The Book of Mormon’s Doctrine of Deity

October 11, 2008
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I am fascinated by the Book of Mormon’s teachings (i.e. doctrines) about deity. I am almost equally fascinated with the many scholarly attempts to force fit it into pre-existing categories to make it seem safe. [1]

There is a danger in trying to force fit the Book of Mormon into a pre-existing theological doctrine of deity. It is the same danger that exists in trying to force the Bible into a pre-existing theological doctrine of deity.

Scripture — whether the Book of Mormon or the Bible — supplies us points of data. They do not supply us a specific theology. Theology is how we interpret or put those points together into a coherent whole for ourselves.

But often our theologies are merely approximations of scriptural teachings.  After all, profound truths must somehow be turned into concrete concepts or we can’t wrap our mind around them.

In this article, I’m going to attempt to actually list all the data points but not (at least not yet) attempt to “best fit” it to a theology.

Jesus is God

This is the most fundamental message of the Book of Mormon and the Title page states so:

…to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations…

2 Nephi 26:12:

12 And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;

Jesus is specifically indicated as being fully God and fully Divine. There is no Book of Mormon concept of Jesus being a sub-god of some sort.

Jesus is specifically referred to, by those worshiping Him, as their Lord and God:

3 Nephi 3:18:

And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.

See also Mosiah 13:28,33-34; Helaman 8:22-23; 3 Nephi 11:10,14;

Jesus is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of His Father

2 Nephi 25:19

19 For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Alma 9:26:

26 And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers.

3 Nephi 20:31:

And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name.

See also Mosiah 4:2; Alma 5:50; Alma 6:8; Alma 7: 9-10, 13; Alma 13:16; Alma 16:19-20; Morm 9:22 and many many more. (See here)

Jesus is Worthy of Worship

In some sense of the word “worship” — we shall allow for more than one sense of that word –  Jesus is to be worshiped, though the proper sense is specifically stated as worshiping the Father in His name. 

2 Ne. 25: 16, 29

16 …until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind-and when that day shall come that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then, at that time, the day will come that it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things.

29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out. 

When Jesus is On Earth, He is Treated as a Separate Personality from His Father

3 Nephi 19, previously discussed, Jesus explains that the people prayed to Him only because He was present while the Father was not. He prays to the Father while they pray to Him and he explains that He wants them to be one in the same sense that He and the Father are one.

3 Nephi 19:21-23:

21 Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.

22 Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.

23 And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we [the disciples and the Godhead] may be one

3 Nephi 11:6-8

6 And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them:

7 Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name-hear ye him.

8 And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven… 

Jesus Existed Before His Incarnation

Ether 3: 14

14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. 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 my daughters.

Indeed, the majority of the Boo k of Mormon enforces the idea that Jesus existed before His Incarnation. [2]

When Jesus is in Heaven, Prior to His Incarnation, He is Treated as a Separate Personality Than His Father

2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15

11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.

12 And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.

15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. 

Compare also to 3 Nephi 31:18:

18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

Jesus Has the Title “Father” Because He Created All Things

Often, Jesus is referred to as the Father when we are specifically talking about Jesus as Father of Heaven and Earth because he created “all things”. 

Mosiah 3:8

8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. 

Hel 14:12

12 And also that ye might know of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and that ye might know of the signs of his coming, to the intent that ye might believe on his name.

Ether 4:7

7 And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are

Alma 11:38-39

38 Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?

39 And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; 

Compare to 3 Nephi 9:15

15 Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. 

See also 2 Nephi 25:12; Helaman 16:18;

Jesus Fully Represents and Even Identifies as the Father

But Jesus is also presented as being called the Father because He fully represents and even identifies as His Father. This is specifically stated as being because they share the same will. Thus they are “one God” because they have one moral will. The very best example of this is the incorporable Mosiah 15:1-5 

1 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

2 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-

3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son-

4 And they [not "He"] are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

5 And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. 

This passage is so full of meat that we’ll have to revisit it under another point later.

Against all odds or sense, Mosiah 15:1-5 is the passage most used to “prove” that the Book of Mormon teaches modalism. But modalism does not teach anything like this passage. The closest fit to a literal interpretation of this passage is actually Swedenborgian, not modalism. [3]

However, it’s not really Swedenborgian either since v. 2 specifically states that Jesus is God (in v.4) due to subjecting His Flesh to the will of the Father. To the best of my knowledge, Swedenborg had no corollary to this. And this is to say nothing of the rest of the context of the Book of Mormon, which does not allow for Swedenborgian teachings at all.

Ether 4:12 also specifically teaches that Jesus fully represents the Father

12 And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good; he that will not believe my words will not believe me-that I am; and he that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father, I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.

Compare also to Morm 9:12 and Ether 3:14;

The standard Mormon “explanation” for why Jesus identifies as His Father in some cases is to refer to the doctrine of Divine Investiture. I will have to deal with this in a future post.

Jesus, Prior to His Birth, is a “Spirit Body” with a Physical Image – Not a Formless Spirit Filling Everything

This fact comes out when the brother of Jared sees the pre-mortal Jesus and see a physical form like a man’s.

Ether 3:6-8

6 And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.

7 And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?

8 And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood

It might be tempting to say that God was just taking a physical form so that the brother of Jared had something to look at. But the actual passage does not allow for that possibility because of the reason Jesus Himself gives for why the brother of Jesus saw a physical form:

Ether 3:13

13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. 

According to this Book of Mormon passage, to be in the presence of God is to be physically standing next to Him. So the physical form of Jesus is literally His presence. The popular Christian idea that God has no physical presence, because God is everywhere present fully, is thus eliminated as a possibility. [4]

We are Physically Created In the Image of God

Ether 3:15-16

15 And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.

16 Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh. 

Gen 1:26-27 is specified in the Book of Mormon as being a physical image, not just sharing having free will like God has or some other spiritualized interpretation. This is one of the most ignored aspects of the Book of Mormon, that it declared a physical God in which we are physically the image of. Compare this passage also to Mosiah 7:27

27 And because he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth- 

It’s difficult to twist this passage to mean anything but that Gen 1:26-27′s “image of God” was meant to be a literal image, not a figurative one because it specifies that Jesus’ human form was the image of man because we were in the image of God. In other words, it specifies it both ways so that you can’t miss the point.

The Spirit of the Lord is Also Presented as Being With a Human Form

1 Nephi 11:1, 11

1 …I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord

11 And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof-for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another

Compare this wording also with 1 Nephi 1:12, 1 Nephi 7:14-15, 1 Nephi 13:15 and many others were the Spirit of the Lord is referred to.

The Idea that God Is, Was, and Always Will Be a Spirit Is Considered Heresy

The heretical Zoramites believed that God was a spirit, is a spirit, and will always be a spirit forever. This shocks our true believers who immediately recognize the heresy involved.

Alma 31:12-15

12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;

14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:

15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever

Jesus is the Son of God Because of His Physical Birth

I previously used Mosiah 15:1-5, but let’s look at it again with an eye to what we mean when we refer to Jesus as the Son of God

1 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

2 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-

3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son- 

Since the rest of the Christian world considers Jesus the only Begotten because He was Begotten before the world began [5], this passage is significant theologically and separates the Book of Mormon view of Christology from the rest of the Christian worlds.

What The Book of Mormon Doesn’t Teach

What the Book of Mormon doesn’t say is as important as what it does say. It does not use the phrase “of one substance.” It does not tell us that Jesus and the Father are “one person.” It does not tell us God is a formless spirit. It does not tell us that God is equally present everywhere. It does not develop an Athanasius-like formula of “one God.” There is no mention of “persons” vs. “beings.” In fact, it does not use any creedal phrases at all.

What the Book of Mormon Doesn’t Confront

On the other hand, the Book of Mormon never actually deny any popular view of God directly. Though clearly not Modalistic or Trinitarian, nevertheless, only a careful parser ever feels their modalistic or Trinitarian views are deeply threatened by the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon did not force people to confront their false views of God right away but instead left plenty that a Modalist or a Trinitarian would relate to or feel comfortable with, even while preparing them for something else later.

Full Analysis

The following chart summarizes the relationship between what the Book of Mormon actually teaches compared to the theologies of Joseph Smith’s and our day:

BoM Doctrine Modalism Trinitarianism Tritheism Swedenborgian
Jesus is God Yes Yes Yes Yes
Jesus is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of His Father Figurative Yes Yes Figurative
Jesus is Worthy of Worship Yes Yes Yes Yes
When Jesus is On Earth, He is Treated as a Separate Personality from His Father No Yes Yes No
Jesus Existed Before His Incarnation No Yes Yes No
When Jesus is in Heaven, Prior to His Incarnation, He is Treated as a Separate Personality Than His Father No Maybe* Yes No
Jesus Has the Title “Father” Because He Created All Things Yes Yes Yes Yes
Jesus Fully Represents and Even Identifies as the Father Yes No No Figurative
Jesus, Prior to His Birth, is a “Spirit Body” with a Physical Image – Not a Formless Spirit Filling Everything No No Maybe No
We are Physically Created In the Image of God No No Maybe No
The Spirit of the Lord is Also Presented as Being With a Human Form No No Maybe No
The Idea that God Is, Was, and Always Will Be a Spirit Is Considered Heresy No No Maybe No
Jesus is the Son of God Because of His Physical Birth No No Maybe No
Eschewing creedal formulas and language Yes No Yes Yes

* Clearly Trinitarianism does teach that in heaven Jesus and the Father are seperate personalities. However, there seems to be at least some discomfort over something as blatant as 2 Ne 31:11-15 where Jesus and the Father both talk to a prophet from heaven. So I listed this one as “maybe.”

Conclusions

In conclusion [6], we can now easily see that The Book of Mormon doctrine of deity is not fully Modalistic, nor Trinitarian, nor Tritheistic but does share some attributes with each. Each might even be considered an appropriate approximation of the nature of God, to some degree, but none is definitive. In reality, the Book of Mormon denies all of the popular existing theologies about God. [7] 

Notes:

[1] One poster once quoted Melodie Moench Charles to me as, in his view, a fair evaluation of the Book of Mormon’s doctrine of deity: “Although modalism is the best description for Book of Mormon theology generally, it is not apt in every instance. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Book of Mormon authors were intentionally constructing a theology that would fit any previous or future model or label. Nor did they seem concerned about making sure that the theology of any one part of the book was always consistent with the theology of other parts.”

I do not disagree with this analysis. In essence, Charles tells us that the Book of Mormon teaches Modalism, except for the parts that don’t.

Likewise, I feel that any of the following statements are also equally true:

The Book of Mormon teaches Trinitarianism, except for the parts that don’t.

The Book of Mormon teaches Tritheism, except for the parts that don’t.

Charles wrote her article, “Book of Mormon Christology”, as a response to how Mormons often, in her view, retrofit their doctrines of Deity onto the Book of Mormon. A point that is often valid. Yet she never realizes she’s fallen into the same trap herself, ignoring all evidence that runs counter to her theory of Nephite theology.

[2] Charles uses Ether 3:14 as the sole nod to the anti-modalism inherent on the Book of Mormon throughout: “On one point the Book of Mormon’s christology differs from what early Christian modalists believed. Although Jesus’ description of himself as Father and Son in Ether 3:14 is thoroughly modalistic, its context is not. In this same verse Jesus says, “I was prepared from the foundations of the world to redeem my people.” This, coupled with his identifying himself as Jesus Christ a millennium before his birth, suggests a “pre-existent” Christ. Always concerned to preserve the notion of the unity of God, early Christian modalists rejected the idea that Christ existed apart from his father prior to his incarnation. They would not have attributed to Christ any of God’s activity prior to Jesus’ birth. For example, they interpreted John 1:1-18 as describing the Word’s creation of the world allegorically, not as Christ’s literal pre-existent activity (Kelly 1960, 120).” Charles in “Book of Mormon Christology.” It is unclear why she ignored all the other anti-modalistic statements found throughout the Book of Mormon.

[3] Wikipedia explains: “Both Michael Servetus and Emanuel Swedenborg have been interpreted as being proponents of Modalism, however, neither describes God as appearing in three modes. Both describe God as the One Divine Person, Jesus Christ, who has a Divine Soul of Love, Divine Mind of Truth, and Divine Body of Activity. Jesus, through a process of uniting his human form to the Divine, became entirely One with His Divine Soul from the Father to the point of having no distinction of personality.” This is not classic modalism. In fact, the only thing it has in common with modalism is the lack of three “persons.”

[4] This doesn’t mean that God isn’t “omni-present.” It just means that that word “omni-present” means something other than God being physically present everywhere, as some Christians assume. 

Note: In the comments below, Aaron pointed out that Evagelicals make a distiction between physical presence and personal presence and thus, using an Evagelical point of view, it is possible for them to believe in a physical presence of God distinct from His personal presence.

Mormons make a distinction between their belief that God is everywhere present, which is understood in a spiritual sense, but not everywhere physically present. See the comments for further discussion.

Thus the two points of view converge moreso that I expected.

[5] “One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God ‘begotten, not created”; and it adds ‘begotten by his Father before all worlds.’ Will you please get it quite clear that this has nothing to do with the fact that when Christ was born on earth as a man, that man was the son of a virgin?” (Mere Christianity, p. 138)

[6] I apologize if I missed your favorite verse or excluded a reference to something that I should have included. Collecting all the statements in the Book of Mormon about the Doctrine of Deity together in one place isn’t as easy as it looks to. I’ll have to rewrite this article after I next read the Book of Mormon and find more passages that develop its collective doctrine of deity.

[7] As does the Bible.

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39 Responses to The Book of Mormon’s Doctrine of Deity

  1. October 11, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Bruce:

    Absolutely great post. A few additional observations:

    – We’ve had (and still have!) in the Church some varying concepts of Deity over the past 180 years; is it any surprise that there are varying concepts of Deity represented over the 3000+ years encompassed by the Book of Mormon?

    – The bulk of the Book of Mormon passed through two editors (Mormon and Moroni), who — like the modern authors you cite — may well have (consciously or not) used their own concepts of Deity in selecting materials and summarizing observations.

    – Finally, and I’m simply reiterating what you said, it’s not clear to me that we (as mortals) really can understand the nature of God. Much as in science, we come up with models that appear to fit the data — but then we tend to fall in love with the models and mistake them for reality. I like systemizing, rationalizing, and speculating as much as the next person, but I’ve been toying for the last week week with writing a post called “the folly of theology”. I have no animus towards theology at all; I just think in the end, we’re all going to look like a bunch of preschoolers speculating about where babies come from. ..bruce..

  2. Ray
    October 11, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Fabulous post, Bruce. I was going to write a long comment, but #1 said most of it.

    My only contribution is that this is one example of why I have a hard time believing Joseph wrote it based on his own view of God. It simply is all over the place in that regard – which is much more consistent with how societal views evolve, ebb and flow than with a 25-year-old’s understanding of God.

  3. October 11, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Nicely said, though I would agree that we probably can not fully understand God from within time.

    BTW, for some humor on God, etc. http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Gods_of_ArrKelaan/index.php?p=471231

  4. Aaron
    October 11, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Since the rest of the Christian world considers Jesus the only Begotten because He was Begotten before the world began, this passage is significant theologically and separates the Book of Mormon view of Christology from the rest of the Christian worlds.

    There are various positions (that I know of) in historic Trinitarianism on this issue: eternal sonship and incarnational sonship. Eternal sonship is found in the Trinitarian creeds, but incarnational sonship has historically still been an acceptable position to Trinitarians. Those who hold to eternal sonship have largely held to the doctrine of the “eternal generation of the Son” (something else C.S. Lewis expounds upon in Mere Christianity).

    There was a talk I attended at Sunstone SLC 2007 that, if I remember correctly, addressed the possibility that debates regarding incarnational sonship (which were somewhat contemporary to Smith) influenced the content and language of the Book of Mormon. I believe the talk was this one:

    The Book of Mormon’s View of the Godhead: Now It All Makes Sense

  5. Aaron
    October 11, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    3 Nephi 11:6-8 doesn’t seem to work as well as it could for establishing the Father and Son as distinct persons, because the Father speaks before the Son descends.

    Also, perhaps I missed it, but you didn’t seem to provide any commentary on the phrase, “The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God”, from Mosiah 15:3?

  6. Aaron
    October 11, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Sorry, one more comment and I’ll come back later.

    Addressing the phrase “The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God” (Mosiah 15:3) seems to have direct relevance on the issue of whose will is being spoken of in 15:2. If the Father in 15:3 is Christ, then it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable to surmise that the “Father” spoken of in 15:2 is Christ.

    “It just means that that word “omni-present” means something other than God being physically present everywhere, as some Christians assume.”

    We would say that “God is ‘within’ the universe in that he is it’s sustaining cause” (Theopedia), but to say that he is physically present everywhere perhaps feeds a Mormon stereotype of the traditional doctrine of omniscience, which seems to give the false impression that “God’s form is spread out so that parts of Him exist in every location” (another stolen phrase from Theopedia). Sometimes I get the impression that Mormons think the traditional view of omniscience is sort of like a physical gas spread throughout the universe. I am happy to be proven wrong, however.

    Grace and peace,

    Aaron

  7. Bruce Nielson
    October 11, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    #6:

    Aaron, I was not responding to some baked up view of Evangelical beliefs. I was responding directly to this quote from one of your own scholars:

    The simple use of a term does not entitle one to all the privileges of that term, and no one has the right to redefine a word idiosyncratically. For example, what Latter-day Saints such as Robinson refer to as “omnipresent” would probably be more accurately described as “omni-influential” (compare D&C 88:12—13, 41).59 What he terms omniscient as “omni-aware.” A God having influence everywhere is not the same as one having personal presence everywhere.60

    60. No informed Latter-day Saint (that we are aware of) believes that the person of God is fully present everywhere at once. That is the view of orthodox Christianity.

    According to Evangelical theology God is personally present everywhere, something that is just not possible in the Latter-day Saint view. According to the LDS view God is not personally in the room with us as we write this review. He would be aware of what we do and he could influence what we do, but he himself is not in the room with us. In the Evangelical view God is personally present as we type these words. This view appears to be the necessary interpretation of passages like Psalm 139:7—12 in which David rhetorically asks “Where can I flee from your presence?” The point is that everywhere David could possibly go, the Lord would already be personally present there to help and sustain him.

    I should have used the word “personally present” instead of “physically present” though of course this is just a word game because to anyone not already accepting Protestant tradition as authoratative, these would be synonyms. That being said, I do think “personally present” makes more sense from an Evangelical point of view because of course they don’t believe in God having any physical aspect, per se.

    Still, the point of my quote is completely valid. The Book of Mormon does specifically teach that God is not everywhere personally present in the full sense. Of course the Bible argues this too: see for example Luke 1:19 which makes no sense from a Protestant view point of God being equally present everywhere as Owens and Mosser believe. The Bible clearly does speak of a special localized presence of God and that concept is needed to understand heaven and hell. So the Book of Mormon and the Bible disagree with Protestantism on this point.

    But my point was merely that the Book of Mormon makes this point very very clear and so we need to take this into consideration when trying to understand it’s doctrine of deity.

  8. Aaron
    October 11, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Using “personally present” instead of “physically present” changes a lot. With that correction, my objection isn’t needed. When it comes to theophanies the issue of God’s presence takes on more aspects we can talk about, but my concern was that the traditional Christian view of omniscience not be misrepresented. Whether the traditional theistic view of omnipresence is Biblical and philosophically tenable is a separate issue from whether you are accurately representing it. If I seem to cry foul over what I think is a misrepresentation, that doesn’t necessarily constitute a battle-cry for its superiority o my position and a call for you to scripturally and philosophically defend your position.

    Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about “Father” in Mosiah 15:2-3…

  9. Aaron
    October 11, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Woops, I meant “Christian view of omnipresence”, not “Christian view of omniscience”. Omni-this, omni-that…

  10. Ray
    October 11, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    #9 – I had to drive a Dodge Omni for a while years ago. Thanks for bringing up painful memories. :)

  11. Bruce Nielson
    October 11, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    #8: Aaron says: “When it comes to theophanies the issue of God’s presence takes on more aspects we can talk about…”

    Aaron, can we explore this further? It would seem from this statement that you are admitting that there *is* a sense in which God can be more present via a physically present mechanism of some sort during a theophany. Is this what you are saying? (I can see no other way to read it right now, but please explain further.)

    I ask because Mosser and Owens left no such possiblity open in their writings. (As quoted above.) In fact, their whole criticism of Mormon beliefs on this point turned on that one fact: that there is no such thing as a greater local presence of God because He is equally present everywhere.

    If Mosser and Owens allowed for a special sense of him being locally present during a theophany (or for that matter, in heaven) their argument not only falls apart, but comes across as intentionally misleading. After all, what is the difference between Mormon and Evangelical beliefs now? We both:

    1) Believe God can be locally present via a physical manifestation of some sort (for Mormons, via a body, for Evangelicals, it might be thought of as something else, though they might also accept a temporary body.)
    2) Believe God is present everywhere in a lesser sense. (For Mormons via the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ, for Evangelicals, via not having a body and being a non-physical “spirit”.)

    I’m afraid I’m not seeing any functional difference now between our beliefs.

  12. Bruce Nielson
    October 11, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Aaron, you also asked about:

    Also, perhaps I missed it, but you didn’t seem to provide any commentary on the phrase, “The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God”, from Mosiah 15:3?

    Addressing the phrase “The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God” (Mosiah 15:3) seems to have direct relevance on the issue of whose will is being spoken of in 15:2. If the Father in 15:3 is Christ, then it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable to surmise that the “Father” spoken of in 15:2 is Christ.

    I’m afraid I don’t really understand what you are asking me, however. After all, the heading of this section was “Jesus Fully Represents and Even Identifies as the Father”

    It seems to me that I am actively denying the premise of your question. It seems to me that you are making assumptions about Mormon doctrine that aren’t accurate, in fact, because I am stating, unequivocally, that this passage *is* refering to Jesus as the Father. That was my whole point: this passage is identifying Jesus as the Father. (Or Abinidi does, at least.) There is no doubt that this passage is comfortably combining the persons of God. This is anti-Trinitarian.

    As I pointed out in the article, some people mistake this for modalism (I have in the past too.) This is actually understandable because we are clearing combining persons here, just like Modalism. But it’s not modalism either because we aren’t talking about different forms/modes of God. (Also note: I am not denying that Mormon Theology about God has many modalistic aspects, just like it has many Trinitarian aspects, and many Tritheistic aspects.)

    In any case, if we take this passage literally — but ignore the full context (as you seem to be doing) — it’s Swedenborgian: The Father is Jesus’ Spirit and The Son is His Body. This is not modalism nor Trinitarianism. But it’s not really fully Swedenborgian either, since it makes such a huge deal out of “wills” being the aspect of God in question and also it refers to the Father and the Son as “they” instead of “He” as Swedenborgian beliefs would have insisted. Furthermore, how do you square Swedenborgian ideas of God with the literal bodily form that both Jesus and the Spirit of the Lord take within the Book of Mormon? You can’t, of course.

    So I am not sure what you are asking me here.

    If you are asking me to square the idea that Jesus identifies as the Father with Mormon doctrine, that’s for another post, perhaps. I didn’t want to get into it at this point, as this article was meant to simply lay out the data points in the Book of Mormon.

    But since I knew that might confuse some Mormons, I put a link to an excellent article on the subject and I gave a quick nod to Divine Investiture which is a Mormon doctrine where Jesus identifies Himself as the Father due to being in such complete synchronization of moral will, attributes, and perfections with the Father that what one says is the same as if the other and there is no need to differentiate persons in most cases. Thus Jesus, in modern Mormon theology, *does* identify as the Father. That is to say, Mormon theology also comfortably combines the persons of God just like this passage does.

    For example:

    First, be it remembered that most scriptures that speak of God or of the Lord do not even bother to distinguish the Father from the Son, simply because it doesn’t make any difference which God is involved. They are one. The words or deeds of either of them would be the words and deeds of the other in the same circumstance. (Bruce R. McConkie in “Our Relationship with the Lord”)

    I hope to tackle the strengths and weaknesses of “divine investiture” later. But for now, it should be rationally obvious that if someone accepts divine investiture as valid, this verse would pose no problem for them.

    I should probably point out here that divine investiture is not the only way to tackle this verse from a Mormon view point. But it’s the most common approach so that’s why I made my nod that way. But there is so much more that could be said about this passage and what we can learn from it.

  13. Aaron
    October 11, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Bruce, I’ll try to come back later and answer the questions, but for now I’d like to drop a question before I head to sleep. Where are you getting “wills” (plural) out of Mosiah 15:2?

    PS Are you close to SLC for lunch?

  14. Bruce Nielson
    October 12, 2008 at 10:34 am

    #13 –

    Aaron, the only place I mentioned “two wills” was in this quote: “The closest fit to a literal interpretation of this passage — while ignoring v. 2’s explanation of wills, to say nothing of the context of the rest of the Book of Mormon — would actually be Swedenborgian, not modalism”

    So my contexts is *specifically* that that this verse isn’t Swedenborgian because it defines Jesus being the Father and the Son due to subjecting the Flesh to the Father’s will. To the best of my knowledge when I wrote this, this isn’t the Swedenborg’s formula.

    Obviously the passage does not use the word “wills.” That’s my word to communicate in what sense this passage was very un-Swedenborgian. If you read in more than that, you went beyond my meaning.

    2 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-

    So we have the Son of God dwelling in flesh. The Son of God subjects the Flesh to the will of the Father.

    The passage only uses the word “will” refering to the Father’s will.

    But there are two other things that could legitimately be called a “will” here using simple English concepts that I would expect a reader to understand: 1) The Son of God choosing (i.e. implies a will) to follow the Father’s will rather than the desire of the flesh, 2) The desires of the flesh itself could legimately be considered “a will” because it wants something at odds with God.

    So verse 2 thus has two possible ways to read it, as three wills or two wills:

    1. Three wills interpretation: The person of Jesus was made up of a Spirit and Flesh (just like all of us) but with the difference that He (Jesus) always choses (Will 1) the will of the Father (Will 2. But note that will 1 and 2 are always make the same choice. This is important.) over the desires of the Flesh (Will 3. Note that Will 3 is at odds with will 1 and 2).

    2. Two wills interpretation: Jesus’ spirit *is* the person of the Father (Will 1) and over came the desires of the Flesh, which is the Son. (Will 2)

    But verse 2 is very specific: it states that Jesus *is* the Father and the Son *because* He “subjected the flesh to the will of the Father.” (Update: I was writing this from memory at the time, but actually verse 2 specifically states that Jesus is “God” (it connects to v. 4 since verse 3 is an aside) — Not “The Father and the Son” — because He subjected the fesh to the will of the Father. It actually depends on how you read the verse. It could be read either way. But either way, the point is the same. Swedenborgian beliefs have no concept of Jesus being either “Father and Son” nor “God” due to subjecting His Flesh to the will of “the Father”)

    He *is not* stated as being the Father and the Son because His Spirit is the Father and His Flesh the Son, as explanation 2 assumes. Indeed, the Book of Mormon *never* states that.

    If I start with that as a assumption, yes, I can read that passage that way with two wills instead of three wills. But nothing compels me to do so. (Nothing denies me either.)

    But even if I read this as two wills, it still isn’t Swedenborgianism as I understand it (I might be misinterpreting as I’m not an expert on Swedenborn.) I am unaware of anything in Swedenborg’s teachings that Jesus became the Father and the Son (Update: or God) by overcoming the will of the flesh. If Swedenborg did teach this, then my original statement was wrong that v. 2 was un-Swedenborgian. However, the rest of the data in the Book of Mormon still denies Swedenborgian beliefs because, for instance, we have two personalities that can seperately speak from heaven prior to Jesus incarnation. And also we have two bodily beings — Jesus and the Spirit of the Lord — that are seperately in the form of a man and both prior to the Incarnation.

    Before this conversation goes any further, we need to resolve this point. Do you understand the context of what I was stating now? Can you accept, now that I’ve given the full explanation, that this passage is un-Swedenborgian in some ways, or at least to the best of my current knowledge. (Feel free to give me a good Swedenborg quote to prove me wrong and I’ll willingly and gladly strike that line from my post and let it stand on the rest of the data.)

  15. Bruce Nielson
    October 12, 2008 at 11:02 am

    I updated my post at the point in question to reflect my meaning better.

  16. Rigel Hawthorne
    October 12, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I love how you have showed the richness of the language involving descriptions of deity. I counted your headings as 13 different characterizations of BofM descriptions of deity, and there are probably more that are there! It makes me chuckle when you read some anti literature stating that the church is false because the BofM states that God is a “Great Spirit” while JS taught the body of flesh and bone. The surface of doctrine is not even scratched by that comment.

    I have to give my seminary teachers credit for going over some of this with many years ago. (i.e. the title Father as the creator of all things). I don’t believe they ever used the term “Swedenborgian”. :)

    The BoM writers also dealt with restrictions such as the instructions to the Brother of Jared to keep his experience mum until Jesus was resurrected. Moroni also was not able to make a full account of these things (the visitation to the brother of Jared) which “are written”. He hinted that it had to do with comparing the visitation of Jesus to the brother of Jared with the visitation of Jesus unto the Nephites. This is another complexity in putting “those points together into a coherent whole for ourselves.”

  17. Aaron
    October 13, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Here, let me repost my latest comment with the fix… moderator, please remove the first try.

    Bruce, before you settle on Owen and Mosser being “intentionally misleading”, I would take time to learn some nuance, regardless of whether you agree with it. As I understand traditional theism, “The theophanic form of appearance does not disclose what God is ontologically in Himself, but merely how He condescends to appear and work for the redemption of His people” >>). There seem to be different kinds of “presence” we traditional theists talk about. Geerhardus Vos uses the interesting phrase, “the special redemptive and revelatory presence of God”.

    If God manifests himself in a physical theophany in the same room as me, he is, perhaps I could say, “physically present” in a way that he is not at all present in the next room. But when we speak of God’s omnipresence and immanence, him being the personal sustaining cause of the entire universe, and him being personally present everywhere (something not dependent on physical location or proximity of theophany), that applies to everywhere, not just the places he manifests himself in theophany.

    Going back to the modalism issue. Shall I assume you have read the paper by Ron Huggins on this issue? Regarding the issue of submitting to the “will of the Father” in Mosiah 15, how would you respond on this issue to his appeal to 3 Nephi 1:14 (currently mistyped as 3 Nephi 1:13)? He also addresses the issue of both the “body of my spirit” and the fleshly body spoken of in the BofM.

    A few small things: You seem to distinguish Swedenborgianism with modalism, but Swedenborgianism seems to be a type of modalism distinct from Sabellian modalism, one being “expansionistic”, the other being “sequential”. Also, I think Swedenborg referred to Father, Son, and Spirit as “Gods” as well as “one God”, so I doubt calling them “they” would entirely be out of the question. Swedenborg also spoke of anthropomorphic appearances of God, and of earthly things have a “corresponding” existence in the spiritual realm that is striking to me when considering Smith’s early worldview.

    Are you local to Utah? If so, I would love to set up a friendly lunch with you, I, and professor Ron Huggins to discuss the issue.

    Looking forward to your article on divine investiture…

  18. micah
    October 13, 2008 at 9:09 am

    This blog and replies point up the advantage of pondering the text of the scriptures, rather than commentaries on the text, in order to receive whatever message the scriptures are sending.

  19. Bruce Nielson
    October 13, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    #17 – Aaron, I don’t have much time, so I’ll have to come back to this.

    Let me response to a few points:

    “There seem to be different kinds of “presence” we traditional theists talk about”

    This line, and the rest of your description, do a lot to clarify your view. I can *probably* make a safe assumption it clarifies Owen’s and Mosser’s view as well. (I’m trying to think of a way to reword my article to reflect this. Still working on that.)

    However, logically their argument just fell apart completely since Mormons, using Protestant lingo, can freely now believe that God is “personally present” while still having a body that is not present. (Can you see that this is a logically valid position and thus this isn’t a point worth pursuing further?)

    Thank you for bring that to my attention. I will give Owens and Mosser the benefit of the doubt and assume they simply missed this obvious logical fact (from their point of view) rather than being intentionally deceptive. (I have no reason to believe they were being intentionally deceptive and this doesn’t seem like their style anyhow.)

    Clarification on Swedenborgian beliefs: I am not an expert in Swedenborgianism, but I know for a fact that they do not speak of multiple Gods. This was, in fact, Swedenborg’s main objection to Trinitarianism that from his point of view. He believed Tritarians spoke of multiple Gods implicitly, and objected to this.

    Then again, maybe you have some passage from Swedenborg where he says this (perhaps to illustrate a point?) If so, please share. But I’m currently not aware of such a thing. (That I am not aware doesn’t mean much.)

    Also, you are right that some people would classify Swedenborg as “modalist”. I have already pointed out that this would be somewhat natural since his views and classic modalism have at least one important point in common (and as far as I can see, only that one point) that they see only one person in God. If you choose to expand “modalism” to include a category that includes Swedenborg, I am hardly one to object.

    However, when one says, for example, Mosiah 15:1-4 is “modalist” I would think an honest attempt at evaluation or dialog would include a clarification/explanation that by “modalist” they actually mean Swedenborgian, not classic modalism, as the two are very different. I have never seen a critic of the Book of Mormon do this to date. (Again, I’ll assume ignorance rather than deception. It’s an easy trap to fall into, I suppose.) I’ve also never seen any critics tackle the fact that the passage is also anti-Swedenbornian (does Swedenborg have a concept that Jesus is the Father because He was conceived by God’s power? I did a search in the article you sent and didn’t find this addressed at all.). I have also never seen a critic of the Book of Mormon address that the full context of the Book of Mormon can’t be easily (or I’d argue not at all) squared to Swedenborgian thought. Again, I’ll assume ignorance rather than deception. But that’s pretty serious ignorance we’re talking about here.

    I have not read Huggins’ article. I might, later, if I think it would be worth my while to further communication.

    Thinking of what I just wrote, I just did a quick search in the article to see if Huggins addresses the full context of the Book of Mormon. He apparently doesn’t. We seem to have a serious ignorance problem with this article, so far.

    For example, he states: “No clear distinction is made between the person of God the Father and the person of God the Son in the Book of Mormon.”

    I’ve already refuted this beyond doubt in my post. See, for example, “When Jesus is in Heaven, Prior to His Incarnation, He is Treated as a Separate Personality Than His Father” There are others as well.

    Since Huggins doesn’t even mention that data point (i.e. 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15), its difficult for me to see how this article could be meaningful at all. He also completely ignores 1 Nephi 11:1, 11 where the Spirit of the Lord is said to be in bodily form, just like Jesus is later in the Book of Mormon in Ether. (I just did a search for these passage and he never quotes them.)

    I am going to have to assume that he didn’t do his research very well. In fact, it’s hard to see how anything he says could possible matter if he’s ignoring all evidence against his case. A case is determined on the best evidence against it, not the worst. Please explain what this article brings to the table if it doesn’t even consider obvious counter evidence I bring up in my post here?

    Aaron, I think there is a bigger issue here. I have already, in #14, admitted one could read the passage in a fairly Swedenborgian way as well as a way that is friendly to Mormon theology.

    In other words, I’ve already admitted one could read this passage in a way unfriendly to Mormon theolgy. But you haven’t yet admitted it can be read in a way friendly to Mormon theology. I see this as a significant problem with our dialog so far.

    I suspect we could come up with thousands of ‘valid’ (i.e. fit all the facts) interpretations of this passage, many of which would be friendly to Mormon theology and many of which would be unfriendly. That is the nature of interpretation and is not an issue unique to Mormonism nor the Book of Mormon.

    But I see no point in debating your personal choice of interpretation that is unfriendly to Mormon theology. I already know you, being biased against Mormons, are going to pick one of the unfriendly ones and do your best to build it up. Likewise, I, being biased towards Mormons, am going to pick one of the friendly interpretations.

    What I need for you to admit, for this dialog to be useful, is that there does exist friendly interpretations of this passage. That is to say, we can’t move forward with dialog without you admitting that Mormons can and do read this passage, accepting all the data in it, and can do so with seeing it as contradictory to their beliefs.

    Now let me be clear (I’ve learned this from hard experience talking with Evangelicals.) I am NOT asking you to accept as “true” a friendly interpretation. (common misunderstanding #1). I am NOT asking you to believe this passage is scripture. (common misunderstanding #2) I am NOT asking you to say that a valid friendly interpretation is, in your view, the “most likely.” (common misunderstanding #3). I am NOT even asking you to acknowledge that a friendly interpretation is what “the original author had in mind.” (common misunderstanding #4).

    I am limiting my request to simply that this passage can be validly (i.e. fits all the facts, literally or figuratively) read by Mormons in such a way that it is not at odds with their beliefs.

    Can you admit this? If so, I’ll continue this dialog. If not, I am done.

  20. Bruce Nielson
    October 13, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Aaron,

    Sorry, I didn’t respond to your request for lunch. I am in the SLC area and I would love to go to lunch IF I find that you are a sincere person interested in dialog.

    We are not yet far enough into this conversation for me to determine that.

    Let me speak bluntly for a moment. I apologize, I am not trying to be rude, just clear.

    I have not had good experiences talking with Evangelicals on the Internet who claim to be interested in sincere and honest dialog. In fact, I have met exactly two (JFQ being one) sincere and honest Evangelical/Protestant to date on the internet. (Numbers get better in real life. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that people on the internet that seek out Mormons to debate tend to be the more deceptive and bigoted variety so we end up with skewed numbers.)

    So I apologize, because I know even being this straight forward will (particularly in writing like this) come across like I am accusing you of being this way. But I am not accusing you of anything. What I am saying is that I don’t yet know if you are trying to sincerely talk to me or just waste my time. Based on my past experience with Internet Evangelicals, I feel I must determine for myself if you are sincere or not based on how you act rather than take your word for it.

    The determining factors are whether or not you can avoid intolerance (see here for my definition of tolerance) and if you can be consistent and treat Mormons the way you want to be treated yourself.

    More to the point, I need to know if you can you accept my description of my own beliefs as accurate for me. (This is what I’m getting at in my last post. And it is very important.)

    My experiences with Evangelicals/Protestants, so far, is that they start off acting like they are sincere and want to have dialog and then — when I prove that they have a misunderstanding of my personal beliefs (as informed by Mormon beliefs) — they resort to telling me what I *really* believe and then attack that belief (which I just said I don’t hold). I would venture a guess that they do this because they don’t know what else to do with all the intolerant material they’ve collected from their anti-Mormon class or book, or what have you, and so they have to resort to refusing to listen to my own description of my own beliefs rather than face the reality that Mormons might not all (or maybe not any) fit the stereotypes that they have been taught to believe.

    I have several examples of this phenonmenon right here on Mormom Matters. The last Evangelical I discussed with explained to me that I, as a Mormon, believed that I had to be almost perfect to be saved and quoted the “after all you can do” verse in the Book of Mormon to prove this point. When I explained that I read that verse differently than he did he tried to argue with me that I *should* read it the way he wanted me to read it and tried to carry on the discuss from there. The conversation ended at that point because progress was now impossible.

  21. Joe Geisner
    October 13, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Aaron,

    I find you comments well thought out and appreciate your ideas.

    If I lived in Salt Lake I would be happy to accept your invitation. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so if you and Ron Huggins ever make it to San Francisco I would be happy to play host and would enjoy the stimulating conversation. In fact I am attending Bart Ehrman’s lecture on Thursday where he and N.T. Wright will be stimulating minds.

  22. Bruce Nielson
    October 14, 2008 at 10:23 am

    “It just means that that word “omni-present” means something other than God being physically present everywhere, as some Christians assume.”

    Aaron, I promised to change my post to clarify this if you could explain it to me. I am struggling to come up with a simple change, however.

    The problem stems from the distinction Protestants, such as yourself, seem to make between “physically present” vs. “personally present.” To anyone outside your tradition, those would be synonyms. But I have no issue with Protestants taking two words that normally mean the same thing and splitting them into two different meanings as a way to convey a complex or profound idea that there aren’t better words for. Mormons do this all the time too.

    (As an aside, this reminds me a lot of a recent conversation between the seemly arbitary split between “person” and “being” used by Protestants and Catholics to describe the Trinity. However, naturally this is very confusing to someone outside your tradition for which the two words are the same meaning. The burden should be on the person who has the nuanced difference to explain themselves better. But of course often the person with the non-standard definition doesn’t even know they have a non-standard definition.)

    The problem is that I wrote that above based on my honest best reading of Owens and Mosser. But you are now suggesting to me that Owens and Mossers arguments are actually word-offense (defined here.) over Mormons (nor anyone else for that matter) not making the same nuanced distinction between “personally present” and “physically present” like Evangelicals do.

    In other words, it would seem that Owens and Mosser were using a dual standard. They are starting with the assumption that they are allowed to make the distiction between “personal” and “physical” but that Mormons are not allowed the same distinction.

    Robinson writes: “While God in the LDS view is not physically present in all things but rather spiritually present, I don’t think this really differs very much from the Evangelical view in which God’s omnipresence is likewise not a physical or material presence, but a spiritual presence” (p. 77). He misses the point. According to Evangelical theology God is personally present everywhere, something that is just not possible in the Latter-day Saint view.

    It’s easy to see why I might have misunderstood what they were saying because their argument is misleading.

    The simple fact is that Mormons believe God is spiritually present (whatever that means) and that He also has a body (whatever that means.) Thus if I assume “personally present” doesn’t mean “physically present” then Robinson was correct from the outset.

    The problem is that if I change this line to read: “It just means that that word “omni-present” means something other than God being personally present everywhere, as some Christians assume.” it very likely misrepresents Mormon beliefs. After all, “personally present” as Protestants nuance it as seperate from “physically present” might be a very good description of the Mormon concept of the omni-presence of God.

    But if I leave it like it is, I am likely misrepresenting Evangelical beliefs (assuming Owens and Mosser actually believe as you do.) In the interest of fair play and intellectual honest, I don’t want to do this.

    Short of a long explanation like this, I can think of no quick and easy way to describe the issue better. But this is clearly an aside, so I don’t want it to overwhelm the post.

    So I need to give this more thought. Perhaps I’ll just put a note to our comments below pointing to the more nuanced understanding. (Update: Done)

    By the way, I have two other clarifying questions for you:

    1) I have been told by Evangelicals that hell is seperation from God. Please explain how this is possible within the, as you are describing it, Evagelical world view on God being “personally present” everywhere.

    2) I have been told by Evangelicals that heaven is living with God. You only made a distinction for theophanies, not life with God in heaven. So please explain how, from an Evagelical world view, God’s presence in heaven is understood to be different then his currently being “personally present” everywhere already.

  23. Ron
    October 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Let me add confusion to what is already a difficult subject. What the brother of Jared saw was Lord’s body as it was going to appear when the Lord became mortal. Look carefully at Ether 3:8-9.

    8 And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.
    9 And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?

    The critical phrase is “Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood.” The brother of Jared was seeing Christ as he was to become. Ether 3:16 suggests that Christ’s spirit body looks like his Earthly body but again tells us that what the brother of Jared saw was an image of Christ’s Earthly body.

    16 Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.

    I am not sure what this all means except that my concepts of time and body may be too narrow to understand Eternity.

  24. James
    October 15, 2008 at 1:43 am

    “The Book of Mormon denies all of the popular existing theologies about God.”

    Interesting Post Bruce- Maybe the above is why so many religions put us down as a cult?

  25. Bruce Nielson
    October 15, 2008 at 8:49 am

    James, that’s a thought worth pursuing further, i.e. both “why” so many religions “put us down as a cult” and also if or how much it’s related to our rejection of things they hold near and dear vs. something less substantial, like, say, maybe wanting to scare their own members away from us as a form of border control.

    Joe and Aaron, if you guys ever do get together for lunch and decide to actually hold a real discussion about the differences in your beliefs (for example, the two of you discussing whether or not Jesus really performed miracles or if the Bible does or doesn’t ban homosexuality) instead of just commiserate over a common “enemy”… PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE invite me. I’ll have nothing to add or say, but I want to tape the whole thing. ;)

  26. October 15, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Fine observations, Ron (# 23). As both Bruce Nielson and Melody Moench Charles have observed, it is easy to read our present views back into older texts. In the brother of Jared’s vision, a modern Latter-day Saint might view the verses which you mention as solid evidence that the Being who appeared was Christ (since He was a spirit), as opposed to God the Father, whom modern Mormons view as separate from Christ, and as having a physical body at that time. But as you note, that is not quite the point which that text addresses.

    I have prepared a separate .pdf document of entry 481 from my Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source (2008) which includes my essay, “Deity in the Book of Mormon.” In that essay, I conclude . . .

    The doctrinal error of the Zoramites (a few years later, before the birth of the Savior) was not to believe that God was then a spirit, but to claim that He would ever remain so, never to enter the body of Jesus to redeem the world
    (Alma 31:15-16). That is why, much earlier, when the brother of Jared beheld “the Lord” in vision, no distinction was made between the Father and the Son. The man of surpassing faith had beheld “the finger of the Lord,” “the finger of Jesus,” – indeed His entire spirit body which would one day become flesh. The brother of Jared did not behold two personages in 1829 (any more than did Joseph Smith in 1832) because in the mind of the narrator, these were One. Each man saw THE “Lord.” “I am the Father and the Son.” (Ether 3; for phrases quoted here, see in that order, verses 6, 19, 14. For Joseph Smith’s 1832 account, see point C in “Past Modern Views,” below.) [page 1944]

    Such language may shock or irritate some readers, particularly if heard out of context, as above. If anyone wishes to download the full entry, it is available at http://www.rickgrunder.com/parallels/mp481.pdf

  27. Bruce Nielson
    October 15, 2008 at 9:05 am

    Hey, Rick, thanks for your addition.

    I am honestly curious why you, as have several others in this discussion, ignored some of the data, particulary the 2 Nephi 31 quotes about there being two personalities that can speak from heaven prior to the Incarnation of Jesus.

    I’m sure you realize that a case, like the one you are making, is ultimately determined by the best evidence against it, not the evidence that fits the case the best. In the interest of intellectual completeness, I’d like to see how you personally address that data point. (I also searched your article for that reference and didn’t find it.)

    “As both Bruce Nielson and Melody Moench Charles have observed, it is easy to read our present views back into older texts.”

    I completely agree with this statement. I would just add, that it’s also easy to read other views into the text.

  28. October 15, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I sense your frustration, Bruce, and can empathize with your desire to cut through to some ultimate solution. However, this requires mature scholarship. I found your footnote 1 (to your post above) rather callow, and derisive of someone who has written both well and competently on the dilemma which you now attempt to explore. If the problem were so simple as to assemble a series of data points, we would not be having this discussion in the first place. There are writers who come from theological places similar to yours who have devoted lifetimes to this study. To imagine that people have not considered certain texts, or to assume that they have some obdurate agenda to promote, simply won’t cut it. Again, as I write in my essay (pp. 1936-37),

    . . . the problem will not go away. The Book of Mormon’s expressions of deity are simply not consistent enough to supply modern Mormonism’s expectations of utter clarity or tangible theology. But neither was Joseph Smith consistent throughout his life, as scholars demonstrate easily, and as I echo below. If we will not presuppose a modern Mormon perspective, but listen instead to the Book of Mormon’s words, we may recognize individual bits of language which have satisfied either Trinitarians, or Unitarians, Binitarians, Modalists or almost any other Christian polemicists who have wrestled with Godhead since the New Testament came together.

    Dan Vogel points out that in the Book of Mormon, “. . . —the voice of the Father introducing the Son, the subjection of the Son unto the Father, the Son ascending to the Father (3 Ne[phi]. 11:6-8, 32; 15:1, 18-19; 18:27; 26:2, 5, 15) — all have parallels in the New Testament (Matt. 3:13-17; J[oh]n. 14:28; 15:10; 16:28; 20:17).” And did those references make every Christian believe in the same kind of Godhead throughout history? If “. . . such passages never dissuaded modalists” elsewhere, then “. . . the presence of apparent contradictions does not necessarily detract from a modalistic interpretation” in the Book of Mormon itself (Vogel 1989, 24).

    In modern Mormon culture, we flatter ourselves too often that only we have found, only we have understood those New Testament verses which appear to show that God and Christ are separate beings. Yet, a thousand Trinitarian angels have danced comfortably upon the head of that same pin since the medieval church and before, joyfully chanting the same biblical lines which appear in Mormon arguments – or in the Book of Mormon itself. For powerful examples of how easily Christ could pray to His Father in passages sung by Trinitarians who continued to enjoy their own version of one God in three “persons,” consider as merely one example in this bibliography, Joshua Smith’s compilation of Divine Hymns (MP 403). For a demonstration of similar Trinitarian comfort in preaching all these things, see MP 469 (Whitman).

    I address the point about separate personalities of Father and Son in the Book of Mormon elsewhere in my book, including page 1941 of the essay. But whatever one’s conclusions, it behooves us to address one another in tones which do not presume that we are the only ones who are intellectually alert, or who have discovered what is somehow obvious until now.

  29. Bruce Nielson
    October 16, 2008 at 8:07 am

    Rick,

    I’m going to respond in two parts. First, I need to address your indirect accusation that I am unfair to Charles in that I take a negative tone about what she has written. (Later I’ll interact with the facts and points you make in #28.)

    I am going to plead guilty to a negative tone towards Charles’ article and repent by changing the tone in my post. In particular, I removed the word “pet” next to “theory” as this does seem derisive to me. I also removed the line that contained irony and made it factual.

    I do not wish to say anything that would be offensive to Charles. I am, as you point out, just a layman writing a blog entry. I really didn’t think of this as a scholarly work and I was not attempting a scholarly tone. Honestly, the thought never crossed my mind about how Charles might look at what I say since I, naturally, assumed she had better things to do with her time then read my blog post. So I think these tweaks are necessary and I thank you for pointing this out to me.

    That being said, I think you are being unfair to not acknowledge the real problems with Charles’ article and the factual rebuke that I am giving her. You do not address this at all in your comments.

    Charles’ article is about her views and theories about what theology about God *the Nephites* had. Unlike Huggins and apparently yourself, she does not assume Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.

    I am tackling Charles theory in that light, as a believer writing to believers about a fellow believers scholarly point of view.

    Charles believes, according to her article, that the Nephites believed in a form of modalism due to lack of later revelations from modern prophets, but that not all of their writings about God were completely consistent so we occasionally get some minor noise in how God is presented. This sets her up to be able to look at the data and discard arguably non-modalistic statements, such as Ether 3:14. Unfortunately she doesn’t mention 2 Nephi 31 at all.

    But if one wants to use Charles’ methodology, one could just as easily ignore Mosiah 15:1-4 and include 2 Nephi 31 and make the case that the Nephites primarily believed in classical Trinitarianism (or even Tritheism) and dismiss the few counter examples (remember we’re ignoring Mosiah 15:1-4 just like she ignored 2 Nephi 31) as noise.

    This is a huge problem with Charles’ analysis, and there is nothing unfair about me addressing this problem with her analysis.

    Making matters worse is the very fact that she does ignore 2 Nephi 31. This is as egregious an error as ignoring Mosiah 15:1-4 would be.

    You go on to accuse me of shoddy work by saying, “…imagin[ing] that people have not considered certain texts, or to assume that they have some obdurate agenda to promote, simply won’t cut it.”

    But this point is questionable on both counts. First of all, I have not accused Charles of any agenda at all other than building up her own theories in an article clearly meant to build the case for her own theories. I have not implied she’s trying to disprove the Book of Mormon as an ancient text, and I have not implied she is being dishonest.

    On the question of whether or not Charles has considered the 2 Nephi 31 text or not I said nothing other than, “It is unclear why she ignored all the other anti-modalistic statements found throughout the Book of Mormon.”

    But now that you have brought it up, I think this needs to be addressed. If Charles simply missed 2 Nephi 31 in her analysis, and this is why she doesn’t bring it up, then Charles has simply made a mistake (as I believe is the case, since I think Charles is an honest person). However, her analysis has a glaring hole that I am correct to mention.

    If on the other hand she is aware of 2 Nephi 31 and, despite full awareness of its existence, didn’t bother to put it into the article and address it, then we have a much more serious problem with her article and even possibly an intellectual honesty issue. I feel I can safely assume this isn’t the case. So the most likely scenario really is that she missed this passage entirely.

    I hope you can see that I am doing my best to be fair to Charles and that you’ll take my repentance of any negative tone as proof of that. Your feedback on my changes would be welcomed.

    Rick, let me go on now, to point out that you have misunderstood me in another area. I am not frustrated with the Book of Mormon’s presentation of the doctrine of deity. Nor am I looking for an “ultimate solution”, as I clearly stated in the second paragraph of my post: “There is a danger in trying to force fit the Book of Mormon into a pre-existing theological doctrine of deity. It is the same danger that exists in trying to force the Bible into a pre-existing theological doctrine of deity.”

    Personally, I’m content that different people will look at this in different ways and that the Book of Mormon leaves open many possibilities. (As was implied by “What the Book of Mormon Doesn’t Confront” section of the post.) You have mistakenly read in to my text something that simply wasn’t there.

  30. October 16, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for your reply, Bruce (#29). I feel much better about what you have said about Melodie Moench Charles now, although I still feel some need to emphasize that a broader approach would be better than to count scripture verses and line then up, one against the other. But most importantly here, I do appreciate your effort to approach other people’s work with fewer overtones. I have never met or corresponded with Charles, but I learned a lot from her article, as I have from the work of others, and from your post.

    I’m afraid that 2 Nephi 31 and similar verses simply do not strike me theologically as much as they do you, from my perspective of trying to understand what the narrator believed about the nature of deity. That is because, during the era when Joseph Smith dictated those words, people of various denominations often used similar language even if they did not believe the Father and the Son to be two separate Beings.

    This may sound surprising, but I am in an unusually advantaged situation to make that statement after a quarter-century of reading non-Mormon works of Joseph Smith’s time and place. While my book contains many examples of this curious phenomenon, I am thinking just now of Rachel Baker, a once-famous young woman from New York State who preached in her sleep in the 18-teens. She delivered at least one recorded exhortation in which she imagined the pre-mortal Christ speaking in heaven to the Father, volunteering to come to earth to save mankind. And yet, Rachel was a Trinitarian (raised Presbyterian, then becoming a Baptist) and was regarded by quite educated observers as an orthodox Christian. And hymn books of that era juxtaposed lyrics which leave one as confused as the Book of Mormon, as to just what the readers actually believed about the nature of deity. Somewhat to my surprise just this morning (I wasn’t even looking, I promise!) while doing bibliographic work, I stumbled upon these lines in an LDS hymnal of 1843 . . .

    JESUS, our Lord, arise
    Scatter our enemies,
    And make them fall!
    Let thine almighty aid
    Our sure defence be made;
    Our souls on thee be stayed;
    Lord, hear our call!

    Come, thou incarnate Word,
    Gird on thy mighty sword;
    Our prayer attend!
    Come, and thy people bless,
    And give thy word success;
    Spirit of holiness,
    On us descend!

    Come, holy Comforter,
    Thy sacred witness bear
    In this glad hour!
    Thou, who almighty art,
    Now rule in every heart,
    And ne’er from us depart,
    Spirit of power.

    To the great ONE in THREE,
    The highest praises be,
    Hence evermore!
    His sovereign majesty,
    May we in glory see,
    And, to eternity,
    Love and adore.

    A Collection of Sacred Hymns, Adapted to the Faith and Views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Compiled by John Hardy (Boston: Dow & Jackson’s Press, 1843), Hymn 25, pp. 24-25 (emphasis [originally, large-and-small caps] in the original).

    Several of the hymns in that LDS compilation seem equally ambiguous as to the nature of deity, evidently conflating the persons of the Godhead, or addressing Jesus as “God” in a manner which seems not to suggest the existence of any Other.

    As I intimate in my essay (linked in comment 26), the Book of Mormon is hardly the place to go if one is seeking clarification on the physical nature of deity, because the composition of Godhead was not the Book’s emphasis. Instead, the Book of Mormon’s concern was to assert that Christ is truly the divine and infinite Redeemer. If the Book of Mormon had wished to clarify some plain and precious doctrine of separate Beings in the Godhead, it certainly would have done so (as it did, so categorically, with issues like infant baptism or Universalism). But it did not, because that was neither it’s purpose nor its point. We do not hear Joseph Smith describing two separate Beings until the mid-1830s.

    We could easily play scripture chase all day, and I am fully aware of the verses which some Latter-day Saints point to, to show a separation of Father and Son. But there are too many other verses in the Book of Mormon to the contrary, to use mere proof-texting to establish a unified doctrine there. For me, Modalism has become the best hypothesis, with the fewest problems, to reconcile this thorny conundrum.

  31. Bruce Nielson
    October 16, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Rick,

    I will respond to your points later.

    Let me just say thanks for your respectful reply. Also, let me agree with you up front on those things on which we agree.

    I agree with you that the Book of Mormon does not attempt to establish, as you say, “some plain and precious doctrine of separate Beings in the Godhead.” I am aware of no informed Mormon that would make such a claim.

    I also agree with you completely that Mormonism is often “ambiguous as to the nature of deity.” So I will present no challenge to you at all on this other than to point out that this is so today as it was back in the 19th century.

    What I wish to do, though, in my next post (when I have time) is make a mental split for you. I sense that you are struggling to break out of the “believer vs. non-believer” mind set. You continue to read into me things like a desire for an ultimate solution (something you expect of a believer but I have not asked for), a need to simply line up verse and prooftext (another expectation of a believer that is unjustify by anything in my post), etc. You are trying to defend your position to someone you preceive as a believer.

    Actually, I accept your position that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon specifically with modalism in mind as “valid” which I define as “fitting all the facts.” (Valid does not imply “best fit” but that will be besides the point for the point I want to make.) There are typically many “valid” opinions, in this sense. So I am not going to challenge your view or your personal beliefs, including your belief that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.

    But I am going to challenge what you state in your paper, particularly page 1941 which you pointed me to, on the grounds that it is misleading, even in comparison to your own stated views here. (I say “misleading” intentionally, because this does not imply intentional deception, which I am not accusing you of.)

    More later.

  32. Bruce Nielson
    October 17, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Rick,
    Now let me address your own response. First, let me say, that I think you handle this topic in your article much more skillfully than Charles did. I actually found myself agreeing with you far more than disagreeing with you. (Of what I’ve read so far, anyhow.) Also, I really do sense in your article a sincere desire to seek for truth.

    Now, to help us make the split from ‘believer vs. non-believer’ let’s suppose that I’m an atheist that believes Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and that he wrote into it his modified view of Trinitarianism. I am advancing my position against yours that the author of the Book of Mormon (whoever you believe that is) wrote the Book of Mormon but with a modified view of what you are calling “modalism.” (I think this label itself is misleading, but I’ll accept it for now.)

    My hypothetical atheist feels your analysis is marred by not mentioning 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15, the single most Trinitarian (though perhaps modified Trinitarian) passage in the Book of Mormon. In fact, even your example of Rachel Baker, far from explaining this passage away, reinforces just how Trinitarian and not Modalistic this passage is! (Although, I do want to point out that such language amongst Trinitarians is common even today and dates back to the Bible itself. Fitting it into the 19th century misses the point. Many of my Trinitarian friends speak this way all the time modernly.)

    Now consider that in response to my question to you about 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15, you referred me to your page 1941, apparently the strongest place were you considered this data or you would not have sent me there. For the lurkers, here is what you state:

    But how are we to resolve his frustrating blend of disparate deity references within a very few months of 1829? Honestly, I have to think that some of those passages crept into the Book of Mormon from the Bible, without entire reconciliation with Joseph’s personal view of God at the time. (Note that Rick is certain that he knows Joseph’s personal point of view.)

    Notice carefully that where modern Saints discover the present Mormon Godhead, the content is most often incidental, in the sense that it narrates incidents, events, actions intended to be consistent with (even when surpassing) parallel Bible events: the voice of the Father proclaiming the Son, the Son speaking of the Father, the Son praying to the Father, or ascending to Him: categories of events known, taught and accommodated by Old and New World Christians of every persuasion for two thousand years. “It is not surprising,” observes Ronald Huggins, “that passages like these have been pointed to by those who deny that the Father and the Son are a single divine person in the Book of Mormon. But those who do, do so incautiously since wherever the Book of Mormon pauses to give clarification as to how such passages are to be understood, its clarification runs along modalistic lines.”

    Yet here is the quote I asked for your personal evaluation of:
    11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
    12 And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
    15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.

    “Foul!” Cries my atheist, and quickly points out that in 2 Nephi 31 we have:
    1. A pre-Incarnation quote from heaven of both the Father and the Son.
    2. A clear distinction of personalities.
    3. Yet it’s not incidental in nature.
    4. Nor is it a quote from the Bible.
    5. Though it is not a category of events known, taught and accommodated by Old and New World Christians of every persuasion for the last two thousand years — it has no scriptural parallel at all, in fact – it comes closest to your own example of Rachel Baker and other Trinitarians, even by your own analysis.
    6. And it is not along modalistic lines as Huggins insists is “always” the case
    7. But it’s also obviously intentional, which eliminates the possibility of Joseph Smith, as presumed author of the Book of Mormon, writing with a modalistic theology in mind.

    In short, page your 1941 does not address the question of 2 Nephi 31 compared to your modalistic solution for the Book of Mormon, but rather deepens the hole of not mentioning it.

    But my hypothetical atheist has another reason to be concerned with your skipping 2 Nephi 31, because when it comes right down to it, the Book of Mormon basically consists of one very strong “modalistic” passage (Mosiah 15:1-4) and one very strong Trinitarian passage (2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15) and thousands of other passages that can be easily fit to either.

    Outside of these two passages, there is hardly anything there that a thousand Trinitarian angels haven’t danced comfortably upon the head of that same pin since the medieval church and before, joyfully chanting the same biblical lines which appear in your own arguments.

    My atheist is resolved: Whether we’re talking about Jesus praying to the Father (“Isn’t that two persons of the Trinity talking to each other, just like Rachel Baker?”), or Jesus having a spiritual body pre-destined to take human form, or hearing the voice of the Father while viewing the Son in plain sight, or having the Nephites pray to Himself but specifically telling the Father (who is implied as not being present) it is only because He (Jesus) is present, we can easily build as strong a case for Trinitarianism as you have for Modalism.

    Not even the use of “Father” as a title for Jesus presents a problem. “Shades of Isa 9:6!” shouts my Atheist, “Though overwhelming always with the distinctive title ‘of Heaven and Earth’ apparently meant to keep us from confounding the persons and slipping into the heresy of modalism! Surely you see Joseph Smith was a Trinitarian not a modalist!”

    And yet my atheist’s search for an ultimate solution is also fatally flawed due to not including Mosiah 15:1-4 in his analysis, for which he has no response but to claim that this is typical of the vagaries of people of Joseph Smith’s times speaking of the Trinity’s “oneness of being” – so he didn’t think it was that important to the argument in question.

    So in the end, the argument literally comes down to how we choose to interpret 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15 and Mosiah 15:1-4, the only two actually important passages that can’t be easily fit to the other theory. Both your and my atheist’s analyses are guilty of, from the other point of view, leaving out the single most important piece of data.

    Now let me speak as a believer. To me, both of you have literally left out half the relevant data and built your arguments on a sandy foundation.

    While I applaud your desire, Rick, to seek for the truth and not just accept the sometimes simple view presented by some Mormons, I think you have fallen into the trap of trying to “best fit” (or, as you put it, “find an ultimate solution”) a theology to a book that needed no best fitting. I think you are inadvertently doing the same disservice to the Book of Mormon that historical Christians have done to the Bible by trying to force fit an existing theological label to it.

  33. Bruce Nielson
    October 17, 2008 at 8:39 am

    One quick aside, now that I am not longer speaking as an atheist. As I pointed out, the Rachel Baker example of Jesus talking to the Father is actually quite common amongst a certain percentage of Trinitarians since the invention of the Trinity doctrine to today. I have heard similar things from anything from TV Evangelists, to Christian writers, to friends.

    What is actually unique about 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15 is that I have rarely heard of Trinitarians accepting the idea of the Father and the Son speaking from heaven to a prophet (vs. overhearing them speak to each other in Gen 1:26 style). There seems to be “discomfort” over this idea, probably because it smacks too much of Tritheism to imagine an Old Testmant time prophet (like Nephi) hearing two beings or persons speaking separately to a prophet together like this.

    That is why I listed 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15 as “maybe” under my Trinitarian column and added this note: “* Clearly Trinitarianism does teach that in heaven Jesus and the Father are seperate personalities. However, there seems to be at least some discomfort over something as blatant as 2 Ne 31:11-15 where Jesus and the Father both talk to a prophet from heaven. So I listed this one as “maybe.””

    It would not suprise me if there are some Trinitarians somewhere out there that have no issue with 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 15. In fact, I know of at least one self styled Trinitarian that told me she had no issue with the persons of God taking such forms parallelly and speaking in such a manner. She didn’t even have an issue with the idea of Stephen seeing two personages in Acts 7 and still saw it as Trinitarianism. (Note: I am not claiming here that Trinitarians usually see Acts 7 as Stephen seeing two personages. I am merely saying she had no issue with seeing it that way personally and still felt it was Trinitarianism as she interpreted that concept.)

  34. October 17, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Excellent response, Bruce, and from my limited perspective, some of the most engaging comments you have written on this subject. If I understand correctly, you leave the vague doctrines of deity in the Book of Mormon open, at least for now, whereas I have settled upon Modalism, but with a salute to Melodie Moench Charles’ observations about the messiness of it all. (Furthermore, it may be that I am more strictly limiting my curiosity to the Book of Mormon’s doctrine of deity, as opposed to the actual Deity which other writers before or since may espouse within their personal faith. I would not presume to broach that topic.)

    You highlight two prominent Book of Mormon scriptures to represent supposedly incompatible views of deity, negating or balancing out one another: 2 Nephi 31 (to represent a separation of the personages of Father and Son) and Mosiah 15 (which seems almost unavoidably Modalist, where God comes to earth and becomes Christ). You have placed considerable emphasis on the first one (in 2 Nephi) as canceling out the second one, in Mosiah, thus making Modalism unworkable as an overriding Book of Mormon doctrine of deity (and vice-versa).

    I consider those two scriptures able to work together, but in only one direction. I feel that Mosiah 15 overrides 2 Nephi 31 (regarding the composition of the Book of Mormon’s Godhead), while the reverse is not the case. As we have discussed previously, people of various beliefs could use language poetically separating Father and Son, even if they believed God to be one personage. So a Modalist might still have Christ praying to His Father (as Ronald V. Huggins explores in his article, for example). Or, a Trinitarian Rachel Baker might describe a conversation between Father and Son in heaven (as I describe in my book, entry 113, page 461, transcribed further below). Given the fact of this curious phenomenon, 2 Nephi 31 need not be viewed literally enough to override Mosiah 15, which I describe as follows in my essay, as clarified so explicitly by the prophet Abinadi:

    . . . 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.

    And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. [Mosiah 15:1-5]

    Those are intent words indeed, eager to make us understand the wonder of Salvation. They are among the first passages which Joseph Smith dictated to Oliver Cowdery for the Book of Mormon. But they are not words calculated to restore some ancient clarification that God and Jesus are two separate beings – utterly distinct, separate physical personages: two different divine people. Instead, the terms of this passage are as ardent to the contrary as any “plain” or “precious” human language could devise. “Teach them,” urged Abinadi, in the closing sentence of his final sermon before he was martyred: “Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen.” (Mosiah 16:15). [Mormon Parallels, p. 1942]

    Given what we have agreed earlier about the rather loose nature of poetic language describing conversation of the Father and the Son, I don’t see how 2 Nephi 31 can take precedence over the doctrine of Abinadi (which I consider highly Modalist). But Abinadi can accommodate 2 Nephi quite easily (if hardly by modern LDS standards of concrete, concise theology).

    Now to your alert observation about what I assert regarding “incidental” passages in the Book of Mormon, in relation to 2 Nephi 31. You write:

    1. A pre-Incarnation quote from heaven of both the Father and the Son.
    2. A clear distinction of personalities.
    3. Yet it’s not incidental in nature.
    4. Nor is it a quote from the Bible.
    5. Though it is not a category of events known, taught and accommodated by Old and New World Christians of every persuasion for the last two thousand years — it has no scriptural parallel at all, in fact – it comes closest to your own example of Rachel Baker and other Trinitarians, even by your own analysis.
    6. And it is not along modalistic lines as Huggins insists is “always” the case
    7. But it’s also obviously intentional, which eliminates the possibility of Joseph Smith, as presumed author of the Book of Mormon, writing with a modalistic theology in mind.

    In short, page your 1941 does not address the question of 2 Nephi 31 compared to your modalistic solution for the Book of Mormon, but rather deepens the hole of not mentioning it.

    I would reply that 2 Nephi 31 is indeed incidental, markedly inspired by the biblical baptism of Jesus (vv. 4-8). And, just as I intimate in my article, the Book of Mormon text sometimes seems to aspire to outshine the biblical versions. I write (my page 1941), “. . . it narrates incidents, events, actions intended to be consistent with (even when surpassing) parallel Bible events: the voice of the Father proclaiming the Son, the Son speaking of the Father, the Son praying to the Father, or ascending to Him: categories of events known, taught and accommodated by Old and New World Christians of every persuasion for two thousand years.” I agree that the language in much of 2 Nephi 31 is dramatic, original, and wholly non-Modalist. But it is an expansion or extrapolation from imagery found in one of the most dramatic events in the Bible. Yes, it is very striking, but I still see it as exhortation which could be allowed as poetic emphasis even by people who did not view the Father and the Son as separate beings.

    Why? Not to try to show us the composition of the Godhead, but to emphasize the Atonement in the face of strong Unitarian innovations during that era.

    But how could such imagery be possible, without meaning to reflect two separate Beings, the Father and His Son? Let me start by quoting Rachel Baker’s nocturnal visionary/dream preaching . . .

    . . . Jesus, beholding that there was no eye to pity nor arm to save, when he was with his father, when he stretched out the mighty deep, when he founded the earth on the waters, and spread forth the heavens with all the stars, when he fixed the sun in the firmament, when he created the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all beasts of the field, then he was with him as one brought up with him, so that all things were made by him and for him, and without him was not any thing made: he viewed the world in this wretched situation, he turned to his Father, perceiving that there was no other arm to save, he said unto his Father, I will leave thy bosom and come into this world. Jesus condescending to be born of a virgin that he might become our Saviour, it was where the horned oxen were fed, that he was laid in the manger, for there was no room in the inn. [Devotional Somnium; Or, A Collection of Prayers and Exhortations, Uttered by Miss Rachel Baker, in the City of New-York, in the Winter of 1815, During Her Abstracted and Unconscious State. . . . (New-York: Printed for the Proprietor, By Van Winkle and Wiley, 1815), 269]

    Yet according to Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill (to whom Martin Harris would take the “Anthon Transcript” for authentication thirteen years later – and who examined Rachel in person), Rachel’s theology was “. . . Calvinistic . . . not merely orthodox, but able and copious in . . . elucidation.” (ibid., 40). If we could have Rachel here today, I expect she would insist that she was merely trying to impress us with the wonder of salvation, rather than technically describe actual conversation, or characterize deity.

    Rachel’s concept was presumably not the modern Mormon Godhead, but a Trinitarian God operating everywhere in three different functions at the same time. Yet even that will not work with Mosiah 15. As Dan Vogel explains convincingly, I believe,

    Passages which speak of the Father sending the Son (Al[ma]. 14:5; 3 Ne[phi]. 27:13-14; 26:5) do not necessarily support a trinitarian view and should be understood in light of Ether 4:12: “He that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father.” In other words, Jesus as the Father sent himself into the world to redeem his people. Nor do passages which speak of the Son being prepared from before the foundation of the earth (Mos[iah] 18:13) necessarily imply two persons existing before the incarnation. Consider the following: “I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son” (Eth[er]. 3:14). The Book of Mormon therefore violates a major tenet of trinitarianism by confusing the persons of the Father and Son and by referring to Jesus as the Father. [Vogel 1989, 22]

    Notice particularly Vogel’s final sentence above. It does not work in Trinitarianism for Jesus to be the very eternal Father. Yet in the Book of Mormon, when a contentious debater tries to trap Amulek (a newly-religious Nephite teacher), he begins by asking, “Is there more than one God?” Amulek answers that an angel has taught him that there is but one God, and the Son of God shall come to redeem His people who repent. The critic tries again: “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?” A Mormon today would answer, “No, He is not the Eternal Father Himself, but His Son.” But in 1829, Amulek could answer without hesitation: “Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; . . . ,” Alma 11:28-39.

    Notice the irony! Out of a thousand and more years of civilization – from among what should have been countless religious disputes – why would the Book of Mormon choose to include this brief theological skirmish with a novice preacher? Was it to teach us about the composition of godhead, or to affirm that Christ would certainly come? A modern Latter-day Saint must hang upon Amulek’s answers, waiting eagerly for the familiar doctrine to emerge, that the Father and the Son are two separate beings, if one in purpose (or to suit James E. Talmage’s laboriously proof-texted solution at the turn of the twentieth century, that the Son was the Father’s representative on earth, invested with full divinity and power to act in God’s name). Anxious for such clarification, today’s Saint may at first welcome the question posed to Amulek. Was God’s Son also “the very Eternal Father?”

    Anticipating that the Book of Mormon presents this challenge for high purpose, our present Mormon reader may feel suddenly unfulfilled by Amulek’s answer. Yet the reason for promoting the issue was noble indeed, in Book of Mormon eyes. The plain and precious question – and Amulek’s straightforward reply – were designed to proclaim Christ–come, fully divine: the one, the only, very eternal God Who would be able to effect an infinite Atonement for mankind. “Knowest thou the condescention of God?”, exclaims the angel to Nephi viewing the babe in Mary’s arms: “. . . behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!” (1830 Book of Mormon, p. 25; now altered in 1 Nephi 11:16, 21). For the Book of Mormon, the Christ-child was our Heavenly Father Himself, and His amazing condescension was not to send His Son, but rather, to become the Son, “. . . Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son;” (Mormon 9:12; these three paragraphs are primarily quoted here from my essay, “Deity in the Book of Mormon”).

    To me, this leaves only Modalism to describe the Lord of the Book of Mormon. For any of its problems, the Modalist explanation has made the most consistent sense to me in recent years, when trying to comprehend the entire broad framework. I think the Three Witnesses would have agreed with me in 1829, judging from the wording of their Testimony: “And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.”

    I probably have not done justice to all your points, Bruce (one or two which frankly were hard for me to follow, and struck me as a trifle uncharacteristic of your usual clear style), but if you have a better explanation – one which has fewer problems than Modalism – there are plenty of seasoned scholars who have struggled with this for decades, who will be happy to hear it. Just be sure it meets the Book of Mormon’s own pressing claim to restore the plain and precious gospel of the Lamb with straightforward clarity. For now, it’s getting late here tonight in the East, and my mind is growing punchy, as you can probably tell. From the surrounding silence, by the way, I wonder if you and I are the only people left in the room at this stage of your interesting thread!

  35. Joe Geisner
    October 18, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Rick,

    This #34 is brilliant. Thank you for taking the time to write something so well thought out.

  36. Bruce Nielson
    October 24, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Rick,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m impressed with the effort you are putting into this.

    If I were to compare you to someone else I tried to have this very same conversation with, there is simply no comparison. He made an excuse to dismiss me outright (mind you, after pretending to have asked an honest and sincere question about my *personal* beliefs) as a way of avoiding discussion rather than actually consider facts and counter facts. Worse yet, he did this on the grounds that if I allowed for “belief” on the subject and disagreed with what scholars were currently saying, I wasn’t being “serious.”

    By comparison, Rick, you are a gentleman and a scholar and I appreciate that. Your willingness to consider counter facts and explain how you personally fit them into your mental framework rather than avoiding painful discussion (as did my other dance partner) shows you even further to be a sincere person that seeks truth as best as they can. This matters a lot to me personally. If you are in Utah, I’d love to do lunch with you sometime.

    But please understand that it was never my purpose to try to convince you to abandon your currently held beliefs that the Book of Mormon teaches modalism. I do not doubt, and have never doubted, that you have a mental framework by which to eventually work in 2 Nephi 31 to your beliefs just like modern Mormons work Tritheism into the Book of Mormon via their own mental framework. I also see your point of view as roughly equally to theirs. (Bear in mind that I am not a Tritheist myself. I see both as basically proof texting on a single passage and forcing the rest.)

    Of course I’m not better off. I’m starting with the assumption that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple people over a long period of time and thus has multiple ways to express truths about God. This analysis of mine is easily as biased as yours is. The objective truth is simply unavailable to us in any format that we can both agree upon. As such, we are forced to deal solely with “opinions” on the subject. (Opinion is defined as “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.”) I’m willing to call your opinion as one “valid” (i.e. fits the facts) amongst many and hope you can do the same with mine.

    But my original point was much more simple then your response assumed. It was simply this: No analysis is complete without considering the strongest evidence against it. Your own scholarship, as well as every scholar we have talked about, simply did not address 2 Nephi 31 and, to be frank, I think it makes your case seem far stronger to an uninformed person than it really was.

    It’s easy for me to imagine someone reading your paper but not being aware of 2 Nephi 31 and think to themselves “Wow! He’s really figured this all out!”

    But it’s also easy for me to imagine the same person reading your same paper but including your explanation of 2 Nephi 31 as you did in #34 and saying “Gee! He’s force fitting his explanation! First, he is comparing the poetic language of a Trinitarian and assuming Modalists would act the same – yet can give a single real life example of this. Isn’t that like quoting a Buddhist and assuming Christians would say something similar? Secondly, he’s assuming that Rachel Baker was in fact being poetic, but it’s very possible she meant it all quite literally, as do many Trinitarians.”

    And that’s why I originally asked you for how you fit it into your personal point of view. I never doubted you could. I just doubted you could and still have your scholarship seem as certain or as convincing as it seems without that explanation of 2 Nephi 31. This is why I see missing that passage as an egregious oversight by all the scholars we’ve talked about.

    I do have to disagree with one other point you make. You are very insistent that it’s not possible to interpret Mosiah 15:1-4 in a non-modalistic way. But I think what you really mean here is “I personally wouldn’t” as clearly it *is* possible to interpret Mosiah 15:1-4 in both a Tritheistic and Trinitarian way and people do so on a regular basis. I gave a really good example of a Trithestic way to read Mosiah 15;1-4 in #14.

    I am not expecting you to agree with me that it was originally intended in these ways. But truth does demand that we admit that Mosiah 15:1-4 can easily be read in light of 2 Nephi 31 and so it’s not the one way street you are indicating.

    Rick, seriously, write to me and say hi. (My profile has a way to reach me). Let’s do lunch if we can. Of course, you’ll have to put up with the fact that I’m going to basically disagree with you on a regular basis, but I think you’ve already proven that you can handle that. :) You have proven you are someone that can deal with honest difference of opinion. I think we underestimate just what a rare thing that is.

  37. October 24, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Bruce! And, I’m certainly not worried about whether or not we agree on things. Our differences lie in both data and methodology, yet I have found you a worthy conversation partner. We’re a little far apart geographically to do lunch, I expect (I’m about an hour from Palmyra and an hour from old Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania), but Bloggerland has a way of drawing us all back to the feast again and again, despite our best intentions to let it go once in awhile and clean the garage or something.

  38. Bruce Nielson
    October 24, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Rick,

    I also thank you for your kind words. I’m deeply disappointed we can’t do lunch. Contact me by email and maybe sometime we can talk on the phone and say hi. (Doesn’t even have to be about Mormonism.)

    If I ever do another Church history tour, I’ll stop and say hi. ;) (This is less than serious, as I don’t really currently have the means. But then, who knows in the future.)

    “differences lie in both data and methodology” I would have said our unproven and unprovable assumptions are different.

  39. August 27, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Christians believe 1) Jesus is the Son of God by birth. He was not the Son before birth, but He did always exist. 2) We find usefulness in creeds but they are not necessary. 3) God is always spirit. You will never see the face of the Father, but the Son you will see, for they agreed the Son would manifest Himself. 4) Christians believe the Spirit was revealed as a Person in the Old Testament, but this is an exception to the rule, when the 3 men came to Abraham. The Spirit is for indwelling. 5) I am a Christian made in the image of God physically, soulically and spiritually with my spirit, soul and body. 6) Jesus never had a physical image prior to incarnation, nor was He a spirit filling everything; rather, He was the uncreated 2nd Person of the Trinity who brought evertying into existence with the Father and the Spirit. 7) Absolutely, Jesus is a distinct Person from the Father, and always was so though not separate for Godhead is one Being.

    Your view of things is twisted in your chart. I advise people to avoid your site. It will just screw their minds up. Mormons are in their heads, not their spirits quickened with God’s life.

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