Non-Levitical Priests: The Book of Mormon Gets if Right After All
Book of Mormon critics have criticized the fact that Nephi consecrated his brothers Joseph and Jacob as priests:
And it came to pass that I Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they
should be priests and teachers over the land of my people.
For I, Jacob, and my brother Joseph had been consecrated priests and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi.
Jacob and Joseph were both sons of Lehi (1 Nephi 18:7; 2 Nephi 2:2) and as we all know, Lehi was a Josephite (1 Nephi 15:12, 19:24; 2 Nephi 3:2-5; Jacob 2:5; Alma 10:3, 26:36). Thus Jacob and Joseph were both from the Tribe of Joseph and NOT from the Tribe of Levi.
So how could Nephi claim that he and his people “did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things according to the law of Moses” (2 Nephi 5:10) when in fact he was consecrating his own Josephite brothers who were not even Levites, much less sons of Aharon to serve as priests?
The truth is that there is nothing in the Torah that actually prohibits a non-levite from serving as a priest. Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra (Hebrew: אַבְרָהָם אִבְּן עֶזְרָא or ראב"ע, also known as Abenezra or Aben Ezra, 1089–1167) was one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators and philosophers of the Middle Ages. His is one of the classic commentators included in the Miqrat Gedolot. He writes in his commentary on Deut. 19:6:
A Kingdom of Priests. In my opinion, “priest” in the Bible means “one who serves,” just as the verbal form is taken in 28:41 to mean “serve me as priests.” Jethro is the “priest of Midian” (18:1) because he served God, as did Melchizedek of Salem, the “priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18). The same is true when David’s sons are called “priests” in 2Sam. 8:18. There would be no point in telling us that they were “princes,” for we know that a king’s sons possess high rank; this verse informs us that they served God. So telling Israel that they will be “a kingdom of priests” means, “By means of you, My kingdom shall appear, when you are serving Me.” But others understand it to mean “There is no kingship other than serving Me.”
As cited by Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra above, the actual Hebrew of 2Sam. 8:18 identifies David’s sons as “cohenim” (“priests”) where the KJV translates “chief rulers”. Here the original Hebrew is clearly using the word “cohenim” to refer to non-Levites (David was of the House of Judah) as “priests”. The Book of Mormon gets it right after all.