Doctrine of the Priesthood Part 1- D&C 20

April 4, 2011    By: Matt W. @ 11:23 am   Category: Scriptures

In General Conference- President Uchtdorf asked that we study the scriptures and handbooks and become experts on the doctrine of the priesthood. He told us this would help us to live up to our privileges as priesthood holders. He told us to start with Doctrine and Covenants chapters 20, 84, 107, and 121. In an effort to do that, I will be posting basic impressions I get from each of the four D&C sections he mentions, then further my study as time goes on. I’d love your thoughts and input as well.

D&C 20-
Context- This was the original articles and covenants of the Church, prepared for the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830 (though not completed until later). The greatest current reading I am aware of for the context from which this revelation came is in BYU Studies 43:4 (2006)- having to do with how Oliver Cowdery put together a fore-runner to this document. It cannot be said Joseph used Oliver’s document (which he was commanded to prepare in another revelation) as the foundation of his revelation, as they are very different in several regards, but it can be said that Oliver provided revelatory input of his own from his previous revelation into the Articles and Covenants (As all evidence indicates that Oliver helped write D&C 20). I don’t have the Joseph Smith Papers to check what stance they take on this.


First, I am impressed at the simple and frank way the beginning of the church is put forth here. Joseph received the remission of his sins (what we refer to as the 1st vision) then he fell back into trouble, but finally received the work of bringing forth the Book of Mormon.

Second, it is important to note that the work of Christ is set forth here as sanctification and justification. I’ve posted on this before, here. Kent (MC) talked about it here. (Blake’s Comment here even points to this scripture). I know Mark D. has also discussed it, but I can’t recall where.

Third, as the fall is expounded, it is explained differently here than elsewhere. Here God commands that Adam and Eve “Love and Serve” but they transgress and so become sensual and devilish. How does this tie in with the fruit? How does this tie in with the “fall forward”? (Also, since it’s in the same breath, Man, created in the image of God, is here male and female. Geoff J and Erastus Snow smile knowingly…)

Fourth, since the objective here is the doctrine of the priesthood, it is important to note that this section, in regards to priesthood, is really a list of doings- lead meetings, administer the sacrament, baptize, visit members in their homes, exhort them to pray and fulfill family duties. (What family duties?) etc etc. It seems from this that the “doctrine of the priesthood” has more to do with praxis (doing the right things) than doxa (having the correct understanding).

The most interesting “doing” to me is captured in vs. 68- “The duty of the members after they are received by baptism.—The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order.” Are we giving sufficient time previous to partaking the sacrament and confirming a member, but after baptism that the elders/priests can expound all things concerning the church to the baptisan’s level of understanding(or, alternatively, so that the baptisan may understand)? I have seen many times when a person is confirmed at waters’ edge, only to never return to church. Should we take this scripture more seriously? How much time is a sufficient time? Do we forgo this because the lessons/discussions are taught before baptism?

Finally, as an FHE idea for my family, and since we have a 7 year old who will turn 8 in August, we are going to try to focus lessons on each requirement for baptism in Vs 37:

And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism

1. All those who humble themselves before God
2. and desire to be baptized
3. and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits
4. and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins
5. and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ
6. having a determination to serve him to the end
7. and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins

shall be received by baptism into his church.


  1. Section 107 – not 117

    Comment by Michael — April 4, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

  2. Thanks Michael. I must have misunderstood him. I’ll change it.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 4, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

  3. I think we blatantly violate D&C 20:37 all the time, and this is a major cause of a lack of retention.

    I also agree that mostly the priesthood is a service/praxis type of thing.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — April 4, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  4. It seems from this that the “doctrine of the priesthood” has more to do with praxis (doing the right things) than doxa (having the correct understanding).

    Maybe I’m missing your point here, but I think it might be interesting to think of the ‘doings’ in terms of the doctrine of the fall and the need for justification and sanctification rather than just as a list of things priesthood holders should do.

    I also think it can help with considering what Pres. Packer may have meant when he talked about unlocking more of the power of the priesthood. To me, that is as much about Church members really understanding why these ‘doings’ in the Church are so important as it is about them being administered. (In other words, what does *receiving* these ordinances / being on the receiving end of these ‘doings’ mean for the doctrine of the priesthood?)

    Comment by michelle — April 5, 2011 @ 1:17 am

  5. I would tend to agree with Michelle. I think that we are not fully understanding the power of the priesthood or its unique doctrine if we only concentrate on praxis. I see this all the time when we are discussing this subject in Elders’ Quorum. I used to think that the brothers of my quorum used the answer of “service” as a catch-all when describing their obligations under the priesthood mantle until I realized that most of them were unaware of the depth, symbolism, responsibilities and true knowledge behind the scenes. They conflate fatherhood and basic civilized behaviour towards others with the uniqueness of the priesthood. This creates confusion when you try to explain why our Church is entrusted with such a great work using a lay priesthood. Doxa is not emphasized.

    Comment by Michael — April 5, 2011 @ 7:36 am

  6. Eric: I think D&C 20:37 is a tricky scripture though, as it is really up to the individual to assess the 7 requirements there. I would hate to think of myself as a judge of whether a person is humble, broken hearted, of a contrite spirit and determined to serve until the end. I do think we could do a better job of emphasizing these attributes as being at least of equal importance to obeying the word of wisdom, law of chastity, and going to church at least twice.

    Michelle- The way Section 20 is set up, with it’s clear beginnings and endings (It is literally broken in each subsection by an “Amen”, as if it were actually a compilation of several revelations in one), it is hard to cross reference the teachings giving around the origin of the church, the plan of salvation, and the centrality of christ with the later teachings on what apostles, elders, priests, teachers, and deacons are to do. Anyway, I am not saying that the priesthood is merely doing, but I am saying that is what D&C 20 has in it. Further, I think that is ok, as it really connects with what President Uchtdorf said when he assigned this assignment to us in Conference. The Gospel is not merely an intellectual pursuit. It isn’t merely Doxa. I am not trying to go the other direction and say it is all praxis, just that here in D&C 20, that is what is primarily presented. Elder Uchtdorf did remind us to think, as we are hesitant in doing, of those who are receiving (he used the examples of preparing the sacrament and home teaching)

    Michael:I don’t think that is true. For myself, I think it is more likely true that I know the doxa, and it is emphasized, but that I personally fail to apply it in my life, or at least I fail to see how to apply it. On the one hand, the priesthood is not “the force”, and priesthood holders are not Jedi. On the other, it is more than just being a good dad and a good neighbor. Here in chapter 20, it tells us it contains these certain sets of doings, but it does not define what “it” ultimately is.

    I will post on section 84 in the next few days (I read it last night, but want to talk to my wife (the greatest theologian/scriptorian I know) about the oath and covenant before I post on it.)

    Comment by Matt W. — April 5, 2011 @ 8:42 am

  7. Matt: I think the praxis connected to v. 68 has shifted to before baptism and is incorporated in the missionary discussions. If anyone has info on the development of “the discussions;” i.e., when did the church formally start using discussions as a “prerequisite” for baptism, that might shed some light (or not). But, still, some of those who have received baptism are without sufficient understanding.

    Comment by wally bob — April 6, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

  8. For those who are interested, the original text of D&C 20 can be found here:

    And the earlier version given to Oliver Cowdery here:

    Comment by mapman — April 7, 2011 @ 8:41 am

  9. There seems to be a dichotomy of orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy that I can’t fully subscribe to.

    Somewhat like the false dichotomy between Faith and Works. Faith may be dead without Works; Works without Faith are certainly dead.

    So, anyway, I’m saying, that it’s not really enough to do things. We should have at least a basic understanding of why we do them. Sometimes it doesn’t come until we’ve done something, but still.

    We need both, in both cases.

    Comment by Velska — April 17, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  10. Velska, I don’t disagree. I’m just saying this chapter doesn’t really give the answer to “why”

    Comment by Matt W. — April 17, 2011 @ 8:05 pm