There is a lengthy tangent in D&C 84 that begins in verse 6 and continues until verse 31. Verse 6 begins: “And the sons of Moses…” and verse 31 begins: “Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses–.” Verses 6-30 are preparatory to explaining what those sons of Moses are going to do.
This portion of the tangent (verses 6-18) focuses on the lineages of authority for the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods.
Thoughts on the lineage of authority for the Melchizedek Priesthood (verses 6-17)
1) “And the sons of Moses, according to the Holy Priesthood which he received under the hand of his father-in-law, Jethro….” How do you hear the phrase, “according to,” here? It sounds like we were about to find out what the sons of Moses were going to do with or according to the priesthood authority they possess. That is, perhaps this sentence was going to say, “The sons of Moses, according to the Holy Priesthood, are going to do such-and-such….”
Another way of reading the phrase “according to” is as an explanation of the title “sons of Moses.” There are those who are considered “sons” of Moses because they have inherited the priesthood that Moses had. (I think the same idea is at work in verses 33-34, where those who obtain the priesthood “become” the sons of Moses and of Aaron.) That is, perhaps the sentence could be read as, “The sons of Moses, who are sons according to or because they are receiving the Holy Priesthood which Moses had, and which he received from his father-in-law….”
2) Verses 6-13 outline a genealogy of priesthood authority from Jethro back to Esaias, a man who lived at the time of Abraham, and then on back to Adam himself. I didn’t remember there being a parallel priesthood line co-existing with the famous Abraham-Isaac-Jacob line, and I didn’t find any reference to this genealogy in the Bible. That throws off all sorts of theories and ideas I’ve been collecting about the Abrahamic Covenant! The Bible (and our other scriptures) present Abraham as a pivotal figure in history, and that his covenant and priesthood were only passed to his son Isaac, and then to Jacob, and so on. But here we learn that Abraham blessed a man who was not his son and who went on to pass that priesthood to his sons for many generations. And to top it all off, then that priesthood line also ends up blessing one of Abraham’s descendants, Moses, and bringing the priesthood back to Abraham’s descendants! I find this so fascinating!
3) One more note on Abraham: we also learn that “Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek.” That detail isn’t explained in either Genesis or the Book of Abraham. In Genesis we read that he was blessed by Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). But the Book of Abraham leaves out Melchizedek’s name all together: Abraham simply “became” a high priest (Abraham 1:2).
Thoughts on the lineage of authority for the Aaronic Priesthood (verse 18)
1) The genealogy of Aaronic Priesthood authority only receives one verse, but only one is necessary since there is no list of names who passed on the priesthood from generation to generation. The verses on the Melchizedek Priesthood authority went backwards from Moses to Adam. Here, we recognize that the Aaronic Priesthood was organized at the time of Moses, so there is no backwards lineage to Adam to list! Rather, this verse focuses on the future: “And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations….” Even from Aaron forward no names are listed, simply the information that it would continue with his seed. The second half of verse 18 emphasizes that this priesthood will be just as permanent as the Melchizedek: it “continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God.”
2) It’s interesting to me that there is a creation of a priesthood order but not an ending of that order. Put another way, it is my understanding that the work of the Aaronic Priesthood (such as sacrifices and baptisms) was being accomplished by those with the higher priesthood until the time of Moses and Aaron. It’s as if God splits the work of the priesthood at that time, and gives the Aaronic Priesthood also responsibility for much of the work of the Law of Moses that didn’t exist previous to Aaron. It would appear to me, if I were writing the story, that the Aaronic Priesthood order should fold back into the Melchizedek Priesthood order at some point, perhaps at the time of Christ’s coming and the Law of Moses’s fulfillment. But here it seems quite apparent that the Aaronic Priesthood order will continue forever alongside the Melchizedek Priesthood order.
3) Since the Aaronic Priesthood order had a definite beginning point, I can see the reasons why it is emphasized over and over again in scripture that the Melchizedek Priesthood order (by any of its names) has existed forever into the past and will exist forever into the future. It is “without beginning of days or end of years.” I can see the need to reiterate that fact when it seems like the Bible is more familiar with the work of the Aaronic Priesthood than the work of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Question on verse 17: “Which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations”
This clause could be read in a few slightly different ways depending on which words we emphasize.
1) It could be saying that the Melchizedek Priesthood exists in all generations in which a Church is established. This would fit the way we traditionally talk about the Apostasy.
2) It could be saying that the Melchizedek Priesthood exists in every generation, and that there is a Church established at all times which provides a place for the Melchizedek Priesthood to function. This doesn’t fit with the way we talk about the Apostasy generally, but it might fit with some of the details we have learned in D&C 84 (sometimes there are other lines of priesthood authority that we don’t think of or are not aware of, like the Jethro-Esaias line).
3) Options 1 & 2 are assuming that the verse is meant to teach us something about the Melchizedek Priesthood. But perhaps we could find a third reading by assuming that the verse is meant to teach us something about the Church. It’s not that the Church is always organized, but in all generations in which it is organized — at every moment in history when it exists — it always has the Melchizedek Priesthood. It’s not that the Melchizedek Priesthood needs a Church, but the Church needs the Melchizedek Priesthood. (Then the rest of the section is saying, essentially: So let’s get down to work explaining what it is and why it’s so important.)