The LDS Position
Mormons are taught that the historic Christian position on the Trinity (three Persons in one God) is false. Instead, they believe that the first vision of Joseph Smith and subsequent “revelations” from Smith reveal that God the Father and God the Son are two separate gods and the Holy Spirit is a third.
They believe that the Godhead is like the First Presidency of the church: a president and two counselors, the president being first in authority. God the Father is the president, and the Son and Holy Spirit are His two counselors. They regard the Trinity as a pagan heresy, much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses do (except from the other extreme). While the Witnesses are radical monotheists, the Mormons believe in a plurality of Gods—the Godhead being the most obvious example of that plurality.
Mormons commonly ask this question regarding the Trinity: “How can the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit be one Being, when at Jesus’ baptism and when he has prayed to God, it shows the separation of the three?”
God does expect us to be able to give a reasonable, and (more importantly) scriptural answer to questions like that. The first problem is that most Mormons don’t understand what Christians profess about the Trinity.
This ignorance is well-reflected in this strange statement from a sermon of LDS Prophet Joseph Smith on June 16, 1844:
Many men say there is one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are only one God [sic] I say that is a strange God anyhow-three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization … All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God—he would be a giant or a monster (Teachings, p. 372).
Although Mormons don’t think Christians believe that God the Father and God the Son are two separate Persons, we do! They think we somehow have “crammed” (to use Joseph Smith’s term) three gods into a celestial trash compactor and crushed them into one indistinguishable glob. Christian teaching for millennia has been that there are three distinct Persons in one God. That is important to bear in mind.
Thus, God the Son is a Person and God the Father is a Person. There is nothing illogical about one Person talking to another, as when Jesus prayed; or about a Person commending another Person, as when God the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism.
We see in Joseph Smith’s remark above, in embryo form, the entire audacious error of Mormonism’s approach to the Trinity. Joseph assumes, rather arrogantly, that if he cannot comprehend a concept of God, it must be wrong. He also mocks the “bigness” of God. That is half of the problem of LDS doctrine on God. It just cannot handle the bigness of God!
The Biblical View
The biblical God is “a wonderfully big God.” He is indeed “the biggest God in all the world.” Joseph Smith mocks the very greatness of the God of the Bible. This may be one of the many reasons why Smith was dead just 11 days after he uttered this blasphemy. The major problem Mormons have is that their God just isn’t big enough.
If your God is big enough to set the planets, the stars, and the galaxies in motion (Isaiah 45:12); if He is big enough to hang the mighty constellations of the Pleiades up like Christmas ornaments (Job 9:9; 38:31); if He is big enough to know the very number of hairs on every head of billions of human beings (Luke 12:7); then He is certainly big enough to be three separate Persons in one God.
The LDS question assumes that it is odd that, if there is one God, the Persons within the Godhead should wish to communicate with one another. Yet God declared very early on that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and it is evident that Adam was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). From this we can deduce that God Himself is a social Being. If it is not good for man to be alone, it is certainly not good for God to be alone. Of course, He was never alone, even before He made us.
The three Persons of the Trinity have enjoyed perfect communion and fellowship from all eternity. There was never a time when God was “lonely” for the very simple reason that there was never a time when He was alone. All three Persons of the Trinity have existed as one God from all eternity. That is why each of the Persons in the Trinity is essential to God’s very nature; there are three Persons in one God.
We need to explain to the Mormon why the Trinity is a necessary component of biblical Christianity. There are two reasons:
1. The Bible declares repeatedly that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 42:8; 43:10, 11; 44:6–8; 45:5, 6; 46:5, 9; Mark 12:32; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 6:13; 1 John 5:7).
2. Yet, it also tells us that Jesus is God (John 1:1–14; 8:58; 10:30; Colossians 1:15–19; 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 2:22; 4:1–3; Revelation 1:7, 8; 22:13–16) and also that the Holy Spirit is God (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Isaiah 11:2; 40:13; 61:1; Acts 5:3, 4; 13:2–4; 15:28; 16:6; 20:23).
Thus, we are left with an apparent contradiction: one God or three Gods. Since we know the Word of God cannot contradict itself (Numbers 23:19; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalm 19:1, 60; Malachi 3:6; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19), there must be some problem with the way we are interpreting the text. The only safe rule in such an instance is to allow the Bible to interpret the Bible.
One helpful passage is the famous “Great Commission” text, Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name [singular: one name] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
We find the Trinity even in the Old Testament. Isaiah 48:12 says:
Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first and I also am the last [this is obviously God speaking; there can be no other “first and last”]. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together. All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The Lord hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous. Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me (Isaiah 48:12–16, emphasis added).
Now notice here, we have all three members of the Trinity in the space of a few short verses, and this from the supposedly “anti-Trinitarian” Old Testament. Also, again note that both the Lord God [i.e., translated from the Hebrew YHWH Elohim, the LDS names for the Son and the Father, mentioned as one Person] and His Spirit have sent me [i.e., the Son, Jesus].
Another common LDS anti-Trinity proof text is drawn from Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17:
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are (v. 11).
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one (vv. 21, 22).
At first glance this might seem pretty convincing. It does seem to say that Jesus wants the oneness of His disciples to be as the oneness which He and the Father experience. The LDS apologist w
ill say that God didn’t mash all the disciples together into one person, but that they remained distinct and separate human beings, and that this proves the Father and Jesus are just like two different human beings, only exalted.
Once again, though, this shows the lack of understanding Mormons have of what Christians actually believe. We do believe that the Father and Jesus are two distinct Persons. Therefore, the Mormon notion of people or gods being crushed together is fallacious.
Still, it must be asked, What is the Lord talking about in those verses? When the Bible is allowed to interpret itself, the answer is immediately crystal clear. Paul explains it this way:
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another (Romans 12:4, 5).
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.… But now are they many members, yet but one body (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, 20; see also Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 3:15).
The oneness Christ prayed for is the oneness of the body of Christ. Christians are baptized by one Spirit into one body—Christ’s body. This text is not talking about one denomination (one true church), or else Christ’s prayer would have been a joke for centuries. It refers to the oneness of the body of believers.
This is the meaning of the prayer of the Lord. It is inconceivable to think that the Father would fail to answer His Son’s final prayer before His death on the cross. Thus, Christ’s prayer was answered, but with a oneness which is just as spiritual, just as powerful, and just as irresistible as the oneness of the Triune God (Romans 8:35–39).
This is deep material—no one denies that. It is sometimes helpful in talking to Mormons, once you have advanced past the scriptural stage, to try and share some metaphors which often can provide additional insight.
Dr. Norman Geisler, a Bible scholar, made a simple analogy. He said that God is three “Who’s” in one “What.” In other words, Who God is Father, Son and Spirit; but what God is, is one God. God is one God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.
Look at a room. A room is composed of three dimensions, height, width, and depth, yet it is one room. Take away the room’s height, and it ceases to be a room.
These are understandable things with which we are all familiar, yet they are only shadows of the true glory of God in His fullness. The story is told of St. Augustine wrestling with the problem of the Trinity. He supposedly was walking along a beach one night and saw a child with a small bucket trying to pour ocean water into it with his hands. Augustine remarked to the boy that he could never get the ocean into his little bucket.
The boy replied, so the story goes, “Then why are you trying to comprehend the fullness of the mystery of the Godhead?” and walked away.
The Bible says that there is but one God; and the Father, Son, and Spirit are all that God-three distinct Persons in one Essence. That is what the Bible says and, ultimately, that is why we must believe it. “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child” (Psalm 131:1, 2)
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