When Did the Nephites Have the Aaronic Priesthood?

Jacob is the older of Lehi’s two sons born during the eight years of journeying in the wilderness (see 1 Nephi 18:7). He is Nephi’s younger brother and would be in the neighborhood of forty-five to fifty years old at this point. In chapter one, Jacob will talk to us about the commandment Nephi gave him to take over the small plates of Nephi and to engrave a few of his own things on them. Nephi’s death is recorded by Jacob, also in chapter one.

Download Jacob Chapters 1 - 4 in The Book of Mormon Made Easer by Cedar Fort author, David Ridges. 

Alma Baptizing


JACOB 1:18

18 For I, Jacob, and my brother Joseph had been consecrated priests and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi.

The terms “priests” and “teachers” as used here refer not to the Aaronic Priesthood, rather, to responsibilities within the Melchizedek Priesthood. Lehi and his descendants functioned by virtue of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood was not set up among the Nephites until the Savior’s ministry to them as recorded in Third Nephi. Joseph Fielding Smith explained this as follows:

“The Nephites were descendants of Joseph. Lehi discovered this when reading the brass plates. He was a descendant of Manasseh, and Ishmael, who accompanied him with his family, was of the tribe of Ephraim (Alma 10:3)” (Smith, Improvement Era, 8:781; Journal of Discourses, 23:184).

“Therefore there were no Levites who accompanied Lehi to the Western Hemisphere. Under these conditions the Nephites officiated by virtue of the Melchizedek Priesthood from the days of Lehi to the days of the appearance of our Savior among them. It is true that Nephi ‘consecrated Jacob and Joseph’ that they should be priests and teachers over the land of the Nephites, but the fact that plural terms priests and teachers were used indicates that this was not a reference to the definite office in the priesthood in either case, but it was a general assignment to teach, direct, and admonish the people. Otherwise the terms priest and teacher would have been given, in the singular.

Additional light is thrown on this appointment showing that these two brothers of Nephi held the Melchizedek Priesthood, in the sixth chapter, second verse of 2 Nephi, where Jacob makes this explanation regarding the priesthood which he and Joseph held: ‘Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi, unto whom ye look as a king or a protector, and on whom ye depend for safety, behold ye know that I have spoken unto you exceeding many things.’

“This seems to be a confirmation of the ordinations that he and his brother Joseph received in the Melchizedek Priesthood. All through the Book of Mormon we find references to the Nephites officiating by virtue of the Higher Priesthood (Melchizedek Priesthood) after the holy order.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:124)


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