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Joseph Smith's Developing Understanding of the Godhead


David T

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Studying Joseph Smith era texts, and the development of revelation, the following is how Joseph's understanding of the identity of the Godhead appears to me. This is a developing understanding that keeps being updated for me! No conclusion is set in stone here. I think this basis is very important for exploring further developments in Mormon thought (perhaps this is all already discussed in Ostler's book, which I understand has a full section on Christology, but I haven't gotten to that point in the book yet... )

I'd love any additional comments, clarifications, or pointing out of error of any of the following statements, with references if possible:

  • In the book of Mormon, we have a clear connection between Jehovah and Jesus. They are the same, but separate. The texts referring to God, to me, appear very rarely to refer to the personage we know in current Mormon thought as Elohim, or the Literal Spirit Father of Mankind, but rather the Eternal nature of Jehovah, the God of Israel. This, in the Book of Mormon, is what is referred to as the Father. The Son is the Mortal element of Jesus Christ. An element of the essence of Jehovah was incarnated into the Flesh to become a distinct and separate personage. Jesus and Jehovah (the Father) are One God, for they had the same source of essence, or being.
  • Jesus speaks with the voice of Jehovah, for he was and is Jehovah, even though it was understood to be an originally dependant relationship. Jehovah speaks of his Only Begotten Son to Moses in the New Translation, referring to the element of himself that will become Flesh.
  • This is the understanding as described in the Lectures on Faith. The father (Jehovah) a personage of Spirit, and the Son (Jesus) a personage of Tabernacle. The Holy Spirit is understood to be the common link between them: for all intents and purposes, their mind.
  • In the 1838 First Vision account, Joseph understood the Two Personages to be the Father (Jehovah), in a Spiritual Body (such as the Brother of Jared saw) and the Son (Jesus) in a Resurrected Glorified Body.
  • In 1843, in Doctrine & Covenants 130, we have what I believe is the first revelation stating that the Father, too, has a body of Flesh and Bone, as tangible as man's, and so does the Son. It also reveals that that Holy Spirit is a distinct personage: one of spirit.
  • This revelation would present holes in Joseph's understanding, and would form a distinct question on his mind as to the relationship between the Father and the Son.
  • In 1844, we have the King Follet Sermon, and the Sermon in the Grove, in which Joseph presents his new understanding (of which he is very excited) concerning the personage of Elohim, the Presiding God: "The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us & when you take a view of the subject it sets one free to see all the beauty holiness & perfection of the Gods"
  • This cleared it up for Joseph, or in his words 'set [him] free' : The Personage designated as Elohim was the Tabernacled Father of Jehovah, who was the God appointed over us, who was in turn the spiritual source of Jesus, the Second Tabernacled Personage, the Son. It was at this point that the previous revelations gained a new context for Joseph. The Personages he originally saw he now recognized as Elohim and Jehovah/Jesus.
  • Joseph did not live much longer to expound on this doctrine, clarify the significance, or make it known to the missionaries abroad. Thus at his death, there were mixed ideas concerning his finalized Christology, and the identities and relationship of and between Elohim and Jehovah. (Michael and Adam were already firmly associated).
  • The end of Joseph's preaching ministry finished up what began his ministry: the full revelation of the character and identity of the Godhead, and our relationship to Him.

Any thoughts?

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I think you are likely to find only a handful of LDS that believe that Joseph's view of the Godhead changed from the First Vision, until the time of his death.

I am one of those people, however. I think it's clear from his writings that his views on God changed radically during his ministry. I agree with everything you said above.

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The way I see it, the Father can be referred to as Elohim or El or Jehovah or Jah or Adonai etc., and Jesus, His spiritual and physical offspring, can also be referred to as Jehovah. I think it's messed up to try to make Jehovah into some sort of personal name that's exclusive to Jesus, or whoever else.

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The way I see it, the Father can be referred to as Elohim or El or Jehovah or Jah or Adonai etc., and Jesus, His spiritual and physical offspring, can also be referred to as Jehovah. I think it's messed up to try to make Jehovah into some sort of personal name that's exclusive to Jesus, or whoever else.

In the full scale of things, I generally agree.

Either way, what I'm attempting to do here is to discern how Joseph viewed the designations throughout his ministry, and how that affected (or didn't affect) the developing Mormon understanding of the identity and relationship(s) of God.

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"Joseph Smith commented, "Peter and Stephen testify that they saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.

Any person that had seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens

who hold the keys of power, and one presides over all" (TPJS, p. 312)."

"On June 16, 1844, in his last Sunday sermon before his martyrdom, Joseph Smith declared that "in all congregations"

he had taught "the plurality of Gods" for fifteen years: "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage,

Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit:

and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods" (TPJS, p. 370).

The two earliest surviving accounts of Joseph's first vision do not give details on the Godhead,

but that he consistently taught that the Father and the Son were separate personages

is clearly documentable in most periods of his life (e.g., D&C 76:23 [1832]; 137:3 [1836];

his First Vision, JS-H 1:17 [recorded 1838]; D&C 130:22 [1843]). "

Paul E. Dahl

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That he believed in separate personages at least from the incarnation of Christ is clear, even from the Book of Mormon. Who he understood them to be, and their relationship to each other, however, is what appears to have changed and developed as he received further revelations.

What he said in 1844 notwithstanding, his earliest understanding of the role of the Holy Ghost is far less clear (especially in Lectures on Faith era texts, and the Book of Moses).

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Any thoughts?

Have you studied any post-Joseph Smith developments in the LDS view of the Godhead (official developments, not non-doctrinal discarded musings)? Or is the 1844 view kind of the "reference" for the Church since then?

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I have no doubt that Joseph understood from the First Vision that there were separate and distinct beings. He knew that God the Father and Jesus were separate because that was clear. Whether he knew in the beginning who Jehovah was may have been a different matter. However, he was learning precept by precept and all his knowledge did not come at once. By the end of his life his knowledge was pretty much complete. And remember he gave us the temple endowment which makes these things clear.

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...

In the 1838 First Vision account, Joseph understood the Two Personages to be the Father (Jehovah), in a Spiritual Body (such as the Brother of Jared saw) and the Son (Jesus) in a Resurrected Glorified Body.

...

nack,

I would be curious to see your references for this statement. Are you sure you are not "interpreting" what Joseph said? The idea that the Father had (only) a "spiritual body" does not seem like anything I ever had heard. It certainly contradicts D&C 130:22

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.

Richard

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nack,

I would be curious to see your references for this statement. Are you sure you are not "interpreting" what Joseph said? The idea that the Father had (only) a "spiritual body" does not seem like anything I ever had heard. It certainly contradicts D&C 130:22

Richard

D&C 130 came late - in 1843. It's the early theology of the Lectures on Faith (which put the 'Doctrine' in the 1835 'Doctrine and Covenants') which I made reference to. Although probably composed by Rigdon, it was approved and taught by Joseph.

In our former lectures we treated of the being, character, perfections, and attributes of God.

What we mean by perfections is, the perfections which belong to all the attributes of his nature.

We shall in this lecture speak of the Godhead; we mean the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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 fullness.

The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man - or rather, man was formed after his likeness and in his image.

He is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father, possessing all the fullness of the Father, or the same fullness with the Father, being begotten of him;

and was ordained from before the foundation of the world to be a propitiation for the sins of all those who should believe on his name;

and is called the Son because of the flesh - and descended in suffering below that which man can suffer, or in other words, suffered greater sufferings, and was exposed to more powerful contradictions than any man can be.

But notwithstanding all this, he kept the law of God and remained without sin; showing thereby that it is in the power of man to keep the law and remain also without sin.

And also, that by him a righteous judgment might come upon all flesh, and that all who walk not in the law of God, may justly be condemned by the law, and have no excuse for their sins.

And he being the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fullness 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 great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things; by whom all things were created and made, that were created and made:

and these three constitute the Godhead and are one: the Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fullness;

filling all in all -the Son being filled with the fullness of the Mind, glory, and power; or in other words the Spirit, glory, and power of the Father - possessing all knowledge and glory, and the same kingdom;

sitting at the right hand of power, in the express image and likeness of the Father - a Mediator for man - being filled with the fullness of the Mind of the Father, or in other words, the Spirit of the Father;

which Spirit is shed forth upon all who believe on his name and keep his commandments;

and all those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ;

possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all;

being filled with the fullness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

From the foregoing account of the Godhead, which is given in his revelations, the saints have a sure foundation laid for the exercise of faith unto life and salvation,

through the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ, by whose blood they have a forgiveness of sins, and also a sure reward laid up for them in heaven -

even that of partaking of the fullness of the Father and the Son, through the Spirit.

As the Son partakes of the fullness of the Father through the Spirit, so the saints are, by the same Spirit, to be partakers of the same fullness, to enjoy the same glory;

they are to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

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Have you studied any post-Joseph Smith developments in the LDS view of the Godhead (official developments, not non-doctrinal discarded musings)? Or is the 1844 view kind of the "reference" for the Church since then?

To clarify what I said earlier, I'm very aware of the 1916 'Father and the Son' exposition, and the 2000 'The Living Christ' proclamations by the First Presidency & Quorum of Twelve, and feel they were and are highly important (and true) documents.

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nack, are you incorporating the evolution of the First Vision account in your survey?

I am. The account where the two personages first appear and are exactly alike in appearance ties in well with the Lectures on Faith description.

Also, I have some electronic materials for you, if you're interested.

Let me know what you got :P

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nack, are you incorporating the evolution of the First Vision account in your survey?

Joseph may have related different aspects of the first vision in different venues, but there was no "evolution." He was always reluctant to share such deeply spiritual experiences and when he did he didn't always tell the whole story to everyone. He even was reluctant to tell his father after he was admonished by the angel to do so.

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David Paulsen dismantles some of the things structurecop is referring to in this thread.

Enjoy!

http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=13&num=2&id=392

Structurecop, are you saying Joseph Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision, discussing 2 beings, was a lie? An inspiring invention? Or are you referring to the general and correct observation that Joseph didn't walk out of the trees and say "I am Joseph the prophet, walking out of the sacred grove and I just had the First Vision." ?

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Joseph may have related different aspects of the first vision in different venues, but there was no "evolution." He was always reluctant to share such deeply spiritual experiences and when he did he didn't always tell the whole story to everyone. He even was reluctant to tell his father after he was admonished by the angel to do so.

I agree with this, for the record. However, I think his understanding of the significance of the vision did evolve, and the change in emphasis is a part of that. There was a great 2-part discussion of this (with a reading of all the first person accounts) on Mormon Radio in the last week or so.

Just foundthis site by the way... BYU's website hides some neat stuff.

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nack, are you incorporating the evolution of the First Vision account in your survey?

Also, I have some electronic materials for you, if you're interested.

I take it back, they're too big to email. Let's try another route:

Thomas G. Alexander, "The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology." Sunstone 5 (July-Aug 1980):25

Boyd Kirkland, "Jehovah as Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine." Sunstone 9 (Autumn, 1984): 37.

Boyd Kirkland, "Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism and the Bible." Dialogue 19 (Spring 1986): 77

Van Hale, "Trinitarianism and the Earliest Mormon Concept of God." Paper delivered at Mormon History Association (May 1983)

Van Hale, "Defining the Mormon Doctrine of Deity." Sunstone 10 (Jan 1985):27

Gregory L. Kofford, "The First Vision: Doctrinal Development and Analysis." Copy in possession of University of Utah's H. Michael Marquardt Papers collection -- http://db3-sql.staff.library.utah.edu/lucene/Manuscripts/null/Accn0900.xml/complete

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Structurecop, are you saying Joseph Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision, discussing 2 beings, was a lie? An inspiring invention? Or are you referring to the general and correct observation that Joseph didn't walk out of the trees and say "I am Joseph the prophet, walking out of the sacred grove and I just had the First Vision." ?

Textually, it appears that Joseph was less worried about reconciling the plurality of God's manifestations as time wore on. Whether that reflects his personal beliefs evolving or him being more free to say what he really felt from the beginning, I don't know.

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? ?I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other?This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!? (JS?H 1:17).?

In his last sermons he said he had always taught a plurality of Gods, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While the terms and conditions were in flux it's safe to say JS was not trinitarian or modalistic even from the start, based on the records.

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