Modalism and the Book of Mormon .... Bob Moore

Historical Background

One teaching popularized among many saints about the time that the Independent Restoration Branch Movement began is modalism. According to the Dictionary, modalism is "the theological doctrine that the members of the Trinity are not three distinct persons but rather three modes or forms of activity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) under which God manifests himself."(1) Restoration modalists, in particular, teach that the Father and the Son are one person.

Modalism began in the early days of Christianity and has periodically found favor in sundry Christian circles. Some members of the Reorganization have believed the tenet. Several times church leaders, after being asked the relationship between the Father and the Son, have addressed the issue through the Saints Herald. Despite their plain answers, the doctrine has survived among the saints and now invites the saints.

One advocate of modalism was Jack Raveill. He was a member of the Reorganized Church and served at one time in the office of priest, being silenced in 1971 for adultery. A student of church history from 1830 to 1844, he taught many classes in the Independence area, generally in a home of one of the saints. During those classes, he espoused precepts foreign to the traditional teachings of the Reorganization. He is most famous for advocating that the Doctrine and Covenants is errant, publishing his own book containing the revelations as he believed they should read. Another belief that he advanced maintained that the Father and Son were one personage. Some believe that his dissatisfaction with church administrators for refusing to reinstate his priesthood license motivated him to advance such unorthodox precepts.

When some saints began meeting separate from church leadership, Raveill joined one of the groups that left the Enoch Hill Congregation. That group met in the basement of Art Hoover's home directly west of the Enoch Hill church on South Spring. Jack taught his views in that fellowship, including his opinion of the Godhead. Saints participating in other independent branches, some of whom had already learned the doctrine from Raveill, felt free to advocate the tenet within their respective groups.

About the same time, Myron Harbottle, an elder in the church, preached the precept throughout Blue Valley Stake. He claimed that an angel appeared and commanded him to teach that the Father and Son were the same person. I heard him relate his experience and preach his belief during the Blue Valley Stake Summer Preaching Series one Sunday evening at the Buckner Congregation, perhaps in 1986 or 1987. Harbottle's efforts further circulated the doctrine and may have prepared a more fertile environment for its acceptance once Restorationists began advocating the belief.

Restoration saints seem particularly susceptible to deviant tenets, perhaps because their separation from church leadership is predicated on the belief that some teachings of the Reorganization are wrong. Those who reject the ordination of women may easily be persuaded that other church beliefs, even those adopted at earlier dates, are errant. Critics can point to changes such as: tolerance of homosexuals (1982), de-masculinesizing references to God (1980), legalizing abortion (1968), and liberalizing divorce (1960). These events suggest that the trend of change reaches farther back in time, far enough, critics believe, to pollute many basic teachings of the Reorganization. Some saints embracing this accusation may be persuaded that the traditional Restoration view of the Godhead is incorrect and that modalism was originally taught by the church.

Their Rationalization

Restoration modalists maintain that the Book of Mormon advocates that God is only one person. They begin by citing the revelations stating that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel (D&C 26:2a; 42:5a) and argue that its teachings and divine disclosures take precedent over Biblical tenets and Christian creeds. Since, as far as they are concerned, the Nephite record clearly reveals that the Son is the same person as the Father, they believe that the saints must conform to that opinion. Some go so far as to say that one reason for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was to reveal the true nature of the Godhead.

According to the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin announced, "The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven, among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay" (Mos 1:97). For those who suggest that the phrase "Lord Omnipotent" used by King Benjamin refers to the Son and not the Father, they quote Abinidi. He taught, "I would that you should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people" (Mos 8:28). For King Benjamin to be consistent with Abinidi, the phrase "Lord Omnipotent" must refer to God. Restoration modalists reason that God came to earth in the form of the Son, making the Son and the Father the same person. Evidence for their conclusion lies in other Book of Mormon verses. Abinidi said, "Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very eternal Father" (Mos 8:91). Elsewhere, the account records: "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" (Alma 8:93-94). They conclude that since the Lord Omnipotent, the very God and Eternal Father, came down from heaven to take upon himself the form of man, the Son is not a distinct person.

Further proof for Restoration modalists that the Father and Son are the same person and that some deviation in the early days of the Restoration tried to hide this tenet comes from changes made to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. The original version has Nephi calling the Son both God and the Father. It says: "The virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God" (1 N 3:58); "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father" (1 N 3:62); and "The Lamb of God is the Eternal Father" (1 N 3:193). All three verse were changed in the 1837 printing of the Book of Mormon, which changes were maintained in the 1908 (or Authorized) edition. The respective verses read; "The virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God" (1 N 3:58); "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the son of the Eternal Father" (1 N 3:62); and "The Lamb of God is the son of the Eternal Father" (1 N 3:193).

The last reference is particularly important. It is part of a prophecy revealing the message that God wants the Book of Mormon to teach to the world when it came forth. The 1830 edition renders the text: "These last records [the Book of Mormon] which thou hast seen among the Gentiles shall establish the truth of the first [the Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father. . ." (1 N 3:193). One possible conclusion is that the apostles originally taught the Gentiles that Jesus was the Father and one person with him; that the abominable church removed that teaching during the apostasy, substituting the doctrine of the Trinity; and that one purpose of the Book of Mormon is to restore the true explanation of the Godhead to earth.

A Closer Examination

While the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel, it does not pretend to reveal all things. Those disclosures are promised when the sealed portion comes forth. Nephi prophesied, "The book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust; and he shall deliver these words unto another; but the words which are sealed, he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed, shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth: for, behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof' (2 N 11:129-130). The portion of the Nephite record translated by the Palmyra Seer does not reveal the structure or operations of church government on either a local or corporate level. It omits mentioning some priesthood offices. It does not speak of the three glories in the resurrection, nor does it reveal that the gospel is preached to those in the prison house. Its mission is limited. According to Moroni, its purposes are " to shew unto the remnant of the House of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off for ever; and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations" (Preface of the Book of Mormon).

One stated purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify that the Jesus who was born of Mary in Bethlehem and crucified under Pontus Pilate on Calvary is the Christ, the very Son of God. Some of latter-day Israel scattered to Central America or the isles of the sea still do not know that Jesus is their Redeemer. Neither do they understand that he is their Creator. When the time comes that the gospel goes from the Gentiles to the House of Israel as prophesied (3 N 7:36-37, D&C 12:5b), then the Book of Mormon will play an important role in teaching those people both concepts. Jesus told the Nephites when he personally descended among them, "Verily I say unto you, that when these things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, which shall be given unto you of the Father, shall be made known unto the Gentiles, . . . [and] when these works, and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter, shall come forth from the Gentiles unto your seed, which shall dwindle in unbelief because of iniquity, . . . and when . . . thy seed shall begin to know these things, it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel" (3 N 9:87,91,93). Jesus clearly linked the distribution and acceptance of the Book of Mormon among latter-day Nephite descendants with their gathering to the latter-day gospel.

Because the Book Mormon has such an important role in the gathering and conversion of scattered Israel dispersed to America and other isles of the sea, it contains a concise and accurate explanation of the gospel. Nephi delighted in the plainness of his words (2 N 13:3-4). Jesus recited a complete definition of both his gospel (3 N 12:25-30) and his doctrine (3 N 5:36-41) not found elsewhere in scripture. The Book of Mormon contains a plain and full explanation of the gospel because the Lord equipped it for its future task. He did not fill it with procedures for church government, exegesis on priesthood duties, or soliloquies on theological principles, but plainly revealed his gospel -- faith, repentance, and baptisms -- so that scattered Israel can be raised from sin's stench and iniquity's ignorance.

The Book Of Mormon and the Godhead

The nature of the Godhead is not the gospel, but theology. For someone to propose that people must have a correct understanding of theological issues for the gospel to work its transforming grace misses the mark. The gospel teaches that the salvation offered by the grace of Jesus Christ comes by faith. Mormon recorded, "After that he [Jesus] came, men were saved by faith in his name; and by faith they became the sons of God" (Mor 7:25). Later, he added, "No man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name" (Mor 7:42). If salvation comes by knowledge, then, for the cited scriptures to be true, knowledge must cause faith. This is not true. Alma's wonderful discourse on faith asserts that "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge" (Alma 16:143). It eloquently shows that a person must exercise faith in order to obtain knowledge, summing up the point by stating that once knowledge is gained on a certain matter, one's "faith is dormant" (Alma 16:160). Moroni agrees that faith must precede knowledge. He counseled, "Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." (Eth 5:7). It is not one's knowledge about God, neither his understanding of the Godhead that saves, but faith that the Jesus whom Pilate crucified on the cross has power to raise his disciples to eternal life. The central invitation of the Book of Mormon calls its readers to come to Christ and trust his salvation . Even the scripture Restoration modalists use to support their interpretation carries that invitation. Nephi (according to the 1830 rendition of the verse) said that the Book of Mormon "shall make known to all kindred, tongues and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father, and Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him or they can not be saved" (1 N 3:193). The message contained in this scripture is not, as some maintain, that people must understand that God has only one personage, but that people must come to Jesus Christ for salvation.

If knowledge causes salvation, then the more educated a person becomes the more righteous he must be. Unfortunately, education does not necessarily lift people to God. The scripture says, "Knowledge puffeth up" (1 Cor 8:1), adding elsewhere, "The learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches; yea, they are they, whom he [God] despiseth" (2 N 6:83). Even knowledge of spiritual matters can fill a person with pride. The reason that knowledge cannot make a person righteous is because knowledge is a human accomplishment -- a work of the flesh. Human works do not save. Since education, like so many other worldly attributes, is acquired through ability, opportunity, and effort, it contains insufficient power to raise people out of their sinful nature or lift them above the carnal passions -- characteristics that bind their hearts and occupy their minds. One does not need to know how God consists. He need only trust the Son's redeeming grace.

Even if an accurate understanding of the Godhead is necessary, the Book of Mormon is not unique in revealing that the Son is the Father. Other scriptures state that Jesus is the Father. The Inspired Version reveals that Jesus said, "No man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but to whom the Son will reveal it" (Lu 10:23). Restoration modalists are quick to point out that this verse reads as quoted only in the Inspired Version, perhaps supposing that Joseph first learned the doctrine from the Book of Mormon, but the King James Version of the Bible teaches the precept elsewhere. Isaiah, in prophesying the coming Savior, wrote, "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father" (Is 9:6). Since the King James Version of the Bible teaches that Jesus is the Father, any claim that one purpose of the Book of Mormon is to restore the modalistic doctrine removed from the Bible must be false.

A rejection of modalism is not a rejection of the Book of Mormon. One may believe that the Son is the Father without believing that the Son and the Father are one person. Elbert A. Smith argued that when Fred M. Smith as counselor to his father, Joseph III, was introduced as President of the church, he was one with his father, but not the same person.(2) The First Presidency, when agreed are one President, although they are composed of three persons. In this light, the scriptures that reveal the Son to be the Father are not inconsistent with the Father and the Son being two personages. A person may believe all the scriptures that teach that the Son is both God and Father and still believe that the Son and Father are two personages.

While the Book of Mormon states that Jesus is the Eternal Father, it implies that the Father and the Son are distinct. In seven places the Book of Mormon calls Jesus the "Only Begotten of the Father."(3) Such a description clearly reveals that the Son proceeded from the Father; for to be begotten of the Father, the Father must have caused his Begotten's formation. Such a view when conformed to time constraints, suggests that the Father pre-existed the Son. However the Father formed the Son, the Father before the Son's formation must have been a distinct self. After the Son's formation, the Son must have been a distinct self, otherwise his formation would have been inconsequential. The Book of Mormon's announcement that the Father begot the Son implies that the Father and Son are two persons.

If there were no distinction between the Father and the Son, the most accurate account would have the Father refer to Jesus as himself and Jesus refer to the Father as himself. After all, this is the central point of Restoration modalists. They claim that for the Son to be the Father and the Father to be the Son, they must be the same person. The Book of Mormon, however, does not maintain that distinction. In it, the Father calls Jesus his Son. Nephi says, "I heard a voice from the Father, saying, Yea, the words of my beloved, are true and faithful" (2 N 13:19). Later he hears, "And ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witness of the Father and the Son" (2 N 13:26). When the Savior descended to the Land of Bountiful, the voice, presumably the Father,(4) that spoke from heaven said, "Behold, my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name, hear ye him" (3 N 5:8). Abinidi teaches, "The will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father" (Mos 8:34). Jesus, when personally instructing the Nephites maintained this separation. He said, "I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one" (3 N 5:27). In the same discourse he said, "I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me" (3 N 5:33). Later, he added, "And thus will the Father bear record of me; and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost, are one" (3 N 5:38). If the Son is the Father in such a way that the two forms are one person, then all these references should read differently. They should say something like, "My words are true," "witnesses of me," or "I am the Father." Jesus further buttresses this distinction when, in several places, he says that he is speaking the words of the Father (not speaking his words), praying to the Father (not to himself), or planning on ascending to the Father (not to his home). If one purpose of the Book of Mormon is to establish the doctrine that the Son and the Father are one person, then the frequent references that make the fleshly form of God distinct from the spiritual form of the Father undermine that supposed purpose and hardly makes the book seem a divinely translated work.

The claim of Restoration modalists -- that one reason God revealed the Book of Mormon is to teach that the Father and the Son are the same person -- cannot be maintained by any careful examination of the latter-day scripture. A person may believe the Book of Mormon scriptures that reveal the Son to be the Father and still believe that they are two personages. The book is not consistent in calling the Son the Father and carries the same language from which the early Christians derived the doctrine of the Trinity. Likewise, the modalists complaint -- that some latter-day conspiracy tried to remove Book of Mormon revelations about a single personage comprising the Godhead -- is entirely without evidence. While three verses in the 1830 edition that state that the Son is God or is the Father were changed in the 1835 edition, others were not altered. The following verses are contained in the 1908 edition of the book: "The day cometh that the Only begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh" (2 N 11:21); "He said unto them, that Christ was the God, the Father of all things" (Mos 5:44); "Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very eternal Father" (Mos 8:91); "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" (Alma 8:93-94); "He that will not believe me, will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father, I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world" (Eth 1:107-108); "Shew unto the remnant of the House of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off for ever; and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations" (Preface to the Book of Mormon). Six verses that clearly state that the Son is God or is the Father were left unchanged, while only three were altered. To maintain that the three modifications were the work of conspirators requires them to be completely inept -- inept enough to leave other traces of the modalist teachings in the history of the early Restoration work.

The Traditional Position

The traditional teachings of the church as evidenced in the historical record contradict the modalist opinion. The foremost exhibit is the Lectures of Faith. They were presented in the School of the Prophets and first printed as part of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, being considered the doctrine portion of the book. A second edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was printed in 1844 and included the Lectures on Faith. When the Reorganization printed the Doctrine and Covenants, it included the Lectures and continued to do so until 1894. The reasons for their removal were never published. Arthur Oakman told me, after emphasizing that Joseph was a prophet and not a theologian, that one reason was a misapplication of a biblical text(5) in the first Lecture. Brother Oakman maintained that the revelation in the Lecture was true, but that the explanation used was illogical.

The author of the Lectures of Faith is not identified in the historical record. Tradition maintains that Joseph, the Martyr, presented the lectures and another, acting as a scribe, recorded them during their presentations. What we do know is that Joseph prepared the Lectures for inclusion in the 1835 edition. Joseph recorded: "During the month of January, I was engaged in the school of the elders, and in preparing the Lectures on theology for publication in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which the committee appointed last September were now compiling."(6) If Joseph did not author them, he certainly edited them. His inclusion of them in the Doctrine and Covenants places his sanction on their content. They not only represent the theology of the church, but Joseph's personal views.

The Lectures of Faith address the nature of the Godhead and indicate what persons constitute it. The fifth Lecture states, "We in this lecture shall speak of the Godhead; we mean the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, and supreme power over all things -- by whom all things were created and made that are created and made, whether visible or invisible; whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son" (Sec 5:1c-2c). The doctrine of the church as presented or sanctioned by Joseph clearly states that the Father and the Son constitute two personages.

The Lectures further develop the position that the Father and Son are two personages in the Question and Answer portion of the same Section. Question three asks, " How many personages are there in the Godhead?" The answer stipulates, "Two: the Father and the Son." Later, several scriptures are recited to prove that "there are two personages in the Godhead."(7) They are: "And I, God, said unto my Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and it was so" (Gen 1:27); "And I, the Lord God , said unto my Only Begotten, Behold the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil" (Gen 3: 28); "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (Jn 17:5).

Another exhibit shows that Joseph taught that the Father and Son were separate persons. He recorded that two personages appeared to him in the grove. He wrote, "When the light rested upon me I saw two personages (whose brightness and glory defy all description) standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said (pointing to the other,) "This is my beloved Son, hear him.'"(8) Joseph recounted his grove experience to John Wentworth in these words, "I was wrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day."(9) The above account was published when Joseph Smith served as editor of the Times and Seasons, providing additional evidence that he authored it.

A third piece of evidence is the vision that Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith saw. In their account of it they gave lasting testimony that the Savior lives. Having seen him in vision, they declared, "We beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fullness; and saw the holy angels, and they who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God and the Lamb, who worship him for ever and ever. And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him, that he lives; for we saw him, even on the right hand of God" (D&C 76:3f-g). If Joseph and Sidney saw Christ on the right hand of God, then they must have seen two personages. The official doctrine of the church during the life of the Martyr is that the Father and Son are two personages.

The Reorganization continued to advocate that the Father and Son were two personages. It taught that Joseph saw two personages in his vision when it repeated in its official volumes of Church History the account published in the Times and Seasons and entitled The History of Joseph Smith. It also published a tract that said, "He was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two personages, who exactly resembled themselves in their features or likeness.(10) In addition, church leaders repeatedly declared that the Father and Son are two personages. Joseph Smith III wrote, "The position of the Church is that there are two persons in the Godhead, the Father and the Son."(11) At a later time, he reiterated that the church's position was that two personages comprised the Godhead.(12) Sometime during 1863 Joseph III learned that W. W. Blair taught modalism and considered it a serious enough infraction to counsel him. Joseph recounted, "It appeared that Brother Blair had been preaching that there was but one Personage in the Godhead, which idea David [Smith] opposed. I took sides with David."(13) After a lengthy discussion the matter was resolved and Brother Blair stopped advocating the doctrine. Over a half-century later Elbert A. Smith wrote an article entitled, God and Christ -- Two Persons, in which he showed the scriptural superiority of his titled thesis.(14) Israel A. Smith addressed the issue in a Herald article. After quoting Joseph III's statement -- that two personages comprised the Godhead -- Israel Smith wrote that he believed Joseph's comment "is eminently sound."(15) Both during the life of the Palmyra Seer and under the Reorganization, the church has constantly taught that the Father and Son are two personages.

Modalist Supporters in the Reorganization

Restoration modalists dismiss the above accounts by maintaining that the church corrupted the true doctrine before 1835, when the Lectures were first published. Claiming that the church fell under divine condemnation as early as 1832, they assert that the original teaching -- that the Father and Son comprise one personage -- was discarded before the Lectures were given. Their assertion accuses Joseph of lying. It implies that neither he nor Sidney Rigdon saw Jesus on the right hand of God as they testified. It accuses the Prophet of presenting a false doctrine in the Lectures, whether he gave the Lectures or just prepared them for publication. It alleges that he deliberately altered the facts when he wrote his own history for publication in the Times and Seasons and in his reply to John Wentworth. By asserting their own interpretation, these people accuse the Palmyra Seer and many leading men surrounding him with wicked designs and deeds.

The only evidence these critics provide is another account of the first vision written in the handwriting of the Prophet. The account says, "A pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day came down from above and rested upon me and I saw the Lord and he spoke unto me."(16) In his written description, Joseph says that he saw the Lord, not that he saw two personages This account neither implies nor says that Joseph saw only one personage, but it provides a difference, although quite small, through which accusations of collusion, deception, and apostasy can seep into the minds of the ill-informed and ungrounded. At no time do Restoration modalists provide any evidence that their doctrine was taught by Joseph Smith or in the church that he restored. They quote no source, because none exists. All surviving documents show that the church taught that the Father and Son are two personages, but when these are presented, the modalists respond by accusing the church of falling from the truth by the time the quotation was made. Evidently, they suppose that some will ignore the testimony for the founders and accept their opinion simply because they excel at making accusations.

The first person indicated in the historical record to teach the modalist doctrine among the saints was James M. Adams. He was an elder living in Bigler's Grove, Iowa. We do not know when or under what faction of the church he was either baptized or ordained. Edmond Briggs, who traveled in Western Iowa with news of the Reorganization, stayed in his home at least once. Under the date, Monday, August 22, 1859, Briggs recorded, "He also advocates that Jesus Christ is God the Eternal Father, in other words, there is but one personage in the God head."(17) Adams also rejected the necessity of one of Joseph's sons to be the Prophet's successor, advocating that the church could authorize the ordination of any high priest to the presidency. Briggs' last entry concerning Adams says, "I am fearful the powers of darkness will so distract his mind that he will never enlist in the Reorganization."(18) He is not mentioned in church records again. He is not listed as a member of the Bigler's Grove Branch when it was organized on February 23, 1863 by Silas Condit.(19) Furthermore, Phineas Cadwell, whom James M. Adams baptized on August 29, 1859, was rebaptised on March 5, 1870 by John A. McIntosh(20) and became a charter member of the Magnolia Branch when it was organized a few days later. Since Bilger's Grove Branch was nearby and subsequently merged with the Magnolia Branch, Phineas Cadwell would have not been rebaptized if James M. Adams had joined the Reorganization.

When Joseph III confronted W. W. Blair for advocating modalism, it was after Brother Blair had been doing missionary work in Western Iowa and Nebraska. We do not know where or why Brother Blair began teaching modalism, but his presence in the area where James Adams had taught the doctrine provides a possible link. The fact that James Adams did not join the Reorganization and that Brother Blair abandoned teaching the precept after his discussion with Jospeh III proves that the doctrine had no place in the Reorganization. Furthermore, since the first known teacher of modalism among the Latter Day Saints taught his doctrine in 1859, not 1830, we are safe in concluding that the tenet had no place in the original church either.

Modalist Heretics in the Early Christian Church

The early Christian Church endured several deviant and divergent teachings about the Godhead, but avoided these heresies because it maintained that the correct doctrine was the first one taught -- the one taught by the Savior and his apostles. While the Bible does not specify that the Father and Son are two personages, it reveals that the Father is a person, not a form. It says, "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by who also he made the worlds; who being in the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb 1:1-3). The writer of the Hebrew letter states that the Son is the express image of God's person, implying with those words that Jesus, one person, is exactly like the person of God, another person. One of the earliest surviving Christian documents, written about 150, teaches that the Father and Son are separate persons. It says, "Sometimes He speaks as from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; sometimes as from the person of Christ."(21) This document shows that the early Christians believed that the Father and the Son are two personages. The first use of the word Trinity in the early Christian writings was written by a man who lived from 115 to 181 AD. He wrote, "In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries are types of the Trinity, of God, and his Word, and His wisdom."(22)

The doctrine of one personage comprising the Godhead began with Noetus. He lived at the end of the second century, after Justin, but maybe during the lifetime of Theophilus. According to Hipplolytus, Noetus "introduced a heresy from the tenets of Heraclitus,"(23) a pagan philosopher. Hippolytus testifies, "He thinks to establish the sovereignty of God, alleging that Father and Son, so called, are one and the same (substance)."(24) After Noetus, Callistus advocated the heresy, espousing, "I know that there is one God, Jesus Christ,"(25) adding elsewhere, "so that Father and Son must be styled one God, and that this Person, being one, cannot be two."(26) Hippolytus described his teachings as follows: "He maintains that the Father is not one person and the Son another, but that they are one and the same."(27) Sabellius attached himself to this particular tenet of the heresy, for there were other precepts advanced by Callistus. Since Sabellius refused the other tenets advanced by Callistus, Callistus condemned Sabellius at Rome in 220. His followers, known as Sabellians, promulgated the modalist doctrine. They "thought that the unity of God entitled the 'Father', 'Son' and 'Holy Spirit' were simply the names for successive modes or operations of God. They are also called 'modalist Monarchians.'"(28) About 250, Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, opposed their teachings. A half-century later, the Arian controversy, which maintained that the Father and Son were not of the same substance, eclipsed the Sabellian heresy. The Council of Nicea, which determined the nature of the Godhead for the church, chose a position between the opposite views of Noetus and Arius.

This brief history shows that the modalist doctrine did not originate with Christ, but with a man who was born over a century after the apostles. That doctrine cannot, therefore, be a part of the teachings of either the Savior or his personally appointed ministers. The supposition -- that Jesus and his apostles originally taught modalism -- is not true. Both scripture and the historical record refute the assertion. Restoration modalists can offer no documentation for their claims. The only evidence that they can present to buoy up their assertions are their private interpretations of scripture.

The Book of Mormon and Trinitarianism

In his opposition to the Sabellians, Dionysius wrote, "The Son has existence not from himself, but from the Father,"(29) adding, "The Son alone, always co-existing with the Father, and filled with him which is, Himself also is, since he is of the Father."(30) The specific difference between the Father and Son that Dionysius makes in the above reference is more dramatic in Greek than in our language. Dionysius refused to announce that the Father and Son were co-substantial, admitting only that the Son was "of the Father." That distinction found its way into the Nicean Creed, from which it continued to influence Christians at the time that the Book of Mormon was published. For instance, Calvin wrote at the beginning of the Reformation, ""The Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but that each has his particular subsistence."(31)

The early Gentile Christians, steeped in philosophy and fettered by the confines of their language, eventually dismissed the concept that the Son was the Father. Their background taught them that nothing in either the spiritual or conceptual world could be perfectly manifested in the material world. They concluded that the manifestation of the Father in the flesh must be so corrupted by the material world that the Son could not be the unspoiled Father. Their arguments were not fashioned in the empirical tones of our language and culture. They debated whether the Father and Son were of the same substance and if the Father suffered the fleshly agonies endured by the Son. As the church traversed the maze Greek philosophies imposed on the gospel, they kept from the extremes, such as those advanced by Noetus and Arius, preserving a triune concept of God, but injected subtle deviations, that after being perpetuated through time, introduced false concepts into Reformation theology. Reformation theology molded the thinking of those to whom the Restoration came. The theological revelations in the Book of Mormon have a God-given purpose: that is to teach true doctrine to those misled by the effects of the great apostasy. One of its revelations -- that the Son is the eternal Father -- is not designed to establish modalism, but to correct an error introduced in early Christian times and adopted by the reformers. That error teaches that the Son is not the Father.

One result of the correction that the Book of Mormon makes to the relationship between the Father and the Son is an explanation of their difference. God told Nephi just before his advent, "I come . . . to do the will of the Father, and of the Son of the Father, because of me, and of the Son, because of my flesh" (3 N 1:14). Jesus is the Father because he was begotten and conceived by the Father. He is the Son because he tabernacled in the flesh. Abinidi explained, "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 the Son" (Mos 8:30). The Father is infinite, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Jesus is finite, in that in him God was confined to a body. Apostle Paul explained the distinction this way: "In him [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col 2:8). All of the infinite Father that could be placed in a finite body was placed in Jesus. Jesus was not Father in total, but the Father in the flesh. That is why the Son could pray to, speak of, and return to the Father when he was on earth.

One reason that the Father in the person of the Son took a body was to learn how to succor fallen man. Alma revealed, "He will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to the infirmities" (Alma 5:23). The passions and temptation common to humans was outside the experience of God, perfect and holy as he is. Although he is all-knowing, his knowledge of our condition, at least as long as he remained aloof from it, was distant, lacking necessary experience. Without inhabiting a physical body, God could never feel the sensations and emotions that fill and motivate the people he made and came to save. He did not know what it was like to inhabit our condition until he took upon himself our nature in the person of his Son. The difference between God who rules all things, both visible and invisible, from his heavenly throne and Jesus who lived in our flesh is the difference between the Father and the Son. Because the Son knows from experience what it is like to endure fleshly temptations, he can plead our cause before the Father. Our Savior is not a passive observer to our condition who sympathetically takes our case, but an active participant who speaks from the same kind of knowledge common to all those who inhabit our sin-filled world.

Because the Son pleads our cause, like an attorney who represents our case before a mighty judge, the saints are commanded to petition the Father, our judge, in the name of the Son, our counselor. Jesus taught his followers to pray to the Father in his name. He said, "Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name; and whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you" (3 N 8:51). If the Father and the Son are the same person, then modalists could justify themselves in approaching God without naming the Son.

The Book of Mormon reveals additional insights about the role of our Savior and his distinction from the Father. Believers can understand from that sacred record that when Jesus tabernacled in the flesh, he learned from his flesh how fragile and temporary our nature is, so that he could succor us by informing the Father about our situation and pleading our cause before his throne. Obedient saints worship the Father and the Son. They approach the Father in the name of the Son. They trust the Son to raise them to Father's presence after this life.


One interesting characteristic of our condition is that any system, explanation, or set of codes cannot be both complete and consistent. There will always be loopholes and inconsistencies. The mathematical application of this principle was discovered by a German named Goedel in 1931. Before then, mathematicians searched for the set of axioms from which every other principle and theorem could be proven. Now they know that such a goal cannot be achieved. This means that any explanation of the Godhead cannot be complete and consistent. When people try to define it, they must either leave some things unexplained in order to maintain consistency or introduce inconsistencies in order to complete their definition. Restoration modalists take advantage of this condition, pointing out discrepancies in definitions of the Godhead that try to be complete and criticizing explanations of the Godhead that avoid inconsistencies by being incomplete.

The characteristics of our condition apply to the modalist doctrine, too. It is also inconsistent, introducing its own contradictions. If Jesus was the person of the Father, then to whom did he pray while on earth? To whom did he commend his spirit while on the cross? To whom did he ascend when he left his disciples? While on earth, Jesus constantly referred to his Father who at the same time resided in heaven. Some Restoration modalist try to answer this discrepancy by asserting that all of the Father did not reside in the body of Jesus, while maintaining that that which remained outside Jesus was not another person.

Another discrepancy particularly important to me that modalism introduces concerns the nature of Christ and the means by which his disciples can become like him. When we call Jesus the Christ, we do not just give him a title. The word Christ, which in Hebrew is Messiah, literally means anointed. Jesus became the Messiah when he was anointed. He announced his Messiahship in Nazareth when he read from Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and the recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Lu 4:18). Apostle Paul reveals how Jesus was anointed. He says, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 10:38). Any anointing requires three participants -- the one doing the anointing, the one being anointed, and the ointment used in the anointing. The apostle identified those three participants when he said that the Father anointed, the Son was anointed, and the Holy Ghost was the ointment. If the Father and Son are the same person, then Jesus must have anointed himself.

Latter-day revelation commands, "Take upon you the name of Christ" (D&C 16:4e). One takes upon himself the name of Christ when he is anointed like the Savior was anointed. That anointing occurs when he receives the Holy Ghost in confirmation. John revealed, "The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you; . . . the same anointing teacheth you all things" (1 J 2:27). Jesus declared that the Holy Ghost "shall teach you all things" (Jn 14:26). The anointing to which John referred is the Holy Ghost. If Jesus anointed himself with the Holy Ghost, does that mean that in following his example we should anoint ourselves with the Holy Ghost? Certainly not! Just as believers must be anointed by another, Jesus must have been anointed by another. That other self who anointed Jesus is the Father. The Father also anoints the repentant. When the repentant are anointed with the Holy Ghost, they become like Jesus, one with him and one with the Father.(32) To my mind, modalism diminishes the anointing Jesus received, undermining his claim to be the Christ. It also diminishes our anointing that we receive in confirmation and interferes with our ability to become one with God in the same way that the Father and Son are one. If modalism carries its own contradictions and inconsistencies, why, then, should the doctrine be a source of controversy and division among the saints?

Most Restoration modalists criticize other traditional teachings of the church. Their doctrine concerning the Godhead is part and parcel to a general rejection of selected church beliefs. Its proponents have an axe to grind, an alternative interpretation to espouse, and another standard to erect. They want to lead people away from the organization that God reorganized and returned to the land of Zion. What difference does it make in the plan of salvation if a believer cannot explain how the Father and Son as two personages form one God? Yet, when these critics invite the saints to confess that God is only one personage, they entice them to deny the doctrine of the church, the testimony of both Joseph, the Martyr, and Joseph III, and the revelations contained in many scriptures. At the same time, they ask them to embrace a heretical teaching.

Modalism has its roots in pagan philosophy. It was introduced into Christianity over a century after the Savior formed his church, serving as one of the weapons that the devil used against those former-day saints. It was taught to latter-day saints by someone who refused to join the Reorganization. It was opposed by Joseph III, David H. Smith, Elbert A. Smith, and Israel A. Smith. Today, it is advocated by individuals who want to establish their own interpretations in preference to the traditional teachings of the church. It is one tool that critics and false accusers use.

One's belief about the Godhead is not a test of faith. Israel A Smith taught that what a person believed about the makeup of the Godhead had no effect on his salvation.(33) Joseph III did not require W. W. Blair to admit that the Father and Son were two personages. Brother Blair refused to accept that two personages comprised the Godhead at least until 1882.(34) He may not have stopped believing the modalist doctrine, but he stopped preaching it. The duty of ministers is to teach the doctrine of the church, not their private opinions. Those that persist in teaching the modalist doctrine when the doctrine of the church teaches otherwise act contrary to the Holy Spirit. In concluding his article that showed the Father and Son to be two personages, Joseph III wrote, "It being contended further that any writer of the Book of Mormon, or any teacher of the faith, now teaches concerning the Godhead, that which is contrary to the New Testament, thus antagonizing and making void that teaching, they should be taken and treated as the statements of the opinions of men, and not authorized by the Father, the son, or the Spirit of Truth."(35) We conclude that the saints are free to understand the relationship between the Father and the Son as their wits allow, but they are not free to teach contrary to the doctrine of the church. If they do, then they teach without the sanction of either the Father or the Son, and without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

1. ' -

2. Saints Herald; Vol 100, No 32, August 10, 1953; P 753

3. 2 N 11:21, Jac 3:6, Jac 3:16, Alma 3:83, Alma 7:40, Alma 9:54-55, Alma 9:68,73

4. If the voice is not the Father's, then Jesus is the son of someone different than the Father.

5. Hebrews 11:4

6. Church History; Vol 1; P 589

7. Lectures of Faith; Sec 5; Question 4

8. Church History; Vol 1; P 9

9. Times & Seasons; Vol 3, No 9; March 1, 1842; P 707

10. Visions of Joseph Smith the Seer; Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; Plano; (No date given); P 6

11. Saints Herald; Vol 29, No 5; March 1, 1882, P 74

12. Saints Herald; Vol 45. No 11; March 16, 1898; P 162

13. Saints Herald; Vol 85, No 21; May 21, 1935; P 657

14. Saints Herald; Vol 100, No 32; Aug 10, 1953; P 752

15. Saints Herald; Vol 101, February 1, 1954; P 103

16. Jack Raveill; The Revelations Revisions of 1835; Self Published; 1981; Appendix C

17. Edmond C. Briggs; Early History of the Reorganization; Price Publishing; Independence; 1998; P 154

18. Ibid., P 264

19. Early Reorganization Minutes; P 159; RLDS Archives

20. Pearl Wilcox; Roots of Reorganized Latter Day Saints in Southern Iowa; Self Published; 1989; P 133-134

21. Justin; First Apology; Ch 36

22. Theophilus; Theophilus to Autolycus; Ch 16.

23. Hippolytus; The Refutation of All Heresies; Book 9; Ch 2

24. Ibid., Ch 5

25. Ibid., Ch 7

26. Ibid., Ch 7

27. Ibid., Ch 7

28. Editor's note; Eusebius; The History of the Church; Peneguin Classics; London; 1989; P 413

29. Dionysius of Alexandria; Epistle to Dionysius Bishop of Rome

30. Ibid.

31. John Calvin; Institutes of the Christian Religion; Bk 1; Ch 8, Sec 5

32. Jn 17:21; 3 N 9:23, 30

33. Saints Herald; Vol 101; February 1, 1954; P 103

34. " " " "

35. Saints Herald; Vol 29, No 5; March 1882; P 74