> Moroni talks about teachers and priests. This is several
> hundred years after Christ, so the Nephites had the Melchizedek
> priesthood at that time and were not under the law of Moses.
True enough. I was referring to earlier, pre-Resurrection references to
teachers and priests. But you bring up an interesting point:
> Several of the Brethren have stated that since the Nephites were
> not Levites they never did have the Aaronic priesthood even when
> under the law of Moses.
I did not realize this, having never heard these statements; but now
that you mention it, it seems pretty obvious that the Nephites would not
have had the Levitical Priesthood. Duh.
The Moroni reference is interesting. The term "priest" itself implies a
Priesthood office, and Moroni 4-5 show that priests as well as elders
could consecrate the sacrament, which as far as I know is purely a
Priesthood function. Furthermore, Moroni 3 talks about the *ordination*
of priests and teachers, the identical wording (or the same ideas, if
the prayer is not meant to be verbatim) used in each, suggesting that
both "priest" and "teacher" were Priesthood offices.
Since the Nephite post-Resurrection office of priest had the authority
to administer the sacrament, it's tempting to say that those two offices
were identical to the Aaronic Priesthood offices of "priest" and
"teacher" that we have today. However, your mention above of the
teachings of our leaders, which I assume to be correct (do you have an
actual citation(s)?), demonstrates that the Nephites were not in
possession of the Aaronic Priesthood; so if "teacher" and "priest" were
in fact Priesthood offices, as seems likely, they must have been offices
in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Other possibilities? Maybe the Nephites had some other type of "lesser
Priesthood", similar to our Aaronic Priesthood, and these were offices
in that other Priesthood. Seems farfetched, but I have heard others talk
about what they term "the Patriarchal Priesthood" as a separate thing
from the Melchizedek Priesthood, or more correctly a subset of it. I
have done no study of this issue, and the argumentation I've heard on it
is most unconvincing; but if such a thing actually existed, then it's
possible there was yet another Nephite Priesthood subset, similar to the
Levitical/Aaronic and the Patriarchal.
Another idea, one that to me seems more likely: If Joseph's use of the
term "ordain" in translating Moroni 3 is taken more broadly, maybe as
synonymous with "set apart", another possibilitiy presents itself.
Perhaps "priest" and "teacher" did not refer to
administrative/functional capacities that today we call "offices". Maybe
they were more akin to what we today would term "callings", like "ward
missionary" and "gospel doctrine teacher". The "elders" of the Nephite
church in later times referred to the "disciples", meaning specifically
the leaders selected by Christ, or the "virtual apostles" of the
Nephites. Maybe all Nephite Priesthood leaders were called "elder". In
that case, Moroni's statement that the elders or priests administered
the sacrament would be like saying that the Church leaders or
sacrament-administrators (i.e. those specifically authorized to
administer the sacrament) took care of that ordinance.
All speculation, of course; but knowing that the Aaronic Priesthood did
not exist among the Nephites, and without further historical
information, it may be the best we can do.
> They further state (IIRC) that they could officiate in the
> ordinances of the law of Moses through the authority of the
> Melchizedek priesthood.
This makes sense. Since the Aaronic Priesthood is a part of the higher
Priesthood, it is reasonable that any holder of the higher Priesthood
could officiate in a duty of the lesser Priesthood.
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