13 And now, concerning the items in addition to the covenants and commandments, they are these—
Do you know of any additions to the “covenants and commandments” before this chapter? I did a quick search for “covenants and commandments” and I couldn’t find any other passages talking about additions. If not, then this is a pretty significant moment in Church history! Thoughts on that?
14 There remain hereafter, in the due time of the Lord, other bishops to be set apart unto the church, to minister even according to the first;
I should probably check sources on this, but from just this verse here, it doesn’t appear that the saints knew if the different bishops would have jurisdiction over different areas, or if one bishop would supervise the rest, etc. I guess all they needed to know right away was that God would need more of them. That move does, at the least, signal growth and progress, which is exciting.
15 Wherefore they shall be high priests who are worthy, and they shall be appointed by the First Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood, except they be literal descendants of Aaron.
Why the “wherefore” here? God has just promised them there will be many bishops, maybe this “wherefore” is linked to that? It’s practically impossible to find any direct descendants of Aaron, let alone many! And so God explains His plan for going forward — that high priests can act as bishops?
Also, should we read the emphasis as “wherefore … high priests” or “wherefore … worthy?”
16 And if they be literal descendants of Aaron they have a legal right to the bishopric, if they are the firstborn among the sons of Aaron;
17 For the firstborn holds the right of the presidency over this priesthood, and the keys or authority of the same.
It’s not a great help for me to point this out, but I want to really focus on this point: these verses are talking about right of presidency, not simply right to priesthood. The importance of this distinction hit home when I read Ardis Parshall’s post on priesthood (see especially comment number 32). Reading this text and her post reminds me that I’m not as careful as I think I should be myself in my own discussion of priesthood…
I find it intriguing that God makes certain individuals in charge of very specific things for the entire existence of the human family. D&C 27 lists many of these assignments, such as how Moroni has the “keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim.” Why is that necessary? Or perhaps necessary isn’t the word to use at all – perhaps none of this is more necessary than regulations and policies I set up in order to keep order in my home. But regardless, God assigns certain people very specific roles — and then He sticks to them! I would be tempted to redo those assignments for convenience. But instead He has angels appear and confer keys, He has Moroni take back the plates, and so on. I’m quite taken by that rigidity, myself. It’s one reason I why I really enjoy studying the priesthood.
18 No man has a legal right to this office, to hold the keys of this priesthood, except he be a literal descendant and the firstborn of Aaron.
19 But, as a high priest of the Melchizedek Priesthood has authority to officiate in all the lesser offices he may officiate in the office of bishop when no literal descendant of Aaron can be found, provided he is called and set apart and ordained unto this power, under the hands of the First Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
God is so careful about keeping His word. High priests can only do this when Aaron’s sons aren’t available, and only if God specifically allows for the exception by calling, setting apart, and ordaining.
Here I’m going to share some carefully-worded thoughts about these verses and the temple experience. I like the logic in verses 18-19 that while some particular people have a right to be a bishop, there are others who can assist when those cannot be found, or perhaps whenever not enough of those particular people can be found. (This sounds similar to D&C 20:49, where a priest should — but also, only can — take lead of a meeting when an elder is not present.) Those men can assist because a high priest of the Melchizedek priesthood is in the position to officiate all lesser offices. This man serves by virtue of the Melchizedek priesthood and not by virtue of his lineage. Those normally necessary lineage requirements are bypassed in this case.
This process is only valid however when those high priests are called, set apart, and given power specific to that office of bishop. It’s as if the authority lies dormant already, but it is only awakened or quickened by a very specific authorizing process. (This is somewhat similar to the need of a priest to get permission to perform the sacrament. He has the authority to do so by virtue of his office, but he doesn’t have the authorization to use that authority without permission from the bishop or branch president.)
So, this brings me to the temple. All participants in the endowment receive power associated with the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, even though not everyone is actually involved in these priesthoods outside of the temple. The language is specific that they are even authorized to act or officiate in (and not just receive) ordinances of those priesthoods. It would appear that the temple and the Church contradict at this moment. But I don’t see how those words could be overlooked, so I have to assume that something more intricate is going on here.
If we take verse 19 as a model (and please tell me if I’m being unfair to do so), then I wonder if we could see things in this way. All participants of the temple endowment have been given authority to officiate in Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthood ordinances. But in general, it seems, no individual is ever authorized to use priesthood authority without permission. (I think that often that permission comes in the form of ordination to a specific office; that office designates specific assignments in which they are authorized to use their priesthood authority.) Many endowed members have authority who are not currently authorized to use their authority, and won’t be unless or until they are “called and set apart and ordained unto this power” — for a specific assignment, I think.
This may be one way of explaining women’s relationship to priesthood ordinances. Currently, they receive these ordinances (allowing for salvation and exaltation – the real goal of priesthood work, or course) but they do not officiate in those ordinances. Maybe someday women, when or if needed, will also be authorized to use their authority by being given a specific calling to do so. In that case, they too might bypass the normal lineage requirements (being a male?) by a very specific authorizing process. They would serve not by virtue of priesthood office, as is normally the case, but by virtue of their endowed priesthood authority.
And maybe that’s already seen in part, such as when women officiate in the initiatory ordinances without being first ordained to a priesthood office. They serve by virtue of being called, set apart, and ordained to the power specific to that assignment. But they are not authorized to use their endowed priesthood authority in any other setting. (These ideas are similar in many ways to Elder Oaks’s last conference talk, and I’m quite curious to know if I’m on the same wavelength or not.)
Let’s just say that I’m dying to hear your thoughts!
20 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.
21 But, by virtue of the decree concerning their right of the priesthood descending from father to son, they may claim their anointing if at any time they can prove their lineage, or do ascertain it by revelation from the Lord under the hands of the above named Presidency.
This clarification is nice: everyone who acts in a priesthood office or ordinance must be authorized to do so, even if that person has a legal right to it by his lineage. This seems a general doctrine of the priesthood, then: a person who has priesthood authority must also be authorized to use that authority by ordination unto the power specific to an assignment.
Thoughts? What things have I overlooked that would change or reshape this picture of priesthood and priesthood authority?