It's a pretty well-known fact that Latter-Day Saint members (aka Mormons) do not believe in the Holy Trinity, i.e., that God, Christ and the Holy Ghost are 'one'. So what exactly do they believe in, when it comes to the nature of God?

Along these lines, how can they understand scriptures that state Christ and God are one?


LDS understanding of the nature of the Father and the Son is drawn from the First Vision, Joseph Smith's first-hand account of an encounter with them as an answer to his prayer to learn the truth about God and religion:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. ... When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

The Father and the Son reveal themselves as distinct individuals. And if this is not in harmony with the traditional description passed down in various creeds,

The Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that ... “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Joseph Smith later clarified that:

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

LDS understanding of the Father and the Son being "one" is more in keeping with the literal meaning of the original text than of the interpretations that arose from it. It kind of gets lost in translation, but it's a lot more clear in Greek that the Father and Christ are not one (the same being); they are one (united, the same in purpose.) Further clarification can be found in John 17, where Jesus asks four separate times in his great intercessory prayer to the Father that his disciples may be one "even as we are." To interpret this as a desire for the disciples to somehow merge into a composite being would be strange, to say the least.

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    +1 for John 17. One of the four examples from the New International Version of John 17: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one". – Kalamane Sep 6 '11 at 0:33
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    For another example - Stephen sees - "the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" [Acts 7:56] - I find no way to reconcile this with the belief that the Son and the Father are one - he was standing on his own right hand? He split up as a special treat for Stephen before he was stoned? – Zannjaminderson Nov 22 '11 at 7:03
  • @Zannjaminderson, I do believe you're right, though I could imagine a potential objection to this interpretation: "Standing on the right of God" is figurative, meaning "standing in God's favor". (Think of the judgement day, when the righteous will stand "on the right hand" of God.) That is, Jesus appeared in the glory of God. – Paul Draper May 6 '14 at 2:11
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    @PaulDraper, I see what you mean, and I can see how that might be an interpretation that would make sense if one was coming from the initial viewpoint that the Godhead was literally one being. On a side note, apologies to anybody who believes that way for the snark in my previous comment. Apparently I was a more rude person on the internet in 2011 than I am now. – Zannjaminderson May 6 '14 at 19:42
  • The claim that the LDS understanding of the trinity is more in line with the original text is simply untrue. For example, Deuteronomy 6:4 and the 7 I AM statements of John. It should be noted that the LDS church believes in an LDS interpretation of the trinity in which God is three persons who are one in purpose. This is different than the protestant understanding of the trinity as articulated in the Nicene creed. – James Shewey Oct 14 '14 at 22:03

Disclaimer:I am not a Mormon, so this may be inaccurate.

The first place to read is what Mormons say about this themselves. The Wikipedia article is a good place to start and has references. In essence they believe that the Father Son and Holy Spirit are separate "personages", and together form "The Godhead", which is a council of the three personages. The scriptures that refer to the distinct personages "being one" are taken to mean "of one mind".

This is based on Joseph Smith's "Lectures on Faith". See the text

  • This of course leads to the question of what "of one mind" means. – hippietrail Sep 5 '11 at 22:53
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    @hippietrail. It could be used in a specific theological meaning here, so I don't know what it means in this context, but it is a fairly standard English phrase, meaning "in full agreement". – TRiG Sep 15 '11 at 13:54
  • @TRiG: Yes it would normally mean "in full agreement" when talking about normal mortal humans, but when talking about separate "personages" forming "the godhead" it stands out as perhaps being the more literal "sharing one mind between them". I don't believe the bible states anywhere whether minds are physical or not. If minds are not physical it would be a sensible reading to interpret sharing a single mind. – hippietrail Sep 15 '11 at 15:01
  • Most Latter-day Saints would interpret "one mind" as being in full agreement, working together for the same purpose. – Samuel Bradshaw Aug 2 '15 at 2:42

Mormons believe in "one God", however, they do not believe in an "ontological oneness." In other words, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are three separate personages, but they are "One God." An analogy I have always been partial too is if 3 men were walking down the street side by side, and you were following them, who are you following? This "oneness" of purpose, unity and direction is what Christ alludes to in His intercessory prayer in John 17, when He petitions the Father to bless his disciples "that they may be one, as you and I are one".

Compare also the "one" use in the Shema of the Torah (Deut 6:4 -The Lord God is one) to the "one" used in Genesis to describe a husband and wife (therefore shall a man cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.) The Hebrew word translated as "one" in English is the same word in Hebrew in both instances.

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