Question: Was the priesthood held by Jesus priesthood not 'transferable' to members of the Church?

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Question: Was the priesthood held by Jesus priesthood not 'transferable' to members of the Church?

The Bible supports that Latter-day Saints position that the Priesthood is the authority God has given man to perform the ordinances

It is claimed that only Jesus held the priesthood, and that such priesthood was not 'transferable' to members of the Church. However, the claim that priesthood is non-transferrable fails on linguistic, scriptural, scholarly, and logical grounds.

The Bible supports that Latter-day Saints position that the Priesthood is the authority God has given man to perform the ordinances (e.g. baptism, sacrament, sealing, etc.) that Jesus has declared to be necessary, in order that the atonement may have full effect in our lives.

The claim that the priesthood is not transferable is based upon old scholarship

In Bauer's Greek-English lexicon, we read:

Aparabatos, on (see parabaino; belonging to later Greek [Phryn. 313 Lob];not LXX) Hebrews 7:24 usually interpreted 'without a successor'. But this meaning is found nowhere else. Aparabatos rather has the sense of permanent, unchangeable" [followed by citations].[1]

Thus, it is the priesthood which is unchangeable, rather than being non-transferable. Claims that the priesthood is not transferable are not supported by the Biblical text. Rather, the priesthood is a permanent and necessary part of the Church—any Church claiming it is unnecessary does not meet the Biblical model.

The ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament agrees, in which the word aparabatos is discussed:

This is a rare word found only in later Greek.... Its usual sense is 'unchangeable,' 'immutable.'"
[after giving examples from secular literature: Plutarch, Josephus, Epictetus, etc]
Hebrews 7.24 says of Christ that because He remains to eternity He has an unchangeable and imperishable priesthood. Instead of the passive 'unchangeable' [743] many expositors suggest the active sense 'which cannot be transferred to another;" 'Christ has a priesthood which cannot be transferred to anyone else' [citing Bengel]. This is a natural interpretation and yields a good sense, but it does not really fit the context. We should keep to the rendering 'unchangeable,' the more so as the active sense is not attested elsewhere." (742-3).[2]

The statement 'yields a good sense' suggests that those who choose that translation are probably doing so for theological reasons, not grammatical or linguistic reasons; and the TDNT author is voting against such a choice.

In a review of Walter Martin's book, The Maze of Mormonism, in which Martin bases his argument against the Melchizedek Priesthood on the interpretation of "unchangeable" being "non-transferable, Richard Lloyd Anderson informs us that:

Instead of treating descriptions in the Acts or Pastoral Letters concerning the bestowal of apostolic authority on others, Martin prefers to base his case on a dubious translation of Hebrews 7:24, maintaining that Christ's priesthood is "untransferable." But his vintage 1889 citation from Thayer's lexicon for this use is squarely contradicted by the best authorities in the field. The lexicon of Arndt-Gingrich (in agreement with Moulton-Milligan) gives more than a dozen secular uses of the period to show that the term in question (aparabatos) "rather has the sense permanent, unchangeable." The point of the passage is not that Christ's priesthood cannot be transferred, but that it permanently remains superior, as does he, to all other authority.[3]

So we see that it is incorrect to interpret "unchangeable" as "non-transferable."

Additional evidence

The rather late Christian understanding that Jesus would be the last High Priest of the Melchizedek order (see Hebrew 7:24, marginal reading no. 5 in most King James Version translations) is based on an erroneous interpretation of the Greek word aparabaton which does not mean "intransmissible" but means "unchangeable" when referring to Jesus' priesthood.[4]

And:

God's promises to Abraham are extended to all who come unto Christ: Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was the priest who blessed Abraham, in whose loins was Levi. The superiority of Christ's Melchizedek Priesthood over the Levitical priesthood and the Law of Moses is developed in chapter 7. Melchizedek was a type of Christ. His priesthood was more enduring than the Levitical priesthood, which was limited to blood lines and was not given with an oath and whose priests did not continue because of death and needed daily renewal (Heb. 7:3,21,23,27). The Melchizedek order of priesthood, however, was directed by Jesus Christ, who, unlike the high priest under the Law of Moses on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:4), did not need to "offer sacrifice for his own sins, for he knew no sins" (JST Heb. 7:26). His priesthood was aparabatos meaning "permanent, unchangeable, and incomparable" (Heb. 7:24). No other priesthood will succeed it. It will be the permanent power of salvation and eternal lives within Christ's church forever more[5].[6]

Modern Bible translations

More modern versions of the Bible agree with this interpretation.

Hebrews 7
24 (NIV)
but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. (emphasis added)
Hebrews 7
24 (NASB)
but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. (emphasis added)
Hebrews 7
24 (RSV)
but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. (emphasis added)

The interpretation of "unchangeable" to mean "non-transferable" does not stand up to scripture, correct doctrine, Biblical scholarship, or Greek terminology.

Why the opposition to priesthood?

It is understandable that creedal Protestant Christians (who make up the vast majority of sectarian anti-Mormons) desperately need the priesthood, as understood by Latter-day Saints, to be non-existent today. The whole idea of authority, direct from God, being necessary for the saving ordinances of mankind, completely undermines and destroys the traditionally accepted doctrine that one is "saved by faith alone." It also completely destroys their own claims to authority, since they are the result of a break-off from the Roman Catholic faith.

If the Catholics did not have the priesthood authority, then the Protestants cannot have taken it with them. Hence, they are anxious to claim a "priesthood of all believers," or claim priesthood isn't needed at all.

If the Catholics did have the authority, then Protestants were wrong to leave in the first place. And, the Church rejected the view that the priesthood was "non-transferrable." Biblical scholarship has now "caught up" to this view, but Joseph Smith had it right in the first place.

Reading Hebrews 7:24

As seen above, most of the argument against the LDS doctrine of priesthood is based upon Hebrews 7:24:

But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.(emphasis added)

Some Christians interpret the word "unchangeable" as meaning non-transferable. Therefore, they say, the Priesthood that Christ held (the Melchizedek Priesthood) could not be transferred to anyone. But, as we have seen, this relies on an out-dated reading of the Greek. Such a view was defensible in the 19th century; it can no longer be sustained.

But, even if we grant this obsolete reading, could this be the correct interpretation? If so, there is a glaring contradiction within this very chapter, for verse twelve says the priesthood has changed:

For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.(Hebrews 7:12) (emphasis added)

Either the priesthood is transferable (changeable), from Christ to others, or it is not. Which verse are we to believe? Let's take a closer look at this "unchangeable" priesthood in Hebrews 7:11-24:

  • 11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,)

(under the Aaronic priesthood, the people received the law of Moses -- an eye for an eye)

  • what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

(Those that hold the authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, also hold the authority of the lessor, or the Aaronic Priesthood)

  • 12 For the priesthood being changed,

(Here is a glaring contradiction to what the some Christians claim, for it clearly says the priesthood "changed." Let's continue to examine just what changed, and what the term means in context.)

  • there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

(The Law of Moses changed, not the priesthood. In other words, when Christ came, he gave a higher law. For example, the law was no longer an "eye for an eye," it was "turn the other cheek." Along with this higher law, came a higher priesthood, which is what is meant by "changed.")

  • 13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.

(Moses did not speak about the Melchizedek Priesthood and the higher law, which the Lord had, but he did speak of the Aaronic Priesthood, or the lower law.)

  • 15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,

(This priest is Jesus Christ)

  • 16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment,

(The Law of Moses—An Eye for an Eye)

  • but after the power of an endless life.

(The higher law, which Christ brought, which will lead us to eternal life.)

  • 17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

(Christ, and the priesthood authority He holds -- the Melchizedek Priesthood -- is eternal -- without end.)

  • 18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.

(The Law of Moses was abolished with the institution of the higher Law brought by Christ.)

  • 19 For the law [Mosaic Law] made nothing perfect

(We could not become perfect as our Father in Heaven commanded us to be by obedience to the Mosaic Law, for it does not contain the authority for the saving ordinances of salvation—the "keys" to bind in heaven and on earth, or in today's terminology, temple ordinances)

  • but the bringing in of a better hope did;

(A better hope, or a higher law, which brought the authority for the saving ordinances)

  • by the which we draw nigh unto God.

(It is through this higher law, by partaking of the temple ordinances, that we can "draw nigh" unto God, or become like Him, which is to "be perfect" {as God is perfect} as He commanded us—Matthew 5:48.)

  • 20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:

(This is in reference to the oath and covenant of the priesthood.)

  • 21 (For those priests

(The priests of the Aaronic, or Levitical, priesthood)

  • were made without an oath;

(The Aaronic, or lessor, priesthood, does not require an oath or covenant.)

  • but this [This = Higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood] with an oath

Ezra Taft Benson discussed this idea:

"When a priesthood holder takes upon himself the Melchizedek Priesthood, he does so by oath and covenant. This is not so with the Aaronic Priesthood. The covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood is that a priesthood holder will magnify his calling in the priesthood, will give diligent heed to the commandments of God, and will live by every word which proceeds "from

the mouth of God" (see D&C 84:33-44). The oath of the Melchizedek Priesthood is an irrevocable promise by God to faithful priesthood holders. "All that my Father hath shall be given unto them" (see D&C 84:38). This oath by Deity, coupled with the covenant by faithful priesthood holders, is referred to as the oath and covenant of the priesthood."[7]

  • by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)

(The Melchizedek Priesthood is eternal)

  • 22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. 23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: 24 But this man (Jesus Christ), because he continueth ever, [Eternal] hath an unchangeable [Eternal] priesthood.

(In context, this verse (24) that some Christians use to try to argue against the priesthood, is saying that since Jesus Christ is eternal, so is the authority He has. It is this same authority that Christ passed on to his Apostles, and they, passed on to others in the Church.)

This explanation should make it plain that the law, or schoolmaster (see Galatians 3:24), to lead the people unto Christ was administered by the Aaronic, or Levitical, Priesthood. However, perfection cannot be obtained through this priesthood alone, as Paul explained. Therefore, it was necessary for the Lord to send another priest after the order of Melchizedek. The priesthood thus being changed, there was "of necessity a change also of the law."[8]

The fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, therefore, was introduced by him to take the place of the law of Moses. But, this does not mean that priesthood transfer to mankind has or must cease. In fact, Jesus actions in the Bible, and the conduct of the apostles after His resurrection, show precisely the opposite pattern.

Notes

  1. Reference "aparabatos," in Walter Bauer and Frederick William Danker (editors), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature , 3rd edition, (Urbana and Chicago, University Of Chicago Press, 2001), 97. ISBN 0226039331.
  2. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (editors), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (translator), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 5: 742-743.
  3. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Book Review of Walter Martin's The Maze of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 6 no. 1 (Autumn 1964), 60.
  4. S. Kent Brown, "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Mormon Perspective," Brigham Young University Studies 23 no. 1 (Winter 1983), 56.
  5. Article here cites Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 166,322. off-site
  6. Richard D. Draper, "Hebrews, Epistle to the," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992).
  7. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 223. ISBN 0884946398. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  8. LeGrande Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 84. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) PDF link