Is the central Christian doctrine of the Trinity found in the Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon appears to teach of God in terms similar to Trinitarian doctrine (Alma 11:38-40,44 and Mosiah 15 to name a few). Why then is the LDS church so hostile to traditional Christian beliefs concerning the Godhead? I have found that in 1830 the LDS spoke in terms of a Trinitarian doctrine that was not all that different from traditional Christian doctrine but then experienced changes to this doctrine in 1838, 1839 and 1843 ending in 1844 with the death of Joseph Smith. Brigham Young made an attempt to change the doctrine further, by giving Adam a place in the Godhead, a residual belief that can still be found in the LDS Temple Endowment today. Today, the LDS appear to be distancing themselves from their past and are making progress in returning to a more traditional 1830 view of the Godhead.
Most Mormons and non-Mormons alike don't understand that the LDS church doesn't make an effort to stay consistent with past church teachings and doctrines. No wonder the Catholic Encyclopedia concludes that Mormons believe in the Trinity since the Trinity is taught in LDS scriptures and was taught by former LDS leaders:
The 1976 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia says that the LDS church is not in the mainstream
of Protestant thought, however it says that "the doctrine of the Mormons is liberal, with no set creed, but they accept in principle the teaching of the Apostles' Creed." It also states that "they believe in the
Trinity, accept the Bible as fundamental and hold that the Book of Mormon and the present
revelation are issued as Doctrine & Covenants." "They teach that God is immutable and that every person can approach God through confirmation, baptism by immersion and healing."
The LDS have used the term "Trinity" from Brigham Young until N. Eldon Tanner. Although the term is not in use today and is ridiculed as a doctrine, ironically, the Book of Mormon and the D&C give the best scriptural support for the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, support which can't be found with the same clear expression in the Bible. In 1830, LDS scriptures clearly supported a traditional view of the Trinity.
The following quotes will show an evolution from the Godhead being ONE God to multiple Gods, from singular to plural. In this transformation, please note that in naming the divine persons of the Godhead the earliest documents use the third person singular form of the verb "to be" (he/she/it IS). Subsequent documents change to use the third person plural form of the verb "to be" (they ARE). This is similar to a United States phenomenon that occurred after the Civil War (The War Between the States). Prior to the Civil War it was common practice to say, "The United States are...” while after the war and until this day we now say "The United States is...” What event or events caused Joseph Smith to go from singular to plural?
The Testimony of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon
"And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our
garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the
judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the
heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen."
2 Nephi 31:21
"And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none
other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom
of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true
doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one
God, without end. Amen." (Written before Mosiah and Mormon...)
I find it VERY INTERESTING that D&C section 20, which was given in the same year that the Book
of Mormon was published (1830), is also consistent with the testimony of the Three Witnesses as
well as other Trinitarian verses in the Book of Mormon, although D&C section 20 makes
the same move from a strictly singular understanding to a more plural understanding of the Godhead
through the use of the plural form of the verb "to be" found in the books of Mosiah and Mormon,
written after the books of Nephi, although published in the same year.
Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal,
without end. Amen. (1830)
And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of
And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he
that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given
unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing
ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the
Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of
happiness which hath no end. (1830)
It appears that 1839 was a year of questioning the doctrine of the Godhead by Joseph
Smith. Section 121 was given and the answer about whether or not there are
many gods or just one God in Heaven seems not to be very clear at this time:
"A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one
God or many gods, they shall be manifest." (1839)
The LDS doctrine on the Godhead had already
changed by 1843 when section 130 was given:
"The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also;
but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of
Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." (D&C 130:22)
Date: April 2, 1843
Place: Ramus, Illinois
I also think it is significant that the D&C never has us becoming "Gods" with
a capital "G" but always as "gods": "Then shall they be gods, because they
have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because
they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject
unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the
angels are subject unto them." (D&C 132:20, 1843) This would still allow for
the possibility of there being one God.
You see, Joseph Smith never got to the point in the D&C of men becoming Gods
(with a capital "G") and he left us with some question as to whether there
will be One God in Heaven or many gods in Heaven since this truth is supposed
to be revealed at some future date "when nothing shall be withheld" although
this may have been answered partially by D&C 132:20.
Of course the development of the LDS doctrine of the Godhead by Joseph Smith
came to an end on June 27, 1844. Some believe that Brigham Young made an
attempt to further develop the doctrine of the Godhead to include Adam but
this doctrine (if it ever was a doctrine) is rejected completely by the
current church, except as retained in the Temple Endowment where Michael (Adam) seems
to stand in for the Holy Ghost as a member of the Godhead.
Although the doctrine on the Trinity changed from 1830 to 1844, past leaders of the LDS church have consistently used the term "Trinity" as another name for the Godhead, even using a capital "T" in Trinity:
Discourses of Brigham Young, p.30
The Holy Ghost, we believe, is one of the characters that form the
Trinity, or the Godhead.
John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, p.28-29
THE PRESIDENCY OF THE TRINITY.-Truly Jesus Christ created the worlds,
and is Lord of Lords...
Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.60
The Holy Ghost, who is a member of the Trinity in the Godhead, has not
a body of flesh and bones, like the Father and the Son, but is a
personage of Spirit. (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 130:22.)
Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.61
Now I repeat-the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, he constitutes
the third person in the Trinity, the Godhead.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 3, p.99
Now, some of our brethren have taken up quite a discussion as to the
fulness of the everlasting gospel. We are told that the Book of Mormon
contains the fulness of the gospel, that those who like to get up a
dispute, say that the Book of Mormon does not contain any reference to
the work of salvation for the dead, and that there are many other
things pertaining to the gospel that are not developed in that book,
and yet we are told that the book contains "the fulness of the
everlasting gospel." Well, what is the fulness of the gospel? You read
carefully the revelation in regard to the three glories, Section 76,
in the D&C, and you find there defined what the gospel is. There God,
the Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ, his Son, and the Holy Ghost, are
held up as the three Persons in the Trinity--the one God, the Father,
the Word, and the Holy Ghost, all three being one God.
LDS TEND TO BE A LITTLE ARIAN IN THEIR CONCEPT OF THE TRINITY,
Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 3, p.167
3. In the fact that the creed declares that in the Trinity, "None is
greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are
Co-Eternal together, and Co-Equal" we find a conflict which is
contrary to what is written in the scriptures. Arius, at that council,
tried to establish one truth that was rejected. That is, that there
never was a Son that was not younger than his Father, but the creed
emphatically declares that the Son, as well as the Father, is
LDS SEEM TO THINK THAT ONLY THEY BELIEVE THAT THE GODHEAD IS MADE UP
OF THREE PERSONS:
Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, p.312
In our Articles of Faith we declare our belief in God the Eternal
Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost-in other
words, the Trinity. We accept the scriptural doctrine that they are
separate and distinct personages. This is one distinguishing and, to
some, disturbing doctrine of the Church.
James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.4, p.264
From these statements, and from many others that might be quoted, it
is clear that Adam and Christ are two persons-not the same Person. It
is erroneous doctrine to consider them one and the same person, for
Jesus is the Christ, a member of the Trinity, the God-head, and to
whom Adam, the father of the human family upon this earth, is
amenable. Adam will have to account for his stewardship to our Lord
and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose blood atones for the sins of those who
have fallen by the transgression of Adam.
James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.6, p.236
God has revealed to us that he is the Father of all, and that he loves
and cares for the righteous everywhere, and seeks ever to bring back
the wayward to his ways. He has made known that Jesus is the Christ,
the Only Begotten of the Father, the Redeemer of the World, the First
Fruits of the Resurrection. He has shown to us that as Jesus died, lay
in the tomb, and was resurrected, so shall it be with every son and
daughter of God. He has manifested to us that he is a person, that
Christ is another person, and that the Holy Ghost is a third person,
and that these make the Trinity of the Godhead. He has taught us the
immortality of the human soul, itself a trinity of intelligence, of
spiritual body, and of mortal body, and that after the resurrection,
our trinity reunited, we become perfected beings. (SOUNDS LIKE ST.
AUGUSTINE'S EXPLANATION OF THE TRINITY!)
Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, p.313
Surely this was not ventriloquism where Christ was speaking to and of
himself. It was the Father introducing His Son. In this case, the
members of the Holy Trinity manifested themselves, each in a different
way, and each was distinct from the others. A similar event occurred
on the Mount of Transfiguration when members of the Godhead were
distinguished in the presence of Moses and Elias, and Peter, James,
THE LDS HAVE STOPPED USING THE TERM "TRINITY" FOR THE GODHEAD DUE TO
THE ATTACKS ON THIS NAME BY BRUCE R. McCONKIE. HE NEVER USES THE TERM
"TRINITY" IN A POSITIVE CONTEXT BUT ALWAYS AS A TERM OF DERISION.
THIS STATEMENT IS A GOOD EXAMPLE:
Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.58 -
This divine doctrine that the three persons in the Godhead are one is
as clear and as plain and as easy to understand as any of the basic
doctrines of the gospel. There is little excuse for the vagaries and
contradictions found in the creeds of Christendom. These three divine
beings comprise what has come to be called, in the sectarian world,
the Holy Trinity. The sacred name -- titles they bear are not simply
different manifestations of the same divine essence or power or being.
The living Gods are individuals who can and do come and go throughout
the universe as the needs of their eternal ministries require. Men
cannot worship the true God with that faith and devotion which brings
salvation unless they distinguish between the members of the Godhead
and know the place and functions of each.
THE TERM "TRINITY" WAS LAST USED IN A POSTIVE CONTEXT BY N. ELDON
TANNER IN 1978 ALTHOUGH THE TRANSCRIPT USES A LOWER CASE FOR THE "T":
A Basis For Faith In The Living God: President N. Eldon Tanner
Each member of this trinity is called God, and together they
constitute the Godhead. As indicated, they are three separate beings,
but they are one in purpose, and Jesus repeatedly testified of the
unity existing among the three.
OFFICIAL LDS DOCTRINE IS VERY HARD TO PIN DOWN AND AS A RESULT, MORMONISM IS A STEALTH
RELIGION FLYING UNDER THE RADAR OF MANY UNSUSPECTING PEOPLE IN SEARCH
OF THE TRUTH. THE LDS HAVE NO SINGLE COMPILATION OF DOCTRINE LIKE A
CATECHISM AND AS A RESULT LDS DOCTRINE CHANGES FROM ONE GENERATION TO
THE NEXT WITH NO REGARD FOR THE PAST. EVEN A PAMPHLET WRITTEN BY THE
CURRENT PROPHET AND PRINTED BY BOOKCRAFT ON THE GODHEAD CONTAINS A
DISCLAIMER THAT THE THOUGHTS EXPRESSED IN THE PAMPHLET ARE THE THOSE
OF THE AUTHOR AND NOT OF THE CHURCH.
Mormon Concept of God:
Mormons no longer refer to the Godhead as the Trinity. The LDS Godhead is
made up of three, separate, and distinct persons, making
one Godhead consisting of three Gods. The Father and the Son have physical
bodies of flesh and bone. The Holy Ghost (an old English name for the Holy
Spirit) has a body of spirit. I picture this concept of God as three separate
circles touching each other in a triangular shape to show unity in purpose. The
circles only touch and do not overlap.
Mormon Concept of the Christian God:
Joseph Smith misunderstood the Christian God and described the Christian God as
three persons in one "giant" or "monster" God. In a discourse he gave on June 16, 1844, shortly before his death he said,
"Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow-three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. 'Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for them which thou hast given me.' 'Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are.' All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God-he would be a giant or a monster."
I picture this
concept of God as a single circle with another circle inside the outer circle and
a third circle inside the second one. This concept of God was rejected by
Catholicism in the early centuries of the Church and was denounced as a heresy, however, Mormons are taught that this is the God of Christianity.
Catholic and traditional Christian Concept of God:
The Trinity consists of three separate persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit. They are together one God. The Trinity is three persons in one God.
The persons of the Trinity are not separate Gods but together they are one God.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one not only in purpose and thought and
action but are also one in essence, each person being made of the same "stuff".
This concept of God is pictured by three overlapping concentric circles in a
Before time began, the Son was begotten of the Father from the essence of the
Father. They are persons cut from the same cloth without any reduction or
diminishment to the cloth. The Son has thus been with the Father from the
beginning of time and has always been with God and has always been God and there
has never been a "time" that the Son has not been with God and never a "time"
that the Son has not been God. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from
the Son and gives life to the world and is the expression of the unity and love
between the Father and Son. It is the Holy Spirit who has spoken through the
prophets. The Trinity is clearly and understandably set forth in the Nicene
Creed [my comments are in brackets]:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And all
things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.
Begotten of his Father before all worlds, [before time and not just "in the
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, [from the same cloth]
Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, [made of the same
By whom all things were made: [Jesus, the Word of God, created all things]
Who for us men, and for our salvation he came down from heaven, [God, who did not
already have a physical body, came down to dwell among us]
By the power of the Holy Ghost, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man, [God
the Father didn't with Mary]
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, [Jesus was truly human and
He suffered, and was buried, [Jesus really died just like we die]
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, [Jesus came back to life with a physical body]
And ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. [Jesus has
united humans to God]
And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life,
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, [the Holy
Ghost is the third person in the Trinity]
Who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church. [a universal church that was
not taken from the Earth but is the Church established by the Apostles]
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the life of the world to come.
Implications and other thoughts:
The light of Christ, the spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of God are all the Holy
Spirit. Mormonism gets all tripped up in trying to define the roles of these
different names for the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost will never get a physical body like Jesus and thus we can stop speculating about the
"progression" of this member of the Godhead.
God is a being of pure energy. He is more that just light which is only a small
visible spectrum of energy. His existence would be mostly invisible to us and
in our current limited physical state we cannot truly see Him as He is.
Jesus has always been God; he did not earn Godhood. Jesus doesn't set the
example of how we can become a god; Jesus shows us how we can be united with God
in the same way that he is one with God. He was the beginning of all creation,
begotten and not made of the Father before all time. Jesus is not our spirit
brother or our "elder" brother nor is he the spirit brother of Satan; Jesus is
our brother in the flesh. He is the only begotten of the Father before time
began and not the only begotten of the Father "in the flesh". Don't you see the
subtle pattern of misunderstanding built into the Mormon concept of God?
The fullness of the Godhead resides bodily in Christ Jesus (Col 2:9). God
himself, in the person of Jesus, came down from heaven to dwell among us. God
has made himself one of us and thus has glorified human kind. God knows what
it is like to be like us, suffering temptations, pain and death. Jesus
Christ is our great high priest the only high priest that we need for he truly
entered the holy place not made of human hands and offered himself as a
sacrifice, a final and ultimate sacrifice. (There is no need for the sons of
Aaron to offer any other sacrifices).
"If you know me, then you will know the Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us". Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works." (John 14:7-10)
I don't believe that God the Father has a wife or multiple wives nor do I believe
that we have a "Mother in Heaven" although a "Heavenly Mother" is a completely
logically outgrowth of a confused Mormon concept of God and is supported as well
by the last two verses of the hymn, O My Father (292):
"I had learned to call thee Father,
Through thy Spirit from on high,
But until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heavens are parents single.
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason, truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.
"When I leave this frail existence
When I leave this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you,
In your royal courts and high?
Then, at length, when I've completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you."
(The text of this hymn was written by Eliza R. Snow, one of Joseph Smith's plural wives.)
I don't believe that
there is sex or a need for sex in heaven. I believe we will retain our
individuality, but in a way I don't understand, we will become part of God and
become one with him even as Jesus is one with the Father. Perhaps God has given
us some insight into this oneness in his calling for husband and wife to be one
and not two that can be separated or divorced. Also, Paul in Acts 17:28 tells us that
in one sense we are already part of God, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being;" In his letter to the Ephesians (4:6), Paul speaks of God being above us, though us, and in us.
If it is true that to know God is to have eternal life (John 17:3), I worry that Mormons have
a longer way to go than most. Plural marriage was a grievous setback in knowing
the true nature of God. Joseph Smith started out in the BoM and the Lectures on Faith to
describe the true nature of God but got sidetracked by the desires of the flesh,
although he showed himself adept at casting his weakness into an acceptable
religious system in the years before his death.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)