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Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

by William O. Nelson

quorum of the twelve apostles

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1944): Front (left to right): George Albert Smith, George F. Richards, Joseph Fielding Smith, Stephen L. Richards, John A. Widtsoe, Joseph F. Merrill. Back (left to right): Charles A. Callis, Albert E. Bowen, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Mark E. Petersen. Courtesy University of Utah.

Twelve men ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood office of apostle constitute the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest presiding quorum in the government of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The highest presiding quorum is the First Presidency, three high priests who have generally been apostles who hold all keys (authority) pertaining to the spiritual and temporal affairs of the Church. The Twelve serve under the direction of the First Presidency. Latter-day Saints sustain these fifteen men as prophets, seers, and revelators for the Church, who receive "a special spiritual Endowment in connection with their teaching of the people…. Others of the General Authorities are not given this special spiritual Endowment and authority covering their teaching" (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Church News [July 31, 1954]:9).

Several titles refer to the body of the Twelve apostles: the Quorum of the Twelve, the Council of the Twelve, or simply the Twelve. The designation Quorum of the Twelve is the scriptural title and the formal name used by the First Presidency in presenting the Twelve to Church members for their sustaining vote. The designation Council of the Twelve is used commonly in Church publications and in communicating with persons of other faiths.

HISTORY. The first members of the Quorum of the Twelve in modern times were ordained on February 14, 1835. This type of quorum has its roots in New Testament precedent (Matt. 10:1) and in modern revelation (D&C 18:26-39). After the Zion's Camp expedition of 1834, the Prophet Joseph Smith called together in 1835 those who had participated and revealed that "it was the will of God that those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives,…should be ordained to the ministry" (HC 2:182). He then directed the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris) to prayerfully choose the Twelve in harmony with an earlier revelation (D&C 18:37). The Presidency then laid hands on the Three Witnesses, empowering them to make the selection (HC 2:186-87). Those chosen were Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, William E. McLellin, Parley P. Pratt, Luke S. Johnson, William B. Smith, Orson Pratt, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson. These twelve men were then ordained apostles by the Three Witnesses and given the keys pertaining to their holy calling. The First Presidency also laid their hands on them and confirmed these blessings and ordinations (T&S 2 [Apr. 15, 1845]:868). Oliver Cowdery then gave to the Twelve a charge to "preach the Gospel to every nation" (HC 2:195).

A month later, the Twelve requested further divine guidance as they prepared to preach. The response was a revelation that defined their duties and the duties of the newly formed Quorum of the Seventy (see D&C 107:21-39). Primary duties of the Quorum of the Twelve are to be "special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world," "to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church," "to build up the Church, and regulate all the affairs of the same," and "to open the door [of all nations] by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (D&C 107:23, 33, 35; cf. 112:16-21; 124:128).

Joseph Smith assigned the members of the Quorum of the Twelve to regulate the scattered branches of the Church. Later, he sent them on proselytizing missions to foreign lands. In 1840-1841 nine of the Twelve served special missions to the British Isles. When they left Great Britain after twelve months, more than 4,000 new members had joined the Church. These nine brethren also established procedures for a continuing program of immigration of the British convert Saints to America (see British Isles, the Church in; Missions of Twelve to British Isles.)

Missionary success in Britain bonded members of the Twelve into a united quorum under the leadership of the quorum president, Brigham Young, who was appointed January 19, 1841. When they returned to Church headquarters at Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith expanded their duties to include regulating the affairs of the stake there.

In late March 1844, Joseph Smith conferred on the Quorum of the Twelve all of the ordinances, keys, and authority that he possessed. Describing this event, Wilford Woodruff said Joseph Smith "lived until every key, power and principle of the holy Priesthood was sealed on the Twelve and on President Young, as their President." He further quoted the Prophet's explanation and injunction to the Twelve: "I have lived until I have seen this burden, which has rested on my shoulders, rolled on to the shoulders of other men; …the keys of the kingdom are planted on the earth to be taken away no more for ever…. You have to round up your shoulders to bear up the kingdom. No matter what becomes of me" (JD 13:164).

After a mob assassinated Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844, and the First Presidency was dissolved, the Church faced the question of succession in the presidency for the first time. The resulting confusion was resolved when the Quorum of the Twelve, as the next highest presiding quorum, stepped forward and was sustained to succeed the First Presidency. From June 1844 to December 1847, the Twelve governed the Church under their president, Brigham Young. In their presiding capacity, they published an 1845 proclamation to the kings of the world and the President of the United States of America (see Proclamations of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). President Young was sustained as president of the church on December 5, 1847, by the Twelve and by the Saints in conference on December 27, 1847.

This transition of leadership established the precedent and order that have been followed in all subsequent reorganizations of the First Presidency. Upon the death of a Church President, the First Presidency is dissolved and the Quorum of the Twelve becomes the presiding council of the Church. The President of the Twelve who is the senior apostle on the earth becomes the presiding officer of the Church and remains in that capacity until a new First Presidency is organized.

An event that was highly significant to the Twelve occurred at the close of the administration of President Lorenzo Snow in 1901. For more than five decades preceding this time, the Twelve had spent less time taking the gospel to other nations because of the need to preside over the Saints at home. Also, U.S. government prosecution of polygamists had driven some of them into exile. Shortly before the October 1901 General Conference, President Snow reminded the Twelve that they had a scriptural duty to preach the gospel to all the world; presiding over the stakes was not sufficient (Juvenile Instructor 36 [Nov. 1901]:689-90.)

At the final session of that conference, President Snow defined the duties of the apostles, seventies, high priests, and elders. The Twelve were "to look after the interests of the world" (CR [Oct. 1901]:61). President Snow died four days after the conference, but the Twelve recognized the importance of his instruction. The Quorum president, Joseph F. Smith, wrote that "we accept what [President Snow said] on the duties of the Twelve…as the word of the Lord to us all" (Juvenile Instructor 36 [Nov. 1901]:690). Consequently, the Twelve renewed their international missionary effort. Since that time, by direction of the First Presidency, the Twelve have dedicated many nations for preaching the gospel and continue to supervise missionary work throughout the Church.

APPOINTMENT. A member of the Quorum of the Twelve is selected by the First Presidency, which may consider several candidates. The Presidency then chooses one person by revelation and calls him to the position. This involves essentially the same principles as the selection of Matthias to fill the vacancy that resulted from the death of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26).

When a new appointment to the Quorum is to be announced (usually at a general conference), a member of the First Presidency presents the names of General Authorities, including the new apostle, and other general Church officers to be sustained by Church members. The sustaining complies with the principle of common consent (D&C 26:2).

After Church members sustain the newly called person, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve ordain him to the office of apostle and give him all the keys of the holy apostleship. These are the same keys Jesus Christ conferred on the Twelve he called in New Testament times, and also the same keys restored by Peter, James, and John to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in this dispensation. The keys given to the new apostle include the authority to preach the gospel in all the world and to seal ordinances on earth that will be sealed eternally (Matt. 16:19; 28:19-20; John 20:22-23).

Callings to the Quorum of the Twelve are for life. The date on which a person becomes a member of the Quorum (usually the date he is sustained as an apostle) establishes his position of seniority in the Quorum relative to other quorum members. Seniority within the Quorum determines who will be the next President of the Church, for that office passes to the senior apostle. This divinely revealed order identifies the most experienced apostle as the future president and prevents any striving for office or vying for power or position (see Succession in the Presidency).

DUTIES. Consistent with earlier revelations, the Twelve today are commissioned to open the nations of the world to the preaching of the gospel (D&C 107:35). By assignment from the First Presidency, members of the Twelve meet with heads of state to obtain official permission for the Church to teach the gospel consistent with the laws of those countries.

When the Twelve act under direction of the First Presidency, they have authority to receive revelation for their assignments, which include supervising the Seventy, overseeing the stakes, and training leaders (D&C 107:33). Only the President of the Church, however, has the right and authority to receive revelation for the whole Church (D&C 28:2-3).

Members of the Twelve serve on committees established by the First Presidency and those within the Quorum. Committee assignments are rotated periodically.

The Quorum of the Twelve directs the work of the Seventy. The Twelve are to "call upon the Seventy, when they need assistance…instead of any others" (D&C 107:38). The presidents of the Quorums of the Seventy report to the Twelve.

The Twelve meet in the Salt Lake Temple, usually weekly, to transact all business that requires decisions by the Quorum. The Quorum normally brings the decisions it reaches to its meetings with the First Presidency. These two bodies together constitute the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This council takes final action on all matters that affect the Church, including new Church leadership callings; establishment of policies, procedures, and programs; creation, division, and reorganization of missions and stakes. Church priesthood quorums strive for unanimity in their decisions, in accordance with revelation (D&C 107:27). Until agreement is reached, the Quorum of the Twelve takes no action. Instead, the President of the Twelve usually defers the matter for reconsideration. Unanimity among the presiding quorums of the Church provides Church members with an assurance that "the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve" will never "lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Ensign 2 [July 1972]:88).

The First Presidency assigns members of the Twelve and other General Authorities to speak at semiannual general conferences of the Church, but normally does not assign a topic. Members of the First Presidency and the Twelve speak at every general conference; other General Authorities speak periodically as assigned. Church members regard messages of the First Presidency and the Twelve as inspired (D&C 68:4).

Each stake has semiannual stake conferences. A General Authority or a Regional Representative usually presides at one of these conferences each year, as assigned by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. Because of the large and increasing number of stakes, members of the Twelve are generally assigned to attend stake conferences only to organize new stakes, divide existing stakes, or reorganize stake presidencies.

Each stake has semiannual stake conferences. A General Authority or a Regional Representative usually presides at one of these conferences each year, as assigned by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. Because of the large and increasing number of stakes, members of the Twelve are generally assigned to attend stake conferences only to organize new stakes, divide existing stakes, or reorganize stake presidencies.

Members of the Twelve are "special witnesses" of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world; they possess a knowledge, by revelation, of the literal resurrection of Christ and a knowledge that he directs the affairs of his Church today. That shared conviction unites the Twelve in a bond of unity and love.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Church Organization and Priesthood Authority home page; Priesthood Organization home page)


Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (October 1988): From row (left to right): Howard W. Hunter, Boyd K. Packer, Marvin J. Ashton, L. Tom Perry. Back row (left to right): David B. Haight, James E. Faust, Neal A. Maxwell, Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks, M. Russell Ballard, Joseph B. Wirthlin, Richard G. Scott.

The room in the Salt Lake Temple (1991) where the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles meets regularly to plan, pray, and take counsel together. Quorum action requires unanimity.


Allen, James B., and Malcolm R. Thorp. "The Mission of the Twelve to England, 1840-41: Mormon Apostles and the Working Classes." BYU Studies 15 (Summer 1975):499-526.

Esplin, Ronald K. "The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830-1841," pp. 427-512. Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981.

Larsen, Dean L. "Apostle and Prophet: Divine Priesthood Callings." Priesthood, pp. 38-47. Salt Lake City, 1981.

McConkie, Bruce R. "Succession in Presidency." Church News (Mar. 23, 1974):7-9.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. "The Holy Apostleship." DS, Vol. 3, pp. 144-59.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. "The Twelve Apostles." IE 59 (Nov. 1956):786-88.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. "The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve." IE 69 (Nov. 1966):977-79.

Talbot, Wilburn D. "The Duties and Responsibilities of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835-1945." Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1978.


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Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

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