Mormonism and the nature of God/God is a Spirit/Lecture of Faith 5 teaches the Father is "a personage of spirit"

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Lecture of Faith 5 teaches the Father is "a personage of spirit"

Summary: Lectures on Faith, which used to be part of the Doctrine and Covenants, teach that God is a spirit. Joseph Smith's later teachings contradict this. More generally, critics argue that Joseph Smith taught an essentially "trinitarian" view of the Godhead until the mid 1830s, thus proving the Joseph was "making it up" as he went along.

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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. [1]

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." [2]

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: 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.) [3]

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, [4] 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." [5] 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. [6] 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. [7]

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. [8]

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."


Question: Did Joseph Smith begin his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God?

Joseph and the early Saints were not trinitarian, and understood God's embodiment and the identity of the Father and Son as separate beings very early on

This doctrine is apparent in the Book of Mormon, and in the earliest friendly and non-friendly accounts of such matters from the Saints.

Such texts demonstrate that the supposed 'evidence' for Joseph altering his story later is only in the eyes of critical beholders. For example, Joseph's 1832 First Vision account focuses on the remission of his sins. However, critics who wish to claim that in 1832 Joseph had only a vaguely "trinitarian" idea of God (and so would see the Father and the Son as only one being) have missed vital evidence which must be considered.[9]

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism prior to meeting Joseph

Martin dictated an account of his early spiritual search:

"52 years ago I was Inspired of the Lord & Tought of the Spirit that I should not Join Eny Church although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Secatirans[.] I Was taught I could not Walk togther unless agreed[.] What can you not be agreed in [is] in the Trinity because I can not find it in my Bible[.] find it for me & I am Ready to Receive it. 3 Persons in one god[.] one Personage I can not concede for this is Antichrist for Where is the Father & Son[?] I have more proof to Prove 9 Persons in the Trinity then you have 3[.]...other sects the Epicopalians also tired me[.] they say 3 Persons in one god Without Body Parts or Passions[.] I Told them such A god I would not be afraid of: I could not Please or offend him[.] [I] Would not be afraid to fight A Duel With such A god.[10]

It would be very strange for Martin to feel so strongly on this point, only to embrace Joseph's teachings if Joseph taught creedal trinitarianism.

1829 - In the Book of Mormon one [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi--thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate

The Book of Mormon also begins (1 Nephi 1:8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One [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 the Father and Christ.

1830 - Book of Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten"

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis.[11] The first chapter of Moses was dictated in June 1830 (about a month after the Church's reorganization), and began:

2 And [Moses] saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.

3 And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

5 Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.

6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1:2-6)

Here already, God distinguishes himself from the Only Begotten, Moses sees and speaks with God face to face, and says that Moses was created "in the similitude of mine Only Begotten."

Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2:26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6:8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph was clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[12]

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"

Anti-Mormon writers in 1831 noted that Joseph claimed to have received "a commission from God"; and the Mormons claimed that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[13] That Joseph's enemies knew he claimed to have "seen God," indicates that the doctrine of an embodied God that could be seen was well-known early on.

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [14] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto the floor and said, 'I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.' (emphasis added) [15]

1832 - In the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father"

One should first note that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father." The Book of Mormon (translated three years earlier in 1829) also contains numerous passages which teach a physical separation and embodiment (even if only in spirit bodies, which are clearly not immaterial, but have shape, position, and form) of the members of the Godhead. (See: 3 Nephi 11:, 1 Nephi 11:1-11, Ether 3:14-18.)

Furthermore, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were to receive a revelation of the three degrees of glory in the same year as Joseph's 1832 account was written; it clearly teaches a physical separation of the Father and Son, bearing witness of seeing both. (See D&C 76:14,20–24.)[16]

1832–1833 - "Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother"

Two of Joseph's close associates reported their own visions of God in the winter of 1832–1833. Both are decidedly not in the trinitarian mold.

Zebedee Coltrin:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling...a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him....

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages.[17]

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[18]

1834–1835 - Lectures on Faith: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things"

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren were taught that

"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. . . . They are the Father and the Son--the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

Here, the separateness of the Father and Son continues to be made clear.

1836 - "They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts"

A skeptical news article noted:

They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself....[19]

Evidence that is absent

In addition to all the non-trinitarian evidence above, as Milton Backman has noted, there is a great deal of evidence that we should find, but don't. For example, no one has "located a publication (such as an article appearing in a church periodical or statement from a missionary pamphlet) written by an active Latter-day Saint prior to the martyrdom of the Prophet that defends the traditional or popular creedal concept of the Trinity. . . ." Moreover, there are no references in critical writings of the 1830s (including statements by apostates) that Joseph Smith introduced in the mid-thirties the doctrine of separateness of the Father and Son.[20]


Question: What are modern Church leaders' views on the Lectures on Faith?

Bruce R. McConkie offers his perspective

Bruce R. McConkie left some interesting, although non-authoritative, commentary on these passages in question. He interprets the term "personage" to mean a being who possess a physical body. The statement that "there are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things" is interpreted by him to mean that the Father and Son are "personages" (i.e., they possess physical bodies) while the Holy Ghost is not. Indeed, the statement is clear that there are three beings who make up the Godhead (see below). In McConkie's view, the statement that the Father is a "personage of spirit" actually means He is a "spiritual" man, that is, a resurrected and glorified man. His exegesis is added here in length:

Using the holy scriptures as the recorded source of the knowledge of God, knowing what the Lord has revealed to them of old in visions and by the power of the Spirit, and writing as guided by that same Spirit, Joseph Smith and the early brethren of this dispensation prepared a creedal statement on the Godhead. It is without question the most excellent summary of revealed and eternal truth relative to the Godhead that is now extant in mortal language. In it is set forth the mystery of Godliness; that is, it sets forth the personalities, missions, and ministries of those holy beings who comprise the supreme presidency of the universe. To spiritually illiterate persons, it may seem hard and confusing; to those whose souls are aflame with heavenly light, it is a nearly perfect summary of those things which must be believed to gain salvation.

"There are two personages [of tabernacle] 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." (Lectures on Faith 5:2.)

These two, standing alone, are not the Godhead. But they are God the first and God the second. They are personages, individuals, persons, holy men. They created and they have power over all things. Their power is supreme and their wisdom infinite; there is no power they do not possess, no truth they do not know. From eternity to eternity they are the same; they are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

"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." (Lectures on Faith 5:2.)

They are the two personages who came to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820 in a grove of trees in western New York. They are exalted men. Each is a personage of spirit; each is a personage of tabernacle. Both of them have bodies, tangible bodies of flesh and bones. They are resurrected beings. Words, with their finite connotations, cannot fully describe them. A personage of tabernacle, as here used, is one whose body and spirit are inseparably connected and for whom there can be no death. A personage of spirit, as here used and as distinguished from the spirit children of the Father, is a resurrected personage. Resurrected bodies, as contrasted with mortal bodies, are in fact spiritual bodies. With reference to the change of our bodies from mortality to immortality, Paul says: "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:44.) "For notwithstanding they [the saints] die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body." (DC 88:27.)

"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." (Lectures on Faith 5:2.)

Christ as the Firstborn, the firstborn spirit child of the Father, was in the bosom of the Father before the world was. Though he was then "in the form of God" and was "equal with God," as Paul expresses it—equal in knowledge and truth and all of the attributes of godliness—yet he "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." Thus he was "found in fashion as a man." (Philippians 2:6-8.) After the days of his flesh and when he had been raised from mortality to immortality by the power of the Father, he was able to say: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matthew 28:18.) Thus, the Son, as Paul tells us, now possesses "the brightness of his [Father's] glory, and the express image of his person." (Hebrews 1:3.) From all of this it follows that the Son possesses the same fulness with the Father, that is, the same glory, the same power, the same perfection, the same holiness, the same eternal life.

[...]

"And he being the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fullness of the glory of the Father, possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son." (Lectures on Faith 5:2.)

The mortal Jesus, as a man among men, had both a father and a mother. God was his Father, and Mary was his mother. He was begotten by a Holy Man, by that God whose name is Man of Holiness; and he was conceived in the womb of a mortal woman. Mary, a virgin of Nazareth in Galilee, was "the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh." (1 Nephi 11:18.) She was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost; "she was carried away in the Spirit" (1 Nephi 11:19); she conceived "by the power of the Holy Ghost," and she brought forth a son, "even the Son of God" (Alma 7:10). That Son, who is called Christ, is the Only Begotten, the only offspring of the Father born into mortality. As a man, as God's only Son, his only mortal Son, he overcame the world. He overcame the world of evil and carnality and devilishness, and then, having died, he rose again in glorious immortality to receive all power both on earth and in heaven, which power is the fulness of the glory of the Father. He thus possesses the same mind with the Father, knowing and believing and speaking and doing as though he were the Father. This mind is theirs by the power of the Holy Ghost. That is, the Holy Ghost, who is a personage of spirit (a spirit man!), using the light of Christ, can give the same mind to all men, whether mortal or immortal. The saints who are true and faithful in all things have, as Paul said, "the mind of Christ" ({b|1|Corinthians|2|16}}), which means also that they have the mind of the Father. It is to the faithful saints that the Holy Spirit bears witness of the Father and the Son, and it is to them that he reveals all things.

"And these three are one, or, in other words, these three constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things; by whom all things were created and made that were created and made." (Lectures on Faith 5:2.)

In what way are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost one God? Though three persons are involved, they are one supreme presidency, one in creating all things, one in governing the universe with almighty power.

"And these three constitute the Godhead, and are one; the Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power and fullness—filling all in all, the Son being filled with the fullness of the mind, glory, and power; or, in other words, the spirit, glory, and power, of the Father, possessing all knowledge and glory, and the same kingdom, sitting at the right hand of power, in the express image and likeness of the Father, mediator for man, being filled with the fullness of the mind of the Father; or, in other words, the Spirit of the Father, which Spirit is shed forth upon all who believe on his name and keep his commandments." (Lectures on Faith 5:2.)

One Godhead! Three persons possessing the same mind, power, and glory! Three individuals actuated by the same spirit, knowing all things, and working together in perfect unity! God the Creator united in all things with God the Redeemer, who mediates between the Great Creator and his fallen creatures! And—wonder of wonders—the same spirit which unites the Gods of heaven is shed forth on the righteous, that they may be one as the Gods themselves are one.

"And all those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ,—possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all; being filled with the fullness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one." (Lectures on Faith 5:2.)

Thus is set forth in the creedal document the doctrine—later to be endorsed and expounded in even plainer language—that as God now is, man may become.

"From the foregoing account of the Godhead, which is given in his revelations, the saints have a sure foundation laid for the exercise of faith unto life and salvation, through the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ; by whose blood they have a forgiveness of sins, and also a sure reward laid up for them in heaven, even that of partaking of the fullness of the Father and the Son through the spirit. As the Son partakes of the fullness of the Father through the Spirit, so the saints are, by the same Spirit, to be partakers of the same fullness, to enjoy the same glory; for as the Father and the Son are one, so, in like manner, the saints are to be one in them. Through the love of the Father, the mediation of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, they are to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ." (Lectures on Faith 5:3.)

Such is the course whereby the saints gain eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God. And how could Deity give anything greater to any man than the glory, power, and dominion that he himself possesses? The name of the kind of life he lives is eternal life, and all those who know him in the full and complete sense shall have eternal life."Behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it!" (DC 19:10.) [21]


Question: Is the Father embodied or a spirit in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants?

There is no documentary evidence that indicates exactly when Joseph Smith learned that God the Father had a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone

When the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835 it portrayed God the Father as a personage of spirit whereas Jesus Christ was portrayed as a personage of tabernacle, or one having a physical body. Yet the official LDS First Vision story portrays the Father as a physical Being. It is claimed that this is evidence of an evolution of story; and that the evolution of this story is evidence of fraud.

There is no documentary evidence that indicates exactly when Joseph Smith learned that God the Father had a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone. And there is also no indication that Joseph learned any such thing during his 1820 First Vision. Regardless of when this revelation was bestowed upon the Prophet, it cannot be established beyond doubt that he was responsible for the teaching about the "spirit" nature of God found in the main text of lecture #5. It may, instead, be true that the Prophet was involved in adjusting the lecture #5 text to conform with his earlier work on the translation of the Bible.

The "official" 1838 First Vision account does not say anything about the specific nature of the Father's body other than it could be seen

The "official" 1838 First Vision account (first published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons) does not say anything about God the Father possessing a physical body. In fact, it says nothing at all about the specific nature of the Father's body other than it could be seen. Critics of the LDS Church should be much more careful in what they say about the content of historical documents.

However, it is correct to say that the Lectures on Faith which were contained within the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants did refer to God the Father as a personage of spirit with a human or bodily form.

LECTURE #5, paragraph 2: “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”

LECTURE #5, questions and answers section: "What is the Father? He is a personage"

It becomes obvious from an examination of the "Questions and Answers" section of lecture #5 that the person who constructed this lecture drew heavily from the book of John in the New Testament (seven direct quotations were utilized). It is more than likely, therefore, that the statement in lecture #5 which reads "the Father being a personage of spirit" was drawn directly from John 4:24. It is curious, however, that even though this was listed as an attribute of the Father in the main text of the lecture it was deleted in the question and answer section.


MAIN TEXT:
the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
[#5.] Q. What is the Father?

A. He is a personage of glory and of power ([lecture] 5 [paragraph] 2).

[NOTE: This is the precise coordinate for the statement that is made above]
[#6.] Q. . . . the Father is a personage of glory and of power

The Lectures on Faith were ready for publication by 17 February 1835 and it is clear that Joseph Smith had a hand in preparing them for public release.[22] But whether or not the Prophet was himself ultimately responsible for the initial creation of the lecture material is a vigorously debated topic.[23]

This brings up a very interesting question. Is it possible that the text of lecture #5 was edited by Joseph Smith—or the entire preparation/editorial committee (the First Presidency)—to delete the mention of God being a spirit in the question and answer section? This would make perfectly good sense since by 2 February 1833 Joseph Smith had changed John 4:24 in his translation of the Bible so that it no longer said that God was a spirit (see JST John 4:26).

At some point, Joseph Smith knew that God the Father had a physical body of flesh and bone

It is significant that shortly after the Lectures on Faith were presented before the School of the Elders in Kirtland, Ohio a Presbyterian minister named Rev. Truman Coe—who had lived among the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio for a span of four years—wrote that the Mormons "believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself."[24]

It is also significant that on 5 January 1841—shortly before the so-called "official" First Vision story was released to the public via the Church's press—Joseph Smith was teaching in Nauvoo the very same thing that Rev. Truman Coe had heard in Kirtland: "That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones."[25]


Corporeality of God

Summary: One thing that sets Latter-day Saints apart from nearly all of the rest of Christianity is the doctrine that God the Father possesses a body in human form. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters see this belief as positively strange, and some even question our claim to the title “Christian” because of it.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Lectures on Faith Num 5, 5:2a-5:2e
  4. 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)
  5. Stephen Post, “Mormon Defence.--No. II,” Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 15 (1 December 1837): 230–31. off-site
  6. Oliver Barr, “Mormonism--No. V,” The Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 18 (15 January 1838): 275. off-site
  7. 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
  8. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.
  9. 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. (Key source)
  10. "Testimony of Martin Harris Written by my hand from teh Moth of Martin Harris," dictated to Edward Stevenson 4 September 1870, Edward Stevenson Collection, Miscellaneous Papers, LDS Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
  11. Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, and Scott H. Faulring (editors), Joseph Smith's New Translation Of The Bible: Original Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2004), 82.
  12. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161. AISN B000FH6N04.
  13. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  14. F. Mark McKiernan, An Early Latter-day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO.: Herald Publishing House 1980), 67, punctuation corrected; cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (Summer 1989), 49–68.
  15. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  16. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  17. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  18. "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock Taken From His Journal by Himself," (typescript) Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; cited in Paulsen, 35.
  19. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  20. Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's First Vision: Cornerstone of a Latter-day Faith," in To Be Learned is Good, If ..., ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987).; cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," 59.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), 72–76. ISBN 0877478724. ISBN 978-0877478720. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  22. (Doctrine and Covenants, 1st ed., preface; 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), 2:169–170,180. Volume 2 link
  23. See Noel B. Reynolds, "The Case for Sidney Rigdon as Author of the Lecture on Faith (8 June 2004) [based on version given at Mormon History Association meeting at Kirtland 2003]. PDF link
  24. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836): 4. Reprinted from Hudson Ohio Observer (16 August 1836): 1-2. off-site See also Vogel, EMD, 1:47. See discussion in Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe's 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (1977), 347–350, 354. PDF link
  25. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 60.