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Biblical Framework

The Father, Jesus, and Adam
Jesus Christ was the firstborn spirit offspring of God the Father (Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:5-6). Jesus was preordained to become the mortal son of God (Luke 1:32). God the Father declared that man would be made “in our image” (Genesis 1:26), that is, the image of himself and of Jesus Christ. God the Father declared that Adam would “become as one of us” (Genesis 3:22) after his fall. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, Jesus proclaimed that God the Father gave him many gifts and supported him in his saving work on behalf of mankind (Isaiah 50:1, 4-5, 7, 9).

Jesus Defers to the Father
From an early age, Jesus recognized his role as the only begotten son of God. Jesus sought to do the Father’s will and found favor in the Father’s sight (Luke 2:49, 52). Jesus throughout his public ministry acknowledged the Father as his father and frequently reminded his disciples that he was sent by the Father (John 7:28-29 and John 5:37). Jesus made it clear that it was the will of the Father that he was fulfilling, not his own will (John 14:23, Matthew 16:27, Matthew 16:17, and John 4:34). Jesus repeatedly confirmed that he was the “son of God” (Mark 14:61-62) and that his father bore witness of him as part of the testimony of two witnesses—Jesus Christ being one witness and his Heavenly Father being the other (John 8:17-18).

Jesus and the Holy Ghost
Jesus Christ spoke of the Holy Ghost with reverence. Before going into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and be tempted by Satan, Jesus was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Luke 4:1). Thus it was that Jesus and the Holy Ghost, two personages of the godhead, endured these trials together. Jesus taught that blasphemy against himself (one personage of the Godhead) could be forgiven, but that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (a separate and different personage of the Godhead) could not be forgiven in this life or the next (Matthew 12:31-32). Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his apostles that the Holy Ghost (the comforter) would take his place when he left (John 16:7). As long as Jesus was on the earth, there was little need for the Holy Ghost among the children of men (John 7:39).

The Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost
All three members of the Godhead were present at the baptism of Jesus. When the savior came out of the water, the Holy Ghost descended in the form of a dove and Heavenly Father spoke from heaven (Mark 1:10-11 and Matthew 3:16-17). Jesus spoke of God the Father and the Holy Ghost together (John 14:26 and John 16:13-15), acknowledging both their divine individuality and their divine unity.

Jesus Pled with the Father
During the events of the Atonement, Jesus Christ was particularly close to his divine father—and then horribly separated from him. Chapter 17 of John details the great intercessory prayer, where Jesus poured out his heart to God the Father and pled on behalf of the apostles and all believers that they might come to know “the only true God” and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). This was not an internal dialogue. Jesus was imploring another being, not merely some aspect of his own personhood. He was imploring his Heavenly Father.

In the Garden of Gethsemane , Jesus pled with his Heavenly Father—calling him by the intimate “Abba”, for father—asking him if it might be according to the Father’s will to “take away this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). Jesus remained in this intimacy with the Father throughout the events leading up to his death on the cross. He pled with his father to forgive those who were crucifying him (Luke 23:24); he cried out in agony to his father when death was imminent (Matthew 27:46); and he commended his spirit into the hands of his father when the work was finished (Luke 23:46).

The Personage of Jesus
Paul (Galatians 4:4, 6, and Ephesians 1:2-3, 3:14), Luke (Acts 3:13), and Peter (1 Peter 5:10) all referred repeatedly to Jesus as being the son of God the Father. Jesus is described as the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), who was made manifest of God in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) to be the one and only mediator between God (the Father) and man (1 Timothy 2:5).

Three Beings
The authors of the New Testament frequently referred to the Godhead as three individual beings having a perfect unity of love and purpose. Nowhere is God described in this testament as the mystical union of three divine “persons” or personalities in a single divine being.

After the Ascension, the disciples frequently mentioned Jesus and God the Father separately in the same passages (1 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, 1 Timothy 1:2, Hebrews 3:1-2, Ephesians 5:5, Romans 8:39, 2 Thessalonians 2:16, Colossians 1:2, 1 John 4:1-2 and 2 John 9). Biblical authors frequently mention all three members of the Godhead in the same passages (Acts 10:38, Acts 5:30-32, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and Jude 20-21). Finally, Peter (1 Peter 3:22), Paul (Colossians 3:1 and Hebrews 10:10-12), Mark (Mark 16:19), and Luke (Acts 7:55-56) all testified of the savior being on the “right hand” of God in the heavens.

Father and Son Differ in Knowledge
Although being divinely one in purpose, God the Father has understanding and knowledge that his son Jesus does not (Mark 13:32), at least while Jesus occupied the mortal realm.

Father and Son Differ in Power and Dominion
Jesus said during his public ministry that his father (God the Father) had greater power and dominion than he (John 10:29 and John 13:16). The doctrine that Jesus taught was that of his father (John 7:16). Jesus deferred to God the Father in matters of heavenly decision making (Matthew 20:23). Jesus accepted commandments given by his father (John 10:18). Jesus ultimately gained all that his father had (John 5:26-27 and John 17:22), but he still acted upon the will of his father in all things (John 5:19, 21 and John 5:30), despite having his moral agency (free will) to do otherwise.

The Father is God to the Son
The prophet Micah prophesied that Christ would be born “in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God” (Micah 5:4). Jesus referred to God the Father as God (Luke 18:19, Matthew 19:17, John 17:3), called upon God during his crucifixion (Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46), and referred to God after his resurrection (John 20:17). Paul then confirms the doctrine of God the Father being the God of Jesus Christ in his letters to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:17) and Corinthians (I Corinthians 11:3).

Within the Godhead, God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are divinely unified. By the delegated authority of the Father, Jesus can stand in the place of God, act for God, and be called God. However, the Bible points out that God the Father is still the God of Jesus, a separate and superior member of the Godhead.

One God
The oneness shared by the Godhead is beyond all human comprehension. Jesus said of a man and woman who marry, “And they twain shall be one flesh” (Matthew 19:5). Not one flesh physically, but in love, commitment, and covenant. Although such a union in marriage can be close where husband and wife speak for one another, act for one another, and in all things are one in purpose, they are still individual beings. No less is the individuality of the personages of the Godhead.

This perfect oneness is described by Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane where he prays to the Father that his disciples would be one just as he (Jesus) and God the Father are one (John 17:11 and John 17:21-23). Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus proclaimed that the Father and he were one, that he dwelled in the Father, and the Father dwelled in him (John 10:15, 25, 30, 38 and John 14:18-20). John later expounded on dwelling within another person without becoming that person (1 John 4:13).

Jesus was with God in the beginning, was and is in perfect purpose with God, and can be called God (John 1:1-2). Jesus revealed how such a union can be achieved in faith and unity. He prayed that mankind would share in this unity to fulfill his purposes on earth and in heaven. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost can witness as three individual beings but still maintain a complete and perfect accord as one in purpose (1 John 5:7).

The Godhead
The Apostle Paul taught that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost were not separate gods in the same way that the multiple gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons were separate gods. He used the word Godhead to warn against idolatry (Acts 17:29, Romans 1:20-23, Colossians 2:8-9), specifying the idolatry of vain conceit, vain imaginings, and human philosophy as well as the idolatry of objects. He taught the hierarchy of God the Father, God the Son, and men and women (1 Corinthians 11:3).

Paul did not deny the supremacy of God the Father, a supremacy Jesus had repeatedly declared. Rather, Paul saw in Jesus Christ the full delegated authority of God the Father. Paul’s reference to Christ as God was an affirmation of this authority, not a denial of it.

Mormon Doctrinal Clarification

The Godhead
The Latter-day Saint doctrine of the Godhead can be summarized in a quote from the writings of Gordon B. Hinckley, the late Prophet and past President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
They [the Godhead] are distinct beings, but they are one in purpose and effort. They are united as one in bringing to pass the grand, divine plan for the salvation and exaltation of the children of God. In His great, moving prayer in the garden before His betrayal, Christ pleaded with His Father concerning the Apostles, whom He loved, saying: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20–21). It is that perfect unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that binds these three into the oneness of the divine Godhead. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Ensign, Mar. 1998, 2.)

God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings who are one in purpose. Mormons believe that this conception of the Godhead is fully supported by an unencumbered reading of the plain language of the Bible, particularly the words of Jesus himself.

Council of Nicaea
The Roman Emperor Constantine I convened the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. This council was the first significant effort of the Christian church to arrive at a consensus on various points of doctrine.

At that time there was widespread dispute about the nature of the Godhead. Many Christians believed then—as Latter-day Saints do today—that the Godhead consisted of three separate personages united in purpose, but not in being. For the majority of the Council, however, this conception bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the pagan Greek and Roman conception of multiple gods.

The Council majority came up with a compromise conception, declaring that there were indeed three “persons”—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—but that these “persons” were not separate entities, not “persons” in the usual sense, but instead “persons” who were without substance or essence or individual existence. These newly-defined “persons” combined to form one essence, the “Triune God.”

The Triune God
The Council of Nicaea declared the Triune God in A.D. 325. This declaration became the essence of what is known as the Nicene Creed.

By this declaration, the Council brought unity to the Christian world, protected monotheism from polytheistic encroachment, and gave to the Roman Emperor Constantine the political stability he was seeking. It brought peace on many fronts.

The Nicene doctrine of the Trinity or the Triune God has endured. The vast majority of Christians today subscribe to this dogma. Latter-day Saints do not.

Mormon Rejection
This Mormon rejection of the Triune-God conception has led many Christians to deny the Christian label to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons could reach the reverse conclusion, but they have not—perhaps because of their Eleventh Article of Faith:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may [emphasis added].

The three personages of the Godhead and their individual natures are clearly defined in the Bible. They were defined before Christ came to the earth; again during Christ’s public ministry; again through events surrounding the Atonement (the passion) of Christ; and again after the ascension of Christ to the Father.

The Bible is clear that there are differences in knowledge between God the Father and Jesus Christ, differences in power and dominion, differences in the consequences of blasphemy, and differences in the references made by these personages to one another. For example, Jesus refers to Heavenly Father as his “God” on many occasions documented in the Bible. Because of this abundance of unambiguous biblical evidence for the divine individuality of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, Latter-day Saints cannot accept the findings of the Council of Nicaea. This refusal has created a divide, but not one that warrants the conclusion that Mormons are not followers of Christ.

While the divine individuality of the three personages of the Godhead is biblically clear, so also is their divine unity. They are one in purpose. Their divine integration of reason, intention, drive, objective, and other qualities of character and action is beyond human comprehension. Thus, it is fair in the limited coinage of human language to refer to them collectively as one God, and this is done in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, and other modern scripture. But fairness of reference does not alter the truth of the matter to which reference is made. The Council of Nicaea made a convenient decision, in part to end a distracting theological debate. Latter-day Saints simply believe it was the wrong decision.

Divine Unity
The perfect oneness of the Godhead is defined clearly in John 17. Jesus, praying to Heavenly Father, said, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20–21). Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is the divine redeemer and savior. He is the only begotten of God the Father and the firstborn spirit offspring of the Father. Jesus Christ is in perfect oneness with the Father and sits on his right hand. The Holy Ghost is the third personage of the Godhead. Together they form one divinely unified God over the universe and all things in it.

See Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Ensign, Mar. 1998, 2.

See chapter7 in The Biblical Roots of Mormonism for a more comprehensive explanation, scriptural references and commentary on the Trinity/Godhead

See the Sword SeriesTM paper The Trinity/Godhead for a summary

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