New Approaches to the Book of Mormon
Brent Lee Metcalfe, editor

Chapter 4.
Book of Mormon Christology
Melodie Moench Charles

Recently when I was teaching the Book of Mormon in an adult Sunday school class we discussed Mosiah 15. There Abinadi preaches: “God himself shall come down among the children of men … 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 the Son—And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth” (vv. 1-4). I said that I saw no good way to reconcile Abindadi’s words with the current Mormon belief that God and his son Jesus Christ are separate and distinct beings. I suggested that perhaps Abinadi’s understanding was incomplete.

The class response included defenses of revelation and prophets, explanations that Abinadi or his editor was unable to state clearly what he knew (which was exactly what Mormons know today), and accusations that I was crossing the line of propriety and wisdom to suggest that a prophet could teach incorrect doctrines about God. There was considerable out-of-class discussion too. Some people appreciated a public acknowledgement of an obvious difference between Book of Mormon doctrine and current church doctrine. A few friends said things like, “I don’t care what they say about you. I’ve wondered about that passage for a long time, and I’m glad somebody pointed out that it’s not what we teach today.” But many class members thought the lesson inappropriate and upsetting, and soon I was demoted to teaching nursery.

Members of this Sunday school class, like many other Mormons, presumed that the beliefs, religious practices, mindset, and cultural understanding of Book of Mormon personalities were very similar to their own. This presumption is understandable. Mormonism claims to be a restoration of the church Jesus established in the New Testament, [p.82] and it claims that this New Testament church taught the same Christian gospel that Adam and Noah knew and taught (Moses 5:6-15; 8:19-24). Some Mormons teach that righteous people at all times are inspired by God with correct religious knowledge: therefore Abinadi’s religious knowledge must match our own regardless of what his words say.

Bruce R. McConkie, an influential promoter of this line of thought and a member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, counseled: “[O]ur concern is to be guided by the Spirit and to interpret the ancient word in harmony with latter day revelation.” “As it happens—it could not be otherwise with an unchangeable God—what we have conforms to what the ancient saints had. … The everlasting gospel; the eternal priesthood; the identical ordinances of salvation and exaltation; the never-varying doctrines of salvation; the same Church and kingdom; the keys of the kingdom, which alone can seal men up unto eternal life—all these have always been the same in all ages; and it shall be so everlastingly on this earth” (McConkie 1984, 17, 31-32).

However, Mormonism also promotes another approach to scripture. 2 Nephi 28:27-30 quotes “the Lord God” as saying that humans who think God has already revealed all truth are mistaken. People willing to listen to God will receive more knowledge from him “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (see also Isa. 28:9-13; D&C 98:12; 128:21). When the Book of Mormon’s own Title Page says that if the book has faults “they are the mistakes of men,” it acknowledges that humans, even righteous, well-meaning ones, might not understand everything correctly and might make mistakes. Just as subsequent LDS leaders were able to reject some of Brigham Young’s religious teachings as false, Brigham Young called some biblical teachings “baby stories” that he had outgrown (JD 2:6). Even Bruce R. McConkie, in the face of the 1978 revelation allowing black males to hold the priesthood, said: “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. … It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject” (McConkie 1978, 1-2). Modern revelation, a concept central to the Mormon church, would be unnecessary if everything were already known and known clearly.

When we explore what the Book of Mormon says, its christology or doctrines concerning Christ differ from the christology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since at least the 1840s. To give the Book of Mormon’s ideas a context, this essay will show some [p.83] of what the Book of Mormon says about Jesus Christ and will compare that with what Jews at the time of Jesus’s birth were expecting the Messiah to be, with what Christians after his death believed he was, and with current Mormon beliefs.

Krister Stendahl provided a valuable insight for studying Book of Mormon christology. He theorized that Christ’s sermon in 3 Nephi 12-14 was Joseph Smith’s attempt to improve the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. The mortal Jesus in Matthew became supramortal in 3 Nephi. Stendahl said that rather than delivering a message of “what is right according to God’s will for his people and his creation,” Christ in 3 Nephi delivered a message focused on belief in himself just as he did according to the Gospel of John. What he taught in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, he proclaimed and commanded in 3 Nephi. The proportions of events written in the gospels are expanded in the 3 Nephi setting. Whereas in the Gospel of John, one doubting disciple is invited to feel the risen Christ’s wounds, in 3 Nephi “the multitude” was invited and “went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet … going forth one by one until they had all gone forth” (John 20:25-27; 3 Ne. 11:13-15). 3 Nephi’s miracles are all more miraculous than the miracles performed in the New Testament gospels. For example, in 3 Nephi Christ solicited “all that were afflicted in any manner” to come together, and he healed them (17:9). The New Testament gospels show him healing afflicted people as he encountered them. Later in 3 Nephi he fed a multitude by creating food ex nihilo rather than by multiplying existing loaves and fishes (20:1-7; Stendahl 1978, 139-54).

Stendahl’s thesis, that 3 Nephi magnifies Christ beyond the Christ whom the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke portray, applies to the whole Book of Mormon. Book of Mormon prophecies about Christ are far more detailed and specific than are Old Testament prophecies. Book of Mormon people had knowledge about the purpose of Jesus’s mission beyond what New Testament writers had. Unlike Jesus’s New Testament disciples, good people in the Book of Mormon never had misconceptions about Christ’s identity or his roles because they had almost no ambiguous information to mislead them. In his earthly roles Christ is more exalted in the Book of Mormon than in the New Testament. The Book of Mormon presents Christ as God and Redeemer who saves believers from the consequences of sin.

This essay examines what the Book of Mormon people believed about Christ derived from their own experiences and from revelations foretelling his coming. Next it compares these beliefs to Near Eastern people’s expectations about their messiah, whose coming was foretold in Old Testament prophecies. The essay then describes Book of [p.84] Mormon christology, focusing on Christ as the Father. It compares this theology to other Christian theology. Finally it examines the current Mormon belief that Jesus is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, an idea partially derived from the Book of Mormon.


Book of Mormon people never knew Christ as a mortal. They believed that he acted as their God before his earthly mission, and they understood from the first that Jesus had cosmic significance. They knew every mortal depended on him for life because he was their creator. They knew he gave them his laws and gospel so that they would understand what was required of them to attain the salvation he made possible. They knew they depended on him for salvation because he condescended to live as a mortal to atone for their sins, making it possible for them to be resurrected and have eternal life.1

Both the Nephites and Jaredites experienced Christ as their God long before his ministry on earth. Christ was the God who directed Nephites to the new land they would inherit, and he covenanted with them that he would ensure their prosperity there if they were righteous (2 Ne. 1:5-10; 3 Ne. 5:20). Christ was the God who helped the Jaredites cross the ocean to their promised land and who saved the Israelites at the Red Sea (Ether 2:12-13; Mosiah 7:19, 20, 27).

People in the Book of Mormon taught that during his earthly mission in Palestine, Jesus would have a mortal body subject to temptation, pain, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sorrow, grief, suffering, and death.2 However, Book of Mormon people did not necessarily believe that this meant he actually was mortal during his ministry on earth. Nephi learned in a vision that Jesus “went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory” (1 Ne. 11:28). King Benjamin taught that Jesus was “the Lord Omnipotent” who would “come down from heaven among the children of men” “with power.” After seeing him perform miracles, suffer “even more than man can suffer,” and be called “the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning,” his own people would misunderstand and “consider him a man” (Mosiah 3:5-9, 17). Jacob explained that [p.85] “should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations they would repent, and know that he be their God” (2 Ne. 10:3).

Book of Mormon people described his earthly mission as God’s suffering, God’s being crucified, God’s dying, and God’s atoning for sins.3 Amulek explained that Christ must have been an infinite being, that is, a God, because only the atonement of an infinite being “will suffice for the sins of the world. … that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:10-14; see Thomas 1983, 22; and Matthews 1989, 188-89). Believing that Christ was God during his earthly ministry, Book of Mormon people seem to have believed that he retained the understanding, knowledge, and power of godhood while on earth.4

In contrast to those in Palestine who encountered Jesus as a mortal who got dirty, tired, and hungry as he lived among them, Book of Mormon people never encountered him as finite in any way. What they heard about his Palestinian ministry emphasized the miraculous and the divine. In Matthew Jesus walked up a mountain to deliver the Sermon on the Mount and walked back down when he was finished (5:1; 8:1). In 3 Nephi Jesus delivered virtually the same sermon, but this time he had just been introduced by the Father, had just taken credit for causing unparalleled catastrophe which dramatically changed the topography of the land and destroyed entire cities full of people, and had just descended from heaven (9:1-11:8). When he was finished he ascended to heaven in clouds (18:38-39). The Nephites worshipped and prayed to him while he was physically in their midst (11:17; 19:18-25).

People in the Book of Mormon living long before Jesus was born knew many specific details about his birth. They knew that Jesus would be born six hundred years after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem. Jesus’s mother would be a beautiful virgin named Mary, living in Nazareth, who would conceive during a miraculous encounter with the Holy Ghost. A new star would appear when Jesus was born.5 They [p.86] received revelation that his name would be Jesus, Christ, or Jesus Christ.6

Book of Mormon people learned of the mission of John the Baptist and reported his declarations about Jesus. They described Jesus’s baptism and the Holy Ghost descending like a dove upon him (1 Ne. 10:7-10; 11:27; 2 Ne. 31:4-8). All of these details except Mary’s beauty are found in the New Testament gospels, and many of the details, particularly about John the Baptist, are reported in language very similar to the language used to describe them in the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).7

[p.87] People in the Book of Mormon anticipated Jesus’s earthly ministry to come. They knew he would be among people in Jerusalem and would have twelve apostles who followed him.8 He would “declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people,” and would say “unto the children of men: Follow thou me” (2 Ne. 31:10; Alma 39:15). Some people would “say that he hath a devil” (Mosiah 3:9).

They knew he would minister to people “in power and great glory” (1 Ne. 11:28). He would heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out evil spirits, and perform other miracles. Many people would fall down and worship him, and multitudes would gather to hear him.9 He would be “oppressed and afflicted,” would suffer “temptation, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue.” He would be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Mosiah 3:7; 13:35; 14:2-3; Alma 7:11).

Book of Mormon people also received detailed revelation about the end of Jesus’ ministry. They knew he would be scourged, smitten, and spat upon. He would bear other people’s sorrows and transgressions, suffering so much that “blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7; 14:4-5; Alma 34:8). He would be taken from prison and crucified. After being crucified, his body would lie in a sepulchre and then in three days he would rise, ceasing to be dead. Even before his first coming they knew that there would be a second coming.10 All this information about his ministry, death, and resurrection [p.88] is also in the New Testament gospels.

Book of Mormon people also understood Jesus’s theological significance. They understood why he lived on earth in a mortal body, died as he did, and was resurrected. Preachers and teachers in the Book of Mormon knew that Jesus would be the savior and redeemer of the world. The salvation he would bring would be spiritual rather than national or political, for because of Adam’s sin, “all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state” (Mosiah 16:4).11

They were aware that Jesus would pay the penalty that justice demands for sins committed, and this payment would satisfy justice. The penalty would be paid by Jesus’s dying to atone for people’s sins, for “there would be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood” (Alma 21:9). Repeatedly using virtually the same phrase that John the Baptist uses in the gospel of John, these Book of Mormon people taught that Jesus would “take away the sins of the world.”12

Book of Mormon people referred to the surplus merits earned by Jesus that can be applied to repentant sinners: dwelling in God’s presence would be possible only “through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne. 2:8). They called Jesus “the great Mediator of all men” who would “make intercession” for them with God and would reconcile them to God. The author of Hebrews used similar terms to describe Jesus’s role and actions when he described Jesus’s atonement as a sacrifice. The Book of Mormon and Hebrews taught that Jesus would offer himself to God as a sacrifice, “a great and last sacrifice … an infinite and eternal sacrifice. … [T]hen shall there be a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled” (Alma 34:10-13).13

[p.89] Book of Mormon people were aware that Jesus’s atonement would be followed by his resurrection, which would make it possible and necessary for all mortals to be resurrected. Resurrection entailed a reunion of a person’s soul and body that had been separated at death. Because mortals after death would continue to live as immortals, it would be possible and necessary for them to be judged and assigned to an eternal fate appropriate to their righteousness or wickedness.14 Alma 33:22 summarizes the major points of Book of Mormon people’s understanding of Jesus’s mission: “believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.”

Alma, son of Alma, explained why Book of Mormon people were given so much knowledge about Jesus hundreds of years before his birth and half a world away: “Behold, you marvel why these things should be known so long beforehand.… [I]s not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming? Is it not as necessary that the plan of redemption should be made known unto this people as well as unto their children? Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his angel to declare these glad tidings unto us as unto our children, or as after the time of his coming?” (39:17-19)

Nothing is wrong with Alma’s reasoning, but the abundance of nonessential details, such as the name of Jesus’s mother, some of Jesus’s contemporaries opining that he was possessed by a devil, or the town Jesus’s mother would be from, have nothing to do with the redemption of humankind. Why should Book of Mormon people know the town John the Baptist would baptize in or where Jesus’s dead body would lie and how long it would lie there?

The only details about Jesus’s earthly life the Book of Mormon includes are those also contained in the New Testament. For example, the Book of Mormon does not tell what Jesus did from age twelve to age thirty, if he was married or had children, or if his mortal father, Joseph, was among his disciples. It does not describe Jesus’s setting up a church organization. It does not describe his receiving priesthood authority in mortal life, his performing miracles or rituals using that [p.90] priesthood authority, nor his passing on that authority.

Since these prophecies about Jesus’s life appeared long after the New Testament record of their fulfillment was available to almost everyone in the western world, they are useless as evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity or as evidence that Christ’s life fulfilled prophecy. The Book of Mormon’s extensive, specific detailing of events hundreds of years in the future is without parallel in verifiable, before-the-fact prophesies. For Book of Mormon people so far removed from Jesus’s life on earth, many of these details would be only trivia.


Having these specific details would have been useful for people who lived where and when Jesus did. With these details they could have recognized Jesus clearly and thus accepted him more easily when they saw that his life matched prophecies beforehand. Yet as they are portrayed in the Bible, the Israelites in the Near East from the time of Lehi to Jesus’s birth had almost none of this same information about the messiah to come.

What those Israelites expected was quite different from what Jesus was. From prophecies in the Old Testament they expected a king descended from King David. God would work through this king to restore Israel to the prosperity and peace that the Israelites remembered had characterized David’s reign. The establishment of this kingdom would usher in God’s reign on earth. Jeremiah, a contemporary of Lehi, provided a good representation of the messianic expectation in Israel at the time Lehi’s group left Israel for the New World when he declared, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD [is] OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:5-6).15

Jesus’s contemporaries in the Near East encountered Jesus as a mortal: a teacher of righteousness and the kingdom of God, a critic of the religious status quo, and a worker of miracles. Even those who [p.91] were closest to him did not understand his identity or role before his death, for he did not explain them clearly.16 His life did not match the Old Testament’s messiah prophecies about a king who would usher in a reign of peace. Jesus called himself “the Son of Man”—a cryptic title even now after nineteen hundred years of biblical scholarship.17 His contemporaries were not looking for someone who would atone for humankind’s sins or who would make resurrection possible. Only after his resurrection did most of them begin to realize how extraordinary he was and how the events of his life fit into the salvation of humankind.18

During his lifetime his followers knew of no god other than the God of Israel, the god who sent Jesus into the world. The New Testament never refers to Jesus as Father. Instead Jesus describes the Israelites’ god as his father. Jesus refers to the temple as “my father’s house,” to “my Father … your God,” and to this god as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (John 2:6; 8:54; Mark 12:26). The New Testament has no record of Jesus describing himself as the Israelites’ god. Paul said that there was no other god but one (1 Cor. 8:4) and this god was the Father (Philip. 1:2; Philem. 3; Kirkland 1986, 83-85). After Jesus’s death and resurrection, early Christians began to believe that he had cosmic significance, [p.92] including premortal creative activity, a monumental role in making salvation possible, and post-resurrection glory and exaltation.19

It was a surprise to those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah that he died on a cross and did not radically improve the world they lived in. Donald Juel explained, “No one expected the Messiah to suffer for sins … [or] rise from the dead, because he was not expected to die.” Rather than being a feature of his mission, his dying seemed to have cut his mission short. Those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah had to “understand how such things could be, and it led them into the scriptures with a specific agenda.” Almost all Old Testament scriptures that seemed to match details in the life of Jesus were discovered by believers after the fact; they were not part of anyone’s prior expectation (Juel 1988, 13, 26, 29, 60).20

After the fact, believers tried to find Old Testament scripture to relate to unexpected aspects of Jesus’s life. Paul said (without noting specific scriptures) that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4, emphasis added). The account in Acts portrays Peter as saying (citing only one general messianic scripture): “all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days” (Acts 3:24). Similarly, after his resurrection Christ told the Nephites: “all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have testified of me” (3 Ne. 20:24). Lehi, Jacob, Abinadi, and Helaman also taught that almost all of God’s prophets had testified about Christ.21

The Book of Mormon explained why its people’s knowledge was so different from the knowledge of the people in Israel as recorded in the Bible as we have it today. Nephi learned from an angel that the Israelites’ scripture “containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are on the plates of brass [the scripture Lehi’s family brought out of Jerusalem in 600 B.C.], save there are not so many.” Even though the scripture the Jews had did not contain as much information as the brass plates did, “it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord.” After Jesus’s [p.93] apostles shared the book with the Gentiles, a “great and abominable church” was formed which took “away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. … There are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God” (1 Ne. 13:23-27).22 According to the Book of Mormon then, we should not be skeptical because of its extensive, specific details about Christ and the Christian gospel long before Christ’s birth—instead we should be skeptical of the Bible because it does not have similar details.

Joseph Smith taught that “many important points touching the salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.” He attributed the Bible’s errors to “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests …” (Smith et al. 1978, 1:245; J. F. Smith 1973, 327). So according to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, the Bible’s teachings about Jesus would be more like the Book of Mormon’s teachings if the Bible had not been altered by careless or malicious people.

From the brass plates Nephi learned that “the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos” (1 Ne. 19:10, emphasis added). Amulek preached that Alma, relying on the words of Zenos and Zenock, “has proved unto you … that the word is in Christ unto salvation” (Alma 34:6-7; see also 3 Ne. 10:16). Nephi son of Helaman claims that Zenos, Zenock, and Ezias as well as Isaiah and Jeremiah refer to redemption through Christ (Hel. 8:19-20). Therefore, Book of Mormon people learned about Christ largely through the prophecies of Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias, Israelite prophets mentioned only in the Book of Mormon. Additional information came through personal visions and revelations to people such as Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Samuel (1 Ne. 1, 10-13; 2 Ne. 10:3; Hel. 13-15).

[p.94] Some people—including committed RLDS and LDS Mormons, and scholars without a bias for or against Mormonism—have suggested alternative explanations for why the knowledge of Book of Mormon people had differed significantly from the knowledge of their Jewish contemporaries in the Near East. They hold that the Book of Mormon was not a record written by Near Eastern emigrants in the western hemisphere from 600 B.C. to 400 C.E. but rather was authored by Joseph Smith. They argue that the Book of Mormon reflects his limited grasp of specifics about Israelite life and life in the Americas at that time and also reflects the ideas, customs, and texts that were available to someone living in the eastern United States in the nineteenth century. For these people, explicitly detailed Christian prophecies and concepts are anachronisms that mar the book’s credibility as an ancient document.

For example, Mark Thomas notes that the concept of infinite sins being remitted only through the atonement of an infinite being in Alma 34 had its origin with Anselm of Canterbury in the twelfth century C.E. Therefore it was anachronistic for Amulek in 74 B.C. to use the concept (Thomas 1983, 22; Ostler 1987, 82). Dan Vogel (in this compilation) and Brent Lee Metcalfe (1983) have shown that this theory was hotly debated in New England in Joseph Smith’s time using the same terminology that the Book of Mormon uses. Those who consider this anachronistic do not suggest that Smith was conversant with Anselm’s theory as Anselm himself wrote it. Rather they indicate that since ideas deriving from or resembling Anselm’s were in use in Smith’s religious surroundings, Smith is the more likely author of them in their Book of Mormon setting than Amulek is, because logically Amulek should not have been exposed to them.23

Hugh Nibley has presented a theory which allows for and explains the presence of anachronisms in the Book of Mormon text. He maintains that “any prophet is free to contribute anything to the written record that will make the message clear and intelligible. … [I]nspired men in every age … translate, abridge, expand, explain, and update the writing of their predecessors” (1988, 132, 134). Following Nibley’s lead, Blake Ostler has proposed that the Book of Mormon is a combination of [p.95] authentically ancient material and expansions of that material by Smith, who drew from eighteen hundred years of Christian thought and tradition. For example, Ostler says it is unlikely that actual Nephite preachers spoke matter-of-factly about original sin and human depravity as the Book of Mormon portrays them doing, for “there simply is no pre-exilic interpretation of the fall of Adam.” As portrayed in the Bible, Israelites before Jesus’s time had no notion of being in a fallen state from which they needed saving (Ostler 1987, 81-82).

This approach, an attempt to find a middle ground between those who reject the book as history because of what they see as anachronisms and those who would accept it as history, has been criticized by people in both groups. Robert L. Millet objected: “to ascribe to Joseph Smith the theology of the Book of Mormon is to give him more credit than is due, and likewise to call into question the historicity of the record and its ancient contents. For Joseph Smith to utilize the English language with which he was familiar in recording the translation is one thing; to create the theology (or to place the theology into the mouths of Benjamin or Alma or Moroni) is quite another. The latter situation would be tantamount to deceit and misrepresentation: it would be to claim that the doctrines and principles are of ancient date (which the record itself declares), when, in fact, they would be a fabrication of a nineteenth-century man” (1987, 67). In contrast Brent Metcalfe (1987) felt that Ostler did not go far enough; he said Ostler suspended his scholarship and accepted as ancient too many things that should have been questioned.

Stephen D. Ricks, countering claims that Christian prophecies and theology in the Book of Mormon are anachronistic, responded, “To accept only those elements of the Book of Mormon … that accord with what is already known is to refuse it any primary evidentiary value.” He asked, “Is it so unreasonable to envision a ‘Church of Anticipation’ of a Messiah in the pre-Christian era?” In other words, just because parallels have not been found yet for pre-Christian-era Christianity does not mean they do not exist (1990, 138, 139). Furthermore Stephen E. Robinson wrote that even if parallels are never found because none exist, that would not affect the Book of Mormon’s credibility. He accused scholars of adopting “the practice of accepting Book of Mormon evidence for Nephite belief and practice only if a similar belief or practice can be found in pre-exilic Israelite sources. … The possibility that Nephite culture was to any degree idiosyncratic is totally ignored.” He said that it is not unreasonable to believe that the Book of Mormon is a record of a unique culture which, through revelation accepted only by it, held sophisticated Christian beliefs in a pre-Christian era (1989, 396). [p.96]


According to the Bible, Judaism at the time of Jesus’s birth was monotheistic. Jews believed in only one God. He created the world and he intervened in human history. He was savior and redeemer of humankind, meaning that by his intervention he could save individuals and nations from their enemies and from hardship caused by events of nature such as drought, pestilence, or accidents. Christians eventually transferred the titles and attributes of the God of the Old Testament to Jesus. “Thus both the Father and the Son are ascribed the roles and titles of Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Creator, Judge, I Am, Alpha and Omega in the New Testament” (Kirkland, 86; see also Moule 1977, 41-43).

However, when Jewish Christians began to understand Jesus as a divine being, they either had to abandon monotheism to accommodate the notion of a second god or they had to redefine God so that he could be a human living on earth while also living in heaven as the divine father of that human. If Jesus and his father (and perhaps the Holy Spirit) were all gods, how many gods were there? Was Jesus a god separate and distinct from his father, was he one aspect of his father, or was he his father acting in one of a number of roles? Could he have been both human and divine? Was he one of God’s creatures as mere mortals were, or was he pre-existent, without a beginning, just as God was? Answering these questions has occupied Christian theologians and churches from New Testament times to the present.

The Book of Mormon people never were monotheists in an Old Testament sense, so the dilemma of Near Eastern Jewish Christians was never theirs. Although they were Israelites they did not presume that there was only one God in the way the Near Eastern Israelites did. They had extensive knowledge of Christ to come, and they understood that he and his father were their god.

Book of Mormon people asserted that the Father and Christ (and the Holy Ghost) were one god. When Zeezrom asks Amulek, “Is there more than one God?” Amulek, who learned his information from an angel, answers, “No” (Alma 11:28-29). At least five times in 3 Nephi, Jesus says that he and the Father are one. Emphasizing that oneness with a singular verb, Nephi, Amulek, and Mormon refer to “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God” (2 Ne. 31:21; Alma 11:44; Morm. 7:7, emphasis added).24

[p.97] This is a common trinitarian formula. To allow Jesus’ divinity and yet safeguard against belief in more gods than one, the early Christian church developed trinitarianism in which “the Father is God … the Son is also God, and … there is only one God” (Lonergan 1976, 47). Technically trinitarianism is the belief that God is three distinct persons of one undivided substance. Each has an individual identity that does not merge with the identities of the others, and yet their essence or substance is identical. Because this concept is not logical, it has been misunderstood by both laypeople and some of their religious leaders, and people have tended to label any idea trinitarian that defines God as being both one and three (Hale 1985, 26).

Popular understanding of trinitarianism has often confused the idea of a shared essence with an idea of shared identity or personality. This confusion was unavoidable, for the creeds, beginning with the Nicene Creed of 325 C.E., used the ambiguous “homoousious” or “consubstantial” to describe the unity of essence of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Consubstantial, as Bertrand de Margerie has written, “could be interpreted … as if the Son were identical with the Father to the extent of being numerically indistinguishable from him,” as if they were only one being (de Margerie 1981, 91).

What is worse, consubstantial has a general meaning, but a different, unique meaning when applied to God. As Bernard Lonergan explains, Peter and Paul, two humans, are consubstantial because they belong to the same species. They are two distinct, individual representatives of that species. However, the Father and the Son in being consubstantial have two distinct personalities and they belong to the same species, but they have numerically the same substance and are numerically only one God (Lonergan 1976, 88).

When the Council in Chalcedon in 451 C.E. decreed that the Son is consubstantial with the Father in their divinity and consubstantial with us in our humanity, consubstantial had a different meaning in each case. Lonergan again explains that “the human substance of Christ and that of Peter … are numerically distinct from each other, whereas the divine substance of the Father and the Son is numerically one and the same” (1976, 88, 92). Some people have thought that one undivided substance necessitated one undivided personality. But the Christian hierarchy determined that this was heresy—having the same essence did not obliterate the distinctions among the trinity (Burkill 1971, 84, 89).

[p.98] In isolation the Book of Mormon’s “which is one God” statements sound like orthodox trinitarianism, but in context they resemble a theology rejected by orthodoxy since at least 215 C.E., the heresy of modalism (also known as Sabellianism).25 Modalists believed that for God to have three separate identities or personalities compromised the oneness of God. Therefore, as Sabellius taught, “there is only one undivided Spirit; the Father is not one thing and the Son another, but … both are one and the same” (Lonergan 1976, 38). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three labels for the different functions which the one God performed. One scholar writes that for Sabellius, “The terms Father and Son weren’t real distinctions, but were mere names applicable at different times” (Kelly 1960, 120). Noetus and Praxeas, early modalists, pushed this idea to its full extension: “If Christ was God … then he must be identical with the Father; otherwise he could not be God. Consequently, if Christ suffered, the Father suffered” (Kelly 1960, 120); or as Tertullian ridiculed, “Praxeas … crucified the Father” (Bettenson 1943, 54).

To combat modalism Athanasius, at the time of the Nicene Council, insisted: “We must say of the Son all that we say of the Father except the name of the Father.” And further, “All that is true of the Father is also true of the Son except only that the Father is Father.” A short time later Basil explained that “divinity is common to both, paternity is proper to only one” (de Margerie 1981, 94, 131). To believe that the Son was the Father or that they were the same being was heresy to Christians of this early period.

This seems to be what people in the Book of Mormon believe. The Book of Mormon often makes no distinction between Christ and God the Father. For example, Jesus in 3 Nephi talked about covenants which his father made with the Israelites, and yet beyond anything he claimed in the New Testament he also claimed that he was the God of Israel who gave them the law and covenanted with them (3 Ne. 16:5; 20:11, 19, 25 contrasted with 11:14; 15:5). Most Book of Mormon references to God, Lord, and Lord God are not explicit enough to allow readers to tell whether the speaker meant the Father or the Son.

The Book of Mormon melds together the identity and function of Christ and God. Because Book of Mormon authors saw Christ and his [p.99] Father as one God who manifested himself in different ways, it made no difference whether they called their god the Father or the Son. They taught that Jesus Christ was not only the one who atoned for their sins but was also the god they were to worship. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God of Israel and the Book of Mormon people. He was their creator and the god who would judge them after death.26 Although they often described God and Jesus functioning in traditional ways, they also claimed that God himself would come to earth and be crucified for humankind’s sins, and that Jesus was ruler of heaven and earth.

On one point the Book of Mormon’s christology differs from what early Christian modalists believed. Although Jesus’s description of himself as Father and Son in Ether 3:14 is thoroughly modalistic, its context is not. In this same verse Jesus says, “I was prepared from the foundations of the world to redeem my people.” This, coupled with his identifying himself as Jesus Christ a millennium before his birth, suggests a “pre-existent” Christ. Always concerned to preserve the notion of the unity of God, early Christian modalists rejected the idea that Christ existed apart from his father prior to his incarnation. They would not have attributed to Christ any of God’s activity prior to Jesus’s birth. For example, they interpreted John 1:1-18 as describing the Word’s creation of the world allegorically, not as Christ’s literal pre-existent activity (Kelly 1960, 120).

Those people are right who point out that many places in the Book of Mormon (particularly in 3 Nephi) portray the Son and the Father as if they were separate gods functioning simultaneously. However, they are not right to imply that this is evidence that Book of Mormon people had a concept of God and Jesus being separate and distinct [p.100] individuals, as Mormons do today. These descriptions must be assessed in connection with the frequent statements (again particularly in 3 Nephi) that Jesus and his Father are one. To say that “oneness” in these passages refers only to oneness of will, purpose, power, and glory but not oneness of personality, person, essence, or number is imposing an interpretation on the text rather than letting the text speak (see Millet 1989, 52-54).

As Robert Millet claims, “the presentation in the Book of Mormon is similar to that in the New Testament concerning the oneness of the members of the Godhead” (1989, 53). Yet in the New Testament Jesus never claims to be the Father as he does in the Book of Mormon, and the New Testament never says that Jesus was the god the Israelites in the Old Testament were worshipping. Any assessment of Book of Mormon passages showing separate gods functioning simultaneously must also account for Christ’s claims in the Book of Mormon that he was the Father and was the Israelites’ God. Vogel notes that even though the New Testament frequently portrays Christ on earth while his Father is in heaven, “such passages never dissuaded modalists” from believing that there was only one God (Vogel 1989, 24).

Sabellius’s modalism, more sophisticated than that of Noetus and Praxeas, explained how one God could be in heaven and on earth at the same time, and also explained who governed the universe “when the Godhead appeared as the Son” (Kelly 1960, 122). According to Sabellius, the one God who could appear in different roles could appear in them simultaneously: the Father is like the sun which “has three manifestations, light, heat, and the orb itself. … The Son was at one time emitted, like a ray of light; he accomplished in the world all that pertained to the dispensation of the Gospel and man’s salvation, and was then taken back into heaven” (Turner 1954, 136; see also Bettenson 1943, 54-55). Therefore, when in 3 Nephi Christ is God on earth acknowledging his father as God in heaven, the Nephites, like the Sabellians, could still have thought of them as one God.

Although modalism is the best description for Book of Mormon theology generally, it is not apt in every instance. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Book of Mormon authors were intentionally constructing a theology that would fit any previous or future model or label. Nor did they seem concerned about making sure that the theology of any one part of the book was always consistent with the theology of other parts.

One way to see the Book of Mormon’s modalism is to examine what it says about Christ as Father, since “the Father” often denotes the supreme God in Christian usage. The most straight-forward references use Father as a synonym for creator. Christ is called “the God, the Father of all things,” “the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, [p.101] and all things which in them are,” and “the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth” (Mosiah 7:27; Alma 11:38-39; Hel. 14:12, 16:18; Morm. 9:11-12). The contexts show only his involvement in creation. As “Father,” Christ is the author or source of creation, not merely the agent or instrument who carries out someone else’s will. As the Father not only of earth but also of heaven and everything in it, of heavenly beings as well as the stars and planets, this being called Christ is the Supreme Being.

Amulek echoes this understanding when he calls Christ not only “the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are” but also “the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Alma 11:38-39; compare 3 Ne. 9:18; Isa. 48:12; Rev. 1:8, 22:13). Commenting on this beginning/end, first/last formula in the New Testament book Revelation, the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible explains that it “accents the uniqueness of the one God as creator and redeemer, as the ultimate source and ground of existence” (1:89). Abinadi shows that the roles of Savior and Supreme Being belong to the same God when he preaches: “Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father” (Mosiah 16:15).

Moroni describes Jesus as “the Father and the Son” (Morm. 9:11-12). In Ether the Lord says, “I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, I am the Father and the Son.… [H]e that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father, I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world” (3:14, 4:12). Thus “the Lord” said he was both the being who acted as their God and the being who acted as Christ; that is, the being who sent Christ and the Christ who was sent.

Sometimes God the Father is the ultimate object of worship in the Book of Mormon (Millet 1987, 68) and sometimes Christ is. Book of Mormon characters frequently refer to Christ as if he were their only God.27 Often the evidence is ambiguous as in 3 Nephi, where the resurrected Christ on earth among the Nephites talks as if he is his Father’s subordinate. But then in 11:17 the people cried out, “Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.” Just after Christ instructed them to “always pray unto the Father in my name” (18:19), “they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God,” and in response Jesus prays to his Father (19:18-30).

[p.102] Abinadi describes Jesus Christ as the Father: “God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people” (Mosiah 15:1-5).

Thomas Alexander claimed that this sermon “explored the relationship between God and Christ” and showed a different understanding of deity than characterizes Mormonism today (1980, 25). Blake Ostler may be right when he objects that the subject of Abinadi’s sermon is not the relationship between Father and Son; it is Christ’s being divine and mortal (1987, 97). Yet Alexander is not wrong. Although Abinadi’s focus and concern are on the issue of God becoming human, in explaining that primary concern he reveals his understanding of the unity of the Father and the Son. With the words, “God himself shall come down among the children of men” (15:1), Abinadi is saying that the Supreme Being, God, will also function as the divine man, Jesus Christ. Although he explains in verses 2 and 3 how Jesus can be both mortal (the Son) and divine (the Father), underlying his remarks is the understanding that there is only one being who is both the mortal/divine Jesus and the divine Father; he is “the Father and the Son.” Verse 4 says that the Father and Son “are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth,” and verse 5 again calls them “one God.” 3 Nephi 1:14 is ambiguous but may provide similar information: “I come unto my own, to fulfill all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh.” These passages do indeed show a different understanding of deity than characterizes Mormonism today.

The Book of Mormon explains that its intended audience is not the contemporaries of its Nephite authors but rather people living many generations in the future when the record would be recovered. While denying that he believes Smith authored the Book of Mormon in the nineteenth century, Alexander says that teachings in the Book of Mormon “were similar to [teachings] of nineteenth-century Arminian-based Protestant groups such as the Methodists and Disciples. … However, that does not mean that the Book of Mormon doctrines were [p.103] drawn from contemporary Protestantism, only that they were similar” (1989, 143-44).

Mark Thomas and Dan Vogel argue that the Book of Mormon was written specifically to address the religious issues of America in the 1830s. One of these issues was trinitarianism versus unitarianism: were Jesus and his Father one God (trinitarianism) or was Jesus a separate being subordinate to the Father, with only the Father being God (unitarianism)? Thomas explains that when the Book of Mormon’s Title Page proclaims it was written to convince Jews and Gentiles that “JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD,” it means “the book wishes to heal the Jews of their disbelief [in Christ] and the Gentiles of both their disbelief and Unitarian heresies” (1989, 3:9-17). While the Book of Mormon did not preach technically correct trinitarianism, it was on the trinitarian side of this argument. It went beyond trinitarianism in advocating the union of Christ and God and in rejecting any notion that Christ might be less than divine or subordinate to God the Father.

Like the Book of Mormon, Mormonism before 1835 was largely modalistic, making no explicit distinction between the identities of the Father and the Son. Yet Mormonism gradually began to distinguish among different beings in the Godhead. This means the christology of the Book of Mormon differs significantly from the christology of the Mormon church after the 1840s.

The difference between Book of Mormon and later Mormon christologies is generally ignored, denied, or harmonized away in church writings. Most modern Mormons would resist the idea that Book of Mormon writers envisioned God as one person who assumed three different roles. One reason for this is the church’s trend toward presentism: projecting current thought back into earlier times. As noted earlier, there is a strong belief that religious truths do not change: the truths God reveals to righteous people will not change from one person to another or from one age to another. God would not permit righteous people who desire to know the truth to seriously misunderstand. Therefore any righteous people whom God inspired would know the same religious truths that we know today.

The current theology that most Mormons read back into the Book of Mormon is tritheism: belief in three Gods. Joseph Smith and the church only gradually came to understand the Godhead in this way. When he translated the Book of Mormon, Smith apparently envisioned God as modalists did: he accepted Christ and Christ’s father as one God. In his first written account of his “first vision” in 1832 Smith told of seeing “the Lord”—one being.

Soon after, in 1835, “The Lectures on Faith” described two personages in the Godhead with the Holy Ghost as the shared mind of the [p.104] two gods. (Although Smith may not have authored them, he approved of them, and the membership voted to accept them as scripture.) The Godhead in Smith’s 1838 retelling of the first vision was more like the Godhead in “The Lectures on Faith” than in his 1832 account (although it does not mention the Holy Ghost). In contrast to the 1832 account in which he saw “the Lord,” Smith described in the later 1838 account seeing two heavenly beings: God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (JS-H 1:17-19; see Arrington and Bitton 1979, 5-8, for an explanation of this new element of the vision). The 1838 version of the first vision is a primary source for Mormonism’s understanding that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate and distinct personages.

Later, in 1844, Smith said, “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage—Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and or Spirit, and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods” (Ehat and Cook 1981, 378, spelling and punctuation standardized). While some take this as a statement of fact—that Smith never taught any doctrine but this—Mormon history does not support Smith’s claim about what he taught earlier. Documents from early Mormonism reflect that Smith went from belief in one god to belief in two and later three gods forming one godhead. He came to believe that Christ was a god distinct from his father, in a godhead comprising separate individual members (Alexander 1980, 24-28; Allen 1979, 37-39; Vogel 1989, 17-33). They are united in purpose but are separate beings, each with his own unique role to play. Smith’s 1844 statement does not accurately characterize his earlier teachings, but it is a good statement of what he believed and taught in 1844.

Another reason most Mormons today might not entertain the possibility that Book of Mormon authors believed in one god who had three modes of manifesting himself is that today a different idea is officially promoted. Partly because of the waxing and waning of the popularity of Brigham Young’s teaching that Adam was the God of this earth, partly because of the temple ceremony, and partly because of the Book of Mormon’s portrayal of Jesus Christ as the Supreme God, church members in the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries were confused about the church’s theology of the godhead.

For example, the St. George Stake High Council Minutes record a controversy over the beliefs of Edward Bunker. Bunker told one member of his stake “that Jesus Christ was the Father of Adam and that Jesus Christ and God was the same self person. When asked if he thought that Jesus Christ begat himself through the Virgin Mary … he answered ‘That is just what I think'” (13 Dec. 1890). The clerk at a later meeting recorded that “Father Bunker holds that Jesus is the Eternal [p.105] Father” (11 June 1894). On 27 February 1902, Joseph F. Smith, then president of the church, wrote in response to a letter from Bunker, “As to the personality and position of each God, as to which of all is the greater, these are matters immaterial at the present time, and are at best but an unprofitable speculation. … to us there is but one God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Smith 1902).

At a high council meeting of 11 June 1894, George Q. Cannon, then counselor to the church president, said, “Jesus speaks for the Godhead, the personages who compose the Godhead, and that must be kept in mind all the time, not speaking for himself, but for his Father. It is overlooking this that leads to confusion. men thinking that Jesus speaks for himself” (punctuation as in the original). This became one standard explanation for Jesus as the Father.

In 1916 the church hierarchy published “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve” to bury the Adam-God teachings, end confusion, and to let members know which theology had official approval (Kirkland 1984, 42). This document was carefully crafted using scriptural prooftexts to show a clear distinction between the Father and the Son and to show the subordination of the Son to the Father. It identified God the Father as Elohim and the Son, Jesus Christ, as Jehovah. The first section, “‘Father’ as Literal Parent,” explained that God the Eternal Father is the literal parent of Jesus Christ and of the spirits of the human race.

It also purported to explain Jesus as Father when it said: “Jesus Christ applies to Himself both titles, ‘Son’ and ‘Father.’ Indeed, he specifically said to the brother of Jared: ‘Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son’ (Eth. 3:14). Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh” (First Presidency 1976, 466-67). The document failed to explain how the term “Father” in this verse applies to Jesus or how Jesus is a literal parent of anyone.

The section “‘Father’ as Creator” explained that when Jesus is called “Father” in the sense of “Creator,” “he is the executive of the Father, Elohim, in the work of creation.” It referred the reader to chapter four in James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, which explained that “the Father operated in the work of creation through the Son, who thus became the executive through whom the will, commandment, or word of the Father was put into effect” (First Presidency 1976, 467; Talmage 1981, 33). Neither the “Doctrinal Exposition” nor Jesus the Christ uses any Book of Mormon verses to illustrate this idea because the Book of Mormon shows Christ creating independently and never shows him creating as a subordinate agent of his Father.

The section “Jesus Christ the ‘Father’ of Those Who Abide in His [p.106] Gospel” explains that those who accept his gospel become his children spiritually or figuratively (First Presidency 1976, 467-71). This explanation is consistent with the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 5:7, 15:10-14; Ether 3:14).

The section “Jesus Christ the ‘Father’ by Divine Investiture of Authority” explains that “in all His dealings with the human family Jesus the Son has represented … Elohim His Father in power and authority.… The Father placed His name upon the Son; and Jesus Christ spoke and ministered in and through the Father’s name; and so far as power, authority, and Godship are concerned His words and acts were and are those of the Father.” The Book of Mormon gives no evidence to support or disprove this position. The Book of Mormon verses cited here merely say that “I [Jesus] am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one” (3 Ne. 20:35, 28:10).28

This is a modern explanation for the phenomenon in the Book of Mormon (and the Doctrine and Covenants) of the Supreme God being identified as either Jesus Christ or God the Father. It is not an explanation the Book of Mormon itself (or the Doctrine and Covenants) offers, because it was not necessary to make sense of the phenomenon from the authors’ standpoint. The passages in Mormon scripture which show Jesus Christ as the Supreme God reflect their authors’ assumption that there was only one being who performed the functions deity performs (such as creator, savior, lawgiver), and either designation would do. The “divine investiture of authority” explanation was not necessary until Mormonism firmly embraced the doctrine that Jesus Christ was a distinct and separate deity subordinate to his Father. Christ had functions that only he performed, while the Father had functions that only he performed. After 1833 there is no clear example of this phenomenon of blending the identities and functions of deity in any revelation coming through Joseph Smith, probably because he began to see the members of the godhead as separate (Metcalfe 1990).

This “Doctrinal Exposition” used isolated scriptural texts as the source of, and justification for, doctrine. Commenting on the document, Talmage proclaimed: “That Jesus Christ or Jehovah is designated in certain scriptures as the Father in no wise justifies an assumption of identity between Him and his Father Elohim” (Talmage 1972, 466). This [p.107] statement tells Mormons that they should not believe that Jesus Christ and God the Father were literally one being. Tritheism, three separate Gods each with a unique role, is the acceptable belief for them. Some Mormons might assume that Talmage and the “Doctrinal Exposition” also declare what the scriptural texts actually mean. Because this official declaration has fully taken hold and been incorporated into church teachings, most Mormons would reject the idea that the Book of Mormon authors believed that the Father and the Son were one God, even though exegesis of those scriptural texts suggests that they did.

The evolution of Joseph Smith’s beliefs in God is reflected in differences between the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon and all subsequent LDS editions. For the 1837 printing Smith made some efforts to remove the overlap and blending of the roles of God the Father, the God of humankind, and his Son, Jesus Christ, who atoned for humankind’s sins. He made or accepted the following revisions29:

1830 Edition 1837 Edition
1 Ne. 11:19 1the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh. Ne. 11:19 (emphasis added)the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Ne. 11:21Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! 1 Ne. 11:21 (emphasis added)Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! 
1 Ne. 11:32[the Lamb of God] was taken by the people; yea, the everlasting God was judged of the world. 1 Ne. 11:32 (emphasis added)[the Lamb of God] was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world.
1 Ne. 13:40[these records] shall make known to all … that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world. 1 Ne. 13:40 (emphasis added)[these records] shall make known to all … that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world. (See Allen 1979, 37; FARMS 1987, 1:52, 53, 55, 70.)

[p.108] All these revisions occur in 1 Nephi. Since passages in the rest of the book which described Jesus as Father and Supreme God were not changed, it is possible that Smith intended to revise the whole Book of Mormon to reflect tritheism but only barely began the project. He may have given up, realizing that revising the Book of Mormon’s theology would often require major rewriting rather than simple insertions or word replacement.

Christ’s unity with his father or distinction from him is the most significant issue for a study of Book of Mormon christology because the issue is handled so differently in twentieth-century Mormonism. (The issues of Jesus’s divine or human nature and his pre-existence are also significant.) Currently Mormonism is proudly, confidently tritheistic. Because most contemporary Mormons presume that their unusual tritheistic theology describes reality accurately and because they presume that the Book of Mormon describes reality accurately, the Book of Mormon’s doctrine that the Son and the Father are one is misunderstood and misrepresented.


A misunderstanding of Book of Mormon (and some New Testament) christology has significantly influenced twentieth-century Mormon theology. Because the Book of Mormon so frequently portrays Jesus as God of the Israelites and because the New Testament transferred to Christ ideas and scriptures that originally referred to God the Father, Mormon theology began to include the idea that “the Personage most generally designated in the Old Testament as God or the Lord is He who in the mortal state was known as Jesus Christ, and in the antemortal state as Jehovah.” Jesus was God of the Old Testament, and “Jehovah” and “the Lord” generally refer to him rather than his father (Talmage 1972, 465-66).

Boyd Kirkland has found that the earliest serious exponents of this view were apostles George Q. Cannon and Franklin D. Richards in the 1870s through 1890s. The 1916 “Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve” made this theory official Mormon doctrine. In the 1980s and 1990s this theory is promoted everywhere and accepted almost without thought (Kirkland 1984, 36-44). For example, in Old Testament Stories, published by the church in 1980 and aimed at children, “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” created the world, changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and was Israel’s God during the Exodus and the conquest of Jericho. (For no apparent reason, though, “God” officiated through most of the rest of the stories.)

Gordon B. Hinckley, a member of the First Presidency of the LDS church, recently identified Jesus Christ as “Jehovah of the Old [p.109] Testament” and added that members should “believe in Jehovah, he whose finger wrote upon the tablets of stone amid the thunders of Sinai—’Thou shalt have no other gods before me'” (Hinckley 1989, 2-3). This implies that Jesus, as Jehovah, told the Israelites in the Ten Commandments that they could not consider any god, not even God the Father, to be more important to them than he was. To borrow a thought from Lowell Bennion, “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” (Bennion 1980, 40).

Writing in the August 1990 issue of the Ensign, an official publication of the LDS church, Michael Rhodes answered the question, “Why do Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ was Jehovah of the Old Testament?” After quoting scriptures that all seem to say implicitly or explicitly that Jesus acts as God, Rhodes concluded: “Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ is Jehovah because it is true. It was known to be true anciently, by prophets in both the Old and New Worlds, and it has been made clear from the very beginning of our own dispensation. The Lord Jesus Christ himself has declared it unequivocally: he is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament” (26-27).

Similarly, in the new Encyclopedia of Mormonism, David R. Seely writes that “biblical passages indicate that Jesus Christ is Jehovah” and that “latter-day scriptures often refer to Jesus Christ, the Son, as Jehovah (e.g., D&C 110:3-4; Moro. 10:34).” He and Rhodes both use 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 as evidence that ancients also knew that Jesus was Jehovah (1992, 2:720-21).

Yet there is not evidence in the Old or New Testament that this doctrine was taught anciently. The use of the divine names Jehovah and Elohim in the Old Testament never supports the twentieth-century Mormon doctrine that Elohim is the father of Jehovah, that Jehovah, not Elohim, is the God of the Old Testament, or that Jehovah is Jesus Christ. Rather than being “occasionally ambiguous” in the Bible, as Seely claims, the divine names Elohim and Jehovah are both used unambiguously to refer to the same divine being, the one god of the Old Testament. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 says that Christ was the spiritual rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness. However, the Old Testament does not include in its story of the wanderings in the wilderness any rock which followed the Israelites around. So Paul is adding details to the Old Testament story. The Old Testament does not suggest, as Paul does, that the miraculous food and drink God gave to the wanderers in the wilderness had a spiritual component. Neither the Old Testament nor Paul says the Israelites understood Christ to be the source of their literal or spiritual nourishment.

Joseph Smith did not teach that Christ was Jehovah or that he was [p.110] God in the Old Testament. Rather than being taught “from the very beginning of our own dispensation,” virtually no Mormon taught this until the 1870s and it was widely accepted only in the twentieth century. While Jesus in the Book of Mormon says that he was God of Israel, he also says that his Father was God of Israel. Moroni 10:34 which Seely offers as evidence that “latter-day scriptures often refer to Jesus Christ, the Son, as Jehovah,” contains no reference to Jesus Christ at all. It says that Jehovah is the Eternal Judge—something said of both Christ and his Father.30 Jesus never identifies himself in scripture as Jehovah. There is only one scriptural linking of Jesus with the name Jehovah, and in the same week Joseph Smith received that revelation, he received a revelation calling the Father Jehovah and describing the Father as the God of Israel (D&C 109:4, 10, 22, 24, 29, 34, 42, 47, 56, 64, 68; and 110:3-4). These commentators misunderstand, misinterpret, and ignore the context of the scriptural texts they cite as support.

It is true that the Book of Mormon does teach that Jesus Christ was God of the Old Testament. But to use that idea without considering its theological setting guarantees misinterpretation. Not only did Book of Mormon people believe that Jesus Christ was God of Old Testament peoples, they believed Jesus Christ, son of God, was also God the Father—they were the same being. The Son and the Father were perceived as one God who manifested himself in different ways. Their roles, functions, and persons were not separate. If post-1840 Mormons feel obliged to accept Book of Mormon theology, they should accept Jesus as Father (not merely as the Father’s representative), and as Supreme God, for it is as Father, the Supreme God, that Book of Mormon writers view Jesus as God of the Old Testament. If instead they accept tritheism, they should acknowledge that the Book of Mormon does not teach it.

Book of Mormon theology is generally modalistic. In the Book of Mormon, God and Jesus Christ are not distinct beings. Each does not have a distinct role to play; instead the same godly activities are attributed to both. As Mormon scholar Keith Norman recommended, “our emphasis on Christ as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament,” could use some examination (1985, 25; see also Bennion 1980, 40; Kirkland 1984, 36-44; Charles 1980, 37-38). Less politely Steven Epperson warns, “Recently we have been making the egregious error, based upon a tendentious and literal reading of a few isolated passages of scripture, to [p.111] simply equate the pre-existent Jesus with the God of Israel in Hebrew scriptures. … We do violence and disrespect to the person of the Father, to His people Israel, and to the doctrine and work given by the Father to the Son (3 Ne. 11:31-32) when we tell them that they had it wrong all along, and that Israel knows not whom she worships” (Epperson 1990, 3). Before we adopt portions of the Book of Mormon’s theology, we should try to understand the beliefs it explicates and consider the effect those ideas will have on the rest of Mormon theology.


1. Jesus as creator: 2 Ne. 9:5, 19-21, 26; Mosiah 3:8, 27:30; Hel. 14:22; Morm. 9:32.

Jesus as giver of law: 2 Ne. 2:21, 9:4-5, 23-38, 26:23-33, 31:10-21; Mosiah 3:16-24; Alma 41:2-4; 3 Ne. 12:19-20, 15:10, 18:10, 14; Morm. 9:3.

Jesus as the route to salvation: 2 Ne. 2:8-10, 26-29; 9:5-8, 19-22; 10:25; Mosiah 3:11, 13:35, 15:8-12, 19-24, 16:7-15, 18:2; Alma 4:14, 11:42-45, 12:34, 21:9, 27:28, 33:22, 40:3, 15-17; 3 Ne. 6:20; Morm. 7:6, 9:13; Moro. 7:41.

2. Mosiah 3:7, 35, 14:3-10, 15:5, 7; Alma 7:11-13; 3 Ne. 6:20.

3. 1 Ne. 19:7-13; 2 Ne. 1:10, 6:9, 9:4-5, 20-21, 10:3, 11:7, 26:12; Mosiah 5:15, 7:27, 13:28, 34, 15:1, 26:18-26; Alma 42:15; Hel. 8:23, 11:14, 16:18; Morm. 3:21; Ether 2:12; Moro. 8:8.

4. The only text that suggests he is not omniscient on earth is not representative. As Keith Norman has noted, Alma teaches that this experience in a mortal body would be a training experience for Jesus, for in it “he will take upon him [his people’s] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12; Norman 1985, 24). As a result of his suffering as a mortal, he would have the empathy to comfort and deal mercifully with the people to whom he is God. This is problematic because the Book of Mormon portrays him as functioning as God before he comes to earth to get this training in how to be an empathetic God.

5. Six hundred years: 1 Ne. 10:4, 19:8; 2 Ne. 25:19.
Beautiful virgin: 1 Ne. 11:13, 15.
Mary: Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10.
Nazareth: 1 Ne. 11:13, but note Alma 7:10 says Jerusalem.
Holy Ghost: 1 Ne. 11:18-20; Alma 7:10.
Star: Hel. 14:5.

6. Jesus Christ: 2 Ne. 10:3, 25:19; Mosiah 3:8, 15:21; but “Christ” was not Jesus’s name. While his Aramaic-speaking contemporaries may have called him “messiah,” a title meaning “Anointed,” it was the Greek-speaking authors of the New Testament who after his death called him “Christ,” the Greek translation of “messiah.” Gradually “Christ” lost its original meaning of “anointed one” and was used as if it were part of Jesus’s name (Cullman 1963, 134).

Christians from New Testament times onward have used “Christ” to denote “a very definite Messiah, Jesus, who now is called Christ not as a title but as a name.” Christians began to use Christ as Jesus’s surname (Greek-English Lexicon 1979, 887; see also IDB 1:562). Although 1 Nephi 10:4, 5, 14 and 2 Nephi 1:10 link the title “Messiah” with “a Savior of the world,” “this redeemer of the world,” “their Lord and their Redeemer,” and “their Redeemer and their God,” the word “Messiah” never meant these things to speakers of Hebrew or Aramaic (even though some of them may have believed that Jesus was both their Messiah and the Redeemer of humankind). The title “Messiah” did not encompass these ideas, though the title/name “Christ” eventually did.

1 Ne. 12:18 was originally the first place the Book of Mormon text used the name “Jesus Christ.” In the Original Manuscript (O), the Printer’s Manuscript (P), and the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, an angel uses the name matter-of-factly to tell Nephi about “the justice of the eternal God, and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God.” From the 1837 edition on, this passage has read “the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God.” Thus, in versions after 1837, when the angel reveals to Jacob in 2 Ne. 10:3 that the name of the Redeemer to come is “Christ,” this is new information. It would not have been new if Nephi had already heard it. (See Metcalfe in this compilation.)

7. The following parallel details are reported in parallel language:

1 Ne. 10:7-8: Lehi describes “a prophet who should come before the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord—Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight.” Compare Matt. 3:3, which describes John the Baptist as “he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

1 Ne. 10:8: “… for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” Compare John 1:26-28: “[T]here standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”

1 Ne. 10:9: “[H]e should baptize in Bethabara, beyond Jordan.” Compare John 1:28: “These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (The KJV reads “Bethabara” following less reliable Greek manuscripts, as Origen did. The best manuscripts indicate that the original reading is “Bethany.” See IDB 1:388.)

1 Ne. 10:10: “He should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world.” Compare John 1:28: “John … saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

2 Ne. 31:6: in being baptized Jesus “did fulfill all righteousness.” Compare Matt. 3:15: “thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”

All biblical quotations in this essay are from the KJV because of the Book of Mormon’s parallels to it.

8. Jerusalem: 2 Ne. 9:5.

Twelve apostles: 1 Ne. 1:10-11, 11:29, 36, 12:9, 13:26.

9. Miracles: 1 Ne. 11:31; 2 Ne. 10:4; Mosiah 3:5-6.
People worship him: 1 Ne. 11:24.
Multitudes gather: 1 Ne. 11:28.

10. Scourged, smitten, spat upon: 1 Ne. 19:9; 2 Ne. 6:9; Mosiah 3:9.
Taken from prison: Mosiah 14:8.
Crucified: 1 Ne. 19:10, 13; 2 Ne. 6:9, 10:3, 5, 25:13; Mosiah 3:9, 15:7.
Sepulchre: 1 Ne. 19:10; 2 Ne. 25:13.
Rise in three days: 2 Ne. 25:13; Mosiah 3:10; Alma 33:22; Hel. 14:20.
Second coming: 2 Ne. 6:14; 3 Ne. 28:7.

11. Savior/redeemer: 1 Ne. 10:4-5, 11:27, 13:40; 2 Ne. 2:3, 6, 9:21; Omni 26; Mosiah 3:9, 18, 4:6-8, 13:33, 15:1, 16:13, 15, 26:26; Alma 5:27, 6:8, 19:13, 33:22, 38:9; Hel. 5:9. Mortals lost and fallen: 1 Ne. 10:6; 2 Ne. 9:6; Jacob 7:12; Mosiah 3:11; Alma 34:9, 42:6, 12, 14.

12. Satisfies justice: Mosiah 15:9; Alma 34:15-16, 42:15.
Atonement: 2 Ne. 9:7; Jacob 7:12; Mosiah 3:11, 15, 18, 4:6; Alma 21:9, 33:22, 34:8, 36:17, 42:15.
Take away sins: 1 Ne. 10:10; 2 Ne. 31:4; Mosiah 15:9, 12, 26:23; Alma 5:48, 7:13, 11:40, 39:15.

13. Merits: 2 Ne. 31:19; Alma 24:10; Hel. 14:13.
Mediator: 2 Ne. 2:27, 28; mediator [of the New Testament]: Heb. 9:15.
Make intercession: 2 Ne. 2:9-10; Mosiah 14:12; 15:8; Heb. 7:25.
Be reconciled: Jacob 4:11; reconciliation: Heb. 2:17. Sacrifice: 2 Ne. 2:7, 25:16.
Infinite atonement: 2 Ne. 9:7, 25:16.

14. Resurrection: 2 Ne. 2:8; 9:7-13; Jacob 4:11; Mosiah 13:35, 15:8, 20, 16:8-10; Alma 27:28, 33:22; Hel. 14:15-17.
Soul and body: 2 Ne. 9:12-13; Alma 11:43-45, 34:34, 40:18-20, 41:2.
Judgment: 2 Ne. 2:10; Mosiah 3:10, 16:10-11; Alma 11:41, 33:22; Hel. 14:15-18.

15. Robert H. Stein writes that there are variations in what people expected the Messiah to be. “In some circles the Messiah was portrayed as reigning for 400 years and then dying (II Esdras/IV Ezra 7:28-29). In the Dead Sea community in Qumran, two future anointed ones were expected,” one priestly, one political. “In rabbinic Judaism we even read of a Messiah who comes out of Benjamin. … To the man on the street in the first century, however, the term ‘Messiah’ tended to evoke a picture of an earthly, this-worldly political figure, a king who was David’s son, who would deliver the Jewish nation from bondage to their enemies and reign in righteousness” (Stein 1978, 121).

16. According to Mark 16, in spite of Jesus’s prophecies that he would be killed and raised on the third day, the women who went to his tomb after his death expected to find his body there. They apparently did not anticipate his resurrection and therefore did not understand what his mission entailed. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that some of Jesus’s apostles doubted when others claimed that Jesus had been resurrected, and some doubted even when they saw him in his resurrected state (Matt. 28:17; Mark 16:8-14; Luke 24:12-41). Mark 8:31-33 portrays Peter rebuking Jesus for prophesying his own death and resurrection, and then Jesus rebuking Peter, apparently for not understanding that his death and resurrection were essential to his mission. Later in Mark, Peter, James, and John wonder what Jesus meant when he talked of rising from the dead (9:11, 32). Luke (19:34) and John (16:16-18) portray all the twelve not understanding what he meant by it. In John 14:9 Jesus asks Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip?”

17. Morna D. Hooker wrote, “[A]ny direct equation of the Son of Man and Messiah makes nonsense of the evidence of the gospels, which shows clearly that neither the disciples of Jesus, nor the Jews in general, understood the title ‘Son of Man’ as a Messianic term” (Jesus and the Servant: The Influence of the Servant Concept of Deutero-Isaiah in the New Testament [London: S.P.C.K., 1959], 146, quoted in Orlinski 1977, 71).

18. For example, Oscar Cullman suggests that Peter came to understand only after Jesus’s resurrection that the suffering and death of Jesus were the core of his mission (1963, 74). Keith Norman wrote that Jesus’s anguished cry on the cross and his plea in Gethsemane “indicate that he himself did not understand his death as a vicarious atoning sacrifice.” He also wrote that when read without imposing later Christian interpretation on them, the synoptic gospels and Acts do not present Jesus as a divine being as much as a remarkable human chosen or adopted by God (1985, 20, 21, 22). Donald Juel wrote, “[I]n Luke/Acts virtually nothing is said about the atoning value of Jesus’s death” (1988, 128).

19. Premortal creative activity: John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:10.
Made salvation possible: Rom. 5:6-17, 6:23; 1 Cor. 15; Heb. 7:27; 1 John 1:7-10.
Post-resurrection glory and exaltation: Acts 2:30-36; Philip. 2:5-11.

20. Oscar Cullman, a bit more reserved, says that if a suffering Messiah who atones for people’s sins were available in pre-Christian Judaism at all, it was at least not the Messiah expected by mainstream Jews in the pre-Christian era (1963, 56, 58).

21. 1 Ne. 10:5; Jacob 4:4, 7:11; Mosiah 13:33; Hel. 8:13-16.

22. This says that the deliberate perverting of the Bible took place after the apostles began to proselyte the Gentiles. Therefore, at least until Jesus’s death, the Israelites’ scriptures could have included prophecies about Jesus just as detailed as those in the Book of Mormon and should have included the Christian gospel. There are no extant ancient versions of the Old Testament which confirm this, and the Qumran documents, the only known Old Testament texts from a pre-Christian period, show no evidence of detailed prophesies mentioning Jesus or matching his life or mission, or of a Christian gospel (IDB 4:580-94).

23. Steven E. Robinson contends that because of the many differences between Amulek’s explanation and Anselm’s theory, Alma 34 does not depend on Anselm (1989, 410-11). However, Robinson argues against similarities between Anselm’s theory as Anselm wrote it, not as centuries of Christian thought incorporated and interpreted it. Neither Dan Vogel, Mark Thomas, Brent Metcalfe, nor Blake Ostler, who all note the parallel have suggested that Joseph Smith wrote Alma 34 with conscious knowledge that the ideas were Anselm’s. Nor have they suggested Smith was attempting to be consistent with Anselm’s own telling of his theory.

24. The phrase is also in the final line of the testimony of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Because Joseph Smith wrote this testimony for Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer to sign, it is evidence of his understanding of the godhead at that early stage. Probably to bring the scriptures closer to his growing realization that there were three separate beings who were not one being at all, Joseph Smith changed the singular is in Mormon 7:7 to the plural are in the 1837 edition. The same change was made in 1835 in what is now Doctrine and Covenants 20:28 from its earlier version in the Book of Commandments. There are other examples of his revising the Book of Mormon to accommodate his growing understanding.

25. Clyde Forsberg’s master’s thesis suggests that Book of Mormon christology is neither continuous nor consistent. He labels 3 Nephi as roughly trinitarian and elsewhere sees elements of Arianism (in which Jesus is the first and best creation of the Father). He also sees a mixture of Trinitarianism and Arianism and an inversion of Sabellianism in which Jesus Christ is the only god and the Father is one mode of Jesus Christ’s existence. While he has broken the christology down more minutely than I, he concludes as I do that the Book of Mormon is generally Sabellian or modalistic.

26. Worship Christ: 2 Ne. 25:29; 3 Ne. 11:17, 17:10.

Christ as God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: 1 Ne. 19:10; Morm. 9:11-12.

Christ as God of Israel: 1 Ne. 19:7-15, 22:21; 2 Ne. 1:10, 6:9, 9:9-25, 25:29; Omni 1:26; 3 Ne. 11:14, 17, 15:5.

Christ as God of Book of Mormon people: 2 Ne. 10:7, 11:7, 26:12, 23-24; Mosiah 3:5, 17, 5:15, 7:27, 13:28, 33, 34, 15:1, 8-9, 23-24, 16:4, 26:23, 27:30-31; Alma 42:15; Hel. 8:22-23; 3 Ne. 5:20, 19:18-25, 23:6, 9; 4 Ne. 3:21; Ether 2:12, 3:6-20, 12:20, 22; Moro. 8:8, 10:8.

Christ as the Creator: 2 Ne. 9:4-5; Mosiah 3:8, 4:2, 26:23, 27:30-31; Alma 5:13; Hel. 14:12; 3 Ne. 9:15; Morm. 9:11-12; Ether 3:14-16, 4:7.

Christ as Judge: Title Page; 1 Ne. 22:21; 2 Ne. 9:15, 22, 21:3-4; Mosiah 3:10, 17, 27:30; Alma 33:22; 3 Ne. 27:16, 28:31, 40; Morm. 3:20-22, 6:21, 7:6, 9:13-14; Ether 12:38; Moro. 8:21.

On the other hand the Book of Mormon shows the Father as the god who acts in the world, punishing, rewarding, providing, leading, and revealing: 3 Ne. 12:16, 13:8, 26, 30, 14:11, 15:13, 15, 20, 16:10-15, 20:28-29, 33-34, 21:4, 9,14, 26, 24:1, 28:7.

It shows the Father as the god who convenanted with the Israelites: 2 Ne. 29:2; 3 Ne. 16:5, 20:11, 19, 28-29, 46, 21:7; Morm. 9:37; Moro. 7:32.

27. Title Page: 1 Ne. 19:7-23; 2 Ne. 9:10; Mosiah 7:27, 26:14-32; Alma 42:15; Morm. 3:21; Ether 2:12.

28. Robert L. Millett has used these same explanations in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism‘s entry on “Jesus Christ, Fatherhood and Sonship of,” and added that “Christ is Father in that he literally inherited attributes and powers from his Father. … he spiritually received all that the Father has.” Quoting from Bruce R. McConkie, he says, “This is a matter of his Eternal Parent investing him with power from on high so that he becomes the Father because he exercises the power of that Eternal Being” (1992, 2:740-41).

29. 1 Nephi 11:21, 32 were faithfully copied from P in the 1830 first edition. P shows no emendation for the alteration of these two verses published in the 1837 second edition. Significantly, Joseph Smith made no known attempt to correct these alterations. This suggests that even if Smith did not personally make these changes, he at the very least did not object to them.

30. Some examples from the Bible of God being the judge of everyone are: Ps. 7:11, 50:4-7, 75:7, 82:8, 94:2; Eccl. 3:17; Rom. 3:6; Heb. 12:23, 13:4. I have limited Old Testament references to those which use “God” or “Elohim” to anticipate objections that these Old Testament references might refer to Christ.


Alexander, Thomas G. “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology.” Sunstone 5 (July-Aug. 1980): 24-33. Reprinted as “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine.” In Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, 53-66. Edited by Gary James Bergera. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989.

______. “Afterwords[: A Reply to Robert L. Millet’s ‘Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism’].” Brigham Young University Studies 29 (Fall 1989): 143-44.

Allen, James B. “Line Upon Line.” Ensign 19 (July 1979): 32-39.

Arrington, Leonard J., and Davis Bitton. The Mormon Experience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

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

Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press, 1943.

Bright, John. A History of Israel. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

______. Jeremiah. (Anchor Bible.) Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1978.

Burkill, T. A. The Evolution of Christian Thought. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971.

Charles, Melodie Moench. “The Mormon Christianizing of the Old Testament.” Sunstone 5 (Nov.-Dec. 1980): 35-39.

Cullman, Oscar. The Christology of the New Testament. Translated by Shirley C. Guthrie and Charles A. M. Hall. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963.

de Margerie, Bertrand. The Christian Trinity in History. Translated by Edmund J. Fortman. Still River, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1981.

Epperson, Steven. “Response to Clyde Forsberg’s Book of Mormon Christology.” Delivered at the 1990 Sunstone Symposium.

[p.112] FARMS. Book of Mormon Critical Text: A Tool for Scholarly Reference. 3 vols. Provo, UT: FARMS, 1987.

First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve.” In Talmage 1976, 466-73.

Forsberg, Clyde. “The Roots of Early Mormonism: An Exegetical Inquiry.” M.A. thesis, University of Calgary, 1990.

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Revised by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker. 2d ed. 1979.

Hale, Van. “Defining the Mormon Doctrine of Deity.” Sunstone 10 (1985): 23-27. Reprinted as “Defining the Contemporary Mormon Concept of God.” In Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, 7-15. Edited by Gary James Bergera. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989.

Hinckley, Gordon B. “Be Not Faithless.” Ensign 19 (Apr. 1989): 2-5.

IDB. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982.

JD. Journal of Discourses by Brigham Young, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others. 26 vols. Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855-86.

Juel, Donald. Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.

Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1960.

Kirkland, Boyd. “Jehovah as the Father.” Sunstone 9 (Autumn 1984): 36-44.

______. “Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism and the Bible.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Spring 1986): 77-93.

Lonergan, Bernard. The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology. Translated by Conn O’Donovan. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

Matthews, Robert J. “The Atonement of Jesus Christ: 2 Nephi 9.” In The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, the Doctrinal Structure, 177-99. Edited by Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989.

McConkie, Bruce R. “All Are Alike Unto God.” Speech given to LDS Seminary and Institute teachers, Aug. 1978.

______. “The Bible—A Sealed Book?” Speech given to LDS Seminary and Institute teachers, Aug. 1984.

McMurrin, Sterling M. The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965.

[p.113] Metcalfe, Brent Lee. “From Monism to Pluralism: The Development of God in the Theology of Joseph Smith.” Response to Boyd Kirkland’s “The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine 1830-1916.” Delivered at the 1983 Sunstone Symposium.

______. “A Scriptural Hybrid? A Critique of Book of Mormon Expansionism.” Privately circulated, 1987.

______. Personal Communication. Aug. 1990.

Millet, Robert L. “Abinadi’s Messianic Sermon (Mosiah 12-16).” In A Symposium on the Book of Mormon, 97-103. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1986.

______. “Joseph Smith, and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neo-orthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition.” Brigham Young University Studies 29 (Summer 1989): 49-68.

______. “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the Nature of God.” In “To Be Learned Is Good If …” A Response by Mormon Educators to Controversial Religious Questions, 59-76. Edited by Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989.

______. “Jesus Christ, Fatherhood and Sonship of.” In Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:739-409. Edited by Daniel H. Ludlow. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

Moule, C. D. F. The Origin of Christology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Funk and Wagnals, 1909.

Nibley, Hugh. Since Cumorah. Edited by John W. Welch. (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 7, the Book of Mormon.) Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988. Originally published 1964-67.

Norman, Keith. “Toward a Mormon Christology.” Sunstone 10 (Apr. 1985): 18-25.

Old Testament Stories. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1980.

Orlinsky, Harry M. “The So-Called ‘Servant of the Lord’ and ‘Suffering Servant’ in Second Isaiah.” In Studies on the Second Part of the Book of Isaiah, 14:7-127. (Supplements to Vetus Testamenturn.) Edited by G. W. Anderson et al. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977.

Ostler, Blake. “The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (Spring 1987): 66-123.

Rhodes, Michael D. “I Have a Question: Why Do Latter-day Saints Believe that Jesus was Jehovah of the Old Testament?” Ensign 18 (Aug. 1990): 26-27.

Ricks, Stephen D. Review of Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, and There [p.114] Were Jaredites, by Hugh Nibley. In Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 2:129-42. Edited by Daniel C. Peterson. Provo, UT: FARMS, 1990.

Robinson, Stephen E. “The ‘Expanded’ Book of Mormon?” In The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, 391-414. Edited by Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989.

Seely, David R. “Jehovah, Jesus Christ.” In Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:720-21. Edited by Daniel H. Ludlow. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

Smith, Joseph, Jr., et al. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 7 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978.

Smith, Joseph F. Letterbooks. 27 Feb. 1902. Archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Smith, Joseph Fielding, comp. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973.

St. George Stake High Council Minutes. Archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978.

Stendahl, Krister. “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi.” In Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, 139-54. Edited by Truman G. Madsen. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University Press, 1978.

Talmage, James E. The Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1976.

______. Jesus the Christ. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

Thomas, Mark D. “The Meaning of Revival Language in the Book of Mormon.” Sunstone 8 (May-June 1983): 19-25.

______. “Listening to a Voice from the Dust: An Introduction to the Book of Mormon.” Privately circulated, 1989.

Turner, H. E. W. The Pattern of Christian Truth: A Study in the Relations between Orthodoxy and Heresy in the Early Church. London: A. R. Mowbray and Company, Ltd., 1954.

Vogel Dan. “The Earliest Mormon Concept of God.” In Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, 17-33. Edited by Gary James Bergera. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989. [p.115]