Monday, August 10, 2009

Conversation with a Latter-day Saint

[The following is part of a continuing conversation between a Latter-day Saint (David) and myself about the Trinity and absolute monotheism. David's portion appears first then followed by my response.]


I did a little research regarding those passages in Isaiah … Here Jehovah (Jesus Christ), is declaring that he is the God of Israel. He always has been the God of Israel and always will be their God … The only God they will ever have anything to do with … After reading Isaiah 43:10 are you concluding that the Father and the Son are one personage?

They are one in purpose, perfectly united ... If you're not one, then you're not mine ...

I hope we don't wind up citing the passage ... "God is a spirit... " Some like to cite that verse and put a big period at the end of it. However, there is no period at the end; the verse goes on to say … "and those that worship me, must worship me in spirit and in truth."

In other words, in these verses, the meaning of the word "spirit" refers to truth and righteousness. The old explanation goes like this: If the word "spirit" in these verses meant "no body; no parts" in essence a mist or a cloud, then the second verse "worshiping in spirit", would mean that we would have to leave our bodies at home to worship him! Yikes!

Here are some thoughts about the passages from Isaiah: Persons who object to the Church say, "What about Isaiah 43:10 where it says there were no Gods before Jehovah and will be none after him? Jesus and his Father have to be the same, and there is only one God." Let us look at that verse.

“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:10)

In chapter 43, God is talking about the relationship between him and the Israelites. He uses the analogy of a trial in which he calls witnesses. In verse 3, he declares he is the God of Israel, and in subsequent verses he reassures the Israelites of this relationship. In verse 9 he challenges the nations of the earth to bring forth their witnesses of their gods, and in verse 10 he declares that the Israelites are his witnesses of his work and of the salvation which he is providing. Not only are they his witnesses but his servants because they do his work among the children of the earth. As his servants, he wants the Israelites to understand he is their God. In verse 10 when he said, "before me there was no God formed" he is saying he has always been the God of Israel. When he said, "neither shall their be [any] after me" he is saying he will always be the God of Israel. Thus, we see the context of that verse is that Jehovah always has been and always will be the God of Israel. That verse does not address the question whether Jesus and the Father are the same or are separate. As mentioned above, since Jesus and the Father are perfectly united, it is appropriate to refer to them as "one God".

Those who object also ask, "How about Isaiah 44:8?" Let us look at that verse. “Hear ye not, neither be afraid; have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:8)

This verse is a continuation of the "trial" dialogue we just discussed. Jehovah is the God of Israel, and "there is no God" besides Him. As with the other verse, this passage concerns the relationship between God and Israel and does not address the nature of the Godhead.

By the way, back to the mission field in South America. You would not believe how many people gave me that "deer in the headlights look", when my companion and I asked them who the Savior was praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane! If the Father and the Son were one personage!?

Take care,



Thanks again for the reply. I apologize for the length of this email, but found that I couldn't do justice by subtracting from its current length. Please read this over carefully as each point will be important to our discussion.

I think it might be helpful for both of us to make sure we are on the same page in our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Briefly, I would summarize this doctrine as follows:
Within the one Being that is God, there eternally exists three coequal and coeternal Persons; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There are 3 essential foundations to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Bible supports each of these foundations. First, absolute monotheism - there is only one true God in existence. Second, there are three distinct Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Third, the three divine Persons are coequal and coeternal. This means that the three Persons have existed from eternity as divine Persons (not simply their matter having eternally existed). This also means that the three Persons are coequal in nature; they all share the One Being of God. Each of the three Persons are equally God. It would be inappropriate to try to divide God's Being up into thirds, like a pie chart. No, rather, each divine Person is fully God and shares the one Being of God.

A helpful analogy of understanding what is meant by "Being" and "Person" is crucial when discussing this definition. Let me begin by using my cell phone as an example. My cell phone has being. It exists. But it has no personality. There is no person sharing its being. Now, I can ask my cell phone how it is doing, but no matter how much I talk to the phone it will never once respond to me. Why? Because it can't reason. The cell phone has no person within its being to recognize itself, or communicate. Now, if you will allow me, I'll use you, David, as an example. You are one being, and within your being there is only one personality sharing your being: the person of David. God also has one being. However, rather than one person sharing His being, He has 3 persons within His one Being.

What the doctrine of the Trinity does not mean is that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same Person. The Father is the not the Son; the Son is not the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is not the Father – or any which way you want to put it. The Bible teaches the three persons are distinct. Each of these Persons can say “I” of Himself, and can address the other Persons. So when you mention that on your mission you encountered folks who were befuddled by Christ praying to the Father, the answer is simple: Christ was praying to the Father. Christ was not praying to Himself. Yes, that means that the three distinct Persons, sharing the one Being of God, communicate with one another.

One final note, and then I will be done with definitions =). I agree with you that the three distinct Persons are one in purpose, but this is not what I mean when I say that there is only one true God. I mean that there is only one true God in existence, and not three gods or three beings (or more).

You seem to hint in your preemptive strike against John 4:24 ... =) ... that the Father and the Son are separate beings, separate persons, each with their own respective bodies, and therefore “God is spirit” cannot mean that God is spirit, but rather that God has a physical body. This is an important point of disagreement between us. However, I would point to John 4:24, because Christ is talking with the Samaritan woman (which was not a reputable practice for the Jews) about the fact that since God is spirit the worship of Him is not dependent on the location ... as would soon be revealed with the coming of the Holy Spirit. "Spirit" does not mean "truth and righteousness." Spirit means spirit, and in fact "God is spirit" is literally what the Greek says here and is a qualitative description of God's very nature. Well, what is a spirit then? Jesus, when he rose from the grave, spoke to his alarmed disciples by reminding them that "a spirit does not have flesh and bones," and was painstakingly clear that He was physically raised from the dead and not a spirit.

The trouble I think Latter-day Saints sometimes have with understanding the doctrine of the Trinity is that you think of God as an exalted man, with a body as tangible as man's (LDS teachings). The Bible clearly says that God is not a man, but rather His very essence is spiritual, and therefore is not a human being.

You might ask, "Well how can God manage to exist like that? I don't understand..." I don't believe the finite can fully understand the infinite. In other words, we are limited by time and space, but God is not. You and I are limited in our power and our abilities, but God is not. So just because we don't fully grasp something about God does not mean it is not true. The question you need to ask yourself is: does the Bible teach the doctrine of the Trinity? Each of the three foundations I listed above are crucial, and I believe it is on these that we must focus our conversation.

Isaiah 43:10 is one text that supports the Biblical teaching of absolute monotheism. I do not believe that this passage, or the section in Isaiah 40-50, is simply teaching that God is the only God for the Israelites to worship. No, the reason the Israelites were to limit their worship to God is because He is the only true God in existence. This section of Isaiah is, as you rightly describe it, the trial of the false gods. God says in so many ways that He is the only true God in existence. When we consider Isaiah 43:10, He says of Himself, “Before me there was no God formed.” The word “formed” means “to create.” But as the passage continues we discover that there will be no Gods after God either.

The LDS faith teaches contrary to this very text: there were gods formed before God, and there will be gods formed after God.

In closing, I have 2 questions for you:

(1) In light of the fact that God says that there were no gods created before Him, and there will be no gods created after Him, how can you believe that there were, and there will be?

(2) How can this passage make sense from an LDS perspective, considering that “LORD” refers to Jehovah (Jesus) and “God” refers to Elohim (Father)? In other words, if we were to interpret this passage in light of LDS thinking it would read as follows: “Before Me [Jesus] there was no [Father] formed, And there will be none after Me.” (Brackets MINE).

I look forward to your response.

Casey (Rusty) Ryan

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