The Priesthood

Chapter 16


The Mormon church has no paid ministry other than those referred to as "General Authorities." Apostle Hugh B. Brown explains:

The presiding authority of the Church is the First Presidency, consisting of three high priests, a president and his two counselors. Associated with them and next in authority are twelve apostles ... also a Patriarch to the Church....

Also numbered among the General Authorities of the Church is the First Council of The Seventy ... Next in order is the Presiding Bishopric, three high priests ....

These presiding quorums in the Church are made up of men from various walks of life.... When men are called into this ministry they give up their other activities and devote themselves exclusively to Church work ... (Mormonism, tract by Hugh B. Brown, 1963, p. 13, Deseret News Press).

Apostle Brown goes on to explain the Mormon priesthood, with its two divisions of Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods, as follows:

All the affairs of the Church, (general, stake, ward and mission) are directed by men who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, with the office of high priest, seventy, or elder, in descending order.... There is also the Aaronic Priesthood with priest, teachers, and deacons... Every male member over 12 years of age, if he lives worthily, has the privilege of being ordained to some office in the priesthood.

A bishop presides over a congregation known as a ward. He continues to work at his regular employment, performing his duties as bishop in his free time. The many responsibilities attached to directing a ward are shared by the members.

The Mormon leaders claim that those who hold the priesthood in the Mormon church are the only ones who have the authority to administer the ordinances of the gospel. This concept


Photo from Changing World—old hierarchy*


*NOTE: The LDS Church has made several changes in their structure since we first printed our book. They have eliminated the General Authority position of Patriarch to the Church. Each Stake (local unit of several Wards) has a Patriarch.

The LDS Church has also eliminated the local office of Seventy. They have two Quorums of Seventy on the General Authority level and an Area Authority Seventy in several geographical locations.

Below is a chart done by an LDS author showing the new church structure.

(*) Indicates those in the boxes are considered church General Authorities.
Source: Beyond Baptism by Elain Cannon (1994, Bookcraft, Inc.)

leads members of the church to believe that the work of other churches is in vain. In the missionary manual Mormon missionaries are instructed to tell reluctant contacts that "many priests and ministers are good, sincere individuals. However, being good or sincere does not qualify a person to represent the Lord.... a person cannot simply decide on his own initiative to represent the Lord, but must be chosen and must receive the authority to preach his gospel and administer his ordinances" (The Uniform System For Teaching Families, p. F-26).

In the Bible we read that Jesus once rebuked John for holding a similar belief: "And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followed not with us. And Jesus said unto him, forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us" (Luke 9:49-50).


Added Later

David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, related the following concerning the priesthood:

This matter of "priesthood," since the days of Sydney Rigdon, has been the great hobby and stumbling-block of the Latter Day Saints. Priesthood means authority; and authority is the word we should use. I do not think the word priesthood is mentioned in the New Covenant of the Book of Mormon. Authority is the word we used for the first two years in the church—until Sydney Rigdon's days in Ohio. This matter of two orders of priesthood in the Church of Christ, and lineal priesthood of the old law being in the church, all originated in the mind of Sydney Rigdon. He explained these things to Brother Joseph in his way, out of the old Scriptures, and got Brother Joseph to inquire, etc. He would inquire, and as mouthpiece speak out the revelations just as they had it fixed in their hearts. As I have said before, according to the desires of the heart, the inspiration comes, but it may be the spirit of man that gives it.... This is the way the High Priests and the "priesthood" as you have it, was introduced into the Church of Christ almost two years after its beginning—and after we had baptized and confirmed about two thousand souls into the church (An Address To All Believers In Christ, by David Whitmer, p. 64).

The question might well be asked, If what David Whitmer says is true, how can section 27 and other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants be accounted for? It does seem as if there is a contradiction here. Section 27 tells of the bestowal of the lesser priesthood and the visitation of Peter, James and John, and is dated August 1830, whereas David Whitmer stated that the idea of two orders of priesthood, lineal priesthood, etc., did not come into the church until Sidney Rigdon's days in Ohio.


Actually, these revelations have been changed from the way they originally read when they were first printed in the Book of Commandments. David Whitmer claimed:

You have changed the revelations from the way they were first given and as they are today in the Book of Commandments, to support the error of Brother Joseph in taking upon himself the office of Seer to the church. You have changed the revelations to support the error of high priests. You have changed the revelations to support the error of a President of the high priesthood, high counselors, etc. You have altered the revelations to support you in going beyond the plain teachings of Christ in the new covenant part of the Book of Mormon (An Address To All Believers In Christ, p. 49).

LaMar Petersen, in speaking about the changes concerning priesthood which have been made in Joseph Smith's revelations, notes:

The important details that are missing from the "full history" of 1834 are likewise missing from the Book of Commandments in 1833. The student would expect to find all the particulars of the Restoration in this first treasured set of 65 revelations, the dates of which encompassed the bestowals of the two Priesthoods, but they are conspicuously absent.... The notable revelations on Priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants before referred to, Sections 2 and 13, are missing, and Chapter 28 gives no hint of the Restoration which, if actual, had been known for four years. More than four hundred words were added to this revelation of August 1829 in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the additions made to include the names of heavenly visitors and two separate ordinations. The Book of Commandments gives the duties of Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons and refers to Joseph's apostolic calling but there is no mention of Melchizedek Priesthood, High Priesthood, Seventies, High Priests, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on Church organization and government of April, 1830, making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original, Chapter 24 of the Book of Commandments three years later. Similar interpolations were made in the revelations known as Sections 42 and 68 (Problems In Mormon Text, by LaMar Petersen, pp. 7-8).

At this point the reader may be interested in taking a closer look at the photographs showing the changes made in Joseph Smith's revelations which we presented in chapter 3 (see CHANGES E, I, K, M, N, O, P, and Q).


Aaronic Priesthood

The Mormon church claims to have the Aaronic Priesthood;


whereas the Bible makes it clear that it was fulfilled and abolished at the death of Christ. In Hebrews 7:11-14 we read:

If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.

Members of the early Christian church were not ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood; neither is there any mention of the Aaronic Priesthood in the Book of Mormon. Apostle Parley P. Pratt admitted that "the Aaronic Priesthood is no where pretended to in the Book of Mormon" (Writings of Parley Parker Pratt, p. 209).

The Mormon church claims that on May 15, 1829, John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Section 13 of the Doctrine and Covenants is cited as evidence that the Aaronic Priesthood was conferred on Smith and Cowdery. We must remember, however, that this section did not appear in the revelations as they were originally printed in the Book of Commandments. It was published in the Times and Seasons on August 1, 1842, but it was not added to the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876.

Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants might lead one to believe that in 1830 the ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to the Aaronic Priesthood by John the Baptist was common knowledge in the church. In verse 8 we read: "Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron."

Since the introduction to this revelation states that it was given in 1830, Mormon writers use it in their attempt to prove the restoration of the priesthood. A careful examination of this revelation, however, reveals that it has been falsified. Verse 8 was not in the revelation as it was originally published in the Book of Commandments. It was added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 (see Change K).


Melchizedek Priesthood

It is claimed by the Mormon leaders that before the church


was organized Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. Apostle LeGrand Richards admits that the exact date of this ordination is not known: "While we are a record-keeping people, as the Lord commanded, nevertheless our records are not complete.... we do not have the date that Peter, James and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon them" (Letter from LeGrand Richards, dated September 26, 1960).

The Doctrine and Covenants 27:12 is cited as proof that the Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred at a very early date: "And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles .... "

This verse, however, did not appear in the revelation when it was published in the Book of Commandments in 1833. It was added into the Doctrine and Covenants, and therefore cannot be cited as proof that the Melchizedek Priesthood was in the church at the time the revelation was given (see Change K).

It is claimed that an elder is an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood, but neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon support this idea. In the Doctrine and Covenants 107:7 we read: "The office of an elder comes under the priesthood of Melchizedek." There is evidence, however, that in the beginning the elders of the Mormon church did not have the Melchizedek Priesthood. Joseph Smith himself made this statement concerning a conference held in June, 1831: "... the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders" (History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 175-76).

John Whitmer, who was church historian, confirmed the fact that the Elders were ordained to the High Priesthood on June 3, 1831: "June 3, 1831. A general conference was called ... the Lord manifest to Joseph that it was necessary that such of the elders as were considered worthy, should be ordained to the high priesthood" (John Whitmer's History, chap. 7).

If the Melchizedek Priesthood is really necessary it is certainly odd that the elders were able to function from the organization of the church until June, 1831, without it. All evidence points to the fact that the Melchizedek Priesthood did not come from the hands of Peter, James, and John in 1829, but rather from the mind of Sidney Rigdon in Ohio in 1831. Mormon historian B. H. Roberts admitted concerning the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood: "... there is no definite account of the event in the history of the Prophet Joseph, or, for matter of that, in any of our annals..." (History of the Church,


vol. 1, p. 40, footnote). In trying to prove that there was a restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Roberts cites two statements by Oliver Cowdery. These statements are of little value, however, since they were not made until the late 1840s and were not published until some time later.


High Priests

David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, also wrote concerning the ordination of high priests in the Mormon church:

The next grievous error which crept into the church was in ordaining high priests in June, 1831. This error was introduced at the instigation of Sydney Rigdon. The office of high priests was never spoken of, and never thought of being established in the church until Rigdon came in. Remember that we had been preaching from August 1829, until June, 1831—almost two years—and had baptized about 2,000 members into the Church of Christ, and had not one high priest. During 1829, several times we were told by Brother Joseph that an elder was the highest office in the church.... In Kirkland, Ohio, in 1831, Rigdon would expound the Old Testament scriptures of the Bible and Book of Mormon (in his way) to Joseph, concerning the priesthood, high priests, etc., and would persuade Brother Joseph to inquire of the Lord about this doctrine, and of course a revelation would always come just as they desired it. Rigdon finally persuaded Brother Joseph to believe that the high priests which had such great power in ancient times, should be in the Church of Christ to-day. He had Brother Joseph inquire of the Lord about it, and they received an answer according to their erring desires (An Address To All Believers In Christ, p. 35).

High Priests were only in the church before Christ; and to have this office in the "Church of Christ" is not according to the teachings of Christ in either of the sacred books: Christ himself is our great and last High Priest. Brethren—I will tell you one thing which alone should settle this matter in your minds; it is this: you cannot find in the New Testament part of the Bible or Book of Mormon where one single high priest was ever in the Church of Christ. It is a grievous sin to have such an office in the church. As well might you add to the teachings of Christ—circumcision—offering up the sacrifice of animals—or break the ordinances of Christ in any other way by going back to the old law of Moses (Ibid., pp. 62-63).

In Kirtland, Ohio, in June, 1831,... the first High Priests were ordained.... When they were ordained, right there at the time, the devil caught and bound Harvey Whitlock so he could not speak, his face twisted into demon-like shape. Also John Murdock


and others were caught by the devil in a similar manner. Now brethren, do you not see that the displeasure of the Lord was upon their proceedings, in ordaining High Priests? Of course it was (Ibid., pp. 64-65).

Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon, also said that "the office of High Priest does not belong to the church of Christ under the gospel dispensation" (The Olive Branch, Springfield, Ill., August 1849, p. 28).

Without their alleged priesthood, the Mormon's claim of authority vanishes.

In this chapter we have covered some of the problems one encounters when studying the Mormon priesthood. There are many other problems and inconsistencies which we cannot cover for lack of space, but we highly recommend LaMar Petersen's Problems in Mormon Text to those interested in pursuing the matter further. Hal Hougey's Latter-Day Saints—Where Did You Get Your Authority? and The Bible and Mormon Doctrine by Sandra Tanner contain important information on this subject.



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