Chapter 15: The Holy Priesthood

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

God has restored the priesthood and the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Priesthood power and authority [were] given to men anciently. The lesser authority was given to the sons of Aaron to administer in things temporal as well as in some sacred ecclesiastical ordinances. The higher priesthood was given by the Lord Himself to His Apostles, in accordance with His declaration to Peter: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

The full restoration of the priesthood involved the coming of John the Baptist … and of Peter, James, and John. … It involved Moses, Elias, and Elijah, each bringing priesthood keys to complete the work of restoring all of the acts and ordinances of previous dispensations in this, the great, final dispensation of the fulness of times.

According to Mormonism, priesthood authority from God left the earth soon after the death of Jesus’ apostles. Joseph Smith claims to have restored this priesthood authority shortly before he founded his church on April 6, 1830. According to President Joseph Fielding Smith, “‘ALL PRIESTHOOD IS MELCHIZEDEK.’ How many priest hoods are there? The answer is there is one priesthood, but the Lord divided it into two divisions known as the Melchizedek and the Aaronic Priesthood” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:103).

Joseph Smith and his friend Oliver Cowdery (1806–1850) claimed to have been baptized on May 15, 1829, in the Susquehanna River by a resurrected John the Baptist, who bestowed the lesser “Aaronic Priesthood” on them. On a later date that wasn’t recorded, the two were purportedly visited by the biblical apostles Peter, James, and John and given the greater “Melchizedek Priesthood.” Today Mormons believe that these priesthoods are given to worthy male members of the church and provide them with “priesthood power” to marry, baptize, and even bless with God’s approval. The Aaronic priesthood, which is given to Mormon boys at the age of twelve, allows them to administer the sacrament. The Melchizedek priesthood is given to males eighteen years or older. It bestows on them the office of “elder” and, among other things, allows them to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost and to provide blessings by the laying on of hands.

Speaking at a general conference, Apostle Russell M. Nelson said, “Every elder in the Church holds the same priesthood as the President of the Church” (“Honoring the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 1993, p. 40). These priesthoods are necessary to qualify for the highest level of heaven, called the celestial kingdom. According to President Spencer W. Kimball, “No man will ever reach godhood who does not hold the priesthood. You have to be a member of the higher priesthood—an elder, seventy, or high priest—and today is the day to get it and magnify it” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 51). Apostle Boyd K. Packer taught an October 1981 general conference audience,

The power you receive will depend on what you do with the sacred, unseen gift. Your authority comes through your ordination; your power comes through obedience and worthiness. . . . Power in the priesthood comes from doing your duty in ordinary things: attending meetings, accepting assignments, reading the scriptures, keeping the Word of Wisdom. (“The Honor and Order of the Priesthood,” Ensign, June 2012, p. 24).

Latter-day Saint leaders have said that the priesthood provides their followers authority from God, differentiating Mormons from Christians. President George Albert Smith wrote, “The churches of the world are trying, in their way, to bring peace into the hearts of men. They are possessed of many virtues and many truths, and accomplish much good, but they are not divinely authorized. Neither have their priests been divinely commissioned” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 51).  According to Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, “As far as all religious organizations now existing are concerned, the presence or the absence of this [Melchizedek] priesthood establishes the divinity or falsity of a professing church” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 479). And Apostle Packer explained, “We do not hear of the priesthood keys being exercised in other Christian churches. It seems odd that we are described by some as being non-Christian when we are the only ones who have the authority and the organization that He established” (“The Honor and Order of the Priesthood,” Ensign, June 2012, p. 24).

For the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods to be authoritative, Joseph Smith must be accepted at his word that he really had John the Baptist as well as Peter, James, and John appear to him. Besides his testimony, there is no evidence that these events ever took place. In fact, there is no record of the date when Peter, James and John made their appearance. If three apostles were translated and came to you, don’t you think you would have written down the date?

The priesthood is here. … We know, for we have seen, the power of this priesthood. We have seen the sick healed, the lame made to walk, and the coming of light and knowledge and understanding to those who have been in darkness.

Contrary to LDS teaching, the Bible shows that neither the Aaronic nor the Melchizedek priesthoods are available for believers today. The Aaronic priesthood was reserved for the priests of the biblical temple, as defined in the books of Moses known as the Pentateuch. The New Testament shows no need for such a priesthood for Christian believers. As far as the Melchizedek priesthood, Charles R. Harrell sees the traditional LDS interpretation as an argument from silence by pointing out how Hebrews speaks of Christ being a “priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6–10), but gives no indication that any of Jesus’s disciples possessed this priesthood. There is no concept in Hebrews of a general order of the priesthood called the Melchizedek Priesthood. Christ alone is extolled as a priest in the “similitude of Melchizedek” (Heb. 7:15). Drawing on contemporary speculations regarding the king-priest Melchizedek, the writer of Hebrews explains that Melchizedek, as a type of Christ, had “neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Heb. 7:3).

The Prophet Joseph Smith described [the priesthood] on one occasion in these words: “The Priesthood is an everlasting principle, and existed with God from eternity, and will [exist] to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years.” (History of the Church, 3:386.)

It is veritably the power of the Almighty given to man to act in His name and in His stead. It is a delegation of divine authority, different from all other powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Small wonder that it was restored to man by resurrected beings who held it anciently, that there might be no question concerning its authority and validity. Without it there could be a church in name only, lacking authority to administer in the things of God. With it, nothing is impossible in carrying forward the work of the kingdom of God. It is divine in its nature. It is both temporal and eternal in its authority. It is the only power on the earth that reaches beyond the veil of death.

The spiritual significance of the Aaronic, or Levitical, priesthood ended with the death of Christ. The term priest refers to a person who stands up for another person/people, acting as a mediator in his cause. The Old Testament priest stood in the gap for the people and offered animal sacrifices to atone for their sins. Mormon males claiming to hold the Aaronic priesthood do not offer animal sacrifices; thus, their office is not a restoration of the original, as church leaders would like the public to believe.

Furthermore, Doctrine and Covenants 107:16 specifically states, “No man has a legal right to this office, to hold the keys of this priesthood, except he be a literal descendant of Aaron.” This warning sounds similar to that found in Numbers 3:10, which states, “And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest’s office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.” However, it is not a modern LDS requirement for a Mormon priesthood holder to trace his family roots back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. Because the LDS Church stresses genealogical research in order to vicariously baptize for the dead, it would seem their leaders should know better than to claim such a priesthood for themselves.

The biblical Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18–20), who was the king of Salem as well as a priest of God, is a mysterious figure in Scripture. He blessed Abram, and Abram tithed to him. Nobody beside Melchizedek held the positions of both priest and king until Jesus came. Hebrews 7:21 declares that Jesus is “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec.” Verse 24 adds that Jesus has “an unchangeable priesthood.” Hebrews 7:2–3 describes this order: “First being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.”

Christ met these qualifications. He is both Righteousness and Peace (cf. Eph. 2:14; 1 John 3:7). As the Word who became flesh (John 1:14), He continues His advocacy as the Christians’ priest. In fact, the Bible says that Christians are free to directly approach the throne of God and pray according to His name. As 1 Timothy 2:5 puts it, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

The priesthood is the power and authority by which God accomplishes His work.

I love the priesthood of this Church. It is a vital, living thing. It is the very heart and strength of this work. It is the power and authority by which God, our Eternal Father, accomplishes His work in the earth.

The holy priesthood carries with it the authority to govern in the affairs of the kingdom of God on the earth. Under the revelations of the Lord, the Church is to be presided over by three presiding high priests. They are to be assisted by a council of Twelve Apostles, who in turn are to be assisted by … the Seventy. A Presiding Bishopric of three are responsible for temporal affairs under the direction of the Presidency. All of these are priesthood officers. That power divinely given is the authority by which they govern. It is so in the stakes and the wards with presidencies and bishoprics. It is so in the quorums. The auxiliary officers carry forth their work under direction and delegation from the priesthood. Without the priesthood there might be the form of a church, but not the true substance. This is the church of Jesus Christ, and it is governed by that authority which is “after the Order of the Son of God.” (D&C 107:3.)

[The priesthood] … is a part of the plan of God our Eternal Father to bless the lives of His sons and daughters of all generations.

The holy priesthood includes the power to bless. For those of the Aaronic Priesthood, it carries with it the authority to administer to the congregation the emblems of the flesh and blood of the Lord, who gave His life as a sacrifice for all. The sacrament and the partaking of these emblems is the very heart of our sabbath worship. It includes a renewal of covenants with God. It carries with it a promise of His Holy Spirit to be with us. It is a blessing without peer to be enjoyed by all and made possible by the authority given to worthy young men. …

This “promise of His Holy Spirit to be with us” is contingent upon the successful obedience of the Latter-day Saint.  My question for the Latter-day Saint is, “How are you doing with keeping the commandments?” So often I hear, “This is what repentance is for.” However, repentance is only good when successful obedience takes place. As D&C 58:43 says, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” Forsaking is the part that’s impossible to do. For more on this, click here.

The Melchizedek Priesthood carries with it the authority to bestow the Holy Ghost. How great a blessing it is to have the ministering influence of a member of the Godhead, having received that gift under the hands of those who acted with divine authority. If we continue to walk in virtue, we may enjoy the fulfillment of the promise made by the Lord when He said: “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (D&C 121:46.)

The priesthood includes the power to bless the sick. Is there anyone within my hearing who has not exercised or felt that divine power? Can any of us have any doubt concerning its efficacy? We could tell of miracles, sacred and wonderful, that we have witnessed within our own experience. …

This holy Melchizedek Priesthood carries with it the power to bless with prophecy, to comfort, to sustain, to direct. We have patriarchs in our midst who, under the authority that they hold, declare lineage and pronounce blessings for our guidance. These blessings may become as an anchor to which we may hold to keep us steady through the storms of life.

If one takes a closer look at the “blessings” of the patriarchs, they repeat themselves endlessly. A person is told that he or she is part of the tribe of Ephraim, generally, and some general guidance about how God will bless them if they are obedient. It is so generic that there is typically little to no difference from one to another, even when different patriarchs are involved.

In its ultimate expression the holy priesthood carries with it the authority to seal on the earth and have that sealing effective in the heavens. It is unique and wonderful. It is the authority exercised in the temples of God. It concerns both the living and the dead. It is of the very essence of eternity. It is divine power bestowed by the Almighty as a part of His great plan for the immortality and eternal life of man.

There are only two possibilities:

  • Mormonism is true because the authority of the priesthood is valid. Joseph Smith really did receive this authority from God. Then everyone should become a Mormon. The potential to receive eternal life is real.
  • Mormonism is false because there is no such thing as Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. There is no “great plan for immortality.”

It’s as simple as that. Again, we are left with having to trust Joseph Smith that:

  • God the Father and Jesus appeared to him in the “First Vision” and said that all the churches were wrong.
  • Authority was given through translated beings.

Many men seem to think that because they have been ordained, the priesthood is theirs in perpetuity to exercise as they choose. They feel they can break a covenant and a commandment here and there, and sin in this way or that, and yet still have within themselves the power of the priesthood and that God will ratify that which they speak in His holy name and in the name of the Redeemer. This becomes mockery, and I believe that in such an exercise, they take the name of God in vain. They profane the name of His Beloved Son. They desecrate the sacred gift which came through ordination, and the authority which they have lost because of transgression. …

… I lift a warning voice to all, boys and men, to shun sin. Transgression is incompatible with divine authority. Avoid pornography as you would avoid the plague. Avoid sexual sin of any degree. Shun dishonesty and deceit. I plead with you to rein in any element of pride or vain ambition. I ask you to look into yourselves to see that there is no attitude of dominion or compulsion over your wives or your children. …

… I am satisfied that our Father in Heaven is not pleased with any man or boy who accepts ordination and then indulges in evil. In the very process of accepting ordination he enters into an oath and covenant between himself and his God.

No man, be he youth or elder, is living up to the standards of the priesthood who demeans or degrades womanhood, who fails to accord that measure of respect to the daughters of God which our Father in heaven would have them accorded.

Let us be good husbands and fathers. Any man who is a tyrant in his own home is unworthy of the priesthood. He cannot be a fit instrument in the hands of the Lord when he does not show respect and kindness and love toward the companion of his choice. Likewise, any man who is a bad example for his children, who cannot control his temper, or who is involved in dishonest or immoral practices will find the power of his priesthood nullified.

Obedience is required. That’s the bottom line. And most Mormons admit they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, whether it’s pornography, dishonesty, deceit, pride, or vain ambition. If they’re not keeping God’s commandments, they’re not worthy to get to the celestial kingdom.

In homes and in the Church, men and women work together to move the Lord’s kingdom forward.

The men hold the priesthood, yes. But my wife is my companion. In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.

There is strength and great capacity in the women of this Church. There is leadership and direction, a certain spirit of independence, and yet great satisfaction in being a part of this, the Lord’s kingdom, and of working hand in hand with [holders of] the priesthood to move it forward.20

I thank my Eternal Father for the restoration of the holy priesthood, that “every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world” (D&C 1:20). I have seen the beauty and wonder of that priesthood in the governance of this remarkable church. I have felt its power flow through me to the blessing and the healing of the sick. I have seen the ennoblement it has given to humble men who have been called to great and serious responsibility. I have seen it as they have spoken with power and authority from on high as if the voice of God were speaking through them.

While Hinckley is cited to uphold the integrity of women, it must be understood that, when it comes to authority before God, priesthood authority in Mormonism does not extend to females; left to herself, a Mormon female has no authority of her own. Charles Penrose, who was a member of the First Presidency, made this interesting observation:

Apostles Peter, James, and John confer the Melchizedek priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The date of this event is unknown. When a woman is sealed to a man holding the Priesthood, she becomes one with him. Sometimes the man is the one and sometimes he is not, but she receives blessings in association with him. The glory and power and dominion that he will exercise when he has the fulness of the Priesthood and becomes a “king and a priest unto God,” she will share with him. Sisters have said to me sometimes, “But, I hold the Priesthood with my husband.” “Well,” I asked, “what office do you hold in the Priesthood?” Then they could not say much more. The sisters are not ordained to any office in the Priesthood and there is authority in the Church which they cannot exercise; it does not belong to them; they cannot do that properly any more than they can change themselves into a man. Now, sisters, do not take the idea that I wish to convey that you have no blessings or authority or power belonging to the Priesthood. When you are sealed to a man of God who holds it and who, by overcoming, inherits the fulness of the glory of God, you will share that with him if you are fit for it, and I guess you will be (Conference Reports, April 1921, p. 108).

According to Penrose, a husband who holds the priesthood has the power to raise his wife on the resurrection day.

In the divine economy, as in nature, the man “is the head of the woman,” and it is written that “he is the savior of the body.” But “the man is not without the woman” any more than the woman is without the man, in the Lord. Adam was first formed, then Eve. In the resurrection they stand side by side and hold dominion together. Every man who overcomes all things and is thereby entitled to inherit all things, receives power to bring up his wife to join him in the possession and enjoyment thereof (Mormon Doctrine Plain and Simple, p. 51).

This sounds very similar to what Apostle Erastus Snow said in 1857:

Do you uphold your husband before God as our lord? “What!—my husband to be my lord?” I ask, Can you get into the celestial kingdom without him? Have any of you been there? You will remember that you never got into the celestial kingdom without the aid of your husband. If you did, it was because your husband was away, and some one had to act proxy for him. No woman will get into the celestial kingdom, except her husband receives her, if she is worthy to have a husband; and if not, somebody will receive her as a servant (Journal of Discourses 5:291).

The New Testament does not support the idea that the Aaronic or Melichizedek priesthoods are necessary for humans; instead, Christians have authority as “children of God” through their belief. Contrasting Christians with the rest of the “world” (who “knew him [God] not”), 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (esv). Paul distinguished between “children of the flesh” and “children of God” in Romans 9:8. Galatians 3:26 says it is “by faith in Christ Jesus” that believers become children of God, while John 1:12 says that “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

A royal priesthood is provided to all Christian believers, men and women alike. First Peter 2:9–10 states that Christians “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people . . . [who] now have obtained mercy.” Even though Christians are priests in this spiritual manner, they are called to offer themselves as “living sacrifice[s]” to God (Rom. 12:1). As holders of this priesthood, believers are commanded to stand and intercede for people, not to offer blood sacrifices for the cleansing of their sins but to pray that they might turn to the one who cleanses from sin, namely, Christ Jesus.

While Mormonism offers the priesthood only to males, the New Testament makes no such distinction when it comes to those whom God has called to Himself. This authority is available to all believers, regardless of gender. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is this priesthood, held by all Christians, that provides authority to pray directly to the God of this universe, to boldly proclaim the gospel truth wherever they go, and to know that when they die they will enjoy eternal life with God. There is no greater authority than this.

Those who are faithful to their Mormon leaders will think nothing of reading a chapter like this. To me, it is very sad. Mormons are being told that their church is “restored” and the requirement to reach celestial glory is getting married for time and eternity in the temple and keeping the commandments. The gospel is so much simpler than that! The Bible says that it is through faith in Jesus and that alone that provides justification from all sins.


To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.