We’ve come to the 100th anniversary of the removal of the Lectures on Faith (LoF) from the Doctrine and Covenants, so I thought I’d revisit the “Evolution of the Godhead” that I last wrote about four years ago. Since the LoF were the “doctrine” part of the D&C, it should have been renamed “The Covenants” after it was removed, but I digress.
The part about the Godhead that really stood out in the LoF was the following from Section 5.
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things—by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made, whether visible or invisible: whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space—They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man…..
And he being the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fulness of the glory of the Father—possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son, and these three are one, or in other words, these three constitute the greatLectures on Faith 5:2
So to sum it up, God is a spirit, Jesus has a body, and the Holy Ghost is the mind of God and not part of the Godhead.
One of the most quoted scripture in Mormonism is John 17:3 “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” So if this is the key to eternal life, to know God, let’s take a look at the history of knowing God.
1830: First edition Book of Mormon is more Trinitarian than the Bible
1832: Original First Vision account: one being, no mention of a physical body
1837: Book of Mormon is altered to make it less Trinitarian
1835: Lectures on Faith added to D&C: Jesus has a body, God is a bodiless spirit, the Holy Ghost is not a person, but the mind of God(s)
1838: The God of the First Vision God has split into two people
1843: Revelation first reveals that God has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as Man’s
1844: King Follett discourse. God was once a human who is now exalted to a throne along with millions of other gods, including baby gods
1844-1915 God is Adam, a polygamous exalted man who uses his own seed to populate worlds with his various wives.
1898-1901: Lorenzo Snow’s tenure. He taught “as Man is God once was, as God is Man may become”
1915: Talmage reformats the Godhead: Jesus is Old Testament Jehovah. Elohim is his remote overseer who only appeared once in the Sacred Grove
1921: The Lectures on Faith removed from the D&C because it teaches the wrong God
The rest of the 20th Century: the deification doctrine is actively taught and emphasized in priesthood manuals
1997: Gordon B. Hinckley on the nature of God & Man: “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it.”
21st century: the church backs away from its doctrine, tries to blend in with Christianity while eschewing the Trinity
All of the above is from the church that claims to be the only “True Church” on the face of the earth. As Brother Wilcox put it, all the rest are “playing church.” It seems the Church has a pretty fluid idea who God is, and is playing catch-up to churches that have stabilized their understanding of God 1500 years ago.
Brother Wilcox told his audiences that what sets us apart from all other churches, and the reason they are all just “playing at church”, is that we KNOW that God has a body of flesh and bones.
But do we?
1) It took Joseph 18 years to come to that conclusion. That was not much before he also started filling the universe with infant and toddler Gods.
2) Apparently there’s no way of telling a spirit from a body, as illustrated by N.T Steven, Moses, and the Brother of Jared.
3) Joseph himself said that the ONLY way to tell a spirit from a physical being is to shake their hand.
4) Joseph did not shake Elohim’s or Jehovah/Jesus’ hand. He only claimed to see “personages,” like countless other people have done.
It seems we still have a long way to go to “know” God.
(Idea for this post and the timeline came from a friend on Reddit)
My doctrinal house of cards began falling apart, in slow motion, about 10 years ago, as I pondered questions such as this. Your closing statement “It seems we still have a long way to go to ‘know’ God” is an understatement. We have so much unlearning to do first, unlearning in an environment of certainty in orthodoxy. I’m beginning to grasp that a “correct” understanding of God is a hard-won, gradual process as I journey in my personal spiritual wilderness.
Great post. I am a life long member of the Church. Growing up (and still today), Church lessons always emphasized how important it is that we know “the nature of God”, which usually just meant that we know that God, Jesus, and Holy Ghost are different beings and that God and Jesus have bodies and the Holy Ghost does not. It was always taught how special our Church was compared with other churches because we know that God has a body and that we’ll be like him and have a body after we die. This was always presented as one of the very key “truths” restored through The Restoration. This message was taught over and over again. How sad it was for members of other churches to believe that God was some sort of spirit.
At some point during my early adulthood, I started wondering whether I cared whether God had a body or not, and whether I cared whether God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one being or three separate beings. It turned out that this wasn’t (and still isn’t) a very important issue to me. I really don’t care one way or the other. You say God has a body, and I’ll have a body when I’m resurrected, too. Great. You say God is a spirit, and I’ll be a spirit, too, after I die. That’s sounds great, too. It seems like either situation could be just fine to me–I could be perfectly happy either way. I can think of so many other things that could have been revealed to Joseph Smith as part of the Restoration that would be more meaningful or useful to me than understanding how many people are in the Godhead and whether or not they have a body. Knowing the little bit that Joseph revealed about the Godhead feels more like a factoid than a deep, life-changing Truth to me personally. Knowing what Joseph taught about the Godhead has not changed a single that that I’ve chosen to do with my life in any way, nor does it affect my feelings about the afterlife in any significant way.
What is a baby god? A god over babies? I’m seriously confused.
When I started trying to piece together some coherent form of God to believe in using the scriptures and words of modern day prophets and apostles, I just couldn’t make it work. I realized that I was just relying on varying accounts of men over thousands of years. If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, he sure gave people a lot of varying impressions about what he’s like and what he wants them to do in his name.
Great post. I’ve known about this changing doctrine for many years. I brought it up ONCE to a TBM. They would not discuss the matter.
Church leaders have created a modern day definition of doctrine that gives them an easy out to the messiness of the early church; something becomes doctrine when it’s taught by all members of the Q15.
But that isn’t what Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them.”
So who’s right? Or are they all wrong?
My head hurts.
It was right for them to strip out the DandC. If they would have had the foresight to yank sec 132 with the manifesto… But the church didn’t have a professional PR dept then.
The LoF is the 2nd most troublesome piece of Mormonism. With the 1st being the KFD. JSj kept changing and the church realized that it was impossible to control the change direction he was headed in. They chose to try and freeze it in time the best they could. So the KFD, King Follett Discourse, was quietly forgotten and the LoF, Lectures on Faith were pulled.
As time passed, no one at church HQ could have imagined the freedom of information that we have now. Nor the extent to which popular opinion can really have on any organization. How many other things have disappeared since then that have been dredged up? It’s mind boggling that the Joseph Smith papers ever got green lit. No way in h*ll it would be released under the current dictatorship.
As far as what the LoF mean? Does it actually matter? The absurdly small percentage of the family of man who ever got exposure to it… It must not be that important. Well no more important than the fullness of the gospel which is solely contained in the BoM. Unless God is truly petty and is running the biggest elitest club ever, with the most exclusive of the exclusive membership.
The only way that anything that he is doing becomes meaningful is if you can get salvation from the Bible. And the Koran. And the books of Hindu and Buddhism. And the pagans. Christ’s atonement makes no sense unless everyone, absolutely everyone knows about it when they are mortal and understand it. There is no logic in anything that is salvific if presented after death. It’s meaningless information. (Sorry… Tangent.)
After having read the LoF it just shreds the understanding of God even further. It’s another story of the hundreds of other stories. All of which have truth and merit within their own systems and times. But don’t apply at all to anyone outside of it.
This is a perfect example of the idea that when you’ve seen real Church history you can’t unsee it and you say that you’ve left the Church for that reason. So often apologists will say that all churches have messy history and imperfect leaders and they think your hang up with Church history is polygamy and the treatment of black members. And while those are issues too (and they are highly offensive), it’s the history of the formation and revision and reversal of doctrine that really got me.
I can live with imperfect leaders and politically incorrect policy. I can’t live with ever-changing doctrine that seems to be made up as they go along.
I believe in God, but I’m unsure of what God is really like. I’m open to pretty much anything (as long as that anything is all loving).
Going off of what AW said, I think “you can get salvation from the Bible. And the Koran. And the books of Hindu and Buddhism. And the pagans.” But I’ve only ever met one other person in real life who also believes this. But I’m guessing there are more people than me and that other guy, right?
@Josh H so you could live with the Ordinances of Exaltation Ban if it had just remained consistent?
Sometimes I think we use the word ‘politically incorrect’ to communicate something as being of minor importance or error.
I don’t mean to call you out mate, because I’ve struggled with this issue myself. I had my doubts on the legitimacy of the Ordinances of Exaltation Ban. But it wasn’t until after I had my first real, gay kiss that the consequences of these doctrines- consistent or otherwise -began to really dawn on me.
Whether a Lawful Evil templar, or a Chaotic Evil rogue- if real, our god(s) were evil.
How did I not realize previously the peculiarity of ‘god’s priorities’ , in what ‘he’ chose to reveal, with what forcefulness, and when?
There was no recorded ‘angel with a drawn sword’’ sent to Brigham Young on the matter of racial inequality.
We created our gods, after our own image, and our own interests- quite literally sometimes as seen in the Christus statue, and other European-Jesus portrayals.
Canadian Dude: your question to me is a fair one. I’m not defending doctrines or policies that exclude. I’m simply saying that for me, the inconsistency of these doctrines is #1 on my shelf because I don’t expect key doctrine (like the nature of God) to change.
BBill – would love more elaboration on the 1830 and 1837 bits of the timeline. Can you give a little more on BoM being more trinitarian than bible, then being altered?
I am with AW and aporetic1, it makes no sense that everyone on earth is judged by some standard that only a handful of people know. That God would be a jerk. And anything taught after death is a whole different ball game. Someone accepting that how we treat our fellow man matters because there is an after life during said afterlife, is just not the same as someone who is kind during this mortal probation. So, I agree that salvation is available to everyone, no matter their concept of God. Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu, or pagan. And personally I am glad that y’all added pagan to that list because I have a daughter who converted and she is just as loving and kind as the best Christian.
So, I don’t think it really matters what our concept of God is. Saying that “my idea of God is going to save me and your idea of God will damn you to hell,” is really pretty arrogant. We Mormons know what we think of Evangelicals who say that since we don’t believe in the Trinity, we worship the wrong God so we are going to hell. And we also know what we arrogantly think of what kind of God they worship. Talk about little kids singing, “My God’s better than your God, my God’s better than yours.”
What did Jesus say to the Pharisees about how God could provide himself worshipers from a stone, so their “we are better because we are the true House of Israel” was just arrogance and most certainly would not save them. God has been trying to tell us to stop the whole bit about “us” being better than “them”.
Having correct ideas about who God is will not save us. It doesn’t matter what we think God is, it matters if we know who he is. Not superficially whether he is an elephant with six arms, a spirit, or a trinity of three Gods in one, or an exhaled human with a body, a woman or a man, or as some feminist Mormons claim a husband and wife. What matters is if we know God. We need to know God on a personal basis. We need to know his love. We need to know what love is.
It is like, I know my husband. He could come home in a gorilla suit and it would only take a few minutes for me to know it was him. It is the same with God. It is more important that we know his personality than his outward appearance
@ Josh h
I think I understand. Though you still haven’t answered the question 😉
I also agree that defending the ban was not at all your intention here. After-all- I didn’t intend to prioritize my interests either, it just kinda happened.
We each have hierarchies of socially-mediated interests and values which (alongside material constraints) help give boundaries to our rationality.
So I guess my question is:
Shouldn’t we be curious why doctrinal inconsistency is #1 on a creaking shelf, as opposed to being among one’s top reasons, but perhaps less important than say racial or gender inequity?
@ Josh h
To be fair, I highly doubt that you or I actually, and consciously, possess our priorities in equal deliberateness as one would a grocery-store list.
Rather we construct, develop, and/or inherit these priorities off-the cuff- and it’s only through examining thought and behavioural patterns that we begin to understand these priorities and how they both compare and interact with one another and different contexts.
In short, neither you nor I are wholly responsible for the content, nor relations of constructs that currently ‘tick’ within our own heads. Nor are we able to choose all the myriad of ways in which our limited biology interacts with a complex, resource-limited world.
But…perhaps we can be curious? Innovative. Disappointed with ourselves when/where appropriate- but not shameful.
The point is to see what anti-social patterns of thinking and behaviour are alterable individually and within society- and how best we can change the incentives, material, and constructs upon which we operate.
Meant *ashamed. Not shameful. Different connotations.
The fact that church leaders haven’t understood who God is for the last 200 years is for me the “smoking-est” of all “smoking guns”.
There is undeniable evidence that for at least 25 years, Brigham Young believed and taught that Adam is the literal father of our spirits, that he is the one that we pray to, and that he is the one who had sexual relations with Mary, to sire Jesus Christ. (See Buerger, “The Adam-God Doctrine, Dialogue: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V15N01_16.pdf). And after the death of BY in 1877, subsequent church leaders taught this “doctrine” for at least the next 20-25 years.
In other words, a random six year old child in a Methodist or Baptist Sunday School class in rural Tennessee in 1870 understood more about the nature of the godhead than did Brigham Young — the one person on earth who should have understood this the best. Let that one fact sink in for a while.
Or to put it a different way, suppose that Brigham Young actually conversed with God (or Jesus), at least every now and again. At some point during those 25 years, wouldn’t God have bothered to casually mention to BY as He was leaving, “Oh, and by the way, just to let you know, I’m not Adam”.
I have tons of issues with LDS doctrine and history, but perhaps the first of my “shelf items” — from more than 40 years ago — is the idea that God has a literal body. In other words, a ~6’0″ ~190 lb being somewhere in the Kolobian suburbs knows about and is running everything on innumerable worlds throughout the cosmos. I just can’t go there.
For all of the ridicule that Mormons have heaped on “conventional” Christians during the last ~200 years (including in their most sacred ordinances), for believing that God is a spirit essence that fills the immensity of the universe and yet is so small that he can fit in your heart — that is the only conception of God that seems even remotely possible to me.
Nobody’s brought up Baby Yoda?
BlueRidgeMormon, the most glaring example is Nephi 11:18, 11:21, 11:32, and 11:40. In 1837 the words “the Son of” was added to each of these verses. Read them today, and remove those three words and you’ll get the original 1830 text. Before it stated that the Lamb of God (Christ) was the Eternal Father. Now it says that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father. Very different.
It took the Trinitarians about 300-400 years to come up with the doctrine of the Trinity. So our paltry 200ish years isn’t very long to settle on the nature of God. I read a couple books on the topic. “When Jesus Became God” by Richard E Rubenstein (Harcourt 1999) was my favorite. Essentially, once the Christian church was about 250 years old, there was this huge argument about whether Jesus was an ordinary mortal who became God because he was so faithful and sinless, or if he was born God. The doctrinal fight was threatening to break the Church apart. There were a couple of councils stretching over decades, and when the dust settled, the church had the Nicene Creed and the Doctrine of the Trinity. (I should write a post on it.)
Having your theology in flux for a couple hundred years isn’t unusual. I’d even guess that the early Christians thought that all their differing ideas were right as they were being taught. It takes a while to settle out big issues like that. The timeline in this post is really interesting, Bishop Bill. The back and forth in our beliefs about the Godhead is pretty dramatic.
On my mission, DHO came to speak to the missionaries, and in a truly excellent talk that I still remember 30 years later, he explained that we need the separate members of the Godhead in order to have different levels of heaven. If we combine them into the Trinity, then we’d collapse the three kingdoms of glory down into one kingdom. That’s why our teaching of the Godhead is so inflexible on this point – our entire conception of the afterlife depends on it.
My opinion goes along with what mountainclimber said though – the exact nature of God doesn’t really affect my daily life and how I interact with people.
The levels of heaven and their associated deity have never made logical sense.
*How can we determine* whether a random six year old child in a Methodist or Baptist Sunday School class in rural Tennessee in 1870 understood more about the ‘nature of the godhead’ than Brigham Young?
You are making the casual assumption that we actually *have* sufficient evidence about the existence of deity to declare one religion’s understanding of said deity (?deities) as being more valid and reliable than another’s.
We don’t. Hell, we can’t even be certain of the parameters of such an investigation.
A six year old, Methodist or Baptist Tennessean might have *a* more theologically complex and/or systematic construction of deity, but these qualities alone are hardly demonstrable evidence of the empirical reality of the child’s truth claims.
Canadian Dude, you asked Josh: “Shouldn’t we be curious why doctrinal inconsistency is #1 on a creaking shelf, as opposed to being among one’s top reasons, but perhaps less important than say racial or gender inequity?”
I can only speak for myself, but speaking as a white cis hetero male, the Church totally catered to me and lifted me up time and again whether I deserved it or not. Growing up, I enjoyed and took for granted the feeling of being a chosen one in the Church’s hierarchy and theology. When my faith crisis began, while on my mission, there was nothing that could or would have shocked me more than discovering doctrinal inconsistency in a system which contained all my greatest hopes and ambitions. Worse yet, growing up in heavily correlated Mormonism, I had gone out on my mission assuming the doctrines were consistent and the institution unimpeachable. Grappling with the changing depictions of the Godhead, from Book of Mormon through Adam God, was the first and greatest personal shelf-breaking issue I personally dealt with. And until I wrestled with that and made some peace with it, there wasn’t really any bandwidth available to consider other issues.
To my shame, I must admit I made it all the way to my mid-20s before I ever seriously considered the pain that women, people of color, and LGBTQ members were experiencing. I marginalized their concerns as a matter of institutional loyalty to a church that seemed to be taking wonderful care of me. Until I went through my faith crisis over doctrinal inconsistency… well, I was just a chronically obtuse guy when it came to things like gender equity. So, thank goodness my shelf broke the first time I read Brigham Young’s most famous Adam-God sermon. Because it set me on a path to where I started noticing the extent of othered people’s pain, and how I played a role in it.
* A six year old, Methodist or Baptist Tennessean might have *a* more theologically complex and/or systematic construction of deity, but these qualities alone are hardly demonstrable evidence of the empirical reality of the child’s truth claims.
I’m not sure it’s all that complicated. At least from the point of view of what is taught about God **in the LDS Church today**, Brigham Young had completely and utterly “gone off the rails”. He did not know who God is.
Maybe no one knows who (or what) He/She/It is, and maybe there’s no way to empirically compare what the prophet says about God with what others say. Fine. But that’s an epistemologically nihilistic position, which is not standard LDS belief.
@ Jake C.
Thank you for the vulnerability here. I feel like it parallels nicely with how my own rationality was bounded.
As a white, CIS, gay Canadian from a middle-class family, I simply compartmentalized the inconsistencies of ‘god’s priorities’ (as demonstrated by church doctrine, policy, and culture) re: women, people of colour, many of my fellow 2SLGBTQI+ folx, and more.
It took the existential realization that it was unjust, ‘not working’, and nonsensical in my own context to cause my greater deconstruction of the church on issues less proximate to myself.
I just wasn’t incentivized to overcome my fear of both church critics and secular histories/arguments to actually dive into the actual research.
I just didn’t think to compare ‘God’s response’ to the early church’s ‘resistance’ to polygamy, vs. the church’s late and convoluted evolution towards ending the Ban.
Sure, we all have our doubts, but it wasn’t my doubts over gender or racial inequality that led me to start rebelling and ask myself and others tougher questions.
I’m trying to do better, to be feminist, anti-racist, anti-discriminatory, and a better critical thinker – so I think it’s a valid exercise to interrogate what it takes to finally jolt ourselves from our own ethical-intellectual stupor, and consider the boundaries of our rationality.
Canadian Dude: If you research my posts on this blog you’ll discover that I’m very concerned about race and gender equity in the Church. But no, to me it doesn’t rise to the level of doctrinal inconsistencies or false truth claims. We all have our priorities.
In response to tour comment quoted below:
“ Maybe no one knows who (or what) He/She/It is, and maybe there’s no way to empirically compare what the prophet says about God with what others say. Fine. But that’s an epistemologically nihilistic position, which is not standard LDS belief.”
While I grew up Mormon, I now consider myself to lean towards Agnostic-Athiesm.
I don’t recall ever making the argument that my reasoning was somehow based upon standard LDS belief(s), nor do I understand how that’s necessarily relevant to said argument.
I never said that “there’s no way to empirically compare what the prophet says about God with what others say”
I merely rejected the following quote as being a fact:
“In other words, a random six year old child in a Methodist or Baptist Sunday School class in rural Tennessee in 1870 understood more about the nature of the godhead than did Brigham Young — the one person on earth who should have understood this the best. Let that one fact sink in for a while.”
This^^^ is not a fact. It may be a belief, but there is no empirical evidence to support your claim that a random child of that description would have actually “understood more” the ‘nature of the godhead’ than Brigham Young.
The comparison was made by yourself and it’s more than reasonable that you be held accountable for it.
There is so far **no empirical evidence** for the existence of deity and, seeing that both Mormonism and Christianity more broadly have in fact made empirically-unqualified claims re: both knowledge from god, and deity’s interactions with humanity- we *do indeed* then have a basis upon which “to empirically compare what the prophet says about God with what others say.”
The random kiddo so described would’ve been unlikely to have had greater *understanding* than Brigham Young on the empirical ‘nature of the godhead’ – unless you also claim that, when questioned on their understanding of godhead, the kid’s basic response to be:
“Huh, I don’t know. We don’t even know if god(s) exist!”
Why is BY’s God-Adam theory so unreasonable? It actually makes some logical sense. This post is about how we don’t know about the true nature of God and yet you are all SURE that one is wrong. If we don’t know, his theory is just a likely as the next.
I find it surprising, frustrating, and humorous all at once that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and its predecessors in interest) had has official doctrine that there are: one (1830 Book of Mormon & 1832 first vision account), two (Lectures on Faith), and three gods (D&C 130:22), with King Follett and Adam-God chasers following later. Joseph Smith, the guy who got the best look at Him and Them, couldn’t make up his mind how many gods there were.
To Lily, the Adam-God doctrine suffers from, among other things, the fact that science unequivocally shows that there was no single father or mother of the human race. For Adam and Even to have been “the” Gods, there has to have been an Adam and an Eve. But there wasn’t.