Note: The following was originally printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
On June 16, 1844, eleven days before Joseph Smith would be killed while incarcerated at the jail in Carthage, Illinois, Smith preached his last public sermon. In this controversial message, dubbed The Sermon in The Grove, Joseph Smith spoke to a group of followers in Nauvoo, Illinois, where he made it abundantly clear that he had abandoned the Judeo-Christian doctrine of monotheism (the existence of only one God), in exchange for a more tri-theistic explanation of the godhead (that three separate Gods make up the godhead).
In this message, he makes several questionable statements. For one, he begins his talk by citing Revelation 1:6 from the King James Version of the Bible. It seems apparent that he is about to focus on the word “and” in the first sentence of this verse, as if this implies that God the Father also had a father. In this message, Smith later confirms his belief that, “If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also … Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also?” This comment has been understood to mean that not only did God the Father have a father, but that this father also had a father, ad infinitum.
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith seems to have understood that Joseph Smith was teaching what is known as an “infinite regression of gods.” This can be seen by the words “and so on,” in Joseph Fielding Smith’s book, Doctrines of Salvation (1:12). In what appears to be an obvious reference to the Sermon in the Grove, he wrote, “The Prophet taught that our Father had a Father and so on. Is not this a reasonable thought, especially when we remember that the promises are made to us that we may become like him?”
In his June 16th sermon, Joseph Smith claimed that Revelation 1:6 in the KJV is “correct in the translation,” yet in his Inspired Version of the Bible, also known as the Joseph Smith Translation, Smith did not include the word and. He instead removed the word and, and inserted a comma, making it read, “…and hath made us kings and priests unto God, his Father.” This small alteration in the text seems innocuous, except for the fact that Smith apparently saw the rendering in the KJV as more supportive of his polytheistic view of God. It should be mentioned that the word and in the King James Version does not negate a monotheistic position. Rather, it demonstrates that the Father serves in two capacities in relationship to Jesus (see John 20:17), just as Jesus serves as both King and Lord (Revelation 19:16).
Smith went on to tell his audience, “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.” He added, “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.” How can this be? If he and the Mormon elders had been promoting polytheism for 15 years, this would mean they were teaching this position in 1829, or a year before the Book of Mormon was published and a year before the Mormon Church was founded. Where in the Book of Mormon do we see anything that remotely resembles what Smith is espousing in this 1844 sermon? Three distinct Gods? If anything, we see the Book of Mormon teaching modalism (one God who manifests himself as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), not a plurality of Gods. Similar to the language of the Book of Mormon, we find Joseph Smith saying in April 1830, “Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:28).
On the “Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board” (www.mormondialogue.org), a person who goes by the handle of “Consiglieri” noted, “that in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, when Joseph Fielding Smith edited the sermon, he put a comma in a particular sentence where it obviously does not belong.” I personally don’t think this was an original idea of Smith’s, since we find a similar rendering in the History of the Church (6:474). Both references place a comma after the word “above,” and say, “My object was to preach the scriptures, and preach the doctrine they contain, there being a God above, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Consiglieri correctly observes that when Thomas Bullock (1818-1885), an English convert to Mormonism, and clerk in the Church Historian’s Office, dictated what Smith said on June 16th, he didn’t indicate that a comma should separate “a God above” from “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Consiglieri directs readers to page 378 of the book, The Words of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook. Here, we see that Bullock dictated what he heard Smith say as, “my object was to preach the Scrip—& preach the doctrine there being a God above the Far. of our Ld. J.C.” Do you see how the meaning is changed by simply adding a comma? Add the comma and the understanding is that the Father is the God above; delete the comma and we have Smith saying there is a God above God the Father. But why place a comma after above? The content of Smith’s Sermon in the Grove doesn’t hide the fact that Smith was espousing an infinite regression of Gods.
The Mormon notion that there is a God who preceded the God of the Bible is problematic for many reasons. Isaiah 43:10 in the Joseph Smith Translation reads, “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he; before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” Except for the semicolon after the word he, this is exactly how it reads in the KJV, and this rendering doesn’t differ at all in meaning with more modern translations. Clearly the God who Isaiah represented is declaring that He is God, and God alone. Verse 10 also addresses the erroneous notion that Isaiah’s God will be followed by newer Gods. From this it seems clear that Joseph Smith’s evolving God could not be the God of Isaiah, the God of the Bible, or the God of Christianity.
Mormonism’s infinite regression of Gods is also absurd for the simple reason that Mormonism teaches that all Gods must have existed as humans who were tempted and tried in a mortal existence, prior to their eventually achieving godhood. Brigham Young taught, “We are created, we are born for the express purpose of growing up from the low estate of manhood, to become Gods like unto our Father in heaven. That is the truth about it, just as it is” (August 8, 1852, Journal of Discourses 3:93).
The Mormon Jesus and the Mormon Holy Ghost are exceptions to this rule, since this Jesus became a God in the preexistence, prior to his earthly incarnation. In a general conference message in 1977, Apostle Richard G. Scott stated, “Jesus Christ possessed merits that no other child of Heavenly Father could possibly have. He was a God, Jehovah, before His birth in Bethlehem” (“The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, May 1997, 53). This concurs with what Apostle Bruce R. McConkie taught twenty years prior. He wrote, “Christ himself, the Firstborn of the Father, rose to a state of glory and exaltation before he was ever suckled at Mary’s breast” (“The Salvation of Little Children,” Ensign, April 1977, 3).
The Mormon Holy Ghost presents a whole new set of problems since this member of the Mormon godhead somehow became a God without earthly mortality or a physical body, “an essential component in the progress to become perfect, even as the Heavenly Father is perfect,” according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (2:580). True to the Faith, a 2004 authorized manual published by the LDS Church, states on page 81, “The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a personage of spirit, without a body of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22).” Yet in an undated message Joseph Smith also gave in Nauvoo, he stated, “There is no God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church – Joseph Smith, 42, see footnote 13).
If we accept the Mormon teaching that humanity is required before godhood, there is no reason to accept “in the beginning, God.” This passage from Genesis 1 must be rejected for the alternate understanding that “in the beginning, Man.”