At Ricks College in 2000, during a speech on faith, an LDS leader explained:
“Out of reverence and respect for the name of the Savior and to avoid the too frequent repetition of His name, please keep in mind that as I now use the word “faith” I am referring to the more accurate and complete phrase of “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” (see Elder David A. Bednar, “According to thy Faith,” Ricks College Devotional, August 29, 2000, available in lds.org archives).
I’ve always been puzzled by this concept among Mormons–the too frequent repetition of His name. Is this a commandment, a practice, or something else? I know it’s a part of being reverent, but what does that exactly have to do with frequency? Writing perhaps where angels even fear to post, I will take a brief, and, I hope, respectful, look at this topic, trusting what I say won’t offend anyone but open the door to a useful dialogue.
Latter-day Saints, unlike their Christian cousins (to my knowledge), are known to use the terms Savior, Redeemer, Master, or Lord in the place of Jesus not out of any purely stylistic concerns about repetition, but out of theological concerns of the too frequent repetition of His name. This phrase comes from D&C 107: 3-4:
3 Before [Melchizedek's] day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.
4 But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Let’s unpack this passage. On its face, verse 4 is not a commandment to modern day church members, it is a mere explanation of an historical practice among ancient church members, or am I misreading this?
Now, there is ample evidence for an historical practice like this. At some point in Hebrew history, the very pronunciation of God’s name (YHWH in Hebrew) somehow became forbidden. Also called the Tetragrammaton (which means, straightforwardly enough, word with four letters in Greek) this name was replaced with the word Adonai (Lord) or some other circumlocution. Sometimes even the substitutes used for the Tetragrammaton were later viewed as too holy for common use. To this day, more orthodox Jews still hold these views. But why do Mormons? (See generally, “Names of God in the OT” and “Yahweh” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary).
And what of the term Supreme Being used in D&C 107:4? To me it seems to refer, not to Jesus, but to God. The closer you look at it, in fact, the term Supreme Being is not really an LDS theological term at all (although it shows up out of the blue in Alma 11: 22 as well, but no where else to my knowledge)–isn’t that strange? I’m not trying to be flippant (although I confess it is my nature to be so), but I can’t read the phrase Supreme Being without thinking of Sir Ralph David Richardson playing the part of a very perturbed God, dressed in a tweed suit, in search of a map of the universe stolen by dwarves in the movie “Time Bandits” where this is his actual title. Getting back on topic, Supreme Being seems to me to refer to God the Father rather than to God the Son. Isn’t the Father supreme and the Son at His right hand? What else could it mean? Is there some Dialogue or Ensign article I’ve simply missed over the years explaining all of this?
My question: how and when did this apparent non-directive phrase in D&C 107:4 become an LDS practice, perhaps even an injunction, to avoid too frequent repetition by using circumlocutions for Jesus? And, I guess the bottom line here is … just what is “too frequent”? Pick up the NT or BoM and flip to any page and it’s likely that the word Jesus will show up…well, at least often, if not frequently. And, could this understanding of D&C 107:4 inadvertently cause Latter-day Saints to avoid Jesus himself in some way?