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Conceptions of God

In the Latter Day Saint movement, the Godhead is the focus of worship and devotion within the faith. It consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[1] Depending on era and denomination, the Latter Day Saint movement accommodates a variety of doctrines concerning the interrelationship and metaphysical nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These teachings derive mainly from the movement's founder Joseph Smith, Jr., and they evolved over his lifetime. The term Godhead derives from the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, where the term is used to translate Greek words meaning divinity or deity. The term first appeared in its Latter Day Saint sense in 1835, in the once-canonized Lectures on Faith,[2] and has since entered the jargon of Mormonism (the branch of the Latter Day Saint movement that recognizes Brigham Young as a prophet) as a substitute for the term Trinity that does not connote Trinitarian theology.

The prevailing Godhead doctrine within Mormonism is nontrinitarian, based on Smith's sermons on the subject in the last few years before his 1844 assassination which described the Father, Son, and Spirit as three distinct beings. However, denominations of the broader Latter Day Saint movement such as the Community of Christ view Trinitarianism as compatible with the Book of Mormon and other early Latter Day Saint scripture. In addition Mormon fundamentalists derive part of their Godhead theology from statements by Brigham Young, which they recognize as the Adam God doctrine. It is also common within Mormonism for adherents to believe in a Heavenly Mother and other deities, although they are not classed within the Godhead and not often viewed as a focus of worship.


Early Latter Day Saint concepts

Beginning in 1838, Joseph Smith, Jr. taught that he had seen two "personages" in the spring of 1820. In 1843, Smith taught that these personages, God the Father and Jesus, had separate, tangible bodies.

Most early Latter Day Saints came from a Protestant background, believing in the doctrine of Trinity that had been developed during the early centuries of Christianity. Before about 1835, Mormon theological teachings were similar to that established view.[3] However, Smith's public teachings regarding the nature of the Godhead developed during his lifetime, becoming most fully elaborated in the few years prior to his assassination in 1844. Beginning as an unelaborated description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being "One", Smith taught that the Father and the Son were distinct personal members of the Godhead as early as 1832 (See D&C 76:12-24). Smith's public teachings later described the Father and Son as possessing distinct physical bodies, being one together with the Holy Ghost not in material substance but instead in spirit, glory, and purpose (See [D&C 130:22).


Teachings in the 1820s and early 1830s

The Book of Mormon describes God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as being "one", with Jesus appearing with a body of spirit before his birth, and with a tangible body after his resurrection. The book describes the "Spirit of the Lord" (presumably the Holy Spirit) as capable of appearing "in the form of a man" and speaking as a man would speak. (1 Ne. 11:11).

Prior to Jesus's birth, the book depicts Jesus as a spirit "without flesh and blood", although with a spirit "body" that looked the same as Jesus would appear during his physical life. (Ether 3). Moreover, Jesus described himself as follows: "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." (Ether 3:14). In another passage of The Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi stated,

"I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. 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—the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—and they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth." (Mosiah 15:1-4).

After Jesus' resurrection and ascension into heaven, The Book of Mormon states that he visited a small group of people in the Americas, who saw that he had a tangible body. During his visit, he was announced by the voice of God the Father, and those present felt the Holy Spirit, but only the Son was seen. Jesus is quoted,

"Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them. 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." (3 Nephi 19:22-23).

The Book of Mormon states that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are "one" (See 3 Nephi 11:36). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints interprets this "oneness" as a metaphorical oneness in spirit, purpose, and glory, rather than a physical or bodily unity. On the other hand, some Protestant-oriented Latter Day Saint sects, such as the Community of Christ, consider the Book of Mormon to be consistent with trinitarianism. Some scholars have also suggested that the view of Jesus in The Book of Mormon is also consistent, or perhaps most consistent, with monotheistic Modalism.[4]

Teachings in the mid- to late-1830s

In 1835, Joseph Smith, Jr. (with the involvement of Sidney Rigdon), publicly taught the idea that Jesus Christ and God the Father were two separate beings. In the Lectures on Faith, which had been taught in 1834 to the School of the Prophets, the following doctrines were presented:

  1. That the Godhead consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (5:1c);
  2. That there are two "personages", the Father and the Son, that constitute the "supreme power over all things" (5:2a, Q&A section);
  3. That the Father is a "personage of spirit, glory, and power" (5:2c);
  4. That the Son is a "personage of tabernacle" (5:2d) who "possess[es] the same mind with the Father; which Mind is the Holy Spirit" (5:2j,k);
  5. That the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the "supreme power over all things" (5:2l);
  6. That "[T]hese three constitute the Godhead and are one: the Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fullness;" (5:2m);
  7. That the Son is "filled with the fullness of the Mind of the Father, or in other words, the Spirit of the Father." (5:2o).

Though once part of the official Mormon canon, and part of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the Lectures on Faith were eventually decanonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ. Most modern Latter Day Saints do not accept the idea of a two-"personage" Godhead, with the Father as a spirit and the Holy Spirit as the shared "mind" of the Father and the Son. Moreover, many Latter Day Saint apologists propose a reading of Lectures on Faith that is consistent with Smith's earlier or later doctrines, by putting various shadings on the meaning of personage as used in the Lectures.

In 1838, Smith published a narrative of his First Vision, in which he described seeing both God the Father and a separate Jesus Christ in a vision, both of them appearing identical.

Teachings in the 1840s

In public sermons later in Smith's life, he began to describe what he thought was the true nature of the Godhead in much greater detail. In 1843, Smith provided his final public description of the Godhead before his death, in which he described God the Father as having a physical body, and the Holy Spirit, also, is a distinct personage: "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." (D&C 130:22).

During this period, Smith also introduced a theology that could support the existence of a Heavenly Mother. The primary source for this theology is the sermon he delivered at the funeral of King Follett (commonly called the King Follett Discourse). In the Church today, it is generally believed that a Heavenly Mother exists,[5][6][7] but very little is acknowledged or known beyond Her existence.

Jesus is identified as The Son; he is also identified with Jehovah or Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, who some Christians identify with God the Father.

Denominational teachings

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently holds Joseph Smith's explanation of the Godhead as official doctrine, which is to say that the Father and the Son have physical bodies, while the Holy Ghost has only a body of spirit. According to LDS teachings, this theology is consistent with Smith's 1838 and subsequent accounts of the First Vision.[8] These accounts state that Smith saw a vision of "two personages" that included the Father and the Son.[9] Mormon critics view this 1838 account with skepticism, because Smith's earliest accounts of the First Vision did not refer to the presence of two beings.[10] The church also teaches that its theology is consistent with the Biblical account of the baptism of Jesus which referred to signs from the Father and the Holy Spirit,[11] which the denomination interprets as an indication that these two persons have distinct substance from Jesus. Mainstream Christian theologians do not consider that this baptism story is inconsistent with trinitarianism.

Some Latter-day Saints as well as members of other faiths that comprise the Latter Day Saint movement, have posited additional theories on the nature of the Godhead, some of which appear in the following lists.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected Jesus Christ, as depicted in the Christus Statue in the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City

Adherents to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that both the Father and the Son have glorified physical bodies, and the Holy Ghost has a body of spirit. The differences between the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead and that of Trinitarianism, have set Mormonism apart, with the result that some Christian denominations reject Mormonism as being a branch of the Christian Faith.

The late prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, offered a declaration of belief in a July 2006 Ensign magazine article entitled, "In These Three I Believe," wherein he reaffirmed the teachings of the LDS Church regarding the distinct individuality and perfect unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He affirmed that God the Father is "the Father of the spirits of all men," "the great Creator, the Ruler of the universe," whose "love encompasses all of His children, and it is His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His sons and daughters of all generations." He affirmed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and "the one perfect man to walk the earth," is the "Firstborn of the Father and the only Begotten of the Father in the flesh," and that He fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy that "his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6) He affirmed, "He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world," through whose loving atoning sacrifice is extended to "every son and daughter of God, the opportunity for eternal life and exaltation in our Father's kingdom, as we hearken to and obey His commandments.... I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth.... We approach the Father through the Son. He is our intercessor at the throne of God." He affirmed that the Holy Ghost is a distinct spirit being who is the Comforter and the Testifier of Truth, and that the "perfect unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost binds these three into the oneness of the divine Godhead."

The Community of Christ

The Community of Christ, as noted above, adheres to a Trinitarianism that is similar that of mainstream Protestantism.

The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)

The Church of Jesus Christ believes God, the Father, to be an omnipotent personage of glory. The Father has a form, is eternal, and has emotions - love, hate, forgiveness, etc. Jesus Christ is the express image of the father and was with the father from the foundation of the world. He is considered the Messiah and Son of God. The Holy Ghost is considered to be a separate being of spirit, without a body.[12][13]

William Cadman wrote this matter,

"There has been much said about Joseph Smith...all people who manifest faith in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, do acknowledge him to be inspired of God when but a youth....He has been a much accused man, whether truly or falsely, eternity will reveal."[14]

Restoration Church of Jesus Christ

In the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ, the Heavenly Mother is accepted as a full member of the Godhead. Thus, the RCJC believes in a quadriune Godhead; the Godhead is referred to as the Holy Quaternity. Prayers are addressed to the Heavenly Parents in the name of Jesus Christ.

Alternative Latter Day Saint conceptions

See also


  1. ^ Wentworth Letter (1842), first Article of Faith ("We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.").
  2. ^ Lectures on Faith, Lecture 5 ("We shall in this lecture speak of the Godhead; we mean the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."). The term Godhead also appears several times in Lecture 2 in its sense as used in the Authorized King James Version as meaning divinity.
  3. ^ Alexander (1980, online p. 1).
  4. ^ Widmer (2000, p. 6).
  5. ^ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Chapter 2: Our Heavenly Parents", Gospel Principles, ).
  6. ^ Spencer W. Kimball, "The True Way of Life and Salvation", Ensign, May 1978, 4.
  7. ^ Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, #292, "O My Father".
  8. ^ Kurt Widmer, Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1833-1915 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2000), 92.
  9. ^ History:11-17.
  10. ^ Palmer, 248-252 (arguing that in 1838, Smith modified the First Vision story to assert his claim to divine calling directly from God and Jesus)
  11. ^ (Matthew 3:16-17).
  12. ^ The Church of Jesus Christ (1986). Faith and Doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ. Bridgewater, MI: The Church of Jesus Christ.  
  13. ^ Lovalvo, V James (1986). Dissertation on the Faith and Doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ. Bridgewater, MI: The Church of Jesus Christ.  
  14. ^ Cadman, William H. (1945). A History of the Church of Jesus Christ. Monongahela, PA: The Church of Jesus Christ.  



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