Topic Study: Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

Editors Note: This blog entry is converted from a personal study effort which I called the Topical Guide Compendium started in 2002 in which I studied a chosen topic in the Topical Guide of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints scriptures, and attempting to outline all the aspects of the topic into a coherent sermon. It was started in November 2004, and updated August 2005. You can see the original list of scriptures in the Topic Guide here: TG Entry: Priesthood, Oath and Covenant

I             Introduction

In November 2004, as the young men’s president I was reviewing the Duty to God requirements with the son of the High Priest Group leader.  When we discussed the requirement to review the oath and covenant of the priesthood, the High Priest Group leader said to me, “You know, I don’t really understand what the oath and covenant of the priesthood means.”  I had to admit it had been a long time since I had reviewed it, and I couldn’t say what it means either.  Here we were, two leaders in the ward, one the head in a sense of the Melchizedek priesthood, the other the “head” of the Aaronic priesthood, and neither felt like they completely understood the oath and covenant of the priesthood.  I was later to learn his meaning was a bit narrower than mine as I explain below, but the comment started me on a study of the topic.

So a week or so later I sat down in the temple before a youth temple trip, and read Section 84:33-39.  I realized that, although the verses have to be read going forward, the meaning is most evident if understood in reverse, beginning with verse 39.

II            Receiving the Priesthood

39  And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.

D&C 84:39

This verse identifies this set of scriptures as the oath and covenant of the priesthood.

38  And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

D&C 84:38

Verse 38 says that whoever accepts God will receive all that God has.  In other words, they will be received into “heaven,” or the celestial kingdom to be more precise. This isn’t a surprising doctrine.  Almost all religions include this concept I believe.  So, in short, we have to accept that God exists, and that it is necessary to do his will to be received into heaven.

37  And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

D&C 84:37

Verse 37 says that we must receive Christ.  This is an accepted doctrine of all of Christendom.  Christ is the gate to the Father.  We must accept him to be saved.

36  For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

D&C 84:36

Verse 36 says we must receive Christ’s servants to receive him.  Christ does not come down and invite each personally to accept him.  He calls prophets, and ordains them through proper priesthood channels.  His servants are the prophets and apostles.  We must accept his servants to be saved.

This narrows the field of acceptable religions further, from all religions, to Christian religions, to those that recognize a need for formal authority and structure, formally called servants.

35  And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

D&C 84:35

How do we “accept” his servants?  Verse 35 says men will be ordained to the priesthood. The religion that offers salvation and exaltation will have universal priesthood for all men.  When a man is baptized it does not mean he will automatically receive the priesthood. He must continue in the path; he must do what the prophets and apostles and other servants of the Lord designate he must do. Holding the priesthood worthily signifies we have accepted his servants, which means we have accepted Christ, which means we have accepted the Father. The religion that can save a man will provide a way for him to receive the priesthood.

34  They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

D&C 84:34

Verse 34 then defines what it means to receive the priesthood.  Note that continuing to read the scripture from the bottom, first we become members of the church, the kingdom and the elect of God.  In other words we must be baptized.  Baptism adopts us into the House of Israel, as the seed of Abraham.  Abraham becomes our spiritual Father.  Next we will receive the priesthood of Aaron, or the Aaronic Priesthood.  Next we become the sons of Moses which means that we receive the Melchizedek Priesthood (see Moses for discussion of the meaning of the Sons of Moses).

33  For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

D&C 84:33

Verse 33 tells us that simply receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods is not enough.  We must receive them faithfully, or worthily.  We must then, over the course of time, expand their use or, in other words, magnify those callings.  For most of us, this is not work done in a day.  And what are the results of doing this over many years?  We are ultimately sanctified, such that we receive a renewing of our bodies.  President Faust said this, “I think President Hinckley is a great example of this. He has been renewed in body, mind, and spirit in a most remarkable manner.”  (“The Key of the Knowledge of God” Ensign, Nov. 2004, 52).  This hints at the need to endure to the end.

III           What Oath?

After my scribbling in the temple that day, I showed my insights to the High Priest Group Leader.  He read them and said, “Oh, that isn’t what I meant when I said I didn’t know what the oath and covenant were.  I meant that I don’t know what oath we make.  What covenant do we make?”

I had to admit I wasn’t sure either.

So I continued to study.  Elder McConkie in “Mormon Doctrine” says the following on the topic:

Every person upon whom the Melchizedek Priesthood is conferred receives his office and calling in this higher priesthood with an oath and a covenant.  The covenant is to this effect:  1. Man on his part solemnly agrees to magnify his calling in the priesthood, to keep the commandments of God, to live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of Deity, and to walk in paths of righteousness and virtue; and 2. God on his part agrees to give such persons an inheritance of exaltation and godhood in his everlasting presence.  The oath is the solemn attestation of Deity, his sworn promise, that those who keep their part of the covenant shall come forth and inherit all things according to the promise.

As a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Christ himself is the prototype in this as in all things pertaining to salvation and exaltation.  As Paul explained, priests of the Aaronic order receive their calls “without an oath,” but Jesus received his priesthood appointment “with an oath by him that said until him, The Lord swear and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”  (Heb. 7:21;  Teachings, p. 323.)  Those are who are priests forever, who “are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek,… are gods, even the sons of God.”  (D&C 76:57-58.)  They have become joint-heirs with Christ, having kept the same covenant and been bound by the same other.

Elder McConkie points us to the book of Hebrews, chapter 7 for the comparison between the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.  Let’s back up to Chapter 6 to understand Paul’s explanation of what the Oath and Covenant are, beginning in verse 13.

13  For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,

14  Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.

15  And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.

Another word for “swear” might be to covenant.  God covenanted with Abraham.

16  For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.

17  Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:

In addition to the covenant, God confirmed it with an oath.  An oath ends contention among men, when someone commits to do something.  For example, consider that the resolution of many court cases is ultimately a commitment by one or both parties to do or not do something.  Business contracts could also be considered a modern day oath.  Negotiations, or contentions, stop.  On top of the covenant, God also executed an oath.

18  That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation,…

The Lord not only promised, or covenanted with Abraham, he confirmed it with an oath.  And what is the result of this?

[vs 18 continued] …who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:

19  Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

20  Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Heb. 6:13 – 20

The result of the covenant AND oath, or oath and covenant, is hope, a firm hope, that we can obtain eternal life.

Section 84, verse 40 states it plainly.  The Oath and Covenant is what the Father gives us.

40  Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.

D&C 84:40

IV          Difference Between Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood

We do not emphasize the oath and covenant of the priesthood to 11 year old boys about to receive the Aaronic priesthood for good reason.  Paul tells us the reason in Hebrews 7:21.

21  (For those priests [meaning those of the Aaronic Preisthood] were made without an oath; but this [Christ] with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)

Heb. 7:21

Earlier in the chapter, Paul explained that the Aaronic priesthood in the days of Aaron was received because of linage: members of the tribe of Levi received the Levitical priesthood; direct descendents of Aaron received the Aaronic priesthood.  No particular covenant, or oath was required or received.

Today the Aaronic priesthood is actually confirmed in much the same manner, but not only upon one tribe.  All worthy spiritual descendants of Abraham receive this priesthood.  In another way, by being a member of a family that is part of the church, young men receive this priesthood.  There is no particular oath associated with it.

V           Seeking and Turning From The Covenant

The Melchizedek priesthood is different.  It must be sought for.  To receive it, it must be pursued.  It takes active work, through the Aaronic Priesthood years to receive this greater priesthood.  Listen to what Abraham did.

2  And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

3  It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.

I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.

Abr. 1:2 – 4

Having sought this priesthood, the Lord warns us against turning there from in the next verse in the oath and covenant:

41  But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.

D&C 84:41

I think John 13 illustrate this point very well.

20  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

John 13:20

The Savior said this to his Apostles during the last supper.  It sounds very much like the wording of the oath and covenant of the priesthood.  I think it helps us identify who we must receive.  However, the next verse speaks of turning from the priesthood.

21  When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.

John 13:21

Judas is an example of someone that turned from the covenant.  He had the opportunity to receive Christ very personally, and he rejected it.  His fate is a reminder to anyone who would choose to reject this covenant having received it.

VI          Necessity

Verse 42 says there isn’t an alternative course.  We must accept the priesthood or be damned.

42  And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice out of the heavens; and even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you.

D&C 84:42

VII         Testimony

Let me be clear about this.  As Elder McConkie stated numerous times, there is no salvation in the belief of false doctrines.  There is no salvation in worshiping false gods.  There is no salvation in a religion that does not have authority from God.  Priesthood is the means by which God makes the atonement of Christ effective in our lives.  Through the priesthood, scripture is written and understood, continuing revelation is received, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost is bestowed upon all worthy people.  Through priesthood baptism is performed, sins are formally forgiven, and the sacrament is administered.  Through priesthood marriages are performed, the creation of families is authorized, and the titles of mother and father are bestowed.  Ultimately, priesthood will be the means by which the resurrection will be accomplished.  Without priesthood, the atonement would have no affect upon any of the children of mean.

1  BEHOLD, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

2  And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

3  If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.

D&C 2:1 – 3

What a waste it would be indeed.

VIII       The Temple and Patriarchal Priesthood

A few months later, I was again in the temple with the High Priest Group Leader for temple baptisms.  I asked what he had meant, and he said that there is a type of priesthood we gain in the temple; it is the patriarchal priesthood.  I hadn’t ever considered that.

Listen to this quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith.

President Smith read the 7th Chap. Hebrews and said:…

There are three grand orders of priesthood referred to here.

1st. ….What was the power of Melchizedek? ….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.

“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.” [Hebrews 7:2] 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 2nd 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 3rd 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. 

(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six 1843–44, pp.322, 323)

[Some interesting thoughts from my research here this evening, Sept 11, 2006.  Elder Oaks discussion of the priesthood in the home and in the family from October 2005 General Conference is useful.

Each of the circumstances I have described results from misunderstanding priesthood authority and the great principle that while this authority presides in both the family and the Church, the priesthood functions in a different way in each of them. This principle is understood and applied by the great Church and family leaders I have known, but it is rarely explained. Even the scriptures, which record various exercises of priesthood authority, seldom state expressly which principles only apply to the exercise of priesthood authority in the family or in the Church or which apply in both of them. 

(Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church”, October 2005 General Conference)]

[Ehat & Cook, Words, 27 August 1843 Note, p.303 (see Folio) notes that Joseph was, in this quote, referring to three parts of the temple, wherein the Aaronic priesthood ordinances are performed, then the Melchizedek, then the patriarchal.  But it is done more in the order of Aaronic, patriarchal—meaning the sealing as husband and wife, and then the Melchizedek meaning being anointed kings and priests.]

[The concept of the patriarch to the church is interesting.  Kimball, in the second biography of his father, notes that there was tension about the position and authority of the patriarch to the church.  I wonder if there is an order of the priesthood to be restored someday, wherein we all function as families, rather than under the priesthood within the church.  Would the office of patriarch to the church then be revived, and effectively replace the president of the church?]

I looked at the context of the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood for references to the temple.  Notice these verses.

31  Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses—for the sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed—

32  And the sons of Moses and of Aaron shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, upon Mount Zion in the Lord’s house, whose sons are ye; and also many whom I have called and sent forth to build up my church.

D&C 84:31 – 32

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