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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?

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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? – Zann Anderson 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. – Zann Anderson 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
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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
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The official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that there are 3 separate and distinct Gods, that comprise "the Godhead". It teaches in a literal "plurality of Gods" (as founder Joseph Smith phrased it and used in official sources). [1]

The Church and its members do sometimes say they are "one God", but this is figurative, not literal. The "one God" phrase by the LDS Church means they are all in complete unity of purpose, etc. This is not the historic Trinity doctrine.

Here are official sources from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church or Mormon Church (the latter are nicknames), that I have researched personally:

“… the head God brought forth the Gods in the grand council. “… The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world. The grand councilors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds which were created at the time.” (Teachings, pp. 348–49.) The Abraham account of the Creation reflects this idea of the plurality of Gods (see Abraham 4).” [2]

"Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are all Gods." [3]

"I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and THREE Gods" [4]

→ LDS scripture: * Abraham chapter 4 summary: “The Gods plan the creation of the earth and all life thereon—Their plans for the six days of creation are set forth.” [5]

Abraham 4:1,5,26: “the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth. …. And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night. …. And the Gods took counsel among themselves” [6]

Abraham chapters 4 & 5 repeatedly use “the Gods” for those beings engaged in creation of heaven and earth.

→ Other official LDS Church sources:

Founding prophet Joseph Smith taught concerning the nature of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost:

“these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”

These 3 Gods are the Godhead who are in perfect agreement, as taught in a subtitle in an LDS Church manual:

“The Godhead is in perfect unity, and God the Father presides.” [8]

Joseph Smith taught in the 1844 Elder King Follett funeral sermon the official doctrine that God the Father “dwelt [lived] on an earth” [9]

““God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!” [10]

Our potential is to become Gods/gods as he has done, both men and women:

From “The Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow”, an official manual in Chapter 5 “The Grand Destiny of the Faithful”, the Church quotes LDS President Snow and also explains this “doctrine” of the Church:

“I [Lorenzo Snow] formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me. … ““As man now is, God once was: ““As God now is, man may be.” “Feeling that he had received “a sacred communication” that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently.” [11]

The official magazine, the “Ensign”, February 18, 1982 affirms that President Snow’s couplet and doctrine was indeed “true” and a “revelation from God”:

“President Snow’s son LeRoi later told that the Prophet Joseph Smith confirmed the validity of the revelation Elder Snow had received: “Soon after his return from England, in January, 1843, Lorenzo Snow related to the Prophet Joseph Smith his experience in Elder Sherwood’s home. This was in a confidential interview in Nauvoo. The Prophet’s reply was: ‘Brother Snow, that is a true gospel doctrine, and it is a revelation from God to you.’” (LeRoi C. Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, p. 656.) …. ““This is a doctrine which delighted President Snow, as it does all of us [Latter-day Saints/’Mormons’]. Early in his ministry he received by direct, personal revelation the knowledge that (in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s language), ‘God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens,’ and that men ‘have got to learn how to be Gods … the same as all Gods have done before.’ … “It is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.” [12]

→ FOOTNOTES:

[1] - “Ensign”, February 1994, “I Have a Question”. [1] - “Old Testament Manual Genesis 22 Samuel”, “Enrichment Section A).

[2] - “Old Testament Student Manual Genesis-2 Samuel: Religion 301” (2003, LDS “Church Educational System”.

[3] - "New Testament Stories", "People to Know", p 161 (for kids).

[4] - Joseph Smith, quoted in the Ensign, March 2008, p 68, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], pp 41-42, see also: Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, Lesson 17: "The Holy Ghost", p 63. (See also History of the Church, 6:474, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 372).

[5] – LDS scripture: “Book of Abraham” Chapter 4 Summary.

[6] – LDS scripture: “Book of Abraham” 4:1,5,26.

[7] - “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith”, chapter 2.

[8] - Chapter 2 subheading in “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith”, chapter 2.

[9] – Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse 1844, LDS Church manual, “Gospel Principles”, 2009, p. 279.

[10] - “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith”, chapter 2.

[11] - “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow”, Chapter 5: “The Grand Destiny of the Faithful”.

[12] – Gerald N. Lund, Teacher Support Consultant for the Church Education System, “Ensign” February 1982, “I Have a Question”: “Is President Lorenzo Snow’s oft-repeated statement—“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be”—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?”.

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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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