Murdock Wallis has three responses to my post on the Trinity from last week. Helpfully, he divides them up thematically, so I’ll respond to them individually. Here’s his first:
In the LDS handbook “True to the Faith”, which can be read online at www.lds.org for any readers who would like to see it, gives the following explanation:
The first article of faith states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” These three beings make up the Godhead. They preside over this world and all other creations of our Father in Heaven.
The true doctrine of the Godhead was lost in the apostasy that followed the Savior’s mortal ministry and the deaths of His Apostles. This doctrine began to be restored when 14-year-old Joseph Smith received his First Vision (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17). From the Prophet’s account of the First Vision and from his other teachings, we know that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit (see D&C 130:22).
Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.
The late Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s book “Mormon Doctrine”, which is not a publication of the Church, but has sold millions of copies over 52 years and is enormously influential, includes the following in its discussion of the Godhead:
“Though each God in the Godhead is a personage separate and distinct from each of the others, yet they are “one God” (Testimony of Three Witnesses in Book of Mormon), meaning that they are united as one in the attributes of perfection. For instance, each has the fulness of truth, knowledge, charity, power, justice, judgment, mercy, and faith. Accordingly they all think, act, speak, and are alike in all things; and yet they are three separate and distinct entities. Each occupies space and is and can be in but one place at one time, but each has power and influence that is everywhere present. The oneness of the Gods is the same unity that should exist among the saints. (John 17; 3 Ne. 28:10-11)”
I am asking only whether the Bible verses you have cited as supporting the doctrine of the Trinity are consistent with the Godhead as described by the Church and Elder McConkie. My question does not raise a dispute as to whether or not the Bible verses that you have cited support the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, I am not asking whether the Bible verses you cite are consistent with the Godhead alone. I am not asking for the view of the Catholic magisterium as to what these verses actually mean. I am asking only whether, without reference to the Trinity, and understanding that reasonable people can differ, these verses can be read by reasonable people as referring to the Godhead.
Murdock’s question was whether “reasonable people can differ” on the interpretation of these verses. That answer’s easy: they can, and they do. If a mind as great as St. Augustine’s could have been caught up for long in Manicheanism and skepticism, it’s fair to say that even the most reasonable people can arrive at the wrong answers sometimes. All of this is why we need an infallible Church, and why we need to be able to easily identify that visible Church. More on that in a bit.
In any case, I think that the real question isn’t whether the Mormon view of the Godhead is compatible with the Trinity. It’s not, and True to the Faith concedes as much when it claims that “the true doctrine of the Godhead was lost in the apostasy,” and views the Mormon view as the restoration of an accurate understanding of the nature of God. The question then is whether either interpretation is sustainable in light of the Scriptural evidence. Here’s why I don’t think the Mormon view of the Godhead holds up to scrutiny.
(1) “the members of the Godhead are three separate beings.”
If that’s the case, Mormonism is polytheistic, period. It may have a gentle polytheism, where the major gods work in harmony, but it’s still polytheism. And that creates some serious Biblical problems. For example, in Isaiah 45:18, we hear:
For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.
So God is identified in the singular, and He says at the end, “I am the LORD (in Hebrew, Jehovah), and there is no other.” Now the He in question is the Trinity in the Catholic view. But in the Mormon view, it must be One of the three Beings speaking. In v. 5, He says plainly, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” In the previous chapter, Isaiah 44:6, Jehovah says, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.“
Now, as I understand it, Mormonism today considers Jehovah to be Jesus Christ – True to the Faith says as much on page 87. If that’s true, and it’s true that Jesus Christ is a separate Being from the Father and the Holy Spirit, then Jesus is declaring in Isaiah 45 that the Father and Holy Spirit aren’t God. Obviously, the same problem arises is you understand Jehovah to be exclusively God the Father or God the Holy Spirit.
This problem arises throughout the Old and New Testament: 2 Kings 19:19 declares, “you alone, O Jehovah, are God.” 1 Timothy 2:5 declares that there is only One God, as does Romans 3:30. In Deuteronomy 5:9, Jehovah declares Himself a “jealous God” who won’t tolerate the worship of any others. In Luke 4:8, Jesus declares, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” And on and on it goes. In numerous verses, we hear the following:
- There is only one God.
- This God alone is God.
- Worship of anything or anyone else as God is displeasing.
For a Catholic, these verses are a bedrock of support for us. We believe Jehovah is the One, Triune God. But these passages, and countless others, are emphatic that there is only One Divine Being, Jehovah. They do, I think, thoroughly discredit the view that there are Three Divine Beings. At the least, I can’t think of a way that Jehovah could have been any clearer that He is the only God.
And finally, we arrive at 1 John 4:8, the famous proclamation that “God is Love.” Love is necessarily selfless, and involves a Lover pouring Himself out for His Beloved. This is captured in the Trinity quite neatly. The Father loves the Son fully and selflessly; the Son loves the Father fully and selflessly; the bond of Love eternally proceeding from the One to the Other Person of the Trinity forms the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Thus, within God Himself, there are all of the necessary components to be, not just loving, but Love Incarnate. Now, in the Mormon Godhead, we run into serious difficulties. Since each God is a single Person, God cannot be Love. He can love, but He cannot be Love. For the action of loving to be complete, each God must go outside Himself to love — to love Himself would be self-seeking, contrary to the very nature of Love (1 Corinthians 13:5). Only the Trinity offers God as Love in its complete form: Lover and Beloved, totally selfless.
(2) “The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones”
Obviously, we agree on the Son, Jesus Christ, having a tangible Body. But Christ is expressly declared in Colossians 1:15 to be “the image of the invisible God,” because the Father does not have a tangible Body. It was Jesus’ unique calling which called for His being made Man, as Hebrews 2:14-18 explains. 1 Timothy 1:17 and Hebrews 11:27 also describe God the Father as invisible. John 4:24 says of Him, “God is Spirit.” God is the maker of all things, including matter. While it isn’t beyond the scope of God the Father’s power to fashion Himself a Body (obviously), He hasn’t done so.
(3) “distinct Beings … One in purpose”
I’ve heard this argument before, based upon John 17:20-21, ” I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you,” and Elder McConkie cites the chapter in support of his similar claim. But this verse is being radically misunderstood regarding the nature of God because it is being misunderstood regarding the relationship of the Church.
Take the example of an engaged couple. They’re the kind who get along perfectly, can complete each other’s sentences, etc. – you know the type. They’re “one in purpose.” Then they get married. Genesis 2:24 says that in the marital union, the two become one flesh. Now they’re something more than one in purpose, through the power of the sacraments. That’s the distinction that you need to understand for John 17 to make sense. Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27 and the rest describe the Church as “the Body of Christ.” It’s being much less metaphorical than it seems. Through Baptism we enter into union with Christ. Not a mere union of purpose, where we root for His team, but a genuine indelible unity that can never be undone. In Ephesians 5:25-32, Paul speaks of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and compares Her quite dramatically to the union of a married couple, calling it a “Profound Mystery.” This Profound Mystery is something far beyond a simple unity in purpose. In Galatians 2:20, Paul declares:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
So my first point is that the relationship between the Church and Christ isn’t a mere unity of purpose. To no one was this more clear than to St. Paul. And he should know: Acts 9:1-5 says that when he set out to persecute the Christians of Damascus, he was stopped on the way by a voice asking:
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”
When he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus responded: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” – that is, Jesus identified Himself so completely with His Church that although already Ascended into Heaven, He still considered any persecution of the Church as a direct persecution of Himself.
Now, if the unity between Christ and the Church isn’t a mere unity of purpose, then the unity within the Church isn’t, either. We’re organically connected in a way we don’t fully understand, like spokes around the hub of Christ. That’s why the Body of Christ image is so potent: we’re connected and organized within a single organic Being… and that Being is Christ Himself. The early Christians understood this, and called themselves members of “The Way,” a Divine title (John 14:6). And given this, the unity being spoken of in John 17 isn’t a mere unity of purpose, either amongst members of the Church or between Members of the Trinity. Rather, it’s a bond St. Paul describes as a Profound Mystery (which “unity of purpose” certainly isn’t).
(4) “three separate and distinct entities. Each occupies space and is and can be in but one place at one time, “
God is the Creator of all space and time. Specifically, through Jesus Christ “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). To say that God, in His intrinsic Nature, occupies space is to render Him not the Creator. Obviously, this is also the issue with the notion that God the Father has always had a tangible Body. Beyond this, in Matthew 18:20, Jesus promises that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” How is this possible, given that His Body is locally present in Heaven – that is, how can Jesus be present between the Ascension and the Second Coming? The answer is that He can be present in other forms, precisely because He’s not bound by the limits of humanity. So He’s spiritually present at all gatherings in His name, as He says above, and He’s really and sacramentally present in the Flesh in the Eucharist, but not in a way requiring His leaving Heaven, as He will at the Second Coming. Both of these forms directly refute the notion that, because He’s Bodily Ascended, He cannot be present in other ways.
Likewise, Luke 12:6-7 tells us that God the Father knows the number of hairs on our heads, and has not forgotten a single sparrow in His Creation. Proverbs 15:3 says He sees everything. Both Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 inform us that the normal rules of time don’t apply to God. All of this presupposes that God isn’t bound by the laws of physics. He, after all, created those laws.
So those are the reasons that I think Scripture positively refutes the notion of the Mormon Godhead. Again, in saying this, I’m not suggesting that Mormons are either intentionally duping themselves or irrational. Simply that even well-meaning, reasonable people can go astray, particularly on a topic so foreign to human experience as the interior nature of God. But foreign though it may be, for a believer, there could hardly be more important questions than: how many Gods am I worshiping? Are they all of equal majesty and authority? Are these the ultimate Gods, or are there Gods higher yet? These questions are answered definitively, and with the weight of the Church, in the Trinity, in a way which accounts for all of the Scriptural evidence. In contrast to this, there are hole in all competing theories, including the Mormon Godhead, as viewed above.