Updated - 11-19-2001
Priesthood Power and Keys
Bruce K. Satterfield
Know Your Religion Presentation

General statement about the doctrine of the priesthood
This doctrine, this doctrine of the priesthood—unknown in the world and but little known even in the Church—cannot be learned out of the scriptures alone. It is not set forth in the sermons and teachings of the prophets and Apostles, except in small measure.
 The doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation. It comes, line upon line and precept upon precept, by the power of the Holy Ghost to those who love and serve God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength. (See D&C 98:12.) [Bruce R. McConkie, "The Doctrine of the Priesthood," Ensign, May 1982, p. 32]

Overall Goal of the Plan of Salvation

The Glory of God
  • In the statement, "For this is my work and my glory -- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39) - glory is not to be defined as man does; i.e., fame, honor, recognition
  • The glory of God is intelligence, truth, light, law, life, and power (see D&C 93:36; 88:4-13).
  • "The Light of Christ" described by Bruce R. McConkie in  A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), pp. 257-258:

  •       "There is a spirit -- the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, the light of truth, the light of Christ -- that defies description and is beyond mortal comprehension. It is in us and in all things; it is around us and around all things; it fills the earth and the heavens and the universe. It is everywhere, in all immensity, without exception; it is an indwelling, immanent, ever-present, never-absent spirit. It has neither shape nor form nor personality. It is not an entity nor a person nor a personage. It has no agency, does not act independently, and exists not to act but to be acted upon. As far as we know, it has no substance and is not material, at least as we measure these things. It is variously described as light and life and law and truth and power. It is the light of Christ; it is the life that is in all things; it is the law by which all things are governed; it is truth shining forth in darkness; it is the power of God who sitteth upon his throne. It may be that it is also priesthood and faith and omnipotence, for these too are the power of God.
         "This light of truth or light of Christ is seen in the light of the luminaries of heaven; it is the power by which the sun, moon, and stars, and the earth itself are made. It is the light that proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.” It is the agency of God’s power; it is the means and way whereby “he comprehendeth all things,” so that “all things are before him, and all things are round about him.” It is the way whereby “he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” Because of it, “all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever."  (D&C 88:6-13, 41).
          "Thus, when the Mosaic account of the creation says that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), and when Abraham records of those same events that “the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters” (Abraham 4:2), the revealed word is speaking of the light of Christ. And when Job says that “by his spirit [the Lord] hath garnished the heavens” (Job 26:13), and the Psalmist explains that all things were created because the Lord sent forth his spirit, by which also he “renewest the face of the earth” (Psalm 104:30), both are teaching the same truth. Creation itself came by the light of Christ.
          "The light of Christ is neither the Holy Ghost nor the gift of the Holy Ghost; but that member of the Godhead, because he along with the Father and the Son is God, uses the light of Christ for his purposes. Thus spiritual gifts, the gifts of God meaning faith, miracles, prophecy, and all the rest -- come from God by the power of the Holy Ghost. Men prophesy, for instance, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. And yet Moroni says: “All these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ” (Moroni 10:17), meaning that the Holy Ghost uses the light of Christ to transmit his gifts. But the Spirit of Christ, by which the Holy Ghost operates, is no more the Holy Ghost himself than the light and heat of the sun are the sun itself." (emphasis added)

                [For a wonderful talk on the Light of Christ see "The Light of Christ," Marion G. Romney] The gospel is the means by which the children of God may reach their potential Role of Priesthood in Achieving the Overall Goal What is Priesthood?
    As pertaining to God
    What are Priesthood Keys? Keys of the Kingdom Priesthood Keys From Adam to Joseph Smith Keys Held by Adam The Transfiguration Joseph Smith, and the Restoration of the Keys Joseph Fielding Smith on the Restoration of Priesthood
    "What a glorious thing it is to know that the Lord has offered to each of us the fullness of the priesthood, and has promised us that if we will receive this priesthood and magnify our callings, we shall gain an everlasting inheritance with him in his kingdom!

    "This priesthood which we have received is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things for the salvation of men. It has come to us in this day through the ministry of heavenly messengers sent to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

    "When Moroni came to Joseph Smith in September 1823, he quoted to him these words which the Lord had given to Malachi: "Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (D&C 2:1.)

    "To prepare the way for the coming of Elijah and the restoration of the sealing power, because of which men may receive the fullness of the priesthood, John the Baptist came in May of 1829 and conferred upon Joseph and Oliver the Aaronic Priesthood. A short time later Peter, James, and John came and gave them the Melchizedek Priesthood.

    "Then on April 3, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple, Elijah the prophet returned and bestowed upon them the sealing power, the power to use the priesthood to bind on earth and seal in heaven.
    of the priesthood" was available to men only in the temple, in "a house" built to his name. (See D&C 124.) And in 1843 the Prophet said: "If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord." (Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 244.)

    "Let me put this in a little different way. I do not care what office you hold in the Church -- you may be an apostle, you may be a patriarch, a high priest, or anything else -- but you cannot receive the fullness of the priesthood and the fullness of eternal reward unless you receive the ordinances of the house of the Lord; and when you receive these ordinances, the door is then open so you can obtain all the blessings which any man can gain.

    "Do not think because someone has a higher office in the Church than you have that you are barred from receiving the fullness of the Lord's blessings. You can have them sealed upon you as an elder, if you are faithful; and when you receive them, and live faithfully and keep these covenants, you then have all that any man can get.

    "There is no exaltation in the kingdom of God without the fullness of the priesthood, and every man who receives the Melchizedek Priesthood does so with an oath and a covenant that he shall be exalted." (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1970, pp.58-60)

    Those who returned priesthood keys to Joseph Smith

    [For an excellent article concerning this see, Bruce R. McConkie, "This Final Glorious Gospel Dispensation," Ensign, Apr. 1980, pp. 21-25.]


    John the Baptist Peter, James, and John Moses Elias Elijah Priesthood Keys Given to the Quorum of the Twelve by Joseph Smith
    Wilford Woodruff
    Joseph Smith was what he professed to be, a prophet of God, a seer and revelator. He laid the foundation of this church and kingdom, and lived long enough to deliver the keys of the kingdom to the elders of Israel, unto the twelve apostles. He spent the last winter of his life, some three or four months, with the quorum of the twelve, teaching them. It was not merely a few hours ministering to them the ordinances of the gospel; but he spent day after day, week after week and month after month, teaching them and a few others the things of the kingdom of God. [Journal of Discourses, 13:164, December 12, 1869; also, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p.35]

    JOSEPH'S FINAL MEETING WITH THE TWELVE. All that President Young or myself, or any member of the quorum need have done in the matter was to have referred to the last instructions at the last meeting we had with the Prophet Joseph before starting on our mission [to the eastern states]. I have alluded to that meeting many times in my life.

    The Prophet Joseph, I am now satisfied, had a thorough presentiment that that was the last meeting we would hold together here in the flesh. We had had our endowments; we had had all the blessings sealed upon our heads that were ever given to the apostles or prophets on the face of the earth. On that occasion the Prophet Joseph rose up and said to us: "Brethren, I have desired to live to see this temple built. I shall never live to see it, but you will. I have sealed upon your heads all the keys of the kingdom of God. I have sealed upon you every key, power, principle that the God of heaven has revealed to me. Now, no matter where I may go or what I may do, the kingdom rests upon you." [The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp.71-72]

    Priesthood Keys and the Meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman
    Joseph Smith
    "Daniel in his seventh chapter speaks of the Ancient of days; he means the oldest man, our Father Adam, Michael, he will call his children together and hold a council with them to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man.  He (Adam) is the father of the human family, and presides over the spirits of all men, and all that have had the keys must stand before him in this grand council.  This may take place before some of us leave this stage of action.  The Son of Man stands before him, and there is given him glory and dominion.  Adam delivers up his stewardship to Christ, that which was delivered to him as holding the keys of the universe, but retains his standing as head of the human family." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.157)

    Joseph Fielding Smith
    "It was in the night vision that all this was shown to Daniel, and he saw the Son of Man come to the grand council, as he did to the first grand council in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there he received the keys from Adam "and there was given to him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." (Dan. 7: 13-14.) In this council Christ will take over the reigns of government, officially, on this earth, and "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him," even Jesus Christ.  Until this grand council is held, Satan shall hold rule in the nations of the earth; but at that time thrones are to be cast down and man's rule shall come to an end -- for it is decreed that the Lord shall make an end of all nations. (D.C. 87:6.) Preparation for this work is now going on. Kingdoms are already tottering, some have fallen; but eventually they shall all go the way of the earth, and he shall come whose right it is to rule. Then shall he give the government to the saints of the Most High.

    "This council in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman is to be of the greatest importance to this world. At that time there will be a transfer of authority from the usurper and impostor, Lucifer, to the rightful King, Jesus Christ. Judgment will be set and all who have held keys will make their reports and deliver their stewardships, as they shall be required. Adam will direct this judgment, and then he will make his report, as the one holding the keys for this earth, to his Superior Officer, Jesus Christ. Our Lord will then assume the reins of government; directions will be given to the Priesthood; and He, whose right it is to rule, will be installed officially by the voice of the Priesthood there assembled. This grand council of Priesthood will be composed, not only of those who are faithful who now dwell on this earth, but also of the prophets and apostles of old, who have had directing authority. Others may also be there, but if so they will be there by appointment, for this is to be an official council called to attend to the most momentous matters ' concerning the destiny of this earth." (The Way to Perfection, p.289-291)

    John Taylor
    "A great council will then be held to adjust the affairs of the world, from the commencement, over which Father Adam will preside as head and representative of the human family. . . .

    "Then they will assemble to regulate all these affairs, and all that held keys of authority to administer will then represent their earthly course. And as this authority has been handed down from one to another in different ages, and in different dispensations, a full reckoning will have to be made by all. All who have held the keys of priesthood will then have to give an account to those from whom they received them. Those that were in the heavens have been assisting those that were upon the earth; but then, they will unite together in a general council to give an account of their stewardships, and as in the various ages men have received their power to administer from those who had previously held the keys thereof, there will be a general account.

    "Those under the authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have to give an account of their transactions to those who direct them in the priesthood; hence the elders give an account to presidents of conferences; andpresidents of conferences to presidents of nations. Those presidents and the seventies give an account to the twelve apostles; the twelve to the First Presidency; and they to Joseph, from whom they, and the twelve, received their priesthood. This will include the arrangements of the last dispensation. Joseph delivers his authority to Peter, who held the keys before him, and delivered them to him; and Peter to Moses and Elias, who endowed him with this authority on the Mount; and they to those from whom they received them. And thus the world's affairs will be regulated and put right, the restitution of all things be accomplished, and the kingdom of God be ushered in. The earth will be delivered from under the curse, resume its paradisiacal glory, and all things pertaining to its restoration be fulfilled." [The Gospel Kingdom, p.217]

    Concluding Remark on Priesthood Keys
    President Gordon B. Hinckley:  "I give you my testimony, my brethren, that the impression to call Brother Hales to this high and sacred office came by the Holy Spirit, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Brother Hales did not suggest his own name. His name was suggested by the Spirit.

    "He will be ordained and set apart under the hands of his associates who previously have been ordained to the holy apostleship. In that ordination, he will receive all of the priesthood keys available to men upon this earth. But there will be restrictions with reference to the exercise of some of those keys. The President of the Church holds the authority to exercise all of the keys of the priesthood at any given time. He may delegate, and in the present instance has delegated, to his Counselors and to those of the Twelve the exercise of various of those keys.

    "This brings me to a matter of which I have spoken before from this pulpit. I do so again because of what some are writing and saying incident to the condition of President Benson's health.

    "People throughout the Church are naturally anxious to know of the President's condition. President Benson is now in his ninety-fifth year. As we have previously said from this and other pulpits, he suffers seriously from the effects of age and illness and has been unable to fulfill important duties of his sacred office. This is not a situation without precedent. Other Presidents of the Church have also been ill or unable to function fully in the closing months or years of their lives. It is possible that this will happen again in the future.

    "The principles and procedures which the Lord has put in place for the governance of His church make provision for any such circumstance. It is important, my brethren, that there be no doubts or concerns about the governance of the Church and the exercise of the prophetic gifts, including the right to inspiration and revelation in administering the affairs and programs of the Church, when the President may be ill or is not able to function fully.

    "The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, called and ordained to hold the keys of the priesthood, have the authority and responsibility to govern the Church, to administer its ordinances, to expound its doctrine, and to establish and maintain its practices. Each man who is ordained an Apostle and sustained a member of the Council of the Twelve is sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Like those before him, President Benson was the senior Apostle at the time he was called as President of the Church. His Counselors were drawn from the Council of the Twelve. Therefore, all incumbent members of the Quorum of the First Presidency and of the Council of the Twelve have been the recipients of the keys, rights, and authority pertaining to the holy apostleship.

    "I quote from the Doctrine and Covenants:

    "'Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church' (D&C 107:22).

    "When the President is ill or not able to function fully in all of the duties of his office, his two Counselors together comprise a Quorum of the First Presidency. They carry on with the day-to-day work of the Presidency. In exceptional circumstances, when only one may be able to function, he may act in the authority of the office of the Presidency as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 102, verses 10-11 [D&C 102:10-11].

    "When, on 10 November 1985, President Benson called his two Counselors, it was he himself who was voice in setting them apart, with the members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles also laying their hands upon the heads of the Counselors, each one in turn, as he was set apart. President Benson was at the time in good health, fully able to function in every way.

    "Furthermore, following this setting apart, he signed with his own hand powers of agency giving each of his Counselors the authority to direct the business of the Church.

    "Under these specific and plenary delegations of authority, the Counselors in the First Presidency carry on with the regular work of this office. But any major questions of policy, procedures, programs, or doctrine are considered deliberately and prayerfully by the First Presidency and the Twelve together. These two quorums, the Quorum of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, meeting together, with every man having total freedom to express himself, consider every major question.

    "And now I quote again from the word of the Lord: "And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other" (D&C 107:27).

    "No decision emanates from the deliberations of the First Presidency and the Twelve without total unanimity among all concerned. At the outset in considering matters, there may be differences of opinion. These are to be expected. These men come from different backgrounds. They are men who think for themselves. But before a final decision is reached, there comes a unanimity of mind and voice.

    "This is to be expected if the revealed word of the Lord is followed. Again I quote from the revelation:

    "'The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

    "'Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord" (D&C 107:30-31).

    "I add by way of personal testimony that during the twenty years I served as a member of the Council of the Twelve and during the nearly thirteen years that I have served in the First Presidency, there has never been a major action taken where this procedure was not observed. I have seen differences of opinion presented in these deliberations. Out of this very process of men speaking their minds has come a sifting and winnowing of ideas and concepts. But I have never observed serious discord or personal enmity among my Brethren. I have, rather, observed a beautiful and remarkable thing--the coming together, under the directing influence of the Holy Spirit and under the power of revelation, of divergent views until there is total harmony and full agreement. Only then is implementation made. That, I testify, represents the spirit of revelation manifested again and again in directing this the Lord's work.

    "I know of no other governing body of any kind of which this might be said.

    "This procedure obtains even in the absence of the President of the Church. I hasten to add, however, that the Brethren would not be inclined to do anything which they feel would be out of harmony with the attitude, feelings, and position of their beloved leader, the prophet of the Lord.

    "It must be recognized that the President, when he became the senior Apostle, had moved up through the ranks of seniority over a period of many years of service in the Quorum of the Twelve. During this time, his Brethren came to know him well. During the years of his ministry, he expressed himself on the many issues that came before that quorum. His views became well known. Those who love him, respect him, sustain and honor him as President of the Church and prophet, seer, and revelator of the Lord would not be disposed to go beyond what they recognize his position would be on any issue under consideration.

    "I repeat for emphasis that all who have been ordained to the holy apostleship have had bestowed upon them the keys and the authority of this most high and sacred office. In this authority reside the powers of governance of the Church and kingdom of God in the earth. There is order in the exercise of that authority. It is specifically set forth in the revelations of the Lord. It is known to all of the Brethren and is observed by all.

    "I have said this, some of it repetitious of what I have said before, because of the present circumstances of our beloved prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson.

    "Now brethren, let it be understood by all that Jesus Christ stands at the head of this church which bears His sacred name. He is watching over it. He is guiding it. Standing at the right hand of His Father, He directs this work. His is the prerogative, the power, the option to call men in His way to high and sacred offices and to release them according to His will by calling them home. He is the Master of life and death. I do not worry about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I accept these circumstances as an expression of His will. I likewise accept the responsibility, acting with my Brethren, to do all we can to move forward this holy work in a spirit of consecration, love, humility, duty, and loyalty.

    "I assure each of you and the entire world that there is unity and brotherhood with total and united fidelity to one undergirding objective, and that is to build the kingdom of God in the earth.

    "We know that as men we are feeble and inadequate in terms of the massive responsibility to carry the gospel of salvation to the nations of the earth and to prepare men and women everywhere to walk the path of immortality and eternal life made possible through our Father's love and the atonement of our Divine Redeemer. We know also that with the blessing of the Almighty, if we are true and faithful, if we listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and follow those whisperings, we can, with our brethren and sisters, bring miracles to pass and accomplish the purposes for which we have been called under a divinely given call.

    "God is at the helm. Never doubt it. When we are confronted with opposition, He will open the way when there appears to be no way. Our individual efforts may be humble and appear somewhat insignificant. But the accumulated good works of all, laboring together with a common purpose, will bring to pass great and wondrous accomplishments. The world will be a better place for our united service. Our people will be a happy people, a blessed people, a people whose shepherd is our Lord, leading us through pastures green and peaceful, if we will walk after His pattern and in His light." ("God Is at the Helm," Ensign, May 1994, p. 54-59)