administering all temporal things.D&C 20:46-52
The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. And he may also ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons. And he is to take the lead of meetings. But none of these offices he is to do when there is an elder present, but in all cases to assist the elder.
And also the duty of the president over the office of the teachers is to preside over twenty-four of the teachers, and to sit in council with them, teaching them the duties of their office, as given in the covenants.D&C 20:53-59
The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; and see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking; and see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty. And he is to take the lead of meetings in the absence of the elder or priest—and is to be assisted always, in all his duties in the church, by the deacons, if occasion requires. But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands; they are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.
The duty of a president over the office of a deacon is to preside over twelve deacons, to sit in council with them, and to teach them their duty, edifying one another, as it is given according to the covenants.
The general structure should look familiar to us. Here are a few things to note.
In 1831, there was no scriptural command for a First Presidency. The scriptures indicate the church is to be led by the Presiding High Priest who is the President of the office of the High Priesthood. In 1832, Joseph would call Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon to be his counselors. Section 81 discusses this and calls this the Presidency of the High Priesthood. Although Joseph originally called Jesse Gause, less than a year later Frederick Williams replaced Jesse. When this revelation was published in 1835, Jesse’s name was replaced with Frederick’s. So a Presidency of the High Priesthood consisting of three high priests existed during the fullness, but didn’t come into being until 1832, after the November 11, 1831 revelation. Not a problem, but something to keep in mind.
Priesthood was synonymous with the office of Priest. High Priesthood was synonymous with the office of High Priest. So when people talked about the High Priesthood during the fullness, they were not talking about Elders and High Priests, they were only talking about High Priests. When they talked about the Priesthood, they were talking about Priests. That’s not how we use those words today, but it’s critical that we honor what the words meant back when they were used, and not impose our modern definitions that would be unknown to Joseph and his contemporaries when they were writing these things.
It’s important to remember the office of bishop had almost nothing in common with the role that goes by that name today. The bishop during the fullness quit his day job, was paid by the Church, and worked fulltime to provide for the temporal needs of the members…i.e. food, clothing, and shelter administered under the law of consecration. Despite being a high priest, he did not run the local congregations, didn’t choose the speakers or the topics, nor did he ask teenagers about their sexual experiences in worthiness interviews.
Lastly you’ll notice that the priests during this period have autonomy when there are no elders present, but when there are elders present they are to do none of their duties autonomously, but only to assist the elders. So if there was an elder in the building, the elder blessed the sacrament.
Notice what doesn’t exist in the organization during the fullness. There is no Quorum of the Twelve, no Seventy, no Patriarch, no stake presidents or even stakes. These were all introduced as the church was being downgraded. In the next post, we’ll look at what that organization looked like.