D&C 68:13-21

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.

For example:

 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?




Filed under D&C 68

19 responses to “D&C 68:13-21

  1. jennywebb

    Karen, I’ve just had time to skim through quickly before church, and I just have to say I’m excited! You’ve brought out a lot to think about, and I can’t wait to mull it over and get back here.

    One quick thought responding to your first point about “in addition to the covenants and commandments”: in a certain sense, this qualifier affects the rest of the section, doesn’t it? That is, the covenants and commandments are primary (i.e., the gospel is primary), but the specific structuring and implementation of institutional organization is “in addition to” that gospel. That “in addition to”-ness would seem to imply that such structures are explicitly not eternal (they are not commandments; they are not covenants) and thus open to change. But, as you point out later on, there is something going on here in terms of God’s specificity and rigidity in prescribing this structure. So there’s a balance between the structure being specifically proscribed and the caveat that this proscription is simultaneously rigid (in its specificity) *and* flexible (in its additional nature).

    Can’t wait to really dive in! Thanks!

  2. That’s a good point Jenny, I like that sense of “in addition to.” I’m looking forward to our discussion!

  3. I’m going to spend the next several days digging more into the text, but I have at least a few initial responses. (Numbered, as always, because of my penchant for superficial organization.)

    1.) “Wherefore” (D&C 68:15)

    I don’t really know what to do with this word for several reasons:

    a) My sense is that modern scripture (BoM, D&C, PoGP) doesn’t seem to distinguish very strictly between “wherefore” and “therefore.”
    b) I’m tempted to read it as very general in this instance, referring to all of v. 13-14 and logically predicated on the text having introduced a topic rather than any particular element within those verses. Something like: “because I’ve introduced this topic, let’s go on and explain the rules governing the bishops’ ordination.”
    c) I can also see a case to be made for “wherefore” emphasizing the “high priest” aspect more specifically, since priests are those who minister, and this explains why high priests, in particular, are drawn on for the office of “minister[ing]” as bishop. I don’t actually find this reading very convincing, in the end, but it’s fun to play with.
    d) My brain gets really confused around “therefores” and “wherefores.”

    2.) Lineage

    What’s so remarkable about these verses, I think, is the way it interweaves questions of lineage with questions of priesthood, and you’ve pointed that out nicely.

    I particularly liked the way you phrased this: “This man serves by virtue of the Melchizedek priesthood and not by virtue of his lineage.” It’s almost as if the priesthood can give you an “in” to a certain lineage you wouldn’t otherwise have.

    This theme comes up later in your post, in your analogy between lineage and maleness–both are something one is either born into or else categorically excluded from, again by birth. And yet the priesthood offers the possibility to transcend those lines, but always and only in the name of performing a particular work.

    I’m reminded of the ambiguities about how we, as Gentiles, are supposedly adopted into the House of Israel through the work of taking the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites. Once again, in the name of performing a certain task, we can transcend family lines. And if that parallel is worth anything, it’s certainly very interesting that this chapter opens on the topic of missionary work!

    3.) Women/temple/priesthood

    That’s how I’ve always understood it.

  4. On “wherefore” –
    I like Kim’s reading in 1.b. While not as precise as I’d like scripture to be, it is honestly the sense I usually get when I see that word in scripture. 🙂

  5. As proof that I am actually working on this, I’ve decided to post my thoughts in small chunks. Today I did some really minor historical research (I also ordered Greg Prince’s Power From on High, which should arrive in a couple weeks…), and found a few contextual details that ought to be mentioned.

    In November 1831, Joseph had just returned from Missouri, and as a response to apostates publishing copies of his revelations in the newspapers, he called a conference to discuss having the Church print the revelations, as well. Section 68 was received in conjunction with that conference at the request of Orson Hyde, Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and William E. McLellin.

    Verses 1-13 were revealed sometime between November 1-3, verses 22-35 were revealed on November 11, and verses 15-21 (most of our current chunk) were added by Joseph Smith in preparation for the 1835 edition. This is why these verses feel somewhat anachronistic–they reflect later information about the Melchizedek Priesthood and the organization of the First Presidency which wasn’t known back in 1831.

    We also ought to keep in mind that, although Joseph had been aware of a split between Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods ever since the arrival of John the Baptist, that split hadn’t yet been made explicit or systematic. This revelation was given five months after the infamous June 1831 conference, and so the idea of a “high priesthood” had now been introduced, but it didn’t yet look anything like what we think of today as the Melchizedek Priesthood.

    Prior to 1831, men were called to a specific office (elder, priest, teacher) and given “authority.” The higher priesthood, when dispensed in June 1831, was considered a kind of supplemental authority added in addition to the prior ordination.

    • Awesome details Kim, and very helpful — especially that last bit about a higher priesthood being seen as something added in addition to offices. That gives me a lot to think about.

  6. And since history brings out my inner pragmatist, here are a few practical questions about this section that we probably can’t answer, ultimately, but I’m curious if you have any thoughts about:

    1.) Why are we only talking about the Aaronic priesthood, here? Why don’t we get a parallel logic about certain rights of the Melchizedek priesthood belonging to literal descendants of Melchizedek?

    2.) Do we have any evidence of this verse ever being practically applied?

    3.) v. 19 says that a high priest can serve as bishop only “when no literal descendant of Aaron can be found.” Doesn’t that imply that we’re supposed to be actively looking for Aaron’s descendants, rather than passively waiting for one to show up and assert his right?

    • We do have an answer to number 1, at least in part. (But I have nothing to say about 2 or 3, except that I have the same questions.) D&C 107:40 talks about lineage and Melchizedek priesthood:

      The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.

      I’m excited to figure that all out when we get there. 🙂 For now, I think the question might be, why isn’t there talk of rights to Melchizedek priesthood here, along side talk of rights to Aaronic? The best answer I have is a practical one: we’re just talking about bishops here, so that’s all that needs to come up. Other thoughts?

      (Although, I haven’t looked closely enough to figure out if D&C 68 is talking about rights to presidency, whereas D&C 107 is talking about rights to priesthood generally… )

  7. On “lineage” (Kim’s number 2 from August 11) –
    I really liked these words Kim: “And yet the priesthood offers the possibility to transcend those lines, but always and only in the name of performing a particular work.” I think the gospel (to use that word very imprecisely) does this generally too! The gospel opens up the possibility of transcending all sorts of boundaries, but it also requires order and rigidity as well. Baptism for the dead transcends boundaries that to an outsider would appear absolutely impossible to transcend. But, it also has to be done in a very specific way or else it is invalid. The radical undo-ing of rules and boundaries is coupled with unbending regulation. That’s something worth thinking more about.

  8. Also, more specific to your #2 on lineage, I think this is very much connected to other places in scripture where family lines are crossed over. Abraham 2:10-11 work this out a bit. The priesthood rightly belongs to Abraham’s literal descendants, and yet all those who receive the gospel are “accounted” Abraham’s seed. How does this work out exactly? I think we’ll learn a lot in the next few sections.

    I like your idea though that we transcend that family line when we are empowered to perform a certain work. I’d never thought about it that way before. That might explain why scriptures can sometimes describe the same group as both Gentiles and Israel. I’d previously thought that in that case Gentile meant literal lineage and Israel was their adopted lineage that began at the moment they received the gospel. But I’m intrigued at the idea that Gentiles become (or at least, more fully become?) Israel when they are given specific assignments that otherwise would only belong to members of the House of Israel. I guess I had seen it the other way around: we are adopted into Israel, and then permitted to do the work. But now I’m wondering if we are called to do a certain work, and then because that work belongs to certain group/family, we are adopted into the family doing that work. Hmm. Anyway, interesting ideas! 🙂

  9. Here are a few more thoughts/questions (mostly questions) to chew on:

    I’m intrigued by the heavy emphasis on literality and legality in these verses. We’re told to look for “literal descendants of Aaron” (as opposed to… what? Figurative descendants of Aaron?) and frequently told that these descendants have a “legal” right to the office of bishop. What are these two terms emphasizing? How are literality and legality different? How are they the same? Strictly speaking, “literal” always deals with a text, so are we looking for people who can prove on paper that they’re from Aaron’s line? Although “literal” descent seems to translate pretty cleanly into “legal” right (again, as opposed to what? Illegal right?), the two terms are used pretty consistently. “Literal” always deals with questions of descent or lineage, and “legal” always deals with questions of officiating or a particular office. I suspect that there’s something crucial happening with this language, but I can’t suss it out. Any ideas?

    As a side note, the word “literal” only occurs 12x in the D&C, and it’s always in reference to Aaron’s descendants, using practically identical language to what we have here. It looks like these verses are drawn directly from D&C 107, and once we get there we should probably do a thorough comparison with this text to see what emerges.

    And here’s my thoroughly speculative suspicion about all this lineage business: because we’re dealing with “descendants of Aaron,” I can’t help but think that all this is tied up with expectations about “the sons of Levi.” I wonder if this chapter anticipates a millennial day when Old Jerusalem and New Jerusalem are operating alongside one another, when Gentiles and Israelites are entwined a bit more explicitly and literally than they are now. It almost feels as if D&C 68 is proactively outlining how to organize the church when there are people of a certain lineage with legitimate claims to church offices. So that’s a thought.

    Oh! And one more thing! Karen pointed out in the original post that the logic of this section feels similar to D&C 20:49. I agree. I think it’s interesting that so much of the texts that deal with the pragmatic details of priesthood organization seems to be dedicated to filling in when people are missing. Priesthood: a structured place-holding as we wait to minister to the rightful holders of an office? As we wait to minister to the true King?

    • Good morning Kim! I’ve been doing a bit of looking around at where exactly this decree comes from. The best I’ve found so far is Exodus 40:12-15. I’m trying to play around with meanings of “literal” to answer your question, but I haven’t thought of anything better than yours. I tried “according to that which is written” (ie, they are descendants in the way described in a text?) but I’m not sure that really works out. I like your idea of having a written proof of lineage. I had never thought of literal descendant in that way before but it’s definitely an idea to play around with. It kind of fits with verse 21: “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.” I think that implies that some do actually have a written genealogy to prove their lineage?

    • I have a few more minutes now. I assume that “legal” means “according to the law” as in, God’s decrees? Not sure though, and it is interesting to think of the opposites of these words (figurative vs. literal? illegal vs. legal?). How interesting that the only places that the word “literal” comes up are in connection with Aaron’s descendants!

      I really like your idea that this text and others are preparing the Church so that at a future time, we can coexist with the Old Jerusalem priesthood and a New Jerusalem priesthood (or something like that.) That’s really an interesting way to look at all of this! Thanks!

  10. Came across this quote from Brant Gardner this morning, and it seemed relevant to our discussion. This is from his commentary on Alma 13:3:

    “[Alma] establishes … priests’ agency. … The blessing of becoming a priest is not universal. It is restricted to those who have chosen righteousness and exercised great faith. To them is given a holy calling, or the priesthood.
    This argument is fascinating coming from one claiming historical and religious descent from the Hebrews. The Hebrew priesthood known from the post-Mosaic religion was lineage based, not the agency-based priesthood Alma is describing. It appears that the Melchizedek Priesthood differed in this way from the Aaronic (Levitical) Priesthood. Levitical priesthood was bestowed on condition of inheritance, Melchizedek on condition of individual righteousness. Alma implies that the Nephites functioned under this agency-based priesthood.” (4:214)

    • Hmm, that is an interesting quotation. I’m not sure that I agree with the conclusion, but I think he is right to point out the problem of a person working under the law of Moses describing priesthood as agency-based. I’ve got to think about that more. Thanks for pulling out that quotation!

    • So, are you suggesting that the Nephites bypassed the need for lineage like D&C 68 outlines as possible? Is that why they can officiate in the ordinances of Old Testament temple without being Levites? That would be a nice reading of the Book of Mormon situation!

      • I’m not suggesting anything, but I think Gardner would agree with that. It does explain a lot, in some ways…

      • Though I should also mention that we have biblical instances of non-Levites offering sacrifice (Gideon, like Lehi, is from Manasseh and offered sacrifice in Judg 6:24-26). One possible solution to the apparent discrepancy is to note, with most biblical scholars, that the priestly literature and the Deuteronomistic history were both post-exilic, and that one or both groups retroactively introduced the idea that only Aaron’s descendants could perform sacrifices.

        A uniquely LDS explanation I’ve encountered (which is quite similar to Gardner’s, in some ways) is that the Nephites operated under the Melchizedek priesthood rather than the Aaronic, and this makes their temple operation legitimate.

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