Chapter 25: Priesthood: What It Is, How It Works

“Chapter 25: Priesthood: What It Is, How It Works,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (2000), 67–68

“25: Priesthood,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, 67–68

Chapter 25

Priesthood: What It Is, How It Works


“Members of the priesthood belong to the greatest fraternity, the greatest brotherhood in all the world—the brotherhood of Christ—and they have the obligation to do their best each day, all day, and to maintain the standards of the priesthood” (David O. McKay, “Priesthood,” Instructor, Oct. 1968, 379).

Doctrinal Outline

  1. The priesthood is divine power and authority.

    1. Priesthood is the power and authority to act for God (see D&C 112:30; 121:36; 107:8).

    2. The power to bind and seal on earth and have it correspondingly bound and sealed in heaven requires priesthood authority (see Matthew 16:19; D&C 128:8–9; 132:46; Helaman 10:7).

  2. Priesthood authority is conferred only by the laying on of hands.

    1. Divine authority is received only by ordination through the laying on of hands by commissioned servants of the Lord (see Articles of Faith 1:5; Alma 6:1).

    2. Those who hold priesthood power are commissioned to act in God’s name for the salvation of mankind (see D&C 20:73; 138:30).

  3. There are two orders of priesthood.

    1. The Aaronic Priesthood is called the lesser priesthood because it is an appendage to the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 107:13–14; Joseph Smith—History 1:70).

    2. The Aaronic Priesthood administers outward ordinances and is a preparatory priesthood (see D&C 84:26; 107:20; 13).

    3. The Melchizedek Priesthood is a greater power, a priesthood of presidency, holding the right to administer in spiritual affairs (see D&C 107:8–9, 18).

    4. The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the keys to the mysteries of the kingdom of God and performs the ordinances that pertain to godliness (see D&C 84:19–22; 107:18–19).

  4. The work of God is performed by the power of the priesthood.

    1. Those who hold the priesthood may preside over and direct the affairs of the kingdom of God on earth (see D&C 107:8, 60–66, 85–95; 102:9–11; Alma 6:1).

    2. Bearers of the priesthood teach and instruct others in the truths of God (see Alma 17:3; D&C 28:3; 42:12; 2 Nephi 5:26; Ezekiel 3:17).

    3. Priesthood holders are called to build up, to strengthen, and to bless the Church (see D&C 42:11; 20:38–60; 107:33–39; Ephesians 4:11–12).

    4. Those who hold the priesthood administer gospel ordinances and spiritual blessings (see 3 Nephi 11:21; 18:5; D&C 20:38–51; 107:18–20, 23, 25).

  5. Through the keys of the priesthood, God directs and coordinates His work.

    1. The keys of the kingdom are the rights of presidency (see D&C 81:2; 107:21).

    2. John the Baptist descended from Aaron and received his keys as a firstborn son (see D&C 68:16–18; 84:26–27).

    3. John the Baptist bestowed the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 13; Joseph Smith—History 1:68–69).

    4. Peter, James, and John received keys of the higher priesthood from Jesus Christ (see Matthew 16:19; D&C 7:7).

    5. Peter, James, John, and others bestowed keys of the higher priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 27:12–13; 110:11–16; 128:20–21).

    6. The keys of the priesthood are held by Church leaders and are exercised in the Church today (see D&C 112:30–32; 65:2; 68:19; 81:2; 28:7).

Supporting Statements

  1. The priesthood is divine power and authority.

    • “What is the Priesthood? It is nothing more nor less than the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and act legitimately; not assuming that authority, nor borrowing it from generations that are dead and gone, but authority that has been given in this day in which we live by ministering angels and spirits from above, direct from the presence of Almighty God. … It is the same power and Priesthood that was committed to the disciples of Christ while he was upon the earth, that whatsoever they should bind on earth should be bound in heaven, and that whatsoever they should loose on earth should be loosed in heaven” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 139–40).

    • “What is priesthood? … It is the government of God, whether on the earth or in the heavens, for it is by that power, agency, or principle that all things are governed on the earth and in the heavens, and by that power that all things are upheld and sustained. It governs all things—it directs all things—it sustains all things—and has to do with all things that God and truth are associated with. It is the power of God delegated to intelligences in the heavens and to men on the earth” (John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, 129).

  2. Priesthood authority is conferred only by the laying on of hands.

    • “God’s ministers are ordained. They have the holy priesthood conferred upon them and are ordained by the laying on of hands to officiate in specific offices and callings” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:748).

    • “Ordination of men to the ministry, as sanctioned by scriptural precedent and established by direct revelation of God’s will, is to be effected through the gift of prophecy and by the imposition of hands by those who are in authority” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 182).

  3. There are two orders of priesthood.

    • “The Aaronic Priesthood is named after Aaron, who was given to Moses as his mouthpiece, to act under his direction in the carrying out of God’s purposes respecting Israel. For this reason it is sometimes called the Lesser Priesthood; but though lesser, it is neither small nor insignificant” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, 204).

    • “The Church has two characteristics—the temporal and the spiritual, and one is not without the other. We maintain that both are essential and that one without the other is incomplete and ineffectual. Hence, the Lord instituted in the government of the Church two Priesthoods—the lesser or Aaronic, having special charge of the temporal, and the higher or Melchizedek, looking to the spiritual welfare of the people” (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 150).

    • “The lesser priesthood is a part of, or an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances. The lesser or Aaronic priesthood can make appointments for the greater in preaching; can baptize, administer the sacrament, attend to the tithing, buy lands, settle people on possessions, divide inheritances, look after the poor, take care of the properties of the church, attend generally to temporal affairs; act as common judges in Israel, and assist in ordinances of the temple, under the direction of the greater or Melchizedek priesthood. They hold the keys of the ministering of angels and administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, and the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Taylor, Gospel Kingdom, 155).

    • “The Melchizedek priesthood holds the mysteries of the revelations of God. Wherever that priesthood exists, there also exists a knowledge of the laws of God; and wherever the gospel has existed, there has always been revelation; and where there has been no revelation, there never has been the true gospel” (Taylor, Gospel Kingdom, 139).

  4. The work of God is performed by the power of the priesthood.

    • “The Priesthood after the order of the Son of God is the ruling, presiding authority in the Church. … In other words, there is no government in the Church of Jesus Christ separate and apart, above, or outside of the holy Priesthood or its authority” (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 144).

    • “The priesthood or authority in which we stand is the medium or channel through which our Heavenly Father has purposed to communicate light, intelligence, gifts, powers, and spiritual and temporal salvation unto the present generation” (Lorenzo Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, 85).

    • “Our lives are wrapped up with the lives of others. We are happiest as we contribute to the lives of others. I say that because the priesthood you hold means that you are to serve others. You represent God in the field to which you are assigned” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, 168).

    • “What is the priesthood for? It is to administer the ordinances of the gospel, even the gospel of our Father in heaven, the eternal God, the Eloheim of the Jews and the God of the Gentiles, and all he has ever done from the beginning has been performed by and through the power of that priesthood” (Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 67).

  5. Through the keys of the priesthood, God directs and coordinates His work.

    • “It is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood. In their fulness, these keys are held by only one person at a time, the prophet and president of the Church. He may delegate any portion of this power to another, in which case that person holds the keys of that particular labor” (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 136).

    • “[Joseph Smith] lived until he received every key, ordinance and law ever given to any man on the earth, from Father Adam down, touching this dispensation. He received powers and keys from under the hands of Moses for gathering the house of Israel in the last days; he received under the hands of Elias the keys of sealing the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers; he received under the hands of Peter, James and John, the Apostleship, and everything belonging thereto; he received under the hands of Moroni all the keys and powers required of the stick of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim; he received under the hand of John the Baptist the Aaronic Priesthood, with all its keys and powers, and every other key and power belonging to this dispensation, and I am not ashamed to say that he was a Prophet of God, and he laid the foundation of the greatest work and dispensation that has ever been established on the earth” (Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 16:267).