Mormonism and priesthood/Is there a "Priesthood of All Believers"

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Is there a "Priesthood of All Believers"?

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Question: Is there a "Priesthood of All Believers" which eliminates the need for unbroken lines of priesthood authority?

Peter's reference to the priesthood was drawn from the ancient Israelite views of the priesthood, a view in which only a select group hold the priesthood

It is claimed that there is no need for unbroken lines of priesthood authority since the Bible teaches that all believers hold the priesthood. However, Peter's reference to the priesthood was drawn from the ancient Israelite views of the priesthood, a view in which only a select group hold the priesthood. Neither the Bible nor other early Christian writings support the idea that all Christians hold priesthood authority to govern the Church or administer its ordinances. Instead, this doctrine is a novelty necessitated by the protestant break with Rome.

Here, we examine some of the scriptural passages cited in defense of the concept of a priesthood of all believers.[1]

"A royal priesthood"

  • "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

This was the principal passage cited by Martin Luther in defense of a priesthood of all believers. What Luther failed to note is that Peter was actually referring to an Old Testament passage, in which the Lord told the Israelites through Moses,

  • "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6).

Yet of the Israelites present at the mount of revelation, only the Levites were chosen for priesthood service.

The Gospels and Acts

Based on the belief in the "priesthood of all believers," a Protestant minister often feels that the Bible (or God) has called him to work. But Christ made it clear that this is not the way it works. He said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:21-24).

Only a believer would prophecy in the name of Christ or, in his name, cast out devils. Yet the Savior said that he would cast out those he never knew. It is wrong to profess to do something in the name of Christ when one does not have the authority to do so. Note that Christ said that there would be "many" who would claim to have performed good works in his name who would be rejected, so this is not just an occasional person.

That specific authority was required to perform ordinances in the early Church is made clear by the story found in chapter 8 of Acts: "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money" (Acts 8:14-20). Simon was not trying to buy the Spirit, but the "power" to "lay hands" on people so they could receive the Holy Ghost. This power is what we call "priesthood." Simon had already been baptized in the name of Christ, but this did not authorize him to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

At the last supper, Christ told his apostles, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you" (John 15:16). This ordination did not take place because they were baptized, but came after they had chosen to follow Christ. In Luke 6:13, we read that "when it was day, he [Jesus] called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles." So only twelve of Christ's followers were chosen to be apostles. Mark gives more details concerning this event: "And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils" (Mark 3:13-15). From this, it is clear that the apostles received, at that time, "power" that other followers of Christ did not have. He later gave that same power or priesthood to seventy others (Luke 10:1-20).

The account in Acts 19:1-6 is also instructive on the concept of authority to baptize and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost: "And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied."

These men (twelve in number according to verse 7), said they had been baptized "unto John's baptism," probably meaning by someone claiming authority from the John the Baptist, who had been killed by Herod Antipas long before the time of Paul. But Paul doubted the truth of this statement, knowing that John had told people of Christ who, coming after him, would baptize them with the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11; John 1:29-34). So Paul taught them about Jesus, after which "they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" and Paul "laid his hands upon them" for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Early Christian history

Christians in the first centuries do not seem to have endorsed the idea of a priesthood of all believers either—instead, this was a later idea developed by Luther to justify his break with Roman Catholicism, which claimed priesthood inheritance from the apostles.

John Tvedtnes, "Is There a “Priesthood of All Believers”?"

John Tvedtnes,  FairMormon Papers
Many modern Protestants reject the idea of priesthood authority as necessary for the performance of ordinances such as baptism. Instead, they hold to the concept that all true believers in Christ are automatically authorized to baptize and perform other ordinances and that no exceptional authority from God is necessary beyond acceptance of Christ as Savior.

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To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  1. Part of this wiki article originally derived from John A. Tvedtnes, "Is There a Priesthood of All Believers?" FairMormon link. Due to the nature of a wiki project, it has since diverged from the source material, due to other editors' additions or alterations.