Question: Is the fact that Latter-day Saint missionaries were teaching around 1 November 1830 that Joseph Smith had seen “God” personally a reference to having seen Jesus Christ, but not the Father?

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Question: Is the fact that Latter-day Saint missionaries were teaching around 1 November 1830 that Joseph Smith had seen “God” personally a reference to having seen Jesus Christ, but not the Father?

The document which reports the missionaries’ teachings refers to “God” twice but also to “Christ” once and the “Holy Spirit” once

It cannot be successfully argued that before the missionaries made their statement in November 1830 Latter-day Saints would have understood “God” as a reference to Jesus Christ alone. When the missionaries (one of whom was Book of Mormon scribe Oliver Cowdery) were teaching that Joseph Smith had seen “God” personally they could have legitimately been referring to God the Father.

The weakness of this argument is twofold. First and foremost, critics ignore the fact that the document which reports the missionaries’ teachings[1]refers to “God” twice but also to “Christ” once and the “Holy Spirit” once. Hence, all three members of the Godhead appear to be represented individually in the document. In this context, a natural interpretation demands that “God” refer to the Father and the statement made by the missionaries would therefore mean that sometime before November 1830 Joseph Smith had seen God the Father “personally.”

The Book of Mormon talks of Lehi having a vision of both "God" and Jesus Christ

The second problem with the critics’ argument is that the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants contain several contemporary texts that undercut their position. For instance, 1 Nephi 12:18 speaks of “the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record.” Here all three members of the Godhead are represented and “the Eternal God” is an obvious reference to God the Father. It becomes apparent from a reading of Alma 11:44, however, that this is a title that can be appropriately applied to all three divine Beings. This scriptural passage talks about being “arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God.” This concept is paralleled in D&C 20:28—a text written about April 1830—which says that the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal.”

The Book of Mormon also begins (1 Nephi 1:8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One bright being [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi--thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both "God" and Christ.

Even a contemporary hostile source reports that Joseph communicated with "Almighty God"

A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:

I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people -- fond of the foolish and the marvelous -- at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities -- at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[2]

Capron obviously dislikes and distrusts the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[3] "Almighty God." This sounds much more like a reference to the Father than to Christ.

Notes

  1. “Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831): 102. off-site
  2. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  3. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."