Abinadi on the Godhead and the Atonement: A Response to Book of Mormon Central (Part II)

This is the second part of my response to Book of Mormon Central’s Mosiah 15 piece. In the first part, I addressed what I thought was some loose use of the term “Trinity.” In this one, I’ll take a look at how the piece uses the 1916 First Presidency Statement on the Father and the Son.

To support and emphasize the point about Jesus having multiple roles/titles, the Book of Mormon Central piece refers to the 1916 First Presidency statement on the Father and the Son. I don’t wholly disagree with this, and I think Abinadi’s teachings are consistent with the 1916 statement, but I think there’s bit more going on in Abinadi’s teachings than the doctrine set forth in the 1916 statement, and for that reason I’m not sure that the 1916 statement really tells us what Abinadi is saying.

Background on the 1916 Statement

But first, some background on the 1916 statement: There was a lot more doctrinal variation on the godhead in the early restored church than there is now. The Lectures on Faith refer to the Holy Ghost as the shared mind of the Father and the Son, seemingly teaching a form of binitarianism. Early church members, including Joseph Smith, sometimes used the titles/names Jehovah and Eloheim interchangeably, referring to God the Father, in contrast to later teachings that solidified Jehovah’s identity and the pre-mortal Christ. And the Adam-God teachings of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, of course, opened a whole new can of worms on the godhead. With all these ideas floating around, by the end of the 19th century there was a good amount of confusion and speculation within the church about the godhead. President Woodruff, in conference in April 1895, responded by advocating a return to basics with respect to the doctrine of the Godhead:

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Your doctrinal debates bore me. Back to basics, kids.

Cease troubling yourselves about who God is; who Adam is, who Christ is, who Jehovah is. For heaven’s sake, let these things alone. Why trouble yourselves about these things? . . . God is God. Christ is Christ. The Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost. That should be enough for you and me to know. If we want to know any more, wait until we get where God is in person. I say this because we are troubled every little while with inquiries from Elders anxious to know who God is, who Christ is, and who Adam is. I say to the Elders of Israel, stop this. Humble yourselves before the Lord; seek for light, for truth, and for a knowledge of the common things of the kingdom of God. The Lord is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. He changes not. The Son of God is the same. He is the Savior of the World. He is our advocate with the Father. . . . God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, are the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. That should be sufficient for us to know. [1]

 

Charleswpenrose

Ugh. These doctrinal debates over the godhead are so last century. Can’t we get Talmage to do something about this?

But President Woodruff ended up being a kind of voice in the wilderness. Despite his admonition to focus on the simple doctrines, “the common things of the kingdom,” and to “let these things alone,” 20 years later there was still a good deal of speculation and confusion in the church about the godhead. In conference in April 1916, President Charles W. Penrose spoke in detail and at length of the unnecessary “divisions” that arose in the church on the details of the godhead, including speaking explicitly against points of the Adam-God teachings, and again emphasizing a return to focus on basic doctrines. [2]

Apparently to resolve such lingering confusion, the First Presidency asked Elder James E. Talmage was to prepare a doctrinal statement clarifying the doctrine of the Father and the Son, which the First Presidency and the Twelve approved and then published in July 1916 as “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve.”

Primarily, the 1916 statement intended to clarify the distinction

James E

Everybody calm down, I got this.

between the Father and the Son. It did so by clearly identifying “Elohim” as God the Father, and “Jehovah” as the Son, Jesus Christ. It also was intended to reconcile that distinction with the many passages of scripture that do refer to Jesus as the Father. It did so by explaining that Jesus is “the Father” in three ways: as creator of the Earth, as the Father of those who are born again in him, and as the one whom the Father has invested with his divine authority.

The 1916 statement cleaned up the aftermath of the Adam-God stuff, and basically defined these points of doctrine of the Godhead for the modern church. It was successful because these points are basically unquestioned orthodoxy in the modern church. Because of the role it plays, I sometimes half-jokingly call it the Mormon Nicean creed.

How do Abinadi’s teachings relate to the 1916 Statement?

The Book of Mormon Central piece asserts that the Book of Mormon as a whole “affirms” the 1916 statement and concludes that Abinadi’s teachings therefore can’t be reconciled with the trinity, when viewed in the context of “the Book of Mormon’s overall theology.”

A couple of issues here. Again, I suspect that “trinity” here is standing in for modalism. And, well, I think Abinadi’s teachings could easily be reconciled with the Trinity or with modalism, were one inclined to do so. But I don’t mean to suggest that Abinadi was actually teaching a trinitarian or modalistic theology. My point is that Abinadi’s teachings are vague enough on the points that separate the LDS Godhead doctrine from the Trinity and separate both from modalism that those teachings could conceivably be accepted under a standard LDS godhead framework or under a trinitarian framework, or even under a modalistic framework. Why is Abinadi so vague on these points? Because that’s not his message (more on that later).

But perhaps the first question is this: should we even assume in the first place that Abinadi and all the other Book of Mormon prophets taught a single “overall theology” of the godhead? If you believe that Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon to teach his religious ideas, then you would probably expect to find in its pages a coherent uniform theology. But if you believe, as I do, that he did not make it up, and that there is a real historical basis behind the narrative, then I’m not so sure. The Book spans roughly 1,000 years. How much variation has been documented on the doctrine of the godhead in the first 1,000 years of Christianity? There’s a reason all those councils and creeds were needed. Maybe we dismiss that variation as having been the result of apostasy and a lack of revelation, but even in the restored church, how much variation have we seen on the precise details of the godhead over less than 200 years, from the Book of Mormon to the Lectures on Faith to the Adam-God doctrine, to the 1916 statement? I think we accept pretty readily that our understanding of the nature of the godhead has developed in this dispensation gradually, “line upon line.” Similarly, it’s not unlikely that Nephi, Alma, Abinadi, and Mormon may have had slightly different ideas of the precise details of the nature of the godhead. Should we really assume that the Book of Mormon prophets from Nephi to Mormon all operated under same theological understanding of the details of the godhead as to those points that divided the christian church during the ecumenical counsels, or indeed that they ever even considered those points? Probably not.

But on the other hand, maybe that assumption is not necessary to conclude that there is a single unified

mormon-abridging-the-plates-39649-print

Nephite religion was the same from Nephi to me. I should know because I actually read Nephi, did you, Abinadi?

Book of Mormon theology. Unlike the Bible, whose contents grew more organically, the Book of Mormon tells us that it was deliberately pieced together by a single person, and I think the text makes clear that Mormon was writing what is essentially a long sermon, not a history and not a theological survey of Nephite religion. He was not trying to capture and catalog all the theological variations of Nephite religion. Rather, he was writing with a very clear agenda: to persuade his readers to accept the divinity of Christ, and he only included those records that he believed furthered that purpose. I think it’s asking a lot to assume that all the Book of Mormon prophets over all the centuries of the Book had the exact same theology of the godhead, but I do think it’s plausible that Mormon redacted, unified, and correlated the Book of Mormon prophets’ teachings into a single unified theology. He wouldn’t be the first one to try to reconcile different past prophetic approaches to theological issues.

abinadi

Are you serious right now, Mormon? Nephite religion got so messed up in my time that I had to go down in flames just to get Alma to start a reformation!

But if so, he did not completely eliminate theological differences between Book of Mormon prophets. There are certainly differences in emphasis, if not in substance, between Nephi, who teaches a much more trinitarian theology (not in the sense of the formal doctrine of the Trinity, but in the sense that he heavily emphasizes all three members of the godhead working together) emphasizing baptism in the name of the entire godhead, and the theology taught by Abinadi and Alma and his successors, which focuses more on faith in Christ alone and baptism “in the name of the Lord” without mentioning the other members of the godhead.

But maybe that’s all beside the point, because in any case, in my reading of the Book of Mormon, the theology of the Book of Mormon prophets, to whatever degree it is unified or varied, does not really speak to the precise issue of the details addressed by the ecumenical creeds. Rather, the only points on the doctrine of the godhead that get a lot of emphasis in the Book of Mormon are (1) the doctrine that they are one God, and (2) the roles of each member in carrying out the salvation of humanity.

 

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Guys, cool it already with the spirit of contention over the points of my doctrine, alright?

For example, when Jesus describes “my gospel,” the only statement he makes about the godhead is about the roles of each member, not about the precise details of how they are one and how they are separate: the Father sends the Son to be lifted up on the cross, the Son draws all men to him, and the Holy Ghost will sanctify those that repent and come unto the Son. As to the details of the precise nature of the godhead, the overall theology of the Book of Mormon is pretty basic, almost to the point of being vague. Essentially, it says little more than President Woodruff’s statement: “God is God. Christ is Christ. The Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost. That should be enough for you and me to know.”

And maybe that vagueness is Mormon’s doing. If Mormon did correlate and unify the Book of Mormon prophets’ teachings, the logical way to do that would be to redact those points where they may have diverged and leave a sort of Nephite version of “mere Christianity” that focused on basic, universally accepted doctrines and was silent on the controversial points. (If that’s what Mormon did, that would be consistent with the revelation canonized as section 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which says that the Lord’s purpose in bringing to light the Book of Mormon was “that there may not be so much contention” about “the points of my doctrine.”) But whatever the reason, the Book of Mormon’s overall theology, as I read it, is much more focused on basic simple doctrines and just does not take sides on the abstract theological issues that the councils and creeds wrestled with.

I think Abinadi’s teachings follow the same pattern. They are basic enough that they don’t really take sides on the precise theological issues that divide LDS godhead doctrine from trinitarianism. Put differently, Abinadi’s teachings are as consistent with trinitarian theology as they are with LDS Godhead doctrine, in the same way that the the teachings of John the Baptist are, for example.

As I’ll explain more in a later post, I don’t think Abinadi’s teaching that Jesus is the Father precisely corresponds to the three ways that the 1916 statement calls him the Father. But I still think it is consistent with the 1916 statement, because it does not contradict it, and because read closely, the 1916 statement is not exhaustive: it does not exclude other ways that Jesus is called the Father (other than ruling out the idea that he and the Father are the same person), it merely offers some interpretive tools to help reconcile passages where Jesus is called the Father with the doctrine that he and the Father are distinct individual persons. For this reason, I don’t think the three examples of ways Jesus is the Father explained in the 1916 statement should necessarily limit how we read Abinadi’s statement that Jesus is the Father.


[1] “The Power of Evil,” General Conference, April 7, 1895, reported in 57(23) Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star 355-56 (June 6, 1895).

[2] Conference Report, 86th Annual Conference, at 13-24.

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    Thanks. Interesting stuff.

  2. Jason K. says:

    I’ve long seen great wisdom in the simplicity of expression in the first Article of Faith: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” People of widely divergent beliefs about the godhead, as long as they accept the three persons, can affirm this statement in good conscience. There’s beauty in that for me.

  3. I agree, Jason. It’s a similar sentiment to that expressed in section 19, given to Martin Harris as he went out to preach the gospel: “And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.”

  4. “I don’t think the three examples of ways Jesus is the Father explained in the 1916 statement should necessarily limit how we read Abinadi’s statement that Jesus is the Father.” I agree.

  5. Kevin Christensen says:

    I had my reading of Abinadi radically recontextualized when I read Margaret Barker’s observation in The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God that noted the distinction in the Bible that “All texts in the Hebrew Bible distinguish clearly between the divine sons of Elohim/Elyon and those human beings who are called the sons of Yawheh” That is, “There are those called the sons of El Elyon, all clearly heavenly beings, and there are those called the sons of Yawheh, or the Holy One, who are human. This distinction is important for at least two reasons; Yahweh was one of the sons of El Elyon, God Most High.” (See, Barker, 10, 4),
    And of course, we have Nephi being informed “thou believest in the Son of the most high God”, a wide range of Yahweh titles and roles being assigned to the being who comes as Jesus Christ in 3 Nephi, and a range of people in the context of making covenants being informed that they have become “his sons and daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). Abinadi talks in that tradition.
    No one experiences psychic or theological trauma when I inform them that I am both a father and a son, because its not hard to figure out when and where and how I qualify for each role, and merit each title.

  6. Kevin, I haven’t read Barker, but that sounds plausible. And it appears consistent with Elder Talmage’s clarification of the role of Jehovah. I think it’s relatively uncontroversial that Jesus merits the title of Father even under the least “Trinitarian” theology.

    As I’ll discuss in a latter part, though, the significance of Abinadi’s teachings is not simply that he calls Jesus the Father, but how *he explains why* he calls him the Father, and how that title and explanation function in the context of his call to repentance.

  7. JKC:

    Thanks for sharing what you’ve found about what led to the 1916 Doctrinal Exposition on the Father and the Son. Do you (or anyone else) know where one goes to confirm that James Talmage actually wrote the document and that he did so at the direction of the First Presidency? (Minutes of meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency are off limits at the Church History Department.) And are there scholarly attempts to map the development of the LDS doctrine of God prior to 1916, much like Lester Bush did in 1973 concerning the development of Church policy regarding blacks and the priesthood?

    In response to what’s being said here, which is lovely, my primary concern is that terms like “trinitarianism” and “modalism” are being used with litte if any actual definition, as if each has some tidy explanation in the history of Christian belief. It almost goes without saying that when we attempt to define such terms by reference to what remains in the historical record (since writings deemed heretical were systematically destroyed over the centuries, so that modalism, for example, as heresy, only finds definition in the writings of those who opposed it), things fray pretty fast. The christological landscape was variegated for centuries. (It remains so to this day, although obviously less so, despite creeds and confessions.) Even the pivotal ecumencial creeds were left ambiguous to accommodate Neoplatonism and other forms of philosophical influence.

    I for one find modalistic elements in a good bit of historical othodox trinitarian belief. It seems modalism in several forms was prevalent for so long among different Christian faith communities, and opposed for so long by the Early Fathers, that some of it eventually rubbed off on orthodox belief. By modalism, I intend (generally) the belief that Jesus was the Father before coming to earth but was transformed into the Son in mortality before being permanently transformed post-mortally into the Holy Spirit through a “spiritualized” resurrection — one being. And by triinitarianism, in the form in which it came to be officially expressed (the Holy Spirit was a late element in that development), I have in mind (generally) Jesus as having two natures, one divine, one human, two wills, one divine and one human, and two minds, one divine and one human, in mortality, but eventually having no body, so that he forms at least a two-in-one being despite his stated ontological separateness from the other members of the Godhead. I appears to me that despite condemning modalism, orthodox expressions of triinitarian belief often embraced modalistic themes and ideas. (And this is but one historical example among many in which heresy syncretically impacted trinitarian dogma, if only by raising issues around which christology coalesced.)

    I mention the foundational issue of definition not to detract from the discussion but merely to suggest the need for caution as we explore how the words of Abinidi, Benjamin, Nephi, Lehi, Mormoni and others relate to orthodox christology. The title page of the Book of Mormon calls Jesus Christ “the Eternal God.” It seems that in attempting to understand what that means, we might consider first all that the Book of Mormon says about Jesus, and then compare that with what is said about him in the other three standard works, adding to that mix Latter-day prophetic expression (but omitting what has been discreditied or discarded), in order to compare that product with what we find in historical traditional christological development. That’s an ambitious task, certainly, but isn’t it pretty much what one takes on when one begins to use the words “Abinidi” and “modalism” in the same sentence?

    Keek

  8. Keek, thanks for the comment. I’ll try to address your questions one at a time.

    That Elder Talmage wrote the 1916 statement is pretty uncontroversial, I think. If I recall correctly, that’s based on his journals, which mentioned meeting with the First Presidency over the doctrinal statement on the father and the son. Brian Ricks, a CES guy, wrote an article in 2012 that goes over it. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-13-number-2-2012/james-e-talmage-and-doctrine-godhead#ref65

    There have been whole libraries written about LDS godhead doctrine before the 1916 statement. The Ricks article I linked to above goes over some of it, but there are tons of others.

    As for definitions of theological terms like the Trinity and modalism, I think those terms do have generally accepted definitions. The Trinity is defined by the creeds, and the modalistic heresy is defined in other writings of orthodox theologians. Your definition of modalism strikes me as too narrow. Modalism is the idea that god is a single person that appears in three forms. But the idea that God was transformed from one person to another is not a necessary aspect of modalism. If your point is that orthodox writings have misrepresented the actual historical teachings of Sabellius and other modalistic theologians, you’re probably right to some extent, but that’s kind of beside the point, because I’m not arguing that the definition of modalism that was ruled heretical (the idea that the three members of the godhead are three different appearances or forms of one single person) actually fairly represents the beliefs of Sabellius or other historical modalist thinkers, I am simply noting that that idea is condemned as heretical by orthodox trinitarianism, and we should therefore not conclude as so many do, that the idea that the three members of the godhead or trinity are one single being is a “Trinitarian” idea. The Trinity may be difficult to define for what it is, but what it is not is easier to define, because of the various heresies that have been ruled off limits. In the case of modalism, it’s pretty clear that a belief that the members of the godhead are a single person that appears in different forms is not trinitarianism.

    Likewise, your definition of “trinitarianism” seems to me to correspond (except for the part about having no body) to the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, a medieval doctrine, if I recall correctly, not the doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the 3rd century counsels and continues to be defined by orthodox theology. The idea that Jesus does not have a body is also not an aspect of Trinitarianism. You may be thinking of something like the Westminster Confession, with its line about God not having “body, parts, or passions,” but that’s not really Trinitarianism. Put it this way: all those who accept the Westminster Confession call themselves Trinitarians, but not all Trinitarians accept the Westminster Confession.

    As for “modalistic themes and ideas,” being a part of Trinitarianism, I would say that to the degree that modalism is nothing more than an overemphasis or an overextension of the unity of the godhead, which is a scriptural doctrine, the fact that Trinitarianism continues to affirm the unity of the godhead, while ruling modalism to be a heresy, could be interpreted as it having “modalistic” ideas, but it’s more likely a reflection of an attempt to continue to remain faithful to the doctrine of the oneness of God. Now, I agree that the lines between the “one substance” of the Trinity and modalism can be notoriously hard to decipher. And for that reason, lots of people in the pews have an idea of trinitarianism that would, if held up to the standards of the creeds, probably be condemned as heretical modalism. And really, it may be that what the substantive LDS objection to the doctrine of the Trinity boils down to is that the “one substance” that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share, at least as it has been interpreted by some, crosses the line back into the modalistic heresy.

    As to your last point, I don’t disagree with your suggested approach, as a way to define what is the LDS doctrine of the Godhead. But that’s not what I’m setting out to do here; what I’m setting out to do is explore what *Abinadi* means when he says that Jesus is the Father and the Son–not what Mormon (or maybe Moroni) means when he calls Jesus “Eternal God,” and not what the revelations of the doctrine and covenants or, other scriptures, or other LDS church leaders have said about the issue. Looking at what other Book of Mormon prophets said, or at what other scriptures say, or at what later LDS church leaders say, is all worthwhile and enlightening, but it does not necessarily tell us what *Abinadi* means. So in the two posts so far, I’m not attempting to define the LDS doctrine of the godhead, I’m simply simply questioning the use of the term Trinity in the Book of Mormon central article, and questioning the analytical approach of looking at the “overall theology” of the Book of Mormon and comparing it to the 1916 statement as a way of defining what *Abinadi* meant when he said that Jesus is the Father and the Son.

  9. Mark N. says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but it seems strange that the First Presidency (which includes a person that we normally consider to be the “main” prophet, seer and revelator to the Church) would assign the task of clearing up all this stuff about confusion over the Godhead to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was, if I’m not mistaken, the most junior member of the Quorum at that time. The President of the Church couldn’t handle that task? You’d think that if anyone should be given the important assignment of providing a clarification or restatement of Article of Faith number one, the President of the Church would be that person. But maybe he was just busy with other administrative duties and didn’t see it as that big of a deal.

    As for including Adam-God theory in a succession of “line upon line, precept upon precept” teachings, given the leadership’s eventual antipathy to the “theory” (doctrine?), it seems somewhat curious to me that such “line upon line” thinking would also include the possibility that occasionally, one or more of those lines may need to be completely scrubbed from the history of doctrinal development of the Church, worthy only of being renounced and refuted. Fortunately, Jesus never put himself in the position of having to say something like, “Hey, remember that stuff I said last week about the importance of baptism? Well, just throw that all out; I have no idea what I was thinking on that day.”

  10. Yeah, Mark, maybe it is just you. :) I think a more charitable answer would be that, as Penrose says in his conference talk I linked to, these issues already had answers, but those answers had not been set out in a single official doctrinal statement. So it was not a matter of “the prophet needs to get a new revelation to clear this up,” more a matter of “let’s get one of our best writers to collect and distill the answers from the already existing body of scripture and doctrine.” Why Elder Talmage? Because he was already well known for his work on Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ and evidently had a talent for that sort of thing. In any case, it was approved by and published under the seal of the entire First Presidency and Q12, so the fact that Elder Talmage prepared the draft does not seem like that big of a deal to me.

    I guess I see your point on the Adam-God stuff, but honestly, I’ve never thought of “line upon line” meaning that literally everything a president of the church says is a “line” of revealed doctrine directly from God. That’s just not the way revelation works. And for Brigham Young in particular, he was fond of testing his ideas by preaching them publicly and then seeing if he felt that the Holy Ghost confirmed them to him and to the congregation, so you can find all kinds of kooky stuff that Brigham Young said, often reversing himself, and sometimes, like in the case of Adam-God doctrine (call it theory if you like), being reversed by later church leaders. Really, your comment just goes back to the old question: when do we know that the prophet is speaking as a prophet and when do know that he’s not speaking as a prophet. That’s a question that’s been discussed to death and not one that I’m particularly interested in re-hashing in this thread. I’ll just say that my answer to the question relies heavily on J. Reuben Clark’s answer. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V12N02_70.pdf

  11. Clark Goble says:

    Even with Adam/God if you look at it, only a few elements of it were rejected by the Church. Primarily the idea that Adam as the man in the garden is the physical father of Jesus Christ. If one reads Adam/God with Adam as yet an other title that applies to multiple figures (as I think scripture requires — see 1 Cor 15:45) then most of the problems disappear. At worst Brigham Young made a mistake over titles by conflating two people who had the same title. Really no worse than the regular confusion over whether Jehovah as a title applies only to Jesus or sometimes to the person we’d call God the Father.

  12. In Part I of “Abinadi on the Godhead and the Atonement” (Part I), you state, “The doctrine of the Trinity is often (like, really often) misunderstood as a form of modalism….” One of the things I’m suggesting here is that neither modalism nor trinitarianism grew up in the absence of the other, that the one was heavily influenced by the other, and that when orthodox theologians/historians have tried to define trinitarianism, they have often done so (and continue to do so today) by describing Jesus in ways that have a distinctive modalistic ring, so that if there is a tendency (within the Church or within the Christian faith generally) to conflate trinitarianism and modalism, in any of their notable historical expressions (Wikipedia is a drop in the bucket), that’s more than just a little understandable.

  13. Interesting point, Clark. While I agree that Adam is best understood as a title rather than (or perhaps in addition to) a proper name, I had never made the connection to read it that way in the context of Adam-God.

    Keek, Oh, I totally agree that it is more than a little understandable that people in the church confuse modalism for the Trinity. Though, I don’t think it’s a case of trinitariansim and modalism growing up alongside one another as much as it is a case of them springing from the same source.

  14. Clark Goble says:

    I’ll confess it’s not my idea originally. Way back in college when I first encountered the idea there was already apologetics working off the title issue. Given the place Bruce R. McConkie takes the title – especially in the Book of Abraham – it makes sense. Adam is simply first man of which there are many. In that sense Noah is an Adam for instance (and likely the Brother of Jared or Lehi in a certain sense). The apologists often tried to explain away too much. I think it pretty clear Brigham Young often didn’t take it as a title. So explaining away Brigham’s error seems impossible. But as a way of explaining how he made his error (in light of 20th century views) it makes quite a lot of sense. Especially given we already have precedence with the messiness of Jevovah/YHWH as a title.

    I’d add in that of course Merkabah texts from the Jews offers a lot here. Both because I think that the proper context for Mosiah 15 (in some sense – the Merkabah texts we have are all clearly post-exilic) but also because titles get confused there pretty regularly. This confusion doesn’t just happen in pseudopigraphal works but even in scripture such as Rev 22:9 (which has obvious connections to Nephi’s vision) as well as pseudopigraphal works where who the lesser YHWH is in a text isn’t always obvious to participants in the text.

    If Brigham’s error is on the same order with John’s in Rev 22 I find it hard to criticize him too much. He’s with good company.

  15. Clark Goble says:

    Just to note, the Metatron stuff is fairly late where Enoch becomes the Lesser YHWH and for all intents and purposes is like God (although they still draw a distinction) While Scholem’s work is dated, many still follow his reconstruction of the history. In analyzing the hekhalot literature Scholem sees two early traditions tied not Metatron but Yahoel. To Scholem there’s first the development of a Michael tradition as like God who is a primordial angel who helps with creation. Scholem then argues that the tradition of Enoch with a celestial counterpart merges with the Michael tradition forming the Metatron tradition.

    Without saying Scholem is right, I’d just note that this would obviously offer a lot of explanatory power to Mormons trying to figure out Brigham Young’s views. Say what one will about the theological problems of Adam/God but in terms of ancient counterparts there’s quite a bit. There’s even a fair bit of literature roughly contemporary with Christ that makes similar moves to Brigham’s Adam/God.

    Of course while such things are interesting from an apologetic stance we have to be careful simply adopting parallels because they’re rhetorically useful.

    For those interested, Scholem’s theories are expounded in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and then Jewish Gnosticism. I should note there are people who strongly disagree with Scholem’s model although often by pushing back Jewish mysticism earlier. That is they make gnosticism dependent on Jewish mysticism rather than mysticism on earlier gnostic trends.

  16. “we have to be careful simply adopting parallels because they are rhetorically useful.” Amen to that, Clark.

  17. Jack of Hearts says:

    I’m a little late to the party, but Spencer Fluhman at BYU is currently writing a biography of Elder Talmage and from what I know he addresses the question of the authorship of the 1916 declaration. He wouldn’t say what he found as the book isn’t published, so I guess this doesn’t really add anything to the discussion. But keep an eye out for it when it is published; it should be worth the wait.

  18. Good to know. Thanks!

    As an aside, I thought the authorship was pretty uncontroversial, if for no other reason, because it just reads in Elder Talmage’s style, as compared to Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith.

    That does sound like a potentially interesting biography.

  19. As an Orthodox Christian (though I was not always) I find this article fascinating! Thanks for writing it. I’m going back to read part 1 then will read part 2. Also, thanks for the resources and links you provided.

    I’ve long said, having read the BoM multiple times over multiple years, while seemingly of 19th century American concern – and with a post Anabaptist flavor, the contents therein don’t really offend classical Christian sensibilities. It’s strong on Jesus as messiah, atonement, baptism, the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, etc. All decisively Christian concerns! In fact, it’s forthright enough to undercut most major Christological heresy, yet vague enough, to be used to support Trinitarianism, binitarianism, modalism, or tri-theism. Without the attending structure of the LDS church, it’s official 1916 Declaration and ongoing office of Prophet, the text itself could be argued each way with force. (Hence the Community of Christ [former RLDS] now espousing something more akin to Nicene Trinitarianism while still using the BoM.)

    I offer no critique of the merits of the article since it is intra LDS. I would however like to respond to one comment that read, “It seems modalism in several forms was prevalent for so long among different Christian faith communities, and opposed for so long by the Early Fathers, that some of it eventually rubbed off on orthodox belief.” I think the rise of Arianism at all as THE major early Christological heresy and the bulk of the writings of the Church Father doesn’t support that claim. Were that the case, I don’t see Arianism getting off the ground the way that it did. Of course there were other heresies prior to Arianism. But Arianism takes the cake. There’s much that could be said here.

    At any rate, please keep writing. I look forward upcoming articles and will be diving into the archives. Godspeed

  20. Rock, thanks for reading and for commenting! I largely agree with your succint summary of the Book of Mormon’s approach to the gospel. And your point about Arianism cutting against modalism as a major influence on orthodox (with a lowercase o) theology is a good one.

    One thing to keep in mind about heresies (regardless of how orthodox you are) is that even if you reject them they are usually based on a kernel of truth that, just gets overemphasized or overextended (according to the orthodox reading). The original creeds were attempts to reconcile passages of scripture that were all accepted as true, and yet could be read as in tension with one another. So to the extent that there are similarities between a heresy and orthodoxy, I think that’s usually a case of the orthodoxy and the heresy trying to be faithful to the same points of scripture that was the original source of both, rather than a case of the heresy rubbing off on the orthodoxy.

    In any case, thanks for stopping by.

  21. “One thing to keep in mind about heresies (regardless of how orthodox you are) is that even if you reject them they are usually based on a kernel of truth that, just gets overemphasized or overextended (according to the orthodox reading). …So to the extent that there are similarities between a heresy and orthodoxy, I think that’s usually a case of the orthodoxy and the heresy trying to be faithful to the same points of scripture that was the original source of both, rather than a case of the heresy rubbing off on the orthodoxy.”

    Perfectly worded and I couldn’t agree more. I often say, were we not pressed to further clarification on things, we’d never think to define things so tightly – or with such big fancy words. Were it not for being pressed by whoever, from within or without, just saying we believe in God, in his Son Jesus the Messiah of Israel, and in the Holy Spirit would be sufficient. Alas…

    BTW, the reason I used “O”rthodox instead of orthodox, is because I’m Eastern Orthodox is all.

  22. Rock, you seem more familiar with the Book of Mormon than most. I don’t know how familiar you are with the accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision, but we have that statement in there that Jesus told him that the creeds of the various sects were an abomination. I’ve become increasingly convinced that the primary problem with the creeds is not their content, as Mormons have often assumed, but that they forced members of the church to take sides on disputed issues, and as a result, were deployed as weapons in the persecution of heretics. Alas, indeed.

  23. And also, I wasn’t criticizing your use of Orthodox, just clarifying that I was referring to orthodox theology in general, not Orthodox theology in particular.

  24. JKC: I understood your use of orthodox. I just wasn’t sure if you had understood mine. But it would seem you did from the beginning. We’re on the same page.

    I dare not compare myself to others. But I am familiar with the contents of the BoM, D&C, PoGP & LDS history in general, so yes, I am familiar the accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision.

    I’m glad that your personal experience is convincing you that the content of the creeds are not as offensive to LDS sensibilities as they may still be for others. Since you’re referring strictly to the First Vision itself, I would agree partly with your assessment that, in that moment, at its best, Joseph’s own interpretation was that the primary problem with the creeds was that they were “deployed as weapons” and “they forced members of the church to take sides”, forcing division and strife among all those who named Jesus as the Christ. Having been praying seeking wisdom which sect to join but then being told to join none, it would make sense the vision as he understood it in that moment would at least be answering that practical issue first and foremost.

    However, I’m not so sure that Joseph’s own overall feelings or complete understanding of the revelation (not to mention Brigham Young’s) would mirror yours that “the primary problem with the creeds [was] not their content.” Nor am I sure the JSH account allows for that position.

    Over time, as the LDS Church moved south and then west, especially post Nauvoo, it seems its view of others outside itself increasingly as having substantively corrupted the Gospel. Sermons from Joseph and the JoD, even while not authoritative, I do believe bear this out. It seems this subsequent understanding and utilization of the First Vision were sharpened during violent rejection of the LDS message and practice, as those who held to creeds argued among themselves and in part, “deployed [the creeds] as weapons in the persecution of [the LDS].” And persecution permeates much in LDS thought and testimony to this day.

    Also, as yet, I’m not fully on board with how I’m understanding your saying the creeds were about “disputed issues.”The way I am reading you is that because they were disputed, they should not have been made into creedal statements that cause division. But just because someone disputes, doesn’t mean the issue isn’t crucial or should be categorized as disputed. Someone may dispute that LDS Church no longer practice polygamy. But it is crucial to deny that error and show that it is undisputed that since 1890 the LDS Church forbids and the LDS faithful do not practice it.

    That is to say, some creeds could be wrong and others right. Just because they disagree with each other, it doesn’t have to follow that “creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt.” Yet, that is what we find in the JSH 1:19b account. It goes on to rebuke the professors of the creeds specifically as those who, “draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (JSH 1:19c)

    The issue Jesus addressed to Joseph is not merely that the creeds keep Christians from each other (though that is implicit and important), but that they keep them from Him specifically as they teach commandments of men. So I do see something of the content of the creeds as being rejected in all of the creeds by the First Vision. Maybe not all of the content in all of the creeds. But some of the contents in all of the creeds. If I misread you or misapply JSH, please forgive, and do correct me.

    So in relation to the First Vision, it seems to me there were twin primary rebukes; the lesser, the effect of the creeds (division) and (because of?), the greater, some of the contents of the creeds (heresy).

    That said, I welcome correction where I am in error, am intrigued by your personal growing conviction, and seek rapprochement in our understandings of each other. I hope I’ve haven’t gone too far off topic. My apologies if I have.

    PS – FWIW, the Orthodox Church only has one Creed which we confess. The Nicene Creed sans the western addition of the filioque. The Athanasian and Apostle’s creeds have no bearing on our thought as pur Trinitarianism is not sufficiently expressed in those. So I when I personally engage trinitarian discussion, my position comes from that confession.

  25. While it shouldn’t need to be said, it does…no creed or confession should lead to persecution of others. Where it does, we must repent.

  26. Clark Goble says:

    I’d second Rock. I don’t think you can say the creeds weren’t a problem to Joseph although I suspect Joseph may have been fuzzy over what was or wasn’t a creed.

    At least later on it seems Joseph saw as very important the distinction between the Father and the Son as two embodied personages. It does seems to me that the Church was – and perhaps still is – pretty fuzzy on the Spirit although with D&C 130:22 it became clear it was a personage. Yet in Orson Pratt’s theology well into the Utah period he was following the ideas of Lectures on Faith where the Spirit was the shared mind of the Godhead. By the time of the end of Young’s period the idea that the Holy Ghost was just a man not yet embodied was common (with a few pushing it in odd directions). Yet this seemed much more a bifurcation of the Holy Ghost into a more Pratt like spirit part and a separate personage of the Holy Ghost. i.e. I’m not sure it’s as big a change as some do and I think that confusion persists until today.

    I think that both the form of the translation of the Book of Mormon as well as the actions of Joseph saw that a lot of the common debates within Protestant over points of doctrine (like infant baptism) were very important. Those might not be the common pre-Protestant Creeds but my sense is that Joseph saw them as about the same. That is these stated differences between sects were Creeds to his eyes.

  27. Clark Goble says:

    Just to add I also think Rock’s right to note the evolution here. Joseph starts off worried about creeds which become less significant over time as the notion of the apostasy develops. By Nauvoo the key issues are authority and missing ordinances.