What have Mormon leaders said about the Trinity?

This is one in a series on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. To see MRM’s website page on the Trinity to see other resources, please click here.

By Eric Johnson

According to Latter-day Saints since the very beginning of this religion, the concept of the Trinity has made God into a “giant or a monster,” a “false doctrine,” and a “three-in-one spirit essence that filled the immensity of space.” Here are some direct quotes from LDS leaders about the Trinity:

Joseph Smith

“Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God —he would be a giant or a monster” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 372.).

First Presidency

“In our Articles of Faith we declare our belief in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost–in other words, the Trinity. We accept the scriptural doctrine that
they are separate and distinct personages” (Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, p. 312).

Seventies

“The ancient prophets knew that the Godhead consisted of three separate and distinct personages, each of whom had a definite work to perform, and yet they all worked in perfect unity as one.
The three Gods constituted the Holy Trinity” (Milton R. Hunter, Pearl of Great Price Commentary, p. 52).

Apostles

“The Bible, if read fully and intelligently, teaches that the Holy Trinity is composed of individual Gods” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 58).

“If Christians are people (and this is the standard definition of the clergy of the day) who believe in the holy trinity as defined and set forth in the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles creeds, meaning
that God is a three-in-one nothingness, a spirit essence filling immensity, an incorporeal and uncreated being incapable of definition or mortal comprehension — then Mormons, by a clergychosen
definition, are ruled out of the fold of Christ” (Bruce R.McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 2:113).

“May I divorce myself for the moment from the mainstream of present-day evangelical Christianity, swim upstream as it were, and give forth some rather plain and pointed expressions on this
supposedly marvelous means of being saved with very slight effort. But before zeroing in on this religious mania that has now taken possession of millions of devout but deluded people, and as
a means of keeping all things in perspective, let me first identify the original heresy that did more than anything else to destroy primitive Christianity. This first and chief heresy of a now fallen
and decadent Christianity — and truly it is the father of all heresies — swept through all of the congregations of true believers in the early centuries of the Christian Era; it pertained then and pertains now to the nature and kind of being that God is. It was the doctrine, adapted from Gnosticism, that changed Christianity from the religion in which men worshipped a personal God, in whose image man is made, into the religion in which men worshipped a spirit essence called the Trinity. This new God, no longer a personal Father, no longer a personage of tabernacle, became an incomprehensible three-in-one spirit essence that filled the immensity of space. The adoption of this false doctrine about God effectively destroyed true worship among men and ushered in the age of universal apostasy” (Bruce R. McConkie, “What Think Ye of Salvation By Grace?” BYU Devotional Address given January 10, 1984. Transcribed from original speech. See also Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, pp. 69-70).

“In common with the rest of Christianity, we believe in a Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. However, we testify that these three members of the Godhead are three separate and distinct beings. We also testify that God the Father is not just a spirit but is a glorified person with a tangible body, as is his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ” (Dallin Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign (Conference Edition, May 1995, p. 84).

“We maintain that the concepts identified by such nonscriptural terms as ‘the incomprehensible mystery of God’ and ‘the mystery of the Holy Trinity’ are attributable to the ideas of Greek philosophy. These philosophical concepts transformed Christianity in the first few centuries following the deaths of the Apostles” (Dallin Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, p. 84).

“Our first and foremost article of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.’ We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The One True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2007, p. 40).

“Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that ‘the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].’ So any criticism that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not hold the contemporary Christian view of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is not a comment about our commitment to Christ but rather a recognition (accurate, I might add) that our view of the Godhead breaks with post-New Testament Christian history and returns to the doctrine taught by Jesus Himself” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2007, p. 40. Italics in original).

Other Sources

“THE TRINITY CREATION. They believe in the trinity creation. The trinity was voted on in the Council of Nicene hundreds of years after Christ’s death. A bunch of church leaders and government officials got together and voted on ‘who God was?’, and it wasn’t even a unanimous vote. There were about four different versions of God that they voted on. The version that is used by Catholics and Protestants today only won by about a 40 percent margin. Their view of God, as you may know, is that He is like a formless mass of spirit that fills the whole universe and when He comes to earth, part of it breaks off and forms itself into Jesus” (Scott Marshall, Tracting and Member Missionary Work, p. 73).

“If an acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity makes one a Christian, then of course Latter-day Saints are not Christians, for they believe the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in modern Protestant and Catholic theology is the product of the reconciliation of Christian theology with Greek philosophy” (BYU Professor Emeritus Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, p. 171).

“Mormonism is simultaneously monotheistic, tri-theistic, and polytheistic. There is but one God, yet there is a Godhead of three, and beyond them, ‘gods many, and lords many’ (1 Cor.8:5)” (BYU Professor Rodney Turner, “The Doctrine of the Firstborn and Only Begotten,” The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations From God, H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate, eds., p. 102).

This is one in a series on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. To see MRM’s website page on the Trinity to see other resources, please click here.