By Eric Johnson
Mormonism teaches that the authorized priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in 1829, the year before he founded his church. Today the priesthood is available to eligible males but not to females.
The first priesthood is called the Aaronic Priesthood. Smith and his friend Oliver Cowdery claimed that this priesthood was restored on May 15, 1829 when John the Baptist came and ordained them (D&C 27:7-8). The two men then baptized each other in the Susquehanna River. While in biblical times, only those hailing from the tribe of Levi could be “Aaronic” priests and serve in the temple, there is no such limitation in Mormonism, as Latter-day Saints believe they have a spiritual claim as members of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, which they receive at their Patriarchal Blessing. Starting in 2019, worthy boys as young as 11 (12 previously) are able to hold this priesthood. A church manual explains,
They receive many opportunities to participate in sacred priesthood ordinances and give service. As they worthily fulfill their duties, they act in the name of the Lord to help others receive the blessings of the gospel. The offices of the Aaronic Priesthood are bishop, priest, teacher, and deacon (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 3).
Those possessing the Aaronic Priesthood are allowed to pass the elements at the weekly sacrament service.
A church manual explains the Melchizedek Priesthood:
The Melchizedek Priesthood is named after a man called Melchizedek. Melchizedek was a very righteous man who had the priesthood. He lived in the time of Abraham. He was a high priest. Before the priesthood was named after him, it was called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. The name of the priesthood was changed to Melchizedek to prevent people from using the name of God too much (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 108).
The priesthood was apparently lost for most people after the time of Moses in the 15th century BC:
From Adam to Moses, righteous men holding the holy priesthood were ordained high priests. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, and many others were all ordained high priests (D&C 107:53; Alma 13). After the time of Moses the Melchizedek Priesthood was generally withdrawn from the earth, except among the prophets, and the law functioned under the Aaronic Priesthood. Thus, under the Law of Moses a high priest was the chief priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. He presided over all other priests in their functions and ordinances, particularly those of the temple. Only a direct descendant of the firstborn son of Aaron anointed to be the spiritual head of the people could become the high priest (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:588).
Another manual explains:
This greater priesthood was given to Adam and has been on the earth whenever the Lord has revealed His gospel. It was taken away from the earth during the Great Apostasy, but it was restored in May 1829, when the Apostles Peter, James, and John conferred it upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 101).
Seventeenth President Russell M. Nelson described the different offices in the Melchizedek priesthood, which qualified men 18 years and older can receive: “There are five offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood: elder, high priest, patriarch, Seventy, and Apostle” (“The Mission and Ministry of the Savior,” Ensign, June 2005, p. 16). Those who belong to this priesthood are able to receive their temple endowment and be sealed to their families for eternity. A church manual reports,
When a man receives the Melchizedek Priesthood, he enters into the oath and covenant of the priesthood. He covenants to be faithful, magnify his calling, “give diligent heed to the words of eternal life,” and “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” Those who keep this covenant will be sanctified by the Spirit and receive “all that [the] Father hath” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 102).
According to Henry B. Eyring, the second counselor of the First Presidency, this priesthood is necessary to gain exaltation:
Rising to the possibilities of the oath and covenant brings the greatest of all the gifts of God: eternal life. That is a purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Through keeping the covenants as we receive the priesthood and renewing them in the temple ceremonies, we are promised by an oath made by our Heavenly Father, Elohim, that we will gain the fulness of His glory and live as He lives. We will have the blessing of being sealed in a family forever with the promise of eternal increase (Henry B. Eyring, “Faith and the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2008, p. 61).
While females cannot receive the priesthood by herself, they can share the authority with their qualified husbands if they get married for eternity in the temple:
A woman can receive the blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood by receiving the ordinances of the gospel and by being married to a righteous priesthood holder.(Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B, 2000, p. 31).
Male missionaries are called “elders,” which means they are holders of both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. For those who hold these priesthoods, there are a number of possible duties, including being present at convert baptisms as witnesses:
Two priests or men who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood witness each baptism to be sure it is performed properly. The baptism must be repeated if the words are not spoken exactly as given in Doctrine and Covenants 20:73 or if part of the person’s body or clothing was not immersed completely. (Family Guidebook, “Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings,” 2006, p. 20).
What Does Christianity Teach
The Aaronic Priesthood was never meant for anyone except those Jews who belonged to the tribe of Aaron. Meanwhile, the Melchizedek priesthood is only held by Jesus. Hebrews chapter 7 cites Psalm 110 and says that Jesus was prophesied to be the one who would hold such a priesthood, and He would hold it forever.