The Family Priesthood

By now most every Mormon is familiar with Elder Dallin H. Oak’s important talk about how the Priesthood can bless both men and women. Less well know is what could be considered a companion talk that describes the relationship between Church and family authority. He states, “The Church provides the teachings, authority, and ordinances necessary to perpetuate family relationships to the eternities.” He continues, “Each is so interrelated that service to one is service to the other.” The focus on families is not a Church preoccupation, but a doctrinal necessity that the Priesthood is there to nurture. The family organization is forever as opposed to the various offices of Priest, Elder, and President that exist to maintain order.

What we know of the Priesthood comes from Jesus Christ as given to him by God, and then passed down to others. Originally this power and authority began with Adam and continued down a father and son line of authority. It was first placed on the head of Adam by God after expulsion from the Garden of Eden. He in turn, according to Doctrine and Covenants 107:41-56, ordained other males who passed it on to their descendants:

” 41 This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage in the following manner:

42 From Adam to Seth, who was ordained by Adam at the age of sixty-nine years, and was blessed by him three years previous to his (Adam’s) death, and received the promise of God by his father, that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth;

43 Because he (Seth) was a perfect man, and his likeness was the express likeness of his father, insomuch that he seemed to be like unto his father in all things, and could be distinguished from him only by his age.”

The order of the Priesthood continued with the ordination of Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah:

“56 And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation.”

In Abraham 1:2-3 It is that same Patriarchal Priesthood that Abraham desired to obtain:

“2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

3 It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.”

Despite Abraham receiving the Priesthood of the fathers, he did not receive it through his father who had lost it by wickedness. He had to receive it either through a new dispensation of angelic messenger or another person who continued having the authority. As is the case, he sought out the administrator with the highest authority who then lived, “Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers” (D&C 84:14). They then ate bread and drank wine together, with Abraham giving tithes to him as the greater authority (Gen. 14:17-20). It is clear from this, Priesthood didn’t have to be passed down from father to son or even first born. However, once distilled to another it did become a family promise as Abraham passed it to his posterity (Gen 26:3-5), who then will bless all nations.

We must remember that there are three parts to the Priesthood, as explained by the Prophet Joseph Smith. The top and governing is the Melchizedek Priesthood that, “holds the right from the eternal God.” Next is the Levitical, “consisting of priests to administer in outward ordinances made without an Oath.” The rarely talked about is the Patriarchal that we, “will receive more knowledge concerning,” in the Temple (TPJS pg. 323). It is not always clear how all three relate to one another, but “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it” (TPJS pg. 180). Even if the Levitical or Aaronic doesn’t hold the highest keys of salvation, it is nonetheless a portion of the one that does. The Patriarchal is more complicated because it at times seems subordinate, but under different context greater than the others.

As was implied by Joseph Smith, it is in the Temple that we learn about the Patriarchal Priesthood more fully. There might be a masculine word associated with it, but the Temple extends blessings beyond gender. Both men and women participate in the work of the Temple, both for their individual services and after for those who have died without the ordinances. The women are not passive participants, but actively go through the same as men. As Elder Oak’s explained:

How does this apply to women? In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority . . . A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood.”

. . . And, of course, the Church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the wards or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys . . .

We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.

The purpose of the Temple is not for individual Exaltation or self-aggrandizement. At the center of the work is the belief that we are all children of God and form a great Heavenly Family. Because of our fallen nature when coming to mortality, we lost that spiritual connection to God and must reconnect through ordinances like baptism and sealings. The promises made in the Temple do more than put us back into a previous relationship, but increase our standing. What once was lost is more than found. By forming a family bond once again, this mortality gives us the opportunity to be Exalted. Marriage sealings of man and women done under the authority of the Priesthood in the sacred buildings, “it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19). This union will, if both endure to the end, last into Eternities.

Children born to the Temple marriage sealings are considered born under the Covenant, or have an eternal bond to the parents. Children who are not born to already sealed parents can go to the Temple and be sealed to them. It is hoped that the children will grow up and find a spouse to marry in the Temple to continue the spiritual ties. With Christ, the uniting of the eternal family can return full circle. Receiving the inheritance of the second estate as discussed in our pre-earth life becomes a real hope. Paul states in Ephesians 3: 14 -15 with traces of emotion, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” The Temple is where the eternal bonds of mother, father, children, and God come together. A link is created not only between those now living, but the whole of generations both past and present.

The Temple does more than connect families, but teaches how they are to work together. Particularly, it gives examples of the covenant relationship between husband and wife. There will not be any office in the Eternities such as Teacher, Priest, or President we think of with Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood ordination. The highest callings of the Eternities will be Mother and Father, King or Queen of our own Kingdoms; and that only as a promised conditional in this life. The pattern presented is what can be found in Ephesians 5, where, “the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church,” and the wife submits to the husband as they both, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” It is a complicated relationship that is neither hierarchical or without leadership. As Elder Oaks stated, “A most important difference in the functioning of priesthood authority in the family and in the Church results from the fact that the government of the family is patriarchal, whereas the government of the Church is hierarchical. The concept of partnership functions differently in the family than in the Church.”

God is actually the head of the family. This is organizationally followed by the Father. The Mother is theoretically positioned under him and over the children. However, this linear viewpoint is only partly correct, because the rules of D&C 121:41-44 apply. Any presiding that is not persuasive, gentle, meek, and above all with love is abrogated by God. The wife does not and should not have to submit to any unrighteous or domineering orders. No decision should be made without mutual agreement, prayerfully undertaken by both. This is similar to the Godhead, with Heavenly Father as the leading authority and then Jesus Chirst and the Holy Ghost. Yet, they are One God who acts as a single voice reaching for the same goal.

President Joseph F. Smith taught:

There is no higher authority in matters relating to the family organization, and especially when that organization is presided over by one holding the higher Priesthood, than that of the father. The authority is time honored, and among the people of God in all dispensations it has been highly respected and often emphasized by the teachings of the prophets who were inspired of God. The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. There is, then, a particular reason why men, women and children should understand this order and this authority in the households of the people of God, and seek to make it what God intended it to be, a qualification and preparation for the highest exaltation of his children . . .

This authority carries with it a responsibility and a grave one, as well as its rights and privileges, and men can not be too exemplary in their lives, nor fit themselves too carefully to live in harmony with this important and God-ordained rule of conduct in the family organization. Upon this authority certain promises and blessings are predicated, and those who observe and respect this authority have certain claims on divine favor which they cannot have except they respect and observe the laws that God has established for the regulation and authority of the home.

He also said:

Whatever honors, privileges, or glory are attained by the man through the Priesthood, are those shared with and enjoyed by the wife. She being one with him in Christ, all his honors are her honors, his blessings are her blessings, his glory is her glory, for they are one—inseparably. … As Paul said, “The man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” [See 1 Corinthians 11:11.] In other words, the man cannot attain to glory, honor or exaltation without the woman, nor the woman without the man. They are but two complements of one whole . . . The Priesthood of the Son of God is bestowed upon the man, that attaining to the same eminence and perfection, he may act as Christ and God act. … While man . . . is the direct object on whom the power and honor of the Priesthood are bestowed, and he is the active medium of its operations, she partakes of its benefits, its blessings, its powers, its rights and privileges, with him as the complement of himself . . . The power is not given to the woman to act independent of the man, nor is it given to the man to act independent of Christ.

Here is the danger of having woman ordained to Prieshood offices. It confuses the roles and responsibilitie of gender in the family organization. Men and woman will seemingly not need each other as a compliment. The Church would then usurp the postion of the family rather than as a support structure. Women can have great influence in the wards, auxilaries, and families. Giving them Priesthood leadership displaces men’s responsibilities as has existed since Adam was first ordained. Perhaps there are some positions, such as primary, where women are above men. That cannot negate how the higher and direct Priesthood offices mirrors the working relationship of men and women in the family; as examples of men presiding. Improvement can always be made to help women feel more included and equal, but that can be said about any member. It cannot be in the way the world wishes. There can always be a revelation that uproots the status quo of women and the Priesthood, but not without major changes in understanding doctrine about the Eternal position and destiny of families for Exaltation. The final Priesthood of God is found in the home.

11 thoughts on “The Family Priesthood

  1. Many people reading this section of the Doctrine and Covenants do not grasp its full import. Accordingly, I thought both of you might benefit from a brief comment or two about its meaning. The gospel, which is called “the new and everlasting covenant,” includes many specific covenants, one being called “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” This title, or name, is simply another way of saying “patriarchal order.” Thus, that portion of section 131 could read: “And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into the patriarchal order of the priesthood.”

    The patriarchal order refers to priesthood government by family organization. It originated in the time of Adam and extended down to the days of Moses, when that order was withdrawn (see Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation [1956], 3:83–84). It has been restored in our day and time (see D&C 110). You will want to know that the city of Enoch, which because of its righteousness was taken into heaven, was also established on the patriarchal order (see Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 271).

    Furthermore, we learn that “the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood is patriarchal authority” and that “the patriarchal order of the priesthood is the right of worthy priesthood-holding fathers to preside over their descendants through all ages; it includes the ordinances and blessings of the fulness of the priesthood shared by husbands and wives who are sealed in the temple” (in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. [1992], 3:1067, 1135).

    The Lord has told us that the patriarchal order will be the order of things in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom; thus, without participation in the sealing ordinance, you simply cannot qualify for admission to that high and holy place. Of course, some individuals, through no fault of their own, may not have the opportunity to marry in this life; they will yet have that opportunity (see Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde G. Williams [1996], 256–57).

    Cree-L Kofford, Marriage in the Lord’s Way, Part One, Ensign June 1998

  2. “In other words, the man cannot attain to glory, honor or exaltation without the woman, nor the woman without the man. They are but two complements of one whole . . . The Priesthood of the Son of God is bestowed upon the man, that attaining to the same eminence and perfection, he may act as Christ and God act. … While man . . . is the direct object on whom the power and honor of the Priesthood are bestowed, and he is the active medium of its operations, she partakes of its benefits, its blessings, its powers, its rights and privileges, with him as the complement of himself . . . The power is not given to the woman to act independent of the man, nor is it given to the man to act independent of Christ.”

    And from such doctrine comes the necessity of polygamy. From such doctrine comes the belief that Christ will resurrect men, who will then, through the authority of their Priesthood, resurrect their wives. Women who have no man to resurrect them will be given to priesthood holders as additional wives or servants. No woman will be resurrected except through the priesthood power of a man. Yes, this stuff was believed and preached by Brigham Young and others. And while Oaks and others don’t explicitly state it, it is hidden deep in their words.

    Joseph Smith’s eternal family doctrines seems to have sprung out of his polygamy teachings. There is no separating the one from the other, like we conveniently do today. We totally ignore polygamy and keep the concept of eternal family. But for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others, the two are inseparable. And it is obvious why. If women need a man to be complete, there needs to be the same amount of men and women. The slightest deviation necessarily requires the exaltation of someone who is not worthy of it or the damnation of someone who does not deserve it, in order to even out the numbers. If there are far more of one gender than the other, than the problem becomes more severe.

    This means that we are truly predestined to heaven or hell, as a good Calvinist would teach, so that God can control the numbers to make sure there is an equal amount of both genders. Or we need to institute polygamy.

    We know which direction the Mormons would go. So, the Mormon concept of Priesthood requires polygamy as an eternal principle. Priesthood and polygamy are sibling doctrines. I think the language in section 132 would verify this.

    Sorry, ladies.

    Personally, I think Paul’s writings in Hebrews makes priesthood quite clear, if you can be so bold as to ignore McConkie’s commentary in the chapter headings. The Levitical (Aaronic) Priesthood was no longer needed when Christ became our High Priest before the throne of God. It was done away with. His priesthood is sufficient to save.

    Paul says that the Levitical Priesthood needed to be passed on to other priests, because priests die. But Christ, who performs the role of priest on our behalf at the throne of God has a priesthood that is unchangeable. Paul’s implication is that it is not necessary for it to be passed on, because he lives forever, having overcome death and sin for us, once for all.[Edit for M* comment policy]

  3. Jman,

    You are conflating Levitical and Aaronic. They are not necessarily the same thing. I would encourage you to read Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Hebrews. Might clear up some of your confusion.

    And as far as thorns go, you’re saying the Book of Hebrews trumps John the Baptist and Peter James and John actually laying their hands on Joseph Smith’s and Oliver Cowdery’s heads? Fascinating take on how keys and authority work.

  4. As I’ve explained to friends (who speak math), 50% of the inhabitants of heaven will be men and 50% will be women. Except the matching won’t be exact. There will be some epsilon of one gender that is greater than the numbers of the other gender.

    In math epsilon is an vanishingly small number approaching zero.

    So since we will have 2*epsilon of one gender that will need to have an accommodation to be able to have a spouse of the other gender, it appears to me God tips His hand when he required polygamy.

    However I have friends who dispute the possibility that women will be (ever so slightly) more numerous than men in heaven. Apparently they don’t think the relative temple attendance, etc., is indicative of final numbers.

    However, whether polygamy is actually required in heaven to ensure every worthy person is able to have access to a spouse, there is sufficient reason for polygamy as we perform our genealogies, to ensure that everyone ever born on earth can be sealed up into an eternal family.

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