NOTE: This article is a slightly edited version of a chapter from my book Refuting the Critics: Evidences of the Book Of Mormon's Authenticity (Horizon Publishers, 1992). All references can be found in the book.
Does the Book of Mormon Teach Mormonism?
Answering the Anti-Mormon Claim that Unique LDS Doctrines
Are Not Taught in the Nephite Record
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Anti-Mormons assert that the Book of Mormon "contains almost no Mormonism" (Decker and Hunt 114). By this the critics mean to claim that none or almost none of the more unique doctrines of Mormonism can be found in the Nephite record (Decker and Hunt 114; J.L. Smith 23-30). In addition, anti-Mormons maintain that the Nephite text actually teaches a heretical doctrine of the Trinity. The purpose of this chapter is to show that such charges reflect a lack of knowledge of the Book of Mormon.
THREE UNIQUE LDS DOCTRINES IN THE BOOK OF MORMON
Let us now examine what the Nephite record says about three unique Mormon doctrines which critics assert are not found in the book, namely the pre-mortal existence, our potential for godhood, and the separation of the Father and the Son as two divine beings.
These are by no means the only unique LDS teachings in the Book of Mormon. Many other unique Mormon doctrines can be found in the Nephite record. Gilbert Scharffs has documented them at some length, and I would encourage those readers who are interested to consult his excellent discussion on this subject (48-60).
Our Pre-Mortal Life
According to Mormon teaching, all human beings lived as spirits with our Heavenly Father prior to being born on the earth . In other words, our spirits did not just suddenly come into existence the moment we were conceived or born; rather, before birth we lived as spirits in a pre-mortal existence, where we knew and loved each other and our Heavenly Father.
The doctrine of preexistence can be found in the Bible, in ancient Jewish sources, and in early Christian writings (Anderson 19, 37 n 2, 190, 262-266, 274-276, 397 n 43, 346-350; Hamerton-Kelly; Seaich 1980:4-17; J.F. McConkie).
This inspired teaching can also be found in the Book of Mormon. The Nephite record contains a number of passages which refer to the pre-mortal existence. They are as follows:
1 Nephi 10:18
2 Nephi 9:18
2 Nephi 27:10
3 Nephi 1:14
The phrase "from the foundation of the world" is used repeatedly
in these passages. Helaman 5 :47
makes it clear that this phrase refers to the pre-mortal existence. In this
verse the Father is speaking of the Son, and says, "Peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who
was from the foundation of the world." Significantly,
This is in perfect harmony with Joseph Smith's teaching that those men who are called to serve in priesthood positions in mortality were foreordained to that end in the preexistence:
Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before the world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. (365)
This does not mean that such men are predestined for those positions; rather, it means that they were prepared and identified for those callings in the preexistence and will receive them in mortality as long as they keep themselves worthy of them.
One of the most sublime and uplifting doctrines of the Restoration is that we have the potential to become like our Heavenly Father, i.e., to attain godhood.
This teaching is abundantly evidenced in the Bible and in numerous early Christian writings (Robinson 60-70; Evenson 49-60; Turner; K. Norman; Barlow; Griffith 48-51). This doctrine can also be found in the following Book of Mormon passages:
Alma 5:24: “Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?”
3 Nephi 28:10: “And for this cause ye shall have afulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am. . . .”
3 Nephi 12:48: “Therefore I would that ye should be aperfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”
3 Nephi 27:27: “And know ye that aye shall be bjudges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even das I am.”
Moroni 7:48: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true bfollowers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.”
Moroni 10:32-33: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”
The Savior was equally explicit. He told the Three Nephites that "your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fullness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am . . . ." ( 3 Nephi 28:10).
The Book Of Mormon vs. the LDS Doctrine Of God?
According to anti-LDS critics, the Book of Mormon not only endorses the
three-in-one trinitarian doctrine of the Godhead but
it goes so far as to teach the heresy of Sabellianism,
i.e., that the Father and the Son are simply different manifestations of the
same divine being. They base this accusation on passages like Mosiah 15:1-8 ("God Himself" shall come to redeem
His people; Jesus is called "Father and Son," who "are one God") and
The Book of Mormon does indeed contain verses, such as those cited above which, among other things, declare there is only one God. However, even just a cursory look at the rest of the Nephite record's statements on the Godhead makes it apparent that such passages are speaking in terms of position and type. When the Book of Mormon speaks of there being only one God, it is not saying there is only one deity in the Godhead, but that as far as we are concerned there is only one supreme God, our Heavenly Father, and that the members of the Godhead represent one God-type by acting in such perfect harmony that to deal with one is to in effect deal with the others (B. McConkie 1978:98-195, 304-369, 548-569).
One "one-God" passage which anti-Mormons seem to avoid is 1 Nephi 13 :41, where we read, ". . . there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth." Here it is clear that the term "one God" is positional in nature and is not intended to mean there is one and only one divine being in the Godhead.
An appreciation of the ancient law of agency is helpful when considering passages like Mosiah 15:1-8 and Alma 11:26-40, especially the former. In ancient times this law was expressed with the saying "A man's agent is like himself." In other words, a king's agent, for example, could speak fully in the king's name and was received as if he were literally the king himself. The law of agency was known and understood among the ancient Jews (Hurtado 17-39; see also below) . A.E. Harvey discusses this principle and its relevance to certain New Testament verses cited by some as proof of the three-in-one understanding of the Trinity:
Further precision [in explaining the relationship between Jesus and the Father] may be gained from the Jewish law of agency as it prevailed at the time. Agency was an effective way of conducting business only if the acts of the agent could be assumed to be approved by his principal, and therefore to bind the principal in respect to legal liability. To express this relationship, the maxim was coined "A man's agent is like himself;" that is to say, for the purpose of the transaction for which the agent was authorized, it was as if the principal agent himself were present, and the agent must receive the respect which would be due to the principal . . .
Indeed the same principle finds expression in the notion of an envoy "representing" the sovereign. If you knelt before him, you were kneeling, not to him, but to the absent king . . . .
That this procedure was sufficiently familiar to be used as a figure of speech is proved, not only by the saying in John's gospel, "the agent ('apostolos') is not greater than him who sent him" [John 13 :16], but by the rabbinic application of the term to Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel who acted as "agents". . . .
Now it so happens that a number of sayings attributed to Jesus and well-attested in different strands of the gospel tradition show Jesus to have spoken of himself as one who was "sent;" and in each case the context permits no doubt about what was meant: Jesus was sent by God. If then the one who claimed to be sent by God was acknowledged to be the Son of God, the title cannot but have carried the implication that he was also God's representative, God's "agent" [cf. Hebrews 3:1] It amounts to the recognition that how you respond to him [Christ] . . . is equivalent to how you respond to God himself. . . .
Accordingly, two resurrection appearances are recorded in which the presence of Jesus is acknowledged to amount to the presence of God himself (the disciples "prostrated themselves" in Mt. 28:17, and Thomas addressed him as "My Lord and my God," Jn. 20:28). . . .
Jesus, in his teaching, his prophetic actions, and in the obedience which led to his death, was acting as God's agent and representative on earth. It was as if, when he spoke and acted, God himself was present. In Luke's phrase, "God was with him;" in Paul's, "God was in Christ." (161-162, 166, 173)
As God's divine agent, the Savior can speak in the first person for the Father. In addition, He can be addressed by all of the titles suitable for the Father. In short, the Savior has the authority to act and be treated as if He were the Father Himself.
Therefore, when Abinadi said God Himself would come to earth, and when he referred to Christ as the Father and the Son (Mosiah 15:1-8; cf. 13:33-35), the Nephite prophet was simply saying that when Christ would come into the world, it would be as if the Father Himself were present; and, in this context, Abinadi could correctly refer to Jesus as the Father and the Son without denying the Savior's separateness from the Father.
The Father and the Son in the Book of Mormon: Two Separate Divine Beings
The Book of Mormon, like the New Testament, teaches in numerous places that Jesus and the Father are two separate persons and that the Savior is subordinate to His Heavenly Father.
In many places in the Nephite text, Jesus is referred to as "the Lamb of God." Below is a small sampling of such passages:
1 Nephi 10:10: “And after he had baptized the Messiah with water, he should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world.”
1 Nephi 13:33-34:
“Wherefore saith the Lamb of God: I will be
merciful unto the Gentiles, unto the visiting of the remnant of the house of
1 Nephi 12:18: “And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.”
2 Nephi 31:4-6: “Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world. And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water! And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water?”
Alma 7:14: “Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.”
The Book of Mormon also teaches that Jesus obeys His Father and that the Father and the Son each have their own will but are in perfect harmony with each other. Some of the verses which teach this include the following:
2 Nephi 31:7: “Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.”
3 Nephi 14:21: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
3 Nephi 1:14: “Behold, 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. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.”
3 Nephi 23:4: “Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.”
3 Nephi 11:11: “And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.”
Moroni 7:2: “And now I, Mormon, speak unto you, my beloved brethren; and it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy will, because of the gift of his calling unto me, that I am permitted to speak unto you at this time.”
Furthermore, the Book of Mormon speaks of times when Jesus prayed to the Father and when the Father referred to Jesus:
2 Nephi 31:11: “And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.”
Helaman 5:47: “Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.”
3 Nephi 11: 6-7: “And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them: Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name -- hear ye him.”
3 Nephi 17:14-17: “It came to pass that when they had knelt
upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled
because of the wickedness of the people of the house of
The Savior is identified as "the Son of God" scores of times in
the Book of Mormon (see, for example, 1 Nephi 10:17; 2 Nephi 25:16-19; Mosiah 3:8; Mosiah 4:2; Alma
36:18; Helaman 3:28; Helaman
14:12; 3 Nephi 9:15). In Helaman 5:10-11, we learn that the Savior "hath power
given unto him from the Father. . . ."
One of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon is Ether 12:41, which reads as follows:
And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may abide in you forever.
Significantly, while the Nephite text clearly
shows Jesus to be distinct from and subordinate to His Father. it also teaches that Christ is Yahweh (Jehovah), thus
evidencing the ancient Hebrew belief in El and Yahweh as two separate deities.
The Book of Mormon states that Jehovah-Christ will be our judge (3 Nephi
27:14-16; Mormon 3:20; 9:14;
Clearly, the charge that the Book of Mormon teaches three-in-oneism or Sabellianism is simply inaccurate.
It is ironic that fundamentalist anti-Mormons would make this charge against the Nephite record when their doctrine of the Godhead, three-in-one trinitarianism, is only a very thinly disguised version of the Sabellian heresy. In essence, Sabellianism is simply three-in-oneism carried to its logical conclusion.
The traditional trinitarian doctrine of the Godhead says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are each separate and distinct persons but that somehow they are literally one and the same God of one undivided substance. In such a Godhead, the members are not really "persons" but manifestations, which is what Sabellius taught.
The word "person" refers to a being who possesses his own will and who is aware of his existence and of the existence of others. None of the members of the three-in-one Godhead can be called a "person" in the normal sense of the word. It is as if I were to say, "My wife and daughter and I are three separate persons, but we are only one human being of one undivided substance."
If Jesus and the Father are really two separate persons who communicate with each other and who are aware of each other's existence, and if they are both divine members of a Godhead, then they are two separate deities.
While traditional trinitarianism gives lip service to the separateness of the persons in the Godhead, its core teaching of "only one God of one undivided substance" denies any real separation of the members of the Trinity. Although the New Testament plainly and clearly represents the Father and the Son as two separate and distinct divine beings, three-in-oneism rejects this teaching and portrays them as mere manifestations of a single deity who is of one undivided substance.
We have examined three unique LDS doctrines in the Book of Mormon: man's pre-mortal existence, man's potential for Godhood, and the separateness of the Father and the Son.
The presence of these teachings in the Nephite record refutes the charge that the book contains "almost no Mormonism." Moreover, the fact that these doctrines appear in the Book of Mormon is further evidence of its divine authenticity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael T. Griffith
holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a
Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military
University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two
Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air
Force. He also holds an Advanced
Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from