Ah, the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity seems to be a constant speed bump between LDS and Evangelicals. For one, it’s a difficult doctrine to comprehend. One thing that helps me understand the necessity of the doctrine of the Trinity is this:

Any attribute that we give to God must not be contingent on anything else. God (by classical Christian understanding) cannot rely on something or someone else for definition or power. No one gives God power or characteristic except for God alone. He exist absolutely and completely whether anyone or anythng else does. I think this is often condensed by saying that God is without passions.

I John clearly states that God is love. For God to be love, he must be loving someone. But if he has to have “others” to love, then his love is then contingent on someone or something else. So the answer to this seeming contradiction (God is love) is that God loves himself. The Father loves the Son loves the Spirit loves the Father.

God exist within himself in perfect relational unity.

Analogies consistently have big problems explaining the trinity. They usually describe something other than the Trinity (i.e. water describes modalism) Probably the best analogy the Bible gives about the Trinity is marriage. It explains that through marriage, two become one, and that this is a mystery. So how can two distinct persons be one? think about how it might be true through your union to your spouse (if you’re married).

I don’t expect the LDS church to accept this doctrine, but I would like for individual saints to have a better understanding of why we Trinitarians believe this doctrine.

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78 thoughts on “Ah, the Trinity

  1. Well, honestly most Mormons really don’t fully understand what the Trinity is all about. They know they “don’t believe in the Trinity,” they know that they specifically believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ have distinct physical bodies and that the Holy Ghost has a distinct body of spirit.

    But beyond that, you get a lot of theorizing and hypothesizing about to what extent the three members of the Godhead are “one.” The phrase “one in purpose” gets bandied about a bit, but the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, seem to indicate that it goes a great deal beyond that.

    Most Mormons know fairly well how to refute the idea of the Trinity so they can debate it with other Christians, while not really knowing with any clarity at all exactly what they believe about the Godhead.

  2. I am a convert and know exactly what the teaching of the Trinity is (Both of them). What I’ve found is that many Evangelicals or other Christians don’t ‘get it’ themselves and fall back on words like ‘mystery’ and ‘highly complex’ and most haven’t bothered to read the creeds or study the history of where the Trinitarian Doctrines come from. They don’t even realize that the early Church did not teach that Doctrine. But I also know some extremely sincere Evangelicals and sincere Catholics, etc. who do know their faith and love God with all their hearts, just as I did prior to my conversion. They are faithful with what they do know and are still searching and wanting to drink fully. But yes, I would have to say they don’t have the fulness of the Gospel, only a part. I am convinced that anyone who desires to know more, will eventually know more. God answers prayer and he who seeks finds… and Heavenly Father doesn’t answer sincere prayers of faith by giving His children scorpions. He reveals to them what they are able to learn as they are willing and have an open heart to learn. Line upon line, precept upon precept.

    I also know exactly what is taught about the Godhead in the LDS Church. There was an article I linked to and one that someone else linked to that explained it perfectly. You’ll have to go to prior postings and comments.

    BUT, after saying all that… I have asked several of my LDS friends about their comprehension of these things and many LDS Doctrines and quite honestly, many of them really don’t have a good understanding of the specifics. Which is sad, because they are missing some great truths.

    BUT, after saying that, I called several of my Evangelical friends and asked them what the Trinity meant only to have them pretty much describe LDS belief! And a couple of them didn’t have a clue or used that ‘mystery’ thing which seems to be what people say when they don’t understand it but don’t want to believe it can be understood. LOL

    The bottom line is some people only care to know the general stuff and others love to study it in depth. I studied Evangelicalism in depth and when I converted I now study LDS beliefs in depth.

    I have a feeling I’m going to regret this post in the morning because I’m really tired. So I hope I have explained what I wanted to and in a nice way. :o]

  3. But surely the scriptures indicate that the father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one- and it’s hard to walk away form either the Bible or the Book of Mormon thinking that all it means is that they have thesame goals?

    Surely even in Mormonism there has to be a connection in the Godhead that’s more than just “they’re really good friends who never disagree.” That’s what I believed ever since I was old enough to start knowing what I believed (as opposed ot just regurgitating primary songs and seminary scriptures). Yes, Mormonism teaches that the Father and the Son are physically distinct, but there’s still a lot of room, a lot of senses and ways to be united and to be one other than just have the same body.

    It _isn’t_ clear. And if you ask different Mormons you’ll get different shades of answers and that isn;t just because some people have read their scriptures and researched their doctrine better than others.

    There’s this myth in the LDS church, that there is one true doctrine, the “official” doctrine that’s really what the Church teaches because it’s absolutely true and the Church doesn’t teach false doctrine. It’s a comforting thing to believe but it simply isn;t the case. Where is this “official doctrine” located? Where is it written down? Who can authoritatively say what is and isn;t official doctein (the prophet can, of course or the first presidency or the twelve, but the problem is that they don’t).

    The scriptures, sure. Those are official doctrine. But that’s not everything, because we have distinctly Mormon ways of understanding the scriptures. There are lots of shades and nuances and inferences that we talk about as official doctrine, but they may or may not really be.

    Ask ten Mormons what constitutes official church doctrine, and you’re likely to get ten different answers. And you’ll easily find two Mormons who take diametrically opposite views on a theological topic, but both of them are sure that their view represents the truth and the official doctrine of the Church 9and they can probably both back it up with contradictory conference talks or something).

  4. To be sure, I am well aware that many many Evangelicals (and probably Catholics, Orthodox and other Protestants) can not give a good explanation of or for the doctrine of the Trinity. I’m also satisfied that nobody needs to pass a theology test to get into heaven. People are accountable for their own level of knowledge and intellegence.

    The average pew sitter does not need to have a very robust understanding. But every pastor who preaches from a pulpit does because he needs to ensure that his congregation is not being misled. Seminary professors who teach those pastors have an even greater responsibility. Institutions that determine, decipher and hand down doctrine are held to the highest standards we can find. Personal heresy is one thing, institutional heresy is something all together much more serious.

    Joy, you are correct in saying that the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t well developed in the early church. But you can hardly say that a growing understanding isn’t present in their writings. It is a sophisticated and techinal theological position. Christians had to wrestle with what scripture presented to come to an understanding of some seemingly contradictory ideas. This produced some disagreement and some psuedo-heretical opinions to be produced. Time and continued studies have tested the doctrine and confirm that it is accurate. The only branches of Christianity that have denied it have been those which offer their own “new light” (which can’t meet any of the standards of authenticty or authority that the New Testament holds).

    Just because the Trinity (or any other doctrine) was disputed by early Christians doesn’t mean that it’s not accurate or true. If that were the case, Galations alone shows that we would have to throw out the idea of salvation by grace and that Gentiles can enter the Kingdom.

  5. ” But yes, I would have to say they don’t have the fulness of the Gospel, only a part.”

    Joy, when you say this, do you mean that they don’t know everything there is to know about the atonement or do you mean that they don’t have the fullness of doctrine? See post of “the fullness of the gospel” for more. I’d really appreciate your perspective on that.

  6. Yes, the connection is one is the Father, the other the Son and the other is the Spirit who testifies of them both. It’s family. We are literal sons and daughters of God. With a divine destiny and a divine inheritance. We have been granted our agency to be able to go where we wish based on the choices we make and the covenants we make.

    I would never tell you Dando that you aren’t going to a level of Glory. I believe you are. By saying ‘only a part’ I mean not enough to attain the highest level of Glory. And that is because they reject the living Prophet. Since you have access to the Doctrine and Covenants, read D&C 88. But there’s still time. ;o)

    No one needs to be a genius to understand the nature of God. We don’t have to have a sophisticated and technical knowledge. That’s pride talking. It really is so simple a child can get it. It’s family.

    As I have stated before, I don’t follow the teachings of men. I’ve heard too many proven teachings that another proven teaching proved false. LOL

    The Holy Ghost… the witness of the Holy Ghost.

    Here’s a link that speaks concerning the Trinity.

    http://www.lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b12f9d18fae655bb69095bd3e44916a0/?vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=44af39e7e7a9b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

  7. Okay, I will never believe that God spoke to Himself out of the clouds while He was being baptized by John and also landing on Himself in the form of a Dove…

    You don’t have to be a genius to understand the nature of God. You don’t need to have a ‘sophisticated and technical understanding’… that is simply pride talking.

    Read what Paul said in the book of Acts17:22-31. And for a moment, give up your ‘sophistication and technical’ knowledge’ and see with childlike eyes… and hear with the ears of a child what he is saying…

  8. Acts 17:22-31 (The Message)

    22-23So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

    24-29″The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

    30-31″God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

  9. Thanks Joy for the admonition to check my pride, a reminder I’m sure we all need from time to time. But to be sure, I by no means take credit for expressing the doctrine of the Trinity on my own.

    I absolutely agree that you don’t need a “sophisticated and technical understanding” to know God. This is one of the things I love about the Gospel. Any 5 year old can grasp its message, but at the same time a scholar can spend his life plumming its depths. No one has to put in the time and energy to grasp deep doctrine, but they are missing out on some good truth if they do.

    Hebrews 6(The Message)
    1-3So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!

  10. What on earth translation is that? LOL Good grief… The Greek means ‘offspring’ although another problem with the Bible I have is that I took a Semester of New Testament Greek only to find out that none of the Scholars agree on what the words mean… so much for translation accuracy..

    Dando – I’m going to ask you again to tell me in what way you are the offspring of God? How is Jesus the firstborn of MANY BRETHREN? How are we related to God and if we are His children, why can’t we grow up to be like Him?????

  11. Oh, is that what you are getting at! I’ll get back to you with a detailed explanation.

    This was from a modern language paraphrase called “The Message”. It just sets the Bible into our own language and vernacular. It’s not a precise translation like the NIV, KJV or NASB, but it doesn’t pretend to be either.

  12. “It’s not a precise translation like the NIV, KJV or NASB, but it doesn’t pretend to be either.” Then why would you use it???

  13. Great question! The New Testament was written in a common form of Greek. It was the same kind of Greek that people spoke on the streets. It was written to be understood. So that’s why I like The Message. Most translations are word for word or phrase by phrase translations. The Message goes idea by idea. Not only is it beautifully written, but it’s pretty true to the Greek as well.

    It’s best use is for devotional study. It wouldn’t at all be great to use in a seminary class (but then we might actually use the Greek instead).

  14. Joy said, “What I’ve found is that many Evangelicals or other Christians don’t ‘get it’ themselves and fall back on words like ‘mystery’ and ‘highly complex’ and most haven’t bothered to read the creeds or study the history of where the Trinitarian Doctrines come from.”

    I think that perhaps a better understanding of the word ‘mystery’ would be useful here. It is easy to dismiss Christians’ beliefs by saying that they just don’t understand and haven’t bothered to try.

    But the word mystery means the following things (abridged for the contexts of this post ;)):
    1. anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown
    2. any truth that is unknowable except by divine revelation.
    3. (in the Christian religion) a sacramental rite and/or the Eucharist.

    I think it is common in the LDS church to mock (or a word less strong than mock…) the term mystery, because after all, Mormons have the fullness of the gospel. And due to having the fullness of the gospel, Mormons don’t have mysteries. Those so-called mysteries have been revealed. But, as Kullervo said, figuring out what is official church doctrine is tricky at best.

  15. Katyjane – Are you an active member of the Church? And if so, have you been to the Temple? I’m curious about these answers. Just so I can better understand where you’re coming from.

    The Church has the current light available, but we also beleive more light can and will be revealed through the Prophets. Line upon line, precept upon precept.

    The way they always used the term mystery to me was that they couldn’t explain it. I asked for 20 years and never got a satisfactory answer.

  16. Joy,
    I joined the Church when I was 18, and went to the temple a year later, where I married Kullervo. 🙂

    We are not currently active in the Church.

  17. Joy–I grew up without religion. I joined the Church when I was 18 because I needed something, and it felt right and good. I received answer to prayers that I should get baptized and join the Church. Thus, I did. I was active in the church for about 6 years, and this summer stopped regularly attending.

    Nobody in the church has offended me (no more so than anyone outside the church, and certainly I don’t think that would be a good reason for leaving it in any case). I didn’t leave the church because it was too difficult–leaving was one of the hardest and most heart-wrenching things I’ve done, and I enjoyed everything about being a member.

    I left the church because I don’t believe that it is the true church. And since I can’t say that I think that it is, I can’t be a fully participating member. And since I can’t be a fully participating member, I need to look elsewhere so that I can be an active member of a church–which I always enjoyed immensely.

  18. I have been looking over some of the comments made by christ about him and the father…and its intresting what occures when you use logical patterns to establish a basis…

    1. The Son can do nothing by himself
    2. He can only do what he has seen the father do.
    3. Therefore, if the son is the father, then the son must do what he has already done.
    4. A event that is the result of a cause that has not occurred cannot exist.
    5. Therefore, Son as the father and the father as the son cannot exist as one entity.

    1. The Father loves the Son, then the father loves himself?
    2. If that is true, then the son, the father also love the spirit
    3. If the antecedent is true then God loves himself.
    4. Self love is proportional to pride and self-admiration.
    5. Therefore, God is not all good.

    1.the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son
    2. The previous commits an obvious contradiction
    3. All logical contradictions are false (definition)
    4. “A kingdom divided against itself can not stand”
    5. Thus, God cannot exist according to (1-4)

    1.the Father has granted the Son to have life in him
    2. Thus, God has granted himself life.
    3. If 2 is true then the son has granted himself life (resurrection)
    – If life comes from God, and the son then 1 is not a necessary statement and commits the fallacy of contradiction and Ambiguity.

    1. I seek not to please myself but him who sent me
    2. If 1 is true, then God, and the spirit are obeying their self
    3. 1 is not true according to 1 because god dose not seek to please himself.
    –Syllogistic Fallacy

    Here are the biblical supports of the previous argument-
    Why do you call me good? No one is good–except God alone. [Mk 10:18, Lk 18:17, Mt 19:17]
    No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [Mk 13:32]
    And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. [Lk 12:10]
    Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. [Lk 22:42-43]
    Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. [Lk 23:46]
    the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son [Jn 5:22]
    By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. [Jn 5:30]
    I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. [Jn 8:28]
    I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. [Jn 8:42]
    If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who is glorifying me, of whom ye say that He is your God. [Jn 8:54]

    Thus, to conclude, I assert that from logic the trinity is paradox and commits Syllogistic Fallacy, Ambiguity, and Contradiction. If God is full of truth-which, must affirm logic, then the trinity cannot exist.

    John

  19. I really think that we could even further the argument
    1. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then God would be able to use his omniscient and omnipotent abilities to achieve a state of absolute perfection. (premise)
    2. If God is absolutely perfect, then he must be omni-benevolent. (premise)
    3. If God is Omni-benevolent, then confusions and deceptions cannot occur.(premise)
    4. If God cannot cause deception, then situations of conflict, fallacy, contradiction and misinterpretations cannot occur according to his truths. (premise)
    5. Thus, if God is omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent, then only truths that lack conflict, fallacy, contradiction and misinterpretations are truth (1-4)
    6. The trinity is a supposed truth that exhibits conflict, fallacy, contradiction and misinterpretations. (premise)
    7. Thus, the trinity cannot be true. (4,5)

  20. I would like to add a comment to help solidify the previous post, all these premises are based upon a logical view, you see, the trinity is much more difficult to prove that the idea of 3 separate individuals. Thus, from a logical view there are much less if not any fallacies contradiction and misinterpretations that can be ascertained by logic and not emotionally convincing words or manipulating a scripture.
    Yet the next responses will inevitably be filled with speculation, circumstantial ad hominem attacks, straw man, and ignoring the counterevidence. Yet, that will only prove my point, that men, even though we are children of an intelligent god, are convinced by their own dependencies, interpretations and pride. That is why the world is as it is — the mob.
    So when comment, do it with logic…It will be the first I have seen to support the trinity.

  21. I have noticed that most of the Bible verses that I learned as a young Mormon that supposedly refuted the Trinity are actually used by orthodox Christians to demonstrate the Trinity.

    That’s because, as it turns out, Mormons think that Modalism is the same thing as the Trinity.

  22. “And it’s one thing for a layperson to misunderstand the doctrine, and another for an ecclesiatical authority who is trying to refute the doctrine to misunderstand it.”

    I guess St. Patrick needed some edumacating.

    But is Holland’s depiction so wrong, or are you merely objecting to his use of scripture to counter the doctrine?

  23. Holland:
    “These various evolutions and iterations of creeds—and others to come over the centuries—declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.”

  24. Recognizing that Holland is making a polemical argument against orthodoxy, I don’t object to his cherry picking $5 dollar words out of 1700 years of creedal documents or trying to bolster his position from scripture.

    What I would object to, if I were the intended audience, is that Holland doesn’t attempt to explain how three separate personal beings can be called one God. If he is going ignore the most basic question of Nicaea or Constantinople he may want to temper his rhetoric before his audience catches on.

    What I do abject to, as someone who has taken the time to learn about historical Christian theology, is that Holland doesn’t make an effort to engage the ideas behind the language used in the creeds and makes the obvious mistake of presupposing orthodoxy recognizes no distinction between the three person of the Trinity (modalism).

    What doesn’t surprise me, as someone who reads theology outside my own tradition, is that Holland shows he doesn’t have any more regard Trinitarian theology than Ed Decker does for Mormon Cosmology.

  25. The creeds were Joseph Smith’s whipping boy for what was wrong with traditional Christianity. They are part of the fundamental errors of the apostasy. Whatever the ideas, they are not to be trusted over revealed truth. Thus engagement is not very important to Mormons.

    As is the case in most conference talks, Holland is preaching to the choir.

  26. I think the scriptures Holland cites support the conclusion that Jesus/God/Holy Spirit are separate beings as well as separate persons.

  27. I understand that Smith, like many of his age didn’t care for the historic creeds but Smith’s choir didn’t have google, Holland’s does.

    Hollands passages clearly support three persons but, wouldn’t a positive case for more than one God would be required to claim these passages teach three beings? As I was saying this was the most basic question of the early councils.

  28. Bingo: these passages definitely illustrate God’s threeness, and if that was the whole story, then Mormon Tritheism would be reasonable. But there are too many other passages that emphasize God’s oneness. The Trinity takes both God’s explicit oneness and evident threness and reconciles them. Mormonism discards God’s oneness (or rather, it re-defines “oneness” into something other than oneness).

  29. Ideal oneness is difficult to accomplish conceptually when this one must consist of three distinct things. . . hence the mystery. I think the biblical passages are open to more than one interpretation, especially when you have to shoehorn platonism into the mix.

  30. Look, I’m not saying that these passages prove the Trinity. I’m saying that, as it turns out, the very passages that Mormons trot out to show how the Trinity is preposterous are the exact same ones that Christians use to demonstrate the Trinity.

  31. I see. . . actually that is a pretty deep point. Mormons somewhat incapable of endorsing the Trinity because the way they interpret these key scriptures ropes off the path that leads to the questions that the Trinity answers.

  32. Deuteronomy 4:35, 2 Samuel 7:22, 1 Kings 8:60, 1 Chronicles 17:20, Isaiah 37:20, Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 45:5, Isaiah 45:21, Isaiah 46:9, Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:4, and 1 Timothy 1:17 all say that there is only one god. Only one god exists, full stop.

    No need to talk about trinitarian or platonic senses. The existence of only one god is explicit in the Bible. It’s not even problematic, and that’s why Jews are through-and-through monotheists. If you start with the plain text, God’s oneness is patent and unambiguous. By talking about trinitarianism and platonism you are putting the cart before the horse–you don’t need to start talking about senses of oneness until you have a reason to move away from the usual sense, which is that only one god exists.

    The problem then is the places in the Bible where God appears to be three, which are the ones Sanders and Holland hone in on.

    So that’s why I say you ahve to somehow reconcile (1) God’s explicit oneness (not in a “trinitarian” or “platonic” sense, but in the plain sense that God is a unique being and only one of him exists, and explicit because the text comes out and says it over and over), with (2) God’s apparent threeness. Because on the face of it, oneness and threeness are contradictory.

    Modalists reconcile this by denying God’s threeness. They point to the fact that God’s oneness is explicit and his threeness is merely implicit, and draw the conclusion that since the oneness is explicit, and oneness and threeness are logically contradictory, the threeness is illusory. In other words, God appears to be three but is in fact one, because the Bible explicitly says so; God’s apparent threeness is therefore an erroneous perception.

    Mormons accept God’s apparent threeness fully, but then “reconcile” it with God’s oneness by defining oneness in a way that is different from its ordinary meaning. In other words, although the Bible says there is only one god, God is manifestly three; the Bible’s apparently explicit teaching of “one God” is therefore an erroneous interpretation.

    Trinitarian Christians instead accept both God’s explicit oneness (only one God exists) and God’s apparent threeness (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), and say that both are true.

  33. “Mormons accept God’s apparent threeness fully, but then “reconcile” it with God’s oneness by defining oneness in a way that is different from its ordinary meaning.”

    Nobody defines “oneness” with its “ordinary meaning” in the context of a consistent interpretation of all the scriptures. The Trinity, to me, is an example of Christianity short-circuiting previous understandings of God in order to accommodate their view of Jesus’ teachings.

    Without some sort of spiritual awakening, Isaiah would have supported the condemnation of Jesus– a man who claimed to be Jehovah.

  34. By the “ordinary meaning” of God’s oneness, I mean the idea, as explicitly expressed in the Old and New Testaments, that only one God exists.

    Christians have to reconcile that somehow with God’s apparent threeness (as amply illustrated in Sanders’s and Holland’s citations). Because this kind of oneness (“only one God exists”) contradicts threeness.

    Sabellians, Oneness Pentecostals and other Modalists do this by denying God’s apparent threeness (either by rejecting it as simply false or by interpreting it to mean something other than “Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate people, each of which can be described as God”).

    Mormons and other Tri-or-polytheists like a lot of the Gnostics do this by denying God’s explicit oneness (either by rejecting it as simply false or by interpreting it to mean something other than “only one God exists”).

    Trinitarians do this by denying the contradiction between the two (or by accepting it).

  35. But I think it’s critical to point out that conceptually Mormons do not have the same sort of challenges that other Christians have in resolving the apparent oneness and/or threeness of God. Their is no urgency to resolve and harmonize every scriptural statement on this point because the answer is explicit and as authoritative as any scripture.

    I think Mormons generally misunderstand the answer of the Trinity because they are not concerned with the questions of oneness and threeness posed by a finite canon. The Trinity is a doctrine formed by constraints on which texts are authoritative, and how these can reasonably be interpreted in light of philosophical understanding of certain concepts of God. Mormons are not interested in this sort of discussion.

    To Mormons it is like a scientific theory that may be brilliant, but was disproved by experimental evidence.

  36. Holland shows he doesn’t have any more regard Trinitarian theology than Ed Decker does for Mormon Cosmology.

    zing!

  37. Jared,

    I’m not sure I understand how an increased canon solves the problem of the unity of Godhead for Mormonism.

  38. Jared,

    I don’t have a problem that I am aware of. I just don’t buy your therory about continuing revelation

    It seems that the multiplicity of gods is a foundational doctrine in Mormonism. Kind of like the divinity of Christ was foundational for Christianity. While Mormons may not be interested in harmonizing revelations about the unique and unified nature of God, Mormons seem quite interested in harmonizing scripture to defend anthropomorphic gods. Everything from creation out of something, the forever family, to exaltation depend on it the un-unique nature of gods

    It also seems obvious, from his talk, that Holland understands that this system of falls if there is an absolute, transcendent, yet immanent… God, and that he is just as intent as Athanasius was to resolve the oneness and threeness in God, albeit in favor of his own philosophical understanding.

  39. Kullervo

    I probably should be more clear when I use Godhead when interacting with Mormons because it has been translated out of newer editions of the bible (Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20; Colossians 2:9). In my defense, I read old books and translations that used the term to define the divine nature.

  40. but, wouldn’t a positive case for more than one God would be required to claim these passages teach three beings? As I was saying this was the most basic question of the early councils.

    I don’t know that you need a positive case for more than one God. The New Testament consistently uses the language of middle platonism. So you could have a chain like: A is a ideal form of B is an ideal form of C is an ideal form of D…. that would be consistent with the bible.

    It would also be reasonable to identify A, B, C and D. So for examples if the Logos is the image Theos as Theos interacts with matter, because action implies temporality, then you could identify the two and simultaneously assert they are different beings. In the same way that Gundek’s image in a photo is both identified with but not identical to Gundek.

    If that’s what some of the New Testament authors meant that it was only with the assertion of coequality, non subordinationism, that the belief in distinct persons became in any way conflated with tri-theism. For example there are aspects like “the kindness of God” which are not wholly God but divine. It is only if we wanted the kindness of God to be fully coequal, fully God that you would end up a contradictory mess.

  41. I meant that Mormonism’s “problem of the unity of Godhead” is that the Mormon Godhead is really ahrd to reconcile with those Bible passages that say that only one god exists.

  42. I don’t think its really hard.. . its actually much harder to reconcile the Trinity with Mormon revelation.

    My point is that whatever problem there is with determining what the unity of God means springs from the limitations people put on the text and reality. This is not math, its interpretation of literature mixed with philosophy. (On this point Mormons must be correct.) Trinitarians and look at scripture like a finite bunch of legal decisions they need to harmonize.

    I think there is clearly more than one reasonable interpretation of the text. The text does not rule out a non-Trinitarian approach. The reason people accept the trinity is because they find it to be the most reasonable interpretation.

    I agree with Gundek, Holland is trying to make a case to people who reject a key piece of evidence that he relies upon. The entire debate is basically pointless unless either Mormons limit their canon in the peculiar way Trinitarians do, or unless Trinitarians are willing to expand their limited definition of scripture.

  43. I think CD Host aptly points out how multiple reasonable interpretations are possible.

    I think there are all kinds of problems with the harmonization approach that Trinitarians simply ignore. The assumption that each scriptural author only wrote things that were in absolute harmony with every other author is unsupportable except by faith.

  44. CD-Host did what?

    I am not disputing that orthodox Christianity having rejected Joseph Smith as a prophet, don’t feel all that bound to harmonize their doctrines with his revelations. I wouldn’t claim that the Trinity could be reconciled with Mormonism expanded canon.

    I do think you are overemphasizing the harmonization involved, overlooking the biblical narrative, personal devotional, and liturgical life of the Church in the development of the Trinity. This is not surprising, it is part of the Mormon narrative that the Trinity is an irrelevant philosophical construct foisted on the Church during the apostasy.

    I just don’t buy your theory that an expanded canon alleviates the need to harmonize LDS theology about God. Mormons have the exact opposite problem with the unity of God as Trinitarians. They must deny unity in God’s nature and they must bring this denial into line with their own finite canon otherwise they leave both their doctrine and canon at risk of irrelevance and incoherency.

  45. The digressions into Platonism are a distraction here (or at least jumping too far ahead too soon). In the Bible, it says only one god exists. In the New Testament, God appears to be Three. This has to be reconciled somehow. No need to talk Platonism at this stage. There’s merely an apparent contradiction to reconcile.

  46. Do you think that the Mormon method of resolving the unity of God more or less incoherent or irrelevant than the Trinity?

    I think the nature of the disagreement reveals that the proper nature of the unity of God is pretty irrelevant to living a Christian life.

  47. Trinity: One in substance (in a way that is beyond our understanding and abiliity to express.)

    Mormon: One in “mind and purpose” (in a way that is beyond our understanding and ability to express.)

    Is there an importance in how these groups play the mystery card?

  48. Do you think that the Mormon method of resolving the unity of God more or less incoherent or irrelevant than the Trinity?

    I think the Mormon method of resolving the unity of God, by flatly rejecting the idea that only one god exists, simply fails to reconcile the Bible passages that plainly say that only one god exists.

    Par for the course with Mormon theology and Biblical text though, I’m afraid.

  49. Sure, I get that. But Mormons don’t need to have the most reasonable or coherent interpretation to be the most correct.

  50. I see what you are saying, though: the Mormon canon contains sources regarding God’s Threeness that are not only more explicit than the implied Threeness of the New Testament, but that actually can’t be reconciled with the plain meaning of the “only one God exists,” and Mormon theology of scripture acommodayes the possibility that parts of the Bible are false, unclear, or deeply misunderstood. So, from the Mormon point of view, assuming the truth and primacy of modern revelation, God’s Oneness (in the plain meaning “no other gods exist” sense) can easily give way.

    I think that’s what you mean by the expanded canon. Mormons have to construct theology from more sources that say substantively different things, so it’s not a surprise that Mormons don’t see “1+3=Trinity.”

  51. In the Bible, it says only one god exists.

    No it doesn’t. It (the OT) says things somewhat weaker than this in many places. It also quite frequently and importantly very close to the places where such assertions are made creates a henotheist context by using language very inconsistent with strict monotheism. More importantly for Mormons, certainly the bible goes on at great length about entities subordinate to Yahweh but superior to man: angel of the lord, angel of death, angel of purity…

    Middle Platonism is how the NT authors likely did reconcile their belief in multiple divinities with monotheism. You may consider it irrelevant but the authors of the book did not. And generally when saying we have to reconcile a book what the authors indicated they meant is rather important.

  52. It doesn’t? What about…

    Deuteronomy 4:35:

    Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.

    1 Kings 8:60:

    That all the people of the earth may know that the LORD is God, and that there is none else.

    Isaiah 43:10:

    Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.

    Isaiah 44:6

    Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.

    Isaiah 45:5:

    I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:

    Isaiah 45:21:

    Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.

    Isaiah 46:9:

    Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,

    1 Corinthians 8:4:

    As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.

  53. I wouldn’t consider 1 Corinthians 8:4 a slam-dunk. Paul goes on to say that there are many gods, but “for us” there is only one god. More interestingly, he seems to call the Father a god and Jesus a lord, suggesting they are two different types of entities. I’m of the opinion that there’s more than one possible way to interpret this passage.

  54. Okay, even granting you 1 Corinthians 8:4 arguendo, that still leaves 7 other passages on my list. You have to deconstruct them all in order for CD-Host to be right.

  55. Eric,

    Just trying to understand the Mormon view on all this. Paul says there is only one God (v4, 6), the Father is God (v6) and Jesus is Lord (v6).

    Does that mean only the Father is God and Jesus is not?

  56. Kullervo —

    You are using a translation which assumes the bible teaches monotheism. So it tends to handle passages in a way consistent with monotheism even when the language begs for another treatment. Your first verse is a good example of that:

    Deut 4:35.
    Your treatment of that verse doesn’t even make sense in context. If God is unique then how can other God’s have tried things as per verse 34? Why keep switching between “Lord” and “God” is they are synonyms? And moreover why translate a plural word in the singular? The word for “God” you are using is ‘elohiym (the Gods) which is the plural of ‘elowahh (God). So be faithful to the Hebrew and do something like:

    4:32 Indeed, ask about the distant past, starting from the day the gods created humankind on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether there has ever been such a great thing as this, or even a rumor of it. 4:33 Have a people ever heard the voice of any god speaking from the middle of fire, as you yourselves have, and lived to tell about it? 4:34 Or has any god ever before tried to deliver a nation from the middle of another nation, accompanied by judgments, signs, wonders, war, strength, power, and other very terrifying things like the Yahweh (Jehovah) your god did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 4:35 You have been taught that Yahweh alone is your god – there is no other besides him.

    1Kings 8:60

    Same thing. How can you be translating the same phrase as “The Lord our God” one verse before? 1Kings 8:60 is using a plural. It doesn’t say Yahweh is God is says Yahweh is the Gods. Or to put that in grammatical English something like “Yahweh, is the primary god, there is no other”. Which could mean something like Yahweh is the only god for us (Brigham Young) or Yahweh is the best god. It could even mean what you want it to mean that “Yahweh is the only genuine god, all the rest are fake”… But it doesn’t say that clearly or explicitly, that Yahweh is the only god. I’m comfortable making the negative inference and given the choices of the way to treat this verse the one that is most consistent with the text seems like the Mormon one, henotheism.

    Isaiah is trickier because I happen to think Isaiah is monotheist. That still falls short of your claim that Isaiah says that other gods don’t exist. In fact this very verse is somewhat ambiguous.

    Isaiah 43:10 more literally

    You are my witnesses,” says Yahweh,
    “my servant whom I have chosen,
    so that you may consider and believe in me,
    and understand that I am he.
    El was not formed before me,
    and will not outlive me.

    El is the most high god, the king of the gods. I think here and in the verses that follow Yahweh is claiming to be the high God, the creator God, the God over all other Gods. Which is fully consistent with the Mormon understanding as well. You could also read Isaiah as saying that there is no El just Yahweh, as a rejection of earlier henotheism. But again the verse doesn’t make sense under your theory of consistent monotheism because there is no earlier henotheism to reject.

  57. As CD explains, Monotheism isn’t even a settled matter in the OT- forget the NT. Its no wonder that Mormons have taken the high road in trying to make sense of the nature of Deity within the scriptures themselves.

    As a non-Traditional Christian, however, I do have a great deal of respect for the early Christian councils and can’t blame them for a rigorous attempt at reconciliation.

  58. CD-Host did what?

    A person concerned with the high road might want to consult a Hebrew grammar on the use of plurals before dismissing Kullervo.

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