Abraham: the Man of Faith


Abraham is a man of great stature among Latter-day Saints. He’s lauded as a Prophet, a practitioner of Celestial Marriage, and the Patriarch through whom all the nations are blessed. Let’s find out a little more about the LDS version of Abraham.

Abraham in LDS Literature

Abraham was a High Priest (Abraham 1:2) of incredible blessing (Abraham 2:9) who has already been exalted to his celestial throne (D&C 132:29). He possessed the Urim and Thummim (Abraham 3:1) and, as such, was treated to revelations regarding the star Kolob, which is nearest to Heavenly Father’s throne (Abraham 3:3).

Additionally, Abraham was shown the premortal council whereby the Plan of Salvation was established (Abraham 3:22–28). So great is his place in LDS theology that those who faithfully obtain Mormonism’s two priesthoods become children of Abraham and the very “elect of God” (D&C 84:14).

Problems Surrounding the Abraham of Mormonism

Unfortunately, Latter-day Saints face some grave challenges when it comes to Abraham. Let’s highlight a few of them.

The first problem is one of source. The Book of Abraham begins: “Translated from the Papyrus, by Joseph Smith.” The papyrus Joseph Smith refers to is an ancient Egyptian funerary scroll purchased by the LDS Church around 1835; it is now known as the Joseph Smith Papyri.

The scroll disappeared some years later and was assumed to be gone forever. But it emerged from hibernation in 1967. Many Mormons rejoiced as they were confident that Joseph’s translation would be vindicated once for all. Much to their chagrin, however, Egyptologists decisively concluded that Smith’s “translation” was nothing of the sort. Not a single word of the Book of Abraham comes from the Joseph Smith Papyri.

For those who may be unaccustomed to the importance of original languages, it’s hard to understate how devastating these facts are. A professor of ancient Hebrew at New York University, for example, may disagree with one’s interpretation of Genesis 12, but there’s no arguing with a translation of it.

It’s either an accurate translation or it isn’t. And the Book of Abraham in no way represents what the original creator of the Joseph Smith Papyri intended it to communicate. Either Joseph Smith is lying or we have to radically interpret what he meant by “translated.”

Second, the Book of Abraham runs afoul of anachronism at several points. An anachronism is anything out of place historically. Imagine, for example, Scarlett O’Hara sending Rhett Butler a text message from her iPhone the next time you watch Gone with the Wind. If you cry, “That’s an anachronism!” you’d be correct.

According to Joseph Smith, Abraham possessed both the Urim-and-Thummim (Abraham 3:1ff; Exodus 28:30) and the Aaronic priesthood (D&C 84:33; Exodus 30:30). Unfortunately, neither of these things would exist for another four centuries.

In Smith’s account, Heavenly Father refers to Abram’s new name (Abraham) about 25 years too early. Oddly, Heavenly Father goes with “Sarai,” her original name, while using the changed name “Abraham.” Further, the third chapter of the Book of Abraham uses astronomical language completely unknown to mankind for another three millennia.

Abraham simply possessed no frame of reference to understand “revolutions,” “planets,” nearer stars, etc. A Latter-day Saint may argue that the Book of Abraham was simply ahead of its time. But that argument cannot abide, for throughout the Bible, God uses language common to the time. One of the great proofs of Biblical authenticity is that Scripture writers never skip ahead to something only later generations understood.

Third, the LDS version of Abraham faces substantial theological issues. In Abraham 2:22-25, Heavenly Father instructs Abraham to lie to the Egyptians about the identity of his wife (see Numbers 23:19).

Abraham binds God to a temporal calendar (Abraham 3:1-3; see Isaiah 57:15; Jude 1:25) and contradicts Heavenly Father’s plan by skipping many important stages on his way to full-blown exaltation. But by far, the greatest theological issue is Mormon Scripture’s contradiction with plain New Testament teaching on the person of Abraham.

Abraham in the New Testament

New Testament writers want its readers to associate a single word with Abraham – faith. Without a doubt, Abraham is the quintessential Old Testament example of faith. Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:9), demonstrated his faith by leaving Harran for the Promised Land (Hebrews 11:8-9; see Genesis 12:1–4).

He believed God would grant a son despite every human impossibility (Romans 4:18–20) and later attempted to sacrifice that son, believing that God would raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17). God allowed his faith to substitute for an entire lifetime of perfect righteousness (Galatians 3:6). What’s more, God does the same for all those who, like Abraham, believe that God raised Jesus from the dead to save us from our sins (Galatians 3:7).

Abraham’s faith, of course, came prior to circumcision (Romans 4:11), meaning his salvation is tied to faith rather than to works (Galatians 3:9-11). Paul is adamant that Abraham’s story was written for our sake, where “it will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24–25).


LDS Missionaries often ask people to pray whether the Book of Mormon is true. John the Apostle has different advice, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

If you find yourself wondering whether the Book of Mormon is true, please consider this little test. First, read Genesis 12-25, then Romans 4, Galatians 3, and Hebrews 11. There, you’ll meet the biblical Abraham. Then, after you’ve finished this reading, grab a Book of Mormon and read the Book of Abraham. Or reverse the order if you like. Read the Book of Mormon first then the Bible. Either way, compare the two and note the differences.

You’ll discover two very different Abrahams. One is a man who earned his salvation and another who was granted it by faith alone. You’ll have to decide for yourself which you want — law or grace. I urge you to pick the latter.