The Seventy. Part 2: The High Priesthood.

[All parts of this post may be found here.]

One of the things that plagued the office of Seventy was its position relative to the high priesthood (I use the term as it was used in the 19th century – a synonym for the office of high priest). While Joseph does not seem to have given too much thought to these kinds of questions, Brigham Young had expansive views on both the apostleship and the office of Seventy. With the huge expansion of seventies quorums, indeed their intended use as the major component of the missionary force of the Church, the question was often raised as to how these officers could manage or ordain high priests should that occasion arise. Brigham saw the apostles as superior to the high priests out of necessity. Moreover, it was the apostles who were in charge when it came to the esoteric ordinances of the future temple. Running counter to this was the considerable status conferred by revelation and history on the high priests. The apostles took every opportunity to assert not only their right to direct and regulate the high priesthood, but Brigham at least saw the Seventy in a similar light.

John Pack - Good OLD Seventy

The question was not resolved in the minds of most people however and that effected the ways in which the First Council of Seventy and missionary seventies might act.[1] The idea that the high priesthood was a superior office is illustrated by Joseph F. Smith’s letter to John Pack during the latter’s struggle over leaving the ranks of the Seventy for the high priesthood.

Brigham and the Q12 had made a move in Nauvoo to send out high priests to preside in the many branches of the church to be created by the massive growth of the Seventy. That idea failed with the Nauvoo exodus and was never revived.

In spite of Brigham’s ideas about the Seventy, he never authorized them to use sealing authority or have any role in temple supervision. The First Council were always an interesting group, given little to do in terms of general Church administration and supervising mostly autonomous highly dispersed quorums with their own presidencies, they weren’t pressed into heavy service until the administration of John Taylor. Taylor sincerely wanted to figure out what to do with both the First Council and the seventies in general.

[1] Part of the problem was the language of D&C 107 again. It was clear that high priests could and did preside over the church as a body and directed all other authorities. It was understood from the mid 1830s that stake presidencies in developed stakes (with a high council and bishop(s)) were presidents of the high priesthood and stood in special relation to other authorities of the church, even the Q12. See Minute Book 2, p. 96ff. John Corrill’s 1830s take on this is worth a read, though it’s a bit garbled. Instructive though: History of the Mormons. Scroll down to chapter XIII.


  1. I will be curious when you get to the 20th Century about cases like Spencer Kimball’s. In May 1914 at age 19, he was called to a mission to begin in October. In the months before the mission he was ordained a priest, then an elder three months later (not by his stake president father, but by Bro. S.J. Sims). In September, he was passed upon to be ordained a Seventy at a Priesthood Meeting in Arizona. On Oct. 16 in Salt Lake City, he was endowed in the morning, and ordained in the afternoon by Uncle Golden Kimball as a Seventy in the 89th Quorum of Seventies.

    I wonder when missionaries where ordained as Seventies, and what that meant for them as returned missionaries. (Sometimes I wonder now what it means that I was ordained an Elder before being sent on a mission.)

  2. It was a training issue too. Up to the turn of the century it was more or less policy to ordain called missionaries as seventies. But that gave the First Council little space to get them in shape. When they returned from the mission, they were in their designated quorum, but the cow was out of the barn then. They were then trained for service few of them would ever see again.

  3. Isn’t there a sermon or letter where BY basically says that JS’s management of the High Priest/Seventy kerfuffle in Kirtland wasn’t inspired?

  4. Yeah. This was a part of BY’s move to put the 12 on top. JFS didn’t go for it. He didn’t think the 12 could preside without being ordained high priests.

  5. Wasn’t one issue that didn’t get talked about much in public the distinction between the public priesthood (12, Patriarch, 70, Elders) and then the separate and not widely known Holy Order. I recognize scholarship on this and the succession crisis has moved on a lot since Ehat wrote his thesis. And of course the biggest practical issue was getting people to follow you which is independent of why say Brigahm thought he was right.

    Anyway I bring this up simply because I think Brigham saw the revelation in 107 as being pretty incomplete considering new innovations in Nauvoo. Thus he almost certainly saw the seventy not having the same authority due to those other issues. (Although clearly individual 70’s could be ushered into such orders both in the 19th century as well as at present – of course the Church keeps pretty mum on such things right now. But I suspect a lot of people are called to the 70 in order to be ushered into that order.)

  6. No doubt BY wanted to preserve the temple and thought it was the key to Mormonism. Moreover he felt JS had entrusted that to him with the loss of Hyrum. So it was important for the Q12 to take over. The problem with the high priesthood would continue though. JS had put enough out about the temple (most of his Nauvoo sermons are about it in one way or another) that Brigham had a pretty important fulcrum for levering the Saints toward the 12, so I think the temple worked both as motivation for the 12 and for many Saints.