I did just a quick search in the Book of Mormon for “consecrate” and noted how it was used in a sentence when it was talking about consecrating people. I noticed that it could be a king who was consecrating another king; it could be a people who were consecrating a leader; it could be a high priest who was consecrating other priests and teachers; it could be a person who simply had authority to consecrate priests and teachers. The word is also used to talk about other things: God consecrated the land for the inheritance of Lehi’s people, for example; also, Jacob’s afflictions will be consecrated for his gain. The general sense of the word is “given purpose” or “set apart” or “designated” or “changed in nature in order to be used for a new purpose.”
As far as priests and teachers go, which was my original question, it seems to me that “consecrate” means to “give a person authority to be a priest or teacher.” It designated them as people who could perform baptisms and could teach. Sometimes those stories I found mentioned priesthood, sometimes they did not. They almost always mentioned that the person who consecrated them had authority to do so, but it didn’t say whether or not that authority was priesthood. In fact, in some cases it seems that a person’s kingship was enough authority to consecrate new priests. King Noah is a prime example. It may be that he had some sort of priesthood, but that isn’t what the text focuses on. I think it was rather that his position as king gave him authority to designate who would be his priests in his court.
“Holy order” works a bit differently. First of all, it’s only talked about in 2 Nephi 6:2 (Jacob), in Alma, and in Ether 12:10 (Moroni’s discussion of faith). It really is something Alma has made a central issue of his teaching and thinking. But the fact that Jacob brings it up is interesting, and that Moroni talks about many people who were after this order. Also, Alma talks about the holy order not just when he is talking about who is ordained to preach, he talks about whole congregations “walking after” the holy order, and that they have been “brought into this church” by the holy order.
There are several places where it seems clear that the holy order is all-but equated with the high priesthood. Several times in Alma we get the words “the high priesthood of the holy order of God” and later in Alma 13 Alma says “Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood…”.
It could be that what happens to Alma the elder is exactly a restoration of the holy order, and that when Jacob’s priestly lined died out so did the holy order. It seems like Mosiah reveres Alma as having some authority to do Church-related things that he himself doesn’t. So it’s as if kings have had authority over religious life, and still do, and can still consecrate priests and teachers, but there is something else going on with high priesthood as well.
Having the kingship replaced by judges may have opened up some room for confusion about the high priesthood. With kings, it seems there was the government, and there were priests the government set up to teach religious things. Then when Alma comes, we have government, priests the government set up, and then a Church with some who claim another priesthood not set up by the government. When the kingship is dissolved and judges replace them, what happens to government-sponsored priests? Are there any? Or could it appear to many that the Church priests are now the government-sponsored priests? If the have taken that role on, then are they seen government-consecrated priests or as they something different?
Those sort of complex cultural question seem to me to form part of the backdrop for Alma’s speeches in Ammonihah. He spends so much time explaining the holy order and high priesthood that I can only assume this wasn’t well understood in that city. Though, it seems it was in the cities he visits previously — those who are walking after the holy order, as it says.
Anyway, interesting clues to Nephi society, and potentially helpful clues to better understand Alma 13. 🙂