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CES Reply: Joseph Smith – Trinitarian? (Part II)

The following verses are among many verses still in the Book of Mormon that hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead:

Alma 11:38-39:

38: Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?

39: And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth,and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;

Mosiah 15:1-4:

1: And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

2: And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son –

3: The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son –

4: And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.
Ether 3:14-15:

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. (Emphasis added).

Mosiah 16:15:

15: Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen.”

Yes, and these verses take the bottom out from under your argument. If Joseph’s purpose in altering 1 Nephi was to purge Trinitarianism from the Book of Mormon, why would he leave these untouched? Also, you left out a big one from your list. The same title page that announces the Book of Mormon is not inerrant also says the purpose of the Book of Mormon is “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.” [Caps in original]

Again, there it is, right on the first page. The verses you quote, coupled with the announcement of its purpose, make it clear Christ is God and that he is the Eternal Father as well as the Son, and it does so more explicitly than the verses Joseph changed. Even if he somehow forgot about all these other verses – highly unlikely – surely he wouldn’t let that Trinitarian title page hang out there like a big steaming matso ball, would he?  In addition, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no attempt to shy away from these doctrines – several revelations begin by announcing that it is the Father speaking, and they end in the name of Jesus Christ.

What’s going on?

The answer, paradoxically, is that these verses are no more intrinsically Trinitarian than the changes are un-Trinitarian.

The Trinity relies on extra-Biblical creedal language to interpret scripture. In other words, one has to learn from creedal texts outside the Bible that God doesn’t make any sense at all and then graft that interpretation on the scripture after the fact. The plain meaning of the text will not automatically guide you to that bizarre conclusion. So these verses are consistent with Bible verses that make similar pronouncements, and no one, including Joseph Smith, has to apply the external Trinitarian lens to read them correctly.

After all, Jesus stated that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) If our eternal life depends on us knowing God, how can we do that if he’s incomprehensible?

That verse comes from what I believe to be the most profoundly spiritual chapter in all of scripture. John 17, the Great Intercessory Prayer, offers the solution. It provides the clearest possible understanding of what God means when he says he is the Father and the Son, and it does so in what seems to me to be explicitly Mormon terms:

John 17: 20-23
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

 21 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.

 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

So we’re all supposed to be one, just as Christ and his father are one. Do we imagine that involves all of us becoming the same person? To be saved, does Jeremy Runnells have to become Jim Bennett and become Jesus Christ, too? Are we all to be some giant blobular God together, and yet be somehow also separate at the same time?

As Paul would say, Heaven forbid! This is a unity of purpose Christ is talking about, not an esoteric Trinitarian paradox. These verses in the Book of Mormon, and similar-sounding verses in the Bible, are teaching the essential nature of unity. To paraphrase BYU professor Robert Millet, they’re to teach us that the Father and the Son are infinitely more alike than they are separate. I think we often overcorrect in the Church and go out of our way to emphasize their distinct physical forms and lose sight of their innate and magnificent spiritual unity. These verses remain in order to teach us a profound lesson that we overlook at our spiritual peril.

When I teach this doctrine, I liken it to children who try to play one parent off the other. Kids often hold out hope that if Mom says no, maybe they can convince Dad to say yes. A perfectly united marriage wouldn’t have this problem, as the mother would be able to perfectly speak for the father, and vice versa.

In the Godhead, Jesus’s agenda is identical to the Father’s agenda – you can’t play one off of the other. So when people read scriptures and ask, “well, is this the Father or the Son speaking,” Jesus’s answer is – doesn’t matter in the least. We speak for each other without the slightest deviation. I am so in line with the Father that I can speak for the Father, in the first person as the Father, as if I were the Father.

That’s what Christ expects from us – to become one, to have His agenda be our agenda, for all of to be perfectly united and “knit together in love.” It’s a beautiful doctrine, and, at its core, astonishingly simple, as opposed to the Trinity, which is ridiculously complex and impossible to understand.

LDS scholar, Boyd Kirkland, made the following observation:

“The Book of Mormon and early revelations of Joseph Smith do indeed vividly portray a picture of the Father and Son as the same God…why is it that the Book of Mormon not only doesn’t clear up questions about the Godhead which have raged in Christianity for centuries, but on the contrary just adds to the confusion? This seems particularly ironic, since a major avowed purpose of the book was to restore lost truths and end doctrinal controversies caused by the “great and abominable Church’s” corruption of the Bible…In later years he [Joseph] reversed his earlier efforts to completely ‘monotheise’ the godhead and instead ‘tritheised’ it.” – LDS scholar, Boyd Kirkland, “An Evolving God” 

I googled Boyd Kirkland, and all I came up with was a Wikipedia article about “an American television director of animated cartoons. He was best known for his work on X-Men Evolution.” So I googled him again, adding the word “Mormon” to the search, and the same article popped up. Sure enough, under his biographical information, it points out that he was a Mormon who wrote articles about controversial issues. To twice reference him as an “LDS Scholar,” however, implies some kind of unique authority or academic status that he didn’t have – his educational background is a B.S. in business administration from Weber State, and he was an animator by profession. He’s no more an “LDS scholar” than I am – he was an unofficial critic to counter us unofficial apologists.

Sad to read that he passed away at age 60. Far too young.

Again, he’s welcome to his opinion, as are you, but I don’t see any need to agree with either, and I don’t think his argument necessarily carries any more weight than anyone else’s. Although I’m thrilled that he was, in fact, the “producer for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Animated Series,” which may well be the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
They’ll beat you, bash you,
Squish you, smash you
Serve you up for brunch

And finish you off

For dinner or lunch!

Assuming that the official 1838 First Vision account is truthful and accurate, why would Joseph Smith hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead if he personally saw God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate and embodied beings a few years earlier in the Sacred Grove? 

I don’t think he would or did hold a Trinitarian view. I don’t think these verses, both the changed and unchanged ones, suggest otherwise. Again, it’s very hard to “hold a Trinitarian view” in practical terms anyway, and a good deal of people who call themselves Trinitarians actually think of God in very Mormon terms because the Trinity, by definition, makes no sense at all.

To sum up, “Nuns on the Run” should be required viewing for all seminary students, as long as they cut out the nude scene in the girl’s locker room.

Tomorrow – A Rock in a Hat!

CES Reply: Joseph Smith - Trinitarian? (Part I)
CES Reply: A Rock in a Hat

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  1. Thank you for your information concerning the Killer Tomatoes; that may very well change my life.

    As to the other stuff, one word: YES. This is precisely how I have responded to missionary queries concerning this portion of the CES letter (John 17 is perfect).

  2. Jim, great article. In support of your point regarding availability of varying accounts of the First Vision:

    At BYU I took a Pearl of Great Price class from Robert L Millet, who at the time was Dean of Religious Education. Because the entire semester covered this very short volume of canon, we spent a several weeks on Joseph Smith-History, and a few days of this were dedicated to discussion of the First Vision.

    Millet actually had all four principal accounts of the First Vision printed in a columnated format on two sides of a single paper that he handed out to the entire class. He then had a “key” which was basically a table each row of which identified several elements of the event and the columns were each of the four accounts. Check boxes identified what elements were found in which accounts. Not only did we study it, but on the final exam we had to know which accounts contained which elements, and which ones were contradictory.

    Bear in mind that this is not just some adjunct professor, but Millet, who is very widely regarded as a mainstream scholar in the Church. And back in the 90s he had us studying extensively these accounts. I still have the pages. We even devoted an entire class session to discussing why there were discrepancies, etc.

    So when this whole brou-ha-ha erupted recently on this issue, I had to laugh. I would venture to presume that any historical study of different but roughly contemporary accounts of the same event(s) yields similar discrepancies (umm . . . has anyone ever read some little known works by some obscure people named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?).

    Your analysis is right on here, and I think any respectable historian whether agreeing with the veracity of the event or not, would conclude that the accounts are substantially consistent.

  3. Jesus’s answer is – doesn’t matter in the least. We speak for each other without the slightest deviation. I am so in line with the Father that I can speak for the Father, in the first person as the Father, as if I were the Father.

    That’s what Christ expects from us – to become one, to have His agenda be our agenda, for all of to be perfectly united and “knit together in love.”

    That’s just plain beautiful right there.