Priesthood authority is very important in Mormon theology since it is the means through which the Mormon Church supposedly has authority to administer the ordinances which bring salvation to humanity, to preach the Gospel, and govern the kingdom of God on this earth (LDS.org). The following two quotes illustrate.
"What is the Priesthood? It is nothing more or less than the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family . . . by which they may baptize for the remission of sins and lay on hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, and by which they can remit sin with the sanction and blessing of Almighty God. It is the same power and priesthood that was committed to the disciples of Christ while He was upon the earth . . . ," (Joseph F. Smith, 6th Prophet of the LDS Church, Gospel Doctrine, 1919, p. 173. Also see Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, 1966, p. 594).
"We believe that a man must be called of God by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof," (5th Article of Faith).
Mormons frequently take great pride in the fact that they have this priesthood authority and no other churches on earth do. In essence, there can be no true Church or true administering of the ordinances unless priesthood authority is given.
Anyhow, there are two classes of priesthood in Mormonism: Aaronic and Melchizedek. Interestingly, for younger converts to Mormonism, Aaronic Priesthood is conferred at 12 years of age, and the higher Melchizedek Priesthood is conferred at age 18. In support for this Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood authority, Mormons sometimes appeal to various passages from the Bible including John 15:16, Acts 8:14-20, Hebrews 5:4, and James 5:14-15.1
A Response to Scriptural Arguments
The LDS Church appeals to various New Testament passages in support of their doctrine of an ordained Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood. The following is a list of some of these passages with a brief response to each.
Passage #1: John 15:16, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit . . . " The LDS Church claims that Jesus is speaking about ordaining the apostles to the priesthood, but this passage does not state anything about priesthood ordination. Nowhere in all of the Gospels or in the entire New Testament do we find any reference for this doctrine. Ordain here simply means "to appoint" or "to point out." The apostles were appointed to go and bring forth fruit, which they did once they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, cf. Acts 2) and then went and preached the Gospel (see the Book of Acts).
Passage #2: Acts 8:14-20 mentions Peter and John laying their hands on the people of Samaria who then received the Holy Spirit. It is simply referring to people who received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. It does not mention anything about an Aaronic or Priesthood authority. To infer such a teaching is to misinterpret the text.
Passage #3: James 5:14-15, another passage that the LDS church uses, states, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." Again, this passage does not mention anything about an Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood authority. The "elders of the church" in James 5 likely refers to those older wise individuals who were given authority in the church (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1, Acts 14:23, 21:18). There is no evidence that it refers to someone who was ordained to the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood.
Passage #4: Hebrews 5:4 states, "And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." This passage does not refer to any command for the church today to institute an ordained priesthood by laying on hands. Aaron was called by God, not by Moses or anyone else laying hands on him (Num. 18:7, cf. Ex. 4:27). Aaron was anointed but so was the tabernacle (Ex. 40:13) and everything in it (Ex. 40:9-15).
Due to the above evidence, the Mormon Church's claim for Scriptural support of their teaching is lacking.
Priesthood in the Bible
In contrast to the Mormon Church's teachings, the Bible has quite different things to say about priesthood. First, the Aaronic priesthood was limited to Jewish male members from the tribe of Levi who were descendants from Aaron (Ex. 28:1, Num. 3:5-13, Heb. 7:5). The priesthood was inherited by descent from Aaron, not received through ordination. It was never supposed to be practiced by Gentiles (non-Jews). There is absolutely no teaching about this doctrine of Aaronic priesthood being practiced by Gentiles in the Old or New Testaments.
Furthermore, the Aaronic priesthood was done away with through Christ as the final priest (Heb. 7:11-12) who fulfilled the Law as the eternal Priest (Heb. 7:11-28, 8:6-7ff). The Old Testament priests were mediators, but now Jesus is the only Mediator between men and God (1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 7:24-25, Jn. 14:6). Therefore, there is no need for this Aaronic priesthood authority today. Finally, the High Priest in the Old Testament would enter the holy of holies once a year to make a sacrifice for sins of himself and others (Ex. 30:10, Heb. 9:7, 19-22). However, Jesus completed the work of salvation by being the High Priest and the sacrifice (Heb. 3:1, 9:11-12, 25-26)! Since Christ's work is finished (John 19:30), there is no need for a High Priest on this earth. Christ is the only mediator and High Priest in Heaven (1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 8:1-6).
Second, there is absolutely no mention in the entire Bible about a special class of Melchizedek priests. Melchizedek is mentioned briefly in the Old Testament in two places (Gen. 14:18-20 and Ps. 110:1). In Genesis 14, Melchizedek is a king and priest who blesses Abraham and to whom Abraham gives tithes. Psalm 110, a royal Messianic Psalm, applies this priesthood of Melchizedek to Jesus who is also a priest and king (cf. Matthew 22:44, 26:64, Mark 16:19, Heb. 5:5-6). However, nowhere in the Old or New Testaments do we see the practice of ordaining males to the office of the Melchizedek priesthood. Jesus alone is mentioned in the New Testament as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:1-4ff).
The Priesthood of All Believers
Instead, the Bible teaches that all believers have priesthood authority (1 Peter 2:5, 9, Rev. 1:6, 5:10, 20:6). Even in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5-6). However, Jesus is the unique High Priest (Heb. 7:23-8:13). Each believer has the authority to preach the Gospel, baptize, and govern the kingdom of God on this earth. It is not something that is limited to males who are above the age of 12 or 18.2
Questions from Mormons
Who gives you the right to baptize?
The simple answer is God in His Word. In the New Testament, there is no specific command regarding who can and cannot baptize. Jesus commanded all of the disciples to go baptize (Mt. 28:18-20), but He never limited the baptizing to just the apostles. Since Christians are all priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9, Rev. 1:6, 5:10, 20:6), any one of them has the right to baptize. Christians have the authority to baptize based on God’s Word which is the inspired, authoritative source of revelation. If someone believes, he or she receives the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) and becomes born again (John 1:13). Baptism is not necessary for salvation (Acts 10:43-48, 1 Cor. 1:17, Rom. 4:5, Eph. 2:8-9, etc.). No Church organization has the authority to decide who can and cannot receive the Holy Spirit. Anyone who believes receives the Holy Spirit by faith (Eph. 1:13) and has assurance of eternal life (1 John 5:13).
Who gives you the right to interpret Scripture?
The Bible allows for individuals to interpret Scripture. In Acts 17:11, the Bereans are commended since they " . . . received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." The Bereans investigated and studied the Scriptures to see if the Apostle's teachings were true. Furthermore, Jesus commanded the Pharisees and Jews, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me," (John 5:39). The Bible is not a secret manual that is only for the learned, but is for all people to read, study, and apply, using sound principles of interpretation (see "How to Interpret the Bible").
- Marvin W. Cowan, Mormon Claims Answered, 1997, available: http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/mclaims6.htm, accessed 15 June, 2010.
- LDS.org, accessed 15 June, 2010. See: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=ab839daac5d98010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=bbd508f54922d010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD.
- A. C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987, p. 319.
- 1. Mormons frequently appeal to their own writings for the main support, but they also claim that the Bible supports their teaching.
- 2. While everyone has the authority to preach the Gospel, the Bible does teach that the office of an elder or pastor is to be limited to males. See: "Should Women be Pastors and Elders?"