When I was young, I remember at the end of a Sunday school class the teacher telling us that next week she was going to reveal to us a great secret. She was going to tell us the name of God that we would need to know in order to address him appropriately in the next life. I was honestly very excited and ready for the deep mysteries of the Gospel. The next week came, and she revealed the great secret which was of course the current beliefs of the church. I was a bit underwhelmed to say the least.
In the modern Mormon church, the name of God is very clear and there is no ambiguity. This has been enshrined through several statements from leaders, the LDS temple endowment, and has been repeated often enough that it seems anything contrary is unthinkable. In the bible dictionary for the LDS church under the heading for “God” it reads:
When one speaks of God, it is generally the Father who is referred to; that is, Elohim. All mankind are His children. The personage known as Jehovah in Old Testament times, and who is usually identified in the Old Testament as Lord (in small capitals), is the Son, known as Jesus Christ, and who is also a God.Bible Dictionary – “God”
This strict belief was even taken one step further by Joseph Fielding Smith in the book Doctrines of Salvation. This book is a very large compilation of talks and statements from Joseph Fielding Smith who was then President of the church. The statements were compiled by Bruce R. McConkie in order to help establish in the minds of the members that the words and statements of the current church leader hold prominence. In that book President Smith states:
All revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. … The Father has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son.Doctrines of Salvation – 1:27
These two statements are quite bold and authoritative however they are certainly lacking scriptural backing. If anyone questions them then reliably, they are pointed to reiterations of the statements by recent leaders. Thus, leading to a circular dependency.
The reason this is important though is because in the Lectures on Faith, which at one time was canonized scripture, we are told that, “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections and attributes” are necessary in order to “exercise faith in God unto life and salvation”. It is certainly possible that if we believe incorrect things about God then we are not able to exercise faith as well as we could otherwise.
The word Elohim is actually a Hebrew word that simply means ‘gods’ and is found nowhere in the LDS scriptures. In the bible it is used in many different forms which we will explore. The word Jehovah is a transliteration of the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH which can be pronounced Jehovah or Yahweh. In the King James bible, the word for God is not consistently translated and is sometimes translated into LORD or GOD in all capitals. When researching the scriptures, sites like BibleHub can be an invaluable tool to understand the true meaning of the text.
In the LDS view of things, Elohim is the name of the Father, and Jehovah is the name of the Son who became Christ. This is clearly taught as fact in the LDS endowment and has been repeated through First Presidency statements and General Conference talks. However, this view of things is almost immediately challenged when we actually look at the scriptures.
The first scripture we can look at is Deuteronomy 6:4 which reads in the KJV, “Hear, O Israel; The LORD our God is one LORD;”. This is pretty straightforward however if we look at the actual Hebrew then it reads much closer to: “Hear, O Israel; Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah”. Certainly, according to the LDS understanding this verse makes no sense and is stating Jehovah is an Elohim and there is only one Jehovah.
Another verse is in Exodus 15:11 where the KJV reads, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods?” However, the Hebrew reads much closer to, “Who among the Elohim is like you Jehovah?” Thus, again Jehovah is the highest Elohim and there is none like him.
In the KJV, 1 Kings 8:23 reads, “LORD God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath”. However, the Hebrew is much closer to, “Jehovah, Elohim of Israel, there is no Elohim like you in heaven above or on earth below”.
Another verse is in Exodus 20:
And God spake all these words, saying:
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.Exodus 20:1-3
Again, this reads pretty straightforward in the KJV however the Hebrew reads much closer to this:
And Elohim spoke all these words:
I am Jehovah your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other Elohim before me.Exodus 20:1-3 (Hebrew)
This of course has a totally different meaning than the original which we are familiar with. Jehovah is telling us to not worship Elohim and instead to worship him. It also strongly suggests that Jehovah is the highest god that we should worship, and anything less is a false god or Elohim. If Jehovah is the highest god, then he necessarily would be what we would call the Father today since there is no higher being than the highest being.
We can also see that in several cases the neighboring false gods were referred to as Elohim also. This is evident in Judges 10 where God is recounting all he did for the Israelites and then tells them:
You have forsaken me and served other Elohim, so I will no longer deliver you. Go and cry to the Elohim you have chosen. Let them deliver you in your time of distress.Judges 10:13-14 (Hebrew)
Clearly if the highest god is named Elohim, then why should he be upset if the Israelites were worshipping Elohim? However, if the word Elohim just simply meant ‘gods’ or entities of religious worship then the passage certainly makes sense. The word Elohim itself is used thousands of times in the bible and is even used to refer to members of the Heavenly Council which preside with God. This is described in Psalms 82 and certainly could have a better English translation. Thus, it is clear that Elohim is just a category of beings and is certainly not a name or title of a specific being as the LDS church has claimed.
One final point on this is in the Hebrew text the word for Elohim has numerous variations depending on context while the word for Jehovah has no variations and is always used consistently. Therefore, this would strongly suggest that Elohim is a category and not a name, and Jehovah is a name and not a category. This of course directly contradicts the official position of the LDS church currently.
In the early restored church, it was commonly taught that Jehovah was the name of the Father. This is evident in an 1841 edition of the Times and Seasons where Joseph as the editor published the following statement:
We believe in God the Father, who is the Great Jehovah and head of all things, and that Christ is the Son of God, co-eternal with the FatherTimes and Seasons Nov 1. 1841
Another more modern usage from Joseph is found in History of the Church volume 5, where Joseph is trying to boost morale during a troubling time and he states, “trusting in the arm of Jehovah, the Eloheim, who sits enthroned in the heavens”. Thus, this understanding of things matches perfectly with the biblical usage of the terms and is honestly not consistent with the understanding of Jehovah and Elohim the LDS church uses today.
Another usage is from an 1842 prayer Joseph offered where he stated:
O Thou, who seest and knowest the hearts of all men—Thou eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Jehovah—God—Thou Eloheim … let faith on the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ … be conferred upon him [Joseph].History of the Church Volume 5, page 127
In this specific instance Joseph is praying to Jehovah, who he described as an Elohim, and wanted stronger faith in Jesus Christ as a result. This of course is totally contradictory to what the modern LDS church teaches. A prayer like this in an LDS meeting could be the start of your excommunication.
History of the Change
The actual path of how we got from Jehovah as the highest being to Jehovah being the premortal Christ is a long one and can’t adequately be described here. However, it appears to have started with Brigham Young and his introduction of the Adam-God doctrine that he forced on the church. In this doctrine the roles of each individual were blurred and an additional being, Michael or the premortal Adam, was added to the godhead further blurring the lines. Shortly after the death of Brigham Young, in 1877, the nonsensical Adam-God doctrine was officially removed from the church and an attempt to return to the true doctrine was made.
In 1885, the idea of Jehovah being Christ however was made official by Franklin D. Richards who taught:
We learn that our Savior was born of a woman, and He was named Jesus the Christ. His name when He was a spiritual being, during the first half of the existence of the earth, before He was made flesh and blood, was Jehovah. … He was the spirit being that directed, governed, and gave the law on Mount Sinai, where Moses was permitted to see Him in part.Journal of Discourses, Vol 26, page 300
This statement of course was never advanced as a revelation or backed up by scriptures. It was stated as fact and just conjecture from Elder Richards however that did not matter at the time. This idea spread and is almost impossible to refute today since it is so engrained in the minds of most members.
At the time there was however, massive confusion concerning the Godhead which we can see in a 1896 journal entry from Edward Stevenson who was one of the presidents of the Seventy. He had a meeting with President Snow concerning the Adam God doctrine and concluded:
Certainly [Elohim] and Jehovah stands before Adam, or else I am very much mistaken. Then 1st [Elohim], 2nd Jehovah, 3rd Michael-Adam, 4th Jesus Christ, Our Elder Brother, in the other World from whence our spirits come.Edward Stevenson
In this account he concludes that Adam is a higher being then Christ which is a clear carry over from the failed Adam-God doctrine. However, it certainly shows that even the top leadership of the church was very much confused about things. If I was around at that time, then I would have recommended they read the scriptures. However, I unfortunately couldn’t make that recommendation for them at that time.
This idea of Jehovah being a name-title of Christ and not the Father was propagated through the church and eventually made its way into the influential work from James E. Talmage, “Jesus the Christ”. Talmage was commissioned by the leadership to write the book and was given great leeway in his efforts and was relieved of almost all his apostolic duties while writing. In the book Talmage essentially reiterates what has been described already however the work itself was seen as expounding on the doctrines of the church. Therefore, what was contained in the book was viewed by most as scripture and treated as a profound doctrinal exposition.
Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon itself is actually very consistent in the description of the relationship between the Father and Son. One excellent example is that of Ether 3:14 where Christ appeared to the Brother of Jared and is explaining things to him.
Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son.Ether 3:14
Another excellent scripture that illustrates this is 3 Nephi 1:14 which reads:
Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh.3 Nephi 1:14
Both scriptures teach that Jehovah was Christ who was also the Father and the Son. Both scriptures also seem to contradict what the current church teaches and thus complicated explanations like ‘Divine Investiture‘ is taught which is frankly just an academic way to smooth over the discrepancy and act like it doesn’t exist. The god described in the Book of Mormon matches exactly with the god described in the Lectures on Faith which I already discussed. These are also not the only scriptures. There are many additional ones in the Book of Mormon such as Mosiah 15:1-5 where it states that “God himself shall come down”. Thus, it sounds like scriptures are describing the god of the Old Testament as coming down to take upon himself flesh and atone for the sins of his people. This being of course was Christ who was the Son and the Father.
Joseph Smith furthered this understanding while he was improving the translation of the New Testament. In the KJV of Luke 10:22, it confusingly reads:
No man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.Luke 10:22
However Joseph changed this to be crystal clear in his Inspired Version which reads:
No man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.Luke 10:22 JST
Thus, the description of the Father and the Son matches perfectly with the biblical description and well as that of the Book of Mormon.
The teaching of the LDS church concerning Elohim and Jehovah could not be more wrong and are in fact totally flipped. Jehovah is the name of the highest God who the LDS people call Elohim. Elohim is the name of any god which frankly also includes false gods. Thus, when someone is worshipping Elohim, they could be worshipping anything. Even Satan himself could be described as an Elohim. Honestly elevating Elohim to a higher position than Jehovah is exactly what we are told Satan tried to accomplish before this life. It certainly seems like he accomplished that in a number of ways.
The only true God is Jehovah who is the God of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and the god of the Book of Mormon. Jehovah is the Father and the Son who took upon himself flesh. He is my God and yours. It is only through Jehovah that we can be saved from our sins, and we must have correct faith in him according to Lecture 3. The wicked traditions of our fathers have no power to save us however the great Jehovah does. Jehovah is certainly the greatest of all the Elohim and I am very thankful to be able to worship him. I very much welcome the time when the correct forms of worship are reintroduced, and we can worship Jehovah how he wants to be worshipped. It is very sad to me that the muddy philosophies of men have been allowed to mingle with the pure doctrines of God.