Religion:God in Mormonism

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Short description: Mormon conception of God

In orthodox Mormonism, the term God generally refers to the biblical God the Father, whom Latter Day Saints also refer to as Elohim or Heavenly Father,[1][2][3] and the term Godhead refers to a council of three distinct divine persons consisting of God the Father, Jesus Christ (his firstborn Son, whom Latter Day Saints refer to as Jehovah), and the Holy Ghost.[1][3] However, in Latter Day Saint theology the term God may also refer to, in some contexts, the Godhead as a whole or to each member individually.[3] Latter Day Saints believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three distinct beings, and that the Father and Jesus have perfected, glorified, physical bodies, while the Holy Ghost is a spirit without a physical body.[1][4][5] Latter Day Saints also believe that there are other gods and goddesses outside the Godhead, such as a Heavenly Mother—who is the wife of God the Father—and that faithful Latter-day Saints may attain godhood in the afterlife.[6] The term Heavenly Parents is used to refer collectively to the divine partnership of Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother.[7][8] Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man on another planet before being exalted to Godhood.[9]

This conception differs from the traditional Christian Trinity in several ways, one of which is that Mormonism has not adopted or continued to hold the doctrine of the Nicene Creed, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of the same substance or being.[1] Also, Mormonism teaches that the intelligence dwelling in each human is coeternal with God.[10] Mormons use the term omnipotent to describe God, and regard him as the creator: they understand him as being almighty and eternal but subject to eternal natural law which governs intelligences, justice and the eternal nature of matter (i.e. God organized the world but did not create it from nothing).[11] The Mormon conception of God also differs substantially from the Jewish tradition of ethical monotheism in which Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) is a completely different conception.

This description of God represents the Mormon orthodoxy, formalized in 1915 based on earlier teachings. Other currently existing and historical branches of Mormonism have adopted different views of god, such as the Adam–God doctrine and Trinitarianism.

Early Latter Day Saint concepts

In his 1838 personal history, Joseph Smith wrote that he had seen two personages in the spring of 1820. In 1843, Smith stated that these personages, God the Father and Jesus Christ, had separate, tangible bodies.[3]

Most early Latter Day Saints came from a Protestant background,[4] believing in the doctrine of Trinity that had been developed during the early centuries of Christianity. Before about 1835, Mormon theological teachings were similar to that established view.[12] However, founder Joseph Smith's teachings regarding the nature of the Godhead developed during his lifetime, becoming most fully developed in the few years prior to his murder in 1844. Beginning as an unelaborated description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being "One", Smith taught that the Father and the Son were distinct personal members of the Godhead as early as 1832 [13] Smith's public teachings described the Father and Son as possessing distinct physical bodies, being one together with the Holy Ghost, not in material substance, but in spirit, glory, and purpose. [14] Mormon and non-Mormon scholars such as David L. Paulsen,[15] Richard Bushman,[14] Craig Blomberg,[15] and Stephen H. Webb[16] have described the concept as social trinitarianism, while Robert M. Bowman Jr. prefers tritheism or "ethical polytheism".[15]

Mormons view their concept of the Godhead as a restoration of original Christian doctrine as taught by Christ and the Apostles. Elements of this doctrine were revealed gradually over time to Smith. Mormons teach that in the centuries following the death of the Apostles, views on God's nature began to change as theologians developed doctrines and practices, though they had not been called as prophets designated to receive revelation for the church. Mormons see the strong influence of Greek culture and philosophy[17] (Hellenization) during this period as contributing to a departure from the traditional Judeo-Christian view of a corporeal God in whose image and likeness mankind was created.[18][19] These theologians began to define God in terms of three persons, or hypostases, sharing one immaterial divine substance, or ousia—a concept that some claim found no backing in scripture,[20][21] but closely mirrored elements of Greek philosophy such as Neoplatonism.[22] Mormons believe that the development process leading up to the Trinity doctrine left it vulnerable to human error, because it was not founded upon God's established pattern of continued revelation through prophets.

Teachings in the 1820s and early 1830s

The Book of Mormon teaches that God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are "one",[23] with Jesus appearing with a body of spirit before his birth,[24] and with a tangible body after his resurrection.[25] The book describes the "Spirit of the Lord" "in the form of a man" and speaking as a man would.[26]

Prior to the birth of Jesus, the book depicts him as a spirit "without flesh and blood", with a spirit "body" that looked the same as he would appear during his physical life.[27] 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."[28] In another passage of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi states,

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.[29]

After Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven, the Book of Mormon states that he visited a group of people in the Americas, who saw that he had a resurrected, tangible 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. Jesus is quoted as saying,

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. 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 may be one.[30]

The Book of Mormon states that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are "one".[31] Mormonism's largest denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), interprets this "oneness" as a metaphorical oneness in spirit, purpose, and glory, rather than a physical or bodily unity. On the other hand, some Latter Day Saint sects, such as the Community of Christ, consider the Book of Mormon to be consistent with trinitarianism. Some scholars have also suggested that the view of Jesus in the Book of Mormon is also consistent, or perhaps most consistent, with monotheistic Modalism.[32]

Teachings in the mid-to-late 1830s

In 1835, Smith, with the involvement of Sidney Rigdon, publicly taught the concept that Jesus Christ and God the Father were two separate beings. In the Lectures on Faith, which had been taught in 1834 to the School of the Prophets, the following doctrines were presented:

  1. That the Godhead consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (5:1c);
  2. That there are two "personages", the Father and the Son, that constitute the "supreme power over all things" (5:2a, Q&A section);
  3. That the Father is a "personage of spirit, glory, and power" (5:2c);
  4. That the Son is a "personage of tabernacle" (5:2d) who "possess[es] the same mind with the Father; which Mind is the Holy Spirit" (5:2j,k);
  5. That the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the "supreme power over all things" (5:2l);
  6. That "these three constitute the Godhead and are one: the Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fullness" (5:2m);
  7. That the Son is "filled with the fullness of the Mind of the Father, or in other words, the Spirit of the Father" (5:2o).

Lectures on Faith were included as part of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. They were eventually removed from the Doctrine and Covenants by the LDS Church and the Community of Christ on the grounds that they had never explicitly been accepted by the church as canon. Most modern Latter Day Saints do not accept the idea of a two "personage" Godhead, with the Father as a spirit and the Holy Spirit as the shared "mind" of the Father and the Son. Moreover, many Mormon apologists propose a reading of Lectures on Faith that is consistent with Smith's earlier or later doctrines, by putting various shadings on the meaning of personage as used in the Lectures.

In 1838, Smith published a narrative of his First Vision, in which he described seeing both God the Father and a separate Jesus Christ, similar in appearance to each other.

Teachings in the 1840s

In the endowment ceremony, introduced by Smith in 1842, the name "Elohim" is used to refer to God the Father. "Jehovah" is used to refer to the pre-mortal Jesus.

In public sermons later in Smith's life, he began to describe what he thought was the true nature of the Godhead in much greater detail. 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, as 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."[33] Even though this quote is included in canonized LDS scripture, some dispute its authenticity, particularly that of the Holy Ghost dwelling in us, since it was not consistent with the manuscript source's wording about the Holy Ghost and underwent various revisions and modifications before arriving at this final form.[34]

During this period, Smith also introduced a theology that could support the existence of a Heavenly Mother. The primary source for this theology is the sermon he delivered at the funeral of King Follett (commonly called the King Follett Discourse). The LDS Church believes that a Heavenly Mother exists,[35][36][37] but very little is acknowledged or known beyond her existence or the number of Heavenly Mothers as early LDS leaders did teach that it was "clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives."[38][39][40]

Lorenzo Snow succinctly summarized another portion of the doctrine explained in the King Follett Discourse using a couplet: "As man now is, God once was: / As God now is, man may be."[41][42]

Denominational teachings

LDS Church

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected Jesus Christ, as depicted in the Christus statue in the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City

The LDS Church holds that the Father and the Son have glorified physical bodies, while the Holy Ghost has only a body of spirit.

Leaders and scriptural texts of the LDS Church affirm a belief in the Holy Trinity but use the word "Godhead" (a term used by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20, and Colossians 2:9) to distinguish their belief that the unity of the Trinity relates to all attributes, except a physical unity of beings. Church members believe that "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."[43]

This theology is consistent with Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision. This account, published as part of the church's Pearl of Great Price states that Smith saw a vision of "two personages", the Father and the Son.[44] Mormon critics view this 1838 account with skepticism, because Smith's earliest accounts of the First Vision did not refer to the presence of two beings.[45] The church also teaches that its theology is consistent with the Biblical account of the baptism of Jesus which referred to signs from the Father and the Holy Spirit,[46] which the denomination interprets as an indication that these two persons have distinct substance from Jesus.

Smith taught that there is one Godhead and that humans can have a place, as joint-heirs with Christ, through grace,[47] if they follow the laws and ordinances of the gospel.[48] This process of exaltation means literally that humans can become full, complete, joint-heirs with Jesus and can, if proven worthy, inherit all that he inherits.[49] Leaders have taught that God is infinitely loving, though his love "cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional."[50][51] Though humanity has the ability to become gods through the Atonement of Jesus, these exalted beings will remain eternally subject to God the Father and "will always worship" him.[52] Among the resurrected, the righteous souls receive great glory and return to live with God, being made perfect through the atonement of Christ. Thus, "god" is a term for an inheritor of the highest kingdom of God.[53]

LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley offered a declaration of belief wherein he reaffirmed the teachings of the church regarding the distinct individuality and perfect unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.[54]

Community of Christ

The Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, affirms the doctrine of the trinity. The trinity is described in Community of Christ as a "living God who meets us in the testimony of Israel, is revealed in Jesus Christ, and moves through all creation as the Holy Spirit...[a] community of three persons."[55] This belief is inconsistent with the earliest versions of the text of the Book of Mormon and the First Vision accounts.[56]

Mormon fundamentalism

Mormon fundamentalists seek to retain Mormon theology and practice as it existed in the late 19th century. As such, the faith accepts the Adam–God doctrine, which identifies God the Father with Adam. Within Mormon fundamentalism, Jehovah and Jesus are considered distinct and separate beings.[citation needed]

Plurality of gods

Latter Day Saints believe in an eternal cycle where God's children live in His presence, continue as families, become gods, create worlds, and have spirit children over which they will govern.[57][58][59] This is commonly called exaltation within the LDS Church. Leaders have taught that God was once a mortal human with his own God,[60][61] and that humans are "gods in embryo".[62][63][64] Though Mormonism proclaims the existence of many gods, it does not advocate for their worship besides Earth's one.[65] Church founder Joseph Smith taught in his famous King Follett discourse that God was the son of a Father, suggesting a cycle of gods that continues for eternity.[60][66][67] Other more modern leaders and church publications have taught similar things.[67]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Davies, Douglas J. (2003). "Divine–human transformations". An Introduction to Mormonism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 65–90. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511610028.004. ISBN 9780511610028. OCLC 438764483. 
  2. First Presidency; Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (April 2002). "Gospel Classics: The Father and the Son". Improvement Era (Intellectual Reserve, Inc.). Retrieved February 10, 2019. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. (1992), "God the Father", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York City: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 548–552, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140,, retrieved 7 May 2021 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Mormonism". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 3 September 2015. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.75. ISBN 9780199340378. Retrieved 15 May 2021. 
  5. Dahl, Paul E. (1992), "Godhead", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York City: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 552–553, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140,, retrieved 7 May 2021 
  6. Carter, K. Codell (1992), "Godhood", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York City: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 553–555, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140,, retrieved 7 May 2021 
  7. Noyce, David (14 Nov 2016). "Meet the (heavenly) parents: Mormon leaders are mentioning this divine duo more often". The Salt Lake Tribune. 
  8. McArthur, Krishna; Spalding, Bethany Brady (1 Apr 2022). "Guides to Heavenly Mother". Dialogue 55 (1): 135–147. doi:10.5406/15549399.55.1.06. 
  9. "Gospel Principles Chapter 47: Exaltation". 
  10. Brown, Gayle O. (1992), "Premortal Life", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York City: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 1123–1125, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140,, retrieved 7 May 2021 
  11. Paulsen, David L. (1992), "Omnipotent God; Omnipresence of God; Omniscience of God", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York City: Macmillan Publishing, p. 1030, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140,;_Omnipresence_of_God;_Omniscience_of_God, retrieved 7 May 2021 
  12. (Alexander 1980).
  13. See D&C 76:12-24
  14. 14.0 14.1 (Bushman 2008) (Mormons believe in what is sometimes called "social trinitarianism," meaning the three beings of the Godhead are blended in heart and mind like extremely close friends, but are not one being); Early passages in Smith's revelations could be interpreted as traditionally trinitarian, but the doctrine of three Gods in one soon gave way to a Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three distinct beings united in purpose and will but not in substance. See also: D&C 130:22.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Bowman, Robert M. Jr. (2016-11-16). "Social Trinitarianism and Mormon Theology" (in en). Evangelical Theological Society Annual Convention. 
  16. Salai, Sean S.J. (2015-08-19). "Catholic and Mormon: Author Q&A with Professor Stephen H. Webb". America. "Mormons emphasize the relative independence of the three divine persons of the Trinity. Many theologians today, whatever their church tradition, are developing what is called a "social Trinity," which is very similar to Mormonism in seeing the Trinity as a society of persons rather than a single immaterial substance defined by a set of internal relations." 
  17. Butler, Shanna (February 2005). "What Happened to Christ's Church?". Liahona (LDS Church). Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  18. Draper, Richard D. (April 1984). "The Reality of the Resurrection". Ensign (LDS Church). Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  19. "Doctrinal Trends in Early Christianity and the Strength of the Mormon Position". 
  20. Thomas Mozley "The Creed, or a Philosophy" 1893 p 303.
  21. The wording of the Council of Constantinople (360) prohibited use of the terms substance, essence, and ousia because they were not included in the scriptures. see:
  22. "Trinity > History of Trinitarian Doctrines (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". 
  23. "God, Godhead". 
  24. "Ether 3". 
  25. "3 Nephi 11". 
  26. 1 Nephi 11:11
  27. "Ether 3". 
  28. "Ether 3". 
  29. Mosiah 15:1-4)
  30. "3 Nephi 19". 
  31. See 3 Nephi 11:36
  32. (Widmer 2000).
  33. "Doctrine and Covenants 130". 
  34. "Sunday Evenings With The Doctrine and Covenants. Section 130. Part I. The Manuscript Source of D&C 130.". 3 February 2013. 
  35. "Mother in Heaven",, accessed 13 April 2016.
  36. "Chapter 2: Our Heavenly Family", Gospel Principles, LDS Church, 2009, 
  37. Spencer W. Kimball, "The True Way of Life and Salvation", Ensign, May 1978, p. 4.
  38. Pratt, Orson (October 1853). "The Seer". The Seer 1 (10): 158,172. Retrieved 9 October 2017. "Inasmuch as God was the first husband to her, it may be that He only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in this mortal state, and that He intended after the resurrection to again take her as one of his wives to raise up immortal spirits in eternity. ... We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His First Born, and another being upon the earth by whom He begat the tabernacle of Jesus.". 
  39. Dana, Bruce E. (September 2004). The Eternal Father and His Son. Cedar Fort Inc.. p. 62. ISBN 1555177883. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  40. Swanson, Vern G. (2013). "Christ and Polygamy". Dynasty of the Holy Grail: Mormonism's Holy Bloodline. Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc.. pp. 247–259. ISBN 9781462104048. "Dr. William E. Phipps noted that the belief that 'Jesus married, and married often!' was used to encourage and promote the doctrine of polygamy amongst timid Latter-Day Saints ... By the late-1850s the idea that more than one woman was married to Jesus was widely accepted among Mormon circles. ... As if the concept of Christ's polygamy was not unsettling enough, Mormonism even taught in the nineteenth century that God the Father had a plurality of wives as well." 
  41. Lund, Gerald N. (February 1982), "I Have a Question: Is President Lorenzo Snow's oft-repeated statement—'As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be'—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?", Ensign, 
  42. Millet, Robert L.; Reynolds, Noel B. (1998), "Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?", Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, ISBN 0934893322, OCLC 39732987, 
  43. Doctrine and Covenants 130:22.
  44. History:11-17
  45. Palmer, 248–52 (arguing that in 1838, Smith modified the First Vision story to assert his claim to divine calling directly from God and Jesus)
  46. (Matthew 3:16-17).
  47. "Moroni 10". 
  48. "Doctrine and Covenants 76". 
  49. "Doctrine and Covenants 84". 
  50. Noyce, David (17 Mar 2022). "Is God's love 'unconditional'? Let the debate continue.". The Salt Lake Tribune. "Much of the chatter dates back to apostle Russell M. Nelson's pre-presidential piece titled "Divine Love" in 2003. 'While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional,' he states. 'The word does not appear in the scriptures.'" 
  51. Nelson, Russell (February 2003). "Divine Love". LDS church. 
  52. "Becoming Like God", Gospel Topics, LDS Church, 
  53. Kurt Widmer, Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1833-1915 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, p. 2000), 92.
  54. Hinckley, Gordon B. (July 2006), "In These Three I Believe", Ensign, 
  55. "Basic Beliefs". Community of Christ. 
  57. Hales, Brian (Fall 2012). "'A Continuation of the Seeds': Joseph Smith and Spirit Birth". Journal of Mormon History (University of Illinois Press) 38 (4): 105–130. doi:10.2307/23292634. "Today, an accepted doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints interprets verses in Doctrine and Covenants 132 as references to the birth of spirit offspring by exalted married couples in the celestial kingdom". 
  58. Carter, K. Codell (1992). Ludlow, Daniel H.. ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York City: Macmillan Publishers. pp. 553, 555. ISBN 978-0-02-904040-9. "They [resurrected and perfected mortals] will dwell again with God the Father, and live and act like him in endless worlds of happiness [...] above all they will have the power of procreating endless lives. [...] Those who become like him will likewise contribute to this eternal process by adding further spirit offspring to the eternal family." 
  59. Gospel Fundamentals (2002 ed.). Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. p. 201. "They [the people who will live in the celestial kingdom] will receive everything our Father in Heaven has and will become like Him. They will even be able to have spirit children and make new worlds for them to live on, and do all the things our Father in Heaven has done." 
  60. 60.0 60.1 "An explantation of Mormon beliefs about God". BBC. 2 Oct 2009.,God%20was%20once%20a%20man.. "God the Father is a being called Elohim, who was once a man like present day human beings, but who lived on another planet. Over time this man made himself perfect and became God, with a knowledge of everything, and the power to do anything. God became perfect by following the rules laid down by his God." 
  61. Robinson, Stephen E. (1992). Ludlow, Daniel H.. ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York City: Macmillan Publishers. p. 549. ISBN 978-0-02-904040-9. "As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, 'God himself was once as we are now' [...] Thus the Father became the Father sometime before the 'beginning' as mortals know it. [...] Gods and humans are the same species of being, but at different stages of development in a divine continuum" 
  62. Boyd, George T. (1968). "A Mormon Concept of Man". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (1): 65. doi:10.2307/45226953. 
  63. Hagen, Kirk D. (Summer 2006). "Eternal Progression in a Multiverse: An Explorative Mormon Cosmology". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39 (2): 2. doi:10.2307/45227238. 
  64. Cook, Bryce (1 July 2017). "What Do We Know of God's Will for His LGBT Children?: An Examination of the LDS Church's Position on Homosexuality". Dialogue 50 (2): 6. doi:10.5406/dialjmormthou.50.2.0001. 
  65. Hale, Van (28 Feb 2015). "Defining the Mormon Doctrine of Deity". Sunstone Magazine 10 (1): 25. 
  66. "Chapter 23: Discourse of the Prophet—The Godhead—The Mob Uprising—Arrest of President Smith, et al. over the "Expositor" Affair—Trial before Esquire Wells". History of the Church. 6 (1991 Reprint ed.). Deseret Book. 1 July 1991. pp. 474, 476. ISBN 0875794866. "I will preach on the plurality of Gods. [...] If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also." 
  67. 67.0 67.1 Wimmer, Ryan (2007). "Islamic 'Taqiyya' in Mormonism". The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 27: 153–154. 


Further reading