Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Chapter 3

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 3: The Trinity"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormonism 101, a work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

Response to claims made in Mormonism 101, "Chapter 3: The Trinity"

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Response to claim: 51 - Several church councils, in which men fought for their own theories, foisted upon the Church the incomprehensible and unnatural doctrine of "one in three and three in one"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors quote John A. Widtsoe,

Several church councils, in which men fought for their own theories, foisted upon the Church the incomprehensible and unnatural doctrine of "one in three and three in one." ...This false doctrine, which has been nurtured through the centuries, is an excellent illustration of philosophical-theological error and nonsense.

Author's sources:
  1. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations 1:58

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Let's look at the Widtsoe quote in context. As is always advisable when examining critical literature, it is best to fill in the portions omitted by the authors:

In numerous references in the Book of Mormon, the members of the Godhead stand out as distinct personages. The Bible, if read fully and intelligently, teaches that the Holy Trinity is composed of individual Gods.

The early Christian Church, on its way to apostasy, departed from this truth. Several church councils, in which men fought for their own theories, foisted upon the Church the incomprehensible and unnatural doctrine of "one in three and three in one." They twisted the doctrine of unity of nature and of purpose among the Trinity into an oneness of personality. They would quote Jesus' prayer to his Father, that his disciples "may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." (John 17:21) Yet at the same time they ignored the clear evidence in the prayer that Jesus was on earth, at that time, speaking to a Being elsewhere; and the equally clear meaning of the prayer that he did not propose that his disciples should be fused into one personage, but that they should be of one mind with him and his Father. This false doctrine, which has been nurtured through the centuries, is an excellent illustration of philosophical-theological error and nonsense.

Latter-day Saints prefer to cling to the revealed word, and to read the word of God intelligently. Only that which we can understand can be used safely by mortal men; that which is incomprehensible is useless to us.

What does this quote tell about LDS doctrine, and what about the rejection of the concept of the Trinity?

  1. The "Trinity" was accepted as "Holy" by Widtsoe. It is a term that has revered place in LDS theology. It is said to be taught in the Bible. Therefore "Trinity" has not been attacked by the LDS, nor slandered, but the understanding of the Trinity is different, and those different understandings are attacked.
  2. There are three distinct personages in the Trinity.
  3. The three personages are one in nature and purpose.
  4. The oneness of personality is rejected.

So, basically it is modalism that is rejected, namely the same modalism that, though not official doctrine of Christian Churches, is believed by the majority of Christian believers.

Further, just as the Eastern Orthodox Christians, the Psychological Trinity with its only distinction of personages lying in the different relations between the fathership, the sonship and the exhalation, is seen as a modalistic variance, and therefore rejected.

If one wants to find fault with Widtsoe in this, it is only that he knew not enough about the Psychological Trinity to formulate his rejection more fittingly. He primarily attacks what he has been told about the Latin Trinity by its professors. And, as Trobisch said, most of those do not know what the traditional Trinity is about.

A Protestant Christian might also find fault with the expression: "The Bible, if read fully and intelligently, teaches that the Holy Trinity is composed of individual Gods."

Just as many traditional Christians err when saying "Father, Son and God are one person," the expression "the Trinity is composed of individual Gods" might be not entirely correct, but it is not wrong either.

Response to claim: 51-52 - The authors claim that "Mormon leaders" have "mocked and slandered" the concept of the Trinity despite it being "the heart and soul of Christian theology"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that "Mormon leaders" have "mocked and slandered" the concept of the Trinity despite it being "the heart and soul of Christian theology."

Author's sources:
  1. Larry Dahl, "The Morning Breaks, The Shadows Flee," Ensign (April 1997) 14-15.
  • Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370, 372.
  • Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, vol. 1, 117-118.
  • Gordon B. Hinckley, Church News, 4 July 1998, 2.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors of Mormonism 101 have reduced quotes to change their meaning. Had they provided the full context of the quotes by Widtsoe and Smith, the reader would have seen that they reject modalism and semi-modalism and focus on the three persons of the Trinity.

Both McConkie and Hinckley reject the notion of the numeric oneness of the three divine Persons. The thrust of the LDS argument against the modalism of lay Christians and the semi-modalism of Latin Trinity has not changed since Joseph Smith.

Let's have a look at President Hinckley's words, as quoted by the authors:

The world wrestles with the question of who God is, and in what form He is found. Some say that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one. I wonder how they ever arrive at that. How could Jesus have prayed to Himself when he uttered the Lord's Prayer? How could He have met with Himself when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration? No. He is a separate being.[1]

These words, to the authors, are antithetical to the biblical message. Let's take it one by one. What does President Hinckley reject in his message? It is the numerical oneness and identity of the Father with the Son and the Holy Ghost. Nothing more, nothing less. If we are to believe the authors, the doctrine of the Trinity is just that: In uttering the Lord's prayer, Jesus prayed to Himself, on the Mount of Transfiguration, He met Himself. To suggest otherwise is to reject the biblical message.

We have already seen that this is not what even the Psychological Trinity is about. The authors proved what Trobisch said: Most lay Christians don't understand the Trinity, and it takes more to get a glimpse of what the Trinity is about than just having a Masters in Divinity.

Response to claim: 53 - The Bible "declares that there is only one God"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The Bible "declares that there is only one God."

Author's sources:
  1. 1 Chronicles 17:20

FairMormon Response

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

Response to claim: 53 - The commandment "Thou shalt have not other gods before me" it interpreted by the authors to mean that "one is not to even believe that there are other gods"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The commandment "Thou shalt have not other gods before me" it interpreted by the authors to mean that "one is not to even believe that there are other gods."

Author's sources:
  1. Exodus 20:3

FairMormon Response

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

Response to claim: 53 - The Mormon may insist his worship does not extend beyond the one he calls Elohim, but context demands that this must also involve his faith

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors continue quoting scriptures:

This certainly is a superficial interpretation, for many passages show this oneness far surpasses the mere notion of agreement. For example, the Ten Commandments strongly warn, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exod. 20:3). The Mormon may insist his worship does not extend beyond the one he calls Elohim, but context demands that this must also involve his faith (he is not to even believe there are other Gods).

FairMormon Response

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

Well, in fact there's nothing in Exodus 20 that claims that we should not believe that there are other gods. If that were the case, Deuteronomy 10:17, Joshua 22:22, Psalms 136:2, and Daniel 2:47 and 11:36 would be against that commandment. Or would McKeever and Johnson rather have us believe that these passages refer to God as "God of Idols," instead of "God of Gods?"


Response to claim: 53-54 - The Book of Isaiah offers perhaps more verses in defence of monotheism than any other

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

This leads us to the next interesting claim:

The Book of Isaiah offers perhaps more verses in defence of monotheism than any other. Throughout chapters 43 through 45, this book emphasizes the existence of one God and one God only (see Isa. 43: 10; 44:6; 45:5-6, 14, 21-22; 46:9). It is difficult to interpret passages such as Isaiah 43: 10 as merely referring to several Gods being one in purpose since it rejects the possibility of other gods existing either before or after the one true God. One would think that even the God of Mormonism would be aware of the many gods who allegedly exist with him, or for that matter, the god that begat his mortal body. Yet Isaiah 44:8 tells us that the God of the Bible doesn't even know of other gods! Are we to believe in the context of Mormonism that Joseph Smith's God can't remember who his own father was?

FairMormon Response

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

That's a really interesting question, but let's redirect it back to the authors: If the Father and the Son are one being, how can Jesus say:

Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and [to] my God, and your God.34

Jesus really used unambiguous words to proclaim that God not only was God to his disciples, but Jesus' God, too.

Let's continue to Paul. Galatians 3:19-20 talks about mediatorship and then tells us "Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one."35 So, if there's a mediator, there have to be two parties, and the mediator is not party himself. Hebrews 9:15 calls Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant. Those two scriptures form a nice contradiction to McKeever and Johnson's oneness claims, which I don't think they can resolve. Every scripture they threw at us brings them into either rejecting their own position or the New Testament testimony of Christ.

How, though, can the LDS reconcile their view with those scriptures in Isaiah? That's easy; you just have to take a look at Isaiah 44:6-8:

Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I [am] the first, and I [am] the last; and beside me [there is] no God.

And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? And the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.

Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared [it]? ye [are] even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, [there is] no God; I know not [any].

The question here is: Who has revealed himself to the world? Which God has ever communicated with man? Who has revealed the future? Who but He who brought up this future? The answer is: None. There is no one, and neither the Israelites nor God knows any other god that had revealed himself but the God of Israel. Again, this says nothing about monotheism. It just talks about revelation, and wholeheartedly we recognize Isaiah's argument as valid.


Response to claim: 54 - the LDS idea of deification is unbiblical

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors' main purpose seems to be to show that the LDS idea of deification is unbiblical, unchristian and untrue. They seem to think that this doctrine is the main reason why the LDS reject the Psychological Trinity. They write:

Why does the LDS Church reject the historic church's concept of the Trinity? Because not only does the Trinity remove any hope of a Mormon ever achieving godhood, but it also undermines Smith's first vision and subsequent teachings regarding a multiplicity of deities. If it can be demonstrated that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost/Spirit are God, and at the same time be shown that there exists only one God, it would definitely place the integrity of the first Mormon prophet on the line.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false


Question: What were the views of early Christians on the deification of man?

A review of Christian history illustrates that this doctrine was and is a common belief of many Christians

Some Christians insist that the doctrine of theosis is unBiblical and unChristian. However, a review of Christian history illustrates that this doctrine was and is a common belief of many Christians.

Irenaeus (ca. AD 115-202)

Saint Irenaeus, who may justly be called the first Biblical theologian among the ancient Christians, was a disciple of the great Polycarp, who was a direct disciple of John the Revelator. [2] Irenaeus is not a heretic or unorthodox in traditional Christian circles, yet he shares a belief in theosis:

While man gradually advances and mounts towards perfection; that is, he approaches the eternal. The eternal is perfect; and this is God. Man has first to come into being, then to progress, and by progressing come to manhood, and having reached manhood to increase, and thus increasing to persevere, and persevering to be glorified, and thus see his Lord. [3]

Like the LDS, Irenaeus did not believe that this belief in any way displaced God, Christ, or the Holy Ghost:

there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption....Since, therefore, this is sure and stedfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption. [4]

Yet, Irenaeus—whom it would be perverse to exclude from the ranks of orthodox Christians—believed in theosis in terms which agree with LDS thinking on the matter:

We were not made gods at our beginning, but first we were made men, then, in the end, gods. [5]

Also:

How then will any be a god, if he has not first been made a man? How can any be perfect when he has only lately been made man? How immortal, if he has not in his mortal nature obeyed his maker? For one's duty is first to observe the discipline of man and thereafter to share in the glory of God. [6]

And:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is.” [7]

And:

But of what gods [does he speak]? [Of those] to whom He says, "I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High." To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the "adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father."” [8]

And, Irenaeus considers the doctrine clearly Biblical, just as the LDS do:

For he who holds, without pride and boasting, the true glory (opinion) regarding created things and the Creator, who is the Almighty God of all, and who has granted existence to all; [such an one, ] continuing in His love and subjection, and giving of thanks, shall also receive from Him the greater glory of promotion, looking forward to the time when he shall become like Him who died for him, for He, too, "was made in the likeness of sinful flesh," to condemn sin, and to cast it, as now a condemned thing, away beyond the flesh, but that He might call man forth into His own likeness, assigning him as [His own] imitator to God, and imposing on him His Father's law, in order that he may see God, and granting him power to receive the Father; [being] the Word of God who dwelt in man, and became the Son of man, that He might accustom man to receive God, and God to dwell in man, according to the good pleasure of the Father. [9]

Further quotes from Irenaeus available here.

Said one Protestant theologian of Irenaeus:

Participation in God was carried so far by Irenaeus as to amount to deification. 'We were not made gods in the beginning,' he says, 'but at first men, then at length gods.' This is not to be understood as mere rhetorical exaggeration on Irenaeus' part. He meant the statement to be taken literally. [10]

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)

Clement, an early Christian leader in Alexandria, also taught the doctrine of deification:

yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god. [11]

And:

...if one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God...His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, "Men are gods, and gods are men." [12]

Those who have been perfected are given their reward and their honors. They have done with their purification, they have done with the rest of their service, though it be a holy service, with the holy; now they become pure in heart, and because of their close intimacy with the Lord there awaits them a restoration to eternal contemplation; and they have received the title of "gods" since they are destined to be enthroned with the other "gods" who are ranked next below the savior. [13]

Origen (ca. AD 185-251)

And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, "The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken and called the earth." It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is "The God," and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. [14]

The Father, then, is proclaimed as the one true God; but besides the true God are many who become gods by participating in God. </ref>Origen in Bettensen, Henry. The Early Christian Fathers, 324.</ref>

Origen also defined what it means to "participate" in something:

Every one who participates in anything, is unquestionably of one essence and nature with him who is partaker of the same thing. [15]

Justin Martyr (d. ca. AD 163)

Justin the Martyr said in 150 A.D. that he wishes

to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons... in the beginning men were made like God, free from suffering and death, and that they are thus deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest... [16]

Also,

[By Psalm 82] it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and even of having power to become sons of the Highest. [17]

Hippolytus (AD 170-236)

Now in all these acts He offered up, as the first-fruits, His own manhood, in order that thou, when thou art in tribulation, mayest not be disheartened, but, confessing thyself to be a man (of like nature with the Redeemer,) mayest dwell in expectation of also receiving what the Father has granted unto this Son...The Deity (by condescension) does not diminish anything of the dignity of His divine perfection having made you even God unto his glory. [18]

Athanasius

In 347, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and participant in the council of Nicea, said:

the Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods....just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through His flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life...[we are] sons and gods by reason of the word in us. [19]

For as Christ died and was exalted as man, so, as man, is He said to take what, as God, He ever had, that even such a grant of grace might reach to us. For the Word was not impaired in receiving a body, that He should seek to receive a grace, but rather He deified that which He put on, and more than that, gave it graciously to the race of man. [20]

He also states that Christ "became man that we might be made divine." [21]

Augustine (AD 354-430)

Augustine, considered one of the greatest Christian Fathers, said

but He himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying He makes sons of God. For He has given them power to become the sons of God, (John 1:12). If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods. [22]

Jerome (AD 340-420)

Jerome also described the deification of believers as an act of grace, which matches the LDS understanding precisely:

“I said 'you are gods, all of you sons of the most high.’" let Eunomius hear this, let Arius, who say that the son of God is son in the same way we are. That we are gods is not so by nature, but by grace. “but to as many as receive Him he gave power to becoming sons of God” I made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods. We are called gods and sons!...[Christ said] "all of you sons of the Most High," it is not possible to be the son of the Most High, unless He Himself is the Most High. I said that all of you would be exalted as I am exalted. [23]

Jerome goes on to say that we should

give thanks to the God of gods. The prophet is referring to those gods of whom it is written: I said ‘you are gods’ and again ‘god arises in the divine assembly’ they who cease to be mere men, abandon the ways of vice an are become perfect, are gods and the sons of the most high... [24]

Modern Christian exegesis

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology describes "deification" thusly:

Deification (Greek Theosis) is for orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is ‘made in the image and likeness of God’...it is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become God by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both O.T. and N.T. (Psalms 82: (81) .6; 2 Peter 1:4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St. Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (Romans 8:9-17, Galatians 4:5-7) and the fourth gospel (John 17:21-23). [25]

Joseph Fitzmyer wrote:

The language of 2 Peter is taken up by St. Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, ‘if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods; (adv. Haer v, pref.), And becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St. Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons ‘by participation’ (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St. Maximus the confessor, for whom the doctrine is corollary of the incarnation: ‘deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages’,...and St. Symeon the new theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, ‘he who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face...’

Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian. [26]

According to Christian scholar G.L. Prestige, the ancient Christians “taught that the destiny of man was to become like God, and even to become deified.” [27]

William R. Inge, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote:

"God became man, that we might become God" was a commonplace of doctrinal theology at least until the time of Augustine, and that "deification holds a very large place in the writings of the fathers...We find it in Irenaeus as well as in Clement, in Athanasius as well in Gregory of Nysee. St. Augustine was no more afraid of deificari in Latin than Origen of apotheosis in Greek...To modern ears the word deification sounds not only strange but arrogant and shocking. [28]

Yet, these "arrogant and shocking" doctrines were clearly held by early Christians!

This view of the early Christians' doctrines is not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Many modern Christian writers have recognized the same doctrines. If some modern Christians do not wish to embrace these ancient doctrines, that is their privilege, but they cannot logically claim that such doctrines are not "Christian." One might fairly ask why modern Christians do not believe that which the ancient Christians insisted upon?


Response to claim: 54 - the LDS Church rejects the historic church's concept of the Trinity

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors by their rejection of deification have-according to Vajda-proven the LDS teaching about the "Great Apostasy." Further, the above proves that either McKeever and Johnson are ignorant of the fully Christian doctrine of deification, or they ignore it wilfully to deceive their readers. Either way, they are dead wrong in the following assumption:

Why does the LDS Church reject the historic church's concept of the Trinity? Because not only does the Trinity remove any hope of a Mormon ever achieving godhood, but it also undermines Smith's first vision and subsequent teachings regarding a multiplicity of deities. If it can be demonstrated that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost/Spirit are God, and at the same time be shown that there exists only one God, it would definitely place the integrity of the first Mormon prophet on the line.24

FairMormon Response

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

Neither the hope of achieving godhood, nor the First Vision are undermined by the Latin or the Greek Trinity. The most important argument Athanasius provided against the Arian teaching that Jesus was not really God was, "If he was not really god, how could he MAKE us gods? How should he be able to make us, what he himself is not?"25

It was the well-established doctrine of deification that made clear that Jesus was deus verus de deo vero (true god from true God), as the Nicene Creed states, and if not for deification, our Protestant brothers could well believe in Arianism now, because without that argument Athanasius may have lost the dispute. To claim that the LDS dislike the Latin and the Greek Trinity because of deification doctrine shows an absolute ignorance of the real facts of history and theology.

Response to claim: 54-55 - Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

Next, the authors try to beat us over the head with a quote from the Book of Mormon:

And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God? And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No.36

FairMormon Response

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

Let's understand the situation first. Zeezrom is a lawyer opposed to the Gospel. He tries to take Amulek into cross-examination. Every word Amulek says he tries to use against him. Would Zeezrom have understood a complex answer? Or would he have made a fool of Amulek? Would he have trampeled upon sacred beliefs? Anybody who has read that passage in Alma knows for sure that this was what Zeezrom intended. In giving a simple answer, even if it is not exact, Alma does not throw his pearls before the swine. There is, says Amulek, just one God. There's one, who is-as Origen puts it-Autotheos, God out of Himself. The Son is God by the will and power of the Father, and so is the Holy Ghost. He is the one that Christ references as "the only true God"37 and "my God."38

But what about monotheism? It is not in the Bible, it is not in the Book of Mormon, nor in the early Church Fathers. Why should we believe it? Does that mean that the LDS are Polytheists? Certainly not, because we only worship the Father in the name of the Son, through the Holy Ghost.39

Are the LDS Henotheists? Again, certainly not. Nobody on this world or in this universe may choose whom to worship if he wants life eternal. To look up to any other being than Jesus Christ to save us, or to pray to anybody else but the Father in the name of the Son and through the Holy Ghost, is the road to eternal death. There is no way but Jesus, no God but the Father, who leads us, who guides us, who saves us through Christ. Thus Henotheism is a weak term that does not describe our faith sufficiently.

We are left to Monotheism as the concept that comes closest to our beliefs, though it is nevertheless inadequate a term, and with the Bible proclaim that YHVH is the God of gods, the King of kings, the Lord of lords.


Response to claim: 56 - "the Trinity was not an invention of the early church; rather, it was a definitive response designed to explain the biblical position of the church"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that "the Trinity was not an invention of the early church; rather, it was a definitive response designed to explain the biblical position of the church" and that "[c]lear, definitive statements like the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were apparently not necessary until orthodoxy was challenged in later years."

Author's sources:
  1. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 89.
  • Brown, Heresies, 20.

FairMormon Response

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

The concept of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as three separate entitites predates the Creeds during which the concept of the Trinity was formulated.


Question: Does the definition of the Trinity predate the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds?

In early Christian history, there is a clear definition of how the Son is God, and how the father: As a king sends his son, who is also a king

Let's look back in Christian history, to the Epistle to Diognetus. The author, usually called Mathetes, writes:

"This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God."[29]

Justin Martyr calls Jesus "another God and Lord"

In the words above there is a clear definition of how the Son is God, and how the father: As a king sends his son, who is also a king. In this very old document there is no hint that would invalidate Widtsoe's words, in fact, they fit better than Psychological Trinity. Let's continue to Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with a Jew.

Then I replied, "I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things-above whom there is no other God-wishes to announce to them."[30]

So Justin calls Jesus "another God and Lord." If we then can talk of a "god distinct from the Father," are we not right in saying they are two gods?

Gregory of Nyssa reasons that the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost lies primarily in their nature

The best explanation so far stems from Gregory of Nyssa in his essay "On Not Three Gods."[31] He reasons that the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost lies primarily in their nature. Just as there is only one human nature of which every human being is a representative, there is only one divine nature of which every person of the Godhead is a representative.[32] Widtsoe especially mentions that the three personages are united in nature. LDS doctrine is in harmony with this statement of Gregory. As Gregory's argument goes on, it is an abuse of language to talk about "three gods," as it is an abuse of language to talk about "many men." He admits that it is the way people talk, but insists that it is wrong. I think, if we may talk about "two men," it is reasonable to abuse language the same way saying "three gods." Now, most people would find it strange if we refused to talk about "two men," because this is the custom, and if we want to be understood, we better use language as everyone else does. Therefore it is justified from this to say, "In the holy Trinity there are three gods." Gregory admits the weakness of his argument and then finds a very strong reason why that which is OK for the lower nature of man is totally wrong for the higher nature of God: They work together, and they are revealed together (Wirk- und Offenbarungseinheit). It is important to note, that this is how the LDS view the unity of the Godhead, too: One in purpose, one in action, one in revelation. This, according to Gregory, is the major reason why we should say there is one God, and not three.[33] This is the only real argument that Gregory can think of, why it is wrong to talk of three Gods: They do not work separated from each other.

In our modern industries another example springs to mind: The example of three workers in a plant. They work together on the same thing, let's say a lamp. They are workers, they work together, and the outcome is not three objects, but one. Applying Gregory's logic here would necessitate that we talk of "one worker in three persons." One might say, "But the workers work differently on the one object!" Well, this is surely also true for the example that Gregory gives. Read it in his own words:

But the same life is wrought in us by the Father, and prepared by the Son, and depends on the will of the Holy Spirit.[34]

Jesus, while on the cross, cries out "My God, my God, why hast thou left me?"

Further one should think about the crucifixion of Christ. God the Son hangs on the cross. He does the greatest deed of God, the Atonement. He bears all our sins. He suffers. Surely He exercises His divine nature in divine grace. It is a divine operation for sure. Still he cries out "My God, my God, why hast thou left me?" If the Father left Him alone, then it is plain that Christ alone effected this divine action. He did it alone! The Father planned it, the Father sent the Son to do it, but it was the Son alone who did it.

So, from common usage and from Gregory's argument, and also from the writings of other Early Church Fathers we see that it is fully correct and Christian to talk about a plurality of gods in the Trinity.


Response to claim: 57 - Mormons believe that the Trinity was "an invention of the apostate church," while Christianity believes it is "a doctrine that came from biblical origins"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors summarize this chapter as follows:
  • Mormons believe that the Trinity was "an invention of the apostate church," while Christianity believes it is "a doctrine that came from biblical origins."
  • Mormons believe that the Trinity "cannot be true because it cannot be understood," while Chritianity believes it "is one of the things about God that is not able to be understood by a finite, created mind."
  • Mormons believe that the Trinity "cannot be true because the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are merely one in purpose," while Christianity believes it "is true because there is one God by nature who is evident in three persons."

FairMormon Response

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

What do most lay Christians believe in when talking about the Trinity? Clearly, many believe in some kind of modalism. Father, Son and Holy Ghost are not true personages, but only masks, modes of God's being . The one God reveals Himself to us in three modes: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. These believers often profess: "The Father, Son and Ghost are one person."

Others rather firmly hold to the belief that the three are distinct persons, with three centers of willpower, each having a personal history. But they are, among those that believe in the Trinity, a minority. A Catholic religious teacher once explained:

  • Father is not the Son;
  • Father is not the Holy Ghost;
  • Son is not the Holy Ghost.
  • Father is God;
  • Son is God;
  • Holy Ghost is God.

That's the Trinity. It is mathematically wrong, and what makes it right is the mystery of faith. The informed reader will know that there are differences in beliefs about the Trinity. What Protestants and Catholics are proud to believe, namely the Psychological Trinity is an abomination for the second great old denomination of Christianity, namely Orthodoxy.


Notes

  1. Church News (4 July 1998): 2, quoted in Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 52. ( Index of claims )
  2. Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956),16–17. ISBN 0192830090.
  3. Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 94. ISBN 0192830090.
  4. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886). ANF ToC off-site This volume
  5. Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 94. ISBN 0192830090.
  6. Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956),95–96. ISBN 0192830090.
  7. Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 106. ISBN 0192830090.; Citing Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.38 cp. 4.11.
  8. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:419, chapter 6. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  9. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:450, chapter 6. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  10. Arthur C. McGiffert, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1—Early and Eastern: From Jesus to John of Damascus (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1932), 141.
  11. Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1. off-site
  12. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1 see also Clement, Stromateis, 23.[citation needed]
  13. Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956),243–244. ISBN 0192830090.; Stromata 7:10 (55–56).
  14. Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 2.
  15. Origin, De Principiis, 4:1:36 in Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:381.
  16. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
  17. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
  18. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29-30, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 5:152.
  19. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.39.
  20. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1:42, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 4:330-331.
  21. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54.
  22. Augustine, On the Psalms, 50:2.
  23. Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, 106–107.
  24. Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, 106–353.
  25. Alan Richardson (editor), The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1983). ISBN 0664213987. (emphasis added).
  26. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology: a brief sketch (Prentice-Hall, 1967), 42. AISN B0006BQTCQ.
  27. G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London Press, 1956), 73.
  28. William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism (London, Metheun & Co., 1948[1899]), 13, 356.
  29. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, "To Diognetus," The Anti-Nicene Church Fathers (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), Chapter VII. This beautiful little apology for Christianity is cited by no ancient or medieval writer, and came down to us in a single manuscript, which perished in the siege of Strasburg (1870). The identification of Diognetus with the teacher of Marcus Aurelius, who bore the same name, is at most plausible. The author's name is unknown, and the date is anywhere between the Apostles and the age of Constantine. It was clearly composed during a severe persecution. The manuscript attributed it with other writings to Justin Martyr; but that earnest philosopher and hasty writer was quite incapable of the restrained eloquence, the smooth flow of thought, the limpid clearness of expression, which mark this epistle as one of the most perfect compositions of antiquity. The author was possibly a catechumen of St. Paul or of one of the apostle's associates.
  30. Roberts and Donaldson, "Dialogue of Justin with Trypho," The Anti-Nicene Church Fathers, Chapter LVI.
  31. Gregory of Nyssa, "On 'Not three Gods'," A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Church, Volume V, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Publisher Unknown, 1887).
  32. Ibid., by Gregory of Nyssa: "What, then, is the reason that when we count one by one those who are exhibited to us in one nature, we ordinarily name them in the plural and speak of 'so many men,' instead of calling them all one: while in the case of the Divine nature our doctrinal definition rejects the plurality of Gods, at once enumerating the Persons, and at the same time not admitting the plural signification?[...]"We say, then, to begin with, that the practice of calling those who are not divided in nature by the very name of their common nature in the plural, and saying they are 'many men,' is a customary abuse of language, and that it would be much the same thing to say they are 'many human natures.'[...]"Thus it would be much better to correct our erroneous habit, so as no longer to extend to a plurality the name of the nature, than by our bondage to habit to transfer to our statements concerning God the error which exists in the above case. But since the correction of the habit is impracticable (for how could you persuade any one not to speak of those who are exhibited in the same nature as 'many men?'-indeed, in every case habit is a thing hard to change), we are not so far wrong in not going contrary to the prevailing habit in the case of the lower nature, since no harm results from the mistaken use of the name: but in the case of the statement concerning the Divine nature the various use of terms is no longer so free from danger: for that which is of small account is in these subjects no longer a small matter.[...]"If, indeed, Godhead were an appellation of nature, it would be more proper, according to the argument laid down, to include the Three Persons in the singular number, and to speak of 'One God,' by reason of the inseparability and indivisibility of the nature: but since it has been established by what has been said, that the term 'Godhead' is significant of operation, and not of nature, the argument from what has been advanced seems to turn to the contrary conclusion, that we ought therefore all the more to call those 'three Gods' who are contemplated in the same operation, as they say that one would speak of 'three philosophers' or 'orators,' or any other name derived from a business when those who take part in the same business are more than one."
  33. Gregory states: "For instance, supposing the case of several rhetoricians, their pursuit, being one, has the same name in the numerous cases: but each of those who follow it works by himself, this one pleading on his own account, and that on his own account. Thus, since among men the action of each in the same pursuits is discriminated, they are properly called many, since each of them is separated from the others within his own environment, according to the special character of his operation. But in the case of the Divine nature we do not similarly learn that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit. For this reason the name derived from the operation is not divided with regard to the number of those who fulfil it, because the action of each concerning anything is not separate and peculiar, but whatever comes to pass, in reference either to the acts of His providence for us, or to the government and constitution of the universe, comes to pass by the action of the Three, yet what does come to pass is not three things. We may understand the meaning of this from one single instance. From Him, I say, Who is the chief source of gifts, all things which have shared in this grace have obtained their life. When we inquire, then, whence this good gift came to us, we find by the guidance of the Scriptures that it was from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet although we set forth Three Persons and three names, we do not consider that we have had bestowed upon us three lives, one from each Person separately; but the same life is wrought in us by the Father, and prepared by the Son, and depends on the will of the Holy Spirit. Since then the Holy Trinity fulfils every operation in a manner similar to that of which I have spoken, not by separate action according to the number of the Persons, but so that there is one motion and disposition of the good will which is communicated from the Father through the Son to the Spirit (for as we do not call those whose operation gives one life three Givers of life, neither do we call those who are contemplated in one goodness three Good beings, nor speak of them in the plural by any of their other attributes); so neither can we call those who exercise this Divine and superintending power and operation towards ourselves and all creation, conjointly and inseparably, by their mutual action, three Gods."
  34. Gregory of Nyssa, "On 'Not three Gods'."