24 July 2008

On Priesthood: Organization (Part 1 of 3)

Does the organization of the Priesthood teach more than the lists of duties often associated with it? How can the revelations organizing the Priesthood impact our lives more than by offering checklists? As I proceed, hopefully some thoughts begin to form...

[Parts 2 and 3 will address the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (2) and the Keys of the Priesthood as compared with Power in the Priesthood (3)]

The Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as revealed most elaborately in D&C 20, 84 and 107 and as practiced in the modern church finds two primary subdivisions: Melchizedek and Aaronic. These subdivisions, made explicit in section 107, raise questions regarding the nature of priesthood (many of which will require significantly more thought than I have yet given them), including the following, divided by verse in that section:
Verse 1
Should we regard this division of priesthood as indicative of inherent and eternal differences or divisions? Or do the modifiers (Melchizedek, Aaronic and Levitical--and Patriarchal) serve some purpose other than that of classifying or subdividing priesthood?

Why does the Lord describe "two" priesthoods when using three descriptive modifiers?

How is a Latter-day Saint to understand this priesthood framework in light of the rituals of the ancient and modern temples? How did the Lord intend for Joseph and the Elders to receive it in the nineteenth century? How does that voice to nineteenth century members resonate today?

Given the introductory language of the heading to the Section, when was this early portion of the Section received?

Is the Lord saying that the Levitical priesthood is included in the Aaronic? Or in the combination of Aaronic and Melchizedek? Does the temple answer this question fully?

Verse 2
Is addition to providing Latter-day Saints seeking for cursory answers with an explanation, is the Lord attempting to incorporate by reference the typology of Melchizedek's ministry? Not to mention the "King of Righteousness" element...

Verse 3
"Holy" raises many implications and potential avenues for intertwining the Priesthood with the temple, the law of sacrifice, and the atonement, to name a few...
What "Order" is being referenced? (Patriarchal? United? ...)

Verse 4
Which name was being respected or reverenced? Calling it the Melchizedek Priesthood omits the phrase "after the Order of the Son of God." Was the concern for "Son?" Or "God?" Both of which are frequently used by Latter-day Saints...

How does referring to the Priesthood as "Melchizedek" respect the Supreme Being's name? How does it reverence the name? How does it avoid too frequent repetition (given the other contexts in which both "Son" and "God" are used)?

Verse 5
What other authorities exist in the church? Aaronic priesthood? Other priesthoods? Other authority? What other offices?

What is an appendage to the priesthood? What has been identified as such? How do they append the Priesthood? Is the Lord seeking to turn our minds to Paul's teachings on members individually and collectively?
Verse 6
To what does the Lord refer in calling the divisions "grand heads?" What sort of imagery is being used?

The Lord apparently equates the Aaronic and Levitical Priesthoods. Yet why use different names? Is/should one be preferred over another as Melchizedek is preferred to its prior name referenced in verse 2? Do the modifiers "Aaronic" and "Levitical" describe the same authority, but refer to the differing ways of receiving that authority?

What about priesthood lends itself to this division among a "greater" and "lesser/prepatory"?

What do we learn from priesthood lineage? Is it just about tracing our authority to God? Or does knowing one's priesthood "genealogy" create a new identity to reorient us toward an eternal (kingdom of priests)?

What does the right or privilege of ordination to the priesthood reveal to us about the way that the Lord administers his kingdom?

Textually, the introductory "But" seems to suggest that this passage is meant to appear contradictory to the prior verses, suggesting a line of understanding that initial passage toward reading verses one through five as suggesting a unity of priesthood, whereas verse six acknowledges that despite the unity, subdivisions may also exist.

Verse 7
Continuing the theme of subdivisions, the Lord indicates that the office that had initially been the highest office in the Church (with Joseph and Oliver acting as First and Second Elders, respectively), pertains to the subdivision of the Melchizedek priesthood.

Why would the Lord use the word "office" to describe the priesthood? Is the word intended to evoke secular themes of political offices? Can that trajectory direct a careful student toward oaths of office in understanding the "Oath and Covenant" of the priesthood?

Why phrase it "the office of an elder" rather than merely "the office of elder?" Should the phrasing change our understanding or preconceived notions of what an office means?

This verse, in its entirety, seems to underpin the teaching (in D&C 84:29) that elders are an appendage to the Melchizedek priesthood.

Verse 8
What context informs our understanding of what "the right of presidency" means?
Verse 9
Again, an understanding of the temple seems essential for an informed discussion of "officiating in all the offices." Likewise, the phrase "Presidency of the High Priesthood" raises questions such as "what makes the 'High Priesthood' unique?" "How does it differ from the Aaronic and Melchizedek?"

Verse 10
The history of "high priests" seems to parallel the history of this section, with some parts revealed earlier than others and a fragmentary understanding informing prior iterations. How does the office of high priest differ from other offices? (Consider quorum size restrictions, presiding authority, etc., and compare the context of the early church with more contemporary times.)

The list of "elder, priest . . . teacher, deacon, and member seems intended to incorporate by reference Section 20. How do the two sections intersect?

By specifying "priest (of the Levitical order)" does the Lord intend to draw a distinction between Levitical priests and Aaronic priests? Or is the phrase from verse 6 equating the two intended to blur that distinction? Given the theme of a unified priesthood with subdivisions, this parenthetical reference may prove instructive in providing insight to the Lord's teachings on priesthood...
Verse 16
What significance can we as readers attribute to the phrase "legal right" in verse 16?

Why would the Lord introduce the concepts of "legal rights" to Priesthood offices and of literal descendants having such rights in the context of the bishopric instead of connecting them to the Patriarchal Priesthood?

Verse 17
In what other circumstances is the verb "officiate" used?

Does verse 17 suggest that the First Presidency (the Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood) has the responsibility to call and set apart and ordain all bishops? Or just the Presiding Bishop?
And is the phrasing of verse 17 intended to suggest that a literal descendant with a legal right to the office need not be called, set apart nor ordained?

Verse 18
How should we understand holding keys, specifically keys of all spiritual blessings, as constituting "[t]he power and authority" of the Priesthood?

Verse 19
What significance should be given to the allusion to Revelation and the New Testament concept of "mysteries" in connection with a description or elaboration of the privileges, power and authority of the Priesthood?

Verse 20
How do priesthoods hold keys?

What principled distinctions can be drawn from the keys held by the two (greater and lesser) priesthoods? Does the "temporal versus spiritual" distinction break down when actually examining the keys held? If so, is one difference that of temporality: pre- versus post-salvation?
Initial Thoughts
Although this post does not endeavor to undertake answering all of these questions, I do offer initial thoughts (with credit to Joe Spencer who has developed these thoughts with me). As noted in the section heading, "various parts [of this revelation] were received at sundry times, some as early as November 1831." As a matter of fact, it is the later portion of the revelation that was received earlier: the first 58 verses seem without a doubt to have been received on March 28, 1835, while most of the remainder of the section can be found in the Kirtland Revelations Book under the date of November 1831 (some additions were made to the earlier text when it was included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants). The "various parts" would seem to have been united eventually on the somewhat tenuous grounds of their being something of a consistency of theme in the revelations: nominally, "ON PRIESTHOOD," as the heading read in the 1835 D&C. But there is certainly warrant for reading the first 58 verses of this section in isolation from the remainder of the text.

Reading the revelation in this way perhaps diffuses an overly taxonomic reading: rather than being obsessed with hierarchical divisions of the church's labor, the revelation might be read as concerning itself primarily with sorting out the meaning of the ancient priesthood and the way this ancient meaning is to be translated into the modern situation (especially in terms of the Kirtland House of the Lord). The theme of the ancient priesthood runs right through the whole revelation: not only is there an explanation, from the very first verses, about the provenance of the name of the high priesthood, but the revelation comes to its climax in an exploration of the ancient Adam-ondi-Ahman experience and how it bears on the meaning and place of the priesthood. It is apparently in light of these details that this revelation is best interpreted.

Given that overall heading ("ON PRIESTHOOD") the Lord deliberately instructs on the nature of Priesthood power by juxtaposing an assertion of "two priesthoods" with three names "Melchizedek," "Aaronic," and "Levitical" in verse one. This introductory remark to versus 1-58 suggests a desire to transgress the boundaries that a more superficial, hierarchical approach to priesthood might impose on a reader, while recognizing the instructive power of a range of descriptive modifiers for priesthood power. Significantly, the Patriarchal priesthood is not specifically mentioned in this verse, although it may arguably appear obliquely in verse three where the "Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God" adds to the three names of verse one. In approaching this revelation from such a backdrop, the ensuing discussion of "grand heads," "offices," "power and authority," "keys" and "offices" seems to manifest a voice of instruction focusing not on an organizational flow chart, but rather on priesthood genealogy and the relational significance attached to the "priesthoods."
Beginning with verse 21, this revelation radically altered the saints' understanding of the priesthood, systematizing and organizing it so that it might function as a form of government, in addition to its "cultic" role, dwelt upon in the previous verses. Each verse that follows in this revelation is worth very careful consideration: each has had a major impact on the structure of the Church, as well as on the understanding of the priesthood.

The setting is significant. 1835 marks the establishment of church government--an incredibly controversial moment in LDS history now and then ("apostasy" from the Church's organization--as opposed to apostasy from the Church's moral standards or from the contents of a particular revelation--might well be said to center on this very moment of institutionalization, both in Joseph's day and even now). The same year also marks the supersession of the "Book of Commandments" by the "Doctrine and Covenants," the latter text radically altering the former--most obviously in focus and function, but also in actual wording. More still, 1835 is also marked by the acceleration of the work on the Kirtland House of the Lord, with its accompanying emphasis on priesthood. Though this revelation comes early in the year, all of these events form a sort of aura around it.

Perhaps still more significant is the immediate textual setting: what follows not only marks a sort of "departure" from previous revelations on the priesthood, it makes a "departure"--as it were--from the characterization of the priesthood offered in the previous twenty verses! But this very fact ensures that what follows is not, strictly speaking, a departure. Rather, something is being added--by the Lord, it must be remembered--to the priesthood ("added" might be the best word to be used here: the governmental structure of the priesthood does not appear to be "eternal"; cf. D&C 84:29-30, D&C 107:5). Government for the Church, in other words, is a duty the Lord decided to assign to the priesthood (which, in and of itself, was not of governmental function). All these details, it should be hoped, establish the absolute importance of what begins with verse 21.
Verse 22
This verse marks the first instance of the word "quorum" in scripture. Besides its numerous appearances in the following verses, it only shows up elsewhere in D&C 124:62 and 117ff. The institutional importance of a word so seldomly used in scripture suggests that these two revelations are vital for understanding the role and development of the structure of the priesthood in terms of government. (If a broad characterization of section 107 as over and against section 124 is justified: section 107 deals with the introduction and grounding of quorums, while section 124 basically only mentions quorums because the revelation provides names for some specific positions in those quorums. In other words, section 107 is "theoretical," whereas section 124 is "practical." However, it should not be missed how much the "practicality" of section 124 establishes the vitality of more "theoretical" section 107: the institutional importance of the quorums of the priesthood is not a late phenomenon, but something that developed rather quickly--within the lifetime of the prophet Joseph.

It is vital to note that in this passage (as it extends through to verse 37), however, the quorums that are discussed are only the quorums that govern the Church in the broadest sense. The word "quorum," then, appears to have been understood in its more "official" sense. In fact, by 1835, the less official senses of the word were mostly obselete (see the OED entry on "quorum"), and the 1828 Webster's dictionary lists only meanings that bear on official practices (all implying, interestingly, a situation of judgment or justice). The establishment at work in these verses is not, it must be understood, the establishment of the hierarchical quorums of the priesthood. Rather, it is the establishment of a governing system of quorums/councils who have the authority to conduct the business of the entire Church. Verse 32 is perhaps the clearest confirmation of this point: these several quorums (apparently meaning only the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Quorum of the Seventy) "constitute the spiritual authorities of the church." In short, this first instance of "quorums" in scripture is an establishment, not of the quorums of the priesthood, but of the quorums of general authorities in the several and balancing levels of authority. Hence when, later in the revelation, the Lord discusses the "quorums" of the priests, teachers, and deacons, He never uses the term "quorum" at all (see verses 85-90, a series of verses quoted there from an otherwise unpublished revelation of November 1831). (It might be noted further that even in D&C 124, there is never mention of a quorum in the Aaronic Priesthood. Though there is some discussion there of the quorum of the elders, the wording is complex, and this might be only a reference to the quorum of the seventy. The implication seems to be that, at least at first, quorums were only a question of the High Priesthood.)
D&C 107: 39
Here the Lord introduces the office of patriarch, calling those to be ordained to the office, however, "evangelical ministers." Juxtaposed with the lengthy explanation of "this order of the priesthood" that begins with the next verse and continues through verse 57, the title seems odd--and for a number of reasons. The following verses suggest a single line of patriarchs, whereas the commandment in this verse suggests that a number of different patriarchs are to be called in different places. Further, the following verses suggest the most ancient, Old Testament setting for the office, whereas the title "evangelical ministers" has a decisively New Testament flavor (not least because "evangelical" derives from Greek). Finally, though in the following verses it is clear that the patriarchs were part of a more complex covenantal situation (see especially verse 40), the "evangelical ministers" to be called are to be called quite simply "by revelation." In short, the lengthy explanation of the most ancient order of patriarchs seems more to frustrate than to ground this verse (verse 39).

However, that the lengthy explanation turns almost immediately to Adam, in whom "this order was instituted" (verse 41), is quite suggestive: the New Testament flavor of "evangelical ministers" might just imply that in the Second Adam, the order has been made new, has been taken up into the logic of charity, has been opened up so that all might become "literal descendants of the chosen seed" through adoptions as sons (in the Son). In other words, the difference between the office named in verse 39 and the office described at length in verses 40-57 should be felt. The priesthood after the order of the father (the "patriarchal" order), once so perfectly exclusive, has been made "available" through the equally "available" priesthood after the order of the Son (from son to father) that Jesus Christ liberated through atonement. The purpose, then, of the lengthy description of the "original" patriarchal order might be at least twofold: on the one hand, the passage establishes the erstwhile exclusivity of a priesthood order now opened up through the available effects of the atonement; on the other hand, the passage deals at length with the meaning and possibilities of the office that remain, even though the possibility of receiving the order has changed.

The subsequent history of the office of Patriarch may validate this understanding as the lineal descendants of a single family (Joseph Smith, Sr.) served as Presiding Patriarch to the Church until Eldred G. Smith was given emeritus status in 1979. The recent teachings of President Boyd K. Packer indicate that a patriarch acts in a prophetic role (Oct. 2002 General Conference). Although not sustained as such (perhaps non-sustained callings provides food for thought in another vein altogether), stake patriarchs act in a prophetic capacity for their stake,just as the Presiding Patriarch was explicitly sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. The trend toward making the prophetic role available to each stake suggests that the role may extend to the more fundamental units of the church until each household ideally has a patriarch acting in the role of prophet for the family unit. Although speculative, this trajectory validates the textual description of the patriarchal order and the Second Adam opening history back toward the original patriarchal order, thus dividing and uniting history simultaneously.
Quorums (and not)
With the office of patriarch as an interesting segue, I turn to the offices of priesthood. These offices are Deacon, Teacher, Priest, Elder, High Priest, Seventy, Apostle, Bishop and Patriarch. My order deliberately divides those offices which have associated quorums from those which do not. Bishops and Patriarchs, while also High Priests, do not have their own quorums.
This division parallels some of the history of the priesthood in which the office of High Priest under the Levitical (Aaronic) Priesthood during the days of the early Jewish Priesthood shares the similarity of presiding over a group of (Aaronic) Priesthood holders with the modern office of Bishop. The reference in section 107 to a legal right to the office of bishop suggests a lineage-based trace tied to that office which has since faded, but lingers in scripture to remind us that this office historically followed the family tree, passing from father to son.
Similarly, the office of Patriarch shares ties to the Patriarchal Priesthood held by Adam, Enoch, and Noah. This office, which in those ancient days carried with it the presidency of all Priesthood, also passed from father to son. In its restoration form, the office of Patriarch remained a lineal authority until recently. As mentioned above, the familial ties of this office suggest an intent that men become prophets to their household. As the church units decrease in size until the Patriarchal order is reinstituted, the number of Patriarchs and Bishops will increase until each (family) unit could ideally be presided over by a unified head, both Bishop and Patriarch, so to speak.
The remaining offices each have a quorum associated therewith and their responsibilities are tied inextricably to the organization of the Church. Perhaps the entire trajectory of Priesthood is intended to create (High) Priests and Priestesses, to base family units on (shared?) Priesthood power between a husband and wife sealed by and endowed with that power. A return to Adam-ondi-Ahman, as foretold in section 107 and pre-figured in the Fall.
The name of the Melchizedek Priesthood comes from one Melchizedek, a High Priest to whom Abraham paid tithes. Some have posited that the absence of Biblical references to Melchizedek could point toward a different figure from Genesis who may have held the title, Melchizedek ("king of righteousness"). Most suggestions identify Shem, Noah's son, as Melchizedek, due to the timeline with Shem's life overlapping that of Abraham, and traditions which held that Noah became incapacitated toward the end of his days and that Shem presided in Noah's stead. The Times and Seasons, under the editorship of John Taylor, equated Shem with Melchizedek and B.H. Roberts, in his The Truth, The Way, The Life (which I will review soon), elaborated approvingly on these suggestions.

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