God and Christ are Two Separate Persons
By Patriarch Elbert A. Smith
"My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17).
I have been asked to express my opinion on the question, "Are God and Christ two persons, or are they only one person?" My opinion is not of primary importance. Jesus Himself appealed to certain standards of evidence when He said, "It is written." The Scriptures present God and Christ to us as two persons, before, during, and after the brief sojourn of Christ on earth in human flesh.
"From the Beginning"
We have the word of God in the beginning of revelation to us in the first chapter of Genesis; from the King James Version of the Bible: "God said, Let us make man" (Genesis 1:26). To whom was God speaking? Certainly to some person separate from Himself in identity and capable of working with Him in the creation of man. The matter is cleared up in the Inspired Version of the Bible: "And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man" (Genesis 1:27).
Here we have the Father speaking to His Only Begotten Son as to another person, and one who had been with Him from the beginning, "I, God [one person], said unto mine Only Begotten [another person], Let us make man."
There is no record that at any time afterward the Son became merged into the personality of His Father and lost His own identity. If Christ has done that, then must we, as His followers in all things, do likewise. That leads directly to the old doctrine of Brahmanism: "Those only who have attained a knowledge of God are rewarded by absorption. . . . This union with Deity is the total loss of identity" (Ten Great Religions, 119).
That is not Christian doctrine. Christ's idea of oneness, unity, is different. It is written of the city of Enoch, "The Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind" (Doctrine and Covenants 36:2).
It is true that Christ said, "My Father and I are one." He also prayed earnestly to His Father that His followers might become one "even as we are one." God and Christ are one in the same sense that He wished His followers to be one.
We are told in the Book of Mormon that "plain and precious" things had been taken from the Scriptures which were to be restored. We have noted that one of them (as restored in the Inspired Version) is a very plain statement concerning the creation of man. God said to His Son, "Let us make man."
God and Christ in Conference
In the third chapter of Genesis, Inspired Version, we have another of those very plain things restored for us in our scripture. The ultimate salvation of man was under consideration. Satan appeared before God and said, "Behold I, send me, I will be thy Son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost . . . wherefore, give me thine honor." Another person appeared before God, of whom it is written, "But behold, my beloved Son, which was my beloved and chosen from the beginning, said unto me; Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine for ever" (Genesis 3:1–4).
Here we have the word of God that His Only Begotten Son talked with Him as to another person and volunteered to do the will of the Father, not demanding glory for Himself. The Father rejected Satan because Satan planned to "take away man's agency" and become the first great dictator, saving men whether they wished to be saved or not. God, the Father, chose Christ, the Son, to come to earth with a persuasive gospel. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his Only Begotten Son."
Thus we find the Father and the Son, two distinct personages, planning together with each other the creation and salvation of man.
The Origin of Some Confusion in this Matter
Some confusion seems to have grown out of the fact that some of the prophetic writers have given to Christ, the Son, certain titles ordinarily reserved for God, the Father (though most of them speak plainly about the Father and the Son). In an introductory note to the Book of Mormon the statement is made that one purpose of the book is to convince Jew and Gentile that "Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God." The title, "the Eternal God," may be modified by the preceding words that "Jesus is the Christ." The title, "Christ," is always reserved for Jesus.
This statement in the preface seems to embody one by Nephi which is much more explicit in its reference to the Christ: "And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also, that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God" (2 Nephi 11:78). Take note that in the very same connection Nephi speaks of the Father and the Son as two persons, as follows: "Until they [the Jews] shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God; . . . and when that day shall come, that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name . . . the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state" (2 Nephi 11: 26–28). And again, "According to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (2 Nephi 11: 36). Nephi clearly understood that one was the Father, the other the Son.
Certainly the Book of Mormon has no new and mysterious doctrine on this point different from that in the Bible. For example, in the ninth chapter of Isaiah there is a prophecy concerning the coming of Christ: "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." This statement may be modified by the ensuing verse which says that He shall reign upon the throne of David and be called a prince.
Probably the one passage of scripture that most lends itself to support of the argument that the Father and the Son are one person is the following from Luke 10:23 of the Inspired Version: "No man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it."
Even in that passage it is still Father and Son. There is no doubt that though Father and Son were two persons (as represented in the first chapter of Genesis in the Inspired Version), yet in their work they were one to an extent that we cannot comprehend except it be revealed (and this oneness we also are to attain). This passage must be interpreted to harmonize with the overwhelming number of scriptural statements which clearly present Father and Son as two persons; yet one in the sense Christ had in mind in His great prayer for His disciples, "Holy Father, . . . that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:11, 22). Father and Son are one in the same sense that Christ wished His followers to be one—and He certainly did not expect or desire that they should all become one person.
"I Am Come in My Father's Name"
Jesus said, "I am come in my Father's name" (John 5:44). Since He did come in His Father's name and with His message and authority, it is not surprising that some of the prophetic writers gave to Him titles commonly reserved for the Father, thus causing some confusion.
Perhaps the following simple and limited illustration may help. The First Presidency is the highest administrative body in the Church. For a number of years in the life of President Joseph Smith III, his son, Frederick Madison Smith, was a member of the Presidency, associated with his father as counselor. Whenever the members of the Presidency were "one" in purpose and in will, the son, Frederick Madison Smith, could speak for the Presidency with authority equal to that of his father. When he went into distant fields with a message from the Presidency he was often introduced to the people as "President Smith." Another might introduce him as President Smith, son of the President of the Church. A stranger, not acquainted with the facts and never having seen the father, might have been confused; but he would scarcely say, "The father and the son must be one person, because the son is introduced by the very same name and title that is given to the father."
The Title That Christ Preferred
Jesus sometimes spoke of Himself as "the Son of Man," sometimes as "the bridegroom." On a memorable occasion He put His stamp of approval on a title which recognized the relationship of Father and Son.
He had said to the apostles, "But whom say ye that I am?" Peter replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then Jesus with very evident pleasure voiced His approval of that statement, in these words, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:16, 17, 18).
The Father in heaven had revealed to Peter that Jesus on earth was His Son. This sonship is so all important that Christ said, "upon this rock I will build my church."
In the eighth chapter of Mosiah there is a record of an address by Abinadi containing a remarkable prediction of the coming of Christ. In one part of the discourse Abinadi attempts a theological exegesis of the oneness of the Father and the Son which had troubled some people. With all due reverence we must say that the exegesis is abstruse and involved. It should not be made the basis of any radical conclusions not in harmony with many plain statements in other prophetic utterances. Abinadi's exegesis might be taken to evidence a belief that the Father and the Son always were one person; however, again and again he speaks of them as two—Father and Son—and of the will of the Son and of the will of the Father. There can be no will without personality. Christ had a will of His own, free agency, and He chose to bring His own will into accord with that of His Father. Here, as many times in the Bible, these two wills of two persons are mentioned—one only in their complete agreement.
In Any Language "Father and Son" Means Two Persons
"He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).
The Scriptures abound in definite statements indicating the separate personalities of God and Christ. Space will permit the use of only a few of them:
From the Book of Mormon:
What will ye that I [Jesus] should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father? (3 Nephi 13:15)
And he [Jesus] said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen. (3 Nephi 9:20)
Hearken, O, ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. (3 Nephi 14:1)
Ye must always pray unto the Father in my name. (3 Nephi 8:51; italics added)
From the Doctrine and Covenants:
All men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ and worship the Father in his name. (Doctrine and Covenants 17:6a; italics added)
To this day, when we pray to God and worship Him we are to do it in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
From the Bible:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. (John 10:37)
As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. (John 20:21)
And I will pray the Father. (John 14:16)
I send the promise of my Father upon you. (Luke 24:48)
I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:4)
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:47)
C. B. Hartshorn, managing editor of the Saints' Herald, has computed one hundred and nineteen passages in the New Testament in which "parallel mention of the Father and the Son is made," and in the Book of Mormon two hundred and thirty-four similar passages in which "the Father and the Son are in juxtaposition."
Testimony of Inspired Visions
At the time when the righteous Stephen was killed by a mob he had this vision:
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55–56)
This was after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. When he saw God and Christ as two persons, Stephen was filled with the Holy Ghost, which would scarcely have given him a false and utterly misleading vision.
The substance of Stephen's vision is confirmed by unimpeachable scriptures. After Christ had given to His apostles His last commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, He was received up into Heaven and the scripture records: "So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God' (Mark 16:20; italics added).
Note also the following passages:
Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:34)
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (1 Peter 3:22)
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
The following statement is found in the King James translation of the Bible, John 1:18: "No man hath seen God at any time." That singular declaration is in conflict with testimonies found elsewhere in the Bible. Isaiah saw the Lord "sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (Isaiah 6:1). Jacob declared, "I have seen God face to face" (Genesis 32:30). Moses, Aaron, and seventy of the elders of Israel "saw the God of Israel" (Exodus 24:9–10).
The statement, "And no man hath seen God," found in the King James Version, is clarified in the Inspired Version as follows: "And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved" (John 1:19).
That is in accord with the Master's own statement, "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
The visions of old are confirmed to us in these latter days by the very first vision and the first word of revelation opening up the Restoration Movement. When the young Prophet had gone to the forest to pray, his first vision came to him gloriously, and he beheld two personages, one of whom indicated the other and said, "This is my beloved Son, hear him." Quoting Joseph directly:
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun. . . . 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." (RLDS History of the Church 1:9; italics added)
Thus in the very beginning of the Restoration Movement the Prophet in vision saw God and Christ as two persons. Was the Prophet seeing double and under a delusion concerning such a vital matter in that, his first great spiritual experience? Was God giving him a deceptive vision? We can never give credence to either of those postulates.
The Prophet actually saw two persons. Both spoke to him. The Father said, "Joseph, this is my beloved Son, hear him." The experience was so convincing that the Prophet wrote that though he were slain he could never deny it. He was slain, and thus with his blood sealed his testimony to the truth of that sublime experience. Let no argumentation shake your faith.
To the many testimonies of inspired visions sent from above, in which God and Christ appear as two persons, may be added this fine testimony:
After the many testimonies which have been given of him [Christ], 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; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father. (Doctrine and Covenants 76:3g–h; italics added)
In What Sense Are God and Christ One?
Christ indeed said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). He also enjoins us, "I say unto you, Be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine" (Doctrine and Covenants 38:6a). Are we to become one person? Or are we to be many persons of one accord?
Just before He went out from the "last supper" into the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord offered up a wonderful prayer. More than once in that petition He prayed for His disciples and for all those who might believe on their message that they might be "one." He used these very explicit words, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (John 17:11; italics added).
Obviously Christ did not pray that those present with Him, and the hundreds of thousands who would believe on their testimony, might become one great big man—one person. They were to be one in the sense that He and His Father were one—or, to transpose the thought, God and Christ are one in the same sense in which He wishes His followers to be one.
It is said of Christ that "he loved righteousness and hated iniquity." Since He and His Father desire always to do the right thing, the righteous thing, and since all truth is known to them both, they are eternally one in their choices and in their work. As we "grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth" we come nearer the time when His prayer shall be answered and we shall be one—as He and His Father are one.
May "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen."
(The Saints' Herald [August 10, 1953]: 8–9, 23).