So a long time ago, say maybe 15 years ago, I’m sitting at home one evening when the phone rings. It’s a young woman I don’t know, who is clearly distraught. She has just left her institute class for the night, and she was deeply troubled by something the instructor had represented in the class. “Go on,” I said.
He had taught his young charges that there are not two, but three orders of the priesthood. In addition to the classic Aaronic and Melchizedek, there is a third order, the Patriarchal. This young woman was a lifelong member and had never heard of such a thing, and was concerned that her instructor was making it up or something. So she wanted to get the straight dope from me.
She didn’t tell me who her teacher was, but I had a pretty good idea, and I knew him as a fine gospel scholar, who was unlikely to make anything up. So I told her two things. First, I said, take a deep breath and relax. Second, I frankly acknowledged that I hadn’t heard of a patriarchal order of the priesthood either. But I asked her to give me some time to look into it and get back to her, and she agreed. I wasn’t able to find much, but I did put my hands on a short article in BRM’s Mormon Doctrine, so I called her back and shared that with her, and that seemed to ease her concern about this phantom order of the priesthood.
The key text is this discourse from August 27, 1843:
There are three grand orders of priesthood referred to here.
1st. The King of Shiloam (Salem) had power and authority over that of Abraham, holding the key and the power of endless life…. The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.
The 2nd Priesthood is Patriarchal authority. Go to and finish the temple, and God will fill it with power, and you will then receive more knowledge concerning this priesthood.
The 3rd is what is called the Levitical Priesthood, consisting of priests to administer in outward ordinances, made without an oath; but the Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant.
The Holy Ghost is God’s messenger to administer in all those priesthoods.
Of course, Joseph died before he was able to really articulate where he meant to go with this idea, which was a clear development from the two orders of priesthood he had articulated in the 1830s. But there are enough contemporary scraps from the time to get some idea of what he intended.
Apparently, the patriarchal priesthood is a priesthood received by those who are sealed together in the temple. Ironically, despite the name patriarchal (which apparently derives from the priesthood being associated with Abraham, one of the great patriarchs), this priesthood is held jointly by both the man and the woman who are parties to such a sealing. Of course, there is no office associated with this priesthood, and its principal implication appears to be to facilitate the sealing together of couples and families in the hereafter.
There aren’t a lot of resources on this topic, but there are a few, so I thought I would put up some links and then open it up to you to add your wisdom on the subject. This post will then constitute a place I can send people when this question arises in the future.
John Tvedtnes did an article for Meridian Magazine on the subject. But now that Meridian has redesigned its site, the article appears to be lost. But you can find the same material in his book, Organize My Kingdom:
An essay by Robert L. Millet:
One thing I’ve noticed in the little commentary I’ve been able to find is that there is a tendency to want to simply incorporate this order into the Melchizedek priesthood, presumably to avoid freaking out students such as the one who called me years ago.
Please add your own information on this subject so as to make this a useful repository for future reference.