Trinity Teachings

Trinitarian View (Continued)

CES Letter Core Question

The CES Letter highlights four sets of verses in the Book of Mormon that appear to have a trinitarian view. Is this evidence that Joseph maintained a trinitarian view and then changed it?

In addition to these revised passages, the following verses are among many verses still in the Book of Mormon that can be read with a Trinitarian view of the Godhead:

CES Letter, Page 25

When isolated from their context, some verses in the Book of Mormon may seem to support a Trinitarian view, but other verses plainly contradict it. These observations become unified by recognizing that the Godhead is composed of beings who are one in purpose, but are separate physically.

The Book of Mormon clearly differentiates Jesus Christ as the Son of an Eternal Father. He is called the Son (see 2 Nephi 31:18), the Beloved Son (see 2 Nephi 31:11), the Son of God (see 1 Nephi 10:17), the Holy Child (see Moroni 8:3), the Son of the most high God (see 1 Nephi 11:6), the Son of the living God (see Mormon 5:14), Son of our great God (see Alma 24:13), Son of the everlasting God (see 1 Nephi 11:32), Son of the Eternal Father (see 1 Nephi 11:21; 13:40), the Only Begotten of the Father (see Alma 5:48), the Only Begotten Son (see Jacob 4:5, 11; Alma 12:33), Christ the Son (see Alma 11:44), and the Son of Righteousness (see 3 Nephi 25:2).

The CES Letter's author's confusion may come because God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are a social Trinity. The word Trinity merely means three, three Beings who are one in purpose is still a Trinity, but not as the Christian creeds describe.

John 16:22 recounts how Jesus prays that the apostles may be “one even as we are one.” That is, the “oneness” that Jesus asks the apostles to have is modeled by the oneness that Jesus has with his father. This makes for a social Trinity, not a metaphysical Trinity.

To the Nephites the Savior declared:  “Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name” (3 Nephi 9:15). Yet, later he told the gathered Nephites:  “But now I go unto the Father” (3 Nephi 17:4). This is a plain declaration of their separateness.

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism in the 1820s prior to meeting Joseph. If the Prophet taught creedal trinitarianism, it seems unlikely that Harris would have believed in him and his teachings. In 1870 he recalled his feelings regarding the Trinity: “I cannot find it in my Bible. Find it for me and I am ready to receive it. Three persons in one God. One personage I cannot concede for this is Antichrist for where is the Father and Son?” 

There is no unambiguous statement from Joseph Smith stating that he believed in the Trinity as described in Christian dogma in 1829 or at any time thereafter.

Additional Resources:

The Doctrine of God the Father in the Book of Mormon by Andrew C. Skinner

The Mormon Concept of God: A Philosophical Analysis –  by Blake T. Ostler

The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths –  by Ari D. Bruening, David L. Paulsen

The “Jevhoah” Doctrine (Part 1) by Elden J. Watson

FairMormon: Did Joseph began his prophetic career with a “trinitarian” idea of God?