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Interpreting Interpreter
A Puzzling Elias

This post is a summary of the article “Elias: Prophet of the Restoration” by Jan Francisco in Volume 55 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Francisco associates the figure of Elias with the prophet Noah, who held keys related to gathering, restoration, and covenantal renewal, bestowing those keys on others with a similar calling, including John the Baptist, John the Beloved, and ultimately the prophet Joseph Smith.


The Summary

In this article, Jan Francisco summarizes what we know of the prophet Elias, based on the limited hints available to us, arguing that the name Elias ultimately refers to the prophet Noah. Francisco traces views of Elias through Joseph Smith’s initial teaching and revelations down to its entry in the Bible Dictionary, linking Elias/Noah to the roles of Restorer, Forerunner, and Gatherer, with the purpose of preparing for the restoration of covenants through the gathering of Israel. Francisco suggests that the keys for this work were transmitted by Noah to others, including John the Baptist, John the Beloved and eventually to Joseph Smith (via the keys of the gospel of Abraham).

Francisco notes the substantial confusion that has been associated with Elias, whether it be from the mainstream view of Elias as equivalent to Elijah, to Joseph Fielding Smith’s suggestion that Elias was only a title, to Bruce R. McConkie’s summary of these views, which would eventually be instantiated in our current Bible Dictionary. This confusion may have led Francisco to present information on Elias as a collection of disparate puzzle pieces rather than a definitive argument. However, she sees enough of a pattern within those pieces to present a relatively coherent framework for who Elias is and what it signifies.

That framework identifies Elias as the angel Gabriel based on a passage in D&C 27, who is elsewhere identified by Joseph Smith as the Prophet Noah. Noah, typically associated with the cleansing flood (and thus the idea of baptism), had a role of covenantal renewal and restoration. It was thus fitting that he would announce the birth of John the Baptist, who would serve as a forerunner to Christ, and whose mission to baptize by water would prepare for Christ’s baptism of fire.

That John could also be referred to as Elias is indicated by Christ, as well as by the JST. D&C 77 also indicates that Elias would be involved with the gathering of Israel, one in which all those who engage in the work may be referred to as an agent of Elias. Francisco also sees Noah’s as the possible blessing of the fathers that Abraham sought, as she sees him as Abraham’s contemporary, allowing him to represent the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham. In this way references to Elias are unified, either in the person of Noah or in those who are tasked with his role as restorer, gatherer, and forerunner.


The Reflection

By tying together a disparate set of potentially ambiguous details (in the Hebrew fashion), Francisco puts together a consistent case for Noah as Elias. The idea of baptism as a preparatory or “forerunner” ordinance resonates well with me, given the original temple-focused ritual of washing, being used as a means of gathering us into Christ’s fold prior to being sealed together as a family of God. When I was a missionary it might’ve been a little strange thinking of myself as doing the work of Noah and using his keys, but the thought brings me no retrospective shame. I’ll look forward to channeling the spirit of Elias, whether it be the next time I do temple baptisms, the next time I help prepare a prospective Elder to receive the Melchizedek priesthood, or at my next missionary huddle.

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