Mormonism and the nature of God/Elohim and Jehovah
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Some critics assert that Elohim, Jehovah, Adonai and other similar Old Testament Hebrew names for deity are simply different titles which emphasize different attributes of the "one true God." In support of this criticism, they cite Old Testament scriptures that speak of "the LORD [Jehovah] thy God [Elohim]" (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:2; 4:35; 6:4) as proof that these are different titles for the same God.
The conviction that Elohim was anciently the Almighty God and Father of us all, and Jehovah was and is Jesus the Christ, his Son is based on modern scripture (D&C 110:1–4) and not Biblical exegesis. The teachings of modern prophets and apostles has tended to reinforce this usage, such as when President Joseph F. Smith taught, "Among the spirit children of Elohim the firstborn was and is Jehovah or Jesus Christ to whom all others are juniors."
The LDS use of the name titles Elohim and Jehovah to designate God Our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ respectively is not meant to insist that this is how these titles were always used anciently, including in the Holy Bible. Rather, these titles are a naming convention used in the modern Church for clarity and precision. Since Christ may be spoken of as "the Father" in a great many senses, the modern Saints use these name-titles to avoid ambiguity, regardless of which 'role' of a divine Personage is being discussed.
Since this terminology was not standardized for convenience and clarity prior to the twentieth century, readers are cautioned not to expect the early writings of the Church to always reflect this practice, which arose only decades later. Likewise, attempting to read the Bible as if its writers followed the same modern practice is anachronistic, and may lead to confusion and misinterpretation.
 Although Elohim is understood and used in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the name-title of God the Eternal Father and the name Jehovah is reserved for His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, this has not always been the case. Nineteenth-century Mormons—including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor—generally used Jehovah as the name of God the Father. Latter-day Saints also recognize that the Hebrew word Elohim was used anciently as a generic word for "god."
Use of Elohim and Jehovah in the Old Testament
The separation of Elohim and Jehovah in the Hebrew Old Testament is not as clear as critics would have us believe.
The following scriptures illustrate the confusion of divine names in the Old Testament:
- Exodus 34:23 combines the Hebrew words Adon (Lord), Jehovah (LORD) and Elohim (God [of Israel]) into one title which is translated "Lord God, the God of Israel" or "Lord Jehovah, God of Israel."
- The Hebrew version of Psalm 82:1 reads: "God [Elohim] stands in the assembly of God [El]; he judges in the midst of the gods [Elohim]."
- Psalm 110:1 reads: "The LORD [Jehovah] said unto my Lord [Adonai], Sit thou at my right-hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." (Hebrews 1:1–3 indicates that God the Father said this to Jesus Christ; see also Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42.)
- In one instance (Psalm 8:5), the Hebrew Elohim is even rendered "angels." The Hebrew text states that Jehovah made the son of man "a little less than Elohim" [KJV "angels"]. Though most literal translations render Elohim as "God" in this verse, there is justification for translating it "angels": Hebrews 2:7 quotes this verse, using the Greek word aggelos ("angels") in place of Elohim.
- We also find that Elohim is translated in four instances as "judges" (Exodus 21:6, Exodus 22:8-9), though "God's representative" is probably the intended meaning. This nevertheless shows that divine names were used by inspired writers with different meanings.
Development of name-titles in Israelite history
In the Old Testament, the title Elohim often emphasizes the strong, covenant-keeping qualities of God while the name Jehovah, the self-existent and eternal attributes; and Adonai, the characteristics of a sovereign lord; they have not always been applied to just one God.
A study of the various Hebrew words used for deity in the Old Testament reveals that the same name-titles were often used for both true and false gods as well as for human leaders. Thus, the Hebrew for Elohim and Jehovah were often used in a generic sense. Such usage could especially cause confusion if the text were later modified.
Eugene Seaich has indicated that many scholars have found that early Canaanite and Israelite theology recognized two separate and distinct sets of divine traits: one for a "Father of gods" and "Father of men" and the other for a son of the former who was a "dying-and-resurrecting god, who gave life to all creatures" and "managed the cosmos for his Father." Seaich explains that the High God was called "El and his son was called Ba'al at least through the time of the Israelite monarchy." The Israelites who returned from the desert with the Mosaic religion referred to El's son as Yahweh. Some evidence of this distinction still survives in our Old Testament scriptures (see Deuteronomy 32:8–9; Psalm 82; Proverbs 30:4). He also notes that Genesis chapter 1 speaks of Elohim (the longer form of El) as the creator while chapter 2 speaks of Yahweh-Elohim. Seaich writes:
- ...the Mosaic reform, which only began as an attempt to root out the licentious excesses to which the old polytheism had sunk (Ex. 32), took at least a half-dozen centuries to establish itself as Israel's "true" religion, eliminating in the process many former truths, before emerging as the "ethical monotheism" of late Judaism.... In the new monotheism...the earlier Elohim and Yahweh became the single "YHWH-Elohim" of Deut. 6:4.... The complete assimilation of two gods into one probably took as long as the "Monotheistic Reform" itself, i.e. from ca. 1500 to 500 B.C..... Finally, the Old Testament itself was thoroughly subjected to a corresponding revision (known as the "Deuteronomic Revision").
Latter-day Saints also believe that Jesus often spoke for the Father by right of divine investiture. Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
- "... since he [Jesus] is one with the Father in all of the attributes of perfection, and since he exercises the power and authority of the Father...the Father puts his own name on the Son and authorizes him to speak in the first person as though he were the Father."
There are numerous examples of divine investiture in scripture. The clearest biblical examples involve angels speaking in behalf of God or Christ (Genesis 22:11—12; Exodus 3:2, 6; 23:20–21; Revelation 1:1; 19:9–13; 22:8–16), though Christ also spoke "as though he were the Father" on many occasions throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 17:1; 35:11; Exodus 6:3). Christ was also referred to as "the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8, 18; 4:8; 11:17). It is for this reason that many other Christians identify Elohim and Jehovah as the same person.
The LDS view
The concept of Christ as the Father is clearly set forth in a 1916 statement entitled, "The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve."
Additional support for the LDS differentiation in the use of divine titles is found in New and Old Testament scriptures. Matthew and Mark reported that Jesus while on the cross cried out to his Father using the name Eli (Matthew 27:46) or Eloi (Mark 15:34). Both of these names are regarded by scholars as the Aramaic equivalents of El or Elohim.
Although references to Christ's sonship are somewhat rare in the Old Testament, they nevertheless exist. Daniel 3:25 describes a fourth individual in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace whose form was like a "Son of God [Elah]." Proverbs 30:4 speaks of the "son" of the creator and Daniel 7:13 refers to the glorious coming of the "Son of man" (compare John 3:13 and Moses 6:57). Hosea 11:1 was quoted by Matthew (2:15) as a prophecy that God's "son" would be called out of Egypt and we should not forget that Isaiah's famous messianic prophecy foretold the birth of a son who would also be known by the titles "everlasting Father" and "mighty God" (Isaiah 7:14; 9:16). All of these scriptures provide evidence that, as Nephi stated, many do now "stumble exceedingly" because of the "plain and precious thing which have been taken away" from the scriptures (1 Nephi 13:26–30, 34, 40).
Elohim versus Eloheim
Some LDS works (especially from the nineteenth century) may refer to "Eloheim," instead of the more familiar (especially to those outside the Church) "Elohim."
Both of these words represent the Hebrew word אלהים—they are transliterations (that is simply converting the Hebrew into English letters). During the 19th century, there were two styles of Hebrew transliteration and pronouncing systems:
- Ashkenazic (from Jewish communities in Northern Europe - starting in Germany); and
- Sephardic (from Jewish communities in southern Europe, mostly coming from Spain and Portugal).
Joseph Smith's Hebrew instructor at the School of the Prophets in Kirtland was Joshua/James Seixas—he also taught many other LDS members to read Biblical Hebrew in Kirtland. Seixas's family came from Portugal, and so he taight Sephardic Hebrew (he was one of the best—if not the best—American Hebraicist of his day). Sephardic Hebrew pronounces this word for God a bit differently than does Ashkenazic Hebrew (which is the Hebrew that is most commonly used and taught today).
Joseph's instructor spelled this word eloheem, and this pronunciation became the eloheim that is sometimes used in LDS writings. Essentially though, both versions represent exactly the same word. The change from eloheim or eloheem to elohim occurred as later LDS writing (in particular Elder James E. Talmage) who engaged later Hebrew scholarship that followed the Ashkenazic pronunciation style. This led to a shift in usage among the leadership of the church, which now matches the broader world of non-LDS scholarship. They are, however, essentially the same word.
- [note] Improvement Era 19/10 (August 1916):940–41 off-site; also quoted in 1990 Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide, p. 39. See also Talmage, pp. 36–38; Joseph Fielding McConkie and Donald W. Parry, A Guide to Scriptural Symbols, parts 2 & 3).
- [note] This article was originally derived from an answer given in Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004), 104-07. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786. Because of a nature of a wiki project, this base material may have been edited, added to, or modified.
- [note] James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1983), 38. LDS.org: mp3 download Church site off-site ISBN 0877479038. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- [note] Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 371. ISBN 087579243X. off-site ; Eugene Seaich, Ancient Texts and Mormonism, p. 20.
- [note] Seaich, pp.15–21; see text for complete listing of references.
- [note] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 130–131. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- [note] "The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition of the First Presidency and the Twelve," 30 June 1916. First published in Improvement Era 19/10 (August 1916):934–42 off-site; available more recently in an condensed format in Ensign 32 (April 2002):13–18 off-site.
- [note] Strong's Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 35; see entries for "Elah" and "Eloah."