If Christ called twelve apostles during New Testament times, and He called twelve apostles in modern times, then why weren’t there twelve apostles during Old Testament times? Thanks.
Thank you for your question! It’s a good one.
The word apostle is based on the Greek word apostolos and means “sent forth.” Though the word may be used in differing ways, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints today, we almost always use this term to refer to a man who is ordained to that specific office in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
On the ChurchofJesusChrist.org website under gospel topics, it says,
“An ‘apostle’ is an ordained leader in the Melchizedek Priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apostles are chosen through inspiration by the President of the Church, sustained by the general membership of the Church, and ordained by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by the laying on of hands. … In addition to serving as witnesses of Jesus Christ to all the world (Doctrine and Covenants 107:23), as Jesus’ apostles did, members of the current Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold the keys of the priesthood—that is, the rights of presidency (Doctrine and Covenants 107:35; cf. 124:128)” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism , 1:59–60).
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught about the organization of the Church in Old Testament times in an address he gave at BYU on June 18, 1958 entitled, “The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” He taught,
“In the beginning, as far as the world is concerned, the Priesthood was first given to Adam. On this the Prophet Joseph Smith has said, ‘The Priesthood was first given to Adam. He obtained the first presidency and held the keys of it from generation to generation. He obtained it in the creation, before the world was formed. He held dominion given him over every living creature. He is Michael, the archangel, spoken of in the scriptures. Then to Noah, who is Gabriel, he stands next in authority to Adam in the priesthood. He was called of God to this office, and was the father of all living in this day. And to him we give the dominion. These men held keys first on earth and then in Heaven. The priesthood is an everlasting principle. And existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years.’ . . .
“. . .The Priesthood of Adam and from Adam to Moses was the Patriarchal order. Of this order, the Lord has said, ‘The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendents of the chosen seed to whom the promises were made. This order was instituted in the days of Adam and came down by lineage. . . .The keys evidently being held by the following prophets to the days of Noah: Adam, Seth, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah.
“This same priesthood continued principally through the seed of Abraham until the days of Moses. The Lord offered it to Israel in the days of Moses but they were not prepared nor worthy to receive it. He would have made of all the tribes of Israel a royal priesthood. But they rebelled. Therefore, the Melchizedek priesthood, for that was the name by which it was called since the days of Melchizedek, was taken away from Israel and the Aaronic priesthood was given with the Law of Moses added as a school master. And with this, the tribes of Israel had to be content.
“During all of these years from the time of Moses to the coming of our Lord, it was necessary that there be some prophets who held the Melchizedek priesthood. Therefore the Lord raised up prophets in Israel on whom the high priesthood was conferred. But each ordination was a special call. In relation to this, the prophet Joseph Smith has said, “Was the priesthood of Melchizedek taken away when Moses died? All priesthood is Melchizedek. But there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away. But that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All of the prophets held the Melchizedek priesthood and were ordained by God himself.
“The prophets who held the Melchizedek priesthood with few exceptions following the departure of Moses, were more or less restricted in their jurisdiction. It was essential that the Melchizedek priesthood be in Israel after Moses was taken, in order that the gift of the Holy Ghost could be given. But the tribes of Israel had forfeited their right to it because of their rebellion. For instance, the prophet Elijah held the keys of the sealing power and was according to the word of the Lord, the last of those prophets until the coming of Christ, to whom the keys of that authority had been given. Therefore there were restrictions placed upon other prophets, although they were blessed with the Melchizedek priesthood.”
John the Baptist was a descendant of Aaron and as such, he held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood. He served as the last administrator of the Aaronic Priesthood prior to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood when Jesus Christ came.
When Jesus Christ came to earth, He organized His church. He called 12 apostles and gave them all the keys to act as apostles, and to have a line of succession such as we have today. He organized His church in Jerusalem. He organized his church in the America’s among the Nephite people. Prior to his coming, the church was not organized in such a way.