Are Mormons Trinitarian?

October 16, 2006 | 106 comments

Mormons often make fun of traditional Christians for their struggling efforts to make sense of the Biblical teaching that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God. Yet Mormons are committed to the unity of God at least as much as traditional Christians are, by our scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. As we start another round of discussion of whether we are Christian in light of Mitt Romney’s potential presidential candidacy, why not think over how we really stand with respect to the idea of the Trinity?

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ and his Father are one. Traditional Christians have struggled for centuries to make sense of this teaching. Mormons, on the other hand, have been happy to break with tradition on many points, and have often pointed at the difficulties of traditional Christians in explaining the unity of the Godhead, as a sign of their having fallen into error, enamored with their own clever philosophies. Since the time of Joseph Smith, Mormons have often been happy to declare that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Gods. Mormons do not deny that the three are united, but explain that they are united in purpose, in cooperation and love, and not “in substance� as Nicene Christians maintain.

In our eagerness to point out flaws in the tradition, however, Mormons have a tendency to go too far, exaggerating differences even to the point of neglecting what our own scriptures say. The Book of Mormon is even more express than the Bible in its teaching that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. The Bible often states that Christ and his Father, and sometimes the Holy Ghost, are “one.â€? For example, in John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and my Father are one,â€? and in John 17:21-3, he prays that he, the Father, and his disciples “all may be one . . . as we are oneâ€?–that is, as he and his father are. The Book of Mormon and the D&C, however, state in several places not only that they are “one,â€? but that they are “one God.â€? For example: 2 Nephi 31:21 reads, “this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without endâ€?; Alma 11:44 refers to “the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal Godâ€?; D&C 20:28 states, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one Godâ€?; other passages also use the phrase “one Godâ€?. Mormons thus face the same original puzzle as traditional Christians of explaining how this is.

Of course, the message of 1 John 5:6-8 is closely parallel to one of the key themes of 3 Nephi 11, particularly verses 32-36: the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is crucially expressed in their unity of action and teaching. Historically, I think Mormons have avoided the formulas of traditional Christianity in part because we were afraid we would get sucked into the same theological mistakes. Traditional trinitarian ideas have been too heavily influenced by certain ideas derived from Greek philosophy, and I think have also been too attached to particular words (like substance), even where they have not been able to attach a clear meaning to them. But as our own, independent intellectual life becomes more established, it is important that we Mormons are faithful to our own authorities (including the scriptures), rather than defining ourselves in opposition to others. Our authorities teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are both three and one. Are Mormons Trinitarian, in our own way?

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106 Responses to Are Mormons Trinitarian?

  1. john f. on October 16, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    Great post. However, I am uncomfortable with your use of the phrase “make fun of” in the first sentence. That is inaccurate in my observation.

  2. Kevin Barney on October 16, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    I think you can say that Mormons are social Trinitarians (as defined by Alvin Plantinga).

  3. Nate O. on October 16, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Oh, I don’t know john f. I think that I have made fun of the traditional doctrine of the trinity a time or two ;->

  4. Aaron Shafovaloff on October 16, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Just to make it clear, early Trinitarians did not use 1 John 5:7 to support or develop their doctrine. “The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.”

  5. Aaron Shafovaloff on October 16, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    “Since the time of Joseph Smith, Mormons have often been happy to declare that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Gods.”

    This I think could be misleading. Early Mormons did not seem to believe in the plurality of gods. Evidence: the BofM itself, the development of the first vision accounts, the lectures on faith, the JST, reaction to the KFD, etc.

    I agree with Dennis Potter, who at the last SMPT conference said that the BofM teaches modalism.

  6. J. Stapley on October 16, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    While the reaction to the KFD was rather sharp, I think Joseph’s illumination of the subject in the Sermon at the Grove, reduces the radicalism extensively.

  7. Aaron Shafovaloff on October 16, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    When was the “Sermon at the Grove” given?

  8. Mark Butler on October 16, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    I readily agree that we may be considered social trinitarians. The biggest problem that I see is the transcription of the King Follett Discourse and the Boof of Abraham where the the term “god” is miscapitalized all over the place, making it look like (and some believe like) we are polytheists. We also have a tendency to focus on divinity as manifested in a single individual, instead of divinity as a emergent property of the Godhead itself. (It certainly is no Platonic reality independent of persons).

    All proper nouns have only one true correspondent. We properly capitalize “things” that there are properly only one of. As the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, make it quite clear that there is only one true and living God and none else “beside” him, to pluralize God with an uppercase G is a both a grammatical and a theological error.

    That doesn’t mean that multiple persons cannot participate in the Godhead, or partake of the divine nature thereof, or be invested with plenipotentiary divine authority within a certain context, it simply means that no individual is divine when separated from the Godhead.

    As Alma says, in such an event God [as an individual] would cease to be God [1]. But as there is more than one individual in the [extended] Godhead, it is essentially impossible for God to cease to be God, Elohim to cease to be Elohim, or the divine concert to cease to be divine.

    Should (God forbid) one member fall, as Lucifer fell [2], another would be called to take his place. It is through that sort of unity [4] (and of course the extension of the franchise to all who will become worthy of it) that God has all power in heaven and earth. His honor is his power [3].

    [1] Alma 42:22
    [2] D&C 76:25
    [3] D&C 29:36
    [4] Rom 7:4, D&C 38:27

  9. John Bryan on October 16, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    My experience is that most lay trinitarians, when asked to explain their notion of the godhead, commit the modalist heresy. This has added to LDS confusion as to just what trinitarianism is. I admit to being somewhat confused as well, especially when it comes to the exact meaning of the word “substance” as used in the applicable creeds.

    My rudimentary understanding goes like this: the Greek ouisa (“substance”) is not a physical essence but rather some kind of Platonic form. The common example is that while each chair is different, all chairs share a common form that define their “chairness.” We could say that all chairs therefore share this ouisa or substance without implying that all chairs are manifestations of a single chair. When the creeds say that the members of the trinity share a single substance, they are really saying that they are united not just in purpose but that their individual beings share a common form.

    Am I anywhere near correct on that? If so, we are likely mistaken if we criticize the “one substance” statement as antithetical to revealed doctrine. Well, perhaps we could say that it doesn’t go far enough: if humans are truly deities in embryo, then perhaps all humans have common substance with the godhead. How’s that for fractured ontology?

  10. Dave on October 16, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    #8 — with credit to Orson Pratt

  11. Mark Butler on October 16, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    #10: If you mean my conception of divinity is strictly similar to Orson Pratt’s concept of divinity, you could hardly be more mistaken. The problem with Orson Pratt’s theory is that he thought divinity was independent of persons. He suggested that the highest God was a collection of immutable divine attributes. In other words he suggested that we worshipped divinity itself. For this teaching he was condemned quite publically (in General Conference) by Brigham Young, who said he would not worship such a God.

    On the contrary, I understand divinity itself to be a creation of God – certainly with some necessary aspects (notably love), but generally speaking having minimal existence independent of persons. We do not worship attributes or some collection of abstractions – we worship a personal God – with body, parts, and passions. The Godhead (or divine concert or the Eternal Father) is always represented most directly unto us by a person – our Heavenly Father. Though there be gods many and lords many, to us there is one God and one Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 8:5-6).

    We do not pray to Jesus Christ – We pray to the Father in the name of Christ. That is why throughout the New Testament, Jesus is called Lord, and God is called the Father. Only in a couple of very particular senses (notably divine investiture) can Jesus Christ be considered the Eternal Father, as he is spoken of in the Book of Mormon.

  12. Ben H on October 16, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    Aaron (#4), thanks for the link on the Johannine comma. I knew it only appeared in some manuscripts; I didn’t know how very late they seem to be! This makes it all the more significant how direct the statements about “one God” are in the Book of Mormon. Some Mormons have pointed to the questions about the authenticity of the “comma” as evidence against the biblicality of Trinitarian teachings, but this is quite silly when the Book of Mormon contains language even more direct (and passages that make quite the same point). In light of the Book of Mormon passages, it isn’t very important for a Mormon whether the Johannine comma is authentic or not.

    (#5) You are right that the ideas in the KFD and Sermon at the Grove were not always present in Mormon discourse. Neither was temple worship, or vicarious ordinances. Authority and doctrine came over time. But I think David Paulsen has persuasively shown that modalism, while always a possible misunderstanding of either Mormon or traditional theology, was never the best way to understand Mormon teachings and texts. Clearly non-modalist texts were present from the start.

    Mark Butler (#8), I wouldn’t be upset if God were to tell me that in fact godhood only arises in a relationship of communion like that of social Trinitarianism, but I am wary of embracing the idea given present LDS teaching. Wouldn’t we say that God the Father at least is God independent of the Son and Holy Spirit?

    John Bryan (#9), perhaps Aaron can tell us more, but I am pretty sure most traditional Christians today would reject the idea that for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be one in substance is analogous to the way in which all chairs are one in substance. Heck, by that notion of substance, all humans are one in substance: we are all instances of the common form “humanity”. Part of the point of saying God is one in substance, for a traditional Christian, is to rule out any of the shenanigans one hears about the Greek gods (of whom various groups might be said to be one in substance? instances of the form “god”?) getting into, including fighting and killing one another, etc. Nor would this conception of unity do the trick for Mormons, either (tho yes, it is fair to say on a KFD-style Mormon view that we are all already one with God in this sense); it’s too unremarkable. We are still called to something much more than what we already are.

  13. Mark Butler on October 16, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    That is to say that divinity has minimal existence independent not only of persons, but will as well. Divinity is a manifestation of the will of God.

    That is a point where the Protestants, Franciscans, and Augustinians correctly parted company with the (majority) Catholics, Dominicans, and Aristotelians. They understood the primacy of the will of God, over any sort of static, immutable nature. Philosophically, it is what divided Ockham and Abelard from Scotus and Aquinas. The Protestants followed the former, and Catholics (generally speaking) the latter.

    As it seems unreasonable to conclude that an exalted being is incapable of manifesting his will in time, we should say that the Lord hardly has any sort of immutable Platonic nature at all, beyond the minimal attributes of his eternal intelligence.

    If one says that God did not author the design of his own body for example, one has left the domain of a personal God, for a manifestation of Platonic forms independent of Him or any number of others. That is why infinite backward recursion is untenable, it leads to the Platonic heresy – a collection of forms, laws and ordinances authored by no one.

  14. JWL on October 16, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    I think that as a missionary tool, Mormons should wear buttons that say: “Hi! I’m a Social Trinitarian! Ask me about it!”

  15. Mark Butler on October 16, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    Ben H (#12),

    As an individual, no. As a concert yes (more or less – to the degree that the Eternal Father can remain the Eternal Father if he ends the franchise, i.e. renounces the doctrine of exaltation – remember his honor is his power). There is no Father who was not once a Son, in one sense or another. Our Father is an exalted Man – Man of Holiness is his name. That is the doctrine that Joseph Smith sprung upon the world.

    Aaron S. (#5),

    I do not see how the Book of Mormon is any more modalist than the New Testament, except upon a most casual reading. The doctrine of exaltation (which is referred to in the Book of Mormon but taught much more explicitly in the New Testament) tends to make modalism rather silly.

    In any case, the best evidence against BoM modalism is found in the testimony of Jesus Christ himself in Third Nephi, where he distinguishes himself from the Father quite explicitly. How do you speak of yourself in third person, using a different name? The Father tells me to do this, commands me to do that, covenanted with the house of Israel, will fulfil his covenant in the latter days. And does one apologize to oneself for being prayed to?

  16. Blain on October 16, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    9 — You’re getting at the thing that has bugged me about the Nicene Creed since the first time I read it — does “consubstatial” mean “of the same *kind* of substance” or “of the same *set* of substance”? If it’s the former, then I don’t have a problem with the creed. If it’s the latter, then I’m left wondering how we don’t have modalism.

    And I, too, have been confused by the folks who say “I believe in the Trinity, even though I don’t understand it, so I’m a Christian, but you don’t believe it, so you’re not a Christian.” That just conceptually doesn’t parse for me.

  17. J. Stapley on October 16, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    Sermon at the Grove was June 16, 1844 (WoJS pg. 378).

  18. Clark on October 17, 2006 at 12:44 am

    Argh. A post like this and I don’t have time to really thoughtfully respond! A few brief thoughts.

    Kevin (#2), I think many believe social trinitarianism is incompatible with the creeds proper. In any case it is very controversial. While I obviously have some sympathy to Alvin Plantinga, I personally also think Mormonism entails a stronger unity than a mere social one. I think there are compelling arguments for this in scripture. I definitely think in the theological views of early Mormon theologians there was more to it. (Consider at a minimum Orson Pratt’s spiritual aether which was a kind of ousia behind the divine beings)

    Aaron (#5), I think the modalistic readings of Mosiah 15 are plausible but fall apart with respect to 3 Ne. I’m surprised Dennis would actually say that. I’d add that I think Mosiah 15 is better read relative to Jewish merkabah texts which would make the modalistic reading extremely implausible. The evidence that early Mormons didn’t believe in multiple persons seems wanting in my eyes. For more of my thoughts on this see my review of Widmer’s Mormonism and the Nature of God.

    Mark (#8), I think there are good reasons to focus on individuals as god rather than some emergent entity. (Which I find no support for myself – but I’ve just not had time to debate you on this point. Maybe in the future.) Anyway I’m much more on Brigham’s side of the debate with Orson on this matter of person versus essence or emergent entities.

    John (#9), while the early Fathers and of course Augustine were highly influenced by Greek thought – primarily middle platonism and neoplatonism – one must be careful not to simply assume they were adopting it. In a very real sense they were doing their own thing. Reading the trinity certainly demands familiarity with the philosophy of late antiquity but can’t be reduced to it. I’d not want to reduce ousia or hypostasis to their Greek conceptions. I think that extremely misleading.

    Personally I think the creed writers were going out of their way to be sufficiently vague as to make pinning down the meaning impossible.

  19. Clark on October 17, 2006 at 12:45 am

    Sermon in the Grove (All accounts)

    King Follet Discourse (All accounts)

  20. Mark Butler on October 17, 2006 at 8:52 am


    The scriptures state that the fulness of divinity (even the Father) dwells in the person of the Son, even in Jesus Christ himself. However that fulness of grace was something that Jesus received of the Father. It is not something that Jesus could have all by himself. As he himself said “Of mine own self I am nothing.”

    Now if we deal with our Heavenly Father as an individual, an exalted man like unto his son Jesus Christ, as the Prophet said, how can we deny that the doctrine of Christ as taught in D&C 93 does not apply to him as well?

    In other words, of his own self (as an individual) he is nothing, that he received grace for grace, until the fulness of the Father dwelt in him, and so on. Now this immediately leads to a problem about the nature of grace, one that has been traditionally resolved by contradicting Jesus’ own statement about the nature of his divinity, or alternatively the nature of the divinity of any exalted father, mother, etc.

    To me the idea that one can be saved (i.e. be divine) all by oneself is the worst sort of Pelagianism. It is just that normally we treat our Heavenly Father as an exception to all the rules. That doesn’t make sense in the context of the doctrine (which is not just in the KFD) that our Heavenly Father (any heavenly father for that matter) is an exalted man.

    Next alternative is that grace flows in an infinite linear chain without a root, such that no exalted father (or mother) is a fount of grace, but receives it from his father. I think such a scheme is unwieldly to put it mildly. The basic problem is that it is not only temporally asymmetrical, it is eternally asymmetrical.

    Supposing that system applied to this world, can you imagine how much more grace (spirit), and all its attendant burdens would flow through Adam (Michael) than through someone (even an exalted person) a couple hundred generations down the line? Where is the equality in that?

    So though what we might call the patriarchal order of the Priesthood (or divinity, which is essentially the same thing in its fulness) is not quite tenable as the only scheme by which grace is distributed, though of course it has an eternal significance which should not be underestimated. The Abrahamic covenant (or the new and everlasting covenant of marriage) applies to all the righteous. And through the posterity of Abraham all nations were blessed. And we shall rise up and account Abraham one day as our father, whether literally descended from him or not.

    And that point is significant, Abraham was not only made a father unto many nations, he was made a father unto all of those who receive the gospel. Now suppose through twist of fate there are those who are not married in this life, or if they are married cannot have children. Even though they do not have a temporal posterity, down through the generations as Abraham and Sarah did, if they are righteous they can indeed be made fathers and mothers unto all those who receive the gospel.

    I understand this to be after the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek, or after the order of the Son of God. And though one would be foolish to avoid his reponsibility to become a father or mother to a natural posterity, is also true that a high priest is without father or mother or beginning of days or end of years, but made like unto the Son of God continually. In other words the Melchizedek priesthood is not predominantly organized on patriarchal lines, but rather something more like congregational lines, of which it seems to me the Quorum of the Anointed (or the celestial room) is a type.

    And in such an order of the priesthood where does grace (or spirit or power) come from. I understand it comes from quorum unity – even the unity of a quorum of thousands of millions. And those who are called to preside in administrative positions receive their authority by investiture of the quorum of the exalted, or the divine concert as I usually call it. If a priest or a king abuses his authority, amen to the authority of that man, at least until he repents.

    And what does Amen (Ahman) mean? It is the name of the Eternal Father, the one true and living God, Father (aleph), and the Son (mem), and the Holy Ghost (nun), infinite and eternal. Adam-ondi-Ahman is where Adam (mankind) met God (Elohim). There is no authority greater than Ahman. Call it the law of common consent of the exalted.

    So as I understand it though individuals may be fully invested with the authority of the divine concert, to the degree that their collective glory literally dwells in their own person, such that we can hardly tell the difference, there is no person who has authority of his own self, but only by investiture. And that is the mantle of the Holy Priesthood, and it is that by which we distinguish righteous authority from that of an individual alone, however well intentioned, as the Spirit so testifies.

  21. Ben on October 17, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    I think we should point out that Joseph’s description of Father Son and HG as three distinct Gods is explicitly to counterbalance his modalistic perception of trinitarianism. If, as he perceived, trinitarianism with its one God meant one personage, then three separate personages means three Gods.

    We shouldn’t confuse Joseph’s language on plurality of Gods in the Godhead (per his anti-modalistic understanding) with Joseph’s language of deification.

  22. Todd Wood on October 17, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    Greetings friends, if I am infringing upon any of the community rules by my post, please direct me elsewhere. I do not belong to the LDS community but I certainly live within the Corridor and have many kind friends. I have recently begun my own blog, Ben has brought up a topic that for me is a focus point of discussion in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

    I think any Christian who promotes modalism through illustration is in error of the Biblical revelation of God. But neither can I understand how the Bible would promote Plantinga\’s model of the Trinity.

    Please feel free to comment on any of my current questions on


  23. Aaron Shafovaloff on October 17, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    (#12) “Clearly non-modalist texts were present from the start.“. True, but these were nonetheless monotheistic. Hence, the reason the statement, “Since the time of Joseph Smith, Mormons have often been happy to declare that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Gods.â€? … is very misleading.

    (#15, #18) I think the Bible does much more to distinguish the Father and the Son than the 1830 BofM does. And of course, there are passages in the BofM that lean away from modalism, but that doesn’t take away from what seems clearly to be modalism in other passages. I never said the BofM consistently teaches modalism. It is, however, consistently monotheistic.

  24. Todd Wood on October 17, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    \”I think the Bible does much more to distinguish the Father and the Son than the 1830 BofM does.\”

    I would strongly agree.

  25. Ben H on October 17, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    (#22) I think the Bible does much more to distinguish the Father and the Son than the 1830 BofM does.

    This is interesting, Aaron. Would you say more?

  26. Aaron Shafovaloff on October 17, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    “No clear distinction is made between the person of God the Father and the person of God the Son in the [1830] Book of Mormon. In fact Jesus is clearly asserted to be both. This is stated most baldly in Ether 3:14: “I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son.â€? The Son is repeatedly referred to as the “Eternal Father.â€? (1 Nephi 11:21, 13:40; Mosiah 16:15; Alma 11:37-38). And so we read, for example, “behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father,â€? (1 Nephi 11:21), and “the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world.â€? (1 Nephi 13:40; cf., Mosiah 16:15 and Alma 11:37-38)… Prior to the incarnation the title Eternal Father is used almost exclusively of Jesus (1 Nephi 11:21, 13:4; Mosiah 16:15 Alma 11:38-39). The only exception is the Abinadi’s speech in Mosiah 15:1-7 already mentioned, where the Father and the Son together are the Eternal Father, but that statement appears in the context of explaining how the Eternal Father became the Son by taking on flesh.” – Ronald V. Huggins (>>)

    “The Book of Mormon tended to define God as an absolute personage of spirit who, clothed in flesh, revealed himself in Jesus Christ.” -Thomas Alexander (LDS), “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine”, p. 25 (>>)

  27. Blake on October 17, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Aaron: Are these citations from Huggins and Alexander suppposed to be definitive? I believe that it is quite clear that Huggins and Alexander failed to pay attention to critical distinctions and overlooked key texts and the way they function in asserting the kinds of modalistic conclusions that they do. I believe that David Paulsen and Ari Breuning show that Huggin’s conclusions are ill-formed. See Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths, by Ari D. Bruening , David L. Paulsen. Review of: Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution View. I believe that I have shown the same thing. See Ostler, Blake T. “Re-vision-ing the Mormon Concept of Deity.â€? Element 1.1.

  28. Mark Butler on October 18, 2006 at 1:41 am


    I completely agree that it reads that way to a naive reader, especially a Western reader. However, there are perfectly valid doctrinal reasons for the Lord to speak that way, and for him to be spoken of that way. It is called the doctrine of divine investiture – which there is ample reason to believe is the very nature of exaltation.

    The book of Exodus states that Moses was made a god to Pharoah [1]. In other words Moses was invested with full and plenipotentiary divine authority in that matter, while still remaining upon the earth. That is unusual, but it is pertaining to the oath and covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or the Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God [2].

    And as Joseph Smith stated in the JST:

    For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;

    To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
    (JST Gen 14:30-31)

    Whenever a divine personage appeared in the Old Testament, who did he say his name was? Jehovah of course. Or occasionally Elohim. Now the idea that God himself should come down among his people was generally regarded as a heresy [3]. Many Jews to this day look forward to a messiah, but do they expect him to be divine? As a rule, no.

    Now Moses was invested with divine authority while still on the earth. Sometimes he glowed so much that everyone was afraid to look upon his countenance [4]. So tell me was he divine or wasn’t he? Conventional theology draws such a chasm between God and man that it is almost heresy to speak of Moses that way. And we end up with Docetism and comparable theories where Jesus was hardly human at all – that he was born with some sort of super-genes or divine nature that infinitely separated him from his brethren.

    That is not what D&C 93 says however, and most explicitly at that – namely that Jesus received grace for grace [5], until the fulness of the Father dwelt in him[6]. He received a divine nature through his faithfulness and obedience. He wasn’t born with one – he was fully human, as much as any other man.[10]

    But by virtue of his humbling himself to do whatever the Father required of him [7], he became fully invested with the power and glory of the Father [8]. When he spoke, it was not of himself, but of the Father [9].

    And it that sense he can say that he is the Father [11] and is in the Father and the Father in him [12], because he represents the Father unto us by investiture, just as a judge can say he is the Court, because as a judge he is invested with the authority to administer justice according to a law authored by others, rather than according to his own will.

    [1] Ex 7:1
    [2] D&C 107:2-3
    [3] Mosiah 17:8, John 8:58
    [4] Ex 34:29-30
    [5] D&C 93:12-13
    [6] D&C 93:17
    [7] 2 Ne 31:7
    [8] D&C 93:16
    [9] John 5:30
    [10] Heb 2:16-17
    [11] Eth 4:16
    [12] John 14:11

  29. Ben on October 18, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Just so the reader is aware of where he’s coming from, Aaron is a young Evangelical who brands himself as a “wannabe missionary to Utah,” occasionally joins the sign-wavers at General Conference, doesn’t allow LDS changes to his MormonWiki (I know at least one who has tried), and posts various witnessing, DNA, and ant-Book of Abraham cliips on Youtube.

  30. Todd Wood on October 18, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    Mark, thanks for the input. I would suggest Moses was a partaker of the divine. Theios – yes. Theos – no. And D&C 93 is real point of discussion, especially as I am exegeting through the beauty of John 1. In fact, I made several yard signs last night (to join in as sweet spice among all the political advertisements) for placement in yards. Some of the signs carried three words: “grace for grace.” Ironic, here we are today, thinking of the same phrase.

    And Mark, as I read Scripture, the “chasm” idea looks very real indeed. Is this just naive reading? It certainly invokes incredible worship.

    And Ben thanks. Aaron, I suggest you be more upfront. Helps with any honest discussion.

    I do consider myself a missionary in Idaho. I long for all to worship the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is. This is the heart of missions. Don’t you think?


  31. Aaron Shafovaloff on October 18, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    (#26) I’ve read “Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths” and find it unconvincing that the BofM is free of any modalism. The passages in question can be more meaningfully read within the context of the 19th century and the development of early Mormonism than with the hermeneutical imposition of 20th/21st century Mormonism.

    (#27) Do you have any evidence that the doctrine of divine investiture was used by early Mormons to account for the BofM passages in question? The identification of Jesus with Jehovah and the Father with Elohim seems like something more from Talmage than earlier Mormonism. The subsequent LDS application of “divine investiture” to this seems an attempt to salvage some coherence.

    To quote Jeffrey D. Giliam, a Mormon:

    “This principle [of divine investiture] was obviously invented (at least partially) to help harmonize the doctrine that Christ is Jehovah. Thus Christ can call himself the Father whenever he wants.”

    Jesus was indeed a plenipotentiary of the Father (cf. especially the Gospel of John), but he never pretended to be the Father himself, which is exactly what the LDS view of divine investiture makes the Son, a pretender. The incarnate Christ was very clear about speaking and acting on the authority of a person other than himself (cf. John 5:19-43). The BofM, on the other hand, doesn’t make it clear that the pre-incarnate Christ was with the Father, like John 1:1 indicates.

    (#28) To label me as one who “occasionally joins the sign-wavers” can be very misleading, as I avoid the KJV-only, fatigue-wearing garment-wavers. But hey, I’m sure branding me helps your cause. Those guys have served as a powerful caricature for anyone else you can lump in with them. If you’re interesting in something beyond branding and caricature, I extend an open lunch-invitation to anyone in the Provo/Orem area. is an evangelical encyclopedia of Mormonism, not a Mormon encyclopedia or neutral encyclopedia of Mormonism (cf. for a contrast). Keep in mind that we link to both critical and favorable links in the “external resources” section of articles, something and don’t do.

    (#29) Aaron, I suggest you be more upfront. I had a link from my name to my site, that should be sufficient. Do you want personal biographies given before people interact on this blog?

    One who prays directly to Jehovah, who worships the Lamb (Revelation 5) just as he worships the one on the throne (Revelation 4),


  32. Todd Wood on October 18, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Aaron, I had just missed it. You had me fooled. Which is pretty easy to do. :) Having lived in the corridor for most of my life, I suppose I am sensitive to evangelical or LDS incognito.

    And I would go to lunch with you sometime to gain more fully your purpose in Utah.

    Back to Mark and Ben. Come over to

    I need someone to break the ice on my blog, as I am thinking today of John 1 and D&C 93. Hey, Idaho spuds don’t bite.

  33. Mark Butler on October 18, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    Todd W.,

    I would suggest that as individuals, all exalted persons are strictly speaking Theios. Only together as Elohim, or by investiture can they be considered Theos. There is only one true and living God, infinite and eternal [1].

    Jesus Christ was made a high priest after the order of Melchizedek [2]. What that means is his authority was not his own, but that of the Father who sent him [3]. He said of his own self he was nothing, that he could not even do anything without the Father. Same with Moses.

    The Docetic instinct is a practical denial of the primary message of the New Testament which was to demonstrate that an ordinary man may become like God [4] and one with God [5], and that we may be joint heirs with him [6], if we follow his example in all things [7].

    And as Joseph Smith taught our Heavenly Father also is an exalted man [8]. In other words the doctrine of Christ applies to him as well. He, like Jesus, was a man like unto us [9], who was exalted and invested with a divine nature through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. There is nothing fundamental that separated him or the Lord Jesus in their earthly states from Adam, Abraham, Moses, on down to us in our earthly states. The Lord received of the fulness of the Father grace for grace [10], as may we [11]. We also are heirs of the Abrahamic covenant as long as we are righteous and may be worthy of the same blessings even the blessings of exaltation [12].

    So while there is a chasm between God and man [13], it is a crossible one. A man does not become God, but by exaltation and investiture he may become one with Him. Elohim has no rivals [14], but many persons participate in Him. Endless is his name [15]. The latter is perhaps the most neglected point from the King Follett Discourse – key to understanding the Abrahamic covenant and the nature of heavenly parenthood.

    [1] 2 Ne 31:21; D&C 20:28
    [2] Heb 5:6-10
    [3] John 5:30
    [4] Heb 7:3; 1 Jn 3:2
    [5] John 17:20-22
    [6] Rom 8:16-17
    [7] 2 Cor 1:5-7
    [8] Joseph Smith, KFD (TPJS, 345)
    [9] Heb 2:16
    [10] D&C 93:12-17
    [11] D&C 93:19-20
    [12] Abr 2:10-11
    [13] Isa 41:14
    [14] Deut 4:35; Isa 44:6
    [15] D&C 19:10

  34. Gilgamesh on October 18, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Mark in #8 said “As Alma says, in such an event God [as an individual] would cease to be God [1]. But as there is more than one individual in the [extended] Godhead, it is essentially impossible for God to cease to be God, Elohim to cease to be Elohim, or the divine concert to cease to be divine. ”

    I think this takes the hypothetical argument that God could cease to be God out of context. The scripture is plainly refering to the needs of justice, judgement, and the need of mercy. Though it notes the necessity of a Savior, I don’t see it as an argument for the continuity of the Godhead. It instead notes that our agency is so vital to our progression that for God to violate that agency, by altering consequences, would make “God cease to be God.” That is independent of his Godhead relationship with Christ.

  35. Mark Butler on October 18, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    Aaron S.,

    I believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that it contains many truths that Joseph Smith himself did not completely understand at the time he translated, but which he later came to understand. So it doesn’t matter very much what anyone thought of it on the day it was published. [That is a great failing in many "historical" analyses of Mormonism, by the way.]

    The temple, the Abrahamic covenant and the doctrines of baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, marriage, and the priesthood are all about the doctrine of divine investiture. We take upon the name and the nature of Christ when we do what he asks of us. I am the vine, ye are the branches, he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing [1], and so on.

    [1] John 15:5

  36. Mark Butler on October 18, 2006 at 3:13 pm


    I readily admit if the divine concert of the exalted determined to deny the principles of mercy or justice or both of them, they would individually and collectively cease to be divine, and would indeed cease to be God. Divinity is more contingent upon love than any other principle [1], and a denial of either justice or mercy is the end of love and the beginning of contention.

    [1] 1 Jn 4:8

  37. Todd Wood on October 18, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    Mark, from your definition of the triune God (and even more, possibly?), I see where the chasm is possible to cross.

    But I just question is this what I John 3:2, John 17, and Romans 8 are really communicating?

    And what are the limits of God in Isa 41 and 44?

  38. Mark Butler on October 18, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Todd, I do not see how John 17:22 could be any more explicit. I believe that it was Jesus’ mission was to show by example how a person could become with one with God. If we draw too severe a distinction between Jesus and another true saint who takes upon himself his name, it seems to me we are denying the core doctrine of the New Testament.

    Due to various historical and philosophical reasons (Greek metaphysics, mostly) that is precisely where conventional Christianity went wrong. And ironically despite everything taught in the temple and other modern day revelation pertaining to this subject, many have a tendency to repeat some of the same errors, according to the traditions of their fathers, which are incorrect.

    However are we supposed to become exalted, except through the grace of God and not simply what we do of ourselves? And isn’t his grace sufficient for us that we may become perfect in Christ, one step at a time? Sometimes it seems many have swung all the way from a Neo-Pelagianism to a Neo-depravity theory without stopping on the truth of the At-one-ment, which is in between.

    Total depravity makes exaltation impossible – one cannot start a fire with a bunch of wet matches. Pelagianism is a denial of doctrine of grace – promoting the false idea that any of us can ever amount to much of anything without God’s help, indeed without becoming one with Him, being filled with his spirit, and power and glory and not something that we can conjure up by our own device.

  39. Jordan Barrett on October 18, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    Great post. I’m thankful for LDS who are willing to look at their doctrine in fresh ways and with new eyes. That is, I think it’s good to realize that perhaps LDS have swung the pendulum too far to the other side. Granted, I think the pendulum is balanced in a correct understanding of the Trinity (which I don’t find many lay-LDS have), but I’m not here to debate that. ;)

    Ultimately, I don’t think LDS can be trinitarian in their own way. Perhaps I’m being defensive, but I’d rather have LDS be Mormon in their own way. That is, the word “Trinity” is used to describe an early Christian – and arguably biblical – belief. Not an LDS one. To use the word Trinity is to affirm the creeds and their interpretations of Scripture. So to be trinitarian in a Mormon-way is to call for a complete redefeinition. Even those who have toyed with various understandings are still distinguished as Social or Latin trinitarians. So my point is this – you are either trinitarian in the Christian (or Evangelical) sense, or you’re not. If Mormons still affirm three beings or three Gods, they remain anti-trinitarian and thus cannot be trinitarian in any way. They can be tritheistic (which seems to be the case) but not monotheistic. Nevertheless, I do hope that LDS will continue to explore new avenues for understanding the unity of God and what that means Scripturally.

  40. Mark Butler on October 18, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    The Athanasian creed is the classic conventional exposition on the Trinity and the fourth sentence is as follows:

    Neque confundentes personas: neque substantiam separantes.

    [Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance (essence)]

    Anyone who believes there is only one person in the Trinity does not believe the Athanasian creed, but rather something variously called Modalism or Sabellianism. Those that believe that there are three persons in the Trinity but do not believe they share something enormously fundamental in common likewise denies the Trinity in favor of something called Tritheism.

    The LDS canon is not tritheist nor polytheist any more than the Athanasian creed is. Contrary to popular belief, the doctrine of multiple divine persons is not contrary to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, it is part of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

    To be orthodox, in the classical sense, one must simply maintain that each of those persons shares a common essence, or indwelling spirit of glory, in a fundamental and indivisible way, making them together one God, and not three independent Gods. Neither the Father without the Son, nor the Son without the Father, nor the Holy Ghost without either of them. And together they are one God infinite and eternal.

    Now as many conventional Christians do not fully appreciate what their churches actually teach, and many Mormons also, it is easy for the former to conclude they are Sabellian, and the latter to conclude they are tritheist or polytheist, when as the terms as classically defined, neither is the case, and the doctrines of both are much closer than is often supposed.

    Polytheism (in the classical sense) is Pelagianism, and LDS doctrine most definitely is not. And D&C 93 and most of the book of John is about the most explicit denial of Pelagianism (the idea that one can be saved or be divine by his own efforts or in his own right) that one can imagine.

    Of course one of the problems with conventional Christianity (after the Arian controversy) is they do not believe Jesus’s own testimony about his status relative to the Father, thus denying the doctrine of exaltation by making his example for us not something to be taken seriously.

  41. MikeInWeHo on October 19, 2006 at 1:29 am

    “The LDS canon is not tritheist nor polytheist any more than the Athanasian creed is.”

    While I admire your ability to trot out the Athanasian creed in latin, that’s really a stretch. Let’s revisit D&C 130:22 for starters.

    It’s fascinating to watch some people here try and turn the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints into just another protestant denomination, albeit with some added features like temples and the priesthood. Maybe that is the future of the Church, though.

  42. Clark on October 19, 2006 at 2:51 am

    Mike, I don’t think anyone is saying our conception of God is the same as Protestants or Catholics. It clearly isn’t. But I think in terms of the formal doctrine of the Trinity the Mormon beliefs fit even if we differ elsewhere.

    Take the Athanasian Creed. What lines do you think we violate?

    #20 is problematic at first glance but it doesn’t mean that one can’t say Jesus is a God and the Father is a God. Rather it means they are together one God.

    #27 I could see some objecting to given the controversy over praying only to the Father.

    Other than those two I can’t see any problems.

  43. MikeInWeHo on October 19, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    I certainly hope the LDS are still violating #1, 2, and most of the rest. My opinion is irrelevant anyway. How do you think the Brethren would answer your question: “What lines do you think we violate?”

    Why on earth do you want to harmonize the Restored Gospel with these creeds anyway? You can piourette through the language all you want, but from the First Vision through to very recent conference talks, the Church has defined its understanding of God in direct opposition to the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. Additionally, the holders of trinitarian orthodoxy (Rome, the various protestant bodies, et. al.) look at Mormonism and brand it a heterodox faith.

    It’s almost like you’re saying to BOTH sides, “Gosh guys, this was all a big misunderstanding. We’re all the same after all !”

    Now in a way, I agree with that because I believe anyone who follows Christ in fact is participating in the same experience of deity.

  44. Mark Butler on October 19, 2006 at 2:01 pm


    I concur with Clark. In this case it appears you are using the terms contrary to their formal theological senses. That is a common mistake. I do not know of any remotely orthodox Christianity that does not consider the Trinity to consist of three persons that share something fundamental in common thus making them one God rather than three.

    You appear to be insisting on a colloquial understanding of what it means to be one God. Now this is what most Christians call the mystery of the Trinity. Nonetheless any conception of the Trinity that has one person in three different forms is considered heretical by all major branches of Christianity. The only exceptions I know of are the Unitarians and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Now for our purposes what the doctrine that there is only one true and living God throughout all eternity means is that no single individual can be God, or rather be divine except as part of or invested with the spirit, power, and glory of the one true God, infinite and eternal.

    Now if you want to consider the one true God to be the individual person of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost to have their divinity dependent upon his grace (per D&C 93) that is fine, and that is a reasonably doctrinally coherent (and Trinity compatible) theory.

    However, Joseph Smith taught that the person of our Heavenly Father was himself an exalted man. As an exalted man, that means that as an individual no heavenly father can be considered the fount of all grace, meaning that the doctrine of Christ (receiving glory of the Father grace for grace) outlined in D&C 93 applies to our Father as well.

    Thus that principle which Joseph Smith taught leads to the inevitable conclusion that divinity is not a property of individuals, but rather of the unity of the same. In other words, as individuals the Son cannot be divine without the Father (per D&C 93), nor the Father without the Son (per D&C 132), nor the Holy Ghost without either of them. Or to put it bluntly no single person can be divine all by himself – that idea is Pelagian, a denial of the Atonement. [It is also the very purpose of marriage, but that is another story.]

    Except the Father became at one with the Son, and the Son with the Father, neither would be divine. If they do not operate together as one God, by the same spirit, and power, and glory, they are not God at all. The spirit of contention is the end of God [1].

    Radical individualism is no way to become exalted – in fact it is the most effective possible way to guarantee that one will not even be saved. One can only be saved in and through the merits of the name of Jesus Christ [2]. Anyone who refuses to take upon and be truly baptized in his name (and all that entails) cannot be saved [3].

    [1] 3 Ne 11:29; 1 Cor 2:10-13
    [2] 2 Ne 31:21
    [3] Mosiah 5:10

  45. Todd Wood on October 19, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Mark, thank you for allowing me to interact on this thread. Certainly the latter half of the sentence (John 1:13) would eradicate the notions of Pelagianism. But I am trying to find that phrase in latter-day texts. Do LDS find those ancient words recoverable?

    Todd Wood

  46. Mark Butler on October 19, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Todd W..

    My pleasure. I generally refer to D&C 93 as the greatest reference on this issue – some relevant excerpts follow:

    …I am in the Father, and the Father in me and the Father and I are one. — the Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men [1]. I was in the world and received [2] of my Father, and the works of him were plainly manifest [3].

    And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; and he received not of the fulness at first [4], but continued from grace to grace [5], until he received a fulness;

    And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first..and I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; and he received all power [6], both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him [7].

    And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful you shall receive the fulness of the record of John. I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name [8], and in due time receive of his fulness [9].

    For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father [10]; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace [11].
    (D&C 93:3-20)

    Now there is the doctrine of Christ, or the doctrine of exaltation, in a nutshell.

    [1] Compare Mosiah 15:2-3
    [2] 2 Pet 1:17
    [3] John 14:10
    [4] Heb 5:5
    [5] Heb 5:8-9
    [6] Rev 5:12-13
    [7] Col 5:19
    [8] John 20:31
    [9] D&C 76:55-56
    [10] John 17:22
    [11] John 1:16

  47. Mark Butler on October 19, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Todd W.,

    A comment on John 1:13 in particular. The most relevant scripture that comes to mind is in the Book of Mosiah:

    And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

    And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.

    Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.
    (Mosiah 27:25-28)

    Compare also Mosiah 5:7-8, Alma 7:14, and Alma 36:23-26.

  48. Jordan Barrett on October 20, 2006 at 9:37 am

    Mike (#40),
    To say the LDS canon is not polytheistic is a lie. I’m sorry, but that’s not a difficult thing to talk about. Simply read the Book of Abraham and then try and explain how “gods” (plural) doesn’t imply more than one. Also, for you to act as though the LDS canon is authoritative is very un-LDS. ;) (I apologize if I’ve assumed wrong that you’re LDS) What happened to official church statements and publications, most of which affirm three beings. Isn’t that tri-theism?

    I never objected that three divine persons wasn’t orthodox. However, you seem to be confusing “persons” with “beings.” Moreover, you’re still not orthodox. You’re asserting “homoiousios” instead of “homoousios” which was what the battles were all about. It’s not a “common” or “similar” substance, but the very SAME substance and nothing less. That’s how it was decribed that you have 3 divine persons and still maintain one God, not three.

    Mike (#42),
    It’s easy for an LDS to look at that and think “I don’t violate this.” The fundamental problem here, though, is the matter of language. When I say “God” and you say “God” we are describing two different things. We think of them differently. When you say “one God”, unless you’re really an Evangelical hiding in LDS clothing, you don’t mean what I mean. So rather than agreeing on a word, lets understand what we mean by them and flesh that out.

  49. MikeInWeHo on October 20, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    re: 48

    It seems you were responding to Clark and Mark Butler, but anyway…

    I think accusing people of lying violates the commenting rules of this blog. Hopefully the moderators will step in.

    Different readers find all kinds of things in the Standard Works: strict monotheism, modalism, tritheism, and yes even polytheism. You can see an awful lot in the Bible too. It’s really cool that Mormonism allows people to explore this stuff come to their own conclusions, and doesn’t threaten them with damnation if they turn out to be theologically misguided.

    So ironically, it turns out to be a much less theologically dictatorial religion than traditional protestantism, which threatens people with damnation if they get this stuff wrong (see how the Evangelicals view the J.W.s, for example).

  50. Blain on October 20, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    48 — I’m trying to follow you here, but it’s exceptionally difficult not to ridicule the semantic tedia in what you’re talking about. The distinction between “beings” and “persons” is that significant?

    Okay, so let me try to get this out of that minutia and make this into something that I can comprehend the significance of, because, I’ve got to tell you, this really strikes me as intellectual masturbation — it might make you feel better, but it doesn’t amount to much. Here we go.

    So, Heavenly Father and Jesus walk into a bar together, and the Holy Ghost is hanging out there with them. Heavenly Father sits on one bar stool, Jesus sits on another bar stool, the Holy Ghost helps them feel good about ordering root beer, and nobody is in tangible connection with each other, unless Jesus and Heavenly father decide to arm wrestle or just hug for a moment. But they’re all wearing “Team God — Official Member” t-shirts, indicating their unity.

    Now, does this mean that we’ve got three beings, three persons, one God, three gods in one Godhead, or what? There’s nothing I’ve been taught in the LDS Church that would get in the way of this scenario, except for the shock of any of the three being in a bar, and a lack of understanding of how to get a t-shirt on the Holy Ghost, but those aren’t important to the scenario anyhow.

    My contention has been that the action is not on whether Mormons are Trinitarian — it’s been with the nature of the body of God, especially God the Father. We hold that God has a body in the same shape as a human one that has been perfected and exalted, and that our being formed in his image is very literal. My understanding is that the mainstream Christian model is more of an Augustinian god without body, parts, passions, everywhere, nowhere, yadda, yadda. If I’m correct (or close) with that understanding, then, yeah, we can clearly say that we don’t understand the same thing when we say “God.” And then I can ask “So what? Finite, mortal, stupid beings like us can’t really understand God anyhow, so are we going to be thrown out of his heart over something beyond our capacity?”

    See, that’s why I find thise whole debate mind-numbingly stupid — it doesn’t change one thing I need to do in my life if I believe that God looks more or less like Jim Caveziel (mutatis mutandis, including my misspelling) or if I believe he looks like a huge vapory amoeba that I can’t see. I don’t see a commandment anyplace that says “Get it right with the obnoxious tedia of my nature or it’s straight to Hell for you.” I see a bunch of stuff about how I’m supposed to love God as much as I can, and to love my neighbor as much as I love me, and all kinds of ways I can show that love, but I don’t see any indication of The Great Multiple-choice Quiz in the Sky that I have to pass to come into his presence.

    If we believe differently about the nature of God, I don’t care. Not in the least. If you want to kick me out of your party over it, I don’t really care either. If your answer is “Everybody at my party says that you have to agree with us or you can’t come in,” my response is “Everybody at my party thinks you’re a dork, but they love you anyhow, so there.”

    When do we stop trying to count angels on pins, and when do we get on with the loving one another? (If you really care, the answer about the angels is 42 — no go do something nice for somebody you don’t like.)

  51. Mark Butler on October 20, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Jordan B. (#48),

    You claim that the LDS canon is polytheistic, implicitly in a way that the Bible alone is not. That is of course what the Jews (and the Greeks) of the day accused the Christians of – rampant polytheism – three different persons who were each supposed to be divine, and yet some how be one God, which was thought to be ridiculous.

    Now I have a question for you: Is social trinitarianism (as developed by the Cappadocian fathers, and long current among the Eastern orthodox) compatible with the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, or not? If it is, what scriptures in the LDS canon do you see as contrary to social trinitarianism? If not, were all those Eastern bishops who formed roughly half of the voting members of the early Christian councils out to lunch, manifest heretics or what?

    Seriously speaking, one should not have to descend into the depths of Greek philosophy the way it was understood nearly two millennia ago to determine whether a conception of God is compatible with the canon or not. Those terms you speak of – they appear no where in scripture. Now presumably as an evangelical Protestant, you hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura.

    So how is it that you and others consider the non scriptural determinations of the later patristics to be of such enormous and binding importance anyway? Is this a harbinger of a return to the utmost Catholic veneration for tradition? How Protestant can such an inordinate non-scriptural loyalty to a philosophic, and arguably counter-scriptural formulation of theology be anyway? It puzzles me.

    Nonetheless, if we are to descend into such debates, it seems ousia means being, essence, or substance. Now in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies everything of the same species or type was considered to share a common essence or substance. Now as it is obvious that one can make different types of objects, or beings out of the same material, it was supposed that when an object was created, it was infused with a common substance or essence that was shared with all objects of the same type, and when the object was destroyed, the essence dissapeared out of the object as well, but was still held in common with all others of the same type.

    Now William of Ockham, who had such an enormous influence on Protestant theology that he is often considered to be the First Protestant (despite preceding Martin Luther by two hundred years), said that particular idea – the idea that essences were unitary things – was “the worst error of the philosophers” – and developed a rather more subtle metaphysics (now known as conceptualism) that did not contain the concept of substantive essences at all, contributing to a revolution in theology that ultimately culminated in the Protestant Reformation.

    So it would seem that you and many others want to defend a binding, non-scriptural interpretation of the Bible that was developed three centuries after the Apostles passed away using a metaphysics that has been considered in most quarters, certainly Protestant ones, to be strictly obsolete, incorrect, and unsustainable for over seven centuries now.

    That is not to say that such a conception cannot be remedied – in fact the neo-Platonists themselves (especially in the East) often demonstrated such admirable flexibility. But many Christians, ironically more often Protestants than Catholics these days want to defend a strict interpretation of Greek philosophy that was current in Greek thought about 2400 years ago and in the Western Church about 1600 years ago. That is more orthodox than the Orthodox, and in a sad way.

    It is quite true that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost must share the same indwelling spirit of glory, must act in perfect harmony, must relate in divine perichoresis in order to be one, but what I have just described is social trinitarianism, and I should ask why, from a scriptural perspective, you don’t think that is good enough?

  52. Mark Butler on October 20, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Jordan B.,

    One more thing. How you you explain the following?:

    The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

    Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

    Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
    (John 10:33-36)

    Jesus here is quoting from Psalm 82 which reads as follows:

    God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

    I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
    (Psalm 82)

    That sounds like a pretty authoritative endorsement of something you apparently consider to be perversely polytheistic to me. Do you have an alternative explanation for that?

  53. Jordan Barrett on October 20, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    Re: 49,
    Call it an accusation, a position, a statement, or whatever. What is wrong with me calling someone out on something? What if I said Joseph Smith was really a woman? Are you not allowed to say I’m wrong, making it up, or lying? Sorry, I just don’t understand your logic here.

  54. Jordan Barrett on October 20, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    Blain (#50),
    I found your reply very amusing. What I gathered, and I’m sorry if I heard/read you wrongly, is that it matters how we live and not what we believe. True, God is ultimately incomprehensible. But has he not revealed himself in Jesus, and thus in Scripture? I doubt you would go so far as to say you can’t know a single thing about him. So if we can have some sort of significant knowledge about who he is, this is important, for he’s God.

    I think it matters greatly what you think about God. Because Mormons believe he has a body, as you said, this effects the LDS view of being in the image of God. In my opinion, this also effects what LDS believe they will one day be. Call it an Augustinian god, as I would call the LDS god “Joseph’s god”, it makes no difference. I believe in a non-physical God, while you believe in a very material God. I think this makes a difference. And if God has revealed himsel to us clearly enough to know who he is to one degree or another, then I believe one of us has it right while the other simply believes in an idol. Just read the OT and see how important it was for Israel to worship the true God.

    Ah – persons and beings. Typically, LDS can say that there are three beings and three persons. The terms are interchangeable. Christians separate the terms, that is, there is one being and three persons. Each person is not a separate being, but completely possesses the fulness of deity, of which there is only one. Perhaps I just confused you even more, but I also don’t expect you to get this right away. It’s hard for me to grasp how LDS can use the terms interchangeably, and so I imagine the reverse has to be difficult as well.

    Sorry if I’ve mutilated your view.

  55. Jordan Barrett on October 20, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    Re 51,
    I actually have no problems with Social Trinitarianism. Those who take a more Western (or Augustinian) approach can at times border on modalism, while social trinitarians can easily border on tritheism, hence why I think this resonates and is more popular among some LDS.

    Honestly, you made it very clear – more than once, or even twice! – that you think Greek philosophy is a bunch of hooey, that Christians took too much from it, and thus we’re corrupt and wrong in our view of God. It appears you’ve studied this, and so I’m not going to waste my time thinking I could one, convince you otherwise, or two, have a conversation with you where you have an open mind. I’d be interested what sources you’ve read on early partristics and the creeds. That’s always very telling.

    Re #52,
    All I can simply say is read the broader context of Psalm 82. Look shortly after in Psalm 86:10 – “For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.” Alone? No others? Then read Psalm 96:5 – “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” All of these “gods” are mere idols. Perhaps you don’t buy it, but I can never get around “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:10, among others in Is 40-48).

    I have to pound out some reading over the next few weeks, so the likelyhood of a reply from me is slim. Thanks for the great discussion.

  56. Mark Butler on October 20, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Jordan B.,

    We also only believe there is one fulness of divinity. Read D&C 93. However the use of the term being to describe that fulness it is not current among us. That is philosophy speak. We generally use the term being to mean living thing – mortal, immortal, or divine – which is standard English usage.

    Please name even one place in the Holy Scriptures where being is used in the sense you describe. It doesn’t appear to be used anywhere in either the personal or philosophical senses.

  57. Mark Butler on October 20, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    Jordan B.,

    In regard to Psalm 82, that is an unusually weak argument compared with the direct evidence.

    In regard to absolutist Greek philosophy I certainly did not describe it the way you attribute to me, even if it is enormously inadequate for theological purposes, something that Eastern theologians realized very early on, and which Western theologians started to recognize as early as Abelard (1079-1142).

    The problem is the Catholic tradition has dug themself into a very deep hole with regard to the cult of tradition and infallibility, and then many of the Protestants, no sooner than having concluded half a millennium trying to free themselves from such corrupt traditions, realize they are not any wiser than those old Catholic philosophers from which they sprang, and run back to the shelter of the familiar hole they were so eager to get out of not so many centuries before.

  58. Jordan Barrett on October 20, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    you have an unnatural amount of historical knowledge for most LDS I meet. I take it as a compliment that you’ve studied it so well, despite where I may disagree with your interpretation of the events and their outcomes.

    Despite you find my simplistic answer weak, I find your interpretations of early church history and the Trinity to be gross oversimplifications. If it is as simple as you make it out to be, and we’ve all gone off the deep end (or been on the wrong road for so long) it saddens me to think we’ve been idiots for so long. I believe if you study LDS history and the development of it’s theology you will see more holes, if not just as many as you’re accusing Christians of, that I think you should spend time addressing.

    As I’ve said before, I’d be interested in what you’ve read on this subject. With such strong opposition towards the development of Christian theology, I have my hunches about your sources.

    In #56, either you are trying to corner me (my guess), or you don’t know the answer. I take it you’re not satisfied with your answers, so why bother? If you’ve read so much historical theology, you’d understand the answer to that question.

    I’m done here.

  59. Mark Butler on October 20, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Jordan B.,

    The question is rhetorical. Being is a common word in English, so it is difficult for me to check in a hurry, but from memory (and a quick verification) the King James Version never uses the term to refer either to persons or to God as a whole. We tend to be partial to words that actually appear in the scriptures.

    I have read a variety of sources, and of course there is a diversity of LDS views about what went wrong in the Apostasy, when, and why. Here I am speaking of the theological weaknesses of absolutist philosophy and metaphysics, which fortunately only dominates to a degree because it is riddled with the most explicit (and being absolute, irresolvable) contradictions imaginable.

    The Eastern theologians realized this early on, and practically gave up on the sort of rational theology the West is famous for. Perhaps a better strategy would have been to retreat to the spiritual, non-abolutist metaphysics of the Hebrews, according to the language the Old Testament was originally written in. Of course, to a degree they did just that – Neo-Platonism is a spiritualization of a rigid and inflexible Aristotelian Platonism.

    The problem was the West both back in the fourth century and again several centuries later, was enamored of philosophical absolutism (Aristotle, et al) to the degree that they were corrupted by it, making subjects like the Trinity little more than a collection of riddles, a state which prevails in most formal theological circles to this very day.

    Now one of the first things one should know about the Prophet Joseph Smith is that he had very little patience with the irrational and the incomprehensible. And isn’t that the very same reason why Arminianism made such big waves in the Protestant world both in the 18th century and the century following? A simple restoration to basic theological sanity, and a wholesale overthrow of the more perverse, ridiculous, and incomprehensible conclusions of scholarly Calvinism?

    The spirit of Mormonism is more in the same line. We don’t strictly care whether we can understand exactly how or why just yet, but we refuse to believe in the insane on the world of a handful of philosophers.

    Now despite the occasional insanity there was and is an enormous amount of good in the broad sweep of Christianity – but where there have been errors, the blame is almost always to be laid at the feet of those who decided that the conclusions of the scholarly should be shoved down the throat of all, on pain of recantation, excommunication or death.

    That is what makes such creeds abominable, not what they contain per se, but rather the legislation of mortal philosophy as the ultimate and binding meaning of the word of God. Protestantism had the potential to get beyond that, but almost overnight Calvin and his followers had established a new binding creed every bit as abominable as the one it replaced.

    Believe the way we do or die – Servetus found that out the hard way. And even today, any theologian who dares suggest the the words of the Bible be taken seriously in a manner contrary to the creed of John Calvin is subject to excommunication from organizations such as the ETS.

    And where does the ETS get its theological authority from? An warmed-over version of Augistinian absolutism, a throwback to the fourth century? That doesn’t sound like sola scriptura to me. It sounds like resting on the tradition of a series of philosophers, rather than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Now that is indeed a tragedy.

  60. Clark on October 20, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    Mike: I certainly hope the LDS are still violating #1, 2, and most of the rest. My opinion is irrelevant anyway. How do you think the Brethren would answer your question: “What lines do you think we violate?�

    Mike, “catholic” in the sense here simply means universal. In that sense what Mormons and Catholics (in the sect sense) disagree over is what the catholic faith is. Mormons assert that it is what Joseph Smith revealed. So no, we don’t disagree with #1. Indeed by demanding adherence to a faith (something we’re often taken to task over by non-Mormons) we fit it quite well.

    In any case the “catholic faith” of 1 & 2 is defined starting in line 3.

    So don’t take catholic to entail the religious sect.

    Mike: Why on earth do you want to harmonize the Restored Gospel with these creeds anyway?

    I just think it interesting that a common charge is false. The problem is that the meaning of the Trinity is commonly misunderstood.

    Mike: the Church has defined its understanding of God in direct opposition to the Nicene and Athanasian creeds.

    Where is the difference? Asserting that there is a difference means nothing if you can’t point to where the difference is.

    Once again, don’t get me wrong. We have strongly differing theological positions. It’s just the Trinity, in my opinion, isn’t where our difference lies.

    What I think you are doing is noticing that Catholics and Mormons believe different things about God and assuming that entails the Trinity. But that, in my view, simply is a mistake.

    Mark: However, Joseph Smith taught that the person of our Heavenly Father was himself an exalted man. As an exalted man, that means that as an individual no heavenly father can be considered the fount of all grace, meaning that the doctrine of Christ (receiving glory of the Father grace for grace) outlined in D&C 93 applies to our Father as well.

    One should note that the Father could be an exalted man in the sense Jesus was an exalted man. So I think that the Father being exalted does not entail that he can’t be the source of all grace. Indeed some (say Blake Ostler) argue he is. I take a more traditional reading of the KFD. But I think both positions are acceptable within Mormon theology.

    Jordan: To say the LDS canon is not polytheistic is a lie. I’m sorry, but that’s not a difficult thing to talk about. Simply read the Book of Abraham and then try and explain how “gods� (plural) doesn’t imply more than one.

    The issue is what the reference of gods in that section is. One can talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as gods yet One God. I think that the sense in the Book of Abraham is fully compatible with that view.

    Jordan: I never objected that three divine persons wasn’t orthodox. However, you seem to be confusing “persons� with “beings.� Moreover, you’re still not orthodox. You’re asserting “homoiousios� instead of “homoousios� which was what the battles were all about. It’s not a “common� or “similar� substance, but the very SAME substance and nothing less. That’s how it was decribed that you have 3 divine persons and still maintain one God, not three.

    One can’t point to “beings” as being the issue of contention without first unpacking what a being is. This question of being isn’t part of the formal creeds. However since Mormons believe that all three members of the Godhead are uncreated we don’t believe any of them are beings in the sense that forms the background to the creeds.

    Where we differ from or other Christian friends is over creation ex nihilo. That is we dispute whether any intelligent being is a being in the sense of being that one finds in the Christianity of late antiquity. Now our rejection of creation ex nihilio undoubtedly makes us heretical to say Catholics. But it doesn’t mean that our beliefs aren’t compatible with the Trinity.

    That’s really the only point of this thread – to suggest that while there are huge theological differences over the nature of God, contrary to popular opinion these differences aren’t over the matter of the Trinity.

  61. Blain on October 20, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    54 — I think you’ve overstated my point a tad, so let me rein it in a bit and we’ll be close. It is not important that we understand the nature of God completely, because we can’t. It is good for us to try to understand God to the best of our ability, just as it is good for us to try to be like God to the best of our ability. The best of our ability may not amount to a bucket of warm spit, but it’s all we have, so we need to give it. In the end, being right on any of these points will be less important than if we gave our best to try to be and do right.

    Your point is that one of us might be right, and the other wrong. My point is that we’re both wrong, and both right, and there’s no way we can be very sure where we are wrong and where we are right. Time spent trying to work out between us highly nuanced distinctions is time we could spend doing something good and worthwhile which uniquivocally we are told we should do. Beating each other up over these details is contrary to what we’ve been told we should do.

    I can understand the reason why the Nicene Creed was important at the time of the Council. I do not understand how the political problems of fledgling Christianity in an Imperial Roman setting need to have an impact on how we treat each other as we try to understand the nature of God. Which, I guess, is my way of making clear that the concerns of mainstream Christianity aren’t my concerns, and is not only an explanation but a manifestation of why I don’t fit in mainstream Christianity. Which doesn’t concern me, because I don’t see mainstreamness as important.

    And I really don’t think having a different understanding of God qualifies as believing in a different God. Our incomplete and flawed understandings of God don’t change who he is at all. If we have sought him with all our hearts, we will find him, no matter how weirdly we may have conceived him along the way.

    But thanks for at least playing along with my notion that the action isn’t in the Trinity/non-Trinity thing, and has more to do with the nature of God. It helps. Because, if all it was was the Trinity, I could make our differences disappear by saying “When I say “Godhead” I mean what you mean by “God” and when I say “separate beings” I mean what you mean by “separate people,” and we’d be done. The problem is much more in whether you can fit God into a breadbox without cutting him up than it is over semantic games like the Trinity.

    Which, as I said, is, at best, a tertiary concern to me. Somewhere after “have I got my home teaching appointment for this month” and before “I wonder what’s on TV”.

  62. Todd Wood on October 21, 2006 at 12:13 am

    Hey, I just finished reading this discussion between Jordan and Mark. Mark wrote today . . . any theologian who dares suggest the words of the Bible be taken seriously in a manner contrary to the creed of John Calvin is subject to excommunication from organizations such as ETS.

    Mark, may I ask who are those theologians you are thinking of? Would Clark Pinnock be one of those men on the tip of your tongue? And would you consider his present teaching within the bounds of historic, Christian orthodoxy? And what about others?

    Certainly, within evangelicalism there is controversy between Arminians and Calvinists. But I especially sense hostility from LDS toward Calvin’s teachings, sourced all the way back to Augustine. What makes the doctrine so threatening?

    Mark, I am not well versed in the philosophers or perhaps Jordan in his reading of early church fathers, but I have spent the last four years in Romans exposition in Idaho Falls. Sola scriptura is crucial to me. I am comfortable in saying that neither Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and even brother Jordan on this thread is my final authority.

    My initial impression is that you are insinuating Jordan has been duped by philosophers. Unfair in my estimation. But of course, this tagging with Greek philosophers is what I have been reading with redundance in current LDS literature. I would like to see more serious engagement with Paul’s gospel in the book of Romans.

    Are current LDS profs really letting Paul’s words in Romans speak to today’s audience without any lens?

    Out of all the LDS profs’ papers that I have read in the latest symposium, Robert Millet is the probably the strongest in saying that he loves Paul. He quotes MacArthur freely, mostly in appreciation that MacArthur is not antinomian. But is Millet open to MacArthur’s God? Hmmm. I am just musing tonight.

    I am an absolutist in the sense of refusing any redefinition of God outside of holy writ, as it is to my heart, supralogic in explanation of Him. What philosophers today are promoting this incomprehensible concept of one God but individual distinctive as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I have mentally understood Joseph’s conception of God, Clark Pinnock’s conception of God, etc. and etc.; but I have not as yet been able to wrap my mind around the God portrayed in the Bible.

    This reveals two things:
    1. My mind is puny.
    2. The God portrayed in the Bible blows away anything that I have read or seen elsewhere. In fact, The totality of God is way beyond the human, visual conception (John 1:18).

    Guys, again tonight, I just get excited thinking about it all. I just want to drop to my knees and worship.

    btw, moderators, thanks for letting me share.

  63. Mark Butler on October 21, 2006 at 12:21 am


    Just in case it isn’t obvious to others, let me re-affirm that I believe that Joseph Smith could not have been more clear in the King Follett Discourse that the doctrine of Christ (such as is outlined in D&C 93) applies to the person of the Father as much as it does to the person of the Son.

    But that point, while seemingly an obvious consequence of the doctrine of exaltation, is certainly not a formal doctrine of the Church. Charles Penrose, who was an apostle, was uncomfortable with it, for example. James E. Talmage, another apostle, was uncomfortable with other aspects of the KFD. And certainly Brigham Young seemed to depart from it on a point or two.

    But the unity of our faith is not based on lock step compliance with even prophetic commentary on such mysteries, but rather on the authority of the Holy Priesthood, particularly that derived from quorum unity, to guide the fundamental doctrines and practices of the Church by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. The Church is not a theosophical society. That is what web logs are for, right?

  64. Blake on October 21, 2006 at 12:50 am

    Just FYI, the third volume of my work Exploring Mormon Thought discusses the issues of the Trinity/Godhead and the relation of the Head God or “one true God” or “God and Father of Jesus Christ” to other divine persons at length. I critique both the Latin Trinity and the Social Trinity from an LDS perspective and argue that the Social Trinity works only within the LDS context of freely chosen relationships of love (and I don’t see how any classical ‘christian’ could adopt the view of freely chosen relationships among the members of the Trinity for numerous reasons). In the end, the classical Latin or Social trinity theories are incoherent. I also critique the mysterian view suggested by Todd (i.e., who assert that we must believe in the Trinity as taught by the Bible or otherwise to be saved but we cannot really grasp or understand it) at some length. (I don’t have a lot of patience with those who want to excommunicate LDS from “Christianity” as they understand it on the basis of different beliefs in the Trinity when their own views logically fall out as either modalistic or tri-theistic and radically diverge from scriptural views to boot as I see it and argue). It will be out this spring.

  65. Mark Butler on October 21, 2006 at 1:00 am

    Todd W.,

    As a theological exercise, and in many ways also as a practical exercise I find an enormous amount to admire in the theology of John Calvin and his successors. Other than the you will be damned to hell if you don’t believe exactly the way we do part, I think his conclusions were at the very least an improvement over the Paris theology of the fifteenth century, which was an unmitigated disaster in many respects, in my opinion as a consequence of the philosophical incapacity of the scholars of the era to deal with the door opened by Abelard and Ockham, among others.

    But the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles did not need sophisticated metaphysics to come to a generally unequalled understanding of the mysteries of godliness, because they were taught by the Spirit, in the manner the Lord has provided. By all evidence the philosophy of men is still not sophisticated enough to give a coherent and complete rational explication of those mysteries.

    In some ways it is far more sophisticated than it was, but most Christian theology is still crippled by Greek absolutism of the Aristotelian variety. This absolutism, when applied to the principles taught in Scripture was understood from very early on to lead to a host of irreconcilable paradoxes, leading in certain Eastern quarters to a veritable reveling in the mystery of it – a worship not according to mysteries that one might be initiated into in due time (which was the understanding of the Hebrews), but a worship of a God that could not be understood in principle.

    Now the problem with worhshipping the incomprehensible is that it provides little practical guidance for many of the most basic gospel questions – so instead of deciding by inspiration as the situtation dictates, a committee gets appointed and they decide the issue one way or another for all time, by majority vote according to the wisdom of men.

    We do not decide things that way – if a precept is not clearly apparent, by the gift of prophecy and revelation to each and every member of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and is announced as such, it does not become a binding doctrine of the Church. That is a much more conservative principle than was applied in the early Christian councils – it keeps us from a phenomenon I call theological lock-in, being led down strange roads by the scholastic consensus of any given era.

    Now, when I say absolutism, I mean it in a very particular philosophical and metaphysical sense, a sense so sterile that if strictly applied it reduces God to an impersonal collection of static abstractions. Every Christian I know (whether Protestant, LDS, or Catholic) denies the strict logical implications of Aristotelian absolutism I bring up are valid constraints on their or their denomination’s faith, and yet these very derivations from the backbone of the theology of the West.

    Now while I do not agree with them on every point, I was indeed referring to Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. I beleive that the Lord has a degree of foreknowledge far higher than many open theists appear to suggest, according to the power that he has unto the fulfilling of all his words.

    Other than that, I think their approach to Christian theology (e.g. ranking the character attributes of God such as his love and passibility above a strictly absolutist interpretations of the classical omnis) is a breath of fresh air.

    Now I should say that pondering the nature of God is an indescribable experience, and I wish I could explain properly how all this seems to fit together (Protestant, Catholic and LDS theology each), but a certain degree of stubbornness and incredulity all around makes even the suggestion of a proper reconcilation an uphill battle. It is not, you are wrong and here is why, it is what you say does not agree with our traditions, so go away. That is a sad state of affairs, in my opinion.

  66. Blake on October 21, 2006 at 1:07 am

    For a really excellent discussion and critique of various classical (traditional) views of the Trinity, I suggest Dale Tuggy’s blog found here: I believe that he demonstrates fairly clearly the scriptural and logical bankruptcy of the traditional approaches and the creeds.

  67. Todd Wood on October 21, 2006 at 1:32 am

    Mark . . . just simply trying to understand your last post. For LDS, which carries the most authoritative weight on setting the bounds for definition of the Trinity? D&C 93 or current quorum unity? Would Blake’s new book really carry any authority at all if it only utilizes past prophetic commentary? Could you direct me to any possible links to the current utterances by church authorities on the Trinity?

    And Blake, I appreciate you sharing this information. I don’t know you. But I will show patience by reading in the spring what you have to say. I am sure those in the local Deseret can probably help me when it comes out.

    Blake, if I used my own fallible, human illustrations to explain the God of the Bible, it probably would logically fall out as either modalistic or tri-theistic and radically diverge from scriptural views to boot. That is why I don’t use them. I would be a bumbling fool to try gathering the whole ocean in a sewing thimble.

    I am like a little child. I will have eternity in heaven to know God. But with each room of treasure that God opens in further helping me joyfully discover and savor with new knowledge, there is still the infinite lining up of rooms beyond. I will never be in such a position to offer the same.

    The Trinity is beyond me (and may I add, one among many other Scriptural truths about God). I can’t describe to you the Trinity. But as a little child in faith, I can humbly, sincerely say, “Nope, God is not that.”

    thinking of heart issues . . .

  68. Todd Wood on October 21, 2006 at 1:34 am

    Mark that would be post 63

  69. Mark Butler on October 21, 2006 at 2:31 am


    That is a complex question that doesn’t come up all that often in practice because the rule of unanimous consent in this case means the Church rarely if ever establishes obscure theological precepts as fundamental (i.e. binding) doctrines of the Church. Beyond the fundamentals of the gospel well attested in scripture, the Church is very much practice oriented. Indeed we say that the practice of the Church is our intrepretation of the doctrine.

    Preaching against the practices of the Church is a much more likely way to end up subject to Church discipline than any theology that is consistent with the scriptures and sustains the practices and the authority of the Priesthood, notwithstanding the principle that the prophets and apostles do indeed comprise the teaching authority of the Church.

    Like Judaism, we are often much more concerned with righteous conduct (orthopraxy) than with systematic theology (orthodoxy) – we believe that if we sincerely keep the commandments, the Lord will teach us by the Spirit [1], and further that it generally doesn’t matter what one believes in the here and now on this theological point or that, as long as one abides in the covenant according to his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and testimony of the prophets whom he has sent.

    Now if there were to be a significant advance in the canon of the Church, it would happen like this. The President of the Church, who is the presiding high priest of the Holy Priesthood here on earth, would receive a revelation of some type. If it was a extensive revelation he would have to write it down.

    Then he would approach his brethren in the the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and they would ponder and pray about it. When it it was apparent by the spirit of prophecy and revelation to each and every one of those fifteen men that the proposed change or extension to the canon was indeed inspired of God in every respect, they would either publish it as a statement or proclamation, or if it was significant enough to be added to the canon they would present it at general conference for a sustaining vote, according to the law of common consent.

    The latter vote does not have to be unanimous, such a rule being impractical for a congregational of millions. Substantial dissent would likely keep a revelation out of the canon, though not out of the doctrine of the Church, according to the teaching authority aforementioned.

    Of course it is almost unheard of that anything that is unanimously supported by each member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve should fail to gain a near unanimous sustaining vote in general conference, or in a solemn assembly of the Church, according to the witness that the vast majority of members (certainly active members) have of the divine calling of their leaders.

    The best reference for the ecclesiology of the Latter-day Saints is D&C 107, by the way.

    [1] 2 Pet 1:2-8

  70. Clark on October 21, 2006 at 3:39 am

    Mark, I’m trying to keep open what various honest faithful thinkers say and what is acceptable within the range of LDS thought as opposed to various exegesical claim. I do intend to come back to you on these points. I tend to approach the scriptures with an eye primarily to the range of interpretations that are reasonable rather than “the one reading.” So I often will disagree with you over what is clear. When I have more time I hope to discuss some of the readings you’ve brought up at M*. I’m just too swamped.

    Blake, ditto for you. I still plan on doing a chapter by chapter reading of your second volume. (I just reread the first few chapters) When I can do that I can’t say. But I eagerly await your third volume. I was for a long time pretty much in the “Trinity is incoherent camp” but I changed my mind a few years back. Of course that’s just a logical issue. Still I did like Cartwright’s “The Logical Problem of the Trinity.” After discussing it with a few theologian friends though I think he made some simple reading errors.

    Todd, you might check out Jim Faulconer’s commentary on Romans published by FARMS. Jim, of course, is a blogger here at T&S as well as being a well known BYU philosophy professor.

  71. Mark Butler on October 21, 2006 at 8:49 am


    I agree that there are a range of common, respected systematic interpretations of the scriptures. However, I think that often readers are practically compelled to adopt an unnatural reading on certain points because that is what their current understanding of the system of the gospel leads them to, and rather than being the natural interpretation of what a passage means in its local context – not just a single sentence, but that of a chapter or so.

    Now in my opinion, non-obvious readings of the scriptures are not so much the problem as inconsistency in the way the scriptures are read – I believe the scriptures are purposely written in such a way that ultimately there is only one coherent interpretation of them, however non-obvious certain aspects may seem to be at first.

    However, enroute to a fulness of gospel understanding, the most obvious way we may know that our indiviudual interpretations are limited is where they contradict scriptural passages in a way we do not have an adequate explanation for. That is what I believe Joseph Smith meant to indicate when he said “through proving of contraries truth is made manifest”.

    Theological legislation, or binding creedalism shuts this process down cold, and that is why I believe it is an abomination, not withstanding the merits of the content of any particular creed, which may be significant.

    Despite its rather serious problems in certain respects, I love to read the Westminister Confession for example. It is part of our heritage. It has lead many to a greater devotion and faith in Christ, a depth of devotion that I think we often do not give enough credit to. It is only in those areas where people use it to turn the gospel of Christ on its head that we should have much to complain about. We might say the same of any mortal systematic theology, which is bound to be inadequate in some respect or another.

  72. Ben H on October 21, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Hey, interesting discussion! Mark, I think you have done a great job of presenting a lot of key points. I think sometimes you could be more concise, which helps to keep the thread readable. This thing has really gotten long!

    Jordan, your response to Mark on whether Mormon scriptures are polytheistic was interesting: you basically did not contest whether Christ’s statement (apparently quoting the psalm) was polytheistic. You just said, “Well, look at these other statements.” But I say the same thing about LDS scriptures. The Book of Mormon (and most other LDS scripture, which includes the Bible) is about as emphatic as the Bible in its monotheism. I cite several strongly monotheistic passages in my post, and others have come up on the thread. I believe statements about “gods” (plural) in either the Bible of LDS scriptures should be interpreted in light of the many strongly monotheistic passages. So, it seems to me Mormon scripture (which includes the Bible) is monotheistic in more or less the way the Bible (considered on its own) is.

    What do I mean, “interpreted”? I don’t mean we say they are false. Rather, I think we need to think about in what sense multiple beings who are gods can be one–as in “one God”. Voila the classic trinitarian puzzle.

    Mike (#41), you are simply waving aside all the interesting questions. I think Mormons have crucial things right about the relationship between the Father, Son, and HG, where traditional Christians have been wrong for centuries. But who says they are reading the Nicene creed correctly? They misread the Bible; why not the Nicene or Athanasian creed too? That said, I don’t for a minute advocate adopting the word Trinity for general use among Mormons. To do so would invite lumping us together with traditional misunderstandings of God in just the sort of way you are lumping my post. Note that even in my post, I keep referring to the F, S, and HG, rather than just saying “the Trinity”.

    You say (#43), “Why on earth do you want to harmonize the Restored Gospel with these creeds anyway? You can piourette through the language all you want, but from the First Vision through to very recent conference talks, the Church has defined its understanding of God in direct opposition to the Nicene and Athanasian creeds.”

    I say, why is it any better to define our doctrine in opposition to the traditional creeds than to harmonize it with them? It seems to me both are the wrong way to go. If you will look again at my post, I make that exact point about defining ourselves in opposition. I don’t think we should define ourselves either for or against the traditional creeds. Rather (call me crazy), I think we should define our doctrines by our own scriptures! which I argue we have neglected in our efforts to avoid association with traditional views.

  73. Ben H on October 21, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    As for the question of lying (“To say the LDS canon is not polytheistic is a lie”–#48), I don’t think anyone needs to exercise moderator authority for an occasional misstep, but lie is a term that includes an accusation of bad faith, and such accusations usually obstruct dialogue rather than helping it progress. When you say someone is lying, you are saying they can’t possibly have a good reason for what they are saying. Well, if you aren’t willing to hear the reasons why someone is saying something, then there is no point in having a conversation.

    Jordan, what would you think if I said that anyone who says the Bible is monotheistic is lying because in the Bible Christ says “Ye are gods”? Hello! That would be absurd. But what you did is pretty nearly the same thing. The main difference is that since you are not LDS, I don’t expect you to know what our scriptures say or mean, and your comment shows that you don’t.

  74. Blake on October 21, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    Todd queeries: Are current LDS profs really letting Paul’s words in Romans speak to today’s audience without any lens? The answer is clearly “no” since it is impossible to do. Just reading Paul even in the Greek is overlaying a lens on the text that one who lives in the 21st century necessarily overlays on everything he or she touches. No evangelical is doing it without a lens (nor could they do so). However, I discuss Paul, the New Perspective on Paul and Paul’s notions of justification and the typical Protestant views of imputed righteousness (wich I reject as both unscriptural and illogical) in four chapters of vol. 2 of my books. We are saved by grace and judged by works — and this is a very consistent view throughout all LDS scripture as well as in Paul’s writings (and writings throughout Second Temple Judaism as well).

  75. Jordan Barrett on October 21, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    you show a vast knowledge of events, people, and topics throughout church history, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think you actually understand why things occured as they did. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I think you’re way off. Your views of Augustine, Calvin, and others are far-fetched and deserve to be reassessed fairly and more thoroughly. I encourage you to pick up some sources that people like myself would actually read. Your arguments and assessments are even worse than my liberal and postmodern friends. Again, and for the third time, I’m curious what you’ve been reading. Perhaps I’ll start basing all of my beliefs about LDS and their developments on just the Tanners. Maybe then we can talk more.

  76. Jordan Barrett on October 21, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    Ben (#72),
    I’m not here to contest, but very simply, I don’t think it’s polytheistic. My post implied that rather than making it explicit – sorry for that. Are you trying to say that Mormons are actually monotheistic just because the BoM is very monotheistic in places? I get frustrated when LDS harp on Christians for not believing in three Gods (supposedly taught in the Bible), yet when we say Mormons aren’t monotheists we get railed as if we’ve never heard of the BoM. To my knowledge, the Mormon church (I’m not excluding individuals here, but looking at the church holistically) doesn’t really have a systematic theology or a hermeneutic to go by. Therefore, how can LDS reconcile the Book of Abraham and monotheistic BoM scriptures? How can they reconcile Isaiah 40-48 with D&C 132? I just don’t see this happening. I think Blake’s attempts are the best, but I’m still unsatisfied.

    I get what you’re saying, and I apologize for my misunderstanding. I shouldn’t have worded it that way.
    I will leave with this – yes, I’m not Mormon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what your Scriptures say. I just highly disagree with your interpretations. I am constantly accused of believing in an extra-biblical and hellenized God, while I see LDS brining plenty of extra-biblical concepts to the plate when they read their Bibles. What LDS try and say their Scriptures mean comes off sometimes as if they are lying. Again, I shouldn’t word it that way, but some of the things I hear are so absurd that I don’t know what to do with myself. For example, I consistently hear “I believe there are three Gods that are one God.” What? Huh? This is more absurd than how LDS see one God and three persons. If I say my blue bike is really red, and you say “no, it’s blue”, I could just write you off and say you don’t know what I mean or what I’m saying. But I don’t think that’s being very fair. I simply disagree – it’s not that I don’t understand. Don’t be so quick to write me off.

    Blake, I’m looking forward to your next volume.

  77. JWL on October 22, 2006 at 12:34 am

    Blake –

    No, say it ain’t so! Social trinitarianism isn’t on the right track? You wouldn’t wear one of my buttons (see comment 14)?

  78. Blake on October 22, 2006 at 12:58 am

    JWL re: #77: I believe that Social Trinitarianism is the right track! I’m simply asserting that Social Trinitarianism that is based on truly loving relationships among the divine persons doesn’t work within the context of classical thought because the divine persons are necessarily one; they have no choice about being in relationship (if indeed one could call what there is “between” the divine persons a genuine relation at all — and I have grave doubts that it can). However, I believe that Social Trinitarianism works within the context of LDS thought because the relation between Father and Son and HG is chosen; it is voluntary and a matter of covenant. I argue at some length that loving relationships must always leave the beloved free to say “no” to the relationship, and no classical monotheistic view can do that. On the other hand, the “monotheism” of the biblical documents (at least many of them) is not a metaphysical monotheism of the type urged in traditional christian thought but rather a view that there is Most High God surrounded by others of the same species called gods and sons of God. In this sense, the OT and the NT are both polytheistic because they admit of more than one distinct being or person referred to as “divine” or “god,” though they uniformly hold the place of honor, worship and ultimate obeisance for the Most High God. It must always be remembered that “monotheism” is a modern philosophical construct — it is a term that never appears in any scriptural document. Moreover, there has been an incredible number of studies on the various concepts of monotheism and how god is one in the OT and NT, and it is a general consensus that there was never a strict or metaphysical monotheism of the type now taught in virtually all Catholic and Protestant theologies.

    Jordan re: #76: Thanks Jordan, I trust that it will not disappoint. Why are you still unsatisfied?

  79. Mark Butler on October 22, 2006 at 1:04 am

    Jordan B.,

    I am sure discussing the particular merits of Calvin’s or Augustine’s theological absolutism is beyond the license we have been given here, although I would be pleased to discuss it elsewhere. My views in these matters are derived from a general study of the best sources that were available to me – on Calvinism in particular by considering the merits of what I gather from Calvin’s Institutes and the Westminster Confession relative to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and what I know of the scholarly theology that immediately preceded Calvin’s time. As I said there is a lot of good to be said about Calvinism – in some ways it shows a greater fidelity to the the scriptures than Thomism, in other ways less.

    But I must say that I find reading anything after the manner of Tanner style hyper-antagonism to be a painful experience at best, and would not be inclined to trust such material in any case. My conclusions on matters such as these are my own, not those I read out of a book. And I would hope for the same diligence of any other.

  80. Blake on October 22, 2006 at 1:07 am

    BTW, who wrote the Mormon wiki entry on modalism linked by Aaron in # 5? It is both misleading and terrible. In fact, it seems to mirror Aaron’s own view. Did Huggins or Aaron write it? And if so, Aaaron, did you cite your own assertions to prove that you were correct based on some authority? Can anyone here correct it and make it actually reflect the the LDS scriptures it purports to interpret?

  81. Mark Butler on October 22, 2006 at 1:29 am

    I concur with Blake. That entry is a horrible violation of the NPOV or NMPOV (Neutral Mormon point of view) rule. Now I could say a lot about why I believe all of that evidence is intended to lead us to a doctrine that Joseph Smith referred to in passing in the King Follett Discourse and which seems to leap out of the pages of Hebrews, but that would not be a neutral point of view either, but rather a hotly disputed one.

  82. Jordan Barrett on October 22, 2006 at 1:37 am

    Blake, have you read any of Larry Hurtado? He has a lot of good stuff to say on Jewish monotheism and how Jesus fit into that in early Christianity. If you have I’d be interested on some brief thoughts.

    I hope to have things cleared up in your next volume, but from what I’ve read of your work and heard from you in person I’m dissatisfied on your interpretations of various passages, such as Deut 6:4 or the often-quoted (by Evangelicals to LDS) passages in Isaiah 40-48. Perhaps my lenses are glued to my face, but I cannot see those in any other way but teaching one God in the sense that LDS would not seem to agree with. I wish I could write more, but reading calls. I’ve already been on here more than I wanted to.

    my Tanner comment was more sarcasm than anything. I’m glad to hear that you don’t think Calvinism all that bad. ;) Is there any way I could contact you by email? I’m not sure how to do that here.

  83. Jordan Barrett on October 22, 2006 at 1:42 am

    Blake and Mark,
    that is Aaron’s wiki, and Huggins hasn’t been a part of it. Also, that means it’s not a “Mormon” wiki, and thus it doesn’t follow a NPOV or NMPOV.

  84. Mark Butler on October 22, 2006 at 1:45 am

    It seems that the governing faith of is not Morminism at all, but rather a particular brand of Protestantism. That can be easily seen by reading the Statement of Faith, notably points one and four.

    “1. We believe the Bible is the only written word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error in the original manuscripts. The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.

    4. We believe His grace is extended freely, not on the basis of any individual’s worthiness.”[1]

    I suppose the entry almost (by their lights) meets the NPPOV rule, but it seems rather misleading to present the image of an objective, Mormon-authored reference work, when that is clearly
    far from the case.


  85. Mark Butler on October 22, 2006 at 1:53 am

    Jordan B.,

    If you go to (it appears to be off line for the moment) and click on one of my comments, you should be able to click on an envelope icon that lets you send me email. Likewise for other commenters.

  86. Blake on October 22, 2006 at 11:57 am

    The Mormon wiki is a simple case of intentionally misleading readers to believe it is a Mormon wiki NPOV when it is not. As such, it is a bad faith posting. Aaron, take note — it is bad faith and not the kind of conduct.

    Jordan — I have indeed read a good deal of Hurtado and he agrees with my statements about monotheism. Larry Hurtado summarizes the evidence regarding Second Temple “Jewish monotheismâ€? as follows:

    “I propose that Jewish monotheism can be taken as constituting a distinctive version of the commonly-attested belief structure described by Nilsson as involving a “high god” who presides over other deities. The God of Israel presides over a court of heavenly beings who are likened to him (as is reflected in, e.g., the OT term for them “sons of God”). In pagan versions, too, the high god can be described as father and source of the other divine beings, and as utterly superior to them. In this sense, Jewish (and Christian) monotheism, whatever its distinctives, shows its historical links with the larger religious environment of the ancient world. There are distinctives of the Jewish version, however, both in beliefs and, even more emphatically in religious practice. As Nilsson has shown, in pagan versions often the high god is posited but not really known. Indeed, in some cases (particularly in Greek philosophical traditions), it is emphasized that the high god cannot be known. Accordingly, often one does not expect to relate directly to the high god or address this deity directly in worship or petition. In Greco-Roman Jewish belief, however, the high god is known as the God of Israel, whose ways and nature are revealed in the Scriptures of Israel.”

    Larry Hurtado, “What Do We Mean by First Century Monotheism?� Society of Biblical Literature 1993 Seminar Papers, ed. E. H. Lovering (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), pp. 348-68; See, H. P. Nillson, “The High God and the Mediator,� Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963), 101-20.

  87. Jordan Barrett on October 22, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    That’s an interesting quote. I’ll have to look up that article sometime. All I know is that that article is a survey of views. Is he describing his view? Or someone elses? I’m confused as I read Hurtado saying elsewhere:

    “… in the Persion period and thereafter, an exclusivist montheism became so fully identified with Jewish piety that by the Roman period failure to maintain such a stance was perhaps the greatest sin possible for a Jew… the Jewish resistance to worship any figure but the one God of Israel was manifested not only against the deities of other peoples and traditions but also with reference to figures that we might term “divine agents” of the God of Israel.”

    He goes on to say that this “shows that the ancient Jewish concern about the uniqueness of God was a genuinely exclusivist ‘monotheism’ and not simply a negative attitude toward the deities of foreigners… the firmly monotheistic commitment of the religious matrix of earliest Christianity both makes Christ-devotion an intriguing phenomenon and, as we shall see, was an important factor in shaping its development.”

    Larry Hurtado, “Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity” (Eerdmans, 2003), 30-31

    This sounds to me as though Jewish monothism was so exclusively “monotheist” that it was a struggle to understand Jesus in the mix of things. However, it could stand from the quote above that there could have been belief in more than one god, however only one God was worthy of worship, or perhaps that’s a mere focus of his work since his sub-title is “devotion” to Jesus and is dealing with who is worshipped. Yet I can’t seem to find in this text a reference to second-temple Jews believing or accepting other deities, so I’m curious about the context of your quote, Blake.

    Richard Bauckham’s “God Crucified” is another good (and short) text on this issue.

  88. Jordan Barrett on October 22, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    This is may prove more illuminating too,

    “Jews were quite willing to imagine beings who bear the divine name within them and can be referred to by one or more of God’s titles… beings so endowed with divine attributes as to make it difficult to distinguish them descriptively from God, beings who are very distinct personal extensions of God’s powers and sovereignty. About this, there is clear evidence. This clothing of servants of God with God’s attributes and even his name will perhaps seem to us ‘theologically very confusing’ if we go looking for a ‘strict monotheism’ of relatively modern distinctions of ‘ontological status’ between God and these figures, and expect such distinctions to be expressed in terms of ‘attributes and functions’… The evidence… shows that it is in fact in the area of worship that we find ‘the decisive criterion’ by which Jews maintained the uniqueness of God over against both idols and God’s own deputies. I may also add that the characteristic willingness of Graeco-Roman Jews to endure the opprobrium of non-Jews over their refusal to worship the other deities, even to the point of matrydom, seems to me to reflect a fairly ‘strict monotheism’ expressed in fairfly powerful measures.”

    Larry Hurtado, “First Century Jewish Monotheism” JSNT 71 (1998) 3-26. This was quoted in the book above on pgs 36-37

  89. Blake on October 22, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Jordan: The quotes from Hurtado are all consistent — and quite consistent with an LDS view of “monotheism”. There is a Most High God — and Jesus was not identical to this Most High God but was his Son and agent while the Most High God was his “God and Father.” In general, the Jews worshipped only one God — the Father or Most High — but they also recognized others who were divine because suffused with divine glory or natural “sons of God.” The Christian “mutation” as Hurtado calls it consists in the fact that Jesus Christ was also worshipped as a distinct divine person, an agent of the Most High God, who so reflected the will and glory of the Father that they were one because the Father dwelt in him. The oneness consists of the indwelling unity of glory, power and will. Hurtado uses the term “binitarianism” to reflect his view —

    “…there are a fairly consistent linkage and subordination of Jesus to God ‘the Father’ in these circles, evident even in the Christian texts from the latter decades of the first century that are commonly regarded as a very ‘high’ Christology, such as the Gospel of John and Revelation. This is why I referred to this Jesus-devotion as a “binitarian” form of monotheism: there are two distinguishable figures (God and Jesus), but they are posited in a relation to each other that seems intended to avoid the ditheism of two gods” (Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 2003, pp. 52-53).

    The reason that there are not two gods is that there are not two sovereigns who are pitted against each other, not warring gods or gods who could, like Greek gods, seeks different purposes. What I emphasize in LDS thought is that the deity (e.g., divine power) of the divine persons depends on their unity in loving relationships. Because divinity emerges from this relationship of indwelling unity, it follows that logically on the LDS view that there cannot be two sovereigns of the universe, but at most only one. However, Jesus is distinguishable from the Father because he acts as agent. Christ is not the Most High God and is subordinate to the Most High God. It is this latter subordination and distinctness that “strict monotheism” cannot accomodate either logically or scripturally. So Jewish monotheism was “strict” in the sense that it didn’t permit worhsip of any other than the Most High God (and note that Christianity of any form must be opposed to such a strict monotheism) but not strict in the ontological sense that there is only one divine person or only one “being” that is referred to as “a god”.

    As Hurtado explained: ” First, the monotheistic emphasis of Roman-era Jewish tradition is absolutely crucial. This emphasis was most visibly expressed in a refusal to offer worship to any figure other than the God of Israel. At the same time, devout ancient Jews were very ready to accommodate this or that powerful figure distinguishable from God in a role that can be characterized as God’s “principal agent.â€? We see the effects of Jewish monotheistic tradition in the consistent way that Jesus is identified and defined with reference to God (e.g., “Son/Lamb/Image of God,â€? exalted/enthroned by God, given a name/status by God, glorified by God, etc.).” Found at:

    As Anne Hunt explaind Hurtado’s view, it was a radical innovation in “radical monotheistic” thought which required an innovation and rejection of the “radical monotheism” of those Jews who opposed Christianity because it claimed Christ was divine and to be worshipped alongside the Most High God the Father: “On the basis of the written records, Christian and others, Hurtado thus argues for the emergence of an astonishingly close association between God and Christ and for a binitarian monotheistic pattern of worship and prayer in which reverence is accorded to God and Christ from a phenomenonally early stage. Jesus-devotion erupted suddenly and quickly, he argues, not gradually, or incrementally or late. With its origins in Jewish Christian circles, it quickly spread. This Jesus-devotion expressed the Christian conviction regarding the centrality of Jesus and the uniqueness of his role, and it demanded a new view of God, a radical reshaping of the exclusivist monotheism inherited from the Jewish tradition, initially expressing itself in a binitarian form and ultimately in a trinitarian form of expression. This reshaping was accompanied by and expressed in binitarian patterns of worship and devotional practice whereby the exalted Jesus is the recipient of worship along with God. In this way, the early Christians posited a real and radical plurality in the Godhead, initially more focused on Father and Son as somehow pertaining to the one God they worshipped to the exclusion of all others. Thus was established the context of the doctrinal development that would eventually and inevitably emerge as a necessary corollary of their binitarian (and finally trinitarian) devotional patterns of worship.”

    Finally, because I do NOT adopt scriptural uniformitarianism which holds that God is the sole author of the words of works we accept as scripture all espousing the same identical view, I am open to the possibility that Second Isaiah had a more “strict” monotheism that say first Isaiah and certainly more strict than reflected in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32 which clearly adopt a view of the Most High surrounded by a council of sons of God who are themselves viewed as gods and having the same divine nature as the Most High God (reflected in the clear fact that they bear a type of genetic resemblance as ‘sons of God’). So I would be fine with Second Isaiah in the exile having a different view of monotheism that pre-exilic writers.

  90. Blake on October 22, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    BTW Jordan, you can read the entire essay by Hurtado where he rejectst he view that Jews were strictly monotheistic across the board here:

  91. Ben Huff on October 22, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks, Blake, for explaining so well how one can be a monotheist while believing in multiple divine beings! There is more than one way to approach the “trinitarian puzzle” of plurality in unity. As I’ve said before, I find this the most exciting part of your work.

  92. Jordan Barrett on October 22, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Blake, interesting stuff. Thanks for the links and for taking the time to explain yourself. I’ll definitely do some thinking and digging with it all.

  93. Mark Butler on October 23, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Jordan B.,

    The email icon thing is not working, unfortunately. You can reach me at butlerm at middle dot net, with appropriate substitutions of course.

  94. Jordan Barrett on October 24, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    I did have one thought – how is your explanation (and perhaps even Hurtado’s) monotheism, and not henotheism?

    And thanks, Mark. ;) That makes more sense now.

  95. Mark Butler on October 24, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    Jordan B.,

    You are most welcome. Perhaps I will comment on the manifest weaknesses of dynamically bound languages (Perl, Python, PHP et al) another time.

    Now you and others may be interested in a recent post of mine on proper nouns, and (implicitly) their just and proper significance within Christian theology:

    I have not addressed the substance of the theological claims in detail, but what I have written is directly applicable to the question of Mormon monotheism.

  96. Todd Wood on October 24, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Guys, if you don’t mind I am backtracking through this thread again. I am sort of slow. But eventually I make my way through things. Mark, where did you get the aleph, mem, and nun (#20) in Scripture for the Trinity? And btw, I have finally gotten back with you over your post over at my blog. Thanks.

  97. Todd Wood on October 24, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    Now up to #74 . . .

    Blake is interesting . . . first taking a stance that the Father is the source of all grace. From my study in John 1, I am taking the stance that the Son is the source of all life . . . light . . . we are talking about the moral consciousness of every man created . . . all sourced in the Logos.

    Clark, I will check out Jim F.

    And back to Blake, I will sometime connect with Dale T.

    All for now.

  98. Mark Butler on October 24, 2006 at 6:14 pm


    That is a complex question. To start with let me refer you to the manner in which we administer the ordinance of baptism:

    The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name:
    Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
    (D&C 20:73)

    Now in the LDS Canon, we know that Son Ahman is a divine name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer :

    Wherefore, do the things which I have commanded you, saith your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman, who prepareth all things before he taketh you;
    (D&C 78:20)

    That suggests that Ahman (by itself) refers to God, or the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which are one God, infinite and eternal, without end [1].

    Now as it so happens if we pursue a little Hebrew, we discover that letter aleph in many divine and prophetic names (transliterated as the e in “el” in English) refers to the infinite glory of God, and also the number one (as well as infinity).

    Now mem is understood to refer in many similar names to refer to dominion and kingship, most famously in the term Messiah, and also the number forty, as in forty days and forty nights. And nun means “kingdom” or “heir to the throne”, also the number fifty, as in the number of days before Pentecost.

    And so I might suggest that the aleph-mem-nun (AMN) from Amen and Ahman are the same, and is a divine name of the one true and living God, the Father (aleph), the Son (mem), and the Holy Ghost (nun), a reminder of the unity of the Trinity at the end of every prayer.

    It also seems to be no accident that “amen” also means “let it be done”, or in other words it is an appeal to the consensus of the members of the Godhead, the First Presidency of heaven and of earth and all things that in them are, without which no endeavor has full divine authority [1]. As one of our scriptures says, if the priesthood is exercised in any degree of unrighteousness, Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man [2] (at least until he repents).

    One can find comparable though perhaps not as explicit references in the Old and New Testaments [3]. It is worth noting that amen is one of those rare words that is used the same way in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English. One might consider the derivatives and roots of the Latin emendare for example.

    [1] cf. D&C 107:21
    [2] D&C 121:37
    [3] 1 Kgs 1:36, “And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, and said, Amen: the LORD God of my lord the king say so too.”

    Jer 28:6, “Even the prophet Jeremiah said, Amen: the LORD do so: the LORD perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of the LORD’s house, and all that is carried away captive, from Babylon into this place.”

    [My apologies for the length]

  99. Mark Butler on October 24, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    I duplicated a footnote number. The first one should be D&C 20:28.

  100. Blake on October 24, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    Jordan: re: #94 — Henotheism is the view that gods have independent political realms over which they are sovereign. That is clearly not what the notion of a Most High God surrounded by a retinue of gods who serve his purposes implies. So there is a clear distinction.

    Re: # 97: Where did I assert that the Father is the source of all grace? I do believe that the Father is the one to whom Christ directed us to give all glory and honor — but that is different than claiming that He is the source of all grace. Clearly, Christ has also given his free gifts.

  101. Mark Butler on October 24, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    Jordan (#94),

    Please consider the Wikipedia article:

    Note that henotheism encompasses an wide variety of systems most of which we would reject as heretical, especially the idea that “the henotheist may worship any within the pantheon, depending on circumstances”.

    Of these variations LDS belief like Hebrew belief (we share the many of the same scriptures after all) is theoretically closer to monoalatrism (We worship the Father rather than the Son), but even that is somewhat misleading (as it is in Judaism and Christianity in general) because there is only one true and living God, and other divine and quasi-divine persons only participate in the Spirit of glory through His name and by His grace through the merits of the At-one-ment. We worship the Father in the name of the Son, allowing for the sense that the Son is the Father (e.g. by investiture) of course.

    And though abiding within the covenant is a manifest necessity, it is only by the grace of Christ that we are saved, sanctified and glorified being lifted up or exalted by degrees above the capacity of the natural man, according to our faithfulness and diligence, until at the last we become a joint heir with Christ, receiving all the blessings that He has, which is the same glory as the person of the Father.

    We may understand the highest degree of glory as a society of exalted persons who share the same indwelling spirit of glory and blessings between them, according to the discipline, love, and unity required for such a blessing, presided over by Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    Now while I would say that we cannot maintain total inability, the abilty of the natural man is exceedingly limited, and largely possible in the first place through the gift of the body. But the capacity of the spiritual man may be magnified beyond measure above that of the natural, according to the grace of God through his Son. There is no glory worthy of the name independent of God.

    And the fact that the glory manifiest in the body of any varies across such an enormous (indeed theoretically infinite) logarithmic spectrum makes the conventional terms for classifying LDS and Hebrew theology, and of course the New Testament properly understood rather limited if not completely misleading.

  102. Todd Wood on October 25, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Blake, what is Mark referencing in #60?

  103. Todd Wood on October 25, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    Clark, I mean.

  104. Mark Butler on October 26, 2006 at 12:23 am

    Todd W.,

    If I might guess what your question is, I believe that grace is derived from the spiritual unity and activity of all three members of the Trinity or Godhead, and not any single member alone.

    For example, the At-one-ment is possible through the suffering sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Without that sacrifice we could neither be saved nor sanctified:

    By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
    (Heb 10:10)

    We may conclude that the Father also suffered by aquaintance with the body of the Son, because remission of our sins comes through the grace of Christ, the grace of Christ came through the suffering sacrifice of His own body. And yet the grace of Christ was not his alone, but that of the Father, for he dwelt in him (spiritually speaking) [1]. Though the Father and the Son may be separated in matters temporal, they can hardly be separated in matters spiritual.

    [1] D&C 93:17

  105. Mark Butler on October 26, 2006 at 10:22 am

    My apologies. “not possible” that is.

  106. Todd Wood on October 31, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Ben H., Mark B., Clark, Blake, Blain, or any others, I sure do have questions today through my blog entry, “Being versus Becoming” over at Any thoughts?

    When you post, the comments won’t pop up at first. But pebble requires that I clear them. And the comment section doesn’t allow quotes or &. So preview any of your comments before posting.

    Have a good day.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.