Joseph’s Three Orders of the Priesthood (1843)

orders_priesthoodIn 1843 in Nauvoo, shortly following the establishment of what was known as Quorum of the Anointed, or Holy Order ( an elite council made up of men and women), and the initial presentation of the Endowment ritual and Eternal Marriage Sealings to its small membership in the top floor of the Red Brick Store, Joseph Smith, on August 27,  gave a public sermon in which he explained his current understanding concerning orders of the priesthood using divisions that we’re not accustomed to using in the Church today.

While the terms used for the First and Third Order are similar to the terms we still use in relationship to the administrative “priesthood offices”, it is clear the distinction Joseph had in mind at this point is different, and relates specifically his developing understanding and preoccupation with Temple Priesthood.

To read the transcripts of the sermon in which this was discussed, check out this link – it transcribes them from Ehat’s “Words of Joseph Smith”.

To sum up, here are the Orders presented in the Sermon, along with some of their explanatory characteristics, as given in the sermon:

1. Levitival Order, or the Priesthood of Aaron

  • Pertains to Temporal Law, Administration
  • Temporal Blessings and Cursings
  • Does not go beyond the authority of a Bishop.
  • They who are to “offer up a sacrifice in righteousness” at the last day.

While this one may seem very similar to our current usage of “Aaronic Priesthood”, meaning the temporal and preparatory Priesthood that encompasses the divided offices of “Deacon”, “Teacher” and “Priest”, this is where the similarity in Joseph’s 1843 ‘orders’ of the Priesthood ends:

2. Patriarchal Order, or the Priesthood of Abraham

  • The keys of which are conferred to the membership in the Temple. It is desired that all should become a beneficiary to this Order of the Priesthood.
  • Is the greatest priesthood experienced in the Church to that point in August 1843.

3. Order of the King of Shiloam, or the Priesthood of Melchizedek

  • Being a King and a Priest to the Most High God
  • Holds Keys of Power and Blessings
  • Has authority to administer Laws to the people as from God
  • Administers Endless Lives
  • Holds Kingly Power of Anointing
  • Higher than “Prophet” and “Apostle”
  • Necessary to seal someone up to Eternal Life.

Shortly after this sermon, the ordinance of conferring the Fullness of the Priesthood (also known as the  Second Anointing) where one is anointed a King and Priest (in contrast to the initial anointing preparatory to one’s becoming a King and a Priest) was performed first on Joseph, and then shortly after in turn to many other members of the Quorum of Anointed.

This pattern persisted until the murder of Joseph, and was then continued in a far more widespread manner among the faithful general membership by the surviving members of the quorum (presided over by Brigham Young) in the Nauvoo Temple upon its completion prior to the Exodus West, although with far fewer receiving their Second Anointing as were Endowed and Sealed.

The question I would like to pose, is:

Where does our current usage and view of “Melchizedek Priesthood”, as an umbrella for the offices of Elder, High Priest, Seventy, and Apostle fit in this ordering/hierarchy as defined by Joseph in 1843?

Since by Definition, Joseph’s usage of Melchizedek Priesthood (Order of King of Siloam) here required the Second Anointing, and the Patriarchal Order appears to involve the complete Endowment and Sealing ordinances, where does that leave the non-temple initiated bearers of the current Melchizedek Priesthood?1

To me, it appears that there is a definite distinction between the “Administrative/Non-Temple Priesthood”, and the “Temple/Cosmic Priesthood” – that perhaps what we commonly call “Aaronic Priesthood” and “Melchizedek Priesthood” are in fact just subdivisions of what would have been considered, by Joseph, the preparatory “Levitical” , or “Administrative” Temple-level Priesthood. (IE, the “Sons of Levi” would be the non-temple Priesthood).

Joseph’s thoughts and terminology concerning Priesthood went through many changes from the first appearances of the term in 1831 up through his death in 1843. While the earliest usage of the terms were presented in and presented as first-person Revelations and were canonized, they appear to be the explanations- the earliest –  we go with today. Yet, Joseph appears to have gone further in the next decade of his life, and re-appropriated and altered the terminology and even hierarchy – but he died before a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was able to be fully revised and published, thus leaving his most developed explanations un-canonized, the previous revelations unrevised and updated and, thus, for the most part, out of what would become common Mormon parlance.

What are your thoughts on ways Joseph’s latest definition and terminology fits in with modern practice and understanding?

  1. It is useful to understand that in the initial revelations, the term “Aaronic Priesthood” meant the office of Priest in the Aaronic Order (with deacon and teacher being appendages or assistants to that office), and Melchizedek (or High) Priesthood meant the office of “High Priest”, (With Elder, Seventy, etc. being appendages to that office). []

5 thoughts on “Joseph’s Three Orders of the Priesthood (1843)

  1. Re your question, “What are your thoughts on ways Joseph’s latest definition and terminology fits in with modern practice and understanding?”

    I remember taking a class in Logan Utah at the USU Institute of Religion in the early 1970s. Both the class and its manual were titled “Teachings of the Living Prophets.” Something I learned in that class seems to me to answer your question. The discussion centered on the following statement from Harold B. Lee, as quoted from last years’ update of the manual:

    “Soon after President David O. McKay announced to the Church that members of the First Council of the Seventy were being ordained high priests [a seventy I met] was very much disturbed. He said to me, ‘Didn’t the Prophet Joseph Smith say that this was contrary to the order of heaven to name high priests as presidents of the First Council of the Seventy?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have understood that he did, but have you ever thought that what was contrary to the order of heaven in 1840 might not be contrary to the order of heaven in 1960?’ He had not thought of that. He again was following a dead prophet, and he was forgetting that there is a living prophet today.” (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, Religion 333, 2010, 21.)

    So anyway, that’s my answer to your question. I enjoyed your post.

  2. Could you provide your interpretation as to how that quote applies?

    The specific question I posed was not whether Joseph’s organization was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for today – but rather, where our current organization and terminology fits within Joseph’s 1843 “scope”. It’s clear that boundaries and definitions have fallen out of use and changed. MY question is, if we were to set a transparency overlaying Joseph’s 1843 plan, where would the overlap be, and and makes you think this is the case?

  3. You asked for my interpretation. It’s simple. In the Mormonism I’ve known for more than 60 years, continuing revelation and living prophets are always relevant. My apologies if that upsets your apple cart.

  4. I think you’re fundamentally misreading or misunderstanding my question. I’m not trying to be confrontational, or even argue for the earlier system over the current. I never said anything to denigrate the relevance of modern prophets, or suggest that this idea “upsets my apple cart”.

    What I am trying to do is understand where the crossover is in practical matters in the two different systems and terminologies. I fail to understand how this would be an offensive question.

  5. The reason why he is fundamentally misunderstanding your question is because it’s a terrible question. J.S. knew, and stressed, that continuous revelation and change was necessary as the Church grew. His definitions were baselines, the very basics and they are still the core of what priesthood definitions are today. However, he made it clear that the responsibilities are mutable and subject to the effects of an expanding church. The reason your question is a terrible question is because you are comparing a Model T to a Ford Fusion. Sure, they both have wheels and engines, but the times have changed and they have changed a lot. You can’t really compare and contrast them because they are so different besides the very basics of what makes a motorized vehicle.

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