D&C Gospel Doctrine Lesson 25: Priesthood the Power of Godliness

D&C 84 & D&C 107

I thought this week’s lesson would be a challenge, because this is generally my reaction when I hear we’re having a lesson on priesthood:

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Men. Stuffy. White shirts. No women. Boring. When I hear we’re having a lesson on the priesthood, it’s really easy for me to want to check out.

HOWEVER, I am pleased to say that preparing this lesson was a rewarding experience and I really learned a lot.

THIS is what God wants us to think about when we think about the priesthood:

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The priesthood is the power of God. With the priesthood, we can serve in the ministering of angels, have access to the key of the knowledge of God, and ultimately become like God.

Historical Context

Like with all scripture, we need to make sure we put section 84 in context.

This revelation was received in 1832 in Kirtland Ohio.

It was received in the presence of either 6 or 10 recently returned missionaries on either September 22 or September 23 (or both).

By the time this revelation had been received, both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods had been restored, and the temple site at Far West Missouri had been dedicated. There’s some discrepancy about whether the Melchizedek priesthood was restored in 1829 or 1831, but suffice it to say that by 1832 we had it.

Joseph and God had the temple on the brain. God reminds Joseph in this revelation to work towards building a temple in Far West in D&C 84:2-3

Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem. Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.

Here’s a picture of the temple plot today:

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The Lord makes clear throughout this revelation that the priesthood is inseparably connected with the temple, but the Saints wouldn’t really understand what that meant until the institution of temple teachings and ordinances later:

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Moses and the Israelites

D&C 84:6-16, 23-26 talks about Moses. Why? Because “foes oppose us, we take an honest stand. We roll like Moses, claiming our promised land.”

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Just kidding, Hamilton aside, the Lord spends a whopping dozen verses talking about Moses for a couple reasons. First, it serves as a historical prologue in an ancient covenant treaty pattern. But you don’t care about that. The more important reason is that God wanted to inspire Joseph and the Saints to succeed where the Israelites had failed.

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After delivering the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses went up to Sinai to meet with the Lord face to face. He went to receive the new law and covenant that they would now live under. Moses wanted to bring the Israelites into the presence of God because he believed that they could and should know God personally.

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However, you know the story, the Israelites were idiots. As depicted in this screenshot of The Ten Commandments, they started worshiping a golden calf and were laying out girls on moving carts. Seriously? How stupid do you have to be? Her leg is practically wedged into the spoke of the wheel. One wrong move and she’d be flung under the cart with a grotesquely broken leg. Not cool, Israelites.

Long story short, the Lord decided that they weren’t ready for the higher priesthood, so they were left with only the Aaronic priesthood and a set of carnal commandments for officiating in the Law of Moses.

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Now the million dollar question is: Can Joseph succeed where Moses failed? God wants all his children to be able to enter his presence and his divine council. Will the Saints be able to live up to this higher law and officiate in ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood? Spoiler: Yes.

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Roles and Responsibilities of the 2 Priesthoods

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At this point, I split the class into 2 groups and had them each research the roles and responsibilities of that respective priesthood. After I gave them time to read the assigned scriptures, we detailed on the whiteboard what those different roles and responsibilities were. Here’s just an example:

Aaronic

Melchizedek

Ministering of Angels
Carnal commandments

Preparatory Gospel

Faith, Repentance, Baptism

Office of Deacon, Teacher, Priest, (Bishop)

Key to the Knowledge of God

Spiritual matters

Higher priesthood

Named after Melchizedek, the high priest

Offices of Elder, High Priest, Patriarch, 12, 70, etc.

Melchizedek Priesthood: The Key of the Knowledge of God

Let’s start with the Melchizedek Priesthood. D&C 84 indicates that a unique feature of this priesthood is that it holds the “key of the knowledge of god” (v. 19). What does that even mean? Well your temple bells should be going off right now.

Key of the Knowledge of God = Knowing special secrets of God

In the Bible, as well as in Egyptian & Greco-Roman mystery cults, when it talks about special or secret knowledge about God, they’re talking about temple stuff. Temples are about coming into the presence of God and being admitted into God’s divine council. One enters that divine council by being worthy and obtaining special knowledge of God.

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Both Lehi and Nephi indicate that they have had visions of this divine council (seeing God on his throne surrounded by numberless concourses of angles), and were admitted in. Ezekiel also had such a vision, as have many prophets.

This “special knowledge” is not just knowledge from God, but it’s also knowledge about God. We learn about who He is and what His nature is. We learn of his plan and his desires for us.

The key of the knowledge of God then, is about obtaining special ritual knowledge that can help you enter into the Lord’s presence again. We obtain this knowledge by officiating in ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood.

Key of the Knowledge of God = knowing God

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While using a temple context is useful, it’s not the only way to look at the scripture. You can also interpret it as: Having the Melchizedek Priesthood is how we can come to know God better.

The Melchizedek Priesthood is the power of God, and by using it, we are exercising His power. Coming to know God is how we can ultimately have salvation and eternal life:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

So knowing God is a prerequisite for eternal life. At least, that’s one way to look at the verse.

Key of the Knowledge of God = Becoming as God

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Saying knowledge is a prerequisite for eternal life is a completely valid interpretation, but sometimes I like to look at it as saying that eternal life is a prerequisite for truly knowing God. (especially when you look at the Greek’s use of ινα “in order that”)

If you take John 17:3, and interpret it as:

This is life eternal. This is the purpose and joy of eternal life: getting to know God up close and personal

all of a sudden, we become peers with God. Eternal Life is an opportunity for us to learn at the feet of the Creator of the Universe. We can become like Him. We can create. We can only harness these powers of creation with faith and the Melchizedek priesthood.

Aaronic Priesthood: The Ministering of Angels

This priesthood is the lesser priesthood, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean it’s not impressive. If anything, we take the power of the Aaronic priesthood too lightly and don’t realize the sacred magnitude this priesthood contains.

What is the ministering of Angels?

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Painting by Walter Rane

The ministering of Angels is to participate in the work that the angels do. What do angels do? They comfort, they deliver messages, they serve God, they give warning, they protect, they perform miracles by virtue of the priesthood.

The ministering of angels is not only to do what angels would do, but to also interact with angels.

Angel in Greek literally just means “messenger,” so an angel can be anyone, but I’m going to relate some quotes and accounts on real experiences with angels. Angels are real, they are all around us, and they help us accomplish God’s work.

Joseph Smith

The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the World of Spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire they are not far from us and know and understand our thoughts and feelings and notions and are often pained therewith. (History of the Church 6:51-52)

Brigham Young

The Lord’s angels are around us…There is much in my presence besides those who site here, if we had eyes to see the heavenly beings that are in our presence (Discourses of Brigham Young, 41-42)

Wilford Woodruff

The angels are watching over us. The eyes of all the heavenly hosts are over us. Those who have lived in other dispensations understand this dispensation far better than we do, and they are watching over the labors of the Elders of Israel. (Bateman, Prophets Have Spoken, 1:1046)

James E. Talmage

Because of God’s great love, He has set heavenly beings to watch over us and to guard us from the attacks of evil powers while we live on earth. Do we realize that in our daily walk and work we are not alone,  but that angels attend us wherever our duty causes us to go? (Millenial Star 55 [July 10, 1893]: 446)

Accounts of Angelic Visits

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The following accounts are all taken from Donald Parry, Angels: Agents of Light, Love, and Power (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2013).

Joseph Smith and Allen Stout

A story about Joseph Smith and his bodyguard Allen Stout provides yet another example of an encounter with a translated person who concealed his angelic status while fulfilling his mission upon the earth. As Joseph Smith and Allen Stout were walking on a road west of the Mississippi River, “they saw a man walking along a road leading in from the south and coming towards them. The Prophet told Allen to remain where he was while he stepped over to speak with this pedestrian. Allen turned his back towards them and for a time forgot the Prophet and became engaged with his own thoughts, while he stood whipping a low bush with the cane he carried.

“The hand of the Prophet upon his shoulder aroused him. The Prophet said, ‘We must return immediately to Nauvoo.’ They walked silently and rapidly. Allen became very sorrowful over his recreancy to his duty and could not refrain from weeping. The Prophet asked him why he wept. Allen confessed, ‘I am an insufficient bodyguard—criminally neglectful of your welfare. I allowed that man you met to speak with you without even being ready to defend if he attacked you. He could have killed you and made his escape without my knowing who he is, which way he went or what he even looks like. You will have to dispense with my services and take a guard on which you can depend. Your life is too precious to be trusted to my care.’

“The Prophet then said, ‘That man would not harm me. You saw John the Revelator.'” (McConkie, Remembering Joseph, 210-211)

Sherrie’s Shield of Faith

This account, quoted in Angels, came from an Ensign article from 1995. The article is about a little girl named Sherrie who had to endure a 14-hour operation and was comforted in her recovery with many angelic visitors:

Following the surgery, Clayne and Debbie spent the day praying fervently and taking turns keeping vigil at Sherrie’s bedside. As he watched his red-haired daughter sleep in a curtained cubicle that night, Clayne worried that she might die, as Dr. Walker had warned. But Sherrie awoke the next morning and immediately began speaking. A feeling of reverence engulfed the cubicle. For a moment, Clayne was puzzled by Sherrie’s words.

“Daddy, Aunt Cheryl is here,” she told her father. “And another lady I don’t know is with her.” Clayne and an attending nurse, the only ones at Sherrie’s bedside, glanced at each other. Sherrie continued.

“Grandpa Norman [Sherrie’s deceased great-grandfather] and Grandma Brown [Sherrie’s deceased great-great-grandmother] are here. And Daddy, who is that standing beside you?”

“I don’t know, honey,” Clayne replied. “Who does he look like?”

“He looks like you, only taller.” Sherrie paused, then continued. “He says he’s your brother, Jimmy.”

Clayne was three when Jimmy, ten years his senior, died of cystic fibrosis. “I doubt that during Sherrie’s life Jimmy’s name had ever been mentioned,” Clayne says. “She had never even seen a picture of him.”

Clayne, feeling that Sherrie’s death was imminent, hurried from the intensive care unit to awaken Debbie, who was sleeping in the hospital’s parent room. “There are visitors,” he told his wife. “I can’t see them, and I doubt that you can see them. But I can feel them.”

For nearly an hour, Sherrie looked about the cubicle and described her visitors, all deceased family members. Exhausted, she then fell asleep.

“Daddy, all of the children here in the intensive care unit have angels helping them,” Sherrie later told her father. Other visits and sacred experiences, before and after subsequent surgeries and during painful tests and procedures, followed.

“People from the other side helped,” Sherrie recalls tearfully. “When I was really in pain, they would come and help me calm down. They told me that I would be okay and that I would make it through.”

Wilford Woodruff and the Deathly Hallows

This account slightly reminiscent of the legend of the Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter, but teaches a great principle

At general conference in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, President Wilford Woodruff related another account wherein someone from the world of spirits came to receive a mortal at death. President Woodruff told of a deceased man named Peter Maughan, who had appeared to three mortals with the goal of appointing one of them to die. Peter went to the first and and conversed with him but concluded that he would not “call” that man to come to the other side of the veil. Peter then went to the second man, who, like the first, was not taken in death. The third man, days later, “was taken sick and died.” President Woodruff concluded: “Now, I name this to show a principle. They have work on the other side of the vail; and they want men, and they call them. And that was my view in regard to Brother George A. Smith. When he was almost at death’s door, Brother Cannon administered to him, and in thirty minutes he was up and ate breakfast with his family. We labored with him in this way, but ultimately, as you know, he died. But it taught me a lesson. I felt that man was wanted behind the vail.” (Journal of Discourses, 22:334)

Harold Be. Lee and the train accident

This account comes from Harold B. Lee. He tells the story of John and Almena Wells, who lost their son in a train accident.

President Harold B. Lee related the tragic experience of John Wells, a member of the Presiding Bishopric, and his wife, Almena, when their son was killed by a freight train in a canyon near Salt Lake City, Utah. Both parents experienced deep sorrow and heartache, but President Lee explained, “Sister Wells was inconsolable.” Her mourning and grieving, which began when she first heard of the accident and continued through the funeral, did not seem to help. She was “in a rather serious state of mind.” Soon after the funeral, while Sister Wells was mourning on her bed, “her son appeared to her and said, ‘Mother do not mourn, do not cry. I am all right.'” Her son explained the nature of the accident, that he had tripped on a root and fell on the tracks as the train passed. “He said that as soon as he realized that he was in another environment he tried to see his father, but couldn’t reach him. His father was so busy with the duties in his office he could not respond to his call. Therefore he had come to his mother. He said to her, ‘You tell Father that all is well with me, and I want you not to mourn any more.'” Bishop and Sister Wells’s son had appeared as a ministering spirit to comfort his parents after his untimely death. (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 415.

Conclusion

I ran out of time by this point, so I simply ended by sharing a couple angelic experiences of my own and bearing my testimony of the reality of angels.

As fantastic and incredible as these angelic experiences are, mortals can serve angelic roles too. The Aaronic priesthood requires that we engage in the ministering of angels. Even though it would be amazing for a glorified person in white to come up to you and say “everything’s going to be ok,” it is just as powerful to have an ordinary person in jeans to come up to you and say “everything’s going to be ok.” We can, and should be angels in each others’ lives. Giving inspired priesthood blessings is one of the best ways we can serve as angels to others and be a conduit for God’s revelation.

Additional Tidbits

Covenant Treaty Pattern

For those few interested in ancient covenant-making practices, section 84 fits an ancient covenant treaty pattern pretty well. In other words, this section follows the same pattern of covenant making found in the Bible and the ancient Near East. No wonder it’s called The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. Joseph Smith must have been really lucky if he made that up.

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Singing with the Tongue of Angels

You should read Book of Mormon Central’s KnoWhy on Speaking with the Tongue of Angels for more information, but basically, the end of D&C 84 makes the same promise as 2 Nephi 32:2

Speaking with the Tongue of Angels means that you can entered into the Divine Council and have entered the presence of God. You are associating with, and speaking with, angels. literally.

D&C 84:98 talks about how if you are faithful, you will eventually know God. You will be filled with the knowledge of God. You will see the Lord face to face (“eye to eye”). This is a typical heavenly ascent pattern. Once you obtain knowledge, you can enter the presence of God. Once admitted into the divine council, you can speak/sing with the tongue of angels. And what do you know, what comes right after verse 98? AN ANGELIC SONG. LITERALLY.

They even typeset this section of D&C in verse instead of in prose. I haven’t done a lot of research on this one, but I don’t think this is a direct quote from any Old or New Testament scripture. I think this is God’s song. This is the song that all shall sing when they enter the presence of God and it’s beautiful. It’s reminiscent of the Song of the Sea in Exodus and songs in Isaiah.

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Star Trek Fan Theory: The Nephites were part of the Obsidian Order

Yup. You heard it. That’s right. Book of Mormon tribes were part of the Obsidian Order. All the sci-fi, fantasy, and religion worlds are coming together and it’s more than I can handle.

Except. It’s not as likely that the Nephites were involved in the Obsidian Order of the Star Trek universe, as much as the Obsidian Order of Mayan priesthood.

What is the Obsidian Order?

The Obsidian Order is a newly discovered class of Mayan priesthood. These guys were labeled as Taaj or “obsidian” because they were heavily involved in Mayan ritual such as blood-letting and sacrifice. These lovely and wholesome family activities often required the use of obsidian blades.[1]

Human-Sacrific-in-Mayan-Codex

Members of the obsidian order weren’t strictly “priests,” but rather special agents of the state. They helped officiate sacrifices and holiday rituals, they wrote texts, and they calculated astronomical sciences.[2] They also transmitted specialized knowledge, serving advisory roles in the king’s court and to the youth.[3]

The Discovery of the Obsidian Order

A brand new article from the Cambridge journal Ancient Mesoamerica has brought the Obsidian Order to light for the first time, based off of newly discovered murals in Xultun, Guatemala. These new murals drastically increased our understanding of priesthood in ancient Mesoamerica.

Up until recently, much of the discussion around Mayan religion was centered around shamanism, a largely un-centralized and un-bureaucratic system. However, these new murals add to our understanding of a more structured priesthood organization within Mayan religion.

The Details of the Murals

These murals were found in structure 10K2 of the Los Sabios group at the site of Xultun. The Los Sabios group is a non-royal, but certainly elite, residence within the main temple complex. Whoever lived in this residence was wealthy and elite, and probably a member of the Mayan priesthood.

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The murals are wrapped all around the 4 walls in the 10K2 room. Here’s a drawing of the murals:

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What you’re looking at is a depiction of the ruler of Xultun in the center (labeled “Niche”), flanked on both sides by sitting figures. Several of these figures are labeled Taaj or “obsidian,” indicating that they’re part of this distinct order of priesthood.[4]

Here’s an image of the main panel on the north wall in color:

north-wall

The guy on the right is the ruler of Xultan, Yax We’net Chan K’inich, and then the guy kneeling to his left is labeled as Itz’in Taaj, or a junior member of the obsidian order.[5]

What does any of this have to do with Star Trek?

Nothing. They share the same name of their specialized intelligence society

What does any of this have to do with the Book of Mormon?

Quite a bit.

Organization of Priests

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Alma the Younger Ordaining Priests, Jody Livingston via Book of Mormon Central

Like I said above, up until recently, most people thought of Mayan religion as consisting only of Shamans. This doesn’t gel too well with the Book of Mormon, since we know they talk about a complex system of priestly orders.

  • Mosiah 23:16-18 mentions high priests, priests, and teachers.
  • Alma 4:7 talks of teachers, priests, and elders.
  • Alma 13:6 talks of the priesthood being an “order” of God

Now that we know that Mayan society did have a structured system of religious leaders, the Book of Mormon’s system of priests makes all the more sense.

The Old Testament never talks about these supplementary offices of priesthood such as teachers and elders. Ancient Israelite priesthood mainly centered around a tribe of priests, with a presiding high priest. You would expect the Nephite civilization to follow the ancient Israelite priestly structure. However, what we see instead, is that by the 2nd century B.C.E., the Nephites had begun to adopt similar priesthood structures that later also find place in the New Testament.

Context for King Noah’s Court

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Abinadi Before King Noah, Arnold Friberg via lds.org

Remember, how I mentioned above how the members of this obsidian order served courtly roles in addition to religious ones? The story of King Noah’s court makes a lot more sense when you consider its cultural milieu.

Ancient Israelite priests largely served within the temple and for only the temple. We don’t have any attestation that your average run-of-the-mill priest would serve as an adviser in the King’s court. Yet, here in Mosiah 12:7, King Noah seeks to prosecute Abinadi by gathering his priests “together that he might hold a council with them what he should do with him.”

The idea of using your priests as an advisory board doesn’t necessarily fit an Old Testament context, but it certainly fits a mesoamerican one.

We already have indications that King Noah was exhibiting lavish traits of Mayan kingship that prophets like Abinadi clearly condemned. King Noah in his wickedness is more keen to adopt the traditions of surrounding cultures than to remain true to Israelite religion. It may very well be, that another example of King Noah’s wickedness is in calling false priests to serve in his court. After all, we never hear of priests in royal courts ever again in the Book of Mormon.

Well there you have it

The discovery of this “obsidian” order in Mayan priesthood is brand new, cutting-edge. The Book of Mormon fits this mesoamerican priestly setting perfectly. Once again, the Book of Mormon shows us that it just gets better with age.


Notes

[1] William Saturno, Franco D. Rossi, David Stuart, and Heather Hurst, “A Maya Curia Regis: Evidence for a Hierarchical Specialist Order at Xultun, Guatemala,” Ancient Mesoamerica First View (2017): 8.

[2] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 1.

[3] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 2.

[4] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 3–4.

[5] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 5.