Three Little Words: A Look at an Old Hymn

By Sharon Lindbloom

The following was originally printed in the November-December 2013 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here

For several hours each night before the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, music is broadcast over loudspeakers. One might hear popular Mormon songs like Come, Come Ye Saints (a pioneer song) or Praise to the Man (a tribute to Joseph Smith), among many others. These songs are expected. But one might be surprised, as I was, to hear the familiar strains of the beloved Christian hymn Holy, Holy, Holy. I say surprised because Holy, Holy, Holy is a Trinitarian hymn; Mormonism denies the Trinity.

Published in 1826, Anglican Vicar Reginald Heber wrote Holy, Holy, Holy to be sung at his church during the observance of Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday, celebrated in Western liturgical churches, celebrates the central Christian doctrine of, as Mr. Heber wrote, “God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir does not sing Mr. Heber’s words. The Choir performs its own interpretation which, of course, leaves out reference to the Trinity. Instead of singing the song as written, that is,

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee:

Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!

God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity. (verse 1)

The Mormon interpretation is this:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;

Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!

God in His glory, blessed Deity! (verse 1)

This alteration is employed both times in the song where Mr. Heber wrote, “God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.” I give the Mormon Tabernacle Choir credit for refraining from singing something the LDS Church says is “not true” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The One True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign, November 2007, 40). But this Mormon interpretation of the song, while only changing three little words, effectively eliminates the very heart of the hymn Reginald Heber penned.

“Wait a minute,” some may say. “‘God in His glory, blessed Deity!’ That’s a true statement, right? Mormons and Christians agree (on the surface) that God in His glory is the blessed Deity. So what’s wrong with swapping out the text about the Trinity for text about Deity? No big deal, right?”

Wrong.

Reginald Heber wrote this song to praise the one true God – his God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three eternally existing coequal and coeternal Persons within the one Being that is God. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir removed that Being, that one true God about whom and for whom the song was written, and substituted a different god in His place. In His rightful place. Taking praises that belong to God alone and singing them to another.

This, to me, is an illustration of the bigger picture of what Mormonism has done with the Bible and Christian doctrine. Mormons often say Mormonism is “so close” to evangelical Christianity. They think that the “few” and “little” differences Mormonism has with Christianity are mostly insignificant. But in reality, the Mormon interpretation of doctrines long-held and espoused by Christians, just like the three little words changed in Holy, Holy, Holy, effectively eliminates the very heart of the Christian Gospel.

Is God One, a Trinity in His nature, or three Gods unified in Their purpose?

Is Christ the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth or the older brother and non-creator of the spirit beings in heaven and on earth?

Is salvation a gift from God given to sinners according to His great mercy or is it an achievement of those who prove themselves worthy?

Three little words, three little changes (among many others that could be discussed). But a different God, a different Christ, and a different doctrine of salvation equal a distorted and different Gospel. Considering the very harsh words given by the apostle Paul in Galatians 1:6-9, this is a very big deal indeed.

For more on the topic of God and the nature of the Godhead, click here.