Polytheism and the early Mormon response to Trinitarianism

Catching orthodoxers in what they saw as a logical trap, by the Nauvoo period Latter-day Saints were using the arguments of Trinitarianism to support frank polytheism. One Mormon physician explained to Henry Caswall the visiting Anglican, “‘we believe that the Father is god, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; that makes three at least who are God, and no doubt there are a great many more.’”[1] Smith went on record in a similar vein in 1842, as he and his lieutenants republished the report of a visiting minister that Smith had preached that “We believe in three Gods. There are three personages in Heaven—all equal in power and glory, but they are not one God.” The editorial response to this report invoked the Mormons’ favorite Psalm in defense of the plurality of Gods: “The Father, and the Son, are persons of Tabernacle; and the Holy Ghost a spirit, besides the sons of God: for the scriptures say: ‘Ye are Gods.’”[2] The difficult logical stance of orthodox Trinitarianism opened the gates for Mormon appropriation of the bene elohim, the sons of God. The Mormon version of Christian adoption met the Hebrew Bible tradition in a productive merger.

[1] Caswall, City of the Mormons, 34.

[2] “A Visit to Joe Smith,” T&S 3:22 (15 September 1842): 926.

Banner image is of Mount Mkinwartsveri (Kazbek), with the Church of St. Mary foreground left, image © Samuel Brown 2000