15
Feb
09

MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD

 

     One very important aspect of Mormonism is the Melchizedek priesthood.  The LDS Church accurately states that “the Bible does not give many particulars concerning the functions of that priesthood, except that Christ was a high priest after that order.”  (Bible Dictionary, p.730.)  As that article goes on to state and demonstrate, much of Mormonism’s teaching on this topic is from Doctrine & Covenants (D&C).

     This constitutes quite a challenge when Christians and Mormons want to discuss it seeing that no other church body accepts the authority of D&C.  The only common grounds for discussion are the biblical statements and these are limited.  There is the brief historical account of Melchizedek in Genesis 14: 18-24.  Then there is David’s one verse prophecy in Psalm 110:4.  Finally you have that prophecy quoted and expanded upon in the book of Hebrews.

    Before looking specifically at how Hebrews talks about the Melchizedek priesthood, it would be good to see that it and the rest of the Bible describes the offering of sacrifice as THE main function of the priesthood.  That is what Old Testament priests did – day in and day out.  The book of Leviticus (which can almost be called the handbook for the priesthood) is filled with chapter after chapter detailing the various sacrifices.  For thousands of years the idea of priest and offering sacrifices went hand in hand. 

     That close connection between priests and offering sacrifice isn’t dropped when Hebrews talks about the Melchizedek priesthood.  There too the focus is on Jesus, our priest, offering a sacrifice.  For example, just in 9:23-10:18, words for sacrifice and offering are used no less than 23 times in the original Greek.  Just before that the word blood is used numerous times – another word that refers to sacrifice.  And that is just in one small section of the book.  By far, the most important function of priests, according to the Bible, was to offer sacrifice.

      There is a lot to be covered when talking about the Melchizedek priesthood. It can’t all be done in one post.  Therefore I am planning to talk about other details in future posts.  In this post, I want to emphasize, first of all, the point I made above – that there is not much common ground to begin with in discussing the Melchizedek priesthood.  Secondly, I want to emphasize that one of the huge difficulties I have experienced when trying to discuss the priesthood with Mormons is the tremendously different functions ascribed to the priesthood. 

     To my Mormon readers, I ask that you please remember that to Christians steeped in the Bible, the idea of priesthood goes hand and glove with offering sacrifices – especially sacrifices for sin.  That is what will automatically come to mind to me and others.  Sacrifice is what priests did!  That is especially what Jesus did as our priest when he offered himself up once for all for all sin so that “now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18)

     To my Christian readers, I ask that you please remember that when Mormons talk about priesthood, sacrifice is not what is in their mind.  I checked the “True to the Faith” manual.  In its articles on the priesthood in general and the two priesthoods specifically, the idea of sacrifice is not mentioned at all.  Rather Mormonism defines priesthood as “the eternal power and authority of God.

      Priesthood – same word, but entirely different concepts.  If there is going to be any productive discussion that will always need to be remembered.

      More next time.

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9 Responses to “MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD”


  1. February 15, 2009 at 2:31 am

    No one but Jesus can hold the Melchizedek priesthood, because the holder must be able to (1) save to the uttermost those who draw nigh unto God (Hebrews 7:25) (2) be holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (Hebrews 7:26) (3) and be a king of righteousness as the name Mechizedek means in the Hebrew langauge. I’m pretty sure no Mormon male meets these requirements, so their whole claim to authority is completely useless. Perhaps Joseph Smith should have done his homework before claiming he received what only Christ can hold.

  2. February 15, 2009 at 5:02 am

    Very good summary Mark. I hadn’t thought of it that way. But it does seem fairly accurate.

  3. 3 faithoffathers
    February 16, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Joseph S.,

    How do you explain Melchizedek himself? That order of the priesthood bares his name. He certainly held this priesthood. So there is at least one man besides Christ who held this priesthood.

    And why even distinguish this authority or power as the Melchizedek Priesthood? If it were simply something inherent in Christ’s mission and divinity, why would this element be necessary to be pointed out or named as it is?

    fof

  4. 4 InCognitus
    February 16, 2009 at 12:46 am

    What priesthood did Jethro (the father-in-law to Moses) hold? (See Exo 2:16, 3:1, and 18:1)

  5. February 16, 2009 at 3:13 am

    Mark, I appreciate that you are trying to speak to both Latter-day Saint and Evangelical readers and asking for understanding on this topic. I also agree there are challenges in discussing the concept of the priesthood between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints.

    However, I don’t think the sources for the Latter-day Saint view of priesthood are limited to the Doctrine and Covenants. I think there is still a vast source of material on the priesthood in the New Testament that Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals can discuss and reflect on.

    First of all, think more general as to priesthood. Think about the concepts of authority. In addition, what about notions of the laying on of hands as described in the New Testament. Latter-day Saints see themselves as continuing this tradition from the New Testament. In fact, before the Doctrine and Covenants or the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph Smith was very aware of the notion of laying on of hands.

    What about having a discussion about Simon in Acts chapter 8? Simon was a believer and was also baptized, but he still noticed Peter and John and the apostles laying their hands on those who had already been baptized and these individuals received the Holy Ghost. Simon asked to purchase this ability or power to do the same. This is a chapter that begs to have a discussion. Again, this power didn’t come to those at their baptism, otherwise Simon would have had this power. The text doesn’t say Simon tried and it didn’t work, he knew he didn’t have this power. Again, think of priesthood more conceptually as this power of lay hands so that those baptized receive the Holy Ghost in accordance with Acts 8. In fact, Latter-day Saints see the fact that these Christians were baptized but did not yet have the Holy Ghost as evidence that baptism alone does not confer the Holy Ghost and that John the Baptist had the power to baptize but not the power to confer the Holy Ghost. Latter-day Saints see this as further evidence of two kinds of powers or two kinds of authority. Again, the same New Testament source material can be used to describe these concepts.

    Other examples consist of the numbers of 12 apostles as well as three head apostles which is outlined in the New Testament. In addition, when there was a dispute in the church in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas when to Jerusalem to the “apostles and elders” to settle this dispute about the practice of the church. Paul in his letter to Galatians describes Peter, James and John as the “pillars” of the church. In addition, Latter-day Saints look at Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians which describes offices such as apostles and prophets.

    These are but a few examples, but I do think that there is much more that can be discussed about the priesthood in general, and should be discussed, about notions of authority, about the laying on of hands, etc. without even getting to the Doctrine and Covenants. The general notions of authority and power, and division of powers into two priesthoods are based upon a reading of the New Testament. These things can be discussed even limiting sources to the New Testament and should be discussed.

  6. 6 markcares
    February 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Aquinas:
    You are equating authority with priesthood and apostleship with priesthood. Nowhere does the Bible make that connection. As i pointed out, the connection the Bible makes is between priests and sacrifice.

  7. 7 ladonnamorrell
    February 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Mark,
    regarding your last statement, “You are equating authority with priesthood and apostleship with priesthood. Nowhere does the Bible make that connection. As i pointed out, the connection the Bible makes is between priests and sacrifice.”
    I think that sometimes you forget that these epistles were to members of the Church that already had a basic understanding of the priesthood authority. all the particulars did not need to be spelled out….these were pep talks and “updates”.

    if you were to write a letter to your kids, you would not need to spell out relationships (i.e.how is aunt martha related to us?) or have long passages of explanation regarding things they were familiar with. The same is true of these letters to the members of the Church.

    The Priesthood is the authority by which the Savior ran the Church. We all know what would happen if there were more than one boss, or more than one way of doing things (i.e. baptism).This is the way to keep the Church pure. After all the Apostles were killed off and there was no one left with this authority, (especially the authority to “preside”, or be president) the church fell into disarray. Strange doctrine started to creep in, factions split off, and the truth was lost. This was the Apostacy that was foretold by the prophets.
    Even the Great Reformers, Luther, Wesley, Calvin all recognized the evil of the “Church” and recognized that authority and Godliness were missing. Their efforts were just a stop-gap and they knew it.
    God, our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ restored the Priesthood to Joseph Smith. Joseph didn’t “get this up” on his own. If anyone has a beef with “the priesthood”, you should take it up with God. He chose how to restore it, He chose what to call it and He chose who it was to be used for…..it is, afterall, HIS power and authority! Believe me, I understand that people don’t necessarily believe as I do, but also understand that there isn’t ANYTHING in the Bible that doesn’t square with the restored Gospel. It is the same, it is HIS church. All that is required is to have Faith. Read the Book of Mormon. it is the key to understanding the Bible!
    ok, i am off my soap box for today! how is your wife feeling?

  8. February 16, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Mark, what I am trying to do is unearth the various readings that Latter-day Saints have in regards to the New Testament scriptures, and to encourage discussion along those lines. It is important to think conceptually about these issues. For instance, in the example I used with Simon, it is clear the apostles could do something that Simon was unable to do.

    Acts 8:19 uses the Greek word exousia, which is translated as power or authority (Strongs’s Number 1849). The New American Standard Bible has Simon saying “Give this authority [exousia] to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Exousia is used in various places in the New Testament. Matthew reports Christ as saying “All exousia is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18). Matthew 10:1 reads: “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them exousia against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” In Matthew 21:23 the chief priests ask Jesus, “By what exousia doest thou these things? and who gave thee this exousia?” The point here is that the New Testament speaks of Christ as having exousia and that Christ gives exousia to his apostles, and that Simon wanted to purchase this exousia from Peter.

    Thus, there is a definite textual and conceptual link in the New Testament between Christ his apostles and exousia. If you object to identifying the exousia as “the priesthood,” that is perfectly fine. I’m not trying to prove to you that the exousia in the New Testament is the priesthood. But I think everyone should be able to see the link, especially given that the Latter-day Saint definition of the priesthood is often stated as “the eternal power and authority of God.” It is the exousia of God. Again, don’t understand this as an apologetic argument. What I am offering is a cross-cultural conceptual description. I’m trying to help facilitate fruitful discussion of these matters and also demonstrate that there is plenty of material in the New Testament to carefully discuss these matters.

    What would be helpful to advance understanding in dialogue between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints is to offer your own interpretations of these readings to say something like, “Well, that is interesting. I can understand how Latter-day Saints might come to those conclusions. The way I understand these scriptures is that . . . ” Give and take, back and forth. When discussing scriptures, it is important not only to state what the text does not mean, but also what it means in the affirmative. Here you might want to discuss your views on the laying on of hands, or your understanding of the Simon and Peter confrontation. This is your chance your explain your views so that both Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints can discuss the New Testament scripture.

  9. February 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    FOF,

    How do I explain Melchizedek? Well, first of all I think it is important to realize what the author of Hebrews is trying to demonstrate throughout his letter. He is demonstrating the superiority of Christ to the Old Testament law. The whole purpose of the Old Testament was and is to point to the person and work of Christ.

    The following is taken from Dr. James White’s Letters to a Mormon Elder, p. 246-248:
    “Let’s first examine the qualifications of the “Melchizedek” priest as given in the Bible. Hebrews 7:3 tells us that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life… Only Melchizedek and Christ meet those qualifications, for this priesthood is unique — no one but Melchizedek and Christ has ever held it. Indeed, Hebrews 7:3 also makes clear that Melchizedek is only like the Son of God — he was not the pattern that Jesus followed by, rather he was a type — the mere reflection of the full expression of the Son of God. This priesthood is also seen, on the basis of this passage, to be one that is not passed on from one to another — there were no “Melchizedek” priests between Genesis 14 and the coming of the Lord Jesus. Melchizedek did not “give” the priesthood to Jesus (or anyone else for that matter); it was Jesus’ by right.

    The work of the Melchizedek priest is seen in Hebrews 7:24-25, where the Bible says,

    But this man (Jesus), because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore, he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

    The priesthood Jesus holds is His — unchangeably or permanently. Some translate it by the word intransmissable, indicating that no one else can hold this priesthood. Though some would argue with the translation of the word, the fact is clear that the person holding this priesthood by right of eternal life is able to save completely those who come unto God by him — a claim that few Mormons would knowingly make. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had a few stand before me and say, “Well, if that is what the Melchizedek priest can do, then I can do it.” What about you, Steve? Do you claim to be able to “save to the uttermost” those who come unto God by you? I certainly hope not, for you know that you cannot. However, if the LDS Church is going to declare that it has this priesthood, it must face the fact that it is professing to have that which, according to the Bible, is the property of Jesus Christ alone.

    A passage that is frequently cited in this discussion is Hebrews 5:6 which mentions the order of Melchizedek. The LDS Church teaches that this indicates that there was an order of priests after Melchizedek — that this is a priesthood that is passed on much like the Aaronic. The whole point of the discourse, however, is just the opposite — the priesthood of Jesus is superior to that of Aaron and one of the reasons is that it is not passed from one to another. It is not invested in men who will die, but is given only to the One who has died and lives forever, the Lord Jesus Christ! To miss the point is to misunderstand the entire argument of Hebrews! It must also be pointed out that the word translated “order” means “of the same kind” or “nature, quality, manner, condition, appearance.” It does not refer to a lineage of priests, but rather to the kind of priest. It must again be stressed that Jesus’ priesthood is His uniquely and that no one can claim to hold what is His by right as the one great High Priest, the one Mediator between God and man (I Timothy 2:5). Therefore, the LDS Church’s claim to hold this priesthood is without biblical basis or historical basis, and far more importantly, it strikes at the very core of the work and office of the Lord Jesus Christ.”


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