The Bible Dictionary explains that a priest is a mediator between his people and God. The priest fulfills this role by:
- Performing religious ceremonies (ordinances)
- Preaching the gospel
- Receiving revelation on behalf of the people, and
- Blessing the people in the name of the Lord
At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, religious observance was a family matter. Lehi and Sariah “offered sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord,” (1 Nephi 5:9) and taught the gospel to their children as they traveled.
The first mention of priests came after the death of Lehi, when his son Nephi took the people “who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God” and established a society separate from his brothers and their families (2 Nephi 5:6). At that time, Nephi consecrated his brothers Jacob and Joseph as “priests and teachers over the land of [his] people” (2 Nephi 5:26).
Just under half of the references to priests in the Book of Mormon are about corrupt priests, who abuse the trust placed in them by those they teach. Many of those references are about the priests of the wicked King Noah, who flattered the people, taught false doctrine, enriched themselves at the expense of their people, and indulged in sinful behavior (Mosiah 11:7, 11, 14).
After Alma, one of those priests, was converted by the preaching of the prophet Abinadi, he was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. When he established the church at the waters of Mormon, he charged the newly appointed priests to “teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets” (Mosiah 18:19). He further instructed them to “labor with their own hands for their support” (Mosiah 18:24). He later warned his people:
Trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments (Mosiah 23:14).
The primary duty of a priest in the Book of Mormon was to teach the word of God (Mosiah 6:3, Alma 13:1). Perhaps that is why priests are mentioned in the same sentence with teachers 24 times in the book. This duty was specifically highlighted in the words which were spoken as a new priest was ordained:
In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a priest (or if he be a teacher, I ordain you to be a teacher) to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end. Amen (Moroni 3:3).
Priests were also authorized to perform baptisms (Alma 15:13).
It appears that a significant role of priests was to remind people of the covenants they have made with God. After King Benjamin’s people took upon themselves the name of Christ, he “appointed priests to teach the people,… to stir them up in remembrance of the oath which they had made” (Mosiah 6:3). Jarom said that the priests “did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance” (Jarom 1:12).
Today, I will be grateful for spiritual leaders who teach the gospel, perform ordinances, bless me, and remind me of my duties. I will be grateful for the service rendered to me by priests, and for the privilege I have to serve others as a priest.