Archive for the ‘Priesthood’ Category

“If history has shown us one thing, it’s that today’s Mormonism is tomorrow’s dustbin fodder”

by Fred W. Anson
The Church of Jesus Christ claims, “The gospel has been known throughout eternity, and its principles have been preached among men and women from their beginnings on this earth.” (Robert L. Millet, “The Eternal Gospel”, Ensign, July 1996) and “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Gospel principles never change.” (Ronald E. Poelman, “The Gospel and the Church”, Ensign, November 1984).

But history tells a different tale: The Mormon gospel is temporal and constantly changing. Here’s a partial list of Mormon Doctrine, scripture, and bits and various pieces that have been left on the dustbin of history. This is the seventh in this ongoing, intermittent series of articles.

30) Women holding, partaking, and practicing Priesthood authority.
Renowned Mormon Studies Scholar, D. Michael Quinn explains;

For 150 years Mormon women have performed sacred ordinances in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every person who has received the LDS temple endowment knows that women perform for other women the “initiatory ordinances” of washing and anointing.1 Fewer know that LDS women also performed ordinances of healing from the 1840s until the 1940s.2 Yet every Mormon knows that men who perform temple ordinances and healing ordinances must have the Melchizedek priesthood. Women are no exception.3

Two weeks after he organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith announced his intention to confer priesthood on women. He told them on 30 March 1842 that “the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood” and that he was “going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day.” In printing the original minutes of the prophet’s talk after his death, the official History of the Church omitted Joseph’s first use of the word “Society” and changed the second “Society” to “Church.” Those two alterations changed the entire meaning of his statement. More recently an LDS general authority removed even these diminished statements from a display in the LDS Museum of Church History and Art which commemorated the sesquicentennial of the Relief Society.

On 28 April 1842 the prophet returned to this subject. He told the women that “the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them that they may be able to detect everything false, as well as to the Elders.” The keys “to detect everything false” referred to the signs and tokens used in the “true order of prayer,” still practiced in LDS temples. Then Joseph Smith said, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time …” For nineteenth-century LDS women, Joseph’s words were prophecy and inspiration to advance spiritually, intellectually, socially, professionally, and politically.

Mormon women did not request priesthood—Joseph Smith would soon confer it on them as part of the restoration of the gospel. His private journal, called the Book of the Law of the Lord, specified the priesthood promise in his instructions to the women on 28 April 1842: “gave a lecture on the pries[t]hood shewing [sic] how the Sisters would come in possession of the privileges & blessings & gifts of the priesthood & that the signs should follow them. such as healing the sick casting out devils &c. & that they might attain unto these blessings. by a virtuous life & conversation & diligence in keeping all the commandments.” Joseph clearly intended that Mormon women in 1842 understand their healings were to be “gifts of the priesthood,” not simply ministrations of faith.

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks observed in a 1992 general conference talk, “No priesthood keys were delivered to the Relief Society. Keys are conferred on individuals, not organizations.” The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as organizations are not even exempt from the limitation he describes for the Relief Society. Elder Oaks noted, for instance, that “priesthood keys were delivered to the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, not to any organizations.”
(D. Michael Quinn, “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843”, Chapter 17 of “Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism”, Maxine Hanks, editor)

Quinn then goes on to explain how and why the Priesthood was slowly but surely denied to Mormon women:

By the early 1880s death had taken all the general authorities who had specifically stated that the endowment conferred priesthood upon women. Joseph and Hyrum Smith died in 1844, and John Smith joined them a decade later. Heber C. Kimball died in 1868, and Brigham Young in 1877. Sidney Rigdon had been excommunicated in 1844 but continued to affirm Nauvoo’s “female priesthood” until his death in 1876. In 1881, both Orson Pratt and Joseph Young died.

By 1888 Mormon misogyny was linked with denials of women’s authority, and this resulted in a public comment by Apostle Franklin D. Richards. He said: “Every now and again we hear men speak tauntingly of the sisters and lightly of their public duties, instead of supporting and encouraging them.” Apostle Richards added: “There are also some who look with jealousy upon the moves of the sisters as though they might come to possess some of the gifts, and are afraid they [LDS women] will get away with some of the blessings of the gospel which only men ought to possess.” Because of this “envy and jealousy,” Apostle Richards said some Mormon men “don’t like to accord to them [Mormon women] anything that will raise them up and make their talents to shine forth as the daughters of Eve and Sarah.” Franklin D. Richards is the only general authority to publicly acknowledge that jealousy and fear are the basis for the opposition of some Mormon men against the spiritual growth of all Mormon women.
(Ibid)

In current Mormon Theology Mormon women only have the Priesthood through her husband rather than apart from him, as Quinn explains:

In today’s church a woman who has received the temple endowment has more priesthood power than a boy who holds the office of priest. However, the priest has more permission to exercise his priesthood than does the endowed woman to exercise hers.
(Ibid)

31) The Mormon gospel law of Mormon men forbidden to marry black women.
LdS President and Living Prophet  Brigham Young, couldn’t have been clearer in his March 8, 1863, Mormon Tabernacle address:

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. (Brigham Young, “The Persecutions of the Saints—Their Loyalty to the Constitution—the Mormon Battalion—the Laws of God Relative to the African Race”, Journal of Discourses 10:110)

In 1954, Mormon Apostle, Mark E. Peterson’s rhetoric was less extreme but still to the point:

“I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the oppor[t]unity of sitting down in a café where white people sit. He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. From this and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not. be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that, we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that they used to say about sin, “First we pity, then endure, then embrace.”’
(Mark E. Peterson, “Race Problems – As They Affect the Church”, Address By Elder Mark E. Petersen Given At: The Convention of Teachers of Religion On The College Level, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954)

An inter-racial couple takes wedding photos in front of the Salt Lake Temple.

“When He placed the mark upon Cain, He engaged in segregation. When he told Enoch not to preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation. When He forbade intermarriages as He does in Deuteronomy, Chapter 7, He established segregation. You remember when the Israelites were about to come into Palestine and there were evil nations there, the Lord was anxious to preserve his people by an act of segregation. He commanded His people Israel: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them. Thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.” It was a law for the preservation of Israel and it certainly was an act of segregation.”
(Ibid)

“The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence, at least in the bases of the Lamanites and the Negroes we have the definite word of the Lord himself that He placed a dark skin upon then: as a curse — as a sign to all others. He forbade inter-marriage with them under threat of extension of the curse (2 Nephi 5:21) And He certainly segregated the descendants of Cain when He cursed the Negro as to the Priesthood, and drew an absolute line. You may even say He dropped an iron curtain there. The Negro was cursed as to the Priesthood, and therefore, was cursed as to the blessings of the Priesthood. Certainly God made a segregation there.”
(Ibid)

“Now what is our policy in regard to intermarriage? As to the Negro, of course, there is only one possible answer. We must not intermarry with the Negro.”
(Ibid)

But in today’s LdS Church not only are inter-racial marriages common but as of June 1, 1978, no one can be denied the Mormon Priesthood based on their race.

32) Couples should refrain from physical intimacy a week or so before attending the Temple.
Church archives document the prerequisites for Temple work during the 19th Century.

From 1868: 
“Pres[iden]ts [Brigham] Y[oung][,] [Heber C.] K[imball] & [Daniel H.] W[ells] Spoke on the impropriety of our youth marrying [for time], instead of getting sealed [for eternity]; also spoke of cleanliness in person before going to get their endowments; a woman should not go for a week after her menses were upon her; a man should not have intercourse with his wife for several days; but should be clean in body and exercised in spirit previous thereto. His clothing should be changed once or twice before going there. —Historian’s Office Journal, Jan. 31, 1868″
(Devery S. Anderson. “The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History”, Signature Books, Kindle Edition location 1470-1482, bolding added for emphasis)

From 1877:
“We herein embody a few instructions which we wish you to strictly enjoin upon the brethren and sisters who come to the Temple to officiate for themselves or their friends: Those who wish to receive endowments for themselves or friends should be provided with oil or means to purchase it. The sisters should be provided with two or three white skirts and the brethren should have their garments to button from the back, clear round and up the front, and skirts made to reach down to the knees or a little below or one may be pieced to this length for the occasion. Before the brethren or sisters go into the Temple to receive their endowments; they must wash themselves all over, perfectly clean, so as to enter the Temple clean. Men and women should have no sexual intercourse for a week or more previous to their going into the Temple to receive their endowments. —Brigham Young, John W. Young, Wilford Woodruff, Erastus Snow, and Brigham Young Jr. to Bishops, Jan. 13, 1877″
(Ibid, location 1649-1651, bolding added for emphasis)

Today, no such restrictions exist.

33) During his earthly ministry Jesus Christ was not only married but also a polygamist in order to fulfill all righteousness in modeling and demonstrating the Plan of Salvation for us – acts which eventually lead to His persecution and crucifixion.
This doctrinal principle was clearly taught in a  discourse by Mormon Apostle, Jedediah M. Grant in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle on Aug. 7, 1853:

The grand reason of the burst of public sentiment in anathemas upon Christ and his disciples, causing his crucifixion was evidently based upon polygamy, according to the testimony of the philosophers who rose in that age. A belief in the doctrine of a plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were “Mormons”.
(Jedediah M. Grant, “Uniformity” “Journal of Discourses” 1:346)

And this teaching was validated and reaffirmed in a circa 1857, Salt Lake City address by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Orson Hyde:

“It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it. I will venture to say that if Jesus Christ were now to pass through the most pious countries in Christendom with a train of women, such as used to follow him, fondling about him, combing his hair, anointing him with precious ointment, washing his feet with tears, and wiping them with the hair of their heads and unmarried, or even married, he would be mobbed, tarred, and feathered, and rode, not on an ass, but on a rail. What did the old Prophet mean when he said (speaking of Christ), “He shall see his seed, prolong his days, &c.” Did Jesus consider it necessary to fulfil every righteous command or requirement of his Father? He most certainly did. This be witnessed by submitting to baptism under the hands of John. “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,” said he. Was it God’s commandment to man, in the beginning, to multiply and replenish the earth? None can deny this, neither that it was a righteous command; for upon an obedience to this, depended the perpetuity of our race. Did Christ come to destroy the law or the Prophets, or to fulfil them? He came to fulfil. Did he multiply, and did he see his seed? Did he honour his Father’s law by complying with it, or did he not? Others may do as they like, but I will not charge our Saviour with neglect or transgression in this or any other duty. At this doctrine the long-faced hypocrite and the sanctimonious bigot will probably cry, blasphemy! Horrid perversion of God’s word! Wicked wretch! He is not fit to live! &c, &c. But the wise and reflecting will consider, read, and pray. If God be not our Father, grandfather, or great grandfather, or some kind of a father in reality, in deed and in truth, why are we taught to say, “Our Father who art in heaven?” How much soever of holy horror this doctrine may excite in persons not impregnated with the blood of Christ, and whose minds are consequently dark and benighted, it may excite still more when they are told that if none of the natural blood of Christ flows in their veins, they are not the chosen or elect of God. Object not, therefore too strongly against the marriage of Christ, but remember that in the last days, secret and hidden things must come to light, and that your life also (which is the blood) is hid with Christ in God.”
(Orson Hyde, “Man the Head of Woman—Kingdom of God—The Seed of Christ—Polygamy—Society in Utah”, “Journal of Discourses” 4:259)

What did the old Prophet mean when he said (speaking of Christ), “He shall see his seed, prolong his days, &c.” Did Jesus consider it necessary to fulfil every righteous command or requirement of his Father? He most certainly did. This be witnessed by submitting to baptism under the hands of John. “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,” said he. Was it God’s commandment to man, in the beginning, to multiply and replenish the earth? None can deny this, neither that it was a righteous command; for upon an obedience to this, depended the perpetuity of our race. Did Christ come to destroy the law or the Prophets, or to fulfil them? He came to fulfil. Did he multiply, and did he see his seed? Did he honor his Father’s law by complying with it, or did he not? Others may do as they like, but I will not charge our Savior with neglect or transgression in this or any other duty.
(Ibid, p.260)

But today, hardly a peep is said about this essential aspect of fulfilling all righteousness by obedience to the Plan of Salvation. And so it goes: swish, swish, swish when polygamy is a requirement of the gospel, the doctrine is taught. But should the requirement suddenly change – by say, Official Declaration 1 in 1890, for example – then swish, swish, swish it goes right into the dustbin.  Thus the only certainty in Mormonism is that it’s sure to change. And into the rubbish bin goes what was once essential doctrine it lands in the pile marked “heresy.”

“Each and every one of you who place their trust in Christ is a Priest…”

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“There is no priesthood anymore.”

Why It’s Weak:
This argument is weak because it’s untrue. The Bible tells us that anyone who places their trust in Christ and receives His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace is a member of the Royal Priesthood.

1) What’s in a word?
Let’s start at the beginning: What exactly is meant by the biblical word, “priesthood?” Bible commentator, Wayne Jackson explains:

A priest, in effect, is a mediator who stands between God and man. He offers sacrifice to God on behalf of man and administers other worship obligations that people feel unworthy to offer personally. The nearest thing to a definition found in the Scriptures is probably Hebrews 5:1.

“For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.”[1]

And William Smith explains how and why a priesthood is required:

The idea of a priesthood connects itself in all its forms, pure or corrupted, with the consciousness, more or less distinct of sin. Men feel that they have broken a law . The power above them is holier than they are, and they dare not approach it. They crave for the intervention of some one of whom they can think as likely to be more acceptable than themselves. He must offer up their prayers, thanksgivings, sacrifices. He becomes their representative in “things pertaining unto God.” He may become also (though this does not always follow) the representative of God to man.[2]

In a sense, after the fall, without a priest to mediate between God and man and offer sacrifices there was no forgiveness of sins and thus no reconciliation with God.  Thus immediately after the fall of man we see mankind offering sacrifices to God (see Genesis 4:2-6) and assuming a priestly role.  Matthew George Easton offers this quick summation and overview of the priesthood in his well known Bible dictionary:

Gustave Dore',

Paul Gustave Dore’, “Cain and Abel Offering Their Sacrifices” (19th Century)
(click to zoom)

At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before God. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases of Noah (Gen. 8:20), Abraham (12:7; 13:4), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (31:54), and Job (Job 1:5).

The name first occurs as applied to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). Under the Levitical arrangements the office of the priesthood was limited to the tribe of Levi, and to only one family of that tribe, the family of Aaron. Certain laws respecting the qualifications of priests are given in Lev. 21:16-23. There are ordinances also regarding the priests’ dress (Ex. 28:40-43) and the manner of their consecration to the office (29:1-37).

Their duties were manifold (Ex. 27:20, 21; 29:38-44; Lev. 6:12; 10:11; 24:8; Num. 10:1-10; Deut. 17:8-13; 33:10; Mal. 2:7). They represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices prescribed in the law.

The whole priestly system of the Jews was typical. It was a shadow of which the body is Christ. The priests all prefigured the great Priest who offered “one sacrifice for sins” “once for all” (Heb. 10:10, 12). There is now no human priesthood. (See Epistle to the Hebrews throughout.)[3]

2) Sorry Mr. Easton, but no! 
On that last point Mr. Easton, who was most likely over reacting to Catholic priesthood claims, is both correct and incorrect: The Bible is clear that there is a priesthood however, it’s neither the Melchizedek or the Aaronic priesthood. After all, the Levitical system of sacerdotalism that formed the basis for the Aaronic priesthood was fulfilled by Christ’s atonement, and the Melchizedek priesthood only contains one member, Jesus Christ.[4] Never the less, there are priests in what the Apostle Peter refers to as the “Royal Priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV):

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (bolding added) 

And it is this priesthood of kings that the Apostle John refers to in Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:10 (NKJV):

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (bolding added) 

You [the Lamb of God] were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.
(bolding added)

Thus Martin Luther very correctly asserted that our calling as royal priests is divine and not a matter of human ordination:

As for the unction by a pope or a bishop, tonsure, ordination, consecration, clothes differing from those of laymen–all this may make a hypocrite or an anointed puppet, but never a Christian, or a spiritual man. Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: “Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9); and in the book of Revelation: “and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests.” (Rev. 5:10) (bolding added)[5]

According to Luther and the Bible, these are all priests.

According to Luther and the Bible, these Christians are all priests.

How if they were compelled to admit that we all, so many as have been baptized, are equally priests? We are so in fact, and it is only a ministry which has been entrusted to them, and that with our consent. They would then know that they have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it. Thus it is said: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9.) Thus all we who are Christians are priests; (bolding added)[6]

Thus as Presbyterian Pastor Brett Swanson notes well of the little girl admiring the statues of Martin Luther in this article’s main photograph:

Each and every one of you who place their trust in Christ is a Priest, a Minister. When that little girl from our photo gets a little older and begins to understand God’s transformative love and the grace that sustains her, she too will be called into the Priesthood of All Believers, her baptism her ordination, and her first church will be the world around her, depending on her to spread the hope that comes in Christ’s love to the next generation. That is what Priests do. They live faithfully today, and invest in what God is doing for tomorrow.[7]

So is there a priesthood today? The biblical answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” However, it is no longer physical, it’s spiritual, and it’s no long sacerdotal – that is, except for the sacrifice of praise and offering of thanksgiving (see Hebrews 13:15) that we bring. As British Pastor David H.J. Gay notes well:

It is in the new covenant that God through Christ has formed his people into a priesthood for the very purpose of satisfying his demand and desire for true spiritual worship from true spiritual worshippers (John 4: 23-24). In Christ, he has established a body of priests who truly worship him in spirit, and offer true spiritual sacrifices… It is we – believers under the new covenant – it is we who are the true people of God, the true Israel, who truly and spiritually worship God! In short, the newest believer approaches God with greater glory than Aaron himself ever did.[8]

But perhaps, in the end, no one summed up the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers better, succintly, and beautifully than John Newton in his well known hymn:

Fra Angelico,

Fra Angelico, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (circa 1423-24)

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.
’Tis his love his people raises,
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, his solemn praises
Each for a thank-offering brings.
— John Newton,
“Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken”

The Stronger Arguments:
If this article has seemed like a theology lesson to you so far, you would be right. I believe that this weak argument comes out of two things: First, a lack of a fully formed theology of the priesthood of all believers,[9] and; Second, an over reaction to Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma.

First Suggested Strong Argument: This ain’t about authority!
At core of Latter-day Saint priesthood doctrine is the issue of authority – as in Mormon priesthood holders have it and no one else does. On one official church website they explicitly state:

Artist's depiction of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood.

Artist’s depiction of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood.

The priesthood is the authority to act in God’s name. The same priesthood authority that existed in the original Church established by Jesus Christ exists in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. The Church is directed and led through this authority.

All male members of the Church who are prepared receive the priesthood in order to help lead the Church and serve Heavenly Father’s children. A man with the priesthood might serve in some of the following ways:

  • Leading congregations of the Church
  • Performing the ordinances of the Church, such as baptism
  • Blessing those who are sick

God expects those who hold this sacred priesthood authority to follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve with love, gentleness, and kindness.[10]

But such an assertion is only true if that authority comes directly from God himself. On this matter, Wayne Jackson comes right to the point:

The Mormon priesthood dogma has no authority higher than that of Joseph Smith, Jr., who claims to have “restored” the ancient order of priests on May 15, 1829. The error in this is all too obvious to anyone with a more-than-minimum acquaintance with the New Testament.

First of all, the Melchizedek priesthood was to belong to Christ, and to none other, until the end of time. The writer of Hebrews says concerning Jesus that: “. . . he, because he abides for ever, has his priesthood unchangable” (7:24). The key word is “unchangable” (aparabatos), which suggests that the Lord’s priesthood is imperishable. Some suggest that the meaning of the Greek term is simply “permanent, unchangable” (F.W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 97), which, of itself, would eliminate the Mormon idea. But even more to the point is the proposed meaning “non-transferable” (C. Spiqu, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994, 1.143-44). That would specifically deny that it could pass to other persons.

Second, the Aaronic priesthood cannot be operative today because it was an integral part of the law of Moses, which law was abolished by Christ (Eph. 2:15), being, in a manner of speaking, nailed to his cross (Col. 2:14). Moreover, the verb rendered “hath taken away” in this latter passage is a perfect tense form, which argues for the permanent abolition of that law. There is no biblical indication that the law was to be, or ever will be, restored. Too, one could not restore the Aaronic priesthood without “of necessity” resurrecting the entire Mosaic law (Heb. 7:12).[11]

In other words there is no authority backing LdS Priesthood claims – biblically, they’re just wrong. Therefore, the entire system rests on Joseph Smith’s say-so that he received a divine mandate that somehow over rode biblical authority when he and Oliver Cowdery received first the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, and then the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John. And Smith’s claims in this regard are problematic.

Second Suggested Strong Argument: Now Mr. Smith about that Priesthood thing…
According to the canonized history of Mormonism Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829 and the Melchizedek Priesthood shortly thereafter on some unknown date:

Contemporary painting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood

Contemporary painting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood

The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood, with its authority to baptize, on 15 May 1829. The Melchizedek Priesthood was restored next, bringing to earth all the power and authority necessary to organize and direct the Church of Jesus Christ and to perform additional saving priesthood ordinances. While the Prophet and his associate, Oliver, did not record the date that they received the Melchizedek Priesthood, historical records and the testimony of witnesses indicate that it occurred between the day after the Aaronic Priesthood restoration and 28 May 1829. Both the scriptures and the testimony of contemporaries attest that the brethren on whom the Lord had bestowed the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood—the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery—acted in the authority of those keys as they organized the Church on 6 April 1830.[12]

However, the historical record discredits these claims as this MormonThink.com summary explains:

Researchers who have closely examined the D&C and primary source accounts found that the official narrative of priesthood restoration contains numerous gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Scholars also raise important questions that expose potential weaknesses in Smith and Cowdery’s story of their miraculous ordinations. For example, if Joseph and Oliver had experienced events as remarkable and life-altering as divine visitations by John the Baptist and three of Christ’s apostles, why would they not tell others? These miraculous ordinations were not publicly revealed or documented until five years after they supposedly occurred. Moreover, if the restoration of the priesthood is a fundamental tenet of the LDS Church, why was this revelation excluded from the Book of Commandments when it was originally published in 1833, only revealed in the revised and re-named Doctrine and Covenants in 1835?[13]

The specific problems in the story of the Restoration of the Priesthood:

  • Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery failed to testify to the members nor record anything about the appearances of “John the Baptist” and “Peter, James, and John” in any publications prior to 1834 (five years after the events purportedly took place)—nor did they teach that men ordained to offices in the church were receiving “priesthood authority”.
  • Nobody in or out of the church knows the exact date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Oliver Cowdery was inconsistent in describing which heavenly being(s) had come to confer that authority.
  • Joseph Smith and other early members stated that the first conferral of the Melchizedek priesthood happened in June 1831 in Ohio at a conference of Elders, and that Joseph himself was ordained to the high priesthood by church elder Lyman Wight at that time.
  • Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 D&C [Doctrine & Covenants], adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John AS IF those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations, which they weren’t. The Book of Commandments, which later became the D&C says nothing about these appearances.[14]

Simply put, if Joseph Smith’s Priesthood Restoration didn’t occur as he claimed, then the Mormon Priesthood is a hollow shell of nothing – it’s a sham and a fraud.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: In Judeo-Christianity the authority to act in God’s name has never been derived from the priesthood – any priesthood. Step back to the start of this article and reread the priesthood definitions. In the Bible the Priesthood is an office, a function, and a duty. And any authority that came with the office was limited strictly to performing those very specific functions and duties. Throughout the biblical narrative “the authority to act in God’s name” came directly from God and His call on your life irrespective of your office, status or position in life. Anyone who was called was authorized – it was that simple.

Artist's speculative depiction of Jesus Christ acting as High Priest in heaven

Artist’s speculative depiction of Jesus Christ acting as High Priest in heaven

Consider, for example, the man Jesus Christ. It was impossible for Him to have “Priesthood Authority” because he wasn’t a priest.  Christ was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi and, therefore, immediately disqualified from the Aaronic priesthood.  Further, the book of Hebrews is clear that the resurrected Christ became our High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek through His atonement:

Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Hebrew 7:11-17; 9:11-15 (NKJV)  

So according to Latter-day Saint priesthood doctrine Jesus Christ was acting without authority during His ministry and incarnation since He wasn’t a priesthood holder. Further, we could also talk about Paul who was from tribe of Benjamin (Acts 13:21Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:5) and the 12 disciples (with the possible exception of Matthew who may have been a Levite) and their lack of priesthood authority. Suffice to say, according to Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma none of them had the the authority to act in God’s name, to lead congregations, to perform ordinances such as baptism, to bless those who are sick, etc., etc., etc.  Yet in stark contrast to that dogma, the Bible is filled from cover-to-cover with men and women who had the required authority to act in God’s name simply by virtue of the fact that God had called them. For example consider, the prophet Isaiah who, like Christ, was from the tribe of Judah:

Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s “Isaiah” (from the Sistine Chapel Ceiling)

I [Isaiah] heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:8-10 (NKJV) 

Simply put our authority to act in God’s name comes from His call on our lives as the chosen elect of God. Therefore, the so-called “priesthood authority” that He gives came upon us when each and every one of us when we placed our trust in Christ and received His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace. We are the royal and legitimate priests of God through Christ, His atoning work, His call on our lives and nothing else.

Summary and Conclusion:
Sandra Tanner summed up the whole problem of the LdS priesthood claims nicely when she wrote:

LDS teach that Joseph Smith had to have the priesthood before he could establish the Church. But the Bible says nothing about apostles, bishops, deacons, or any other New Testament office holding either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood. Why did Joseph Smith need it if Mormonism is a restoration of the New Testament church? The Bible does not teach that the church or priesthood will be lost or restored.[15]

And Hal Hougey very correctly points us to the true biblical model observing:

In 2 Kings 22 we find Israel in apostasy. One day an apostate priest found the Law of the Lord where it had been lost and forgotten in the temple. It was read to the people and obeyed. Thus, a restoration was brought about. It did not require a visitation by angels to restore authority.

A restoration can be brought about today in the same way by reading and obeying the teachings of Christ and his apostles as taught in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God; when it teaches something we have authority from God to obey it without having to receive authority from angels or men. If you learn you should be honest, do you have to go to some church official for the authority to be honest? Certainly not. Likewise, when the Lord in His word teaches us to be baptized and to baptize others, we have the authority to do so, from the word itself.[16]

And the folks at the Got Questions? website summarize our priesthood as Christians nicely when they say:

In summary, believers are called “kings and priests” and a “royal priesthood” as a reflection of their privileged status as heirs to the kingdom of the Almighty God and of the Lamb. Because of this privileged closeness with God, no other earthly mediator is necessary. Second, believers are called priests because salvation is not merely “fire insurance,” escape from hell. Rather, believers are called by God to serve Him by offering up spiritual sacrifices, i.e., being a people zealous for good works. As priests of the living God, we are all to give praise to the One who has given us the great gift of His Son’s sacrifice on our behalf, and in response, to share this wonderful grace with others.[17]

So the next time a Mormon asks you where you get your authority simply say, “Through my calling into the Royal Priesthood through the atonement of Jesus Christ by faith through grace and nothing more – the Bible tells me so!”

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NOTES
[1] Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”

[2] William Smith, “Smith’s Bible Bible Dictionary” as contained in the  “Bible Dictionary Collection – Deluxe Study Edition” (Kindle Locations 41259-41263) Kindle Edition

[3] Matthew Easton, “Easton’s Bible Bible Dictionary” as contained in the  “Bible Dictionary Collection – Deluxe Study Edition”  (Kindle Locations 19182-19205) Kindle Edition

[4] This statement follows the teaching of John Calvin and others that the Melchizedek figure in Genesis 14:18-20 is a Christophany (an Old Testament physical manifestation of Christ). This follows logically when the text interpreted in light of Hebrews 7:1-3 which says:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
(NKJV)  

Thus since only one human meets (or has ever met) that criteria it’s fair to conclude that the Genesis 14 Melchizedek is in fact Jesus Christ. This is just one of several valid interpretations. However, it’s clear that at the very least Melchizedek is a type of Christ.  As the GotQuestions.org website summarizes well:

Are Melchizedek and Jesus the same person? A case can be made either way. At the very least, Melchizedek is a type of Christ, prefiguring the Lord’s ministry. But it is also possible that Abraham, after his weary battle, met and gave honor to the Lord Jesus Himself.
(Uncredited, “Who was Melchizedek?” GotQuestions.org website)

[5] Martin Luther, “The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate” (Kindle Locations 108-112) Kindle Edition.

[6] Martin Luther, “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (Kindle Locations 1458-1461) Kindle Edition.

[7] Brett Swanson, “The Priesthood of All Believers”

[8] David H.J.Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?” (Kindle Locations 2024-2032) Kindle Edition.

[9] A condition that I would be a fool to think I could remedy with this short article.  Please see the suggested reading section at the end if you’re interested in developing a more fully formed theology of the priesthood of all believers.

[10] Uncredited, “What is the priesthood?” Mormon.org website (an official LdS Church website)

[11] Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”

[12] Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods” official LdS Church website.

[13] Uncredited, “Priesthood Restoration” MormonThink.com website.

[14] Uncredited, “Priesthood Restoration, Problem Summary” MormonThink.com website.

[15] Sandra Tanner, “Mormon Claims Answered”, Chapter Six, “Priesthood”

[16] Hal Hougey, “Latter-day Saint: Where do you get your authority?”

[17] Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”

SUGGESTED RESOURCES:
I was surprised at the dearth of resources regarding the biblical doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers when I started to research this article. It’s clearly a subject that the modern Christian Church is neglecting. So to save the reader some time and effort, and to preserve the good resources that I found, I offer this bibliography.

Suggested resources on the Priesthood of All Believers:
David H.J.Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?”
This is the most exhaustive treatise on the subject that I found. The author is as ponderous and verbose as a 19th Century preacher but leaves no doubt that his arguments are substantive and fully grounded in scripture.
[click here for the Kindle Edition] [click here for the FREE audio Edition]

Wikipedia, “Universal Priesthood”
This is the one you’ll want if you want the short, cryptic treatment of the subject. A good historical overview but that’s about all.

Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”
This is the best short summary of the subject that I’ve found. It’s also useful in that it addresses the issue of how Catholics and Latter-day Saints have corrupted the biblical priesthood system.

Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”
Another good, short primer that limits itself to biblical text. If you’re looking for the short, concise biblical case for the Priesthood of all believers this is the article you’re looking for. 

August Van Ryn, “Every Believer a Priest”
A longer primer on the subject from the biblical text. 

Art Lindsley, Ph.D., “The Priesthood of All Believers”
So you’re OK with the concept of priesthood, but are unclear about the practical application of the concept? This is the article for you. 

Suggested resources on the LdS Priesthood:
While there’s a dearth of good resources on Priesthood on the Christian side, there’s a glut on the Mormon side. Here’s are some of the better resources among many that I found in preparing this article that didn’t make it into the main article:

John Farkas, “Fabricating The Mormon Priesthood: By God Or By Man?”
A detailed deconstruction of Joseph Smith’s priesthood claims relative to the historical record and Mormon scripture.

Lane Thuet, “Priesthood Restored or Retrofit?”
An excellent lecture on the issues and problems surrounding Mormon Priesthood claims. 

Rob Bowman, “Mormon Priesthood Offices and the Bible”
A point-by-point comparison of the Latter-day Saint Priesthood system versus the biblical system. 

Rob Bowman, “Mormon Priesthood: Do Mormons Alone Have the Power?”
An in depth analysis of Latter-day Saint Priesthood authority claims. 

Grant Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”, Priesthood Restoration – Chapter 7
Chapter Seven of Mr. Palmer’s classic book gives us a objective “deep dive” into what the historical record tells us about Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s claims regarding a restored priesthood.

Unknown Artist,

Unknown Artist, “The Great Cloud of Witnesses” (20th Century)

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