D&C 84 – Historical Background

Over the past few weeks I’ve been slowly making my way through Greg Prince’s Power From on High (available free online here), which is one of the few books offering anything like a schematic of priesthood development during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. I purchased the book because I felt weak in historical context for some of the theological developments we’ve been discussing, but I don’t have the resources, time, or historical know-how to mine the primary sources myself. Instead, I’ve been relying on Prince’s overarching framework for priesthood development, and assuming that you will find it as useful as I have, I want to use part of this post to outline his argument. My hope is that this will help fill in some of the historical gaps between the scant references to priesthood in the D&C, and further situate us as I then go on to discuss the specific context of Section 84.

Greg Prince’s Taxonomy

Prince traces the development of the priesthood through five phases:

  1. Implied Authority (Sept 1823 – March 1829)
  2. Angelic Authority (April 1829 – Oct 1830)
  3. High Priesthood (Dec 1830 – Nov 1831)
  4. Organizational Consolidation (Nov 1831 – March 1836)
  5. Elijah and the Fullness of Priesthood (April 1836 – April 1844)

In the first phase, neither Joseph Smith nor his followers laid claim to any direct divine authorization. Although it was clear that Joseph had a kind of calling, his authority to perform that calling was merely implicit in the successful translation and publication of The Book of Mormon.

In April 1829, however, with the arrival of Oliver Cowdery, claim to divine authority became explicit, albeit through a very specific narrative: the reception of angelic messengers, with a particular focus on Joseph and Oliver’s angelically-appointed authority to baptize. Although the messengers would not be named until 1835, and although this authority was not yet referred to as “priesthood,” Joseph and Oliver built on their new authority by constructing the early church out of the blueprint provided in The Book of Mormon.

It is only in the third phase, and in conjunction with the infamous June 1831 conference, that the word “priesthood” finally entered Mormon usage. Anticipating a promised “endow[ment]” of “power from on high” (D&C 38:32–33), Joseph ordained several elders to a new order of authority. That order was called both “the Order of Melchizedek” (drawing on Alma 13 and JST Genesis 14) and “the High Priesthood” (drawing again on Alma 13), although Prince hastens to note that neither term carried anything like their modern LDS definition. The term “Melchizedek Priesthood” would not be used until 1835, and “High Priesthood” was clarified in the following months to indicate only the particular office of high priest, which was established that October. It appears that the 1831 ordination was simply understood as some sort of extra authority beyond what the saints already possessed, and the elders drew on scriptural precedent in order to name this nebulous power, which remained somewhat ill-defined and ill-organized until the following year.

The fourth phase of “organizational consolidation” is where Prince places D&C 84. In this phase, which began shortly after the June 1831 conference and which culminated in the hierarchical seating of the Kirtland temple, the formal structure of priesthood organization began to develop. This coincided with a centralization of authority in which the church presidency was outlined, followed by the high council and the traveling high council.

Prince’s fifth and final phase of priesthood development was inaugurated by the appearance of Elijah at the Kirtland temple, who, it was prophesied, would “reveal … the Priesthood” (see D&C 2:1). From this period on, Elijah became the dominant figure in priesthood theology and the priesthood was understood in terms of its ability to seal the living and the dead and perform vicarious ordinances on behalf of the deceased. It was this topic that preoccupied Joseph Smith until his death in 1844.

All told, Prince gives a good sense for the uncertainty and improvisation with which the early saints undertook the task of restoring the priesthood. I find that uncertainty doubly encouraging—first because it suggests that my sense of floundering through the D&C is partly due to the ambiguities inherent in inchoate priesthood theology, and second because that leaves us lots of room to creatively explore the several possibilities in these texts.

Of course, one of the richest of these texts is the one we’re about to begin studying.

D&C 84: Historical Background

Section 84 was revealed in September 1832 (about one year after D&C 68), a few weeks after Joseph relocated his family from Hiram to Kirtland so that he could be more involved in the day-to-day activities of the church. The family was housed on the second floor above Newel K. Whitney’s store, which included a handful of other rooms dedicated to the work of the church. Around this same time, several elders began to return from their missions to the eastern United States. Joseph reports that “the elders … present[ed] the histories of their several steward[d]ships in the Lord’s vineyard; and while together in these seasons of Joy, I enquired of the Lord and received [section 84].”

The date of D&C 84 indicates that it was dictated over the course of two days (September 22–23, 1832). Prince makes a great deal of this information, using it to imply that the revelation can almost be treated as two halves:

… the revelation was given to two groups of men over a two-day period—seven elders on 22 September and “Eleven high Priests save one” the following day—and for two separate purposes—“explaining the two priesthoods” and “commissioning the Apostles to preach the gospel.” (Power From on High, 27)

Although all three existing manuscript copies show a break between v. 102–103, suggesting some sort of pause in the dictation, it is unlikely that this justifies so clean a thematic division as Prince supposes. For one, the supposed shift in audience from “Joseph Smith, Jun., and six elders” (D&C 84:1) to “eleven high priests save one” (originally in D&C 84:42, but removed prior to publication) occurs well before the break between v. 102–103. Additionally, the two purposes for the revelation cited by Prince occur in the index to the Kirtland revelation book; they are not part of Section 84 itself.

Rather, the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers Documents volume explain that the dictation “most likely beg[an] the evening of 22 September and continu[ed] into the early morning hours of 23 September,” with the break between v. 102–103 indicative of a less significant interruption than Prince supposes. They agree that “the eleven high priests save one” denotes a shift in audience, but the specific identities of these priests or why the shift occurred where it did remain unclear. The editors also suggest, however, that the phrase “eleven high priests save one” is meant to identify these priests with the eleven apostles to whom Jesus spoke following his resurrection, since both groups received similar instructions and promises regarding their upcoming mission to the nations.

Two of Joseph’s summer projects from 1832 seem to have played an influential role in the particular shape taken by D&C 84. One of these projects was his translation of the Bible. During the summer months prior to this revelation, Joseph completed revisions on both Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7. To Genesis 14 he added further reflections on the priestly role of Melchizedek and “the order of the Son of God.” Although his revisions to Hebrews 7 were less substantial, it appears that he also found this chapter particularly instructive since, like D&C 84, Hebrews 7 mentions two priesthoods, one associated with Aaron and another associated with Melchizedek.

The second project Joseph undertook in the summer of 1832 was to write his history—the only account of the foundational events of the restoration that includes his own handwriting. In it, Joseph begins to reflect on the reception of the priesthood, attempting to synthesize his various messengers and manifestations over the years. He lists the events of the Restoration as follows:

  • “Firstly he receiving the testimony from on high”
  • “Secondly the ministering of angels”
  • “Thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministering of Angels to administer the letter of the Gospel—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—and the ordinances”
  • “Fourthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God [and] power and ordinance from on high to preach the gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit.”

It’s clear that Joseph understood himself to hold two authorities—one that allowed him to administer the gospel (#3) and one that allowed him to preach the gospel (#4). Prince claims that this this second authority refers not to the Melchizedek priesthood as modern Latter-day Saints understand it, but instead denotes the specific office of high priest. This argument is consistent with Joseph’s further clarification that the “high Priesthood” appointed him “to preach the gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit,” which agrees with previous revelations about the responsibilities of high priests. It is also important to note that although the stage is set to formulate two distinct types of priesthood authority, Joseph did not arrange them in anything like a hierarchical relationship until D&C 84.

Continuing the trajectory begun earlier that summer, D&C 84 introduces two separate authorities and associates them with well-known biblical figures. This revelation not only expanded the meaning of “priesthood” and brought it into dialogue with biblical tradition, but it also clarified for the first time how the priesthood was related to the offices of elder, priest, and teacher. For the first time in church history, some offices were now made subordinate to others. Prince cautions that D&C 84 is particularly confusing on this point, however, because it deals with three terms—“holy priesthood,” “high priesthood,” and “lesser priesthood.” The first two, he says, are interchangeable, and still refer to the specific office of high priest, while the third references the office of (regular) priest. Into this split framework the revelation inserts other offices, for the first time arranging them hierarchically. The office of high priest (“high priesthood”) comes equipped with two subordinate “appendages,” the offices of elder and bishop (D&C 84:19), while the office of priest (“lesser priesthood”) comes equipped with the two “appendages” of teacher and deacon (D&C 84:20). Although the terms “Aaronic Priesthood” and “Melchizedek Priesthood” would not be introduced until 1835, still three years in the future, section 84 begins to move in that direction by associating the offices of priest and high priest with the figures of Aaron and Melchizedek, respectively.

It’s clear that Section 84 is a landmark revelation, easily the most comprehensive and systematic treatment of LDS priesthood theology available until 1835. It is with D&C 84, in particular, that priesthood becomes less a question of mere church administration and begins to reflect on Joseph Smith’s larger mission—and indeed the task of Mormonism as a whole—to “sanctify [the] people that they might behold the face of God” (D&C 84:23).


Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 202-203.

Matthew C. Godfrey, “A Culmination of Learning: D&C 84 and the Doctrine of the Priesthood,” in You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants (ed. Richard O. Cowan; Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2012).

Matthew C. Godfrey, Mark Ashurst-McGee, et. al., eds., Documents: Volume 2 (Joseph Smith Papers; Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 289-292.

Gregory A. Prince, Power From on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 1-45.




Filed under D&C 84

27 responses to “D&C 84 – Historical Background

  1. Kim, it’s delightful to work with you on this project! Thanks for all of your work!

    First, I also find Prince’s outline of the developing understanding of priesthood very encouraging and helpful! It does make more sense of what we’ve read so far. I also find myself very grateful for D&C 84 and how it beings to reveal priesthood work beyond duties within the Church.

    Second, I really like the reference (later taken out) to “eleven high priests save one” and I like the little analysis by the JSP project team. I don’t know how it meshes with the original introduction saying there were 6 besides Joseph, but I’m sure there are all sorts of ways that can be explained. But mostly I like the connections with the New Testament that it brings out.

    Third, it is so helpful to know about those summer projects. Thanks!! I was fascinated by Joseph Smith’s list of events and it’s something I want to hang on to. And I think Hebrews will help a lot as we get into the verses of this section.

    Fourth, I want to think more about the split between administering the gospel and preaching the gospel. Even today, missionary work is considered a Melchizedek priesthood responsibility, even if it is elders and not necessarily high priests preaching. I remember we talked a lot about the elders’ relationship to the Holy Ghost when we discussed D&C 20. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but could there be something to say in priests, teachers, and deacons administering according to pre-established laws and commandments, but elders and high priests adapting messages according to the Spirit for particular audiences? Obviously everyone should be working under the direction of the Spirit, but I’m just thinking about preaching versus administering, and wondering if the Spirit plays a greater role in preaching than administering? (And I don’t mean here administering as in a ward council, I mean administering ordinances and so forth, like Joseph Smith described in his four-part list: “administer the letter of the Gospel—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—and the ordinances.”)

    Fifth, I like the idea that D&C 84 first puts the priesthoods themselves in a hierarchy, but I don’t know that it was the first time any offices were put in a hierarchical relationship. When D&C 20 laid out the offices as understood to that point, was there a sort of hierarchy among the offices? The priest assists the elder and the deacon assists the teacher, at the least. What are your thoughts Kim? You’ve read much more than I have.

    Sixth, I’m curious about the development of calling the higher priesthood the “Melchizedek Priesthood.” We don’t have that term in the Book of Mormon so I’m going to watch curiously as that develops. 🙂

    And finally, seventh, I am really really excited for this development in D&C 84:
    It is with D&C 84, in particular, that priesthood becomes less a question of mere church administration and begins to reflect on Joseph Smith’s larger mission—and indeed the task of Mormonism as a whole—to “sanctify [the] people that they might behold the face of God” (D&C 84:23).

    We’ve looked at that task in Alma and I’m excited to see its development in our own Church history.

    Thanks again Kim!

    • To your fifth point, about whether or not D&C 20 begins to lay out a hierarchical relationship between the offices: yeah, that’s what I suggested in my post on D&C 20, and I think I want to stand by that. There are certain ways in which, even as early as 1830, we can begin to see the offices being divided into two groups and some hierarchical elements between them.

      But I think that things are still really complex and hazy that early in the D&C, and that the offices overlap in complex ways. Additionally, there seems to be enough confusion among the early saints about how the various offices relate to suggest that no one really experienced their office in a strongly hierarchical relationship relative to other offices. For example, I, as a Gospel Doctrine teacher, can also function in my capacity as a visiting teacher without worrying about which calling is more important or how they relate. There may be clues buried deep in scripture about the way these two callings function, but in my lived experience, I’m simply too busy to bother with it. That’s the sense I get for priesthood offices in the early church.

      So the beginnings in D&C 20 are just that–beginnings.

      (HUGE caveat: I’m not a historian. I could be WAY off base. But you asked for my sense, so…)

      • Your example of Gospel Doctrine teacher and visiting teacher makes sense. I actually really like seeing priesthood offices in a more lateral, less hierarchical way. Since we’ve added ages into the priesthood (deacons are younger than priests, and so forth), it’s almost impossible for us to see the priesthood offices as equally important. There’s a part of me that pines for a time when the offices were more readily recognized as simply having separate assignments that were all as necessary in their own way as the assignments of another office.

        (Side note: when I taught the Joseph Fielding Smith lesson on D&C 84, it seemed to me that he was very concerned to help the saints see the offices as equal, even when they are put into a hierarchical structure. For example, he said one of the great goals was to have priests doing the work of priests, elders doing the work of elders, and so forth. If each group wasn’t already doing their proper work, was it because they assumed duties of some offices were less necessary because they were lower in the hierarchy?)

        (I could also add lots of thoughts from Ranciere here about how hierarchies only really work when we assume equality, but I’ll leave those out for now. 🙂 )

        • Are you kidding me? Talk about Ranciere! Please! You’re our resident Ranciere expert, and that sounds fascinating. Give me more!

          • Okay, brief point to start. The whole idea behind being an “ignorant schoolmaster” is that you are a master not by virtue of having more intelligence, but simply by a structured situation. The structure almost has to be artificial, or arbitrary, to really work. The master has to see her or himself as equal to the student. When both the student and master see themselves as equal, then the call of the master to “pay attention” to the assignment or whatever is their “thing in common” has more effect. If the student constantly assumes they are inferior to the master, then there is the temptation to just wait until the master explains it to them. (Emancipation is when the student comes to realize they don’t have to wait to be explained to, and that there is always something they can think or say about the thing in common. Of course, that requires that the master actually gives them a thing in common, and asks questions that don’t have a specific, definite answer that only the master can validate.)

            Anyway, the point is, when both individuals recognize the equality of intelligence, then they both see the hierarchical structure for what it is. It allows a master to impose their will on the will of another, rather than their intelligence on the intelligence of another.

            Ranciere points out that when a hierarchy of intelligence is created (rather than an artificial hierarchy) it has to be based on a justification of superiority and inferiority — I am the master because I know more or have greater intelligence and you are the student because you know less or have inferior intelligence. Power must be justified to keep the hierarchy in place. But, if a student realizes that the master does not in fact have greater knowledge or greater intelligence, then hierarchical structure begins to crumble and the master loses his or her power. The student no longer has someone imposing intelligence or will upon him or her, and learning ceases.

            This can get us into trouble in the Church, if we think that so-in-so has a particular calling because that person is inherently more spiritual than me. If that person makes what appears to us to be a mistake or something immoral, then we can began to question their spiritual superiority. Then we begin to question that person’s position within the hierarchy, and we no longer accept the imposition of will or decisions that come from that calling.

            Of course, to really work appropriately, the person in the calling also needs to recognize the spiritual equality (or intellectual equality, I don’t know that those are so separate in the end) of those serving “under” her or him within the hierarchy. I think when this is done right then spiritual growth occurs, in parallel to the learning that occurs within Ranciere’s model.

            Hope that’s a helpful start. 🙂

            • (If you’re looking to read where Ranciere talks specifically on how this works in a society, try pages 71-73 beginning with the heading “Community of Equals” in the The Ignorant Schoolmaster.)

            • That is actually *super* helpful. Thanks, Karen!

              The thought occurs to me: what if we were to understand the (lack of) priesthood structure in the early church (phases 1-3) as intentional, then? That is, rather than seeing Joseph kind of haphazardly make things up as he goes along, gradually consolidating power until he’s at the top of a great Mormon pyramid scheme, perhaps God purposefully revealed the priesthood in a way allows for the saints to experience it as non-hierarchical for several years. Then, by the time the complete hierarchy is finally revealed, the arbitrariness of that hierarchy is fully revealed, as simply one response to the needs of the kingdom at the time. Perhaps the early “lateral” priesthood was thus intentional, instead of being a watered-down, waiting-for-further-revelation, proto-version of the other? That’s the direction your Ranciere synopsis has me thinking in, anyway.

              And I like that picture, in some ways, because of the warning in D&C 121 about decoupling priesthood and power. The second a hierarchy is no longer seen as arbitrary, it becomes a question of power and situating oneself in a certain power network. Perhaps D&C 121 is reminding us to relate to priesthood hierarchy in an emancipated way?

              Additionally, there might be some implications here for navigating the needs of ministering and administration…

              So, more to think about here, I guess. Are there other ways in which Ranciere is helpful for thinking about priesthood? What strikes you?

              • I like the idea of D&C 121 warning us against turning things into the wrong sort of hierarchy. I think that’s a very good reading! Your comment makes me think of D&C 107:21 – “Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.” I like the phrase “of necessity”. I want to hear it as: It was necessary to have leaders for practical reasons, but not because they were of a different type or superior.

                I have a few thoughts on Ranciere but I’m going to add them in response to Candice’s comment below…

  2. Karen, your fourth point has really got me stewing. I wonder if we shouldn’t devote a lot of our comments here to discussing that quotation from Joseph Smith’s history.

    As I studied it some more yesterday, it struck me that the word “minister” appears several times, in various forms throughout the excerpt: “secondly the ministering of angels,” “…by the ministering of angels to administer the letter of the Gospel…” and “to preach the gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit.”

    So while you think further about the difference between administering the gospel and preaching the gospel, I want to think further about the difference between ministering and administering more generally.

    Obviously “administer” is the same word as “minister,” with the addition of the Latin prefix “ad-” or “to.” (It has a more pointed direction, or something?) To begin to tease out the distinction, I checked the Webster 1828 dictionary, and while both words obviously have a lot of overlap in their definitions, “administer” seems to have an almost legal component to it. For instance, where “minister” means most basically “to serve,” “administer” means “to serve or manage” and also “to act as a minister or chief agent, in managing public affairs, under laws or a constitution of government.”

    What I find so striking about all this is that Joseph himself seems to suggest an almost legal component that constrains how he “administers” the gospel. He says the angels gave him the priesthood “to administer the letter of the Gospel–the Law and commandments as they were given unto him.” Joseph is to administer the strict “letter” of the gospel, and that is immediately clarified as “the Law,” and only “as they were given unto him.”

    It almost seems as if to minister carries a wide-ranging sense of charity. It’s somewhat directionless, somewhat unrestrained in how it seeks to bless. To administer, however, is more pointed, more restricted. You operate under a preestablished structure.

    Even that doesn’t fully articulate the difference I sense between these, so I need to give it a lot more thought. And then, of course, there’s the “administration … of the spirit” to think about, etc.

    One further thought before I go back to my ruminating: I found the phrase “as they were given unto him” striking on its own terms, because it reminded me so forcefully of the endowment. I’m drawing a lot on what Joe has to say about all this, but the general idea is that our endowment reflects Joseph Smith’s personal endowment, which nicely explains some of the anachronisms (Peter, James, and John coming to Adam and Eve) and perhaps even some of the masonic elements. Joseph’s authorization was only to pass on what was given to him, and so he gave us exactly what he received, in all its specificity and historical/contextual weakness. The particularities of our endowment may not indicate that Joseph Smith is a charlatan (blatantly stealing from masonry to cover up polygamy), but rather demonstrate his humility and a commendable exactness in administering the ordinances precisely as they were given to him, even if his own weakness and historical situation demanded that they take a certain form. It may be that the endowment does reflect Joseph’s weakness, not in the sense that he “made it all up,” but in the sense that God had to speak to him in a very particular way. That Joseph would pass it on exactly, even if it might reveal just how weak his understanding was, or just how peculiarly he had to be taught, is remarkable.

  3. Kim: I’m just beginning to sort out the grammatical difference between administer and minister, so I’m adding this as a separate comment rather than a response to all the thought you put into your last comment. I found a couple of sources that might be helpful, or interesting, at the least!

    This is a document from 1826 in Virginia trying to figure out the roles of Minister and preacher in the Methodist church. The link will jump right to the page I found interesting: http://books.google.com/books?id=HVhNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA133&lpg=PA133&dq=what+is+the+difference+between+minister+and+administer?&source=bl&ots=BvAEW1Eort&sig=cABYxV-KUn0YBf3xZISizSqIVLk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-WAlVMSSKcmfyATqm4FY&ved=0CEwQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

    This is a website for common English mistakes: http://www.beedictionary.com/common-errors/administer_vs_minister

    And I’m not sure how much weight to give this site, but the responses were still somewhat helpful: http://community.write.com/topic/1122-administer-or-minister/

    • The main sense I’m getting is that “administer” means to “mete out” or “distribute.” So when someone administers in the Church, they are giving out or distributing something they’ve been assigned to distribute, such as the sacrament, ordinances generally, and so forth. I think even Joseph Smith’s language of “administration … of the Spirit” makes sense in this way. He preached according to the Spirit which was meted out or given to him. I’m thinking of Alma 17 (“they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them”) or D&C 71 (“expounding the mysteries thereof out of the scriptures, according to that portion of Spirit and power which shall be given unto you, even as I will.”) I can see “administration” of the Spirit meaning “that portion of the Spirit that was meted out to me.”

      Also, I checked etymology of minister in the Merriam-Webster, and it said it came from a word which meant “servant” and is related to “minor” or “smaller.” It offered to translate it to Spanish for me so I gave that a try: in Spanish, “minister” translates to “cuidar” (to take care of) or “atender a” (to attend to). But interestingly “administer” translates to “administrar” (to manage) and there’s no etymological relationship with minister.

      • Thanks, Karen. I definitely agree with your understanding of “administration … of the Spirit.” That’s how I’m reading it, at least. But overall, I still don’t know quite what to make of these words.

        I found your first link interesting, too, because it seems to equate the Ministry with administration. For instance, it refers to “the office of Minister, or the authority of administering the Ordinances as Local Preacher,” and again to “the office of the Ministry, to administer Baptism.” So perhaps in the context of the day there wasn’t a lot of functional difference between the terms. Not sure what to make of it, ultimately, but it was a fun read. Thanks!

        • Yah, me neither, but it was fun. 🙂 In fact, I thought it was actually opposite of Joseph’s structure in some ways. For them a preacher was lower than someone who administers ordinances, but for Joseph preaching was added to his ability to administer baptism, etc. I just found it fun to see someone else trying to riddle things out like us, but in the time of Joseph Smith. I think everyone was trying to figure all of this out then.

          (Tangent: have you ever read the Smoot hearing minutes? Whoo! What a read. I found a whole section where the senators are asking questions about the priesthood. I’ll send you the link and some of the pages numbers I liked if you’re in the mood for something random and interesting!)

          • One (last?) comment from researching the definitions of administer vs. minister: I think the way to sum it up is that administer is transitive (and needs a direct object, something that is being administered) and minister is intransitive (one simply ministers).

  4. Candice

    Thank you, Kim for this great intro. to Prince’s book and D&C 84. Reading this chain of comments, I’m contemplating how priests/teachers are both ministers and administers. I’m thinking about how these are two ways of being that are perhaps both essential, perhaps often both at once, to what it means to be a teacher of the gospel. And of how perhaps this is part of Saints’, and even perhaps divine learning processes in relation to us and creation. Kim is right– ministering is contingent. When you approach someone in the spirit of ministry, you do so with the humility and openness to acknowledge you don’t yet fully know what you are going to encounter in that person and their circumstances. Ministering could elicit any number of kinds of service and comforting words. In the spirit of Ranciere (thank you Karen, this theoretical background on his ideas is amazing and helpful!), a minister approaches human beings as agents and intelligences separate from himself, and as such as equals.

    Yet as a administer, a teacher of the gospel also carries a specific message and plan to deliver it. He/she has received revelation to distribute, and exercises faith that this message will prove beneficial to other human beings regardless of the individuality of human lives and desires. If ministering is the wide, expansive part of a compass, inclusive of the many paths of human lives, adminstering is where the arrow of the same compass narrows to one point and direction. (I’m inspired by temple symbolism here). What is administered is like the teacher’s will that promotes growth the expansion of the soul. The two go together and are often perform within the very same visitation or exchange. We see this in visiting teaching, for example. We seek to give whatever service is needed, but we are also assigned to preach specific truths about Christ and His Gospel. Often the adminstering part is meant to bless not only the individual, but many others through her/him. When Joseph was visited by the Father and the Son, they ministered to His own personal spiritual wounds (he sought forgiveness of personal sin) but also began to lay the groundwork for the administration of the fullness of the gospel to so many others through Him. I would say what we strive to do in visiting teaching is very similar. Visiting teaching is an interesting place where equality is often very powerful felt– each woman is a teacher and a receiver of other teachers.

  5. Nice, Candice. I really like your thoughts here. In some ways, I wonder if our discussion about ministering/administering doesn’t dovetail with questions of hierarchy. A “lateral” understanding of priesthood offices, as Karen put it above, seems uniquely positioned to minister while it seems to me that administering implies structure and hierarchy, to a degree.

    Your comment also has me wondering further about the similarity between these words, and the ways in which our administration of ordinances is actually a conduit for ministering, as I think you hint at above. Giving someone the gift of the Holy Ghost, for instance (administering) grants them an added ability to feel God’s love and find comfort (ministering).

    Some further thoughts, at least.

    (Also: I am so excited to have you on this blog project with us! Thank you, thank you!)

  6. I really appreciate your comments Candice. I like your compass imagery and I think that would be awesome to use that in teaching the roles of priesthood offices. I was on the D&C 42 seminar and I worked on the verses about teaching. There was this balance of “follow D&C 20” and “teach with scriptures” but also “teach by the spirit.” I can see your compass as I read D&C 42:12-14.

    I feel like the words “administer,” “minister,” “hierarchy,” and “Ranciere” are all swimming around in my brain but I can’t quite get them to hold still. 🙂 I think there is actually something to the idea that ministering works in a hierarchically structured situation — I allow my visiting teachers to counsel or help me because of their calling, even though I know they are my equals. In our terminology, we might say that it is by virtue of their stewardship that they can help me, and I even recognize that they can receive revelation to help me. But the moment that they are released from that assignment, I no longer assume that they can receive revelation, or at least not in the same way. They could help me as a friend, and I assume friends too get prompted by the Spirit. 🙂 But I mean that in the Church we recognize that those in structured circumstances have rights to revelation for those under them, or within their stewardship. A Bishop receives revelation for the ward not because he is who he is, but because of the calling he has. It is by virtue of his temporary place or arbitrary (arbitrary because God created it or called him, and because it is not because he is inherently better).

    So ministering might be like the work of a teacher in Ranciere’s model. I think that works well.

    What about administering, though? I like the point that you can’t say one person just ministers and another just administers. Where the administration is an administration of ordinances (rather than administration of a program), I think we might see that administration as Ranciere’s “thing in common.” A teacher gives to others something that both teacher and student can work on together. With ordinances, priesthood holders give to someone something they already have, and then they together to think and talk and work on understanding that thing. So maybe administering is something done within the work of ministering? Or sometimes one priesthood holder can administer an ordinance, like the sacrament, but it is a “thing in common” for other priesthood holders and those without priesthood (RS teacher, visiting teacher, etc.) to talk about when they minister?

    • Okay, THIS is cool! And much more nuanced and productive than my reading. 🙂 I love it, and I want to come back to it.

    • I’m finally coming back to this, Karen, and I need clarification on at least one point. It sounds like you’re saying that both ministers and administrators fill the role of a Rancierian teacher, is that right?

      You say: “ministering might be like the work of a teacher in Ranciere’s model.”
      But later: “I think we might see that administration as Ranciere’s ‘thing in common.’ A teacher gives others something that both teacher and student can work on together.”

      If the administrator is giving us something to work on in common, doesn’t that mean that the administrator is once again the teacher in that situation? Or are you suggesting that the administrator is in some sort of third position outside of Ranciere’s schematic? Or are you suggesting that they both occupy the role of teacher, but in different ways?

  7. Okay, I suppose what I meant was that the ordinances themselves were the thing in common, which could be provided by a minister or an administrator. In Ranciere’s stories, the “thing in common” was given by the teacher but it wasn’t created by the teacher. For example, if I pick an art book and open to a picture of a painting by Monet, and then I tell Jacob that artists use colors to create moods and feelings, I have given him something to work on. I haven’t told him what Monet is communicating with colors, and I don’t have one right answer I am looking for. The book and the piece of information are our “thing in common.” Then I ask questions, “What colors do you see Jacob?” “Are there different kinds of colors in different parts of the painting?” “How do they make you feel?” “What is the scene about? Do you think the colors are communicating something about the scene?” “What else do you think about when you see the colors in this painting?” In that case, I did give him the book and information to start with. But, that information could have been given to him by someone else. It is not something I created, based off of my “superior” intelligence, or only something I could validate. It is a piece of information he could have read on his own and received it that way, but in this case I delivered it to him. But at that point it is something we hold in common, and we can get to work on learning from that point.

    Does that help at all? Administration (of a thing in common) is not the teaching moment itself, but a part of constructing the teaching situation. I might also give Jacob two paintings and just ask him to think about what is different. Giving him the books wasn’t the teaching situation, asking him what he thinks about it is the potentially emancipating teaching moment.

    • Nothing very robust in response, except to say that I like this: “Administration … is not the teaching moment itself, but a part of constructing the teaching situation.” And the language of “constructing” is important here, I think, especially since administration is a question of a certain sort of structure. Perhaps.

      I like thinking about the Church and its intricate hierarchy as a structured teaching situation. Good stuff.

  8. We’ve had a wonderful discussion so far and it feels like a good place to wrap things up. So I almost feel bad opening up another tangent! But I’m still obsessed with Joseph’s 4-part list (the testimony, the ministering of angels, the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministering of angels, and a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood…&…power and ordinance from on high to preach the gospel). Three thoughts:

    1) Why are the first three events described with the definite article “the” but the last event is described with the indefinite article “a”? With the definite article, it feels like Joseph is assuming that his audience understands what he is referring to, perhaps because they are events found in scripture. But what about the last event? Is it something new to his audience? Or is the indefinite article used because that event could happen in more than one way? Are there other ways to receive “a” confirmation? (and what is the confirmation? reception of more priesthood?) D&C 84 uses “confirm” twice (in verses 42 and 48) so hopefully it will give us some clues soon!

    2) The phrase “ministering of angels” is used in scripture often. I don’t recall that the scriptures usually explain what that means or what happens when angels minister. Joseph doesn’t specify that here either, except that the wording in the third event (“as they were given unto him”), may be meant to clarify that the angels gave him “the letter of the Gospel—the Law and commandments…—and the ordinances.” Is this always what happens when one receives the “ministering of angels”?

    3) Also, the language of his third event reminds me of Abraham 1:2. Abraham says, “I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same.” I don’t know of, off the top of my head, any time priesthood holders can administer ordinances or commandments that they have not previously received themselves. People can stand in as proxy for a sealing ordinance without being sealed themselves, but that’s different than administering an ordinance. I don’t know why, but I really like that order and organization.

    • Several responses, Karen, some more coherent than others…

      By all means, let’s keep this conversation going! I’ve been hoping someone would come back and break open my thinking again. And I’m thrilled that you’re “obsessed” with this quotation, because I think it’s probably the most important thing we ought to discuss from this post!

      1) Nice! I think all your suggested explanations are entirely reasonable. Thanks for pointing this out. I think it’s worth noting that there’s a definite article in #4, as well, after “reception,” just as in the first three (in #s 1 and 3 explicitly, and I think implicitly in #2), such that Joseph is always “receiving” something with the definite article. What’s new is that “a confirmation” is added in #4. This raises one other possibility for me: “confirmation” may be indefinite simply because it’s confirming one of the other definite items. Since it’s in that sense dependent on one of these definite-article-things (the priesthood, it seems), that derivative-ish status alone may grant the indefinite article. Or perhaps in other words: there’s no strong definition to “confirmation” outside of the general sense of “confirming something already given, expressing additional approval,” or something. That looser, more general sense might govern the use of “a” instead of “the.”

      2) Your reading is entirely possible, but I confess I don’t like it. I don’t even have a really good reason for it, so forgive me for simply being contrary! 🙂 I think the most straightforward reading is that the ministering of angels is less about the content and more about the power given to Joseph. The language of “were given” suggests to me that the gift of the Law and commandments happened on a different occasion. That sits better, for me, with how I’ve been inclined to read “the ministering of angels” elsewhere in the D&C.

      But looking more closely at these angels has helped me notice a couple more things. First, it’s interesting that the “ministering” of angels amounts to giving Joseph power “to administer.” You would think that giving Joseph priesthood power would amount to “administration,” something like administering ordinances. Here, instead, the angelic ministry amounts to giving others authority to administer? What do we make of that?

      Second, it also strikes me that there may be something important to the order in which these items are mentioned. In #3, Joseph first receives the right “to administer the letter of the Gospel,” and in #4 he then receives power “to preach the gospel.” What if we understood preaching the gospel as ministry? Joseph first receives power to administer, and only receives power to minister secondarily? That’s interesting both because it would seem to reverse the order in which the angels do things (per my reading in the previous paragraph), and it also seems to jive nicely with your thoughts about structuring a teaching situation–#3 allows Joseph to set up the structure of the teaching situation, and in #4 he receives authorization to get to work?

      3) Abraham 1:2! “To administer!” Yes! How did I not think to look for this language in scripture? That’s fascinating, and deserves a lot more careful thought than I’m probably going to give it. 🙂 I also like this pattern you point out–you have to receive something yourself before you can administer it. Perhaps that explains why the “ministering of angels” occurs by itself first–in #2 Joseph is receiving the ordinances himself, and then in #3 he is given authorization to give those ordinances to others?

      • Hmm, so maybe first Joseph is ministered to, then receives power to administer, and then receives power to minister?

      • Okay, some more careful responses-
        1) “confirming something already given, expressing additional approval,” or something. That looser, more general sense might govern the use of “a” instead of “the.” I think you are probably right, so I’m thinking that it’s possible that the very reception of more priesthood is what confirmed the first. I have a vague sense that D&C 84 might talk about it that way, but until we get into the verses I don’t have much to say.

        2) I did some looking around a “ministering,” which was fun, but it would take a while to really see what’s going on in all of those references. I’ll work on that if I have more time today (and I think I might, Joe’s plans to be away for dissertation writing have fallen through for the time being, so I’m letting the kids play outside & I brought along my laptop!).

        I see your point about administering authority to administer might make more sense. I guess there’s a difference between administering laws, commandments, ordinances and administering authority or power? Oo, I just looked at event #4 again, and it says he received this priesthood, power, and ordinance “from on high.” Not from the ministering of angels, perhaps? Or even if it was from angels, he doesn’t describe it that way, which is maybe important? In fact, he uses the same language as event #1! Both the testimony and this power to preach the gospel came from on high. What it means, I have no idea! But it’s fascinating! 😀

        Also, #3 allows Joseph to set up the structure of the teaching situation, and in #4 he receives authorization to get to work? That’s a nice way to think about things, I think!

        3) I love Abraham. 🙂 I have to be careful though, because I think Abraham was working under a very different kind of priesthood structure (back when things were actually going father to son like they were supposed to). Well, except for Mr. Abraham here, whose father wasn’t passing it on to him! But the pattern is cool: he wants to be ordained a high priest, with all the accompanying commandments, knowledge, ordinances, and even responsibility to gather others into the gospel. (In other words, preaching the gospel with the authority to also build up the Church?) I don’t know, but I hope this route is fruitful (because I love anything Abrahamic, if you haven’t noticed:) ) But I think you are right with your thoughts on events #2 and #3.

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