Topic Study: Seventy

(April 2005 TG Entry: Seventy)


In 1961 President McKay announced that the president’s of the Quorum of the Seventy would be ordained as High Priests.  This caused a little bit of a stir in the church (See Bruce R. McConkie Biography page 177 – 179).

In 1986, Elder Packard realized from studying section 107 that the Seventy were also not a stake priesthood function (See Elder McConkie Biography as well page 380 – 381).  So they discontinued the ordination of seventy in the stakes.

A visiting Seventy (perhaps Elder Parmley?) said that with the introduction of the new priesthood lineage function in the records of the church, he was told that the priesthood lineage of a Seventy would show their High Priest ordination, not that of Seventy.

This left me wondering if, after all the existing brethren that were ordained Seventy had passed on, and all the members of the Seventy serving as General Authorities were ordained as High Priests, if the office of Seventy would no longer be a priesthood office.

The current edition of Gospel Doctrine lists Seventy as an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood, along with Patriarch, Apostle, High Priest and Elder.  It appears no change has been made in that regard.

As I reviewed this in April 2005 and read portions of D&C 107, I asked Evan Lowry, my step-father-in-law.  He said he didn’t know the answer.  I asked if people could hold two offices in the priesthood at the same time.  He pointed out that Bishops do, as a High Priest and Bishop.

This made me think.  I believe section 107 says that the prophet is presiding High Priest.  I also noted from Elder McConkie’s biography that the president of the church is “ordained” as the president, prophet, seer and revelator.  Thus, although he is still an apostle in the Melchizedek priesthood, he has simultaneously been “ordained” to an office.

Although only a title, Apostles are specifically called Elders in the revelations.  We also have applied that practice to members of the Seventy as well.

Thus, I have concluded that there seems to be a precedent, or way, in which men can hold more than one priesthood office in the Melchizedek Priesthood at one time.  Also, the establishment of the office of Seventy was complex because of its relationship to High Priest

I             Introduction

The development of priesthood offices in the modern church has been fairly straightforward for almost all of the offices we have; the office was revealed as the need arose.  However, the office of Seventy took nearly 150 years at a minimum, perhaps as long as 175 years or more, from the organization of the church to be fully developed and organized.  This office, and its course of development have given me reason to ponder.  The follow is how this office developed, particularly as it relates to the office of High Priest.

II            Today’s Seventy Are Ordained High Priests

The Bruce R. McConkie Story says the following:

On Sunday, June 11, 1961, President Henry D. Moyle ordained Bruce Redd McConkie to the office of high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. That evening at the conclusion of the general session of the sixty-second annual MIA conference in the Tabernacle, President David O. McKay said: “This morning four members of the First Council of Seventy were ordained high priests and the other members of the First Council of Seventy will be so ordained.

Under the direction of the Twelve Apostles, the First Council of Seventy go to all parts of the world to set in order the affairs of the Church. That means ordaining high priests, setting apart presidents of stakes, high councilmen, setting apart presidents of high priests quorums, etc. and doing other things necessary for the advancement of the work. The First Presidency and Twelve recently agreed the First Seven Presidents of Seventy under appointment Twelve, should have power to set in order all things pertaining to their assignment; and this is an official announcement that they are so authorized.”

For many this seemed a revolutionary step because of an incident that had taken place in the days of Joseph Smith. The following is recorded in the History of the Church of a meeting held in the Kirtland Temple on April 6, 1837:

Remember that at the time this was done, there were Seventies quorums organized in all stakes.

III           Kirtland

Another subject of vital importance to the Church, was the establishing of the grades of the different quorums. It was ascertained that all but one or two of the presidents of the Seventies were High Priests, and when they had ordained and set apart any from the quorums of Elders, into the quorum of Seventies, they had conferred upon them the High Priesthood, also. This was declared to be wrong, and not according to the order of heaven. New Presidents of the Seventies were accordingly ordained to fill the places of such of them as were High Priests, and the ex-officio presidents, and such of the Seventies as had been legally ordained to be High Priests, were directed to unite with the High Priests’ quorum. All the quorums then assembled in the lower room of the Lord’s House, where they were addressed by the presidents from the stand.  (From the History of the Church, Vol.2, Ch.33, p.476)

IV          Elder McConkie’s Story

Growing out of this statement, the precedent had become that of calling men who were seventies to serve in the First Council of Seventy. President McKay’s announcement caused sufficient concern among many that Elder Harold B. Lee said at general conference, “What might have been contrary to the order of in the early 1830’s might not be contrary to the order of in 1960.”  In a letter to me while I was serving as a missionary in Scotland, Dad explained his ordination as being that President McKay had chosen to give the First Quorum of Seventy the authority to reorganize stakes and do other tasks that at the time had needed to be performed by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.  Dad suggested that this delegation of authority could have been accomplished by granting the Seventy keys or in some other way. In fact, as he would yet learn, President McKay’s approach was consistent with the original intent of the heavens and responded more perfectly to the needs of the Church than the conveying of keys to a Seventy would have done. In the future, those called to serve as general authorities would be high priests who brought with them the administrative experience that Dad wished he had been able to bring with him.

What happened in 1837 was that Joseph Smith responded to pettiness on the part of some priesthood holders in failing to establish the order of heaven. From February 1835, when the seventies were first called, to April 1837, there was great agitation and continual bickering among the seventies and high priests about which office was the greater and which had precedence over the other.  Describing these conditions, President Brigham Young said: “This dissension has come between the Seventies and the High Priests in consequence of some poor, miserable, beggarly whiners who craved after power, and who did not know what to do with the authority they already possessed. Some of these high priests would go to Joseph saying: ‘Brother Joseph the Seventies, are they ordained to as high authority and power as the High Priests? Are the Seventies equal to the High Priests? Brother Joseph, it cannot be so, it must not be; the High Priests must be the greater, and they are first.’ Now, even to this day there is contention, and I do not know but even among the first Elders of Israel, there may be argument as to which should come next if anything were to happen to the First Presidency and the Twelve, the High Priests or the Seventies.”

In the hope of ending this contention, Joseph Smith on April 6,1837, released from the First Council of the Seventy the five brethren who had been ordained high priests before they were ordained seventies. These brethren were told to take their places with the high priests. There is no record that any quorum members other than these five presidents were handled in this way. All other quorum members, without reference to any prior ordinations as high priests, apparently continued to serve as seventies. These five were the only ones ever released for that reason.

As Dad later explained after reading the full account of what Joseph Smith did that day, it appears that the statement about a seventy not being a high priest was an erroneous conclusion drawn by an unnamed clerk in taking the minutes of the meeting. Likely what the Prophet actually said was that it was against the order of heaven for the brethren to bicker and contend as to their priesthood prerogatives. This conclusion is in harmony with the actions of the Prophet. Acting “according to the visions and revelations” given to him, he installed as quorum presidents five other brethren who had previously been ordained high priests. The release of these brethren and their replacement appears to have been done because of personality difficulties and not because of principle.

President Brigham Young, who was conversant with the entire situation, made an express point of correcting the concept that high priests could not be ordained seventies. In 1877, he said that the Prophet had directed, both at the time of the ordaining of the members of the First Council of the Seventy and on subsequent occasions, that brethren ordained as seventies should also be ordained high priests. President Young explained the 1837 release of high priests from the presidency of the First Council of the Seventy as follows:

“I know some of you might say, ‘Did not Brother Joseph take high priests out of the quorum of seventies and place them in the high priests quorum and put others in their places?’ Yes, but what did he do this for? I can tell you-it was to satisfy the continual teasing of ignorant men who did not know what to do with authority when they got it, and I think most of those high priests who were so anxious upon this subject afterwards apostatized.”

Responding to questions about why members of the First Council of Seventy had been ordained high priests, President McKay said at the 1961 October conference: “It should be sufficient for you who have the Spirit of the Lord to know that the work today is required of those members of the First Council of the Seventy which needs the High Priesthood. They do not join the high priests quorum, but they are sent out by the Council of the Twelve Apostles to set in order the Church in the stakes and missions, and they should be given authority to set apart a president of a stake, a high councilman, a bishop of a ward, which requires the High Priesthood. ” So it was that as Bruce McConkie labored to grow up into his office, the Church in like manner struggled to grow up into an understanding of the proper role of the office of a Seventy. In a future day it would be his lot to help in that struggle.

President Kimball, in October 1976 said the following at the reorganization of the First Quorum of the Seventy:

Today we shall present four additional members of the First Quorum of the Seventy to you for your votes.

In 1941, five high priests were called to assist the Twelve Apostles in their heavy workload, and to fill a role similar to that envisioned by the revelations for the First Quorum of the Seventy. The scope and demands of the work at that time did not justify the reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy. In the intervening years, additional Assistants to the Twelve have been added and today we have twenty-one.

Commencing a year ago, brethren other than the First Council of the Seventy were called into the First Quorum of the Seventy, and at present there are fourteen in that quorum, including the First Council.

Since the functions and responsibilities of the Assistants to the Twelve and the Seventy are similar, and since the accelerated, worldwide growth of the Church requires a consolidation of its administrative functions at the general level, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, with the concurrence of the Assistants to the Twelve and the First Quorum of the Seventy, have felt inspired to call all of the Assistants to the Twelve into the First Quorum of the Seventy, to call four new members into that quorum, and to restructure the First Council of the Seventy.

You will see that these changes, which are reflected in the list of General Authorities to be read by President N. Eldon Tanner, bring to thirty-nine the total number in the First Quorum of the Seventy thus providing a majority for the transaction of quorum business.

With this move, the three governing quorums of the Church defined by the revelations—the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Quorum of the Seventy—have been set in their places as revealed by the Lord. This will make it possible to handle efficiently the present heavy workload and to prepare for the increasing expansion and acceleration of the work, anticipating the day when the Lord will return to take direct charge of His church and kingdom.

(President Spencer W. Kimball “The Reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 9 or

In October 1986, the following was announced.

Pursuant to the announcement made by President Ezra Taft Benson at the conclusion of the general priesthood meeting of October [1986] conference, we outline the following to provide a renewed impetus in missionary work throughout the stakes of the Church:

  1. Stake Seventies Quorums to Be Discontinued

In harmony with the needs of the growth of the Church across the world, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles have given prayerful consideration to the role of stake seventies quorums in the Church and have determined that the seventies quorums in the stakes of the Church are to be discontinued. The brethren serving as seventies in these quorums will now be members of the elders quorum in their ward. Stake presidents, in an orderly fashion, will determine who among such brethren may be ordained to the office of high priest.  (“News of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 97 or LDS.Org)

The Bruce R. McConkie story explains about this change:

In October 1986, the calling of men to the office of seventy on the stake level was discontinued.  The moving force behind these changes may be found in the following extract from Lucile C. Tate’s biography of President Packer:  “Laboring in faith and diligence, Brother Packer continued the quest, to know the Lord’s will.  He studied and pondered the passages in Doctrine and Covenants 107 that pertain specifically to the Seventy.  As he read and reread, verse 10 suddenly stood out as it had been newly placed there:  ‘High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things, and also in the office of an elder, priest, …. teacher, deacon, and member’ (D&C 107:10).”  What had previously not been seen was the obvious absence of reference to “seventy.”  It occurred to Elder Packer that it was not intended that the seventy labor on the stake and ward level. The office of seventy as intended by the revelation appeared to be one that functioned at the general level of Church government only.  “I took [D&C 107:10] to Bruce McConkie first,” Elder Packer noted, “and read it to him in that context.  It was the first time that he had ever seen it in that light.  Because it very declaratively said that a high priest could not officiate in the office of a Seventy.”  It was not long afterwards that seventies quorums on a stake level were discontinued.  The Church continues to grow in understanding—line upon line, precept upon precept—just as its members do.  (Bruce R. McConkie Story, page 381)

V           Area Authority Seventy

President Hinckley made the following comments when he announced the creation of Area Authority Seventies.

The Lord made provision at a general level for a First Presidency, a Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Quorums of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. At a local level the revelations speak of stake presidents and bishops. We have had in between the general and local authorities for a period of time the Regional Representatives, now more recently these Area Authorities. We have determined to present to the conference the names of these Area Authorities to be ordained Seventies. They will then have a quorum relationship presided over by the Presidents of the Seventy. They will be known as Area Authority Seventies, to serve for a period of years in a voluntary capacity in the area in which they reside. They are called by the First Presidency and will work under the general direction of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Presidents of the Seventy, and the Area Presidencies in that part of the world in which they live.

They will continue with their present employment, reside in their own homes, and serve on a Church-service basis. Those residing in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific will become members of the Third Quorum of Seventy. Those in Mexico, Central America, and South America will become members of the Fourth Quorum. Those residing in the United States and Canada will become members of the Fifth Quorum.

They may be assigned to (a) preside at stake conferences and train stake presidencies; (b) create or reorganize stakes and set apart stake presidencies; (c) serve as counselors in Area Presidencies; (d) chair regional conference planning committees; (e) serve on area councils presided over by the Area Presidency; (f) tour missions and train mission presidents; and (g) complete other duties as assigned.

Consistent with their ordination as Seventies, they become officers of the Church with a specific and definite tie to a quorum. While there will be only limited opportunities for them to come together in quorum meetings, the Presidents of the Seventy will communicate with them, will instruct them, receive reports, and do other things of that kind. They will now have a sense of belonging that they have not experienced up to this time. As Seventies they are called to preach the gospel and to be especial witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ as set forth in the revelations. Though all Seventies have equal scriptural authority, members of the First and Second Quorums are designated General Authorities, while members of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth are designated Area Authorities.

Although the ordination to the office of Seventy is without term, a Seventy is called to serve in a quorum for a designated period of years. At the conclusion of this service, he will return to activity in his respective ward and stake and will meet with his high priests group.  (Gordon B. Hinckley, “May We Be Faithful and True,” Ensign, May 1997, 4  or LDS.Org)

VI          Number of Quorums

As of 2007, there are eight quorums of seventy.

Policies and Announcements

A recent letter from the First Presidency to priesthood leaders reads:

“With the additional members of the Fourth Quorum of the Seventy approved at a recent general conference, the Seventh Quorum of the Seventy has been organized from a division of the Fourth Quorum.

“Members of the Seventh Quorum are drawn from the Brazil North, Brazil South, Chile, and South America South Areas. The Fourth Quorum is composed of brethren serving in the Central America, Mexico North, Mexico South, South America North, and South America West Areas.

“In addition, the large geographic area covered by the Third Quorum of the Seventy has made it advisable to create the Eighth Quorum of the Seventy. The new quorum is composed of Area Seventies from the Asia, Asia North, Australia, New Zealand/Pacific Islands, and Philippines Areas. The Third Quorum consists of brethren serving in the Africa Southeast, Africa West, Europe Central, Europe East, and Europe West Areas.”

The geographic areas covered by the Third and Fourth Quorums of the Seventy have been divided to create the new Seventh and Eighth Quorums of the Seventy. (Map by Thomas S. Child.)  (“Seventh and Eighth Quorums of the Seventy Announced,” Liahona, Sept. 2005, N1)

VII         Not a High-Priest

As I studied this, I wondered if Brother Joseph McConkie’s comment above that future General Authorities would come to the office having already been ordained High Priests meant that we had finally set in order that principle, that to be a general authority one must be ordained a High Priest.

Discourses of Brigham Young, p.141

Now will it cause some of you to marvel that I was not ordained a High Priest before I was ordained an Apostle? Brother Kimball and myself were never ordained High Priests. How wonderful….  After our conversation was over in the Council, some of the brethren began to query, and said we ought to be ordained High Priests; at the same time I did not consider that an Apostle needed to be ordained a High Priest, an Elder, or a Teacher. I did not express my views on the subject, at that time, but thought I would hear what brother Joseph would say about it. It was William E. McLellin who told Joseph that I and Heber were not ordained High Priests, and wanted to know if it should not be done. Said Joseph, “Will you insult the Priesthood? Is that all the knowledge you have of the office of an Apostle? Do you not know that the man who receives the Apostleship, receives all the keys that ever were, or that can be, conferred upon mortal man? What are you talking about? I am astonished!” Nothing more was said about it.

Section 107 speaks of the First Presidency (this is the first scripture dealing with presidents in the section) as “Presiding High Priests.”  Note that they are “ordained” to that office.

22  Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.

D&C 107:22

Joseph Smith was the senior Apostle, or First Elder.

2  Which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church;

D&C 20:2

The succession in the presidency of the church has thus always been the most senior Apostle.  Now Brigham Young may never have been ordained a High Priest.  But because Apostle’s have all priesthood keys given to anyone on the earth, they have the “right” to officiate over High Priests.  Thus, although President Young was not ordained a High Priest when he served as president of the church, he held the priesthood keys so to be.

Also that the Seventies are not called to serve tables, or preside over churches, to settle difficulties, but are to preach the Gospel and build them up, and set others, who do not belong to these quorums, to preside over them, who are High Priests. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Two 1834–37, p.109)

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