Kevin C. Hill
Critics of the Church of Jesus Christ often use fallacy, or fallacious arguments, in their criticism of the Church in such a way as to destroy any attempt at reasonable dialogue. This may be intentional at times, other times it is not; all the same, it is present. For purposes of this paper I define a fallacy as 1) a statement or an argument based on a false or an invalid inference and/or 2) incorrectness of reasoning or belief; erroneousness.1
I have found this to be particular true when critics attempt to outline the early LDS teachings about the nature of God and the Godhead.
In my introduction to a much longer paper on the subject of the Godhead found in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s early teachings as contrasted to his later teachings I open as follows:
Some critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have claimed that Joseph Smith changed his doctrine regarding the nature of The Godhead. They claim that in the early period of The LDS Church the teachings on The Godhead are more Trinitarian in nature and follow a classical theistic approach. Indeed, they claim that the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and other non-canonical sources teach a concept of God similar to that found in the Protestant world and that up until approximately 1838 the LDS Church taught this concept of God.
The purpose of this paper is to illustrate that the claim that Joseph changed his view of God is incorrect. I will demonstrate that his early understanding about the nature of God was nowhere near the classical theism preached in the Christian world of his day. I will also demonstrate that the knowledge of God revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith by the time of his death in 1844 was a progressive revelation about God’s nature rather then an about face claimed by the critic.2
Before delving into some of the issues the critics raise I thought a brief outline on the LDS concept of God and the oneness of the Godhead is in order. Clearly the following is only a summary and not at all exhaustive on this topic.
The LDS Concept of God and the Oneness of the Godhead
What do Latter-day Saint Christians believe about the Godhead? We read in the First Article of Faith “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. As Barry Bickmore has written, “While this statement of faith may seem perfectly mainstream, there are many significant differences between the LDS doctrine of God and that of the bulk of the Christian world.”3 However, to accuse Latter-day Saints of polytheism as the critics are wont to do will just not suffice and to say Latter-day Saints moved from a teaching of one God to a plurality of Gods is simplification at best and totally inaccurate at the worst. Latter-day Saint Christians believed and believe in a Godhead that is made up of three individuals who all can be called God and who are separate and distinct while at the same time are one God. That Joseph Smith viewed the members of the Godhead as separate beings–even in early LDS teachings–is attested to by his own statement:
“I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years”
I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! we have three Gods anyhow, and they are plural; and who can contradict it?4
It is important to note that while the Prophet speaks of the members of the Godhead as plural it does not mean that Latter-day Saints worship many gods. As Barry Bickmore points out “For Latter-day Saints, it is acceptable to say both that there is one God, and that there is a plurality of Gods depending on context.”5 At the same time it is critical to note that we worship only one God. Bruce R. McConkie puts it this way
In the ultimate and final sense of the word, there is only one true and living God. He is the Father, the Almighty Elohim, the Supreme Being, the Creator and Ruler of the universe. Paul said: “There is none other God but one. For though there be [others] that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-7.)
Christ is God; he alone is the Savior. The Holy Ghost is God; he is one with the Father and the Son. But these two are the second and third members of the Godhead. The Father is God above all, and is, in fact, the God of the Son. Indeed, the resurrected Christ said to Mary Magdalene: “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17.) And also: “I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28.) And yet again: “My Father . . . is greater than all.” (John 10:29.)
Thus Paul is saying that the Father is the one God who is supreme; that he is thus the God even of the Lord Jesus Christ, who himself also is God; that many others bear the name of Deity, including all exalted beings and even all false gods, but that none of them is our God; and that Jesus, under the Father, is Lord and Creator of all things. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in discussing the object upon which faith rests, bears this concordant witness: “God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and in him every good gift and every good principle dwell; and he is the Father of lights; in him the principle of faith dwells independently; and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings centers for life and salvation.” (Lectures on Faith 2:2.) This includes the fact that the faith of Christ, who is God, is centered in his God, who is the Father.6
Thus, while Latter-day Saint Christians believe that the Godhead is made up of separate and distinct individuals they also believe that the Godhead is one God. At the same time the LDS view of the oneness of the Godhead does not reach the language of the creeds. The following from Bruce R. McConkie provides an excellent summary of these concepts:
For reasons that we shall delineate hereafter–in language as plain, as simple, and as persuasive as in our power lies–Jesus taught, repetitiously, both while a mortal man and after being raised in glorious immortality, that he and his Father are one. And implicit in all of his utterances to this effect is found the nature of their oneness, the manner in which, though separate personages, they are one in a way of tremendous import to the children of men.
While a mortal he said to his Jewish brethren: “I and my Father are one,” which they understood to mean that he “being a man” was making himself “God.” (John 10:30-33.) Speaking of his Twelve Disciples he prayed: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Then because every blessing bestowed upon or offered to those who hold the holy apostleship is also available for and offered to all of the faithful, he also said to his Father: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” At this point in his great Intercessory Prayer, his petitions again centered on the Twelve, though in principle all that he said does or shall apply to all the saints. “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them,” he said, “that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one. . . . And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:11-26.)
After the inseparable union of his body and spirit in immortal glory, he said to his Nephite brethren: “I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.” (3 Ne. 9:15.) Also: “Verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one. . . . I bear record of the Father and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; . . . Whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.” (3 Ne. 11:27-36.)
Later, of the whole body of Nephite believers, in a prayer reminiscent of and greater than his mortal Intercessory Prayer, our Lord said: “And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one. . . . Father, I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me out of the world, because of their faith, that they may be purified in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one, that I may be glorified in them.” (3 Ne. 19:23, 29.)
From these and related teachings found in revealed writ, and all such are declarations which cannot be gainsayed, we learn these truths relative to the Gods we worship:
1. They are three in number, three separate persons: the first is the Father; the second, the Son; and the third, the Holy Ghost. They are three individuals who meet together, counsel in concert, and as occasion requires travel separately through all immensity. They are three holy men, two having bodies of flesh and bones, the third being a personage of spirit.
2. They are one and dwell in each other, meaning: They have the same mind one with another; they think the same thoughts, speak the same words, and perform the same acts–so much so that any thought, word, or act of one is the thought, word, or act of the other.
3. They possess the same character, enjoy the same perfections, and manifest the same attributes, each one possessing all of these in their eternal and godly fulness.
4. Their unity in all things, their perfect oneness in mind, power, and perfections, marks the course and charts the way for faithful mortals, whose chief goal in life is to unite together and become one with them, thereby gaining eternal life for themselves.
5. Our Lord is the manifestation of the Father, meaning: God is in Christ revealing himself to men so that those who believe in the Son believe also in the Father, and unto such the Father gives the Holy Ghost, and they being thus purified in Christ are fit to dwell with him and his Father forever.7
Last of all it is critical to note that Latter-day Saint Christians reject the idea the God the Father is non-corporeal. A discussion of the corporeality of God is beyond the purpose of this paper. For my purposes currently it is sufficient to refer to the following declaration:
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.8
Criticisms and Responses:
One critic that I have dealt extensively with on this subject opens up his comments with:
One way to approach this is to take a look at a time when LDS and traditional Christian understanding about the attributes of God were virtually identical. Then, try to ascertain what, when, why, and how things changed. Let’s begin with the officially documented teachings of both groups. We Agreed in 1835. 9
To the average reader this claim seems to say that Joseph Smith taught of a Godhead that was similar to that of the contemporary religions of the day, or classical theism.
The major complaints surrounding the issues of God’s nature revolve squarely around two items. The first and foremost relates to the issues raised by the Prophet Joseph Smith in what has become known as the King Follet Discourse. The second seems to revolve around the idea that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are separate and distinct individuals with both the Father and the Son having physical bodies. The critics primarily rely on selected items from the book of Mormon, the Lectures on Faith and a supposed lack of doctrine in early LDS teaching and thought that remained consistent and unchanged from approximately 1838 to 1844 and beyond. Examples of specific criticisms follow.
From a paper by Tom Jones we read:
“Back to the 1835 D&C, p.38 (A-4), at the bottom of the page it declares that, what God is, he has always been, “from everlasting”, and always will be, “to everlasting.” (See also D&C 20:17, 28; Moroni 8:18; Mormon 9:9, all of which still reflect the 1835 theology)…
“On the other hand, the Bible (including JST) and the Book of Mormon provide an abundance of evidence that, in the beginning, Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were just one God, the only God in all of creation and throughout all time, past, present and future…
“But nowhere in the Standard Works does it say that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in purpose only. LDS scripture does say, simply and clearly, that they are one God, that there is only one God and that no one else is going to be God, ever. (Alma 11:44; D&C 20:28; Isaiah 43:10-JST…These are just a sample of many verses which can be quoted)…
“Here, in the Fifth Lecture on Faith, it plainly states that the Father is “a personage of spirit.” Again, the teaching is the same as what the Bible and Christianity have always taught; not a personage of flesh and bone as the Mormon Church teaches today. Notice that, in the same sentence, the nature of the Father is contrasted to the nature of the son who is “a personage of tabernacle” (or body)…
“By the way, in all the Standard Works (scriptures) and other official publications of the Mormon Church, through 1835, there is no mention of God the Father being anything but an invisible personage of spirit. (1835 D&C, p.53, 62; Colossians 1:15-JST; 1 Timothy 1:17-JST; John 4:24; Luke 24:37, 39 JST; Alma 18:26-28, 22:7-11)”10
From Gerald and Sandra Tanner we see similar claims:
Joseph Smith’s first published work, the Book of Mormon, seems to be in harmony with the teachings of the Bible for it states that there is only ONE GOD.11
In this chapter we have seen how the Mormon concept of God has changed from one God to a plurality of Gods.12
“Mormon teachings concerning the Godhead reveals a serious state of confusion.”13
By the year 1844 Joseph Smith had completely disregarded the teachings of the Book of Mormon, for he declared that God was just an exalted man and that men could become GODS.14
Rather than address each of these points one by one I want to focus on the earlier teachings about God found in LDS records. It is critical to note however, before we explore this topic further, that Joseph Smith know more about God in 1844 then he did in 1820, 1830, 1835 and 1838. There is no question that Joseph’s knowledge about God revealed to him over a period of 24 years shed additional light and knowledge about the Godhead. However, this is not to concede the claim of the critic that Joseph Smith taught similar theology to the “historic” Christian sects of his day.
That said I want to examine what a number of early LDS sources say about God.
The Book of Mormon
As we examine the Book of Mormon ideas about God, recall that Joseph Smith stated, “I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years” 15
Regarding this remark one critic claims “there is …a complete absence of teaching on the plurality of Gods prior to that date (1839)…On the other hand, the Bible (including JST) and the Book of Mormon provide an abundance of evidence that, in the beginning, Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were just one God, the only God in all of creation and throughout all time, past, present and future.16
But does this claim hold up against the evidence? Keep in mind that when Joseph Smith claimed to teach the plurality of Gods for fifteen years it was a direct reference to God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost and not to a plethora of gods. The Prophet in the same sermon continued:
“I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! we have three Gods anyhow, and they are plural; and who can contradict it?17
Now, the fact is that this statement is supported when reviewing the Book of Mormon teachings about the Godhead in total context. Additionally, since Joseph Smith was wrapping up the translation of the Book of Mormon in preparation for publication in 1829 the fifteen-year statement is accurate.
Turning to the Book of Mormon teachings about God in the Book of Mormon we find some interesting items. We can see from the title page of the Book of Mormon that its main focus is to convince the world that “Jesus Christ is the Christ, the Eternal God.” Additionally the testimony of the three witnesses declares the Father, Son and Holy Ghost to be one God. Additional passages in the Book of Mormon affirm the oneness of the Godhead.18 However these passages do not imply a Trinitarian concept of God. Clearly Latter-day Saints proclaim the oneness of the Godhead but not the co-substantiality of the Godhead. We do not, and did not, interpret the Book of Mormon passages about the oneness of God in a classical way. Robert Millet discussed this idea in the following way:
Presumably those who believe the Book of Mormon presents a trinitarian concept of God assume that the book reflects the prevailing sentiments of the nineteenth century concerning God. This is worthy of at least brief discussion. Although the Book of Mormon prophets speak of the “oneness” of the members of the Godhead, this need not imply trinitarianism. There were, in fact, many people in the nineteenth century who believed in the oneness of the Godhead but rejected the mysterious notions associated with trinitarianism. David Millard, a minister who organized an Eastern Christian Church, published a pamphlet in 1818 in which he attacked the prevailing view of the Trinity. He undertook a scriptural analysis of the New Testament to prove his point. “The whole tenor of scripture,” he asserted, “concurs in the testimony, that Christ is verily the Son of God, as really so as Isaac is the son of Abram.” Millard further stressed the illogicality of the Nicean concept: “Three Gods are not one God, any more than three times one are one or two and one are one: which not only destroys the rules of multiplication and addition, but is flat inconsistency” (The True Messiah Exalted, or Jesus Christ Really the Son of God, Vindicated; in Three Letters to a Presbyterian Minister (Canandaigua, N.Y.:p., 1818), 5-8). William Ellery Channing, known as the father of Unitarianism, declared in a famous Baltimore sermon in 1819, “We object to the doctrine of the Trinity,” for “when we attempt to conceive of three Gods, we can do nothing more than represent to ourselves three agents”–meaning, of course, three different persons (The Works of William E. Channing (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1886), 371). In a letter dated 19 May 1835 concerning his beliefs prior to conversion to the Latter-day Saint faith, William W. Phelps no doubt reflected the views of other lay persons in nineteenth-century New England: “I was not a professor at the time, nor a believer in sectarian religion, but a believer in God, and the Son of God, as two distinct characters, and a believer in sacred scripture.” (The Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate 1 (May 1835): 115). There is no indication in Phelps’s letter that such a belief was contrary in any way to the teachings of the restored Church; in fact, the statement implies that his preconversion beliefs were in harmony with the teachings of the Latter-day Saints.19
We should now review some Book of Mormon passages about God. In so doing it should be emphasized that the scriptural passages about God, His Son and the Holy Ghost must be taken and studied in context and together. Latter-day Saints apply this same parameter when studying New Testament passages about the Godhead. Approaching the holy writ with this guideline firmly in place it is apparent that the Trinitarian view of the Godhead is not found in the Book of Mormon (or in the New Testament). Approaching the Book of Mormon with this parameter we see that while it teaches the oneness of God it also plainly teaches that the members of the Godhead are separate and distinct.
For example during the ministry of Jesus Christ to the Americas He spoke and taught in similar language about his relationship with His Father as can be found in the New Testament. Chapters 16 through 21 of Third Nephi are filled with language that makes it clear that he is distinct and separate from the Father. Jesus clearly states that He receives commandments from the Father,20 He speaks of covenants the Father has made,21 He commands the people to pray to the Father in his name and tells them that he is going to the Father,22 and much more. Additionally the language Christ uses in these passages of scripture show clearly that the Holy Ghost is as separate from the Father and Jesus as Jesus is from the Father. Many other passages in the Book of Mormon emphasize and distinguish the separateness of the Father and the Son. Returning to Millet’s BYU study we see that:
The Book of Mormon also distinguishes between the Father and the Son in many instances. For example, in 1 Nephi 11:24 Nephi writes, “And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men.” Phrases such as “the Son of God,” and “the Son of the Everlasting God” occur scores of times throughout the remainder of the record. The presentation in the Book of Mormon is similar to that in the New Testament concerning the separateness yet oneness of the members of the Godhead. Although the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate and distinct individuals, they are infinitely more one than separate: one God, one Godhead, united in purpose, power, and glory.23 And yet they are separate persons. Consider the following points where the Book of Mormon distinguishes between the Father and the Son:
1. We pray to the Father in the name of the Son (2 Ne. 32:9; 3 Nephi. 18:19-20; Morm. 9:27; Ether 4:15; Moroni. 4:3; 5:2; 8:3; 10:4).
2. We worship the Father in the name of the Son (2 Ne. 25:16; Jacob 4:4-5).
3. Christ received powers from his Father (Mosiah 15:2-3; Helaman. 5:10-11; Morm. 7:5).
4. Christ’s atonement reconciles us to God (Alma 12:33-34; Moroni. 7:22, 26-27).
5. The voices of the Father and Son are distinguished (2 Ne. 31:10-15).
6. The entire ministry of Christ among the Nephites and his constant reference and deference to the Father evidence their separateness (3 Ne. 11-28).24
Similar teachings and language regarding the oneness and separateness of God are found all through the New Testament in both the Gospels (particularly the Gospel of John) and the writings of the apostles. Regarding exactly how the Godhead is one I refer the reader to John 17. In my view this is the greatest and clearest teaching about how the Father and Son are one and yet separate persons. In fact, John 17 seems to be the only place in scripture where exactly how the Father and Son are one is defined.
To summarize, we can clearly see from the Book of Mormon that Joseph’s statement about teaching for fifteen years that God, the Son and Holy Ghost are separate and distinct is accurate. Regarding this idea it seems appropriate to close with Millet’s comments:
In the final analysis, the Book of Mormon is about as trinitarian as the New Testament. Bernhard Lohse writes, “as far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity”; it was “well into the fourth century before the doctrine of the Trinity was dogmatically clarified.” (Bernard Lohse, A Short History of Christian Doctrine (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 37, 38; see also Edmund J. Fortman, The Tribune God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1942), 14; J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (Philedelphia: Fortress, 1980), 90). As Backman has said, 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 (Backman, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” 29).25
The critics also claim that the Book of Mormon, as well as the Lectures on Faith, teach that the Father is a personage of spirit and that later Joseph changed that concept of God to one of the Father being corporeal. While I will address the Lectures later it is worth discussing the Book of Mormon view of the Father and his being a personage of spirit.
However, before I address the Book of Mormon view of the Father as a personage of spirit, and later the Lectures on Faith, it is important to note that Joseph Smith may not have known that God the Father was corporeal prior to 1838 to 1841. But, to view this as a fatal problem or an argument that Joseph Smith had a dramatic change from the classical view of God to something different does not hold water. This is because it is clear from the earliest of LDS teachings that even if Joseph did not yet understand in the early 1830’s that God was corporeal, his view of a personage of spirit is one of an embodied personage, not one of an unembodied spirit essence that the critics think the Bible and early LDS scripture supports. Accordingly, it is critical to understand earlier LDS teachings about how Joseph Smith viewed a spirit. There is an abundance of evidence that demonstrates a very different view of a personage of spirit in LDS teachings than the classical view. David Paulsen puts it this way:
Yet what evidence is there for the late development and immaterialist theories? Surprisingly, given the weight these theories have been accorded, I find not one piece of direct evidence that the Prophet Joseph Smith ever asserted that God is nonembodied. From the literature, I have been able to extract only two arguments, which I call (a) the argument from God-as-spirit, and (b) the argument from creedal terminology. The first argument starts with the premise that Joseph and his LDS contemporaries referred to God (or, at least, to God the Father) as a spirit. If so, they must have understood him to be an immaterial or unembodied being. The second argument is a much broader version of argument (a). It begins with the premise that until at least 1835, Mormons often referred to God (or at least God the Father) in language reminiscent of classical Christian creeds. Therefore, they must have understood him to be an immaterial or unembodied being.
Before proceeding further, it will be worthwhile to clarify the logic of these arguments. First, construed as deductive arguments, both are nonsequiturs–their conclusions do not follow logically from their respective premises. Second, understood as inductive arguments, (a) and (b) are weak, and both depend on a third argument (c), which is only implicit. It asserts that in the first several years of the Restoration, there is no record that Joseph taught or Mormons believed that God is embodied. Therefore, no such teaching or belief existed. This argument, which is an argument from silence, is critical to the claim that before 1838 Church members believed God to be immaterial. Only if there were no (or maybe very scant) direct evidence of early belief in an embodied God would a weak inductive inference to a belief in nonembodiment have any credibility. Conversely, if there were considerable direct evidence for early Mormon belief–especially on the part of Joseph Smith–in an embodied deity, the arguments from God-as-spirit, from creedal terminology, and from silence would all be refuted. What, then, does the record show? 26
In connection with Paulsen’s question regarding what the record shows let’s continue on with the Book of Mormon.
Paulsen points out that there are 283 Book of Mormon passages that refer to God’s body or body parts.27 But what of the concept of a personage of spirit found in the Book of Mormon? Paulsen also points to three passages that are “especially explicit” in teaching the LDS view of a personage of spirit. Of the three I would like to mention one. In the Book of Ether we read the account of the brother of Jared preparing stones that he hoped would light their ships during their passage across the ocean. In Ether 3:4-6 we find that this request from the Brother of Jared resulted in an astonishing event:
4: And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
5: Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.
6: And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.
So surprised was the Brother of Jared that he saw the finger of the Lord that he fell down in fear. This leads into the following exchange between the brother of Jared and the Lord found in Ether 3:7-16:
7 And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?
8 And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.
9 And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
10 And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
11 And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.
15 And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
16 Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.
After the account of this event is given we receive the following editorial comment from Moroni in verse 17:
17 And now, as I, Moroni, said I could not make a full account of these things which are written, therefore it sufficeth me to say that Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites.
Regarding these passages David Paulsen comments:
From this text, the following points seem evident: (1) Jesus Christ is God (Ether 3:18); (2) as a spirit, prior to his incarnation, he was nonetheless embodied; (3) his body, though not yet composed of flesh and bones, was strikingly similar in both form and appearance to a human body; and (4) our bodies of flesh and bones are created in the very image of his premortal spirit body, which is thus humanlike in form. From these points, a very significant conclusion can be drawn: both Moroni anciently and presumably Joseph Smith in 1829 as the translator of Moroni’s account understood a spirit to be an embodied person, humanlike in form, even if less tangible than one of flesh and bones. This understanding also finds support in Joseph’s cultural context, as will be shown below. Thus, one would be mistaken to infer that, early on, Joseph (and his LDS contemporaries) must have believed that God is a nonembodied being simply because they referred to him as a spirit. Unlike classical Christians generally, Latter-day Saints did not equate spirit with immateriality. 28
The critic may argue that this passage refers to Jesus and not the Father. However, that argument fails for two reasons. The first is because we are exploring how Latter-day Saints understood a personage of spirit. This passage definitely shows such understanding is not in the way that the critics accuse. Second, we understand the Father through the son. Jesus is the express image of the Father.29 They are alike in all ways, both in character and attributes, and in appearance and form.
To conclude this section on the Book of Mormon we can see that it does not teach a classical view of God. We do not find THE ONE God of the creeds and it lacks anything like a Godhead being one substance. We cannot reach the conclusion that it is similar to the teachings of the creeds about God unless we overlays the classical theistic mindset on the book of scripture. As for it teaching that God is a spirit we can see that it does not come anywhere near the classical idea of an immaterial spirit.
The Lectures on Faith
There are serious questions as to whether Joseph Smith authored the Lectures. Their status also has been over inflated by the critics so as to elevate them to the status of scripture, which they were not.30 Regarding the Father being a personage of spirit we read in the Fifth Lecture on Faith:
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, and ordained from before the foundation of the world to be a propitiation for the sins of all those who should believe on his name, and is called the Son because of the flesh, and descended in suffering below that which man can suffer; or, in other words, suffered greater sufferings, and was exposed to more powerful contradictions than any man can be.
Regarding the statement about God being a personage of spirit found in Lecture Five Robert Millet has pointed out, as I mentioned above, that Joseph may not have fully understood the corporeal nature of the Father in 1835:
The problem lies in the fact that the Prophet appears to be teaching that God the Father is a “personage of spirit” while Jesus is a “personage of tabernacle.” It is possible that Joseph Smith simply did not understand the corporeal or physical nature of God at the time the Lectures on Faith were delivered. His knowledge of things–like that of all men and women–was often incremental, and his development in understanding was therefore a “line upon line” development. As a result of the First Vision, the boy prophet knew that the heavens were no longer sealed; that Satan was more than myth or metaphor; and that the Father and Son were separate and distinct personages. But there is no mention in any of his four accounts of the First Vision of the fact that God has a body of flesh and bones. The earliest reference to the corporeality of God seems to come in a sermon on 5 January 1841 (See Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, 280-81). It was not until 2 April 1843 in Ramus, Illinois, that the Prophet gave instructions on this matter that are the basis for D&C 130:22-23: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also. But the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.” (Ehat and Cook, eds., Words of Joseph Smith, 60; see also statements on 16 February 1841 (p. 63) and on 9 March 1841 (p. 64))
It is also possible, however, that Joseph Smith did indeed understand that God has a body but that the passage in lecture 5 has been misunderstood. What then could the phrase mean? To begin with, we should note that the complete expression is not “a personage of spirit” but rather “a personage of spirit, glory, and power.” This may well be intended more as a description of God’s divine nature–a statement regarding his exalted and glorified status–than of his physical being. The word spirit, as used, for example, in Moses 1, is a synonym for glory or power: God’s Spirit is his glory (see Moses 1:9, 15). Thus it is that lecture 5 later speaks of “the Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fulness–filling all in all; the Son being filled with the fulness of the mind, glory, and power; or, in other words, the spirit, glory, and power, of the Father, possessing all knowledge and glory” (5:2). Note that the phrase “spirit, glory, and power” is here used to describe what makes the Son one with the Father–the attributes of Godhood.
It is interesting that in the catechism following lecture 5 the response to the question, “What is the Father?” is given: “He is a personage of glory and of power.” The rather obvious omission is any reference to the Father as a personage of spirit–perhaps because to say such would be repetitious; we have already established that he is a personage of power and glory, which to Joseph Smith may have been exactly the same as saying he is a personage of spirit. It is also worth noting in the catechism that all of the scriptures cited to establish the Father as a personage of power and glory speak of his attributes and his exaltation. Noticeably absent is John 4:24 (“God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth”)–the one passage from the Bible that might have been used to establish clearly that God is a spirit. But Joseph Smith would not cite this passage from the King James Bible, since he had previously learned by revelation (some time between November 1831 and 16 February 1832) that this verse required an inspired translation: “The hour cometh and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth” (JST, John 4:25-26). It is possible, indeed, that the inspired revision of the Bible had some impact on the Prophet’s thought regarding the nature of God; that is to say, if he did not know of the corporeality of God at the time of the First Vision, did he know it by the time he had translated these verses in John? 31
As stated above we understand the Father through the son. Jesus is the express image of the Father.32 The Fifth Lecture on Faith demonstrates this extremely well in the following way where it says regarding Jesus Christ:
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.
Clearly the lecture is telling us that the Son, who we have seen from the book of Mormon had a spirit body that looks just like his physical body, looks like and is in the same shape and form as his Father. Accordingly the personage of the Father has human form just like Jesus. This is perfectly clear and plain from the text. Once again we read from David Paulsen regarding this part of the Fifth Lecture:
The meaning seems clear: both the Father and the Son have humanlike bodies, for both are referred to as personages. And just as man “was formed after [the Son’s] likeness and in His image,” so also is the Son “the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father.” As already shown, the JST and book of Moses indicate Joseph understood image to signify bodily image.
This conclusion is further reinforced by a still closer analysis of the text, for Joseph not only refers to the Father and the Son as personages, but he also asserts that the Son is in the express image of “the personage of the Father.” How should the phrase, “personage of the Father” be understood where personage does not refer to the Father but apparently to something that can be predicated of the Father? Here, I believe, the term refers directly to the Father’s body. Compare the second entry under personage in The Oxford English Dictionary:
2. The body of a person; chiefly with reference to appearance, stature, etc; bodily frame, figure; personal appearance….
1559 R. Hall Life Fisher in Fisher’s Wks. (E.E.T.S.) II. p. lxiij, Doctor Ridley (who was a man of verie little and small personage).
1606 Bryskett Civ. Life 32 Well borne, vertuous, chaste, of tall and comely personage, and well spoken….
1785. Cowper Let. to Lady Hesketh 20-24 Dec., Half a dozen flannel waistcoats…to be worn…next to my personage.
Consistent with Joseph’s 1830 revisions of Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 5:1-2, the Lectures on Faith reaffirmed in 1834 that man is created in the image of the body of both the Father and the Son.
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. 33
The Book of Moses
26 And I, God, made the beasts of the earth, after their kind; and cattle after their kind; and everything which creepeth upon the earth, after his kind. And I, God, saw that all these things were good.
27 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.
28 And I, God, said, Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the 29 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.
We can see from the passage above a number of important points. We see that there are two individuals involved in the creation, both the Father and the Son. Next we learn that man is created after the image of both the Father and the Son. Note that God says He created us in both His image and in the image of His son. Recall that from Ether 3 we know that Christ’s spirit body looked exactly like his physical body and that we are created in that same image and form. Taking the Book of Mormon passages along with the JST of Genesis 1:26-29 we know that if God created us in His image and in the image of His Son, and if the spirit image of His son is in human-like form, God must be in human-like form whether or not corporeal. Thus, even if Joseph Smith did not know until after 1838 that the Father is corporeal he definitely knew God was embodied and not immaterial spirit as early as 1831.
If this is not enough evidence as to Joseph Smith’s early understanding and teachings about God we can look to his translation of Genesis 5:1-2 found in Moses 6:8-9:
8 Now this prophecy Adam spake, as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and a genealogy was kept of the children of God. And this was the book of the generations of Adam, saying: In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
9 In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created and became living souls in the land upon the footstool of God.
Can anything be clearer than the above passage as to how Joseph Smith viewed God as early as 1831? On the one hand we have critics relying on one passage in a book (the Lectures on Faith) that is not scripture to make their claim that early Latter-day Saint teaching about God being a personage of spirit was the same as creedal theism. On the other hand we have Joseph Smith plainly teaching that we are created after the pattern of an embodied God. I would challenge the critic to find any place in Latter-day Saint teachings that expounds the classical view of the trinity in a plain and simple way. Taken as a whole the Fifth Lecture on Faith does not do it. Rather, it emphasizes that a personage of spirit is embodied with form and substance.
Even in early LDS teachings the doctrine of classical trinitarianism is absent. There is not one sermon that lays it out. The critics may insist that the LDS scriptures do so, but taken as a whole and in context the critic’s selectivity and interpretations of the scriptures fail to prove this point. The Protestant view of God is not there. Contrary to the critic’s assertion is the early germination (and eventual fruition) of Joseph Smith’s understanding about God that developed from the first vision in 1820 to the ideas about God presented in 1844. The above fully demonstrates this. To wrap up on this topic another thought from David Paulsen regarding Moses 6:8-9 seems in order.
Evidently, Joseph added the clarifying phrase, “of his own body,” to distinguish his understanding of the text from any incorporealist construction. From Joseph’s revision of these biblical texts, it appears clear that in 1830 he understood that both the Father and Son are embodied and that man’s body was made in their image. Moreover, Joseph’s revisions cohere tightly with the passages from the Book of Mormon already discussed. Taken together, they show that Joseph understood the doctrine of divine embodiment at least as early as 1830. He may well have learned it some ten years earlier when the Father and the Son appeared to him in the grove near Palmyra, New York–the starting point of the Restoration. 36
Back to the Lectures on Faith
The Lectures on Faith are a document that the critics love to use in a way so as to embarrass the Church. In their attempt to do so they use them in a fallacious way and misinterpret (either intentionally or unintentionally) what they teach as well as elevate them to a level they never really enjoyed. The critics claim that the Lectures were scripture and on par with the revelations with which they were initially published. They attribute their authorship entirely to Joseph Smith and they believe them to be rather classical in their teachings about God. Interestingly, Bruce R. McConkie viewed the Fifth Lecture as one of the finest summaries on the Godhead anywhere written. 37 Millet also notes that the Lectures are “neither primitive nor Protestant.”38 The devoted student of the Lectures will find that the Lectures parlay well into the later teachings of the Nauvoo periods where we learn “that men and women can mature spiritually to the point where they can become even as their exalted Sire.”39 Indeed we find that
These lectures are not Protestant: indeed, we learn of a truly infinite Being–a totally independent Being (see LF 2:2) who possesses every godly attribute in perfection (see LF 3:12-24; 4:3-16, 19; 5:1). But in no way do we encounter the utterly transcendent Deity of the creeds. God’s infinity does not preclude either his immediacy or his intimacy.40
What of the scriptural status and authorship of the Lectures? To understand exactly what the Lectures are and how they came about an understanding of the history behind them is in order.
In September of 1834 a committee of four men were appointed to organize items pertaining to the doctrines and government of the Church. The minutes of the Kirtland High Council of September 24, 1834 read in part:
The council then proceeded to appoint a committee to arrange the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, for the government of the Church of Latter-day Saints, which Church was organized and commenced its rise on the 6th of April, 1830. These items are to be taken from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the revelations which have been given to the Church up to this date, or that shall be given until such arrangements are made. 41
The committee was to be comprised of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdry, and Frederick G. Williams. It is important to note that the resources the committee were to utilize were the canonized scripture of the Church up to that point in time and any additional revelations that may be received between the date of the establishment of the committee and the publication of their final product. This is even more important as far as the Lectures are concerned since their entire substance was primarily from these resources in an interpretive sense.
On August 17, 1835 the finished work of the committee was presented to a general assembly of the priesthood in order to ” to take into consideration the labors of a committee appointed by a general assembly of the Church on the 24th of September, 1834, for the purpose of arranging the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ for the government of the Church.”42 Interestingly, Joseph Smith and Frederick Williams were absent from that meeting “visiting the Saints in Michigan.”43 The purpose of the assembly was consideration of the book the committee had compiled. It was presented in two parts. The first section contained the Lectures on Faith. The second was comprised of various revelations received by Joseph Smith and other declarations that the Church considered inspired. The first part containing the Lectures were called The Doctrine of the Church, the second part containing the revelations were titled The Covenants of the Church. It is instructive in considering whether the Lectures were scripture and on par with the revelations that the separation of them into two distinct works was made from the very inception of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. This lends support to the fact that they were not considered as important as the revelations, nor as scripture, like the revelations they were bound together with. Keep in mind that the ideas presented in the lectures were pulled from the Bible, Book of Mormon and the predecessor to the Doctrine and Covenants, The Book of Commandments. They were an interpretation of the topics these works presented based on the light and knowledge revealed to the Church up to that point in time.
The Lectures on Faith were initially developed for presentation to the School of the Elders. The school took place around November or early December 1834. The historical record is not clear as to who delivered the Lectures on Faith during the School of the Elders. Speculations have been made that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon provided the primary teaching in the school. However, according to Dahl and Tate those who make this claim fail in the provision of source citations for their conclusions.44 The Lectures on Faith were presented in Kirtland Ohio apparently at the printing office located near the Kirtland Temple site. One attendee indicated that Sidney Rigdon presided over the school.45 Exactly what significance this holds is not clear. It could indicate that Rigdon held a prominent role in the development of the lectures that further grew into his being a critical player in the authorship of the lectures. Regardless of their delivery, after the school was complete, the lectures then were prepared for publication. It is critical to note that the seven lectures comprising the Lectures on Faith were considered “the first installment” in a plan for the development of additional lectures, or treatises, that would expound the “doctrine of Jesus Christ.”46 However, the plan for additional expositions on various doctrinal topics never came to fruition.
There are a number of interesting insights we can draw from the preceding items. First, the Lectures were delivered verbally before they were committed to writing. To what extent the written product included the ideas presented in the School is not entirely clear. Surely the written product could differ in ideas, context and topic from the verbal teachings. Additionally, to what extent a setting of instruction and possible debate of the topics had on the final content must be considered when claiming the Lectures are scripture or on par with the revelations. There is no doubt that the process which resulted in the Lectures on Faith were very different from the process involved in the receipt, writing and editing of the recorded revelations. This fact further reduces the equality of the Lectures to the revelations with which they were published.
Selective Lectures were published prior to their inclusion in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Lectures 5 and 6 were published in May of 1835 in the Messenger and advocate. Lecture 1 was published in June of 1835. The first publication of all seven of the Lectures were in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. From 1835 to 1921 the Lectures were published in all English editions of the Doctrine and Covenants but not all non-English editions.47 One may wonderif the Lectures were considered canonized scripture, why were they excluded from the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants in other languages? This lends further evidence to their non-canonized status. From 1840-1843 Parley P. Pratt printed the Lectures separately from the Doctrine and Covenants in the Millennial Star.48 Leland Gentry further summarizes:
The period between 1840 and 1900 can best be described as a “settling-in period,” during which time use of the lectures solidified in the Church. In 1850, John Davis of Methyr Tydvil, Wales, made the lectures available in Welsh. Later, in 1878, Orson Pratt wrote from England wondering whether or not to include the lectures in a new publication of the Doctrine and Covenants which he was preparing. John Taylor, then president of the Twelve and presiding officer of the Church, replied: “The Lectures on Faith were published with the sanction and approval of the Prophet Joseph Smith and we do not feel that it is desirable to make any alteration in that regard, at any rate not at the present.” Two decades later in 1897, Edwin F. Parry, a missionary in England and a writer for the Millennial Star, penned a brief article in which he recommended the lectures as “an excellent study for missionaries. . . . The lectures,” he wrote, “are plain and logical, and every assertion made in them is fully sustained by conclusive scriptural proof.”49
The above casts a number of doubts on the critic’s position. Critics will attempt to use the Lectures to show disparity in the later teachings about God by Joseph Smith. It seems odd to continue to use them as late as 1900 if the Lectures really do provide evidence that Joseph completely changed his views about God for the Church. John Taylor found no disparity, nor did Edwin F. Parry. Surely Elders Taylor and Parry were aware of Joseph Smith’s 1844 teachings about God. Orson Pratt provided Elder Taylor every opportunity to remove the Lectures at a relatively early date. He did not do so. He did, however, leave the door open for their removal in 1921. Had he felt the Lectures held a canonized status he more than likely would have been stronger in his endorsement. Elder Taylor’s comment that the Lectures were published with the “sanction and approval of the Prophet Joseph Smith” casts doubts as to his actual authorship of the Lectures. John Taylor was a contemporary of the Prophet. He most likely knew who wrote the Lectures. He could have stated that Joseph Smith wrote the Lectures at the point in time he made this statement, yet he did not.
In 1921 the Lectures were removed from publication with the Doctrine and Covenants. Critics view this as a de-canonization of the Lectures. However this seems an over simplification at best.
Lastly I would like to discuss the authorship of the Lectures on Faith. Typically the authorship of the Lectures have been attributed to Joseph Smith. Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie both believed the author of the Lectures to be Joseph Smith.50 In making his conclusion that Joseph Smith was the author of the Lectures Joseph Fielding Smith seems to rely on the following from the History of the Church:
During the month of January, I was engaged in the school of the Elders, and in preparing the lectures on theology for publication in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, which the committee appointed last September were now compiling.51
Regarding this entry in the History of the Church Noel Reynolds writes:
Such a statement falls far short of acceptable historical evidence that Joseph was responsible for their content or method. If Rigdon is the main author, how are we to know if Joseph’s review was light or heavy? Those who have had the experience of revising materials written by a close associate know what a complex task that can be.
But the statement itself may not reflect Joseph Smith’s own memory at all. Joseph’s original diaries and journals, which provided most of the source material from which the History of the Church was later compiled, have a fifteen-month gap which includes the period in which the lectures were delivered and prepared for publication. . Consequently, we can never know from Joseph’s own records whether or not he was heavily involved. The statement quoted above was introduced by Willard Richards eight years after the fact, as can be demonstrated by consulting Richards’s journal for August 28, 1843 and his notes indicating which pages of the manuscript history he worked on that day. It cannot be determined whether Richards’s insertion was suggested by Joseph Smith or by someone else. Joseph was in town on that day, but Richards seems to have been working largely alone during this period. In the face of these contingencies, the most reasonable assumption is that Richards did have some factual basis, now not available to us, for this January entry. But the language is unfortunately too vague to help us assess the level of Joseph Smith’s contribution to the publication of the lectures.52
Additionally, Joseph Fielding Smith points out that “the Prophet did know something about these Lectures on Faith, because he helped to prepare them, and he helped also to revise these lectures before they were published…” 53 This seems to indicate that Joseph Smith acted in the role of an editor and in a concerted effort involving more than one individual. Keep in mind that a committee of four individuals was given responsibility for the development of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Other than the items on marriage and governments the Prophet had already received the revelations included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Not so with the Lectures on Faith. They were first delivered verbally in the School of the Elders-by whom we do not know. From this presentation they were developed for written publication. It also appears that the written Lectures do not include all of what was taught about faith at the School of the Elders. 54
It is obvious that the process of developing and compiling the Lectures was very different from that of the revelations. It seems that the approach was more one of committee than divine revelation. Additionally, the language and style used in the Lectures is very different than that of the revelations. From the preface of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants we can see that the Lectures were written in response to criticism of the Church (that the Church did not believe in the Bible). Further, it seems that it is fairly clear that Rigdon, and possibly Cowdry, were looking for more sophistication in the style of the written publications produced by the Church. Sidney Rigdon’s style and influence are all through the Lectures. Further, John A. Widstoe was persuaded that Sidney Rigdon as well as others were primarily responsible for the Lectures.55 Three independent authorship studies also attribute the Lectures primarily to Sidney Rigdon.56 Noel Reynolds further remarks:
The formal authorship studies that have been conducted on the Lectures on Faith all favor Sidney Rigdon as author or principal author in a group effort. When considered individually, Lecture 5 was consistently problematic and was linked tentatively to W. W. Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, or Joseph Smith. This uncertainty is to be expected because the text of Lecture 5 is so much smaller than any of the other six and provides little data for analysis. While these studies each have their own limitations, and none should be relied on alone for strong conclusions, the fact that three different studies using completely different assumptions and approaches reached the same general conclusion, does provide support for the Rigdon thesis. Furthermore, the historical and circumstantial evidence leans the same way.57
Obviously the issue of the authorship of the Lectures is not conclusive. It is doubtful that we will ever know for certain who the writers were. I believe the critics have failed to demonstrate that Joseph Smith was the primary author. Typically the critics lay the authorship of the Lectures squarely at Joseph Smith’s feet while relying on only one single reference. The evidence weighs strongly against this conclusion.
To summarize the issue of the authorship of the Lectures Reynolds additionally points out:
There might be stronger warrant for attributing the Lectures to Joseph Smith if we could reasonably project present day Church decision-making processes back to 1834-35 without anachronism. It is not likely that counselors in a contemporary First Presidency would ever try to impose statements of doctrine on a president, if he did not fully endorse them. But the Church has matured a great deal since 1835. The internal dynamics of first presidencies today exhibit a unity of purpose and approach and a deference for the president that Joseph Smith may have dreamed of, but appears never to have enjoyed. This was a period of time in which Joseph’s pre-eminent role as president was not as clearly established in day-to-day relationships as it was in the revelations (see Doctrine and Covenants 28:1-7, 30:7, and 43:1-7). And the key actors in this particular episode all turned against Joseph openly and left the Church within a few years.58
Recall that in the introduction to this paper I defined a fallacy as “a statement or an argument based on a false or an invalid inference and/or incorrectness of reasoning or belief; erroneousness.” I think it is clear that the critics of the Church apply an argument based on an invalid inference as well as incorrect reasoning and belief when claiming that Joseph Smith taught of a God that was strongly similar to Trinitarian thought of his day. In fact even with the later teachings about God of the Nauvoo period Latter-day Saints still believe all that their sacred texts proclaim about God and find that these teachings parlay quite well together. That Joseph did not ever teach classical theism is clear.
Classical theists apply a paradigm that is steeped in the language of the creeds, as well as the metaphysical constraints of a theology tainted by Greek philosophy when reading the Book of Mormon teachings or other earlier LDS revelations about God. Clearly the same paradigm is applied to the Bible in order to glean the doctrine of reformed theology from its pages. Now what is truly amazing is that it took over three to four hundred years to formulate the doctrine about the Godhead found in classical theism that the majority of our critics hold to. In fact it seems that in the world of Christianity the ideas about the Godhead are not yet firmly set.59 Yet in a period of 15 years, or 24 if we go back to the First Vision in 1820, Joseph Smith’s teachings and doctrines of the Godhead were revealed in an orderly and succinct manner. In the 156 years since 1844 the LDS Church’s teachings about the Godhead have remained consistent and static. This fact speaks volumes.
1 Excerpted from The American HeritageÆ Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (1996 by Houghton Mifflin, 1996).
2 Much of what I have written in this paper is taken from that paper. Some I have paraphrased and some I have excerpted in full. Because that paper has not yet been published I cannot site it as a reference source. The interested reader may contact me for a copy of the longer paper on this topic.
3 Barry Robert Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. 1999), 76.
4 Jospeh Fielding Smith (Editor), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Deseret Book, 1976), 370.
5 Barry Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church, 77.
6 Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, (Deseret Book, 1985) 51.In this passage by Elder McConkie there is a reference to the Lectures on Faith in the context of Joseph Smith being the author of the Lectures. However, studies since the time they made such attribution have shown that Joseph Smith most likely was not the primary author.
7 Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, (Deseret Book, 1978) 118-120. An excellent summary of these same concepts can be found in B.H. Roberts’ book The Mormon Doctrine of Deity p. 26-29, which reads in part:
When the solemn hour of his trial drew near, and the bitter cup was to be drained to the very dregs, Jesus sought God in secret prayer, and in the course of that prayer he asked for strength of the Father, not only for himself, but for his disciples also. He said:
And now I am no more in the world, but these [referring to his disciples] are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thy name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
Now I begin to see this mystery of “oneness.” What does he mean when he prays that the disciples that God had given him should be one, as he and the Father are one? Think of it a moment, and while you are doing so I will read you this:
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one: as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.
Does that mean that the persons of all these disciples, whose resurrection and individual immortality he must have foreknown, shall all be merged into one person, and then that one fused into him, or he into that one, and then the Father consolidated into the oneness of the mass? No; a thousand times, no, to such a proposition as that. But as Jesus found the indwelling Spirit of God within himself, so he would have that same Spirit indwelling in his disciples, as well as in those who should believe on him through their testimony, in all time to come; and in this way become of one mind, actuated by one will. It must have been thoughts such as these that prompted Paul to say to the Ephesians:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in him, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
So then, this oneness is not a oneness of persons, not a oneness of individuals, but a oneness of mind, of knowledge, of wisdom, of purpose, of will, that all might be uplifted and partake of the divine nature, until God shall be all in all. This is the explanation of the mystery of the oneness both of the Godhead and of the disciples for which Jesus prayed.
It is clear from the item above from Roberts and from the quote from McConkie that Latter-day Saint Christians view God as one in not only in purpose but in might, mind, power, perfections, glory and attributes but not in substance and not in the way the creeds define God. This really is our greatest divide. Indeed the language found in these quotes is reminiscent of the Lectures on Faith, Lecture Fifth which reads in part:
“Öand 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 commandmentsÖ”
8 Doctrine &Covenants 130:22
9 Tom Jones, “Breaking Down Barriers Between Latter-day Saints and Mainline Christians,” Private Paper.
11 Gerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality?, (Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987).163.
12 Ibid. 172.
14 Ibid. 163
15 Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370.
16 Tom Jones, Breaking Down Barriers
17 Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370.
18 See for example 2 Nephi 31:21, Mosiah 15:1-5, Alma 11:44, 3 Nephi 11:27
19 Robert L. Millet, “BYU Studies” Vol. 29, No. 3, (Summer 1989) 51
20 3 Nephi 16:2
21 3 Nephi 16:5
22 3 Nephi 17:3; 18:24-27
23 See 2 Nephi. 31:21; Alma 11:44; Moroni. 7:7
24 Ibid. pg.53
25 Ibid. pg.53-54. The footnote found in the section of Millet’s paper citing the Lohse is worthy of reproduction in its entirety: “Father Charles Curran, a Roman Catholic priest of Rochester, New York, in speaking of the trinatarian controversy and its relation to scripture, said, “We [the Christians] went through the problem of appropriating the word in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries with the great trinatarian and Christalogical councils where we finally came to the conclusion of three persons in God and two natures in Jesus. Many people at that time said, ‘well, you can’t say that because those words aren’t in the scriptures.’ That’s right, they aren’t in the scriptures, they are borrowed from Greek philosophy, but they are the on-going account of the believing community to understand, appropriate and live the word of God in its own circumstances” (“Creative Fidelity: Keeping the Religion a Living Tradition,” Sunstone 11[July 1987]: 45)”.
26 David L. Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives,” BYU Studies Vol. 35, No. 4, (Summer 1995-96) 12-13
27 Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment,” 14
28 Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment,” 16
29 See Hebrews 1:3
30 Regarding authorship issues I recommend the reader to Noel B. Reynolds, The Authorship Debate Concerning the Lectures on Faith: Exhumation and Reburial; paper in The Disciple as a Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson; The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.
31 Robert L. Millet; BYU Studies Vol. 29, No. 3, Summer 1989, pg.54-55
32 see Hebrews 1:3
33 Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment,” 31-32
34 Compare Moses 2:26-27
35 Compare Moses 6:8-9
36 Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment,” 21
37 McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 72.
38 Robert Millet in : Larry E. Dahl and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds , The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective; 10-11 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1990), 223.
41 History of the Church, Volume 2, 165.
42 Ibid. 243
44 Larry E. Dahl and Charles D. Tate, Jr., (Editors), The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1990), 10-11.
45 Ibid. 11
46 Noel B. Reynolds, “The Authorship Debate Concerning the Lectures on Faith: Exhumation and Reburial;” in The Disciple As Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, (The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies).
47 Dahl and Tate, The Lectures on Faith, p 14
48 This discussion regarding the history of the delivery, development and publication of the lectures on Faith is not exhaustive. I have relied on a number of resources, which have bibliographies that the interested student of this subject may wish to pursue. The publications I have relied on include Dahl and Tate; Reynolds in the Disciple as a Witness; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, Lectures on Faith; Leland H. Gentry, What of the Lectures on Faith? BYU Studies, Vol. 19, 1978-1979, Number 1-Fall 1978
49 Leland H. Gentry, BYU Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1, p.9
50 See Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, (Bookcraft, 1956), Vol. 2, 304, and Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, (Bookcraft, 1966) 439.
51 History of the Church, Vol.2, Ch.13, p.180
52 Reynolds The Disciple as a Witness
53 Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, 194-195
54 Reynolds in The Disciple as a Witness
55 John A. Widstoe, The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants as cited in a book review by Noel Reynolds of Dahl and Tate’s The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective. See Book Reviews;BYU Studies Vol. 32, No. 1, p. 290
57 Reynolds, The Disciple as a Witness
59 For example John Sanders, Th,d has written (along with others) a book called The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, ed. Clark Pinnock et al (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1994). On a web page titled Open Theism we read “WHAT IS OPEN THEISM? Open Theism (also called Free Will Theism) connects with the spirituality of many Christians throughout the history of the church especially when it comes to prayer. Many Christians feel that our prayers or lack of them can make a difference as to what God does in history. The Openness of God is an attempt to think out more consistently what it means that God enters into personal relationships with humanity. We want to develop an understanding of the triune God and God’s relationship to the world that is Biblically faithful, finds consonance with the tradition, is theologically coherent and which enhances the way we live our Christian lives. On the core tenets of the Christian faith, we agree, but we believe that some aspects of the tradition need reforming, particularly when it comes to what is called “Classical Theism.” We believe that some aspects of this model of God have led Christians to misread certain Scriptures and develop some serious problems in our understanding of God which affect the way we live, pray and answer the problem of evil. (Dr. John Sanders) http://www.opentheism.org/
In the FARMS Review of Books Vol. 11, Nu.2, p.158 (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1999) Blake Ostler demonstrated that the Pauline texts show that Christ was not one with the Father in the classical sense Ö “but the chief agent of the one God, the Father. Monotheism was preserved by recognizing the Father as the one God of Jewish devotion and Christ as the Son who does the Fathers will, is sent by the Father, is given the name above all names by the Father, gives all glory to the Father, and acts at the Father’s request.” That this understanding of Paul’s Christology is shared by others besides Latter-day Saints is further demonstrated by Ostler when he quotes Cornelius Plantinga’s thoughts from Social Trinity and Tritheism. “Cornelius Plantinga Jr. likewise reviewed the “Trinitarian” texts in Paul’s letters and reached a similar conclusion. Plantinga explains ‘We have in Paul one God, one Lord, and one Spirit. I might add that Paul’s habit of reserving the designator God for the Father, and indicating the divinity of the Son and the Spirit in ways usually other than calling them God straight out, is typical of the New Testament generally. This habit, combined with biblical characterizations of the Father as generator and sender, lies behind a Christian trinatarian tradition, especially pronounced in the Greek East, of regarding the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as God proper, as the source or font of the divinity of the Son and Spirit. The latter two may be fully divine, but they are derivatively so (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., “Social Trinity and Tritheism,” in Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, 25).