“The Book of Mormon taught and still teaches a Trinitarian view of the Godhead. Joseph Smith’s early theology also held this view.”
There is nothing in the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith’s early accounts to suggest the belief that God the Father and Jesus are the same person, a doctrine known as Trinitarianism. The Book of Mormon’s explanation is similar to the bible, and we believe in the bible. We believe the bible teaches God and Jesus are separate beings. So to claim Joseph Smith believed in Trinitarianism simply because the Book of Mormon sound similar to the bible is illogical.
If the Book of Mormon were to emphasize a non-Trinitarian belief, Antimormons could claim the Book of Mormon contradicts the bible. Since it instead aligns with the bible, Antimormons claim the Book of Mormon contradicts other Mormon scripture that does emphasize this. So this is a no-win argument for the church. Either way Antimormons complain. The simple answer is the Book of Mormon narrative is the same as the bible, and the “mainstream” interpretation of the bible is false.
Trinitarianism became the mainstream Christian belief because of the Nicene Creed in 325 AD, not from the bible. Unauthorized political leaders got together in 325 AD and voted on whether God the Father and Son should be separate beings or the same, and they decided everyone would believe they are the same. They did not have priesthood authority to decide this, and they did not use sound biblical reasoning.
Not A Controversy In Ancient Times
“…why is it that the Book of Mormon not only doesn’t clear up questions about the Godhead which have raged in Christianity for centuries, but on the contrary just adds to the confusion? This seems particularly ironic, since a major avowed purpose of the book was to restore lost truths and end doctrinal controversies caused by the “great and abominable Church’s” corruption of the Bible…”
(CES Letter quoting Boyd Kirtland)
Why would the Book of Mormon clear up a controversy that didn’t exist at the time it was written? The separation of God the Father and the Son was not an issue then as it is today, and this is why the bible and the Book of Mormon do not more clearly explain the distinct difference. The Book of Mormon tells us that plain and precious truths such as the character of God were taken out of the scriptures after both the bible and Book of Mormon were written. It became a controversy only after they were written. The Book of Mormon does not talk about Trinitarianism for the same reason it does not talk about cocaine and rated R movies. There are plenty of other plain and precious truths that were perverted or erased after the scriptures were written: baptism for the dead, eternal progression, eternal marriage, etc. The Book of Mormon also doesn’t address these either.
Ancient religions all held a non-Trinitarian view. The Egyptians believed the god Osiris was the son of Horus. The Aztecs believed the sky god Tezcatlipoca created the world together with Quetzalcoatl. People were polytheistic, or monotheists who believed in the Father and Son similar to Mormonism. They all believed in separate beings. This is why Paul went to great lengths to explain the concept of being saved by grace alone, because the Pagans he was preaching to believed in salvation because of devotion to a certain god out of many gods. But the Book of Mormon dates back well before Paul. The Egyptian religion was a close contemporary religion to the Book of Mormon people. So wouldn’t the Book of Mormon go to great lengths to clarify a unity of God, considering Egyptians believed in a long variety of gods? Babylonians and Native Americans likewise believed in a polytheistic set of gods. Shouldn’t the Book of Mormon go out of its way to explain the unity of God the Son and Father, rather than emphasizing how they were separate?
Both Paul and Nephi emphasized that God was “one,” to avoid polytheism. Why would they emphasize the separateness of the Godhead to polytheists? That would be like teaching someone who doesn’t know about Einstein’s theory of relativity all about classical Newtonian physics.
Jesus Is The Eternal Father
“‘The Book of Mormon and early revelations of Joseph Smith do indeed vividly portray a picture of the Father and Son as the same God…In later years he [Joseph] reversed his earlier efforts to completely ‘monotheise’ the godhead and instead ‘tritheised’ it.’
(CES Letter quoting Boyd Kirtland)
Monotheism – Our doctrine has always been monotheistic. This ‘tritheising’ narrative is a lie. Nephite prophets may not have emphasized the separateness of the Father and Son, but we can still see this in their detailed explanations of the monotheistic godhead. CES Letter quotes only a short snippet of Alma 11. But the full discourse in Alma actually explains the Godhead very well. The Son of God is the Eternal Father, in that Jehovah created the heavens and the earth with the Father:
And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last… every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works.”
Why does he explicitly say Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the very (or true) Eternal Father? Well, like he says, Christ the Son, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit are the “one Eternal God.” Being the creator, or father, of heaven and earth made it possible for Jesus to redeem people from their sins. Jesus acted as part of the role “Eternal Father”as creator of heaven and earth and as the member of the Godhead who redeems people from sin.
Mosiah further explains that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Father. It is important for Jesus to be the Son, as Jehovah is the only one to receive the fullness of the Father in order to be the creator and Savior:
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.”
The next chapter explains the reason why the Son must be separate from the Father. The Messiah can be our advocate from sin, and the Father cannot be our advocate because he is already our judge. It would be injustice for the advocate to be the same person as the judge:
Ether 3 reinforces this theology, but you’ve got to pay attention to the future, present, and past tense grammar. The physical creation of man is explained in active grammar, while the spiritual creation is passive grammar, indicating Jehovah created the physical but not the spiritual in the first Creation. Our spirits were created by the Father. Our physical bodies “have I” Jesus created. Additionally, spiritually we will be redeemed by the Son. There are three different events distinguished by different grammar: spiritual creation (passive), physical creation (active), and spiritual redemption (future tense.) As the Eternal Father, we become the son’s children spiritually through his redemption:
And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit…”
There is a lot packed into these few short paragraphs, but it certainly made sense to people of the ancient world back when different gods performed different functions. The Father created the spirit and judges us spiritually. The Son, by being firstborn and receiving the fullness of the Father, created the heavens and earth and man’s body, and acts as advocate to redeem mankind from sin. Together, they are “one God” or the “Eternal father.”
Joseph Smith Separated The Father & Son Early On
Joseph Smith recorded D&C 20 before the Book of Mormon was published, and it calls the Father a separate person than the Son. This proves Joseph Smith considered the Father and Son separate beings:
The Book of Mormon frequently calls the Father separate from the Son. For example:
Later Changes To Book of Mormon?
“As part of the over 100,000 changes to the Book of Mormon, there were major changes made to reflect Joseph’s evolved view of the Godhead…
CES Letter points out a few verse that were changed after 1830 to “the Son” from “the Father.” This was done to clear up confusion, but there are plenty of other verses which were not changed that could be twisted to a Trinitarian view. Why didn’t Joseph Smith change those verses as well? Even the title page reads: “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.” Why wasn’t that changed to “the Son” if the purpose of those changes were to change theology? It wasn’t.
Who Is Boyd Kirtland? – CES Letter quotes some guy named Boyd Kirtland whom they call an “LDS scholar.” I’m not sure who this guy is. I’ve never heard of him. Are they referring to a guy from California named Boyd Kirtland who worked on “GI Joe” cartoons? Does making GI Joe cartoons make you an LDS scholar? I dunno.
Whoever he is, Boyd Kirtland clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Book of Mormon prophets gave explanations appropriate for the contexts they were living in. They explained the true nature of the Godhead. It is important for us to know and understand the nature of the Godhead, as it is important for our repentance from sin and resurrection, and we need to know the character of God in order to gain faith. All this straw-manning from Antimormons, telling us what church members “actually believed,” befuddles the mechanism for our salvation.
CES Letter Logical Fallacies
|Circular Argument||The only reason why the Book of Mormon would explicitly explain the Godhead to a clearer extent than the bible is if it were written in a different context, which it doesn’t claim to do. CES Letter (quoting Antimormon Boyd Kirkland) claims the Book of Mormon’s purpose is to clear up today’s “doctrinal controversies,” but that’s only what it would be if it were a modern creation, which is what they are trying to prove. In Amulek’s argument with Zeezrom, why would he explain doctrine in today’s context rather than Zeezrom’s ancient context?|
|False Dilemma||The Book of Mormon does not present God as either the Father or the Son; it presents God as both. “God” can be three things while one of those three things is not the totality of God. Apples can be a fruit while not all fruits are apples.
This argument presents it as if the Book of Mormon either contradicts the bible or falls in line with mainstream Christian Trinitarian interpretation of the bible, but does not allow for the possibility that the modern mainstream interpretation is wrong.
|Poison the Well||Alma 11 and Mosiah 15 explains the Godhead pretty well, but CES Letter quotes only a snippet out of the context to bolster their argument.|
|Confirmation Bias||CES Letter mentions the Book of Mormon had 100,000 changes (a claim which is unsubstantiated), but skeptics fail to mention that almost all changes were grammar corrections because the original manuscript had no punctuation, and the printer added the errors.|
|Strawman Argument||Just because the Book of Mormon doesn’t explain something as fully as other church sources doesn’t mean they are contradicting each other. Church doctrine has always said Jesus is the fullness of the Father, the creator of everything physical, the Father of salvation, the character of the Eternal Father, and One God with the Father and Holy Spirit, just as the Book of Mormon says. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon that differs or contradicts other church sources.|
|Bandwagon||Joseph Smith must have thought the Father and Son were the same because everyone else around him did?|
|Repetition||CES Letter repeats this argument in their argument about the First Vision: “Why did Joseph hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead, as shown previously with the Book of Mormon, if he clearly saw that the Father and Son were separate embodied beings in the official first vision?” Why is CES Letter repeating their argument over and over instead of providing good evidence for it?|
Contradiction – Again we talk about discrepancies between books of scripture, the bible and Book of Mormon. This time, skeptics hold mainstream Christainity’s interpretation of the bible as the standard which the Book of Mormon must consistently live up to. They simply interpret the bible/Book of Mormon the same way most of mainstream Christians interpret it and argue that this contradicts Joseph Smith’s First Vision of the Father and Son in separate forms.
Does it make sense to assume the character of a mainstream Christian who believes in the bible if you are an atheist who believes the bible is a myth? That is not discussing honestly. If you believe the bible and believe Trinitarianism, fine, but otherwise I don’t see how this is a fair discussion.
Skeptics often point out alleged contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the bible or science. Here we move on to contradictions within church doctrine itself. When it comes to history, there is so much we don’t know and will never know. Don’t jump to conclusions. Many are tricked when it comes to history. If there is vague evidence for something but we mostly don’t know what really happened because it is ancient history, don’t jump to conclusions, whatever narrative is hyped up with emotional language. If we see a book that clears up old doctrine yet doesn’t clear up modern confusion about the Godhead, don’t just ignore all historical context for why this might be the case.
When I see someone point out the similarities between Egyptian or Babylonian gods to the our concept of the godhead, the narrative is typically that the Hebrew-Christian gospel is derived from other ancient religions. But then if I point out differences, as ancient prophets in the scriptures did to skeptics of their day, skeptics can just shift the narrative and claim we contradict other scripture. So, this is an impossible argument: Either Antimormons complain that we copied other religions or they complain that we contradict the Nicene Creed. Either way, Antimormons complain.
Changeable Truth – What alternative ideology do skeptics promote when they point out contradictions? Perhaps the answer lies in the phony straw-man portrayal of Joseph Smith’s beliefs–that his beliefs evolved, and in the narrative that ancient books need to address modern contexts. Some people evolve their beliefs to the current year, and this is what they expect scripture to do. What is an alternative to scripture that has remained essentially the same for many thousands of years? Perhaps scripture that is always changing. Truth that is never static. So maybe there is no way the story of Noah is true today the way it was back then, nor should it be, right? Truth is relative, always fitting modernity, right?
Today, why don’t we add more politically-correct characters to the Book of Mormon, to show that we are “inclusive?” Why don’t we add some justification for equal rights? We see this kind of evolution in the world’s popular scriptures, political speeches, classroom assignments, popular culture, entertainment media–the need to constantly be updated to fit the current year. The same old ideas repeatedly repackaged in a flashy modern frame.
Innuendo – This is what I see happen when people do not have a rigid model for truth, only ideology, and they follow an ever-changing narrative to suit whatever helps the ideology in that moment. So, if you can’t trust ancient scripture to be infallible truth, who can you trust? Science! Science will tell you all you need to know. Science is great for them because conclusions are always changing, always updating, and are easily manipulated. The frequent shifts in science can be exploited to push Satan’s ideology, which is an ideology of universal salvation and no personal responsibility.
So if they can convince you that the Book of Mormon is not trustworthy as ancient, unchanging truth, then they can also convince you that a good alternative to scripture should be “science” which is constantly edited to fit modern circumstances and push an alternative gospel. Then you can make the case that modern “scripture” should address every modern issue, and direct every explicit part of your life, from the way you tie your shoes in the morning to which words you are allowed to speak.
Use Opponent As Authority Tactic – This is a popular tactic. Some use church authorities to discredit our own faith, such as an alleged church scholar. What makes this argument powerful is:
- Deceptively discredits the vast libraries of study on Book of Mormon theology by LDS professionals.
- Gives more focus to a phony frame that attacks the church.
- Divides the ranks of the church.
- Establishes a narrative.
This is a powerful introduction to the narrative that Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat to create the Book of Mormon, with obscure sources to back the narrative up.
Divinity Of Jesus – Jesus IS the everlasting Father, the everlasting God. As Elder Bruce R. McKonkie explained, Jesus took the role of creator of the universe, co-creator of our physical bodies, and creator of our salvation. God the Father is separate, and is the creator of our spirits. It is vital for us to have a testimony of this, and to understand the role of Jesus in the atonement. As Jesus prayed:
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
(All claims in this article are personal opinion and speculation. Quotes regarding CES Letter are derived the October 2017 version of CES Letter and may not reflect more recent versions.)