One of the things that always bothered me is the lack of a historical record for the ordination of Joseph and Oliver to the Melchizedek Priesthood. At one time, probably in my seminary days, someone mentioned John Whitmer had the record. He was the first “official” church historian. When he left the church in 1838, he took the record with him. That satisfied me for a long time.
No Doubt About Aaronic Priesthood
Oliver was an unofficial church historian before John Whitmer in that he recorded, as Joseph’s scribe, many of the events of the early days of the church from 1829 until 1838 when he also left. Of course we have section thirteen of the D&C which records the ordinations of Joseph and Oliver under the hands of John the Baptist. It is clear the Aaronic Priesthood was restored to the earth. But what of the Melchizedek? We find these words in the heading of section thirteen:
Interpretive Doctrine in Section Heading
“The angel explained that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John, the ancient Apostles, who held the keys of the higher priesthood, which was called the Priesthood of Melchizedek. The promise was given to Joseph and Oliver that in due time this higher priesthood would be conferred upon them. (See section 27:7–8, 12.)”
Ancient Apostles Visit Joseph and Oliver
We know Peter, James and John also came, but what transpired is not recorded. Oliver said he and Joseph went into the forest and prayed “until a glorious light encircled us, and as we arose on account of the light, three persons stood before us dressed in white, their faces beaming with glory.” The Apostle Peter introduced himself along with James and John. But what did they do?
No Recorded Account of Higher Priesthood
There is no recorded account of Peter, James and John conferring Melchizedek Priesthood. There is passing mention of the event that was added to section 27 by Oliver Cowdery. It was not there when Joseph first received the revelation on 28 August 1830. It is also mentioned in Section 128, a letter Joseph wrote to the Saints while in hiding, on the subject of Baptism for the Dead.
Section 27 Added to by Oliver Cowdery
In the words added by Oliver to section 27, we read the Lord will drink of the fruit of the vine…
“…with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry; and of the same things which I revealed unto them, unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last time; and for the fulness of times…”
Keys of the Kingdom Held by Apostles
Parsing Oliver’s words, we should ask ourselves who it is that possesses the keys of the Lord’s kingdom. To whom were they committed: Joseph & Oliver or Peter, James and John? We might also profit by asking who it is that possesses the dispensation of the gospel referred to in Oliver’s words, added in September. Who is identified as “them?” The words refer to the ancient apostles.
Keys of Their Ministry are Different
If we accept Oliver’s September addition to be authorized by Joseph as accurate and binding, what we can surmise is the following:
- Peter, James and John were sent by the Lord to Joseph and Oliver. We don’t know the date.
- Peter, James and John ordained Joseph and Oliver to something, but we don’t know what.
- Peter, James and John confirmed Joseph and Oliver to be apostles.
- Joseph and Oliver were also confirmed to be especial witnesses of the Lord.
- They were also confirmed to bear the keys of their ministry.
- They were to bear witness of the same things the Lord revealed to Peter, James and John.
- The Lord committed the keys of his kingdom to Peter, James and John.
- The Lord committed a dispensation of the gospel to Peter, James and John.
It does NOT say:
- The keys of the Lord’s kingdom were conferred upon Joseph and Oliver.
- Anything about the Melchizedek priesthood being conferred.
Scriptural and Historical Evidence Missing
Let’s parse the words in section 128, where we read, “…Peter, James and John … [declared] themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fullness of times.” Where in our scriptures or historical record can we read that Peter, James and John conferred upon Joseph or Oliver the Melchizedek Priesthood or the keys of the kingdom?
By the way, in D&C 128:14, we learn another definition of keys is simply knowledge. Think about it.
Keys Exercised by Peter, James and John
The wording is clear in section 128 the three ancient apostles possessed the keys of the kingdom. This we already knew from Matthew 17 – the Mount of Transfiguration, although it’s not very clear there. In Matthew 18:18 the Lord declares the apostles possess the sealing power. But what keys did Peter, James and John give to Joseph and Oliver, if any, or did they only exercise them?
Just Asking Questions, Looking for Evidence
What does seem clear is the historical record does not shed a lot of light on the conferral of the priesthood in these latter days other than the Aaronic. That conferral seems certain and verified with scripture. But the conferral of the Melchizedek priesthood is a different story. It is simply not as cut and dried as we set it out to be in our doctrine, our lessons and our official curriculum.
There is Only One Priesthood of God
In section 84 of the D&C, also known as The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, we read in verse 33: “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining of these two priesthoods…” Didn’t Joseph say there was only one priesthood, and that all priesthood was Melchizedek? What about the patriarchal priesthood, does that make three priesthoods, or are they all still one priesthood?
Expected to Receive God in the Flesh
Back to verse 21 of Section 84, note the words, “in the flesh.” I am convinced the whole reason we have that phrase in the revelation is to encourage us to understand and believe we can and should receive the Lord in this mortal life. That’s one of the purposes of priesthood, and I’m not talking about ordination in the church. Priesthood power is only received directly from the Lord.
Priesthood is an Association with God
This is not new doctrine. It is clearly taught in section 84 but we haven’t understood it. Would to God we had a record of Joseph’s teachings on the subject in greater detail – perhaps a few of the lectures in the School of the Prophets. We have records of prayers offered with hands uplifted in that school when witnesses record Joseph reporting God the Father had passed between them.
Power of God Cannot Be Passed on
Not all that we call priesthood is what God calls priesthood. We pass an ordination between us, but the doctrine is clear. God’s power is only received directly from the Lord, not by the laying on of hands. When a man dies, he takes his priesthood power with him. Joseph taught that all prophets who have held the Melchizedek Priesthood were ordained directly by the hand of God.
All Priesthood is Perishable – D&C 121:37
Even if you receive priesthood power from the voice of God, you can lose it if you are unwilling to restrain and to contain yourself within the bounds the Lord has prescribed. Even the fullness of the priesthood with sealing power, can be lost (see D&C section 124, verse 28). Otherwise, why would the Lord say he needed the temple to be completed so he could come and restore it?
Would God That All Men Were Prophets
Joseph taught on page 322 in TPJS, “The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law.” Can you imagine what kind of church we would be if we taught that today – that all communication from God must only come from one man we uphold by common consent as our Prophet, Seer and Revelator?
Melchizedek Priesthood is to Bless, not Curse
If someone claims to hold Melchizedek priesthood but uses it to offer up condemnation, control, judgment, compulsion and authority over the souls of men, you can mark it as a sign they hold no such authority. The purpose of the higher priesthood is to bless, to uplift and to raise you up by bringing you light and truth, which is the glory of God, or intelligence (see D&C 93:36).
End of Part One – More to Come
I’ve gone on way too long. These are my study notes for today. My original desire was to trace the historical record for evidence of the Melchizedek Priesthood being conferred upon Joseph and Oliver. I have no intention of introducing doubts. These are simply questions I have. I invite and welcome your instruction and correction. Thank you my friends for taking the time to share.
Study the Gospel, Blog About it, Share it
I’m glad the church has encouraged us to a) Study the gospel on a regular basis, b) Get involved in the Internet conversations, perhaps even starting blogs and c) Share the gospel with our friends and neighbors. I’m grateful for Facebook and for WordPress which allows me to do all three at the same time. I have renewed friendships and made literally thousands of new friends online.
Learn the Doctrine, Be Ready With Answers
I’m also grateful for Peter’s advice to “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” I’m especially grateful my church encourages me to ask questions. I love to ask questions, including difficult ones. I then feel more prepared to answer others.
Study Things Out, Don’t Rush to Judgment
It’s good to know we can’t be saved in ignorance, nor can we judge a matter if we do not hear it out completely. Only a fool would judge another without trying to understand them first. God bless us all to take the time and trouble to build bridges and understand those in our midst who don’t think like we do. It’s good to be true and faithful and just as good to have an open mind.
Go to lds.org for Official Church Doctrine
Disclaimer: Because many have misunderstood my intent in publishing these study notes on a semi-regular basis, let me reiterate here: I am not declaring doctrine. I am not trying to teach you anything contrary to what should be provable in the scriptures and by the whisperings of the spirit. It is not my intention to destroy faith in Jesus Christ but to build it up and strengthen it.
Sources for This Summarized Material
Email me privately if you want a copy of my sources besides the ones I’ve shared in this post. A lot of this is not my original material or thinking, but I learn by writing. Many of you will recognize the source. I’m not plagiarizing. It’s just my style. I write my questions out. I answer them. It’s how I study the gospel every day. Some days I publish my thoughts.
This Material May Not Support Official Doctrine
Usually my study notes are supportive and in agreement with the official narrative of the church. Sometimes they aren’t. For example, today, in this continuing series on priesthood, I have asked some hard questions and not bothered to share the official LDS view. Some people will find it distressing and perhaps blasphemous because it does not agree with the standard narrative.
A Final Question About Blogging
Here’s my question: Should I refrain from posting this because it has controversial elements? Should I make sure I especially do not link to it from Facebook for fear of offending all the members of my current and previous stakes who might not understand why I blog? Is it worthy of discipline? Should I not share and ask the difficult questions because they take some thought?