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Mormonism and the Trinity


Daniel Peterson

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I believe we are true "Trinitarians" as we accept the 3 in 1 formula without having to resort to a creed to try and understand or explain it. We believe what the scriptures say even though it appears a little illogical at times. We don't need to cartwheel around "begotten not created", "very God of very God" or "of the same substance".

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Is the Element article written about the Trinity available online or some other way?

As the note at the end of the "Mormon Times" column indicates, it's (unfortunately) not available on line. You might try contacting the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Or, perhaps better, I think that a copy could probably be secured from either Benjamin Huff, of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, the Society's secretary, or Brian Birch, of Utah Valley University, the editor of Element.

Or, alternatively, I have a not-quite-final, not-quite-the-published-version file of the piece that I could send, if I had your e-mail. (Though I may not get to doing so until Tuesday, as my disposable hours prior to departure for Chicago have just about elapsed). Somebody else asked me for such a copy the other day, and actually gave his e-mail address, but now, to my embarrassment, I've forgotten who or where that was.

Incidentally, my column immediately previous to this one earned me a comparison to Joseph Goebbels, over at the Stalker/Toady Board. But I received a lengthy e-mail just a few minutes ago, inspired by today's column, that may top that one: It seems that I'm "a liar and a potential Son of Perdition because deny the Holy Ghost as being Heavenly Father," don't realize that Eve was actually Lucifer, continue to support Joseph Smith's sinful notion of a "First Presidency," don't recognize that events of the Book of Mormon happened in Ohio, endorse a corrupt text of the Book of Mormon, believe that two persons appeared to Joseph in his First Vision rather than one, and assorted other sins. Oh yes: And I'm a coward, because I won't debate the author of the letter (who has, I vaguely recall, written me once or twice before). This last point, of course, is pretty commonly accepted among many of my critics, along with the universally recognized fact that I'm a liar.

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I read the article you posted...

I am depressed. Seems we shouldn't have been arguing "LDS Godhead" vs. "Trinity" after all this time.

.. a bit wasteful.

We should have been arguing for the primacy of the semantics for Trinity claims the whole time. :P

I smell a "LDS believe in a different Trinity" thread in the stew pot.

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Ah hah! Remember my thread that I started just a few days ago about is the Mormon Church self-affirming(that no one took an interest in)?

One more thing about the Church and its teachings where the pieces fall into place, and actually make sense in line with common sense understanding. The world offers a seemingly never ending array of pieces of data piled higher and deeper and the gospel sorts them out.

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As the note at the end of the "Mormon Times" column indicates, it's (unfortunately) not available on line. You might try contacting the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Or, perhaps better, I think that a copy could probably be secured from either Benjamin Huff, of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, the Society's secretary, or Brian Birch, of Utah Valley University, the editor of Element.

Or, alternatively, I have a not-quite-final, not-quite-the-published-version file of the piece that I could send, if I had your e-mail. (Though I may not get to doing so until Tuesday, as my disposable hours prior to departure for Chicago have just about elapsed). Somebody else asked me for such a copy the other day, and actually gave his e-mail address, but now, to my embarrassment, I've forgotten who or where that was.

Incidentally, my column immediately previous to this one earned me a comparison to Joseph Goebbels, over at the Stalker/Toady Board. But I received a lengthy e-mail just a few minutes ago, inspired by today's column, that may top that one: It seems that I'm "a liar and a potential Son of Perdition because deny the Holy Ghost as being Heavenly Father," don't realize that Eve was actually Lucifer, continue to support Joseph Smith's sinful notion of a "First Presidency," don't recognize that events of the Book of Mormon happened in Ohio, endorse a corrupt text of the Book of Mormon, believe that two persons appeared to Joseph in his First Vision rather than one, and assorted other sins. Oh yes: And I'm a coward, because I won't debate the author of the letter (who has, I vaguely recall, written me once or twice before). This last point, of course, is pretty commonly accepted among many of my critics, along with the universally recognized fact that I'm a liar.

I just sent an email to your BYU address requesting a copy, if it's not too much trouble!

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Mormonism and the Trinity Still More Deception from Yours Truly

I wouldn't say you're being deceptive, just misinformed or overzealously ecumenistic in a way which is contrary to LDS doctrine (ala (JS-H 1:19).

Although Latter-day Saints tend to avoid the term "Trinity," some Mormon authorities have used it to describe their belief in a Godhead of three persons.

That's because they themselves didn't know exactly what the trinity doctrine is or at worst, were being ignorantly disingenuous. They can't be blamed too much (only for lack of erudition on the subject) as trinitarian language is confusing and often not defined to the masses.

Thus, for example, Brigham Young, speaking of "the Father of us all, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 1871, asked: "Is he one? Yes. Is his trinity one? Yes."

Indeed. But is the trinitarian "one" the same as it is in the LDS Godhead? Of course not.

Furthermore, uniquely Mormon scriptural texts assert the unity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost at least as strongly as the Bible does.

The oneness of the Three is significantly different to a trinitarian than to an LDS person to whom the concept simply means they are in agreement. The triniarian oneness also includes the concept that the Three are the same Being, a significant difference.

The impressive testimony of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, published in the book since 1830, concludes by ascribing "honor
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Sorry, BCSpace. Because of my experience in past interactions with you, you're on my ignore list.

But I'll give you this much: Your response to my article surprises me, because your response completely misunderstands it, totally misreads it, and utterly misses the point of it, not only as a whole but in each of the constituent parts of it that you mention above. You don't appear to have followed the argument even slightly. Although I have no interest in interacting with you any more, I wouldn't have predicted that.

In any event, I'm off to Chicago early in the morning. I have no time to discuss this, not even with somebody else.

Best wishes.

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Sorry, BCSpace. Because of my experience in past interactions with you, you're on my ignore list.

Feel free.

But I'll give you this much: Your response to my article surprises me, because your response completely misunderstands it, totally misreads it, and utterly misses the point of it, not only as a whole but in each of the constituent parts of it that you mention above. You don't appear to have followed the argument even slightly.

In what way? This latest article is not fundamentally different from the last one.

Although I have no interest in interacting with you any more, I wouldn't have predicted that.

One would think an academic would appreciate criticism of his work in order to improve his argument or change it if necessary. That is often why I post.

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As the note at the end of the "Mormon Times" column indicates, it's (unfortunately) not available on line. You might try contacting the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Or, perhaps better, I think that a copy could probably be secured from either Benjamin Huff, of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, the Society's secretary, or Brian Birch, of Utah Valley University, the editor of Element.

Or, alternatively, I have a not-quite-final, not-quite-the-published-version file of the piece that I could send, if I had your e-mail. (Though I may not get to doing so until Tuesday, as my disposable hours prior to departure for Chicago have just about elapsed). Somebody else asked me for such a copy the other day, and actually gave his e-mail address, but now, to my embarrassment, I've forgotten who or where that was.

Incidentally, my column immediately previous to this one earned me a comparison to Joseph Goebbels, over at the Stalker/Toady Board. But I received a lengthy e-mail just a few minutes ago, inspired by today's column, that may top that one: It seems that I'm "a liar and a potential Son of Perdition because deny the Holy Ghost as being Heavenly Father," don't realize that Eve was actually Lucifer, continue to support Joseph Smith's sinful notion of a "First Presidency," don't recognize that events of the Book of Mormon happened in Ohio, endorse a corrupt text of the Book of Mormon, believe that two persons appeared to Joseph in his First Vision rather than one, and assorted other sins. Oh yes: And I'm a coward, because I won't debate the author of the letter (who has, I vaguely recall, written me once or twice before). This last point, of course, is pretty commonly accepted among many of my critics, along with the universally recognized fact that I'm a liar.

It was me. And my email is choosedawright@yahoo.com. You are forgiven.

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I'm in a helpful mood:

BCSpace, a useful exercise, before criticizing an argument or a position, is to try to restate that argument or position in your own words, carefully attempting to get it right. If your summation of your opponent's position or argument is unrecognizable to him -- as, it was painfully clear from your post above, your summary of the point I was making in this morning's Mormon Times article, and of the steps in its brief argument, would be to me -- you need to go back to work in order to understand the position you've set out to critique. Perhaps, once you've accurately understood the other person's position or argument, you might even lose interest in attempting to rebut it.

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BCSpace, a useful exercise, before criticizing an argument or a position, is to try to restate that argument or position in your own words, carefully attempting to get it right.

I disagree that such is necessary in this and nearly all cases of discussion or debate. It is actually incumbent on the one who first argues to clarify if he feels one has misunderstood, especially when one's examples were addressed, but I might indulge you just a little bit.

If your summation of your opponent's position or argument is unrecognizable to him -- as, it was painfully clear from your post above, your summary of the point I was making in this morning's Mormon Times article, and of the steps in its brief argument, would be to me -- you need to go back to work in order to understand the position you've set out to critique.

So your claim that...

Do Latter-day Saints believe in the Trinity? Virtually everybody who knows anything about Mormonism, believer or not, says no.

But that answer is wrong.

....is not plain enough? And your examples of some LDS using the word "trinity" to support your claim is not plain enough? And that you think because both LDS and trinitarians agree on God's love and care for us is sufficient to say that modern theologians are merely trimming a living branch?

I would repeat what I said before.

Perhaps, once you've accurately understood the other person's position or argument, you might even lose interest in attempting to rebut it.

I might, but I think not in this case. The article does mention another article for more a detailed analysis, but can I not depend on this article for you to have succinctly stated your position?

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can I not depend on this article for you to have succinctly stated your position?

Yup. And I did. You're the only person of whom I'm aware who has fundamentally misunderstood the piece. At every single point, so far as I can tell.

Had to stay up because something on the computer suddenly went bad, and I couldn't leave while still worrying about that. But I've fixed it now. Good night.

If anybody else out there misunderstands the article in the way that BCSpace does, I'll be happy to discuss the issues with him or her after I return on Monday.

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That's why I usually do not use the term 'Trinity'. It tends as DCP stated to confusion with the Nicean Creed concept that most Christian adheres toward. I prefer the term 'Godhead", but even then in discussions it has lead toward confusion. Maybe we should refer to LDS version of the Trinity as '3G' as in referral of the 3 in the Godhead. Not to take anything away from the cell industry . They are moving to 4G tech anyway.

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Yup. And I did. You're the only person of whom I'm aware who has fundamentally misunderstood the piece. At every single point, so far as I can tell.

If anybody else out there misunderstands the article in the way that BCSpace does, I'll be happy to discuss the issues with him or her after I return on Monday.

There are a few Christian Fundamentalists over at Mormon Missions Midwest Outreach (Rocky and Helen Hulse) who have most certainly "misunderstood" the piece at virtually every single point, though it probably wouldn't be worth your time to bother explaining. Here are a few highlighted comments you might find amusing:

Poster #1: "Nope nope and nope."

Poster #2: "Wow, you need to include a "BS" alert on that one, talk about spin!"

Poster #2 (again): "and lies. He has no grasp of Early Church History and doctrine, and I say that professionally."

Poster #3: "Maybe Dan should do a bit of research,,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam%E2%80%93God_theory "

Poster #4 (Helen Hulse) "Sorry forgot to set the alert button. However, without a doubt he has no grasp of Biblical Christianity, none."

Poster #2: "LOL, Helen. Just remember next time. :P It makes me both angry and sad that the LDS just buy these 'explanations' without looking it up. I was never that lazy, which is probably why I am no longer LDS."

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can I not depend on this article for you to have succinctly stated your position?
Yup. And I did.

Then I've addressed it properly. If you did not intend to say that LDS believe in the trinity, then feel free to say so.

You're the only person of whom I'm aware who has fundamentally misunderstood the piece. At every single point, so far as I can tell.

There doesn't seem to be any evidence of that yet. handys003 post, which I agree with, seems to be evidence to the contrary and there are no posts in this thread yet which even address your article point by point besides mine. A couple of posts here and in Hamblin's thread go down the same path and line of reasoning I am so I think I'll just stand pat and continue to address your article the same way.

Had to stay up because something on the computer suddenly went bad, and I couldn't leave while still worrying about that. But I've fixed it now. Good night.

If anybody else out there misunderstands the article in the way that BCSpace does, I'll be happy to discuss the issues with him or her after I return on Monday

The fundamental problem with your claim that LDS can say they believe in the trinity is the fact that one must continuously qualify...Well we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost but what we say about how they are one is not same as how the trinity doctrine says they are one, etc. etc.

The term "trinity" carries far more meaning than just unity and concern for mortals which any religion can claim for their god. It also carries specific and significant meanings that have to do with the nature of God and how the Three relate which are not extant in LDS doctrine. If you "prune" these off, you are left with a doctrine of unity but nothing regarding the nature of God so again one, particularly a trinitarian theologian, cannot derive the LDS Godhead doctrine by manipulating the trinity doctrine. That can only be accomplished through a Restoration or accepting what the anteNicene Fathers taught.

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I wouldn't say you're being deceptive, just misinformed or overzealously ecumenistic in a way which is contrary to LDS doctrine (ala (JS-H 1:19).

That's because they themselves didn't know exactly what the trinity doctrine is or at worst, were being ignorantly disingenuous. They can't be blamed too much (only for lack of erudition on the subject) as trinitarian language is confusing and often not defined to the masses.

Indeed. But is the trinitarian "one" the same as it is in the LDS Godhead? Of course not.

The oneness of the Three is significantly different to a trinitarian than to an LDS person to whom the concept simply means they are in agreement. The triniarian oneness also includes the concept that the Three are the same Being, a significant difference.

They repeat Bible verses which have a different nontrinitarian meaning to LDS especially since John 17 is used to refute the trinity doctrine. In other words, this example, and all of your examples by the same token, do not speak to your claim.

No, the real question is God a Man who presides over other Gods (subordinationism) or an abstract Being with Three interrelated Persons? (John 17:3).

Which shows that LDS indeed do not believe in or accept the trinity.

Non sequitur. Other nonChristian religions could claim as much about their god's love for them. Yet they are not Christians nor are LDS trinitarians, etc.

Your use of "pruning" erroneously implies that there is a living branch that merely needs fixing. If that were true, then the trinity doctrine would already carry with it such doctrines as God having a physical body and that the Father is a Man.

Well no, it's much more than something which "dropped out". The change was wholesale and irreversible. One cannot start with the trinity as a basis and come up with the LDS Godhead. That is partly why there was a Restoration.

Your understanding of Trinitarianism is inaccurate. T does not claim that they are one being, that is monolatrism, which was declared heretical. In T, they are three distinct persons but are one due to Ousia, because their essence is the same. This is a Platonic construct that allows the doctrine to be viewed as monotheistic while still maintaining the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is not appropriate to view T as a three faced Janus; they are viewed a strictly distinct.

Now, let me eat some crow. The doctrine of T is incomprehensible and there are many churches whose doctrine of the T is more akin to monolatrism then the actual doctrine of the T as taught by the Catholic Church. It is taught and believed in so many different ways that you will find many mainstream Christians who will agree with the LDS perception fo the Godhead and think it is the doctrine of their own church. Alas, it is one of the pitfalls of an incomprehensible doctrine created by man in order to be called monotheistic.

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Your understanding of Trinitarianism is inaccurate. T does not claim that they are one being, that is monolatrism, which was declared heretical. In T, they are three distinct persons but are one due to Ousia, because their essence is the same. This is a Platonic construct that allows the doctrine to be viewed as monotheistic while still maintaining the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is not appropriate to view T as a three faced Janus; they are viewed a strictly distinct.

No, BCSpace is correct. The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons, and are one Being/Essence/Substance. "Ousia" is translated as "Being".

I think by "monolatrism" you mean "Modalism". For Trinitarians, saying that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "one Being" is not modalism. Saying that they are "one Person" (and that this One Person simply wears different "masks" depending on the role He wants to play), on the other hand, would be "modalism" for the Trinitarian. Trinitarians do not equate "Person" with "Being" when talking about the Trinity.

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