There are three grand orders of priesthood referred to [in the Epistle to the Hebrews]" (TPJS, p. 322-23; HC 5:554-55)
The "PRIESTHOOD" is currently divided into three levels, as discussed by Joseph Smith. He used the terms from lowest to highest of (1) "Aaronic" (which includes "Levitical") for one, (2) "Melchizedek" for another, and (3) "Patriarchal" for the third.
- In the beginning there was one, "Unified Priesthood". There were not three. There was one. It was called the "Holy Order". Later it got several additive descriptors, including the Holy Order after the Son of God; or Holy Order after the Order of Enoch; or Holy Order after the Order of Melchizedek. We think we have that in the church today. We think that is what we give to Elders when we first ordain them. But Joseph Smith could not confer that on another person. It requires God. Through Joseph we were offered an opportunity to receive it, but we were more interested in having a church than the original Holy Order.
- It was always necessary to restore the Holy Order-- the original fullness. That must be here before the Second Coming. As soon, however, as the matter is fully set out, men will immediately begin to imitate and pretend to things because of pride, ignorance or vanity.
- (1) "Aaronic Priesthood", which includes "Levitical Priesthood", is a lesser form of priesthood. Temporal concerns are associated with the Aaronic Priesthood. "Aaronic Priesthood keys" may give one a right to seek the ministering of angels, may give a basis for such a search, but possession of such a key alone will not force the ministering of angels to happen. Nor does the absence of such a key prevent the ministering of angels from happening. The Aaronic Priesthood keys referred to are to be found in the Aaronic portion of the endowment, which permits you to recognize a true messenger should one visit with you.The sacramental offering is a type of the earlier Levitical offerings.
- (2) "Melchizedek Priesthood", the high priesthood, was named after Melchizedek, but is not, however, the form which Melchizedek held. Even though Melchizedek held "Patriarchal Priesthood" with its associated sealing power, Melchizedek wasthe one after whom Melchizedek Priesthood was named in the form it was later transmitted, which lacked "sealing authority".
- All the Aaronic Priesthood" and most of the Melchizedek Priesthood offices are not what we would appropriately call "the high priesthood of the holy order".
- Section 68 was addressed to one of those who, in June 1831, was given the Melchizedek Priesthood at Isaac Morley's farm. According to Joseph Smith, that was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood was given to the Elders of the church. In the restoration of the Gospel, the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood appeared inthe church was in June, 1831 on Isaac Morley's farm. As Joseph Smith recorded it in his history: "the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders." (DHC 1: 175-177)
- Joseph Smith explained it like this: "All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.” (TPJS, pp. 180–81.) In Lehi we have an instance of an Old Testament era prophet being "ordained by God himself" in the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon.
Note: One must be careful because sometimes "Melchizedek Priesthood" is used interchangeably with "Patriarchal Priesthood" or even the Priesthood of the "Holy Order". Such usage is different from the definition laid out here for teaching purposes.
- (3) Patriarchal Priesthood is not defined in scripture. Joseph made a remark which referred to finishing the Nauvoo Temple, and then going into the Temple and receiving the Patriarchal Priesthood. The most important point is that there is priesthood which exists, but is not contained within or conferred by the church. It comes from one source - the Father. Sealing power is part of Patriarchal Priesthood. Patriarchal Priesthood is always delivered unto men by the calling of His own voice. (See Helamen 10) Jacob was ordained by God to "his holy order" or, in other words, received the same High Priesthood as Melchizedek in the only way it can be received. The idea of a "royal priesthood" is apt because it captures the idea of nobility, or royalty, or, in other words, a connection with the Family of God. This is because one cannot receive the Lord without also receiving priesthood. (D&C 84: 35.) When the Lord bestows this royalty on the individual, it is through His own voice. (JST-Gen. 14: 29)
- There is a connection between the existence of the one holding Patriarchal Priesthood, and a humble people who would accept and follow correct teachings. The result of the combination of the two was that God came and dwelt among them. What is important is that the great events of Melchizedek's time began when people humbled themselves and accepted the teachings of this "high priesthood" holder and were, thereby, saved. All those who receive the Patriarchal Priesthood from the time of Abraham forward become Abraham's seed. Therefore they become Abraham's inheritance and posterity, sealed to him as a part of his family.
- To receive the "Patriarchal Priesthood"The Son is involved. He is the gatekeeper, who alone decides if the person is going to qualify. Then the Son takes it as His work, or His ministry, to bring a person before the Father. However, the ministry of the Son can take many years, and is designed to cure what is wrong, fix all that is broken, remove all that is impure, in the candidate. Only when the Son can vouch for the individual is he brought before the Father. It is the Father who confers and ordains a man to the highest priesthood.
- Further, Joseph had at that very moment of the First Vision, possession of the highest order of priesthood (D&C 84: 21-22). Despite this, Joseph would be later ordained by John the Baptist to Aaronic Priesthood (JS-H 1: 68-70). Events involving God do not necessarily follow the same time-line as we would expect them to follow. When, however, Joseph received angels, you can know for certain he held priesthood.