Teaching on the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, Part 1


Hello Helena! 🙂

The term “Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood” is something that has perplexed me for years and years and I’m starting to wonder if it will perplex me for my lifetime! Perhaps that’s a good thing for me though: it’s nice to have something to come back to over and over that is so infinitely fruitful.

I get the basic idea of course, and I get how it functions generally in the Church. I think sometimes I bring up things that perplex me to a friend and they assume I’m missing the general idea, but I get that. There’s something I love about getting back behind our everyday readings of scripture or doctrinal ideas. Usually within a few weeks of study I feel like I can get a deeper reading that I’m satisfied with (for the time being). But there are several topics that I’ve never, ever been able to feel like I’ve gotten to the bottom of, even though every several-week study has been fascinating, illuminating, and faith-fulfilling. And most of those topics are related to Priesthood.

So, here are several questions I have, all coming from D&C 84:

1) Why does D&C 84: 39 say that what’s been talked about is “according to” the Oath and Covenant which belongeth to the priesthood? The word “belongeth” opens up some questions too, but the huge one for me is why is this “according to” instead of “is”? Most explanations I’ve heard or read suggest that God is providing a definition of that oath and covenant in D&C 84, but verse 39 seems to defer that definition to someplace else (but where??).

2) Does “receive” in verse 35 refer to the men just talked about in verses 33-34 (i.e., those men who obtain the two priesthoods), or does it refer to people who listen to those men? Verses 35-37 go on to talk about those who receive God’s servants, which seems to me to be describing people who listen to the men with the priesthood. After all, the point of having the priesthood is to preach the gospel and perform ordinances, right?

3)  The reason this question seems crucial to me is because of verse 38, and how it rolls into verse 39. Verse 38 says, “And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” Is this promise given to priesthood holders, or to people who accept priesthood holders?

At this point, Joe would ask: but of course we know that everyone can receive eternal life, etc., so why does it matter? 🙂 Well, I don’t know exactly why it matters, but I really want to figure it out! 🙂 I’m very curious if God is primarily promising all the Father has to His priesthood servants, or to the people who receive the priesthood servants. (Note: that applies to those with the priesthood too – those men with the priesthood also need to receive other priesthood servants to receive ordinances themselves.)

I also want to figure it out because the very next verse is where we get the term “Oath and Covenant.” Whatever verse 38 is talking about, it has something to do with what verse 39 is talking about, so I’ve gotta figure it out. 🙂

3) I’ve already mentioned my questions about “according to” and “belongeth.” I really need to figure out more about why those words are there, but I do have a few thoughts at least. If the promise is to the priesthood servants, that they can receive all the Father has, then that promise seems to be in accord with, or contained in, or implied by, the actual Oath and Covenant of the priesthood. If the promise is to those who receive priesthood servants, then perhaps the Covenant God made with His priesthood servants is that whoever they taught could receive all that the Father has. That would be an awesome covenant, I think. It would seem to have its origins in a moment where a person (man?) was worried about the salvation of those people he(?)cared about, and God covenanted that if those people would listen to him(?), God would grant those people salvation and all He has. If that is the origin of priesthood, then that’s pretty awesome.

And there are many moments in scripture were a righteous person is worried about the salvation of others. I’m thinking of Enoch weeping and watching God weep, of Enos praying in the woods for the Lamanites, of Nephi upon his garden tower, of Moses offering himself to be struck out of the book of life if God would give the Israelites another chance. I love the Book of Moses and all it says about Adam and Eve. I realize that there are multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s JST project but I usually just work with the canonized version for simplicity. In chapter 6 it seems that priesthood came about when 99% of Adam and Eve’s kids were rejecting the light & knowledge Adam and Eve were teaching them. It was only after a son and a grandson were righteous that we get these verse: “And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them … Now this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also.” I’ve wondered before if Adam and Eve originally performed most of what we call “priesthood,” but as the generations progressed God saw that there needed to be an organization that carried the light and knowledge out to other people and into the future in a way that a married couple couldn’t do. So priesthood came to be when 3 generations could unite and plan a way for that knowledge to be passed on into the future. Anyway, speculations, but fun speculations at that. 🙂 (More on those speculations here and here if you’re in the mood to read more Karen-speculations.)

4) Why the strict penalty for breaking the covenant? I take that seriousness more as a clue to what the covenant is, rather than actually wondering why there’s a strict penalty. I don’t really have much to say about this yet, though.

5) Verses 46-48 seem to suggest that any person in this world has the capacity to learn of this covenant (whatever it is, exactly), without ever meeting a priesthood servant. Why can this covenant also be taught straight from God? Or is that a valid reading? (Note that the covenant isn’t given in verses 46-48, but a person can be taught about that covenant. Also interesting.)

6) Verse 48 sounds so much like Abraham’s covenant, where he is told his seed will have the priesthood so that others can receive the blessings of the Gospel (see Abraham 9-11). What does the Oath and Covenant have to do with Abraham’s covenant? Or other covenants in the Old Testament? If this is renewed, then it seems that we ought to be looking there to really see what’s going on.

7) Finally, what relationship does all of his have, if any, to Alma 13:12-13? Alma 13 is the longest discourse in the Book of Mormon on priesthood as such. Verse 12 talks about priests entering into God’s rest, and then verse 13 invites the people to enter into God’s rest. I’ve found it interesting that the priests seem to achieve eternal life through their ministry as priesthood servants, but the people achieve this through listening to priesthood servants. Their paths are different, but in the end, they both get the same thing. I don’t know how helpful that may or may not be to interpreting the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood, but I’ve had those verses in the back of my mind as I’ve tried to decide who D&C 84:38 is talking about, and also as I read D&C 84:48.

So, there are my various questions as I try to nail down what exactly verse 39 is referring to. I have other thoughts about the verses that come earlier in the section too, and I assume that the more I understand those verses the better prepared I’ll be to tackle verse 39 in the originally intended context. Or at least I’m hoping that’s true. 🙂 (If you’re interested in some of my previous thoughts on D&C 84 — with the fair-warning that some of those posts are pretty rambly — you can click this link to all posts tagged with “Oath and Covenant.”)

I’m going to post this as “Part 1” and talk about Joseph Fielding Smith’s interpretations in another post. After that, I’ll talk about some of the ways in which I applied his reading to Relief Society.

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