“How can we explain passages in the Book of Mormon that seem to indicate that there is only one God and that he is a spirit only?” Tambuli, Apr.–May 1986, 17–19
Roy W. Doxey, assistant in the office of the Council of the Twelve and dean emeritus of Religious Instruction, Brigham Young University.
Readers of the Book of Mormon are sometimes concerned with passages that seem to contradict LDS doctrine on the Godhead. But when we look at these passages in context, along with teachings found throughout the book, we find that the Book of Mormon does indeed teach that God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings and that the Father and the Son are not personages of spirit.
Is there more than one God? The question is often raised in response to Alma chapter 11, where Zeezrom, a critic, is contending with the missionary Amulek:
“Now Zeezrom was a man who was expert in the devices of the devil, that he might destroy that which was good; therefore, he said unto Amulek: Will ye answer the questions which I shall put unto you?
“And Amulek said unto him: Yea, if it be according to the Spirit of the Lord, which is in me; for I shall say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord. And Zeezrom said unto him: Behold, here are six onties of silver, and all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being. …
“And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God?
“And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God.
“Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?
“And he answered, No.
“Now Zeezrom said unto him again: How knowest thou these things?
“And he said: An angel hath made them known unto me.” (Alma 11:21–22, 26–31.)
In order to understand Amulek’s statement, we must look at the full context. Throughout most of their history, many Israelites (forefathers of the Nephites) were eager to accept the numerous pagan gods of the Egyptians and Canaanites. Although the Book of Mormon is silent about the specific apostate notions held by the people in Zeezrom’s city of Ammonihah, it is clear that some apostate Nephites of Alma’s time were idolatrous—as some of their Israelite fathers had been. When Alma, Amulek’s missionary companion, was chief judge as well as high priest over the church, he helped to establish a strong and faithful body of church members. Nevertheless, “those who did not belong to their church did indulge themselves in sorceries, and in idolatry.” (Alma 1:32.) Apostasy was such a problem that Alma later gave up the judgment seat, “that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them.” (Alma 4:19.)
As a missionary, Alma found that many of the people were steeped in idolatry. He discovered, for example, that the people in the city of Zoram “were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols.” (Alma 31:1.)
This is the context, then, of the discussion Alma and Amulek had with Zeezrom. Seen in this light, Amulek’s answer is completely understandable and, of course, correct: There is only one “true and living God”—who shares none of his godhood with the hosts of false gods invented by man.
Of course Amulek knew that there are three separate personages in the Godhead and that they are one in purpose. He declared to Zeezrom that in time all will be brought before the judgment bar of “Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God.” (Alma 11:44.) Since the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in purpose, mission, and glory with the “true and living God,” the three are indeed “one Eternal God.”
Following Amulek’s discussion with Zeezrom, Alma, “seeing that the words of Amulek had silenced Zeezrom, … opened his mouth and began to speak unto him, and to establish the words of Amulek, and to explain things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done.” (Alma 12:1.) In the course of explaining “things beyond” to Zeezrom, Alma made the concept of Godhead even clearer:
“God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;
“Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins.” (Alma 12:33–34; italics added.)
Here is clarification of the truth that God and his Only Begotten Son are separate and distinct from each other—and it is found within Alma and Amulek’s discussion with Zeezrom.
It is interesting that Amulek’s statement about one “true and living God” is similar to one given by Paul in a similar context. “We know that an idol is nothing in the world,” Paul told the Corinthians, “and that there is none other God but one.
“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (1 Cor. 8:4–6.) Like Amulek, Paul declared that there is only one God—the Father. But he also testified of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, the distinction between the Father and the Son is clearly illustrated. For example, immediately before Christ’s appearance to the Nephites after his resurrection, the people heard the voice of the Father proclaiming: “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.” Then they “cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven”—the Son, Jesus Christ. (See 3 Ne. 11:7–8.) This experience is similar to the Bible’s accounts of the Savior’s baptism and transfiguration, in which the Father spoke from the heavens, acknowledging his Beloved Son who was on earth. (See Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:5.)
The oneness of the Godhead in purpose (the salvation of man) is also illustrated in both the Book of Mormon and the Bible. In the Book of Mormon, the resurrected Christ prayed:
“Father, I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me out of the world, because of their faith, that they may be purified in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one, that I may be glorified in them.” (3 Ne. 19:29.)
The Bible records a similar prayer that the Savior uttered during his ministry in Palestine. (See John 17:11, 21–22.) On both occasions Jesus was praying for a oneness in purpose for all the disciples as the Father and he were one in purpose—not in essence or substance.
Is the Son of God the Eternal Father? Zeezrom sought to confuse the issue by asking, “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?
“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;
“And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name.” (Alma 11:38–40.)
The Book of Mormon makes it clear that although Jesus Christ is the Son of God, there are some ways in which he is our Father. In one way, he is the Father of the earth, since he created it under the Father’s direction. King Benjamin declared, for example, that the Savior “shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning.” (Mosiah 3:8; italics added.)
This is not new doctrine. Biblical prophets also testified that the Son was the Creator of the heaven and earth. John bore witness that “all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3.) Paul declared that by the Son “were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth.” (Col. 1:16.) But it is also clear that the Son acted as the Father’s agent; Paul wrote to the Ephesians of “God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 3:9.)
Jesus Christ is the Father in another way as well. For those who accept the gospel, he becomes their Father by adoption and covenant in their new relationship with him. Abinadi alluded to this relationship when he spoke of the seed of Jesus—the prophets and “those who have hearkened unto their words.” (See Mosiah 15:10–13.) King Benjamin also made this relationship clear: “Because of the covenant which ye have made,” he told a group of repentant Nephites, “ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.” (Mosiah 5:7.) Thus, Jesus Christ becomes the Father of the righteous through adoption.
Jesus Christ is also the Father because the Eternal Father gave him authority to represent him. The resurrected Christ taught the Nephites that they should pray to the Father in his name because he and the Father are one. (See 3 Ne. 20:31, 35.) Jesus had also taught his disciples in Palestine that “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30); yet he declared that “my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), and that “I am come in my Father’s name” (John 5:43).
Is God a spirit? Some readers of the Book of Mormon have been concerned that in two passages God is called a “Great Spirit.” Again, it is important to see these passages in context.
When Ammon was teaching the Lamanite king Lamoni, he asked: “Believest thou that there is a God?
“And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
“And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
“And he said, Yea.
“And Ammon said: This is God.” (Alma 18:24–28.)
On another occasion, when Ammon’s brother, Aaron, was teaching Lamoni’s father, the king said: “Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem?
“And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth.” (Alma 22:9–10.)
In these instances, Ammon and Aaron simply accepted the kings’ definition of God as sufficient until the kings could be taught a broader basis of truth, upon which further information could be built.
But were the missionaries teaching false doctrine? No; both kings were taught that the “Great Spirit” was the creator of all things in heaven and in earth—Jesus Christ. As Jehovah, the premortal Jesus Christ was a spirit being who, at that time, could properly have been referred to as a Great Spirit, the Creator of all things.
The Book of Mormon makes known the doctrine of the physical reality of the Father and the Son, dispelling any notion that they are spirit beings. For example, when the Brother of Jared saw the spirit body of the premortal Christ, the Lord said, “Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
“Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.” (Ether 3:15–16.)
Two millennia later, Jehovah entered earth life, his spirit joining his mortal body, thus taking upon himself the physical image of God, the same “image after which man was created in the beginning.” (Mosiah 7:27.)
When the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem and in America, he invited them to thrust their hands into his side and to feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet. (See John 20:27; 3 Ne. 11:14.) Then, at the close of his visits with the Nephites, the physically resurrected Lord said, “And now I go unto the Father.” (3 Ne. 27:28.)
Although the Book of Mormon is an abridgment containing not even “the hundredth part” of what could have been included (see W of M 1:5), it contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the true doctrine of the Godhead.