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

The Genesis of Modern Mormon Bureaucratic Structures

After the revelation of November 11, 1831 was dictated by Joseph Smith (see parts,1, 2, and 3), it did circulate to some degree and was to be a part of the proposed Book of Commandments (BC) but didn’t make it – see JSP, Revelations and Translations vol.2 for an argument that the revelation was set to appear in the BC and would have done so if the printing had not been disrupted.

The revelation revamped church leadership in the wake of the introduction of the high priesthood and in hindsight cleared the way for a decentralized expansion and eventual local church organizations. Regulation was still not complete however. For example, would every deacon belong to a quorum? The practical answer to this was no. Far-flung churches (branches)[1] had a presiding elder (or in some cases a high priest or perhaps a priest) but no “quorums” within the branch. Indeed, quorums, when they became more ubiquitous, were not regarded as being restricted to a given branch of the church. Eventually, when church ecclesiastical units (connected to a presiding elder or a bishop or other officer) became more common, even requiring separating geographic boundaries, an elders quorum for example might include members from more than one such unit. Indeed, up until recent times, elders quorums often crossed unit lines by design.

Correlation, in effect, demoted Melchizedek Priesthood quorums to unit auxiliaries, and pretty low grade ones at that. Before the 1960s, high priest quorum presidents were stake level officers (not the stake president), needing an apostle (or assistant to the 12) to call and set them apart. They were in some ways on a level with the stake president and in a quirky way, presided over him. Correlation in essence erased the high priest quorum and substituted basic unit level “groups” (in stakes) which no one has really figured out as yet (I mean in a metaphysical sense [grin]), simultaneously making the notion of authoritative “keys” a problematic concept in the process. On the other hand, while Melchizedek Priesthood leaders were placed under the authority of the bishop, they did get a little more regular responsibility. But they were clearly, and deliberately, placed under the direction of the bishop, removing their decision powers of membership, or restricting the ability of quorum members to act in their office (quorum discipline). This elevated the bishop and the textual support was evident: the bishop holds two primary positions in 20th century Mormonism. He was designated as “presiding high priest” and the “president of the Aaronic Priesthood,” an office that combines the early pecking order of D&C 20, the instruction of 1831 and the forms of 1835 and 1841 into a single office. These are very interesting changes which begin gradually and long before the 1960s. This shows an interesting flow in design as “stakes” were modeled on the Kirtland organization rather than Zion of the era and wards in Utah gradually became much of what stakes were in earlier days.

The Priests

Another point of interest is the priest group. It was to have a president, from among their number. As Latter-day Saints know, this would be modified, the presidency of the priests group (later, “quorum”) would eventually fall to the office of bishop, without the benefit of counselors.

All this was in the future.

Manuscript Editions

The November 11 revelation was copied and edited a number of times. In this post we look at what was probably very close to the original text a la Revelation Book 1 and just for fun compare it to the copy found in the Kirtland revelation book (KRB) (Now known as Revelation Book 2 in JSPP parlance)[2]. It is important to note that the revelation was edited before it was copied into the KRB (RB2) — likely in 1834 and so the differences in the following texts represent (hopefully) changes to the archetype both in RB1 and RB2.

The KRB text is in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams.

Revelation Book 1 Text Revelation Book 2 Text
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; regulating the Presidency of the Church.[3]

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 the those who are of the office of a priest[4]

& 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 and also teachers over those who are of the office of a teacher in like manner and also the Deacons wherefore from Deacon to Teacher and from Teacher to Priest and from Priest to Elder & severally as they are appointed according to the Church Articles and Covenants then cometh the High Priesthood which is the greatest of all wherefore it must needs be that one be appointed of the high Priesthood
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: to preside over the Priesthoood and he shall be called President of the high priesthood of the Church or in other words the presiding high Priest over the high priesthood of the Church from the same cometh the administering of ordinances and 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. wherefore the office of a Bishop is not equal unto it for the office of a Bishop is in administering all 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 and also to be a Judge in Israel to do the business of the church to sit in Judgement upon transgressors upon testamony as it shall be laid before him according to the Laws by the assitence of his councellors whom he hath chosen or will choose among the Elders of the church
thus shall he be a judge even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion until the borders are enlarged, & it becomes necessary to have other Bishops or judges. & inasmuch as there are other Bishops appointed, they shall act in the same office. & again, verily I say unto you, the most important business of the church, & the most difficult cases of the church, inasmuch as there is not sufficient satisfaction upon the decsision of the judge, it shall be shall be handed over, & carried up unto the court of the church before the president of the high Priesthood then shall he be a Judge even a common Judge among the inhabitants of Zion until the borders are enlarged and it becomes necessary to have other Bishops or Judges and inasmuch as there are Bishops appointed they shall act in the same office. And again verily I say unto you the most important buiness of the church and the most difficult cases of the church inasmuch as there is not satisfaction decission of the Judges it shall be handed over and carried up unto the court of the church before the President of the high Priesthood
& the president of the Court of the high priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve to assist as counsellors, & thus the president of the high priesthood, & his councellors, shall have power to decide upon testimony, according to the laws of the church; & after this desision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest court of the church of God & a final desision upon controverses, all persons belonging to the church are not exempt from this court of the church and the President of the court of the high priesthood shall have power to call other high priests even twelve to assist as councellors and thus the president of the high priesthood and his councellors shall have power to decide upon testamony according to the laws of the church and after the decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord for this is the highest court of the church of God and a final decission upon controverses there is not andy person belonging to the church who is exempt from this court of the church[5]
& inasmuch as the president of the high priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common court of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve councellors of the high Priesthood, & their desicision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him. thus none shall be exempt from the justice of the Laws of God, that all things may be done in order, & in solemnity before me, to truth & righteousness. Amen. and inasmuch as the President of the high priesthood shall transgress he shall be had in remembrance before the common court of the church who shall be assisted by twelve councellors of the high priesthood and their decission upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him thus none shall be exempt from the justice and the Laws of God that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before me according to truth and righteousness Amen.—-

———————-
[1] Inherited from Protestant speech, the term “branches” replaced it, but not before “churches” became encoded in the printed revelations (still found for example in D&C 20:81; 51:11). Used in this sense, we find it in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 25:22) as well and of course, the New Testament. The usage in the revelations sometimes created interesting discussions in modern times. The revelations that invited missionaries of the 1830s to visit the “churches” on the way to their destinations were meant to take advantage of visiting with established congregations, not the local Presbyterians.

[2] The KRB is titled Revelation Book 2 in the recent JSP volumes. I did not use the JSP scans/text, instead I copied it directly from the ms. Any deviations from the JSP text/or original undoubtedly represent my transcription errors. Williams failed to note the complete date of the revelation in his manuscript, leaving out the day. A bit of textual detective work narrows down the date, even without RB1.

[3] Observe the reference to presidency of the church. This represents a reading back into the ms a development several years in the future. The date of RB2 (1834) allows this and it was not an unusual practice. We will return to this matter in a future post.

[4] A homeoteleuton by Williams accounts for the strange(?) regulation of elders presiding over priests. One sees the same sort of errors represented in the Revelation Book 1 text in deleted (stricken) text.

[5] The variation between the two texts here represents an editorial change evident in the Revelations 1 text not visible in my reconstruction of the original here.

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