Dmitry Rozet

The Mormon Concept of God

Dmitry Rozet | 20 April 2020 | 8 min read

There’s nothing more fundamental to any religion than its concept of deity. Although Mormonism[1] is in many respects different from the historical, biblical Christian Faith, some of its most unique teachings have to do with the doctrine of God.

The historical Christian Faith is perfectly summarized in the Creed of Athanasius[2], which states:

“Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith. Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally. Now this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.”

Mormons, however, believe that post-apostolic Christianity resulted from a conceptual merger of “Christian doctrine with Greek philosophy,”[3] and that the original concept of God was corrupted in the process. One reads the following on the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints’s (LDS) website for example:

“Chief among the doctrines lost in this process was the nature of the Godhead… Latter-day Saints hold that God the Father is an embodied being, a belief consistent with the attributes ascribed to God by many early Christians. This Latter-day Saint belief differs from the post-New Testament creeds… Latter-day Saints do not accept the post-New-Testament creeds yet rely deeply on each member of the Godhead in their daily religious devotion and worship, as did the early Christians.”[4]

Let’s review some of the ways in which the LDS doctrine of God differs from what the Bible teaches and what Christians have always believed to be true about God.

The Towers of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City

Mormons Believe that there are Countless Gods in our Physical Universe

First of all, Mormons believe that there are many (even countless) Gods in our physical universe. This belief effectively qualifies them as polytheists. Usually Mormons do not accept this label, saying that while they do believe in many Gods, they only worship one of these deities, Elohim, or God the Father. Nevertheless, this does not mean that they are monotheists. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, polytheism, with some other relevant terms, is properly defined as:

“… the belief in many gods… The term monolatry has a connected but different sense; it refers to the worship of one god as supreme and sole object of the worship of a group while not denying the existence of deities belonging to other groups. The term henotheism is also used to cover this case or, more generally, to mean belief in the supremacy of a single god without denying others.”[5]

The Bible, of course, explicitly denies the actual existence of any other gods except the only true God. For example, the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, states: “We know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God.”

It is worth noting that all four LDS “standard works” (the Mormon term for “Scriptures”)[6] except for a single portion of one book (“The Book of Abraham” in “The Pearl of Great Price”) preach strict monotheism, even to the point of modalism (an ancient heresy that blends the three divine Persons of the Trinity into one Person taking three different modes). There is hard evidence available that the personal views of the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, gradually evolved over the years culminating in explicit polytheism.[7] By the time the second president of the LDS Church, Brigham Young, came to power, this belief in countless gods had already been established:

“How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity. You cannot comprehend this; but when you can, it will be to you a matter of great consolation.”[8]

Contemporary Mormons, trying to escape the condemning label of polytheism, sometimes resort to the most exotic explanations. One example comes from Rodney Turner:

“Mormonism is simultaneously monotheistic, tri-theistic, and polytheistic. There is but one God, yet there is a Godhead of three, and beyond them, ‘gods many, and lords many’ (1 Cor. 8:5).”[9]

Notice how Turner mismanages the quote from 1 Corinthians 8:5 to make it sound as if Paul actually did believe in the existence of many gods and lords. However, a superficial reading of this passage will be enough to expose his ignorance towards the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 8.

Mormons Believe that the Godhead is Comprised of Three Individual Gods

Second, Mormons believe in a “Godhead” comprised of three individual Gods. LDS doctrine explicitly and vehemently denies the historic Christian belief in the Holy Trinity which it claims was a product of pagan Hellenistic philosophy. While the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is formulated as God being one essence eternally existing in three coequal Persons, their own views are best summarized in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism in an article by Paul Dahl:

“Latter-day Saints believe in God the Father: his Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost. These three Gods form the Godhead, which holds the keys of power over the universe. Each member of the Godhead is an independent personage, separate and distinct from the other two, the three being in perfect unity and harmony with each other… Although the three members of the Godhead are distinct personages, their Godhead is “one” in that all three are united in their thoughts, actions and purpose, with each having a fullness of knowledge, truth and power. Each is a God. This does not imply a mystical union of substance or personality.”[10]

Not only does this statement flatly contradicts biblical monotheism, it also flies in the face of some of the Mormons’ own “standard works.” The Book of Mormon for example states the following: “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.”[11] Also, in Doctrine and Covenants one finds the notion of the Trinity: “Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end.”[12]

Robert Millet, an emeritus LDS professor, went as far as to admit the following:

“If an acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity makes one a Christian, then of course Latter-day Saints are not Christians, for they believe the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in modern Protestant and Catholic theology is the product of the reconciliation of Christian theology with Greek philosophy.”[13]

Mormons Believe that God the Father was once Mortal and is now an Exalted Man

Third, Mormons believe that God the Father was once mortal and is now an exalted Man. According to the LDS doctrine of Eternal Progression, in the universe there is a set of immutable rules called “laws and ordinances of eternal gospel.” It is by following these “laws and ordinances” that all gods including our Heavenly Father have attained “exaltation.” In other words, according to Mormon doctrine, man and God are the same kind of being. God the Father is only further advanced than man is in his current state. There is therefore a progression from manhood to godhood. In one of the LDS student manuals it expressed in this way:

“… our Father in heaven was once a man as we are now, capable of physical death. By obedience to eternal gospel principles, he progressed from one stage of life to another until he attained the state that we call exaltation or godhood.”[14]

The founder, Joseph Smith, articulated this doctrine in the following manner:

“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 priests 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; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”[15]

Thus Mormons describe their God (and, by extension, any other god) as an “exalted man” possessing a “glorified” material “body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s,” in virtue of which, by the way, He is not physically or personally omnipresent:

“God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make Himself visible,—I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.”[16]

Following this doctrine of Eternal Progression, the same promise of “exaltation” is given today to all faithful Mormons as it is stated in their Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual:

“Through the Atonement and their own faithfulness, those who obtain exaltation become gods.”[17]

The Doctrine and Covenants, a “standard work,” also teaches this progression from manhood to eventual godhood:

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they 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 unto them.”[18]

Curiously enough, even Mormonism’s own “standard works” teach that God is infinite and immutable: “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…”[19] This can only leave one wondering how God the Father can be “unchangeable” if He was once a mortal man.

Mormons Believe that God the Father has a Spouse called the Heavenly Mother

Fourth, Mormons believe that God the Father has a spouse called the Heavenly Mother:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.”[20]

Initially Mormons used to believe that God the Father was a polygamist, and polygamy was viewed as essential for attaining Godhood. In our day however, Mormons usually speak of just one Heavenly Mother. She is not to be worshiped (although some radical Mormon feminists do pray to her unofficially) and Mormon authorities acknowledge that their “present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited.”

The “standard works” of Mormonism in One Volume

A lot more could be said about the Mormon concept of God, but it must be obvious by now that such a being is radically different from the God described in the Bible and confessed by the historic Christian Faith. This demonstrates that Mormon demands to be accepted as Christians are unfounded. That there is only one true God is consistently testified to in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. God’s unity or monotheism as well as God’s Tri-unity are cardinal doctrines of historical Christianity. Without the doctrine of the Holy Trinity one finds oneself outside the scope of historical and biblical Christian theology, especially since the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each play and fulfill essential roles in the doctrines of the Faith.

Suggested Readings

Abanes Richard. One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

McKeever Bill and Johnson Eric. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-Day Saints 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015.

McKeever Bill and Johnson, Eric. Answering Mormons’ Questions: Ready Responses for Inquiring Latter-Day Saints 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Tanner Jerald and Tanner Sandra. The Changing World of Mormonism. Moody Press, 1979.

White, James R. Is The Mormon My Brother?: Discerning Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity. Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 1997.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.


[1] Mormonism is the colloquial name for the beliefs and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS).

[2] The Athanasian creed can also be viewed on Wikipedia, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasian_Creed accessed April 4, 2020.

[3] “Are Mormons Christians?” available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/christians?lang=eng accessed April 4, 2020.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Polytheism” by Ninian Smart in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/polytheism accessed April 4, 2020.

[6] The so-called “standard works” of Mormonism include the Bible, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.

[7] For a more in depth treatment of this issue see White, James R. Letters to a Mormon Elder (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1993).

[8] Journal of Discourses 7:333, available at https://jod.mrm.org/7/331 accessed April 14, 2020.

[9] Rodney Turner, “The Doctrine of the Firstborn and Only Begotten,” In The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations From God, H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds. (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company), 102.

[10] “Godhead” by Paul E. Dahl, In Daniel E. Ludlow, ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), 1:552, available at https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Godhead accessed April 14, 2020.

[11] 2 Nephi 31:21.

[12] Section 20:28.

[13] Robert L. Millet. A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 171.

[14] Achieving a Celestial Marriage: Student Manual (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992), 132, available at https://ia801203.us.archive.org/35/items/AchievingACelestialMarriage/Achieving%20a%20Celestial%20Marriage.pdf accessed April 14, 2020.

[15] Joseph Smith. The King Follett Sermon (1844), available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng accessed April 14, 2020.

[16] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Intellectual Reserve, Inc, 2007), 40, available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/language-materials/36481_eng.pdf?lang=eng accessed April 14, 2020.

[17] Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2010), ch. 19; available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/doctrines-of-the-gospel-student-manual/19-eternal-life?lang=eng accessed April 14, 2020.

[18] Doctrine and Covenants 139:20, available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament?lang=eng accessed April 14. 2020.

[19] Ibid., 20:17.

[20] Gospel Topics Essays: Mother in Heaven; available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng accessed April 14. 2020.

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