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.