Why are there different priesthood lineages in the Doctrine and Covenants?

“Why are there different priesthood lineages in the Doctrine and Covenants?” Ensign, Dec. 1993, 61

Why is the priesthood lineage traced through Abel in D&C 84:16 rather than through Seth, as recorded in D&C 107:42?

Richard O. Cowan, professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University; chairman, Church Gospel Doctrine writing committee; and high councilor, Provo Utah East Stake. To understand why one section in the Doctrine and Covenants traces the lineage through Abel and another through Seth, we must consider the point the Lord emphasizes in each revelation. Section 84, verses 6–14, gives the genealogy of Moses’ priesthood from Jethro to Melchizedek, indicating that each individual received this authority “under the hand of” another who possessed it. [D&C 84:6–14] Verses 15–16 [D&C 84:15–16], however, do not mention each individual in the early portion of this priesthood line, but simply testify that the priesthood was passed down “through the lineage of their fathers” (D&C 84:15) from dispensation to dispensation.

This lineage extends to Abel, who “received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam.” (D&C 84:16.) So rather than specify who ordained whom in an unbroken chain of priesthood ordinations, these last verses simply mention certain benchmark individuals and recognize the position of Abel, who had received the birthright from his father. The line of authority given in section 107 serves a different purpose. [D&C 107] Here the Lord states that the Twelve Apostles were to ordain patriarchs (“evangelical ministers”) throughout the Church and that anciently “the order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son … in the following manner:

“From Adam to Seth, who was ordained by Adam … and received the promise of God by his father, that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth.” (D&C 107:39–42.)

Seth was a worthy recipient of the birthright because he “was a perfect man.” (D&C 107:43.) Verses 42–52 [D&C 107:42–52] emphasize that the patriarchal priesthood was passed down from father to son. Because Abel had been killed and Seth had been chosen to take his place, Seth was the person who actually laid his hands on his fifth great-grandson, Lamech, in ordaining him to the priesthood. (D&C 107:51.) This may explain why Seth, rather than Abel, is named in this priesthood lineage.

Priesthood lineage among the ancient Israelites was closely related to the concept of birthright, the right of firstborn sons to preside and to inherit additional allotments of land. (See “Birthright,” Bible Dictionary, p. 625.) When a firstborn son did not qualify to receive the birthright, it was given to another. For instance, Jacob and Joseph, rather than Esau and Reuben, were so honored. (See Gen. 25:24–34; Gen. 27; Gen. 49:22, 26; 1 Chr. 5:1–2.)

The book of Moses gives information about Adam’s family that is not found in Genesis. Before Cain and Abel were born, Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters, who in turn had children of their own. (See Moses 5:2–3.) Although Adam and Eve taught their children the gospel, their children “loved Satan more than God” and became “carnal, sensual, and devilish.” (Moses 5:12–13.) Cain followed this same unworthy pattern. (Moses 5:16, 18.) On the other hand, Abel “hearkened unto the voice of the Lord” (Moses 5:17) and, as a result, would have inherited the birthright had he not been killed (see Moses 5:32).

When another son, Seth, was born, Adam rejoiced because “God hath appointed me another seed, instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.” (Moses 6:2; emphasis added.) Moses then records that Adam (1) prophesied that the “Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also” and (2) kept a genealogy. (Moses 6:7–8.) Thus we see that the concepts of family genealogy and priesthood lineage were interrelated. (Compare Gen. 5:3–29 with D&C 107:41–52.) Sections 84 and 107 provide valuable insights into the origin and powers of the priesthood. [D&C 84; D&C 107] These revelations emphasize that the Melchizedek Priesthood “hold[s] the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” from the time of Adam. (D&C 107:18–19; see also D&C 84:19–22.) This authority continued until Moses’ day, when it was withdrawn from the people because of their wickedness, and a lesser order of priesthood continued for the purpose of handling temporal affairs and administering the “preparatory gospel,” first given to Aaron and his sons. (See D&C 84:23–27.) Both orders of priesthood were present in the New Testament Church (see Heb. 7:11) and have been restored in our day (see D&C 13; JS—H 1:72; History of the Church, 1:40–42 n.).

We should be grateful for the blessings made possible through the priesthood in our lives and families, and, like Adam, keep a book of remembrance in which we record the lineage of our priesthood and instances of its use.