Situating the Archangel Raphael in Section 128: A Theory

One of my favourite passages of LDS scripture, both personally and historically, is found in Section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is an epistle from Joseph Smith:

And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!

And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope.

 This epistle from the fall of 1842 describes encounters with several significant angels within LDS theology.   Joseph Smith taught that certain angels had particular assignments on earth, often related to their human experience.  For example, Moroni was the appointed angel who would restore the record of ancient America.  Similarly, Michael or Adam and Gabriel or Noah have been identified as having specific dispensational duties.   I have always been intrigued by the mention of the angel Raphael in this section as there is virtually nothing else said about him – only his presence is mentioned and there is little other discussion about his identity or purpose in the Restoration. 

Raphael is identified as an archangel in apocryphal writings, but he is never mentioned in the Old Testament or New Testament.  His name comes from the Hebrew word “rapha” meaning healer, thus the name Raphael means “God has healed” and he is frequently identified as the healing presence of God.  Raphael is the central figure in the apocryphal Book of Tobit which tells the story of how Raphael heals the blindness of Tobias and binds the demon that previously had slain seven husbands of Sarah on her wedding nights.    It is only at the end of this book that Raphael reveals himself by name as “one of the seven holy angels” that attend the throne of God.  Raphael is also a prominent figure in the Book of Enoch.  In Jewish lore, Raphael is credited with healing Abraham of the pain of circumcision and is one of the three angels who visited him and his wife, Sarah.  Louis Ginzberg’s The Legends of the Jews recounts that Michael summons Raphael to heal the thigh injury Jacob sustains as a result of wrestling with an adversary at Peniel.   Raphael is traditionally depicted artistically carrying a fish and a jar of anointing oil or ointment.  kris299.tifSome biblical commentators identify Raphael as the angel who would come down from time to time and stir up the water in the pool of Bethesda.  It would seem that Raphael was not only associated with healing in Catholic or Jewish thought as  Cotton Mather’s 1724 medical treatise, The Angel of Bethesda also makes mention of the angel Raphael. 

It is within the context of the healing pool of Bethesda that I would like to return to Joseph Smith and Section 128.  On October 12, 1841, an “Epistle of the Twelve” was published in Times and Seasons which declared:

Is it that we labor in vain, and toil for nought, and that we shall be disappointed at the last? No! we know assuredly that the set time to favor Zion has come, and her sons and daughters shall rejoice in her glory. The time has come when the great Jehovah would have a resting place on earth, a habitation for his chosen, where his law shall be revealed, and his servants be endued from on high, to bring together the honest in heart form the four winds; where the saints may enter the Baptismal Font for their dead relations, so that they may be judged according to men in the flesh, and live according to God in the spirit, and come forth in the celestial kingdom; a place, over which the heavenly messengers may watch and trouble the waters as in days of old, so that when the sick are put therein they shall be made whole; a place where all the ordinances shall be made manifest and the saints shall unite in the songs of Zion, even praise, thanksgiving and hallelujahs to God and the Lamb, that he has wrought out their deliverance, and bound satan fast in chains. [my emphasis]

Emphasizing the dual purpose of the temple font at the April Conference of 1842, Joseph Smith taught that, “baptisms for the dead and for the healing of the body must be in the font, those coming into the Church, and those re-baptized may be baptized in the river.”  While historians like Michael Quinn have wondered if the invocation of Raphael was connected to the Smith’s family association with folk magic, I think it could be better understood through the lens of the healing angel.  This angel of Bethesda was also invoked later at the dedication of the font in the Endowment House.  Wilford Woodruff recorded that the dedicatory prayer included

We now dedicate this Font unto thee O God. We consecrate it unto thee in the name of Jesus Christ. Let thine Angel O Lord touch this water & this Font with his Finger that it may be holy unto Thee Lord… We now dedicate this Font to Baptize the Living & the Living for the dead & for evry purpose which is necessary to perform the work of the Lord our God, even that the generations which are dead & passed away may be saved & that the sins of the Living may be washed away & that the sick may be healed of evry infirmety that we may be renewed in body & spirit in all things. [my emphasis]

I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection between the epistle from the Twelve in 1841 and that of Joseph Smith’s on September 6, 1842.  Healing by immersion or baptism for health was certainly another aspect of  Mormon restorationism and early Mormons understood the connection between the place where healing baptisms and vicarious work for the dead would be performed.  While Section 128, is often understood as a detailed explication on the Mormon doctrine of baptism for the dead, I suspect that the naming of the angel Raphael is also a nod to the healing properties of the baptismal font.   The Nauvoo Temple was the locus for Joseph Smith’s ultimate theology aimed at bridging mortality and immortality.  In a revolutionary move, he opened the temple doors to not only include men and women, but the sick and the dying. In ancient Israel, such individuals experienced severe restrictions in relation to the temple as they were considered to be unclean.  Yet instead of restricting contact with the sick  as in ancient times, Joseph Smith administered rituals for their healing and sanctification.  By invoking the image of Raphael the healer, Smith emphasized the concept that the temple was a place of physical healing, a sacred space that conveyed an amplified endowment of power, a healing that was once conveyed by one who attended the throne of God.


  1. Natalie B. says:

    Great stuff. I did not realize that the font was traditionally used for healing as well as for work for the dead, although the connection makes thematic sense in my mind. Do you know when the healing aspect was de-emphasized?

  2. Kris Wright says:

    Natalie, the official end of baptism for healing was in 1922 when The First Presidency wrote to temple presidents, “We feel constrained to call your attention to the custom prevailing to some extent in our temples of baptizing for health, and to remind you that baptism for health is no part of our temple work, and therefore to permit it to become a practice would be an innovation detrimental to temple work, and a departure as well from the provision instituted of the Lord for the care and healing of the sick of His Church. And in this connection we desire to say that the practice of Church members going to temples to be administered to is a departure from the way instituted of the Lord.”

  3. Natalie B. says:

    Interesting. I feel that we now have a narrative of the temple in which our focus should be on eternal and not temporal things. Unlike the Jerusalem temple that seemed more like a city hub, the temple is now a place apart from worldly considerations. I wonder if you notice that previously there was more integration of temporal concerns (such as issues like health) into the temple that were subsequently lost.

  4. Natalie, I must have missed the memo (again). Was something said between 1842ish and 1922 about Font Healing?

  5. I seem to recall an old fireside tape I used to have about the angel Raphael. I think I recall hearing about devine protection as well as healing. I’ll have to research that because I do not have that tape anymore but it may have been by Duane Crowther. I’d like to listen to that again.

  6. Kris Wright says:

    Bob, between 1842 and 1922 baptisms for health were performed along the trail west, by the Mormon Batallion, in the Pacific Islands and in Britain. Mormon pioneers damned City Creek and performed baptisms for health. The first baptisms in the fonts of the Logan and Salt Lake Temple were for health and for many years baptism for health was the most common living ordinance performed.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    Kris, you are mighty and strong! Thanks for posting this.

  8. John Hamer says:

    Fascinating post, Kris. I feel like angelology is a great missed opportunity in Mormonism. Mormons have these little tidbits like Michael = Adam and Gabriel = Noah. So souls have both angelic and human names. So what is Moroni’s angel name? He and John the Baptist (and others) are running around as angels doing angel stuff, but we still call them by their human names. What’s Raphael’s human name?

    Of course such tidbits are not essential to salvation (any more than the tidbits we do have like Michael = Adam). However, as distinctive Mormon understandings go, angelology is completely harmless and relatively unique and fun. It’s a shame that there’s been little development of the theme.

  9. This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing!

    The First Presidency letter from 1922 seems to indicate that people were having a separate baptism-for-healing ordinance performed that was taking up temple resources that should have been dedicated to vicarious work. Yet from the 1841 epistle of the Twelve and from what Wilford Woodruff recorded of the Endowment House font dedicatory prayer, it does not seem unreasonable to me that participating in baptisms for the dead could also result in temporal blessings for the living participant, including healing.

    In other words, though we as a church focus now on contemporary medical science and priesthood blessings for healing, it might still be argued that performing baptisms for the dead has a healing effect. I have a lingering cough, so I’ll have to experiment upon that word soon.

  10. John #8,

    Thanks for reminding me of this. FWIW, an astronomy teacher and calendar expert named John Pratt (and a distant cousin of mine) argues that Raphael is Enoch. See here.

  11. Kris Wright says:

    Also on archangels,
    Stapley has posted :

    – some interesting comments follow too

  12. Kris, I love this. Water is also one of the most healing sounds I know. This was pointed out to me while I was on my mission. A companion kept pouring water back and forth between two glasses, saying, “Listen. Isn’t that magical?” and it was. Every since then I’ve paid attention to the sound that water makes, in a stream, when poured, etc. It is a magical sound. I can only describe it as healing. The voice of Raphael perhaps?

  13. Wonderful post, Kris! For those interested, Kris and I published a detailed history of baptism for health in JMH last fall, “‘They Shall Be Made Whole’: A History of Baptism for Health,” Journal Mormon History 34 (Fall 2008): 69-112.

    I am intrigued with the question of how pervasive such beliefs about Raphael were in Antebellum American. Regardless, it is beautiful symbolism – no matter how you slice it.

  14. #6: Thank you for your comment. After 1922, did these baptisms continue outside the Temple(s)? Do we know of any ‘important ones’? ( i.e. David O. Mckay). Can I get one today? Were there ever a “Sacred place(s)” outside the Temple for these ‘healing waters’?

  15. Bob, all of that information can be found in the article cited in #13. But yes, many Church leaders participated in the ritual (it was a formal ritual of the Church) and it was performed both in and out of the temples. Since 1922 (late 1921 really), however, baptism for health has not been a part of the Mormon healing liturgy.

  16. Kay in Arizona says:

    Re: #5
    I have an old tape of a talk by Einar Erickson that discussed the role of the Angel Raphael. It seems to me that physical protection was given to those who were obedient to their parents. Does that sound like the tape you remember?

  17. I agree with you that Raphael does not indicate folk magic in the way that Quinn was only reservation is that I’m not sure that Smith was aware of Raphael as healer.with Michael Gabrieland Uriel he was one of the four most commonly invoked archangels. I am sympathetic to theories that Smith identified him with Enoch. Given the way Smith associated archangels with founding parents, I suppose I personally favor either Moses or Elijah. In any case, I love what you have done in degree the Angels are important to early Mormonism in ways that have not yet been explored. I include one treatment of Angels in my chapter on the divine anthropology, and it is surprising how much of the cultural context has not yet been explored.

  18. My own interpretation is that the Angel Raphael is Jesus Christ himself. He is considered the healer, the waters of life, the anointed one, etc. All of these symbols are present in the article from the sources. Whether Joseph Smith made this connection is hard to say, but certainly there are hints that the early church leaders could have made the identification.

  19. Norbert says:

    Very interesting. I have had discussions with convert members who have brought their vague protestant belief in guardian angels into Mormonism with them and used the angelology (good word, btw) as a support for that.

  20. Kay,

    That’s the one! I was thinking it was by Duane S. Crowther since I used to have a few of his tapes. Thanks! A friend of mine told me yesterday they thought they had that tape but would have to look for it. I’ll have to let her know who the speaker was. Thanks!

  21. I really enjoyed this post, thank you! Raphael the healer is one of my favorite archangels ever, and I had no idea the messenger was invoked an LDS dedication of a font.

    Just to add more on Raphael:

    Another source where Joseph Smith could have learned about Raphael could have been John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which was first published in 1667, and although not as infuential in Christian traditions as Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, it provided a rich foundation for the traditional background of biblical characters involved in the creation and the fall .

    In Paradise Lost, Raphael is a mentor to Adam. Kind of what Moroni was to Joseph Smith. Raphael is the one who teaches Adam about the war in heaven, the rebellion of Lucifer and his followers against God. He also reminds Adam that he is not to partake of the fruit of the ToKoGaE. Nonetheless, it is Michael in Milton’s work who teaches Adam about the Messiah, but assures Adam that although paradise is lost, he can find it within himself “happier farr.”

  22. Jettboy, Jesus Christ is Jehovah, how’d ya miss that one?

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