The Mormon Alternative to the Trinity
Many Christians use the Trinity to understand the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But Mormons believe they are three separate people united in purpose.
The Trinity, a religious doctrine explaining the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a widely accepted Christian belief. But members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called Mormons, have a different view on the subject.
Overview of the Doctrine of the Trinity
The Holy Trinity is a centuries-old religious doctrine which says that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate manifestations of the same divine being. A look at the classic Holy Shield diagram below (click the image to view a larger image) illustrates how in the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct people but are still one divine entity. The Father is not the Son, for example, but the Father is God and the Son is God. The Trinity maintains that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-infinite and co-equal.
Mormons Reject the Trinity
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not accept the Trinity. Verses in the Bible that are incompatible with the Trinity, as well as modern revelations on the subject, mean that Mormons don’t accept the Holy Trinity as true doctrine.
Because Latter-day Saints don’t believe in the Trinity, many people question whether Mormons are Christians. But Mormons see no problem with rejecting the Trinity, because the teaching itself is not found in the Bible. The now-popular concept of “three in one” Godhood was formed during the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Christians eager to distance themselves from polytheistic pagan religions, in combination with Greek philosophical influence, ultimately led to formal acceptance of the Trinity.
Mormon Beliefs About the Identity of God
Speaking about the concept of the Trinity, church representative William O. Nelson says that “the traditional view about the Trinity is well over a thousand years old, and time has a way of hallowing ideas, whether or not they are true.”
Instead of a trinity, Mormons believe in a Godhead comprised of three separate divine beings who are completely united in purpose.
What is “the Godhead” in Latter-day Saint Theology?
Three divine people make up the Godhead: God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Here is what Mormon theology says about each of these divine beings:
- God is the literal father of the spirits of everyone who has lived or will live on the earth, including Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but that he also has a body.
- Jesus Christ is the firstborn of all God’s spirit children, meaning that he is humankind’s elder brother. Under God’s direction, he created the earth. He was chosen to come to earth as our Savior, organized his church, and suffered and died for our sins. He was resurrected with a perfect body and will come again to the earth someday. Jesus is divine, but is subordinate to God.
- The Holy Spirit does not have a body. He comforts, guides, directs, prompts, and inspires people to do God’s will. The Holy Spirit is divine, but is subordinate to both God and Christ.
One God in Purpose, Not in Being
The doctrine of the Trinity was an effort by early Christians to affirm their belief in “one God” (Mark 12:32) while still believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Mormons also believe in one God, but they believe that the members of the Godhead are one in the sense that they function together as a single, perfect unit – not that they are literally the same being.
Evidence for this type of oneness is found in John 17:22, where Jesus prays to the Father that his followers “may be one, even as we are one” (emphasis added.) Christ’s followers are to be knit in unity with a single Christian purpose, just as the members of the Godhead are united.
Looking at another Biblical concept of collective “oneness” helps to illustrate this concept. In a marriage, the two separate parties are said to be “one flesh” (Mark 10:8.) Husband and wife retain their distinct beings, but function as a single unit in oneness of purpose. In a similar way, Mormons believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God even while retaining their separate beings.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 1979.
- Hatch, Edwin. The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity. New York: Harper & Row, 1957.
- Nelson, William O. “Is the LDS View of God Consistent with the Bible?” Ensign, July 1987.