"Many Gods" is False. There is ONLY ONE God: Jesus Christ, the Eternal Father of Heaven & earth!
Next to Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon was the most influential early Mormon. He imported Reformed Baptist teachings into Latter-day Saint theology and the Ohio temple dedicatory address. Rigdon's influence on those who had been followers of him and Campbell turned very many into followers of Joseph Smith and himself. In the Kirtland, Mentor, Hiram area of northern Ohio, Campbell lost a significant following to the Mormons because it clearly taught that Jesus was, in fact, Heavenly Father and there was only One God (Sabellianism).The first vision by the Angel Moroni happened the same year David Millard published his book, The True Messiah.
Rigdon wanted to canonize the Book of Mormon to the Roman Catholic Biblical beliefs of the Godhead (Trinitarians).He did it by creating a 1st Presidency over the 12 Apostles, like the Emperor Constantine was over the “bishop” of Rome (Pope).
Following Smith's death, Rigdon parted company with Brigham Young to lead his own group of some 500 secessionists Mormons in Pennsylvania because of polygamy. Rigdon's following gradually dwindled, as the one-time orator took to wandering the streets, taunting indifferent passersby with God's word. He was later recruited by another Mormon faction. Although he refused to meet with them, he agreed to be their prophet and send revelations by mail. Before long he had directed them to settle far-off Iowa and Manitoba, among other things. At his death, his followers numbered in the hundreds, and today they number about 10,000, mostly in Pennsylvania.
The heterodox view of God which theologians refer to as Modalism (or Sabellianism) was also included in the theological discussion preoccupying early nineteenth-century America. Sabellius was a third-century heretic who held that "the Son Himself is the Father, and vise versa."1 Modalists conceived the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as three modes or expressions of the one God. A favorite illustration is taken from the sun: just as the sun is round and bright and hot but is actually one sun, not three realities, so we perceive a certain threeness in God, although in actuality he is one being.2 Modalism thus differs from orthodox definitions of the Godhead in that it does not distinguish between the "person" of the Father and the "person" of the Son. In other words, the Father not only begets the Son but becomes the Son; Jesus is literally both Son and Father. This position is also sometimes called "patripassianism," because the Father in the person of the Son suffers on the cross.
David Millard, who spent a great deal of time combatting trinitarianism in western New York, described in 1818 "some Trinitarians" who "reject the term person, and instead of this, use the term mode, or office: and hold that the Trinity consists in one God, acting in three distinct offices."
3 In 1823 Millard's well-known book, The True Messiah, was published in Canandaigna, New York. This 214-page treatise on the Godhead not only presents Millard's binitarian views but also contains his reasons for rejecting trinitarianism, including "Sabellianism." After describing the position of the ancient Sabellians, Millard noted: "A great part of Trinitarians are now on the same ground, viz. that one God only acts in three distinct offices. They sometimes indeed call those offices persons, as they say for want of a better term, but when confuted upon the ground of three persons, they immediately assert that God acts in three offices, which is direct Sabellianism. It is therefore worthy of remark, how near many Trinitarians approach to the old doctrine of Sabellianism."4
The Book of Mormon appeared in March 1830 against this backdrop of theological debate. The book's express purpose was to correct false doctrine current in nineteenth-century America (2 Ne. 3:12). It is therefore impossible to understand the earliest Mormon concept of God without reconstructing the social and theological context in which Mormonism emerged. How does the Book of Mormon's theology compare with the various views of God being debated at the time of its publication? How did the Book of Mormon's first readers interpret its position on the subject? How was the Book of Mormon's theology viewed by its opponents? Was its theology orthodox, heterodox, or unique?
Those in the early nineteenth century who took the time to closely examine the Book of Mormon recognized that its theology was far from orthodox. Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy, recalled that shortly after the Book of Mormon was published the Methodists "rage[d]" at its concept of God because it conflicted with their creed.5 As late as 1837, one outsider commented on the Book of Mormon's unorthodox view of God.6 There were legitimate reasons for the first readers of the Book of Mormon to conclude that its theology conflicted with orthodox creeds.
Modern students of the Book of Mormon have reached the same conclusion, even if they differ on what exactly the Book of Mormon proposes. Perhaps the least likely comparison has been between Book of Mormon theology and Unitarianism7--least likely, because the Book of Mormon is Christ-centered and repeatedly affirms the deity of Jesus (title page; 1 Ne. 11:13-21; Mos. 15:1; Eth. 2:12) and the doctrine of vicarious atonement (Mos. 3:11, 15-16). No one has so far considered a comparison to the binitarianism or "dynamic" monarchianism of the Christian Connection. These Primitivists, unlike Unitarians, would have agreed with the Book of Mormon's position on Jesus' atonement but rejected its outspoken assertion that Jesus is God.
As suggested, most modern scholars have concluded that both the Book of Mormon and the early Mormon concept of God was closest to trinitarianism. Those who see trinitarianism in the Book of Mormon usually refer to 3 Nephi, where the resurrected Jesus declares to the Nephites: "I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me . . . for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one" (11:32, 36; compare l Jn. 5:7).
8 However, all theological positions on the Godhead include the concept of oneness. Trinitarians and modalists interpret unity passages literally, while binitarians, bitheists, and Unitarians interpret them allegorically. Thus the important question becomes in what sense the Book of Mormon speaks of the oneness of the Godhead. That the Book of Mormon includes passages about the oneness of God does not necessarily establish it as trinitarian.9
A major difficulty in defining the Book of Mormon as trinitarian is its failure to clearly distinguish between the person of the Father and the person of the Son. This is especially apparent when the book declares that Jesus is both Father and Son. Passages which speak of the Father sending the Son (Al. 14:5; 3 Ne. 27:13-14; 26:5) do not necessarily support a trinitarian view and should be understood in light of Ether 4:12: "He that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father." In other words, Jesus as the Father sent himself into the world to redeem his people. Nor do passages which speak of the Son being prepared from before the foundation of the earth (Mos. 18:13) necessarily imply two persons existing before the incarnation. Consider the following: "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" (Eth. 3:14). The Book of Mormon therefore violates a major tenet of trinitarianism by confusing the persons of the Father and Son and by referring to Jesus as the Father.
However, such ambiguities do suggest that the view of God which comes closest to that of the Book of Mormon is modalism or Sabellianism.10 Modalistic elements such as the literal oneness of the Godhead, the Father becoming the Son, and patripassianism are clearly expressed in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon's description of the incarnation is congruent with the patripassianism of modalism. King Benjamin, for example, tells his people that "the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay. . . . And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning" (Mos. 3:5, 8).
Other passages make it clear that Jesus is literally the Father. As a pre-mortal spirit being, Jesus appeared to the brother of Jared and declared: "I am the Father and the Son" (Eth. 3:14) and "He that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father" (4:12). Jesus further explained, "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" (3:16).
Similarly, Nephi's experience near the time of Jesus' birth suggested the same identity between Jesus and the Father. Samuel the Lamanite had predicted the signs which would precede Jesus' birth, that his people "might know of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning" (He. 14:12). On the day previous to Jesus' birth, the "voice of the Lord" came to Nephi: "I come . . . 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" (3 Ne. 1:14, my emphasis).
The first part of the Book of Mormon describes the "condescension of God" (1 Ne. 11:16, 26). But the first edition of the book gives a much more literal reading of the incarnation than do later editions. Nephi, for example, is told that the "virgin" which he saw in vision was "the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh."
11 When Nephi sees the virgin "bearing a child in her arms," the angel declares, "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father."12
The Book of Mormon expresses the literal oneness demanded by modalism. Zeerom, for example, asked Amulek two important questions on the nature of the Godhead. First: "Is there more than one God?", to which Amulek answered, "No." Second: "Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?", to which Amulek answered, "Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth . . . and he shall come into the world to redeem his people" (Al. 11:28-29, 38-39). Thus the Book of Mormon was written to prove that "JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD" (title page).
Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi also explained the oneness of the Father and the Son in words that modalists would easily understand: "God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. 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--the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son--and they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. . . . Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father" (Mos. 15:1-5,7).
Joseph Smith's recitals of his first vision began to reflect the same view of the Godhead. In his 1832 history, Smith described only one personage appearing to him: "I saw the Lord [presumably Jesus Christ] and he spake unto me saying . . . behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world."13 This version was congruent with the Book of Mormon's theology. However, Edward Stevenson recalled hearing Smith describe to "large congregations" in 1834 "the visit of the Father and the Son, and the conversation he had with them."14 When Smith related his experience in 1835, he not only said that "a personage appeared in the midst of [a] pillar of flame" but that "another personage soon appeared like unto the first."15 After this Smith's recitals of his first vision--his 1838 history, his 1842 letter to John Wentworth, and various public statements--conformed to the definition of the Godhead outlined in the lectures.16
When Joseph Smith was preparing to publish a second edition of the Book of Mormon in 1837, he revised several passages to reflect this new understanding of the Godhead. Mary was no longer the "mother of God" but rather the "mother of the Son of God" (1 Ne. 11:18). Passages referring to Jesus as the "Eternal Father" and "Everlasting God" were also modified with the addition of "Son of" (1 Ne. 11:21, 32; 13:40). Although these changes were not systematically made throughout the entire Book of Mormon, they nevertheless indicate that Mormon thinking had undergone revision.
On December 6, 1870 Sidney Rigdon wrote a warning letter to the People of Utah claiming his Pennsylvania church had the authority of God, through Joseph Smith.Rigdon was a counselor to Joseph Smith with Hyrum Smith as the other counselor in 1844.His son, Wickliffe Rigdon, was living in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, then a practicing attorney.He asked Brigham Young to allow his father to move to Utah and spend the last days of his life in peace.When Sidney demanded $100,000 or else, communication ceased.Rigdon died in 1876 attempting to destroy everything what Joseph Smith had been given by the Lord, especially the Book of Mormon.He then supported many anti-Mormon groups (mostly Baptist groups, practicing baptism by immersion) and signed an affidavit before his death.In 1994Utah attorney Richard S. Van Wagoner published a book, Sidney Rigdon:A Portrait of Religious Excess which is the best historical record of this 1831 convert to Mormonism.(January, 1870, a group of intelligent Mormons, called the "Godbeites", lead by prominent Mormons such as Amasa Lyman, whom had difficulties with Brigham Young's strong control over too many aspects of life in Utah (such as polygamy; evil and an abomination as taught in the Book of Mormon), created a news paper which became the organ of the Liberal (non-Mormon) Party, for 20 years until polygamy was banished in the Church.
The Anti-Mormon Churches attempted to prove by the concurrent testimony of seventeen witnesses, one of them Sidney Rigdon himself, that 1816 Solomon Spaulding wrote a romance called the "Manuscript Found;" that he wrote three drafts or manuscripts of this romance and part of another before his death. Since 1840 claims stated that the "Manuscript Found" had in it features found in the Book of Mormon.All were proven untrue in 1885.
In the year 1885, Mr. James H. Fairchild, President of Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, was visiting at Honolulu.Mr. Fairchild says:“The theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon in the traditional manuscript of Solomon Spaulding, will probably have to be relinquished….During a recent visit to Honolulu, I suggested to Mr. Rice that he might have valuable anti-slavery documents in his possession which he would be willing to contribute to the rich collection already in the Oberlin College Library. In pursuance of this suggestion Mr. Rice began looking over his old pamphlets and papers, and at length came upon an old, worn, and faded manuscript of about one hundred and seventy-five pages,….On the last page of this manuscript is a certificate and signature, giving the names of several persons known to the signer, who have assured him that, to their personal knowledge, the manuscript was the writing of Solomon Spalding…..Mr. Rice, myself, and others compared it with the Book of Mormon, and could detect no resemblance between the two, in general or in detail.”
1. According to Dionysius, bishop of Rome in the mid-third century, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 7:365. The third-century heretic Noetus also believed that "Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died" (5:223). 2. The example of the sun comes from Sabellius himself. See, for example, John McClintock and James Strong, eds., Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894), 9:202. See also David Millard, The True Messiah Exalted (Canandaigna, NY, 1818), 36. 3. Millard, True Messiah Exalted (1818), 8. 4. Millard, True Messiah (1823), 36. 5. Lucy [Mack] Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), 146. 6. See Christian Palladium, l6 Jan. 1837; 1 Sept. 1837; l5 Jan. 1838. 7. George B. Arbaugh, "Evolution of Mormon Doctrine," Church History 9 June 1940), 158, 169; Robert N. Hullinger, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon (St. Louis: Clayton Publishing House, 1980), 153. 8. The passage in 1 John 5:7 does not appear in any of the early manuscripts of the New Testament and is believed to have been added after the second century by advocates of trinitarianism. See George Arthur Buttrick, et al., The Interpreter's Bible, 12 vols. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), 12:293-94. 9. In addition, as Van Hale has pointed out, the Book of Mormon never describes the Godhead using trinitarian definitions such as three persons or one "substance" ("Trinitarianism and the Earliest Mormon Concept of God," 7). 10. This is also the conclusion of at least two other researchers: Hale, "Defining the Mormon Doctrine of Deity," 27; and Mark Thomas, "Scholarship and the Future of the Book of Mormon," Sunstone 5 (May-June 1980): 25, 26, 28n5. 11. Joseph Smith, Jr., The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), 25. This passage was changed in the 1837 edition to read "the mother of the Son of God" (1 Ne. 11:18).
12. Ibid. This passage was changed in the 1837 edition to read: "the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father" (1 Ne. 11:21).
13. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 6; compare Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 5-6. 14. Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, The Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, 1893), 4. 15. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 159. 16. For various accounts of the first vision, see ibid., 155-81.
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