God in Mormonism
|Conceptions of God|
In the Mormon theology adhered to by most of Mormon communities (including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), "God" means Elohim (the Father), whereas "Godhead" means a council of three distinct divine beings; Elohim, Jehovah (the Son, or Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The Father and Son have perfected, glorified, physical bodies, while the Holy Spirit is a spirit and does not have a physical body. This conception differs from the traditional Christian Trinity; within Mormonism, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not said to be one in substance or essence; instead, they remain three separate beings, or personages, completely united in will and purpose as one God. As such, the term "Godhead" differs from how it is used in traditional Christianity. This description of God represents the orthodoxy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), established early in the 19th century. However, the Mormon concept of God has expanded since the faith's founding in the late 1820s.
- 1 Early Latter Day Saint concepts
- 2 Denominational teachings
- 3 Plurality of Gods
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
Early Latter Day Saint concepts
Most early Latter Day Saints came from a Protestant background, believing in the doctrine of Trinity that had been developed during the early centuries of Christianity. Before about 1835, Mormon theological teachings were similar to that established view. However, Smith's teachings regarding the nature of the Godhead developed during his lifetime, becoming most fully elaborated in the few years prior to his murder in 1844. Beginning as an unelaborated description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being "One", Smith taught that the Father and the Son were distinct personal members of the Godhead as early as 1832 (See D&C 76:12-24). Smith's public teachings later described the Father and Son as possessing distinct physical bodies, being one together with the Holy Ghost, not in material substance, but instead united in spirit, glory, and purpose–a view sometimes called social trinitarianism.
Mormons view their concept of the Godhead as a restoration of original Christian doctrine as taught by Christ and the apostles. Elements of this doctrine were restored gradually over time to Smith, consistent with God's method of revealing truth "line upon line, precept upon precept" (see Isaiah 28:10-13, D&C 98:12). Mormons teach that in the centuries following the death of the apostles, views on God's nature began to change as theologians developed doctrines and practices, though they had not been called as prophets, designated to receive revelation for the church. Mormons see the strong influence of Greek culture and philosophy (hellenization) during this period as contributing to a departure from the traditional Judeo-Christian view of a corporeal God in whose image and likeness mankind was created. These theologians began to define God in terms of three persons, or hypostases, sharing one immaterial divine substance, or ousia--a concept that found no backing in scripture, but closely mirrored elements of Greek philosophy such as Neoplatonism. Mormons believe that the development process leading up to the Trinity doctrine left it vulnerable to human error, because it was not founded upon God's established pattern of continued revelation through prophets.
Teachings in the 1820s and early 1830s
The Book of Mormon describes God the Father, his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as being "one", with Jesus appearing with a body of spirit before his birth, and with a tangible body after his resurrection. The book describes the "Spirit of the Lord" as capable of appearing "in the form of a man" and speaking as a man would speak. (1 Ne. 11:11).
Prior to the birth of Jesus, the book depicts him as a spirit "without flesh and blood", with a spirit "body" that looked the same as he would appear during his physical life. (Ether 3). Moreover, Jesus described himself as follows: "Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters." (Ether 3:14). In another passage of The Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi stated,
- "I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—and they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth." (Mosiah 15:1-4).
After Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven, The Book of Mormon states that he visited a small group of people in the Americas, who saw that he had a resurrected, tangible body. During his visit, he was announced by the voice of God the Father, and those present felt the Holy Spirit, but only the Son was seen. Jesus is quoted,
- "Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them. And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one." (3 Nephi 19:22-23).
The Book of Mormon states that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are "one" (See 3 Nephi 11:36). The LDS Church interprets this "oneness" as a metaphorical oneness in spirit, purpose, and glory, rather than a physical or bodily unity. On the other hand, some Latter Day Saint sects, such as the Community of Christ, consider The Book of Mormon to be consistent with trinitarianism. Some scholars have also suggested that the view of Jesus in The Book of Mormon is also consistent, or perhaps most consistent, with monotheistic Modalism.
Teachings in the mid-to-late-1830s
In 1835, Joseph Smith, Jr. (with the involvement of Sidney Rigdon), publicly taught the idea that Jesus Christ and God the Father were two separate beings. In the Lectures on Faith, which had been taught in 1834 to the School of the Prophets, the following doctrines were presented:
- That the Godhead consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (5:1c);
- That there are two "personages", the Father and the Son, that constitute the "supreme power over all things" (5:2a, Q&A section);
- That the Father is a "personage of spirit, glory, and power" (5:2c);
- That the Son is a "personage of tabernacle" (5:2d) who "possess[es] the same mind with the Father; which Mind is the Holy Spirit" (5:2j,k);
- That the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the "supreme power over all things" (5:2l);
- That "[T]hese three constitute the Godhead and are one: the Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fullness;" (5:2m);
- That the Son is "filled with the fullness of the Mind of the Father, or in other words, the Spirit of the Father." (5:2o).
Though never part of the official Mormon canon, Lectures on Faith were included as part of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Having never been accepted as binding doctrine, they were eventually removed from the Doctrine and Covenants by the LDS Church and the Community of Christ. Most modern Latter Day Saints do not accept the idea of a two-"personage" Godhead, with the Father as a spirit and the Holy Spirit as the shared "mind" of the Father and the Son. Moreover, many Latter Day Saint apologists propose a reading of Lectures on Faith that is consistent with Smith's earlier or later doctrines, by putting various shadings on the meaning of personage as used in the Lectures.
In 1838, Smith published a narrative of his First Vision, in which he described seeing both God the Father and a separate Jesus Christ, similar in appearance to each other.
Teachings in the 1840s
In public sermons later in Smith's life, he began to describe what he thought was the true nature of the Godhead in much greater detail. In 1843, Smith provided his final public description of the Godhead before his death, in which he described God the Father as having a physical body, and the Holy Spirit, also, as a distinct personage: "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."
During this period, Smith also introduced a theology that could support the existence of a Heavenly Mother. The primary source for this theology is the sermon he delivered at the funeral of King Follett (commonly called the King Follett Discourse). The LDS Church believes that a Heavenly Mother exists, but very little is acknowledged or known beyond Her existence.
As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds Joseph Smith's explanation of the Godhead as official doctrine, which is to say that the Father and the Son have glorified physical bodies, while the Holy Ghost has only a body of spirit. The differences between the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead and that of Trinitarianism have set Mormonism apart, with the result that some Christian denominations reject Mormonism as being a branch of the Christian Faith.
Leaders and scriptural texts of the LDS Church actually affirm a belief in the Holy Trinity but use the word "Godhead" (a term used by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20, and Colossians 2:9) as a means to set apart their belief that the unity of the three persons of the Trinity includes unity in all things, except a physical unity of beings. The Latter-day Saints believe that "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."
According to LDS teachings, this theology is consistent with Smith's 1838 and subsequent accounts of the First Vision. These accounts state that Smith saw a vision of "two personages" that included the Father and the Son. Mormon critics view this 1838 account with skepticism, because Smith's earliest accounts of the First Vision did not refer to the presence of two beings. The church also teaches that its theology is consistent with the Biblical account of the baptism of Jesus which referred to signs from the Father and the Holy Spirit, which the denomination interprets as an indication that these two persons have distinct substance from Jesus. Mainstream Christian theologians do not consider that this baptism story is inconsistent with trinitarianism.
Smith taught that there is one Godhead and that humans can have a place, as joint-heirs with Christ, if they follow the laws and ordinances of the gospel. This process of exaltation means literally that humans can become full, complete, joint-heirs with Jesus and can, if proven worthy, inherit all that he inherits. Though humanity has the ability to become gods through the Atonement of Jesus, humanity will remain eternally subject to God the Father. Among the resurrected, the righteous souls receive great glory and return to live with God, being made perfect through the atonement of Christ. Thus, "god" is a term for an inheritor of the highest kingdom of God.
LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley offered a declaration of belief wherein he reaffirmed the teachings of the LDS Church regarding the distinct individuality and perfect unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He affirmed that God the Father is "the Father of the spirits of all men," "the great Creator, the Ruler of the universe," whose "love encompasses all of His children, and it is His work and His glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His sons and daughters of all generations." He affirmed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and "the one perfect man to walk the earth," is the "Firstborn of the Father and the only Begotten of the Father in the flesh," and that He fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy that "his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." He affirmed, "He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world," through whose loving atoning sacrifice is extended to "every son and daughter of God, the opportunity for eternal life and exaltation in our Father’s kingdom, as we hearken to and obey His commandments. [...] I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. [...] We approach the Father through the Son. He is our intercessor at the throne of God." He affirmed that the Holy Ghost is a distinct spirit being who is the Comforter and the Testifier of Truth, and that the "perfect unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that binds these three into the oneness of the divine Godhead."
Community of Christ
Trinitarianism has been adopted by the Community of Christ, which is part of the Latter Day Saint movement, but not part of Mormonism.
Mormon fundamentalists seek to retain Mormon theology and practice as it existed in the late 19th century. As such, the faith accepts the Adam–God doctrine, which identifies God the Father with Adam. Within Mormon fundamentalism, Jehovah and Jesus are considered distinct and separate beings.
Restoration Church of Jesus Christ
In the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ, a liberal Mormon faith, the Heavenly Mother is accepted as a full member of the Godhead. Thus, the RCJC believes in a quadriune Godhead; the Godhead is referred to as the Holy Quaternity. Prayers are addressed to the Heavenly Parents in the name of Jesus Christ.
Plurality of Gods
Latter-day Saints believe in an eternal cycle where God's children may progress to become "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17) and thus become one with God or like God. This is commonly called exaltation within the LDS church. However, Gordon B. Hinckley, former prophet and president of the church, stated that he was sure man was to be exalted, but was unsure that God was once exalted.
Previous prophets or leaders of the church have made statements about their personal beliefs about exaltation. Joseph Smith taught, and Mormons believe, that all people are children of God. Smith further stated in the King Follett discourse that God was the son of a Father, suggesting a cycle that continues for eternity.
- Abrahamic conceptions of God
- Alpha and Omega
- Holy Ghost in Mormonism
- Godhead (Christianity)
- Mormonism and Christianity
- Alexander (1980, online p. 1).
- Bushman (2008, p. 6) (Mormons believe in what is sometimes called "social trinitarianism," meaning the three beings of the Godhead are blended in heart and mind like extremely close friends, but are not one being); Early passages in Smith's revelations could be interpreted as traditionally trinitarian, but the doctrine of three Gods in one soon gave way to a Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three distinct beings united in purpose and will but not in substance. See also: D&C 130:22.
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- Lund, Gerald N. (February 1982), Is President Lorenzo Snow’s oft-repeated statement—“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be”—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?, "I Have a Question", Ensign
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- Doctrine and Covenants 130:22.
- Palmer, 248-252 (arguing that in 1838, Smith modified the First Vision story to assert his claim to divine calling directly from God and Jesus)
- (Matthew 3:16-17).
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A: I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about.
Q: So you're saying the church is still struggling to understand this?
A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We're trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can."
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