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Priesthood Offices

by Bruce T. Harper

Priesthood offices are appointments or callings in THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints to serve in specified areas of priesthood responsibility. Each priesthood office includes a specific set of rights and duties, in addition to responsibilities shared by all bearers of the priesthood. These offices provide needed service to the Church and its members and give priesthood bearers opportunities to learn and serve. Both are important in a church operated by lay participation and leadership.

All priesthood offices derive their authority from the priesthood itself, which is greater than any of those offices. Hence, ordination to an office does not increase an individual's authority or power, but rather focuses the individual's service in particular functions. When a person receives the priesthood by the laying-on of hands, he first has the priesthood conferred upon him, after which he is ordained to a specific office in the priesthood.

The four offices in the Aaronic Priesthood are deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. The offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood include elder, high priest, patriarch, seventy, and apostle. The general title "elder" is applied to all bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Hierarchy of priesthood authority is associated more with presiding priesthood quorums and presidencies and less with the offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood themselves. For example, although an elder and an apostle have different rights and responsibilities, they both hold the same priesthood (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1, in which the apostle Peter refers to himself as an elder).

Scriptural records show that priesthood offices were established in ancient as well as modern times, although it is not known in some cases what duties these officers had in earlier dispensations. Melchizedek was ordained to the office of high priest (JST Gen. 14:26-27; JST Heb. 7:3; Alma 13:14-18; D&C 84:14). Moses consecrated aaron and his sons to minister "in the priest's office" (Ex. 28:1, 41). Elders and seventies officiated in ancient Israel (Ex. 24:9-11; Num. 11:16). The Book of Mormon indicates that teachers, priests, and elders were ordained among the Nephites, and that a high priest presided over the Church (Mosiah 23:16-18; Alma 4:7; 5:3). The New Testament records that Church organization included priesthood offices such as apostles, teachers, seventies, bishops, deacons, priests, and high priests (Luke 10:1, 17; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; see Organization of the Church in New Testament Times).

Following the restoration of priesthood authority in modern times, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ordained elders on April 6, 1830 (HC 1:60-61, 75-78). Other ordained offices were instituted as the growth and needs of the Church required. The first ordinations to the offices of bishop and high priest took place in 1831 (D&C 41:9; HC 1:176). The first apostles and seventies were called in 1835 (HC 2:187, 201-02). In the Aaronic Priesthood, the first priests and teachers were ordained in 1830, and the first deacons in 1831. (See Organization: Organizational and Administrative History.)

All priesthood bearers belong to a quorum corresponding to their priesthood office, either within local wards and stakes (deacons quorum, high priests quorum, etc.) or in the general Church organization (the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, etc.).

In addition to ordained priesthood offices, administrative positions in the priesthood, such as the presidency of a quorum, are sometimes referred to as offices. In this sense, the members of the First Presidency, who preside over the entire Church, are sometimes spoken of as presiding high priests. Individuals are installed in these offices by setting apart rather than by ordination. Such a setting apart bestows upon the individual the rights and blessings pertaining to the leadership of that quorum.


Lowrie, Walter. The Church and Its Organization in Primitive and Catholic Times: An Interpretation of Rudolph Sohm's Kirchenrecht. New York, 1904.

Palmer, Lee A. The Aaronic Priesthood Through the Centuries. Salt Lake City, 1964.

Widtsoe, John A. Priesthood and Church Government. Salt Lake City, 1939.



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Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Priesthood Offices

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company