Moroni 3:1 the elders of the church, ordained priests and teachers
The priesthood offices of elder, priest, and teacher were different among the Nephites than they are today. First of all, the Nephites did not have the Aaronic Priesthood among them because none of the Nephites or Mulekites were of Levitical descent. Even after Christ appeared to them, there is no scriptural evidence that he established the preparatory priesthood among them (see discussion). Therefore, all three offices, Elder, Priest, and Teacher, were offices within the Melchizedek priesthood.
In DC 20, the Lord describes the various offices in the priesthood and their individual functions. However, the Book of Mormon does not contain a passage which explicitly describes the different offices and their functions. Therefore, we are left to piece together the structure of the priesthood hierarchy. The four offices within the Melchizedek Priesthood, as practiced among the Nephites, are discussed in hierarchical order:
High Priest: This calling is spoken of from the days of Alma to the coming of Christ. It is the same office held by the ancient Patriarchs (see Alma 13:1-14, DC 107:10). First mentioned in connection with Alma, the elder (Mosiah 23:16), the office was held by the supreme leader of the church. His calling was analogous to that of the President of the Church. While initially, there was only one High Priest, eventually, others were given the same office in conjunction with their ecclesiastical jurisdictions (see Alma 30:20; 46:6). Finally, the office had become corrupted by wickedness (3 Ne 6:20-21) and was not mentioned after Christ's visit.
Elder: Elders were subordinate to the high priest, as they were ordained by him (Alma 4:7; 6:1). Although mentioned infrequently prior to Christ's visit, they were responsible for presiding and watching over the church (Alma 6:1), ordaining Priests and Teachers (Moro 3:1), administering the sacrament (Moro 4:1), and overseeing church discipline (Moro 6:7).
Priest: Priests were ordained by the Elders or the High Priest (Mosiah 18:18, Moro 3:1). They are most frequently mentioned in connection with Teachers. The Book of Mormon seems to use the terms ordain, consecrate, and appoint in a synonymous fashion when speaking of the calling of Priests and Teachers (2 Ne 5:26, Jarom 1:11, Mosiah 23:17; 25:19, Alma 4:7; 15:13; 23:4; 45:23, Moro 3:1). The frequent mention of this office signifies that both Priests and Teachers were commonly ordained and were the "workhorses" of the priesthood. Alma ordained a Priest for every 50 members of the church (Mosiah 18:18). Their duties were to preside and watch over the church, preach repentance, teach the gospel, assist in matters of church discipline, and administer the sacrament (Alma 6:1, Moroni 3:3, Mosiah 18:18; 26:7, Moro 4:1). Their calling was greater than that of a teacher because teachers brought sinners to the priests for judgment (Mosiah 26:7).
Teacher: Teachers were ordained by the Elders or the High Priest (Alma 15:13, Moro 3:1). They are most frequently mentioned in connection with Priests (2 Ne 5:26, Jarom 1:11, Mosiah 23:17; 25:19, Alma 4:7; 15:13; 23:4; 45:23, Moro 3:1). The frequent mention of this office signifies that both Priests and Teachers were commonly ordained and were the "workhorses" of the priesthood. Their duties, other than to teach and preach, are not mentioned. They were subordinate to priests (Mosiah 26:7), and, interestingly, were not mentioned as officiators in the administration of the sacrament (Moro 4:1).
"The priests and teachers referred to throughout the Book of Mormon were often two distinct groups, even though the book often attributes teaching functions to its priests. The terms priests and teachers are mentioned in close proximity of one another twenty-two times in the Book of Mormon, and in every instance except one 'teachers' are mentioned after 'priests,' suggesting that they might represent a subordinate priesthood office among the Nephites as they do in the Church today." (Daniel C. Peterson, Book of Mormon Symposium Series, Mosiah, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 195)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Even during the Mosaic dispensation there were no Aaronic Priesthood holders among the Nephites, for there were no Levites among them, and the Aaronic Priesthood in that day was confined to the sons of Levi. The priests and teachers among the Nephites held the Melchizedek Priesthood." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 348)
Moroni 3:2-3 The ordination of priests and teachers
We can't help but compare the Nephite methods of ordination to our own. Although from a doctrinal standpoint, we tend to focus on the similarities, the differences are just as interesting and informative. The fact that there are differences between the Nephite practice and today's practice reminds us that the particulars are not as important as the essentials. The essentials are that the ordination occurs in the name of Jesus Christ, by the laying on of hands, and by one who has authority. The particulars can differ without offending God or nullifying the ordinance.
At times, we can become too concerned with what is said-in effect, we become paralyzed in a preoccupation with form over function. This sort of procedural rigidity is not necessary. The Church has given priesthood leaders guidelines which should be followed. But if a particular is left out, we should not be too concerned, as long as the essentials were covered. See also DC 20:60.
- Prayed unto the Father
- Layed their hands upon them
- States that the ordinance is performed in the name of Jesus Christ
- Ordained them to be a priest or teacher
- Described the duty of the office
- Closed with Amen.
- Lay their hands upon the individual's head
- Call the person by his full name.
- State that the ordinance is performed by the authority of the priesthood.
- Confer the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood, unless it has already been conferred.
- Ordain to a specific office in the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood and bestows the rights, powers, and authority of that office.
- Add words of blessing as the Spirit directs.
- Close in the name of Jesus Christ. (adapted from the Melchizedek Priesthood Leadership Handbook, 1990, p. 12)
Moroni 3:4 they ordained them by the power of the Holy Ghost
Didn't Moroni mean to say that they ordained them by the power of the priesthood? No, he did not. Of course, they were ordained by the power of the priesthood, but there is a relationship between priesthood and the Holy Ghost that we sometimes don't fully understand.
"Without the Holy Ghost there can be no revelation, and without revelation there can be no priesthood, for the priesthood is the authority to speak for God. Having discussed the various orders of the priesthood, the Prophet said: 'The Holy Ghost is God's messenger to administer in all those priesthoods' (Teachings, p. 323). Thus we find Moroni saying, 'And after this manner did they ordain priests and teachers, according to the gifts and callings of God unto men; and they ordained them by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was in them' (Moroni 3:4). Similarly, the revelation that lays the foundation of the government of the Church in this dispensation states: 'Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him' (D&C 20:60)...Having said that without the Holy Ghost there can be no priesthood, let us now say, conversely, that without the priesthood there can be no gift of the Holy Ghost." (Millet & McConkie, Joseph Smith: The Choice Seer, chap. 5, "The Priesthood and the Holy Ghost")
"How is the Holy Ghost Involved in Ordinations? A man may properly wire his house for electricity, observing the code most carefully. Still, if the power company refuses to connect him to the power source, no lights or heat will come on in his house. He could turn switches to no avail...The Prophet Joseph Smith said the following:
'We believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost being enjoyed now, as much as it was in the Apostles' days; we believe that it is necessary to make and to organize the Priesthood, that no man can be called to fill any office in the ministry without it; we also believe in prophecy, in tongues, in visions, and in revelations, in gifts, and in healings; and that these things cannot be enjoyed without the gift of the Holy Ghost.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 243)
"Elder James E. Talmage illustrates the sustaining influence of the Holy Ghost in the callings and operations of the priesthood:
'Ordination of Men to the Ministry, as sanctioned by scriptural precedent and established by direct revelation of God's will, is to be effected through the gift of prophecy and by the impositions of hands by those who are in authority. By prophecy is meant the right to receive and the power to interpret manifestations of the divine will.' (Articles of Faith, p. 182)" (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 1981, p. 508)