I Have a Question


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

How can Elias, who appeared with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration, be identified as both the Old Testament prophet Elijah (see Matt. 17:3, footnote b) and as John the Baptist (see JST, Mark 9:3, footnote a)?

Keith W. Perkins, professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University.

The term Elias, in addition to being the actual name of an Old Testament prophet, is used several different ways in the scriptures. Familiarity with the “doctrine of Elias” and with how the word Elias is used in the scriptures is essential to understanding references to Elias.

First, Elias is simply the New Testament Greek form of the Hebrew name Elijah. The Elias referred to on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:3 [Matt. 17:3], as the footnote states, is the Old Testament prophet Elijah the Tishbite. In the Joseph Smith Translation, however, Mark 9:3 says that John the Baptist was also present: “And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses, or in other words, John the Baptist and Moses; and they were talking with Jesus” (JST, Mark 9:3, footnote a).

The Bible Dictionary makes clear that John the Baptist appeared with the prophets Elijah and Moses at the Mount of Transfiguration (see Bible Dictionary, “Elias,” 663).

Second, Elias is a title for “forerunner.” The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “when God sends a man into the world to prepare for a greater work, holding the keys of the power of Elias, it was called the doctrine of Elias, even from the early ages of the world” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 335–36). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the various messengers who brought their keys of authority to the Prophet Joseph Smith, then added that those messengers, “all taken together, are the Elias of the Restoration. It took all of them to bring to pass the restoration of all the keys and powers and authorities needed to save and exalt man” (The Millennial Messiah [1982], 120).

John the Baptist is one good example of a forerunner. When the Prophet Joseph Smith received the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, he was told that “this office did not extend to the laying on of hands for the giving of the Holy Ghost; that that office was a greater work, and was to be given afterward; but that my ordination 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” (Teachings, 335). In this context, the spirit of Elias represents the Aaronic Priesthood, which prepares the way for the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Third, a prophet by the name of Elias, along with Moses and Elijah, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on 3 April 1836. We know very little about this prophet except that he apparently lived in the days of Abraham and committed the “dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” to the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery (D&C 110:12). The power and commission Elias restored was that of celestial marriage and pertains to the doctrine of eternal increase (see Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 508; and The Mortal Messiah [1979], 1:56–57).

Fourth, many prophets acting in the restorative function of the office of Elias have been sent from beyond the veil to restore that which was once upon the earth—“all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood” (D&C 128:21).

When the priests and Levites asked John the Baptist whether he was the Elias who was prophesied to come and restore all things, he replied:

“I am not that Elias who was to restore all things. And they asked him, saying, Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No” (JST, John 1:22, Bible appendix).

The priests and Levites obviously knew about a prophecy—not found in the King James Version of the Old Testament—concerning the coming of an Elias who would restore all things. John the Baptist clarified that this Elias was Jesus Christ, who would come in the meridian of time and restore the gospel and the Melchizedek Priesthood (see Bible Dictionary, “Elias,” 663; JST, John 1:28, Bible appendix). The mission of restoration of “all things” and the title Elias have been given to various prophets, including Noah and John the Revelator (see Teachings, 157; D&C 27:6–7; D&C 77:14).

Without latter-day knowledge of the doctrine of Elias, we would be in darkness regarding the meaning of the word Elias and the missions of individuals referred to as Elias. Through revelation, the “spirit of Elias” was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and, in his words, “I know it is true” (Teachings, 337).

[illustration] The Transfiguration, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, Det Nationalhistoriske På Frederiksborg, Hillerød

Now that members of the Church are responsible for clearing their own names for temple work using TempleReady™, what guidelines apply?

Paul E. Koelliker, managing director of the Temple Department.

The TempleReady system allows members of the Church to process and clear names themselves, but it also requires them to make sure the names are accurate. As members of the Church use the TempleReady system, they may find the following guidelines helpful:

  1. 1.

    Concentrate on getting the temple ordinances completed for your own ancestors and their families. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “The Spirit of Elijah will inspire individual members of the Church to link their generations rather than submit lists of people or popular personalities to whom they are unrelated” (“The Spirit of Elijah,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 86). Doing work for those who are not our own progenitors may needlessly duplicate efforts and ordinances or distract us from the work we should be doing for our own ancestors.

  2. 2.

    It is wise to check the names you are submitting, including names found on Ancestral File™, against the Ordinance Index™. This index, a part of FamilySearch®, gives the dates of ordinance work already performed for deceased persons. Though TempleReady completes a duplication check, that check often fails to detect duplication when there are slight differences in the records. Thus, check the Ordinance Index first.

  3. 3.

    Please do not submit the names of deceased celebrities and historical personalities, including those of royal or noble lineage or early LDS Church leaders and their families, or of persons born in European countries prior to A.D. 1500, regardless of your relationship to them. Though the names may not yet appear on the Ordinance Index, temple work for most of the people in these categories has already been done. Sometimes when we study about such people, we feel a spiritual affinity to them, but we should not submit their names for temple work. If names are sent in counter to this policy, they must be cleared by the Temple Department.

  4. 4.

    Do not “invent” ancestors by adding Mr. and Mrs. to the surname of the person at the end of their family line simply to fill in the spaces for the next generation of ancestors. This practice produces ordinance work and associated records for persons who are not uniquely identified and usually results in duplication of ordinances.

  5. 5.

    Make sure descriptions and titles are not included with names submitted for ordinance work. For example, descriptions and titles boy, girl, child, widow, Miss, Mr., Jr., Dr., Judge, Reverend [Rev.], Colonel [Col.], General [Gen.], should not be included with names or submitted as if they were names. Because the identity of a woman can be derived from the name of her husband, the use of Mrs. is an exception.

  6. 6.

    Research notations or explanations, such as “twin,” “no name,” “unknown,” “died young,” “unmarried,” or “wife,” should not be included in the name space, even if the name is unknown. When a name is unknown it is best to leave the name space blank, because anything entered there will be treated like a name.

  7. 7.

    Instead of putting names, nicknames, or aliases in parentheses or quotation marks, use the word or. For example, write William or Bill rather than William (Bill). This will help avoid confusion of names at the temples as well as on the International Genealogical Index® (IGI) and the Ordinance Index.

  8. 8.

    Please do not use estimated dates and places if exact dates and places can be obtained with reasonable effort. Imprecision produces inaccurate records on the IGI and Ordinance Index.

  9. 9.

    The number of family names you submit at one time should normally be limited to as many as you can easily manage or as many as you, your family, and your friends can complete within a reasonable time. Names of those not in your direct ancestral families should usually be placed in the temple file rather than cleared as family names (see letter from First Presidency to all members of the Church, 16 June 1995).

  10. 10.

    Records of people for whom ordinances have already been completed should not be resubmitted in an attempt to get their ordinance dates.

  11. 11.

    It is a good idea to consult with relatives before you submit names. If you have relatives in the Church, they may already have ordinance dates or know where those dates can be obtained.

  12. 12.

    Carefully proofread records before you submit them. It is much easier to make needed corrections before a name is submitted than it is afterwards.

  13. 13.

    It will help to keep a record of the names you submit for temple work so that you do not submit them again. Most ordinance duplication is caused when members submit the same records more than once.

  14. 14.

    Please be considerate of the feelings of close family members when submitting names of recently deceased relatives. It is a good practice to seek consent before you proceed. Close relatives who are members of the Church may wish to do the ordinances themselves, and close non–Latter-day Saint relatives may be offended when temple work is done for their family members.

  15. 15.

    If you desire to do family history work but have no work to do on your own family lines—or if you feel you lack qualifications to do further research on your own family lines—ask your priesthood leaders or your ward extraction director about volunteering to serve in Family Record Extraction. But please do not undertake your own extraction project.

Our ancestors who have passed on are entitled to the same blessings we enjoy (see David B. Haight, “Linking the Family of Man,” Ensign, May 1991, 75). As saviors on Mount Zion (see Obad. 1:21), we have the great privilege of making those blessings available to them. “For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D&C 128:15).

[photo] Photo by Jed Clark