Should Mormons Believe In The Trinity?
By David Metcalfe
April 24, 2020
Trinity Doctrine In The Bible
The trinity is essentially a Catholic teaching, which many Protestants also took along with them through the Reformation and subsequent denominations. The teaching of the trinity as fundamental, universal doctrine was established in the Nicene Creed in 325 AD, which uses the term “consubstantial” (translated from the Greek “homoouisios” meaning “same being”). Or, in simple terms: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one God, expressed in three persons.
Some Mormons say that the trinity doctrine is complete heresy, and is such an absurd belief that it must be a product of Greek philosophy rather than the Bible itself. I don’t agree with those Mormons. I think the Bible can lend itself to an interpretation that seems consistent with the trinity doctrine.
Jesus says that “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Paul writes to the Colossians that “in him the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9) and to the Philippians that “Jesus had equality with God” (Philippians 2:6). At the beginning of John’s gospel, he states, in a very convoluted manner, that “the Word was God…and the Word became flesh” (John 1). Jesus says “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), mirroring what God said to Moses on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:14). There are also many verses that put the three beings (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) together, like 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Corinthians 8:16, Matthew 28:19, and others.
There are several more examples, but the point is that it’s not a huge stretch to say that the Catholic Church could easily have gotten the doctrine of the trinity based on their best interpretation of the Biblical text at the time.
We can also see many potential detractors from the trinity in the Bible (hence the unitarian and Jehovah’s Witness interpretations- which rely solely on the Biblical text). Why would God say, “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17) to himself? There is a clear distinguishing of denoting Christ’s identity as a Son, and the Father’s own state as being “well pleased”. He doesn’t say, “this is myself, in whom we are well pleased”. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus says that he does not know when the end times will happen, but the Father does know. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begs the Father to not make him go through with the crucifixion. Is he begging himself to not make himself get crucified? When he is on the cross, he yells “Father, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Is he confused at why he has forsaken himself?
There are many more examples, which is why I think non-trinitarian views, based on the Bible, do have merit.
There is no way, though, that you could correctly read the Bible without understanding that God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Ghost all have an extremely high and divine purpose and role in salvation. This is why, if you don’t believe they are all the same being, you have to have an understanding of how they can all be divine beings and united in purpose…but more on that later.
Trinity Doctrine In The Book of Mormon
The trinity doctrine can be found all over the Book of Mormon. The title page itself says that the purpose of the Book of Mormon is “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The Eternal God!?!? It could be interpreted that Moroni is calling Jesus the same being as God Himself.
In Ether 3:14, Jesus appears in his resurrected form to the brother of Jared, and says, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and daughters.”
I am the Father and the Son!?!? The Bible never states it nearly as clear as that.
In Mosiah 15, Abinadi says, “I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son– The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son- And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”
In 3 Nephi 19:23, Jesus says, “thou Father, art in me, that we may be one.”
In 3 Nephi 11:36, Jesus says, “the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.”
We also see this in Alma 11:44, 3 Nephi 11:27, 3 Nephi 28:10, and Mormon 7:7 that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are described as “one God”.
Joseph Smith and The Trinity Doctrine
The revelations to Joseph Smith, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, also include an allusion to the trinity doctrine in D and C 20:28: “Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.”
So where does the Latter Day Saint belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate beings come from? The “Gospel Topics” section on the Godhead says, “From the Prophet’s account of the First Vision and from his other teachings, we know that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings.”
Here is what’s crazy to me about it: we don’t actually get it from scripture. We get it from the fact that Joseph Smith saw two separate beings in his first vision, and described the Father and the Son as having bodies of flesh, and only the Holy Ghost being a spirit (D and C 132:22).
Where are these “other teachings” that are not scriptural found? Well, one of them was the “Lectures on Faith” that Joseph Smith delivered along with Sidney Rigdon in 1835. In the fifth Lecture, he makes these seven points about the nature of the Godhead:
-The Godhead consists of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (5:1c)
-There are two “personages”, the Father and the Son, that constitute the “supreme power over all things” (5:2a, Q&A section)
-The Father is a “personage of spirit, glory, and power” (5:2c)
-The Son is a “personage of tabernacle” (5:2d) who “possess[es] the same mind with the Father; which Mind is the Holy Spirit” (5:2j,k)
-The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the “supreme power over all things” (5:2l)
“These three constitute the Godhead and are one: the Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fullness;” (5:2m)
-The Son is “filled with the fullness of the Mind of the Father, or in other words, the Spirit of the Father.” (5:2o)
It’s well known that many early church members did believe in the trinity doctrine, but then changed over time, with the teachings of Smith, Young, and others. These particular “Lectures on Faith” were actually a part of the Doctrine and Covenants until 1921, when they were removed (source). But it’s interesting to note that, while no longer official doctrine, Smith says that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost possess “the same mind, wisdom, glory, power, and fullness.” Does that sound more like three separate beings or one in the same?
While it’s taken for granted as obvious truth among Mormons that the Catholic trinity doctrine is totally wrong, it is actually alluded to not only in the Bible but also explicitly stated multiple times in the Book of Mormon. The basis for distinguishing ourselves from the trinity is built on a much weaker foundation than many might think.
The Catholic view of the trinity has been mocked and criticized by church leaders for many years, even up to the modern day (source). While it’s true that Joseph Smith believed that God the Father and Jesus the Son have physical bodies, and thus are not of the same substance, he believed that they were very similar in many important ways. Reducing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to only being one in purpose may not do justice to scripture or to Joseph Smith’s beliefs.
Mormons probably should not believe in the literal Catholic teaching on the trinity, but perhaps ought to believe something darn well close to it. Pretending that our view is drastically different than Catholics and Protestants does not seem to be an accurate way to think about it.