The Western Schism, Martin Luther, and Reformation (1300-1805 AD)
The Western Schism, Martin Luther, and Reformation (1300-1805 AD)
Several articles below articulate the LDS view.
A major point: concepts surrounding the Trinity didn’t arise till a few centuries after Christ. And further developed over many additional few centuries.
In other words, the contemporaries of Jesus didn’t believe in the Trinity.
One would think that the Gospel restored by Joseph Smith should at least somewhat reflect the teachings of the early Christian Church. It turns out to have more than just a few similarities.
Barry Bickmore gives a presentation on this same topic: similarities between the restored church and the early Christian church.
Latter-day Saints believe the answer is yes!
Is it true that no man has seen God?
John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
JST: John 1:19 “And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved. “
The video above shares several biblical passages in which God is referenced.
Isaiah 6:5 “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.“
Acts 7:55-56 “5But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
Lehi’s Vision, 1 Nephi 1:8: “And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. “
Several accounts from the Old Testament:
This suggests bodily features of God and an ability to see Him. The Children of Israel are still at the foot of Mt. Sinai at the time of this writing. 2
This type of opportunity to see the face of God or his entire body (Stephen’s stoning context) isn’t a casual or common experience. See the verse below in John 6.
John 6:46: “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. “
This verse in Hebrews stresses the same point:
Hebrews 12:14 “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”
Jesus himself said the following:
Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”
Moses was initially fearful to see the Lord, Exodus 3:6:
“Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. “
But later in his ministry Moses was permitted to look at the Lord’s back, Exodus 33:23
Moses’ encounter with God couldn’t be much plainer than read below. Many saw God and survived to tell about it.
After Jacob’s wrestle with the angel, Jacob shares this account:
Numbers 12:8 “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Deuteronomy 34:10 “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face“
1 Kings 11:9 “And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice“
Summary: The Old and New Testament attest that people do see the Lord under the proper circumstances and when they’re prepared.
If you understand Aristotle’s views on God, metaphysics, philosophy, and the cosmos you’ll better understand Christianity. Specifically, you’ll better understand the doctrine of the Trinity, why Christians had the false interpretation of the cosmos (geocentric) for 1500 years, and other errors that were incorporated into a Christian world view.
After all, Greek thinking spread into the Roman world when the Romans conquered Greece. Roman leaders had Greek slaves teach them and their kids mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and all other areas of knowledge.
After Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity spread into a Greek world. One that believed in things just the way Aristotle did centuries before. Eventually, Roman leaders persecuted Christians who believed in ideas contrary to the accepted Greek views.
Jews and Romans labeled Christians polytheists for belief in 2 Gods (Father & Son). This persecution continued on and off until Christians embraces Greek philosophy, defining God and Jesus being one (2 persons, but one being) and of the same substance.
Greek medicine has been largely rejected. So has Greek astronomy. A Greek view on God’s nature has persisted, however.
Aristotle had many brilliant ideas for his day. He debated non-believers and laid out proofs for God’s existence. Aristotle had a theory for nearly everything. He was correct on many things, but mistaken on many others (including theological, medical, and astronomical concepts).
Many of these errors were adopted without reservation by the educated and a very significant institution: the Roman Catholic Church. Nobody at the time conceived the Greeks were wrong. Indeed, these ideas were held up and propagated for centuries. These false ideas — geocentricism, Greek medicine, and others — were not rejected till the Scientific Revolution.
A short 12-minute summary:
From Christian Wheaton College. This is very dry. Joseph Smith makes it much simpler. He saw two resurrected beings.
LDS scholar, Barry Bickmore, discusses the transformation of the Hebrew/Jewish organization into a more Hellenized version of Christianity:
The Trinity is neither implicit nor explicit in the Bible. Triune, triunity, or similar words and concepts are never mentioned or referenced in the Bible. They’re not Hebrew concepts. They’re completely Greek in nature.
This Christian (not LDS) leader, Joel Hemphill, summarizes this way:
“Scripture, Plato, Aristotle played perhaps equal roles in developing Trinitarian views and Trinitarian doctrine.”
Mr. Hemphill was a pastor for decades before determining in 2005 that the Trinity was not true. Though we don’t agree on his concepts relative to Jesus (Joel feels Jesus isn’t divine), Joel does speak the truth about the Trinity and Greek philosophy.
He continues in the video below:
“It was from these (Greek) foreign sources, not Jesus himself, that the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation, and related conceptions grew.
We have also observed that the specific metaphysical vehicle used to express the classical doctrine of the Trinity was a Greek metaphysics that was viable in that time, but no longer makes a great deal of sense to most people today…”
The speaker and the attendees understood the implication: their concept of God was corrupted.
Like LDS people, Unitarians don’t believe in the Trinity. This Unitarian in the video below makes solid points.
In contrast to this speaker, however, LDS folks believe Jehovah was a pre-existent Jesus. Unitarians think God the Father was Jehovah and is/was the only God.
Though we disagree on many points, this person still makes valuable points about the Trinity.
This third video is another Christian (Unitarian) speaker. Again, not a Latter-day Saint. His talk is entitled, “The Five Major Problems With the Trinity.” He provides more detail than the 2nd video above.
Latter-day Saints don’t agree with everything a Unitarian does or we would join their faith. But we can relate and accept their position relative to the Trinity.
Bart is an atheist, but an outstanding scholar:
Elder Holland discusses the LDS doctrine of the Godhead here:
Wikipedia lists the many creeds and highlights the important historical ones here.
The creeds evolved over centuries. From the Apostles’ Creed (180 AD) to the Athanasian Creed (500 AD). Latter-day Saints can agree with the early creeds. The later creeds, however, are deeply influenced by the dominant (at the time) Greek philosophy.
The creed in 180 AD is simple and clear. The creed in 500 AD is not clear. Not simple.
Mormons believe in the revealed truth about the Godhead.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of Substance [Essence]; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, History of Trinitarian Doctrines:
Very first paragraph:
“This supplementary document discusses the history of Trinity theories. Although early Christian theologians speculated in many ways on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, no one clearly and fully asserted the doctrine of the Trinity as explained at the top of the main entry until around the end of the so-called Arian Controversy. (See 3.2 below and section 3.1 of the supplementary document on unitarianism.)
Nonetheless, proponents of such theories always claim them to be in some sense founded on, or at least illustrated by, biblical texts.”
David Paulsen focuses on the LDS understanding of God. He explains that Origin, Augustine (though reluctantly), early Christians, and Jews that God believed was corporeal. This is not a Trinitarian view.
Blake Ostler has written extensively on this topic. Fortunately, he created easy-to-listen-to podcasts on the topic here:
A short essay by Blake Ostler: The Logical Incoherence of Traditional Christianity.
Kerry Shirts always provides fun, enlightening insight:
Kwaku shares wonderful insight on how God came to be and how that relates to what some prominent atheists posit today.
Some atheists propose, when pushed, that life possibly was seeded here by an advanced extra-terrestrial.
Jeff at Latter-day Saints Q & A:
Short podcast from a review of Andrew Skinner’s new book:
Abstract: What is theosis? Why does the doctrine of theosis matter? Why did God become man so that man might become God? In his book To Become Like God, Andrew C. Skinner answers these questions with compelling clarity. He provides ample convincing evidence that, far from being a deviation from original Christian beliefs, the doctrine of theosis, or the belief that human beings have the potential to become like God, is central to the Christian faith.
Brilliant insight (as usual) from Blake Ostler:
Topics Discussed: Arguments That Essential Divine Properties Cannot Be Shared with Humans
– Can a Fulness of Divine Power Be Shared?
– Can Divine Sovereignty Be Shared By Humans?
Latter-day Saints have a unique theology. We believe our Heavenly Father and his Son are separate beings and that they have exalted bodies. We believe we can be like them.
This notion of becoming like God is not new. It’s biblical.
One can read a lengthy paper on the topic: Defenders of the Doctrine of Deification.
In this Maxwell Institute podcast below, Powell talks about his book, “Irenaeus, Joseph Smith, and God-Making Heresy.”
The idea that humans can become gods appeared in a setting of extreme opposition both for early Mormons like Joseph Smith, and early Christian leaders like Iranaeus.
The principles associated with theosis presented by Jordan Watkins:
Non-Mormon, Margaret Barker, spoke in 2016. Among many other points, Margaret shared that the Deuteronomist editors removed references to the a human-form Heavenly Father visiting Old Testament prophets (after 26:00).
After the first hour, three LDS scholars shared their own insights:
Valuable insights about Solomon’s Temple:
Roger Cook discusses theosis below:
Brett McDonald presents below:
Latter-day Saints believe we are more than creatures. “Ye are Gods” is found in John 10:34 and Psalm 82:6.
Hugh Nibley connected Egyptian rituals with LDS temple rites and ceremonies.
Debate between evangelical James White and two LDS apologists: Van Hale and Tanner Martin.
Deification in a Mesoamerican mindset:
A FARMS review from 2004: The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old
From a FARM’s review: Of Simplicity, Oversimplification, and Monotheism. Barry Brickmore explains LDS concepts about the Godhead that are misrepresented by evangelical author Owens in his book, “New Mormon Challenge.”
Please read or listen to Stephen Smooth on this topic: The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith revealed the Divine Council when he translated the Book of Abraham. Scholars also now understand the Old Testament to teach about the Divine Council.
Great interview by Laura Hales from LDS Perspectives Podcasts:
Non-Mormon, Dr. Mattei writes about El (Father) being worshipped before Yahweh in this post #27: Are Yahweh and El the same god OR different gods?
Summary: Mattei argues that El (Almighty God) and Yahweh (Son) are distinct.
Dr. Michael Heiser, a prominent traditional (and Trinitarian) Christian , shares many insights LDS folks agree with.
“The term divine council is used by Hebrew and Semitics scholars to refer to the heavenly host, the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs of the cosmos. All ancient Mediterranean cultures had some conception of a divine council. The divine council of Israelite religion, known primarily through the psalms, was distinct in important ways.”
David Bokovoy, an LDS expert on divine councils, engaged with Michael Heiser on this topic. Heiser wrote a critique of Mormonism’s use of Psalm 82. Then David explained our position. Heiser finished the dialogue. Very awesome to have this type of dialogue.
David Bokovoy’s view on divine councils, El, and Yahweh:
Prof. William G. Dever is a world-renowned archaeologist on ancient Israel:
These 3 Mormon guys are fun, and also bring solid content.
Mark Smith is a foremost scholar in this area of Judaism’s early polytheism and eventual monotheism. Concepts of multiplicity of Gods in a council structure is recognized by all Biblical scholars today.
El was present in the early tradition and texts as a separate most-high God. Later, however, as the Jews returned from the exile and the OT was canonized, Jehovah appears to assume the characteristics of El. That is, Judaism thus became monotheistic.
Smith explains — in his book “Jehovah and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel” — that in early Jewish history, Jehovah was Israel’s God fully distinct from El (the Father). In Deuteronomy 32 : 8-9 Jehovah was cast as one of the sons of El. Each diety received its own nation in Deuteronomy 32. Yahweh was given Israel.
Michael Ash explains the role the Deutoronomists played in reforming Judaism into something more monotheistic. Additionally, prior to the Babylonian Captivity, Asherah (a Heavenly Mother figure) had been worshipped in the Temple for centuries.
Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life includes a reference to the virgin Mary, the mother of the Son of God. The Tree of Life in 1 Nephi dovetails with Mark E. Smith’s teachings about Asherah.
You may also want to review the slides (and watch below video) used by Robert Vukich in his debate: Rejecting the False Doctrine of the Trinity.
Robert discusses the scriptural basis for more gods than Jehovah. He also shows that God the Father (El) is completely separate from the Son, Jehovah.
Concise summary by Robert Vukich, a long-time LDS scholar and apologist:
“The Trinity is a logical contradiction as opposed to a mystery. A mystery is how god could be self existent, or how there could be an infinite regression of gods, and matter be eternal. Those are mysteries which do not present a contradiction because they rely on something which is not revealed but doesn’t contradict itself.
By contrast, the Trinity presents a contradiction at every point. The idea of being fully god yet fully a person within that god, and there being three persons, each fully god and having all the essence of god, yet still being one of three is illogical. It is untenably illogical when you realize Jesus is sitting or standing next to god (such as Acts 7:56), who has a physical location. It is logically impossible to say a thing is next to itself. It is not just silly word games which is most of the trinity description, but it is hard fact that any thing cannot logically be next to itself.
Thus the trinity is not a mystery, it is an illogical word game. It is fully explained once the correct NT understanding is provided, which was there were many gods and many lords, but God the Father and Jesus the Lord are the only ones that matter to us. There is no statement in scripture which requires the oneness of god, as described in the Ancient Near East setting, to mean anything beyond a corporate oneness, which is in fact the way Jesus described his oneness with god. When Jesus quotes from the Shema, he doesn’t include himself in it, he simply cites it.
The trinity is a manmade mess of jumbled words to impress people with just how inscrutable god is, despite it being life eternal to know the only true god AND Jesus whom he sent.”
Yep. Hardly a mystery. Entire a contradiction.
Another view from the 3 Mormons!
These guys could be a little clearer in that creedal Christians believe the Trinity is composed of 3 persons whose substance is the same. LDS Christians believe in absolutely 3 separate beings.
Dr. Paulsen is a distinguished scholar who spent a career at BYU. He defends the LDS understanding of the Godhead:
Brant Gardner discusses the union of these ideas: monotheism, Messiah, and the Book of Mormon.
Brant discusses the Father God, El; the mother God or spouse of El, Asherah; Jehovah, the preeminent among the Sons of El (the Father God); and other topics in the evolution of gods in Judaism.
The Sons of God were assigned to different nations. Jehovah was assigned to Israel. By the 8th and 7th centuries BC Jehovah grew in stature, supplanting El in certain respects, as the Jews developed a proto-monotheism.
The understanding of the Godhead’s nature was corrupted in the centuries after Jesus’ resurrection.
Jeff Lindsay shares many explanations here, on his blog LDS FAQ.
Fiona Givens provides a history of the Trinity development in her book, The Christ who Heals: How God Restored the Truth that Saves Us.
She discusses those issues here, contrasting what occurred in the Eastern and Western Christian Churches:
Barry Brickmore shares how the early Saints believed in much that was restored through Joseph Smith: separate Father and Son, deification, creation ex materia (not ex nihilo), and more.
Greek philosophy corrupted the Christian understanding of the Godhead.
Read the 1987 Ensign article, “Is the LDS View of God Consistent with the Bible?”
Key quotes below:
“When Christianity came into contact with the society in which that habit of mind existed, it modified, it reformed, it elevated, the ideas which it contained and the motives which stimulated it to action; but in its turn it was itself profoundly modified by the habit of mind of those who accepted it.
It was impossible for Greeks, … with an education which penetrated their whole nature, to receive or to retain Christianity in its primitive simplicity.” (The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, New York: Harper & Row, 1957, p. 49.)
As the church entered the third century, many ridiculed Christianity because they regarded it as polytheistic—that is, it had a theology of three Gods: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
By this time the more sophisticated had rejected polytheistic pagan deities and had become monotheistic, accepting but one God. So the issue for the church was how to make Christian theology accord with respectable opinion.
Tertullian, a lawyer, offered this solution: The true God was composed of immaterial spiritual substance, and though the three personages that comprised the Godhead were distinct, this was only a material manifestation of an invisible God.
As for how three persons could be one, it was explained that the persons were legally conceived entities, “just as a corporation is composed of various people though it is not the people.” (T. Edgar Lyon, Apostasy to Restoration, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1960, p. 113.)”
Augustine (354—430 C.E.), also known as St. Augustine, is a fourth century philosopher whose groundbreaking philosophy infused Christian doctrine with Neoplatonism.
Additional quotes from the Ensign about Augustine:
“The unsurpassed intellectual in Christian history was Augustine. He was the one who thoroughly fused the theology of the New Testament with Platonism.
In examining Christian doctrine, Augustine confessed to a strong preconception—a repugnance to the idea that God had a body. (The Confessions, V, x:19–20; VII, 1:1. In Great Books of the Western World, vol. 18, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, pp. 32, 43.)
He acknowledged that he had labored on the thesis of the Trinity for fifteen years without “ever reaching a satisfactory conclusion.” (Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 86.)
Finally he (Augustine) rationalized that if one accepts the Platonic idea that spirit essence is the purest manifestation of reality and that matter is the most corrupt, God must therefore be an immaterial being. He was then able to accept the doctrine of the Trinity. (Confessions, IV, xvi:29, 31; V, x:19–20; VI, iii:4–iv:5; The City of God, VIII, ch. 5–6. In Great Books, vol. 18, pp. 26, 32, 36, 267–69.)
As Plato had done before him, Augustine decided that since God is the ultimate good, he cannot be associated with anything material.
Augustine’s personal theology became that of the Roman Empire and remains an influence in historic Christianity to this day. Such is the basis for traditional Christianity’s teaching on the Trinity—a belief described by modern clerics as a mystery.”
Listen to LDS scholar’s Blake Ostler‘s “The Attributes of God, Chapter ONE”, Part I and Part II. A greater focus on the Apostasy: “The Attributes of God, Chapter TWO.”
Ostler explains our view of the Godhead and our belief in eternal progression. “As God now is, man may became.”
More from Ostler contrasting LDS and traditional cosmology:
Review Robert Vukich’s presentation here: “Rejecting the False Doctrine of the Trinity.”
Robert primarily uses widely respected, authoritative Christian and Jewish scholars to establish these points: 1) The Trinity isn’t biblical. 2) The Trinity was created by Greek philosophers centuries after Jesus. 3) Multiple Gods are referenced in the scriptures. 4) Traditional monotheism isn’t supported.
LDS Truth Claims identifies the Greek influence on the early Church in the form of ex nihilo creation. These videos discuss concepts of impassibility (unemotional) and immutability (unchanging) of God and the Trinity: