The Trinity; though a powerful title at the heart of Christian doctrine, it is yet an enigma to most Christians today. The Trinity is the doctrine that attempts to explain the mystery that is God’s triune nature. Because of its mystery it has been a stumbling block for a lot of Christians, and it presents itself as a major line in the sand separating Christianity from the cults that have branched off from it. One of these cults, Mormonism, presents itself as holding a true trinitarian doctrine, but is this doctrine compatible with the Orthodox Christian view? And if not, is it better? The doctrine of the Trinity comes out of three principles that Orthodox Christians believe the Bible teaches; God is three persons, each person is fully God, and God is one. These three principals will form the structure of our comparison between the Mormon and Orthodox view of the Trinity.
God is three persons; this is a powerful statement. It is drawn from the fact that in the Bible three separate persons are called God. The average Mormon would agree with this statement. In Mormonism their god is a created being, once a man who walked on a planet like earth. During the course of his life he achieved exaltation and became a god of his own planet, Earth. With his goddess wife he begot many spirit babies, the first being Jesus Christ, that become the inhabitants of this earth (Slick par. 11, 16). The idea of three separate persons fits easily within the Mormon teachings, which in fact teach of an infinite regression of father gods, each begetting more children who then themselves can become gods of their own planets. The holy ghost is another spirit baby of the father who was exalted to godhood; the father, holy ghost, and Jesus make up what is called by Joseph Smith, the father of Mormonism, “the grand council” (JD 6:5).
The Orthodox view of three persons is similar to that of Mormonism only in the statement that they are separate. From the teachings of the Bible we can see that each member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father, are each separate individuals. For the Father it is easy to establish the aspect of His personhood. There are many examples of this throughout the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures, such as His personality and the fact that He holds relationships with human beings. Jesus Christ’ personhood is exemplified in the fact that the entire New Testament is devoted to His life and ministry on earth. On the other hand, the last person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, some say is only a force. There is conflict over His being a person; but scripture, while not explicit, has many evidences of His personhood. In numerous verses (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14) the masculine pronoun He is applied to the Holy Spirit “which one would not expect from the rules of Greek grammar, for the word “Spirit” (Gk. pneuma) is neuter, not masculine, and would ordinarily be referred to with the neuter pronoun ekeino”. The Holy Spirit is also ascribed with personal traits and activities; He is grieved by our sins, He teaches, and He comforts or gives counsel. This is just the tip of the iceberg for His personality, but is evidence enough to stand on Him being a person. Each member of the Trinity is a person, but some suggest that instead of being three separate persons; the Trinity is one person manifested in three different personalities (modalism). Scripture does not support this view; we can find examples of all three members of the Trinity being present while being separate. One example of this separateness can be seen at Jesus’ baptism; Jesus is being baptized, the Spirit descends like a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven (Matthew 3:16-17). The next piece of the doctrine of the Trinity that needs to be looked at is the nature of each of these persons.
Each member of the Trinity is fully God. Mormonism would agree with this, but the Mormon conception of their god is not the same as it is in Christianity. In Christianity the concept of being God brings with it the Idea of eternality, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The God of Christianity is eternal, meaning that He was never born, but has always existed (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13; Ps 90:1-2; Jude 25). He is omniscient; he knows all things including the future. He is omnipresent, God is Spirit and is infinite in space; our idea of space does not limit Him. He is omnipotent; He is infinite in power and can do whatever He wills. These attributes apply to every member of the Trinity; they are each fully God. It is evident from the first verse of the OT that God is fully God, but many people have doubted that the Scriptures teach the Godhood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Entire books could be written on the evidence of each of Their deity, but we will focus on only a few examples.
Many people claim that Jesus did not proclaim Himself to be God, while He did not explicitly say, “I am God” He said many things that proclaimed equality with God. In John 8:58 Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am” (ESV). This is a declaration of pre-existence, something no mortal man could claim. As well as a declaring His pre-existence it is also believed by some that the statement “I Am” was an intentional parallel to Exodus 3:13-15 where, in response to Abraham asking for His name, God tells him “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). The Pharisees took this to be a declaration of equality with God and picked up rocks to stone Jesus for blasphemy. In Matthew 9:1-6 Jesus heals a paralytic, but He doesn’t just tell him that he is healed; He tells him that he is forgiven of his sins. Only God has the power to forgive sins and again the Pharisees see this as Jesus committing blasphemy, proclaiming Himself capable of things that only God could do.
The last member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is also implied to be equal with God in many places. One key text that displays this is Acts 5:3-4. In these verses a man named Ananias comes to Peter and tells him that he has sold his land and is going to give all the proceeds to the church, but in fact Ananias had actually held some back. Peter, through illumination by the Spirit, knows of Ananias’ deception and first asks him why he lied to the Holy Spirit, later telling him that he has lied to God. Because of this lie Ananias is struck down by God. In these verses lying to the Holy Spirit is seen as lying to God; this is a claim that they are equal. This is just one example of many that proclaim the deity of the Spirit. In Mormonism, they agree that Jesus, the father, and the holy ghost are all god; but when they refer to them as god they do not mean eternal spirits, but instead material beings. Not one of their gods is eternal, each has been born, and each has a physical body (Smith JD 6:3). The last idea behind the Doctrine of the Trinity is the belief that God is one.
The idea that there is one God is where the chasm between Orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is the widest. Mormonism is in fact contradictory on this point. Early Mormon doctrine seems to point to a god who is singular; the only god. The Book of Mormon is the clearest source of seemingly monotheistic doctrine. In the Mormon text of Alma 11:44 we read; “and be arranged before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God.” In Mosiah 15:5 we read; “And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God.” Each of these verses seems to indicate one singular Trinitarian, in the Orthodox sense, god. But in later texts from the church they proclaim a plethora of gods. The idea of an infinite regression of father gods, and each Mormon becoming a god refute any chance of true monotheism. Mormons claim that because they only worship the father god they are still monotheistic.
In reading through the Christian Bible, one is left with the resounding impression that there is a single God. Orthodox Christianity takes this view, proclaiming a single all powerful, un-created God. There are innumerable scriptures that support this view, but a key Scripture that displays this is what is known as the Great Shema located in Deuteronomy 6; “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV verse 4). This is a powerful creed that has made its way onto the doorways of many Orthodox Jews’ homes, and sometimes onto their person. One more verse that proclaims God’s oneness is Isaiah 45:5-6; “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.” In light of these verses it is impossible to say anything other than God is one. Many have stated that there exists a contradiction in this verse.
The Mormon’s have countered this supposed contradiction by proclaiming the existence of three separate gods, a united tritheism; three gods united in purpose and will, but not in substance. The truth is that there is no contradiction; God is one, yet He is three persons who are each fully God. That is the Doctrine of the Trinity, and that is what sets Christianity apart from every cult, and from every other religion in the world. The Trinity is one God “one ousia [substance] in three hypostases [persons]”.
Mormonism finds itself on shaky ground when it comes to its doctrine of God, and the doctrine of the Trinity. While proclaiming to believe in the Trinity, they actually hold to a belief in a united tritheism, three gods united in purpose. Their belief in infinite amounts of gods falls under the microscopic of logic; an infinite regression is not logically plausible.
“‘One cannot form an actually infinite collection of things by successively adding one member after another. Since one can always add one more before arriving at infinity, it is impossible to reach actual infinity. Sometimes this is called the impossibility of “counting to infinity” or “traversing the infinite.’… If there is infinite regress, then there must be an infinitely distant beginning, from which no actual point in time can be reached. Thus infinite regress of time implies that there can be no present time” (Tremblay par. 3-4)
Since we are at the present, it’s tangible, an infinite regress is impossible: there has to be a beginning, and that beginning has to be uncaused. Mormonism gives no answer for this uncaused cause. The Orthodox Trinity provides the answer to this problem; God is eternal, outside of time, and therefore had no beginning so He can cause creation to happen without Himself being caused. The Bible, a book that Mormonism declares to be canonical, itself refutes the idea of three separate gods, and the idea that they are not eternal. On every page the Bible proclaims the infinity of the Triune Godhead. The Trinity will remain a mystery in the fact that we can never truly grasp how one God can be three persons. Though we cannot grasp it, it is not a logical fallacy (to be illogical God would have to be both one and not one at the same time, but this is not what the Trinity proclaims). The Orthodox view on the Trinity is the only logical and Biblical view; realizing this all we can do is fall on our knees and worship our infinite God who transcends our human understanding.
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