When one examines the Book of Mormon and its teachings, what is interesting is that the Book of Mormon does not contain distinct LDS doctrine. The doctrinal essentials, according to Mormonism, which lead to salvation, are not the same essentials as taught in 1830. Why? Because Joseph Smith changed his teachings, with no explanation to the Mormon people.
The Book of Mormon for example, does not teach: God is an exalted man with a body of flesh and bones; the plurality of Gods; a Mother God in Heaven; Celestial, Terrestrial and Telestial heavens; Baptism for the Dead; Celestial marriage; the Law of Eternal Progression; Exaltation (i.e., man becoming a God); the Aaronic Priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood and the doctrine of Pre-existence.
These are distinctive LDS teachings that Mormons pride themselves on, but why then, do we not find these teachings before 1832? If Joseph Smith was speaking as God’s “prophet,” then what he taught in 1830 should be consistent with was is taught today by the Mormon Church. Truth does not change.
Early Teachings of Joseph Smith vs. Latter Teachings
One God or Many Gods?
“Testimony of the Three Witnesses”:
And honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God (Book of Mormon, Introduction).
Book of Mormon (1830):
And now, behold this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen” (2 Nephi 31:21; emphasis added).
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. And 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 11:26-31; emphasis added).
Doctrine and Covenants:
In the early sections of the LDS scripture, Doctrine and Covenants, are clear teachings that there is only one eternal God:
By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them. . . . Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end (20:17; 1830; emphasis added).1
Smith wrote the Book of Mormon by 1830 and these early sections of Doctrine and Covenants were written in the same year. However, when we read the later sections we find that Smith’s teaching of one God radically changed:
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore they shall be from everlasting to everlasting, because the continue; then they shall be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject to them (132:20; 1843; emphasis added).
Pearl of Great Price:
We also find this doctrinal switching in the LDS scripture Pearl of Great Price. In the first book of the Pearl of Great Price is the book of Moses. The book of Moses text is an excerpt from Smith’s own translation of the Bible called the Inspired Version,2 which is from 1830.
And I, God said: Let there be light . . . And I, God saw the light . . . And I, God called the light Day; and the darkness, I called Night. . . . (Moses, 2:3-5; emphasis added)
And I, God made two great lights . . . And I, God set them in the firmament of the heaven . . . And I, God, said; Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life. . . . (ibid., 16-17, 20; emphasis added).
However, when you turn to the next book (Abraham) in the Pearl of Great Price, you find something very interesting. When we compare the same verses in Abraham (ch. 4 was penned in 1842) with the book of Moses (penned in 1830) we find Smith’s doctrinal switching most obvious:
And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light . . . And they (the Gods) comprehended the light. . . . And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night. . . . (Abraham, 4:3-5; emphasis added).
And the Gods organized the two great lights . . . And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens… And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life. . . . (ibid., 16-17, 20; emphasis added)
These are only a few examples of the verse-to-verse comparisons of the book of Moses (ch. 2) and Abraham (ch. 4).
The point is: the word “God” is singular throughout Moses chapter 2 and in the book of Abraham, which is, almost verbatim, the same account as in Moses, the word “God” is changed to “Gods” (“Gods” 47 times in ch. 4). Keep in mind that Smith penned this section of the book of Abraham in 1842 and Moses is from 1830.
Joseph Smith started out, in 1830, teaching that there is only one God but by 1844, Smith is declaring full-blown polytheism (i.e., many Gods):
I will preach on the plurality of Gods… I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. . . . Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods (Joseph Fielding Smith, ed. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370; given August 15, 1844; emphasis added).
Here then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priest to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one. . . . (ibid., 346; emphasis added).
God is Spirit
Along with Monotheism, that is, the belief in one God, Joseph Smith also started out teaching that God is spirit. And, just as he changed his doctrine of one God to many Gods, Smith, changed his teaching that God is spirit to the Father has a body of flesh and bones (cf. D&C, 130:22). But, to be sure, Smith did teach, early on, that God is spirit.
Book of Mormon:
And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth. Believeth thou this? (Alma 22:10)
Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou are holy, and that thou wast spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever (Alma 31:15; emphasis added)
Doctrine and Covenants:
The original 1835 edition of Doctrine and Covenants contained a section called: Lectures on Faith. This section had about 68 pages and more than 20, 000 words. However, this section is now missing from the current edition of Doctrines and Covenants. The entire Lectures on Faith have subsequently been removed from both the RLDS and LDS Doctrine and Covenants. The reason why it was removed is evident:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things. . . . They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fullness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man (Lecture 5, 52-53; emphasis added)
“The Father being a personage of spirit,” is not what modern LDS teaches. Compare this to what the later sections of the current Doctrine of Covenants teach:
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as mans; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit (130:22; given April 1843; emphasis added)
Joseph Smith did not understand the difference between the doctrine of the Trinity and the teachings of Modalism. Modalism or Oneness Pentecostalism 3 was the second century heresy that made the assertion that God exist as one person that reveals himself in different modes, manifestations or dimensions, but God is not three distinct Persons.
In other words, in Oneness thinking, since God is one, but in the Bible the Father is called God, Jesus is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God, therefore Jesus is the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The one person (Jesus) has two natures, divine being the Father and human being the Son. Thus, in this doctrine, Jesus acts sometimes as the Son (human) and sometimes as the Father (God) and yet other times the Holy Spirit.
So, what does Modalism have to do with Joseph Smith? Answer: the Book of Mormon teaches both Trinitarian and Modalism. However, I find that the Book of Mormon is more modalistic than Trinitarian, though. First, observe these decidedly modalistic passages in the Book of Mormon. The introduction of Mosiah chapter 15 reads:
How Christ is both the Father and the Son–He shall make intercession and bear the transgression of his people. . . . (emphasis added).
Then, starting at verse 1:
And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself [the Father] 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 earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God. . . . (Mosiah 15:1-5; emphasis added)
That Jesus is the Father, is a teaching that is clearly taught in Smith’s, Book of Mormon:
Behold, I am the he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am the Father and the Son. . . . (Ether 3:14; emphasis added)
Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: 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 (Alma 11:38-39; emphasis added).
Amazingly, a mere five verses later the Book of Mormon seems to be teaching to what resembles the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity:
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. . . . (ibid., 11:44; emphasis added).
And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen” (2 Nephi 31:21; emphasis added).
And as previously quoted, the “Testimony of the three Witnesses” do not agree with the present-day LDS teaching (three separate Gods). Rather, the converse is stated:
And honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God (Book of Mormon, Introduction).
The nature of God is not the only doctrine that Joseph Smith changed in his lifetime. However, it is the doctrine of God that would determine one’s salvation. Only the true God is able to save- the God of biblical revelation, a false god does not exist. Jesus was very concerned as to the different beliefs of Him, which would deceive mankind. Jesus taught that having accurate knowledge of Him was a prerequisite to salvation:
I SAID THEREFORE TO YOU THAT YOU WILL DIE IN THE SINS OF YOU; FOR IF YOU BELIEVE NOT THAT I AM. . . . (John 8:24; lit. Gk.; emphasis added; also cf. Ex. 3:14; Is. 43:10).
In the end, plainly, early LDS doctrine is fundamentally different then present-day LDS doctrine. Smith started out teaching that God was spirit and there is only one eternal God. Then, Smith did a doctrinal U-turn, teaching heresies that deny who God is, and all the while, claming it was God that was giving him these revelations.
Hence, if the Joseph Smith really had restored the “plain and precious truths” that were allegedly lost and if Smith restored the so-called lost church, then, God’s truth in the nineteenth century should be consistent with God’s truth today. But the fact is: Joseph Smith believed in revolving gods that change who they are and altered their doctrines. Unlike the God of Scripture Who said:
“I the LORD do not change. . . . ” (Mal. 3:6; NIV)
1, These passages in the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants directly renounce the LDS doctrine of Eternal Progression which states that God the Father was once a man that had to become a God. Plainly taught by Joseph Smith:
it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and suppose that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did… Here then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priest to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one. . . . (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345-47; emphasis added).
Hence, in LDS theology God has not eternally existed as God. Joseph Smith gave this address in 1844, whereas Doctrine and Covenants, sec. 20 was given in 1830. Thus, the evolution of Smith’s teaching is obvious.
2, The interested reader should note, that with no formal education in the field of biblical language the unlearned Joseph Smith made his own version of the Bible. It was called The Inspired Version of the Bible. The Inspired Version contains numerous alterations to what the text (cf. Gk. and Heb., as well as recognized translations of the Bibles) actually says in order to support his preconceived teachings. Example: John 1:19 of Joseph Smith’s translation states, “No man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the son; For except it is through him no man can be saved” (emphasis added). Compare this with John 1:18, “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” There is not one Greek manuscript in existence that would support Joseph Smith’s alterations of the Bible. The common response by most Mormon missionaries, is that Joseph Smith had never finished his translation, however, July 2, 1833 at Kirtland, Ohio, Smith stated: “this day finished the translating of the Scriptures. . . . ” (History of the Church, 1:368).
3, Known also as the “Jesus only” churches, the United Pentecostal International Church being the largest. See my article on Oneness Pentecostalism.