Mormons insist that Elijah, whose return is prophesied in the Old Testament book of Malachi, “restored in this dispensation” the doctrine of saving the dead by means of vicarious temple work.
Mormons all over the world – but largely in the USA it must be said – spend countless hours doing genealogical work to trace their dead forebears to submit their names to Mormon temples for such work to be done. The Mormon Church spends millions of dollars raising elaborate buildings in which to do this work and countless hours are further spent attending these temples and toiling at “saving the dead.”
In the February 1910 Improvement Era (p.352, reproduced in the Feb.1971 Ensign) Mormon president Joseph Fielding Smith quoted Joseph Smith, saying,
“the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” Because we cannot be saved without them, “it is necessary that those who have gone before and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us, and thus hath God made it obligatory to man,” says the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Times and Seasons 5:616.)
From this, then, we see that while it is necessary to preach the gospel in the nations of the earth and to do all other good works in the Church, yet the greatest commandment given us, and made obligatory, is temple work in our own behalf and in behalf of our dead.
He goes on to state the familiar Mormon view that people who do such work will be “saviours on Mount Zion”, that the neglect of this work puts our own salvation in jeopardy because “we without them cannot be saved”, and he makes clear that the great purpose of God is the binding, or sealing of families together in one long family line going back to Adam saying:
Again, quoting from the prophet: “The Bible says, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”
“Now, the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal. But what is the object of this important mission? or how is it to be fulfilled? The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God to be gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion.
“But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah. And I would to God this temple was now done, that we might go into it, and go to work and improve our time, and make use of the seals while they are on earth.” (Teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, p.330)
So there you have it, the whole plan, explained by the man himself, of how the heart of the children are turned to the fathers, and the heart of the fathers are turned to the children. But wait! What did he just say?
“Now, the word ‘turn’ here should be translated bind, or seal.”
Is that right? I am no Hebrew or Greek scholar but that’s why we have Bible helps and Study Bibles. The word translated “turn” in your Bible is the Hebrew shûb (shoob), which Strong gives as to turn back, bring back, call to mind, recall etc. There is no mention of binding or sealing here and the context simply doesn’t allow it (as we shall see). The same word appears in the New Testament in the same context and in reference to John the Baptist:
And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." (Luke 1:16-17)
Here we have the Greek epistrephō (ep-ee-stref'-o), meaning “to revert (literally, figuratively or morally): - come (go) again, convert, (re-) turn (about, again).” (Strong)
So both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly prophecy a turning back, a moral reversion, a conversion for fathers and children of Israel at the time of the coming of Elijah. Jesus identified John the Baptist as “that Elijah that was to come” (Matthew 11:1-14) and it was John, in preparing the way of the Lord, who preached a message of repentance, conversion, moral reversion, turning back to God (Matthew 3) the true meaning of the prophecy.
But if Joseph Smith received a vision of Elijah D&C 110) and understood that “turn” in the Malachi text, “should be translated bind, or seal” then surely he must have corrected it in his own “Inspired Version” (JST) of the Bible. In that version the verses reads the same as the KJV of which it is said to be a revision. So the Joseph Smith Translation has nothing to say about this mistranslation.
The official Mormon Bible is the KJV with selections from the JST in footnotes and endnotes. Here again no indication that “turn” is incorrect even though notes refer to Genealogy and Temples.
On the word of a man who gives no rationale or apologetic for making the claim, and who disregards his own teaching in producing his version of the Bible, generations of Mormons have put their hope in an unbiblical doctrine that offers false hope and empty promises. The gospel of repentance (turning back) exchanged for a message of vain genealogies (1 Tim.1:4; Titus 3:9) fruitless labour.