JS, Instruction on Priesthood, [, Hancock Co., IL], ca. 5 Oct. 1840; handwriting of ; ten pages; JS Collection, CHL. Includes dockets.
Ten leaves, each measuring 10 × 8 inches (25 × 20 cm). Eight of the leaves are green; two are yellow. The text was inscribed on the versos of blank forms, five of which bear certificates with the printed notation “Kirtland, [blank], 1837. Treasurer of the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Co. pay [blank] or bearer, [blank] dollars.” The versos of the other five leaves contain certificates with the printed notation “Kirtland, [blank] 1837. [blank] days after date, we jointly and severally promise to pay [blank] or order, [blank] Dollars, value received.” The leaves were folded for filing.
The document was docketed by , who began serving as a scribe to JS in 1843, and also by . It is listed in the Historian’s Office inventory, circa 1904. Between 1974 and 1984, it was included in the JS Collection (Supplement). The dockets and inventory suggest continuous institutional custody since the document’s creation.
“Index to Papers in the Historian’s Office,” ca. 1904, draft, 5; “Index to Papers in the Historian’s Office,” ca. 1904, 5, Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL; see also the full bibliographic entry for JS Collection (Supplement), 1833–1844, in the CHL catalog. The circa 1904 Historian’s Office inventories listed this item as “Priesthood: And investigation of from scriptures (book C. pp. 16, 17, and 18. addenda),” indicating that it had been transcribed into the multivolume manuscript history of the church. (See JS History, vol. C-1, addenda, 16–18.)
Historian’s Office. Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904. CHL. CR 100 130.
This instruction on was read by on 5 October 1840 during a morning session of the general held from 3 to 5 October in , Illinois. Thompson presented it as “an article on the priesthood, composed by Joseph Smith jr.” later remembered witnessing JS dictate the statement specifically for presentation at the October conference, meaning JS likely composed the document shortly before Thompson read it on 5 October. According to Coray, JS dictated it after unsuccessfully “examining or hunting in the manuscript of the new translation of the Bible for something on Priesthood.” Coray recalled that JS gave the instruction during a revelatory moment in which “the Spirit of God descended upon him [JS], and a measure of it upon me, insomuch that I could fully realize that God, or the Holy Ghost, was talking through him.”
This instruction built on earlier revelations and statements about the priesthood. Echoing an 1832 revelation, as well as instruction JS prepared with the probable assistance of in 1835, the document briefly described the two major divisions of the priesthood: the and the . In summer 1839, JS preached a sermon that covered a number of similar themes, discussing the division of time into and stating that Old Testament figures, such as Adam and Elijah, would help restore priesthood authority in a final dispensation in the last days. In that sermon, JS argued that the renewal of ancient ceremonies would accompany the restoration of priesthood authority. In this circa 5 October 1840 instruction, JS stated that even animal sacrifice, as practiced in the Old Testament, would be restored in the last days, in keeping with biblical prophecy.
JS also instructed the Saints on the doctrine of translation—a power that enabled individuals to live in a transformed state of being until the second coming of Jesus Christ and that he said belonged to the Melchizedek Priesthood. The doctrine of translation was not unique to JS and his teachings. The basic concept is articulated in the New Testament’s epistle to the Hebrews, which states that “by faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death.” According to contemporary Methodist theologian Adam Clarke, this passage teaches that Enoch “did not die: and that God took him to a state of blessedness without obliging him to pass through death.” JS diverged from such nineteenth-century theologians by teaching that translated beings served as “ministering angels Unto many planets” and by emphasizing these beings’ connection to the priesthood. In addition to these themes, JS discussed the patriarchal nature of the priesthood, something that had also been discussed in earlier revelations and instructions.
According to the minutes of the 3–5 October 1840 general conference, made a few remarks before reading the instruction, which was then followed by further statements on the priesthood by . Thompson served as scribe for the instruction. The version featured here is probably not the original draft of JS’s dictation, but it may have been the copy read at the conference.
Coray, Autobiographical Sketch, 5. The “new translation” referred to JS’s Bible translation, in which he revised, clarified, and added to the Bible. The passage that JS hoped to find for the conference may have been this passage from his revision of the book of Genesis that contains the essence of his instruction: “Now this same presthood which was in the begining shall be in the end of the world als[o].” (Old Testament Revision 2, p. 14 [Moses 6:7].)
Coray, Howard. Autobiographical Sketch, after 1883. Howard Coray, Papers, ca. 1840–1941. Photocopy. CHL. MS 2043, fd. 1.
Clarke, Adam. The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Text Carefully Printed from the Most Correct Copies of the Present Authorised Version, Including the Marginal Readings and Parallel Texts, with a Commentary and Critical Notes. . . . Vol. 1. New York: B. Waugh and T. Mason, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1833.
In order to investigate the subject <of the > so important to this as well as every succeeding generation, I shall proceed to trace the subject as far as I possibly can from the Old and new Testaments.
There are two priesthoods spoken of in the scriptures, viz, the Melchisadeck and the Altho there are two priesthoods, yet the Melchisadeck priesthood comprehends the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood and is the Grand head and holds the hig[h]est Authority which pertains to the priesthood— the of the Kingdom of God in all ages of the world to the latest posterity on the earth— and is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter truth is revealed from heaven. Its institution was prior to “the foundation of this earth or the morning stars sang together or the sons of God shouted for joy,” and it is the highest and holiest priesthood and is after the order of the Son [of] God, and all other priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same and are held controlled and directed by it. It is the Channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing his glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth and through which he has continued to reveal himself to the children of men and to the present time and through which he will make known his purposes to the end of time— [p. 1]