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The Godhead

by Paul E. Dahl

Latter-day Saints believe in God the Father; his Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost (A of F 1). 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 (AF, chap. 2).

This knowledge concerning the Godhead derives primarily from the Bible and the revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith (see Smith, Joseph: Teachings of Joseph Smith). For example, the three members of the Godhead were separately manifested at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:16-17) and at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:55-56). Joseph Smith commented, "Peter and Stephen testify that they saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Any person that had seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens who hold the keys of power, and one presides over all" (TPJS, p. 312).

On June 16, 1844, in his last Sunday sermon before his martyrdom, Joseph Smith declared that "in all congregations" he had taught "the plurality of Gods" for fifteen years: "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods" (TPJS, p. 370). The two earliest surviving accounts of Joseph's first vision do not give details on the Godhead, but that he consistently taught that the Father and the Son were separate personages is clearly documentable in most periods of his life (e.g., D&C 76:23 [1832]; 137:3 [1836]; his First Vision, JS-H 1:17 [recorded 1838]; D&C 130:22 [1843]). While the fifth lecture on faith (1834) does not identify the Holy Ghost as a "personage," it affirms that "the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the Godhead" (cf. Millet, pp. 223-34).

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 fulness of knowledge, truth, and power. Each is a God. This does not imply a mystical union of substance or personality. Joseph Smith taught:

Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization anyhow. "Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for those that thou hast given me…that they may be one as we are."…I want to read the text to you myself—"I am agreed with the Father and the Father is agreed with me, and we are agreed as one." The Greek shows that it should be agreed. "Father, I pray for them which thou hast given me out of the world,…that they all may be agreed," and all come to dwell in unity [TPJS, p. 372; cf. John 17:9-11, 20-21; also cf. WJS, p. 380].

The unity prayed for in John 17 provides a model for the LDS understanding of the unity of the Godhead—one that is achieved among distinct individuals by unity of purpose, through faith, and by divine will and action. Joseph Smith taught that the Godhead was united by an "everlasting covenant [that] was made between [these] three personages before the organization of this earth" relevant to their administration to its inhabitants (TPJS, p. 190). The prime purpose of the Godhead and of all those united with them is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39; Hinckley, p. 49-51).

Each member of the Godhead fulfills particular functions in relation to each of the others and to mankind. God the Father presides over the Godhead. He is the Father of all human spirits and of the physical body of Jesus Christ. The human body was formed in his image.

Jesus Christ, the Firstborn son of God the Father in the spirit and the Only Begotten son in the flesh, is the creative agent of the Godhead and the redeeming mediator between the Father and mankind. By him God created all things, and through him God revealed the laws of salvation. In him shall all be made alive, and through his Atonement all mankind may be reconciled with the Father.

The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit who bears witness to truth. The Father and the Holy Ghost bear witness of the Son, and the Son and the Holy Ghost bear witness of the Father (3 Ne. 11:32; cf. John 8:18). Through the Holy Ghost, revelations of the Father and of the Son are given.

The LDS doctrine of the Godhead differs from the various concepts of the Trinity. Several postbiblical trinitarian doctrines emerged in Christianity. This "dogmatic development took place gradually, against the background of the emanationist philosophy of Stoicism and Neoplatonism (including the mystical theology of the latter), and within the context of strict Jewish monotheism" (ER 15:54). Trinitarian doctrines sought to elevate God's oneness or unity, ultimately in some cases describing Jesus as homoousious (of the same substance) with the Father in order to preclude any claim that Jesus was not fully divine. LDS understanding, formulated by latter-day revelation through Joseph Smith, rejects the idea that Jesus or any other personage loses individuality by attaining Godhood or by standing in divine and eternal relationships with other exalted beings.

(See The Doctrinal Exclusion: Trinity and the Nature of God; Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Godhead home page))


Hinckley, Gordon B. "The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." Ensign 16 (Nov. 1986):49-51.

Millet, Robert L. "The Supreme Power over All Things: The Doctrine of the Godhead in the Lectures on Faith." In The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective, ed. L. Dahl and C. Tate, pp. 221-40. Provo, Utah, 1990.

Roberts, B. H. "The Doctrine of the Church in Respect of the Godhead." IE 1 (Aug. 1898):754-69.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Godhead

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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