The Evolution of Mormon Theology


by James White

Is the teaching of the LDS Church today consistent with that of the early 1830’s? If the Mormon Church’s claim to be the “only true church on earth today” is to be believed, one would expect consistency in teaching from the beginning until today. However, based on the earliest works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (then “The Church of Christ”), the answer to the above question is an emphatic no. Since the first version of the Book of Mormon was published (1830), an evolution of theological thought can be clearly traced.

On page 186 of the original Book of Mormon (B.of M.), in the book of Mosiah (15:4-5), we find an example of the relationship of Jesus Christ and God the Father, from the original Mormon perspective.

...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,... (emphasis ours).

This verse teaches two fundamental concepts that were present in Joseph Smith’s original theological ideas: monotheism (the belief in one God), and the spiritual nature of God the Father. We also note that Joseph Smith attempted to emulate the doctrine of the Trinity in this passage and in the process produced a view that is not only contrary to modern LDS teaching, but to the actual Christian doctrine of the Trinity as well.

Another example is found on page 544 (Ether 3:14) of the same version quoted earlier, which states:

Behold, I am he which was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son (emphasis ours).

A third example is found in the book of Alma, page 253 of the first version, which asks,

...Is there more than one God? And he answereth No. Now Zeezrom saith unto him again: How knowest thou these things? And he saith An angel hath made them known to me (Alma 11:28b-31).

From these examples, it is clear that at the time the Book of Mormon was first published, Joseph Smith believed that God the Father and God the Son were different manifestations of a single God. Even the Preface to the B.of M., written by the three witnesses concludes by stating:

And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

When combined, these examples undeniably show a monotheistic belief on the part of Joseph Smith which differs greatly from the polytheistic (a belief in many gods) concepts he developed later in his life. For the Book of Mormon, there is only one God, not three, or many more.

A departure from the monotheistic view established with the B.of M. can be traced to the 1851 version of the Pearl of Great Price. By placing parallel passages in the books of Moses and Abraham side by side, an evolution of thought is clearly demonstrated within the Pearl of Great Price itself.

And I God said: let there be there light; and there was light.... And (the Gods) said: Let there light; and there was light...
And I, God, called the dry land Earth;.... And the Gods pronounced  the earth dry,....
And I, God, made the beasts of the earth after their kind,... And the Gods organized the of the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind,....
And I, the Lord God, planted a garden eastward in Eden.... And the Gods planted a garden in Eden,....
Moses 2:3,10, 25, 3:8 Book of Abraham 4:3,10,25,


The emphasis in these passages is ours, highlighting the departure from a single God to the current view of multiple Gods.

In 1835 a series of lectures was published that was contained within the same volume as the original “Doctrines and Covenants.” In the preface of the work we read the following:

The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of Lectures as delivered before a Theological class in this place, and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we have arranged them into the following work....There may be an aversion in the minds of some against receiving any thing purporting to be articles of religious faith, in consequence of there being so many now extant; but if men believe a system, and profess that it was given by inspiration, certainly, the more intelligibly they can present it, the better.

The “Theological class” spoken of in the quote referred to a class of Elders in Kirtland, Ohio. The “articles of religious faith” refers to the “Lectures on Faith.” The preface concludes with the endorsements of Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon and F.G. Williams. Represented in those “Lectures on Faith” are the following attributes of God the Father:

God the Father is a personage of Spirit:

-They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: (Lecture Fifth, page 53).

God the Father is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient and without beginning of days:

We here observe that God is the only supreme governor, and independent being, in whom all fulness and perfection dwells; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; (Lecture Second, page 12).

The “Lectures on Faith” were removed in the 1921 edition of Doctrines and Covenants. The reasoning behind the removal is not consistent with the endorsements that supported the lectures prior to that point in time such as,

...that the lectures were judiciously arranged and compiled, and were profitable for doctrine;... (1835, Doctrines and Covenants, page 256)

Q. Does the foregoing account of the Godhead lay a sure foundation for the exercise of faith in him unto life and salvation?

A. It does. (1835, Doctrines and Covenants, page 58)

It becomes quite apparent that the “founding fathers” considered the “Lectures on Faith” to be theologically true, concise in its presentation and “profitable for doctrine.”

So when did the doctrines in these important areas change to present day LDS beliefs? In the middle to late 1830’s Joseph Smith’s beliefs about God changed tremendously. He developed the concept that “God was once a man.” This great swing in belief created a ripple affect in the Mormon concept of the attributes of God. To demonstrate this, specific citations from LDS sources relevant to individual attributes of God will be quoted, even though they may not be the earliest writings of those views.

God the Father is a personage of flesh, not spirit:

First, God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heavens, is a man like unto one of yourselves, that is the great secret. If the vail was rent to-day, and the great God, who holds this world in its orbit, and upholds all things by his power; if you were to see him to-day, you would see him in all the person, image and very form as a man;... (Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, vol. 5, pp.613-14, 1844)

God is not omniscient:

We are now, or may be, as perfect in our sphere as God and Angels are in theirs, but the greatest intelligence in existence (God) can continually ascend to greater heights of perfection (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 93,1852).

God is not omnipotent:

God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end (Wiltord Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 120, 1857).

God has not always been God:

He is our Father- the Father of our spirits, and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are, and is now an exalted Being (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 333,1859).

So where does one turn to determine the very character of God? Does one stand with the beliefs of the LDS Church in the early 1830’s, or does one stand with the attributes of God as presented by the current church doctrine? And if God were to have chosen Joseph Smith to be a prophet, why would that prophet teach such utterly contradictory concepts of God within the space of less than twenty years?

In response to the question of where one finds true information about who God really is, we would direct your attention not to a human organization, but to the revelation of God in the Bible. First of all, God doesn’t change. For I am the Lord, I change not; (Malachi 3:6). God has always been God. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God (Psalm 90:2). God is spirit, and is not limited to a physical body like human beings. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). God is omniscient (all knowing). In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). God is omnipotent (all powerful). But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased (Psalm 115:3). God is omnipresent (unlimited by time and space). Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord (Jeremiah 23:24). God the Father is identified as God. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God, our Father... (1 Corinthians 1:3). Jesus Christ is identified as God. In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). God the Father and God the Son share the one being that is God. Believest thou not that I (Jesus) am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Fat her that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works (John 14:10). The Holy Spirit (Ghost) is God. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and keep back part of the price of the land ? . . . thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God (Acts 5:3-4). There is only one being of God, but three persons who share that one being. God’s being, since it is infinite and eternal, can be shared by three persons (not in the sense of a physical person, but in the sense of a thinking, willing entity). l am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is none else (Isaiah 45:5-6).

Why is it important to know who God is? Because Jesus said, And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3). To believe in a false God is to engage in idolatry and to risk losing your soul.