The word priestcraft is used in the Book of Mormon to refer to the teachings of those people who would make a craft (or business) out of being a priest (or religious leader) to the people. Nephi indicates one danger of priestcraft is that such professional religious leaders would be more concerned with teaching those things which were popular and acceptable unto the people than they would in preaching the word of God. Thus they seek to “get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” (2 Nephi 26:29.)
Priestcraft should not be confused with priesthood. There is a great deal of difference between the two, as is indicated in the following statement by George Q. Cannon: “There is a difference between priestcraft and Priesthood. Priestcraft builds up itself, it is not authorized of God. Priestcraft oppresses the people; but the Priesthood of God emancipates men and women and makes them free.” (Journal of Discourses, 13:55.)
In defining priestcraft and explaining why it must eventually be destroyed, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written:
… false priests, professing ministers, those claiming but not possessing priesthood, are engaged, to a greater or lesser degree, in the iniquitous practice of priestcraft. Priesthood and priestcraft are two opposites; one is of God, the other of the devil.
Apostasy is born of priestcrafts (2 Ne. 10:5; 3 Ne. 16:10; D. & C. 33:4), for those who engage in them follow vain things, teach false doctrines, love riches, and aspire to personal honors. (Alma 1:12, 16.) Men are commanded to repent of their priestcrafts (3 Ne. 30:2), and eventually, in the millennial day, these great evils will be done away. (3 Ne. 21:19.) (Mormon Doctrine [Bookcraft, 1958], p. 534.)