Godhead (Mormonism)

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In Mormonism, depending on the era and the denomination within the Latter Day Saint movement, the concept of the Christian Godhead has included a diverse range of views including forms of modalism, binitarianism, tritheism, henotheism, and trinitarianism.

Based on some controversial teachings of the faith's founder Joseph Smith, Jr., just before his death in 1844, the most popular (but not exclusive) doctrine of the Godhead in Mormonism is that God the Father, his Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct personages, both the Father and the Son having physical bodies, while the Holy Ghost has a spirit body. It is also common among Latter Day Saints to believe that there may be other gods in separate realms of existence which are not to be worshipped or recognized (a form of henotheism). The difference between this doctrine and that of trinitarianism, believed by the majority of modern Catholics and Protestants, has set much of Mormonism apart from the rest of Christianity. See Mormonism and Christianity.

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The Godhead in Early Latter Day Saint History

Most early Latter Day Saints came from a Protestant background, believing in the Trinity. The early public teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr. contained little to contradict this view; however, Smith's public teachings regarding the nature of the Godhead slowly developed during his lifetime, and became fully elaborated only late in his life. Beginning as an unelaborated description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being "one", Smith's public teachings later described a Father and Son with physical bodies, being one together with the Holy Spirit not in "substance" but instead in mind, purpose, and attributes.

Some Latter Day Saint sects, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (by far the largest denomination), teach some of the doctrines which were taught publicly by Smith later in his life, with various elaborations by Smith's successors. Some other denominations, such as the Community of Christ (the second-largest denomination), teach other doctrines, such as the doctrine of Trinity, which they believe to be more consistent with Smith's earlier public teachings of the Godhead.

Teachings in the 1820s and early 1830s

The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, describes God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as being "one", with Jesus appearing as a spirit before his birth, and as a physical being after his resurrection. The book is unclear, however, as to whether Jesus was a separate being from the Father, and whether Jesus and the Father share the same "substance".

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. See 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's 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 physical 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. This depiction of Jesus is similar to that described in the New Testament during Jesus' baptism by John.

The Book of Mormon states that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are "one" (See 3 Nephi 11:36), but like the Bible, does not elaborate on the nature of "oneness". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest modern-day sect of Mormonism, interpret this "oneness" as a metaphorical oneness in purpose, rather than a more metaphysical oneness. On the other hand, some Protestant-oriented Latter Day Saint sects, such as the [[Community of Christ], who view Smith's various later teachings on the Godhead as speculative, 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.

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.

Conceptions of the Godhead after the Death of Joseph Smith

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  • Brigham Young's Adam-God theory
  • Theory of God as a polygamist
  • Theory of a married Jesus Christ

The Community of Christ and Protestant-Oriented Denominations

  • Trinitarianism

Alternative Latter Day Saint Conceptions of the Godhead

See also

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