Was the priesthood on the Earth through most of the Old Testament period?

This article in Meridian is definitely worth reading.

The argument is that the Melchezidek Priesthood as well as the Aaronic priesthood existed on the Earth through most of the Old Testament period.

Key excerpts:

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “All the prophets had Melchizedek priesthood.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181) As D&C 84:17 explains, Melchizedek priesthood is the presiding authority which “continueth in the church of God in all generations.” There can be no church organization or full administration without it. This system held Moses through Malachi. Interestingly, Lehi held Melchizedek priesthood and keys sufficient to lead his family to a promised land with fully functioning temples and no Aaronic or preparatory priesthood.  That he, Jeremiah, and Ezekial were quorum associated seems likely. 

As to Israel’s backsliding in their demand for a king, the Lord made the best of it. He directed the prophet Samuel to prepare Saul for this office with sacred instruction on the roof of the Seer’s house. The circumstances might suggest to us a priesthood endowment, followed by an anointing the next morning naming Saul as Captain of the Lord’s inheritance, or Israel’s king. The king of the Lord’s inheritance can only be Melchizedek priesthood bearing. (1 Sam. 9:25, 10:1) Immediately Saul  is found prophesying among the prophets who also held Melchizedek priesthood. (1 Sam. 10: 5-6, 10-13) Samuel recorded the “manner of the kingdom,” meaning the regulation of a kingdom in which a righteous king is set apart. He must act in concert with a priest and prophet at his side, a triumvirate foreshadowing the Lord’s coming to fill all of these offices. (1 Sam. 10:25) 

It is on this wise that David and Solomon came to rule Israel in their turn–holding Melchizedek priesthood. Solomon built the temple David envisioned. Temple construction and implementation is the province of the high priesthood only. Elders and seventies cannot assume this obligation.

As to other witnesses to Melchizedek priesthood activity in Old Covenant times we might cite:

David’s wives were given to him by the prophet Nathan in an eternal marriage covenant (D&C 132: 38-39), that David offered sacrifices as on Araunah’s threshing floor which he did by virtue of Melchizedek Priesthood. (2 Sam. 24:25) That David’s children had their endowments as is shown in the story of Tamar and Amnon. Tamar “rent her garment” in token of a broken temple covenant, the garment being the Hebrew ketoneth passim which is the garment Adam was given when he left Eden. (2 Sam. 13: 19) Solomon’s temple was commissioned, built, and consecrated by the high priesthood, meaning high priests, as elders and seventies cannot head such a work. It would appear that many Israelites who camped about the temple received full blessings there.

The Old Testament prophet Elijah held sealing keys, and governed a school of prophets who had Melchizedek Priesthood. (1 Kings 17:1) We might also recall that the Nephites had Melchizedek Priesthood though they lived the law of Moses. Lehi had this priesthood when the Nephites left Jerusalem as did Ezekiel and Jeremiah who were his fellow servants, possibly members of a Council of Twelve. There was no Aaronic Priesthood utilized in the Book of Mormon (there were no Levites). 

In summary, we turn to three masterful statements by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

Ancient Israel was a nation, a kingdom, and a church all wrapped up in one. Moses in his day was the prophet, seer, and revelator; Aaron was the presiding bishop; the twelve princes of Israel, one heading each of the tribes, held an equivalent status to that of the Twelve whom Jesus chose; and the seventy elders, who with Moses and Aaron saw the Lord, were what we would call the First Quorum of Seventy. There were elders and judges (bishops) and other officers, presiding, as circumstances warranted, over tens and fifties and hundreds and thousands. Israel operated as a theocracy, as a congregation of the Lord’s people, as a church…. [The rebellious] were excommunicated anciently as they are today. (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 333)

After the days of Moses, the ruling, governing, theocratic power in Israel was the Aaronic Priesthood. But most of the time, if not at all times, there were prophets and seers and congregations of brethren who held the Melchizedek Priesthood, which enabled them to perform celestial marriages. (McConkie, Bruce R., A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 506)

“‘Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them,’ the Lord commanded Moses, ‘and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.’ (Num. 11: 16-17.) Thus was the Lord’s system of government perfected in ancient Israel. Moses served as the prophet, seer, and revelator; at his side were ‘the princes of Israel,’ twelve in number, comparable to the Twelve Apostles, one of whom presided over each of the tribes (Num. 7); then came the Seventy—holy and noble men who also sat in judgment and regulated the affairs of the people. And a millennium and a half later, the Jews still maintained the form of their ancient order; the Great Sanhedrin—either patterned after or descended from the Quorum of Seventy called by Moses….’” (McConkie, Bruce R., Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4:164)

I find the argument convinced. What do you think?

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

13 thoughts on “Was the priesthood on the Earth through most of the Old Testament period?

  1. Therefore, we discuss it in Elder’s Quorum — was the priesthood on the Earth that whole time or not? Or we could even discuss it here, I guess.

  2. Or, if you don’t find the subject interesting, you can go read something else! Isn’t life wonderful with all of its choices?

  3. Geoff,

    The scholar Margaret Barker has devoted her efforts to the question of Old Testament Christianity. Her view is the High Priesthood was incorporated in Solomon’s temple. Following the Babylonian exile, the Jewish reformers removed Christian elements from their texts and from the temple, and they oppressed those who would teach the “Old Gospel”. I highly recommend her paper “Restoring Solomon’s Temple” which you can find from this landing page http://www.margaretbarker.com/Temple/default.htm

    The Book of Mormon is supportive of Barker’s thesis and Barker has participated in BYU religious symposiums. We know there are other “remnants” of the Tribes of Israel who lived and taught the Doctrine of Christ before the meridian of time. Someday we will have their testimony revealed to us.

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating topic!

  4. Sorry, Geoff. I didn’t realize my question would come across as snarky.

    The “therefores” do connect to us due to the doctrine of “chain of authority” from one mortal to another, or in the case of restoration after a discontinuation, from resurrected individuals to mortals, as in the case of John the Baptist visiting Joseph and Oliver, and then Peter, James and John visiting them later on.

    If there were any priesthood discontinuations during Old Testament times, I suppose that the translated Moses and Elijah could have restored keys and authority to Old Testament prophets as they did to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, and to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland Temple.

    This presupposes that an embodied individual, either mortal, resurrected, or translated, is needed to confer authority or keys upon a mortal.

    Whether OT prophetic authority was continuous in a mortal-to-mortal fashion, or if it ever had to be restored via a translated person (eg, Moses or Elijah) to a mortal, the overall transmittal still fits in with what I think is current doctrinal understanding.

    I’m not familiar enough with OT chronology to say whether all the known prophets overlapped with their mortal predecessor and successor. In cases of possible or apparent discontinuation, I suppose it’s also possible that there was an overlapping mortal prophet whose record just didn’t survive to inform us.

  5. Disciple, Margaret Barker is very interesting. I join the people who wonder why she has never converted to the Church, but of course it is the Spirit that converts people — you can’t convince people through logic, unfortunately. Book, it is of course possible that there were gaps. I wonder about that myself. I am a big fan of history and I have so many questions about the Earth’s history that I am likely never to learn until the Millennium.

  6. A good article. Someone, somewhere once said that the Jaredites were descendents of Ham and Egyptus. I could not care less either way. But they went on to say that because Ham was not blessed with the Priesthood then the Jaredites did not have the Priesthood. I think this article clears the issue a little.

  7. @Dave,

    I think it’s interesting to note that the time-frame of the Olmecs — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olmecs — overlaps with the time-frame of the Jaredites.

    Olmec statues have an Asiatic appearance. And some Bible historians posit that Asian peoples are descendants of Japheth.

    It will be interesting, in the Millennium, to learn about the ancient histories of the peoples of Earth. The Bible mainiy deals with the Shemites/Semites. With only a few clues about Ham and Japheth.

    To bring it back to the here-and-now, I think one of the main lessons for us, that we learn from both the Bible and Book of Mormon, is the importance of passing on both knowledge and traditions of the gospel to future generations. It’s not just about “training the next generation” but “training the next generation to train their next generation.”

    As one guy explained to me: you don’t know that you were a successful parent until you see your grandkids remain faithful as they transition to adulthood.

    Both in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon, the Lord was able to perpetuate the prophetic/priesthood _leader_, in spite of the people as a group being generally wicked. But training up a replacement generation takes individual families.

    Another lesson from scriptural examples is what happens when political leaders (kings) split from their contemporary prophet. Wicked kings could separate the people from God and from the prophets.

    Following wicked political leaders leads to societal ruin within a few generations.

  8. I think it’s fine for now that Margaret Barker hasn’t joined the Church. I was fascinated by her BYU Devotional and am now reading her book on Temple Theology. She’s great. I, for one, am glad she hasn’t joined the Church yet.

    I’ve been thinking on the line in Alma 22:4 “…the Spirit of the Lord has called him another way…”

    We just returned from an LDS Israel tour (miracle of miracles that my nonmember husband was willing to do this) and we learned a lot about the 1st and 2nd temples, and by extension, the priesthood (or was it the other way around?;) it’s kind of hard not to with witnessing the Dead Sea Scrolls and remnants from the Temple Scrolls. I reflected while there on whether throughout OT times the priesthood had always been on the earth and I’ve concluded that it was – there’s just just something about ‘place’ that instructs me.

    But back to Margaret Barker. My husband was attentive when we learned about the temple and certain Jewish customs. He was even thoughtful when things were tied to priesthood. But he really sits up when I tell him things from her book – some of the very same things we learn in the Church and that we experienced on the tour. But for him it’s often more credible when truths come from someone outside the Church. Sooner or later he’ll connect the dots. I’m sure if it. But in the meantime he must be exposed to those dots in a way he trusts. I’m grateful there are people who have been called another way. Perhaps, by design, they have been called another way to provide some of those dots.

  9. I wouldn’t be surprised, I even dare assert, that were we given the vision of the generations of the earth from the beginning to winding up scene that other prophets have been privy to see, we would see a continuous chain of Melchizedek priesthood from Adam to the Millennial Christ.
    I dare to assert, because I shudder to consider the darkness that would have descended on the earth were there not some channel remaining for priesthood power to flow to the inhabitants of the earth; as most of the people on earth currently do not understand how their lives are blessed by the faithful simply being here. The leaven and the salt lift and season those around them by virtue it seems of the flow of light and knowledge sustained by priesthood power and influence.
    I cannot imagine the renaissance and enlightenment arising in the so-called Dark Ages without the influence of the apostle John and the Three Nephites focusing the light and power of God on the earth and on the hearts of the women and men that came under their direct influence.
    I imagine that a flat bland loaf would result of the entire earth.
    Thank you for the post. Interesting to consider and I’m glad some people actually study such things instead of just opine as I do.

  10. Joel: Thank you! “Those who tarry”, neither totally mortal, nor translated, had totally slipped my mind.

  11. I’ve always considered that the prophets had the complete Priesthood, so it makes sense that they could have also shared this with select others who were able/worthy/open to receive and use it. The difference with now being that the whole nation (which, as with the Nephites, was also the church) at large didn’t receive it or wasn’t blessed by it in the ways they would have been if they’d kept/accepted it back at the mountain with Moses.

  12. I don’t think this tracks. Not with Deborah or Huldah, certainly. We have to do a lot of fancy footwork to make them fit, or somehow assert that presiding over Israel or receiving revelation for what we would consider the church- even to the point of speaking for Jehovah (“Thus saith the Lord”) somehow didn’t require the Melchizedek priesthood then, although it certainly does now. Perhaps there is more to be revealed about women and priesthood?

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