The Holy Order

The Holy Order

John A. Tvedtnes

Melchizedek Priesthood Restoration MormonThe Book of Mormon frequently refers to the “holy order” in the same sense in which we use “priesthood” in the restored Church. For example, Nephi’s younger brother declared, “I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi” (2 Nephi 6:2).[1] Similarly, Alma2 declared, “I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus” (Alma 5:44). “[T]his is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren” (Alma 5:49). He had “delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy” (Alma 4:20). He taught “the holy order by which he was called” (Alma 6:8; 8:4).

Having preached to the people in Zarahemla, Alma “ordained priests and elders, by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church” (Alma 6:1). In the city of Ammonihah, he spoke of ancient times, when “the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people. And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption” (Alma 13:1-2). They were “called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men” (Alma 13:6; see also verses 7-18). Others who wrote of the “[holy] order of God” by which ancient prophets had been called include Alma’s great-grandson Nephi (Helaman 8:18) and Mormon’s son Moroni (Ether 12:10). The sons of Alma2 and Mosiah also “preached after the holy order of God by which they were called” (Alma 43:2). They and others “had been ordained by the holy order of God, being baptized unto repentance, and sent forth to preach among the people” (Alma 49:30).[2]

Following the example set in the Book of Mormon, the term “priesthood” was used in early Latter-day Saint literature (including, in most instances, the Doctrine and Covenants) to denote only the offices of priest (“Aaronic/lesser priesthood”) and high priest (“Melchizedek/higher priesthood”).[3] The terms “order of God” and “holy order” continued to be used to denote all of the offices. Thus, D&C 77:11 speaks of “high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God,” while D&C 84:18 declares that “the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God.”

The patriarchal blessing book of Joseph Smith Sr., of which Oliver Cowdery was scribe, contains Oliver’s description of his and Joseph’s ordination by John the Baptist, in which he notes, “Our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer, to know how we might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit according to the order of God.” The history kept by Church historian John Whitmer, describing the ordination of the first high priests in June 1831, says that Joseph Smith “laid his hands upon Lyman Wight and ordained him to the High Priesthood (i.e. ordained him a High Priest), after the holy order of God” (History of the Church 1:176, note). The words in parentheses were added by B. H. Roberts when he edited the history for publication, and were necessitated by the fact that the use of the term “high priesthood” to denote the office of high priest had changed by his time.

Ultimately, the term “priesthood,” in the sense of a generic authority from God, came to replace the term “holy order,” while the term “order” continues to be used, but usually in the sense of the major divisions (orders) of Aaronic, Patriarchal, and Melchizedek priesthood.[4] Evolution of such terms is normal in the development of languages, but it sometimes obscures usage in earlier texts, such as the Book of Mormon, where “holy order” was the standard term used to denote authority from God.

[1] Nephi wrote that he had consecrated his brothers Jacob and Joseph as “priests and teachers” (2 Nephi 5:26), which Jacob confirmed (Jacob 1:18). In his Doctrines of Salvation 3:86, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “The Nephites did not officiate under the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood. They were not descendants of Aaron, and there were no Levites among them. There is no evidence in the Book of Mormon that they held the Aaronic Priesthood until after the ministry of the resurrected Lord among them, but the Book of Mormon tells us definitely, in many places, that the priesthood which they held and under which they officiated was the Priesthood after the holy order, the order of the Son of God. This higher priesthood can officiate in every ordinance of the gospel, and Jacob and Joseph, for instance, were consecrated priests and teachers after this order.”

[2] Cf. Moroni’s declaration that “elders, priests, and teachers were baptized” (Moroni 6:1).

[3] I make this point (with examples from early Latter-day Saint publications) in my book Organize My Kingdom: A History of Restored Priesthood (Bountiful, UT: Cornerstone, 2000, later issued by Horizon) . Conferring the “Aaronic priesthood” on a young man before ordaining him a deacon would not have made sense in Joseph Smiths day, since it would have implied that he was being ordained a priest, then a deacon. Indeed, D&C 84:29-30 declares that “the offices of elder and bishop are necessary appendages belonging unto the high priesthood. And again, the offices of teacher and deacon are necessary appendages belonging to the lesser priesthood, which priesthood was confirmed upon Aaron and his sons.” See also D&C 107:5.

[4]. The issue is also discussed in my book Organize My Kingdom: A History of Restored Priesthood.