Chapter 5: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

“Chapter 5: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual (2016)

“Chapter 5,” Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual

Chapter 5

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Speaking of his fellow quorum members, President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

“The present Twelve are very ordinary people. They are not, as the original Twelve were not, spectacular individually, but collectively the Twelve are a power.

“We come from a variety of occupations. We are scientists, lawyers, teachers.

“Elder Nelson was a pioneer heart surgeon. He performed thousands of surgical operations. …

“Several in this quorum were military men—a sailor, marines, pilots.

“They have held various positions in the Church: home teachers, teachers, missionaries, quorum presidents, bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, and of most importance, husbands and fathers.

“They all are students and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What unites us is our love of the Savior and His Father’s children and our witness that He stands at the head of the Church.

“Almost to a man, the Twelve come from humble beginnings, as it was when He was here. The living Twelve are welded together in the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the call came, each has put down his nets, so to speak, and followed the Lord.

“President Kimball is remembered for his statement, ‘My life is like my shoes—to be worn out in service.’ That applies to all members of the Twelve. We also wear ourselves out in service of the Lord, and we do so willingly” (“The Twelve,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 86; see also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball [2006], xxxvi).

As you study this chapter, seek to strengthen your personal testimony of the Apostles by learning of their roles and responsibilities. They lead the Church with the authority of sacred priesthood keys that authorize them to carry the gospel to the world and to be special witnesses for Jesus Christ.



Apostles Are Part of the Foundation of the Lord’s True Church

The Apostle Paul taught that faithful Saints are “of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19–20; emphasis added).

In an April 6, 1980, proclamation, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared:

“We solemnly affirm that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact a restoration of the Church established by the Son of God, when in mortality he organized his work upon the earth; that it carries his sacred name, even the name of Jesus Christ; [and] that it is built upon a foundation of Apostles and prophets, he being the chief cornerstone” (“Proclamation,” Ensign, May 1980, 52).


Apostles Know and Bear Special Witness That Jesus Is the Christ

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 1979

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 1979

President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) shared an experience he had while helping two missionaries understand the reality of an Apostle’s witness of Jesus Christ:

“Some years ago two missionaries came to me with what seemed to them to be a very difficult question. A young Methodist minister had laughed at them when they had said that apostles were necessary today in order for the true church to be upon the earth. They said that the minister said, ‘Do you realize that when the apostles met to choose one to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judas, they said it had to be one who companied with them and had been a witness of all things pertaining to the mission and resurrection of the Lord? How can you say you have apostles, if that be the measure of an apostle?’

“And so these young men said, ‘What shall we answer?’

“I said to them, ‘Go back and ask your minister friend two questions. First, how did the Apostle Paul gain what was necessary to be called an apostle? He didn’t know the Lord, had no personal acquaintance. He hadn’t accompanied the apostles. He hadn’t been a witness of the ministry nor the resurrection of the Lord. How did he gain his testimony sufficient to be an apostle? And the second question you ask him is, How does he know that all who are today apostles have not likewise received that witness?’

“I bear witness to you that those who hold the apostolic calling may, and do, know of the reality of the mission of the Lord” (Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 64–65).

Apostles know for certain by personal revelation that Jesus is the Christ and that He lives as a resurrected being. The scriptures explain that “with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) explained the sacred nature of their calling:

“These twelve disciples of Christ are supposed to be eye and ear witnesses of the divine mission of Jesus Christ. It is not permissible for them to say, I believe, simply; I have accepted it simply because I believe it. Read the revelation, the Lord informs us they must know, they must get the knowledge for themselves. It must be with them as though they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears and they know the truth. That is their mission, to testify of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead and clothed now with almighty power at the right hand of God, the Savior of the world. That is their mission, and their duty, and that is the doctrine and the truth that it is their duty to preach to the world and see that it is preached to the world” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1916, 6).

Christus statue

Apostles know that Jesus is the Christ.

In Doctrine and Covenants 107:23 we read, “The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world.” President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the sacred nature of an apostolic witness of Jesus Christ:

“Occasionally during the past year I have been asked a question. Usually it comes as a curious, almost an idle, question about the qualifications to stand as a witness for Christ. The question they ask is, ‘Have you seen Him?’

“That is a question that I have never asked of another. I have not asked that question of my brethren in the Quorum, thinking that it would be so sacred and so personal that one would have to have some special inspiration, indeed, some authorization, even to ask it.

“There are some things just too sacred to discuss. …

“There are those who hear testimonies borne in the Church, by those in high station and by members in the wards and branches, all using the same words—‘I know that God lives; I know that Jesus is the Christ,’ and come to question, ‘Why cannot it be said in plainer words? Why aren’t they more explicit and more descriptive? Cannot the apostles say more?’

“How like the sacred experience in the temple becomes our personal testimony. It is sacred, and when we are wont to put it into words, we say it in the same way—all using the same words. The apostles declare it in the same phrases with the little Primary or Sunday School youngster. ‘I know that God lives and I know that Jesus is the Christ.’ …

“I said there was a question that could not be taken lightly nor answered at all without the prompting of the Spirit. I have not asked that question of others, but I have heard them answer it—but not when they were asked. They have answered it under the prompting of the Spirit, on sacred occasions, when ‘the Spirit beareth record.’ (D&C 1:39.)

“I have heard one of my brethren declare: ‘I know from experiences, too sacred to relate, that Jesus is the Christ.’

“I have heard another testify: ‘I know that God lives; I know that the Lord lives. And more than that, I know the Lord.’

“It was not their words that held the meaning or the power. It was the Spirit. ‘… for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.’ (2 Ne. 33:1.)

“I speak upon this subject in humility, with the constant feeling that I am the least in every way of those who are called to this holy office. …

“Now, I wonder with you why one such as I should be called to the holy apostleship. There are so many qualifications that I lack. There is so much in my effort to serve that is wanting. As I have pondered on it, I have come to only one single thing, one qualification in which there may be cause, and that is, I have that witness.

“I declare to you that I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that he lives. He was born in the meridian of time. He taught his gospel, was tried, was crucified. He rose on the third day. He was the first fruits of the resurrection. He has a body of flesh and bone. Of this I bear testimony. Of him I am a witness” (“The Spirit Beareth Record,” Ensign, June 1971, 87–88).

President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) shared his apostolic witness:

“As an ordained Apostle and special witness of Christ, I give to you my solemn witness that Jesus Christ is in fact the Son of God. He is the Messiah prophetically anticipated by Old Testament prophets. He is the Hope of Israel, for whose coming the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had prayed during the long centuries of prescribed worship.

“Jesus is the Beloved Son who submitted to the will of his Father by being baptized by John in the river Jordan. He was tempted of the devil in the wilderness but did not yield to the temptations. He preached the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, and commanded all men everywhere to repent and be baptized. He forgave sins, speaking as one having authority, and he demonstrated his power to do so by healing the lame and the halt and by opening the eyes of the blind and unstopping the ears of the deaf. He changed water to wine, calmed the troubled waters of Galilee, and walked on that same water as if on solid ground. He confounded the wicked rulers who sought his life and brought peace to troubled hearts.

“Finally, he suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and died on the cross, giving his sinless life as a ransom for every soul who enters mortality. He did in very fact rise from the dead on the third day, becoming the firstfruits of the resurrection and overcoming death.

“The resurrected Lord has continued his ministry of salvation by appearing, from time to time, to mortal men chosen by God to be his witnesses, and by revealing his will through the Holy Ghost.

“It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that I bear my witness. I know of Christ’s reality as if I had seen with my eyes and heard with my ears. I know also that the Holy Spirit will confirm the truthfulness of my witness in the hearts of all those who listen with an ear of faith” (“An Apostle’s Witness of Christ,” Ensign, Jan. 1984, 70).


Apostles Hold All the Priesthood Keys of the Kingdom of God

restoration of priesthood keys in Kirtland Temple

Heavenly messengers restored essential priesthood keys. These keys are held by the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

© 1985 Robert Theodore Barrett. Do not copy

President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency testified of the importance of the apostolic priesthood keys:

“Paul testified to the Ephesians that Christ was at the head of His Church. And he taught that the Savior built His Church on a foundation of apostles and prophets who hold all the keys of the priesthood. …

“Paul looked forward to the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith, when the heavens would be opened again. It happened. John the Baptist came and conferred on mortals the priesthood of Aaron and the keys of the ministering of angels and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.

“Ancient apostles and prophets returned and conferred upon Joseph the keys they held in mortality. Mortal men were ordained to the holy apostleship in February of 1835. Priesthood keys were given to the Twelve Apostles in the latter part of March 1844.

“The Prophet Joseph Smith knew that his death was imminent. He knew that the precious priesthood keys and the apostleship must not be and would not be lost again.

“One of the Apostles, Wilford Woodruff, left us this account of what happened in Nauvoo as the Prophet spoke to the Twelve:

“‘On that occasion the Prophet Joseph rose up and said to us: “Brethren, I have desired to live to see this temple built. I shall never live to see it, but you will. I have sealed upon your heads all the keys of the kingdom of God. I have sealed upon you every key, power, principle that the God of heaven has revealed to me. Now, no matter where I may go or what I may do, the kingdom rests upon you.”’

“Every prophet that followed Joseph, from Brigham Young to [the current President of the Church], has held and exercised those keys and has held the sacred apostleship” (“Faith and Keys,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 27–28).

Joseph Smith ordaining Parley P. Pratt

The Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer ordained Parley P. Pratt as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that only the senior Apostle on the earth can fully exercise the apostolic priesthood keys:

“The keys of the kingdom of God—the right and power of eternal presidency by which the earthly kingdom is governed—these keys, having first been revealed from heaven, are given by the spirit of revelation to each man who is both ordained an Apostle and set apart as a member of the Council of the Twelve.

“But since keys are the right of presidency, they can only be exercised in their fulness by one man on earth at a time. He is always the senior Apostle, the presiding Apostle, the presiding high priest, the presiding elder. He alone can give direction to all others, direction from which none is exempt.

“Thus, the keys, though vested in all of the Twelve, are used by any one of them to a limited degree only, unless and until one of them attains that seniority which makes him the Lord’s anointed on earth” (“The Keys of the Kingdom,” Ensign, May 1983, 22–23; emphasis added).

The keys held by the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators entitle them to perform the duties given them by the President of the Church. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained:

“The Twelve Apostles may receive revelation to guide them in their labors and to assist them in setting in order the priesthood and organizations of the Church. When they are sent out into a stake by authority, they have all the power to receive revelation, to make changes, and to conduct the affairs according to the will of the Lord. But they do not receive revelations for the guidance of the whole Church, only wherein one of them may succeed to the Presidency. In other words the right to receive revelation and guidance for the whole Church is vested in each one of the Twelve, which he could exercise should he succeed to the Presidency. But this power is dormant while the President of the Church is living” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie [1956], 3:157; emphasis added).


Duties of the Twelve Apostles

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 1997

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 1997

“The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. …

“The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.

“The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;

“The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews. …

“It is the duty of the Twelve, also, to ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church, agreeable to the revelation” (D&C 107:23, 33–35, 58).

President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about the duties of the Apostles:

“The Lord revealed why ‘he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets.’ It is ‘for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

“‘Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ [Ephesians 4:11–13].

“Thus the ministry of the Apostles—the First Presidency and the Twelve—is to bring about that unity of the faith and to proclaim our knowledge of the Master. Our ministry is to bless the lives of all who will learn and follow the ‘more excellent way’ of the Lord [1 Corinthians 12:31; Ether 12:11]. And we are to help people prepare for their potential salvation and exaltation” (“Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 7–8).

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) outlined the basic duties of the Apostles in this way:

“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, called and ordained to hold the keys of the priesthood, have the authority and responsibility to govern the Church, to administer its ordinances, to expound its doctrine, and to establish and maintain its practices. Each man who is ordained an Apostle and sustained a member of the Council of the Twelve is sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator” (“God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, May 1994, 54; emphasis added).

After the members of the Quorum of the Twelve were chosen and ordained, President Oliver Cowdery (1806–50), then Assistant President of the Church, gave them the following charge:

“You have been ordained to this holy Priesthood, you have received it from those who have the power and authority from an angel; you are to preach the Gospel to every nation. Should you in the least degree come short of your duty, great will be your condemnation; for the greater the calling the greater the transgression. I therefore warn you to cultivate great humility; for I know the pride of the human heart. Beware, lest the flatterers of the world lift you up; beware, lest your affections be captivated by worldly objects. Let your ministry be first. Remember, the souls of men are committed to your charge; and if you mind your calling, you shall always prosper.

“… It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves. …

“… Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands on His disciples, why not in latter days?

“… You are as one; you are equal in bearing the keys of the Kingdom to all nations. You are called to preach the Gospel of the Son of God to the nations of the earth; it is the will of your heavenly Father, that you proclaim His Gospel to the ends of the earth and the islands of the sea.

“Be zealous to save souls. The soul of one man is as precious as the soul of another. … The adversary has always sought the life of the servants of God; you are therefore to be prepared at all times to make a sacrifice of your lives, should God require them in the advancement and building up of His cause. Murmur not at God. Be always prayerful; be always watchful. …

“… We now exhort you to be faithful to fulfil your calling; there must be no lack here; you must fulfil in all things; … all nations have a claim on you; you are bound together as the Three Witnesses were; notwithstanding you can part and meet, and meet and part again, till your heads are silvered over with age” (in History of the Church, 2:195–96, 198; emphasis added).


Apostles Are Sent to Build God’s Kingdom throughout the Earth

Christ instructing Apostles to teach all nations

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) explained the meaning of the word apostle:

The word apostle, in its origin, literally means ‘one sent forth.’ If that definition were stated to say ‘one sent forth with certain authority and responsibility,’ it would properly describe the calling as it was given at the time our Lord walked the earth, and as it has been given in our time” (“Special Witnesses for Christ,” Ensign, May 1984, 50; emphasis added).

President Brigham Young (1801–77) explained that building up God’s kingdom throughout the world is an apostolic duty:

“The calling of an Apostle is to build up the Kingdom of God in all the world; it is the Apostle that holds the keys of this power, and nobody else. If an Apostle magnifies his calling, he is the word of the Lord to his people all the time” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1954], 139; emphasis added; see also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 139).

Elder L. Tom Perry (1922–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted that the responsibilities of the Apostles carry them throughout the world:

“An Apostle today continues to be ‘one sent forth.’ The conditions we face are different from those of the early Brethren as we make our journeys to fulfill our assignment. Our manner of travel to all corners of the earth is very different from that of the early Brethren. However, our assignment remains the same as that which was given by the Savior as He instructed His called Twelve to ‘go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:19–20)” (“What Is a Quorum?” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 24).

Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy related the worldwide travels of Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a single year:

“Regardless of the rotating individual assignments in a given year, each Apostle in the worldwide Church has increasingly come to feel a worldwide ministry, embracing not only all Church programs but also all continents and all people. Consider, as an illustration, Elder Maxwell’s official list of conference and special meeting assignments for 1993 [see the accompanying chart]. …

“This was quite an array of major assignments, all over the world in one year—including mainland China and Mongolia. Yet it was typical of the pattern followed by all of the Twelve” (A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell [2002], 458–59).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s Conference and Special Meeting Assignments: 1993




January 30

Manti, Utah

Stake Conference

February 13

Provo, Utah

Regional Conference (BYU married stakes)

February 20

Salt Lake City

Dedication of Cathedral of the Madeleine

February 27

El Paso, Texas

Stake Conference

March 6

Hermosillo, Mexico

Regional Conference

March 13

Toronto, Canada

Stake Conference

April 9–19

Mongolia and Beijing, China

Dedicate Mongolia, visit Chinese officials

April 25–26

San Diego, California

San Diego Temple Dedication

May 1

Ogden, Utah

Regional Conference

May 22

Paris, France

Stake Conference

June 12

Twin Falls, Idaho

Regional Conference

June 19

Springville, Utah

Stake Reorganization

July 4

Provo, Utah

Freedom Festival

August 22

Salt Lake City

Training new Utah North Area stake presidents

August 28

Nyssa, Oregon

Stake Conference

September 11

Montreal, Canada

Regional Conference

October 16

Raleigh, North Carolina

Regional Conference

October 23

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Regional Conference

November 6

Tokyo, Japan

Mission Presidents’ Seminar, Area training

November 13

Seoul, Korea

Area training

November 17

Hong Kong

Area training

November 20

Manila, Philippines

Mission Presidents’ Seminar, Area training

December 4

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Temple workers’ meeting

(Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell [2002], 459.)

The First Presidency sometimes assigns members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to oversee the work of the Church in specific parts of the world for a time. Although developments in transportation and communication technology allow the Apostles to supervise these regions from Church headquarters in the United States, they have, on occasion, resided in other countries. For example, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland served as Area Presidents and lived in the Philippines and Chile, respectively, from 2002 to 2004, and Elder L. Tom Perry served as Area President while living in central Europe from 2004 to 2005.

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) taught about the Apostles’ responsibility to minister to the inhabitants of the world:

“Their one chief concern must be the advancement of the work of God in the earth. They must be concerned with the welfare of our Father’s children, both those within the Church and those out of the Church. They must do all that they can to give comfort to those who mourn, to give strength to those who are weak, to give encouragement to those who falter, to befriend the friendless, to nurture the destitute, to bless the sick, to bear witness, not out of belief but out of a certain knowledge of the Son of God, their Friend and Master, whose servants they are” (“Special Witnesses for Christ,” 49–50).

President Thomas S. Monson in Tonga, 1965

President Thomas S. Monson visiting the Tongan mission in 1965. Because of their extensive traveling, the Apostles are familiar with the needs of the worldwide Church.


Apostles Have the Keys to Open the Preaching of the Gospel to the Nations

The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) taught that the Twelve Apostles “are to hold the keys of this ministry, to unlock the door of the Kingdom of heaven unto all nations, and to preach the Gospel to every creature. This is the power, authority, and virtue of their apostleship” (in History of the Church, 2:200; see also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 141).

The Twelve, under the direction of the First Presidency, “open the doors” to missionary work through negotiations with government officials and other national leaders. They also exercise priesthood power to dedicate and rededicate lands for the preaching of the gospel. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) explained:

Proselyting the gospel in nations of the world only occurs when a member of the First Presidency or the Twelve dedicates the land for that purpose. The Church works within the laws of each nation to ensure that Church practices do not conflict with the law or the customs of that nation. We do not proselyte where the laws of that country prohibit the practice” (“150th Year for Twelve: ‘Witnesses to All the World,’” Church News, Jan. 27, 1985, 3; emphasis added).

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared the experience of his grandfather using apostolic keys to dedicate South America in 1925:

“Elder Parley P. Pratt visited South America in 1851. The work was attempted again in 1925. On Christmas Day of 1925, in the park of Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires, Argentina, my grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel. I quote from the dedicatory prayer:

“‘Bless the presidents, governors, and the leading officials of these South American countries, that they may kindly receive us and give us permission to open the doors of salvation to the people of these lands. …

“‘And now, oh, Father, by the authority of the blessing and appointment by the President of the Church, and by the authority of the holy apostleship which I have, I turn the key, unlock, and open the door for the preaching of the Gospel in all these South American nations, and do rebuke and command to be stayed every power that would oppose the preaching of the Gospel in these lands; and we do bless and dedicate these nations of this land for the preaching of thy Gospel. And we do all this that salvation may come to all men, and that thy name may be honored and glorified in this part of the land of Zion’ (Crusader for Righteousness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 81; italics added)” (“The Kingdom Rolls Forth in South America,” Ensign, May 1986, 12).


The Decisions of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Are Unanimous

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 1984

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 1984

To teach how unanimity is achieved in the governing councils of the Church, President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

“I can best tell you how you are governed today … by explaining the principles and procedures we follow in the meetings of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These procedures protect the work from the individual weaknesses apparent in all of us.

“When a matter comes before the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a temple meeting, one thing that is determined very quickly is whether it is of serious consequence or not. One or another of us will see in an apparently innocent proposal issues of great and lasting consequence.

“It is clear from the revelations that the decisions of the presiding quorums ‘must be by the unanimous voice of the same. … Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings’ (D&C 107:27, 29). In order to ensure that to be the case, matters of consequence are seldom decided in the meeting where they are proposed. And, if the proposal is a part of a larger issue, sufficient time is taken to ‘bring us all along’ so that it is clear that each of us has either a clear understanding of the issue or, as is often the case, has a very clear feeling about it. …

“It would be unthinkable to deliberately present an issue in such a way that approval depended upon how it was maneuvered through channels, who was presenting it, or who was present or absent when it was presented.

“Often one or more of us is away during regular meetings. We all know that the work must proceed and will accept the judgment of our brethren. However, if a matter has been studied by one of the Quorum in more detail than by the others or he is more familiar with it either by assignment, experience, or personal interest, the matter is very often delayed until he can be in on the discussion.

“And, always, if one of us cannot understand an issue or feels unsettled about it, it is held over for future discussion.

“I remember occasions when a delegation was sent to the hospital to discuss with a member of the Council who was ill some urgent matter that could not be delayed but which needed that ‘unanimous consent.’ There are occasions, as well, when one of us will leave the meeting temporarily to call one of our number who is abroad to get his feelings on a matter under discussion.

“There is a rule we follow: A matter is not settled until there is a minute entry to evidence that all of the Brethren in council assembled (not just one of us, not just a committee) have come to a unity of feeling. Approval of a matter in principle is not considered authority to act until a minute entry records the action taken—usually when the minutes are approved in the next meeting.

“Sometimes an afterthought keeps one of us restless over a decision. That is never dismissed lightly. It cannot be assumed that that restless spirit is not in fact the Spirit of Revelation.

“That is how we function—in council assembled. That provides safety for the Church and a high comfort level for each of us who is personally accountable. Under the plan, men of ordinary capacity may be guided through counsel and inspiration to accomplish extraordinary things” (“I Say unto You, Be One” [Brigham Young University devotional, Feb. 12, 1991], 3–4,; emphasis added).

President Hunter, Elder Holland, President Faust

President Howard W. Hunter, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and President James E. Faust enjoying a moment together

President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained why unanimity is so important:

This requirement of unanimity provides a check on bias and personal idiosyncrasies. It ensures that God rules through the Spirit, not man through majority or compromise. It ensures that the best wisdom and experience is focused on an issue before the deep, unassailable impressions of revealed direction are received. It guards against the foibles of man” (“Continuous Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 10; emphasis added).

The men who serve in the Quorum of the Twelve are men of strong opinions and differing backgrounds. Nonetheless, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) noted an absence of discord or feelings of enmity between the brethren:

“Any major questions of policy, procedures, programs, or doctrine are considered deliberately and prayerfully by the First Presidency and the Twelve together. These two quorums, the Quorum of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, meeting together, with every man having total freedom to express himself, consider every major question. …

“And now I quote … from the word of the Lord: ‘And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other’ (D&C 107:27).

No decision emanates from the deliberations of the First Presidency and the Twelve without total unanimity among all concerned. At the outset in considering matters, there may be differences of opinion. These are to be expected. These men come from different backgrounds. They are men who think for themselves. But before a final decision is reached, there comes a unanimity of mind and voice.

“This is to be expected if the revealed word of the Lord is followed. Again I quote from the revelation:

“‘The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

“‘Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord’ (D&C 107:30–31).

“I add by way of personal testimony that during the twenty years I served as a member of the Council of the Twelve and during the nearly thirteen years that I have served in the First Presidency, there has never been a major action taken where this procedure was not observed. I have seen differences of opinion presented in these deliberations. Out of this very process of men speaking their minds has come a sifting and winnowing of ideas and concepts. But I have never observed serious discord or personal enmity among my Brethren. I have, rather, observed a beautiful and remarkable thing—the coming together, under the directing influence of the Holy Spirit and under the power of revelation, of divergent views until there is total harmony and full agreement. Only then is implementation made. That, I testify, represents the spirit of revelation manifested again and again in directing this the Lord’s work” (“God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, May 1994, 54, 59; emphasis added).

Points to Ponder

  • In what ways are the responsibilities of an Apostle different from those of other Church authorities?

  • What priesthood keys do members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold? How have those keys blessed you and your family?

  • How do the Apostles keep us from being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness”? (see Ephesians 4:11–14).

  • What responsibility do members of the Church have to be united behind the direction of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency? What obligations do we have if we find ourselves not completely in harmony with them?

Suggested Assignments

  • On a piece of paper or in a journal, briefly outline the calling and responsibilities of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as taught in this lesson.

  • On a piece of paper or in a journal, record experiences you have had when the words of the Apostles have given you comfort, direction, or spiritual insight.

  • In an upcoming family home evening or discussion, share what you have learned while studying this lesson.