Section 107: Priesthood and Church Government
Section 107 is one of the great revelations of this dispensation. It is the most important revelation having to do with priesthood and church government.
Before reading this background material and before commencing your study of section 107, try taking, just for fun, the following Pre-Quiz for section 107. It will test your knowledge of priesthood and church government. All of the answers to this quiz will be contained in the material that follows.
Pre-Quiz for Section 107
- Who chose the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation?
- Name the eight offices that have been in the Melchizedek priesthood since the gospel’s restoration (be careful with this question—it is tricky).
- What is the official title for the President of the Church?
- Name the four offices in the Aaronic Priesthood.
- Name the eight priesthood quorums in our current Church government (also name one that formerly existed but does not currently exist).
- What is the difference between a quorum and a council?
- Name the ten ruling councils in our Church government.
- Name the three standing or permanent disciplinary councils (courts) in the Church.
- Which members of the Church may not be tried in one of the standing courts? In which special court must some be tried?
- Name the “supreme court(s)” in the Church, or those from which no appeal is possible.
- What are the possible decisions that can be rendered by a Church court or disciplinary council?
In a Kirtland High Council meeting on January 18, 1835, Joseph announced that the time had come to choose the Twelve Apostles, and on February 8, Joseph instructed Brigham and Joseph Young to call a conference the following Saturday, February 14, 1835. The conference on that day was attended by all of the participants of Zion’s Camp who lived close enough to Kirtland to attend. From this group of Zion’s Camp participants nine of the twelve members of the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation were chosen by the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon—Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer. The three members of the first Quorum of Twelve that had not served on the Zion’s Camp march were William McLellin, John Boynton, and Thomas B. Marsh. Thomas Marsh was already in Missouri at the time of the march and did not have the opportunity to enlist. Recall that in section 18 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord had given the Book of Mormon witnesses the honor and commandment of eventually choosing the Quorum of the Twelve. That commandment was given six years previously in June 1829.
The men selected for the first Quorum of the Twelve were all equal in authority, but at a later time Joseph designated the order of seniority in which they should sit in council. He placed them according to age, from the eldest to the youngest. Thus, according to age, the men comprising this first Quorum of the Twelve were: Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, William E. McLellin, Parley P. Pratt, Luke Johnson, William Smith, Orson Pratt, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson.
On February 28, 1835, two weeks after the selection of the Twelve, Joseph Smith called the First Quorum of the Seventy with their seven presidents. These were all chosen from among those who had participated in Zion’s Camp. According to one of those selected, Joseph Young, Joseph Smith later said to the elders in Kirtland concerning the purpose of Zion’s Camp, “Brethren, some of you are angry with me because you did not fight in Missouri; but let me tell you, God did not want you to fight. He could not organize his kingdom with twelve men to open the gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks, unless he took them from a body of men who had offered their lives, and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham. Now the Lord has got his Twelve and his Seventy, and there will be other quorums of Seventies called, who will make the sacrifice, and those who have not made their sacrifices and their offerings now, will make them hereafter” (HC, 2:182). Zion’s Camp had not been about war at all (D&C 105:37-40). It had been about sacrifice, so that the highest quorums of the Church might be organized with men who had put all things in the Lord’s hands.
When they were first called, this first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles scarcely knew what to do. It was a new calling to them. They had little concept of what an apostle should do, day to day. The Prophet met with them periodically and gave them instructions. In such a meeting held March 12, 1835, it was decided that the Twelve should leave for a mission through the eastern states to the Atlantic coast and hold conferences with the several branches of the Church en route. It was further decided that they should leave for this mission on May 4.
In anticipation of this mission, the Twelve presented a letter to Joseph on March 28, 1835, requesting that he inquire of the Lord on their behalf, so that they might have a special revelation to take with them on their journey. They wanted to be able to draw comfort from this revelation while they were away from Kirtland. In their letter, they wrote, “The time when we are about to separate is near; and when we shall meet again, God only knows; we therefore feel to ask of him whom we have acknowledged to be our Prophet and Seer, that he inquire of God for us, and obtain a revelation, (if consistent) that we may look upon it when we are separated, that our heart may be comforted. Our worthiness has not inspired us to make this request, but our unworthiness. We have unitedly asked God, our heavenly Father, to grant unto us through his Seer, a revelation of his mind and will concerning our duty the coming season, even a great revelation, that will enlarge our hearts, comfort us in adversity, and brighten our hopes amidst the powers of darkness” (HC, 2:209-10).
As a consequence of this request, Joseph did inquire of the Lord, and on March 28, 1835, most of section 107 was received. Actually section 107 is a composite of at least five separate revelations. Verses 1 through 52 and 56 through 58 as well as 78 through 87 were received on March 28, 1835. Verses 53 through 55 were part of the “patriarchal” blessing Joseph gave to his father on December 18, 1833. Verses 59 through 69a, 71, 72, 74, 75, 89, 91, 92, 99, and 100 were all received during the conferences held a few years previously in November 1831 (during these same conferences, sections 1, 67, 68, 69, 70, and 133 were also received). Verses 90 and 93 through 98 are about the Seventy. Joseph made public in January 1835 that he had received a vision about the Seventy, and we may assume that these verses came from that vision. Verses 69b and 70, 73, 76, 77, and 88 are about bishops and their duties. We don’t know when Joseph received this portion of the revelation, but it was some time after November 1831. Church organization has developed line upon line since its organization in 1830. Even the office of apostle was not completed until the final keys were restored by Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Savior in 1836 (see section 110). Undoubtedly the entire restoration of priesthood organization is still being completed. An example is the re-organization of the First Quorum of the Seventy as General Authorities by President Spencer W. Kimball with the Lord’s inspiration in 1975 and the subsequent continued addition of Quorums of the Seventy.
Section 107 was the beginning of the “quorum” in the Church (more about the “quorum” below). By February 1835 there were a few ordained offices in the priesthood, but there were no quorums as yet.
Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote an interesting overview of Section 107:
On that day The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received a revelation which is one of the most remarkable documents in the possession of man. It stands absolutely unique; there is none like it. . . . It sets forth in plainness and simplicity, the organization of the quorums of the priesthood; the mutual relations of the quorums to one another; the judicial system of the Church is foreshadowed and outlined; and there is a wonderful picture of the early priesthood. I doubt whether any other such documents, of the same small extent, the same few number of words, lies at the foundation of any other great human institution. . . . It is so comprehensive in its brevity, so magnificent in its simplicity, that we have found no occasions, up to the present, to wish that it might have been more complete (CR, April 1935, 80-81).
It is suggested that the reader may wish to review Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 12, Priesthood before studying this section. Particular attention should be paid, in that article, to the specific uses of the word priesthood.
For our study of section 107, we will not follow the verses in the usual numerical sequence. Rather, we will follow a subject outline, and the verses that pertain to each individual subject will be considered as they pertain to that subject. Each verse in section will be considered, and a few verses will be considered twice, if the verse seems to pertain to more than one outline topic. In a few instances, the verse and its commentary will simply be repeated.
Scripture Mastery D&C 107 Priesthood and Church Government D&C 107:99-100 Let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand.
The outline for section 107 begins here:
1. The Two Priesthoods (verses 1-7)
The work to be done in the kingdom of God may be divided into the spiritual and the temporal. As someone said in jest, “Someone has to lay on hands, and someone has to fertilize the fitzers.” The Melchizedek Priesthood administers in spiritual matters, while the Aaronic Priesthood has charge of the temporal affairs of the Church. Even the work of the Aaronic Priesthood is, in a very real sense, spiritual work—it is God’s work (D&C 29:34).
1 There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood.
verse 1 “two priesthoods” The use of the word priesthoods refers to the group of men or boys who have been given God’s authority or authorization to labor in his earthly kingdom.
We may figuratively represent the amount of authority inherent in each of the three priesthoods by drawing three concentric circles (all three circles share a common center point). The largest is the Melchizedek Priesthood, the next largest the Aaronic Priesthood, and the smallest, the Levitical Priesthood. We thus see that these priesthoods are not separate and distinct, but all are contained within the Melchizedek Priesthood. Just as there is only one God, so there is ultimately only one power of God—one priesthood.
Levi was the third son of Jacob and lived about 1700 BC. Aaron, Moses’ brother, was born of the tribe of Levi and lived about 1500 BC. Anciently, all the sons or descendants of Levi could hold the Levitical priesthood, but only the descendants of Aaron had the right to hold the Aaronic priesthood. The holders of the Aaronic Priesthood could preside in the Levitical priesthood. When the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood was taken away from Israel at Mount Sinai (D&C 84:25-27), a lesser portion of it, the Aaronic Priesthood, was allowed to remain to administer the ordinances and performances of the law of Moses. Although the Old Testament sometimes equates priests with the Levites, a distinction was usually made anciently within the lesser priesthood (D&C 84:26) between Levites (anyone descended from the tribe of Levi) and priests, who were descended from Levi exclusively through the family of Aaron, the brother of Moses. A priest had to be descended from Aaron (Numbers 18:1). Thus, all Aaronic priests were Levites, but not all Levites were Aaronic priests. Levites were authorized to labor in the Temple as doorkeepers, singers, musicians, and so forth, but only those descended from Aaron (the Aaronic priests) would normally slay the sacrifices—although the Levites could flay, or skin, the slaughtered animals (2 Chronicles 29:34; 35:11). The ancient distinction between Aaronic priests and Levites might be described as similar to the distinction in the modern Church between priests on the one hand and deacons and teachers on the other.
2 Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest.
verse 2 “Melchizedek was such a great high priest” The biblical story of Melchizedek can be found in Genesis 14:18-20. To this short passage, the Prophet Joseph added his inspired translation, JST Genesis 14:25-40, which informs us that Melchizedek was a high priest after the order of Enoch and that as king of Salem he established peace and righteousness. Melchizedek was also known to the Book of Mormon prophet Alma, who described him as a type, or foreshadowing, of the coming Son of God, and who was the king of Salem and the prince of peace (see Alma 13:1419). Melchizedek accomplished, after the Flood, what Enoch had accomplished before it—the sanctification of an entire people and the establishment of a physical Zion. He was, therefore, in this respect at least, the greatest high priest from Enoch to the coming of the Savior (Alma 13:19), even blessing, ordaining, and receiving tithes from Abraham (compare D&C 76:57).
3 Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.
4 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.
verse 4 “to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name” See the commentary on D&C 63:61-62 which discusses the taking of the name of the Lord in vain. Before Melchizedek’s day the higher priesthood was called “The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God.” It was subsequently named after the great high priest Melchizedek to avoid the too frequent repetition of the name of Deity.
Elder Matthias F. Cowley, commenting on this verse, said: “Let us stop and reflect upon that for a moment. It does not imply, when they called the priesthood after the order of the Son of God, that they did it irreverently, or that they were profaning the name of Deity: but the change was made ‘to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name.’ This ought to impress us with the sacredness that the Almighty places upon his holy name” (CR, October 1901, 16).
“the church, in ancient days” “Ancient days” here is the time between Melchizedek and Moses, when the Church, under the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, was organized upon the earth. Though Moses attempted to establish the Church and the fulness of the gospel among the children of Israel, they would not as a nation receive it (D&C 84:23-27) and were given the law of Moses in its place. According to the Prophet Joseph, “God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last [that is, highest] law from Moses. . . . The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law. . . . The law revealed to Moses in Horeb [that is the fulness of the gospel] never was revealed to the children of Israel as a nation” (HC, 5:555).
5 All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood.
verse 5 There is no legitimate authority to act for God upon the earth except the Melchizedek Priesthood and its appendages—the various callings within that priesthood. Thus, the president of the Church, holding all the keys of this priesthood, presides over and directs all the ordinances and activities of the Church and its members (verses 91-92). There can be no claim of exemption from the president’s authority, since there is no priesthood or authority upon the earth beyond that for which the president personally holds all the keys.
6 But there are two divisions or grand heads—one is the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the other is the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood.
verse 6 “there are two divisions or grand heads” This verse is virtually a repeat of verse 1. In this verse, the Lord does not intend to say that there are three different kinds of priesthood, since “all priesthood is Melchizedek” (Dahl and Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 509). Obviously, the Lord classifies the Aaronic and Levitical priesthoods as one, yet we know there are subtle differences (see verse 1 and its commentary).
7 The office of an elder comes under the priesthood of Melchizedek.
verse 7 “The office of an elder” An elder holds the Melchizedek Priesthood; there is no higher order of priesthood which he may subsequently receive. However, a Melchizedek Priesthood holder may be set apart for specific offices within the priesthood and may be given keys of the priesthood necessary for performance of his duties in those offices. An apostle, for example, is an elder who has received a special calling and who holds with his quorum the keys of the kingdom.
2. Melchizedek Priesthood Authority (verses 8-12, 18-19)
As the Lord outlined the work to be done in the Church by the priesthood, he defined the various job assignments, and for each category of job assignments he created a different office in the two priesthoods.
There are six offices within the Melchizedek Priesthood: elder, high priest, patriarch, apostle, seventy (general or area authority), and president of the high priesthood of the Church (Prophet President of the Church). In the early history of the Church we had a seventh office in the Melchizedek Priesthood—that of “assistant president” of the Church. Only two men held that office, Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith. Also in the relatively recent past we had an eighth office, the office of seventy, who was a member of a stake quorum. It is of interest that the seventy were originally intended to be general authorities forming a quorum of equal authority with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve but serving under the First Presidency (see verses 24-26, 33). This is the role which they now occupy in the Church, though there was an interim period in the Church where the seventies were not general authorities, but rather were organized into stake quorums.
Each of these six officers today holds the same priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood, but each office implies a new special focus or responsibility within the Melchizedek Priesthood. There is also considerable overlap of responsibility. All of the offices have responsibility for temple and genealogical work, but the high priest is the specialist. The high priests have responsibility for welfare services, but the elder is considered the specialist.
8 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.
verse 8 “The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right of presidency” The right of presidency is roughly equivalent to holding the keys of the priesthood. It is the right to administer or direct the work of the Church, though “presidency” itself is not an exclusive right of the priesthood. For example, Relief Society and other auxiliary presidents in the Church need not personally hold the priesthood, though they operate under the direction of those who do.
The rights and powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood reside in the priesthood itself and do not flow from without the priesthood. Thus, an apostle, patriarch, high priest, seventy, or elder is each empowered by the same Melchizedek Priesthood and that priesthood is greater than any of its component parts or offices. All priesthood holders are subordinate to and operate under the direction of those who hold the keys of the priesthood power. Priesthood is the authority to perform the work. Keys are the right to direct the work.
“to administer in spiritual things” “Spiritual things” are likely to be contrasted here with the “outward [or physical] ordinances” of the Aaronic Priesthood mentioned in verse 14. When divided (albeit roughly) into these two categories, spiritual things are quite literally those ordinances or performances that directly invoke the action of the Holy Spirit, whereas outward ordinances are physical tasks or performances. Thus, preparing and passing the sacrament are physical actions that may be performed by the Aaronic Priesthood. Bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost or sealing couples in marriage are ordinances requiring the operation of the Holy Spirit and must, therefore, be administered by the Melchizedek Priesthood.
9 The Presidency of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, have a right to officiate in all the offices in the church.
verse 9 “Presidency of the High Priesthood” This is the First Presidency of the Church. This term should not be understood to mean merely presidency over high priests, which would include every stake presidency. The “Presidency of the High Priesthood” is set over the whole of the high, or Melchizedek, Priesthood—including over all the apostles, seventies, patriarchs, high priests, and elders.
10 High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things, and also in the office of an elder, priest (of the Levitical order), teacher, deacon, and member.
verse 10 “High priests” High priests have the right to officiate as presiding officers, or presiding high priests, over whatever stewardship the First Presidency may direct. Thus, mission presidents, stake presidents, area presidents, and so on, are—in terms of their priesthood authority—presiding officers, or presiding high priests.
“also in the office of an elder, priest (of the Livitical order), teacher, deacon, and member” This rather awkwardly-worded phrase seems to teach that the high priests also preside over elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and other members.
11 An elder has a right to officiate in his stead when the high priest is not present.
12 The high priest and elder are to administer in spiritual things, agreeable to the covenants and commandments of the church; and they have a right to officiate in all these offices of the church when there are no higher authorities present.
verse 12 “administer in spiritual things” See the commentary for verse 8.
verses 18-19 Note that these two verses are listed out of order, in keeping with the outline of section 107 we are following. This pattern, as already mentioned, will pertain to the remainder of the commentary on section 107.
18 The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
verse 18 Only the Prophet President of the Church can exercise all of the keys of the kingdom, though most of the keys are held jointly with his counselors (see D&C 90:6 and its commentary). Actually, the president’s counselors and the members of the Quorum of Twelve all hold most all of the keys but only exercise them by virtue of their association with the president. The president is the only man on earth who primarily exercises all of the keys of the priesthood. These keys make possible the blessings enumerated in the following verse.
19 To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
3. Aaronic Priesthood Authority (verses 13-17, 20)
The job assignments or offices in the Aaronic Priesthood are four: deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop.
The specific scriptural callings of the deacons, teachers, and priests are found in D&C 20:46-59.
The bishop is president of the priests’ quorum in each ward.
13 The second priesthood is called the Priesthood of Aaron, because it was conferred upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations.
verse 13 “conferred upon Aaron and his seed” Descendants of Aaron held the lesser priesthood not only by calling and ordination bestowed upon a righteous individual, but rather by right of birth. Aaronic priests were not required to enter into an “oath and covenant” agreement with the Lord as do Melchizedek priesthood holders today (Hebrews 7:21), though they were washed, anointed, clothed, and consecrated to the Lord’s service (Leviticus 8:1-36; Exodus 28:41).
14 Why it is called the lesser priesthood is because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances.
verse 14 The priesthood of Aaron has power in administering the “outward” or temporal ordinances of the Church (baptism, sacrament). The term “lesser priesthood” is found in scripture only in the Doctrine and Covenants. Since “all priesthood is Melchizedek,” the lesser priesthood is a limited form of the Melchizedek Priesthood and is therefore “an appendage” to it, adapted to the physical or “outward” ordinances of the preparatory gospel known as the law of Moses (verses 10, 14, 20; D&C 84:26-27).
15 The bishopric is the presidency of this priesthood, and holds the keys or authority of the same.
verse 15 A bishop is an office in the Aaronic Priesthood (D&C 68:14-21). The one who holds the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood in all the Church, under the direction of the First Presidency, is the Presiding Bishop of the Church, and it is this office that is described here. Locally, the bishop of a ward, under the direction of the stake president, holds the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood in that ward and is the president of the ward’s priests’ quorum. Normally, those with callings in a ward bishopric are high priests who, by virtue of being high priests, may also function in the offices of the lesser priesthood (verses 10, 17). The ward bishop also presides over the Melchizedek Priesthood holders in his ward. Nevertheless, a male firstborn descendant of Aaron has the legal right to serve as the Presiding Bishop of the Church and president of the Aaronic Priesthood—the equivalent of the ancient Jewish high priest. This privilege does not apply to the position of a ward bishop, however.
16 No man has a legal right to this office, to hold the keys of this priesthood, except he be a literal descendant of Aaron.
17 But as a high priest of the Melchizedek Priesthood has authority to officiate in all the lesser offices, he may officiate in the office of bishop when no literal descendant of Aaron can be found, provided he is called and set apart and ordained unto this power by the hands of the Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
20 The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.
verse 20 “The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood” The Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys of the ministering of angels, such as the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, and to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Under the auspices of the lesser priesthood, Israel as a nation was entitled to be visited by angels and to live a preparatory gospel that lacked the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood and its keys. A comparison of this verse with D&C 84:25-27 suggests that the “letter of the gospel” mentioned in this verse might be the preparatory gospel of repentance, baptism, and the law of carnal commandments (that is, the do’s and don’ts of the law of Moses). Note that the lesser priesthood has no authority to perform confirmations, sealings, or other higher ordinances and receives no oath from God concerning the powers of godliness or the gift of eternal lives as does the Melchizedek Priesthood. Therefore, the lesser priesthood cannot offer the hope of exaltation in the kingdom of God.
“agreeable to the covenants and commandments” That is, in accordance with the previous revelations and particularly with the Articles and Covenants of the Church as contained in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
4. Priesthood Councils (verses 27-32)
The Kingdom of God on the earth is a kingdom of law and order. God is the law giver and supreme judge, but he has delegated authority and the necessary keys to the leaders of his ruling councils.
In the early years of the Church, no distinction was made between a quorum and a council. Today we say that a quorum is simply a body of the priesthood bearers, but a council is an administrative, decision-making body of priesthood bearers called together under the direction of a priesthood president or a key holder. Councils exist for the discussion and regulation of church affairs. They decide matters of policy or discipline.
In these verses the “quorums” referred to are the Quorum of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) are also priesthood councils. Examples of other priesthood councils are: all quorum presidencies, stake presidencies, and the stake high councils. Keep in mind, however, that to function as a council, the stake high council must include the stake president. There is no priesthood council without a divinely appointed key holder at its head.
These verses indicate the three requirements for proper decision making in the Church’s councils:
- Unanimity. The unanimity does not come from compulsion or duress in any form. It comes from universal agreement and common consent to righteous principles as facilitated by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. Elder Boyd Packer, speaking of the regular weekly meetings of the council that consists of of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles, said: “. . . the decisions of this council are not consummated unless they are unanimous. They must be unanimous or there is no decision” (Fall Faculty Workshop, BYU 1973, 5-6).
- The presence of a majority (half plus one) of the council members is required. Again, decisions are not made by majorities—there must be unanimity—but a majority of the council’s members must be present. This majority may function as a council— assuming the presence of its president or someone with the authority of its president— is present.
- The council must function “in all righteousness.”
A summary of the ruling councils of the Church, then, would include: The Council of the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve (often these two function together as a “council of fifteen”), the councils or quorums of seventy, all priesthood quorum presidencies, the stake high councils, and the councils of the stake presidencies and bishoprics.
27 And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—
verse 27 “every decision made by either of these quorums” It is appropriate to substitute the word council for “quorums” here and councils for “quorums” in verse 30. In this verse the Lord is referring to the councils of the seventy and the twelve apostles (see verses 25 and 26).
28 A majority may form a quorum when circumstances render it impossible to be otherwise—
29 Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men.
30 The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;
31 Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.
32 And in case that any decision of these quorums is made in unrighteousness, it may be brought before a general assembly of the several quorums, which constitute the spiritual authorities of the church; otherwise there can be no appeal from their decision.
verse 32 “a general assembly of the several quorums” No one in the Church is immune from the obligation of presiding in righteousness (compare D&C 121:36-37). In the case of an unrighteous decision’s being made by a presiding quorum of the Church, it could be reviewed only by a general assembly composed of the membership of all the leading quorums together. Such a council would be composed of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the First Quorum of the Seventy.
“otherwise there can be no appeal from their decision” It is only by means of this “general assembly of the several quorums” that an appeal can be made.
5. Priesthood Quorums (verses 21-26, 33-37)
There are or have been actually nine priesthood quorums in our church government. They are: The Quorum of the First Presidency, The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Quorums of the Seventy (including general authority Seventies and area authority Seventies), the deacons quorum, the teachers quorum, the priests quorum, the elders quorum, the seventies quorum (stake), and the high priests quorum. The first three quorums mentioned are also ruling “councils” of the Church. The other priesthood quorums are not ruling councils, but the presidency of each quorum is a ruling council. It should be also noted that the seventies quorum in a stake no longer exists in the Church.
These verses were significant because they tempered the earlier supremacy of the First Presidency of the Church by equally dispersing presiding priesthood authority among the five councils of the Church government which then existed. These were the Council of the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, the First Council of Seventy, and the two high councils—one in Kirtland and one in Missouri (see section 102). Today of course, these latter two councils do not exist, and thus the presiding authority over the Church is held equally by each of the first three councils. These three councils hold the “keys of presidency.” That is, at the death of the president of the high priesthood, the Council of the Twelve selects his successor. Similarly, if something should happen to incapacitate the majorities of both the Council of the Twelve and the Council of the First Presidency, then the First Council or Quorum of the Seventy would meet to select the President of the Church and to reorganize the ruling councils of the Church.
As the Council of the First Presidency formulates its decisions, the members always confer with the Council of the Twelve who, by revelation, are appointed to act with them in the government of the Church. When a judgment is reached unanimously and proclaimed by these councils jointly, it becomes binding upon all members of the Church. Though it is not an official name, we sometimes refer to the combination of these two councils as the “council of fifteen apostles.”
One note on the council of the First Presidency. It must have at least three members: the President, who is the senior apostle upon the earth, and two counselors. The counselors need not be apostles, and more than two counselors may be called.
21 Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
verse 21 “Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers” Because God’s house is a house of order (D&C 132:8), there must be provision for orderly government within the Church. President Joseph F. Smith stated, “Every man should be willing to be presided over; and he is not fit to preside over others until he can submit sufficiently to the presidency of his brethren” (Improvement Era, December 1917, 105).
verses 22-39 These verses describe in order the governing councils or quorums of the whole Church, thereby defining what, together with the Presiding Bishopric (verse 15), would today be called general authorities.
22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
verse 22 “three Presiding High Priests” In March 1835, the three presiding high priests or First Presidency, of the Church were Joseph Smith Jr., Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams. Oliver Cowdery was at that time also an assistant president of the Church. These brethren had previously been chosen by the body of the high priesthood ordained, and upheld (or sustained) to this presidency between January 25, 1832, and March 18, 1833.
“chosen by the body” At the original organization of the first presidency of the Church in 1832, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not yet been established (that took place in 1835). Therefore, in the case of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, “chosen by the body” meant chosen by the body of the high priesthood, which then served as a governing council of the Church. Joseph Smith had been so chosen at a conference of high priests in Amherst, Ohio, on January 25, 1832. By the time of Joseph Smith’s death on June 27, 1844, the Quorum of the Twelve had been formally organized and “formed a quorum, equal in authority and power” to the First Presidency (verse 24). Therefore, with the organization of the Twelve and of the Seventy in 1835, and with the hierarchy of authority established by revelation in section 107, the whole body of the high priesthood was no longer a governing council. According to verses 22-26, with the death of Joseph Smith and the dissolution of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve became the presiding quorum and Brigham Young, the president of that quorum, became the de facto (in fact, in reality) presiding officer of the Church. President Young was ordained president of the Church and formally reorganized the First Presidency on December 5, 1847. In the Church today, “chosen by the body” has been interpreted to mean chosen by the Quorum of the Twelve.
23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
verse 23 “The twelve traveling councilors” This term refers to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and is also the name given to them in D&C 102:28-30. Some of their qualifications were identified in D&C 18:27-39. The Quorum of the Twelve hold collectively all the keys and authority held by the First Presidency. However, those keys reside individually in and can be exercised fully by only one person—the president of the Church. He alone can exercise all those keys. When the president dies, the First Presidency is dissolved, and the Quorum of the Twelve, presided over by the president of the Twelve, possesses and can exercise collectively all the keys, power, and authority necessary to continue the work of the Church and to reorganize the First Presidency.
“special witnesses of the name of Christ” The principal calling and function of an apostle is to be a special witness of the name of Christ to all the world. This calling requires that a special witness be given to each apostle. However, we need not expect that the apostle must have actually seen the risen Lord. As President Joseph Fielding Smith observed: “It is their privilege to see him if occasion requires, but the Lord has taught that there is a stronger witness than seeing a personage, even of seeing the Son of God in a vision. Impressions on the soul that come from the Holy Ghost are far more significant than a vision” (Improvement Era, November 1966, 979).
Additionally, we may distinguish between being witnesses of Christ and being witnesses of the name of Christ. The latter term refers to all that is encompassed by or done in the name, and therefore by the authority, of the Savior. The twelve are not only special witnesses of the person of Christ but are also witnesses of all that is done or known upon the earth in and through the name of Jesus Christ. Each and every aspect of the Lord’s earthly kingdom has been established through the name and authority of Jesus Christ. The Twelve are therefore special witnesses of all aspects of the Lord’s earthly kingdom.
24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
verse 24 “equal in authority and power to the [First Presidency]” The language here should not be understood to say that the Church is governed simultaneously by three separate but equal leadership bodies. That would inevitably lead to confusion, and God’s house is a house of order. Verse 33 makes it clear that the Twelve officiate “under the direction of the Presidency,” while verse 34 similarly requires that the Seventy act “under the direction of the Twelve.” Smith and Sjodahl in their Doctrine and Covenants Commentary wrote: “It should be understood that this condition of equality could prevail only when the ranking quorum is no longer in existence, through death or otherwise. When the First Presidency becomes disorganized on the death of the president, then the Quorum of Twelve Apostles becomes the presiding quorum, or council, of the Church. . . . So with the Seventies, they would become equal only on the condition that the first two quorums ceased to exist” (700).
25 The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
verse 25 “The Seventy” The Seventy were to function as general authorities of the Church, forming a quorum equal in authority to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The special calling of the Seventy is to preach the gospel, especially to the Gentiles, in all the world. According to President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Seventy is an office “that carries with it the responsibility of bearing apostolic witness of the name of Christ” (CR, April 1984, 73). As to the other duties of the Seventy, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “The Seventies are to constitute traveling quorums, to go into all the earth, whithersoever the Twelve Apostles shall call them” (TPJS, 68; also D&C 124:139-40).
26 And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.
33 The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.
verse 33 “The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council” At this time in the history of the Church there were high councils organized both in Kirtland and in Missouri (Zion). These are referred to as the “standing high councils” (verse 36) or the “high council in Zion [or Kirtland].” The Twelve, on the other hand comprised a “Traveling Presiding High Council.”
34 The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;
35 The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews.
verses 34-35 “first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews” The Jews, who were the first people to receive the preaching of the gospel at the time of Christ, will be the last to receive it in this dispensation. The scriptural principle, which has other applications as well, is “that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first” (D&C 29:30; Matthew 19:30; Luke 13:30). Consequently, the Twelve “are to travel and preach among the Gentiles, until the Lord shall command them to go to the Jews.”
verse 35 “The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys” We have discussed the fact that the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, collectively as a quorum, hold all of the keys which have been vouchsafed to man on earth. Brigham Young taught that the office of apostle itself, the apostleship, contains—built in—the keys necessary to organize and build up the kingdom of God on earth (Brigham Young, JD, 1:134-35).
36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council. 37 The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.
verses 36-37 “The standing high councils . . . form a quorum equal in authority” This phrase may seem a surprise to the reader at first, but its meaning is self evident. At the time this revelation was given, there were two standing high councils in the Church. The one in Kirtland was presided over by Joseph Smith and the First Presidency. The other in Missouri, was presided over by what was called “the Presidency of the Church in Zion,” consisting of David Whitmer, William W. Phelps, and John Whitmer. It has been suggested in other settings that these two standing councils are exactly equivalent to modern stake presidencies and high councils. This is not exactly the case. Rather, those in the two high councils were considered at that time to be general authorities presiding over domestic affairs of the two main bodies of the saints, while the Twelve and the Seventy focused on the preaching of the gospel to the world. Nevertheless, a modern stake president does hold the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood in that stake under the direction of the general authorities and, with the assistance of his counselors and the high council, directs the functions of the Church in that stake. In this their organization and function are somewhat analogous to that of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve over the Church. However, a local stake president and high council are not exactly equivalent to the high councils mentioned here (what modern stake is presided over by the president of the Church, for example?). Neither does a stake president and high council hold all the keys and authority once held by those earlier standing councils.
6. The Church Judiciary (verses 72, 76-84)
There are three “standing courts” or permanent courts in the Church. A term preferable to “court” today is “disciplinary council.” These three are:
- bishop’s court (D&C 107:72) This court is made up of the ward bishop and his two counselors. It may try any member of the Church within the boundaries of the ward. It has authority to disfellowship any member of the Church (except the members of the First Presidency), and it may excommunicate any member except those who hold the Melchizedek priesthood.
- stake high council court (D&C 102) This court consists of the stake presidency and twelve high priests of the stake—usually members of the stake high council. It has the authority to try and excommunicate any member of the Church except a member of the First Presidency. This court may serve as an appellate court or court of appeal for those tried in a bishop’s court. If a court is convened in a place where there is no stake organized, high priests may organize a court after the manner of a high council court (D&C 102:24-28). Such a court is referred to as an “elders’ court.”
- court of the First Presidency (D&C 102:30-32; 68:22-24; 107:79) This court consists of the members of the Council of the First Presidency meeting alone or they may call twelve high priests to assist them. This is the supreme court of the Church from which there is no appeal.
There is one special court referred to in verse 82 as the “common council of the church” (D&C 107:82). This is the court of the Presiding Bishopric. It is convened only for one purpose—that of trying a member of the First Presidency. It consists of the three members of the presiding bishopric and twelve high priests whom they select to assist them. Again, it is a supreme court from which there can be no appeal.
After a court meets and hears the case of a member of the Church, the bishop or president must render a decision which then is sustained by vote of the members of the court. The possible decisions of a court are: (1) acquittal, (2) guilty but put on probation, the terms of which are defined by the court, (3) disfellowshipment, and (4) excommunication.
72 And also to be a judge in Israel, to do the business of the church, to sit in judgment upon transgressors upon testimony as it shall be laid before him according to the laws, by the assistance of his counselors, whom he has chosen or will choose among the elders of the church.
verse 72 Although, in context, this verse seems to refer primarily to the Presiding Bishop of the Church, its content is applicable to the ward bishop.
The two main duties of a bishop are to minister in the temporal affairs of the Church and to be a judge in Israel. He therefore maintains and distributes the physical resources of the Church and also determines individual worthiness for participation in the ordinances and activities of the Church.
76 But a literal descendant of Aaron has a legal right to the presidency of this priesthood, to the keys of this ministry, to act in the office of bishop independently, without counselors, except in a case where a President of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, is tried, to sit as a judge in Israel.
verse 76 We have already discussed that a literal descendant of Aaron has the right to be the Presiding Bishop of the Church and may serve without counselors, after being approved by the First Presidency of the Church.
If the President of the Church or a member the First Presidency were to err, what court or disciplinary counsel would try the case? As mentioned in the introduction for this section it is the court of the Presiding Bishopric.
“except in a case where” In this verse we learn that a Presiding Bishop of literal Aaronic descent and serving without counselors may not try the case of a member of the First Presidency.
77 And the decision of either of these councils, agreeable to the commandment which says:
verses 76-77 These two verses were added to this revelation for clarity in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
verse 77 This verse is at first difficult to understand, but it simply extents the exception made in verse 76 to the “decision of either of these councils”—the two courts mentioned in verses 78-84. In other words, it explains that the court mentioned in verse 76—the Presiding Bishopric court presided over by a literal descendant of Aaron—does not have as much authority as either the court of the First Presidency (verses 78-81) or the “common council of the church” (Presiding Bishop’s court presided over by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder) mention in verses 82-84.
“agreeable to the commandment which says” This phrase simply returns us to the text of the earlier revelation which resumes in verse 78.
verses 78-81 These verses describe the “supreme court” of the Church, the Court of the First Presidency described in the introduction to this section.
78 Again, verily, I say unto you, the most important business of the church, and the most difficult cases of the church, inasmuch as there is not satisfaction upon the decision of the bishop or judges, it shall be handed over and carried up unto the council of the church, before the Presidency of the High Priesthood.
79 And the Presidency of the council of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the Presidency of the High Priesthood and its counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church.
80 And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters.
81 There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church.
verses 82-84 These verses describe the special court, “the common council of the church,” the court of the Presiding Bishopric which is convened only for the purpose of trying a member of the First Presidency.
Joseph Fielding Smith, in his book Church History and Modern Revelation, wrote of this particular court: “The special court, or council, presided over by the presiding bishopric has been called into existence several times. The Prophet Joseph Smith was tried before this council on charges made against him by Elder Sylvester Smith after the return of Zion’s Camp. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Frederick G. Williams were each tried by this tribunal” (3:21).
82 And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;
83 And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.
84 Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness.
7. Duties of the Quorum of the Twelve (verses 22-24, 38-39, 58-59) and the Presidents of Priesthood Quorums (verses 60-63, 85-90)
The Twelve are to choose (sustain and approve) the First Presidency of the Church. In verse 22 the “body, appointed and ordained to that office” refers to the Council of the Twelve. They are traveling special witnesses for Christ to the Jew and Gentile (verse 23). The Twelve are a quorum equal in authority to the First Presidency (verse 24). The Twelve are a traveling presiding council over the Church under direction of the First Presidency (verse 33). They are also to ordain patriarchs— “evangelical ministers” (verse 39). They may “ordain and set in order all other officers of the Church” (verse 58), and they are to “travel among all nations” (verse 98).
verses 22-24 See the commentary for each of these verses above.
22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned. 38 It is the duty of the traveling high council to call upon the Seventy, when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel, instead of any others.
verse 38 The Quorum of the Twelve is directed to call specifically upon the Quorum(s) of the Seventy for assistance in their preaching and in their administration of the Church.
39 It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation—
verse 39 “to ordain evangelical ministers” An evangelical minister or evangelist is a Patriarch.
58 It is the duty of the Twelve, also, to ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church, agreeable to the revelation which says:
verse 58 “to ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church” This is an important passage, and one that is sometimes overlooked, relative to the succession in church leadership. It is the duty of the Twelve to set in order all other offices of the Church, including the First Presidency (verses 66, 82, 91).
“agreeable to the revelation which says” The revelation referred to here had been received in November 1831 and had not previously been published in the Book of Commandments, but it had been recorded in the Kirtland Revelation Book. Joseph Smith added that earlier revelation to the text of section 107 as verses 59-100 in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
59 To the church of Christ in the land of Zion, in addition to the church laws respecting church business—
verse 59 “To the church of Christ in the land of Zion” The 1831 revelation spoken of in the previous verse and recorded in the Kirtland Revelation Book had been given to the saints in Missouri.
verses 60-63 Here, the Lord speaks of the presidents, or presiding officers, of the priesthood quorums. Verse 60 describes the elders quorum president. Verse 61 describes the bishop (the president of the priests quorum), and verse 62 describes the teachers and deacons quorum presidents. The president holds the keys of the work of the quorum and has the right to direct its affairs. He also may conduct stewardship interviews with quorum members. The quorum president is the immediate line of authority for any priesthood holder.
The presidencies of priesthood quorums are also councils. If we are to exercise God’s power (the priesthood), then we must learn to receive God’s direction. His direction largely comes through his agents—these presidents of priesthood councils— who are called to preside over us. As the Lord’s direction is given to us through these presiding intermediaries, we receive one of the essential tests of faith and obedience here on earth. President Joseph F. Smith said: “Every man should be willing to be presided over, and he is not fit to preside over others until he can submit sufficiently to the presidency of his brethren” (Improvement Era 21:105).
While the holders of the Melchizedek priesthood have the right of presidency, they cannot exercise that right without first receiving the special and temporary conferral of the pertinent presiding authority or priesthood keys.
60 Verily, I say unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts, there must needs be presiding elders to preside over those who are of the office of an elder;
61 And also priests to preside over those who are of the office of a priest;
62 And also teachers to preside over those who are of the office of a teacher, in like manner, and also the deacons—
63 Wherefore, from deacon to teacher, and from teacher to priest, and from priest to elder, severally as they are appointed, according to the covenants and commandments of the church.
verse 63 “according to the covenants and commandments of the church” That is, according to section 20, the Articles and Covenants of the Church.
verses 85-90 The duty of a quorum president is to sit in counsel with members of the quorum and teach them their specific quorum and priesthood duties. This obligation applies as much to the president of a deacons quorum as to an elders quorum president. The Lord also here limits the size of each of the local quorums as they were constituted in 1831. Verse 90 clarifies that these presidencies are local, in contrast to the Quorums of the Twelve and of the Seventy, which have the obligation to travel into all the world (see also verse 98).
85 And again, verily I say unto you, the duty of a president over the office of a deacon is to preside over twelve deacons, to sit in council with them, and to teach them their duty, edifying one another, as it is given according to the covenants.
86 And also the duty of the president over the office of the teachers is to preside over twenty-four of the teachers, and to sit in council with them, teaching them the duties of their office, as given in the covenants.
87 Also the duty of the president over the Priesthood of Aaron is to preside over forty-eight priests, and sit in council with them, to teach them the duties of their office, as is given in the covenants—
88 This president is to be a bishop; for this is one of the duties of this priesthood.
89 Again, the duty of the president over the office of elders is to preside over ninety-six elders, and to sit in council with them, and to teach them according to the covenants.
90 This presidency is a distinct one from that of the seventy, and is designed for those who do not travel into all the world.
8. Brief History of the Patriarchal Order (verses 40-52)
In the earliest days of the Church, from Adam to the Flood, the government of the Church was “patriarchal” in nature. That is, the presiding officer of the Church was both a presiding high priest and a patriarch, and the office descended from father to son. This pattern of church government is referred to as the patriarchal order. It is preserved in the Church, in this dispensation, only as regards the office of “patriarch of the Church.” Since that office has now been deleted from our church government, the patriarchal order does not exist in our church government. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught, “. . . the most important part of the patriarchal order is preserved for worthy members of the Church. Those married in the temple in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage become inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the patriarchs and thereby enter into the patriarchal order” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 559).
These verses have given rise to the mistaken notion that the “patriarchal priesthood” is a unique priesthood or authority distinct from, and somehow more lofty and more sacred than the Melchizedek Priesthood. This is no reason to suppose that there is any priesthood on the earth other than the Melchizedek Priesthood. No patriarch on this earth has ever operated by any authority other than the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Actually the organization of the Melchizedek Priesthood may exist in two forms even today—the quorum and the patriarchal order. In the family, the organization is patriarchal—that is, the father presides. In the ward and stakes the Melchizedek Priesthood is organized by quorums. If a stake president (or even the President of the Church) were to enter a family home, the father of the family would preside, not the president.
40 The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.
verse 40 “The order of this priesthood” This phrase refers to the Melchizedek Priesthood in its patriarchal form (see the discussion above).
verses 41-52 The order of descent outlined in these verses is the same as is found in Moses 6:10-25, 8:1-11, and Genesis 5.
41 This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage in the following manner:
42 From Adam to Seth, who was ordained by Adam at the age of sixty-nine years, and was blessed by him three years previous to his (Adam’s) death, and received the promise of God by his father, that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth;
43 Because he (Seth) was a perfect man, and his likeness was the express likeness of his father, insomuch that he seemed to be like unto his father in all things, and could be distinguished from him only by his age.
verse 43 “he (Seth) was a perfect man” Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Job (Job 1:1, 8) were also called “perfect” men, but this must not be understood in the philosophical sense of “unimproveable” or even as “sinless” but rather as “perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).
44 Enos was ordained at the age of one hundred and thirty-four years and four months, by the hand of Adam.
45 God called upon Cainan in the wilderness in the fortieth year of his age; and he met Adam in journeying to the place Shedolamak. He was eighty-seven years old when he received his ordination.
46 Mahalaleel was four hundred and ninety-six years and seven days old when he was ordained by the hand of Adam, who also blessed him.
47 Jared was two hundred years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam, who also blessed him.
48 Enoch was twenty-five years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam; and he was sixty-five and Adam blessed him.
49 And he saw the Lord, and he walked with him, and was before his face continually; and he walked with God three hundred and sixty-five years, making him four hundred and thirty years old when he was translated.
50 Methuselah was one hundred years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam.
51 Lamech was thirty-two years old when he was ordained under the hand of Seth.
52 Noah was ten years old when he was ordained under the hand of Methuselah.
9. The Ancient Priesthood Conference at Adam-ondi-Ahman (verses 53-56)
verses 53-55 These verses had been received by revelation on December 18, 1833. The Prophet Joseph had met on that day with several of the elders and with members of the Smith family to dedicate the printing office. He also ordained his father, Joseph Smith Sr., to the office of patriarch of the Church and blessed him with words contained in these three verses.
53 Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing.
verse 53 “he called . . . the residue of his posterity who were righteous” Though not found in the Old Testament, the idea that Adam had called his posterity together shortly before his death and blessed them and prophesied of the future (verse 56) was widely accepted in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Once again, Joseph Smith here provides details in complete harmony with ancient traditions concerning an event on which the Bible is silent.
“the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman” See the commentary on D&C 78:15, 20; D&C 116. This valley is located about eight-five miles north of present-day Independence, Missouri. It will also be the site of another meeting with Adam before the second coming of Christ.
54 And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel.
verse 54 We have commented on Adam previously. It would be beneficial for the reader to review these previous comments—see the commentary for D&C 27:11; 29:26; and 78:16.
55 And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.
56 And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation.
57 These things were all written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time.
verse 57 “the book of Enoch” As Mormon edited the records of the Nephites to produce the Book of Mormon, so, apparently, Enoch had gathered the records of the prophets before the Flood to produce a book of Enoch. Such a compilation might have constituted the scriptures of the time before Noah. This record was known anciently (Jude 1:14-15; D&C 99:5) and was a common theme in Jewish and Christian literature, but it is no longer extant. None of the pseudepigraphical books of Enoch now known to us—there are at least three, plus the fragments from Qumran—represents the original book of Enoch, for none of them contains all of the information promised here.
10. The President of the High Priesthood of the Church (verses 64-67, 91-92)
We may refer to him as the prophet or the President of the Church, but his official title is “President of the High Priesthood of the Church.”
64 Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all. verse 64 “the High Priesthood” The Melchizedek Priesthood.
65 Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church;
verse 65 “President of the High Priesthood of the Church” Though we may regard this title as the official title of the President of the Church today, a note on the origin of the title is of interest. These verses were originally given in November 1831. At that time, there were no quorums of the First Presidency, the Twelve, or the Seventy, and the Church was still small enough that the collective body of the high priests served in some capacities as the equivalents of modern general authorities. Thus, in November 1831, it was entirely natural for Joseph Smith to be referred to as President of the High Priesthood of the Church.
66 Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.
67 From the same comes the administering of ordinances and blessings upon the church, by the laying on of the hands.
verse 67 The President, of course, holds all of the keys of all of the ordinances and blessings which belong to the Church.
91 And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—
92 Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.
verses 91-92 The president of the Church is to preside over the whole of the modern Church, just as Moses presided over the children of Israel, having all of the keys, power, and gifts of the ancient prophet.
11. The Office of Bishop (verses 68-76)
A bishop must be a high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
68 Wherefore, the office of a bishop is not equal unto it; for the office of a bishop is in administering all temporal things;
verse 68 “the office of a bishop is not equal unto it” The antecedent of “it” here is the office of President of the High Priesthood of the Church in verse 67. Differing from the common view of the Christian world, this revelation clarifies that a bishop has less authority than an elder or high priest in administering spiritual things. Modern bishops preside over the spiritual concerns of wards today because they are also presiding high priests in addition to being bishops.
69 Nevertheless a bishop must be chosen from the High Priesthood, unless he is a literal descendant of Aaron;
verse 69 Again, this verse does not refer to a ward bishop, but rather to the Presiding Bishop of the Church, the modern equivalent of the ancient Jewish high priest. He must be a high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood except when he is the firstborn literal descendant of Aaron, and he may serve holding only the Aaronic Priesthood and he may serve without counselors.
70 For unless he is a literal descendant of Aaron he cannot hold the keys of that priesthood.
71 Nevertheless, a high priest, that is, after the order of Melchizedek, may be set apart unto the ministering of temporal things, having a knowledge of them by the Spirit of truth;
verse 71 “having a knowledge of them by the Spirit of truth” Modern bishops have the advantage over the literal descendants of Aaron in that they hold the gift of the Holy Ghost.
73 This is the duty of a bishop who is not a literal descendant of Aaron, but has been ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. 74 Thus shall he be a judge, even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion, or in a stake of Zion, or in any branch of the church where he shall be set apart unto this ministry, until the borders of Zion are enlarged and it becomes necessary to have other bishops or judges in Zion or elsewhere. 75 And inasmuch as there are other bishops appointed they shall act in the same office. 76 But a literal descendant of Aaron has a legal right to the presidency of this priesthood, to the keys of this ministry, to act in the office of bishop independently, without counselors, except in a case where a President of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, is tried, to sit as a judge in Israel.
12. The First Council of Seventy (verses 93-98)
Whereas other quorums are presided over by a president and counselors, we learn here that the seventy are to have seven presidents chosen from their own number. One of these presidents is to preside over the other six, lest there be more than one head and resulting disorder. Since the Church has become sufficiently large that the First Quorum of the Seventy cannot handle its administrative affairs, the Lord has authorized a Second Quorum of the Seventy and even a third and more until there are seven Quorums of the Seventy if necessary.
93 And it is according to the vision showing the order of the Seventy, that they should have seven presidents to preside over them, chosen out of the number of the seventy;
verse 93 “it is according to the vision showing the order of the Seventy” Verses 93-98 were not part of the November 1831 revelation that makes up most of verses 59-100. They were added to section 107 by the prophet Joseph Smith for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and refer to his earlier vision of the organization of the Seventy. That vision was not recorded, but the Prophet alluded to it several times in his writings, and it led to the organization of the Twelve and the Seventy (see HC, 2:182).
94 And the seventh president of these presidents is to preside over the six;
95 And these seven presidents are to choose other seventy besides the first seventy to whom they belong, and are to preside over them;
96 And also other seventy, until seven times seventy, if the labor in the vineyard of necessity requires it.
97 And these seventy are to be traveling ministers, unto the Gentiles first and also unto the Jews.
98 Whereas other officers of the church, who belong not unto the Twelve, neither to the Seventy, are not under the responsibility to travel among all nations, but are to travel as their circumstances shall allow, notwithstanding they may hold as high and responsible offices in the church.
13. Other verses
99 Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
100 He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen.
verses 99-100 Section 107 closes with a solemn warning. With the information revealed in section 107 and prior revelations (D&C 20, 68, and 84), the duty of every man and also his place in the organization of the Church has been made clear. With this great revelation on priesthood comes the obligation of learning and performing the duties of the priesthood as they have been revealed. Now that it has been revealed, neither those who know their duty but won’t do it (the slothful) nor those who neglect even to learn their priesthood obligations, will be accounted worthy to stand—either now in their present offices or later with the saints of God in his celestial kingdom.
Indeed we see in section 107 a formidable and sturdy organization that should endure all manner of adversity even into the eternities. Charles W. Penrose once likened the Church organization to “. . . the Irishman’s wall. He built it five feet high and eight feet thick, and when they asked him the reason, he said that if the wind came and blew it over it would be higher than it was before” (CR, October 1905, 41-42).
Brief Historical Setting
On May 4, 1835 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, ordained the previous February, departed on their first mission.
On July 3, 1835, Mr. Michael Chandler arrives in Kirtland with his Egyptian mummies and the two papyrus scrolls from which Joseph will later translate the book of Abraham.
The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants is published in mid-September (the Book of Commandments had been published in 1831).
A second term of the School of the Elders is begun on November 3, 1835. It will be moved to the third floor of the temple in January and continue to meet there until the temple dedication.
By Christmas of 1835, work on the Kirtland Temple is nearing completion. It will be dedicated in another three months.
On the day after Christmas, Brother Lyman Sherman, who was a member of Zion’s Camp and who had been called to the First Quorum of Seventy in February 1835 came to Joseph asking for a blessing [D&C 108 -Strengthen the Brethren].
- Michael J. Preece