The Melchizedek priesthood is the greater of the two (or sometimes three) orders of priesthood recognized in Mormonism. The others are the Aaronic priesthood and the rarely-recognized Patriarchal priesthood. The Melchizedek priesthood is also referred to as the high priesthood of the holy order of God and the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God, or simply as the high priesthood.
In Mormonism, unlike most other Christian denominations, the Melchizedek priesthood is thought to be held by unextraordinary mortals and not solely by either pre-Aaronic priests such as Melchizedek, or Jesus alone, as most Christians interpret the Epistle to the Hebrews. According to Joseph Smith, Jr., the name of this priesthood became Melchizedek "because Melchizedek was such a great high priest" and "to avoid the too frequent repetition" of the "name of the Supreme Being". Smith taught that this priesthood was on the earth since Adam received it and conferred it upon his sons Abel and Seth, and it was conferred successively upon the early biblical patriarchs. Through it Enoch led his people to become so righteous and obedient that they qualified to be translated as the City of Enoch. Noah held this priesthood, as did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and it remained on earth until the time of Moses, who received it "under the hand of his father-in-law, Jethro" and it would have been given to the Israelites if they had been worthy of it and had not "hardened their hearts".
For the Aaronic priesthood, Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery had said they were visited by John the Baptist, who laid his hands on their head and gave them the priesthood. Unlike this restoration, however, which Smith described in detail and gave an exact date when it happened, Smith never gave a description of any vision in which he saw an angel separately confer the Melchizedek priesthood. However, by the turn of the 20th century, Latter Day Saint theologians believed that such a separate ordination by angels had occurred prior to the organization of the Church of Christ on April 6, 1830. This was largely because the early church organization contained the office of elder, which at least by 1835 was considered an office of the Melchizedek priesthood. As evidence for such a pre-organization angellic conferral, writers referred to a revelation in which Smith said he heard "The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!" Thus, most Mormons imagine the Smith and Cowdery were visited by the three angels and that they conferred the Melchizedek priesthood in the same way John the Baptist had conferred the Aaronic priesthood.
However, the official church history, supervised or written by Smith, states that "the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders" during a General Conference in early June 1831. When Smith's official history was first published in 1902, the compiler B.H. Roberts thought that this was a mistake, because it would not be consistent with the then-common Mormon belief that the priesthood had been conferred prior to the church's founding in 1830.
However, some recent Mormon historians accept Smith's history as correct and consistent with other historical records showing that other Mormons present at the conference dated the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood to 1831. This conference had been a very significant event in the early church history, coming soon after the conversion of Sidney Rigdon, who believed that Mormon missionaries lacked the necessary power to adequately preach the gospel. Thus, in January 1831, Smith issued a revelation where he wrote that after Mormons relocated to Kirtland, Ohio, they would "be endowed with power from on high" and "sent forth". In a revelation given to an individual, Smith assured the man that "at the conference meeting he [would] be ordained unto power from on high". One of Smith's associates that was present at the conference expressed the view that this ordination "consisted [of] the endowment--it being a new order--and bestowed authority", and later that year, an early convert who had left the church claimed that many of the Saints "have been ordained to the High Priesthood, or the order of Melchizedek; and profess to be endowed with the same power as the ancient apostles were". In 1835, the historical record was muddled a bit when the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants altered pre-1831 revelations to make a distinction between the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and to classify the offices of elder and apostle as part of the Melchizedek priesthood.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the largest Latter Day Saint denomination, the Melchizedek priesthood is one of two governing priesthoods, which is typically given as a matter of course to worthy male members 18 years and older. Though typically adult men do not receive this priesthood until they have belonged to the church for at least one year, this is not a hard and fast rule and a man may be given this priesthood as soon as local church leaders feel that he is prepared. Ordination is based on the recipient's age and worthiness and does not require any specific training or aptitude. A candidate for this ordination is interviewed and often counseled to study the 84th, 107th, and 121st sections of the Doctrine and Covenants to begin to understand the oath and covenant of the priesthood, the covenant a person makes with God when he receives the Melchizedek priesthood. The candidate is also usually asked to stand in a gathering of the members of the church to be publicly accepted as being worthy of ordination. For male Latter-day Saints, receiving the Melchizedek priesthood is considered to be a saving ordinance of the gospel.
Shortly after the establishment of the Church, the ordination of blacks was prohibited. Following a revelation to then-Church president Spencer W. Kimball, the Church lifted the prohibition in 1978.
An important purpose of giving the Melchizedek priesthood to every adult Latter-day Saint man is to allow fathers and husbands to be able to give priesthood blessings of healing, comfort, counsel, and strength to their children and wives, and to preside over the family unit in a righteous manner. Many LDS fathers give a priesthood blessing to their children before the start of each new school year or before an important life event such as marriage. Each Melchizedek priesthood bearer, regardless of priesthood office, is encouraged to give priesthood blessings when called upon by others.
In the LDS Church, there are five offices within the Melchizedek priesthood. Although the holders of the different priesthood offices hold the same Melchizedek priesthood, their assigned rights and responsibilities vary according to their priesthood office.
|Office||Minimum requirement to be ordained to office||Rights and responsibilities|
|Apostle||Married holder of the Melchizedek priesthood||"Special witnesses" of Jesus Christ who hold the rights to officiate in all responsibilities and duties of the priesthood, including the sealing power. Apostles direct the calling of patriarchs and may ordain persons to all other offices and callings in the church. The President of the Church must be an apostle.|
|Seventy||Holder of the Melchizedek priesthood||"Especial witnesses" of Jesus Christ; called to preach the gospel to the world; work under the direction of apostles; may be general or area authorities|
|Patriarch||Married holder of the Melchizedek priesthood; normally at least 55 years old||Gives patriarchal blessings to Latter-day Saints|
|High Priest||Holder of the Melchizedek priesthood||Responsible for the spiritual welfare of the Latter-day Saints; may serve in a bishopric, stake presidency, high council, or temple presidency and may serve as a mission president; may ordain other High Priests and Elders|
|Elder||Priest in the Aaronic priesthood; at least 18 years old||Confer the gift of the Holy Ghost; give blessings by the laying on of hands; ordain other Elders; all rights of the Aaronic priesthood|
Holders of priesthood offices are organized into quorums. The quorums are a brotherhood where members of the quorum assist each other, teach one another, and delegate particular responsibilities to individuals or committees. Often members of the church who do not maintain the standards and people who are not members of the church are invited to participate in the quorum to enjoy the brotherhood and support, although they may not be given certain quorum responsibilities.
|Priesthood office||Name of quorum||Maximum number in quorum and notes|
|Apostle||Quorum of the Twelve Apostles||12; other apostles may be in Quorum of First Presidency or in no quorum|
|Seventy||Quorums of the
(currently numbered First through Eighth)
|70; some are quorums of general authorities; others are quorums of area authorities|
|Patriarch||No quorum organization||Patriarchs meet with the local group of high priests|
|High Priest||High Priests Quorum (stake)
High Priests Group (ward)
|No maximum; each quorum is divided into multiple groups; no quorum exists in districts of the church|
|Elder||Elders Quorum||96; adult males without the priesthood and adult holders of the Aaronic priesthood are invited to attend Elders Quorum|
Each quorum and organizational unit in the church has a presidency attached to it. A presidency is usually composed of three members: the president and two counselors. Typically, a president is selected and he chooses the two counselors whom he would like to serve with him. On very rare occasions there may be only one counselor or three counselors. Usually, a secretary is also called by the president to serve, but he is not considered a part of the presidency. Each of the counselors is given a precedence, for instance, "first counselor" and "second counselor".
The two exceptions to these general rules are the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which is presided by a single president, and the Presidency of the Seventy, which consists of seven presidents equal in authority.
The counselors serve under the direction of the president and share in his responsibilities. The president may assign each counselor to handle certain areas of responsibility. The president bears the sole burden of being the final arbiter of decisions, but he is advised to receive advice from the his counselors and pay close attention to their opinions and insights.
When the president is released, the counselors are also released.
In addition to the regular offices of the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood, there are other leadership callings within the priesthood. The table below lists these other priesthood leadership callings and the table below it shows how the various callings are organized within the hierarchy of the Church.
|Leadership calling||Minimum qualifications||Rights and responsibilities|
|President of the Church and
counselor in the First Presidency
|President must be an apostle;
counselors must be high priests
|Preside over and direct the entire church|
|Area President and counselors||All must be Seventies or apostles||Preside over and direct a geographical region ("area") of the church|
|Stake President and counselors||All must be high priests||Preside over and direct a stake of the church|
|Stake high councilors||Must be high priests||Assist the stake presidency in governing the stake|
|Mission president and counselors||Mission
president must be high priest;
counselors must hold Melchizedek priesthood
|Preside over and direct a mission of the church and the full-time missionaries in the mission|
|District President and couselors||All must hold Melchizedek priesthood||Preside over and direct a district of a mission|
|Temple president and counselors||All must be high priests||Preside over and direct the operation of a temple|
|The First Presidency:
The President and Prophet of the Church, 1st Counselor and 2nd Counselor
|The Quorum of
the Twelve Apostles:
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and eleven other Apostles
|Quorums of the
The Seven Presidents of the Seventy and several dozen Seventies
Presidents and 1st and 2nd Counselors are filled by Seventies
|Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Quorums of the Seventy (Area Seventies)||Temple Presidencies|
|Stake Presidencies and High Councils||Mission Presidencies|
|Ward Bishoprics or Branch Presidencies||Elder Quorums||High Priest Groups|
|Deacon Quorums||Teacher Quorums||Priest Quorums|