Elder: A Simple LDS (Mormon) Title With Multiple Meanings

The Elderly in Mormondom Are Not Generally Elders

Missionaries in the MTC in Mexico
Missionaries at the Mexico MTC sit in their dorm room. Each missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a companion. They are referred to as Elder [Insert last name]. © All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of the Mormon Newsroom © All rights reserved.

The Title of Elder Has Little to Do With Age

The title of Elder applies to two categories of LDS (Mormon) men who hold the Melchizedek priesthood, but only while they occupy certain positions:

  1. Full time LDS missionaries while they are serving their missions
  2. General Authorities who are Apostles or Seventies.

Elder is pronounced: L dur

Admittedly, there is a large degree of difference in these two groups. For this reason, you must pay close attention to how the term Elder is used in context.

The Elderly May Not Be Elders

LDS leaders are generally old men. They may be elderly, but they may not be called Elder.

The worldwide Church is headed by the President/Prophet and his counselors, usually just three men. This is the First Presidency. The next highest body is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Beneath that is the Quorums of the Seventy, numbered consecutively.

Any member of the Seventy or the Apostles should be addressed as Elder [Insert full name or just last name]. However, the most senior men of these quorums are more accurately referred to as President [Insert full name or just last name].

For example, Russell M. Nelson was ordained an apostle in 1984 and was known as Elder Russell M. Nelson. In 2015, he became the most senior apostle and the president of that body. While he continues in that position, he should be referred to as President Russell M. Nelson.

Another example is Henry B. Eyring. He was ordained an apostle in 1992 and referred to as Elder Henry B. Eyring. However, in 2007, he was called to be in the First Presidency. He continues in that body and is referred to as President Henry B. Eyring. If the present prophet dies and another takes his place, President Eyring will resume his place in the Twelve Apostles and be called Elder, unless he is ordained into the new First Presidency.

Most General Authorities Can Be Addressed as Elder

Top leaders are generically called General Authorites or G.A.'s. These top leaders can cycle in and out of presidencies and it may be difficult to keep track of what their current title is.

You can continue to refer to President Nelson and President Eyring as Elder Nelson and Elder Eyring. It is simply preferred, and more accurate, to refer to them as President Nelson and President Eyring.

This also holds true for any member of the Quorums of the Seventy, whether they are currently serving as presidents of those quorums or not.

Young Adult Men Generally Become Elders After High School

Young adult men currently serving full time missions are called Elder. The biggest difference is that their first names are not used. Usually, no one even knows their first names. 

For example, John Smith would be just Elder Smith. After his mission concluded he would drop the title of Elder.

Since full time missionaries are always paired, they are often referred to as the Elders. This reference is never used for top Church leaders. It always refers to the missionaries.

These Same Young Men Become Elders in the Elders' Quorum

There is another caveat that makes the term Elder a bit confusing. When a worthy young man turns 18, he is often ordained an Elder in the Melchizedek priesthood and made a member of the Elders' Quorum in the local ward or branch.

What this means is that he has progressed from the Aaronic priesthood and now holds the Melchizedek priesthood. The Melchizedek priesthood consists of Elders and High Priests. Worthy men over 50 are generally High Priests. However, this is not always the case.

For example, if a more senior man is a new convert, he must first advance through the Aaronic priesthood. When sufficiently seasoned and worthy, he must become an Elder before he can advance to being a High Priest.

Advancement in the priesthood tends to correspond to age, but not always. Some very young High Priests exist as do some elderly Elders.

If You Hear Something About the Elders You Must Consider the Context

The men who are Elders in the Elder's Quorum are often referred to as the Elders, just like the young, full-time male missionaries are.

If this happens, you must ask for clarification or determine who is being discussed based on the context. There are no hard and fast rules here.

Is There A Simple Way Out of This Dilemma?

Yes, there is. Any male member of the LDS Church (Mormon) can accurately be referred to as Brother. Any female member of the Church can be referred to as Sister. If you do not know someone's proper title, resort to using the title brother and sister and the person's last name.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Cook, Krista. "Elder: A Simple LDS (Mormon) Title With Multiple Meanings." Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, learnreligions.com/elder-lds-title-3572617. Cook, Krista. (2021, February 8). Elder: A Simple LDS (Mormon) Title With Multiple Meanings. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/elder-lds-title-3572617 Cook, Krista. "Elder: A Simple LDS (Mormon) Title With Multiple Meanings." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/elder-lds-title-3572617 (accessed March 22, 2023).