What is the Priesthood?

Having not been to Relief Society in a long time, I don’t know if this is how every lesson about the priesthood starts there. I can assure you that every lesson I have ever been to in EQ about the priesthood starts with this question. A few answers get tossed around until the teacher settles on the one that they like the most. Having been to dozens of these lessons in my life, I still am not really sure of the answer. I don’t mean to imply that the priesthood is nothing, only that it seems to be so many things which overlap each other, I have a hard time giving any definition that is comprehensive enough. As I see it, there are several options:

1. The priesthood is an organized body of individuals whose job is to perform the administrative duties of the church, like passing the sacrament, starting meetings on-time, etc.

2. The priesthood is the procedural authorization to perform ordinances and administer spiritual blessings.

3. The priesthood is a covenant between the individual and God.

4. The priesthood is a body of esoteric knowledge and teachings.

5. The priesthood is another name for the mysterious power that God holds to perform such tasks as creation and the resurrection, or, the power over the elements.

6. The priesthood is a temporal tool for socializing men to obtain more Christ-like attributes.

7. The priesthood is the ordering principle of the universe and the church and our families that we should model in our own lives (I have never quite understood what this meant).

Are there others that you can think of? I am trying to figure out what relationship all of these definitions have to one another. Then, I would like to know the history of these ideas, how they developed in Joseph Smith’s life and experience, and how they have continued to develop in the history of the church. Is it something which we have, or that we acquire throughout our lives? What is the relationship between the priesthood as a power to effectuate and the priesthood as an authority to perform (does that make sense)? Seriously, how do we make sense of these overlapping definitions? What work is the priesthood doing?

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