The Book of Mormon taught and still teaches a Trinitarian view of the Godhead. Joseph Smith’s early theology also held this view. As part of the over 100,000 changes to the Book of Mormon, there were major changes made to reflect Joseph’s evolved view of the Godhead.
This is an accusation often made by people who do not understand the Godhood as taught by the Book of Mormon and as Joseph Smith tried to teach it. Jeremy apparently is one who only understands the simplified doctrine of the Godhead, rather than the LDS/Book of Mormon more complete doctrine. Jeremy does not understand this whole doctrine, hence his cognitive dissonance. But Jeremy is not alone in this. Most LDS do not understand the actual doctrine.
Joseph Smith knew who the Godhead were, and what they were like. He had seen and met them face to face. The discrepancy here has to do with Joseph Smith’s limited ability to teach plain truths to members of the church. Not everyone could understand or were ready to accept this doctrine. And although it may sound like it to those who do not understand it, it is completely different than the “Trinitarian” view.
It is only a simplified understanding of the Godhead that appears to contradict with Joseph’s other teachings on the subject. If you understand the whole doctrine, there is no conflict. I do my best to explain this doctrine in my article entitled “Who Is Jesus Christ“.
ORIGINAL 1830 EDITION TEXT
CURRENT, ALTERED TEXT
And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.
And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!
And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father
And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world;
And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world;
These last records…shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world;
These last records…shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world;
Above Jeremy shows differences in the text of different editions of the Book of Mormon. Although such is not his point here, I want to briefly address the differences between the editions.
The ultimate authority when it comes to any changes made to the Book of Mormon text, is Royal Skousen. He spent twenty five years doing an independent study of every manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and every change made by the church in the text.
His expertise is deciphering mistakes by identifying patterns and ink flows in hand written texts. Yale University published a version of the Book of Mormon that was the culmination of his 25 year study of all of the manuscripts for every edition of the Book of Mormon. Royal calls his version “The Earliest Text” of the Book of Mormon, meaning “what Joseph Smith actually saw in the interpreters”.
About half way down the page, on the first page of this article (here CES Letter – My Response), you will find a three part video series where Royal Skousen goes over his 25 year study in depth, but makes it very easy to understand. It is really informative and totally answers every question regarding translation issues.
In addition to these revised passages, the following verses are among many verses still in the Book of Mormon that can be read with a Trinitarian view of the Godhead:
38: Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?
39: And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;
1: And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.
2: 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 –
3: The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son –
4: And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.
14: Behold, 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. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.
15: And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
Boyd Kirkland made the following observation:
The Book of Mormon and early revelations of Joseph Smith do indeed vividly portray a picture of the Father and Son as the same God…why is it that the Book of Mormon not only doesn’t clear up questions about the Godhead which have raged in Christianity for centuries, but on the contrary just adds to the confusion? This seems particularly ironic, since a major avowed purpose of the book was to restore lost truths and end doctrinal controversies caused by the “great and abominable Church’s” corruption of the Bible…In later years he [Joseph] reversed his earlier efforts to completely ‘monotheise’ the godhead and instead ‘tritheised’ it.
UPDATE: Additional information and analysis can be found at cesletter.org/trinitarian.
Assuming that the official 1838 first vision account is truthful and accurate, why would Joseph Smith hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead if he personally saw God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate and embodied beings a few years earlier in the Sacred Grove?
A lot of LDS members have this same question. Many understand the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three separate persons. But when they come to Book of Mormon scriptures that sound like the Trinity, they don’t know what to do with them. I used to feel that way too.
But again it is only a limited understanding of the Godhead, that causes this cognitive dissonance. There is no conflict once you understand the Godhead better. Jesus Christ is both the Father and the Son. I do my best to explain this doctrine in my article entitled “Who Is Jesus Christ“.
“Book Of Mormon Translation
“I will begin by saying that we still have pictures on our Ward bulletin boards of Joseph Smith with the Gold Plates in front of him. That has become an irksome point and I think it is something the church should pay attention to. Because anyone who studies the history knows that is not what happened. There is no church historian who says that is what happened and yet it is being propagated by the church and it feeds into the notion that the church is trying to cover up embarrassing episodes and is sort of prettifying its own history.
So, I think we ought to just stop that immediately. I am not sure we need a lot of pictures in our chapels of Joseph looking into his hat, but we certainly should tell our children that is how it worked… It’s weird. It’s a weird picture. It implies it’s like darkening a room when we show slides. It implies that there is an image appearing in that stone and the light would make it more difficult to see that image. So, that implies a translation that’s a reading and so gives us a little clue about the whole translation process. It also raises the strange question, ‘What in the world are the plates for? Why do we need them on the table if they are just wrapped up into a cloth while he looks into a seer stone?“
I disagree with Richard Bushman here. And since his point is similar to below I give my answer to both below. There is one thing I do want to address here though. A picture of Joseph Smith with his head in a hat to block out the light so he could see what the Lord was revealing to him is not “weird”. It is no more weird than it is to most of the world to hear that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ both appeared as two distinct separate beings in answer to Joseph’s prayer. It is only “weird” to brother Bushman because it was new to him. Had we all been brought up with those paintings instead of the others it would have seemed as normal as an angel giving a boy Golden plates. See the rest of my response below.
Unlike the story I’ve been taught in Sunday School, Priesthood, General Conferences, Seminary, EFY, Ensigns, Church history tour, Missionary Training Center, and BYU… Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat for translating the Book of Mormon.
In other words, Joseph used the same magic device or “Ouija Board” that he used during his treasure hunting days. He put a rock – called a “peep stone” – in his hat and put his face in the hat to tell his customers the location of buried treasure on their property. He also used this same method for translating the Book of Mormon, while the gold plates were covered, placed in another room, or even buried in the woods. The gold plates were not used for the Book of Mormon we have today.
Since learning this disturbing new information and feeling betrayed, I have been attacked and gaslighted by revisionist Mormon apologists claiming that it’s my fault and the fault of anyone else for not knowing this. “The information was there all along,” they say. “You should’ve known this,” they claim.
Respected LDS historian and scholar Richard Bushman, as quoted above, understands the problem. Unlike these gaslighting revisionist apologists, he has compassion, understanding, and empathy for those who are shocked to learn this faith challenging information.
In 2000, two BYU religion professors, Joseph Fielding McConkie (son of Elder Bruce R. McConkie) and Craig J. Ostler, wrote an essay titled, “The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon.” They wrote:
Thus, everything we have in the Book of Mormon, according to Mr. Whitmer, was translated by placing the chocolate-colored stone in a hat into which Joseph would bury his head so as to close out the light. While doing so he could see ‘an oblong piece of parchment, on which the hieroglyphics would appear,’ and below the ancient writing, the translation would be given in English. Joseph would then read this to Oliver Cowdery, who in turn would write it. If he did so correctly, the characters and the interpretation would disappear and be replaced by other characters with their interpretation.
After laying the groundwork, the professors continue:
Finally, the testimony of David Whitmer simply does not accord with the divine pattern. If Joseph Smith translated everything that is now in the Book of Mormon without using the gold plates, we are left to wonder why the plates were necessary in the first place. It will be remembered that possession of the plates placed the Smith family in considerable danger, causing them a host of difficulties. If the plates were not part of the translation process, this would not have been the case. It also leaves us wondering why the Lord directed the writers of the Book of Mormon to take a duplicate record of the plates of Lehi. This provision which compensated for the loss of the 116 pages would have served no purpose either.
Further, we would be left to wonder why it was necessary for Moroni to instruct Joseph each year for four years before he was entrusted with the plates. We would also wonder why it was so important for Moroni to show the plates to the three witnesses, including David Whitmer. And why did the Lord have the Prophet show the plates to the eight witnesses? Why all this flap and fuss if the Prophet didn’t really have the plates and if they were not used in the process of translation?
What David Whitmer is asking us to believe is that the Lord had Moroni seal up the plates and the means by which they were to be translated hundreds of years before they would come into Joseph Smith’s possession and then decided to have the Prophet use a seer stone found while digging a well so that none of these things would be necessary after all. Is this, we would ask, really a credible explanation of the way the heavens operate?
Jeremy’s whole plight he describes here is the result of him as well as other members of the Church, including the professors he quotes, not understanding the whole translation process themselves. Of course Jeremy could not be expected to have understood it all growing up, when even BYU professors and leaders of the LDS church did not.
As usual Jeremy ascribes all of this confusion to a giant conspiracy to deceive. However the truth is the exact processes used in the translation process was not commonly known in Joseph’s day. It was not something Joseph talked about. Only those who assisted with the translation really knew the process.
There were most likely those Joseph confided in about the specifics, but they likely didn’t talk about it much either. It is clear from this topic, as well as from the confusion regarding exactly where the Book of Mormon lands are, that even some of the first few who succeeded Joseph as President of the church were not completely clear on either of these issues either. And as such the knowledge does not seem to have been passed on.
It was not until many decades later as the church began to gather and collect as many of the personal documents written by the early members of the church as they could, that much of this information was gained. And according to Hyrum Andrus, it was not until he started working at BYU (which I assume would be sometime during the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s), that the church started going through the many stacks of boxes of documents they had collected. Hyrum says he was the first to go through much of it.
And as has been mentioned several times above, it was not until Royal Skousen did his 25 year study that we finally have someone that went through all of the transcripts (especially with his level of expertise) and really got a handle on exactly how the translation processes occurred.
So down through the years as people told the stories of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon they made their own assumptions about the processes. And traditions started developing (including church paintings etc.) as to how things went down. And because many or most got it wrong, does not mean that such errors were intentional.
The Need For The Plates
I disagree with the logic of the BYU religion professors Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler quoted above. Royal Skousen had not completed his 25 year study yet and they obviously had their own opinions on how the translation process occurred. When they suggest that if Joseph Smith did not read the characters off of the plates that there would be no need for him to have the plates, I don’t agree.
We now know that Joseph used the seer stone and interpreters while they were in his hat, and that he did not look directly at the plates. And we also know that Moroni showed the plates to the witnesses, and Joseph Smith risked his life getting and protecting the plates. So there must have been a reason he needed to have them.
Perhaps having the plates themselves gave Joseph Smith the faith he needed to get the interpretation. Perhaps the trials associated with Joseph procuring and protecting the plates were needed trials necessary for Joseph and other early saints to go through and learn from. Perhaps the witnesses seeing the plates themselves, and the validity this ads to Joseph’s story, was another reason the Lord gave Joseph custody for a time of the actual plates. The one thing I am certain of is God knows why He wanted Joseph to have the plates.