Priesthood (LDS Church)

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In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the priesthood is the power and authority to act in the name of God for the salvation of humankind.[1] Male members of the church who meet standards of worthy behavior and church participation are generally ordained to specific offices within the priesthood.


The priesthood authority is divided into two divisions or "orders": the Melchizedek priesthood and the Aaronic priesthood.[2] The Melchizedek priesthood encompasses all priesthood authority; the Aaronic priesthood is therefore an appendage or subdivision of the Melchizedek priesthood.

Requirements for ordination[edit]

The Aaronic priesthood is conferred upon male church members beginning at age eleven[3] by the laying on of hands by men who hold either an office in the Melchizedek priesthood or the office of priest in the Aaronic priesthood. Ordination to the priesthood is based on the recipient's personal moral worthiness and church participation without regard to education or other socioeconomic status, and, since 1978, without regard to race. (Previously, most members of black African descent were excluded from priesthood ordination.) To receive the Melchizedek priesthood in the church today, the recipient must hold the Aaronic priesthood and be at least 18 years old. Some special cases may not permit initial or continuing ordination, such as children living with a same-sex couple.[4][5]

If an adult man joins the LDS Church, he may first have the Aaronic priesthood conferred upon him. After a period of time (usually about one year), the man may have the Melchizedek priesthood conferred upon him.

Ordinance and oath and covenant[edit]

The church teaches that receiving the priesthood is a saving ordinance for males. Like all saving ordinances of the church, it is accompanied by the recipient making a covenant with God. In addition, the reception of the Melchizedek priesthood is said to constitute an "unspoken oath as well as [a] covenant".[6] A manual for LDS Church priesthood holders states that "this means that Heavenly Father gives us His oath (guarantee) that we can have the power and blessings of the priesthood if we covenant (promise) with Him to do certain things."[7] The recipient of the Melchizedek priesthood promises by covenant that he will "magnify" his assigned calling in the priesthood. In exchange, God promises by oath and covenant that the recipients will be "sanctified by the [Holy] Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies"; that they will become the sons of Moses and Aaron and the seed of Abraham; and that they will receive exaltation and ultimately receive all that God has.[8]

Offices and quorums of the priesthood[edit]

Every holder of the priesthood is ordained to one or more priesthood offices. All priesthood holders have the same priesthood authority; however, the authority to exercise certain powers of the priesthood are divided according to priesthood office. A person may hold more than one priesthood office; in fact, once a person is ordained to a priesthood office, the person holds that priesthood office for as long as he holds the priesthood.

Offices of the Melchizedek priesthood[edit]

Office Minimum requirement to be ordained to office[9] 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[10] 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 as a bishop, stake president, mission president, or temple president; may ordain other High Priests and Elders
Elder Holder of 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

Quorums of the Melchizedek priesthood[edit]

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 Quorum leadership structure Maximum number in quorum and notes
Apostle Quorum of the Twelve Apostles One president, no counselors 12; other apostles may be in Quorum of First Presidency or in no quorum
Seventy Quorums of the Seventy
(currently numbered First through Eighth)
All seventies quorums presided over by a single set of seven co-equal presidents with no counselors 70; some are quorums of general authorities; others are quorums of area authorities
Patriarch No quorum organization No quorum organization; until 1979 a Presiding Patriarch existed See below.
High Priest High Priests Quorum (stake) Quorum presidency is the stake president and his two counselors Includes the (usually 1) functioning stake patriarch, members of bishoprics (3 per ward) within the stake, the 12-member stake high council (as presided over by the 3-member Stake Presidency)
Elder Elders Quorum Quorum presidency is one president with two counselors 96; in addition, high priests that are not in the high priests quorum, adult males without the priesthood and adult holders of the Aaronic priesthood are invited to attend Elders Quorum

In order to be called to the Aaronic priesthood office of bishop, a man must hold the Melchizedek priesthood and be a high priest.

Offices and quorums of the Aaronic priesthood[edit]

Office Minimum requirements to be ordained to office[9] Rights and responsibilities Name of quorum organization Quorum leadership structure Maximum number in quorum
Bishop Married adult male; high priest in Melchizedek priesthood See Bishop (Latter Day Saints) No quorum of bishops, but presided over by a general Presiding Bishop No quorum of bishops; bishop is president of the Priests Quorum and a member of the stake High Priests Quorum
Priest 16-year-old baptized male Bless the sacrament; baptize; give others the Aaronic priesthood and ordain other to the offices of priest, teacher and deacon; all rights of a teacher Priests Quorum Quorum presidency is the bishop with two priest assistants 48
Teacher 14-year-old baptized male Prepare the sacrament; home teaching; all rights of a deacon Teachers Quorum Quorum presidency is a president with two counselors 24
Deacon 12-year-old baptized male Keys of the ministering of angels; pass the sacrament to the congregation; collect fast offerings; other duties as assigned by bishop Deacons Quorum Quorum presidency is a president with two counselors 12

Priesthood leadership callings[edit]

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[9] 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

Hierarchy of leadership

General authorities
The First Presidency:
The president 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 Seventy
The Seven Presidents of the Seventy and several dozen seventies
First Quorum of the Seventy Second Quorum of the Seventy
Area presidencies:
Presidents and 1st and 2nd counselors are filled by seventies
Local authorities
Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Quorums of the Seventy (area seventies) Temple presidencies
Stake presidencies and stake high councils Mission presidencies
Ward bishoprics or branch presidencies Elders quorums High priests quorums
Deacons quorums Teachers quorums Priests quorums


Because Latter-day Saints believe that priesthood authority and keys may be granted only by one who holds that authority or keys, they believe it is important that a person trace their priesthood through a line of succession from a person in the Bible who was known to hold that authority or keys. Moreover, Latter-day Saints believe that the priesthood authority was absent from the earth during the Great Apostasy, and that priesthood had to be restored through Joseph Smith. Catholic and Orthodox Christians do not believe that such a complete apostasy ever took place when defending the validity of their priesthoods, and these churches do not recognize the priesthood exercised by Latter-day Saints.

Latter-day Saints believe that ancient prophets and apostles conferred the priesthood directly upon Smith and other early members of the movement.

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery provided the first public announcement that the priesthood had been conferred by John the Baptist on May 15, 1829. Cowdery's account was essentially confirmed by Smith.

Unlike the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood, Smith never provided a date for the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood, and never clearly indicated how this authority was conferred. Smith first specifically introduced the Melchizedek or high priesthood to the church in 1831. In his 1832 history, he referred to "a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinence from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit the Kees of the Kingdom of God conferred on him [Smith] and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c".[11]

Though specific details were lacking, by the turn of the 20th century, Latter-day Saint theologians were convinced that such a conferral had occurred prior to the organization of the Church of Christ on April 6, 1830.

In addition to the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood (and the keys of the apostleship), additional priesthood keys were conferred on Joseph Smith and others. Smith dictated the following passage as a revelation following the dedication of the Kirtland Temple:

After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north. After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed. After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.[12]

Use of the priesthood[edit]

Unrighteous dominion is a principle taught by the LDS Church which at its core holds that those given priesthood authority may not use that power as a means of imposing compliance to their will, especially in contravention of moral and ethical conduct.[13] This teaching extends to all church members, in any area of responsibility, including personal and family relationships, church callings, business dealings, and public positions of trust. Church members are taught to identify it,[14] and avoid it.[15]

In a noted address on pride, LDS Church president Ezra Taft Benson said that unrighteous dominion is a form of contention and pride.[16] The use of power or influence to cover-up sin, indulge in vain ambitions or self-righteous conduct is considered unrighteous dominion.[17] Abuse, including verbal, physical, and sexual is considered unrighteous dominion.[17]

Unrighteous dominion is considered a sin, for which repentance (and in some cases restitution) is required. It may also result in disciplinary actions by the church, which vary based on the nature and severity of the situation; a subsequent church president, Gordon B. Hinckley, specifically stated that "[a]ny man who engages in this practice is unworthy to hold a temple recommend."[17] Penalties, up to and including excommunication, may come into play. If acts stemming from unrighteous dominion are criminal in nature, the church may be obliged to disclose the facts of the case to the proper law enforcement officials.[17]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Whittaker, David (2011), A Firm Foundation: Church Organization and Administration, BYU, ISBN 978-0-8425-2785-9


  1. ^ LDS Church, Guide to the Scriptures: Priesthood
  2. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 20:38-39,46,48.
  3. ^ Church of Jesus Christ. "Age Changes for Youth Progression and Ordination Announced - Church News and Events". Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  4. ^ Walch, Tad (November 6, 2015). "Elder Christofferson explains updated LDS Church policies on same-sex marriage and children". Deseret News. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  5. ^ "First Presidency Clarifies Church Handbook Changes",, LDS Church, 2015-11-13
  6. ^ LDS Church. "Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood". The Guide to the Scriptures. Study Helps. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  7. ^ LDS Church, "Lesson 1: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood", Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B (Salt Lake City: LDS Church, 2000).
  8. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 84:33-39.
  9. ^ a b c These minimum requirements may have changed over time. The requirements listed are those that are enforced by the church today.
  10. ^ Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006, p. 6.
  11. ^ Joseph Smith's 1832 history, p. 1.
  12. ^ Doctrine and Covenants (LDS Church ed.) 110:11–16.
  13. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 121:36–39
  14. ^ H. Burke Peterson, "Unrighteous Dominion," Ensign, July 1989.
  15. ^ James S. and Jeanne N. Jardine, "Avoiding Unrighteous Dominion," Ensign, September 1990.
  16. ^ Ezra Taft Benson, "Beware of Pride," Ensign, May 1989
  17. ^ a b c d Gordon B. Hinckley, "Personal Worthiness to Exercise the Priesthood," Ensign, May 2002.