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Do Mormons Believe in the Trinity?

Mormon is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so it is clear they believe in Jesus Christ. They also believe in God the Father and in the Holy Ghost. However, they do not refer to them as the trinity, nor do they accept the fourth century definition of the term. While the term trinity does not appear in the Bible, nor does the concept of a trinity, the term Godhead does appear there and is clearly outlined in New Testament teachings. This, then, is the term the Mormons use.

Jesus baptismMormons believe the Godhead is unified, as the Bible says. It specifically does quote Jesus as saying that He and His Father are one. However, when trying to understand great Biblical truths, we have to look at the entire New Testament, not isolated verses taken out of context. Let’s look at the following verse:

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: . . . that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17: 20-23).

Now we have an explanation of what Jesus means whenever He refers to oneness. He wants the apostles to be the same type of “one” as He and God are. The trinity altered that definition by adding the phrase “being of one substance with the Father” to the Nicene Creed. That phrase is not found in the Bible, but was an attempt by the council to define the oneness in a way that was comfortable to philosophers. The term trinity was the creation of Tertullian in the third century, not the Savior or the apostles.

Many who try to defend the trinity use the following verses. This comes from the King James translation, which the Mormons, as well as millions of other Christians, use.

“If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? (John 14)

This sounds as though it supports a trinity until you get to the next verse—and putting verses in context is always important.

Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

Suddenly we have Jesus explaining quite clearly that He and God are completely separate individuals. Verse 31 takes this even further:

But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.

Jesus speaks of His love for the Father. At His baptism, God said He was pleased with His Son. These are comments one would make of another, not of oneself.

Two visions make this concept very clear. One is in the Bible and concerns Steven. He saw Jesus on the right hand of God, demonstrating both that they are completely separate and that they could be seen and therefore had bodies. Steven died for announcing this vision, making it a very important one.

For Mormons, there is an equally convincing vision. The first prophet in modern times, Joseph Smith, saw both God and Jesus Christ in a vision. There can be no question for Mormons—and should not be for anyone else—that the trinity is a later development, and not a Biblical one. For that reason, Mormons accept the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Ghost as a Godhead.

Our first and foremost article of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.

Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament]” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 40–42).

 

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