Evidence #405 | May 22, 2023

The Divine Council

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Scripture Central


In a number of instances, the Book of Mormon depicts mortals as participating in the divine council—the assembly of divine beings who surround God’s throne and counsel together with him. This imagery can also be found in the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts.

The Divine Council in the Bible

Although it is common today to speak of ancient Israelites as being monotheistic (having a belief in only one god), the reality was a bit more nuanced.1 Biblical peoples, in fact, accepted the reality of other divine beings besides God.2 What was most important to them was their covenant relationship with the God they worshipped and his preeminent status in the cosmos.

This distinction is significant because the Israelites conceived of God as presiding over other heavenly beings who were also considered to be divine.3 Specifically, they believed that God ruled the heavens as he sat upon a throne, surrounded by a court of angelic beings. Today, this heavenly assembly is commonly referred to by biblical scholars as the “divine council.”4

Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari gazing into the Empyrean Light by Gustave Doré.

When God saw fit, he would invite prophets and other worthy individuals to witness and even participate in this council. There the mortal initiate would converse or sing with angels, learn heavenly secrets or mysteries, and often receive a commission to go back and preach a certain message to the people.5 As will be demonstrated in the sections below, this motif arises on multiple occasions in the Book of Mormon. 

The Divine Council in the Book of Mormon

Lehi’s Prophetic Calling

The divine council imagery begins right away with Lehi’s prophetic calling recorded in 1 Nephi 1.6 After retiring to his bed, Lehi “was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God” (v. 8). Lehi then conversed with angelic beings who revealed important truths, after which he was sent to call the people to repent (vv. 9–14, 19).

Lehi sees a pillar of fire. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Nephi’s Revelations

We get hints from Nephi’s writings that he experienced something similar. In his opening statements, Nephi mentioned that he “had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God” (1 Nephi 1:1).7 The use of “mysteries” in this context—right before relating Lehi’s heavenly vision—suggests that it is in reference to the secret knowledge that a prophet could gain by attending the heavenly council.8

Later on, Nephi experienced his own revelations. In them, he saw many of the same things that his father saw and learned many of the same truths. He even used a number of similar words and phrases to describe his and his father’s visions, suggesting they mirrored one another on a fundamental level.9 A final clue comes from Nephi’s familiarity with the “tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 32:2–3), suggesting that he—like his father—had personally been inducted into the divine council and conversed with angelic beings there.10

Alma’s Prophetic Calling

Alma’s prophetic calling coincided with his conversion.11 When relating this event to his son Helaman, he directly referenced Lehi’s experience, signaling that Alma himself encountered something very similar: “Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there” (Alma 36:22).12

Alma the Younger Surrounded by His Family and Priests. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Limhi’s Court

In Mosiah 22, we encounter the story of King Limhi deliberating with a council of advisors about how to help deliver their people from bondage. In this setting, one member of the court named Gideon “went forth and stood before the king” (v. 3), offered to be the king’s “servant” (v. 4), asked permission to speak (v. 5), and then offered his services for a specific salvific task (vv. 6–8). According to Stephen Smoot, Limhi’s court functioned as “the earthly counterpart to God’s heavenly council.” It therefore can reasonably be seen as “a council text on a temporal level.”13

Nephi and Lehi in Prison

In Helaman 5, Nephi and his brother Lehi (the sons of Helaman) were captured by a Lamanite army (v. 21). After a series of miraculous events, one of the Lamanites—a Nephite dissenter named Aminadab—saw that Nephi and Lehi were enwrapped in a vision and “were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld” (v. 36). When asked by the other Lamanites what these things meant, Aminadab answered, “They do converse with the angels of God.”14 These details, when read in the context of the whole experience, suggest that Nephi and Lehi had been caught up into heaven, much like their ancestors after whom they were named (v. 6).

The Theophany of Nephi, Son of Helaman

In Helaman 10, Nephi (the son of Helaman) found himself alone after a division had arisen among the people concerning his prophecies. On his way home, Nephi was pondering upon these recent events when God spoke to him from heaven, comforting and blessing him. As part of this divine encounter, the Lord declared, “Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people” (Helaman 10:6). Whether or not Nephi witnessed these angels (which he certainly could have), God’s mention of them in a theophany event evokes a divine council setting.15

Christ Ministering among the Nephites

In 3 Nephi 17, Jesus went off alone to pray unto his father. He seems to have been speaking unto the Father in a holy manner akin to what Nephi earlier described as the “tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 32:2), for, as recorded by witnesses, “no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak” (3 Nephi 17:17). Soon after this, the people “saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about” (v. 24).

Christ and the Book of Mormon Children, by Del Parson.


As concluded by Smoot, “the Book of Mormon very clearly portrays the divine council in such a way that indicates its close familiarity with the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israelite religion.”16 The presence of this ancient concept, however, isn’t always obvious to the untrained eye. In several instances, only those familiar with the nuances of the biblical motif will notice its manifestations in the Book of Mormon.

Significantly, the divine council and its attendant features have only entered into the consciousness and discourse of Latter-day Saint scholars and believers in recent decades.17 This has largely been aided by biblical and ancient Near Eastern research that only emerged in the 20th century and therefore wasn’t available to Joseph Smith in 1829.

Val Larsen and Newell D. Wright, “Theosis in the Book of Mormon: The Work and Glory of the Father, Mother and Son, and Holy Ghost,Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 56 (2023): 275–326.

Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180; a prior version of this article was published in Studio Antiqua 12, no. 2 (2014): 1–18.

Neal Rappleye, “‘With the Tongue of Angels’: Angelic Speech as a Form of Deification,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 21 (2016): 303–323.

David E. Bokovoy, “‘Thou Knowest That I Believe’: Invoking the Spirit of the Lord as Council Witness in 1 Nephi 11,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 1 (2012): 1–23.

John W. Welch, “Lehi’s Council Vision and the Mysteries of God,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992), 24–25.

1 Nephi 1:11 Nephi 1:8–141 Nephi 1:191 Nephi 2:161 Nephi 10:192 Nephi 32:2–3Mosiah 22:3–8Alma 36:22Helaman 5:35–39Helaman 10:163 Nephi 17:173 Nephi 17:24

1 Nephi 1:1

1 Nephi 1:8–14

1 Nephi 1:19

1 Nephi 2:16

1 Nephi 10:19

2 Nephi 32:2–3

Mosiah 22:3–8

Alma 36:22

Helaman 5:35–39

Helaman 10:16

3 Nephi 17:17

3 Nephi 17:24

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