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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

Guest Post: Christian Trinity and LDS Godhead- Finding Commonality

The following is a guest post by a friend of mine on Twitter. You should follow him, his takes are quite good. @JoshNaa2gez. The following is from his twitter account. ---------------

Guys, I don’t think the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and the LDS doctrine of the Godhead are actually that far off from one another.

Hear me out…

Opponents of the Trinity doctrine (which, I am one), often misstate it. It’s not believed the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are the same person. Rather, it’s said they’re the same “God,” but different “persons” with separate consciousness.

Take a look at this diagram representing the Trinity… Replace “God” with “Godhead,” and you could probably use this in an LDS Sunday School class.

In fact, you might get away without editing it at all…

Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil. - Alma 11:44

So, let’s clarify a bit… What does Trinity doctrine mean when it says “three persons, but one god?”

They mean that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three distinct persons, or centers of consciousness, but they are one in essence. So, what is true of one is true of all… but not in their characteristics, but in their essence… that which makes them fundamentally what they are is the same. For instance, they have the same divine will, and do not act independently.

Oddly, another way to say this is found in this essay published by the Latter-day Saints:

Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.- Gospel Topics Essays- Godhead CLICK HERE

Here’s my theory…

LDS theology is unique in that it espouses a God who is obedient to eternal law. By contrast, mainline Christianity says that God is the one who determines the laws and is not bound himself.

But, hang on, we’re actually describing different things when we say “God.” When Latter-day Saints say “God” is obedient to law, what they mean is God the Father is obedient to law (and also the Son and Holy Ghost are obedient).

So, if we were to map out the LDS concept, you’d see Father, Son, and Holy Ghost- separate persons, separate consciousness- and above them, a disembodied law, which they all must follow. Similar to Trinity doctrine, the 3 persons of the LDS Godhead could not break these eternal laws, because it’s not who they are. It would be contrary to their “essence.”

I believe this is what the BOM means when it says that, if God defied the laws of justice, he would “cease to be God” (Alma 42:13). I don’t believe that verse is saying God might, in reality, cease to be God at some future point… Rather, it’s saying that to defy justice would be contrary to God’s very nature… to what he is… to his “essence.”I’m realizing, now, that the Trinity doctrine teaches something very similar, but with different words.

When Latter-day Saints say God is subject to law, it rubs mainline Christians the wrong way. But that statement, in effect, means the same thing as when other Christians say “the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one, triune God.”

------------- Jacob's commentary...

I have had similar sentiments for a long time. The reality is that when Latter Day Saints or other Christians use the word "God" we often are describing different things and thus talking past each other. Latter Day Saints (and even our scriptures) will use the word to describe... 1) The Father 2) The Son 3) The Holy Ghost 4) The Race of Divine Beings 6) Divinity Itself 7) The Godhead 8) The Eternal Law that even the father is subject to and thus the truly highest power. Etc And while there are meaningful differences often these differences are not as radical as some might think. For example often I believe that when mainline Christians describe God as the greatest conceivable entity that is an immaterial, timeless, spaceless all powerful force it sounds a lot like they are describing eternal law which in our metaphysics is even greater than the father, as he is subject to it. On the other hand at times they will describe God in terms that seem to describe a nature, rather than a person. And in this sense we might use the word Godhood where they just use the word God, but both are describing a nature that is shared by the three members of the Godhead/Trinity. Trinitarians do not believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same person. And saints should stop straw manning trinitarianism. Instead Trinitarians believe in 3 persons who share one being or essence. And this is where the real issue begins. Trinitarians cannot explain how 3 persons could share 1 being in a way that still results in GOD being a personal being. Instead they end up describing A NATURE rather than A PERSON. They try and separate individual personhood from individual being. But to be an individual person that means you must have your own being. Sure you can share a nature with other persons. For instance I share my human nature with all other human beings but we are still individual beings and persons. The key to handling trinitarian arguments is to press for definitions of person, being, nature, essence etc. When you push for definitions you will find that they either won't provide them or they provide ones that cannot define being in such a way that allows for 3 individual persons to share it without conflating being and nature. Ultimately, when pressed most trinitarians will appeal to mystery and say it's just something we can't comprehend and thus avoid dealing with the incoherence of their own definitions. One final point... People should understand why there is this need in scripture to say "God is one". Those who think that God being one means they share the the same being are reading the text outside of its original context. In the context of the ancient world, polytheistic Gods battled each other for supremacy. Thus, you can see there was a need to explain that the Father Son and Holy Spirit were not like this (even though they all were fully divine beings). So the new testament writers said that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were one as a way to convey that they were not rivals with their own agendas like Zeus, Hera and Apollo but rather were one in purpose, will, and love. They were conveying the idea of a Godhead but using the word "one God" to describe it because a term like "Godhead" did not exist. They were conveying a notion like that of ONE presidency or executive council made up of a hierarchy of 3 distinct but unified persons that governed all things. This notion of a hierarchy of a perfectly unified divine trio coincides exactly with what Jesus speaks of in John 17 when he prays that his apostles will be one as he and the father are one. He was praying that they would

join in the divine unity of will and relationship that is shared among the members of the Godhead. They would always be subject to the father (as he was) and thus lower than the Godhead in the hierarchy but would join them in the divine life, relationship and unity thus share in the characteristics and nature that the father has.

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