The Melchizedek Priesthood, also known as the "higher" priesthood, is named after the ancient patriarch and high priest Melchizedek, to whom Abraham paid tithes. Doctrine and Covenants 107:3-4 explains why the priesthood is called after him:
Before his [Melchizedek's] day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.Christ was "an high priest after the order of Melchisedec" (Hebrews 5:10). The Melchizedek Priesthood was given to Adam by the Lord and has since been held by every patriarch and prophet authorized by God. This priesthood was taken from Israel as a whole during the time of Moses. Instead, Israel was given the lesser portion known as the Aaronic Priesthood. Christ restored the Melchizedek Priesthood through His apostles. After the death of the apostles, the priesthood was lost, and what is known as the Great Apostasy ensued.
Restoration of the Priesthood
- “He [Joseph Smith] was ordained by the angel John, unto the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, in company with myself (Oliver Cowdery), in the town of Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, on Friday, the 15th day of May, 1829, after which we repaired to the water, even to the Susquehanna River, and were baptized, he first ministering unto me and after—I to him. But before baptism, our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer—to know how we might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit, according to the order of God, and we diligently sought for the right of the fathers and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to admin[ister] in the same: … the Lord … answered us out of the heavens, and while we were in the heavenly vision the angel came down and bestowed upon us this priesthood; and then, as I have said, we repaired to the water and were baptized. After this we received the high and holy [Melchizedek] priesthood.”1
- In September 1830 the Lord unmistakably confirmed this fact when he spoke to the Prophet Joseph Smith of “Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:12).
Orson Pratt, who joined the Church on 1 September 1830, understood the restoration process very well. Later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he affirmed: “It would be impossible for a Church to be re-organized upon the earth, unless God had bestowed the authority upon men to act in his name, that is, had spoken from on high and called them by revelation.”
Elder Pratt explained that John, the restorer of the Aaronic Priesthood, had taught while he was upon the earth that there was a greater priesthood—the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek—through which the obedient could receive the higher baptism, of fire and the Holy Ghost.
- “Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sought after this higher authority, and the Lord gave it to them, before the rise of this Church, sending to them Peter, James and John. What for? To bestow upon them the Apostleship. …
- “Now, who would be better qualified to administer the sacred office of the Apostleship than the three men who held it while they were here on the earth? … It has to be a man who holds authority in heaven that can bestow it here on the earth; and such men were Peter, James and John, who restored that authority to earth in our day, by bestowing it upon Joseph Smith. When this authority was restored, the Church was organized on the 6th day of April 1830, … and then there was power in existence, not only to baptize, but to confirm by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost; and from the authority then sent down afresh from heaven has this Church been enabled to pass along, and receive the great blessings which the Lord has bestowed upon it.”2
Offices and Functions
Just as in the Aaronic Priesthood, a man retains all the keys and authority of his previous ordinations. For example, if no Aaronic Priesthood members are present, the Melchizedek Priesthood can bless and pass the sacrament.
Elder as a Title
The title "Elder" can be used for any holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood. As a title it is typically used to refer to male Mormon missionaries (e.g. Elder Smith or Elder Jones) or to General Authorities (such as Elder Russell M. Nelson or Elder Merrill J. Bateman).
Elder as an Office
- Main article: Elder
Men are ordained as elders beginning at either age 18 or 19. The duties of an elder are to baptize, confirm members of the Church and give the gift of the Holy Ghost, administer the sacrament, give blessings of comfort and healing, and generally watch over the Church.
- Main article: Seventy
Members of the Quorums of the Seventy are called as General Authorities under the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Seventy direct missionary work and other Church activities, build up the Church in all the nations the Church is in, and preach the Gospel. Members of the Seventy may also be called upon to speak in General Conference. At present, there are five quorums, each with no more than seventy members. Members of the Seventy may be honorably released and given emeritus status.
- Main article: High Priest
High Priests have the authority to officiate in the Church. Men are ordained as High Priests to serve in a number of callings: members of the bishopric, members of the stake presidency, high councilors, mission presidents, stake patriarchs, etc. High Priests have their own quorums, separate from the Elder's quorum.
- Main article: Stake patriarch
Patriarchs are called on stake levels and are ordained by General Authorities or stake presidents given that authority by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A patriarch's duty is to give worthy Church members special blessings known as patriarchal blessings. Such blessings reveal to Church members their lineage among the tribes of Israel, and are the Lord's personal words to the recipients to guide them through life. The office of patriarch is held for life, though if the patriarch is no longer able to function in his duties, an additional stake patriarch may be called. The term "patriarch" is also applied to the father of a family.
- Main article: Apostle
Meaning "one sent forth," apostles are special witnesses of Jesus Christ and are called for life. The men ordained as apostles are members of either the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Presidency. The apostles travel throughout the world building up and regulating the Church. Each apostle is given all the keys of the kingdom, but only the senior apostle--the President of the Church--is authorized to use all the keys. The other apostles act under the president's direction.
President of the Church
At any one time, only one man can hold the office of President of the Church and exercise the keys and authority associated with that office. The President (also referred to as "the Prophet") is the senior apostle (in terms of years as an apostle, not age. See Choosing a Prophet to learn about the Order of Succession) and is also the president of the Melchizedek Priesthood. He is sustained as the prophet, seer, and revelator. As such he is entitled to receive revelation for not only the Church, but the entire world. A man will remain President of the Church the remainder of his life, though in cases of poor health the counselors in the First Presidency may take over some of the functions of the office as the President authorizes.
Authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood
The Melchizedek Priesthood "holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things," and holds "keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church" (Doctrine and Covenants 107:8, 18).
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The priesthood is greater than the office, and all offices in the priesthood, we are taught, are appendages to the priesthood [see Doctrine and Covenants 107:5]. … The priesthood with its keys existed before the Church organization, but not the offices in the Church, which belong to the Church and are held by the consent of the same.”3
- 1Blessing given by Joseph Smith Jr. to Oliver Cowdery, 18 Dec. 1833, Kirtland, Ohio, transcribed 2 Oct. 1835, Patriarchal Blessing Book 1, pp. 8–9, Historical Dept., Archives Division, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City; hereafter cited as LDS Church Archives. Oliver’s statement is part of an explanatory note or preface that he entered in the record book identifying some blessings which were given by the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. in Kirtland on 18 December 1833 but not transcribed into this record until October 1835; see also p. 10.
- 2In Journal of Discourses, 16:294–95.
- 3Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (1954–56), 3:96, 99.
- Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,”
- Gospel Topics:Melchizedek Priesthood
- Gospel Topics:Priesthood
- James E. Faust, “The Key of the Knowledge of God,”
- Boyd K. Packer, “What Every Elder Should Know—and Every Sister as Well: A Primer on Principles of Priesthood Government,”