[Editor: This is the ninth article in a series of excerpts from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s new book, entitled “Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” Links to the full series are found at the end of the article. Color and black-and-white editions of the book are available on Amazon.com and at selected LDS Bookstores (including EbornBooks, BYU Bookstore, and the FAIR LDS Bookstore). An iBooks version is can be purchased from the Apple iBookstore. Downloadable articles and a pdf version of this book are available at www.templethemes.net
“The Church and Kingdom”: Becoming Priests and Kings
In previous articles, we have examined the significance of each of the phrases of D&C 84:34, a key verse in the passage describing the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood:
They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
The ordinance of the endowment portrays the process of the Saints becoming “the sons of Moses and of Aaron,” and the sealing ordinance of celestial marriage symbolizes their becoming “the seed of Abraham.” Continuing with this description of the required sequence of temple blessings, the phrase “the church and kingdom” refers to the blessings of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, belonging to one who is made a “king and a priest unto God, bearing rule, authority, and dominion under the Father.”[i] Correspondingly, worthy women may receive the blessings of becoming queens and priestesses.[ii]
It is fitting for these blessings to be associated with the name of Melchizedek, because he was the great “king of Salem” and “the priest of the most high God,”[iv] who gave the priesthood to Abraham.[v] Later kings of Israel, as well as Jesus Christ Himself, were declared to be part of the “order of Melchizedek,”[vi] which was originally called “the Order of the Son of God.”[vii]
Figure 2. The Church and Kingdom
Because of the sacred nature of the ordinance that confers the fulness of the priesthood, very little detail about it has been given in official church publications. For example, Elder McConkie described this ordinance, along with those ordinances leading up to it, only in very general terms:[viii]
In setting forth as much as can, with propriety, be spoken outside of the temple, the Lord says that “the fulness of the priesthood”[ix] is received only in the temple itself. This fulness is received through washings, anointings, solemn assemblies, oracles in holy places, conversations, ordinances, endowments, and sealings…[x]
As with all prior covenants and ordinances, the Savior Himself set the example for us to follow. Summarizing the exacting requirements expected of those who receive this final ordinance of the temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith said:[xi]
If a man gets a fulness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.
Anticipatory Nature of the Ordinance
Although other temple ordinances had been administered to selected saints in Nauvoo beginning in 1842, the ordinance conferring the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood was not administered by the Prophet until the final months of 1843. On 6 August 1843, Brigham Young said that “if any in the Church had the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, he did not know it.”[xiii] However, on 22 November 1843, he finally received this much-awaited ordinance.[xiv] In later instructions at the temple, President Young said:[xv]
Those who… come in here [i.e., the Nauvoo Temple] and have received their washing and anointing will [later, if faithful,] be ordained Kings and Priests, and will then have received the fulness of the Priesthood, all that can be given on earth. For Brother Joseph said he had given us all that could be given to man on the earth.
In contrast to the priesthood ordinances discussed previously which are available to all faithful members of the Church in this life, this crowning ordinance of the temple is now almost always reserved as a blessing for the hereafter. Indeed, even if the ordinance could be performed in this life, the realization of the blessings it portends could not be made fully effective in mortality. Emphasizing the anticipatory nature of this ordinance, Brigham Young explained that “a person may be anointed king and priest long before he receives his kingdom.”[xvi]
Antiquity of the Royal Priesthood
Although the concept of a “royal priesthood”[xviii] expressed in the ordinance conferring the fulness of the priesthood is foreign to most people today, it is perfectly consistent with ancient religious practices.[xix] For example, Wyatt summarizes a wide range of evidence indicating “a broad continuity of culture”[xx] throughout the ancient Near East wherein the candidate for kingship underwent a ritual journey intended to confer a divine status as a son of God.[xxi]
Scholars have long debated the meaning of scattered fragments of rituals of sacral kingship in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, but over time have increasingly found evidence of parallels with ancient Near East investiture traditions.[xxii] In this regard, one of the most significant of these is Psalm 110, an unquestionably royal and-for Christians-messianic passage.[xxiii] A well-known scholar of the Psalms, John Eaton, summarizes the import and setting of these verses as part of:[xxiv]
… the ceremonies enacting the installation of the Davidic king in Jerusalem… Items of enthronement ceremonial seem reflected: ascension to the throne, bestowal of the sceptre, anointing and baptism signifying new birth as the Lord’s son (v. 3[xxv]), [and] appointment to royal priesthood[xxvi] … As [in Psalms] 2, 18, 89, [and] 101, the rites may have involved a sacred drama and been repeated in commemorations, perhaps annually in conjunction with the celebration of God’s kingship, for which the Davidic ruler was chief “servant.
Note that, in Israelite practice, the moment of investiture would not necessarily have been the time of the king’s first anointing. The culminating anointing of the king corresponding to his definite investiture was, at least sometimes, preceded by a prior princely anointing. Baker and Ricks describe “several incidents in the Old Testament where a prince was first anointed to become king, and later, after he had proven himself, was anointed again-this time as actual king.”[xxvii]
Although there is little indication in the Old Testament that these Israelite rituals were given to anyone besides the king, there is significant non-scriptural evidence from later times that similar rites were made available to others. For example, findings at Qumran and Dura Europos suggest that in at least some strands of Jewish tradition these rituals of royal priesthood were democratized, enabling members of the community, and not just its ruler, to participate in a form of worship that ritually brought them into the presence of God.[xxix] Indeed, a precursor of this tradition is evident in the account of God’s promise to Israel that, if they kept His covenant, not just a select few but all of them would have the privilege of becoming part of “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”[xxx] Going back to the very beginning of the Bible, scholars have concluded that the statement that Adam and Eve were created in the “image of God”[xxxi] is meant to convey the idea that “each person bears the stamp of royalty.”[xxxii] As an example from the New Testament, note that similar blessings, echoing temple themes and intended for the whole community of the faithful, are enumerated in statements found in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation.[xxxiii] In the most direct of these statements, Revelation 3:21 declares: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
Misconceptions Relating to the Fulness of the Priesthood
Since the marriage ordinance of sealing is usually the last ordinance that temple-worthy Church members receive in this life, it is sometimes mistakenly concluded that this is the highest ordinance that can be received in the temple. In addition, sometimes it has been falsely assumed that the marriage sealing itself confers the fulness of the priesthood. However, the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith made it clear that it is in the “crowning ordinance of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood” that husbands and wives receive “the confirmation of promises that worthy men could become kings and priests and that women could become queens and priestesses in the eternal worlds.”[xxxiv]
Differentiating the blessings of becoming priest and king (“church and kingdom”) associated with the name of Melchizedek from the prior ordinances of endowment (“sons of Moses”) and patriarchal marriage (“seed of Abraham”), the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that:[xxxv]
Melchizedek… had still greater power… which was not the power of a Prophet nor Apostle nor Patriarch only, but of King and Priest to God…. No man can attain to the joint heirship with Jesus Christ without being administered to by one having the same power and authority of Melchizedek.
Links to all of the articles in this series-
Part 2 “A Christ-Centered View“
Part 5 “What is the Endowment?”
Part 7 “The Meaning of the Atonement“
Part 13: “Weary Him Until He Blesses You”
[i] O. Hyde, Diagram, p. 23. See also D&C 76:56-59. Cf. J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 27 August 1843, p. 322: “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.” See also J. F. Smith, Jr., Way 1945, p. 208.
[ii] G. M. Leonard, Nauvoo, pp.260-261; J. Smith, Jr., Record, 28 September 1843, p. 416. See also R. K. Esplin, Succession, pp. 314-315; J. Smith, Jr., Words, 27 August 1843, pp. 244-247, 303-307 nn.; W. W. Phelps, cited in S. Brown, Paracletes, pp. 80-81.
[xv] Heber C. Kimball Journal, kept by William Clayton, 26 December 1845, Church Archives, emphasis and brackets added, cited in J. Smith, Jr., Words, p. 304 n. 21. For descriptions of events surrounding the introduction of this ordinance, see R. L. Bushman, Rough Stone, pp. 490-499; L. W. Cook, Revelations, pp. 293-294, 347-349 nn. 4-11; A. F. Ehat, Ordinances., pp. 76-97; J. Smith, Jr., Words, pp. 303-307 nn. 21, 22, 29, 30, 38.
A ruler’s claim to divinity can be expressed in three ways: his name may be preceded by the cuneiform sign for god, in the same way as other deities’ names are, his headdress may be represented with horns, the mark of a god in the iconography, and in a variety of ways evidence may be seen that he was worshipped by the population in a cult of his own…. Another, attractive, hypothesis is that any rulers who were offspring of a sacred marriage could legitimately claim both divine and royal parentage. Gudea, for instance, says that he had no mother and no father and was the son of the goddess of Lagas, Garumdug; however, elsewhere he also states that he is the son of Ninsun, of Bau and of Nanse, which makes it hard to be sure of the implications of such statements. He, however, did not lay claim to divinity.
The seeming contradiction in Gudea’s claimed parentage can be explained by JST Hebrews 7:3 (“which order was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life”), where the parallel sense is that although Melchizedek certainly had been born to earthly parents, he later had been reborn as a “Son of God” through priesthood ordinances.
[xxii] Some well-known studies relating to this long research tradition include J. H. Eaton, Kingship; A. M. Hocart, Kingship; S. H. Hooke, Myth, Ritual, and Kingship; E. O. James, Initiatory; A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship; H. P. L’Orange, Cosmic Kingship; S. Mowinckel, Psalms; G. Widengren, King and Tree of Life; G. Widengren, King and Covenant. Wyatt insightfully critiques some of the earlier literature and emphasizes the continuity of divine kingship traditions throughout the ancient Near East (N. Wyatt, Myths of Power; N. Wyatt, There’s Such Divinity). Baker and Ricks have studied temple and coronation themes in the Psalms from an LDS perspective (L. L. Baker et al., Who Shall Ascend). See other studies by Ricks for overviews of coronation themes in the Book of Mormon (S. D. Ricks, Coronation; S. D. Ricks, Kingship).
He will be priest-king, the supreme figure for whom all the other personnel of the temple were only assistants. It was a role of the highest significance in the ancient societies, treasured by the great kings of Egypt and Mesopotamia under their respective deities. There are indications in the historical sources that the role was indeed held by David and his successors, though opposed and obscured in the records by priestly clans after the end of the monarchy.
The oracle gives a special aspect to the priesthood by linking it to the pre-Israelite king of Jerusalem, Melchizedek.David’s dynasty are here recognized as heirs of Melchizedek, who was remembered in tradition as priest and king of El Elyon, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:18f.). As Israel’s God took the title of the Creator as worshipped in old Jerusalem (El Elyon), so David took over the city-kingdom and royal priesthood of the old dynasty.
[xxvii] L. L. Baker et al., Who Shall Ascend, p. 353; cf., e.g., 1 Samuel 10:1, 15:17, 16:23; 2 Samuel 2:4, 5:3; 1 Kings 1:39; 1 Chronicles 29:22 and additional discussion on pp. 354-358. Compare J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image, pp. 519-523.
[xxix] See C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Glory, pp. 56, 212-13, 476. See also J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image, pp. 663-675; C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Religious Experience, pp. 132-133. Regarding the possibility of such forms of worship at Dura Europos, see J. M. Bradshaw, Ezekiel Mural.
To understand the second half of this promise [i.e., Exodus 19:6], it is essential to know that throughout the ancient Near East, the priests of any given people were the ones who were uniquely privileged to be in touch with their gods. The priests’ job consisted of caring for the god’s house (that is, his temple), offering sacrifices in front of his image, and in general serving him in the place where he was deemed to reside. By saying that Israel would become a kingdom of priests, God seemed to be bypassing this common arrangement. He was saying, in effect: You will all be My intimates-just keep the simple rules that make up My covenant with you.
The words used here to convey these ideas can be better understood in the light of a phenomenon registered in both Mesopotamia and Egypt where the ruling monarch is described as “the image” or “the likeness” of a god… Without doubt, the terminology employed in Genesis 1:26 is derived from regal vocabulary, which serves to elevate the king above the ordinary run of men. In the Bible this idea has become democratized. All human beings are created “in the image of God”; each person bears the stamp of royalty.
Hendel sees this as an explicit deprecation of Mesopotamian theology (R. S. Hendel, Genesis 1-11 and Its Mesopotamian Problem, p. 27):
In Genesis 1 all humans are created in the “image of God,” and as such have the authority and duty to rule the world. As commentators have noted, this move effects a democratization of Mesopotamian royal ideology, raising humans as a whole to the status previously reserved for the king.