Joseph Smith, John Pack and the High Priesthood, Part 3

In part 1 we gave some background on John Pack and Joseph F. Smith and their interaction over the issue of John Pack’s disagreement with some members of the 8th quorum of seventy early in 1880. Part 2 consist mostly of a letter written by Joseph F. Smith to Pack regarding Pack’s decision to go back on the agreement he made with John Taylor (president of the church’s quorum of the twelve apostles).

Joseph F. Smith uses his letter to try to persuade Pack that making a move to the office of high priest is a promotion, contrary to Pack’s feeling that it would amount to a demotion while moving him away from what he felt to be his duty to preach. Of course Pack was elderly and it’s not clear he would have been able to fulfill that promise. Pack would die five years later.

But perhaps the more interesting part of Smith’s letter involves his own view of the office of High Priest. Joseph F. Smith assigns his beliefs to quotations from Joseph Smith’s revelations and statements four or five decades previously. Observe his use of the term “High Priesthood” as a synonym for High Priest. This reflects early Mormon (1831) usage which in turn appears in several revelations cited by Joseph F. Smith in his letter to Pack. Smith clearly places (based on a November 1831 revelation and a September 1832 revelation) the office of high priest at the top of the list in terms of presiding authority in the church.

Moreover, Joseph F. put his money where his mouth was. For example, when ordaining George Albert Smith (who later became church president himself in 1945) an apostle and placing him in the quorum of twelve apostles, he also ordained George Albert a high priest, explaining that George could not preside in the church without the high priesthood.[1] Joseph F’s view contrasted sharply with Brigham Young’s for example. Young stated the office of apostle was superior to the high priesthood and it was an insult to suggest that apostles needed to be ordained high priests.[2]

The term “high priesthood” as a reference to the office of high priest in Mormon discourse gradually died out in the 20th century and its use in Mormon scripture became confused with “Melchizedek Priesthood.” Reading Joseph Smith’s revelations this way creates interesting potential paradoxes.[3]

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[1] George Albert Smith papers, University of Utah. Joseph F’s take would make for conflict during his presidency when a number of the first council of seventy suggested that they should be able to reorganize stakes.

[2] Loren Woolley, the supplier of authoritative tradition to modern polygamy sects, particularly the Musser, Allred, Johnson branches combined the two names into “high priest apostles.” Truly the best of both worlds.

[3] The difficulties arise in part because of the way the revelations were edited for publication. Revelations from different terminological eras were combined while some early revelations were edited using later terminology, making it appear that later terms were actually used much earlier. A naive reading can make for head scratching frustration.

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7 Responses to Joseph Smith, John Pack and the High Priesthood, Part 3

  1. ricke says:

    In today’s institutional church, we want to think that organizational positions and terms are standardized and have always been so. We even try to impose that view when we read the OT about times when there were multiple prophets, in that we want to see a clear hierarchy among them. It throws us for a loop when we find out there is so much historical flexibility and uncertainty in these matters.

  2. Dustin says:

    I agree, ricke. Many seem to think it makes the Lord changeable if the offices or uses have changed. I think the Lord uses the priesthood and its offices as to what best suits the current situation. In O.T. times, more “local” prophets seem to have been needed. I think one prophet works extremely well in today’s situation.

    As to the issue of high priest vs. seventy, I recall reading where Boyd K. Packer had said when they were trying to determine the status of the seventy reading in the D&C where the Lord states the office of high priest comprehends the other offices, and lists them, but specifically does not mention seventy. It was then they realized that it did not comprehend the seventy. It seems to me from this experience that the offices are separate with distinct duties, neither comprehending the other (the way that they would both comprehend the Aaronic priesthood, or the office of elder), and that the current General Authority Seventies need to be ordained to both offices in order to function (the seventy to be an especial witness throughout the world and high priest that they might preside and reorganize stakes, etc.) This would also explain why there has been so much confusion involving them in the past. We tend to think of offices as hierarchal (deacon, teacher, priest, elder) and these two aren’t.

    As far as Brigham Young vs. Joseph F Smith on the office of an apostle, that’s a very interesting thought that hadn’t occurred to me before. I think I had always assumed as Brigham did, but Joseph’s view is definitely possible in light of the above.

    • WVS says:

      “As to the issue of high priest vs. seventy, I recall reading where Boyd K. Packer had said when they were trying to determine the status of the seventy reading in the D&C where the Lord states the office of high priest comprehends the other offices, and lists them, but specifically does not mention seventy.”

      The reason (perhaps) that Seventy is not mentioned in the phrase BKP references is that the office of Seventy did not exist at the time the revelation was given.

      • Dustin says:

        Interesting, I hadn’t even thought of that. Although there were certain revelations Joseph went back and edited and inserted things about high priests as more light was given. It is possibly significant that he did not add seventy to the list. Joseph did tend to stay busy though :)

  3. ricke says:

    I don’t know why his quorum had a problem with John Peck, but I can see why Brother Peck had a problem with becoming a high priest. As one of the presidents of his quorum of Seventy, JP had a role of leadership and a clear responsibility, i.e., to preach the gospel. As a high priest, he would only have the (very remote) potentiality of being a leader and would assume a very unclear set of responsibilities. It would seem like a demotion.

  4. WVS says:

    I’m sure you are correct ricke. The likely hood of Pack assuming a role of leadership based in the high priesthood was low I suppose. And the high priesthood had become culturally deprecated in Utah. That would continue into the 20th century in spite of JFS’s views. The last time I heard a GA mention the office as being really distinctive was in Spencer Kimball’s time. Pres. Hinckley did refer to himself as president of the high priesthood once though. That was a cool throwback. I think the office could be rehabed but it would mean dissolving high priest groups (and having been in one for the past thirty odd years I can’t say that would be a great loss).

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