Lesson 2: The Priesthood from Adam to the Restoration

Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, (2000), 9–15


The purpose of this lesson is to help us understand that the priesthood was given to Adam and other righteous men through the ages.

Introduction

Adam was the first man on the earth to hold the priesthood. This means God gave him the authority to direct his family and perform the ordinances they needed to return to His presence. He was also the first prophet to receive the keys of presidency, or the authority to direct God’s Church on earth. With this authority, he gave many men the priesthood and taught them how to use it. All the prophets of the Lord in each dispensation since Adam have held this same authority.

  • Display visual 2-a, “The Priesthood in All Generations.” Explain that the chart is divided into seven time periods called dispensations. Read the definition of a dispensation at the bottom of the chart. Explain that we do not know how many dispensations of the gospel there have been, but these seven represent some of the major ones. Refer to each appropriate picture as the dispensation is mentioned in the lesson and, as time permits, read the scriptures included with each picture.

The Adamic Dispensation

  • Refer to visual 2-a, “The Priesthood in All Generations.” Point out the picture of the Adamic dispensation and read Doctrine and Covenants 107:40–41 as shown on the chart.

Soon after Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, an angel appeared to them and taught them the gospel (see Moses 5:6–9). The Church was also organized and Adam was baptized in water the same way we have been instructed to baptize today (see Moses 6:64–65). The priesthood was then given to Adam so that he could have authority to perform all of the ordinances of the gospel for his family. With this authority he baptized the members of his family and gave the priesthood to those of his sons who were righteous.

All people have agency, or freedom to choose. With this agency, some of the children of Adam chose to break the commandments. As larger numbers of them made this choice and turned from the truth, they “began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish” (see Moses 5:12–13). This kind of falling away from the truth is called an apostasy.

The Dispensations of Enoch and Noah

Adam and those who kept the commandments preached to these people and tried to get them to repent. Most people did not repent, but those who did joined the prophet Enoch and were called Zion. The scriptures tell us that “Enoch and all his people walked with God, … and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom” (Moses 7:69).

After Enoch and the people of Zion were taken from the earth, the wicked people became very numerous. The Lord sent the prophet Noah to warn them and call them to repentance. Noah told the wicked people that if they did not repent they would be swept off the earth in a great flood. Noah’s family members, however, were the only ones who listened to him and kept the commandments. The flood came as Noah had warned, and he and his family were the only ones saved.

  • Refer to the picture of the dispensation of Noah on the chart and read Moses 8:19–20.

The Priesthood after the Flood

After the flood, Noah gave the priesthood to his righteous children and grandchildren. One righteous man who lived after Noah and who received the priesthood was Melchizedek. Melchizedek was so righteous that the priesthood was named after him (see D&C 107:2–4, which also explains that the priesthood was named after Melchizedek to avoid repeating the Lord’s name too often). Melchizedek ordained Abraham to the priesthood, and Abraham ordained others. Thus, the Melchizedek Priesthood continued to the time of Moses.

Melchizedek Priesthood Taken from Israel

Abraham gave the priesthood to his son Isaac, and Isaac gave it to his son Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and thereafter Jacob’s descendants were known as the children of Israel.

In Moses’ day, after he had led the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord offered the children of Israel the fulness of His gospel. They rejected it, however, so the Lord took away from them the Melchizedek Priesthood and the higher ordinances of the gospel. They were left with laws that were to direct the physical, or temporal, activities of the people. These laws were administered by the Aaronic Priesthood (named after Aaron, the brother of Moses). Most of these laws are found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. They were not meant to replace the fulness of the gospel, but were given as a way to prepare the children of Israel to live the gospel in its fulness at a later time.

Even though the Melchizedek Priesthood was taken from Israel as a nation, it was not permanently taken from the earth. Between the time of Moses and the coming of Jesus Christ, several prophets held the Melchizedek Priesthood. Some of these prophets were Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lehi, Daniel, and Ezekiel.

The Priesthood in the Days of Jesus

When Jesus came to earth He restored the gospel in its fulness. He held the keys, or the full authority, of the priesthood and ordained Apostles (see Matthew 10:1–4) and Seventies (see Luke 10:1). He organized His Church among His followers, and when He finally left the earth, the Apostles were given the authority to ordain others to various offices in the priesthood (see Acts 14:23). In this way, the priesthood was passed on and remained the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Great Apostasy

For some time after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Church continued to teach the truth, and thousands of people from many cities joined the Church. However, in time some who had joined the Church refused to obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel and changed them to suit their own ways of thinking. Many members, including the Apostles and other priesthood leaders, were persecuted and killed. As these men were killed and others fell away from the truth, the Church lost the authority of the priesthood. Eventually, the priesthood no longer remained in the Church.

For many centuries, the fulness of the gospel was not on the earth. Those churches which were organized during the Apostasy did not have the priesthood. As a result, they could not receive direction from God or perform the ordinances of salvation. As Isaiah said they would, they “transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, [and broke] the everlasting covenant” (see Isaiah 24:5).

The Restoration of the Priesthood

One day, in the spring of 1820, a young man named Joseph Smith prayed to God about which church he should join. In answer to his prayer, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him. Jesus told him to join none of the churches, saying, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

Through Joseph Smith, the Lord brought back to the earth His true Church and restored all the necessary principles and ordinances of His gospel. The Lord gave to Joseph Smith the holy priesthood, which was held by Adam and other righteous men through the ages. We have that priesthood today, and the Lord has promised that in this dispensation, the dispensation of the fulness of times, the priesthood will not be taken away again. It will be here when Christ returns to earth.

Conclusion

  • Show visual 2-b, “Men are given the priesthood by the laying on of hands by those who have been given authority of God.”

The priesthood which worthy male members of the Church hold today is the same priesthood given to Adam and the other prophets through the ages. It is the power and authority of God, and we are His representatives on the earth. Because we are His representatives, we hold the power to help ourselves, our families, and others return to God’s presence. When given permission by the bishop or branch president, we can baptize, give the gift of the Holy Ghost, and ordain others to the priesthood. In these and other ways the priesthood can bring joy into our lives and the lives of others.

Challenges

Discuss the priesthood with your family. Develop ways you can help your sons be worthy to receive the priesthood. Strive to be an example of a worthy priesthood bearer.

At the proper time, and when you are authorized to do so, baptize and confirm your children and ordain your sons to the priesthood.

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Study Gospel Principles chapter 14, “Priesthood Organization.”

  2. 2.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.