If we’re going to use the Bible as precedent for our understanding of priesthood ordination, we’re going to have to be a little bit more careful about how we approach it. Mormons in 2014 read the Bible in a very presentist way, assuming that the full panoply of priesthood organization and procedure that obtains today has always obtained, notwithstanding the rather obvious development and evolution in these things even within our own dispensation. (After all, we started with a First Elder and a Second Elder; the priesthood framework we know today came only over time.) There are a lot of areas where we could improve our biblical literacy in this sphere. As a small beginning toward this end, I would like to comment on the vocabulary relating to the verb “ordain/ed” in the KJV.
English “ordain” derives from Latin ordinare and means most literally “to set in order.” In our church discourse today we use that word almost exclusively in a technical sense, of priesthood bearing men laying their hands on another man or boy and conferring upon him the priesthood itself or some office in the priesthood. That is what we think of when it comes to being “ordained.” So when we read our trusty KJV we tend to import that technical meaning into our reading.
The fact is, however, that that English verb is not used in the KJV with the later technical sense of hierarchical and ecclesiastical ritual formality.
A few quick observations lead in this direction. First, the verb occurs 40 times in the KJV of the Bible: five as “ordain” and 35 as “ordained.” If you were to ask me what the Hebrew or Greek word for “ordain” were, I’d just have to scratch my head, as there isn’t a single technical term that is rendered with that word in English. Rather, there are numerous words that are assigned that English rendering by the KJ translators, and this is not a technical vocabulary. These are ordinary words, not terms of ecclesiastical art.
In English, ordain can be used with either technical or non-technical meanings, but its nominal cognate, “ordination,” is exclusively technical. And while the verb occurs 40 times in the KJV, how many times does the noun occur? I’ll give you a hint: it’s zero.
Below I present all 40 occurrences of the verb “ordain/ed” in the KJV, together with the underlying Hebrew or Greek word rendered “ordain/ed” and an alternate English translation giving the sense of the word in modern English.
Does this mean that the KJ translators engaged in a massive mistranslation project? Certainly not. They were just using the word (properly) in nontechnical senses, but due to our religious vocabulary today we tend to interpret that verbal usage in an almost exclusively technical rather than a non-technical way.
This really should not be surprising, as in ancient Judaism when the temple stood and so priesthood was relevant, priests were not ordained the way we think of it today. One became a priest simply by being born into a priestly family, not by some ceremonial imputation. Priests were born, not ordained. It’s highly doubtful that the first apostles or elders thought that they had somehow been “ordained” as holders of the priesthood, because in their conception priesthood was strictly a lineage responsibility, not one that could be imputed to those of non-levitical lineages.
So without further ado I give you the 40 occurrences of “ordain/ed” in the KJ Bible. This vocabulary does not reflect the high ecclesiastical meaning we tend to want to assign to it.
All these which were chosen to be porters in the gates were two hundred and twelve. These were reckoned by their genealogy in their villages, whom David and Samuel the seer did ordain [yasad “appoint”] in their set office.
Also I will ordain [sum “establish”] a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, and they shall dwell in their place, and shall be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness waste them any more, as at the beginning,
LORD, thou wilt ordain [shaphath “establish”] peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain [diatassO “give direction”] I in all churches.
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain [kathistEmi “appoint”] elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:
It is a continual burnt offering, which was ordained [asah “instituted”] in mount Sinai for a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD.
And Jeroboam ordained [asah “inaugurated”] a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.
So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained [asah “appointed”] a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.
And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained [nathan “appointed”] to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.
And he ordained [amad “appointed”] him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.
Also Jehoiada appointed the offices of the house of the LORD by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the LORD, to offer the burnt offerings of the LORD, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained [yad “by the hand/edict of”] by David.
And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained [yad “by the hand/edict of”] by David king of Israel.
The Jews ordained [qum “established as binding”] , and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year;
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained [yasad “established”] strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained [kun “established, set in place”];
This he ordained [sum “decreed”] in Joseph for a testimony, when he went out through the land of Egypt: where I heard a language that I understood not.
There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained [arak “determined”] a lamp for mine anointed.
For Tophet is ordained [arak “prepared”] of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained [nathan “appointed”] thee a prophet unto the nations.
Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained [mena (Aramaic) “appointed”] to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation.
Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained [sum “appointed”] them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.
And he ordained [poieO “appointed”] twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained [tithEmi “appointed”] you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained [ginomai “become”] to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained [horizO “appointed, designated”] of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained [tassO “appointed”] to eternal life believed.
And when they had ordained [cheirotoneO “created/appointed by vote” (literally “stretching forth the hand”)] them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained [krinO “decided on”] of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained [horizO “appointed, designated”]; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
And the commandment, which was ordained [eis “to/for”] to life, I found to be unto death.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained [tassO “instituted”] of God.
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained [proorizO “determined beforehand”] before the world unto our glory:
Even so hath the Lord ordained [diatassO “commanded”] that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained [diatassO “ordered, administered”] by angels in the hand of a mediator.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained [proetoimazO “prepared beforehand”] that we should walk in them.
Whereunto I am ordained [tithEmi appointed] a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained [kathistEmi “appointed”] for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
For every high priest is ordained [kathistEmi “appointed”] to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
Now when these things were thus ordained [kataskeuazO “prepared”], the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained [prographO “written about, marked out”] to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.