From beginning to end the Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. The characteristics of God and Jesus, the crucifixion and the resurrection are all repeated topics in the Book of Mormon. Explaining these issues within the framework of a Trinitarian view results in a groundwork of confusion and makes an incomprehensible backdrop in which to view God. By way of contrast, the correct Biblical revelation of God and Jesus is strikingly simple and remarkably logical.
The Trinity in the Book of Mormon
There is a brief introduction to the Book of Mormon written by Joseph Smith summarizing the objective of the book as: “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD…”( end 2nd paragraph of foreword). In the second to last book we read: [Jesus Christ is said to be speaking, see v. 8] “I am the Father, I am the light and the life and the truth of the world” (Ether 4:12). So the theme runs from beginning to end in the Book of Mormon!
One of the deceptive aspects to this book is sometimes it appears to be completely correct in its teaching. For example, upon believing in God, the convert is to be immersed “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 11:25-26). This sounds just like Christ’s instructions (Matt 28: 19).
We might even rationalize the following words: “the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one” (3 Nephi 11:27) as correctly speaking of the oneness that the believer can share with the Lord Jesus (John 17: 20-22). But when we look earlier in this same chapter we read: “ye may thrust your hands into my side…that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:14). It’s clear that the idea being expressed is not at all the Scriptural identification of Jesus as the Son of God born of the virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, but of the Lord God Himself being the Jesus that died on the cross.1
King Benjamin’s declaration
One of the leading “prophets” in the Book of Mormon is a ruler called Benjamin. Dated in B.C. 124 he is presented as saying:
“For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay…and lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body… And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary…and they…shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. And he shall rise the third day from the dead…” (Mosiah 3:5-10).
This is a very clear and very striking statement. There’s no doubt what the speaker has in mind. The remarks give rise to all kinds of questions: “How can an eternal, omnipotent God die? Who was running the world while he was in ‘clay’ and was dead?”
Later in the same book, the prophet Abinadi is reputed to have said:
“God himself shall come down among the children of men…And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son — The Father because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son — And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth…” (Mosiah 15:1-4).
The extraordinary and confused thinking expressed in these words astounds the person accustomed to working in logical terms in their practical everyday lives. How could any reasonable person possibly believe an individual could be his own father and his own son at the same time? Yet this is where a belief in the Trinity takes a person. No wonder when the doctrine is challenged we are told that, “It’s a mystery of the church which we cannot understand.”
Confusion rules in the atonement
The central point of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the plan and will of the Father. When one tries to combine that essential teaching with the idea of the Trinity, confusion prevails. Consider the following which to the logical mind seems like utter nonsense: “it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him” (2 Nephi 9:5).
What possible connection could there be between the death of the Creator, who cannot die, and all mankind becoming subject to Him? All mankind are subject to the Creator, not because He dies, but because He lives, because He made them, sustains their existence and requires their subjection to His will.
Comments on the atonement continue with a personification of “justice”. As a consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve, we are told:
“All mankind were fallen and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease [i.e. God is appeasing Himself] the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God and a merciful God also.” (Alma 2:14-15). And the atonement is said to be made by God’s own blood: “And his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam…” (Mosiah 3:11).
Only in religious thinking could such concepts be contemplated as if they were profound. It was God against whom sins had been committed. Was He going to “appease” Himself with his own blood by dying on the cross? In any other field of human enquiry such an idea would be immediately discarded as twisted thinking.
The net impact of such a concept is that mankind, which caused the whole problem, gets off not doing anything. What a contortion of logic and common sense the reader is being asked to accept. And for what reason?
What example? what exhortation? What emotional appeal? What representation of a sacrificial life is here? The whole point of salvation being on the basis of the obedient life and death of one of the human race is completely lost with the doctrine of the Trinity. There is here no powerful appeal by the love of the Father and the Son in providing a reasonable basis for the forgiveness of sins. All we see is a very strange legalistic concept of satisfying the demands of “justice” by means of the blood of the one who was offended and who couldn’t really die, because he was the immortal God. While trying not to be impolite, there is no way of describing this but utter confusion.
The simple, clear Biblical revelation concerning Jesus — he is a human being
The Bible makes it perfectly clear that Jesus Christ is a human being, one of the race that began with Adam and Eve. The first verse of the New Testament declares “the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). And his genealogy in Luke extends the list of ancestors back to Adam (Luke 3:38). The Bible leaves no doubt that he is not the omnipotent God of heaven and earth but a descendant of Adam, Abraham and David.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul builds his case for the resurrection of all believers on the fact that the “man” Christ Jesus was raised as the first of the human race to be raised to immortality: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1Cor 15:21-23). Earlier in the chapter he made the crucial point that if humans could not be raised from the dead “then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they all which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (vv. 16-18).
How much plainer could the apostle put it? Jesus is one of us, the first of our race to be immortalized and thereby an assurance that believers in him will be raised and immortalized. If he is not one of the human race, there is no such assurance and the apostle’s argument is without basis.
Perhaps the clearest statement that Jesus Christ is a human being is in 1Tim 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. Both the words “men” and “man” come from the basic Greek word for human beings (anthropos which has come into English as anthropology — the study of human beings). Since this passage is referring to the present immortalized Jesus Christ, it is evident that Jesus was, is and always will be a human being.
The Lord Jesus himself declares that all the wisdom, power and status he had and has was given to him by God. As he says: “The Son can do nothing of himself…I can of mine own self do nothing…I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me I speak these things” (John 5:19,30; 8:28). All of the inherent power and wisdom is with God. As we would expect in one who was human, Jesus was totally dependent on God to provide these things to him. He did not have them without God providing it.
Furthermore, when Jesus was dead, he was totally dependent on God to raise him from the dead. If God had not done so, Jesus would have seen corruption. This point is repeatedly made in the opening chapters of Acts: “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death…thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption…This Jesus hath God raised up…Unto you [Jews] first God, having raised up his Son Jesus…(Acts 2:24,27,32; 3:26). When Jesus was dead, he was dead, like any other human being he was totally dependent on God raising him from the dead.
The simple, clear Biblical teaching concerning God
The Bible’s opening words are: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The one true God is praised by the apostle Paul as “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God…who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto…” (1Tim 1:17; 6:16). This is obviously not the human being, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and was raised from the dead by the God of heaven and earth.
Throughout Scripture God is praised as “the eternal God” (Deut 33:27); “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psa 90:2). While the Lord Jesus had his beginning in the womb of his mother, Mary, God is without beginning and without end.
The Bible describes God as not only having made all things but sustaining all life. Speaking of all living the Psalmist says: “thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created” and in another place we are assured “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa 104:29,30; 121:4).
Here is not the confusion of the Trinitarian ideas as set out in the Book of Mormon. Here is a clear distinction between God and the Lord Jesus. The God of the Bible does not shed his blood, die on the cross and require to be raised from the dead. All those things are done by the human being, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some possible problems considered
In the Bible, there are a couple of concepts which need to be clarified which impact the language used in regard to the Lord Jesus. They are:
The names and titles of the one immortal God are frequently applied to those who are acting on His behalf. Some rather obvious examples are:
(Exod 3:2) who spoke to Moses from the burning bush to whom the names LORD and God are applied (v.4) and who declared: “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham (v.6)…And the LORD said…(v.7)”. Here is an angelic representative of God speaking as if he were himself the One God of heaven and earth.
The judges of Israel
who were to represent God’s judgments to the nation of Israel but were rebuked for their injustice: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods…I have said, Ye are gods…” (Psa 82:1,6).
With such precedents, it’s understandable Jesus Christ should be termed “the mighty God” (Isa 9:6) in regard to his position as God’s great ruler in the kingdom age. It’s also understandable why the apostle Thomas would exclaim, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) upon realizing Jesus was the great Messiah who would rule the world.
A second concept to note is that the great spiritual change brought about now in the believer’s behavior and to be implemented more fully in the kingdom of God is spoken of as a new creation and the language of the physical creation is applied to it. Some examples are:
where the change of status and relationship to God is spoken of as being “born again” (John 3:3) or is described with the words normally used of physical death and resurrection (Rom 6:4).
Aspects of behavior
are spoken of as parts of our body which can be replaced: “mortify [put to death] therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection…ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col 3:5-10). Also note that since this spiritual change is made possible by being baptized into Christ, Christ is spoken of as the creator of this new “spiritual” creation with the words “that created him”.
Because Jesus was the first human raised from the dead to immortality he is spoken of as the beginning of this creation: “and he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18). The idea is seen again in Revelation where the message is “from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness and the first begotten of the dead” and later says “these things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev 1:5; 3:14).
At first, these concepts may take some Bible study to fully grasp. But they are fully comprehensible. They are not at all like the completely illogical and incomprehensible “mystery” of the Trinity presented in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon’s presentation regarding God and Jesus is nothing more than that of orthodox Christianity which was adopted in 330 A.D. This regrettably leaves the casual Bible reader hopelessly confused and muddled as he tries to sort out the truth concerning the nature of God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Don Styles (Ann Arbor, MI)
(Next: What the Book of Mormon says about Satan, the devil and human nature.)
1. Considering the misuse of this passage by Trinitarians, we might rather use the baptismal formula “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” which is alluded to several times in Acts.