jm_200_NT1.pd-P12.tiffIf 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.




1Ch 9:22

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.


1Ch 17:9

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,


Isa 26:12

LORD, thou wilt ordain [shaphath “establish”] peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.


1Co 7:17

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.


Tit 1:5

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:




Num 28:6

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.


1Ki 12:32

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.


1Ki 12:33

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.


2Ki 23:5

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.


2Ch 11:15

And he ordained [amad “appointed”] him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.


2Ch 23:18

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.


2Ch 29:27

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.


Est 9:27

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;


Psa 8:2

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.


Psa 8:3

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained [kun “established, set in place”];


Psa 81:5

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.


Psa 132:17

There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained [arak “determined”] a lamp for mine anointed.


Isa 30:33

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.


Jer 1:5

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.


Dan 2:24

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.


Hab 1:12

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.


Mar 3:14

And he ordained [poieO “appointed”] twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,


Jhn 15:16

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.


Act 1:22

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.


Act 10:42

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.


Act 13:48

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.


Act 14:23

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.


Act 16:4

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.


Act 17:31

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.


Rom 7:10

And the commandment, which was ordained [eis “to/for”] to life, I found to be unto death.


Rom 13:1

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.


1Co 2:7

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:


1Co 9:14

Even so hath the Lord ordained [diatassO “commanded”] that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.


Gal 3:19

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.


Eph 2:10

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.


1Ti 2:7

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.


Heb 5:1

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:


Heb 8:3

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.


Heb 9:6

Now when these things were thus ordained [kataskeuazO “prepared”], the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.


Jde 1:4

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.


  1. Excellent.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    This reminds me of that discussion we had a bit ago on “laws and ordinances.”

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    I didn’t want to get in to this in my recent post (as I was trying to keep things in familiar terms and not get too long), but, yes, our use is problematic if we assume the Bible uses it the same way.

    I didn’t see Mark 3:14 on your list above (did I miss is?), but here’s something I wrote about that for another venue:

    The word that the KJV translates as “ordain” (Greek: poieo) is somewhat difficult to translate for an LDS audience, since in LDS usage “ordain” implies a very specific ritual: hands laid upon heads as a new calling is conferred through priesthood power. The Greek verb here does not prohibit that meaning, but it doesn’t require it, either. There are two main meanings for this word in the LXX OT:

    1. It is the same word as is used when Moses selects rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, an action quite similar to the calling of the Twelve in Mark.1
    2. The underlying meaning of the word is “to create” and it is found frequently in the creation account in Genesis 1.2 It is interesting to think about the Twelve as a creation of Jesus’.

    So while “ordain” does not necessarily carry all of the connotations here that it would in LDS usage, it does point to the creation and appointment of the Twelve as a key moment in Jesus’ ministry and as an instance of Jesus’ authority.

  4. juliemariesmith says:

    Oh, there it is, nevermind.

  5. Enlightening. More thoughts and examples of presentism in our reading of the Bible please.

  6. Very good, and very useful. Thanks Kevin.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Very good, Julie.

  8. Kevin, this is excellent and good food for thought.

    To try to dig a bit further, if we substitute the most common alternative for instances when people are being given specific authority and/or responsibilities, what core difference (other than the physical practice of the laying on of hands) is there between “ordain” and “appoint”?

    In other words, how would you respond to the following?

    “Call it ordain or appoint, but the central aspect remains the fact that someone with accepted authority is selecting and authorizing someone to do something specific – and the ordination/appointment is totally in the hands of the one doing the selecting.”

    I think my first reaction would be that “appoint” doesn’t carry any general limitations within our culture (kind of like how we use “assign” for things that we don’t believe require an official, formal “setting apart”), unlike “ordain” does.

    Do you think I’m off base with that?

  9. Our use of the word today in the Church is different from the use of the word in the Church in the 1830s. The principles are the same, I think, but we have refined our use of the word.

  10. Jason K. says:

    Excellent, thorough work, Kevin. Now we just need WVS and J. Stapley to do the same for the D&C (though of course Bill’s article in the Winter 2013 Dialogue is very strong on how “priesthood” developed in the early Church).

  11. Molly Bennion says:

    Thanks, Kevin (and thanks too to Julie). Your exegesis posts are my favorites.

  12. Thanks, Kevin. This is spectacular (and timely, in more ways than one)!

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Ray, to me appoint means basically to select for a role, with no indication given of any ritual component attending that, such as laying on of hands. The ritual could be present, but it’s not inherent in the verb the way it is when we use it in the church today. And this selection doesn’t likely have anything to do with priesthood the way we think of it.

  14. Olde Skool says:

    Bravo. So, so helpful!

  15. So would you say the picture at the top isn’t anywhere close to representative of what ever happened? That doesn’t seem right. Consider John laying his hands on Joseph and Oliver and saying upon you my fellow servants… Are you suggesting that was an innovation or just that not every case of ordain implies such a ceremony?

    I think a similar case could be made for the way we use consecrate. Just because we consecrate oil with a certain ritual doesn’t mean when we consecrate our time through service or study, etc. we’re actually performing a ritual in the process. We still use the same word to imply something being made holy (self, use of time, oil, etc).

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Does the NT say Jesus laid his hands on the apostles? Or do we assume that he must have done so from our own practice?

  17. Thanks, Kevin. That reflects my thinking about it, as well.

    Sans the ceremonial and gendered traditions that have developed around the connotations of “ordain” (and I like the ritual, in and of itself), I think “appoint” fits the practical reality of what happens (being selected for a role) – but “appoint” would open possibilities that are absent with the gendered connotations of how we use “ordain” currently.

    Again, thank you for this post.

  18. I can’t find any references to that, Kevin. The closest I could find to our view of ordination was Acts 6:6, in which the seven were set before the apostles who laid hands on them to do their work. That’s the only reference I could find to something that sounds like a modern Mormon ordination in structure, but it easily could have been what we would term a blessing, instead.

    Any insight into that reference?

    On the other hand:

    Acts 8 and a couple of other places say that the Holy Ghost was received by the laying on of hands.

    Multiple verses say Jesus healed by laying his hands on the sick, and the same is said of the apostles.

    Hebrews 6:2 mentions the “doctrine” of laying on of hands.

    1 Timothy 4:14 says the gift of prophecy was received with the laying on of hands, as does 2 Timothy 1:6.

  19. Good stuff, Kevin.

  20. This is hardcore, Kevin. You’re an impressive dude.

  21. I am certainly not the kind of scholar of the likes of Kevin or Julie, but I think the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s experience as recorded in his history help give us glimpses of patterns that to me are important to think about when discussing patterns related to priesthood. e.g., Moroni 2 refers to the Savior laying on hands to confer the authority to give the Holy Ghost. Joseph describes the laying on of hands as how he and Oliver received the Aaronic Priesthood.

  22. Frankly, I am trying to understand the point here. If the ancient Priesthood was conferred by lineage and not by ordination in the way we view it today, you would not expect the use of the word ordain as we use it today because it was unnecessary. And yet, as pointed out, there appears to be evidence that Jesus somehow commissioned the Twelve to their appointed roles as His Apostles. Perhaps details are sketchy on that point. but laying on of hands was mentioned and so some ceremony existed.

    However, in modern day, when Priesthood is conferred in a different manner, there has to be a process for doing that, as outlined by Joseph though revelation. So there you have it in the Doctrine and Covenants. if the Bible were always so straight forward, we’d have no need of continuing revelation, a restoration, Living Prophets and there wouldn’t be hundreds of denominations, all with their own interpretations.

  23. There is no doubt that laying on of hands was used in ordaining Apostles to their office when replacements for the original Twelve were installed. We infer from that that Jesus must have used a similar ritual in installing the original twelve disciples as the Twelve during his ministry. But the text is silent on the point.

    Kevin isn’t saying here that proper priesthood ordination to specific offices (and even conferral of the AP and then MP in this dispensation) doesn’t need to be done by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority. He is merely saying that we should be careful in what we try to infer from the New Testament or even Book of Mormon context, especially when our inferences from those ancient texts are driven by a presentist reading of those texts: something is a certain way now so it must have been done exactly the same way back then. An extreme example of such presentism is inferring between the lines in the Book of Mormon that there was a such thing as the Zarahemla Second Ward which had a Relief Society, Eagle Scout Courts of Honor, and Young Women’s Medallions.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Another example is in John 20:22, when the resurrected Christ conveys the Holy Ghost to his disciples. How does he do this? He breathes on them:

    And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

    We see here an echo of the creation of man in Genesis 2:7, and we are reminded that in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) there is no distinction in vocabulary between the meaning wind, breath and spirit.

  25. I think that the problem is that “ordaining” someone to something by ritual means (the laying on of hands) does not, in a NT context, necessarily imply conferring “priesthood.” I suspect that if, the day after the Twelve were ordained, you told them they were now “priests”, they would have looked at you askew.

  26. I realise that it’s a point of Mormon doctrine that the Twelve did in fact have the Melchizedek priesthood conferred upon them (meaning the authority of Christ, the Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, a meta- non-Levitical “priesthood”), but to believe that, you’re going to need more than the NT (which is what Mormonism is all about anyway). I hold to the view, however, that for the Twelve, “priest” would have meant Levite/Aaronid. They never saw themselves as such and it would be presentist to suppose they did.

  27. The Other Clark says:

    It appears that the most common alternative to “ordain” is “appoint.” This is particularly salient because prior to the 1960’s, it was a common term for being selected for a church position. (e.g. LeGrand Richards talks about being “appointed” bishop, where a modern Mormon would say they were “called.”)

    The understanding that historically ordain=appoint sheds insight not only on the ancient church, but also on the first 100 years of the present dispensation.

  28. The Other Clark says:

    Another reference (not yet mentioned) that may shed light on how ordination was performed in NT times is Hebrews 5:4 (“No man taketh this honor upon himself, but that he is called of God, as was Aaron”). This is a standard seminary scripture that refers back to Exodus chaps 28-29, which has a long description of priestly robes annointings, and laying on of hands. But the hands are not placed on Aaron and his sons, but on the heads of the sacrificial rams!

  29. Hedgehog says:

    “when the resurrected Christ conveys the Holy Ghost to his disciples. How does he do this? He breathes on them”
    conjures images of fire-breathing dragons …

  30. “He is merely saying that we should be careful in what we try to infer from the New Testament or even Book of Mormon context, especially when our inferences from those ancient texts are driven by a presentist reading of those texts: something is a certain way now so it must have been done exactly the same way back then.”

    I think this is a good summary of his point. FWIW, part of the point I was trying to make is that I think the power of the restoration is in synthesizing all the texts we have plus the prophetic interpretations of them. This kind of synthesizing wasn’t necessarily done at face value of Bro. Otterson’s letter, and I get that that may have been part of the concern being addressed here.

    I recall Elder Oaks once saying that the practice of the Church is the interpretation of scripture. I suppose that concept could be wrested (there is always the issue of culture vs. doctrine that ends up being where disagreements often lie), but I think it makes for interesting text reading to lean hard into the notion of “presentist” interpretations (at least prophetic ones) in light of the doctrine of continuing and present revelation leading and guiding the Church. When I read Brother Otterson’s letter that is more of what I sense is happening. Present inspiration and prophetic interpretation (which influences the PA messages) cannot help but inform which scriptures to focus on and interpret and consider in light of the practices related to priesthood.

  31. Thanks for the follow-up. This really is a fascinating subject, and I agree completely that citing the Bible and only the Bible for a current practice gets tricky in a hurry.

  32. Ray, that’s one reason why Mormons are not, and should not be, Biblical inerrantists. That “insofar as it is translated correctly” clause in the AoF is a key part of my approach to the Bible as Scripture. Although, as some commenters have noted, many of us are ready to turn into inerrantists at a moment’s notice when a particular passage, especially in our favorite translation, supports our viewpoint. :)

    Nice job, Kevin; a very enjoyable and helpful exegesis.

  33. If only there was a substantial body of scholarship about the Bible out there somewhere.

  34. New Iconoclast, I agree completely. In fact, I wrote about that exact concept relative to the Book of Mormon and the Bible in May 2011:

    “The Book of Mormon is Not Our Version of the Inerrant Bible”


  35. Being conferred and being ordained are two separate parts of the priesthood. To mix the two together is an erroneous habit most LDS members make, and some ancient scholars it looks like according to your research. In Joseph Smith History in the back of the Perl of Great Price (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1.69-72?lang=eng#68). It states that the John The Baptist CONFERRED the priesthood of Aaron onto Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Then, after they are baptized, they ORDAINED each other to the Aaronic Priesthood, presumably to the office of a priest. Later, John the Baptist states that they will be conferred to the Melchizedek priesthood. So you are conferred to the priesthood and then “set in order/appointed” aka ordained to certain offices within the priesthood.

  36. Kullervo, you’re certainly in a trolly mood today, aren’t you?

    Of course there’s a “substantial body of scholarship about the Bible out there.” I think that for the most part, it fully supports the notion that Biblical inerrancy and Biblical sufficiency is a shibboleth; a fantasy. The Bible is a library of diverse voices saying diverse things. They can’t all be reconciled, and they don’t all translate well into English.