prisonchaplain

How is the Melchizedek priesthood understood?

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I'm preparing a Sunday School for Hebrews 5, and verse 6 struck me. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

The author is explaining that Jesus is a priest, but different from the Levitical, or Aaronite, priesthood. Commentators suggest that this designation directly relates to Jesus' Sonship with Heavenly Father.

So, what is the LDS understanding? I know that young men can be welcomed into the priesthood of Aaron, and that older men do enter the priesthood of Melchizedek. What does this mean, in terms non-LDS can understand?

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Jesus is the great high priest. The Priesthood, at least from our perspective and for our purposes, is Christ's. The Priesthood is, in effect, Christ. It is the very word of God, as Jesus is the Word. It is the power through which creation took place, both creation of things around us and creation of us ourselves. That a man, no matter how holy, can be given the very power of God is itself one of the greatest miracles I can imagine.

The Priesthood is one, as God himself is One. In the large sense, there are not two "Priesthoods". There is exactly one true Priesthood, and it is called Melchizedek. The name "Melchizedek" means "King of righteousness", and thus is a name of Christ. The man named Melchizedek was the greatest or best-known high priest (meaning a holder of the high Priesthood) of his time, and typified the righteous Priesthood holder. Thus, we have the "Priesthood of Melchizedek" standing as a name for The Priesthood, the only true Priesthood that exists.

But wait! If the "high priest" is a holder of the "high" Priesthood, that suggests there is more than just one! There must be a lower Priesthood or Priesthoods! Yes, it does suggest that. The suggestion is not quite true. There is indeed a lesser Priesthood, a Priesthood given to Aaron and his sons to serve the lesser Law of Moses after the children of Israel had rejected the greater law God sought to give them. This so-called Aaronic Priesthood is not really a different "priesthood" at all. Rather, it is a subset of the holy Priesthood, which concerns itself with outward ordinances and performances. Aaron's sons held this "lesser Priesthood", and through its authority they could conduct the temple worship of animal sacrifices that the Lord had revealed to Moses and other prophets before him*. These sacrifices served to atone for the sins of the people and bring them back to God, ultimately representing the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God which would truly accomplish those goals. The children of Israel quickly lost track of the underlying meaning of those ordinances, but the righteous and perceptive among them understood the meaning of the law of Moses.

*Note that the leader of the priests of Aaron was designated the "high priest", e.g. Matthew 26:3. This "high priest" is not to be confused with a holder of the high Priesthood. In normal conversation today, Latter-day Saints use the term "high priest" to refer to a man who holds the office of high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. So the term "high priest" has at least three meanings among Latter-day Saints: (1) a Latter-day Saint man who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood office of high priest; (2) any holder of the "high" or Melchizedek Priesthood (e.g. Alma 13:9); and (3) the leader or chief priest during the time of the law of Moses.

Even today, the outward ordinance of baptism by water and the blessing of the emblems of the sacrament in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice are delegated to the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood. So the Aaronic Priesthood continues to serve its function as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ. But the greater law as restored by the Son of God (and as brought back to us today through the agency of Joseph Smith and other prophets) must of necessity operate under the auspices of the higher or complete Priesthood, which we commonly call Melchizedek. Thus, a couple of weeks or so after the resurrected John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829, the last presiding leaders of Christ's Church, namely Simon Peter, James (the greater), and John the Beloved restored to them the Priesthood of Melchizedek. With this authority, they were enabled to restore the kingdom of God on earth once again.

This is an incomplete explanation, and I invite others to add to it. But I hope it helps answer your questions about how the Latter-day Saints understand the place and purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Edited by Vort

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Thank you, @Vort. Your explanation helps--especially the first few sentences. Hebrews is largely meant to affirm the supremacy of Christ, so to read the understanding that the priesthood is Christ helps.

Edited by prisonchaplain

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The name "Melchizedek priesthood" is actually a nick name.  The proper name of it is actually the "Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God".  It is Christ's priesthood.    The nickname is used to show reverence to things properly addressed and to avoid too frequent repetition of things (like internet folks would totally acronym it).  

Priesthood in general is the authority to act in God's name, doing God's will, with God's power. We are His disciples, and should be doing as He would have us.

Back in the time of Moses, the children of Isreal were not ready for the fullness of Christ's law and convent (remember the whole golden calf thing...).  So as a preparatory step, the Old Law, Old Covenant, and Aaronic priesthood were put in place.  They are an appendage of Christ's fullness designed to help teach and prepare a person/people for the fullness of His ways.  Come Christ's mortal life, He taught that higher law, new covenant, and ordained with the fullness of His priesthood (nicknamed the Melchizedek priesthood). 

Nowadays, a young man is ordained to the preparatory Aaronic Priesthood, as they prepare and strengthen their walk with Christ.  Later they are ordained to the fullness of His Priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood.  If a person's growing up in the church, these steps occur age ~12 and ~18.  

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3 hours ago, prisonchaplain said:

I'm preparing a Sunday School for Hebrews 5, and verse 6 struck me. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

The author is explaining that Jesus is a priest, but different from the Levitical, or Aaronite, priesthood. Commentators suggest that this designation directly relates to Jesus' Sonship with Heavenly Father.

So, what is the LDS understanding? I know that young men can be welcomed into the priesthood of Aaron, and that older men do enter the priesthood of Melchizedek. What does this mean, in terms non-LDS can understand?

"Priesthood" is a word that is often used to denote both "power" and "authority."  If I'm going to get anal on definitions, I'd have to say that it is "authority."  The actual power is what Joseph Smith referred to as "faith."  And this faith of which he spoke was different than the simple "belief in things religious" as is the common meaning.  There is a long drawn out set of lectures on the topic which illustrates why the word "faith" is the most appropriate word, in spite of the fact that we're using an already existing word with other meanings.

But if we can separate "The Power of God" (faith) from "Authority to use that power" (priesthood) then we begin to understand the meaning of Christ and Priesthood.

As Jane said, it is the "Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God."  It is the authority to act in Christ's name.  So we read in verse 4:

Quote

And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

We do not inherently have the authority to act in the name of Christ.  We have to be called to it as Aaron was through prophecy.  Then we read in verse 5:

Quote

So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

Christ inherently was able to act as His own agent just as anyone is.  Thus He inherently had such authority to act in His own name.  He did not need to have it conferred upon Him.  It was by virtue of being the Son of God that He could act in the name of the Son of God.

The lesser degree (or the incomplete authority granted to man) during the Law of Moses dispensation was the Levitical priesthood.  This is almost synonymous with what we refer to as the Aaronic Priesthood today -- with one exception.  The Levitical priesthood was by birthright during the era of the Law of Moses.  But the Aaronic Priesthood today is given to any man who is called by the Lord to receive it.

Edited by Carborendum

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8 hours ago, prisonchaplain said:

Thank you, @Vort. Your explanation helps--especially the first few sentences. Hebrews is largely meant to affirm the supremacy of Christ, so to read the understanding that the priesthood is Christ helps.

If you’re asking how Latter-day Saints interpret Hebrews 5’s talk of Melchizedek (and by extension, Hebrews 7 as well)—I think we mostly interpret it the same way you do:  the author of Hebrews is trying to convert Jews to Christianity by showing that the levitical priesthood is not the be-all, end-all; that there is higher token of God’s covenant with Israel than the priesthood or the temple or even the Mosaic Law; and that thing is the Son of God Himself.  The author is trying to shock the Jews by saying “look, you think your priests are the only true priests and that your father Abraham is the greatest guy in scripture; but your own scripture says that Abraham was subservient a member of a higher order/pattern of priesthood, and Christ is one of—in fact, the supreme embodiment of—that higher order of priesthood.”  So far, so good.

Where I think we may depart from each other is that (I presume) most Christians assume that the author of Hebrews is citing this business about Melchizedek primarily for rhetorical effect—from this passage their overall takeaway about “priesthood” as a concept might be that at different times in history, God has had His servants (“priests”) engage in different forms of work and has endowed them with greater or lesser portions of His power.  Mormonism, by contrast, holds that this passage denotes formal orders of priesthood that can—and in this “dispensation of the fullness of times”, do—exist simultaneously, within the same body of believers at the same time; and our church structures its modern clergy and congregational organization around this concept.

Edited by Just_A_Guy

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Thank you, @Just_A_Guy. I've been here for several years, and have done some reading. However, a convert to the church who has been with you six-months may well know more than me. My main purpose for this string, which came to me as I was preparing this Sunday School lesson, was simply to better understand the LDS perspective. I know the priesthood has more meaning for you, and that Melchizedek is especially important. So, I figured I'd just ask. It was great to discover that the overarching supremacy of Christ is quite clear in your teaching--that what has been added to the priesthood understanding did not detract from the key truth that we share.

Edited by prisonchaplain

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On 1/17/2021 at 6:24 AM, prisonchaplain said:

I'm preparing a Sunday School for Hebrews 5, and verse 6 struck me. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

The author is explaining that Jesus is a priest, but different from the Levitical, or Aaronite, priesthood. Commentators suggest that this designation directly relates to Jesus' Sonship with Heavenly Father.

So, what is the LDS understanding? I know that young men can be welcomed into the priesthood of Aaron, and that older men do enter the priesthood of Melchizedek. What does this mean, in terms non-LDS can understand?

Hi PC, it may be helpful to look at what the Encyclopaedia of Mormonism says about the Melchizedek Priesthood. The encyclopaedia is not a definitive statement of LDS doctrine but it can often be a helpful source:

https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Melchizedek_Priesthood

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@prisonchaplain I would add something - perhaps to help you to understand our LDS structure and foundation.  In ancient scripture the Scribes and Pharisees in the days of Jesus Christ looked upon Jesus and wondered at his ability to speak and act as a Rabbi having not received the letters or education and scholarly degrees thought necessary.  Hebrews 5 instructs all those that "hear" that the priesthood of G-d does not come from the institutions of man but are given (through ordination - the laying on of hands) by G-d and through his Son Jesus Christ.  Note that Jesus selected his Apostles and ordained them (with the laying on of hands) to receive that priesthood.  But note also that he did not choose them from institutions of men that prepare such for a priesthood office.  Rather Jesus chose his Apostles from the unschooled walks of life - such as fishermen and tax collectors.  

 

The Traveler

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As FYI, especially for @Traveler, my fellowship is unique, in that our ordination process is completely separate from our educational institutions. As a rather humorous example, one fellow graduated from our seminary with a Master of Divinity, and went across the tunnel to our headquarters. He went to the employment desk and said, "Okay. I have my degree. Now, where's my church?" The bewildered secretary basically said he was totally unqualified, because he was not even ordained as a minister.

We require that our clergy candidates first sense a call directly from God. Then they go through the local church offices (similar to a stake office, I suppose). There is a process, which does include some study (though there are correspondence classes that would supply the knowledge). Further, there are interviews to help discern if a candidate really has a call from God, and then if s/he believes and teaches sound doctrine.

It's not the same as LDS, of course. However, we do share a recognition that God's call is primary, and that the process of ordination is basically to confirm what God is doing.

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9 hours ago, prisonchaplain said:

As FYI, especially for @Traveler, my fellowship is unique, in that our ordination process is completely separate from our educational institutions. As a rather humorous example, one fellow graduated from our seminary with a Master of Divinity, and went across the tunnel to our headquarters. He went to the employment desk and said, "Okay. I have my degree. Now, where's my church?" The bewildered secretary basically said he was totally unqualified, because he was not even ordained as a minister.

We require that our clergy candidates first sense a call directly from God. Then they go through the local church offices (similar to a stake office, I suppose). There is a process, which does include some study (though there are correspondence classes that would supply the knowledge). Further, there are interviews to help discern if a candidate really has a call from God, and then if s/he believes and teaches sound doctrine.

It's not the same as LDS, of course. However, we do share a recognition that God's call is primary, and that the process of ordination is basically to confirm what God is doing.

I am glad to learn of your fellowship - perhaps someday I may have an opportunity to visit with you and listen to a sermon.  As I read your post I thought to add again something.  When a person is ordained to the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints they are ordained to a specific office.  Usually they begin by being ordained a deacon.  As a deacon they belong to a quorum (of 12) and are presided over by a quorum presidency (a president and 2 councilors).  Part of the duties of a quorum of deacons and the presidency is to instruct and teach (mentor) new members in their duties.  In most LDS congregations deacons are young men ages 12 and 13.  As a young man learns his calling as a deacon he will be "advanced" to a teacher.  Teachers are presided over by a quorum presidency similar to deacons but the quorum size is larger.  Again the new members are mentored in their responsibilities by quorum as over seen by the quorum presidency.  These young men (and presidency) are usually young men ages 14 and 15.  The next progression is to the priest quorum - usually young men ages 16-17 or 18.  This quorum is presided over by a bishop and two priest councilors.  The bishop also presides over the teachers and deacons quorum presidencies.  This constitutes the order of the lessor offices of the Aaronic Priesthood.

A male member can advance from the Aaronic Priesthood to the Melchizedek Priesthood - usually ordained to the office of Elder.  The Elders quorum is also presided over by a quorum presidency the mentors and teaches all quorum members in their duties.  Bishops usually are ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood (office of High Priest) but there is a very rare exception.  The Elder's quorum presidency and the Bishopric (Bishop and 2 councilors - but not the Priest) are ordained to the office of High Priest - all of which belong to a quorum and are presided over by Stake Presidents and his councilors.  It is part of the duties of quorum presidents to mentor the members of the quorum.

This constitutes all of the offices of the priesthood of Melchizedek.  However, in addition there are "Keys" that are held through specific callings to quorum presidents, bishops, stake presidents, seventies and apostles.  But once a person is ordained to the Melchizedek they are not ordained to any more priesthood.  All holders of the Melchizedek (elders and high priest) hold the same priesthood - which means that all the guys on this forum with which you converse hold the same priesthood as our Prophet (with some possible exceptions).

We believe this is the order by which Jesus organized his disciples in ancient times.  Note that to qualify for office there are no connections to any institution of men - only that which is organized, authorized by Christ.  We believe that our High Priest are presided over by Christ which in turn oversees the church, covenants and ordnances.  We also believe this is the order of the Kingdom of Heaven that is presided over by G-d the Father.  That presidency is also known as the G-dhead.  But because of the fall Jesus presides over fallen man directly under the oversite of the Father.  This order which is directly linked to the Father has both an oath and Covenant that is explained in Doctrine and Covenants - Section 84.

 

The Traveler

 

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On an interesting note, there are many symbols of the priesthood as well.  The Star of David you are familiar with and represents the Priesthood of Aaron, and the seal of Melchizedek which is similar but uses two interlocking squares instead of triangles.  The San Diego Temple was designed around this symbol.  Also the early temples were built with assembly halls which had two sets of altars, facing opposite walls and each representing the lesser and greater priesthood.  The benches in the Nauvoo temple flipped over so they could face either way, depending on the purpose of the meeting.  The photo shows the Salt Lake assembly hall and you can see that it has two sets of altars, and the chairs can be arranged to face either one.  The Los Angeles temple was the last to be built with an assembly hall.  And the towers of the Salt Lake Temple reflects the two priesthoods as well, a motif used in several temple designs.

 

AssemblySaltLake2.jpg

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Of interest, in regards to the Stars...

A triangular star, or 6 pointed star is the Star of David.

A Square interlocking star is the Star of Abraham.

Now, in many nations it is not recognized as such, but in visiting a few Muslim nations you will see the interlocking square star (which is 8 pointed) and they will tell you that it is the Star of Abraham.  It is also known as the Star of Ozguzkhan further eastward.  It may also be known as Al-Quds in some locations.  I find this is something not commonly known in Judeo-Christian Nations (and in fact can be a very hard thing to actually read about or find anything to read about it and it's history and symbolism regarding it being the Star of Abraham, but is a common symbol known to many who are within the folds of Islam.

 

Adding - Some consider it the Star of Jerusalem in regards to Islam, but in my opinion this is a Western idea that mistakes or mis-ascribes what the Star is.  In fact, I find most of the information regarding the Star of Abraham tend to be in non-western cultures and languages.  The Star precedes much of Judaic history as we know it or see it in secular history, and has been around for many millennia.  Traditionally, then, it is seen as the Star of Abraham for the most part and in regards to the Star of David, I think it is an interesting dichotomy. 

If we take it on the one hand that we have the Star of David and those among those tribes carried the Aaronic Priesthood, than the 8 pointed Star Being the Star of Abraham and representing the Melchizedek Priesthood has a sort of noble descent.

OF EVEN MORE interest, it directly represents Abraham and his children in that it can also represent rebirth or regeneration.  If we know the story of Abraham and Issac, we know that Issac was born of old age when children normally were no longer born to them.  However, we also know that the oath to Abraham was fulfilled, and from him come the nations of the world.  There is a LOT of symbolism found within the Star of Abraham within Islam, but unfortunately I think that most of the West is ignorant of the symbol or the symbolism that it represents.

Edited by JohnsonJones

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