LDS Patriarchal Blessings
By Sandra Tanner
Joseph Smith claimed through revelation to reestablish the ancient order of "Patriarch," patterned after the father's blessings given in the Bible (see Gen. 27 and Gen. 49). Unlike the Old Testament blessings given by a father on his deathbed to his sons, the LDS blessings are given by non-relatives to various members of the church as a sort of road map for their lives and declares their lineage through one of the tribes of Israel.
There are hundreds of "Patriarchs" in the LDS Church today. Mormonism claims that the designation "Patriarch" is the same as "Evangelist." LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
Having lost the true knowledge of the priesthood and its offices, and knowing nothing of patriarch blessings as a necessary part of church administration, the false traditions of the sectarian world have applied the designation evangelist to traveling preachers, missionaries, and revivalists. The sectarian theory is that evangelists travel to spread the gospel. (Mormon Doctrine, pub. by Bookcraft, second ed. 1979, p. 242)
There is absolutely nothing in the New Testament about the need of Patriarchs in the church. Also, there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that an evangelist was ever known as a Patriarch. The word "evangelist" comes from the Greek word "evangel" which means "the good news." Thus an evangelist is one who proclaims "the good news." Paul wrote to Timothy "Preach the word;...do the work of an evangelist." (2 Timothy 4:2 & 5)
LDS Apostle LeGrand Richards wrote: "The calling of a patriarch or an evangelist is to bless the people or members of the Church....This information has come to us only through the revelations of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith" (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Deseret Book, revised ed. 1979, p. 142).
Smith originally ordained his father to the office of Church Patriarch, who was later succeeded by Hyrum Smith, Joseph's older brother. The Doctrine and Covenants, sec. 124:91-92, states: "let my servant William be appointed, ordained, and anointed, as counselor unto my servant Joseph, in the room of my servant Hyrum, that my servant Hyrum may take the office of Priesthood and Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right; That from henceforth he shall hold the keys of the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people,..."
Prior to 1979 this office was part of the LDS Church General Authorities and held by direct Smith descendants. LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
This office grows out of and is an appendage to the higher priesthood (D.&C. 107:5.) The office of patriarch to the Church is conferred as a result of lineage and worthiness; stake patriarchs are chosen and ordained by the apostles without respect to lineage.... And in modern times it descended from Joseph Smith, Sr., to his son, Hyrum Smith...and has continued on in that rightful lineage to the present time... As one of the General Authorities, the patriarch to the Church stands next in order to the members of the Council of the Twelve. (Mormon Doctrine, p. 560-561)
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 3, under PATRIARCH, explains:
Before 1979, Patriarch to the Church was a Church officer whose chief duty was to confer patriarchal blessings on Church members who generally did not have the service of stake Patriarchs readily available to them. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that an "evangelist" (as in Ephesians 4:11) is a "patriarch" (TPJS, p. 151); that is, he confers the blessings of a patriarch upon members of the Church. Patriarchs are currently ordained in individual stakes of the Church, but for many years there was a patriarch to the entire Church. He was considered one of the General Authorities.
Today the LDS Church no longer has the office of Patriarch as part of the General Authorities. Evidently the LDS Church leaders were concerned about continuing an office that required one to be a Smith descendant. Currently one man in each of the various stakes of the church is appointed to the office of Patriarch. (For more information on this, read Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch, by Irene Bates and E. Gary Smith, University of Illinois Press.)
All Mormons are encouraged to get a "Patriarchal Blessing." This is usually done during their teen years. The Patriarch, a middle-age man specially appointed to this office, lays his hands on the person's head and says a special prayer, stating from which line of the twelve tribes of Israel the person descends. This is usually identified as the line of "Ephraim." The person is often promised a full life, happy marriage with children and numerous "callings" (church appointed service). The blessing is recorded, later transcribed, then copies are filed with the LDS Church and a copy is given to the person.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 1, under the heading 'Blessings' states:
PATRIARCHAL BLESSINGS. Each organized stake in the Church has one or more Patriarchs called to give patriarchal blessings to stake members. Normally this blessing is given just once in a person's life, usually when a person is young, most often in the teenage years. However, the blessing may be given at any age from childhood to advanced years. The patriarchal blessing is a lifetime blessing of guidance, warning, encouragement, and reassurance. Men serving as Patriarchs are spiritually mature high priests in the Melchizedek Priesthood who have been ordained especially for the sacred calling of giving patriarchal blessings.
One aspect of the blessing is the designation of the person's lineage. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 2, under EPHRAIM, states:
For Latter-day Saints, identification of a person's lineage in latter-day Covenant Israel is made under the hands of inspired Patriarchs through patriarchal blessings that declare lineage. Elder John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle, declared, "In giving a blessing the patriarch may declare our lineage—that is, that we are of Israel, therefore of the family of Abraham, and of a specific tribe of Jacob. In the great majority of cases, Latter-day Saints are of the tribe of Ephraim, the tribe to which has been committed the leadership of the Latter-day work. Whether this lineage is of blood or adoption it does not matter" (p. 73; cf. Abr. 2:10).
The patriarchal blessings of most Latter-day Saints indicate that they are literal, blood descendants of Abraham and of Israel. Those who are not literal descendants are adopted into the family of Abraham when they receive baptism and confirmation (see Law of Adoption). They are then entitled to all the rights and privileges of heirs (TPJS, pp. 149-50). This doctrine of adoption was understood by ancient prophets and apostles (e.g., Rom. 11; 1 Ne. 10:14; Jacob 5; cf. D&C 84:33-34).
One of the curious aspects of these blessings is that some people in the same family have been declared to be from different blood lines. LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith Explained how this could happen:
Question: "I wish to receive an answer to the following question: Is it possible for all the members of a family, including father and mother, to be of the tribe of Ephraim and one son in that family to be of the tribe of Manasseh?"
Answer: It is very possible that a patriarch in giving blessings to a family may declare that one or more may be of a different lineage from the others through the inspiration which he receives. We have in our archives, blessings showing this difference to exist in families. Without giving this question careful thought one might conclude that the patriarch had spoken without inspiration, but such would be an incorrect conclusion.
The fact is that we, each and all, have descended through a mixed lineage.... Therefore, through the scattering of Israel among the nations, the blood of Israel was mixed with the Gentile nations, fulfilling the promise made to Abraham. Most of the members of the Church, although they are designated as descendants of Abraham, through Israel, also have in their veins Gentile blood. This is to say, no one is a direct descendant through Ephraim through each generation, or through Manasseh or any other one of the sons of Jacob, without having acquired the blood of some other tribe in Israel in that descent.... The Book of Mormon states that Joseph Smith the Prophet was a descendant of Joseph, son of Jacob. By revelation we learn also that he is of the tribe of Ephraim, but it is evident that he also had some Gentile blood in him, for it is written in the Book of Mormon, that it came forth, "by way of the Gentile," and it came by Joseph Smith. It is reasonable, therefore, to understand that we one and all have come through a mixed relationship, and that the blood of Ephraim and also of Manasseh could be in the veins of many of us, likewise the blood of others of the twelve tribes of Israel, and that none of us had come through the ages with clear exclusive descent from father to son through any one of the tribes. (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 3, p. 61-64)
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 3, under the heading PATRIARCHAL BLESSINGS, explains:
An essential part of a patriarchal blessing is a declaration of lineage. The patriarch seeks inspiration to specify the dominant family line that leads back to Abraham. The majority of modern blessings have designated Ephraim or Manasseh as the main link in this tracing, but others of every tribe of Israel have also been named. Whether this is a pronouncement of blood inheritance or of adoption does not matter (see Abr. 2:10). It is seen as the line and legacy through which one's blessings are transmitted. Thus the blessings "of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" are conferred.
In addition, as the patriarch seeks the spirit he may be moved to give admonitions, promises, and assurances. Individual traits of personality and strengths and weaknesses may be mentioned. Against the backdrop of the prophetic anticipation of world events, individual roles and callings may be named. One's spiritual gifts, talents, skills, and potentials may be specified with their associated obligations of gratitude and dedication....
It is continually taught in the Church that the fulfillment of patriarchal blessings, as of all divine promises, is conditioned on the faith and works of the individual. Typically, blessings close with such a statement as, "I pronounce these blessings upon your head according to your faith and your diligence in keeping the commandments of the Lord." ...
All patriarchal blessings are recorded and transcribed; copies are preserved in official Church archives and by the recipient. They are held sacred by those receiving them.
A lady in Utah was promised in her 1979 blessing:
Now you are a very choice daughter of Heavenly Father, born in this choice, last dispensation of the fullness of times... being born of goodly parents... As you remain obedient to their teachings and to the teachings of those in authority over you in the Priesthood, Heavenly Father will bless you for your obedience... You are a choice daughter of Zion and you are of the very choice lineage of Ephraim, the son of Joseph... Now remember that Heavenly Father loves you dearly as one of His very choice daughters.
A woman in Texas was promised:
...you are of the House of Israel through the loins of Ephraim.... I bless you with the desire to seek out your progenitors, those who have gone on, who have not had the opportunity of hearing the Gospel, but through your efforts in finding sufficient information, the work may be done for them in the temples here in this life, and then they will have the opportunity to accept or reject it. In accepting it, they can then continue on through the proper progression toward eternal life in our Heavenly Father's Kingdom.... I bless you with the blessings of motherhood, for the opportunity that you will have of bringing into this world those lovely spirits that our Heavenly Father has in store for you,...
One problem that occasionally crops up is that a woman is promised in her blessing that she will have children and then turns out to be barren. Then she is told that if she is faithful, she will yet have children after the resurrection.
My Patriarch Blessing, given February 10, 1955, declares:
You have royal blood in your veins for you are a descendant of Father Abraham. You come from the house of Joseph the favorite son of Jacob who was sold into Egypt and from the loins of Ephraim.... You were valiant in your first estate [pre-mortal life] and the Lord has rewarded you for it. You struggled valiantly that we might have our free agency and the Lord held you in reserve to come forth at this late time to the home of goodly parents... Dear sister you have been rewarded with and excellent mind and a sunny happy disposition.... Your influence shall be for good... and you will develop the great gift of leadership and become a power for good both in the church and out.... your home will be adorned with the products of your own creation,... Learn the Gospel for you will be given opportunities to both teach it and to spread it,... May you in all humility understand the problems of those who come to you sometimes in tears, for some way out of their difficulties. May the advice you give them restore their peace of mind, and because of your advice have a desire to follow Him.
Photos of Sandra's Patriarchal Blessing
(click on each image to enlarge)
While my home is adorned with the products of my own creation and I have many opportunities to talk to people about the Lord, I don't think the patriarch had this in mind.
My grandfather, Walter Young, son of Brigham Young Jr., was told in his blessing:
You are of the pure seed of Ephraim.... you shall live to receive a fulness of the priesthood and become an honored leader in Israel.... The angels will watch over you, and preserve you... you shall... be associated with apostles and prophets, and sit in council with the honorable men of the earth,... You shall see the redemption of Zion and the coming of the Lord, and see peace established in the earth.
Photo of Walter Young's Patriarchal Blessing
(click on image to enlarge)
However, after having a temple marriage and fathering nine children, he died of pneumonia at the age of forty seven. "Zion" (Independence, Mo.) has not been redeemed, Christ has not returned, and peace has not been established on the earth.
In conclusion, we see that the father's blessing on his children in the Old Testament was far different than the LDS concept of an official office of Patriarch to declare ones lineage and future. (For more examples of early LDS Patriarch Blessings see Michael Marquardt's site: Mormon Origins.)
There is nothing in the New Testament about the need to link everyone to Israel. We are spiritually adopted in God's family when we become Christians (see John 1:12 and Gal. 3:26). Why would Paul tell Titus to "avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, ...for they are unprofitable and vain (Titus 3:9) if he believed in the need to link up with Israel? Why would he counsel Timothy "neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies" (1 Tim. 1:4)? Why didn't he ever say that Christians should have their lineage declared by a patriarch? Certainly we are called to pray for one another but the New Testament has no example of an office of Patriarch or the concept of an institutional prayer/blessing, stating ones lineage and outlining ones life.
Instead, the Christian trusts in a loving God who has promised: "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities... And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,... And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose... What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:26-31)
Go to Online Resources
Home | FAQs | What's New | Topical Index | Testimony | Newsletters | Online Resources | Online Books | Booklist | Order/Contact | Email | Other Websites