D&C 20:38-67

We’ve chosen to do all of v. 38–67 in one post because A) these verses are more practical and less overtly theological, so we can move through at a faster pace, and B) we’re interested in how the various offices relate to each other, and that’s best determined by looking at all of them in one large chunk. Of course, it also means that this will be a shallower reading than we gave to Alma 13, and it will necessarily skip over some of the finer details. I hope that what I offer in this post will provide a helpful framework, and that we can devote the comments to a discussion of those details.

D&C 20:38–67 is pretty straightforward in its organization:

v. 38–45 ~ duties of an elder
v. 46–52 ~ duties of a priest
v. 53–59 ~ duties of a teacher (with passing reference to deacons)
v. 61–67 ~ administrative details (timing for conferences & priesthood certificates)

But while the different offices appear sharply delineated on the surface, their duties overlap in complicated ways.

First, I think it’s important to note that there seems to be the beginnings—vague and implicit though they may be—of a split into higher and lower priesthoods. Although the demarcation into Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods wouldn’t happen for several more years, I think we see some signs of these offices being aligned into two groups. Twice we are told that one priesthood office is to be assisted by the members of another: priests are to assist the elders (v. 52), and deacons are to assist the teachers (v. 57). No mention is made of teachers helping priests. To me this suggests that the proto-“higher” priesthood consisted of elders, with priests as their assistants, while the proto-“lower” priesthood consisted of teachers, with deacons as their assistants. (It’s worth mentioning that our current Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods do not split along the same lines; priests are part of the Aaronic priesthood, not the Melchizedek, as this “proto” organization might suggest.)

Things are not so clear-cut as that may make it appear, however. For example, the priests’ and teachers’ unique duties have more in common with each other than they do with the elders’ or deacons’, respectively, and there are other complicating factors, as well.

Tracing out the individual duties of each office quickly becomes confusing because of all the repetition. Phrases are repeated both across the several offices and within the several offices. In the first case, for example, “lower” offices can fulfill the duties of “higher” offices where needed; priests can lead meetings where no elder is present, and teachers can lead meetings when neither an elder nor a priest is available; both priests and elders can administer the sacrament and baptize, etc. The result is that phrases like “take the lead of meetings” and “baptize and administer the sacrament” are scattered throughout the section across several offices in a way that makes it difficult to sharply delineate responsibilities. As another example, all of the offices (elder, priest, teacher, and deacon) are required to “expound, exhort, and teach,” though there are variations on that responsibility depending on the office (compare v. 42, 46, 50, 59).

In the second case—repetitions within a single office—we often get a double reminder of the office’s duty. We are twice told that elders can baptize (v. 38, 42) and confirm (v. 41, 43), and twice told that priests ought to visit the members, exhorting them to pray (v. 47, 51).

Because of all that overlap and repetition, I chose to focus on the duty that was unique to each office (and there was only one in each case, which is interesting). Here’s the chart I drew up, with the unique duties in red:


Here’s the sense I’m getting for each office, with special emphasis given to their completely unique duties:

Elders seem to be primarily responsible over the boundaries of the church. They are the missionaries, seem to be chiefly in charge of baptism, conduct the fellowship meal that marks the saints as a community (the sacrament), and confirm new members, which we understand today to be the ordinance by which converts become full members. This responsibility for the growth of the church–if I’m right to see it this way–can also be seen in their duty to ordain other men to offices of the priesthood; just like they are to oversee the growth of the church membership, they are responsible for growing the ranks of the priesthood, as well.

Priests I understand to be primarily responsible over the church as individual members. Their unique duty is to “visit the house of each member” (v. 47, 51, emphasis added), making sure that those members pray and attend to their family duties. Their ministry is to individuals, ensuring that those members are fulfilling their individual duties.

Teachers, then, are primarily responsible over the church as community. They uniquely ensure “that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking” and “that the church meet together often” (v. 54-55, emphasis added). Teachers are liable for the interrelational space between and among the members.

(Deacons receive hardly any direct attention in this section, and don’t have a duty that is uniquely their own. They’re pretty much lumped in with teachers.)

If that schematic is correct, it leaves me with a few other questions and points for discussion:

1.) What we’re seeing here is a strongly ecclesiastical priesthood, completely focused on the church–its boundaries, its individual members, and its community dynamic. This is something very different from the ritual priesthood of the Old Testament, or Alma’s teaching priesthood in the Book of Mormon.

2.) The elders have a really interesting relationship with the Holy Ghost that I’d like to figure out.

The Holy Ghost is mentioned four times in this section, and it’s always in conjunction with the Elders:

Elders lay on hands for confirmation for the Holy Ghost (v. 41)
Elders lay on hands to give the Holy Ghost (v. 43)
Elders lead meetings as led by Holy Ghost (v. 45)
Holy Ghost is in the one who ordains (v. 60)

In the last case, of course, it need not be entirely unique to the elders, since priests also have the ability to ordain (v. 48), but ordination is also one of the very first duties assigned to elders (v. 39), and I think the other mentions of the Holy Ghost are indicative.

So what is this relationship? In each instance I see the elder acting as a kind of conduit for the Holy Ghost to others–he’s the conduit for their confirmation, the conduit who receives inspiration about leading the meeting, and the conduit for ordination. I’m not sure what more to say about it than that. I mentioned that elders also seem responsible for the boundaries of the congregation; could it be that the Holy Ghost is a kind of liminal figure that aids with that duty, somehow? I don’t know. I’m open to ideas.

3.) Relationship between priesthood and spiritual gifts.

Verse 60 is interesting, and sits largely outside of the organization I suggested at the beginning. Here it is in full:

“Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.”

The fact that we mention “gifts” and “the Holy Ghost,” both tied to ordination, makes me think we could talk about “gifts” here as referring specifically to the “gifts of the spirit” along the lines of D&C 46, or something. That’s a pretty speculative gesture to make, I realize, but I think it might be productive.

It sounds like ordination is to come according to spiritual gifts one already has. God has given someone certain “callings,” indicated by accompanying “gifts,” and ordination is to be performed according to those talents. On that reading, priesthood begins to look like an official or institutional sanction corresponding to one’s spiritual gifts, licensing them for use in the church community. It’s a way of bringing the charismatic gifts of the spirit into the institutional hierarchy in an organized, controlled fashion.

This appeals to me for three reasons. First, how cool is that?! 🙂 Second, it reminds me of the way the Law of Consecration worked under its earlier model–an individual comes to the bishop, suggest how they would like to build the kingdom according to their own interests and talents, and receives the resources to do it. It’s entirely self-directed and according to one’s own gifts. Third, I think this connects up in interesting ways with D&C 46:27:

“And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God” (emphasis added).

Bishops and elders have the ability to discern the gifts of the spirit. Here spiritual gifts are explicitly connected with the priesthood. I’d like to think more about the reason listed for that (this is done to identify those who are “not of God,” a further aid in policing congregational boundaries?), but I think there’s enough here to warrant further thought.

What else of interest do you see in D&C 20? What do you think of my wild speculations? Discuss!



Filed under D&C 20

21 responses to “D&C 20:38-67

  1. I have lots and lots of thoughts, Kim! (And thanks for that fantastic chart! That was really helpful!)

    A) I thought it was really interesting to see how there was already a sort of split into two priesthoods, even though, as you say, the priests are in the lower priesthood once things are actually split into two. It’s still an interesting observation though. We could also see that perhaps this is setting up a situation where the priest, as the top of the Aaronic Priesthood, can assist the Melchizedek Priesthood; or, how the Melchizedek Priesthood can assist the priests in the Aaronic duties. Something like that maybe.

    B) I think it’s interesting that the Book of Mormon mostly mentions priests and teachers. It doesn’t mention deacons and it only mentions elders twice in Alma and then 4 times in Moroni. Priests and teachers seem to have been the main priesthood callings for the Nephites. That makes me take their names very seriously – a “priest” for ritual needs, and a “teacher” for teaching?

    C) I like your delineation between the offices: the elders deal with boundaries & growth of the church, the priests focus on individuals, the teachers focus on the church community. But I also think it’s fascinating that the priests travel to each home and make sure that families do their duties, as well as take care of community things like the sacrament. As priests they ordain, lead meetings, etc., but why the focus on family duties? Why not have teachers do that? I think that’s what I’m going to be obsessing about. Why have them work with families, in their role as “priest?” Is the family seen as having had a priesthood beginning? Or are their aspects of the priesthood that can only work in the family setting, so the priests watch over to make sure those aspects are happening? (I’m thinking of Elder Oaks’s talk on priesthood in the home and in the church.)

    D) Another way we might think of how the teachers’ job relates to priests is to think of them watching over the way of life that results from ordinances. I’m thinking of how King Benjamin’s speech goes on, after they’ve made covenants, to describe the way of life that should naturally proceed from that covenant (Mosiah 4). So I’m seeing teachers as following up on that way of life and teaching where necessary. Maybe?

    Now to Kim’s numbered discussion points:

    1) Your right that this isn’t as focused on teaching as Alma’s discussion is, but Alma has those moments, too. He and others regulate and organize the church, ordaining priests and teachers, etc. And he seems to have done this after preaching and converting, so it sounds to me like he wanted someplace for converts to gather into and so be watched over. (See Alma 15:14, 17; Alma 6:1-5.) (And I just noticed Alma 6 is remarkably like parts of D&C 20 and 42! That’s fun.) So perhaps we could think of D&C 20 like those regulations that went on with Alma? Maybe?

    Also, in our ward we recently D&C 88:73 about “hasten the work” and I spent some time during the lesson reading the context a bit. I think the idea was that they were pausing in their missionary efforts for a time to build up the saints, and then at some future time God would “hasten” the missionary efforts to sort of make up for their slow-down as they perfected the saints for a bit. Anyway, that’s how I’m seeing D&C 20 for right now. They’re slowing down in the work of preaching to organize and be ready to take care of whoever is baptized.

    2) Very interesting work on elders and the Holy Ghost! and also on Holy Ghost as watching over the boundaries of the Church. Could be that a human would create boundaries where there shouldn’t be (who’s in and out of the church, who should be ordained to what office, what should or shouldn’t happen in a meeting on a given day)?

    I think there’s got to be more to think about with this. That’s all I’ve got for right now, though…

    3) I totally think that the idea was supposed to be that members were ordained to offices based on the spiritual gifts that God had given them, or the ones God was ready to give them right then and there. (My reading of D&C 46 is that our spiritual gifts can come and go as God decides, so I don’t know that I think that each priesthood member has some specific lists of gifts permanently attached to them and then is ordained accordingly.) But I think that at the time of ordination to an office perhaps the elder would discern the gifts given or would be given and would ordain accordingly? I don’t know. But I see the idea that some have gifts to teach, and some have gifts of healing, etc. Many of those gifts are naturally suited for the work of a teacher or the work of a priest. (Unfortunately our Aaronic priesthood works in a progressive, hierarchical way. I would love to see it function otherwise someday! That would be cool.)

    Also: I really, really liked the way you worded this Kim: “licensing them for use in the church community.” I think that idea shows up elsewhere and I want to think about that more.

    And also: the connection with D&C 46:27 was perfect.

    I want to add more on those last two but Micah’s awake. But I think we’re off to a great start on D&C 20! Yay Kim!

  2. A) I like the idea that these preliminary boundaries (between “higher” and “lower” priesthoods) may actually interact in important ways with our current boundaries. Because of the priest’s relationship with the elders here, he becomes the connection point between the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods. That’s nice.

    B) I don’t think we can take the names that seriously, because Alma repeatedly calls himself a “priest” but defines that role by his teaching responsibility. I am very curious about the different offices in the BoM, though. We’re never told what “teachers” amount to (local gospel doctrine instructors?), and as you point out, “elders” only show up in Moroni. We really know next to nothing about BoM priesthood, and I wish we had much more!

    C) I thought that was interesting as well, but let me stress that they still only seem to be working with individuals, making sure each individual is relating to their family in the proper way. Personally, I’m inclined to say that it’s primarily ecclesiastical and that there’s no particular significance beyond that. But I’m open to possibilities.

    And your comment highlighted this detail for me which I hadn’t noticed before: v. 48 says the priest exhorts them to “attend to all family duties,” and so far the word “duty” in these verses has referred pretty exclusively to priesthood “duty” (see v. 38, 46, 52–53, 57). So there’s something interesting about the way the word “duty” functions.

    And teachers, too, “see that all the members do their duty” (v. 55). Part of the responsibility of the priesthood is to see that the members also attend to their duty.

    This clarifies something I was confused about—v. 38 says that this section also touches on “the duty of the … members of the church,” when we don’t have any verses dedicated exclusively to them (unless this heading was also meant to cover v. 68ff).

    D) Yeah, that’s a distinct possibility. Especially since ordinances and covenants are always so explicitly communal.

    I’m excited to hear your further thoughts!

    • I think you’re right that priests do visit “each member,” not each family. Good point. And I see now that they encourage them to do three things, and only one of them involves the family.

      (Just for future reference, if it’s helpful, doing a search for “prayer” and “families” I found 3 Nephi 18:21, D&C 20:47&51, D&C 23:6, and D&C 93:50.)

  3. I like your point about verse 38 and the duty of the members of the Church. That might be a really solid way to interpret that verse.

    I wanted to follow up on the idea of licensing gifts of the spirit for use in the Church. It reminded me of how D&c 68:20 talks about the relationship between those who are literal descendants of Aaron and the Aaronic priesthood office of Bishop. Even though they have a right to the office, they still need to be ordained by the Melchizedek priesthood presidency, or else they are not licensed, or authorized, to perform in that office:

    And a literal descendant of Aaron, also, must be designated by this Presidency, and found worthy, and anointed, and ordained under the hands of this Presidency, otherwise they are not legally authorized to officiate in their priesthood.

    The idea of licensing gifts of the spirit for use in a priesthood office seems to me to be parallel to this idea from D&C 68. I don’t know if we’re on to something or not, but I think it’s something to investigate a bit.

    Joe suggested that we find out if the early “licenses” of priesthood holders had language that might support this idea. I think we’ve got some resources for that so I’ll do some research and get back to you.

    Either way, I’d like to play around some more with the connection between gifts of the Spirit and the Church. D&C 46 seems to me to very clear that the gifts of the Spirit are not really for individuals at all, but for the Church. Verse 10 says, “retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.” And verse 12 says, “To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.” The gifts are only meant to work together, in the group, in combination with other gifts. With or without the connection to priesthood, it seems that gifts of the Spirit should not be disconnected from the Church body as a whole.

    So if priesthood ordinations were, as we’re thinking, done according to the spiritual gifts that individual had, then it would be another way in which gifts of the spirit were consecrated for the benefit of the Church as a whole. Not the only way, but another way? So it appears at the moment.

  4. I like it all. Especially the point about D&C 46, which I hadn’t realized was so tied to profiting the church specifically.

    I wonder what it might mean, in the end, for priesthood to be “another” way to consecrated gifts, but “not the only way.” Hm.

    And be sure to let us know what you find out about the licenses!

  5. I read through the licenses in Documents volume one from the Joseph Smith Papers project. There was no mention of gifts. In addition, I thought it was interesting that the only “according to” seemed to be according to the holy order of God.

    Here’s a transcript of one of them (they were all pretty similar):

    “A License Liberty Power & Authority
    “Given to Chrisitan Whitmer signifying & proveing that he is a Teacher of this Church of Christ established & regularly organized in these last days AD 1830 on the 6th day of April All of which has been done by the will of God the Father according to his holy calling & the gift & power of the Holy Ghost agreeable to the revelations of Jesus Christ give to Joseph Smith Jun the first elder of the Church signifying that he has been baptized & received into the Church according to the Articles & Covenants of the Church & ordained under the hand of Oliver Cowdery who is an Apostle of our Lord an Elder of the Church”

    The only difference I can see is that Teacher is replaced with whatever office they held instead.

    I did find it curious that someone is an “Apostle” of the Lord and an “Elder” of the Church. The same phrasing is used for John Whitmer’s license to describe his calling as an “Apostle of Jesus Christ an Elder of this Church of Christ.”

    • Awesome, thanks Karen!

      I think the Apostle/Elder thing is helpful. It makes me think we should interpret v. 38 to mean that they were essentially the same office.

      And I think the language also matches up really obviously with v. 60. The license says he is ordained “according to his holy calling,” much like v. 60 says “according to the … callings of God unto him,” and both mention that the specific power by which he is ordained is “the power of the Holy Ghost.” The obvious difference is that “gift” in the license is clearly meant to be paired with the Holy Ghost (as in, “the gift and power of the Holy Ghost,”) where it’s paired with “callings” in D&C 20 (“the gifts and callings of God.”) It’s interesting to see the word “gift” shift associations like that.

  6. This is long but might be helpful. It’s from a paper I did a while back on D&C 42:12-14:

    All of what was said in D&C 42:12 is now conditioned by the words in verse 13: “as they shall be directed by the Spirit.” We have already examined with how D&C 20 relates to teaching with the scriptures. Next, I will look at how it bears on teaching with the Spirit.
    First, it is important to note that D&C 20 gives each of the offices mentioned in verse 12—elder, priest, and teacher—the duty of teaching in the church. In verse 42 says the elder is called “…to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church.” Verse 46 says, “the priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament…” And teachers, in verse 59, are called “…to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.” Thus one way of reading verse 13 could be: “observe the duty, discussed in the covenants and church articles, to teach. Now, when you take up that assignment, your teachings shall be principles from scripture.”
    But another connection with D&C 20 cannot be overlooked. The last part of D&C 42:13 sounds remarkably similar to D&C 20:45. Because the covenants and church articles were just referenced right in verse 13 itself, it seems to me that D&C 42:13 is drawing on or alluding directly to this verse from D&C 20:
    D&C 20:45
    The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.

    The common denominator in both cases is clear: the Spirit should be guiding their church meetings. However, the particular situation is slightly different: D&C 20:45 is directed at those conducting a meeting, where many possible paths still lay open, but D&C 42:13 is apparently focused on those already assigned to teach. This would cast D&C 42:13 as a mere paraphrase of D&C 20:45. However, by detouring through Moroni 6:9 I will show that the command concerning teaching in D&C 42 cannot actually be disentangled from the command concerning conducting meetings in D&C 20.
    A table above already showed that D&C 20:45 was quoting from Moroni 6:9. Here again are these two verses set side-by-side:
    D&C 20:45
    The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God
    Moroni 6:9
    And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.

    Notice how much closer these two verses are than D&C 42:13 and D&C 20:45. Both verses refer to conducting meetings and to the Holy Ghost. The main difference is that Moroni 6:9 goes further than D&C 20:45 in that it provides a list of ways the Holy Ghost might lead one to conduct a meeting. Or, better put, since the chronology runs in the other direction, D&C 20:45 abridges Moroni 6:9 by leaving off this list.
    Or, on the other hand, a closer look at D&C 20 might reveal a list afterall. Throughout the duties of the elders, priests, teachers, and deacons are words that match up with those in Moroni’s list. It appears that D&C 20 distributes these possible paths of the Spirit into verses throughout the section, instead of providing a concise list in one verse like Moroni did. A few of these duties in D&C 20 are listed in the following table, with the similarities to Moroni 6:9 in bold:
    Moroni 6:9
    …for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.

    D&C 20:42, 46, 59:
    teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church
    preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament.
    warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.

    With several of the items from Moroni’s list showing up elsewhere in D&C 20, it seems that these two passages are actually closer than it first appeared. Now, rather than abridging Moroni 6:9, we see that D&C 20:45 actually expands on it. Because the elements from Moroni are spread throughout the lists of priesthood duties, it appears any of those duties are now a part of the list of possibilities. That is, there are even more paths the Spirit might take during a meeting. This changes the way we read this command in D&C 20:45 to conduct by the Spirit. Conducting is not just one of the many duties, it is one way in which all of the duties many be put into motion by the Spirit.

  7. jennywebb

    Kim and Karen, there is a lot of really interesting work going on here. Sorry to be so late responding!

    I just want to address a point that I’ve been thinking about in response to Kim’s original #2 (relationship between the Elders and the Holy Ghost). Kim summarizes their interactions in section 20 as follows:

    Elders lay on hands for confirmation for the Holy Ghost (v. 41)
    Elders lay on hands to give the Holy Ghost (v. 43)
    Elders lead meetings as led by Holy Ghost (v. 45)
    Holy Ghost is in the one who ordains (v. 60)

    I want to think about Kim’s characterization of this relationship as one where the Elder acts as a “conduit” for the Holy Ghost.

    I think “conduit” heads in the right direction, but is potentially still vague enough to be problematic. Looking at these four interactions, I would say that the relationship between the Elder and the Holy Ghost is one where the Elder inhabits an embodied, performative, religious space in such a way as to make room or allow for the ratifying/testifying power of the Holy Ghost.

    I think what we’ve got here is an early indication of Joseph trying to understand and work out how heaven and earth coincide, something that will later develop into full-fledged temple theology. Joseph’s initiating revelatory experience in the First Vision is one that makes it heart-poundingly clear that heaven and earth are interconnected—they overlap, and the veil is porous both ways. It’s possible to read the rest of his ministry as one long revelatory experiment designed to bring into focus precisely how that porousness can be replicated and thus legitimated.

    A large part of that project involves working out ways in which heaven and earth literally effect each other. Here, in section 20, the Holy Ghost’s connection to the Elders’ actions serves as a ratifying witness that the actions undertaken by the Elder on earth—the laying of hands, the leading, the performance of ordination—are witnessed and sealed in heaven.

    In this reading, the emphasis on licenses and certificates in verses 63-64 aligns with Joseph’s attempts to work out this heaven/earth connection through processes of transcription, recording, writing, translation, etc. (I’m thinking of D&C 128 in particular here, but there are plenty of other examples.)

    The project of the salvation thus becomes a project of *sealing*—sealing families together into the Family, sealing heaven and earth to the point that the earth becomes heaven, sealing priesthood ordinances, etc. Sealing is ratified and witnessed (e.g., recorded) evidence of the two-way porousness between heaven and earth: things that are sealed on earth hold in heaven, and things sealed in heaven hold on earth.

    The function of the Holy Ghost here in section 20 thus points towards both this connection between heaven and earth (the HG responds to earthly actions performed within the context of priesthood power and ordinance) as well as the Holy Ghost’s own role as both witness to and evidence of the ongoing, sedimentary sealing up of heaven and earth.

    • Jenny. This is so insightful and productive that I can hardly stand it! More later.

    • Really, Jenny. I love this. I think your description of the Elders’ role as one of embodiment (laying on hands) and performance (leading meetings) is dead on, and I think the idea of the Holy Ghost as a sealing/ratifying agent is consistent with other scripture. I love how you develop this as an element of Joseph’s larger project, and I love love love seeing certificates/licenses as an extension of the role writing takes in Mormon priesthood.

      I’m a little wary that you might be reading D&C 128 back into D&C 20, but the connections are so rich that they’re certainly worth pursuing.

      I’ll be curious to see how the Holy Ghost continues to run alongside this theme of writing (for instance, it’s entirely absent from D&C 128, but Moses 6 describes it as “the record of heaven”), and I’m still left wondering why this relationship with the Holy Ghost is unique to Elders. I’m sure I’ll have even more questions as I think about it further, but so far: Jenny! I love it! Thanks!

      • jennywebb

        Thanks Kim—I appreciate your kind response!

        I, too, wonder how much I’m reading D&C 128 back into section 20 (part of the hazard of spending the last few years thinking through 128 repeatedly). But I do think the connection is there: it just runs in the other direction.

        That is, both 20 and 128 show Joseph working though issues of what I’m ultimately terming “sealing” (that connection and even cross-pollination between heaven and earth), but they do so at distinctly different points in Joseph’s thought. So we should look for seeds of 128 in 20. I think the thematic connections are there in each section, but in 128 the threads are pulled into a tighter weave as it were, which makes the pattern of the cloth easier to see.

        But, even more interesting is what you point out about the Holy Ghost being absent in other discussions where we might reasonably expect to find it given the reading I give above. You wonder “why this relationship with the Holy Ghost is unique to Elders”, and I think that’s an important question for section 20.

        I think if we looked at modern doctrinal statements and teachings, we would find that the ratifying/witnessing relationship with the Holy Ghost is certainly *not* limited to Elders, let alone even members of the Church! Think about how missionaries (and teachers generally) are instructed to “preach” so that the Holy Ghost can “teach”: the whole principle at work there is that the Holy Ghost can and will witness/ratify truth to any who ask / are open.

        I’m more inclined to see section 20, then, in terms of Joseph taking what he knew about the Holy Ghost as witness and then applying that functionality to describe a specific process of sealing heaven and earth. I’m not convinced (at all) that this is the only method for such sealing to take place. Rather, I think that we have section 20 appearing in the context of Joseph’s understanding at that time.

        Part of what Joseph appears to be grappling with are a series of overlapping issues: ecclesiastic organization alongside a type of theological deepening (here seen in terms of the way he’s working out the connections between records/sealing). Legitimating the Church structurally thus overlaps with legitimating ordinances via the witness of the Holy Ghost.

        So when section 20 uses the title “Elder”, it’s using it two ways somewhat simultaneously, no?

        Elder = administrative position within ecclesiastic structure

        Elder = (embodied) performative position within theological sealing (heaven-earth)

        While the Holy Ghost does not seem essential to the duties of the first position, it *is* at the heart of the second position.

        Ack, I have more I want to work through. Thinking … and being called away to FHE.

        • One thought and then I’ll get back to catching up:

          Remember Elder Oaks’ talks about how when we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood is authorizing the personal line of revelation for that person? I’m thinking about that here as Jenny points out that this role of witness/ratification is not limited to the elders, or even members of the Church. The Elders, though, are perhaps the ones who call on others to receive the Spirit (either formally through confirmation ordinances, or less formally by inviting an investigator to pray). By their calling on others to do so, perhaps they open up the conduit, or as Elder Oaks put it: “The gift of the Holy Ghost—the means of communication from God to man—is conferred by priesthood authority as authorized by those holding priesthood keys.” Perhaps the elders hold the “key” to the Holy Ghost?

          Even in leading meetings, the point may be, perhaps, that not only do the elders decide what happens in the meeting based on spiritual promptings, but the fact that the meeting is led by an elder authorizes the meeting to be a place appropriate for the Spirit to be. Thoughts? This extends to meetings not led by an elder, when the person leading that meeting has be authorized by an elder. For example, others can take the place of an elder when an elder is not present, according to D&C 20. But in addition, when a Relief Society president leads a meeting, she does so under the authorization that came by her setting apart (see Elder Oaks’ most recent conference talk). Or, we often say that so-in-so from the Stake is presiding. Perhaps what we are saying is that “so-in-so, who has been called by God and given authorization to lead meetings, is here and we declare that fact and by so declaring that fact, we claim the privilege of receiving the Holy Ghost in this meeting.”

          So again, when a missionary calls on someone to pray about the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith, perhaps that invitation is a very serious call or authorization to receive the Spirit. Another “priesthood injunction,” as it were? And again, if a sister missionary invites, she does so under the authorization she received in her setting apart. So I think even then, it still flows from the role of an elder.

          There’s still the point that the Holy Ghost can talk to anyone, anywhere, even if that person has never come into contact with a member of the Church let alone an elder. So perhaps what we are seeing is a specific call for the Holy Ghost to come, a specific “right” to lay claim on its presence? I don’t mean to say we can command the spirit, but the scriptures do talk about rights and privileges, and so I wonder if we ought to see the work of the elder (and the work that role authorizes) as a way in which God allows us to call on and for the Spirit more strongly.

          • jennywebb

            Karen, this is really useful in trying to understand how and why the priesthood and the Holy Ghost are connected and what their relationship is. I’m still processing Elder Oaks’s talk, but I think the point you raise at the end is really important: that we can “see the work of the elder … as a way in which God allows us to call on and for the Spirit more strongly.”

            I’m coming back to this—

            • jennywebb

              —finishing thought.

              I think Karen points towards a way we need to think about the priesthood throughout this project: in terms of its relationship to the rights and privileges of revelation and role of the Holy Ghost in this process.

              Obviously for Joseph revelation is often a very physical, immediate thing, but I bet if we were to read things carefully, that we’d find traces of the Holy Ghost as ratifying/confirming even those revelatory experiences.

          • I really like this, Karen. I think that the language of the elders holding a “key” to the Holy Ghost is a really useful way to approach this.

    • I’m late commenting, but I totally agree about sealing being, at root, a connection of heaven and earth (or earth and heaven). D&C 128 is so clear on that point at least that I can’t help but see it elsewhere in scripture, too.

      I’m wondering, though, if we are seeing it as the only role of the Holy Ghost? I guess I’m thinking about the word “led” in D&C 20:45. That seems to be a more active role to me. But perhaps I’m being a bit slow here. Perhaps heaven leading mortal meetings is just another way in which heaven and earth are connected, too?

      I’m just as thrilled as Kim with the idea of certificates/licenses being a form of recording, a la D&C 128. Great insight!

      Now back to catching up…

  8. jennywebb

    Ok, I’ve been thinking about this more throughout the day and trying to figure out where it was I thought I was going last evening. We’ll see.

    A few points of context and structure:

    1) Genesis that would eventual lead to section 20 begins with the direction to “rely upon the things which are written” (D&C 18:3–4).

    In other words, during the period in which Joseph takes up the task of figuring out how he is going to create an institutional structure, Oliver is told to tie such organizational projects explicitly back to written texts.

    2) The paratactic structure of D&C 20 itself presents a sort of consistent reworking of this reliance upon written texts. Here’s how I’m breaking down the section:

    A) 1-4 Joseph and Oliver called and ordained as elders according to the grace of Christ

    B) 5-12 History of First Vision, Moroni’s visit, and Book of Mormon translation prove that scriptures are true, God inspires men, and God is the same

    C) 13-16 People will be judged according to how they receive the knowledge of this work

    D) 17-28 By this work we know the nature of God, about the Creation, the Fall, the Messiah, the Atonement, the Resurrection; it is witnessed by the Holy Ghost

    E) 29-36 We know of Christ, justification, sanctification, grace, and temptation; we specifically know of their truth through both scripture already received and revelations (scripture) not yet received but expected

    F) 37 The manner of baptism

    G) 38–67 “The duty of elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the church”

    H) 68–84 How to be a member after baptism

    If we look at each section A-H, there is a gradual increasing emphasis on:
    truth / verification
    ministering angels / revelation
    scripture / words (of God in particular)

    For example (these are admittedly partial and not a close reading):

    “A” begins by situating itself in a very specific, historically verifiable, setting [truth / verification]

    “B” focuses on Joseph’s experience with Moroni, providing personal details and descriptive details [ministering angels / revelation] so that he can receive and translate the Book of Mormon [scripture / words], which is itself “confirmed to others by the ministering of angels” [truth / verification & ministering angels / revelation], ultimately “proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true and that God does inspires men” [scripture / words]

    “C” implies that people will be judged based on their reception specifically of the Book of Mormon [scripture / words] and then ends with the claim that “we, the elders of the church, have heard and bear witness” [truth / verification]

    “D” The plan of salvation is communicated to men through scripture, the plan is made available to all throughout time via “the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost … which beareth record of the Father and Son” [scripture / words & truth / verification & ministering angels / revelation]

    “E” After the discussion of sanctification and justification, this section makes a really interesting turn in verse 35: “And we know that these things are true and according to the revelations of John, neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of his book, the holy scriptures, or the revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God, or the ministering of angels.” I’m putting it all here because it’s this odd combination of appealing to the scriptures to verity the truth of the doctrine just presented, while at the same time asserting that those scriptures are not being added to (doctrinally) or otherwise impoverished by the appearance of additional scripture (section 20), and then ends up defining scriptures as essentially canonically open—open to future revelation from God via the Holy Ghost, God’s voice, or ministering angels. Fascinating! [And, scripture / words & truth / verification & ministering angels / revelation are all at play here together.]

    “F” Baptism is specifically characterized as an act of “witnessing” [truth / verification]

    “G” I’m not going to go into detail here, but only again point out that at the end of this segment, Joseph turns to the issue of licenses and certificates as a form of legitimizing both administrative and what I’ve termed “theological” authority above. (I need a better term for this.) [truth / verification]

    “H” The duties of the member after baptism center around doing things in the correct “order,” repeatedly verifying one’s covenants before the church through a series of actions and ordinances. Intriguingly, the whole of section 20 here culminates in three very specific ordinance prayers: baptism, and the two sacrament prayers. The emphasis on words-as-ordinance is explicit. And then there’s this fascinating kind of denouement in verses 80–84, where members of the church are instructed to keep and record membership lists and records, updated at each conference; they’re also to use signed letters when moving into a new congregation verifying their good standing in the church [scripture / words & truth / verification].

    Ok, I know that was a lot to go through, even quickly, but I hope that it is becoming clear that section 20 as a whole contextualizes both administrative/institutional authority as well as theological/(ordinance?) authority within a network of increasingly textualized themes.

    So, as we are looking specifically at the priesthood duties segment, we should also take into consideration not only the specific instructional duties that are given, but also how those duties reflect an attempt at ordering and organizing the church in the context of or as a reflection of a process of thinking through such organization textually (i.e., first as a thinking of the Book of Mormon’s project, and second, as outlined here, as part of an increasingly thematization of textuality’s relationship to God, His nature, His words and revelations, and ultimately His kingdom).

    • I’m 100% convinced that textuality and scripture are running through D&C 20 (not to mention Joseph’s entire project!) in pretty vital ways. I’m equally convinced that Joseph was interested in teaching others how to replicate and verify his experiential encounter between heaven and earth. I agree that one major role of the Holy Ghost in LDS theology is as a witnessing/sealing/ratifying agent. And I agree that the practical ecclesiastical details of church organization are an attempt to sort out these larger questions.

      Basically, I think I agree that all the themes you lay out are present and important in both D&C 20 and Joseph’s larger theology, but I might disagree with you about how they connect to and interact with the other themes. I say “might” because I’m honestly a little fuzzy on how you see them interacting, and so I’m either experiencing hesitation or confusion about your claims, and I’m not sure which it is.

      At any rate, what’s been most productive for me in your comments so far has been the way you contextualize v. 38-67 by outlining the themes of Joseph’s project and showing that they’re present, in embryo, in D&C 20. It’s going to effect what I’ll have to say on D&C 68:1-5 in fairly obvious ways.

      So, in sum: I’m not sure what it all means, yet, but I like it.

      • jennywebb

        Kim, I’m a little fuzzy on the themes’ interactions too! Right now, in what I worked out above, it was more about just trying to lay out their existence rather than their interactions in section 20. But I think you’re completely right that the more important question here is a “so what”: how are the themes connected and working together and what does this mean, specifically in terms of how it helps us to understand the priesthood?

        • Thanks for all that work you laid out Jenny. I hadn’t caught just how tied to texts D&C 20 was. I had seen the connections with the Book of Mormon, but not the general themes and certainly not to the extent you laid out. Nice, and thanks!

          Also, the fact that ordinances are so word-based really is striking. That words are just as crucial as actions deserves much more thought, at least much more thought than I’ve given it before!

          I don’t know what more to say except I’m going to be hyper-aware of words and texts for the next little while! 🙂

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