I’ve been working on discovery lately, and in reviewing of documents (board minutes, internal e-mails) I often come across the term “quorum.” Of course, for a board meeting, a quorum has a particular meaning: It is the minimum number of board members who must be present for the board to make decisions.

We use the word a little differently in the church (or do we?) — we typically refer to the word’s second definition of “a select group.” But beyond that difference, what exactly do we mean when we talk about quorums?

I recently noticed that the New Testament does not refer to a Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (Check for yourself: The first time the term appears in the Standard Works is in D & C 107).

This creates the interesting question of whether the first twelve apostles were a quorum of twelve, or merely twelve called apostles. (And does this make a difference? I’m not sure.)

If the first apostles were a quorum, then why is this not mentioned in scripture? (It doesn’t even appear in the Book of Mormon, in reference to either the Old or New World groups — is there a reason for that?)

If the first group was not a quorum, then why is the present group a quorum? What is gained from having a quorum of twelve, rather than just twelve apostles? And why have we made that change now?

And (to tie it back to the first definition of quorum) might the advent of quorums have to do with granting authority to a body of people, to run the affairs of the church? (But if so, why was this not necessary prior to Joseph Smith first setting up the Quorum?)

8 comments for “Quorums

  1. charles
    May 21, 2004 at 2:27 pm


    It seems from the Bible dictionary that it is possible to be an apostle without being in the Quorum of the 12. The Quorum being the counciling body. Perhaps there was no distionction to this in the OT for linguistic reasons. I’m not suggesting that the word ‘quorum’ itself did not exist or did not have an equivalent, but perhaps there was not a need for the distinction as the early church (in OT times) was not organized the way ours is today.

    Just a thought.

  2. Kaimi
    May 21, 2004 at 2:41 pm

    Agreed, it seems possible.

    I’m a little puzzled by a few statements in reference material suggesting that the first group was indeed a quorum.




    I wonder if this is an inadvertent anachronism, or an accurate description of an aspect that was left out of scripture.

  3. the wandering Fool
    May 21, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    Maybe the problem is with the word apostle, that word has several meanings to include ” a person sednt on a mission”(Webster’s Dictionary)

  4. May 21, 2004 at 5:06 pm

    There have also been instances during this dispensation when a man was made an apostle without becoming a member of the quorum of the twelve. Off the top of my head, Brigham Young Jr. was ordained an apostle 3-4 years before being set apart as a member of the twelve. I believe that this caused some confusion in the succession in the first presidency when Lorenzo Snow passed away (Joseph F. Smith was the senior member of the quorum although he had been an apostle for a shorter time than BY Jr)

  5. May 21, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Interestingly, one needn’t be an Apostle in order to serve in the First Presidency. For example, J. Reuben Clark served in the first presidency for several years as a High Priest (which is the required office for being in the FP) before he was ordained an apostle. Right now we have fifteen ordained Apostles. President Monson retains his title as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, even thought he is in the Quorum of the First Presidency, because Elder Packard is sustained as Acting-President of the Quorum of the Twelve. What this means is that the current quorum of the Twelve has at least thirteen members and probably fourteen members. Alternatively, we could conceptualize it as having just twelve members, with Faust and Monson being non-quorum Apostles who are nevertheless eligible for membership in a fourteen member Quorum of the Twelve to be convened upon President Hinkley’s death.

    During President McKay’s administration the First Presidency ballooned. (I think it got up to something like seven counselors) Does anyone know if all of these men were ordained as apostles or were they simply high priests?

  6. May 21, 2004 at 6:22 pm

    At least one of Pres McKay’s counselors do not appear to have been an apostle — (Henry) Thorpe B. (Beal) Isaacsonn served as an assistant to the twelve and as a counselor, but I don’t see that he was ordained an apostle.

    Another counselor also presents an interesting case — Alvin Rulon Dyer was ordained an apostle while an assistant to the twelve, then served as a counselor. Later, he returned to his position as an assistant to the twelve. Finally, he served in the first quorum of the seventy (as an apostle).

  7. May 21, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    Pat: Thanks for posting this. The details about Dyer are very interesting. I had never heard this story before…

  8. May 21, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    I’m glad the topic was brought up. It’s proved an interesting area to look into. Some of the more interesting counselors look like the served Joseph Smith. One of his counselors (William Law) is purported to have been among the mob that martyred Joseph.

    (and related pages) has proved a nice resource.

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