This week in the Book of Mormon, we’ll look at Mosiah 18 to 22. Beginning in chapter 18, we see one of King Noah priests, Alma, believe the words of Abinadi and he repents. Alma then teaches Abinadi’s words to others who also repent. Those who repent, Alma offers to baptize in the name of Messiah as a witness of their commitment to keep God’s commandments – v10. Some have taken v10 and built a covenant around it. Baptism is not a covenant; it is a ceremonial washing witnessing a change from an old life to a new one. The covenant that they are entering is the Sinai Covenant with the Sabbath as the Covenant Sign - v23, Ex 31:12-17. The Book of Mormon presumes an understanding of Old Testament covenant theology! But the important topic that we see here is priesthood authority. Since Alma is not a descendant of Levi, we can only assume that he had the Melchizedek Priesthood. So this week, we’ll look at how priesthood is set out in the Bible and then compare it to how it is presented in the Book of Mormon.
Priesthood is God’s system of administration to save and exalt humanity. In the Bible, priesthood could have been originally called the Priesthood after the order of God and then later called the Melchizedek Priesthood – (Genesis 14:18, Psalms 110:4). This was the order of priesthood until Israel sinned with the golden calf incident in Exodus where Jehovah establishes the Levitical Priesthood. The Levitical Priesthood was the common order until Jehovah restored the Melchizedek Priesthood during His redemptive mission as Yeshua/Jesus – Hebrews 7.
The Levitical Priesthood focuses on obtaining individual sanctification and overcoming personal sin. Whereas, the Melchizedek Priesthood focuses on becoming holy and being exalted.
And since the Melchizedek Priesthood is a higher order priesthood, it includes the principles and ordinances for both orders of priesthood. Further, under Messiah/Christ, the system of animal sacrifice becomes inactive.
Priesthood offices can be group into two general types – Priests and High Priests. High Priests have responsibility over family organizations and community of believers. Whereas, Priests have responsibility over individuals and families.
When it comes to obtaining priesthood, we see that Levitical priesthood was obtained by the sons of Levi because of their zealous righteousness with the golden calf incident. Melchizedek Priesthood is obtained by the making of an oath – Hebrews 7:20,21,28, but the important thing here is knowing what elements comprise the oath; and, why going to certain individuals who know what the elements of the oath are.
Oath of the Priesthood
Whether we are looking at the Levitical Priesthood or the Melchizedek Priesthood, the basic standards, duties and responsibilities of both priesthoods are similar. These standards, duties and responsibilities form the elements of the oath.
First, there is a standard of personal righteousness. We see this with the sons of Levi who abstained from participating in the golden calf incident. For the priests, the standard is to be pure and for the High Priests it is to be holy. To be Pure is to become sanctified. And to be Holy includes the concepts of perfection and proxy-salvation or in other words to reach the full stature of Messiah.
Second, there is a charge to teach the Law of God. For Priests, this is to individuals and families. For High Priests it is to groups and communities.
Third, there is a charge to stand accountable and answerable for the transgressions of others. For Priests, this is to individuals and families. For High Priests it is to groups and communities.
And, Fourth, to administer the ordinances of sanctification and exaltation.
These four points form the basis of the Oath of the Priesthood. Personally, I am not aware of any faith system that requires their priesthood to expressly swear to these priestly elements. Because of this, fathers can obtain priesthood directly from God by making this oath directly with Him. And as we will see priesthood authority is received from the Spirit and not from another mortal man.
Fathers as Kings and Priests
Ideally, communities are formed by a collective of families where the father is a king and priest to his family and fathers execute these four elements of the Oath within his own family. Fathers who become heads over family organizations and communities rise to High Priests.
However, modifications in priesthood offices are made to meet the needs of believers and we see adjustments that include teachers, elders, bishops and apostles set out in the New Testament. We’ll talk more about this when we get to looking at the Book of Mormon.
The Threshold Covenant (Passover)
One of covenants that we see observed in ancient Israel is the Threshold Covenant. Anciently, the door threshold functioned as a family altar and was the place where the father of the home would enter into compacts with the deity whom the father recognized as his god. The door threshold was also the sacred boundary of dominion where two sovereigns came together. For believers in the God of Israel – the father as king over his home and family and Jehovah as king over all creation. Further, Jehovah would establish the details of a father’s right and power to rule his family through the Law. The Law also establishes limits on institutions (church and state) outside of the family to protect and preserve a father’s sovereign authority. Moreover, as fathers and mothers are kings and queens to families, they establish the Laws of God within the family and execute the necessary corrections.
The Davidic Covenant
The Davidic Covenant forms the basis of kingship and priesthood for those who become perfected and function as proxy-saviors. In other words, they reach the full stature of Messiah/Christ. Those who reach this level of blessedness are Davidic Kings and High Priests. As Davidic Kings they establish the Laws of God and execute judgment over groups and communities.
Priesthood in the Book of Mormon
What we see in the Book of Mormon is that it does not go into a lot of detail about Priesthood. So the concept of priesthood is not a primary theme or objective of the Book of Mormon. When we look at priesthood in the Book of Mormon, three concepts appear prevalent.
First, we see in this week’s reading with Alma, that priesthood authority does not come from a man. It comes through the Spirit. We see that here in 18:13 and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon where authority is received through the Spirit.
And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
The second concept that we see here in the Book of Mormon is a modification of Melchizedek Priesthood offices to meet the needs of Believers. We see that with Jacob in the Book of Jacob where he and Joseph are made teachers and priests – chapter 1. We see a change here with Alma where he consecrates priests one for every 50 people – chapter 18 . And later we’ll see that Alma the younger additionally consecrates elders – Alma chapter 4.
A third concept that we see in the Book of Mormon is that kingship and priesthood is fused into the position of leadership. Particularly when it comes to Davidic Kings and High Priests, which we see especially with King Benjamin and Nephi.
One thing that we don’t see in the Book of Mormon as a strong concept is the idea of fathers being kings and priests to their families, which is an ultimate expression and administration of the Melchizedek Priesthood and is recognized in God's Covenant Law given to Israel.