The Priesthood of Elijah, Church of the First Born, Kingdom of God and Other Terms Not Understood For the Past 100 years

Editors note: This article is very foot note heavy, and in an attempt to make checking references easier, we have put the foot notes in a separate “article” that you can open in a new tab and go back and forth without losing your spot in the article. You can see the footnotes by clicking here.  We have also left them at the end of the article.

Not much is taught recently about certain aspects of the Gospel taught extensively in the formative years of the Church, from second comforter to second anointing to the Church of the First Born vs. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vs. the Kingdom of God.  This has caused some confusion and we hope to clear it up here.

Apart from incorrect usage of proper terminology, usage of multiple terms to refer to the same priesthood office,1 double entendre, drastic restructuring of priesthood stewardships, and differing opinions put forth by various Church leaders, historians have to climb around other documentary road blocks as well. The historical record contains admissions that the early brethren were well aware that the priesthood structure that they were operating under was not in perfect order and that they were unable to correct those improprieties as a result of the imperfections of the saints.2

Nevertheless, this groundwork will be adequate to guide the reader through the following, more salient issues – some of which have largely been explored by previous academics:

1) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is distinguishable from the Church of the Firstborn.

2) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is distinguishable from the kingdom of God.

3) The kingdom of God properly refers to the Council of Fifty.

4) The ordinances associated with the kingdom of God are the ordinances of the Church of the Firstborn.

5) Keys associated with the kingdom of God are held by the Church of the Firstborn.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints & The Church of the Firstborn

Conceptually, many modern members of the Church understand that there is a difference between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church of the Firstborn. They understand that the LDS Church was incorporated on April 6, 1830 and that the Church of the Firstborn mentioned in D&C 88:5 and Revelations 12:1-7 is an entirely different entity.3 However, the Church of the Firstborn is largely viewed as a celestial organization that only a very few elect members of the Church ever get a chance to experience – a smaller portion of the saints may simply view the Church of the Firstborn as the association of angels in relation to temple ordinances for the dead. Conceptually speaking, these positions may hold some scepter of legitimacy.

However, Heber C. Kimball made the distinction a little more pragmatic and down to earth. Said he, “The ordinances of the House of God are expressly for the Church of the Firstborn”4 and “the Church of the Firstborn was organized in the beginning in Kirtland.”5

The fact that this Church was “organized” suggests something more than communion with angels – it suggests a distinct and separate mortal identity. Indeed, Nauvoo era sources clearly document the fact that an organization created in connection with the “ordinances of the House of God” kept its own distinct records and conducted meetings related to the welfare of the saints.6 This organization is commonly referred to as Joseph’s Quorum of Anointed or the Holy Order. Heber C. Kimball makes it clear that these appellations are synonymous with the organization he refers to as the Church of the Firstborn.

President Kimball further testified that he and Brigham Young were both present when that Church was established.7 Since neither of these men were present in Fayette, New York on April 6, 1830; since both of them were present in Kirtland where both of them participated in temple ordinances; and since both of them were members of the Holy Order in Nauvoo, it is clear that Heber C. Kimball was not referring to the organization of the Church of Jesus

Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was referring to a priesthood organization created in connection with the “ordinances of the House of God” – the Church of the Firstborn.

Some have pointed out that apostles Kimball and Young were both involved in a quorum within the Church of the Firstborn both in Kirtland and in Nauvoo. On March 29, 1836, nine men referred to as “presidents” received the washing of feet ordinance a day prior to the Twelve. These same nine men received their endowments from Joseph Smith the day before the Twelve on May 4, 1842.8 A year later, on May 26, 1843, these nine men again met with Joseph Smith, received their endowments for a second time, and received instructions about the priesthood.9 In all, there are at least three recorded instances of their gathering together as a council for the purpose of receiving sacred ordinances and to receive instruction from the prophet concerning the order of the priesthood.10 Both Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young were present for all three of these meetings and both of them were referred to as presidents at those meetings.

In other words, if a quorum within the Church of the Firstborn held the keys of temple ordinances and also governed the kingdom of God (as opposed to a quorum within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holding those keys and governing the kingdom), it seems that most mainstream latter-day saints would be able to quickly understand the significance of such a claim.

Nevertheless, the complete dissociation of these two organizations is not intuitive within the modern Mormon paradigm. In contrast, Heber C. Kimball saw membership in the Church of the Firstborn as very distinct from membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – if anything, membership in the Church of the Firstborn superseded membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“[A]ll of your former covenants are of no account, and here is the place where we have to enter into a new covenant.” –Heber C. Kimball 12/21/1843,  Journal of William Clayton11

To be clear, President Kimball was suggesting that baptismal “covenants are of no account” once you enter into the Church of the Firstborn – presumably because the higher covenants entered into in the temple endowment circumscribe the covenants made at baptism.

He further preached a strong distinction between these organizations when discussing the position of apostates. Expulsion from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meant that, in order to return, one would need to receive a rebaptism and perhaps the reinstatement of priesthood offices or blessings. Expulsion from the Church of the Firstborn was an entirely different thing – that meant the dissolution of the body and spirit.12 Thus, the distinction between the LDS Church and the Church of the Firstborn in early Mormon theology was both pragmatic and emphatic.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints & The Kingdom of God

Distinguishing the LDS Church from the kingdom of God is also no longer intuitive among modern members of the Church2

Nevertheless, Joseph Smith taught that “the Kingdom will be established” only when the saints receive the fullness of the priesthood.13 This statement creates the first of a series of teachings connecting the Church of the Firstborn with the kingdom of God.

This claim clearly instructs us that the kingdom of God was not established on April 6, 1830. In fact, it was not established with the introduction of temple ordinances in Kirtland in 1836.

Neither was it established in May of 1842 when the temple endowment was restored.14

According to this statement, the kingdom of God was only fully established on September 28, 1843 when Joseph Smith received his second anointings. This rings consistently with statements where the brethren claimed that the kingdom of God was established in the winter of 1843/44. Nevertheless, the month before he was martyred, Joseph made a similar statement that the kingdom of God was yet to be more fully established.15

The reader should note that Joseph Smith made similar statements regarding the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is, he thought that he had completed its organization a number of times only to find that God required him to do more.16 It seems that Joseph had a similar paradigmatic problem in establishing the kingdom of God and that he may have engaged in similar revisions concerning the kingdom of God. In other words, in hindsight, he may have revised his statement to suggest that the kingdom of God had not been fully established as he had previously believed and that there was yet more to be accomplished before this happened.

After immigrating to Utah, Brigham Young preached that the kingdom “grows out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it is not the Church.”17 The official History of the Church parrots this view, claiming that this “is the correct view to take. The Kingdom of God is a separate organization from the Church of God.”18

George Q. Cannon similarly noted:

“[W]ell informed Latter-day Saints know that there are two powers which God has restored in these the last days. One is the Church of God, the other the Kingdom of God.” JD 20:204

Noting that the saints colloquially used the term “kingdom of God” to refer to the Church, Brigham Young corrected this inaccurate association by clearly distinguishing the kingdom from the Church.19 He preached that the kingdom “is not to be given to another people” because it was the “kingdom that Daniel spoke of, which was to be set up in the last days.” He also taught that the kingdom would “send forth those laws and ordinances” for the benefit of the Church.20 Thus, the Church would be benefitted by the activities of the separate organization referred to as the kingdom. Typically, Mormon scholars have made a connection between the kingdom of God and the sending forth of laws to the world with the Council of Fifty.

“No one quorum has power to give eternal laws for his people, but a certain council which includes the Twelve and many others.”-Parley P. Pratt 10/10/1847, Salt Lake Historical Record21

The “many others” comprised the Council of Fifty – not the first presidency or the seventies as further investigation will show. While this standard interpretation is largely accurate, this paradigmatic approach is insufficient to explain a few important statements made by the early brethren. Consider the following:

[T]he kingdom of God is a kingdom of kings and priests, and will rise in mighty power in the last days. JD 9:327 22, Heber C. Kimball 6/7/1862

Anyone who has spent minimal time researching the Council of Fifty knows that not every member within that council had received his second anointings and therefore they were not all “kings and priests.” Joseph Smith also made a number of connections between the kingdom of God and the fullness of the priesthood (viz., kings and priests).

The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelation, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God. TPJS, 323, Joseph Smith 3/10/1844

Joseph’s suggestion that the kingdom of God has ordinances pertaining to “the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood” and “the calling of Elijah” unmistakably implicates the second anointing and the Church of the Firstborn. Thus, the “ordinances belonging to the kingdom” must include temple ordinances. More specifically, the “ordinances belonging to the kingdom” includes the second anointing that can only be received as a member of the Church of the Firstborn.

Brigham Young similarly taught:

[I]t is the kingdom that is to be held by the servants of God, to rule the nations of the earth, to send forth those laws and ordinances that shall be suitable and that shall apply themselves to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. JD 17:15624, Brigham Young 8/9/1874

The reader should note that the only ordinance traditionally associated with the Council of Fifty is the coronation of its king and that ordinance does not apply “to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Thus, the references to the ordinances of the kingdom of God cannot refer to the Council of Fifty. Because the ordinances are sent forth “to the Church,” they must come from a different organization and that organization must have the keys to perform the ordinances of the kingdom.

Orson Hyde clarified this teaching. He taught that only members of the Church of the Firstborn hold the keys of the kingdom and that these keys are received by an anointing.

“To us [the Holy Order/Church of the Firstborn] were committed the Keys of the Kingdom and every gift, key and power, that Joseph ever had, confirmed upon our heads by an anointing.” –Orson Hyde 9/19/1844, The Return: the Diary of Ebenezer Robinson 2:253

The reader should observe that there is no known ceremony in the Council of Fifty that bestows any keys of the kingdom to multiple individuals by an anointing.25 If those keys could not have been given to the Council of Fifty by way of an anointing, those keys must come from some other organization. The anointing in the first endowment does not bestow “every” key that Joseph ever held as Orson Hyde intimated. Only members of the Holy Order who have received their second anointing hold those keys.26 Moreover, it is clear from the above statements that these keys pertain to the kingdom of God.27

Therefore, the keys of the kingdom of God referred to above must have been held by virtue of the office of a king and a priest within the Church of the Firstborn. This is further supported by Brigham Young’s statement that Joseph did not receive the keys of the kingdom until late 1843.

“I am going to speak upon the subject of the Patriarchal Priesthood. Joseph … was a Prophet, Seer and Revelator before he received the Fulness of the Priesthood and Keys of the Kingdom.” WWJ, 8/15/1847

Undisputedly, Joseph held priesthood keys to govern the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints long before “he received the Fulness of the Priesthood and Keys of the Kingdom,” so the priesthood keys governing the Church must have been different than the keys governing the kingdom. W. W. Phelps, in the course of Sidney Rigdon’s membership trial, distinguished the Church of the Firstborn from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He claimed that the Church of the Firstborn was responsible for bestowing the endowment upon the people.

I want to say that there is a Quorum that the Twelve belong to and from which the people will receive an endowment. –W. W. Phelps, Thomas Bullock Report28

In connection with Brigham Young’s 1874 statement above, Phelps’ observation is important because it helps establish the function that the Church of the Firstborn performed in early Mormonism. It held the keys of the kingdom necessary to bestow temple ordinances upon the saints. The saints did not receive their endowments from the Twelve acting in any capacity within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The saints received their endowments under the direction of Brigham Young who was acting in the capacity of the presiding king and priest within the Church of the Firstborn.29

As alluded to earlier, there is a further function of the Church of the Firstborn beyond administering temple ordinances. Brigham Young taught that the kingdom was to send forth laws to the Church.

The prophet Joseph also made this connection clear. He preached that only a King and a Priest could “pour out the peace and Law of endless Life to man.”30 Thus, the “quorum … with power to give eternal laws for his people” referred to by Parley P. Pratt must have been a quorum of kings and priests, which included the “Twelve and many others.”

Joseph’s teaching invites the question: what is the “Law of endless Life?” Joseph taught that Jesus, “on the Mount transfigured before Peter and John, there receiving the fullness of priesthood or the law of God.”31 The connection made here between the fullness of the priesthood and the laws of God appears to be one of equivocation. In other words, the fullness of the priesthood is another term for the law of God. It seems plausible that the “Law of endless Life” would similarly be equated with the “law of God” since only God’s laws bestow endless life. This interpretation is consistent with Joseph’s teaching that only a king and a priest has the authority to deliver laws to the people.

If the “Law of endless Life” refers to the fullness of the priesthood, we have the rather intuitive connection that the Church of the Firstborn’s injunction to send all of the laws and ordinances to the Church included the ordinance of the second endowment – an ordinance that early Mormon leaders taught was essential to exaltation.32

If we accept the proposition that the kingdom of God is presided over by the Church of the Firstborn, Jedediah M. Grant expands this concept one step further. He taught that only a presiding officer holding the keys of the kingdom of God has the legal right to preside and administer laws to the people. Thus, he is the “one man” with the “key of life and death.”

“[T]hat man who holds the keys of the kingdom of God on earth … is God’s mouthpiece … and the only man who has the legal right to preside, and to turn the key of power, the key of life and death, and hold forth the scepter of righteousness to the nations.” –Jedediah M. Grant, Mormon Thunder: A Documentary History of Jedediah Morgan Grant, 174 33

In other words, the “one man” referred to in D&C 132:7 must be a king and a priest who holds “the scepter of righteousness” – a symbolic allusion to legitimized authority – and he must also be the presiding officer over the kingdom of God (viz., the presiding officer over the Church of the Firstborn on the earth). Moreover, Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that a “man that is not an Apostle has not power to stand at the Head of the kingdom of God” so the holder of the keys of the kingdom must be an apostle as well.34

Because Brigham Young informs us that the term “kingdom of God” was commonly used to refer to the LDS Church even though this terminology was not technically accurate, any conclusions reached above must be considered very carefully. In other words, statements that refer to the keys of the kingdom could be interpreted to mean keys of the LDS Church if the context warranted such a reading. It appears that such a reading would not make much sense with the above quotes but further investigation is warranted. A number of issues will therefore be addressed in the following pages.

If the references to the kingdom of God were used accurately enough to justify the conclusions above, we would expect the founding members of the Council of Fifty to include members of the Church of the Firstborn who had received their second anointings. In other words, it would not make sense for the Council of Fifty to be organized without any members qualified to preside as officers of that organization. This is precisely what the historical record establishes.

The Council of Fifty was organized by twelve men who had received their second anointings and ten men who had not.35 Moreover, if the above interpolations are correct, Heber C. Kimball’s comments that officers of the kingdom are “organized after the order of the Church of the First Born” is likewise particularly consistent … and interesting.

“This people here are the people of God. Here, in the Territory of Deseret, is the kingdom of God, and here are all the officers pertaining to that kingdom; and here is an organization that is organized after the order of God, and it is organized after the order of the Church of the First Born.” –Heber C. Kimball 8/2/1857, JD 5:130

In other words, rather than looking at the Council of Fifty as an exclusive organization that stood on its own, the historical record suggests that the presiding officers of the Council of Fifty must be kings and priests within the Church of the Firstborn who hold the keys of the kingdom.36 This reasoning is intuitive as well – who better to administer the “Law of endless life” than a king and a priest who had proven himself so faithful to God’s law as to receive an unconditional promise of eternal life? Thus far, the proposition is consistent with the historical record.

Reconsidering the Last Charge and the succession crisis from this exegetical lens lends consistency to a number of statements that are otherwise difficult to merge for many Church members.  However, Bejamin F. Johnson claimed that the Council was the “outer wall or government around the inner temple of priesthood.”37 This statement can be read as a reference to the Council of Fifty as being the outer wall of government around the Church of the Firstborn or the inner temple of priesthood. This would give the Council of Fifty a dual role as the purpose of the Council of Fifty was elsewhere described as being “for the protection of [the Lord’s] Church.”37 Similarly, James Whitehead, Joseph’s clerk, claimed that God gave the Church of the Firstborn to Joseph for the purpose of protecting “the Church from false spirits and false revelations.”38

This approach to understanding the role of the Church of the Firstborn within the Council of Fifty also explains why the Council of Fifty was overseen by Brigham Young after the martyrdom. As we saw earlier, Brigham Young exercised authority to lead the Church by virtue of authority he held as a king and a priest. It appears from the above statements that he also exercised authority to lead the Council of Fifty, not as president of the Church as Quinn has suggested,39 but by virtue of his authority as a king and a priest within the Church of the Firstborn.40

In summary, extracting teachings found in the historical record to support the idea that the kingdom of God holds priesthood keys superior to keys held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be done without much difficulty. The convincing power of the above reconstruction relies heavily upon the interpretation of the phrase “kingdom of God.” However, the consistency with which we can find statements that fit that paradigmatic assumption is rather striking.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair to drop the investigation at this juncture. There are more morsels in Mormon history that arguably substantiate the view that the LDS

Church does not have as much priesthood authority as the Church of the Firstborn.41

Joseph made some very direct statements making the claim that offices in the Church of the Firstborn were higher than offices in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it existed in 1843.

After having received the apostleship, the sealing power, and the office of president of the Church, he clearly stated: “I will advance your Prophet to a Priest, and then to a King.”42 He also stated that he was going to become “a Priest of the Most High God.”43 This clearly implies that the office of a king and priest is higher than the office of the president of the Church – otherwise it would not be an advancement. Less than a month later, Brigham Young proclaimed that no man in the Church held the fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood. This latter statement implies that the office of a king and priest is higher than the apostleship held by Joseph Smith at that time.44

Further, the fact that Joseph was receiving more priesthood after he was ordained an apostle and after he was ordained the “Presiding High Priest of the Church” as per D&C 107:64-66 clearly implies that the office of president of the Church comprises less priesthood authority than a king and a priest – unless both offices were merged together into one man.45 This is consistent with the oft cited quote from Heber C. Kimball claiming that apostle Sidney Rigdon did not have any authority except “what he receives from the Church.” The priesthood authority that “more than thirty men” held that apostle Rigdon did not hold was conferred upon them outside of the structure of the “Church” – and it was conferred by the “council pertaining to the High Priesthood.”45 The context of Rigdon’s trial is clear that this authority was conferred upon them within the structure of the Church of the Firstborn and that this authority was superior to any authority held in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Apostleship & the Priesthood of Elijah

It is worth observing that the jurisdiction of the Twelve “outside” of the Church could be used to argue the above distinctions between priesthood authority and the office of the presiding patriarch made by Brigham Young.46 Nevertheless, at the time Brigham Young was making some of these statements, the Twelve were temporarily acting as the first presidency of the Church. Therefore, another reasonably compelling argument is as argued above: the apostles held superior priesthood power as a result of their ordinations as kings and priests. Additionally, there are other teachings surrounding the apostleship that suggest that the latter argument should be considered the more significant of the two.

Several discourses given by the early brethren claim that the apostleship is the highest authority on earth and there seems to be no dissenting voice unless one ignores the context of those teachings.47 Brigham Young once described the apostleship as the “highest office of authority” in the Church and in the Kingdom.48

“I am going to speak upon the subject of the Patriarchal Priesthood. [A]n Apostle is the highest office of authority49 that there is in the Church and Kingdom of God on the Earth.” -Brigham Young 8/15/1847, WWJ

According to Brigham Young, we should expect apostles to lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church of the Firstborn because there is no greater authority in those organizations. In language reminiscent of the Last Charge, John Taylor echoed these teachings. However, he portrayed the apostleship as the greatest authority “ever conferred upon man.”

“[A]s you heard this morning … the Apostleship, which has been given by the Almighty … embraces all the keys, powers and authorities ever conferred upon man.” –JOHN TAYLOR 10/7/1877, JD 19:124

As we saw earlier, a king and a priest also holds “every gift, key and power” that Joseph ever held and those keys were bestowed in an anointing ceremony. Although insufficient to establish a logical connection based upon this information alone, we can conclude that a king and a priest must hold the apostleship since both of them have every key and power conferred upon man and since other statements establish this same connection.50 This is notably clear in light of Wilford Woodruff’s journal entry mentioned earlier wherein he claims that a man cannot be “the Head of the kingdom of God” unless he is an apostle. Because the head of the kingdom must be a king and a priest, he must also be an apostle or else he would not have the power to fill that position.

The following quotes further establish this fact and they begin to unfold a new concept as well.

“Joseph said the Apostleship covered all the offices of the High Priesthood the same as a private member ordained a High Priest could officiate as a Deacon Teacher Priest or Elder.” –JOSEPH SMITH 12/26/1845, WWJ 5:478

Speaking of the Melchizedek priesthood in connection with the apostleship of Jesus Christ, Brigham Young made a similar observation:

“This High Priesthood [i.e., the fullness of the priesthood] rules, directs, governs, and controls all the Priesthoods, because it is the highest of all. What ordination should a man receive to possess all the keys and powers of the Holy Priesthood that were delivered to the sons of Adam? He should be ordained an Apostle of Jesus Christ. That office puts him in possession of every key, every power, every authority, communication, benefit, blessing, glory, and kingdom that was ever revealed to man. That pertains to the office of an Apostle of Jesus Christ.” –BRIGHAM YOUNG 5/7/1861, JD 9:87-88

Thus, the “Apostleship” governs all of the offices of the high priesthood and the high priesthood “governs and controls all the priesthoods because it is the highest of all. Further, the apostleship of Jesus Christ comprises “every” key and authority “ever revealed to man.” Orson Pratt taught that a king and a priest could function in all of these same capacities:

“King[s] & Priest[s] … can … minister as Apostles; officiate as Teachers; or, act in the humblest or most exalted capacity. There is no branch of the Priesthood so low that they cannot condescend to officiate therein; none so high that they cannot reach forth the arm of power and control the same.” –ORSON PRATT 10/–/1853, The Seer 1:145

Other accounts mirror this claim51 and at least one early account describes the position of a king and a priest as an “office” of the priesthood, which further establishes the proposition that an “Apostle of Jesus Christ” and a “king and priest” are synonymous terms.

“Mr. [William] Marks then told me he was present when the twelve were ordained, and Brigham Young was ordained under Hyrum Smith, to the office of prophet, priest, and king, and Brigham Young ordained the rest of the twelve to the same office.” –SAMUEL JAMES 3/1/1845, M&A 1:129-2052

Daniel Tyler, a little known but faithful pioneer who marched in the Mormon Battallion, explained the significance of the office of a king and a priest.

“What is meant by the fullness of the priesthood? It does not mean any special office above the Apostles, but that there were powers belonging to the different grades of priesthood which had not been conferred …

These additional powers include all of the keys that belong to the holy priesthood on the earth, or were ever revealed to man in any dispensation, and which admit men and women within the veil. They enable them to pass by the angels and the gods, until they get into the presence of the Father and the Son. They make of them kings and priests, queens and priestesses to God, to rule and reign as such over their posterity and those who may be given to them by adoption.” –DANIEL TYLER 1880, Juvenile Instructor 15:111

Thus, the highest grade of the apostleship carries “all of the keys that belong to the holy priesthood” and makes the holder of that apostleship a king and a priest. This did not comprise a new office “above” the apostleship but it did indicate a “different grade” of the apostleship.

Ehat similarly made the connection that there were different grades of apostleship when writing about Sidney Rigdon’s trial.53 While this concept may not be commonly understood among mainstream latter-day saints who are often unaware that members of the seventies used to be ordained apostles as well, the concept of various quorums of apostles was fairly well known in the early days of the Church.

At least two quotes suffice to demonstrate this concept more fully. Wilford Woodruff, in the context of calling various priesthood quorums to repentance for not bearing the burden of the priesthood responsibilities warned all quorums that they would be “removed out of their place” if they did not repent. He then stated:

“Let the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy apostles, and High Priest apostles,54 and all other Apostles rise up and keep pace with the work of the Lord God, for we have no time to sleep.” –WILFORD WOODRUFF 12/21/1856, JD 4:147

Oliver Cowdery also acknowledged that there are different gradations of apostleship. More specifically, he claimed that an ordination to the apostleship was incomplete until God Himself confirmed the ordination to the apostleship.

Oliver Cowdery charges the Twelve: “[I]t is necessary that you … can bear testimony … that you have seen the face of God. … When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out. … Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid his hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us. God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands on His disciples, why not in the latter days? … [B]ear this testimony, that you have seen the face of God … for it is your duty and your privilege to bear such testimony for yourselves.” -OLIVER COWDERY 2/4/1835 HC 2:19578

In sum, the historical record suggests that the terms “Apostleship of Jesus Christ” and “king and priest” are synonymous and designate the highest degree of apostleship that can be bestowed upon mortal man. The authority connected to that apostleship comprises every key and power that Joseph Smith ever held. One man presides over all men holding this power bestowed upon men in the second anointing. While this office of authority was closely associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the early brethren clearly distinguished this authority from the authority held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A look at the historical record thus provides a cohesive foundation but that is not to say that the above concepts are controversy free or beyond competing interpretations.



Of particular interest here is the fact that priesthood associated with the second anointing has been referred to as the Fullness of the Priesthood, the Priesthood of Elijah, the High Priesthood, the Patriarchal Priesthood, and its holders have been referred to as Kings and Priests and Apostles of Jesus Christ while other apostles have been referred to merely as apostles or apostles of Joseph Smith, etc. This presents interpretational challenges because a “high priest” may refer to a stake president or an elder who has had his second anointings. “Patriarchal priesthood” may refer to the priesthood held by a stake patriarch or it may refer to a King and a Priest. Even the term “apostle” is somewhat ambiguous as it may refer to a seventy or someone who has received the fullness of the apostleship through the second anointing. In most instances, the context of a statement can help us to flush out these interpretational challenges.

However, there are many statements that are challenging to pin down the author’s precise intent. Sources for each of these claims are found throughout this chapter. Generally speaking, all of these claims are fully addressed in the following seminal works (not in any particular order): Toscano, Paul James, Seeking the Fulness of the Priesthood: The Oath and Covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood: An Exegesis, Sunstone Magazine, (September 1987)(Hereinafter, Seeking the Fulness of the Priesthood); Buerger, David John, The Fulness of the Priesthood: The Second Anointing in Latter-day Saint Theology and Practice, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 16 (Signature Books: 1983); Anderson, Devery S. and Bergera, Gary James, Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed 1842-1845: A Documentary History, (Signature Books: 2005); Origins; Ehat’s Thesis; The Holy Order. As concerning the claim that the Patriarchal Priesthood is connected with the endowment, see WJS, 297, 303, 312


Willard Richard’s Diary (8/9/1844) as cited in Joseph’s Quorum of Anointed, 83 (Joseph’s presence “superseded the necessity of carrying out a perfect operation … of the several Quorums”); JD 8:197-98 (Brigham Young knew that a first presidency should be organized after Joseph’s martyrdom but also “knew the people were not prepared for it” so he waited to reorganize the first presidency); JD 10:20 (10/6/1862)(not one “fully organized branch” in the Church); see also JD 9:269-70; Abraham H. Cannon’s Journal (12/2/1895)(Moses Thatcher prevented John Taylor’s ordination to become a “Prophet, Priest, and King” in the Council of Fifty for almost five years) as cited in The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 17; Journal History of the Church (9/13/1898)(first presidency was not organized quickly enough because of a lack of harmony among the Twelve); Id., (11/10/1901) (Twelve acting as presidency of the Church “was not only cumbersome, but was not fully perfect in the order of the holy priesthood”; although President Joseph F. Smith was “perfectly clear” that the patriarch should be presented before the Twelve, “it was decided not to make any change at present”); Conference Reports (11/10/1901)(Joseph F. Smith preached: “We have not always carried out strictly the order of the priesthood; we have varied from it to some extent; but we hope in due time that, by the promptings of the holy spirit, we will be led up into the exact channel and course that the Lord has marked out for us to pursue. … we will not make any change at present”). See also John Henry Smith Journal (4/6/1902); MS 63:801-02 and endnote 6 in chapter 3. Brigham Young reorganized stakes throughout the Church in 1877. CHC 5:507-08; JD 19:232. Wilford Woodruff claimed that the apostles would be set in order when Christ comes. Abraham H. Cannon’s Journal (4/2/1891).


See also D&C 76:67, 71, 94, 102; 77:11; 78:21; 93:22; 107:19.


JD 8:154. This doctrine was taught into the 1920s. See Smith, Joseph Fielding, Doctrines of Salvation, (Bookcraft: 1956), 3:130 ff.


The quote in context reads as follows:


This people here are the people of God. Here, in the Territory of Deseret, is the kingdom of God, and here are all the officers pertaining to that kingdom; and here is an organization that is organized after the order of God, and it is organized after the order of the Church of the First Born.

Let me explain what the church of the First Born is. It is the first Church that ever was raised up upon this earth; that is, the first born Church. That is what I mean; and when God our Father organized that Church, He organized it just as His Father organized the Church on the earth where He dwelt; and that same order is organized here in the City of Great Salt Lake; and it is that order that Joseph Smith the Prophet of God organized in the beginning in Kirtland, Ohio. Brother Brigham Young, myself, and others were present when that was done; and when those officers received their endowments, they were together in one place. They were organized, and received their endowments and blessings, and those keys were placed upon them, and that kingdom will stand for ever. JD 5:129


See The Holy Order, Ehat’s Thesis, and Joseph’s Quorum of Anointed for a thorough discussion of the activities of this organization. In the latter source, we find that the Quorum of Anointed met to discuss a number of Church related business issues. Joseph’s Quorum of Anointed, 11 (see also HC 5:44-45). Ehat’s Thesis discusses their activities on pages 13 (missionaries should stop preaching politics), 149 (organizing western expedition parties), 151-52 (the Twelve were concurrently involved in the western expedition), and 233-34 (they kept separate minutes for sixty-six meetings). Heber C. Kimball’s journal provides us with a number of instances as well. See entries for (7/3/1845; 10/11/1845; & 10/27/1845).


JD 8:154; 5:130.


HC 2:430-31; 5:1-2. Apart from Joseph Smith, these nine masons included Hyrum

Smith; Heber C. Kimball; Newel K. Whitney; William Law; Willard Richards; George

Miller; Brigham Young; William Marks; and James Adams.


I spent the day … instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessing which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days.

HC 5:1-2

At least four of these men left accounts of this event: Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, and George Miller. Ehat’s Thesis, 28-29; Joseph’s Quorum of Anointed, 7-9. None of these accounts add anything significant to the question at hand but it is interesting to note that Miller’s account informs us that these ordinances were performed after several of them returned from missions in England and inaccurately claims that Joseph “conferred on [them] Patriarchal Priesthood.” On July 1, 1855, a letter written by Miller was published in James J. Strang’s newspaper claiming that Mormons received “an endowment of patriarchal priesthood under the hands of the twelve apostles” in Nauvoo. Origins, 308. See also TPJS, 326. His failure to distinguish between the first and second endowments was apparently the source of his error.

Also of interest is an entry in the Millennial Star in 1847 where we are informed that apostles are all “presidents in all the world without other ordinations.” MS 9:324. With no further explanation from the historical record as to why these nine men were called “presidents,” the possibility that they had been ordained apostles is open to question. If they were so ordained, we here have further instances of secret ordinations because not all of these men were recognized as apostles at this time. If they were not so ordained, we must question what these men were presidents of – if not presidents of some quorum within the Church of the Firstborn.


HC 5:409. These were not proxy endowments for the dead. It may be that this second receipt of the first endowment may have been more complete or more perfect than the one they received on May 4, 1842.


JOSEPH SMITH 5/26/1843

I met in counsel in the upper room [Red Brick Store], with my Brother Hyrum, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Judge James Adams, Bishop Newel K. Whitney, and William Law, and gave them their endowments and also instructions in the priesthood on the new and everlasting covenant, &c. -HC 5:409; see also 412


As cited in Seeking the Fulness of the Priesthood, 35


The names of William Law and William Marks were stricken from the official Church historical record. Heber C. Kimball viewed apostasy after belonging to the Church of the Firstborn as a condition worse than death:

HEBER C. KIMBALL 12/21/1845

About four years ago next May, nine persons were admitted into the Holy Order. Five are now living — B. Young — W. Richards — George Miller — N.K. Whitney & H.C. Kimball. Two are dead [Hyrum Smith and James Adams] and two are worse than dead [William Law and William Marks who apostatized]. Heber C. Kimball Journal; see also TPJS, 357-58; JD 5:595 (7/26/1857) for a very brief review of the teaching that apostates will be eternally dissolute to native element.


JD 1:134. The paraphrasing of Joseph’s words is from George Q. Cannon.


Here exists a contradiction because Joseph Smith, after restoring the temple endowment to nine trusted masons, announced:


Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah … I have done what king Solomon, King Hiram, and Hiram Abbif could not do; I have set up the kingdom no more to be thrown down forever nor never to be given to another people.

Dimick B. Huntington Statement, 19


JOSEPH SMITH 5/12/1844

I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world. -HC 6:365


See the timelines at the end of this chapter.


JD 2:310, 317 (7/8/1855).

Far from being the same organization, President Wells indicated that the kingdom had not been placed into the hands of the saints as late as the year 1882:

DANIEL H. WELLS 10/6/1882

[I]t depends, in a great measure, upon the people themselves, as to how soon the kingdom spoken of by Daniel shall be given into the hands of the Saints of God.

JD 23:305


HC 7:382.


Brigham Young was not accosting the saints for improper usage of these terms – he also used these terms rather loosely and was probably a major impetus behind the saints’ loose usage of “the kingdom of God” when referring to the Church. It seems very likely that this technically incorrect merging of these terms began early in Church history when the distinction was not well articulated. However, it was well articulated by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo and many of the brethren held very articulate and consistent understandings of the distinction between the Church and the kingdom of God. Brigham’s casual usage of kingdom rhetoric to refer to the Church after the martyrdom appears to have been part of his effort to unite the Church behind the Twelve during the succession crisis. Thus, it seems that Brigham Young’s casual merging of these concepts after the martyrdom is most likely the causation of the retrogression of distinguishing the kingdom from the Church.


JD 17:156 (8/9/1975); see also JD 5:129-30; Juvenile Instructor 31:140. These statements are interesting in context of chapter 3 as well. The reader who is especially interested in this distinction may wish to reread chapter 3 – the quotes within that chapter are much more interesting within this paradigmatic context.


As cited in Origins, 121.


See also JD 5:23.


Later in the same King Follett discourse, Joseph taught that the “power of Elijah is

sufficient to make our calling and election sure.” TPJS, 338.


See also JD 2:309-10; DN (8/29/1874).


This is particularly interesting and important to note in context of the revealed title of the Council of Fifty, which includes a reference to the keys of the kingdom.


The Kingdom of God and His Laws, with the Keys and power thereof, and judgment in the hands of His servants, Ahman Christ. UPR 1:95; see also Joseph F. Smith Minutes of the Council of Fifty as cited in Ehat, Andrew F., It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth: Joseph Smith and The Constitution of the Kingdom of God, BYU Studies, (BYU University Press: 1980), 20:254.



Verily, I say unto you, that the wisdom of man, in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood, but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing. Mss, C.H.O. as cited in Anderson, Temporal and Spiritual Bondage, 14


In this context, consider Joseph Smith’ teaching that women would receive the keys of the kingdom of God: WJS 116-17. Observe also that women were not allowed to be members of the Council of Fifty so they could not have been receiving keys of the kingdom in connection with the Council of Fifty – and since women similarly do not receive keys of the priesthood within the LDS Church, this must be referring to keys of the kingdom associated with the Church of the Firstborn.


As cited in Ehat’s Thesis, 203. Spelling standardized.


See WWJ (10/8/1866) where Brigham Young claims that Joseph gave Brigham the authority to perform sealings when Joseph was dead and that nobody else was to have that authority. Considering the fact that Joseph set apart his son to succeed him as the President of the Church, it is clear that Joseph viewed these keys as separate. See also JD 1:133 where Brigham taught that Joseph was president of the Church by voice of the people but that Joseph “held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice.” Most members of the LDS Church are aware that the principle of common consent is more theoretical than pragmatic – a dissenting voice against any of the apostles will more likely be met with discipline than it will be met with serious consideration of the objection. However, in the early Church, this was not the case – the principle of common consent was very seriously considered and enforced – which makes Brigham’s statement above more important than many modern, mainstream saints may realize. For a fairly well known example, see Collier, Fred C., The Trial of Sidney Rigdon, Doctrine of the Priesthood, (Collier’s Publishing Co.: 1990) 7:50-58 (Sidney Rigdon was sustained as a counselor to Joseph Smith over Joseph’s objections); Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding, 155-57 as cited in Ehat’s Thesis, 226 (“It seems that Joseph had not looked upon Rigdon as his Councilor for a long time … Joseph said he had carried him till he was sick of it.”); WJS, 243 (Joseph, “in the name of the Lord withdrew the hand of fellowship from [Sidney Rigdon] and put it to the vote of the people.”).


WJS, 245. When Joseph Fielding Smith compiled Joseph’s teachings on this day, he summarized these teachings by declaring that the “Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives.” TPJS 322-23. This of course is another distinction between the priesthood and the Church – the priesthood is a theocracy, operating within the kingdom of God; the Church is run by common consent. D&C 26:2.


WJS, 246.


Ehat’s Thesis, 92, 95; see also Buerger’s entire article, The Fulness of the Priesthood.


Sessions, Gene A., Mormon Thunder: A Documentary History of Jedediah Morgan Grant, (University of Illinois Press: 1982), 174.


WWJ 4:118. See also JD 6:320; MS 16:442.


Origins, 120.


If Heber C. Kimball’s quote is here read to refer to the LDS Church, there are a number of issues that would need to be reconciled. The first is that there is no recognized “order of the Church of the First Born” within the modern LDS Church. The second is that these “officers” Heber C. Kimball was referring to had received their second endowments whereas it is very likely that many modern apostles have not received their second endowments because they are no longer considered necessary for exaltation. See Buerger, David John, Fulness of the Priesthood: The Second Anointing in the Latter-day Saint Theology and Practice, 16(1) Dialogue (Spring 1983). See also Buerger, David John, Mysteries of Godliness, (Signature Books: 2002). Buerger has aptly pointed out that the historical record demonstrates that not all members of the Twelve have received their second anointings. Fulness of the Priesthood, 41.


Autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson, 94, Church Historical Department, as cited in The Holy Order, 6.


The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 5, referring to the journals of Franklin D. Richards and John Henry Smith (6/27/1882). This is true unless “the Church” was intended to refer to the Church of the Firstborn, in which case the journal entries should be interpreted the same as Benjamin F. Johnson’s statement.


Autumn Leaves 1:200 as cited in Origins 206 (endnote 107)(5/–/1888). Bathsheba similarly remembered that Joseph preached that the keys of the kingdom were for the purpose of detecting “everything false.” As quoted in Ehat’s Thesis, 31.


This is the consistent undercurrent of his article, The Council of Fifty and Its Members.


WWJ 5:549 tells us that Brigham Young was the president of the kingdom of God as well as the president of the Church.


As a tangential note, there is a fundamentalist Mormon organization that goes by the title “Church of the Firstborn.” The author is in no way arguing that this particular organization holds higher priesthood keys than the LDS Church – that would be outside the scope of this article. The author is only here referring to the Church of the Firstborn as used in the scriptures and throughout the historical record.


TPJS, 318 (7/23/1843). See also WJS, 234. For dates of these other ordinations, see the timeline at the end of the chapter. The reader may wish to observe thatthis language is reminiscent of the language used in temple anointing ceremonies.


HC 5:510.


HC 5:527 and WWJ 2:271 (8/6/1843). Because several men had been ordained as apostles at that time, the apostleship held by those men could not have included the fullness of the priesthood.


Wilford Woodruff may have made this connection. See WWJ (4/7/1889) where he claims that the president of the Church is the “highest office ever conferred upon any man in the flesh.” Wilford Woodruff was ordained a king and a priest in Nauvoo.


T&S 5:663. See also JD 1:133 where Brigham taught that Joseph was president of the Church by voice of the people but that Joseph “held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice.” This similarly implies that keys held within the Church are distinguishable from the “keys of the Priesthood.” An unsigned affidavit of nine of the Twelve apostles also indicated that the Holy Order was a “quorum of high Priests” to which the Twelve belonged. See Joseph’s Quorum of Anointed, 77.

Sidney Rigdon only received “a small portion” of the temple ordinances (the first endowment). T&S 5:638, 666-67; JD 2:32. Consider also that, in accordance with D&C 90:6, Sidney Rigdon was “equal with [Joseph Smith] in holding the keys of this last kingdom” on March 18, 1833 (see also HC 1:329-331; 2:417; see also D&C 124:94-95 where Hyrum receives similar ordination). Ehat noted that “only twenty men alive at that time had received the anointings of the fullness of the priesthood. Perhaps this bit of exaggeration was intended to confuse the enemies of the Church.” Ehat’s Thesis, 227.


D&C 107:23; HC 5:410-11.

49 WWJ (4/7/1852); (8/15/1847); 4:118; 5:477 (highest authority in the Church and in the kingdom); UPR 79:77-78; JD 1:134-35; 2:310; 6:320; 19:124; MS 16:442.


Unless “office of authority” is different than “office,” Joseph Smith apparently disagreed with Brigham Young on this point. As outlined above, Joseph claimed that the “patriarchal office is the highest office in the church.” Holding to the teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants more strictly than the LDS Church did in Utah, Joseph’s administration recognized that the calling of the Twelve was to be “travelling ministers” in places outside of the jurisdiction of the Church. This had temporarily changed by Brigham Young’s time and thus the discrepancy may be understood by this change in priesthood administration. Brigham Young later admitted that it was out of order for the quorum of the twelve to administer in the Church rather than travelling abroad to preach to the gentiles. “Office of authority” may very well suggest the distinction made earlier. While a patriarch may be the highest office within the Church, that does not preclude another priesthood office (viz., an apostle) from having greater priesthood authority by virtue of membership in another organization.


While the conclusion is ultimately correct, it is illogical to base this conclusion on the evidence directly under consideration. Reflect upon the following, illogical argument with the same structure as the one found in the main text:

An alligator is a reptile. A > C An apostle holds all keys. A > C

An iguana is a reptile. B > C A K&P holds all keys. B > C

An alligator is an iguana. A = B An apostle is a K&P. A = B

If avoided once, this logical fallacy can appear more alluring if repeated. Consider again: An alligator is green. A > C An alligator has a tail. A > C

An iguana is a green. B > C An iguana has a tail. B > C

An alligator is an iguana. A = B An alligator is an iguana. A = B

While obvious in the reptilian argument, subtle distinctions found in the presentation of similar syllogisms found in the statements made by the early brethren make it more likely that this common logical fallacy will be made by some readers if those statements are not read very carefully. Nevertheless, the more repetitions of these syllogisms that are made, the more likely it is that the two nouns (alligator & iguana – or – apostle & king and priest) are actually synonymous terms.


John D. Lee similarly explained the authority of a king and a priest:


I was among the first to receive my washings and anointings, and even received my second anointing, which made me an equal in the order of the Priesthood, with the right and authority to build up the kingdom in all the earth, and power to fill any vacancy that might occur. I have officiated in all the different branches, from the highest to the lowest.

Mormonism Unveiled, 169

Note also that although the second anointing is given without any Church approval, knowledge, or vote, the power conferred in that second anointing includes the authority to build the kingdom – without public ordination. See also TPJS, 337; HC 7:235; WWJ (8/8/1844 & 8/14/1847); JD 1:134–35; Diary of Heber C. Kimball (12/26/1845); Conference Reports, 58-59 (4/–/1970); D&C 107:1-10; 84:63-64; 124:95, 97.

53 Letter to Sidney Rigdon (1/28/1845).

54 Ehat’s Thesis, 201-02. He concluded: “thus, any apostleship they [Rigdon and Amasa Lyman] might have received, they did not have the fullness of it.”

55 Whether Wilford Woodruff was here referring to high priests as having an apostleship – the same as he says elders have a portion of the apostleship – or whether he was here referring to the “high priesthood” that is equated with the fullness of the apostleship is not clear from the context. The former interpretation makes sense as the list of various apostleships appears to be organized in a descending order.

56 See also RLDSCH 1:546.

Minor edits for article form made by Ezra Taylor

8 thoughts on “The Priesthood of Elijah, Church of the First Born, Kingdom of God and Other Terms Not Understood For the Past 100 years”

  1. This is a very interesting article. It leaves the question however, do you believe the Council of Fifty still exists today? And if so in what capacity? Do they simply perform things such as Second Annointings, or do they have some actual influence on the LDS church which is not seen by the public?

    I don’t think it sounds like a necessarily nefarious group by any means, it’s just another layer of Priesthood leadership that is veiled so to speak, just like most members don’t specifically know or associate with temple workers or leaders until they actually attend the temple.

  2. I think this is a great treatment of a subject I am only vaguely familiar with. I really like the references to the Priesthoods as being essentially “veils” to surround or insulate or protect higher degrees of priesthood. I think that concept is most relevantly applicable to the physical structure of the temple, the purpose of which is to bestow graded knowledge of and power in different degrees of Priesthood. As far as the history of the Council of Fifty, D. Michael Quinn has provided a wonderful historical analysis (as opposed to the doctrinal analysis attempted here) that seems to conclude that the requirements for a “quorum” (50%) of this organization limited their ability to meet together with any degree of frequency during the latter part of the 1800s.

  3. (continued). I think Quinn’s treatment effectively handles the question of whether or not the quorum still exists and/or functions in its former capacity (which has become no more than a matter of informed, albeit very relevant, speculation. I think that based upon the relatively sparse and trivial nature of the quorum in the late 1800s, it is safe to say that the quorum probably doesn’t exist or function as initially intended. Ehat also has produced a doctrinal treatment as well as provided a context in which to understand Quinn’s chronology. His work was, in fact, done in response to Quinn’s. I think Briney’s treatment may rank among these other two papers in depth and breadth and in validity in treating this subject. Just my opinions though. Could be wrong. :)

  4. Very interesting article. I had recently come across the JD reference where Heber C. Kimball discusses the organization of the Church of the Firstborn in Kirtland. It left me with questions that were answered here.

    There is one more misconception in the church that was hinted at in your article. This is the misconception that calling and election and the second anointing are the same thing.

    Calling and election happens to individuals once the Lord has proven them. Heber C. Kimball’s experience is very illustrative, and was used by President Marion G. Romney to teach the subject in General Conference (April 1977).

    1. The saints ignore most of what is already being taught in gen conf why would the leaders dwell on subjects that are greater when we have not embraced and adopted lower things yet? We are israel and if the scriptural record indicates anything it is that israel is a harlot that goes seeking after other Gods.

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