Topic: Levitical or Aaronic Priesthood – who was qualified to have it?
What about Melchizedek Priesthood – who can hold it?
God’s intention was to make the entire nation of Israel a kingdom of priests. (Exodus 19:6). Their sin in the matter of the golden calf prevented this. Instead only one tribe was chosen, the tribe of Levi. The Book of Leviticus was written for the Levites. The Levitical or Aaronic Priesthood required that tribal lineage to qualify for the Priesthood in addition to other specific qualifications, the most important of them was holiness. That word occurs 87 times in this book. “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.” (Lev. 20:26.) Holiness is a requirement for a priest as one who represents man before God. He is in actuality the opposite of a prophet, for a prophet speaks for God to man. Jesus is both – He is our Prophet and Priest, and also our King – He speaks God’s word to man – He is our only Priest-Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), and He is our coming King (Rev. 19:16).
The church today, consisting of born-again believers, is the royal priesthood. They receive it from their King Jesus as they are born again. Jesus Christ alone is the great High Priest - after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebr. 7:17; 8:1; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:10; 1:6.) The "Royal Priesthood" or the "believers priesthood” comes to them, not by blood lineage and separation from other people as did the Levitical/Aaronic Priesthood, but by faith in Christ, having been born-again by the word of God and adopted into God’s family.(1 Peter 1:23; 2:9; John 1:12-13; Romans 8:14-17.)
In contrast to that, the LDS Church claims to have received the "restored" Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood (without linage to the priesthood), and they claim that they were also given the Melchizedek Priesthood, because, according to them, both Priesthoods were lost and needed to be restored.
Joseph Smith claimed to have received the Aaronic Priesthood together with Oliver Cowdery from John the Baptist in May 1829. Joseph Smith also claimed that they were later visited by three of Christ’s apostles, Peter, James and John, who ordained him and Oliver into the higher or the Melchizedek Priesthood.
[Let’s look into the origin of the priesthood and see what the Word of God, the Bible, has to say about the subject, and after that we will look at Joseph Smith’s claims.]
Melchizedek is first mentioned in Genesis 14:18 and in Psalms 110:4 and again in the New Testament, in the letter to the Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:1, 10-11, 15, 17, 21. Melchizedek is presented in Genesis as the one who "brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high God" to whom Abraham gave tithes. The name Melchizedek means the "King of Righteousness." He was introduced as the King of Salem, Salem meaning "Peace" - an early name of Jerusalem, where David later ruled as the King and where the Messiah is to come to be the final King of Kings and Lord of Lords to all of Abraham’s seed. Priests were first mentioned as heads of families, or patriarchs, who offered sacrifices to God in behalf of their families. The first mention of this is made in Job 1:5 and elsewhere. As families grew into a tribe, the head of the family became the King of the tribe as well as the Priest of the tribe, thus he was a Priest-King to them.
When Moses brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, they were organized by tribes into one nation and the Levites were formally separated into the service of God, Aaron being the first High Priest. Upon his death his oldest son became the High Priest - and thus it was established in Israel, having many Levitical priests, but only one High Priest at a time.
In the tribe of Levi, Aaron’s descendants were established as the priestly line in Israel. The Bible often speaks of "priests and Levites". They were all from the tribe of Levi, but not all Levites were priests. The entire tribe was separated into the service of God, but all other Levites, besides the descendants of Aaron, were more like assistants to the priests. These "assistants" took care of the tabernacle and later the temple, and they also provided music and prepared sacrifices. Priests made offerings to God and lead in confession of the sins of the people. The priests acted as mediators between God and men, offering sacrifices for their sins (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31). These sacrifices demonstrated to the people that the penalty for sin is death (Ez. 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23), and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Lev. 17:11.)This was understood from the Garden of Eden onward.
Abel offered a sacrifice that pleased God (Gen. 4:4) and so did Noah (8:20), Abraham (12:7-8), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (35:1-7), and Job (Job 1:5), all of them acting as priests for their families. While still in Egypt, each family killed a Passover Lamb as an offering to God (Ex. 12:6). When God established Israel as His chosen Nation at Mount Sinai, after their deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 6:7; 19:5-6), the Priesthood was formally established through Moses' brother Aaron, and his descendents. As Levi's descendants through Aaron, they were to serve God at the altar. (Num. 8:9-18).
There were many requirements put on those serving as priests, though the office itself was hereditary only to the sons of Aaron. Those serving as priests could not have any physical defects (Lev. 21:16-21). Bodily perfection was to symbolize spiritual wholeness and holiness. Everything about them and their lives had to be in harmony with devotion to God (Lev. 21:7).
The Bible Dictionary explains:
"Aaron and his sons were consecrated for the priesthood, in an elaborate seven-day ceremony (Ex. 29:30, 35, 37). Their bodies were bathed to symbolize the purifying of their souls from sin. Then they were clothed in their priestly garments and anointed with oil as sacrifices were made in their behalf. The entire dedication procedure was on outward sign of their SANCTIFICATION in God’s service (Ex. 29:9). The clothes the priest wore also carried great significance. Their white linen garments symbolized holiness and glory. They also wore a coat woven in one piece without a seam to indicate their spiritual integrity, wholeness and righteousness. The four-cornered cloth of the coat signified that the priest belonged to the kingdom of God. The cap, resembling an open flower, symbolized fresh, vigorous life of the one who wore it. The girdle, or sash, a belt that encircled the priest’s body, was the priestly sign of service. It showed that the wearer was an office-bearer and administrator in the kingdom of God (Ex. 39). The priests had several responsibilities as mediators between sinful people and their holy God...the priests had to make sure that the sacrificial rituals were carried out correctly. Otherwise, the people could not be cleansed of their sins until the priest had made the atonement for the error (Num. 18:1). As ‘messengers of the LORD’ (Mal. 2:7), the priests were to also teach the Law to the people of Israel. In addition to instructing in the Law year by year, they were also responsible for reading the Law at the Feast of Tabernacles every seventh year (Deut. 31:9-13). By their example, the priests also taught people how to ‘distinguish between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean’ (Lev. 10:10)." (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 1029.)
Eventually corruption crept into their ranks and they departed from God, worshipping idols along with the rest of the people (Ezekiel 22:26). Malachi, in his book (Mal.1:6; 2:7-9), points out that because of false teachings creeping in, people started to neglect the offerings and festivals of the Temple. “Thus, the Old Testament closes with the announcement that God in His judgment ‘will suddenly come to His temple...as a refiner’s fire to purify the priests (Mal. 3:1-3). God was determined to preserve His human priests until the appearance of His true priest, Jesus Christ." (Ibid. p. 1030. Emphasis added.)
"The office of priest was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Son of God became a man (Heb.2:9-14) so that He might offer Himself as a sacrifice ‘once to bear the sins of many’ (9:28). Hence, there is no longer a need for priests to offer a sacrifice to atone for man’s sin. A permanent sacrifice has been made by Jesus Christ though His death on the Cross." (Ibid. p. 1030. Emphasis added.)
When Christ died on the Cross of Calvary, God ripped the veil of the temple, "from top to bottom" (Matt. 27:51). That veil had separated men from God (where only priests could have entered after ceremonial cleansing), now there is no more a veil, allowing all believers access to God through Jesus Christ, abolishing the old Aaronic priesthood and making all true believers in Christ His "royal priesthood, an holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9) to "offer sacrifices of praise to God continually...giving thanks to His name." (Hebrews 13:15.)
As we noted before, there had been a person, a type of Christ, Melchizedek, who is said to have been "without beginning of days, nor the end of life; but made like unto the Son of God." (Heb. 7:3) All of chapter 7 in the Letter to the Hebrews clearly demonstrates that there is only one who qualifies for that priesthood, and that is Jesus Christ, who is the only one who "does not have beginning of days nor end of life." He is Eternal God, Immanuel, who became a man to offer the Ultimate Sacrifice, that is Himself, as the payment for our sins. As there was only one high priest at a time in Israel, so we have only one High Priest now - Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant, who does not need to be replaced like the old high priests, who, because of death, had to be replaced. He lives forever, making intercession for us. He has the Priesthood that does not pass from one to another (Hebrews 7:24). Every high priest in Israel was an Aaronic priest. There never were Melchizedek priests in Israel! Jesus Christ alone is our High Priest. He is our Prophet, Priest and soon coming King.
The Mormon-claim to the Priesthood
The Mormon Church claims that on May 15, 1829, John the Baptist appeared and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Section 13 of the Doctrine and Covenants is sited as evidence that the Aaronic Priesthood was conferred on Joseph and Oliver. One must remember, however, that this section did not appear in the revelations as they were originally printed in 1833 in the Book of Commandments. (This book was later, in 1835, named The Doctrine and Covenants.)
Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants might lead one to believe that in 1830 the ordination of Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood by John the Baptist was common knowledge in the Church, for in verse 8 we read, "Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron". Since the introduction to this revelation states that it was given in 1830, Mormon writers use it in their attempt to prove the Restoration of the Priesthood. A careful examination of this revelation, however, reveals that it has been falsified. Verse 8 was not in the revelation as it was originally published in the Book of Commandments as Chapter 28. It was added to the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 27, in 1835.
Mormon author, LaMar Petersen, offers some interesting information about the changes concerning the Priesthood which have been made in Joseph Smith’s revelations.
"The important details that are missing from the ‘full history’ of 1834 are likewise missing from the Book of Commandments in 1833. The student would expect to find all the particulars of the Restoration in this first treasured set of 65 revelations, the dates of which encompassed the bestowal of the two Priesthoods, but they are conspicuously absent... The notable revelations on Priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants, before referred to, Sections 2 and 13, are missing, and Chapter 28 gives no hint of the Restoration which, if actual, had been known for about[for] 4 years. More than 400 words were added to this revelation of August 1830 in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the additions made to include the names of heavenly visitors and two separate ordinations. The Book of Commandments gives the duties of Elders, Priest, Teachers, and Deacons and refers to Joseph's apostolic calling but there is no mention of Melchizedek Priesthood, High Priesthood, Seventies, (which office was done away with by Ezra Taft Benson while he was President) High Priests, nor High Councilors. These words were later inserted into the revelation on Church organization and government of April, 1830 (Section 20) making it appear that they were known at that date, but they do not appear in the original…(in the Book of Commandments)… Similar interpolations were made in the revelations known as Sections 42 and 68." (Problems in Mormon Text, LaMar Petersen, pp.7-8.)
It is claimed today by Mormon leaders that before the Church was organized, Peter, James and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Doctrine and Covenants 27:12 is cited as proof that the Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred at a very early date: "And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles... "This verse, however, did not appear in the revelation when it was published in the Book of Commandments in 1833. It was added into the Doctrine and Covenants, and therefore it cannot be cited as proof that the Melchizedek Priesthood was in the Church at the time the revelation was said to be given. It is also claimed that an Elder is an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood, although neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon teach this. But the Doctrine and Covenants 107:7 we read: "The office of an Elder comes under the priesthood of Melchizedek." There is evidence that in the beginning the Elders of the Mormon Church did not claim to have the Melchizedek Priesthood. Joseph Smith himself made this statement concerning it in a conference held in June, 1831: "...the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifest and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders." (History of the Church 1:175-176.)
If the Melchizedek Priesthood is really necessary, it is certainly odd that the Elders were able to function from the organization of the church from April 1830 until June 1831, without it. All evidence points to the fact that the Melchizedek Priesthood did not come from the hands of Peter, James and John in 1829, as they say, but rather from the mind of Sydney Rigdon, in Ohio in 1831.
Mormon Historian and General Authority, B. H. Roberts, made the following admission concerning the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood: "...there is no definite account of the event in the history of the Prophet Joseph, or, for matter of that, in any of our annals..." (History of the Church, 1: 40, footnote.) Another interesting confession was made by David Whitmer (one of the Book of Mormon witnesses), who wrote, "The next grievous error which crept into the church was in ordaining high priests in June, 1831. This error was introduced at the instigation of Sydney Rigdon. The office of high priest was never spoken of, and never thought of being established in the church until Rigdon came in. Remember that we had been preaching from August 1829, until June, 1831- almost two years - and had baptized about 2,000 members into the Church of Christ, and had not one High Priest." (An Address To All Believers in Christ, p. 35.)
With all this evidence from the beginnings of the Mormon Church, why do they persist in claiming they have the Melchizedek Priesthood? And further yet, their missionary force is out there still trying to convince people that there is a need to have that priesthood, this "authority to act in God’s name." The missionary discussions promote the idea and make the missionaries to propagate the mistaken idea that Christ’s original apostles had the Melchizedek Priesthood. Mormons use John 15:16 as proof, and say that Christ laid his hands on them and gave them the Melchizedek Priesthood. The text does not say or even imply anything like that. They mistakenly assume that the word "ordained" means a transfer of priesthood authority. However, 14 different Greek words are used in the New Testament, that are all translated "ordained" into the English KJV. The meaning of these Greek words varies from "preparation" to "commitment" to "evangelize" or to “appoint”, etc. but priesthood was never given in this way. Priests had to be born into the family of Aaron to be priests. In addition to this “birthright” requirement for the priesthood, it ended, i.e. was abolished, when Jesus died on the cross. No one can have what has been abolished by God. Mormons are simply reading into the passage what they want it to say.
Whitmer continues..."High Priests were only in the church before Christ; and to have this office in the ‘Church of Christ’ is not according to the teachings of Christ in either of the sacred books: Christ himself is our great and last High Priest. Brethern - I will tell you one thing which alone should settle this matter in your minds; it is this: you cannot find in the New Testament part of the Bible or the Book of Mormon where one single high priest was ever in the Church of Christ." (Address to all Believers in Christ, David Whitmer p. 62.)
Again: Which tribe was it that had the Priesthood in Israel?
Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th president and prophet of the LDS Church, said in vol. 3 of Doctrines of Salvation, that Joseph Smith was from the tribe of Ephraim. Besides that, the largest part of the membership of the LDS Church are said to be from the Tribe of Ephraim, according to their patriarchal blessings.
[Let’s look at what Mormon scriptures have to say about this.]
In The Pearl of Great Price, The Book of Abraham, chapter 1:20-26, we read:
20. " Behold, Potiphar’s Hill was in the land of Ur, of Chaldea. And the Lord broke down the altar of Elkenah, and of the gods of the land, and utterly destroyed them, and smote the priest that he died; and there was great mourning in Chaldea, and also in the court of Pharaoh; which Pharaoh signifies king by royal blood."
21. "Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth."
22. "From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land."
23. "The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden."
24. "When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land."
25. "Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal."
26. "Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood." (Emphasis added).
From this we see that the Pharaoh and all the Egyptians were cursed and could not hold the priesthood, according to LDS scriptures, because they came through the lineage of Ham. [All "worthy men" are now, since June 1978, allowed to receive the LDS priesthood.] In God’s Word, the Bible, in Genesis, chapter 41, verse 45 we read, "And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaph-nath-pa-a-ne-ah; and gave him to wife As-e-nath the daughter of Po-ti-pher-ah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt."
Genesis 41:45 says that Joseph married an Egyptian woman. Continuing from verse 50:
50. "And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came..."
v. 51. "And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Ma-nas-seh... “
v. 52. "And the name of the second called E-phra-im: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction."
Thus we see that Ephraim and Manasseh were half Egyptian - born of an Egyptian mother and a Hebrew father. Egyptian bloodline was cursed concerning the priesthood, according to the Book of Abraham. So they could not hold the priesthood, even if another tribe, besides the Levites, would have been allowed to have the priesthood. And most, if not all, members of the Mormon Church that claim the priesthood, are said to have come from the lineage of Ephraim or Manasseh.
Joseph Smith claimed that he and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist. There is no way that Joseph Smith could have received that priesthood, if his own scriptures be true. In addition to this, Hebrews 7 declares that the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood was abolished. It is also clear from the Bible that there was no Melchizedek priesthood in Israel. The Apostles did not have the Melchizedek Priesthood. Only Jesus holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The Book of Abraham (1:24) states that the lineage of Ham was cursed. Because Joseph Smith and members of the LDS Church claim to be from this cursed linage, they could not hold the priesthood, according to Joseph Smith's own scriptures.
People of Israel were identified by family and tribe and they were all counted. (See Neh. 7:8-12. ) They were counted by God, because they counted to God. They kept accurate record of all men belonging to Israel, as you can see from Nehemiah 7. One had to have Jewish blood flowing through one’s veins and one had to have a written proof of one’s genealogy – without it one could not even live in Jerusalem. In verse 39, the priests were counted. Only those who were from the Tribe of Levi and direct descendants of Aaron were eligible to serve in the priesthood. Verses 61 and 64 report that those who could not prove their linage to Aaron in the Tribe Levi were put out of the priesthood. God had His requirements then, and He has His new requirements now.
In order to have His “royal priesthood” and live in the New Jerusalem, we too have to prove our linage - that we are children of God. How do we prove that? First we have to understand that not all are children of God. We have to become God’s children! “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, but of God.”(John 1:12-13.) Before our new birth, we all were “children of the flesh”. And who are they? They are Adam’s posterity. Romans 9:8 says, “They that are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God.” To belong to God’s family and be of His linage, we “must be born again”. (John 3:7.) Claiming to know the name of Jesus and stories about His life, even having done “many wonderful works in His name” will not qualify us. We have to become God’s children through a new birth. It is the same “linage”- question now as it was in Israel – they had to have Jewish blood in their veins to be of Israel, and to qualify for the priesthood, they had to be of the Tribe of Levi – this was a “birthright” issue. To be counted as part of God’s family, we have to prove that we are God’s children through spiritual birth, and have our names written in His Book of Life – to others “on that day” He will say, “I never knew you…” (Matt. 7:22-23.)
The question in Nehemiah 7 was the people’s relationship to the nation of Jews, who were the chosen people of the God. For Israel it was a question of a blood linage. We in the church-age have to answer a different question – are we spiritually born children of the God ? God is Spirit. (John 4:24.) Are we thus related to Jesus? God is keeping the list of names of His own in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Is your name in that book? In Revelation 20:15 we read, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Make sure that your name is in this Lamb’s Book of Life.
The Bible is trustworthy and we must know what it teaches. We must be like the Bereans mentioned in Acts 17:11. They were called “noble” in that they were not gullible, but they “searched the scriptures daily,[to test] whether those things were so.” God commands us to study so that we will not be deceived. (Matt. 24:4-5; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16; John 5:39; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1John 4:1; 1 Tim. 4:1.) To those who are true believers in Jesus, God gives power and authority, the royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9; John 1:12-13.)
“And [the Lord] hast made us unto our God kings and priests…” (Rev. 5:10.)
“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power…” (John 1:12.)
We read from Acts (3:6,16; 4:7-10) that the Lord’s disciples went out preaching and healing in the name of Jesus, not by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood as we hear the LDS Church claiming. There never was any “power” in the priesthood. The priesthood in Israel was then, and the “royal priesthood” now is, God’s call to His own into service to Him. Power is only in God who does the miracles through people’s faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.