“Quorums of the Seventy,” Church History Topics
“Quorums of the Seventy”
Seventy is an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Since 1986, members of the Quorums of the Seventy are general or regional authorities who assist in the administration of the Church across the world. For most of the history of the Church, however, stakes had their own quorums of seventy.
The first members of the seventy were ordained on February 28, 1835, when Joseph Smith began to call and ordain special missionaries to “prune the vineyard for the last time.”1 That same month, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris assisted Joseph Smith in selecting Twelve Apostles, a priesthood quorum of twelve high priests who, like the Apostles in the New Testament, were commissioned to preach the gospel to all the world. According to an instruction on priesthood included in the Doctrine and Covenants, the seventy too were “called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world,” modeled after the Seventy whom Jesus called to preach to the Israelites during His lifetime.2
The instruction also explained that the seventy “form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve” but that the seventy were to act under the direction of the Apostles, who alone held the “keys” to proclaim the gospel to both Jew and Gentile.3
Additional quorums of seventy were created as additional men were ordained. After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, most elders under the age of 35 were ordained as seventies, and many new quorums were created to accommodate the expanding ranks. By 1846, the number of quorums of seventy had reached 35. Eventually the total number of quorums reached into the hundreds. Most missionaries during the second half of the 19th century were members of these local quorums of seventy.4 A council of seven selected from among each quorum’s members presided over a quorum. As a whole, the quorums of seventy were presided over by seven men who constituted the First Council of the Seventy. These men were sustained as General Authorities next to the Quorum of the Twelve in authority. In 1907, Joseph F. Smith taught that the First Council of the Seventy functioned as “assistants to the Twelve Apostles” and were, in one sense, “apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ” sent to preach the gospel throughout the world.5
As Church membership expanded across the globe, it became difficult for the Twelve to fulfill all of their administrative responsibilities. In 1941, the First Presidency began to call a few men as “assistants to the twelve.” In 1961, President David O. McKay directed that members of the First Council of Seventy be ordained to the office of high priest and given the authority necessary to “set in order all things pertaining to the stake and the wards, under the direction of the Twelve Apostles.”6 In October 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball announced the creation of the First Quorum of Seventy as an additional body of General Authorities, and filled the quorum with the First Council of Seventy, the Assistants to the Twelve, and other newly called Seventies. In October 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson directed local leaders to discontinue local quorums of the seventy and no longer call and ordain men to the office of seventy. Leaders then either directed former members of the local quorums of the seventy to attend elders quorums or ordained them as high priests.
Since 1986, the office of Seventy has remained exclusively an office of general rather than local authority. Members of the Seventy generally retire from active service at age 70, at which time they are granted emeritus status. The founding of a “First” Quorum of Seventy renewed the pattern of Quorums of the Seventy seen during the earliest days of the Church, only on a general as opposed to a local level. In April 1989, the Second Quorum of Seventy was established. The First Presidency established the Third through Eighth Quorums between 1997 and 2005, designating members of these quorums “Area Authorities” and placing them under the direction of the First Quorum of the Seventy. The Seventy today support the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency in administering the Church throughout the world, serving as members of Area Presidencies, organizing stakes, and teaching Latter-day Saints in general and local conference settings.