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Godhead (Mormonism)

This article discusses the various conceptions of the Godhead in the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism). The most popular doctrine of the Godhead in Mormonism is that God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct personages, both the Father and the Son having physical bodies. However, this is not the only Latter Day Saint conception of the Godhead. Among individual Latter Day Saints and their various denominations, the Godhead is conceived of everything from orthodox Christian Trinitarianism to polytheism.

Table of contents
1 The Godhead in Early Latter Day Saint History
2 Modern Latter Day Saint Conceptions of the Godhead
3 See also

The Godhead in Early Latter Day Saint History

Most early Latter Day Saints came from a Protestant background, believing in the Trinity. The early public teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr contained little to contradict this view; however, Smith's public teachings regarding the nature of the Godhead slowly evolved during his lifetime, and became fully elaborated only late in his life. Beginning as a vague depiction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being "one", Smith's teachings later depicted a Father and Son with physical bodies, being one together with the Holy Spirit not through "substance" but through purpose. Some Latter Day Saint sects such as the Community of Christ (which now officially endorses the doctrine of Trinity) have chosen to adopt what they believe to be Smith's earlier understandings of the Godhead, while most, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teach the doctrines taught publically by Smith later in his life.

The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, describes God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as being "one", with Jesus appearing as a spirit before his birth, and as a physical being after his resurrection. The book is vague, however, as to whether Jesus was a separate being from the Father, and whether Jesus and the Father share the same "substance".

Prior to Jesus' birth, the book depicts Jesus as a spirit "without flesh and blood", although with a spirit "body" that looked the same as Jesus would appear during his physical life. See Ether 3. Moreover, Jesus described himself as follows: "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." Ether 3:14. In another passage of The Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi stated,

"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. (Mosiah 15:1-4).

After Christ's resurrection and ascension into heaven, The Book of Mormon states that he visited a small group of people in the Americas, who saw that he had a physical body. During his visit, he was announced by the voice of God the Father, and those present felt the Holy Spirit, but only the Son was seen. This depiction of Jesus is similar to that described in the New Testament during Jesus' baptism by John.

The Book of Mormon's vagueness on the issue of whether Jesus was a separate being from the Father, and whether Jesus and the Father share the same "substance" has led some Protestant-oriented Latter Day Saint sects, such as the Community of Christ, to believe the description of Jesus in The Book of Mormon is consistent with the orthodox Christian dogma of the Trinity. Other sects, however, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believe it is consistent with Smith's later public teachings concerning the Godhead. In addition, some scholars have suggested that the view of Jesus in The Book of Mormon is also consistent with monotheistic Modalism.

In 1834, however, some Latter Day Saints (including arguably Joseph Smith, Jr and Sidney Rigdon) began describing the Godhead in ways that were decidedly different from most Christian views of the Trinity. In the Lectures on Faith, published in 1835 as the "doctrine" part of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Godhead was described as consisting of two personages (Jesus and the Father), where God the Father was a spirit, Jesus Christ was a separate person with a body of flesh and blood, and the Holy Spirit was not a distinct personage, but the shared mind between the Father and the Son. See Lectures on Faith 5:2, and "Question and Answer" section ("Q: How many personages are there in the Godhead. A. Two: the Father and the Son")

Later in Smith's life, he elaborated on the doctrine of Jesus being a separate personage from the Father. In 1838, Smith published a narrative of his First Vision, in which he described seeing both God the Father and a separate Jesus Christ in a vision, both of them appearing identical. Then in 1843, Smith provided his final public description of the Godhead before his death, in which he described God the Father as having a physical body, and the Holy Spirit, also, is a distinct personage: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." D&C 130:22.

Modern Latter Day Saint Conceptions of the Godhead

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Community of Christ and Protestant-Oriented Denominations

Alternative Latter Day Saint Conceptions of the Godhead

See also