Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
Priesthood: “The Power of Godliness”
Order in the restoration of the priesthood and its offices.
The oath and covenant of the priesthood.
Principles for using the priesthood.
A study of this lesson will help us gain a greater understanding of the
priesthood and seek the blessings that come from using it righteously.
Scripture references for study:
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 25 Handout (PDF)
The Restoration of Priesthood Authority & Organization
As discussed in Lesson
8, while translating the Book of Mormon Joseph and Oliver had
questions about baptism. After retiring to the woods near the Susquehanna
River, they knelt in prayer and inquired of the Lord. In response
to their prayer John the Baptist appeared. Joseph and Oliver received
the Aaronic Priesthood under the hands of John at this time.
WHAT POWER AND AUTHORITY DID JOSEPH AND OLIVER RECEIVE AT THIS TIME?
It is the priesthood authority by which John the Baptist prepared the way
for Jesus Christ. It holds "the keys of
the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism
by immersion for the remission of sins" (D&C 13).
"It is power and authority God has given to man
to prepare him and those to whom he ministers to receive the greater power,
authority, and blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood." (Encyclopedia
of Mormonism, p1)
Within a few weeks after the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, Peter,
James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph and Oliver. See
"The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness
between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on
the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the
kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!" (D&C
B.H. Roberts: "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery
had been ordained under the hands of Peter, James, and John to be apostles."
WHAT IS THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD?
"All other authorities or offices in the church
are appendages to this priesthood....
"The Melchizedek Priesthood
holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the
offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual
"The power and authority
of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the
spiritual blessings of the church—
"To have the privilege
of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens
opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the
Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and
Jesus the mediator of the new covenant." (D&C 107:5, 8,
Joseph Smith: "Its institution was prior
to 'the foundation of this earth, or the morning stars sang together, or
the sons of God shouted for joy,' and is the highest and holiest priesthood,
and is after the order of the Son of God, and all other priesthoods are
only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same,
and are held, controlled, and directed by it. It is the channel through
which the Almighty commenced revealing his glory at the beginning of the
creation of this earth, and through which he has continued to reveal himself
to the children of men to the present time, and through which he will make
known his purposes to the end of time." (TPJS, pp166-167)
Prior to the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith
received the revelation known as
Section 20. This section provides
instructions regarding the duties of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons. Reference is also made to apostles, presiding elders, traveling bishops,
high councilors, high priests.
At the organization meeting on April 6, Joseph Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery
an elder and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an elder.
On February 4, 1331, Joseph Smith received a revelation in which Edward
Partridge was called to be the first bishop in the Church (see
Bishop Partridge was made responsible for operating a storehouse to assist
the poor and for administering property transactions connected with the
law of consecration.
In December 1831, Newel K. Whitney was called to be a bishop.
Bishop Partridge and Bishop Whitney served as regional or traveling bishops. Bishop Partridge was responsible for the Saints in Missouri and Bishop
Whitney the Saints in Ohio and the eastern states.
In November 1831, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that the bishop was
to be the president of the Aaronic Priesthood and preside over a quorum
of 48 priests (see
The office of ward bishops began in Nauvoo in 1841 with Newel K. Whitney
and George Miller each presiding over a ward. That number grew to
thirteen wards by 1842.
"Their main tasks were to process tithes and to
assist newcomers and aid the poor, which they accomplished with donated
fast offerings. Bishops also carried a major responsibility for dealing
with ward members in cases of wrongdoing. However, bishops rarely conducted
Sunday worship meetings; such services were held outdoors on a citywide
or stake basis or in individual homes. Nauvoo bishops collectively organized
and directed the work of deacons, teachers, and priests quorums in the
city." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p119)
By the time of the exodus from Nauvoo there were three types of bishops:
General bishops - they became trustees for the Church.
Traveling bishops - sent beyond Nauvoo to receive Church funds.
On April 6, 1847, Bishop Newel K. Whitney became the first presiding bishop
for the entire Church.
- Bishop Whitney died in 1850. He was replaced by Edward Hunter. Bishop Hunter was given
two counselors thus forming the first presiding
When the Saints first settled in Utah, the norm was for each settlement
to have a president and at least one bishop. This became the nucleus
for a new stake.
In 1849, Salt Lake City was divided into 19 wards.
In a conference held in June 1831, the first ordinations to the office
of high priest were made.
Twenty-three men were ordained as high priests at this conference, including
For a time, high priest quorums were organized in each ward with their
own presidencies. In 1877 Brigham Young stated that stake presidents
had responsibility for the high priest quorums.
The First Presidency of the Church was established in March 1832.
Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon were called to be counselors to Joseph Smith. Gause only served until December 1832. He was excommunicated for
being unfaithful. Frederick G. Williams was ordained to replace Gause
in March 1833.
Additional information on this quorum was revealed to the Prophet in 1835:
"Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding
High Priests, chosen by the body [Quorum of the Twelve], appointed and
ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer
of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church"
"The Presidency of the High Priesthood, after
the order of Melchizedek, have a right to officiate in all the offices
in the church." (D&C 107:9)
After the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, the First Presidency was not reorganized
until 1847. The Quorum of the Twelve presided over the Church during
this period. In 1847, the First Presidency was reorganized with Brigham
Young as president. After the death of Brigham Young and his successor,
John Taylor, the First Presidency remained unorganized for up to three
When Wilford Woodruff became the president, he instructed Lorenzo Snow
(president of the Quorum of the Twelve) that it was the will of the Lord
to have the First Presidency reorganized shortly after the death of the
Lorenzo Snow followed this counsel and the First Presidency was reorganized
eleven days after the death of President Woodruff. That pattern has
been followed since that day.
On December 18, 1833, in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith, Sr., was ordained
the first Patriarch to the Church.
Additional information was revealed on this important office in 1835 (see
After Joseph Sr.'s death, Hyrum, was ordained to this office since he
was the oldest son. Hyrum served until his martyrdom in 1844.
From the time of Joseph Sr. until 1979 the Church patriarch was in the
Smith hereditary line, except for a ten year period from 1932 to 1942,
when acting patriarchs were called.
In 1979, the position of Church patriarch was retired due to the number
of stake patriarchs available throughout the world.
On February 17, 1834, the first High Council of the Church was organized
in Kirtland, Ohio. D&C 102 contains the minutes of that meeting. This first high council included the First Presidency and had jurisdiction
over the whole Church.
Later that year a separate high council was organized in Missouri. Appeals went from the Missouri high council to the presiding high council
Following the organization in 1835 of the "traveling high council," the
Quorum of Twelve Apostles, stake high councils concerned themselves
only with stake matters.
On February 8, 1835, the Prophet invited Brigham and Joseph Young to his
home in Kirtland.
At the Prophet's request, the Young brothers sang for him.
While they sang the spirit of the Lord was poured out upon them, and the
Prophet related a vision he had received: "Brethren, I have seen those
men who died of cholera in our camp [Zion's Camp]; and the Lord knows,
if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more." (Joseph Smith
and the Restoration, p294)
After relating this account the Prophet spoke to Brigham:
"I wish to notify all the brethren living in the branches, within a
reasonable distance from this place to meet at a General Conference on Saturday
next. I shall then and there appoint twelve Special Witnesses, to open the door
of the Gospel to foreign nations, and you [Brigham] will be one of them."
On February 14, 1835, the following Saturday, the appointed conference
was held in the new schoolhouse at Kirtland.
In Section 18, given in 1829, the Three Witnesses were appointed the duty
of selecting the first apostles. The time had come for this to be done.
They called the Twelve in the following order (see Essentials in Church
Lyman E. Johnson.
Heber C. Kimball.
David W. Patten.
Luke S. Johnson.
William E. McLellin.
John F. Boynton.
Thomas B. Marsh.
Parley P. Pratt.
These twelve men were ordained apostles by the Three Witnesses and given
the keys pertaining to their holy calling. The First Presidency also
laid their hands on them and confirmed these blessings and ordinations.
The majority of the Twelve were chosen from among those who were part of
This first Quorum of the Twelve had been selected and ordained. Seniority
in the original quorum was organized by age. Thomas B. Marsh, being
the oldest, 35, was made President of the Quorum. Since the original
organization of the quorum, seniority has been determined by the date of
appointment to the Twelve.
"The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel,
and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus
differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling"
In February 1835, when Brigham and Joseph Young visited the Prophet, Joseph
Young was told: "Brother Joseph, the Lord has made you President
of the Seventies."
On February 28, Seventies were selected from among the participants in
The first quorum's of Seventy were organized during this period.
During the Nauvoo period, the number of Seventies expanded.
The sixty-three members of the First Quorum, not members of the presidency,
were made the presidencies of the next nine quorums.
The first seven presidents of the First Quorum were made General Authorities
and designated First Council of Seventy.
By the time of the exodus from Nauvoo, there were 35 quorums of Seventy.
The number of quorums continued to expand during the Utah period, reaching
146 quorums by 1904.
In 1961, members of the First Council of the Seventy were ordained High
Priests. President David O. McKay: "The members of the First
Council of the Seventy are now given the authority of high priests to set
in order all things pertaining to the stake and the wards, under the direction
of the Twelve Apostles." (Improvement Era, Jan 1962, p42)
In 1975, the First Quorum of Seventy was again organized with the seven
presidents from the First Council and three additional members. In
1976, the twenty members of the Assistants to the Quorum of the Twelve
were added to the First Quorum and the title of Assistants dropped.
In 1986, all stake quorums of Seventy were discontinued and their members
made part of the elder's quorum.
In the April 1989 general conference, the Second Quorum of the Seventy
was organized, with General Authorities called to temporary service.
In 1997, Area Authority Seventies were established and along with the organization
of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy. Additional quorums
continue to be organized.
As can be seen from this brief survey of priesthood organization, the Church
has evolved under the direction of divine revelation to a prophet to meet
the needs of the times. The history of bishops and seventies are
good examples. We have also had Assistants to the Twelve and Regional
Representatives that have come and gone, each meeting a particular need
for a period of time.
A more lengthy review of priesthood organization would be a fascinating
study. In reviewing this information, I found that in the early Utah
years, the office of teacher had a more dominant role in the ward. "The
basic ward officers for the pioneer Utah period were the bishopric and
the teachers' quorum, then called block teachers or ward teachers. Under
direction of the bishop, teachers visited members in their homes, settled
disputes, and helped the needy. Teachers and bishoprics heard charges of
wrongdoing and decided guilt or innocence." (Encyclopedia of
All of this is evidence of a dynamic church, working under the
direction of the Savior, to guide and assist the Saints in their various
circumstances as times change. The Church is not a relic from the
past, but a dynamic organization moving forward to guide and assist the
Saints in preparing for the second coming and for all eternity.
The Oath & Covenant of the Priesthood
In September 1832, the Elders who had been doing missionary work in the
Eastern States began returning to Kirtland. The revelation recorded
as Section 84 was given in the presence of some of these elders. Part of this revelation addresses the importance of priesthood.
Part of Section 84 is known at the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. These verses outline:
The covenants a man makes with the Lord when he receives the Melchizedek
The covenants the Lord makes with faithful Melchizedek Priesthood holders.
WHAT IS THE OATH SPOKEN OF IN VERSES 39-40?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "The oath is the
solemn attestation of Deity, his sworn promise, that those who keep their
part of the covenant shall come forth and inherit all things according
to the promise." (Mormon Doctrine, p480)
JST Genesis 14:30-31: "With an oath by himself;
that every one being ordained after this order [the Holy Priesthood after
the Order of the Son of God] and calling should have power, by faith, to
break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out
of their course; to put a defiance the armies of nations, to divide the
earth, to break every band, to stand in the presense of God; to do all
things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities
and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before
the foundation of the world."
WHAT IS THE COVENANT?
Those things man promises to do and those blessings
God promises the faithful priesthood bearer.
President Joseph Fielding Smith: "The
covenant on man's part is that he will magnify his calling in the priesthood,
and that he will live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth
of God, and that he will keep the commandments.
"The covenant on the Lord's
part is that if man does as he promises, then all that the Father hath
shall be given unto him; and this is such a solemn and important promise
that the Lord swears with an oath that it shall come to pass."
(CR, Apr 1970)
To obtain the Priesthood (v33).
Magnify callings in the Priesthood (v33).
Receive the Lord's servants (v36).
Beware concerning himself (v43).
Give diligent heed to the words of Eternal life (v43).
Live by every word of God (44).
Sanctify man to the renewal of the body (v33).
Man to become a son of Moses and Aaron (v34).
Man to become the seed of Abraham (v34).
Man to become a part of the Church and Kingdom of
Man to become the elect of God (v34).
Man will receive Christ and the Father (v36-37).
Man to receive all the Father has (v38).
Give His angels charge over us (v 42).
President Joseph Fielding Smith: "Your
able service does not go unnoticed by that God whom you serve and in whose
work you are engaged. He has blessed you and he will continue to bless
you with the good things of the earth, and he will hold in reserve for
you the riches of eternity." (Ibid.)
WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR BREAKING THE COVENANT? (see
Those who break this covenant shall not have the
right to priesthood hereafter; they forfeit the right to eternal life and
President Marion G. Romney: "Now,
I do not think this means that all who fail to magnify their callings in
the priesthood will have committed the unpardonable sin, but I do think
that priesthood bearers who have entered into the covenants that we enter
into--in the waters of baptism, in connection with the law of tithing,
the Word of Wisdom, and the many other covenants we make--and then refuse
to live up to these covenants will stand in jeopardy of losing the promise
of eternal life." (CR,
Women share in these blessings.
President Joseph Fielding Smith: "I
think we all know that the blessings of the priesthood are not confined
to men alone. These blessings are also poured out upon our wives and daughters
and upon all the faithful women of the Church. These good sisters can prepare
themselves, by keeping the commandments and by serving in the Church, for
the blessings of the house of the Lord. The Lord offers to his daughters
every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons, for
neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in
the Lord." (CR, Apr 1970)
Principles For Using the Priesthood
In March 1839, Joseph Smith remained incarcerated in jail at Liberty, Missouri. In his frustration, the Prophet called out to the Lord and asked how long
the Saints would continue to suffer. The Lord spoke words of comfort
and peace. As part of this same revelation, the Lord instructed Joseph
on principles for using the priesthood (see
Lesson Manual: "In these verses the Lord
reveals principles for using the priesthood. He also reveals promises to
those who use it righteously. In addition to their application to priesthood
holders, these principles apply generally to all human relationships."
"...the rights of the priesthood are inseparably
connected with the powers of heaven, and...the powers of heaven cannot
be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness"
This is a fundamental lesson regarding priesthood power. The revelation
continues: "That they may be conferred upon
us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify
our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion
upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness,
behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved;
and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that
- Priesthood may be conferred upon on us. Priesthood endows men with the power of God. That priesthood power
can only function if a man lives his life in righteousness. He cannot
use that authority to cover sins, gratify his pride and ambition, or to
exercise control over others. These powers can only be operated "upon
principles of righteousness."
Our homes have all been wired for electricity. That wiring gives
us the potential for all kinds of wonderful appliances and other conveniences. We have light at night. Heat in the winter. Air conditioning
in the summer. A refrigerator to preserve food. A television
for entertainment. A computer for education, information, correspondence,
and recreation. A washing machine and dryer to clean clothes. Our homes have been constructed to allow the operation of many things to
assist and bless our lives. Though the house may be wired and all
the appliances, lights, and other items in place, it is all useless without
the house being hooked up to power lines and having the power company throw
A man who has received the priesthood is like the house that has been wired
and full of electrical appliances. There is tremendous potential that
will be realized if the house owner has a good credit rating and pays his
bills. There is great potential for the priesthood holder which will
be realized if he lives his life upon principles of righteousness. On the other hand, the man who refuses to maintain good credit with the
power company and fails to pay his bills, can say "Amen" to the electricity that
powers his house. And thus it is with the man who uses his priesthood
authority unrighteously, he may have the a priesthood office, but the Lord
will shut off the power.
A few years ago we had a winter ice storm that knocked out the power for
thousands of people in our part of the county. It didn't take long
for the house to become cold, dark, and useless. If we do not exercise
our priesthood upon righteous principles, the ice storm of unfaithfulness will make our priesthood
authority cold, dark, and useless.
These are the principles upon which priesthood power can be exercised. These are the things that give us credit with the power company and allows
us to realize the potential with which we have been endowed.
Elder Rudger Clawson: "How extremely sacred
is the Holy Priesthood, which is nothing more nor less than divine authority
committed unto man. . . . 'Whoso, (meaning any man and every man), 'is
faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken,
and the magnifying their calling,' will enter into the possession of all
things, for he will become a joint heir with Jesus Christ, the Lord, in
such possession. Now, I ask you, what more could a faithful high priest
receive than the promise of this blessing? Could he receive any more if
he were an apostle? Could he receive any more if he were a counselor in
the Presidency of the Church? Could he receive any more if he were the
President of the Church, than a promise which gives to him a joint heirship
in all things? No, he could not. And so it is with the faithful seventy,
and so with the faithful elder in the Church.
"There is no need for envy.
There is no need for overweening ambition. There is no need to reach out
and try to grasp that to which we are not entitled. The essential thing
is that every man should see to it, that he obtains the High Priesthood.
If he advances no further than the office of an elder but is faithful in
the magnifying of his calling, he will enter into his glory and exaltation
and will receive the fulness of which the record speaks." (CR, Oct 1917)
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Record your thoughts on priesthood organization and authority.
How does the priesthood bless your life?
Resources Used In This Lesson
A Comprehensive History of the Church by B.H. Roberts (CHC).
Conference Reports (CR).
Encyclopedia of Mormonism edited by Daniel H. Ludlow.
Essentials in Church History by Joseph Fielding Smith.
Joseph Smith and the Restoration by Ivan J. Barrett.
Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS).
Gospel Doctrine Class
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Changes last made on:
09 June 2017