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Crash Course Mormonism: Trinity

By Eric Johnson

Mormonism denies the Trinity, despite the fact that this doctrine has been accepted as an essential truth of Christianity by millions of Christians over the past two millennia. While Latter-day Saints will say they believe in “one God in purpose,” they have been taught to reject “one God in essence.” In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity has been mocked from the very beginning of the LDS Church. Founder Joseph Smith wrote,

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.).

Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball said it was God who told Joseph Smith that the Trinity was not true:

Joseph knew, as no other soul living, these absolutes: He knew that God lives, that He is a [glorified] person with flesh and bones and personality, like us or we like Him, in His image. He knew that the long-heralded trinity of three Gods in one was a myth, a deception. He knew that the Father and the Son were two distinct beings with form, voices, and . . .  personalities. He knew that the gospel was not on the earth, for by the Deities he had learned it, and the true Church was absent from the earth, for the God of heaven and earth had so informed him (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, p. 230. Ellipsis in original).

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland provided his idea of the history of the Trinity to a general conference audience:

In the year A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address—among other things—the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity.” What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known (after another 125 years and three more major councils) as the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. These various evolutions and iterations of creeds—and others to come over the centuries— declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, imminent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible. We agree with our critics on at least that point— that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible. With such a confusing definition of God being imposed upon the church, little wonder that a fourth-century monk cried out, ‘Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, … and I know not whom to adore or to address.’ How are we to trust, love, worship, to say nothing of strive to be like, One who is incomprehensible and unknowable?” (“The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2007, pp. 40-41. Ellipsis and italics in original).

For a look at the “mystery of the Trinity,” check out the video below:

While Christianity teaches in monotheism–the belief that God is one–LDS leaders have been willing to say that there are three “gods” in the LDS Godhead. Apostle John A. Widtsoe explained, “The Bible, if read fully and intelligently, teaches that the Holy Trinity is composed of individual Gods” (Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 58). Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the First Presidency, stated it this way:

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 (“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, p. 84).

He went on to accuse the Trinity as originating from paganism:

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 (Ibid.).

Robert Millet, an emeritus BYU professor, said this:

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 (A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, p. 171).

While a number of Mormons claim that the Trinity goes beyond one’s comprehension, the type of God described by one BYU professor is even more confusing:

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) (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).

What Does Christianity Teach

The Trinity is a vital doctrine in Christianity. Without a proper understanding of this teaching, the biblical concept that there is one God, yet the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all God can easily become a mishmash. While the doctrine of the Trinity is incomprehensible–that means, it cannot be fully understood because God is transcendent (above our thoughts)–the Bible contains information for a person to grasp the fundamental teachings.

For a series of articles on this issue:

Test your Understanding

  1. What have Mormon leaders taught about the three persons of God?

A) They make up one God in purpose      B) Three separate and distinct beings      C) They are not once God in essence      D) All of the above are true

2. What did Joseph Smith NOT claim about the Trinity?

A) A strange God       B) Curious organization        C) Crammed into one God    D) Biggest God in the whole world    E) All are descriptions given by Smith

3.   T/F  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is comprehensible and can be understood since it’s possible there are three gods embodied in one God

4.   T/F  Mormon leaders claim that the Trinity originated in paganism.

5. T/F The Trinity is a peripheral doctrine in Christianity, one in which we can “agree to disagree” on

Answers are below the video

Answers to the quiz

  1. D
  2. E
  3. F
  4. T
  5. F

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