Line upon Line
Gary James Bergera, editor

Chapter 4
The Development of the Mormon Doctrine of God
Boyd Kirkland

[p.35]Today in Mormon theology Jesus Christ is believed to be Jehovah, God of the Old Testament, while Elohim is God the Father, father of Jehovah and the entire human race. The LDS church promotes these ideas in its lesson manuals, periodicals, and literature.1

Although it might be natural to assume that this has always been the position of Mormonism, Mormon perceptions about God have passed through several phases of development.2 Joseph Smith’s earliest statements and scriptural writings describe God as an absolute, infinite, self-existent, spiritual being, perfect in all of his attributes and alone in his supremacy.3 The Godhead was regularly defined with the trinitarian but nonbiblical formula, “the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which is one God.”4 The Book of Mormon speaks of only one god, who could manifest himself either as the Father or the Son.5 Although Book of Mormon modalistic theology does not reflect a truly orthodox trinitarian view, it does reflect the Protestant primitivist perception that in some manner the Father and the Son were both representations of the one God.6

Several scriptural passages given through Smith indicate clearly that he saw no contradiction in having one god simultaneously be the Father who sent Jesus as well as Jesus himself.7 For example, Ether 4:12 in the Book of Mormon plainly states, ‘He that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father.”

A close examination of Joseph Smith’s translation of the [p.36] Bible (JST) also reveals his early monotheistic beliefs. Smith consciously attempted to remove all reference to a plurality of gods from the King James Bible (KJV)8 He also changed several passages to identify more clearly the Father and the Son as the same god. For example, he revised Luke 10:22 (in JST) to have Jesus teach that “no man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.” These observations provide significant insight into understanding Book of Mormon passages which identify Jesus Christ as “God Himself,” the “Holy One of Israel,” the “Lord Omnipotent,” the “Father of heaven and earth” who revealed himself to Moses and many of the ancient patriarchs. Apparently Smith’s own early theology is reflected in his translation of the Book of Mormon. Similarly, some of Smith’s early revelations freely switch the role of the God of Israel from the Son to the Father.9

Evidence indicates that by 1835, Smith and other Mormon leaders had begun to distinguish more between the roles and natures of the Father and the Son. This is reflected most clearly in the “Lectures on Faith” published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. The fifth lecture defined the Godhead as consisting of two personages: the Father, a personage of spirit, and the Son, a personage of tabernacle. The Holy Ghost was not considered a personage but rather was defined as the “mind” of the Father and the Son. Also, revelations Smith received after 1833 contain less crossover in the roles and titles of the Father and the Son. It is significant that after May 1833 Smith apparently never again referred to Jesus as the Father in any of his writings.

Prior to his study of Hebrew in Kirtland, Ohio, Smith’s usage of Elohim and Jehovah reflects marked similarity to the King James Bible’s usage of these names. Elohim and Jehovah appear thousands of times in the original Hebrew Bible. However, they are generally translated as “God” and “LORD” in the KJV, Jehovah appearing untranslated only six times in the KJV, while Elohim does not appear at all. Accordingly, Jehovah appears in the Book of Mormon only twice, one reference being an excerpt from Isaiah. The name Elohim appears nowhere in the LDS standard works: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

After Smith’s study of Hebrew in 1835-36, he began to use [p.37]Elohim for the first time; he also began to use Jehovah more often. Jehovah appears for the first time in the Doctrine and Covenants after 1836. It appears twice in the first two chapters of the “Book of Abraham,” which was translated in 1835 and later published as part of the Pearl of Great Price.

Given the interchangeability of the roles of the Father and the Son in earliest Mormon theology, it is impossible to identify specifically Smith’s first few Jehovah references as applying to either the Father or the Son. However, after the identities of the Father and the Son were more carefully differentiated around 1835, Smith clearly began to use the divine name Jehovah to refer to the Father. Significantly, he never seems to have specifically identified Jehovah as Jesus, nor Jehovah as the Son of Elohim. Rather, he followed the biblical Hebrew usage of the divine names in specific verses and either combined them or used them interchangeably as epithets for God the Father. The following prayer, which he wrote in 1842, demonstrates this: “O Thou, who seest and Knowest the hearts of all men–Thou eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Jehovah–God–Thou Elohim, that sittest, as saith the Psalmist, `enthroned in heaven,’ look down upon Thy servant Joseph at this time; and let faith on the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ, to a greater degree than Thy servant ever yet has enjoyed, be conferred upon him.”10 On a few occasions, Smith referred to the Father by the title Elohim alone.11

Other Mormon writers during the 1830s followed this pattern, often using Jehovah as the name of God the Father and only occasionally using the name Elohim. However, they evidently considered the Father to be the god who appeared in the Old Testament. For example, the following was published in the Times and Seasons as the Mormon belief in 1841: “We believe in God the Father, who is the Great Jehovah and head of all things, and that Christ is the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father.”12

During the Nauvoo, Illinois, period of church history (1839-44), Smith’s theology of the Godhead once again changed dramatically. He began to denounce and reject the notion of the trinity altogether. He emphasized that God the Father, as well as the Son, both had tangible bodies of flesh and bone (D&C 130:22). He also began to teach the plurality of gods and the related concept that humans could become gods. God himself had a father upon whom [p.38]he depended for his existence and authority. The Father had acted under the direction of a “head god” and a “council of gods” in the creation of the worlds. The plurality of creation gods was dramatically depicted in the “Book of Abraham,” chapters 2-5, which Smith translated in 1842. All of these ideas were summed up by Smith in April 1844 in perhaps his most famous sermon, the King Follett Discourse.

In connection with these ideas, Smith began to use the title Elohim as the proper name for the head god who presided at the creation of the world. He also taught that Elohim in the creation accounts of Genesis should be understood in a plural sense as referring to the council of the gods, who, under the direction of the head god, organized the heavens and the earth. Once the earth had been organized, “the heads of the Gods appointed one God for us.”13 From the context of Smith’s discussions of this head god, it is apparent that he considered this being to be a patriarchal superior to the father of Jesus.

The gods involved in the creation were designated in Smith’s temple endowment ceremony as Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael. Smith had previously identified Michael as “Adam … the ancient of days” (D&C 27:11). Whether he identified either this Elohim or Jehovah to be God the Father as he had previously used these titles is unclear. We have seen that he used the title Elohim in various modes, none of which included Jesus, and he also used the name Jehovah to refer to the Father. Given all of these possibilities, Smith’s endowment ceremony, then, did not seem to include Jesus among the creation gods. This is a curious situation, since many scriptural passages previously produced through Smith, as well as the Bible, attribute a major role in the creation to Jesus.14 The inclusion of Michael was an interesting addition to the temple creation narrative, as he is not given a role in any of the scriptural creation accounts. Unfortunately, Smith was killed before he was able to elaborate further on these newer ideas.

As Smith’s successor and devoted disciple, Brigham Young continued to teach Smith’s Nauvoo theology to the church. On numerous occasions he clearly designated the God of the Old Testament as the Father15 and delighted in citing the theophanies of the Old Testament as evidence of the Father’s physical, anthropomorphic nature.16 He likewise sometimes combined the names [p.39]Elohim-Jehovah or used them interchangeably as designations for God the Father: “We obey the Lord, Him who is called Jehovah, the Great I Am, I am a man of war, Elohim, etc.”17

But if Young used these names interchangeably, how did he perceive the identities of Jehovah and Elohim in the temple ceremony? This question can be answered by examining his teachings concerning Michael, the third figure in this creation story. Significantly, Young considered Michael, or Adam, to be God the Father–a belief extremely well documented.18 For example, in one of his less ambiguous statements concerning his belief about the paternity of Jesus, Young said, “Who did beget him? … His Father; and his Father is our God, and the Father of our spirits, and he is the framer of the body, the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Who is he? He is Father Adam; Michael; the Ancient of Days.”19

The fact that Elohim and Jehovah preside over Michael in the temple creation account implies that, in this context at least, Young considered the pair to be patriarchal superiors to God the Father. Like Smith, then, Young apparently did not see Jesus as one of the temple creation gods. Perhaps this is explained by Young’s belief that only a resurrected being can handle matter and create, although Young also referred at times to Jesus’ role as a creator as mentioned in the scriptures. References indicating who exactly Young did consider this Elohim and Jehovah to be, and their relationship to Michael-Adam, are sparse and ambiguous. However, the temple scenario depicts Elohim as the father of Adam and Eve. This coincides with Young’s designation of Elohim as the grandfather of humankind. It is also consistent with Smith’s teaching that the Creation was directed by a head god superior to our Father in Heaven.20

Since Young considered the Father to be Adam, and since he consistently designated the God of the Old Testament to be the Father, it is logical to suppose that he believed Adam to be the God of Israel. Indeed, on several occasions, he implied that this was the case: “The father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our spirits … [is] that great and wise and glorious being that the children of Israel were afraid of, whose countenance shown so that they could not look upon him … I tell you this as my belief about the personage who is called the Ancient of Days, the Prince, and so on.”21 In General Conference, 8 October 1854, Young specifically applied the title [p.40]Jehovah to Adam, calling him “Yahovah Michael,” who carried out the behests of Elohim in the creation of the world.22

Young apparently believed that while God the Father was on the earth in the role of Adam, Elohim (the Grandfather in Heaven) assumed Adam’s role as the Father of humankind. After his death, Adam returned to his exalted station as God the Father, and as such presided over Israel designated by the divine names Elohim or Jehovah. He later begot Jesus, his firstborn spirit son, in the flesh.

Thus a certain flexibility characterizes the way Young used the divine names. First, he never referred to Jesus as Jehovah. Second, he referred to God the Father variously as Jehovah, Elohim, Michael, Adam, Ancient of Days, I Am, and other Old Testament epithets. Finally, he also referred to gods superior to the Father as Elohim and Jehovah. Young’s application of the titles Elohim and Jehovah to several different divine personalities has led to much confusion in understanding his true beliefs, especially with respect to the Adam-God doctrine.

Scriptures apparently contradicting the Adam-God doctrine, such as the accounts of Adam’s creation, were dismissed by Young as “baby stories” given to people because of their spiritual immaturity and weakness.23 During a discussion of the Adam-God doctrine at the Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, Young responded to the question of “why the scriptures seemed to put Jesus Christ on an equal footing with the Father” (presumably a reference to Book of Mormon theology). He explained that “the writers of those scriptures wrote according to their best language and understanding,”24 indicating that Young did not feel obligated to accept literally all scriptural accounts of the role of Christ.

While not all General Authorities contemporary with and succeeding Young agreed with his teachings concerning Michael, many of them did speak of Jehovah as the Father. John Taylor consistently did so in numerous sermons, as well as in his book, The Mediation and Atonement, which he wrote as president of the church.25 The following hymn, written by Taylor, clearly identifies Jehovah as the Father: “As in the heavens they all agree/ The record’s given there by three, …/ Jehovah, God the Father’s one,/ Another His Eternal Son,/ The Spirit does with them agree,/ The witnesses in heaven are three.”26

In some 256 references to Elohim and Jehovah and the God [p.41]of the Old Testament in the Journal of Discourses (representing sermons of many of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), the title Jehovah is only specifically applied to Jesus once. This occurred in 1885 when the new doctrine identifying Jesus as Jehovah was just beginning to be developed.

Not surprisingly, some confusion arose among Mormons who had trouble reconciling their reading of the scriptures with Smith’s and Young’s later doctrinal innovations. For example, the Book of Mormon’s explicit identification of Jesus as God the Father led some members to believe that Jesus was literally the father of the spirits of humankind. This, coupled with Young’s Adam-God doctrine, apparently led others to identify Adam and Christ as the same being. Also, because of the Book of Mormon’s equating of Jesus with the God of Israel, some General Authorities in the 1880s and 1890s began to speculate that all Old Testament appearances and revelations of God were in reality manifestations of the premortal Jesus. This concept eventually led to the identification of Jesus as Jehovah.

As early as 1849, Apostle Orson Pratt observed that there were “some [Saints] … who believed that the spirit of Christ, before taking a tabernacle, was the Father, exclusively of any other being. They suppose the fleshly tabernacle to be the Son, and the Spirit who came and dwelt in it to be the Father; hence they suppose the Father and Son were united in one person, and that when Jesus dwelt on the earth in the flesh, they suppose there was no distinct separate person from himself who was called the Father.”

This was apparently a Book-of-Mormon-influenced idea which Pratt resolved by demonstrating from other scriptures (mostly biblical) that the Father and Son were two separate personages. As part of his harmonizing technique, Pratt qualified the sense in which Jesus is called the Father in the Book of Mormon. Interestingly, however, he still referred to God the Father as Jehovah in this same presentation.27

Apostle George Q. Cannon was one of the first Mormon leaders to assert that Jesus was “the Being who spoke to Moses in the wilderness and declared, `I am that I am.'”28 Eleven years after this 1871 declaration, Apostle Franklin D. Richards also identified Jesus Christ as “the same being who called Abraham from his native country, who led Israel out of the land of Egypt … and who made known [p.42]to them his law amid the thunderings of Sinai.”29 Furthermore, John Taylor, who throughout his life consistently referred to the Father as Jehovah, listed Jehovah among several other titles of the Father which might be applied to Jesus, since Jesus was perfectly obedient to and united with the Father.30

In August 1885, Franklin D. Richards made the leap from merely considering Jesus to be Jehovah’s representative (and thus worthy of the latter’s title) to the position that Jesus’ premortal name was Jehovah: “We learn that our Savior was born of a woman, and He was named Jesus the Christ. His name when He was a spiritual being, during the first half of the existence of the earth, before He was made flesh and blood, was Jehovah… . He was the spirit Being that directed, governed, and gave the law on Mount Sinai, where Moses was permitted to see Him in part.”31 That this was a new idea is indicated by the fact that just four months prior to this sermon, Richards had also spoken of Jehovah as the Father.32

At these early stages of the development of the Jehovah-Christ doctrine, the major consideration seemed to be the identity of the divine being who appeared to Moses and gave him the law for Israel (compare 3 Ne. 15:5). The Adam-God doctrine, with its concept of a divine being named Jehovah who presided over God the Father (Michael-Adam) in the Creation, was not a consideration. This is indicated by the fact that both George Q. Cannon and Franklin D. Richards, major proponents of the Jehovah-Christ idea, also believed that Adam was God the Father.33 In June 1889 Cannon, then a member of the First Presidency, related his beliefs on the Adam-God doctrine as well as the Jehovah-Christ doctrine to his son, Abraham, who wrote in his diary, “He believes that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, and that Adam is His Father and our God… . Jesus, in speaking of Himself as the very eternal Father speaks as one of the Godhead, etc.”34

It is unclear whether Cannon and Richards considered the Jehovah of the temple ceremony to be Christ. They both, however, positively believed that Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, was Christ, which they continued to teach on several occasions.35

The identities and roles of the temple creation gods became the focus of a controversy between Bishop Edward Bunker and his counselor Myron Abbott in Bunkerville, Nevada, in 1890. This controversy culminated in 1892 in a St. George, Utah, stake high council [p.43]meeting attended by church president Wilford Woodruff and his counselor George Q. Cannon. Bunker and his father, Edward Sr., felt that the “Lecture before the Veil,” as it was then presented in the St. George Temple, contained false doctrine.

This veil lecture, dictated by Brigham Young in 1877, clearly implied that Adam was God the Father by explaining that prior to coming to this earth, Adam and Eve had been resurrected and exalted on a former world. In their exalted state they begot the spirits of all humankind. Under the direction of Elohim and Jehovah, gods of the creation council, Adam then created this earth and brought Eve here with him to fall in order to provide their spiritual offspring with physical tabernacles.36 The Bunkers maintained that these ideas contradicted the scriptures and Joseph Smith’s teachings. The elder Bunker also argued that Jesus Christ was Jehovah, the God of heaven, who presided over Michael in the Creation and in the Garden of Eden. According to this argument, Michael could not possibly be the father of Christ since he was subject to Jehovah-Christ whom Bunker apparently also considered to be the Father.37

Presidents Woodruff and Cannon defended Brigham Young’s Adam-God temple teachings but did not expound upon them or force them upon the Bunkers. Rather, they instructed them to “let these things alone” and not to “spend time [arguing] over these mysteries.” Scriptural contradictions to these ideas were swept aside by Cannon with the observation that “God, had, and would yet reveal many glorious things men could not prove, and search out of the old Bible.”38

As a counselor to Woodruff, Cannon preached that Jesus was Jehovah. Woodruff, however, was more noncommittal. As late as 1893, he still referred to Jehovah as the Father.39 Latter-day Saints were thus confronted with an array of different authorities on the question of God’s identity and roles. Apparently, many of these members wrote letters to the First Presidency, asking for help in sorting out and understanding these matters. President Woodruff responded to these inquiries over the pulpit at General Conference in April 1895 by simply telling church members not to worry about it. Interestingly, he too remained noncommittal, neither condemning the Adam-God doctrine nor endorsing the Jehovah-Christ doctrine: “Cease troubling yourselves about who God is; who Adam is, who Christ is, who Jehovah is… . God is God. Christ is Christ. The [p.44]Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost. That should be enough for you and me to know.”40

Not surprisingly, Woodruff’s advice did not end the controversy. Edward Stevenson, one of the seven presidents of the Seventy, also was interested in sorting out the identities of the temple creation gods, and in 1896 he had “a deep talk” with President Lorenzo Snow about the Adam-God doctrine. Stevenson recorded his personal beliefs in his diary: “Certainly Heloheim and Jehovah stands before Adam, or else I am very much mistaken. Then 1st Heloheim, 2nd Jehovah, 3d Michael-Adam, 4th Jesus Christ, Our Elder Brother, in the other World from whence our spirits come… . Then Who is Jehovah? The only begoton Son of Heloheim on Jehovah’s world.”41

This reference clearly distinguishes between Jehovah, who presided over Michael at the Creation, and Jesus. Unfortunately, this distinction was not clearly made by General Authorities who were publicly promoting the idea that Jesus was the Jehovah-god of the Old Testament. Naturally, church members continued to be confused.

With the passing of the Mormon practice of plural marriage around the turn of the twentieth century, anti-Mormon critics began to attack other doctrinal issues, notably the Adam-God doctrine.42 Church leaders responded mainly by claiming that Brigham Young’s published statements on the subject had either been misinterpreted or wrongly transcribed.43 President Joseph F. Smith, who as an apostle had earlier endorsed the doctrine, permitted Charles Penrose, his counselor in the First Presidency, to pursue this line of defense.44

While General Authorities had previously asserted that the Adam-God doctrine need not be justified scripturally, the First Presidency now moved to abate public criticism and internal controversy by citing the scriptures as the final, official word on the matter. For example, in 1912, they stated, “Dogmatic assertions do not take the place of revelation,” and that “Prest. Brigham Young … only expressed his own views and that they were not corobirated [sic] by the word of the Lord in the Standard Works of the Church… . Now all doctrine if it can’t be established by these standards is not to be taught or promolgated by members.”45

At the same time, the Improvement Era carried a First Presidency message cautioning members not to speculate on “the career of Adam before he came to the earth.” This was followed by an [p.45]editorial responding to members who apparently considered Christ and Adam to be the same god: “From these statements, and from many others that might be quoted, it is clear that Adam and Christ are two persons–not the same person. It is erroneous doctrine to consider them one and the same person, for Jesus is the Christ, a member of the Trinity, the Godhead, and to whom Adam, the father of the human family upon this earth is amenable.”46 Many statements similar to this followed in church publications.47

A major advance in identifying Jehovah as Jesus took place in September 1915 when Apostle James E. Talmage’s book Jesus the Christ was published under the direction of the First Presidency. In his book, Talmage asserted that “Jesus Christ was and is God the Creator, … the God of the Old Testament record; and the God of the Nephites. We affirm that Jesus Christ was and is Jehovah, the Eternal One.” He also explained that “Elohim, as understood and used in the restored Church of Jesus Christ, is the name-title of God the Eternal Father, whose firstborn Son in the spirit is Jehovah—the Only Begotten in the flesh, Jesus Christ.” A subtle rejection of Brigham Young’s Adam-God doctrine seems to be present in Talmage’s assertion that Adam was one of the prophets to whom the Father revealed himself to attest to “the Godship of the Christ.”48

Members of the First Presidency continued to reinforce these ideas in conference talks and church publications.49 In addition to accommodating Book of Mormon theology (which described Jesus as the God of Israel), defining Jehovah exclusively to be Jesus and Elohim exclusively to be God the Father permitted church leaders to argue more effectively that the Adam-God doctrine—at least as it was popularly understood—could never have been taught. The thrust of this argument was that since Elohim was the Father and Jehovah was Jesus, and since they both presided over Michael or Adam in the Creation, Brigham Young could not possibly have meant that Adam was God the Father.50

This argument was effective, but it obviously would not suffice for church members who had heard Young publicly preach the Adam-God doctrine, had read his sermons on the subject, or had witnessed the temple lecture he authored. As a result, many members continued to write to the First Presidency, apparently protesting their efforts via Charles Penrose and James Talmage to redefine the theological views of previous Mormon leaders. Penrose referred [p.46]to this resistance in his April 1916 General Conference address: “I frequently personally receive letters from good friends in different parts of the Church, asking questions, and declaring that there is a division of opinion among our brethren in regard to them… . There still remains, I can tell by the letters I have alluded to, an idea among some of the people that Adam was and is the Almighty and Eternal God.” Penrose also noted that some members still believed that Jesus and Adam were the same god. He responded to these issues by combining the newly developed theology of Elohim as the Father and Jesus as Jehovah with the temple account of the Creation to refute the Adam-God doctrine: “We are told by revelation that in the creation of the earth there were three individuals personally engaged. This is more particularly for the Temple of God, but sufficient of it has been published over and over again to permit me to refer to it. [The title] Elohim … is attached to the individual who is the Father of all, the person whom we look to as the Great Eternal Father. Elohim, Jehovah and Michael were engaged in the construction of this globe. Jehovah, commanded by Elohim, went down to where there was space, saying to Michael, `Let us go down.’ … You see, do you not, that Michael became Adam, and that Adam was not the son Jehovah, and he was not Elohim the Father. He occupied his own place and position in the organization of the earth and in the production of mortal beings on the earth. Jesus of Nazareth was the Jehovah who was engaged with the Father in the beginning … I want to draw a clear distinction between these individuals that we may stop this discussion that is going on to no purpose.”51

The theological problems concerning the Book of Mormon’s identification of Jesus as the Father, the identity of Jehovah, the God of Israel, and the roles and identities of the temple creation gods as connected with the Adam-God doctrine were all finally “resolved” in a carefully worked-out statement by Talmage. This statement was submitted to the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles for their approval on 29 June 1916. It was corrected and then issued the following day as “A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve” on “The Father and the Son.”52

This exposition minimized through harmonizing techniques the sense in which Jesus is called the Father in the Book of Mormon. It also supported the position that Jesus Christ was [p.47]Jehovah, the God of Israel, and that Elohim was his father. Little biblical support for these ideas could be given, as the exposition mainly dealt with problems inherent in early LDS scriptures and the theology of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Achieving harmony was the chief goal of the 1916 doctrinal exposition. It therefore contains no historical analysis of the problems it addresses. Its definitions of Elohim and Jehovah remain the official position of Mormonism.

Despite the attempt at harmonization, the current Mormon definitions of Elohim and Jehovah and identification of Jesus as the God of Israel—like Brigham Young’s earlier teachings, ironically—do not seem to accord with the biblical record.53 Efforts of some Mormon writers to harmonize these definitions with the Bible have led to misunderstanding and manipulation of the scriptures. For example, biblical passages which refer to Jehovah in the context of being the Father have been interpreted to refer to Elohim.54 Scriptural prayers addressed to Jehovah have been diluted with the interpretation that they are mere exclamations of joy, worship, and adoration to our Savior rather than true prayers addressed to God the Father.55 This interpretation has been made necessary by the Mormon belief that all true worship and prayer should be directed to God the Father, not to the Son.56 But if Jesus was literally Jehovah, the God of Israel, then the Israelites were indeed worshipping and praying to the Son to the exclusion of the Father. One Mormon writer, commenting on this dilemma, observed, “When Christ was on the earth he taught his disciples to worship the Father. It doesn’t seem logical to me that Christ would ask in the Old Testament to be worshipped, and not have the Father worshipped as in other scriptures, in other dispensations…[The] Jews and their Old Testament ancestors considered Elohim and Jehovah to be two names for God which both refer to a single deity…57

Furthermore, biblical messianic prophesies in which the Messiah is obviously described as the servant of Jehovah have been misunderstood or reinterpreted.58 Titles of Jehovah such as “Savior,” “Redeemer of Israel,” etc., have been isolated from their Old Testament context in efforts to promote the Jehovah/Christ idea.59 The “divine investiture” harmonizing concept (where the Son speaks and acts in the first person as if he were the Father) has been used whenever the scriptures have God making appearances and giving [p.48]revelations. This has been made necessary because of the current Mormon concept that all revelation since the fall of Adam has come through the Son.60 Interestingly, however, these same scriptural passages are sometimes cited in Mormonism as evidence of the Father’s physical, anthropomorphic nature.61

Some Mormon writers aware of these problems have concluded that the entire biblical record as we now have it has been so systematically corrupted and edited through the centuries that all indications of a theology more in conformity with current Mormon definitions have been obliterated.62 Modern textual criticism and comparisons of the many available ancient manuscripts of the Bible do not lend much support to such a radical thesis. Likewise, efforts to show parallels between Mormonism and the polytheism of the patriarchal era also seem misdirected.63 This approach is similar to the “parallelomania” which intrigued many LDS church members during the late 1960s and early 1970s with the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi gnostic texts. Parallels between Mormonism and ancient Near Eastern theologies seem to exist superficially, but when these parallels are returned to their original context, their significance greatly diminishes if not disappears. The vast majority of the theology, mythology, and religious practices of the various ancient groups cited in these “parallel” comparisons would shock and confound most contemporary Mormons.

Today, Mormons who are aware of the various teachings of LDS scriptures and prophets over the years are faced with a number of doctrinal possibilities. They can choose to accept Book of Mormon theology, but this varies from biblical theology as well as from Joseph Smith’s later plurality-of-gods theology. There is Brigham Young’s Adam-God theology with its various gods using the names Elohim and Jehovah interchangeably, but this finds little “official” support today. Or they can try to resolve the teachings of current General Authorities who identify Jesus as Jehovah with nineteenth-century General Authorities who spoke of Jehovah as the Father. While most Mormons are unaware of the diversity that abounds in the history of Mormon doctrine, many Latter-day Saints since 1916 have, despite the risk of heresy, continued to believe or promote publicly many of the alternative Godhead theologies from Mormonism’s past.


1. See, for example, Bruce R. McConkie, “Christ and the Creation,” Ensign 12 (June 1982): 11; Old Testament Part Two: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Supplement (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1980), 102-105; Old Testament: Genesis-2 Samuel [Religion 301 student manual] (Salt Lake City: LDS Church Educational System, 1980), 45-48.

2. See Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology,” Sunstone 5 (July-Aug. 1980): 24-33; Van Hale, “The Doctrinal Impact of the King Follett Discourse,” Brigham Young University Studies 18 (Winter 1978): 215-16, and “Trinitarianism and the Earliest Mormon Concept of God,” essay presented at Mormon History Association annual meeting, May 1983; Marvin S. Hill, “The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and a Reconciliation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 31-46; Mark Thomas, “Scholarship and the Future of the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone 5 (May-June 1980): 25-26, 28n5.

3. See, for example, in the Book of Mormon: 1 Ne. 10:18-19; 2 Ne. 9:20; Al. 18:18, 28; 22:9-11; 26:35; Morm. 9:9, 17, 19; Moro. 7:22; 8:18; in the D&C: 20:17, 28; 38:1-3; 76:1-4,70; or in the Pearl of Great Price: Moses 1:3, 6.

4. 2 Ne. 31:21; Mos. 15:4; Al. 11:44; 3 Ne. 11:27, 36; 28:10-11; Morm. 7:7; D&C 20:27-28. The only passage in the Bible containing the formula, “The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” (1 John 5:7) is not found in any of the most ancient manuscripts or in the writings of the early church fathers. All modern critical translations of the New Testament omit the passage. Thus its presence in the Book of Mormon seems to be an anomaly.

5. Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 1 Ne. 11:21, 28; in current editions, see Mos. 3:5-8; 7:27; 15:1-5; Al. 11:28, 29, 38, 39, 44; 3 Ne. 1:14; Morm. 5:17; 9:9-12; Eth. 3:14f; 4:12.

6. See Hale, “Earliest Mormon Concept of God,” 5, 7-8, 12-13; and Dan Vogel, “The Earliest Mormon Concept of God,” in this volume.

7. See Eth. 4:12; 2 Ne. 11:7; 3 Ne. 1:14; Moses 7:50f; JST, Luke 10:22.

8. Compare, for example, the JST’s revisions of the following KJV passages: Gen. 11:7; Ex. 7:1; 22:28; 1 Sam. 28:13; Matt. 9:15-16; 11:27; Mark 2:28; Luke 10:22; 1 Tim. 2:4; Rev. 1:6.

9. D&C 1:20; 6:2, 21; 11:2, 10, 28; 14:2, 9; 17:9; 18:33, 47; 19:1, 4, 10, 16, 18; 27:1; 29:1, 42, 46; 34:1-4; 38:1-4; 49:5, 28; etc.; Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 1 Ne. 11:18, 21, 32; 13:40; in later editions, see also 1 Ne. 19:10, 13; 2 Ne. 10:3-4; 11:7; 25:12; 26:12; 30:2; Mos. 3:5, 8; 5:15; 7:27; 13:28, 33, 34; 15:1-5;16:15; Al. 11:28-32, 35, 38, 39, 44; 42:15; He. 9:22-23; 14:12; 3 Ne. 1:14; 5:20; 11:14; 15:5; 19:18; Morm. 3:21; 9:11-12; Eth. 3:14; 4:7, 12; Moses 1:16-17; D&C 84:19-25.

[p.50]10. Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed. rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1932-51), 5:94, 127; D&C 109.

11. See Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comps. and eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1980), 198, 221, 229, 356.

12. Times and Seasons 3 (15 Nov. 1841): 578.

13. Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” Brigham Young University Studies 18 (Winter 1978): 198-208.

14. See, for example, 2 Ne. 9:5; Mos. 3:8; 4:2; 7:27; 26:23; Al. 5:15; He. 14:12; 3 Ne. 9:15; Eth. 3:15-16; 4:7; D&C 14:9; 38:1-3; 45:1; 76:23-24; 88:7-10; 93:8-10; Moses 1:32-33; 2:1.

15. See G. Homer Durham, ed., “Discourse by President Brigham Young Delivered in the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, August 4, 1867,” Utah Historical Quarterly 29 (1961): 68-69; Brigham Young, et al., Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1855-86), 1:238; 2:30; 8:228; 9:240, 286; 11:327; 12:99; 13:236; 14:41 (hereafter JD, followed by volume and pages numbers).

16. JD 9:286.

17. Ibid., 12:99.

18. See David John Buerger, “The Adam-God Doctrine,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Spring 1982): 14-58.

19. Brigham Young, unpublished discourse, 19 Feb. 1954, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City; hereafter church archives.

20. On resurrected beings, see JD 4:133, 217; 6:275; 8:341; 15:137; 17:143; on Jesus as creator, see JD 1:270; 3:80-81; 7:3, 163; 11:279; on Elohim as grandfather, see JD 4:215-19; 9:148; 13:311; Brigham Young, unpublished discourse, 5 Feb. 1852, church archives.

21. Brigham Young, unpublished discourse, 25 April 1855, church archives; JD 9:286, 327.

22. In Culley K. Christensen, The Adam-God Maze (Scottsdale, AZ: Independent Publishers, 1981), 274-75.

23. See JD 2:6.

24. Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book, 9 June 1873, church archives. Young felt that even the Book of Mormon would have been translated differently if done in his day, given the progress the Saints had made in understanding (JD 9:311).

25. John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1882), 150-51; also pp. 94, 123, 127, 138, 166, 192, and JD 1:153-54, 223, 369-70; 10:50, 55; 11:22; 14:247-48; 15:217; 24-34, 125, 227; 25:305.

[p.51]26. Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1891), 295, no. 262.

27. Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 11 (15 Sept. 1849): 281-84; (15 Oct. 1849): 309-12.

28. Juvenile Instructor 6 (30 Sept. 1871): 155.

29. Franklin D. Richards and James A. Little, A Compendium of the Faith and Doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1882), 78-79.

30. Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, 138.

31. JD 26:300.

32. Ibid., 26:172.

33. See Buerger, 20, 31, 33-34, 37-38, 52n74.

34. Abraham H. Cannon Journal, 23 June 1889, photocopy at church archives.

35. Deseret News Weekly 47 (7 Oct. 1893): 506; Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 57 (24 Jan. 1895): 52, 65; Juvenile Instructor 35 (1 Feb. 1900): 90-91.

36. Christensen, 206-37; Buerger, 32-34, 53n76; St. George Stake High Council Minutes, 13 Dec. 1890, church archives.

37. St. George Stake High Council Minutes, 13 Dec. 1890; see also the letter of Edward Bunker, Sr., recorded in these minutes, 15 May 1891, and also in the Edward Bunker Autobiography, 32-49, church archives; and Joseph F. Smith to Bishop Bunker, 27 Feb. 1902, Joseph F. Smith Letterbooks, church archives.

38. St. George Stake High Council Minutes, 11 June 1892.

39. James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 3:243.

40. Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 57 (6 June 1895): 355-56.

41. Edward Stevenson Diary, 3 March and 28 Feb. 1896, church archives.

42. See Buerger, 36-42.

43. Ibid., 38-43.

44. Ibid., 31, 47n19, 52nn61, 63, 65, 68.

45. Ibid., 41-42.

46. Improvement Era 15 (April 1912): 483-85; Juvenile Instructor 50 (Oct. 1915): 649.

47. Clark, 4:267.

48. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1915), 32-41.

49. See Juvenile Instructor 50 (Oct. 1915): 649; Improvement Era 18 (Sept. 1915): 1,011.

[p.52]50. See Buerger, 43-44.

51. Conference Reports, 6 April 1916, 15-19.

52. Anthon H. Lund Diary, 29 June 1916, church archives; George F. Richards Diary, 29 June 1916, church archives; Improvement Era 19 (Aug. 1916): 934-42.

53. For a much fuller treatment of Elohim and Jehovah in the scriptures, see my “Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism and the Bible,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Spring 1986), 1: 77-93.

54. See Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 101-102; The Mortal Messiah, Book 3 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 386; see also The Old Testament Part Two, Gospel Doctrine Teachers’ Supplement (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1980), 110.

55. See McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 335-37, 561-62.

56. See McConkie, “Our Relationship with the Lord,” BYU Devotional Address, 2 March 1982, 5, 19-20, typescript in my possession.

57. Lowell L. Bennion, “The Mormon Christianizing of the Old Testament: A Response,” Sunstone 5 (Nov./Dec. 1980): 40.

58. See, for example, Old Testament, Part Two, 102-11.

59. See McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 107-10; Mark E. Petersen, Christ, Jehovah and the Witnesses (pamphlet for reference use by missionaries, n.d.), 2-10.

60. “Christ as the Father,” Lesson 16 in the 1979-1980 Melchezidek Priesthood Personal Study Guide (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979), 92-97.

61. Compare B. H. Roberts’s two works, Rasha–The Jew (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1932), and the earlier The Mormon Doctrine of Deity (1903; reprint ed., Salt Lake City: Horizon Publishers, n.d.).

62. See Roberts, Rasha, 28-29, 32-34; Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 1:13-21; Talmage, 32-41.

63. See Eugene Seaich, Ancient Texts and Mormonism (Sandy, UT: Mormon Miscellaneous, 1983), 12-28.