There was a talk given by Joseph Smith on August 27, 1843 where he describes three kinds of priesthood. Here is a quote from the account we have: (See TPJS, pp. 322-323)
Respecting the Melchizedek Priesthood, the sectarians never professed to have it; consequently they never could save any one, and would all be damned together. There was an Episcopal priest who said he had the priesthood of Aaron, but had not the priesthood of Melchizedek: and I bear testimony that I never have found the man who claimed the Priesthood of Melchizedek. The power of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to have the power of ‘endless lives;’ for the everlasting covenant cannot be broken.
The law was given under Aaron for the purpose of pouring out judgments and destructions.
There are three grand orders of priesthood referred to here.
First, The king of Shiloam (Salem) had power and authority over that of Abraham, holding the key and the power of endless life. Angels, desire to look into it, but they have set up too many stakes. God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law from Moses.
The sacrifice required of Abraham in the offering up of Isaac, shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life; he must sacrifice all things. When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned. The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law.
What was the power of Melchizedek? ‘Twas not the Priesthood of Aaron which administers in outward ordinances, and the offering of sacrifices. Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam.
Abraham says to Melchizedek, I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood.
Salvation could not come to the world without the mediation of Jesus Christ.
How shall God come to the rescue of this generation? He will send Elijah the prophet. The law revealed to Moses in Horeb never was revealed to the children of Israel as a nation. Elijah shall reveal the covenants to seal the hearts of the father to the children, and the children to the fathers.
The anointing and sealing is to be called, elected and made sure.
‘Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually.’ The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.
The Second Priesthood is Patriarchal authority. Go to and finish the temple, and God will fill it with power, and you will then receive more knowledge concerning this priesthood.
The Third is what is called the Levitical Priesthood, consisting of priests to administer in outward ordinances, made without an oath; but the Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant.
I’ve explained at length how I understand these three divisions of priesthood in the talk in Orem titled “Priesthood” (which, in addition to my blog, is available as an audio on YouTube) and then supplemented the material in the chapter on Priesthood in Preserving the Restoration. I continue to receive emails asking for clarification.
In the beginning there was one priesthood with one name. The original was called “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.” (D&C 107:3.) Adam prophesied that this single, original form of priesthood will return at the end of the world. (Moses 6:7.)
The original form was renamed after Enoch in his day. (D&C 76:57.)
Then later, it was renamed again after Melchizedek. (D&C 107:4.) The renaming did not change the priesthood, but merely used a different title to “avoid the too frequent repetition of his [the Son of God’s] name.” (Id.)
The original, unified, singular priesthood was held by the first Patriarchs. From Adam through Melchizedek, the single form of priesthood was held by “priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.” (D&C 76:57.) The full extent of that authority and the rights it conferred were important enough that the Pharaoh claimed it, and through it the right to govern the earth. (Abr. 1:26-27.) The original Pharaoh was a “righteous man” (Abr. 1:26) but it was not his right to govern as a holder of this original priestly authority. In the beginning of the world, while men rebelled against the authority, the righteous allowed themselves to be guided by it, and through it they repented and found favor with God.
The authority was passed down through Abraham. Although the chosen line through Isaac lost it, it was preserved through Abraham and Keturah’s son, Midian. (Gen. 25: 1-2.) The man Reuel (given an “El” naming by his parents-Exo. 2:16-18) descended from Midian. He received a new name from God. (“Jethro”-Exo. 3:1.) The new name from God indicates God accepted him as His son. Moses received his ordination through Jethro. (D&C 84:6.)
Now Jethro was a righteous man, but it was through Moses that God established the rule of the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. Therefore, it was through Moses that Egypt’s rule over Israel was overthrown, and the people liberated to follow God.
However, the Israelites were unwilling to abide this priesthood. It required too much of them and they hardened their hearts. They could not enter into God’s presence as a people. (D&C 84:22-25.)
In the days of Moses it was divided, and a lesser form of priesthood was carved out from the higher form. (D&C 84:25-27.) That lesser form was called “Aaronic” and authorized to act only in administering outward ordinances. (D&C 107:14.)
Joseph explained that in the LDS Church there were two priesthoods. (D&C 107:1.) But Joseph also described three priesthoods in the talk given August 27, 1843. In an attempt to clarify, I have associated the three kinds of priesthood with the following names and qualifications: Aaronic: Priests who associate with angels and have fellowship with them. Melchizedek: Priests who associate with the Son of God and have fellowship with Him. Patriarchal: Priests who have been in the presence of Father Ahman and have been accepted by Him. I admit this is not the way the names are used in the scriptures. I have renamed them in this manner as my attempt to harmonize understanding with the talk given by Joseph and to distinguish from LDS claims.
There are important points to consider. There was originally a single form of priesthood. It was the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. That priesthood is prophesied to return at the end of the world. God the Father decides who will stand at the head of the Family, with authorization to govern as a father (or patriarch) following the pattern given to Adam in the beginning. As Joseph explained it, “Go to and finish the temple, and God will fill it with power, and you will then receive more knowledge concerning this priesthood.” This will be required of us, just as it was before.
If we have any authority at all, we have some portion or degree of the original. Rather than limiting ourselves to some other form, ordain to the Holy Order and leave it to God to determine how much He decides to confer upon a man.
It is clear Jethro was approved of God. It is clear his parents worshipped the true God, and named him “Reu-El” to honor the God of Abraham. It is also clear that God did not honor Reuel with the responsibility of freeing Israel from Egypt and giving direction to them. It was in Moses that God reclaimed the original authority over His chosen people.
There will be a root of Jesse to whom the right will belong. (D&C 113:5-6.) This was never Joseph nor Hyrum. It could never be done by a “pure blooded Ephraimite” and therefore their bloodlines did not qualify to finish the House of God. Their lives were foundational for what will come next. What they accomplished is shown in the Nauvoo Temple as a metaphor. It was constructed to the second floor, and unfinished in design and construction at their passing. Although others tried to design and build what was left, it burned, and was then destroyed by a whirlwind. Only pictures and a few stones remain of the original. The House of God will return and the original authority of the Holy Order will likewise be here on earth before the return of the Son of God.
The Holy Order will submit to the Son of God, and freely acknowledge that it is His right to rule. He will be the King of kings, and the Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16) because no man with this Holy Order will compare themselves to Him.
Limiting what is said about these matters of priesthood hopefully prevents deceivers and pretenders from improving their false claims. It will not be entrusted to a fool, nor given to the proud and haughty. It will be held by the meek and lowly. True authority must persuade and invite using kindness and pure knowledge as their scepter, offering their lives as a sacrifice and not offering themselves as an idol to be honored.