Imagine opening your home to an LDS couple for a friendly chat about God. They’ve been friends now for some time and are true believers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They’re kind people and good neighbors.
As you move from pleasantries to theology, you’ll quickly arrive at the subject of God. Heavenly Father, they say, is known in the Old Testament as Elohim. He’s the Father of everyone, including his firstborn son, Jesus Christ, who was the great Jehovah of the Old Testament.
This couple, being well-schooled in official LDS doctrine, are eager to distinguish themselves from people of other faiths (like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Unitarians). Further, the Elohim-as-Father and Jehovah-as-Son paradigm fits nicely into our understanding of the family. It all seems so easy. Unfortunately, ease isn’t the issue; truth is. And as we shall see, these claims cannot be true.
Defining the Terms
Let’s begin by unpacking some of the words above. What do Latter-day Saints mean when they say Elohim, Jehovah, Firstborn, Father, etc? According to LDS theology, Heavenly Father (or, Elohim) is the literal father of everyone. He and Heavenly Mother, in the Premortal realm, bore a race of spirit children, of which you are part.1
Jesus Christ was the firstborn son of these heavenly parents. As the Son of God, he became Jehovah of the Old Testament and Savior of the New Testament.2
Unbeknownst to the lovely couple sitting in your living room, however, the Book of Mormon at multiple points contradicts everything just mentioned.
Book of Mormon Contradiction
For the first contradiction, one need look no farther than the Title page. It reads, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.” Mosiah 16:15 says, “Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very eternal Father, Amen.” Ether 3:14 goes farther, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son.” Other contradictory Book of Mormon passages include Alma 11:38-39, Mosiah 13:33-35, and 3 Nephi 11:27.
LDS theology says that Jehovah is the physical, pre-mortal offspring of Heavenly Parents. Yet, the Book of Mormon repeatedly says that Jesus is the Eternal God, both Father and Son.3
If you can remember simply to find the Book of Mormon’s title page, you have a ready-made question for your friends to ponder.
But that begs another question. Should you really expect your friends to have a thoughtful response? The answer is both yes and no. On the one hand, Latter-day Saints believe that your eternal destiny hangs on you accepting their doctrine (D&C 132:4). They’re making exclusive truth claims that contradict your own. We should expect clarity on something as consequential as the nature of God.
On the other hand, the LDS Church has withheld from their own people the problems that they face. Most Latter-day Saints have never seen the passages quoted above—they’ve simply never come across contradictions like these within their own canon.
Far more importantly than any contradiction within the Book of Mormon is disagreement with the Bible. In fact, for two simple reasons, Elohim could not have fathered Jehovah. First, Jehovah is Elohim.4 And second, Jehovah-Elohim has no beginning. Let’s explore those in order.
If one Bible fact is plain, it’s that the LORD (Jehovah) is God (Elohim). Consider the frequency of the following phrases:
- “The LORD God” (396 times)
- “The LORD your God” (451 times)
- “The LORD our God” (92 times)
- Other phrases like “the LORD is God,” “LORD of hosts, God of Israel,” “the LORD, the God of heaven,” and “O LORD, God” are so numerous and varied that they become difficult to count accurately.
If, in your interactions with LDS friends, you can simply remember Genesis 2, you’ll find 11 references to “the LORD God” in verses 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, and 22. Truly, the LORD is God.
Second, the LORD God has no beginning. He is from everlasting to everlasting (Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 42:13; Psalm 106:48). He lived before time (Jude 1:25) and reigns over all (Ephesians 1:20-21). “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind (Numbers 23:19). The LORD declares, “before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isaiah 43:10).
Now, let’s get back to the friendly couple sitting in your living room. As they’ve interacted with born-again Christians in the past, they probably haven’t seen both contradiction and love at the same time. They’ve endured gotcha’s, feigned ignorance about Temple garments, and demeaning eye-rolls.
What these people really need is for a believer to show them both love and contradiction simultaneously. You can do this by sending them on a journey of personal discovery. They already have all the tools necessary to discover God’s salvation. You simply need to lovingly direct them to the biblical path of grace and be willing to walk down it with them as they invite you along for the journey.
For an LDS overview of the subject, see Spirit Children of Heavenly Parents, a Gospel Topics essay. For a brief video overview from the Sego Lily Foundation, sign up for our free Starter Kit Video Course. ↩
So problematic were these contradictions that Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith in November, 1916, along with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, attempted to clarify matters. “Father,” they said, means something more like Creator (Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 5, 26-28). Unfortunately, President Smith’s explanation fails to account for all the contradictory texts in the Book of Mormon. It also relies on an unnatural reading of Joseph Smith’s original and, therefore, smacks of explanation born of expediency. For these, and many other reasons, this General Conference clarification never really took hold. The April 2002 edition of Ensign re-ran the exposition, but little else has followed. ↩
The English word Jehovah has a long and complicated history. For the purposes of clarity in this piece, we will use “Jehovah” even though the most accurate conveyance is probably YHWH (commonly called the tetragrammaton). For centuries, most Jewish people have regarded the title as too sacred to speak aloud (or even to print), which somewhat inadvertently gave rise to the word Jehovah in later years. YHWH comes from the Hebrew verb “to be” (see Exodus 3:14) and is distinguished in English translations with “LORD” in all caps. ↩