Your October Conference Prep: Textual Origins of LDS Priesthood Organization, Part II.

I continue from part I with what is essentially that portion of the text of the (second) revelation of November 11, 1831 in the hand of John Whitmer.[1]

A Revelation given at Hiram Portage Co Nov 11th 1831

To the Church of Christ in the Land of Zion in addition to the Church Laws respecting Church business verily I say unto you, saith the Lord of hosts there must needs be presiding Elders to preside over them who are of the office of an Elder: & also Priests over them who are of the office of a Priest; & also Teachers over them who are of the office of a Teacher, & from Teacher to Priest, And also the deacons; wherefore from Deacon to Teacher, & from Teacher to Priest, & from Priest to Elder; severally as they are appointed, according to the Church Articles & Covenants: then cometh the high Priest hood, which is the greatest of all: wherefore it must needs be that one be appointed of the high Priest

hood to preside over the Priest hood: & and he shall be called President of the hood high Priest hood of the Church; or in other high words the Presiding high Priest hood over the high Priesthood of the Church; from the same cometh the administering of ordinances & blessings upon the Church, by the Laying on of the hands: wherefore the office of a Bishop is not equal unto it; for the office of a Bishop is in administering all things temporal things: nevertheless a Bishop must be chosen from the high Priesthood, that he may be set apart unto the ministering of temporal things, having a knowledge of them by the Spirit of truth; & also to be a Judge in Israel to do the business of the Church, to sit down in Judgement upon transgressors upon testimony it shall be laid before them according to the Laws, by the assistance of his councillors whom he hath chosen or will choose among the Elders of the church.[2]

This portion of the revelation resolves (in part) several issues outlined in part 1. It creates a new hierarch, the president of the high priesthood, who would preside over the other priesthood offices of the church. It acknowledges that the Articles and Covenants (D&C 20, more or less) did not cover the ground necessary. The high priesthood is designated “the greatest of all.” In the ordering of offices in section 20, this places the high priest above the other offices, deacon, teacher, priest, elder. That ordering is based primarily on who takes charge in groups. Joseph Smith would keep that ordering intact as further priesthood offices were introduced. Even so, the office of high priest still constituted the office which “presides” but it was a status that became less meaningful with the development of bureaucratic structure. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The president of the high priesthood became what the Latter-day Saints in the present day call the “president of the church.” The revelation also partially mapped the office of bishop, an important feature, since Edward Partridge had been a bishop for nearly a year.

He may have been without guile, but he was always on the bubble.

The bishop should be a high priest (though he may have counselors which are selected from the elders at this point – it would not be until 1877 that bishop’s counselors would be required in practice to be high priests). The bishop ranks below the president of the high priests, which resolved a real difficulty in church administration (i.e., where did the bishop’s dictates stand in relation to Joseph Smith, for example). The revelation introduces the idea of “keys” (in the sense it came to be used decades later) without actually using the word, by designating the president of the high priesthood as the office which controls administration of ordinances, and “blessings on the church by the laying on of hands” (perhaps a nascent reference to the office of “patriarch” as well as further defining where the bishop stood).

Two other matters are suggested by the preamble of the revelation. This revelation is an addition to the law of the church (more or less what is now D&C 42 — see Revelation Book 1 p. 61ff.). And it applies particularly to the church in zion (Missouri). At least part of the reason for the latter provision was the fact that bishop Partridge became a resident of Independence, Missouri months prior to this revelation.[3]

Finally, the role of the bishop in church discipline is briefly outlined. In the second part of the revelation, there is further information on church discipline and the role of the president of the high priesthood in that.[4] Part III investigates this a bit.

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[1] Another revelation was delivered on the 11th. It would become the basis of D&C 69. The revelation under discussion here was perhaps, itself, two revelations.

[2] The word “priesthood” in the early revelations was not the designator of a class of individuals or offices. It named an office. This is partly telegraphed to modern audiences in the spelling above. It gradually evolved in usage so that priesthood might mean a multitude of things. A good example of this generality occurs in D&C 124, an 1841 revelation that illustrates this change in say, verses 91, 95, 121, 132, etc. A beginning to this broadening is seen in D&C 84, an issue discussed in a forthcoming post in this series.

[3] Another bishop would not be ordained for a month – Newel K. Whitney – Kirtland, Ohio.

[4] Volume 2 in the Joseph Smith Papers Revelations and Translations series shows the probable completed form of the Book of Commandments, including the present revelation. I will consider that in a later post.

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