Translated Beings
By John A. Tvedtnes

The concept of bodily translation is well known to Latter-day Saints. Among the ancient prophets whom we acknowledge to have been changed in such a way that they could remain alive for an indefinite period of time are Enoch, Elijah, the apostle John, Melchizedek, the three Nephite disciples, and likely Moses, Alma2, and Nephi the son of Helaman.

In our day, the term “translate” generally denotes the rendering of a text written or spoken in one language to another language, but this is only part of its wide range of meaning. Earlier generations of English speakers also used the term in the sense of transfer and transmission. [1] Thus, when Hebrews 11:5 says that “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God,”[2] one must recall that Genesis 5:24 merely says that “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Commenting on the Hebrews passage, Joseph Smith declared,

Now the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this Priesthood … Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but this is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets, and who as yet have not entered into so great a fullness as those who are resurrected from the dead … This distinction is made between the doctrine of the actual resurrection and translation: translation obtains deliverance from the tortures and sufferings of the body, but their existence will prolong as to the labors and toils of the ministry, before they can enter into so great a rest and glory. (History of the Church 4:209-10)

On a subsequent occasion, the prophet “explained the difference between an angel and a ministering spirit; the one a resurrected or translated body … the other a disembodied spirit … Translated bodies cannot enter into rest until they have undergone a change equivalent to death. Translated bodies are designed for future missions” (History of the Church 4:425; cf. D&C129:1-9).


The Bible says very little of the translation of human prophets. The most complete biblical description is found in 2 Kings 2:11-12: “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” A medieval Jewish text, Zohar Exodus 197a, describes the translated Elijah as “an angel among angels.” [3]

A fourth-century A.D. Christian writer, Caius Marius Victorinus, identified the angel in Revelation 7:2 with “Elias [Greek form of Elijah] the prophet, who is the precursor of the times of Antichrist, for the restoration and establishment of the churches from the great and intolerable persecution,” and cited the prophecy of Elijah’s coming in Malachi 4:5-6 (Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John 7.2). [4] It is particularly significant that, in response to a question about “the angel ascending from the east, Revelation 7th chapter and 2nd verse,” Joseph Smith wrote, “And, if you will receive it, this is Elias which was to come to gather together the tribes of Israel and restore all things” (D&C 77:9). The medieval Ethiopic Christian writer Bakhayla Mika’el identified the “fourth angel” of Revelation 16:8 with the prophet Elijah. [5]

Several pseudepigraphic texts describe Enoch being taken to heaven and one of them (3 Enoch) describes him as a heavenly scribe who had been transformed from the mortal Enoch into the angel Metatron.[6] In Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 9:9, the prophet Isaiah, arriving with his angelic guide in the seventh heaven, notes, “And there I saw Enoch and all who [were] with him,” perhaps suggesting that others were taken with Enoch. [7]

Joseph Smith taught that not only Enoch, but Zion, the city he had founded, along with all of its righteous inhabitants were taken to heaven. [8] This is suggested by the story in the pseudepigraphic Jasher 3:23-38, in which God called Enoch to heaven, prompting him to go once again to teach his people. As he rode on a heavenly horse, some eight hundred thousand men followed him, and each day he tried to persuade them to return home. Some accepted his advice, but others vowed that only death would separate them from him. “And it was upon the seventh day that Enoch ascended into heaven in a whirlwind, with horses and chariots of fire,” in the same manner as Elijah would later ascend. After his ascension, the rulers went to the place to see what had become of “the men that remained with Enoch,” but found nothing.


From Joseph Smith’s revision of the book of Genesis, we also learn that Melchizedek and his people in the city of Salem (Hebrew Shalem), having patterned their lives after the people of Enoch, were also taken – something also suggested in Alma 13:10-14. It is therefore of interest to learn that the Pitron or “commentary” on the Samaritan Asatir (“secrets [of Moses]”) 2:6 says, “And Jared begat Enoch and built a city and called its name Shalem the Great.” [9] From this, one could infer that Melchizedek named his city after Shalem, the city of Enoch (also called Zion). Later Jewish tradition holds that Melchizedek’s Salem was the same as Jerusalem, which is also called Zion in the Bible (2 Samuel 5:7, 1 Kings 8:1, etc.).

And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace. And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world … And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace. (JST Genesis 14:32-34, 36)

In 2 Enoch 71-73, Melchizedek is said to have been taken into paradise, which, in Jewish lore, is said to be situated in the third heaven, as in 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 (see especially 2 Enoch [A] 71:27-29). In Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness” (or “legitimate king”), is termed “king of Salem.” A medieval Jewish text, Zohar Genesis 87a, commenting on this passage, says, “‘Melchizedek’ alludes to the lower world, and ‘king of Salem’ to the upper world; and the verse indicates that both are intertwined inseparably, two worlds like one, so that the lower world also is the whole, and the whole is one.” [10] The passage may reflect an early tradition about Melchizedek’s translation.

Though many Jewish texts have the archangel Michael presiding in the heavenly temple, some New Testament passages (especially in Hebrews and Revelation) suggest that it is Christ who serves in that temple. [11]   However, a number of ancient and medieval Jewish and Christian texts indicate that Melchizedek is high priest in the heavenly temple. One of the early Gnostic Christian texts found in 1945 in a large clay pot at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, considers Melchizedek to be an exalted patriarch, priest, and archangel (Melchizedek Tractate IX,1). Melchizedek is considered to be a heavenly priest in two other Egyptian Gnostic texts, 2 Jeu and Pistis Sophia. [12] The Falasha Book of the Angels speaks of Abel, Seth, Noah, and Melchizedek being priests in heaven. [13]

One of the Dead Sea scrolls (4Q401, 11.1-3, 22.1-3) has Melchizedek as a heavenly priest, while another (11QMelch a.k.a. 11Q13) identifies Melchizedek with the God standing in the congregation of God in Psalm 82:1-2 and says that “Melchizedek will exact the ven[geance] of E[l’s] judgments” (cf. Isaiah 61:2). [14] This agrees with the medieval Zohar Genesis 87a, which says that Melchizedek is “God whose throne was then established in its place and whose sovereignty therefore became complete.” [15] These texts lend support to then reading of JST Genesis 14:36, where we read that “Melchizedek … was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.”

The Apostle John

There was a tradition among early Christians that the apostle John was destined not to die, but to remain until the second coming of Christ. [16] The story is reflected in John 21:20-23:

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?  Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?  Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

The Bible passage is noncommittal on the question of whether John was actually translated, and Christians came to believe that he was not. Indeed, several early writers noted that he died at an advanced age in the city of Ephesus. [17] The question intrigued Joseph Smith as he was engaged in his revision of the Bible and came to the passage in John 21. Inquiring of the Lord, he learned that John had written an account on parchment that had been buried. The contents of a portion of that record were revealed to Joseph in these words:

And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people. And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done. Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.  (D&C 7:1-6)

The revelation makes it clear that John was, in fact, translated, in order that he might continue to serve the Lord in the flesh. This was partially confirmed at the general conference held in the forepart of June, 1831, when “the Spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner, and he prophesied that John the Revelator was then among the Ten Tribes of Israel who had been led away by Shalmaneser king of Assyria to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion to again possess the land of their fathers.” [18] That this is his role was subsequently confirmed in a revelation given in March 1832 (D&C 77:9, 14).

The Epistle to the Tarsians 3, attributed to Ignatius (died A.D. 107), [19] notes how Peter, James, Paul, and Stephen were killed, but merely notes that “John was banished to Patmos.”[20] Evidently, the writer had no information on the death of the apostle John.

The Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian: About His Exile and Departure has the apostle mysteriously disappearing, leaving the brethren at Ephesus to reflect on Jesus’ words to Peter concerning him.[21] Introducing some of John’s writings in his own work, Hilary of Poitiers wrote, “Let John speak to us, while he is waiting, just as he is, for the coming of the Lord; John, who was left behind and appointed to a destiny hidden in the counsel of God, for he is not told that he shall not die, but only that he shall tarry” (On the Trinity 6.39). [22] In the fourth century, St. Augustine, commenting on John 21:19-25, wrote,

Who can readily believe that anything else was meant than what the brethren who lived at the time believed, namely, that that disciple was not to die, but to abide in this life till Jesus came? But John himself removed such an idea, by giving a flat contradiction to the report that the Lord had said so. For why should he add, ‘Jesus saith not, He dieth not,’ save to prevent what was false from taking hold of the hearts of men? But let any one who so listeth still refuse his assent, and declare that what John asserts is true enough, that the Lord said not that that disciple dieth not, and yet that this is the meaning of such words as He is here recorded to have used; and further assert that the Apostle John is still living, and maintain that he is sleeping rather than lying dead in his tomb at Ephesus. Let him employ as an argument the current report that there the earth is in sensible commotion, and presents a kind of heaving appearance, and assert whether it be steadfastly or obstinately that this is occasioned by his breathing. For we cannot fail to have some who so believe, if there is no want of those also who affirm that Moses is alive. (Tractates on the Gospel According to John 124.1-2)[23]

By denying reports that John was still alive, Augustine confirmed that some Christians believed that he was. He continued:

But still, as I began to say, if some deny the death of Moses, whom Scripture itself, in the very passage where we read that his sepulcher could nowhere be found, explicitly declares to have died; how much more may occasion be taken from these words where the Lord says, “Thus do I wish him to stay till I come,” to believe that John is sleeping, but still alive, beneath the ground? Of whom we have also the tradition (which is found in certain apocryphal scriptures), that he was present, in good health, when he ordered a sepulcher to be made for him; and that, when it was dug and prepared with all possible care, he laid himself down there as in a bed, and became immediately defunct: yet as those think who so understand these words of the Lord, not really defunct, but only lying like one in such a condition; and, while accounted dead, was actually buried when asleep, and that he will so remain till the coming of Christ, making known meanwhile the fact of his life by the bubbling up of the dust, which is believed to be forced by the breath of the sleeper to ascend from the depths to the surface of the grave. I think it quite superfluous to contend with such an opinion. For those may see for themselves who know the locality whether the ground there does or suffers what is said regarding it, because, in truth, we too have heard of it from those who are not altogether unreliable witnesses. (Tractates on the Gospel According to John 124.2) [24]

In addition to the story of surviving being buried alive, several early Christian texts indicate that John was both imprisoned and given poison to drink but that these did him no harm. [25] One tradition, reported by Tertullian, has him being whipped in Rome, then cast into boiling oil, from which he emerged unscathed (Against the Heretics 36). [26] We can compare these accounts with the trials endured by the three translated Nephite disciples, who also could not be harmed by imprisonment, burial in the ground, the furnace of fire, or wild beasts (3 Nephi 28:19-22; 4 Nephi 1:30-33).

An Irish pseudepigraphic text preserves the tradition that John lay down in a deep grave prepared for him and prayed, whereupon a brilliant light blinded those who stood by and when they could see again, the apostle had passed on. The text concludes by saying, “As for the body of John, it is in a beautiful golden tomb, and at the end of each year, the best youth, who is without defilement or sin, is chosen, and he goes to cut John’s hair and pare his nails, and when he has completed that task, he partakes of the body and sacrifice of Christ, and he himself ascends to heaven on that day. Thus John’s body remains without putrefaction or corruption. Indeed, it is as if it were in a deep sleep, and it will be thus until Doomsday.”[27] The text hints that John is not really dead and that those who come into contact with his body are taken to heaven.

A late fourth-century Christian document, the Discourse on Abbaton, confirms that John had been translated. The preface speaks of “the Holy Apostle Saint John, theologian and virgin, who is not to taste death until the thrones are set in the Valley of Jehoasaphat.” [28] The text itself has the resurrected Jesus saying, “And as for thee, O My beloved John, thou shalt not die until the thrones have been prepared on the Day of the Resurrection … I will command Abbaton, the Angel of Death, to come unto thee on that day … Thou shalt be dead for three and a half hours, lying upon thy throne, and all creation shall see thee. I will make thy soul to return to thy body, and thou shalt rise up and array thyself in apparel of glory.” [29]

A Syriac Christian text includes a vision given to the apostle John in which “our Lord sent to him a man in white raiment” who told him, “John, behold thou hast been set by our Lord to preach the Gospel of Salvation, along with the three that perform the truth; but ye also shall not be deprived of this gift.” [30] The text does not explain who these three others were, but because the word “ye” denotes plural, it suggests that the four were to be allowed to continue preaching. Latter-day Saints would readily understand the passage to refer to the three Nephites.

TheThree Nephites

During one of his visits to the twelve Nephites disciples, the Savior inquired about what they desired. Nine of them asked to be received into the Lord’s presence when they died, but three remained silent.

And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me. Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven. And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father. And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand. (3 Nephi 28:6-9; see also verses 25, 36-40)

Alma and Moses

The Book of Mormon suggests that the younger Alma and the Old Testament prophet Moses were translated:

And when Alma had done this he departed out of the land of Zarahemla, as if to go into the land of Melek. And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of.  Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial.” (Alma 45:18-19)

The Bible states that “Moses the servant of the Lord died” and was buried by the Lord (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). But from the evidence of Alma 45, cited above, there seems to have been a tradition that he had been translated or taken away. This may be suggested in D&C 84:25, where we read that the Lord “took Moses out of their midst.” Only one text known in Joseph Smith’s day suggested that Moses had not died.  It is found in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.48:

Now as he went thence to the place where he was to vanish out of their sight, they all followed after him weeping; but Moses beckoned with his hand to those that were remote from him, and bade them stay behind in quiet, while he exhorted those that were near to him that they would not render his departure so lamentable.  Whereupon they thought they ought to grant him that favour, to let him depart according as he himself desired; so they restrained themselves, though weeping still towards one another.  All those who accompanied him were the senate, and Eleazar the high priest, and Joshua their commander.  Now as soon as they were come to the mountain called Abarim, (which is a very high mountain, situate over against Jericho, and one that affords, to such as are upon it, a prospect of the greatest part of the excellent land of Canaan,) he dismissed the senate; and as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God.

Josephus is not the only Jewish source for the translation of Moses. The Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 13b) indicates that some said Moses had never died but was alive and serving on high – an idea repeated in other texts such as Midrash ha-Gadol, Zot habberakhah 4:5, Sifre to Deuteronomy 357, Memar Marqah, and Midrash Leqah Tob. [31]

The medieval Zohar reflects the same tradition. Zohar Genesis 37b says that “Moses did not die, but he was gathered in from the world. [32] In Zohar Exodus 88b-89a, we find that “In this time of satisfaction and goodwill Moses, the holy, faithful prophet, passed away from this world, in order that it should be known that he was not taken away through judgment, but that in the hour of grace of the Holy Ancient One his soul ascended, to be hidden in Him. Therefore ‘no man knows of his sepulchre unto this day.'” [33] In Zohar Leviticus 59a, Moses is compared to Elijah: “If a man rides on the horse of an earthly king he is put to death, but God let Elijah ride upon His, as it is written: ‘And Elijah went up in a whirlwind into heaven’; and He also took Moses into the cloud, though it is written here, ‘in the cloud I shall appear on the mercy seat.'”[34] Zohar Exodus 174a, speaking of Moses, notes that

the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to receive him into the holy Council above, and to remove him and hide him away from men, as it is written: “I am a hundred and twenty years old to-day.” On that very day the span of his days was completed and the time of his entrance into that region was arrived, as it is written: “Behold, thy days have come near that thou must die”: “near” being meant literally. For Moses did not die. But is it not written, “And Moses died there”? The truth is, however, that although the departure of the righteous is always designated “death,” this is only in reference to us. For over him who has attained completeness, and is a model of holy faith, death has no power, and so he does not, in fact, die. [35]

A similar tradition is held by the Samaritans and early Christians. The fourth-century A.D. Samaritan document, Tibat Marqa 269a, supports the story told by Josephus and the Zohar: “When he got to the top of the mountain, a cloud came down and lifted him up from the sight of all the congregation of Israel.” [36] St. Ambrose (died A.D. 397), in his On Cain and Abel 1.2.8, wrote of Moses, “‘No one knows his burial place to this day’ – this you ought to understand in the sense of being borne on higher rather than that of burial.” [37] From Cassiodorus’s Latin translation of Clement of Alexandria, we find that Clement wrote of Jude 1:9, “Here he confirms the assumption of Moses.” [38]

It is interesting that both Moses and Elijah ascended to heaven from the same region. Moses ascended Mount Nebo, opposite Jericho and overlooking the Dead Sea and the Jordan River Valley (Deuteronomy 32:49; 34:1). Elijah left Jericho and crossed the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:4-22) to the place from which the Lord took him away.

Other Possible Translations

Jewish tradition holds that other Old Testament characters were also translated. Among these are: Methuselah, son of Enoch and grandfather of Noah; Eliezer, the servant of Abraham; Sarah, daughter of Asher, who is held to have been a prophetess; Bithia, the daughter of Pharaoh, who rescued Moses from the water and raised him; Phinehas, grandson of Aaron; three sons of Korah who rejected their father’s wickedness; Jabez, often identified with the judge Othniel; Chileab, the son of David; Hiram, the builder of Solomon’s temple; Hiram, king of Tyre, who provided materials for the temple; the prophet Jonah; Jonadab the Rechabite and his descendants; Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian servant of King Zedeiah, who helped the prophet Jeremiah; Baruch, scribe to the prophet Jeremiah; Ezra, who led a group of Jews returning to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity; an unnamed resident of the city of Luz and his neighbors; and some postbiblical rabbis and others. [39]

According to Judges 20:28, Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, was still serving as high priest, though the events recorded in that chapter occurred many generations after the time his father Eleazar was made high priest in the time of Moses (Numbers 20:28; Deuteronomy 10:6). A second-century A.D. Aramaic translation of Numbers 25:12-13 has the Lord saying that Phinehas would live forever to proclaim redemption in the last days (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Numbers 25:12-13). Midrash Rabbah Numbers 21:3, written in the latter part of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century A.D., declares that Phinehas was “still alive,” something also affirmed in Sifrei Numbers 131. The Biblical Antiquities (Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum), composed in the first century A.D. and mistakenly attributed to the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, has this to say about Phinehas:

And in the time Phinehas laid himself down to die, and the Lord said to him, Behold you have passed the 120 years that have been established for every man. And now rise up and go from here and dwell in Danaben on the mountain and dwell there many years. And I will command my eagle, and he will nourish you there, and you will shut up the heaven then, and by your mouth it will be opened up. And afterward you will be lifted up into the place where those who were before you were lifted up, and you will be there until I remember the world. Then I will make you all come, and you will taste what is death.” (Biblical Antiquities 48:1) [40]

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 6:18 identifies Phinehas with the prophet Elijah, who was also translated. Indeed, each is said to have been “zealous” or “jealous” (the same Hebrew word is used in the relevant passages) for the Lord (Numbers 25:11; 1 Kings 19:10, 14). The Pseudo-Philo passage has God sending an eagle to feed Phinehas, just as he later sent ravens to feed Elijah (1 Kings 17:4-6), and indicates that Phinehas has power to shut up and open the heavens, as did Elijah (1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:41-45). Other prophets who were translated also had the power to control the elements. These include Enoch (Moses 7:13), Melchizedek (JST Genesis 14:26-36), and Nephi, son of Helaman (Helaman 10:4-10; 11:1-18). Nephi later left the land of Zarahemla and was never seen again (3 Nephi 1:2-3) – something also said of his predecessor Alma2, giving rise to the speculation that he had been translated (Alma 45:18).

The Purpose of Translation

From the scriptures, there seem to be several different reasons for which individuals might be translated.  In the case of the people of Enoch and Melchizedek, their removal from the earth seems to have been to separate these righteous souls from the wickedness of the world. We noted earlier that Joseph Smith declared that all translated beings – including, apparently, some from other planets – are taken to “a place prepared for such characters [to be] held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets” (History of the Church 4:210).

Sometimes, the translated individual returned in later dispensations to restore keys.  This was the case with Moses and Elijah (called Elias in the New Testament), who appeared on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5), where, according to Joseph Smith, they gave priesthood keys to Peter, James, and John (History of the Church 3:387). On 3 April 1836, these same ancient prophets appeared in the Kirtland temple, where they restored keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (D&C 110:11-16), in fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi 4:4-6.

Similarly, the translation of the apostle John gave him the opportunity to be the “Elias, who, as it is written, must come and restore all things” (D&C 77:14). In 1830, he, in company with Peter and James, restored the keys of the higher priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, ordaining them apostles (D&C 27:12).[41] But John’s work, as we have noted, also extended to working with the lost ten tribes of Israel to prepare them for their return. This is essentially a missionary calling, as we read in Jesus’ words to the three Nephites whom he allowed to tarry (3 Nephi 28:6-9, cited earlier).

Though they would have pain because of the sins of mankind, they must surely have experienced great joy in those who accepted their message. Elsewhere, the Lord told Joseph Smith, “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15-16).

Similar statements are found in a couple of early Christian documents. For example, in chapter 30 of the Ethiopic document known as The Testament of Our Lord and Our Savior Jesus Christ, Christ tells his apostles, “my Father has delighted in you and in those who will believe in me through you. Truly I say to you, such and so great a joy has my Father prepared (for you).” [42] In the fifth-century Pistis Sophia 104, the resurrected Jesus tells the apostle John, “He who shall keep in Life and save only one soul, besides the dignity which he possesseth in the Light-kingdom, he will receive yet another dignity for the soul which he hath saved, so that he who shall save many souls, besides the dignity which he possesseth in the Light he will receive many other dignities for the souls which he hath saved.” [43]

The same idea is found in Jewish lore. According to Abot de Rabbi Nathan 31, he who saves a soul is as though he had saved a whole world. Zohar 208b attributes these words to the prophet Elijah: “Whoever preserves one soul in the world merits life and is worthy to lay hold of the tree of life.” [44] Zohar Exodus 129a speaking of the angel who guards the images of the righteous in heaven says:

The Holy One makes him a sign and he comes forward, bearing the image of the man who has reclaimed souls of sinners, and places it before the King and the Matrona. [45] And I bring heaven and earth to witness that at that moment they deliver to him that figure; for there is no righteous person in the world whose image is not engraved in heaven under the authority of that angel.  Seventy keys also are delivered into his hand – keys of all the treasures of the Lord.  Then the King blesses that image with all the blessings wherewith He blessed Abraham when he reclaimed the souls of sinners. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, gives a sign to four groups of supernal beings, who take that image and show it seventy hidden worlds of which none are worthy except those who have reclaimed the souls of sinners. If only the sons of men knew and perceived what rewards follow the endeavours of the righteous to save sinners, they would assuredly run after them with the same ardour with which they run after life itself. [46]

From this survey, we can see that early Jewish and Christian texts confirm what we have received through the prophet Joseph Smith regarding translated beings.


[1] < See Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. In the King James version of the Bible, see 2 Samuel 3:10 and Colossians 1:13.

[2]  Commenting on this passage, Joseph Smith said that “Paul was also acquainted with this character [Enoch], and received instructions from him” (History of the Church 4:209).

[3] Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar (New York: Rebecca Bennet Publications, 1958), 4:165-166.

[4] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Anti-Nicene Fathers (reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 7:351-2. Victorinus’s rendering of Malachi’s prophecy differs from that found in the Old Testament: “Lo, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, according to the time of calling, to recall the Jews to the faith of the people that succeed them.” Moroni’s citation of the biblical passage also varies from the one in Malachi, but in a different way (D&C 2:1-2; cf. D&C 128:18). The paraphrase that corresponds most closely to that of Victorinus is found in D&C 98:16-17: “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children; And again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me.”

[5] For his various angelic identifications, see Sir Ernest A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Mysteries of the Heavens and the Earth and Other Works of Bakhayla Mika’el (Zosimas) (Oxford, 1935), 119-121.

[6] See also Conflict of Adam and Eve II, 22:4, in S. C. Malan, The Book of Adam and Eve, also called The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan (London: Williams and Norgate, 1882), 141. See especially 1-2 Enoch. For a discussion, see Hugo Odeberg, 3 Enoch or The Hebrew Book of Enoch (New York: Ktav, 1973), 80-81.

[7] James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 2:170.

[8] Moses 7:18-21, 23, 27, 47, 69; see also D&C 38:4; 45:11-14; 107:49.

[9] Moses Gaster, The Asatir: The Samaritan Book of the “Secrets of Moses” (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1927), 193.

[10] Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar (New York: The Rebecca Bennet Publications, 1958), 1:290.

[11] Significantly, throughout the epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus is said to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

[12] Pistis Sophia 128-29, 139-40 describes how demons carry away the souls of the wicked through dark smoke and allow them to be dissolved in fire, the “receivers of Melchizedek” snatch souls from the “dragon of the outer darkness” and bring them to the light.

[13] Wolf Leslau, Falasha Anthology (New Haven: Yale, 1951), 53. The Falasha are the so-called “black Jews” of Ethiopia.

[14] Florentino Garca Martnez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated (2nd ed., Leiden: Brill, 1994), 139-40. For an in-depth study of the text, see Paul J. Kobelski, Melchizedek and Melchiresac, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 10 (Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1981). For a Latter-day Saint view, see John A. Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar (Bountiful: Cornerstone/Horizon, 1999), 330-1.

[15] Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar, 1:292.

[16] Tertullian, an early third-century A.D. Christian theologian, wrote, “Enoch no doubt was translated, and so was Elijah; nor did they experience death: it was postponed, (and only postponed,) most certainly: they are reserved for the suffering of death, that by their blood they may extinguish Antichrist. Even John underwent death, although concerning him there had prevailed an ungrounded expectation that he would remain alive until the coming of the Lord” Treatise on the Soul 50, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Anti-Nicene Fathers, 3:227-8.

[17] Hippolytus wrote in about A.D. 200 that John died in Ephesus, but that no one could find his body.

[18] John Whitmer’s unpublished History of the Church, chapter 5. John Whitmer had been called as the Church’s first historian (D&C 69:2-3). When excommunicated from the Church in 1838, he refused to turn over the history, which only later came into the hands of the Church.

[19] The epistle is thought to be spurious, but is sufficiently early (sixth century A.D. latest) to make the point stressed herein.

[20] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Anti-Nicene Fathers, 1:107.

[21] Ibid., 8:563-4. Like some of the other accounts, this one notes that John had the brethren dig a pit, presumably for his burial (though the text never says so). He then sent them away and when they returned the following day, “they did not find him, but his sandals, and a fountain welling up. And after that they remembered what had been said to Peter by the Lord about him: For what does it concern thee if I should wish him to remain until I come? And they glorified God for the miracle that had happened” (ibid., 8:564). Hippolytus, an early third-century A.D. Christian historian, wrote that “John, again in Asia, was banished by Domitian to the isle of Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic vision; and in Trajan’s time he fell asleep at Ephesus, where his remains were sought for, but could not be found” (ibid., 8:255).

[22] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series (reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 9:112.

[23] Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series (reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 7:447-8

[24] Ibid., 7:448. Augustine continues, “Meanwhile let us yield to the opinion, which we are unable to refute by any certain evidence, lest we stir up still another question that may be put to us, Why the very ground should seem in a kind of way to live and breathe upon the interred corpse? But can so great a question as the one before us be settled on such grounds as these, if by a great miracle, such as can be wrought by the Almighty, the living body lies so long asleep beneath the ground, till the coming of the end of the world? Nay, rather, does there not arise a wider and more difficult one, why Jesus bestowed on the disciple, whom He loved beyond the others to such an extent that he was counted worthy to recline on His breast, the gift of a protracted sleep in the body, when He delivered the blessed Peter, by the eminent glory of martyrdom, from the burden of the body itself, and vouchsafed to him what the Apostle Paul said that he desired, and committed to writing, namely, “to be let loose, and to be with Christ”? But if, what is rather to be believed, Saint John declared that the Lord said not, “He dieth not,” for the very purpose that no such meaning might be attached to the words which He used; and his body lieth in its sepulcher lifeless like those of others deceased; it remains, if that really takes place which report has spread abroad regarding the soil, which grows up anew, though continually carried away, that it is either so done for the purpose of commending the preciousness of his death, seeing it wants the commendation of martyrdom (for he suffered not death at a persecutor’s hand for the faith of Christ), or on some other account that is concealed from our knowledge. Still there remains the question, why the Lord said of one who was destined to die, ‘Thus I wish him to remain till I come'” (Tractates on the Gospel According to John 124.3, ibid., 7:448.

[25] Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian: About His Exile and Departure, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Anti-Nicene Fathers, 8:561. The story is also known from an Irish (Gaelic) text; see Mare Herbert and Martin McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 89-91.

[26] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Anti-Nicene Fathers 3:260. In his Against Jovianus 1.26, Jerome cited the passage from Tertullian; see Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 6:366.

[27] Mare Herbert and Martin McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha, 96-8.

[28] E. A. Wallis Budge, Coptic Martyrdoms (London: British Museum, 1914), 475. The Valley of Jehoshaphath is where the last judgment takes place and its name means “Jehovah judges” (see Joel 3:2, 12).

[29] Ibid., 492-3.

[30] J. Rendel Harris, The Gospel of the Twelve Apostles Together with The Apocalypses of Each One of Them (Cambridge University, 1900), 34.

[31] For a discussion of the Jewish sources, see Samuel E. Loewenstamm, “The Death of Moses,” in George Nickelsberg, ed., Studies on the Testament of Abraham (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1976).

[32] Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar, 1:140.

[33] Ibid., 3:272, citing Deuteronomy 34:6.

[34] Ibid., 5:40, citing 2 Kings 2:11.

[35] Ibid., 4:103.

[36] Translation by James L. Kugel, The Bible as it Was (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1997), 544. Kugel also cites a text preserved by Fabricius in his Codex Pseudoepigraphicus Veteris Testament 2.121-2, which says, “At the time when Moses was about to die a luminous cloud surrounded the place of sepulcher and blinded the eyes of the bystanders. Therefore nobody could see either the dying lawgiver or the place where his body was buried.

[37] Ibid., 544.

[38] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:573.

[39] For details, see Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938), 1:297; 2:116, 270-1; 4:30, 118, 155, 202, 253, 323; 5:95-96, 165, 263, 356-7, 435; 6:104, 187, 351, 400, 409, 412, 425, 446. Ginzberg also noted that some Christian and Muslim writers identified Jeremiah, rather than his scribe Baruch, as the one who was translated (ibid., 6:400, 412).

[40] James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:362.

[41] One might argue that, because he had never tasted of death, John was, in fact, the last President of the Church in the meridian of time, which authority he passed on to Joseph Smith.

[42] Edgar Hennecke, Wilhelm Schneemelcher, and R. McL. Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha (Westminster Press, 1992), 1:260.

[43] G. R. S. Mead, Pistis Sophia (London: John M. Watkins, 1955), 222.

[44] Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar, 2:290.

[45] In Jewish kabbalistic teachings, the Matrona is God’s heavenly spouse.

[46] Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar, 3:367.

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