Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 7

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 7: The Godhead"

A FairMormon Analysis of: The Changing World of Mormonism, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism
Chart.changing.7.jpg

Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 7: The Godhead"

Jump to Subtopic:


Response to claim: 172 - The Book of Mormon teaches that God is a spirit

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon teaches that God is a spirit.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Book of Mormon is not discussing Nicene trinitarianism, and does not contradict the doctrine that God or Jesus possess a physical body


Question: Does the Book of Mormon teach that God is a spirit?

The Book of Mormon is not discussing Nicene trinitarianism, and does not contradict the doctrine that God or Jesus possess a physical body

Critics who object to the LDS position that God has a physical body claim that the Latter-day Saints are being inconsistent, since the Book of Mormon teaches that God is a spirit. However, the Book of Mormon is not discussing Nicene trinitarianism, and does not contradict the doctrine that God or Jesus possess a physical body.

Critics typically drawn on such Book of Mormon scriptures as Alma 18:26-28 or Alma 22:8-11, and then contrast them with DC 130:22.

The critics ignore several key points:

  • The Book of Mormon scriptures describe missionary efforts to teach the pagan Lamanites about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionaries begin their efforts by explaining that what the Lamanites called "The Great Spirit" was God. This is not an attempt to give a theological description of God's nature, but a starting point to build on common beliefs.
  • To the Lamanites, being "The Great Spirit" did not preclude being corporeal—Alma was mistaken for the great spirit, and yet he clearly had a body, could perform physical actions, etc. So, the concept of "spirit" used by the Lamanites is not (as the critics assume) the same as the non-physical and metaphysical "spirit" of Nicene trinitarianism.
  • The God to which the Book of Mormon scriptures refer is Jesus Christ, or Jehovah. In LDS doctrine, Jesus Christ was a premortal spirit that did not yet have a physical body when the scriptures in Alma were given. Thus, the description of Christ as a Spirit was accurate before His birth even in LDS terms.


Response to claim: 173 - The Book of Moses says that God created the earth, but the Book of Abraham says that "the Gods" created the earth

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Moses says that God created the earth, but the Book of Abraham says that "the Gods" created the earth.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

"God" may be properly spoken of as one in some senses, and as plural in other senses.


Question: Are Mormons polytheists because they don't accept the Nicene Creed?

Latter-day Saints are not polytheists in any reasonable sense of the term that does not also exclude most other Christians who deny the Modalist heresy

Some Christians say Mormons are polytheists because they believe humans can become gods. Is this an accurate characterization of LDS belief? Trying to reduce LDS thought to a simple term or "slogan" in this way distorts LDS doctrine.

Latter-day Saints worship one God

The Saints worship one God. There are no competing divinities in whom they put their trust. LDS scripture contains such language (1 Nephi 13:41, 2 Nephi 31:21, Mosiah 15:1-5, Alma 11:26-37, Mormon 7:7, DC 20:28, Moses 1:20), but it is qualified in somewhat the same way that Creedal Christians have found a way of saying "three"—as in Trinity—and yet also one.

Almost invariably when someone claims Mormons are polytheists, they are not seeking a clear explanation of Mormon thought on the nature of God, but are simply using a word with negative connotations in our religious culture as a club to intimidate or confuse others. Consider, for example, a conversation that Evangelical Christian author Richard Abanes, in his book Becoming Gods (pp. 107-8), claims to have had with a LDS bishop:

Abanes: "Don't you believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?"
Bishop: "We certainly do, and they are one God."
Abanes: "Don't you believe the Father is a god?"
Bishop: "Yes, of course."
Abanes: "And the Son is a god?"
Bishop: "Yes"
Abanes: "And the Holy Ghost is a god."
Bishop: "Yes"
Abanes: "That's three gods."
Bishop: "No, they're one God."

The author goes on to describe that he felt he had entered some sort of Twilight Zone scenario, and goes on to declare all Mormons "polytheists." Yet, any Latter-day Saint, upon reading the conversation outlined above, would recognize the creation of a simplified version, or "strawman," of LDS belief. One might also seriously consider how an Evangelical Christian would answer these same questions. The reality is certainly more complex than the "strawman" above would lead us to believe.

There really is not a single word that adequately captures LDS thought on the nature of God. Pertinent key technical terminology includes the following:

  • Monotheism (belief that there is only one God)
  • Tritheism (understanding the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as distinct Gods)
  • Polytheism (worship of, or belief in, more than one God)
  • Henotheism (worship of one God without denying the existence of other Gods; also called Monolatry)
  • Trinitarianism (belief that God consists of three Persons in one substance)
  • Social Trinitarianism (belief that the oneness of the three Persons is not one of substance but is social in nature [e.g., unity of thought, etc.])
  • Modalism (belief that there is only one God that does not exist as three separate Persons but rather manifests itself in three different "modes" [i.e., as Father, Son, or Holy Ghost])

Usually the very same people who are pressing the case that Mormons are polytheists are some stripe of Evangelical Christians who claim to be monotheists. But Trinitarians are not Monotheists by definition (just ask a Jew or Muslim).

The facts that the LDS do not believe the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in substance, and believe in deification/theosis (that humans may eventually become deified and become partakers in the divine nature), has been used to paint Mormons as polytheists. When we examine the technical terminology above, though, it becomes clear that a key point of demarcation is worship versus acknowledgment of existence. If members of the Church worshiped an extensive pantheon like the Greeks or Romans, then the label would be appropriate. In the context of doctrinal differences over the relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, however, or the doctrine of deification (which is a profoundly Christian doctrine and not just a Mormon one), use of the word "polytheistic" as a pejorative is both inaccurate and inappropriate.

Instead of using a single-word label, one must actually articulate the belief (using fully-developed sentences or paragraphs). The single-word label that will adequately describe the full breadth of LDS thought on the nature of God has yet to be coined.

Human deification and monotheism

The Bible contains language indicating human beings can put on the divine nature and be called "gods" (see John 10:33, 34; Ps. 82:6, Deut. 10:17, etc.). They are instructed to become one with Jesus just as he is one with his Father. The key point to realize is that any existence of other beings with godly attributes has no effect on who Latter-day Saints worship. According to Jeff Lindsay, a popular LDS online apologist:

We worship God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ - not glorious angels or Abraham or Moses or John the Baptist, no matter how great they may be in the kingdom of heaven as sons of God who have become "like Christ" (1 Jn 3:2). The only reasonable definition of polytheism requires that plural gods be worshiped - but the beings that Christ calls "gods" are not who we worship at all. In terms of worship, we are properly called monotheists.[1]

Additionally, there is abundant evidence of deification being taught by various commonly accepted Christians. If belief in theosis makes one a polytheist, many Christians would have to be so labeled - including such figures as C. S. Lewis and John Calvin. Clearly, this is not the way in which the term "polytheist" is normally used, but critics of the Church are often willing to be inconsistent if the Church can be made to look alien or "unchristian."

"Monotheism" is sufficiently broad to include the kind of oneness enjoyed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as that promised to those who become one with them when fully sanctified.


LDS trinitarian views are not polytheistic

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

[In Mormon theology] Jesus Christ and human beings partake of the same eternal properties, but they share in those properties in different ways. Jesus Christ has the priority, which is why...Mormons call him “our Elder brother.” This language sounds like it could be a classical example of subordinationism, that is, the subordination of the Son to the Father, thus rendering Christ a secondary or inferior God, which also runs into the problem of polytheism. More generously interpreted, Mormonism takes a strongly social view of the Trinity, seeing each member as an independent or relatively independent person, a position that is not uncommon among many creedal Christian theologians today. Their independence is relative because...Latter-day Saints “believe they are infinitely more one than they are separate.” Indeed, they enjoy a transcendental unity of divine indwelling that serves as a blessed state that all of God’s children can hope to attain.[3]:87–88

Mormons are not Arians

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

By now it should be clear how narrow-minded the charge is that Mormonism is a modern version of Arianism....For me, Mormonism raises the hypothetical question of what would have happened if the best theological minds had dedicated themselves to explicating all of the implications of the heavenly flesh position....we cannot simply turn back the clock to try to find a place and time where we can locate Mormonism in order to make it look familiar. Comparing Joseph Smith to Arius, who denied the Son’s equality with the Father, or, better, Eutyches, an early defender of Heavenly Flesh Christology, is not an unproductive thought experiment, but it misses the point that Mormonism demands a rethinking of classical theism from the ground up and thus a retelling of the Christian story from the Gospels forward—and the ground upon which it erects its speculations is as earthy as it can be. [3]:89

Joseph Smith's theology is not pagan—his theology is vast as the multiverse, and eliminates Neo-Platonism and Augustine

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

Far from reverting to paganism or simply falling into sloppy thinking, Smith was carrying his confidence in Christ to its fullest possible expression....All things are possible not only for us but also for God, in that this universe does not exhaust the divine creativity. The universe is not big enough to hold the majesty of God’s ingenuity. Rather than reacting negatively to the apparently infinite expansiveness of the universe, Smith called astronomy’s bluff and multiplied the universe by the same expansive factor. Smith was wiping the theological slate clean of the Neo-Platonic metaphysics that had so influenced Augustine.[3]:96–97

Common misrepresentation: Joseph Smith does not teach polytheism or "supplanting God" with his doctrine of human divination

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

Two corrections of common misrepresentations of Smith’s theology need to be made at this point....[The] [s]econd [is that] even though Smith says that believers will become gods, he also says that

they will be kings and priests to God, a phrase that qualifies his alleged polytheism. Clearly, the faithful are meant to share in the divine power and glory, and thus they too will have mastery over life and death, in the sense of being able to creatively participate in the creation, sustenance, and governance of life. Divine power seems to be the universal constant in this teaching, but it is not so diffuse that it has no source. God’s power will be shared, but it will still be God’s.[3]:96–97

Question: Are Christians monotheists?

Any discussion with Jews or Muslims will quickly demonstrate no Christian is, strictly speaking, a monotheist

One of the chief objections by Jews and Muslims is Christians are polytheists. Most brands of Christians insist on the divinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In addition, the very word those who crafted the great ecumenical creeds used to describe the deity of Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit is "trinity," meaning three. Additionally, they insisted the three Persons should not be confounded, as such would be deemed modalism (one of the primary heresies that led to the formation of the ecumenical creeds and various confessions). Modalism often insists the one God merely appears to us in three different ways (i.e., as Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and this is exactly what the creeds deny.


Response to claim: 177 - Mormons believe that God is "just an exalted man"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Mormons believe that God is "just an exalted man."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Saints do not believe that God is "just" anything. The word "just" shows the authors' biases, and their predetermined conclusion that the creedal view of God is automatically "better."


Gospel Topics: "Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense"

"Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense; they consider every person divine in origin, nature, and potential. Each has an eternal core and is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” Each possesses seeds of divinity and must choose whether to live in harmony or tension with that divinity. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people may “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny.” Just as a child can develop the attributes of his or her parents over time, the divine nature that humans inherit can be developed to become like their Heavenly Father's.[4]—(Click here to continue)


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will one day 'supplant' God?

A belief in human deification does not mean that the LDS believe that they will worship anyone other than God

Some Christians claim that the doctrine of human deification is unbiblical, false, and arrogant, and that Latter-day Saints believe that they will one day "supplant God".

The first thing we must realize when we study this principle is that

The Father is the one true God. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him. He is Elohim, the Father. He is God. Of Him there is only one. We revere our Father and our God; we worship Him. [5]

A belief in human deification does not mean that the LDS believe their worship is or will be properly directed at anyone but God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Said the Church when asked about the doctrine of deification of man:

We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being 'joint heirs with Christ' reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes. [6]

In response, it is proper to cite Origen:

Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings called gods. ... [However], as, then there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 8:5-6). [7]

To be sure, some may dislike this doctrine, but it is ancient, Biblical, and true.

The doctrine of deification was present in the early Church

Non-LDS church historian Ernst Benz insisted that the doctrine of deification was present in the early Church, and pointed out a potential risk for those who do not understand it:

Now this idea of deification could give rise to a misunderstanding—namely, that it leads to a blasphemous self-aggrandizement of man. If that were the case, then mysticism would, in fact, be the sublimist, most spiritualized form of egoism. But the concept of imago dei, in the Christian understanding of the term, precisely does not aspire to awaken in man a consciousness of his own divinity, but attempts to have him recognize the image of God in his neighbor. Here the powerful words of Jesus in Matthew 25:21-26 are appropriate and connected by the church fathers to imago dei...

Hence, the concept of imago dei does not lead toward self-aggrandizement but rather toward charity as the true and actual form of God's love, for the simple reason that in one's neighbor the image of God, the Lord himself, confronts us. The love of God should be fulfilled in the love toward him in whom God himself is mirrored, in one's neighbor. Thus, in the last analysis, the concept of imago dei is the key to the fundamental law of the gospel—"Thou shalt love . . . God . . . and thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27)—since one should view one's neighbor with an eye to the image that God has engraven upon him and to the promise that he has given regarding him. [8]


Common misrepresentation: Joseph Smith does not teach polytheism or "supplanting God" with his doctrine of human divination

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

Two corrections of common misrepresentations of Smith’s theology need to be made at this point....[The] [s]econd [is that] even though Smith says that believers will become gods, he also says that

they will be kings and priests to God, a phrase that qualifies his alleged polytheism. Clearly, the faithful are meant to share in the divine power and glory, and thus they too will have mastery over life and death, in the sense of being able to creatively participate in the creation, sustenance, and governance of life. Divine power seems to be the universal constant in this teaching, but it is not so diffuse that it has no source. God’s power will be shared, but it will still be God’s.[3]:96–97

Response to claim: 178 - There is a "Heavenly Mother"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

There is a "Heavenly Mother."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.


Gospel Topics: "Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them"

"Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Eliza R. Snow, a Church leader and poet, rejoiced over the doctrine that we are, in a full and absolute sense, children of God. “I had learned to call thee Father, / Thru thy Spirit from on high,” she wrote, “But, until the key of knowledge / Was restored, I knew not why.” Latter-day Saints have also been moved by the knowledge that their divine parentage includes a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. Expressing that truth, Eliza R. Snow asked, “In the heav’ns are parents single?” and answered with a resounding no: “Truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.”45 That knowledge plays an important role in Latter-day Saint belief. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”[9]


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a female divine person, a "Heavenly Mother" as counterpart to God, the Heavenly Father?

Latter-day Saints infer the existence of a Heavenly Mother through scripture and modern revelation

Because LDS theology rejects the doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) as a post-Biblical addition to Christian belief, and because they see God as embodied in human form while rejecting creedal Trinitarianism, having a female counterpart to Our Heavenly Father seems logical and almost inevitable. This is especially true given the LDS embrace of the doctrine of theosis, or human deification. Thus, the Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Father, and shares His attributes of perfection, holiness, and glory.

There is evidence for this doctrine in ancient Israel,[10] and within the Book of Mormon.[11]

As early as 1839, Joseph Smith taught the idea of a Heavenly Mother.[12] Eliza R. Snow composed a poem (later set to music) which provides the most well-known expression of this doctrine:[13]

In the heav´ns 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 lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

In 1909 the First Presidency, under Joseph F. Smith, wrote that

man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father [as an] offspring of celestial parentage...all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity....[14]

The 1995 statement issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, entitled The Family: A Proclamation to the World, states that all men and women are children of heavenly parents (plural), which implies the existence of a Mother in Heaven.[15]

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.


Response to claim: 180 - Jesus Christ was conceived through a physical act rather than by the power of the Holy Ghost

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Jesus Christ was conceived through a physical act rather than by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

LDS scripture teaches that Jesus was conceived when Mary "was carried away in the Spirit" (1 Nephi 11:19). We know of no details beyond this, save that God the Father was Jesus' literal Father; there is nothing allegorical about Jesus' parentage.


Question: Do Mormons believe that Mary was still a virgin when Jesus was born?

Latter-day Saints believe in the virgin birth

It is claimed that Latter-day Saints believe Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary, and that Mary therefore was not a virgin when Jesus was born. It is also claimed that Latter-day Saints reject the "Evangelical belief" that "Christ was born of the virgin Mary, who, when the Holy Ghost came upon her, miraculously conceived the promised messiah."

Often used as evidence are a handful statements from early LDS leaders, such as Brigham Young, that directly or indirectly support this idea. However, such statements do not represent the official doctrine of the Church. The key, official doctrine of the Church is that Jesus is literally the son of God (i.e., this is not a symbolic or figurative expression), and Mary was a virgin before and after Christ's conception.

At the annunciation, Mary questioned the angel about how she could bear a child: "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34; the expression "know" in the Greek text is a euphemism for sexual relations). Nephi likewise described Mary as a virgin (1 Nephi 11:13-20), as did Alma1 (Alma 7:10).

Latter-day Saints believe Jesus was the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh

Latter-day Saints do believe that Jesus Christ was literally the Son of God, not the son of Joseph or even the son of the Holy Ghost. (see 2 Ne 25:12 and DC 93:11) As Ezra Taft Benson stated,

[T]he testimonies of appointed witnesses leave no question as to the paternity of Jesus Christ. God was the Father of His fleshly tabernacle, and Mary, a mortal woman, was His mother. He is therefore the only person born who rightfully deserves the title “the Only Begotten Son of God.”[16]

What the Church has not taken a position on is how the conception took place, despite speculations by various early Church leaders

The canonized scriptures are silent on how the conception took place—even Nephi's detailed vision of then-future Messiah is veiled during the part where Mary conceives (1 Nephi 11:19).

Some early leaders of the Church felt free to express their beliefs on the literal nature of God's Fatherhood of Jesus' physical body

For example, Brigham Young said the following in a discourse given 8 July 1860:

"...[T]here is no act, no principle, no power belonging to the Deity that is not purely philosophical. The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood—was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers." [17]

Jesus shared God's genetic inheritance without necessarily requiring a sexual act to combine that inheritance with Mary's mortal contribution

But are these types of statements official Church doctrine, required for all believing Latter-day Saints to accept? No—they were never submitted to the Church for ratification or canonization. (See General authorities' statements as scripture.)

Critics have noted that this statement, and others like it, can be read to indicate there was sexual intercourse involved in the conception of Jesus. Regardless of this speculation--which goes beyond the textual data--Brigham Young's view may be seen by some contemporary Latter-day Saints as correct in that Jesus was literally physically the Son of God, just as much as any children are "of our fathers." Modern science has discovered alternative methods of conceiving children--e.g., in vitro "test tube" babies--that don't involve sexual intercourse. Thus, though processes such as artificial insemination were unknown to Brigham and thus likely not referenced by his statements, it does not necessarily follow from a modern perspective that the conception had to come about as the result of a literal sexual union. It is certainly not outside of God's power to conceive Christ by other means, while remaining his literal father. (Put another way, Jesus shared God's genetic inheritance, if you will, without necessarily requiring a sexual act to combine that inheritance with Mary's mortal contribution).

Ezra Taft Benson taught:

He was the Only Begotten Son of our Heavenly Father in the flesh—the only child whose mortal body was begotten by our Heavenly Father. His mortal mother, Mary, was called a virgin, both before and after she gave birth. (See 1 Nephi 11:20.) [18]

Benson's emphasis is on both the literalness of Jesus' divine birth, and the fact that Mary's virginal status persisted even immediately after conceiving and bearing Jesus.

Church leaders' statements on the literal paternity of Christ were often a reaction to various ideas which are false

  • they disagreed with the tendency of conventional Christianity to deny the corporeality of God. They thus insisted that God the Father had a "natural," physical form. There was no need, in LDS theology, for a non-physical, wholly spirit God to resort to a mysterious process to conceive a Son.
  • they disagreed with efforts to "allegorize" or "spiritualize" the virgin birth; they wished it understood that Christ is the literal Son of God in a physical, "natural" sense of sharing both human and divine traits in His makeup. This can be seen to be a reaction against more "liberal" strains in Christianity that saw Jesus as the literal son of Mary and Joseph, but someone endowed with God's power at some point in His life.
  • they did not accept that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were of one "essence," but rather believed that they are distinct Personages. Thus, it is key to LDS theology that Jesus is the Son of the Father, not the Holy Ghost. To a creedal, trinitarian Christian, this might be a distinction without a difference; for an LDS Christian it is crucial.

Bruce R. McConkie said this about the birth of Christ:

God the Father is a perfected, glorified, holy Man, an immortal Personage. And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says. [19]

In the same volume, Elder McConkie explained his reason for his emphasis:

"Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father. Mary, his mother, "was carried away in the Spirit" (1 Ne. 11:13-21), was "overshadowed" by the Holy Ghost, and the conception which took place "by the power of the Holy Ghost" resulted in the bringing forth of the literal and personal Son of God the Father. (Alma 7:10; 2 Ne. 17:14; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38.) Christ is not the Son of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 18-20.) Modernistic teachings denying the virgin birth are utterly and completely apostate and false. [20]

Note that McConkie emphasized the literal nature of Christ's divinity, his direct descent from the Father, and the fact that the Holy Ghost was a tool, but not the source of Jesus' divine Parenthood.

Harold B. Lee was clear that the method of Jesus' conception had not been revealed, and discouraged speculation on the matter

Harold B. Lee said,

We are very much concerned that some of our Church teachers seem to be obsessed of the idea of teaching doctrine which cannot be substantiated and making comments beyond what the Lord has actually said.

You asked about the birth of the Savior. Never have I talked about sexual intercourse between Deity and the mother of the Savior. If teachers were wise in speaking of this matter about which the Lord has said but very little, they would rest their discussion on this subject with merely the words which are recorded on this subject in Luke 1:34-35: "Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

Remember that the being who was brought about by [Mary's] conception was a divine personage. We need not question His method to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8-9: "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."

Let the Lord rest His case with this declaration and wait until He sees fit to tell us more. [21]


Response to claim: 183 - Four verses in the Book of Mormon were modified in which references to God were changed to refer to the Son of God

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:


  • 1 Nephi 13:40 was changed from "Christ is the Eternal Father" to "the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world."
  • 1 Nephi 11:18 was changed from "the mother of God" to "the mother of the Son of God"
  • 1 Nephi 11:21 was changed from "the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father" to "the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father."
  • 1 Nephi 11:32 was changed from "the Everlasting God" to "the Son of the everlasting God."

    Author's sources:


  • Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, p. 32 and 1 Nephi 13:40.
  • Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, p. 25 and 1 Nephi 11:18
  • Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, p. 26 and 1 Nephi 11:21
  • Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, p. 26 and 1 Nephi 11:32

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.


Question: What changes were made to the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon?

Among the changes Joseph Smith made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13

The earliest edition of the Book of Mormon referred to Jesus as "God." Joseph Smith later changed some, but not all, of these to "the Son of God." It is claimed by some that this is evidence that Joseph Smith changed the Book of Mormon to conform to his changing beliefs about the Trinity, claiming that Joseph was originally a solid Trinitarian (perhaps even a Modalist), and as he later began to teach that the Father and Son were two separate beings, he had to change the Book of Mormon to support his new doctrine. However, this change was a deliberate editorial insertion by Joseph Smith to clarify four verses in 1 Nephi.

The second edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1837 at Kirtland, Ohio. The typesetting and printing were done during the winter of 1836–37, with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taking an active part in the editing process.

In this edition numerous corrections were made to the text of the 1830 (first) edition to bring it back to the reading in the original and printer's manuscripts. Joseph Smith also made a number of editorial changes to the text, as was his right as the translator of the text.

Among the changes he made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13:

  Original manuscript Printer's manuscript 1830 edition 1837 edition
1 Nephi 11:18 behold the virgin which thou seest is the Mother of god after the manner of the flesh behold the virgin which <whom> thou seest is the Mother of <the son of> God after the manner of the flesh Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh. Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Nephi 11:21 & the angel said unto me behold the lam of god yea even the eternal father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw & the Angel said unto me behold the Lamb of God yea even the <God> Father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
1 Nephi 11:32 & it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again saying look and i lookt & beheld the lam of god that he was taken By the People yea the ever lasting god was judgd of the world and i saw & bare record & it came to pass that the Angel spake unto me again saying look & I looked & behold the Lamb of God that he was taken by the People yea the everlasting God was Judged of the world & I saw &amp bear record And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record. And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
1 Nephi 13:40 (Not extant.) & the Angel spake unto me saying these last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles shall establish the truth of the first which is <which are> of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb & shall make known the plain & precious things which have been taken away from them & shall make known unto all Kindreds Tongues & People that the Lamb of God is the <the son of> eternal Father & the saviour of the world & that all men must Come unto him or they cannot be saved And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which is of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved; And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved;

(The strikeouts and <insertions> in the printer's manuscript are in Joseph's hand, and were added by him during the preparation of the 1837 edition.)


Response to claim: 185 - The Lectures on Faith state that God is a spirit

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Lectures on Faith state that God is a spirit.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The Lectures on Faith clearly taught a separation of the Father and Son. They also clearly taught that the Father and Son were "embodied," with visible forms having precise dimensions and position in space. Whether Joseph Smith understood at this point that the Father had a physical body (as distinct from a spirit body upon which man's body was patterned) is not entirely clear.


Question: What are the Lectures on Faith?

The Lectures were published in 1835 as the Doctrine portion of The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints

The Lectures on Faith are seven lessons on theology delivered by the presiding officers of the Church to the School of the Elders at Kirtland, Ohio, in late 1834. The lectures are organized in the form of a catechism, with each lecture starting with instructions on doctrine, and the first five lectures concluding with a question-and-answer section to check class participants for understanding. Scholarship seems to indicate that the lectures were mostly written by Sidney Rigdon with some oversight of Joseph Smith. [22]

The Lectures were the "doctrine" portion of the Doctrine and Covenants

The Lectures were included as the "doctrine" portion of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (the revelations comprised the "covenants" portion). The Lectures were suggested to be added to this version of the D&C by a committee appointed on September 24, 1834 by a general assembly of the church to arrange the doctrines and revelations of the church into a single volume. That committee consisted of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams. The general body of the church accepted the committee's compilation on August 17, 1835 as "the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by a unanimous vote." [23]

While the Lectures on Faith were at one time included in the Doctrine and Covenants, they were subsequently removed from the 1921 edition (along with other items; for more information see D&C Textual Changes) that were not considered official revelation and binding doctrine by the church.


Question: Who wrote the Lectures on Faith?

The authorship of the Lectures on Faith is not entirely known

Recent authorship studies ascribe the wording of the lectures "mainly to Sidney Rigdon," with Joseph Smith substantially involved, and others perhaps having some influence. Willard Richards writes in his history that Joseph was "busily engaged" in November in making "preparations for the School for the Elders, wherein they might be more perfectly instructed in the great things of God."[24] Furthermore, in January 1835 Joseph was engaged in "preparing the lectures on theology for publication."[25]


Question: What does Lecture 5 of the Lectures on Faith say about the nature of God?

The Lectures did not have a trinitarian view of God—the Father and the Son were clearly distinct personages, united in mind by the Holy Spirit

Lecture 5 deals with the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Lecture 5.2 teaches:

There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things—by whom all things were created and made that are created and made, whether visible or invisible; whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness. The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man—or rather, man was formed after his likeness and in his image. He is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father, possessing all the fullness of the Father, or the same fullness with the Father, being begotten of him;(emphasis added.) [26]

Efforts to see this as evidence for an essentially 'trinitarian' view, are flawed

Efforts to see this as evidence for an essentially 'trinitarian' view, are flawed, [27] though at least one LDS missionary used this lecture to argue against the idea that God the Father and Christ "were two distinct personages, with similar bodies and minds." [28] Despite this claim, however, the question-and-answer section of the 5th Lecture on Faith include the following:

How many personages are there in the Godhead[?]

Two: the Father and Son.

Clearly then, as we will see below, this missionary's statement does not reflect the entirety of LDS thought on the Godhead up to that point. Ironically, his interlocutor's response harmonizes better with the Lecture's catechism and present-day LDS thought. [29] It is perhaps not surprising that the missionary let his critic have the last word, despite promising to address further issues! (This exchange provides an excellent lesson for apologists—when one makes a mistake or misstatement, one should admit it, and not try to salvage a bad argument.)

The role of the Holy Ghost was less clear at this point in time

The Lecture describes the "Only Begotten of the Father possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit" (emphasis added).

The exact nature of the relationship between the Spirit and the Father and the Son was not explicitly stated until 1843:

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.DC 130:22

Thus, the Lectures did not have a trinitarian view of God—the Father and the Son were clearly distinct personages, united in mind by the Holy Spirit.

The Lectures on Faith clearly taught that the Father and Son were "embodied," with visible forms having precise dimensions and position in space

After exploring the early evidence for Joseph's belief in an embodied Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (whether in flesh or spirit bodies), one author concluded:

What, then, shall be made of the lecture’s referring contrastingly to the Father as "a personage of spirit" and to the Son as "a personage of tabernacle"? Again, Webster’s 1828 dictionary is helpful. It lists "our natural body" as one use of the term tabernacle. Our natural body, I take it, is a body of flesh and bones. If so, the lectures affirm that God the Son has a flesh-and-bones body, humanlike in form, while God the Father has a spirit body, also humanlike in form. As mentioned, Joseph later knew that the Father, as well as the Son, has a glorious, incorruptible body of flesh and bone. No doubt, his understanding of the mode of the Father’s embodiment was enlarged and refined as he continued to receive and reflect on revelation. [30]

The Lectures on Faith clearly taught a separation of the Father and Son. They also clearly taught that the Father and Son were "embodied," with visible forms having precise dimensions and position in space. Evidence from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Church members, and the Church's antagonists all demonstrate that these doctrines go back to the earliest days of the Restoration. (This is not surprising, given that Joseph's First Vision would have made the separate nature of the Godhead crystal clear.)

Whether Joseph Smith understood at this point that the Father had a physical body (as distinct from a spirit body upon which man's body was patterned) is not entirely clear, although some, such as Bruce R. McConkie, believe there is a basis for such in the Lectures on Faith. One thing is for certain, Joseph clearly did not believe in the non-embodied God of classical trinitarianism. Nor did Joseph teach of a Father and Son "of one substance" as the trinitarian creeds of his day defined them.


Question: How would a statement that "God is a spirit" be interpreted in ancient Judasism?

The statement that "God is a spirit" does not mean that he has no body - it means that he is the source of life-giving power and energy

Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School (another non-Mormon scholar) explains how a statement that God is spirit would have been interpreted within ancient Judaism:

By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body … but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure. [31]

It may be that Joseph Smith, by revelation, had something like this in mind when he wrote that the Father is "a personage of spirit."


Response to claim: 185 - The Lectures on Faith were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Lectures on Faith were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.


Question: Why were the Lectures on Faith removed from the Doctrine and Covenants in 1921?

The Church said that they were removed because they had never been presented to or accepted by the membership as being anything other than theological lectures or lessons

The Church removed the Lectures from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition with an explanation that the Lectures "were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons".[32] This is in contrast to the remaining pages of the original Doctrine and Covenants which are officially recognized as divine revelation given specifically to the church.

Joseph Fielding Smith said the following concerning their removal:

a) They were not received as revelations by the prophet Joseph Smith.
b) They are instructions relative to the general subject of faith. They are explanations of this principle but not doctrine.
c) They are not complete as to their teachings regarding the Godhead. More complete instructions on the point of doctrine are given in section 130 of the 1876 and all subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants.
d) It was thought by Elder James E. Talmage, chairman, and other members of the committee who were responsible for their omission that to avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief, it would be better not to have them bound in the same volume as the commandments or revelations which make up the Doctrine and Covenants.[33]


Question: Were the Lectures on Faith revelations?

The Lectures were not revelations

Even hostile readers in 1838 understood that there was a distinct difference between the Lectures and the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants:

The first part [of the D&C] contains seven lectures on Faith, but the second is of most importance, containing what are termed, “Covenants and Commandments of the Lord, to his servants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.” This part includes one hundred and two sections, ninety-seven of which are occupied by as many professed revelations.[34]

Bruce R. McConkie wrote regarding the lectures, "They were not themselves classed as revelations, but in them is to be found some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character, perfections, and attributes of God; on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. They can be studied with great profit by all gospel scholars."[35] The 1990 republication of the Lectures signals the desire of some LDS scholars to stimulate interest in their historical and doctrinal significance for the Church.


Question: Are the Lectures on Faith not made available through Latter-day Saint sources?

The Lectures on Faith are available through Deseret Book

The Lectures on Faith are available through Church-owned Deseret Book in hardcover, softcover, illustrated and audio formats. They are also available in English and Spanish. (See: Deseret Book: Lectures on Faith). If there is an effort by the Church to hide or suppress them in any way, then they are not hiding them very well.


Response to claim: 187 - The Book of Mormon teaches that God is "unchangable," but LDS leaders taught otherwise

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon teaches that God is "unchangable," but LDS leaders taught otherwise.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The term "unchangeable God" is not referencing a physical state.


Question: Does the Book of Mormon refute Joseph Smith on the nature of God?

The term "unchangeable God" mentioned in the Book of Mormon is not referencing a physical state

The Book of Mormon never says God was once a mortal, and, in fact, it teaches that God was always God. Take for instance Moroni 8:18. It says God is "unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity." Joseph Smith, however, taught, "We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and take away the veil so that you may see."[36]

The term "unchangeable God" is not referencing a physical state. This can be shown from similar terms from the Bible about Jesus. Jesus is referred to as "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Yet we learn from the scriptures that Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”(Luke 2:52) here is certainly a change in condition; here is succession of time with God, a before and after; here is being and becoming; for whereas, He was a spirit, He became man; and in becoming man, He passed through all the phases in life from infancy to manhood. It is significant also that it was not until Jesus had arisen from the tomb and stood in the presence of His disciples, glorified personage, body and spirit united, that He exclaimed, “all power is given unto Me in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18) If “given”, there must have been a time when He did not possess all power in heaven and in earth; and hence, a change from possessing some power to the condition of possessing “all power”. So this term is not meant to mean His physical condition.

In context, no scripture tells us of God's physical change, but actually tells us that one can be eternal, unchanging, the same yesterday, today and forever, and still go through physical changes. Joseph however was contending against this false interpretation of scripture and was teaching the saints appropriately. In his lecture, he was talking about God passing through physical changes, even as Christ did, and as we must.

Here is a brief synopsis of scriptures that speak about this term, and possible meanings:

Scriptural Review

Hebrews 13:8-9

8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.
9 Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.

Comment: The term here seems to say that God/Christ will not tell you one thing, and another, something different, when it comes to doctrine.

Moroni 8:12,18

12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!...
18 For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

Comment: This also seems to say the same thing. God will not tell someone that one doctrine is correct, in this case, infant baptism, and another it is ok.

Mormon 9:7-9

7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?

Comment: Again, this agrees with the other scriptures. God, will not give tell/give the Gifts of the Spirit to one group, and tell another it is wrong.

2 Nephi 27:23

23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.

Comment: Virtual agreement with our other scriptural references.

Psalms 102:24-27

24 I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.
25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end"

Comment: The Psalmist here, in context, is referring to the eternal nature of God. All things will pass away, but God will remain.

Malachi 3:4-6

4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.
6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."

Comment: This is a reference to the promises God makes to His children, and his remembrance of those covenants.


Response to claim: 188 - The Lectures on Faith indicate that there are only two personages in the Godhead, and that their mind is the Holy Spirit

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Lectures on Faith indicate that there are only two personages in the Godhead, and that their mind is the Holy Spirit.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The Lectures did not have a trinitarian view of God—the Father and the Son were clearly distinct personages, united in mind by the Holy Spirit.


Question: What does Lecture 5 of the Lectures on Faith say about the nature of God?

The Lectures did not have a trinitarian view of God—the Father and the Son were clearly distinct personages, united in mind by the Holy Spirit

Lecture 5 deals with the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Lecture 5.2 teaches:

There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things—by whom all things were created and made that are created and made, whether visible or invisible; whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness. The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man—or rather, man was formed after his likeness and in his image. He is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father, possessing all the fullness of the Father, or the same fullness with the Father, being begotten of him;(emphasis added.) [37]

Efforts to see this as evidence for an essentially 'trinitarian' view, are flawed

Efforts to see this as evidence for an essentially 'trinitarian' view, are flawed, [38] though at least one LDS missionary used this lecture to argue against the idea that God the Father and Christ "were two distinct personages, with similar bodies and minds." [39] Despite this claim, however, the question-and-answer section of the 5th Lecture on Faith include the following:

How many personages are there in the Godhead[?]

Two: the Father and Son.

Clearly then, as we will see below, this missionary's statement does not reflect the entirety of LDS thought on the Godhead up to that point. Ironically, his interlocutor's response harmonizes better with the Lecture's catechism and present-day LDS thought. [40] It is perhaps not surprising that the missionary let his critic have the last word, despite promising to address further issues! (This exchange provides an excellent lesson for apologists—when one makes a mistake or misstatement, one should admit it, and not try to salvage a bad argument.)

The role of the Holy Ghost was less clear at this point in time

The Lecture describes the "Only Begotten of the Father possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit" (emphasis added).

The exact nature of the relationship between the Spirit and the Father and the Son was not explicitly stated until 1843:

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.DC 130:22

Thus, the Lectures did not have a trinitarian view of God—the Father and the Son were clearly distinct personages, united in mind by the Holy Spirit.

The Lectures on Faith clearly taught that the Father and Son were "embodied," with visible forms having precise dimensions and position in space

After exploring the early evidence for Joseph's belief in an embodied Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (whether in flesh or spirit bodies), one author concluded:

What, then, shall be made of the lecture’s referring contrastingly to the Father as "a personage of spirit" and to the Son as "a personage of tabernacle"? Again, Webster’s 1828 dictionary is helpful. It lists "our natural body" as one use of the term tabernacle. Our natural body, I take it, is a body of flesh and bones. If so, the lectures affirm that God the Son has a flesh-and-bones body, humanlike in form, while God the Father has a spirit body, also humanlike in form. As mentioned, Joseph later knew that the Father, as well as the Son, has a glorious, incorruptible body of flesh and bone. No doubt, his understanding of the mode of the Father’s embodiment was enlarged and refined as he continued to receive and reflect on revelation. [41]

The Lectures on Faith clearly taught a separation of the Father and Son. They also clearly taught that the Father and Son were "embodied," with visible forms having precise dimensions and position in space. Evidence from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Church members, and the Church's antagonists all demonstrate that these doctrines go back to the earliest days of the Restoration. (This is not surprising, given that Joseph's First Vision would have made the separate nature of the Godhead crystal clear.)

Whether Joseph Smith understood at this point that the Father had a physical body (as distinct from a spirit body upon which man's body was patterned) is not entirely clear, although some, such as Bruce R. McConkie, believe there is a basis for such in the Lectures on Faith. One thing is for certain, Joseph clearly did not believe in the non-embodied God of classical trinitarianism. Nor did Joseph teach of a Father and Son "of one substance" as the trinitarian creeds of his day defined them.


Response to claim: 190 - LDS leaders can't explain why the Holy Ghost should be denied a body since the Father has one

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

LDS leaders can't explain why the Holy Ghost should be denied a body since the Father has one.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The scriptures tell us why the Holy Ghost does not (at present) have a body: "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" (DC 130:22).


Question: Will the Holy Ghost ever receive a physical body?

We have no revelation on this topic

Because nothing has been revealed on this topic, leaders of the Church have consequently discouraged pronouncements or speculation on this subject.


Joseph Fielding Smith: "I have never troubled myself about the Holy Ghost whether he will sometime have a body or not because it is not in any way essential to my salvation"

Before he was president of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

AVOID SPECULATING ON DESTINY OF THE SPIRIT. The Holy Ghost is not a personage with a body of flesh and bones, and in this respect differs from the Father and the Son. The Holy Ghost is not a woman, as some have declared, and therefore is not the mother of Jesus Christ.

It is a waste of time to speculate in relation to his jurisdiction. We know what has been revealed and that the Holy Ghost, sometimes spoken of as the Holy Spirit, and Comforter, is the third member of the Godhead, and that he, being in perfect harmony with the Father and the Son, reveals to man by the spirit of revelation and prophecy the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our great duty is so to live that we may be led constantly in light and truth by this Comforter so that we may not be deceived by the many false spirits that are in the world.

I have never troubled myself about the Holy Ghost whether he will sometime have a body or not because it is not in any way essential to my salvation. He is a member of the Godhead, with great power and authority, with a most wonderful mission which must be performed by a spirit. This has satisfied me without delving into mysteries that would be of no particular benefit.[42]

Bruce R. McConkie: "expressions on these matters are both speculative and fruitless"

In the same vein, Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

In this dispensation, at least, nothing has been revealed as to [The Holy Ghost's] origin or destiny; expressions on these matters are both speculative and fruitless.[43]


Response to claim: 190 - The Holy Ghost can't be a God since he doesn't have a body

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Holy Ghost can't be a God since he doesn't have a body.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is incorrect.


Question: Can the Holy Ghost not be fully God, because he does not have a physical body?

It is not known by revelation that it will be necessary for the Holy Spirit to receive a body at some point

Critics charge that since LDS doctrine teaches that a body is required for exaltation, the Holy Ghost cannot be fully God, because he does not have a physical body.

Modern scriptures indicate that having a body is necessary for a fullness of joy (DC 93:33). It is assumed by some Latter-day Saints—but not known by revelation—that it will be necessary for the Holy Spirit to receive a body at some point, but the timeframe in which He does so is not particularly important. (To travel overseas to another country, one needs both a passport and an airplane ticket. It doesn't matter in which order one gets the passport or the ticket, but one must eventually have both in order to reach one's destination.)

Jehovah, the premortal Jesus Christ, was part of the Godhead before his mortal birth. He was the God of Israel, and his yet-future atonement was efficacious to those who were born, lived, and died prior to His crucifixion. The fact that it was effective should blunt any feigned requirement for sequence concerning the Holy Ghost's receipt of a physical body, a matter about which the Church has no official doctrine.


Response to claim: 191 - During the First Vision, Joseph learned that the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bones

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

During the First Vision, Joseph learned that the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bones.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

It is not clear when Joseph learned that the Father and Son had physical bodies. The First Vision taught Joseph that body was "incorporated"—i.e., he had form and some location in physical space. But it is not clear that Joseph immediately understood that this corporeality was made of flesh and bone (e.g., he could have been seeing 'spirit bodies' which still have form and location, but not flesh and bone.)


Notes

  1. Jeff Lindsay, "If you believe the Father and the Son are separate beings, doesn't that make you polytheistic?" JeffLindsay.com (accessed December 2007). off-site
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011). (emphasis added) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "webbBook" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "webbBook" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "webbBook" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "webbBook" defined multiple times with different content
  4. "Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (25 February 2014)
  5. Boyd K. Packer, "The Pattern of Our Parentage," Ensign (November 1984), 69. off-site
  6. Fox News, "21 Questions Answered About Mormon Faith," (18 December 2007). off-site
  7. Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 3.
  8. Ernst W. Benz, "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God," in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 215–216. ISBN 0884943585. Reprinted in Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-site Note: Benz misunderstands some aspects of LDS doctrine, but his sketch of the relevance of theosis for Christianity in general, and Joseph Smith's implementation of it, is worthwhile.
  9. "Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (February 25, 2014)
  10. Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, "Does God Have a Wife? Review of Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 81–118. off-site wiki
  11. See Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23," in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, edited by Davis Bitton, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998). [191-243] direct off-site A shorter version of this article is also available in Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 16–25. off-site wiki
  12. Elaine Anderson Cannon, "Mother in Heaven," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), :961. off-site
  13. This is Hymn #292 in the current LDS hymnal ("O My Father"). Written at Joseph Smith's death, the poem was originally published as Eliza R. Snow, "Invocation," Times and Seasons 6 no. 17 (15 November 1845), 1039. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) (See Terryl L. Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (Oxford University Press, 2007), 168. ISBN 0195167112. ISBN 978-0195167115.)
  14. Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 205–206. GL direct link (italics added). Originally in First Presidency, "[Evolution:Primary_sources:First_Presidency_1909 The Origin of Man]," Improvement Era 13 (November 1909), 61–75.
  15. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," Ensign (November 1995), 102. (Statement issued by President Gordon B. Hinckley on 23 September 1995.) off-site
  16. Ezra Taft Benson, "Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ," From a fireside address given at the University of Utah Special Events Center on 9 December 1979.
  17. Brigham Young, "Character of God and Christ, etc.," (8 July 1860) Journal of Discourses 8:115. (See also Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:238.; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:218.; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:268..
  18. Ezra Taft Benson, "Joy in Christ," Ensign (March 1986), 3–4. (emphasis added) off-site
  19. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 742. GL direct link
  20. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 822. GL direct link
  21. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 14. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  22. See Larry E. Dahl, "Lectures on Faith," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:818–821.
  23. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:243–246. Volume 2 link
  24. http://ldsfaq.byu.edu/emmain.asp?number=219
  25. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:169–170. Volume 2 link
  26. Lectures on Faith Num 5, 5:2a-5:2e
  27. See David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. PDF link (Key source)
  28. Stephen Post, “Mormon Defence.--No. II,” Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 15 (1 December 1837): 230–31. off-site
  29. Oliver Barr, “Mormonism--No. V,” The Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 18 (15 January 1838): 275. off-site
  30. See David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and PhilosophicalPerspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. PDF link
  31. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.
  32. Doctrine and Covenants, 1921 edition's introduction.
  33. As told to John William Fitzgerald, A Study of the Doctrine and Covenants, M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 344.
  34. La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 2 (13 January 1838): 6. off-site
  35. Bruce R. McConkie, "Lectures on Faith," in Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 439. GL direct link
  36. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 345. off-site
  37. Lectures on Faith Num 5, 5:2a-5:2e
  38. See David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. PDF link (Key source)
  39. Stephen Post, “Mormon Defence.--No. II,” Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 15 (1 December 1837): 230–31. off-site
  40. Oliver Barr, “Mormonism--No. V,” The Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 18 (15 January 1838): 275. off-site
  41. See David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and PhilosophicalPerspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. PDF link
  42. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 39.
  43. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 359. GL direct link