Book of Mormon/Nature of God

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The Book of Mormon and the nature of God

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Question: Does the Book of Mormon teach that Christ and the Father are a single individual expressing himself in different modes?

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three persons, and is not consistent with either modalism/Sabellianism or standard Nicene trinitarianism

It is claimed that the Book of Mormon teaches Sabellianism, also called modalism, i.e., the belief that Christ and the Father are a single individual expressing himself in different modes.[1]

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three persons, and is not consistent with either modalism/Sabellianism or standard Nicene trinitarianism.

How are the Father and the Son one?

  • "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 19:23)

3 Nephi clearly teaches that Jesus Christ and the Father are two persons:

  • "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)
  • Ironically, Nicene trinitarians use a similar scripture in the Bible (John 1:1), in favor of the doctrine of the Nicene trinity (God in three persons). Thus, such language cannot be used as clear evidence of modalism.

Other examples in scripture

  • "And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one." (3 Nephi 28:10)

Jesus and the Spirit are two separate persons:

  • "But he [Jesus] truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink. And he said unto them: He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled. But he truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink. And he said unto them: He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled.Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard." (3 Nephi 20:7-9)
  • This scripture demonstrates that Mormon 7:7 and 2 Nephi 31:21 are not saying that Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are the same person.

Jesus Christ sits on the right hand of the Father:

  • "And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen."(Moroni 9:26)

Christ the Eternal Father is not the same as God the Father:

  • Christ is sometimes denominated "the Father because he was conceived by the power of God" (Mosiah 5:3)

Christ is the Father of our salvation:

  • "And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. "(Mosiah 5:7)

Christ is often discussed as a clearly distinct individual from the Father

  • The Nephites who witnesses the risen Christ were first spoken to by God: "6 And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them: 7 Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him." (3 Nephi 11:6-7) This was followed by Jesus' appearance, where he makes his own role and the Father's quite distinct: "I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. 11 And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning" (3 Nephi 11:10-11).
  • Jesus later also demonstrated their separate nature:
    • "...this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me" (3 Nephi 11:32).
    • "...not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem" (3 Nephi 15:14).
    • "Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land. 16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them...." (3 Nephi 15:15-16).
    • "I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them" (3 Nephi 16:3).
    • "...thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you...." (3 Nephi 16:10).
    • "...now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them" (3 Nephi 17:4).
    • "... I give unto you another commandment, and then I must go unto my Father that I may fulfil other commandments which he hath given me" (3 Nephi 18:27).
    • "And now I go unto the Father, because it is expedient that I should go unto the Father for your sakes" (3 Nephi 18:35).

Jesus' constant distinction between himself and the Father in both space (Jesus must leave the Nephites and go to the Father) and in giving instructions/commands (Jesus is commanded or not commanded by the Father repeatedly, and he obeys) are inconsistent with either Sabellianism or standard Nicene trinitarianism. Jesus and the Father are here clearly two distinct beings, though united in will and intent through divine love and obedience of the Son to the Father's will.

Other Book of Mormon examples

  • "I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end." (Moroni 8:3)
  • "Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." (Jacob 4:5)

It is a stretch to interpret the scriptures above in favor of Sabellianism. Therefore, verses in the Book of Mormon that might imply Sabellianism should likely be interpreted in a different sense, if this is plausible in the text. This is not difficult.


Question: Is it an anachronism that the Book of Mormon teaches that Christians existed before Christ’s birth?

The word "Christ" is the Greek word for the Hebrew word "Messiah"

The word "Christ" is the Greek word for the Hebrew word "Messiah". It is no more anachronistic for pre-Christian era Book of Mormon peoples to believe in a coming Messiah/Christ than it was for Old Testament prophets to believe in a coming Messiah/Christ.

The Book of Mormon refers to "Christians" in Alma 46:13-16 and Alma 48:10. These texts date to approximately 72 BC. The text of Alma 46:15 reads:

15 And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.

The English word "Christian" is not the word that was originally on the Nephite record

It should be remembered that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient Nephite text. The English word "Christian" is not the word that was originally on the Nephite record, but is the English word that Joseph Smith used when translating the original Nephite word. The word "Christian" simply means "Christ-believer" in common use and in the Book of Mormon. We don't know what the original Nephite word was for "Christian", but it signified something like "Christ-believer." The word "Christ" is a Greek word that means the same thing as the Hebrew word "Messiah." The concept of a future Messiah was taught in ancient Israel, and anyone who believed those prophecies would have been a "Messiah-believer". Therefore, all pre-Christian era Israelites who believed in the coming Messiah/Christ were Christians in this sense. This is the sense we find in the Book of Mormon.

Lehi and his family left the Old World carrying with them the plates of brass that they obtained from Laban (1 Nephi 4). These plates contained "the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah." (1 Nephi 5:13). Therefore, the Nephites knew about the ancient prophecies of the future Messiah/Christ. Furthermore, the Book of Mormon records many more prophecies by New World prophets of the coming Messiah/Christ. All those who believed these prophecies were "Messiah-believers" or, equivalently, "Christ-believers." The English word that Joseph Smith used to convey this meaning was "Christian."


Question: Why did Joseph Smith make changes to the Book of Mormon such as modifying "God" to read "the Son of God"?

These changes were made for the purpose of clarification, not doctrinal modification

These changes are clarifications that the passages are speaking of Jesus, not God the Father.

The terms "God," "Everlasting God," and "Eternal Father" are ambiguous since they could properly refer to either the Father or the Son. For example, "Eternal Father" refers to God the Father in Moroni 4:3, Moroni 5:2, and Moroni 10:4, but to God the Son in Mosiah 16:15 and Alma 11:38-39.

The addition of "the Son of" to four passages in 1 Nephi does not change the Book of Mormon's teaching that Jesus Christ is the God of Old Testament Israel. This concept is taught in more than a dozen other passages whose readings remain unchanged from the original manuscripts. For example:

  • "And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself...as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up...and to be crucified...and to be buried in a sepulchre...." (1 Nephi 19:10)
  • "...he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth." (Mosiah 7:27)
  • "Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father." (Mosiah 16:15)
  • "Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal 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." (Alma 11:38-39)

(See also 2 Nephi 25:12; Mosiah 3:8; Mosiah 13:28,33-34; Mosiah 15:1; Helaman 8:22-23; Helaman 14:12; Helaman 16:18; 3 Nephi 11:10,14; Mormon 9:12; Ether 3:14; Ether 4:7; Ether 4:12.)


It is simply illogical to conclude that Joseph Smith changed the four passages in 1 Nephi to conform to his supposed changing theological beliefs, but somehow forgot to change all the others.[2]

Notes

  1. Origen Bachelor, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (New York: Privately Published, 1838), 24. off-site
  2. Because of the significant number of Book of Mormon passages that speak of Jesus as God, the original readings in 1 Nephi are perfectly acceptable in their original form. Royal Skousen, editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, has recommended that they be restored to their original readings (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon 4/1: 233).