A careful reading of the Old Testament seems to indicate that the word Elohim is often used as an exalted title for deity as well as a noun meaning God or angels. It is at times also used to speak of pagan gods. Both titles, Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) and Adonai (אֲדֹנָי) have been applied to each God the Father and God the Son.
In the Old Testament, Elohim is most frequently associated with Jehovah or Yahweh (JHVH or YHWH). For instance, in the KJV, we frequently encounter the expression LORD God, which literally, in Hebrew, would be rendered Jehovah Elohim (יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים). Furthermore, we come across scriptures that say that the “LORD he is God,” (Deuteronomy 4:35), יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים. Or rather, the more literal rendition is “Jehovah, He the God.” This last statement is given a double emphasis in 1 Kings 18:39:
יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.
Once again, it becomes clear that when Elohim is used as an exalted title in the Jewish Holy Scriptures or Old Covenant, it almost always refers to Jehovah, Jeshua, or the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
In Genesis 1:1 we read: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Or rather, “In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.” Analyzing the Hebrew for the expression ‘in the beginning’ (BERESHIT, בְּרֵאשִׁית), the Prophet Joseph Smith taught us that בְּרֵאשִׁית, based on the word ROSH (רֹאשׁ), head, originally was missing the BETH (ב) and meant “The Head One of the Gods.” This is interesting to me because—although I realize Brother Joseph was not speaking of Elohim here—the expression Elohim has been defined precisely as the head God in the Ugaritic tradition (TWOT). Most references to Elohim in the Old Testament, however, as we have said, refer to Jehovah or Christ, rather than to God the Father. This does not mean that God the Father is absent from the Old Covenant, as we shall see. In fact, he is intimately present.
The Savior makes it clear that none of His words are His own, but rather, He glorifies the Father: “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49). We also read: “Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me…” (John 17:7-8a).
The Sweetness of the Unity between the Godhead
The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three distinct beings who are one in purpose. There is no envy between them. They are of one mind. This truth was powerfully revealed to me by the Holy Spirit on the way home from school, as a young boy of thirteen or so, years before I ever saw, heard of, or handled the Book of Mormon (or any literature published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
It is understandable that some—when taking the scriptures out of context—are confused upon reading John 14: “Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake” (John 14:8-11).
As LDS we believe that the Savior of mankind was made in the similitude of the Father. So that a person who has seen the Son has also seen what the Father looks like. But the primary purpose of these verses are not to speak just of the physical similarity between the Father and the Son, but to make it clear and certain that the Father and the Son are one in purpose—despite being different individuals. The next verse makes this plain: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14). In other words, just as the Savior does the works of the Father, we can do the works of the Savior, which in turn are the works the Father would have us do.
This is essentially the same message of D&C 50:43, “And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.” And John 17:11b and 21-22 make this point even clearer, beyond any doubt, that the question is one of unity of purpose: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are,” and “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” Well is it said that “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 John 5:7).
For many of these scriptures to truly make sense, we need to rely on modern-day Prophets. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe in the principle of Divine Investiture. Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “All revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. In all of the scriptures, where God is mentioned and where he has appeared, it was Jehovah who talked with Abraham, with Noah, Enoch, Moses and all the prophets. He is the God of Israel, the Holy One of Israel; the one who led that nation out of Egyptian bondage, and who gave and fulfilled the Law of Moses. 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).
Except for times when the Father is introducing the Son, the words of the Father are pronounced and brought to us by the Son. The Son delights in giving all honor and credit to the Father even in these matters. For instance, in the Book of Mormon, when referring to words given by Jehovah to Malachi, the Savior reminds us that these words, the words spoken in the Old Covenant by the Holy Prophets, are truly the words of the Father--even if delivered by the Son: “And it came to pass that he commanded them that they should write the words which the Father had given unto Malachi, which he should tell unto them … Thus said the Father unto Malachi—Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant … ” (3 Nephi 24:1).
As Christians, we pray to the Father, in the name of the Son. We receive an answer, usually, through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost reveals the Father and the Son. The revelations received by Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants were given to the Prophet by the Savior (either directly, or again, through Divine Investiture through the Holy Ghost). Thus it is that in the Doctrine and Covenants we have Jesus Christ speaking: “listen to the words of Jesus Christ, your Lord and your Redeemer” (15:1b). Nephi, similarly, explains that the words he has spoken come from the Son: “if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 33:10b). When we receive answers to our prayers, the Holy Ghost speaks to us through Divine Investiture, also. When we give a Priesthood blessing, the words we speak are gvien through Divine Investiture.
The Son, our Holy Redeemer, then, speaks for the Father. It is a power of attorney, so to speak. There are some very important scriptures in Isaiah where this happens, and we hear the Son speaking about His own mission as the mortal Messiah as if it was the Father who was speaking. Thus we have Jehovah speaking in Isaiah 53:6 and 53:10, “and the LORD (Jehovah, יהוָה) hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,” and “Yet it pleased the LORD (Jehovah, יהוָה) to bruise him.” It is the Lord speaking, but He (Jehovah, Christ) is speaking for the Father in first person about Himself (Christ) and his future Messianic role.
So it is in Moses: “And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all’ (Moses 1:6). Once again, it is the Son who speaks the words of the Father.
There are notable exceptions, of course, during those times where the Father is introducing or bearing witness of the Son. For instance, in the New Covenant, when Christ is upon the earth, we hear the Father glorifying the Son (e.g., Matthew 3:17, John 12:28). In Joseph Smith History-1:17b, Elohim the Eternal Father introduces the Son to the boy Prophet Joseph Smith: “When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
The Book of Revelation gives a perfect example of Divine Investiture. In this case, an angel speaks the words of Christ. John distinctly hears the words of the Savior from the angelic messenger who is clothed in great glory (see a similar event in the Ascension of Isaiah). We hear this personage speaking the words of Christ in the first person, “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). John thought himself in the presence of our Redeemer. Scripture tells us that John fell to worship, but was prevented from doing so: “Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God” (Revelation 22:9).
McConkie, Bruce. The Promised Messiah. Deseret Book Company, 1978.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation (3 volumes).
Talmage, James E. Jesus the Christ. (Including notes from The Father and The Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and The Twelve, set forth in 1916)
Response to comments below:
Thanks for the comment. In the book of Moses, the Savior is speaking for the Father, through Divine Investiture.