Understanding the doctrine of priesthood is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The depth of the doctrine is as deep as the gospel itself. And given the depth and complexity of the gospel, it should be no wonder that there are many different views, opinions, various teachings, and many unanswered questions regarding the doctrine. For example:
1. What exactly is priesthood?
2. Is it a power? Is it an organization?
3. Who receives priesthood? Do women?
4. How does one obtain the priesthood?
5. What is the ultimate purpose of priesthood?
Personally, In the past year, my perceptions of the priesthood have expanded regarding these questions. Of course, I don’t want to make this come across as some sort of definitive answer on these questions, but I hope it drives clarity.
What Exactly Is Priesthood?
The first question is the most fundamentally important starting point. The proposed answer in this essay seems also to not overlap with a traditional LDS definition or explanation of priesthood. I hope that this doesn’t dissuade the reader from carefully considering it.
This is the current state of the knowledge of the doctrine of the priesthood. As I have informally surveyed large groups of people to distill the doctrine of the priesthood into one sentence, I received almost a hundred different answers and views. This reflected the fact that the fundamental question of “what is priesthood?” is confused and inconsistent. If we don’t have clarity on the fundamental definition of priesthood, when we ask deeper questions like, “do women have priesthood?” or “what is priesthood power?“, we will most likely get those questions distorted and confused as well.
There is one universal definition of priesthood. It is simple and basic and must be settled in our minds in order to clearly understand all doctrines of the priesthood. This is the definition:
All priesthood means is that there is an order. But what exactly is an order?
An order is a pattern. If you follow a pattern, or embody a pattern, you are after an order. And if you are in an order you are in a priesthood.
Priesthood usually denotes a religious order, but for the purpose of laying this principled definition out, let’s expand our understanding outside of the bounds of formal religion.
For example, if you were to join the military you would be brought into an order. You would make a contract to join, you would take certain oaths, and because of your membership in the military you would be granted certain rights and privileges, and strict rules that people not in that order would not receive. You also would have a purpose, or a mission in general given to you, with many sub-missions that contribute to the over all purpose of your new “priesthood order”. The military is a priesthood order.
Consider that graduating with a degree from a university is also entering into an order. (This very fact inspired Hugh Nibley’s hilarious and controversial prayer that he delivered at a BYU commencement ceremony when he prayed,”We meet here today clothed in the black robes of a false priesthood.”)
When one graduates from a university they enter into a priesthood order. They fulfill conditions and gain knowledge and are recognized by the academy for being a member. They enter into that priesthood order because they fulfill the conditions and pattern of that priesthood. They get the rites, rights, privileges, and power of that priesthood.
It feels weird to refer to orders and patterns as priesthood, because priesthood has a religious feel to it, but it is really important to expand our understanding of priesthood to orders and patterns that are not traditionally considered religious. And there is good reason for doing so – as we explore false orders of God’s true priesthood this will become more obvious as to why we should understand that there are many orders that oppose God and create de facto orders of the priesthood in order to do so.
Priesthood, in the LDS traditional sense of the word, refers to the priesthood of God. Modern scripture reveals its formal name:
“Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God” .(D&C 107: 3)
Even though this is the formal name, it is universally referred to as Melchizedek Priesthood (There is a reason for that which will be explored later).
But notice that the formal name of the priesthood references its order in the very name. It is the priesthood that is after the order of the Son of God. We can learn much from just the name of the priesthood – that those who are received into this priesthood are patterned after, and are of the order of God.
But to rely on the vast reference within scripture that priesthood is fundamentally an order, let us quickly review many (but not all) of the references to priesthood being an order that are in the scriptures. Consider the following passages. I highlight the common denominator in all of these records.
“Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God” (D&C 107: 3).
“We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 77: 11)
“Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men” (D&C 107: 29).
“Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi, unto whom ye look as a king or a protector, and on whom ye depend for safety, behold ye know that I have spoken unto you exceedingly many things” (2 Nephi 6: 2).
“And thus in the commencement of the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, Alma delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy” (Alma 4: 20).
“For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things which have been spoken by our fathers concerning the things which are to come” (Alma 5: 44).
“And Alma went and began to declare the word of God unto the church which was established in the valley of Gideon, according to the revelation of the truth of the word which had been spoken by his fathers, and according to the spirit of prophecy which was in him, according to the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who should come to redeem his people from their sins, and the holy order by which he was called. And thus it is written. Amen” (Alma 6: 8).
“And he began to teach the people in the land of Melek according to the holy order of God, by which he had been called; and he began to teach the people throughout all the land of Melek” (Alma 8: 4).
“And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people” (Alma 13: 1).
“And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—
This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things.
Now they were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—
Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.” (Alma 13: 6-9).
“Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called” (Alma 43: 2).
“…yea, and by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God, being baptized unto repentance, and sent forth to preach among the people” (Alma 49: 30).
“Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God” (Ether 12: 10).
The Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14 is one of the great revelation on the order of priesthood. It will be discussed in greater detail later, but for now I’d like to highlight in the chapter that the priesthood is an order. Consider the following:
And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God…
For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course…
And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.
And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace (Genesis 14).
Orders and Patterns
An order is a pattern. If you conform to the pattern you receive whatever powers, rites, rights, privileges, knowledge, clothing, and authority associated with the order.
A pattern may be just fulfilling outward requirements, like taking classes in order to get a degree. Other patterns are found in what a person becomes or embodies. As one ascends into the higher degrees of priesthood of God what gives endows them with priesthood is that they fulfill the spiritual forms and nature in their very being.
The Three Degrees of The Melchizedek Priesthood
Many ordinances, principles and doctrines can be understood in terms of them having three degrees. The three degrees of glory give us a pattern to understand many gospel principles, especially priesthood. It follows the pattern of the three degrees of glory very carefully. As we understand each degree of glory associated with the priesthood we understand what power is associated with it and exactly how we can receive it.
What do the three degrees of glory teach us?
The following is a diagram that outlines the degrees of priesthood. This will be explored at length in forthcoming posts.