Who is God? Today Mormons believe Jesus Christ to be Jehovah, God of the old testament, Elohim is God the Father, father of Jehovah and the entire human race. Joseph Smith did not believe this, and never taught it. This is a perfect example of line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (2 Nephi 28:30, see also Isaiah 28:13)
The nature of God changed throughout Joseph’s life, and continued to change up until his death. His earliest words and scriptures describe a very trinitarian God, and the first addition of the Book of Mormon talks of only one God, who could manifest himself either as the Father or the Son (1), and several passages show that Smith had no problem in having one god be simultaneously the Father who created Jesus, and Jesus himself. Ether 4:12 plainly states
He that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father.
Joseph also changed the Bible in his translation (JST) to further clarify that the Father and the Son were the same god. For Example, the original Luke 10:22 reads
All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
Now look at the JST
All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth that the Son is the Father; and the Father is the Son, and him to whom the Son will reveal it.
By 1835 there began to be some separation between the roles and nature of the Father and the Son. The best example of this is the Lectures on Faith, which where part of the 1935 Doctrine and Covenants (2). In Lecture Five the Godhead was described as “two personages”, “the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fullness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle” (3). After this time, there is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever referred to Jesus as the Father.
As far as the names Elohim and Jehovah, Joseph never used Jehovah to refer to Jesus, or as the son of Elohim. Jehovah was mostly referred to as the Father, and used interchangeably with Elohim as in the following
trusting in the arm of Jehovah, the Elohim, who sits enthroned in the heavens (4)
Towards the end of his life during the Nauvoo period, he changed his view again. He rejected the notion of the trinity altogether. Now God the Father and his Son both had tangible bodies of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22) . This is also the same time that he introduced the plurality of gods and that humans could become gods, and that God himself had a father. The culmination of these concept were summed up in the King Follett Discourse given in 1844.
During this same time period, the temple endowment was given, with three Gods involved in the creation: Elohim, Jehovah and Michael. Jesus was never identified by Joseph as participating in the creation in the endowment, which is curious because he produced several scriptures that clearly identified Jesus with a role in the creation. (5) Before Joseph could clear this up he was killed, leaving Brigham Young to figure it out (what could go wrong with that!)
Do any of these changes surprise you or concern you? How does Joseph learning about the nature of God “line upon Line” affect your view of the First Vision? Could our view of God change again with further light and knowledge?
[Note: this post is a summation of the first part of an essay “The Development of the Mormon Doctrine of God” by Boyd Kirkland. It is found in “Line Upon Line, Essays on Mormon Doctrine” by Gary Bergera Signature Books, SLC 1989. ]
(1) Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 1 Ne. 11:21, 28
(2) The Lectures on Faith were the “Doctrine” part of the Doctrine and Covenants. They were removed in 1921.
(3) The Holy Ghost was not part of the God Head at this time, and yes, I know that there is a good argument that Joseph Smith did not write the Lectures, but he was on the committee that approved them, and was there when they were presented with the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants to the church body for approval.
(4) Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed. Chapter 5, page 94 , see also page 127
(5) See for example Moses 1:32-33, 2:1