The question I have comes from verse 17. It says that the Melchizedek Priesthood “continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years.” What do you make of the two phrases “in the church” and “in all generations”?
1) Does the priesthood continue in all generations (is always on the earth) and there is always a Church with men to hold it? That doesn’t seem to be the right reading, given our understanding of “the Apostasy.” On the other hand, the idea that the men from Esaias to Jethro kept the priesthood on the earth and that it was then given to Moses has me wondering! Are there always people somewhere, lost to the knowledge of the world, who have the priesthood? But, on the other hand, Peter, James, and John returned to give the Melchizedek Priesthood to Joseph Smith. So that would seem to suggest that there weren’t other people living on the earth who held that priesthood. But who knows! Maybe there were but God did it that way for some purpose He had. I’m open to about anything right now!
2) Does the priesthood continue in all generations if and when there is a Church organized on the earth? This is the more standard reading of course. This could be why the rest of the verse points out that the priesthood is without beginning or end; it is important to remember that while it is only manifest when a Church is organized, it exists all the time.