Can someone give me a solid definition of “the Lord’s anointed”?

August 3, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 10:18 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Can someone give me a solid definition of “the Lord’s anointed”? Does it mean any saint? Any saint who has been to the temple? Any person who holds an assignment at church? Does it refer exclusively to the top of the church hierarchy? Something else? What say ye?

(Whoever it is, we’re not supposed to “evil speak” them — which could probably use some defining as well…)

34 Comments »

  1. How about just those who have had their calling and election made sure? :)

    I interpret it broadly: it’s anyone who has been set apart for righteousness – or anointed by the Spirit. (That’d be all the Saints, then.) If God has forgiven their sins, it seems almost blasphemy to bring them up.

    Comment by The Right Trousers — August 3, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

  2. I’ve wondered that ever since I first heard it (in the special context you imply). In the OT, “the LORD’s anointed” always referred specifically to the king of Israel (e.g., 1 Samuel 24:6). Of course, “Messiah” means “anointed one.” Not that that answers your question!

    On a side note, it seems a bit strange: I can’t “evil speak” the Lord’s anointed, but everyone else is fair game? Why specify “the Lord’s anointed” instead of banning evil speaking altogether?

    Comment by BrianJ — August 3, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

  3. FWIW, my wife thinks that many things about the gospel are vague (including the wording of important covenants!) so that ultimately we’ll have to work them out one-on-one with God. If this is true (and I lean this way), you may be asking the wrong people. :)

    Comment by The Right Trousers — August 4, 2008 @ 2:43 am

  4. For references of the Lord’s anointed (other than Christ) you can look at the Kirtland Temple dedication, 109:35,50; the letter from Liberty Jail, in Section 121:16, Section 124:91, various references in section 132, and 135:3. Generally speaking, it seems to chiefly refer to those considered prophets, but the exact definition is vague.
    That doesn’t mean you can are free to speak all the evil you like of anyone but the prophet. D&C 20:54.
    I wouldn’t press too hard for a precise definition of evil speaking, if you’re looking for how much of it you can safely get away with. You may recall what happened to the lawyer who asked Jesus for a precise definition of “neighbor”.

    Comment by Confutus — August 4, 2008 @ 3:50 am

  5. Geoff, I think these are good questions. I think it refers specifically to Church leaders, and I think the “evil speaking” phrase means imputing evil motives or dishonesty to those leaders, giving the impression that this particular person lacks the authority to lead in the Church due to some personal defect or evil motive.

    Comment by Dan Ellsworth — August 4, 2008 @ 3:58 am

  6. Anyone who’s been blessed. ;-)

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 4, 2008 @ 7:17 am

  7. I am fairly certain that in Latter-day usage it was conceived as a descriptor for any member of the Anointed Quorum (so basically anyone that had received the initiatory ordinances of the temple – washings and anointings). The Anointed Quorum doesn’t really exist per se any more, so the Lord’s Anointed in modern Mormon usage simply refers to those members who have been to the temple.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 4, 2008 @ 7:55 am

  8. Now that you mention it, I realize that I have never had any solid reason for supposing so, but I have always assumed that it referred to anyone in a leadership position over you. I wonder if I am picking that up from the way it is used in the vernacular or if I just got that in my head at some point.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 4, 2008 @ 9:19 am

  9. I believe it means those who have received the holy anointing of oil in the Initiatories in the temple. The words indicate a conditional promise of eternal life; and this I believe can be made unconditional by our receiving a Calling and Election Sure at some time in life or hereafter.

    Comment by cadams — August 4, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  10. In my view, you can draw as broad a line around that term as you like and not be in error. Heck, you could say that it refers to anyone who has received an anointing from the Lord in the form of a Church calling — and refraining from speaking evil about them would still be a pretty good idea.

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 10:20 am

  11. I’ve always loosely inferred a recommendation against negative gossip in general, with an emphasis on those who are washed and anointed in the temple.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 4, 2008 @ 10:40 am

  12. I’ve generally thought of it in terms of the general authorities, but it is often used in referring to bishops, so maybe there is a connection to keys. So, if bishops are included, I’d say “don’t speak evil of the Lord’s anointed, but, for goodness sake, don’t mess with the relief society president!”

    Comment by larryco_ — August 4, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  13. Steve (#10),

    In my view, you can draw as broad a line around that term as you like and not be in error.

    Just because it may be a “good idea” not to speak evil against anyone at all, that doesn’t mean the specific admonition is not intended to be more narrow, and if it is more narrow in its intent then it would be nice to know who is being referred to specifically. If we take a specific commandment and draw a very broad line around it then I think that could very well be considered an error, even if the aplication of our new broad rule is for the best.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 4, 2008 @ 11:36 am

  14. And does it only refer to them when they are acting in the anointed office?

    Comment by Seth R. — August 4, 2008 @ 11:42 am

  15. Jacob, I don’t know how you can get to the conclusion that it would be cool to speak evil of some people but not of others, but go ahead. I agree that it is a specific prohibition that invites inquiry as Geoff indicates, but I don’t think it would result in error to simply not speak evil of anyone.

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

  16. Thanks for the responses all. I can tell I’m not the only one scratching my head over this one.

    I have no problem using it as a blanket “don’t bad mouth anyone” counsel. But if that is all it means then why not just say that? And of course what one person calls constructive observations another might call evil speaking so it gets pretty tricky on that front too.

    In the vernacular the warning against evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed seems to be pulled out as a way to keep members from expressing criticism of anyone in any leadership position in the church. I think there is some value to curtailing criticism of one another — especially since most leaders are unpaid volunteers to begin with. But of course it is easy to see how the principle could be abused to the point where somebody mentioning “hey look, the emperor has no clothes on” could be accused of damnable evil speaking for saying such a thing. I dunno — the whole thing is pretty nebulous.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 4, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

  17. PS nice poaching job you HACK!!!!

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

  18. Hehe. My post started as a comment on your thread but I realized it was as much of a threadjack as anything so I thought I would do you a favor and take my threadjack over here.

    You’re welcome.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 4, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  19. heh!

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  20. Steve,

    Jacob, I don’t know how you can get to the conclusion that it would be cool to speak evil of some people but not of others, but go ahead.

    I don’t know how you can get to that conclusion either, certainly not from my comment. Let me demonstrate why your #10 misses the whole point with an analogous question and answer.

    If Geoff asked what it means to have “no sexual relations” outside of marriage we would have a variety of opinions expressed because it is ambiguous language which is open to interpretation. Since there is a specific admonition associated with that language, Geoff would be very justified in wanting to know what it is referring to specifically (even if it is impossible to determine the meaning with certainty). Perhaps someone wonders if a married person holding hands or kissing or having intimate conversations with a person they are not married to falls under the intent of this language.

    Then, you could come along on that thread and say (as you did in #10), “Hey, you can draw as broad a line around that as you want to and you won’t be in error. Heck, we (married people) shouldn’t be holding hands or kissing people we are not married to, so staying away from all that stuff is a pretty good idea.”

    Now, I don’t dispute that it is a good idea to stay away from these things, and I don’t dispute that they could by some interpretations fall under the semantics of the disputed phrase, but to say that we should just draw a broad line around it because it can’t be a bad thing to broadly apply the language is simply to miss Geoff’s point in asking the question.

    I don’t think it would result in error to simply not speak evil of anyone.

    The error would not be in refraining from speaking evil of absolutely everyone. The error would be in applying this specific admonition in this broad way if it was not the intent of the language in the first place.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 4, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

  21. Jacob, that’s a pretty poor analogy, as speaking evil of someone is, definitionally speaking, wrong.

    I don’t know what makes you think I missed Geoff’s point. I didn’t. I missed yours, only to the extent that I disagree with you.

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  22. Actually, it is an excellent analogy, even though I must admit that I hate analogies on principle. I am not disputing that it is wrong to speak evil of people (i.e. anyone). I am arguing that if we are told not to speak evil of the Lord’s anointed (specifically), then it would be unwise to assume there is no special significance attached to that.

    If I understand him, Geoff is asking who is being referred to specifically (hence the request for a “solid definition”). To say that we don’t need to know who is referred to because evil-speaking is wrong (by definition) seems to miss the point of Geoff’s wanting to understand this particular phrase in a particular context. Hopefully Geoff will correct me if I am mistaken here.

    If you’re not interested in engaging that point I don’t mind. But, when you responded to me in #15 you rephrased my conclusion as saying “that it would be cool to speak evil of some people but not of others,” which is most definitely missing my point, not just disagreeing with it.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 4, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  23. Well there are indeed two parts to this question. One is trying to figure out who exactly the subject of the admonition (“the Lord’s anointed”) might be. The second is figuring out what exactly the action we are supposed to avoid (“evil speaking”) means. Jacob’s analogy in #20 works pretty well for the action part of this overall question I think. It doesn’t really address the subject issue.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 4, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

  24. It doesn’t really address the subject issue.

    Hehe. Yea, definitely not.

    This exchange reminds me that all the people I like most in the bloggernacle think I’m a tool, which is very depressing.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 4, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  25. Jacob, I don’t think you’re a tool, although this conversation definitely took a turn south. Would it be better if you struck the “but go ahead” from my #15, and said that “you” in my comments doesn’t mean “Jacob,” but rather a generic anyperson?

    Comment by Steve Evans — August 4, 2008 @ 2:32 pm

  26. Let me just reiterate again the context of the Anointed Quorum where the admonishment was first delivered. Remember that this was the locus for Joseph’s controversial teachings (notably polygamy).

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 4, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

  27. I think there is a lot to that argument J. People who have been to the temple are (literally) the Lord’s anointed and thus that is likely who it is referring to. The modern vernacular applying the term only to people in management/leadership roles would thus be largely incorrect.

    Now if we could figure out what exactly “evil speaking” entails. To use my earlier analogy, the Emperor’s courtiers might consider mentioning that his new suit is really no clothes at all to be a form of evil speaking… but is it really?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 4, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  28. Would it be better if you struck the “but go ahead” from my #15, and said that “you” in my comments doesn’t mean “Jacob,” but rather a generic anyperson?

    Yes, if #15 were re-written for tone and directed at someone else, it would have been less depressing to me. :) No worries, though. Seriously, it is me, not you.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 4, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

  29. Now if we could figure out what exactly “evil speaking” entails.

    I tend to take it in context of Joseph Smith’s life. This was first delivered in May of 1842. By this time, Joseph had been the brunt of all sorts of apostate attacks (which would only continue). I read Joseph as basically saying: “now don’t seek to destroy me or what we are doing here.”

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 4, 2008 @ 3:49 pm

  30. I like that usage of evil speaking too Stapley. So as long as we are not trying to destroy a person we aren’t speaking evil of them… I suppose destroying “what they are doing” makes that definition a little dicier though. That could be interpreted to be an anti-change-of-any-kind message if taken to its limits.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 4, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

  31. The concept if not the exact phrase appears in March 1839, in Liberty Jail:

    Cursed are all those who lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry that they have sinned before me, saith the Lord, and have that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them. (D&C 121:16)

    Joseph had been driven out of Kirtland to the cy of “Fallen Prophet”, and he was in liberty Jail in part because of the actions of those who had denounced him as “Fallen prophet” in Missouri.

    It seems to me that the special emphasis not to speak evil of the leaders of the church comes because they act in the name of God, as His representatives, (junior though they may be) and speaking evil of them carries the additional weight of possibly also rebelling against God.

    If one of the leaders of the church has sinned and you have evidence of it, there is always someone with authority to call a dsciplinary council. There’s no need to make it public. If they have sinned but you can’t prove it, you still can’t prove it no matter how many people you tell. If they haven’t sinned, it’s pure malicious gossip. In every case, there is either no need or no benefit to to be gained by public or private criticism, true or false.

    If one speaks evil of the the President, one’s employer, one’s mother-in-law, or the dean of the university, it may sinful, it may be dangerous to one’s peace and prosperity, but it’s not rebellion against God, if no one even claims God appointed them.

    Comment by Confutus — August 4, 2008 @ 8:11 pm

  32. What about speaking the truth? Is bringing truth to light about a person EVER evil speaking? I think the motivation is apropos here; however, truth needs to be spoken. I take strong exception of the recent statement or reiteration of a statement by Dallen Oakes (spelling?) that one should never speak “evil” about an authority EVEN IF IT IS TRUE. That smacks of burying the truth, and maximizing a lie. If a general authority does something reprehensible–say, a Seventy molests a young girl–one must absolutely speak it out.

    Comment by Cynthia — August 5, 2008 @ 10:24 am

  33. I’ve always thought evil speaking of “the Lord’s anointed” was speaking-evil Christ. I’m probably wrong about that, but I had always just thought that “the anointed one” was the “Messiah” (doesn’t “messiah” mean “anointed one”?) So I figured speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed was speaking evil of Christ.

    But likely I’m wrong and it has broader meaning.

    Still, we shouldn’t speak evil of anyone. So I don’t know why we’d need a specific charge to not speak evil of “anointed ones”. We shouldn’t speak evil of un-anointed ones either.

    Comment by D Davis — August 18, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

  34. Cynthia,
    Is it your impression that Elder Oaks was suggesting that we should coverup someone being molested? I think that is an out of touch interpretation of what his point was. Do you agree?

    Comment by Hal — August 21, 2008 @ 5:56 pm

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