A perusal of upcoming Lesson #6 in the Joseph Smith manual had me revisiting my notes on Elias. Thus far LDS thought has identified 4 uses of "Elias," but even with these many explanations, there are many holes and questions left in our understanding of this doctrine.
First, a review of the meanings of "Elias:"
Elias the Greek form of Elijah
Elias in the NT is simply the Greek form of the OT Hebrew name Elijah, meaning "YHWH is my God." When אליהו (Elijah) is transliterated into Greek it becomes Ἠλίας (Elias).
- James 5:17—-Elias/Elijah had power over rain (see 1 Kings 17:1, 18:1)
- Luke 4:25-26—-Elias/Elijah sent to widow woman of Zarepta (see 1 Kings 17:9)
- Rom. 11: 2-4—-Elias/Elijah makes intercession to God against Israel (see 1 Kgs. 19:10-18)
Elias the Preparer
- John the Baptist—-The JST identifies John as "an Elias," because he prepared the way for Christ, the Elias who was to come and restore all things. See JST Mark 9:3-4, JST Matt 11:13-14, JST John 1:19-28, BD. The D&C states that John would be filled with the Spirit of Elias. (D&C 27:7)
- Joseph Smith—-Joseph named himself as an Elias: "...my ordination [to the AP] was a preparatory work, or a going before, which was the Spirit of Elias; for the Spirit of Elias was a going before to prepare the way for the greater, which was the case with John the Baptist."
- Adam--"In his physical-spiritual state in Eden, Adam was called the "first man" (Moses 1:34) and given responsibility to dress the garden and "open the way of the world" (TPJS, p. 12). As the first on this earth to receive priesthood keys, Adam continues to dispense authority to others and to watch over priesthood administration on the earth.
Elias the Restorer
- Jesus--(JST John 1:20-28) John the Baptist testifies that Christ was the Elias who was to restore all things.
- Joseph Smith--(D&C 77:9, with D&C 110:11-13. See also Rev 7:2)
- John the Revelator--(D&C 77:14)
- Moroni—-Book of Mormon prophet, returned to earth as a resurrected being and prepared Joseph Smith to receive and translate the gold plates. His role was to restore the everlasting gospel to be preached to all the world.
- Gabriel/Noah--In D&C 27:5-13 Elias, who holds the keys of restoration, will be one of the company present at a special sacrament service with Christ at his 2nd coming. This Elias visited Zachariah in angelic form and told him he would have a son. We know from Luke 1:11-19 that this angel was Gabriel. Joseph Smith once said that the angel Gabriel was Noah.
Elias the Prophet
- In D&C 110:11-13 Elias appears as part of the company who committed keys at the Kirtland Temple. BD says this is an unknown prophet from the time of Abraham.
~Who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration?
In the NT accounts in Luke 9:28-35; Matt 17:1-12; Mark 9:2-13 Moses and Elias appear on the Mount of Transfiguration. Elias here is traditionally understood to be the OT prophet Elijah. The JST of Mark 9:3 reads “and there appeared unto them Elias with Moses, or in other words, John the Baptist and Moses…” The BD seeks to clarify this statement by explaining, "The curious wording of JST Mark 9: 3 does not imply that the Elias at the Transfiguration was John the Baptist, but that in addition to Elijah the prophet, John the Baptist was present." This actually causes more problems. Luke 9:30 specifies that only two personages appeared, not three: “there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias.” Also, Peter suggests making three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elias. (Luke 9:33, Matt 17:4, Mark 9:5) A fourth tabernacle for John the Baptist is not mentioned. I am willing to entertain the thought that the BD is simply wrong, and that there were only two personages involved. Whether "Elias" was Elijah or John the Baptist is less certain. Elijah and Moses are often linked in scripture. However, some have said that the two prophets represent the Aaronic and the Melchizedek Priesthoods. If this is true, John the Baptist might make a better fit than Elijah as the representative of the AP.
~Is the “Elias” mentioned in D&C 138 John the Baptist, or Elijah?In D&C 138:45 Elias is part of the company of the righteous commissioned to preach the gospel to the dead in the Spirit World. He is specified as the Elias who was with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. The company consists of Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elias, Malachi, (Elijah is then quoted in connection with Malachi).
This reference is not mentioned in the BD. It appears to me that Elias here refers to the prophet Elijah, since the other members of the company are all mentioned by name and are Old Testament personalities. However, the question arises, why is a different form of the name used in verse 45 and verses 46-47? Was this a way to distinguish the Baptist from the OT prophet who would restore the sealing power?
~Does the “Elias” who had the keys to the Dispensation of Abraham and is mentioned in D&C 110 refer to the prophet Elijah? Or is he a completely different OT prophet named Elias? Or is this a title meant to refer to John the Baptist, Abraham, or another forerunner? In this revelation, three prophets appear to JS and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple to bestow keys: Moses, Elias, and Elijah. One might ask, if Elias is an OT prophet in this section, why the Greek name? Is it a title? Was it used merely to avoid confusion with the Elijah in the next verse? The BD uses this scripture as the only reference to an unknown "man called Elias [who] apparently lived in mortality in the days of Abraham." Why, as Kevin Barney has asked, would God send a man no one had ever heard of and who is nowhere mentioned in the Bible to commit the keys of the dispensation of Abraham to Joseph Smith? The whole point of bringing famous personalities from biblical antiquity to restore these keys is the fact that they were well known and their authority was assured. Once again, the BD strikes out. Kevin postulates that this Elias is John the Baptist. I think his view can be supported by the idea that John the Baptist could have held the keys to the Dispensation of Abraham. (See D&C 84:28.) This theory also works if we accept that there were 3 prophets--Moses, Elias (John the Baptist), and Elijah--present at the Mount of Transfiguration.
Well, I have more to say about Elias, but this post is getting long. So look for part 2 later. I'll include more about Lesson #6 in the JS manual. In the meantime, here are some great references:
Kevin Barney's post at BCC on the Elias of D&C 110
"...my tentative suggestion to the question is that Joseph understood the Elias of the Mount of Transfiguration, which was the model for who appeared to him at the Kirtland Temple in these verses, to be John the Baptist, a separate individual from Elijah the Tishbite."Comment #11 by Last Lemming:
"Kevin makes the case that Joseph seems to have believed that the “Elias” at the transfiguration was John the Baptist. So why not just identify him by name? Maybe because John the Baptist was one resurrected face with which Joseph was already familiar, and it was not the face of the 'Elias' who appeared in Kirtland. So he retained the linkage of Moses with 'Elias,' but was otherwise not confident enough in the identity of 'Elias' to commit it to writing...Incidently, my vote for the restorer of the gospel of Abraham is…ahem…Abraham."
Joe Spencer's post on Elias and Elijah at FUTW
"I think the pairing of Elijah and Moses makes a great deal of sense, and I must confess I am still at a loss as to how to make any sense of the separation between Elijah and Elias. Because of D&C 110, it seems quite clear that there must be two different people here, but the common locution of making “Elias” a title doesn’t really make any sense to me."Comment #2 by Ben McGuire:
"I think that one response is simply to suggest that D&C 110 is simply in error. That is, that Elias there is either not the name of the angelic being referred to. This could be because it was used there as a title to refer to someone else (Noah or John the Baptist or Abraham himself are the leading candidates in speculative literature), or because Joseph simply misidentified the person or the title as the name of the person."
Sam Brown, "The Prophet Elias Puzzle," in Dialogue
"Writers from within Mormonism have historically focused, with precedent in the Prophet's teachings, on a 'Spirit of Elias' borne by various angelic ministrants while positing the existence of a minor but essentially unknown prophet actually named Elias who stays away from center stage. Later writers, exemplified by Bruce R. McConkie, have described these several instances of Elias in impressive detail. These creative solutions have been a response to increduloud critics who see only a glaring error of transliteration made corporeal, a chink in the armor of Joseph Smith's seerhood...I will contextualize the prophet Elijah and attempt to solve the puzzle of Elias, investigating the linguistic evidence, exploring Joseph Smith's discussions of Elias, and providing a theoretical framework for the significance of the Elijah/Elias bifurcation."Comment by Robert C.:
"the article takes the view that making a distinction between Elias and Elijah was, among other things, a way for Joseph Smith to make a distinction between Elijah as Prostestants of the time understood him and the new eternal-family view that Joseph was presenting."Comment by Joe Spencer:
"Sam suggests at once that Joseph was familiar with the equivalence of Elias and Elijah and that he made a sharp distinction between them. I really like this point because it derails the simplistic “Joseph goofed” idea (Joseph was far too careful a reader of the Bible for that). But what is fascinating me the most is the connection between the JST for John 1:22 and D&C 77. I’d like to do some more thinking there. Hmm…."