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While we dwell in this mortal world, the Lord has given us powers that we can use in cooperation with Him in order to work toward our redemption in the Worlds of Light—the Kingdoms of Glory we hope to inhabit hereafter. One such power is His Holy Priesthood. While in mortality, the priesthood can be used both temporally and spiritually. The temporal uses are for organizing the church and maintaining order in it. The spiritual uses connect us with the eternities and the Kingdoms of Glory we will inhabit after this mortal life.

Of course, the temporal aspects are connected to the eternal, spiritual aspects, as the Lord tells us, saying “that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; . . . for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal . . .” (D&C 29:34–35). However, we nearsighted and stumbling mortals tend to limit our seeing and thinking about things to our temporal situation, and thus, all too often our ideas regarding priesthood are limited to temporal terms. One way we do this is by supposing that, since there are offices with differing degrees of authority in the priesthood (much like earthly organizations such as the government, military groups, and corporations) that it is proper and right to view the priesthood in similar terms.

It actually is fitting and proper to view the priesthood in such a manner while in this mortal world and to the extent that we are dealing with temporal situations. After all, such patterns of organization are explicitly laid out in the scriptures, Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–67 being the initial directive. Since the time Section 20 was given to us, the Lord has shown that He is watching over the earthly administration of the priesthood by revealing expansions like those found in sections 84 and 107, and other modifications as times and situations require. We saw such a modification occur in the April 2018 General Conference when President Nelson said, “Tonight we announce a significant restructuring of our Melchizedek Priesthood quorums to accomplish the work of the Lord more effectively. In each ward, the high priests and the elders will now be combined into one elders quorum” (Introductory Remarks by President Russell M. Nelson, italics in original). The recent policy change that allows women to act as witnesses is not a modification of priesthood, but rather a recognition that women have the power inherent in them to be able to perform the necessary function of witnessing.

When we deal with these powers of organization—plus the inherent power and rank that come with them—it is possible to see them in purely earthly, temporal terms. Unfortunately, it is when we look at them in such a way that the confusion and jealousy that has caused many arguments about who is and/or should be entitled to priesthood have come about. If the Church, a stake, or a quorum president is seen as nothing more than the equivalent of a corporate CEO or manager, there is reason for anger and debate. If the Church is putting a glass ceiling in place, women have a right to complain. But the priesthood of God is not just a worldly organization—it is something entirely different. There are powers available through the priesthood that go beyond mere office and extend into the eternities. And those powers are not given to men so that they can have power over women, but so they can perform works that are equivalent to the work performed by women. There is a reason baptism is called a “rebirth.” More on that later.

In April 2010, Boyd K. Packer gave a talk in which he stated, “We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be (Boyd K. Packer, “Power of the Priesthood,” April 2010, italics in original).

In the Church, we see priesthood authority as being exercised in the organization of offices and in the execution of day-to-day, Church operations. As stated above, this can be compared to earthly organizations. This view seems to be the focus of many who feel that the Church is unjust in not allowing women to hold priesthood offices. This is a very short-sighted view that sees the Church only in earthly terms. It looks with envy and longing at the authority while being blind to the power that is possible for the truly faith-filled and worthy priesthood holder to attain. So what is that power and how does it relate to both men and women?

The power of the priesthood is not only for administering the temporal work of the church but also for administering spiritual blessings, which includes the awesome power to open and/or close the passageways between worlds.

Notice what the Lord said to Peter in this regard: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell [sheol, Hades, spirit prison] shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven [the actual place where the righteous dwell, a place that is different from this temporal world]: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:18–19 italics added).

It is imperative to note here that Earth and heaven are different realms of existence, both very real, both subject to the power of the keys the Lord gave to Peter. The way the keys are used— the way the powers to communicate with and influence other realms are exercised—is through the performance of ordinances.

In her article “The Two Trees: An LDS Revisiting of the Garden of Eden," V.H. Cassler states, “In the opening scenes of the great saga of God’s children, into the Garden were placed one son and one daughter of God, and two trees. Two persons, two trees.” She continues:

Each Tree represented an important doorway along the journey of the Great Plan. The First Tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, symbolized the doorway leading from heaven, with its accompanying earthly ordinances of entering mortality with a mortal body, gaining full agency, and having the light of Christ awakened within. Remember the meaning of the term “ordinance” from the LDS Handbook (Volume 2): “An ordinance is a sacred physical act with symbolic meaning.” Pregnancy, birth, lactation are all ordinances, then. The Second Tree, the tree of eternal life, symbolized the doorway back to our heavenly home, with its accompanying ordinances of salvation and exaltation. We are much more familiar with referring to baptism, confirmation, sealing, and so forth, as ordinances. However, it is worth pondering that there are ordinances associated with accepting the fruit of each of the Two Trees. [1]

The purpose of the priesthood ordinances is to bring God's children through various gates (or, as Cassler calls them, doorways) into different realms of existence—the different priesthoods, Aaronic and Melchizedek, pertaining to different kingdoms. Cassler accurately speaks of the Two Trees as two doorways, however the temple endowment teaches us that there are other doorways. In some temples this is made clear as we actually pass through a certain number of doors in the course of the ordinance, while in other temples the transition is indicated by different intensities of light. The doorways—variations of light—symbolize the gates we will pass through, guarded by angels, the most important gate being the Second Tree, where “the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name” (2 Ne. 9:41).

It is important to note what the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods actually are and what they can—through worthiness and faith—empower us to do. “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (D&C 13:1).

So the Aaronic Priesthood has the power of the ministering of angels (mentioned a number of times; Sections 84 and 107 for example), which, when used properly, opens the doorway that allows angels to come from different realms to interact with mortals. It also opens the doorway from this worldly kingdom to a higher kingdom, or world, into which we are reborn through baptism. This is completed by another lifting: the administration of the Melchizedek Priesthood ordinance of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. 2 Nephi 31 gives a detailed description of what this entails and how we should take advantage of the “way” God has given us to “enter in” on the path that will lead us to salvation and exaltation.

The Melchizedek Priesthood, however, offers much more than the Gift of the Holy Ghost, great as that gift is. It is through the Melchizedek Priesthood that we truly have the heavens opened unto us:

“The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—to have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:18–19)
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am; And that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (D&C 93:1–2).
“And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it; Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God” (D&C 97:15–16).
“When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves. And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy. John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false” (D&C 130:1–3).

These marvelous blessings come to us by way of ordinances. In order to realize the great blessings that the priesthood ordinances—including most emphatically those of the temple—can bring us, they must be accompanied by sufficient faith. When our faith grows strong enough, the power God can use through us is almost unlimited. But in order to attain that faith, we must recognize that this power has to do with the interaction between worlds. The temple ordinances show us the way the doorways to the afterlife will be opened. But if we have eyes to see it, they also show us the doorway we already came through. This doorway is the interaction between worlds that was necessary to bring us here: the passage from a pre-earthly, Spirit World existence to this mortal world.

When the ordinances were first introduced to Adam preparatory to being administered, God explained that baptism signifies a second birth. In doing so, He made an important comparison to our earthly birth: ". . . by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water [amniotic fluid from the mother], and blood [again from the mother], and the spirit [a spirit child of God nurtured and sent to Earth by the Heavenly Father and Mother—but also, perhaps, the protecting spirit of the mother that surrounded the growing body of the child for nine months], which I have made, and so became of dust [the elements of the Earth Mother—see Moses 7:48 wherein the earth proclaims that she is ‘the mother of men’—which elements are shared through the umbilical cord between mother and child] a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water [the waters on the earth which were the primordial source of creation], and of the Spirit [the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead], and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; for by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified" (Moses 6: 59–60).

The above passage is often quoted at baptismal services and is quite familiar to members or the Church. Now let’s look at what is being said more deeply than we do normally.

An important component of baptism is sanctification (the remission of sins) as Joseph and Oliver were informed by John the Baptist: "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins . . . " (D&C 13:1).

So it is by priesthood power—the power of God shared with man—that sins are remitted through the administration of the ordinance of baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We renew the forgiveness that comes with that remission of sins by partaking of the sacrament, also administered by priesthood holders, and also—though we don’t often talk of it—through the laying on of hands for healing the body and spirit. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:5–7, see also vv. 6–12).

“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:14–15). An earthly doctor may be able to assist in healing our bodies, but that will not sanctify us and forgive our sins; only priesthood power from God can do that. And it sanctifies us in preparation to enter into realms of glory. In fact, all the communication between worlds, if we are speaking of Worlds of Glory, requires forgiveness of sins, or sanctification. All unrighteousness must be cleansed away through repentance and the administering of proper ordinances.

Now in light of this, let us look at some things that are so common in the Church that we have come to accept them as commonplace traditions. We learned about them in Junior Sunday School and unfortunately, we still think of them in Junior Sunday School terms. One thing we are all familiar with is Mormon's sermon on infant baptism: "And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!” (Moroni 8:11–12). That is a comforting doctrine. But if we look at it more deeply than how we learned it as children (“Putting away childish things” as Paul exhorts. See 1 Cor. 13:11), there is something about it that needs to be dealt with. Alma 13:3–4 tells us that even before we came into this world, we had not only the capacity but also the opportunity to commit sin: "In the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling . . . And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren." So we were in a condition, even before we came to earth, of being able to choose evil or good. Were there times even in that premortal realm that we desired to choose good, but slipped up and made a bad choice? What then?

D&C 93:38 says, "Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God."

Now for men to become innocent again, they must have—by definition—lost their innocence. And this had to happen before they became infants! So between the beginning (when they were innocent) and their birth into infancy, they did something (sinned) that lost them their innocence. Therefore, they were in need of having their sins forgiven in order to become again—in their infant state—innocent before God. And since “there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ,” (Hel. 5.9) which blood brings remission of sins; and since the blood of Christ is applied by the performance of ordinances by an authorized officiator, what ordinance was performed and who officiated? The only possible officiator—sometimes the only person other than the infant who is on the scene—is the mother. And the ordinance is birth: the first baptism. Nine months of immersion in our mother's water, and being brought forth out of the water through the blood of the Mother and through the veil of her flesh to be quickened by the spirit and live in innocence until once again, sin can conceive in our hearts and we reach the age of accountability, become once again sinful, and require a priesthood-administered baptism to sanctify us again before God.

It can be difficult to wrap our heads around such a concept, so I will be repetitive in order to drive the point home. Remember, for us to receive a remission of our sins, in all cases we need to receive an ordinance administered by an authorized servant of God. In the first instance (the First Tree), that servant/officiator must be the mother. There are cases where no other earthly being is in attendance as the birth takes place. And yet the infant comes into the world in a state of innocence before God. The infant can only have been cleansed of sins through the administration of the ordinance of birth administered by the mother through her motherhood/priestesshood.

When someone has reached the age of accountability—in order to be cleansed of sins that have accrued—he/she must be born again (entering the gate to the path that leads to the Second Tree) through the ministrations of an authorized priesthood holder. The equivalency of these two ordinances, birth and baptism, is illustrated by Nephi's vision wherein he is asked by his angel guide, "Knowest thou the condescension of God?" in 1 Ne. 11:16, and then in answer is shown Mary, who is then carried away in the Spirit, and then appears again having given birth and bearing a child, the “fruit of her womb,” in her arms. This then, is the angel’s answer to his own question about the condescension of God; Jesus condescended to be born; to receive the gift of the First Tree through the ministration of Mary, a daughter of God.

Now, since Nephi has already seen that the condescension of God is His willingness to be born of a woman, it can come as something of a surprise when, several verses later, the angel who asked the question answers it again, saying, "Look and behold the condescension of God!" And proceeds to show the Lord being baptized by John (1 Ne. 11:26–27), thus receiving the gift of the Second Tree through the ministration of John, a Son of God (see Moses 6:68, John 1:12 and D&C 84:26–28).

And thus we see that both birth and rebirth are in many respects the same ordinance. The sinless Jesus Christ condescended to show us the way, fulfilling all righteousness. What is required of us is not condescension, for we are not sinless, but humility and submission to the will of God—both for birth and for rebirth. As spirits desiring to come into mortality, we must submit ourselves to God and our mortal mother for birth and the remission of sins, then submit to God and a mortal priesthood holder for baptism: rebirth for the remission of sins as we progress along the pathway to immortality and eternal life.

And thus we see that motherhood is authorized Priestesshood.

An illustration of the power of that priestesshood is beautifully recounted in a story e-published by Kim White in Meridian Magazine on November 7, 2019:

I yearned for the power of the priesthood, which had blessed me so many times in my life, but in hopeless agony I knew I, as a woman, had no such power.
I prayed to the Lord with all the energy of my heart, in grief and despair, begging him to help me. And in response I felt one of the clearest spiritual impressions I have ever received. The spirit told me, “You are her mother; you have power. What do you want us to do?”
I suddenly felt a strength and a power in my heart, a warm eruption of confidence as though I could command angels. I felt, as if it had been a physical thing, a column of spiritual power from my heart to the heavens. I had no words for what was happening, but I was acquainted with the Spirit, and recognized him, and trusted him. I knew exactly what I wanted. I called upon the powers of heaven and commanded that my daughter would remain in my sole custody.
Five minutes later, my lawyer appeared in the hallway, all smiles. “I can’t believe it,” he said, and went on to tell me that the judge had suddenly and unexpectedly decided the state of Utah rightly had jurisdiction over my daughter, and had canceled the trial. I would retain sole custody unless and until my ex filed for custody in Utah. I knew he wouldn’t bother, and he never did. The conflict was over, and my daughter remained in my sole custody, just as I had wanted.
This miracle left a powerful impression on me. I knew, firsthand from the spirit, that I had a great power as a woman and a mother, and that it was the power of God. [2]

Notice that Sister White starts out yearning in agony for the power of the priesthood which she knows, as a woman, she does not have. However, she realizes—having been instructed by the Spirit—that she does have power, and that this power is the power of God. When she at first agonized over her lack of power, saying she knew she didn’t have it because she was a woman, where did that “knowledge” come from? Was it doctrine or was it tradition? If the later knowledge that she did indeed have power, that that power is the power of God, and that with it she can work with angels . . . if that knowledge truly came through the Spirit of God—and the result of what happened bears testimony that it did—then we have strong evidence that women do indeed have great power from and with God.

It is also interesting to note the difference between power and authority, remembering Pres. Packer’s lament that we seem to embrace authority, but neglect power. Here we have a woman being told by the Spirit, the Holy Ghost (a member of the Godhead), that she has power. She exercises that power and the judge—who has the authority—seems to have a revelation about the case that suddenly reverses the outcome. God’s power overruled and then seemingly guided the judge’s authority. Which, then, is more influential: the power or the authority?

The keys to using the power revealed to Sister White are faith and love. Motherly love is one of the strongest forms of love in all creation. With sufficient faith, coupled with motherly love, great and marvelous miracles have been and will continue to be performed. In this light, it is instructive to take note of the Lord’s teachings about how the power of the priesthood can and ought to be wielded. Ponder the beatitudes which show us the qualities Jesus desires that we espouse: poor in heart, willingness to mourn with those that mourn, meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, willing to endure persecution (see Matt. 5:3–12). Throughout the ages, these qualities have been much more prevalent in women than in men (at least, in my opinion).

Then in D&C 121, the qualities of “almost all men” are noted:

Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen (D&C 121: 34–40).

In spite of these scriptures, there are all too many men in the Church (and an even larger percentage outside the Church) who believe that because of the one quality in which men exceed women (physical strength), they are for some reason superior in all ways. And they operate under the illusion that priesthood gives the “right” to lord over women. A close examination of the following verses of Section 121 shows that just the opposite seems to be true: that priesthood is given to men so they can do the works that will qualify men to inherit the glory that women qualify for through the ordinances of pregnancy, childbearing, lactation, and the continued nurturing of the souls of men until they become agents unto themselves.

In the following passages, which instruct men how and with what spirit and mindset they should administer the ordinances, I will add comments in brackets to clarify my interpretation.

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [I define virtue as righteous power, following verse 36. Therefore priesthood is a righteous power, a virtue, when used righteously, “ . . . the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and . . . the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” So power or influence can] only [be maintained by virtue of] persuasion, by [the virtue of] long-suffering, by [the virtues of] gentleness and meekness, and . . . love unfeigned . . . [and] kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of [the virtue of] love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of [the virtue of] charity [the pure love of Christ, the only love that is greater than motherly love] towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let [all these] virtue[s listed above, and any other virtues, including but not limiting oneself to, the virtue of chastity] garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever (D&C 121: 41–46).

I have taken the liberty to define many qualities listed above as virtues. Some reflection should reveal that these qualities are woven into the heart of every good mother. In my opinion, our society socializes men to be generally lacking in these areas. Men are perhaps far more likely to be inclined “by nature and disposition” to exercise unrighteous dominion. And so the Lord has given us this list to show men what they must do to qualify to be saved at the same level of glory as women, whom, we are told "if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety, the woman is saved in childbearing" (See 1 Timothy 2:15). We see now that this statement is no belittlement of women, but rather a testimony to their immense spiritual power, to their priestesshood.


[1] http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerTwoTrees.html --- [Back to manuscript].

[2] https://latterdaysaintmag.com/how-one-woman-used-priesthood-power-to-bless-her-family/ --- [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Nibley, Tom (2019) "Motherhood=Priestesshood," SquareTwo, Vol. 12 No. 3 (Fall 2019), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleNibleyMotherhood.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

I. Lindsey Taylor

Thank you for this article. It summarizes feelings that I have had throughout my journey of womanhood, but now gives me the verbiage to actually explain what I have learned as well as given me further insight. As a young woman I had an experience that is much too sacred to tell, but helped me realize the power of God can be used through faith. Since then I always knew that God’s power was available to me for use in righteousness, which knowledge has helped me throughout my life, on my mission, and as a mother. Faith is an action word, and it is only through faith that the power of the Priesthood can be used. Through studying the scriptures, The Bible Dictionary on faith, and learning about faith in the book Jesus the Christ, I have come to see faith as a principal of power. I think it can equally be used by men or women to bring about God’s blessings and further His work.