Your October Conference Prep: Textual Origins of LDS Priesthood Organization, Part IX. Detour and Evolution.

In the next three posts before returning to the discussion of D&C 107, I’ll observe an interesting transition in the way LDS scripture was read and its effects on Mormon Correlated Texts today.

Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918) (JFS) was the son of Hyrum Smith, brother to Joseph Smith the Prophet. JFS was an independent thinker. Growing up in Utah, he became more or less a street urchin following his mother’s death in 1852. At age 15 (1853) church leaders called him on a mission to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) to redirect his life. The contacts and experience he had there would color his future writings and speeches, even drawing later experience back into his narratives of that mission (yes, he had memory time-slips). Smith led an interesting and provocative life, divorcing his first wife but becoming a relatively successful and prolific polygamist as such things went.

JFS presided over the European mission during 1860-63 and was ordained an apostle three years later. Brigham Young made him a counselor in the First Presidency at the same time, placing him in the Q12 that fall (usual practice today might suggest that membership in the Q12 and ordination to apostle are simultaneous events — not so historically on a number of occasions). JFS found his own administrative theory and praxis which was based on Joseph Smith’s revelations. He had no experience with Joseph Smith as an administrator and was outside any kind of formal instruction in his religion for much of his youth. Church leadership fell on him hard and fast and he developed a style which was independent and rather literal in the sense that the “Book of Covenants” formed a guide for him.[1]

Joseph F. Smith inherited Joseph Smith’s name — and his temper.

After the death of Brigham Young, the apostles formed the leading body of the Utah church until October 1880 when John Taylor became church president. During this apostolic leadership period, the apostles encountered several interesting cases of leadership change. One of these changes was in the 8th quorum of the Seventy. Seventy’s were church quorums, not local quorums. But they were not general authorities, the exception being the First Council.[2] Each quorum of seventy had its own presidency of seven men. Each was a president, the longest serving president presided over the other six. The Twelve Apostles presided over the Seventy and generally took interest in the issues in these quorums.[3]

The 8th quorum of Seventy had such an issue in 1879-1880. John Pack, long time Saint and member of the Presidency of the 8th Quorum had come under fire from his quorum and they had petitioned the Q12 to have him reassigned. The Q12 had considered the matter and invited Pack to join with the high priests. Pack felt badly about the decision and saw this move as a demotion. On the 8th of June, 1880, Pack wrote to his acquaintance Joseph F. Smith. Smith passed the letter to John Taylor, president of the Q12. In return, Taylor asked Smith to pass along the minutes of a meeting with Pack and Taylor on May 24th, 1880 to Pack. He did this on June 18. Joseph F. Smith quoted these minutes as follows:

Elders John and Ward E. Pack called and read, also obtained a copy of the petition of Elder ——— and members of the 8th Quorum of Seventies in regard to Elder John Pack. Also the action of the Apostles in regard thereto. After which Pres. Taylor and Elder Jos. F. Smith talked with bro. John Pack on this matter upon which he said he did not wish to have any thing more to do with that Quorum and would fully carry out the desires of the Apostles so far as the (8th) Quorum (of 70) was concerned but did not wish to join himself with the High Priests Quorum. Elder Smith explained to bro. Pack why he should join the High Priests. Also Pres. Taylor in speaking his mind suggested that bro. Pack carry out fully the mind of the council and that he associate himself with the High Priests Quorum, and thus put himself beyond all contention in the matter. Bro. Pack said he was willing to do so and would let the matter drop.

Pack’s letter of the 8th represented blow back on this promise to go along with the Q12’s ruling. Next: Joseph F. Smith’s own response.
[1] JFS was seen as a necessary link to the Smith family. The Utah church never bought into quasi-primogeniture like the RLDS did, but there was an undercurrent of thought regarding Joseph’s descendants and church leadership. The Book of Covenants was the common title used for the Doctrine and Covenants.

[2] The First Council of Seventy were the seven presidents of the 1st quorum of Seventy. That quorum was disorganized by the apostles after Joseph Smith’s death. The First Council remained however, and at least on paper had something like general authority status (though they did not do much if anything in the way of giving general church direction). Their position was unclear in terms of what they could do or not do as well as what the other authorities would allow them to do. For a short history of the Seventy, start here and follow through the next six posts.

[3] D&C 107 dictates that the Q12 supervise the Seventy. The relatively large number of seventies in Utah reflected Brigham’s continuing Nauvoo policy of ordaining elders before they were sent out preaching. See the posts on the Seventy from last year.


  1. Even today, younger men resist being called to the High Priests quorum.

  2. In today’s church, it’s basically an age group thing. Seventies were usually ordained apostles though it’s not clear how people regarded this. That is, whether it was deployed for the Greek meaning, or actually conferring an office. Given Brigham’s reshuffling of the pecking order, I can feature why Pack didn’t care for the idea in addition to his perception of change in duty. JFS tried to get him to see that according D&C 107, Pack would be in a more respected position. More in parts 10 and 11 on that.