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Mormonism and the Trinity


Daniel Peterson

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Some here might perhaps be interested in an article that, despite the date given on the periodical, I've just published in the journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology:

Daniel C. Peterson, "Mormonism and the Trinity," Element 3/1-2 (Spring/Fall 2007): 1-43.

The concluding paragraph of the article reads as follows:

Latter-day Saints and other Christians will continue to disagree on many things. But, if I'm correct, the doctrine of the Trinity need not loom quite so large among them.
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Some here might perhaps be interested in an article that, despite the date given on the periodical, I've just published in the journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology:

Daniel C. Peterson, "Mormonism and the Trinity," Element 3/1-2 (Spring/Fall 2007): 1-43.

The concluding paragraph of the article reads as follows:

Latter-day Saints and other Christians will continue to disagree on many things. But, if I'm correct, the doctrine of the Trinity need not loom quite so large among them."

Mormonism seems to share a common misunderstanding of the â??Trinitarianâ? teaching concerning the nature of God and His relationship to creation. They along with Jehovahâ??s Witnesses and other groups think that Trinitarians believe (we donâ??t) that Jesus and the Father are the same person (some might/do believe this way). The following statements from a past missionary training manual reflect that misunderstanding (which has never been corrected as it misrepresents the Trintarian view:

Brown: That he has a real body.

Elder: Yes, he does. THE CHURCHES ALSO TAUGHT THAT GOD THE FATHER AND JESUS CHRIST, HIS SON, WERE BOTH THE SAME PERSON. . . . (A UNIFORM SYSTEM FOR TEACHING INVESTIGATORS, Aug. 1961, p.12)

The Oneness of the Father and the Son: There has been much misunderstanding regarding the oft-repeated statement that Jesus and his Father are one. A careful reading of the seventeenth chapter of John should clarify this matter fully. As Jesus was about to be offered up, he prayed unto his Father and thanked him for his apostles, saying, â??that they may be one, as we are.â? (John 17:11). . .Now it is very apparent that Jesus was not speaking of oneness of personage, but oneness of purpose, . . .(John 17:24). . .Again it is evident that the oneness referred to has no reference to oneness of personage, for if Jesus and his Father were one in person, how absurd to think that Jesus would pray unto himself, . . . (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, LeGrand Richards, p.22)

If Jesus were the Almighty God, he would not have prayed to himself, would he? Since Jesus prayed to God, . . .the two could not be the same person (You can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p.39)â?

This understanding of what is perceived to be the â??Trinitarianâ? teaching on the nature of God is more in line with the view known as â??modalism.â? This heretical view of God teaches that Jesus is the Father, is the Holy Spirit, all being one in person.

A modern example of this early heretical view is found in the Oneness Pentecostal movement (T.D. Jakes is a popular speaker on TBN- I believe he teaches a modalistic view of God if Iâ??m not mistaken).

Note the following teaching from the BOM:

How Christ is both the Father and the Sonâ??He shall make intercession and bear the transgressions of his peopleâ??They and all the holy prophets are his seedâ??He bringeth to pass the resurrectionâ??Little children have eternal life. [About 148 B.C.]

AND now Abinadi said unto them: 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 dwellethâ?¢ 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 Sonâ?? The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Sonâ??And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. (Mosiah 15:1-4)

Joseph's rendition of his view from the KFD (Joseph's teaching of men becoming "Gods" is identified in Mormonism as a pagan view):

Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost is only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhowâ??three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. . . .All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big Godâ??he would be a giant or a monster.

The Mystery Religions, pagan rivals of Christianity, taught emphatically the doctrine that â??men may become Gods.â? Hermeticism, which had its rise in Egypt in the second or third centuries B.C., was a prominent religion in the Mediterranean world during the period of the rise of Christianity. Its literature, The Corpus Hermeticum, professes to be revelations to Hermes from his divine father and teacher. Hermes declared: â??We must not shrink from saying that a man on earth is a mortal god, and that God in heaven is an immortal man.â? This thought very closely resembles the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of President Lorenzo Snow. (The Gospel Through the Ages, Milton R. Hunter, p.110)

Following the death of the apostles, revelation ceased. The authority of God was no longer among men. Christianity sickened and died. In time, a new religion grew up in its placeâ??a religion that professed to be Jesus Christâ??s Church, but which in reality was a conglomerate of pagan worship and Greek philosophy, â??having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.â?. . .that eventually led to the complete apostasy of the true church and the eventual creation of an apostate religion that has been responsible for the extermination of the Messiahâ??s true followers and the persecution of his chosen people, the Jews. . . . (APOSTASY AND RESTORATION pamphlet, p.9)â?

Joseph said that God told him:

for they were all wrong; . . .all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; . . .

A Mormon apostle taught the following to students at BYU in 1984 at a devotional:

I wonder how many of us are aware of one of the great religious phenomenon of the ages, one that is now sweeping through Protestant Christianity, as only one other thing has ever done in the whole Christian Era. . . .let me first identify the original heresy that did more than anything else to destroy primitive Christianity.

This first and chief heresy of a now fallen and decadent Christianity- and truly it is the father of all heresies-. . .pertains now to the nature and kind of being that God is. . . .a spirit essence called the Trinity. . . .The adoption of this false doctrine about God effectively destroyed true worship among men and ushered in the age of universal apostasy. . . .

This second heresy-and it is the prevailing delusion and mania that prevails to this day in the great evangelical body of Protestantism-is the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone, without the works of the law. . . .It is the doctrine that we may be born again simply by confessing the Lord Jesus with our lips while we continue to live in our sins.

Jesus quoted from the Old Testament:

â??HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORDâ? (Markk 12:29b)

Jesus said:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, â??All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Biblically speaking it is Josephâ??s and Lorenzoâ??s teachings that â??very closely resembles the teachings ofâ? â??The Mystery Religions, pagan rivals of Christianity,â?:

And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his motherâ??s womb, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well, said with a loud voice, â??Stand upright on your feet.â? And he leaped up and began to walk. And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, â??The gods have become like men and have come down to us.â? And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, â??Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM. And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.â? And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them. (Acts 14:8-18; NASB)
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Mormonism seems to share a common misunderstanding of the â??Trinitarianâ? teaching concerning the nature of God and His relationship to creation.

If my article is guilty of that misunderstanding, please do point it out.

In the meantime, my experience is that Mormons are far from the only people who misunderstand orthodox Nicene Trinitarianism and, when invited to explain it, serve up some form of modalism; mainstream lay Christians have done so, in my hearing, considerably more than half the time.

I hope that you'll resist the temptation to use this thread as a soapbox from which to launch yet another redundant attack upon Mormonism. As the thread-starter, I think I may have some say in whether you're permitted to do so.

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Did you read the article?

I read the last sentence and it sounded pretty promising from my non-LDS perspective. If this is what I am thinking it is, Dr. Peterson has occasionally alluded to this article for several months and I have been looking forward to a careful reading of it when I can get hold of it. I don't understand why non-LDS Christians seem threatened if it comes to light that our respective beliefs about the Trinity or anything else are closer than we thought. To my way of thinking, if anybody should feel threatened, it would be the Mormons who are threatened. If our view of the Trinity is pretty close to yours, the way I think about it, that checks one big item off the list for Mormons to point to as a symptom of apostasy! I am always more interested in finding that we are in agreement. If my beliefs become so compatible with Latter day Revelation that I could hold them as a true blue Mormon, it undermines the apostasy. A Restoration implies a significant degree of differences. I don't think magnifying our differences ordinarily helps the non-LDS cause near as much as magnifying our similarities. It is a win-win situation as I see it. I can be a nice guy, trying to be agreeable and I defend my beliefs more effectively than the alienating knucklehead who turns everything into a disagreement.

Obviously, informed Latter day Saints like our good professor are not threatened by the truth whether any individual issue points in favor of or against an apostasy. But for the record, I think we still have those siginificant differences which make a Great Apostasy plausible, but I heartily welcome the possibility that our view on the Trinity is no longer one of them. I don't relate to the Protestant or Catholic who should hope otherwise.

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Do you know when the issue with your article will be mailed to subscribers?

No. There were actually two errors on the cover, one minor and one pretty substantial, and an influential member of the board thinks that it ought to be reprinted (perhaps at the printer's expense). That, of course, would delay its mailing.

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don't have access to the article.

It will eventually be posted on the website of the SMPT:

http://www.smpt.org/

At first, it will be accessible only to members of the SMPT, via a password. After roughly a year, though, it will be opened to the general public.

In the meantime, those interested in purchasing a copy of the journal can do so via SMPT, either by joining the Society (a very good thing to do) or by shelling out US $7.00. Other articles in this issue are Carl Mosser, "Exaltation and Gods Who Can Fall: Some Problems for Mormon Theodicies"; Loyd Ericson, "The Challenges of Defining Mormon Doctrine"; and Stephen T. Davis, "Philosophical Theology for Mormons: Some Suggestions From an Outsider."

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While we're awaiting the article....

Mormonism seems to share a common misunderstanding of the â??Trinitarianâ? teaching concerning the nature of God and His relationship to creation. They along with Jehovahâ??s Witnesses and other groups think that Trinitarians believe (we donâ??t) that Jesus and the Father are the same person (some might/do believe this way). The following statements from a past missionary training manual reflect that misunderstanding (which has never been corrected as it misrepresents the Trintarian view:

1. You are correct. LDS in the past, including some apostles and prophets, have not educated themselves well enough to address the trinity correctly. However, they are correct in assuming it's neither, correct, Biblical, or found in early Christian doctrine.

2. Anyone who takes certain verses from the BoM or elsewhere and represents them as trinity or modalistic teaching is also misrepresenting the LDS Church and the interpretation of it's own scriptures. We think of "one" and "in" and "same" in a more Biblical sense than traditional Christianity.

3. Certain well meaning but misguided LDS individuals have attempted in the past to reconcile the trinity doctrine with LDS doctrine. This is absolutely impossible and on top of that, ecumenism violates certain LDS principles and doctrines (only one true Church, universal apostasy, church of the devil, etc.). I predict failure for this latest attempt but am certainly willing check it out to see if there is anything not already done.

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3. Certain well meaning but misguided LDS individuals have attempted in the past to reconcile the trinity doctrine with LDS doctrine. This is absolutely impossible and on top of that, ecumenism violates certain LDS principles and doctrines (only one true Church, universal apostasy, church of the devil, etc.). I predict failure for this latest attempt but am certainly willing check it out to see if there is anything not already done.

I make no attempt to reconcile Nicene ontological Trinitarianism with LDS doctrine and have utterly no interest in ecumenism.

Your prediction has no basis in reality.

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On the accusation of modalism in the Book of Mormon see here.

http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol...um=2&id=392

I'm puzzled at your use of the term "accusation" here, Monk. Why must our language be that of the high school debate team rather than that of inquiry? Would it not be more proper to speak of an "argument" for Book of Mormon modalism, or a "modalist reading" or "modalist interpretation" of the Book of Mormon? I came to see the Book of Mormon theology of the Godhead as modalist when I was a (very, very devout) 17 year old seminary student but was frankly unaware that in so doing I was finding it guilty of some sort of immorality.

Don

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Hi Dan,

If the article is not online, would you mind offering a general sketch of your argument? It seems to me that traditional LDS understanding of the Godhead is quite far from that of Catholics and Protestants. Are you arguing that this is not so--that the average saint has always believed in something like the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, but without knowing it, or are you arguing for what Latter-day Saints can and ought to believe based on the scriptures?

Don

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I'm puzzled at your use of the term "accusation" here, Monk. Why must our language be that of the high school debate team rather than that of inquiry? Would it not be more proper to speak of an "argument" for Book of Mormon modalism, or a "modalist reading" or "modalist interpretation" of the Book of Mormon? I came to see the Book of Mormon theology of the Godhead as modalist when I was a (very, very devout) 17 year old seminary student but was frankly unaware that in so doing I was finding it guilty of some sort of immorality.

Don

In this context, and with the clear implication of heresy on the part of the poster I responded to, I consider it more of an accusation than an argument, particularly since no actual arguments are put forward. Texts are cited as self-evident proofs without any actual analysis or recognition that there have been previous arguments for and against.

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In this context, and with the clear implication of heresy on the part of the poster I responded to, I consider it more of an accusation than an argument, particularly since no actual arguments are put forward. Texts are cited as self-evident proofs without any actual analysis or recognition that there have been previous arguments for and against.

Ahh. I think I see what you're saying. You're just referring to what this particular poster has said as an "accusation," which it may well be, and not referring to a modalist reading of the text as an accusation...?

Don

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If the article is not online, would you mind offering a general sketch of your argument?

I'd rather not. The argument is long and complex, with abundant documentation. To attempt to summarize such an argument on such a controversial topic would inevitably oblige me to endless clarifications and that's-not-what-I'm-sayings.

It seems to me that traditional LDS understanding of the Godhead is quite far from that of Catholics and Protestants. Are you arguing that this is not so--that the average saint has always believed in something like the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, but without knowing it, or are you arguing for what Latter-day Saints can and ought to believe based on the scriptures?

Neither. I'm more interested in the social model of Trinitarianism.

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I'd rather not. The argument is long and complex, with abundant documentation. To attempt to summarize such an argument on such a controversial topic would inevitably oblige me to endless clarifications and that's-not-what-I'm-sayings.

Neither. I'm more interested in the social model of Trinitarianism.

So you're just going to tease and tantalize us, eh? ;-)

I look forward to reading it.

Regards,

Don

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I'd rather not. The argument is long and complex, with abundant documentation. To attempt to summarize such an argument on such a controversial topic would inevitably oblige me to endless clarifications and that's-not-what-I'm-sayings.

Neither. I'm more interested in the social model of Trinitarianism.

I am eager to read it. It has occured to me repeatedly that replacing "being" or "substance" with love as the "unifying feature" of the trinity makes a lot of sense. Seeing the trinity as a "family relationship" where the unity in purpose is "raising the kids" ie: bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man-- could be a replacement for the trinity that many Christians could agree with. Such an advance would be remarkable for the church.

Such a notion I think is totally in line with our doctrine, and there are many christians today who hold to similar ideas in the social trinity.

Can't wait to see it. I tried to make it to Claremont, but just couldn't. -- did you present it there?

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I am eager to read it. It has occured to me repeatedly that replacing "being" or "substance" with love as the "unifying feature" of the trinity makes a lot of sense. Seeing the trinity as a "family relationship" where the unity in purpose is "raising the kids" ie: bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man-- could be a replacement for the trinity that many Christians could agree with. Such an advance would be remarkable for the church.

Such a notion I think is totally in line with our doctrine, and there are many christians today who hold to similar ideas in the social trinity.

You've pretty much nailed it.

Can't wait to see it. I tried to make it to Claremont, but just couldn't. -- did you present it there?

No. My paper on "Mormonism and the Trinity" was first presented at a conference at Yale Divinity School several years ago. My presentation in Claremont was on a different topic altogether.

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Mormonism seems to share a common misunderstanding of the â??Trinitarianâ? teaching concerning the nature of God and His relationship to creation.

Do you do anything other than posting large segments of anti-Mormon material to this site? Can you not use your own observations and your own arguments to make a point?

Many LDS do misunderstand the Trinity because of the way it's been worded in various creeds in the past. And some Christians misunderstand the doctrine themselves. It was not the Mormons who came up with the water, ice and steam analogy. Even in my own family (comprised mostly of Methodists), the Trinity was often discussed over a Sunday supper as we tried to make sense from what the preacher said. Suffice it to say that many Protestants (and perhaps Catholics) also misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity.

While you're socking it to the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses regarding the misunderstanding of the Trinity, don't forget to include the Jews and the Muslims. They also have the notion that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different manifestations of the same God. And how do Christians answer the strict teachings of monotheism found in the book of Isaiah? The Lord told Isaiah that He alone was God and that He knew of no others; yet, throughout the books of Moses, God often was referred to as a plural entity. "Man has become as one of us" and "Let us make man in our own image." And King David noted in the Psalms that God made man "a little lower than the gods."

Ultimately, the oneness of God directly correlates to the oneness of purpose. Jesus stated it succinctly when He prayed that the apostles may be ONE, even as Jesus and the Father were ONE. In the end, we, too, can become one with the Father and the Son. Your observation that Joseph Smith's rendition from the KFDâ??of men becoming "gods" is pagan in nature couldn't be further from the truth. John teaches us that when we see God, we will be "like Him." He also teaches that we become co-inheritors with Christ; that we inherit all that He does if we gain Eternal Life.

Orthodoxy comes very close to this teaching in acknowledging that man is on a divine path, and that God became as man for the very purpose of facilitating man's journey in becoming "like" God. Although they don't go as far as Mormons go, the divine spark in man serves a very real purpose in the divine journey. As one writer put it, "God became incarnate in the form of a man to save not only individuals, not only the church, but all creation; the whole cosmos." Strange wording since the scriptures state that man is in the image of God. Unable to accept the full implications, God has to adopt the form of man rather than vice versa.

But the implications are that God's salvation extends to all individuals, in and out of the church. Quite a concession and very close indeed to the LDS version of salvation. Just a few centuries ago, the church wielded the weapons of excommunication and damnation to ensure compliance and power. Since the Restoration, however, churches increasingly have become (some of them) less dogmatic and judgmental.

Perhaps you can engage in these discussions using your own words and ideas rather than just cutting and pasting long segments from anti-Mormon publications and then asking for explanations.

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If my article is guilty of that misunderstanding, please do point it out.

In the meantime, my experience is that Mormons are far from the only people who misunderstand orthodox Nicene Trinitarianism and, when invited to explain it, serve up some form of modalism; mainstream lay Christians have done so, in my hearing, considerably more than half the time.

I hope that you'll resist the temptation to use this thread as a soapbox from which to launch yet another redundant attack upon Mormonism. As the thread-starter, I think I may have some say in whether you're permitted to do so.

I said nothing concerning your article in the sense of being guilty of anything. I quoted from Mormonism's own writings. I only initially responded to the single line of the article you provided. I would like to have people (at least once) deal with my statements where I quote from Mormon and others writings where they state what they believe themselves in contrast to what others believe which is what I did in my opening response.

As far as using this forum as a â??soapboxâ? I am I not entitled to dialogue and interact with these views of Mormonism? Especially when the Mormonism you represent at times in an unofficial capacity doesn't accurately represent how I would state what I believe as opposed to generalities (not being a General Authority but you are the head of F.A.R.M.S. as I understand)

I believe in certain ways Mormonism misrepresents Christianity from the first century and the Church body I attend. These are the things I attempt to dialogue about.

My goal here is not to derail the thread but to interact with Mormonism's claims that I believe are not Biblical as I don't accept Mormonism's writings as "Scripture". The LDS Dialogue section we are in states: â??For dialogue between LDS and those of other religious groups).

This is of course your thread Dr. Peterson and I do not intend to be disrespectful to you or anyone here. I would like to be treated without the initial typical questioning of my integrity which is what usually happens in the threads I start or in threads I post in.

You appear in my observations since around 2000 to use these forums (your prerogative) as a â??soapboxâ? from what Iâ??ve seen since you were over at ZLMB (I was personally invited both there and here by Mormons I had met online) where you first made an unsolicited comment to me (which is ok by me).

My experience with Mormonism has been associated in the context of public Mormon proselytizing, advertizing in both publications such as Readerâ??s Digest and local television stations where their programs are aired. Also from being personally invited to attend Mormon Church services/other functions by missionaries and Church members.

I constantly see what I believe being misrepresented which is what bothers me. I go out of my way to let people understand where Iâ??m coming from. But a lot of that gets ignored quite a bit. Anyone can think what they want about me but I know differently based on my personal interaction with Mormons over the last thirty years. I donâ??t deliberately misrepresent anyone. If I misunderstand something, I donâ??t mind being corrected.

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