Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

On the keys of the ministering of angels…

Posted by joespencer on April 5, 2007

I hesitate to post this for a number of reasons. One is that I’m going to be on the road all day, so I won’t be able to see any responses until tomorrow sometime. Another, more important, is that I’m not sure how well it fits the aims of the blog, so let me see if I can’t justify it with the following. As you read the below, focus on two things: first, pay attention to the scriptures in particular (that is, I would much rather read responses to particular interpretations than to broad approach); second, think of any other scriptures this model might open up for thinking. If I can encounter comments that hit on these two themes, I will be able to transfer quite a bit of material to the wiki from the discussion. Anyway, here is my brief paper on the keys of the ministering of angels. (Let me mention two other details: first, the paper is only a rough draft, written in maybe two hours; second, the paper does not in any way put on display my teaching style, but rather represents my attempt to write for an Ensign audience… at which I probably fail.)

Holding the Keys of the Ministering of Angels
Joseph M. Spencer

If the possibility of a latter-day restoration opened in 1820 when the Father and the Son appeared personally to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove, the realization of that restoration did not begin until Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery kneeled in the presence of John the Baptist on the bank of the Susquehanna River on May 15, 1829. Only then and afterward were keys given to the eventual president and the eventual assistant president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Given in pure grace—and no theme pervades Joseph’s own accounts of the years 1820-1829 more than that of pure grace—these keys, because they were held again by men on the earth, marked the beginning of the realization of the plan of redemption as Joseph later explained to an audience in Nauvoo:

“[T]hose men to whom these keys have been given,… they without us cannot be made perfect. These men are in heaven, but their children are on the earth. Their bowels yearn over us. God sends down men for this reason. ‘And the Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that give offense and them that do iniquity.’ (Matthew 13:41.) All these authoritative characters will come down and join hand in hand in bringing about this work.” (TPJS, 159)

How literal that “hand in hand” business really is must have been quite clear to Joseph and Oliver as they felt the weight of the resurrected Baptist’s hands on their heads in 1829. Perhaps more significant, however, were the words the Baptist spoke as he laid his hands on them, words we ask the young men of the Church to memorize in order to fulfill their “Duty to God”:

“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (D&C 13:1)

It is customary to read these words primarily in terms of what Joseph and Oliver did only a few moments after they first heard them: what was restored that day was the authority to baptize, to seal upon the repentant the name of the Son so as to effect a most solemn and sacred covenant with the Father. As eternal and as necessary as baptism most obviously is, in the historical record Joseph Smith mentions something else as happening between ordination and baptism. He explains, “[John] said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter.” Only after this promise did John command the two “to go and be baptized.” (JS-H 1:70) And this order of things follows quite carefully the words of the ordination: as the Baptist first bestowed the “keys of the ministering of angels,” he first promised that other messengers would be coming, and as he bestowed only secondly the “keys… of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins,” he secondly commanded Joseph and Oliver to go down into the water.

From these details, it almost sounds as if the primary concern of the Aaronic priesthood is the ministering of angels. And perhaps this makes perfect sense: what purpose would baptism serve—especially from the point of view of a Latter-day Saint who believes in on-going revelation—if it were not a preparation to receive further light and knowledge from true messengers still to come, “authoritative characters” that “God sends down”?

Unfortunately, the meaning of the keys of the ministering of angels is too seldom understood by members of the Church, perhaps most especially by the young men of the Aaronic priesthood who hold precisely those keys as they await the greater keys of the Melchizedek priesthood. I imagine that the ignorance on the part of the latter derives precisely from the lack of understanding on the part of the former. Perhaps a few words here on the subject might help parents and leaders of the young men of the Church to teach this vital doctrine more often, more clearly, and more scripturally. In order to offer a few words on the subject, however, it is necessary to work very carefully through the plan of redemption as it is laid out in the scriptures—where it is something very different from the circles and lines we are all accustomed to drawing on the chalkboard.

The Scriptural Plan of Redemption

The plan of redemption, as we experience it, begins in a fallen world. It is as much a place of violence and oppression (being the realm of false kings) as it is a place of idolatries and ideologies (being also the diocese of false priests). There is a reason that “we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for… the redemption”: all is not well in the earth. (Rom 8:23) If indeed “we are saved by hope,” we have to take comfort in the fact that “hope that is seen is not hope,” since it is so seldom that the few who are privileged to do so see God. (Rom 8:24) Like the situation in which Adam and Eve found themselves, we are confronted by “Cherubims [guardian angels], and a flaming sword which turn[s] every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Gen 3:24) And this can be interpreted all too easily to suggest “that there [is] no possible chance that [we] should live forever” nor that justice will ever be done. (Alma 12:21)

Alma the Younger was presented with just this interpretation of just this Old Testament scripture. While teaching in the wicked city of Ammonihah, he was countered by “a chief ruler among them” named Antionah, who tried to confound Alma by offering as irrefutable this profoundly negative understanding of the cherubim and flaming sword God placed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. (Alma 12:20-21) Alma’s answer—which is two chapters long!—offers a fascinating summary of the plan of redemption and connects this summary up with the meaning and purposes of the priesthood.

The first part of Alma’s answer is quite simple: because Adam and Eve were cut off from God and appointed to die, “this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.” (Alma 12:24) But such a “probationary state” would have accomplished little, if Adam and Eve were left without any understanding of the plan that would—of the Savior who would—redeem them: “after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he [God] saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them.” (Alma 12:28)

The situation Alma describes here is too easily passed over. When Moses was given instructions on how to make the veil of the tabernacle, which separated the presence of God in the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place, he was told to “make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made.” (Ex 26:31) That is, the veil of the Old Testament temple had cherubim sewn right into it, so that to cross through the veil was “to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels,” as Brigham Young said. (DBY, 416) In effect, the situation Alma presented to the people of Ammonihah was something like this: a veil Adam and Eve did not know how to cross hung between them and God, and they needed to learn how to pass through it.

“Therefore [God] sent angels to converse with them.” (Alma 12:29) If Adam and Eve learned “the plan of redemption” through this experience, then it is quite clear what this phrase means: “the plan of redemption” is the plan that results in a rent veil. The Lord Himself says as much to the Brother of Jared: “the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence.” (Ether 3:13) Moroni adds, “because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil.” (Ether 3:19)

But it took more than simple instruction to teach Adam and Eve “the plan of redemption,” as Alma makes clear. The knowledge could only be given along with “commandments… that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death.” (Alma 12:32) The angels brought to Adam and Eve not only further light and knowledge, but also commandments, or perhaps better, covenants. These covenants were given along with an ordination: “when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children… [He] ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.” (Alma 13:1) Alma explains that the ordination was such that “thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.” (Alma 13:2) If they thereby “were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God,” (Alma 13:12) that is, if they thereby were enabled to rend the veil, it was precisely in anticipation of what Jesus Christ Himself would do eventually: “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice [while on the cross], yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” (Matt 27:50-51)

That this ordination came to Adam and Eve specifically seems clear from the Book of Moses. There we find Adam and Eve offering sacrifices simply by obedience when an angel suddenly appears, and, because of their faithfulness, confirms that the sacrifices they had been offering were “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.” (Moses 5:7) The angel then gives Adam the authority to do “all that [he does] in the name of the Son,” authority Adam and Eve immediately took up in “ma[king] all things known unto their sons and their daughters.” (Moses 5:8, 12)

It is important to notice in all of this that Adam’s receiving a priesthood “after the order of his [God’s] Son” should be understood as his being ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. Not only are we told that the original name of the Melchizedek priesthood was “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God,” (D&C 107:3) but we are told that “this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God,” the key, that is, to part the veil and to “see the face of God, even the Father.” (D&C 84:19, 22)

But we have too many details, and it is certainly time to draw them all back together into a single, coherent picture. In fact, the plan of redemption, as it is articulated in these scriptures, is rather simple. First, we find ourselves in a fallen world, separated from God’s presence by a veil. But then God sends angels to teach about the redemption to be had in the Son of God. These angels come and teach these things precisely by ordaining the faithful to the Melchizedek priesthood and thereby giving them the keys to unlock the gate of heaven, that is, to part the veil. Under that authority, and with the keys to receive revelations directly from God, the ordained are sent to teach others the same things, almost as if they were angels. (Cf. Isa 6) In short, the plan of redemption is simply this: we wait in the fallen world for messengers sent from God to give us the keys of the priesthood that are necessary for us to pass through the veil and back into the presence of God, there to receive further instructions.

A Problem with the Plan of Redemption

Alma himself knew quite well that there was a problem with the plan of redemption as he laid it out for the people of Ammonihah. He later confronted the anti-Christ, Korihor, directly, at the conclusion of which he read Korihor’s written words, “behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel.” (Alma 30:53) In fact, several scriptures make reference to the devil appearing as an angel of light. (Cf. 2 Cor 11:14; 2 Ne 9:9) One of these assures us that Joseph Smith himself was quite acquainted with the fact: he mentions in a letter having heard “[t]he voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light!” (D&C 128:20) But if Joseph’s mention of this danger confirms its seriousness—that a ministering angel might be, not of God, but a devil in disguise—it also announces a way to come through it securely: there is some way to “detect” whether or not a messenger is from God.

In fact, a couple of details in Joseph’s mention of this danger are interesting and helpful. For one, he makes it quite clear that he learned how to detect false messengers specifically from Adam (Michael), who apparently had had some experience with such encounters. This seems to suggest that there was more to the story than Alma and Moses let on: Adam and Eve were faithfully performing the commanded sacrifices while they waited for further word from God, but that does not mean that the first angel that showed up was sent from God. Adam and Eve had to know how to tell whether messengers were true or not. That is, they needed “keys” with which to “know whether any administration is from God.” (D&C 129:9) Whenever and wherever Joseph encountered “the devil when he appeared as an angel of light,” he seems to have learned on the occasion the “grand keys” he later shared with the saints. (D&C 129)

But what did Adam and Eve have that could have prepared them to detect false messengers from true ones? Perhaps there is a clue to this that we have overlooked in the Book of Moses account we have already dealt with. Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden with the commandment that “they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord.” (Moses 5:5) In order to perform these sacrifices, Adam must have held the appropriate priesthood, in fact the Aaronic priesthood, which holds the authority to “offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (D&C 13:1) If Adam went into the fallen world with the authority of the Aaronic priesthood with the task of detecting true messengers from false messengers, it is perhaps all-important that the priesthood he held provided him with the “keys of the ministering of angels.” (D&C 84:26)

In fact, it might now be quite a bit clearer what those keys are: Adam needed keys by which he might not only detect false messengers but also receive true messengers, and those keys seem quite clearly to be the “keys of the ministering of angels.” It is perhaps in this sense that the Aaronic priesthood is called “preparatory”: Adam first held the keys necessary to receive angelic visitors who would bring him other keys, in fact, the keys of passing into the presence of God. If these latter keys would allow Adam to cross the veil, the former keys prepared him for those higher keys by allowing him to reject false messengers and to receive true messengers, in fact to learn from his own experience to know the good from the evil. In short, the Aaronic priesthood seems to have been what Adam needed in order to be prepared to entertain the true messengers who would bring him the Melchizedek priesthood and thus introduce him into the order of the Son. It is perhaps in this sense that the Aaronic “priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the [Melchizedek] priesthood which is after the holiest order of God.” (D&C 84:18)

Our Young Men

In light of all the above, is it a passing matter that we give our young men the keys of the Aaronic priesthood? Are we too easily convinced that this priesthood is “preparatory” only in that the Young Men program of the Church can make our sons better citizens, better providers, or better boy scouts? Or are we introducing them to the possibility of eventually receiving a priesthood that is “after the holiest order of God”? Are we even taking that higher priesthood so seriously? If the Aaronic priesthood and its keys of the ministering of angels “shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness,” do we recognize that this will only happen at “the day of his coming… when he appeareth… like a refiner’s fire”? (Mal 3:2) Will He have to “purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” precisely because we have done nothing to prepare them for that day? (Mal 3:3) It is my prayer—and I hope it is our prayer—that we as a people will take the overwhelming responsibility of the priesthood more seriously, and that we will therefore teach that same responsibility to our young men.

27 Responses to “On the keys of the ministering of angels…”

  1. Robert C. said

    (Joe, this looks fascinating. I don’t have time to read this now, but I added some block quotes and spacing to the paragraphs for easier reading.)

  2. robf said

    Joe, this all makes sense, but wondering how this fits other scriptural accounts of angelic ministering beyond the typological account of Adam and Eve. Lots to think about.

  3. robf said

    An interesting non-LDS outline of the role of angels in the Bible is here.

  4. robf said

    I’ve been thinking about this all day, especially in light of what Margaret Barker’s work on Wisdom and the role that angels and the council of heaven played in First Temple Judaism (I like Kevin Christensen’s The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi’s World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker as a good place to start on this).

    According to this view, interaction with angels is part and parcel of what sacred life is all about. I like the idea that the Deuteronomistic reforms sought to squelch this in favor of emphasizing adherence to written law. When the oracles cease, we’re left holding the book and left to our own devices to speculate on the meaning of received texts. Apostacy isn’t so much drifting away from true teachings, but the loss of the Wisdom tradition and subsequent overemphasis on written texts.

    The Restoration brings Wisdom back, with angels and the whole works. But not just to Joseph Smith, as a sign that the heavens are open…but to all of us if we chose to apply the scriptures to ourselves, or ourselves to the scriptures–to enter into that world in faith and experience the same things that Joseph did and that the Book of Mormon prophets testified of.

  5. Cherylem said

    I printed this out but won’t be able to comment at least until tomorrow . . .

  6. m&m said

    This is very interesting, and most of it really clicked with me. I have a few questions/thoughts….

    1. Do you think the keys of the ministering of angels are only given to those who hold the priesthood, or to those who receive the ordinances of the priesthood? I would suspect (hope) it would be the latter; therefore, wouldn’t that mean that it is the ordinances of the Aaronic priesthood that open up the keys of the ministering of angels, not the holding of the priesthood itself? (…in the same way the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood allows us to receive the mysteries and eventually see God’s face?)

    For one, he makes it quite clear that he learned how to detect false messengers specifically from Adam (Michael), who apparently had had some experience with such encounters. This seems to suggest that there was more to the story than Alma and Moses let on: Adam and Eve were faithfully performing the commanded sacrifices while they waited for further word from God, but that does not mean that the first angel that showed up was sent from God.

    2. Moses 5:7 — I’ve never heard that tied to authority per se before. I think we need to be careful with how we use that word; this usage here didn’t quite gel with me. I have always undersood that scripture to more a command to do everything in the Savior’s name (think prayer, repentance, ordinances…remembrance!) as opposed to a conferral of authority.

    3. The challenge I see with the keys in D&C 129 and what you are talking about (Adam having learned everything experientially to teach Josephis that no messenger was resurrected when Adam was alive, so all the keys he gave to Joseph Smith couldn’t have been learned from experience, because no being had been resurrected when he was alive. So that suggests that some of what he taught Joseph was learned later on after his death, no?

    The angel who appeared to Adam to query him about his obedience to the law of sacrifice was a ministering spirit (Moses 5:5-8), that is, he was either an unembodied spirit from pre-existence or the spirit of some person who had died and passed into the spirit world to await a future resurrection. This we know because “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D. & C. 130:5), and at the time of this particular ministration there were as yet no resurrected or translated personages. (BRM)

  7. m&m said

    not the holding of the priesthood itself

    Clearly this is part of it, but I assume that females have access to the blessing of ministering of angels as well, as so I think the applicability and blessings are broader than just “holding” the keys, but also benefiting from them.

  8. m&m said

    You asked for other scriptures. I don’t know if you would find this applicable, but I was interested to read this tonite:

    Matthew 4:9-11
    9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
    10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
    11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

    To me, this ties in a bit with what I see as a command to do all that we do in the Son’s name. As we worship, truly worship, as commanded, then we can open ourselves up to receive the ministering of angels (and protection from the fallen angel).

    A bit more broadly, the fact that the ministering of angels came to the Savior after resisting temptation repeatedly seems significant to me.

    Also: 8 Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men (again, I hear “do all that thou doest in the name of the Son”?, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God (reading it this time I wondered if this could be tied to the sentinel angels BY talked about…??)
    9 But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.:
    A few other topics/questions/issues/scriptures which are probably outside the scope of this paper, but that are swimming in my head:

    -the connection between angels and the gathering of Israel in the scriptures (e.g. Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27)
    -Luke 12:8-9
    8 Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men (again, I hear “do all that thou doest in the name of the Son”?, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God (reading it this time I thought of angels on the OT tabernacle vail…and/or BY’s quote…??)
    9 But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.:
    – Acts 7:53: about receiving “the law by the disposition of angels” —
    – Moses was ordained by angels: JST Galatians 3:19
    19 Wherefore then, the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant, (the law.)
    – And, gotta go to bed, but clearly there is more to mull over in the BoM: “I believe we need to speak of and believe in and bear testimony of the ministry of angels more than we sometimes do. They constitute one of God’s great methods of witnessing through the veil, and no document in all this world teaches that principle so clearly and so powerfully as does the Book of Mormon.” Elder Holland

    Sorry…just been thinking and reading about this tonite. Much, much to mull over. Thanks for writing this up, Joe.

  9. m&m said

    OK, a couple more thoughts on Moses 5:7 and doing all in the name of the Son:

    Mosiah 5:8-14 about knowing the name of Christ, because that is the name that He will call us by.
    (and v. 15 then ties this all together with Christ then being able to seal us His.

    Mosiah 26:24; D&C 18:25
    The name of Christ is essential to being on the right hand of God and “having place” with Him

    3 Nephi 27:7
    7 Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name….

    If you want to read a really interesting talk about taking upon us Christ’s name (via baptism, sacrament) and how it points us to the temple, this one by Elder Oaks is fantastic. Lots to think about!

  10. Thank you for your comments everyone, especially for connections to other scriptures and scholarship (m&m’s connection to the temptation stories link up nicely, I think, with Rob’s connection to Madame Barker’s work).

    Let me take a moment to respond to m&m’s questions (#6).

    As for the first question, I wrestled with this very difficulty while writing the paper. I think you have provided a nice way of dealing with it, and it is perhaps worth writing that into the paper. In the end, I tried to use language that pointed to the temple experience in hopes that the “universality” of the priesthood in the temple would waylay concerns (I like how the temple suggests some kind of division between priesthood keys and priesthood offices, the latter apparently to be held only by men but the former to be held by both men and women; this is especially important, I think, in that the offices are really only “an appendage” to the priesthood, something necessary pragmatically but perhaps ultimately arbitrary).

    As for the second question, I need to look more closely at this. To do something in another’s name, it seems to me, implies authority in at least some sense. But it does carry with it a terrible burden (beware not to do it “in vain”!).

    As for the third question, when and where did Bruce R. McConkie say that (I’m very careful with Elder McConkie)? But regardless of who said it, the argument makes some sense (though I think it takes the scriptures a little too systematically/modernistically). Over against it, though, I have in mind the endowment. Obviously, we tread carefully here, and I hate to end an argument with an appeal to the undiscussable, but I think the point is necessary because I wrote the paper with the endowment constantly in mind (as is quite likely obvious). If I err, so did Joseph and Brigham in giving us the endowment. Not that I would excuse myself….

  11. m&m said

    re: authority, I just think it’s too easy to conflate that with priesthood per se, and I really tend to think this idea of doing all that we do in the name of the Son entails more than that. I pray in His name, and I don’t need or exercise or receive authority in so doing. We are supposed to always remember Him, to be His witnesses always, to take His name upon us as examples, etc. There are many ways to look at what this might mean, and I tend to think that equating it all with authority is perhaps a bit limiting and may also be confusing given what authority means in our language, and given the fact that the Aaronic priesthood ordinances themselves aren’t about receiving authority, but are performed with that authority. (I’m also not sure I completely agree with your delineation of keys vs. offices (might just be semantics) and what goes on in the temple, but obviously can’t discuss that here.) :)

    On a sort of unrelated thought, I also tend to wonder if, as Elder Oaks talked about lesser ordinances pointing us to temple ordinances, if some of the keys of the ministering of angels can be a stepping-stone to the greater ordinances as well as opening up access to angels in their own right. Don’t know if that makes sense….. I tend to see all the ordinances as being intertwined and building on each other. Is it a possibility that the keys of the ministering of angels create a foundation or building point or foreshadowing of other ordinances?

    As to your response to the third question, the BRM was from Mormon Doctrine (something that came up in my Infobase search and thought it was worth throwing in there…not that I went looking in MD deliberately, fwiw :) ), so you can take it as you will, but I still think it’s worth at least considering. In addition, I think it might also be wise not to necessarily jump to conclusions regarding the endowment. And I realize we can’t discuss it here, so oh well. :) I think I know what you are getting at, and I think we need to consider how much is literal and how much is symbolic. After all, the endowment isn’t just about Adam and Eve’s journey alone. At some point, it’s about all of us and so I hesitate to extrapolate everything there and say “this is what Adam and Eve experienced.” Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.)

  12. robf said

    Maybe its worth a post of its own, but m&m you seem to have a much more restrictive sense of what temple things you can talk about. One of the members of our Area Presidency on my mission said that we have a few things that we’ve covenented not to reveal–and that beyond that we can respectfully talk about the rest. I sense you don’t share that view. Pity, as I’d really like to know what you are thinking about with some of the stuff on this thread!

  13. m&m said

    Actually, some of what I’m thinking about does fall within those restrictions, so….

    I think Joe’s approach here is a really good one, though: talk about those things that are in scripture, and be careful about the rest. I have heard more restrictive interpretations of what we should or should not talk about as well, so yes, I do tend to be cautious. But I’m curious as to what you are curious about…perhaps there are things I would feel comfy talking about. :) This is one of my favorite topics, so….

  14. Robert C. said

    I finally got a chance to read this, great article Joe, but I feel it will take quite a while to digest.

    I wondered about young women even before reading m&m’s comments. I think this tension is unavoidable: the more “meaningful” we take the ordination of young men to the priesthood, the more it seems young women are excluded….

    Also, I’m not sure I’m following the cryptic temple discussion in the comments. Is the concern whether there was actually an angel with a physical body around/available to give to Adam what Brigham Young likely means when he says “tokens”? If this indeed is the concern, I think it’s quite presumptious for us to think we know the physical nature of all of God’s angels at “that time,” esp. given the nature of what Joseph taught regarding many worlds, no beginning, recurrence, etc.

  15. m&m, regarding authority: I’m using authority in a much broader sense than you are, but I’m glad you bring it up, because my readers would not likely to thinking it the way I am. It is certainly worth taking up when I edit the paper. For purposes of the conversation, I mean by authority what it means outside of the Church: to be given the power to use someone else’s name. Nothing more.

    I suspected Mormon Doctrine was behind that. I love Elder McConkie’s conference addresses, but I am very careful with anything he wrote as an individual. Mormon Doctrine has a rather shady background (which you can read about in Gregory Prince’s David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism). To be honest, I really think sometimes that the Church would have been better off if Elder McConkie had never written that book, not so much because of what it says as because of how it is received. Anyway….

    Robert, I think you did follow us well. Your statement about presumption captures my sentiments precisely. As for the young women, how do we handle that kind of a thing? The fact remains that young men are given the priesthood while young women are not. I have my own ways of handling that, and they are ways I feel comfortable discussing in, say, a seminary class, but I don’t know that they are material for the readership (or editors!) of the Ensign.

    As for the discussing of temple things: thanks, Rob. I have heard the same, and I feel the same as you do, for the most part. I was being cryptic because m&m has expressed before on other threads a kind of concern about too explicit discussion of the endowment. But even as I feel that we can be more free about discussing the temple (you should see me teach seminary!), the sheer publicness of the blog might suggest we keep things somewhat careful. You’ll notice I try to hide behind quotations and scriptures. I do this so that I lead people to study those texts rather than to searching the web through google. For what it’s worth.

  16. m&m said

    I suspected Mormon Doctrine was behind that.

    Actually, Joe, let me make it clear that Mormon Doctrine wasn’t behind my thoughts at all…it was a concern the first time I read your piece, before I went mulling over angels and reading other stuff.

    (Sidenote: I know MD isn’t everyone’s favorite, but I thought what he said was at least worth consideration. Regardless, though, I still don’t gel with the use of authority that you have here, and that was my key point. I don’t take it as ultimate authority, but I don’t think we should dismiss everything in there, either.)

    And as for the discussing of temple things, I just read through The Holy Temple last nite and still feel the way I do. :) Joe, if you were cryptic for my sake, I really appreciate that sensitivity. I tend to try to watch how our leaders handle temple teachings, and I have never seen them be explicit, even about wording, let alone about what is represented or talked about. They are always cryptic, and leave only a word or two or scriptures to trigger our minds in temple mode.

    Joe, I would be interested in how you “handle” the young women and priesthood issue. This, obviously, is a hot topic on the ‘nacle and I am always interested to know how others approach the topic. I do think that the reception of ordinances that hold those keys opens up blessings (couldn’t D&C 84:18-22 be an example of how this could work…or is this only applicable to the Melchisedek priesthood? — I would suspect that the ordinances could allow for/open up the blessings of the ministering of angels for everyone.) Maybe addressing this is beyond the scope of your paper, but I’d still be interested in your thoughts.

  17. robf said

    Often when I’m talking about the temple, I don’t explicitly say that’s what I’m talking about. I just use language and images that would only resonate as temple language to those who have been to the temple. I think the scriptures are doing that all the time, though we probably miss a lot because we don’t know the text/script of all the ancient rituals.

    As to how Adam might have been able to apply D&C 129, I don’t really have a grip on that so I’ll leave that for another time.

  18. robf said

    This talk was given while I was on my mission, and made an impression.

  19. m&m said

    Often when I’m talking about the temple, I don’t explicitly say that’s what I’m talking about. I just use language and images that would only resonate as temple language to those who have been to the temple.

    This is what I see our leaders do as well. I think it’s a wise approach to take.

    I’m interested, robf, as to what made an impression about that talk…just wondering what aspect of it. It’s a good one. Thanks for the link.

  20. m&m said

    I think this may address my questions and confirm my thoughts about the ministering of angels 1) not always being about visible visitations, and 2) being available to all members of the church.

    Ministering of angels “can also be unseen. Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind. … Most angelic communications are felt or heard rather than seen….

    “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 Nephi 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” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1998, 51; or Ensign, Nov. 1998, 39).

  21. robf said

    m&m, in the talk above Elder Carmack does exactly what we were talking about. I remember hearing it at the time, watching it on video in Ecuador. It was sort of an “Elder Holland quotes the Apocrapha moment” for me. After that I heard other General Authorities use this kind of language more openly, and then of course, when I got home I read a lot of Hugh Nibley and it was everywhere.

  22. brianj said

    I realize this discussion has slowed (stopped?), but I’ve been unable to get back to it until now. (I actually printed it and took it on the airplane last weekend.)

    Joe, I think this concept is fascinating—specifically, that the Aaronic Priesthood’s ministering of angels is a reflection of its preperatory nature. I also like how you illustrated the two facets—detecting and receiving messengers—of that ministering.

    The problem question I had when I read it was expressed by Michele (#7) and Robert (#14): how does this relate to females? Robert matched my concern most closely:

    “I think this tension is unavoidable: the more “meaningful” we take the ordination of young men to the priesthood, the more it seems young women are excluded….”

    And my concern went a little broader than that. A similar tension exists between fatherhood and motherhood: we try to balance out the duties and abilities of each and end up balancing the priesthood against childbearing (or some other odd counterweighting). (When I say “against,” I’m using the analogy of scales—I don’t mean it in the sense of “opposition.”) So “pump up” the young men with their priesthood power and responsibility, but much of what they are doing (teaching, preaching, serving, conducting meetings)—or should be doing—can and is done by young women. And the same can be said of fathers and mothers.

    So here’s a radical thought (which takes me away from the point of my question and is coming from someone with no experience working with the young men): maybe the way we emphasize the priesthood is actually detrimental to the young men? Do they come away from quorum meetings thinking they are something special/important by virtue of holding the priesthood, but forget or don’t notice that the young women are doing most of the same things the young men are? (I’m thinking of President Hinckley’s talk in Conference where he expressed concerns that the young women were outperforming the young men in, well, just about everything.) Would the young men be better served if we taught, “Just like the young women, faith, hope, and charity should be your primary concerns—and, oh yes, you also need to help pass the sacrament.” (Okay, so I’m being a little facetious there, but just to make a point.)

    Anyway, I’m not really saying anything new in this discussion, but rather attempting to stir up the embers and see if my question can be addressed.

  23. I really think these are important issues. Let me “defend myself” by saying that because I was writing with the Ensign in mind, I was avoiding the issue (I knew that anything I could write that used gender inclusive language about holding keys of the priesthood would NEVER pass muster with the editors of the Ensign!). But setting that aside, let me get on to the real issue.

    Do I think we should pump up the young men? Never. Should we teach them the nature of the priesthood? Absolutely. I think there is quite a gap between these two. I don’t think the priesthood is something to be “pumped up” about, but something for which to praise the Lord. I should hope that every time I have taught something so explicit about the nature of the priesthood, I have taught it in such a way that no priesthood holder could get “pumped up,” but would be humbled at the glory bestowed upon God’s children.

    But really, the question to address is not whether we should teach these kinds of things to the young men. The question is about what the relationship really is, in the end, between women and the priesthood. And that is quite a can of worms. Not one I’m sure I’d like to open up in so public a forum, to be quite honest. Too much is at stake in such a discussion. I certainly have my ways of handling the question when I teach, and I think they work quite well. But they are so closely tied to the situation in which I teach that I doubt I can communicate anything about it very well here. If anyone else is willing to take up the question, I’m certainly willing to respond and to see if I can’t shed some light on the issue. But I’m not sure I want to be the one opening the discussion about women and the priesthood.

    Or I might say that there is a perfectly easy way to approach the question in a public forum like this, but that is quite straightforwardly to talk about the nature of the priesthood without reference to men or women. In a sense, that is what I was trying to do the above article (if it is read without the introduction and the conclusion, it is–if I remember right–totally oriented by the nature of the priesthood and not at all by the gender issues involved). The introduction and the conclusion are guided by the specific desire to fix a couple of major difficulties in the Church, one of which is precisely the relation of women to the priesthood. Though the article participates in gender-exclusive language (so to speak), it does so in order to speak to a very specific crowd (the average Latter-day Saint) on their own terms, engaging them thereby in a more serious discussion of the nature of the priesthood that might lead on to a far better preparedness (as a people) for hashing out these larger questions of women and the priesthood. Two other goals guide the article. One is to keep our young men from the wickedness and frivolity in which they are engaged, primarily by helping them to recognize what they have been given. The other is to fix many of the problems facing the missionary force by helping those preparing for missions to recognize that they function as angels bringing keys.

    Anyway. That’s enough for now.

  24. brianj said


    Fair enough. You responded to my goading the way I would have responded myself (namely, not getting into it on a public blog). But maybe someone has a “careful” answer? My question comes as a father of three girls (possibly a fourth? we’ll know in a couple months) and no boys. I’ve never served in YM and don’t expect to (but who knows?). From my point of view, talking to boys about the importance of the priesthood seems easy; talking to girls about it is…complicated? Maybe that’s not the right word, but it does seem that when teaching my girls, the inevitable questions will require a greater understanding and more careful handling of the subject.

    And just to be clear: I would never imagine you intentionally “pumping up” the young men with anything, let alone the priesthood. I tried to write my question from the young men’s point of view: regardless of how we intend to convey a sense of reverence and humility, do the young men take it the wrong way and just hear “You are great because you hold the priesthood”? I think from your response that you recognize the potential for that problem (else you wouldn’t be stressing humility in the first place).

  25. brianj said

    Joe, I thought I could make myself a little clearer. You wrote:

    “One [goal of the article] is to keep our young men from the wickedness and frivolity in which they are engaged, primarily by helping them to recognize what they have been given.”

    That is similar to what Pres. Hinckley said in the talk I referenced:

    “With this priesthood comes a great obligation to be worthy of it. We cannot indulge in unclean thoughts. We must not partake of pornography. We must never be guilty of abuse of any kind. We must rise up above such things. “Rise up, O men of God!” and put these things behind you, and the Lord will be your guide and stay.”

    But should a young woman say, “I don’t have the priesthood. Therefore, I do not need to refrain from the ‘wickedness and frivolity in which I am engaged.’ And I have no ‘great obligation to be worthy of anything. I can indulge in unclean thoughts. I can partake in pornography,’ etc.”

  26. Very clear, Brian. I think this is a real problem. One to which, again, I have two responses. On the one hand, I don’t know that I need to ask the question when I’m teaching in the priests quorum. But I teach plenty of seminary as well, and that is where I have my other approach. I’d be happy to explain how I go about it by e-mail if you’d like (and I’ll share my thoughts on just about anything in that limited sphere, where Google’s fingers can’t reach). So feel free to e-mail me: s9t9o9k9i9e9j9o9e@hotmail.com (of course without the 9’s).

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