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

Here’s the third and last part of the detour. As an aside, if you are interested in John Pack, there is a portion of John Pack’s autobiography/journal on here It’s an interesting, if short, reminiscence which gives Pack’s patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith, Sr. among other things. Those acquainted with upper division temple liturgy will find something there too, as well as “adoption.” Note that Pack’s first wife, Julia, is also represented.

In part 9 I gave some background on John Pack and Joseph F. Smith and their interaction over the issue of John Pack’s disagreement with some members of the 8th quorum of seventy early in 1880. Part 10 consisted mostly of a letter written by Joseph F. Smith to Pack regarding Pack’s decision to go back on the agreement he made with John Taylor (president of the church’s quorum of the twelve apostles).

Joseph F. Smith uses his letter to try to persuade Pack that making a move to the office of high priest is a promotion, contrary to Pack’s feeling that it would amount to a demotion while moving him away from what he felt to be his duty to preach. Of course Pack was elderly and it’s not clear he would have been able to fulfill that promise in any case. In fact, Pack died five years later.

But the more interesting part of Smith’s letter (for our journey) involves his own view of the office of high priest. Joseph F. Smith assigns his beliefs to quotations from Joseph Smith’s revelations and statements made four or five decades previously. Observe his use of the term “high priesthood” as a synonym for high priest. This reflects early Mormon (1831) usage which in turn appears in several revelations cited by Joseph F. Smith in his letter to Pack. Smith clearly places (based on the November 11, 1831 revelation and the September 1832 revelation) the office of high priest at the top of the list in terms of presiding authority in the church. This has interesting implications for succession if we take him seriously.

Moreover, as I’ve note before, Joseph F. put his money where his mouth was. When ordaining George Albert Smith (who later became church president himself in 1945) an apostle and placing him in the quorum of twelve apostles, he also ordained George Albert a high priest, explaining that George could not preside in the church without the high priesthood.[1] Joseph F’s view contrasted sharply with Brigham Young’s for example. Young stated the office of apostle was superior to the high priesthood and it was an insult to suggest that apostles needed to be ordained high priests.[2]

The term “high priesthood” as a reference to the office of high priest in Mormon discourse gradually died out in the 20th century and its use in Mormon scripture became confused with “Melchizedek Priesthood.” Reading Joseph Smith’s revelations this way creates interesting potential paradoxes.[3] In a future part of this mammoth post we’ll look at how Joseph F. Smith changed his mind about the meaning of the passages he quoted to John Pack.

[1] George Albert Smith papers, University of Utah. Joseph F’s take would make for conflict during his presidency when a number of the first council of seventy suggested that they should be able to reorganize stakes. While submerged in later language, the principle stuck around: was it legitimate for a Seventy, (who under 1837 dicta, had never been ordained a high priest) to ordain a high priest. It was a troublesome question for many. When the rule was relaxed in the 1960s, the problem went away because the natural vetting process of church leadership both took away the option of making flamboyant elders into Seventy GAs and filled the ranks with already ordained high priests. The first effect at least was, I think, a little unfortunate.

[2] Loren Woolley, a supplier of authoritative tradition to modern polygamy sects, particularly the Musser, Allred and Johnson branches, combined the two names into “high priest apostles.” Truly the best of both worlds. On Brigham and the high priests, just the tip of the iceberg rhetoric: JD:1:131ff.

[3] As I have observed already in this series, the difficulties arise because of the way the revelations were edited for publication. Revelations from different definitional eras were combined while some early revelations were edited using later terminology (again, D&C 20 for example), making it appear that later terms were actually used much earlier. A naive reading can make for head scratching frustration. But stay with me here. I’ll get you through this.


  1. Love that Pack document.

  2. The First Presidency is three high priests, not three apostles — the apostleship is not necessary for service in the First Presidency — customary, yes; required and always the case, no.

  3. WVS, in regards to the concept that JFS had that being a High Priest had significance regarding the keys to the presidency, he did put his money where his mouth was. If I recall correctly when he was set apart as President of the Church, rather than having it done under the hands of one of the apostles, he had his half brother, John Smith, patriarch to the Church and a High Priest, perform the act.

    (sorry for being a couple of days late, but this series is interesting in many ways, and it took a few days for this to rise to the top layer of consciousness.)

  4. kevinf, he also elevated several non-apsotles to the first presidency. Old school.

  5. …or a blend of new and old…

  6. Stapley, I remember your paper…Last of the Old School Prophets.

  7. He elevated the written word, or at least some of it, to a kind of Protestant canonical boundary status.

  8. Joseph Smith was never sustained by the people as an apostle, or ordained as an apostle. He may have been an apostle in the sense of one sent forth, but he never was an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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