“The keys of the ministering of angels”

One of the persistent questions from Doctrine and Covenants, Section 13 is what is meant by the statement that the Priesthood of Aaron “holds the keys of the ministering of angels.”  Answers from general authorities in recent years have varied, including the idea that the Aaronic priesthood comes with a special privilege to have the visitation and ministering of angels;[1] the idea that when men ordained with the Aaronic priesthood serve other people, they act as ministering angels themselves;[2]  and the idea that when men ordained to the Aaronic priesthood administer ordinances that offer a remission of sins to those who receive the ordinances (i.e., baptism and the sacrament), they open the door to the ministering of angels to all Church members, since spiritual cleanliness is generally a prerequisite of communion with heavenly beings.[3]  The fact that there are a few different answers is an indication, to me, that we don’t really know what is meant by the phrase.  This may be, in part, because it brings up a conundrum that we are generally faced with when discussing the priesthood in the Church—what does ordination to the priesthood offer that is not available to faithful, believing, and righteous members of the Church otherwise?

First, however, it is worth investigating what the term “keys” might mean in this context.  In one dictionary that was contemporary with Joseph Smith’s time, there are eleven different definitions for the word “key”, four of which are possibly relevant.  The relevant ones are: 1) “An instrument for shutting or opening a lock;” 2) “An index, or that which serves to explain a cypher.  Hence,” 3) “That which serves to explain any thing difficult to be understood;” and 4) “In the Romish church, ecclesiastical jurisdiction, or the power of the pope, or the power of excommunicating or absolving.”[4]  The first definition, taken figuratively, could be understood as meaning that the Aaronic priesthood is an instrument for unlocking the veil to allow angels to minister to the holder.  The second and third definitions could be understood to mean that the Aaronic priesthood opens the ordained individual’s eyes to the appropriate way to receive the ministering of angels.  The fourth definition I listed could be understood as the authority to call on angels to minister to the holder (i.e., it is within their ecclesiastical jurisdiction to call on angels).  The fourth definition that I listed is the root of how we use the term “priesthood keys” in the Church today, though Joseph Smith frequently used the third definition in his use of the word “key.”  These definitions, taken together, create a range of options for us to understand what is meant when it is stated that the Priesthood of Aaron “holds the keys of the ministering of angels.”

I believe that the idea of the Aaronic priesthood bestowing a special privilege to have the visitation and ministering of angels the ministering of angels is the most straightforward interpretation of the text.  I also believe that a good case can be made towards that interpretation fitting within Joseph Smith’s larger religious vision.  One of the major threads of Joseph Smith’s religious thought was a desire to have people see the face of God in vision or to enter into the presence of God.  As early as November 1831, a revelation (now Section 67) promised the elders of the Church that: “It is your privilege & a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto the ministry that in as much as ye strip yourselves from Jealesies & fears & humble yourselves before me[—]for ye are not sufficiently humble[—]the veil shall be wrent & you shall see me & know that I am[,] not with the carnal neither natural but with the spiritual for no man hath seen God at any time in the flesh but by the Spirit of God[,] neither can any natural man abide the presence of God.”[5]  Here we see a promise from the Lord to “you that have been ordained” that if they purify their souls, they will have the chance to “see me & know that I am.”  This theme of purification to prepare to see and know God appears in many of the revelations we have in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Significantly, this theme of seeing the Lord was including one revelation about the priesthood that was received in September of 1832 (now Section 84).  This revelation states that the “Priesthood which is after the holiest order of God” (what we would call the Melchizedek priesthood today), “adminestereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the misteries [mysteries] of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God[.] therefore in the ordinences thereof the power of Godliness is manifest and without the ordinences thereof, and the authority of the Priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest unto man in the flesh, for without this no man can see the face of God even the father and live.”[6]  Here again, priesthood ordination is linked to “the key of the knowledge of God,” and it is stated that “without this now man can see the face of God even the father and live.”  While it’s not the most straightforward language, the “key of the knowledge of God” seems to be similar to the earlier promise that the elders could “see me & know that I am.”  In other words, those ordained to the higher priesthood could have the opportunity to see God and come to know Him if they were pure.  This understanding seems to be confirmed as the 1832 revelation continues by stating that: “Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and saught diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God, but they hardened ther hearts and could not endure his presence.”[7]  The ongoing goal of Moses’s ministry, in this understanding, was to sanctify his people so they could “behold the face of God.”

The revelation goes on to discuss the Priesthood of Aaron.  After the text discusses how the Children of Israel “hardened their hearts,” causing them to fail to behold the face of God, it states that the Lord was angry and “took Moses out of [their] midst and the holy Priesthood also,” but noted that “the lesser Priesthood continued.”  In language that seems to be echoed in Section 13 (which was written in 1838/1839, so about six years later), the 1832 revelation explains that this lesser Priesthood “holdeth the keys of the ministring of Angels and the preparitory gospel, which gospel is the gospel of repentence and of Baptism, and the remission of sins, and the Law of carnal commandments.”[8]  It is possible to see this lesser priesthood, with its preparatory gospel, as a stepping-stone to the higher priesthood and its functions.  If the higher priesthood was important for being able to behold the face of God (as we quoted above, “without this now man can see the face of God even the father and live”), then the lesser priesthood could prepare people for communion with the ultimate heavenly Being by allowing them to commune with lesser heavenly beings (the ministering of angels).  Thus, it almost seems to be a ritualized system of progression in the priesthood from the lesser, Aaronic priesthood (which enables the ministering of angels), to the higher, Melchizedek priesthood (which enables entering the presence of God).[9]

As mentioned at the outset, however, this conceptual process is complicated by the fact that the opportunities to experience the ministering of angels or to behold the face of God are also offered outside of the priesthood.  For example, a May 1833 revelation (now Section 93) opens with a promise that “evry soul who forsaketh their sins and cometh unto me and calleth on my name and obeyeth my voice and keepeth all my commandments shall see my face and know that I am.”[10]  Not just those who could receive the priesthood, but every soul could have that opportunity.  Similarly, in 1842, Joseph Smith taught the Female Relief Society that: “If you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrain’d from being your associates— females, if they are pure and innocent can come into the presence of God; for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent or you cannot come up before God.”[11]  It seems that here, innocence rather than priesthood was the prerequisite to the ministering of angels and entering the presence of God, meaning the opportunity was available outside of the priesthood.  In Joseph Smith’s own histories, he reported having the First Vision—where he beheld Jesus Christ, God the Father, and many angels—and several visits from an angel that prepared him to receive and translate the Book of Mormon years before he received any priesthood ordinations.  This indicates that the understanding of the priesthoods as being a ladder that one must climb to commune with heavenly beings is overly simplistic.

In 1931, the Quorum of the Twelve grappled this quandary.  They responded in a Church periodical to the question: “May one have revelations and visions of heavenly beings, without the Priesthood?”  Their response was that: “Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did so. In May, 1829, John the Baptist appeared to them, and that was before either of them had been ordained. It was John, in fact, who conferred the Priesthood upon them. This function of having visions, of course, was exceptional in their case.”  Acknowledging that this left them with complications about the purpose of the priesthood, they followed up by asking the question: “If, then, one may pray, may have his prayers answered, may have the Holy Ghost bestowed upon him, and may exercise many of its gifts, without holding any Priesthood, what is the place of Priesthood on the earth?”  Their response, in short, was that: “Chiefly Priesthood functions in connection with organization. That is, the greatest need of Priesthood is where there is a service to be performed to others besides ourselves,” such as when ordinances are performed.[12]  This is accurate in describing how the priesthood functions in relationship to gifts of the Spirit and answers to prayers, but not terribly useful in answering our question about what is meant by the Aaronic priesthood holding the keys of the ministering of angels.

I think at this point we are still left with more questions than answers about what the keys of the ministering of angels means in the context of the Aaronic priesthood.  Personally, I usually think about it as a special right to the ministering of angels, comparable to how confirmation bestows the gift of the Holy Ghost on individuals as compared to occasional influences of the Holy Spirit on those who have not received that ordinance.  (Though, admittedly, even though I have been ordained to the Aaronic priesthood for approximately two decades, I have not openly experienced the ministering of angels in a recognizable way.)  No matter how the phrase is defined or understood, however, it leaves open the question of what difference being ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood makes in our ability to receive the ministering of angels, particularly as this applies to faithful women in the Church.



[1] Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “It is to be the privilege of those holding the keys of the Aaronic priesthood to have the visitation and ministering of angels if the occasion should arise, in relation to the temporal matters of the Church.” (Answers to Gospel Questions 1:116.)  Similarly, Elder L. Tom Perry taught: “Young men of the Aaronic Priesthood, I testify to you that the Lord is bound by solemn covenant to bless your lives according to your faithfulness. If you will heed the voice of warning of the Holy Ghost and will follow His direction, you will be blessed with the ministering of angels. This blessing will add wisdom, knowledge, power, and glory to your life. This is a sure blessing promised to you by the Lord.” (L. Tom Perry, “The Priesthood of Aaron”, Ensign, Nov. 2010, 91–94.)

[2] L. Tom Perry shared that a friend “shared a brief experience that deeply touched his heart, because one of the priests reminded him of what it really means to be a true minister of Jesus Christ—literally, a ministering angel.”  The experience was of a priest serving someone in the ward during a sacrament meeting (L. Tom Perry, “The Priesthood of Aaron”, Ensign, Nov. 2010, 91–94).

[3] Dallin H. Oaks stated: “In general, the blessings of spiritual companionship and communication are only available to those who are clean. As explained earlier, through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels, for ‘angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ’ (2 Ne. 32:3; 2 Ne. 32:32; Ne. 32:3; 2 Ne. 32:3). So it is that those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels.” (“The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament.” Conference Report Oct 1998 p. 51.)

[4] http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/key

[5] “Revelation, circa 2 November 1831 [D&C 67],” p. 115, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-circa-2-november-1831-dc-67/2

[6] “Revelation, 22–23 September 1832 [D&C 84],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-22-23-september-1832-dc-84/1

[7] “Revelation, 22–23 September 1832 [D&C 84],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-22-23-september-1832-dc-84/1

[8] “Revelation, 22–23 September 1832 [D&C 84],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-22-23-september-1832-dc-84/1

[9] This seems to be incorporated into the Nauvoo endowment temple ordinance, which Joseph Smith described as being “the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” (Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, [SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007], 414.  See also “History of the Church” [manuscript], book C-1, pp. 1328–29.)

[10] “Revelation, 6 May 1833 [D&C 93],” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-6-may-1833-dc-93/1

[11] “Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book,” p. [38], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book/35

[12] Improvement Era, October 1931, Page 735, see https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/why-priesthood-at-all/.

30 comments for ““The keys of the ministering of angels”

  1. Here I go maybe getting off the subject a little. Recently I looked into the concept of having one’s “calling and election made sure.” I think it presents similar issues

  2. This is depressing. We have 15 who claim to be prophets, seers and revelators, who do none of these things, why would we expect aaronic priesthood to have angels minister to them when they don’t minister to said 15. We are setting up people for failure when we tell them these things are possible.

    Similarly we regularly infer that other people are recieving inspiration about all sorts of things in their lives. We had this come up in a HP group, with ex bishops and stake presidents, and the best felt they had been inspired 3 or 4 times in their lives.

    I recently went swimming, at the beach, with 3 generations of my family. I told them I felt inspired that we could be attacked by a shark. They laughed, no shark appeared, I lost credibility.

    We seem to be selling a product that rarely works.

  3. At the root of your choice post is a common institutionalized LDS perception about priesthood–that priesthood is some “thing” to be had.

    What does it really mean to “have” priesthood? How does one “possess” priesthood? Does priesthood coerce or command angels to service (or anything else, for that matter)? Does priesthood “bring” the Holy Ghost? Many Latter-Day Saints feed others, or have been fed, these goofy perceptions.

    What constitutes the “authority” and what constitutes the “power” of priesthood? What is meant by “key?”

    The institutionalized LDS definition of priesthood (“…the power and authority to act in the Name of God,”) is strong axiomatic dogma. Could there be a better magnet-phrase to attract priestcraft?! We have legions of LDS men wearing wardrobe of “power” and “authority” without a clue about what the force of power really is.

    To think of priesthood in terms of Water and Fire–not as lower or higher, not as Aaronic or Melchizedek–is “key” to understanding atonement; by understanding the function of water and fire in atonement, priesthood is free from arbitrary power roles–the posture is either a “cleansing force” of love, or the posture is a “purifying force” of love. These modes of love constitute the “power” of priesthood. Any force exercised outside the posture of love constitutes “unrighteous dominion.” So simple. Joseph would smash chairs if he attended some of our stake or ward leadership meetings today.

    The angels’ role pertains to “weaving” the fabric/veil of Creation (old testament theme). Thus, any work that attends to the cleansing or purification of any life form in the material world [Creation], is met with the ministry of angels. This is Zion’s work–raising the Creation, restoring Eden.

  4. Generally in our lessons and talks we skip right over “keys of the ministering of angels”. I think because we really don’t have a clue what it means. Similarly, our use of ““Priesthood which is after the holiest order of God adminestereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the misteries [mysteries] of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God[.] therefore in the ordinences thereof the power of Godliness is manifest and without the ordinences thereof, and the authority of the Priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest unto man in the flesh, for without this no man can see the face of God even the father and live” is generally not taken seriously except to say Melchizedek priesthood ordinances are important. Its not even clear to me whether the reference there to ordinances meant what we now call ordinances or whether it simply meant laws/rules/principles of the priesthood. The much later change made to Article of Faith 4 after the word “ordinances” came to mean what it now means in Mormon-speak suggests the latter. But currently the Church seems quite content to assume that it means those things we now call Melchizedek priesthood ordinances.
    Nobody bothers with trying to figure out what “godliness” is or what its power might be. Many simply speak as if the phrase were “power of God” instead. Nobody actually tries to figure out whether the antecedent of “this” is (a) the power of Godliness (b) the power of Godliness being manifest to men in the flesh (c) the authority of the Priesthood or (d) the ordinances, or some combination of all those. In any event it would seem if the sentence has any meaning beyond “this priesthood is important” it seems to be tied to facilitating seeing “the face of God even the father and” continuing to live in the flesh. Taken at face value, that would mean that JS did not see the face of the father in the first vision, as he had no such priesthood and had experienced no such ordinances (understood as in current Mormon-speak). I suspect JS may have gathered familiar phrases, partly from scripture, in a rhetorical attempt to emphasize the importance of the “Priesthood which is after the holiest order of God” and without much thought as to “godliness,” what its power might be, the meaning of “ordinances,” or the antecedent of “this.” I’ll be interested to see what you make of it when we get that far.

  5. I didn’t realize that this would be such a downer.

    Kruiser, I’m not going to go into that very much due to the nature of the subject, but are you referring to the ordinance or the idea of Jesus coming and telling you that you’ve been judged as someone who will be worthy to enter the Celestial Kingdom?

    Travis, I’m glad you have a whole system of understanding that works for you, even if I think we have some pretty deep differences at times in how we understand Joseph Smith.

    Those are some interesting thoughts, Wondering. As far as the First Vision, it’s is possible that there is some distinguishing going on between seeing God in a vision state (the infamous “spiritual eyes”) and the idea of actually standing in the physical presence of God. But, I’ll have to think on what that revelation is staying more.

  6. And Geoff, I feel like I should make some joke about Australian saints needing to get into spiritual shape, but unfortunately I don’t think the experience of Utah saints like myself is very different. I have had many times that I have felt inspired or that I have received revelation to guide my life, and sometimes it even seems to be a product that works. But, of course, there are plenty of other times that I’ve had experiences like your shark one. I think that’s why one of the most deep and persistent questions I’ve heard from people at Church is along the lines of “how do I tell if it’s the Holy Ghost or just myself?”

  7. I have enjoyed reading this post and the comments. If asked to say which answer is most plausible in explaining what the phrase, “holds the keys of the ministering of angels” means, I would simply answer, “yes.” I’m not trying to be cute. I love the questions raised, and the thoughtful, intelligent attempts to provide answers, but I think that on many questions, God will continue to let us see through a glass darkly. The only answers that I (instinctively) distrust are those that are dogmatically certain. In the meantime, I continue to be grateful to T & S for its non-dogmatic approach in trying to explain many of our scriptural “hanging chads.” No pun intended on Chad Nielsen’s name.

  8. Thanks Chad, though I’m disappointed (not really) that you didn’t refer to Wilford Woodruff’s experience as a Priest. It has been the go-to experience to assure the priesthood that magnification of Aaronic offices may result in this blessing – and I’m not about to say that angelic ministrations have not or do not occur, after all a comforting familiar voice from the ‘other side’ may count, it needn’t be a visit from a resurrected being.

    But to another thing: thanks for your definitions of ‘keys’ I was drawn to number 3 – “That which serves to explain any thing difficult to be understood”, this certainly seems to lend itself to the provision of scriptural and/or doctrinal clarifications/expansions and as you say “Joseph Smith frequently used the third definition in his use of the word “key.” So one might expect that the AP has a roll in exercising such as a ministration, should they be attuned etc. (I agree with Wondering that little exploration of such ‘mysteries’ at the quorum level of priesthood results in a dilution, a ‘damming’ as it were – I don’t include personal reflections here).

    However, my question is why it is that the 4th definition [“ecclesiastical jurisdiction, or the power of the pope”] seems to prevail when the subject of keys is raised in PH or in general. We recently had our MP visit and ‘lay down the law’ that only he held the keys for all the salvation and church work in the Mission field, he must have felt a need to express this, but this is not the first time that ‘keys’ has been directly linked to notions of authoritative compliance – in fact it seems to be the dominant interpretation I have experienced. I wonder why and when this shift from essentially a 3 to a predominantly 4 has occurred – I’m not suggesting the definitions are necessarily mutually exclusive, perhaps it just a matter of different emphases at different times. Is this something you have noticed, I realise this is slightly tangential, but may speak to Geoff’s circumstances, for example – though his use of the conditional ‘could’ may have given it away – no offense Geoff?

  9. Thanks Taiwan Missionary.

    Also, thank you for your comments, sjames. I’m actually drawing mostly a blank for the story about Wilford Woodruff you’re referencing–I feel like there’s something tickling the back of my mind from when I was in Deacon’s quorum as a 12 year old. As far as your question with keys, I don’t know for certain about why/when the ecclesiastical jurisdiction definition came to prevail. Both definitions co-existed during Joseph Smith’s time as leader of the Church (for example, the Doctrine and Covenants uses the ecclesiastical jurisdiction definition a few times in relation to the priesthood, for example, Section 107), but with his death and the splintering of the Church that followed, there came a greater need for the Q12 to emphasize that they held ecclesiastical jurisdiction and the right to lead the Church as a counter to competing claims from Sidney Rigdon, James Strang, William Smith, and others. I suspect that is when we would see the shift occur most strongly, though I’d have to do more research to verify that.

  10. The use of “key/s” in context of the D&C revelations is essentially synonymous with “authority”. And many of the revelations explicitly use the two terms interchangeably:

    D&C 107:15 The bishopric is the presidency of this priesthood, and holds the keys or authority of the same.

    D&C 68:17 For the firstborn holds the right of the presidency over this priesthood, and the keys or authority of the same.

    The word “key” emphasizes the nature of the authority – that it unlocks particular blessings. Further take into account that when these sections were revealed “Priesthood of Aaron” would have been seen as synonymous with with the office of Priest, with offices of Teacher and Deacon that became appendages to this Priesthood or office. This is in contrast to the later development of the idea of the Aaronic Priesthood Order that was an organizational title to the various offices within it (Bishop, Priest, Teacher, Deacon).

    In context we could then rephrase the verse in our modern language to say “The office of Priest, holds the authority that unlocks the blessings of the ministration of angels…”

    Likewise the revelation found in D&C 84 you mentioned could be phrased “The office of High Priest… holds the authority that unlocks the blessings of the mysteries of God…”. And what does the authority of a High Priest grant that unlocks these blessings? “in the ordinences thereof the power of Godliness is manifest”.

    i.e The office of High Priest held keys to perform ordinances that could seal up to eternal life and provide an endowment (Kirtland endowment) of knowledge – i.e. opening one up to the mysteries of God.

    By this same logic applied to the office of Priest – we see in the ordinances thereof belonging to the office of Priest the blessings of the ministration of Angels are unlocked. Dallin H. Oaks got it right in your #3, that is the correct answer.

  11. Something however that complicates this relatively straight forward explanation is how we do ordinations. Joseph F. Smith also confused by the development of the language around the Priesthood, changed the way we do ordinations. Instead of merely ordaining to an office, like we did the 90 years or so previously, he misinterpreted D&C 13 and decided to add a step of “conferring” the Aaronic Priesthood or Melchizedek Priesthood before ordination to the several offices within their respective orders. Heber J Grant changed it back to the original way and got rid of the conferral step. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that David O. McKay read and was convinced by Joseph F. Smith’s logic that he reinstitute the conferral step that has continued to the present.

    Unfortunately this has created confusion and has led to the belief that this “conferral” step is transferring anything at all. In reality it is more of a welcoming introductory step into the Order of that Priesthood, but it does not transfer anything of significance (otherwise the majority of ordinations in our history were done wrong). It is ordination to an office that gives authority (or “keys” in the D&C language) to the office holder. And that authority used, like a key, unlocks blessings to the church by performance of ordinances.

  12. Steve LHJ, That explanation of certain verses of the D&C 84 section is a reasonable, theoretical way of making sense out of the text. But I’m not yet convinced that it accounts for a non-presentist meaning of “ordinances” or for the section’s inherent confusion about what “godliness” is, or what its power may be.

  13. Wondering, I agree the text is not totally clear in and of itself. At the same time, in light of what we know elsewhere in the scriptures and the what Joseph taught concerning the Priesthood, we can reach some reasonable conclusions.

    You are correct about the word ordinances. It simply meant laws. i.e. “In the [laws administered through the High Priesthood], the power of godliness is manifest”. And what is this power that is made manifest? We are told in the previous verse that the blessing being unlocked is “the knowledge of God”. In other words the power of godliness is Intelligence.

    Likewise, through the administration of the laws that can be administered through the office of Priest, it also unlocks certain blessings – specifically those of the preparatory gospel which includes the gospel of repentance as well as baptism. And as you point out “ordinances” in the modern use doesn’t make sense to apply to repentance. But in context, meaning “laws”, repentance certainly is a law that can be preached/administered by a Priest (which is why the 4th article of faith was originally “We believe that the first ordinances of the Gospel are… faith… repentance… baptism…[etc.]” instead of “first principles and ordinances” that we have today).

    I think the best definition for Priesthood as understood at the time would be “government”. Here’s a Joseph Smith and two Brigham Young quotes that in my mind back up that assertion:

    Joseph Smith defined the Melchizedek Priesthood as “a perfect law of theocracy holding keys of power & blessings.. [standing] as God to give laws to the people.. administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, p.243-248; Given 27 August 1843)

    Brigham Young said, “When we talk of the celestial law which is revealed from heaven, that is, the Priesthood, we are talking about the principle of salvation, a perfect system of government, of laws and ordinances, by which we can be prepared to pass from one gate to another, and from one sentinel to another, until we go into the presence of our Father and God. This law has not always been upon the earth; and in its absence, other laws have been given to the children of men for their improvement, for their education, for their government, and to prove what they would do when left to control themselves; and what we now call tradition has grown out of these circumstances.” (Discourses of Brigham Young 2:139)

    And later stated, “The Priesthood of the Son of God, which we have in our midst, is a perfect order and system of government, and this alone can deliver the human family from all the evils which now afflict its members, and insure them happiness and felicity hereafter.” (Discourses of Brigham Young 13:242)

  14. Steve LHJ, I’m guessing Chad won’t mind our continuing this tangent I started us on.
    That part of D&C 84 does begin to make more sense with the definitions of priesthood you’ve cited. But “the power of godliness is Intelligence” does not help much, at least without further explanation of what you mean by capital-I “Intelligence”. Maybe we also need either or both a definition of “godliness” or an acknowledgment that it and “power of godliness” are not used here to mean either of the same things they mean in the NT (or in JS-History). (There might be a reconciliation of those meanings if we back off MP as theocracy or system of government and reduce it to God’s laws and [not-presentist LDS] ordinances. But that’s something I think the Church will never do.)
    As to “Intelligence” — you clearly don’t mean Webster 1828’s fourth definition as used in Abraham 3:21-22 and probably D&C 93:29. It seems at least difficult to mean it as used in JS-History 1:54 or D&C 130:18 without making D&C 84:21 false.
    As to “godliness” — I have met and read of many people leading godly lives manifesting great power for good and for peace and their personal character and growth without any participation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances (however construed). So, for my experience and observation D&C 84:21 is simply false without a special Mormon-speak definition of “godliness” or a significant limitation on what is meant there by “power of godliness.” Either approach would seem to require an acknowledgment that that verse is either Mormon-speak and not any form of standard English or that the whole is a really poorly written attempt to articulate whatever the revelation to JS actually was. One possible solution might be to construe the language as limited by verses 22 – 24, but I haven’t grasped how that would fit with your definition of “power of godliness” as “Intelligence.”

  15. Yes, great references, that is exactly what I mean – D&C 93:29 in particular (the light of truth that cannot be created or made), which is the spirit or mind of man, which is why we can call the being that possesses this spirit or intelligence an Intelligence, because they are spirit/intelligence. When we keep the commandments (i.e. laws/ordinances) we receive “more” of this truth and light. As Joseph Smith stated in the KFD “All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.” The final end being “glorified in truth” and therefore “know[ing] all things”. And whatever degree, or whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life will then rise with use in the resurrection. And even your church history reference appears to be the same idea, being visited by a heavenly messenger – spiritual intelligence was being communicated to Joseph (probably something more akin to revelation than knowledge in the brain alone).

    But you are correct, under this understanding the “power of godliness” generalized to all Intelligence, while I think is a proper way to think about it, isn’t a narrow enough definition to make sense of the passage completely. What seems to be clear rather is that it is referencing a degree or higher level of intelligence, which principles of Intelligence could be categories within “the mysteries of the kingdom”.

    And this is consistent with Joseph Smith’s other teachings about progressing in light and knowledge. “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” This statement in D&C 130 is just another way of phrasing D&C 93:28 that I mentioned above, that by living according to the law further truth and light can be received.

    And when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery abided by the law of baptism, they described this very thing “Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.” JS-H 1:74.

    It follows that the laws made available through the authority of the High Priesthood would then open up avenues to higher degrees of spiritual intelligence – and these might be called the mysteries of the kingdom, the mysteries of God, the knowledge of God, or the power of godliness.

    Having attained, organized, or accessed within the spirit and a higher degree of intelligence, they are then able to manifest a higher degree of the fullness and true nature of God. In this way it is truly a power, and godliness because it manifest the nature of God and of Christ.

    I admit that in part I am drawing on my personal experiences to form this explanation. It is what makes sense to me. Here I have wrote some of my experience that gave me insight into the nature of Intelligence, you can take it for what that is worth:


  16. “I desire to impress upon you the fact that it does not make any difference whether a man is a Priest or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A Priest holds the keys of the ministering of angels. Never in my life, as an Apostle, as a Seventy, or as an Elder, have I ever had more of the protection of the Lord than while holding the office of a Priest. The Lord revealed to me by visions, by revelations, and by the Holy Spirit, many things that lay before me.”

    Wilford Woodruff, “Discourse”, Millennial Star, Oct 5, 1891.

    I say that the Priesthood, which is the agency of our heavenly Father, holds the keys of the ministering of angels. What is a key? It is the right or privilege which belongs to and comes with the Priesthood, to have communication with God. Is not that a key? Most decidedly. We may not enjoy the blessings, or key, very much, but the key is in the Priesthood. It is the right to enjoy the blessing of communication with the heavens, and the privilege and authority to administer in the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to preach the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. That is a key.

    Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine

    John next said that he conferred the Priesthood of Aaron—Aaron who held this marvelous power and authority. John went on to say that this priesthood “holds the keys of the ministering of angels.” What are keys? They represent the authority to unlock and make available certain specific and wonderful blessings including the “ministering of angels.” Every boy who holds the Aaronic Priesthood is entitled to the ministering of angels if he lives worthy of it. That means that he may call upon divine power for protection, for guidance, for comfort, for strength. I believe that John was not using idle words when he spoke of ministering angels. I think he was conferring a resource of priceless worth to be made available to those holding the priesthood provided they sought it and lived for it.

    Gordon B. Hinkley, “Upon you my fellow servants”, Liahona, May 1989

    A priesthood key is a specific authority, such as the key of the ministering of angels or the key of baptism. Priesthood is a collection or set of keys, or in other words, a set of specific authorities. The Aaronic Priesthood holds a specific set of keys and the Melchizedek Priesthood holds a specific set of keys. An individual’s priesthood is the totality of keys held by that individual. In order to truly understand what a particular key is or what it means, one must exercise that key. How could one truly understand what a hammer is if he has never driven a nail?

  17. @DB,
    I don’t think I’ve ever actually experienced, seen, or heard of any revelation or spiritual experience that appeared to me to have come as a result of “right” or “entitlement”. I think I have seen (but more often suspected) claims of “entitlement” abused through claims of revelation somehow binding on others that turned out to be little, if anything, more than an authoritarian’s strong belief that his ideas could not be mistaken, or, in the case of making callings in a ward, as a matter of pressuring someone for acceptance even without such a strong belief. On the other hand, I’ve experienced a few and heard of numerous revelation and spiritual experiences that appeared to come because they were sought and the person was ready and able to receive and the circumstances were right or needful and God happened to provide them, although others in similar circumstances (and priesthood “entitlement”, if any) did not receive it. So what’s the value in talk of “right” and “entitlement” other than to bolster the authoritarianism of those who do not successfully distinguish between their own cognitive biases and revelation?

    I understand your final paragraph to mean you believe that only one who has been a bishop or stake president, etc.can understand the keys held by a person in that office. I’ve known people to learn what a hammer is by observing others drive nails.

    I’ll look to see if I can find anything more about what GBH believed the “ministering of angels” means. From what you’ve quoted, it would seem that women and boys or men not yet ordained, but who “live worthy of it, [cannot] call upon divine power for protection, for guidance, for comfort, for strength” without a priesthood holder calling such power for them? If not, what’s the “key” got to do with anything?

    Just wondering.

  18. Wondering, I’m not sure you actually read my comment, or at the very least, you’re reading much into it that isn’t there and misunderstanding what is there. I wrote nothing about entitlement, church positions or callings, or exclusions for anyone not holding the priesthood. Please go back and read what I’ve written without adding anything to it that I didn’t write. And yes, the hammer comparison may be a bit simplistic so maybe I should have written how could anyone truly understand how to drive a car if he’s never driven a car.

    I do admit that I am at fault for not stating that while I did included the quotes to help explain how some church leaders have understood priesthood keys, my own understanding is not perfectly aligned with any quote I’ve provided. I believe priesthood keys are widely misunderstood in the church, even among the leadership and especially among local leadership. Elder Renlund wrote a book on the priesthood which provides one of the best explanations of priesthood keys I’ve read. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy so I couldn’t provide any quotes.

  19. DB, I did read your comment. My response to your quoting others on “right” and “entitlement” was not intended to attribute your quotation of others to you. Sorry about the apparent confusion. I’ll look for Elder Renlund’s book.

  20. DB, yes, from the quotes you provide it is clear the meaning of “key” shifted over time and has caused a lot of confusion on the subject. I believe I read part of the Elder Renlund book you are referring to, and if my memory servers correctly he defined “keys” in two ways. One according to the D&C and similar to the language in your GBH quote above “They represent the authority to unlock and make available certain specific and wonderful blessings.” (although it then seems GBH made the accidental jump on the ministering of angels, that while a Priest would make the blessings of the gospel of repentance and baptism available for others, for some reason in contrast it is assumed that the ministering of angels is a blessing made available for the Priest himself. Which seems understandable given it seems this notion was introduced and taught at least in the early Utah period as evidenced in your Wilford Woodruff quote.)

    Then a second definition Elder Renlund gave for “keys” is the way we most commonly use the term in the church today – as the gateway or presiding right over the use of authority in the Priesthood. I looked for a scriptural citation, and I don’t believe he provided one, and as far as I am aware there isn’t one. It’s not a false concept, in the D&C this is organizational necessity of a Presiding right in quorums is seen as a natural “growing out of” or necessary “appoint[ment]” that takes place in quorums.

    “Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.” – D&C 107:21

    So semantically we now call this concept “keys”, which I suppose is fine, but is unfortunate that it causes confusion with the scriptural concept of “keys” which does not mean the ‘presiding right’, but rather ‘authority’.

    What you point out is true for Priesthood authority. A person’s Priesthood authority “is the totality of keys held by that individual.”

    As for Priesthood as a whole, that becomes a little tricky, because it is devoid of the concept of power or intelligence that undergirds the governmental structure. We have hints this aspect of the Priesthood in D&C 84 when we see the blessings listed “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken…” which ‘obtaining’ seems to go beyond mere ordination / holding keys/authority. That may be too much of a tangent to go into here however.

  21. Wondering, I agree associating the ‘rights’ to the blessings of the Priesthood by virtue of mere ordination is a mistaken notion that can lead to abuse. I have been fortunate not to personally witness that, but I have definitely heard of and it seems you may have had experience where that mindset has led to the abuse of authority. Just like any government office, being appointed to that office gives you the right to administer in the duties of that office as a servant. Blessings come through righteousness and grace, whether appointed to an office or not.

  22. Steve LHJ, The same “mistaken notion” of “entitlement” seems common to our talk about the Gift of the Holy Ghost also, and that’s not a priesthood ordination. Maybe the notion grows out of thinking that confirmation includes the giving of a gift rather than a mere instruction to “receive the Holy Ghost.”

  23. Steve LHJ, yes, that’s what I liked about Elder Renlund’s explanation of keys. He correctly differentiates between general priesthood keys, such as the key of the ministering of angels and the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, and presidency keys which are simply the authority to preside over a designated organization. Few members of the church understand this even though it is plainly in D&C.
    However, he failed to distinguish a third group of keys which are specific authorities given to select individuals with very specific callings. These would include keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim, keys of the gathering of Israel, keys of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, etc. To understand any of this, one has to first understand the basic concept that a priesthood key is simply a specific authority.

    To add to the concept of presidency keys, I would argue that anyone set apart as the president of any church organization by someone with priesthood authority, to include Relief Society presidents and Primary presidents, holds the keys of presidency for that organization. I know many members would accuse me of heresy for that but it’s true. Keys of presidency, or the authority to preside over an organization, does not come from the individual who is in that position but from the person who calls and sets that person apart. So, a Relief Society president would hold priesthood keys of presidency over the Relief Society because she was set apart by a priesthood leader to have that authority.

    Sorry I’m getting a bit off topic from the keys of the ministering of angels but priesthood keys is favorite topic of mine. Getting back to the keys of the ministering of angels, I would only reiterate what I wrote before. If you want to understand the keys of the ministering of angels, you have to first exercise that key.

  24. DB, I don’t mind a bit or even a lot of heresy if someone backs up why they think what they do and isn’t trying to force their private beliefs on me, and what you’re saying I think is reasonable given in recent developments that we are told Relief Society callings operate with Priesthood authority, and given Priesthood authority and keys are scripturally synonymous it’s not a big jump to say what you did, for if there is a group with the same or similar calling/authority it seems appointing a president is the natural outgrowth for that group.

    And yes, that is interesting about specific callings. Moroni with the key of the stick of Ephraim I think is your best example. Although I wonder if it is still a subset task/authority/key within an overarching Priesthood authority – in which case it wouldn’t be something as distinctly different, save that it may be like an office or calling that only one person is holding as opposed to a quorum. Perhaps it falls within the scope of the highest order of the Priesthood, i.e. the Fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood. My understanding is that Moses and Elijah restored the keys of your latter two examples, and they do in fact belong to that 3rd Priesthood restoration (D&C 110) or 3rd order of the Priesthood, the Fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, that Joseph spoke of as part of the Nauvoo theology and restoration of the temple ordinances that have continued to the present.

    As to the ministering of angels I’m not quite sure what you are alluding to, it almost sounds like it would be mysterious. But I don’t see anything particularly mysterious about it – I have exercised authority to preach repentance in places like home teaching or on a mission, and have participated in blessing the sacrament and baptizing others. My understanding is that the resultant remission of sins and cleanliness opens one to the blessing of being ministered to by angels, both seen and unseen, for there are many on the other side of the veil with a vested interest in each our salvation. And angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. This blessing and gift is preparatory and subservient to the greater gift of the Holy Ghost who is a member of the Godhead and can likewise minister to us, which gift therefore belongs to a higher order of the Priesthood.

  25. Chad apologies for enlarging your thread.

    @Steve LHJ
    A question triggered by the statement: “The office of High Priest held keys to perform ordinances that could seal up to eternal life and provide an endowment (Kirtland endowment) of knowledge – i.e. opening one up to the mysteries of God”‘
    Temple Workers assigned as officiators, act in the ‘endowment’ regardless of MPH office, am I taking the above reference to HPs out of historical context?

    Re: Presidencies?
    Further to my Feb 14 post: As it currently stands District Presidents do not have PH keys, they are not equivalent to Stake Presidents in this respect (don’t know why not). In the meeting referenced above the MP made that clear referring to the DP also seated on the stand, that ‘he just serves’ (without keys) – slightly belittling the DP ‘office’, imo.

  26. sjames, yes my understanding is that the temple ordinances as we have them today do not fall under the authority or purview of the High Priesthood. D&C 84 is a revelation given to Joseph Smith in Sept 1832, after the restoration of the keys from Peter, James, and John. At this time the highest office in the church contained those keys, and was the office of High Priest, and the highest officer in the church was therefore the President of the High Priesthood.

    High Priests had the right to seal people up to eternal life, and would do so through inspiration and revelation. Additionally Joseph Smith promised an endowment when a temple was completed. As it was the highest authority in the church, that endowment must have come under the purview of those keys. The Kirtland temple was built, and an endowment was given to many people, although this endowment that was quite different than what we might think of today – it included washing and anointing and more closely resembled the Initiatory we have.

    Joseph thought he had finished the restoration, but then something unexpected happened – a third restoration of Priesthood authority from Moses, Elias, and Elijah in the Kirtland temple as we find recorded in D&C 110. With this new authority Joseph Smith in the 1840s (primarily) in Nauvoo continued the restoration of the temple ordinances and doctrine – including the endowment and the sealing ordinances we are more familiar with. Temple ordinances and temple workers today operate under this higher authority which was not given to the church previous to 1836.

    And with this higher authority restored, it eventually subsumed and took over the previous sealing practices and the Kirtland level endowment – which is why High Priests no longer perform these functions. We have the more modern endowment and instead of just sealing up to eternal life – the sealing power of this highest order of the Priesthood binds individuals together building the celestial network and society of heaven here on earth that will persist in the hereafter.

  27. sjames, as I wrote earlier, “I believe priesthood keys are widely misunderstood in the church, even among the leadership and especially among local leadership.” The MP you refer to clearly doesn’t understood priesthood keys either. Presidency keys are the authority to preside over an organization and as a District President presides over a District, he would hold the keys to that.

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