I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

I Have a Question

The name of one of the Lord’s disciples listed in 3 Nephi 19:4—Timothy—seems to be Greek in origin. Is there an explanation for the appearance of a Greek name in the Book of Mormon?

Stephen D. Ricks, associate professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages, Brigham Young University, and elders quorum instructor, Edgemont Fifth Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont South Stake. One of the disciples chosen by the Lord following his appearance among the Nephites was the brother of Nephi. His name was Timothy, a name used by the Greeks and a name found in the New Testament. Although we do not know for certain, there are several plausible explanations for the appearance of this name in the Book of Mormon.

It may be that the name Timothy, as well as other manifestations of Greek influence, was brought to the New World by the Mulekites. The people of Mulek may have made their escape to the New World on a Phoenician ship. (See Ross T. Christensen, ed., Transoceanic Crossings to Ancient America, Provo: The Society for Early Historic Archaeology, n.d., pp. 19–20.) The Phoenicians, whose port cities included Sidon, Acco, and Tyre, were the greatest seamen of the region. They had regular contacts both with Greek-speaking merchants and traders and with the Israelites. (See, for example, Judg. 1:31; 2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Kgs. 5:1–12; Matt. 11:21–22; Mark 3:8.)

One possibility, then, is that on that long voyage, the lore of the Greeks—including Greek names—could have been learned and passed on to the Mulekite colony. It may be significant that the names Lachoneus and Timothy, the only two names in the Book of Mormon that seem to be of Greek origin, appear in the Book of Mormon only after the Mulekite contact with the Nephites.

Another possibility, in the case of the name Timothy at least, is that we have a Greek doublet—a name in one language that has the same or nearly the same meaning as a name in another language. For example, in the New Testament, the Greek name Petros (Peter) is a doublet of the Aramaic Cephas, both of which mean a “rock.” Likewise, the Greek Didymus is a doublet of the Aramaic Thomas, meaning “twin.” The name Timothy means “God-fearer” and might be a doublet for a similar-meaning Nephite name. Alternatively, Timothy may simply be a rendering of a like-sounding Nephite name that is otherwise completely unrelated to the Greek.

Perhaps the strongest possibility for the appearance of Timothy in the Book of Mormon is that Greek names were not unknown among the Israelites even before Lehi left Jerusalem. Contacts between the Greeks and the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean—including the Israelites—had already begun centuries before Lehi was born. Professor Cyrus H. Gordon, who has studied early evidence of Greek contacts in the ancient Near East, writes in his book The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilization that trade and other cultural contacts existed between the Greeks and the ancient Near East from the middle of the second millennium B.C. (New York: Norton, 1965, pp. 22–46; see also Michael Astour, Hellenosemitica, Leiden: Brill, 1967.)

Thus, it should not be surprising that names of Greek origin might be found among the peoples of the ancient Near East, including the Hebrews, since names are easily and widely borrowed among peoples of various cultures. Lehi’s tribe, Manasseh, was quite cosmopolitan, so foreign names could well have been in Lehi’s genealogy found on the plates of brass. (See 1 Ne. 5:14; Alma 10:3; cf. Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989, pp. 544–45.)

The name Timothy, in fact, appears among the desert peoples of the eastern Mediterranean. A Timothy is mentioned as a leader of the Ammonites (a Semitic people who lived immediately to the east of Judea) who opposed Judas Maccabeus, and was on several occasions defeated by him in battles that took place about 165–163 B.C. (See the Apocryphal books 1 Maccabees 5:6–11, 34, 37–44; and 2 Maccabees 8:30, 32; 10:24–37.)

The name Timothy appears to be Ionian in origin. Ionia is a region of Greek-speaking people with whom the peoples of the ancient Near East—including the Hebrews—had close contact. (See Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988, p. 33.) Such contact is reflected in the “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10, where the name Javan—a name related to the Greek “Ionia”—is mentioned as the son of Japheth, the son of Noah (Gen. 10:2), whose descendants were the Greek-speaking peoples of the Ionian coast. Other cultural contacts between the Javanites (“Grecians” in the King James Version) are reflected in Joel 3:6, Ezek. 27:13, and Zech. 9:12–13.

In addition to Timothy, the name Lachoneus (see 3 Ne. 1:1; 3 Ne. 6:19) may also be a name of Greek origin, deriving from the Greek Lakonios, meaning “Laconian,” referring to a people who lived in the southern part of the Greek mainland and who were among the most experienced merchants in Greece, maintaining colonies throughout the ancient Near East. (See Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, p. 33.) The “ch” in the name Lachoneus is significant, accurately reflecting the tendency in Hebrew to change a “c” or “k” immediately after a vowel into a “ch” (pronounced as in the name Bach or in the Scottish word loch).

Thus, there are a number of possible reasons for the names Timothy and Lachoneus being in the Book of Mormon. Certainly, they are not there by accident, and their possible Greek connections remind us again of the ethnic and cultural richness of the people brought by the Lord to their land of promise.

Although I was married in the temple, I am now divorced. How can I teach my children the importance of a lasting temple marriage in the face of their parents’ poor example?

Barbara Vance, professor of family sciences, Brigham Young University, and member of the Pleasant View Ninth Ward, Provo Utah Sharon East Stake. Before the end of this century—at least in industrial countries—many children will spend at least a part of their childhood and early youth in single-parent families. And even though we may not like to consider the possibility, this will be true even for many Church members.

Therefore, this question is one that does or will concern many faithful parents in the Church.

Perhaps the first step a divorced parent must take to encourage children to keep temple marriage as a goal is to help them adjust to the divorce. Divorce brings with it a great deal of emotional and spiritual pain, not only for the couple involved, but also for their children. Divorced parents and their children need time to grieve about what is lost and to let go of the past. If parents are able to grieve and forgive, they will set an important example for their children about how to let go of past hurts or mistakes, how to repent, and how to forgive.

However, the parent who is not living with the children will always be a sort of “ghost” in that home. That parent will always be a part of the children’s lives through their memories and even their fantasies. Therefore, it is important that both parents make an effort to actively include each other in their children’s lives.

Children may be uncertain about how to show their love for a parent who is not in the home. They may worry about being disloyal to the parent they live with if they show love to the other parent, or about being disloyal to a biological parent if they show love to and cultivate a good relationship with a stepparent. Children may worry that, if their parents stopped loving each other, they may also stop loving their children. Because of children’s great fear of abandonment (which they often cannot articulate), the possibility of losing the love of either or both parents can be almost overwhelming. In the child’s mind, the question may linger: Will my parents “divorce” me, too?

Showing the children unconditional love thus becomes a major opportunity for both parents following a divorce. The parent who is not living with the children needs to find ways to show the children that he or she loves them even though they do not live under the same roof. If the children know that their parents’ love for them is unconditional (that is, it is always there and can be counted on, even though both parents and children make mistakes), then children can get some idea of the unconditional love, respect, and commitment that are inherent in an effective temple marriage, and of the blessings such love, respect, and commitment can bring.

Then, too, once the children have worked through their grief and feel the security of unconditional love from both parents, they become free to make marriage decisions based on factors other than their parents’ divorce. Divested of the emotional baggage that sometimes accompanies a divorce, they can make their choices based primarily on their understanding of gospel principles and the testimonies they have developed of those principles. The children make their choices not because of—or in spite of—the divorce, but because they choose to follow—or not to follow—the principles taught them.

Of course, some children of divorced parents will still not choose temple marriage, no matter how much they are loved or how well they are taught. But children of undivorced parents make the same choices. The Lord does not force his children to make correct choices; we each have our agency.

Divorced parents sometimes harbor latent feelings of guilt about the effects the divorce may have on their children’s attitudes toward marriage. This need not be. Parents who express unconditional love for their children and teach them the principles of the gospel have done all they can do to make sure the divorce will not affect their children’s marriage decisions.

Parental responsibility is largely the same for all parents—whether single or otherwise.

As Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–28 admonishes, all parents who “have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized” are to teach their children four things: (1) “the doctrine of repentance,” (2) “faith in Christ, the son of the living God,” (3) “baptism,” and (4) “the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands.” Verse 28 tells parents to teach their children two other important principles: prayer and obedience to the commandments, or “walk[ing] uprightly before the Lord.” A parent can teach these principles to his or her children even if he or she does not have a temple marriage. [D&C 68:25–28]

Is it possible to teach children a principle without a proper example? It is true that the most important lessons are often learned by example.

But a single parent (or a stepparent) need not rely solely on personal example to teach the principle of temple marriage. There are many successful marriages a single parent can use to illustrate the principle and encourage the children to use as models.

Perhaps even more important is the example parents set of obedience to the four principles of the gospel as well as to the principles of prayer and obedience to the commandments. If children are converted to the principles of the gospel and have examples of loving, faithful temple marriages (such as that of aunts, and uncles, grandparents, home teachers, or other adults who are significant in their lives) around them, the chances are great that they will develop positive attitudes toward temple marriage.

[photo] Photo by John Luke