False Doctrine being taught at BYU?

It is possible that I accidentally taught false doctrine to my students at BYU yesterday, so I am going to put what I said before you, my discerning audience, and allow you to help me decide if a retraction, a clarification, or an affirmation is in order. It made sense at the time, but I was speaking off the cuff and further research has cast some doubt. I have given my students an assignment wherein they are to explain how Christ is both the Father and the Son. We talked about this a bit and then I made the following statement, relying, primarily, on Hebrews 10.

We mortals had no direct access to God, the Father, prior to the Atonement of Christ.

I pointed out that direct commands to address the Father in prayer (this being our primary means of direct contact today) are not present until the Last Supper (a point that I later discovered was wrong, see below). Then I went into the temple imagery found in Hebrews 10, wherein we are symbollically brought into the Holy of Holies ourselves, passing through the torn veil (Christ’s body) and purifying through the sprinkling of (Christ’s) blood. Not only does Christ’s sacrifice, as the great High Priest, allow this to occur, but, symbolically, we all become our own High Priest, able to enter God’s direct presence without intermediaries.

This is a good theory. I think that there may be something to it, but, sadly, there are a couple of facts that stand in the way.

First of all, the apparently earliest Biblical mention of praying to the Father directly comes at the Sermon on the Mount (or however you prefer to refer to the sermon that includes the Lord’s Prayer). Clearly, Christ is here encouraging his disciples to pray to the Father. Moreover, Christ has previously encouraged his disciples to pray in their closet unto the Father. Now, there are two ways of taking this: first, one could argue that prayer has always been directed to the Father without mediation; second, Christ is speaking the lingo of the culture that he finds himself in. Referring to God as the Father is acceptable within an Old Testament context, so it is believable that this is simply a common usage. In any case, biblically, I think that a case can be made for a lack of direct contact with God the Father prior to Christ’s coming to earth, if not the enactment of the Atonement per se.

The second, and more damaging, datum comes from the Book of Mormon. In 2 Nephi 32 & 33, Nephi repeatedly cites the concept of praying to the Father in the name of Christ. This seems to clearly parallel the distinction that we make today. This is the only pre-Christian evidence that I can find for this concept being taught, but it is a powerful evidence against my theory. Unless, any of the following explanations are plausible:

1. The doctrine of the Father and the Son being one is made more explicit in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible. This may be a case where Nephi is seeking to make this same point by saying that the Father, in prayer, should be addressed while using the name of Christ. This seems weak to me.

2. This is one of those moments when Nephi is inspired to speak to our times directly (or to his descendants) and he knew that this doctrine would be in place when people began to read this. Working against this sort of explanation is the tone of the sermon. Nephi appears to be in direct discourse with the audience he is speaking to, disputing with them over their concerns and misrepresentations. However, it is never entirely clear who the audience is, so this explanation may work. It is, however, not a whit stronger than explanation #1.

So, you see my problem. I feel like any attempt to re-read this in a way that is friendly to my theory wrenches the scriptures beyond plausible understanding. That said, we do have a long tradition of belief in Christ being an intermediary in our dealings with God, the Father. Although we believe that God, the Father, is the ultimate object of our worship and the prime mover of divine action, it is Christ who actually fulfilled the Atonement, who directed the creation of the world, etc. In our descriptions of the Terrestrial Kingdom and the Celestial Kingdom, it seems that we are able to interact with Christ in both Kingdoms, but we are only able to fully interact with God, the Father, in the Celestial Kingdom. Some aspects of Temple ceremony also support this reading (although there are counter arguments to be found there, too).

Am I being too dogmatic or systematic on this topic? Especially since there seems to be some evidence for direct prayer to the Father both before and after the coming of Christ (at least in the Americas)? Or is it a good enough idea to require a new reading of 2nd Nephi?

What do you think?

15 Replies to “False Doctrine being taught at BYU?”

  1. Interesting. The Mormon doctrine of the trinity is, if I’m not mistaken, a 20th century conception. Under that rubrick, however, is anyone praying to the Father before Christ comes? or are they praying to Jehova-Jesus?

    It doesn’t seem that the Father was reveled untill Christ comes, then we have the multiplicity of witnesses (baptism, stephen, Christ himself praying).

    Nephi is problematic in that he is a new testement Christian before the New Testement. What the heck is he doing being that?

  2. Justin,

    You raise an excellent point. Moses 5:8 and the surrounding context also seem to argue for a distinction between God, the Father, and Christ early on. There are a couple of different ways of reading it. One could fall back on my explanation #1, where “in the name of” meant something else than it does today (in other words, a recognition that God is the Father and the Son). In another, one could call into question the relevance of ante-diluvean antecedents. Adam and Eve clearly had a level of knowledge and intimacy with God that we do not (or, at least, I don’t). As such, I am not sure that what was said to them is in all cases directly applicable to us (although, why establish it as canon then?). As it is, I think it is interesting that the distinction between Father and Son is clearly made just prior to and just after this verse but not in it. Of course, there is always the question of who exactly is speaking to Adam at this moment.

    That’s just the thing. If we believe that Christ is the God of the Old Testament, then doesn’t that have to mean that the OT folks are praying to him? Also, speaking of revelation, what are we to make of the visions of Isaiah or Lehi under this context? Who is it exactly that is sitting on that throne surrounded by angels?

    Also, I agree with you about Nephi being a NT Christian. However, that gets to the heart of all Book of Mormon Christology. It never goes through a politically messianic phase of the sort that we associate with Jewish “Christology”. So, on the whole, everything that the Book of Mormon has to say about Christ is exceptional.

    I am also curious about your definition of the Mormon concept of the trinity being a 20th century conception. What do you mean by that exactly?

  3. John C., there are numerous exception to what you’re saying — Adam had contact with the Father as well as the Son, as did Enoch. How about you change your phrase to: “We mortals HAVE no direct access to God, the Father, ABSENT the Atonement of Christ.” that would be a lot easier.

  4. Steve, I am sympathetic to your train of thought. Certainly, if we believe that the rest of the Atonement is retroactive, which we do, we have no reason to believe that this wouldn’t be. I am sure that part of the reason that I think this ways comes from an ignorance of the PoGP.

    I would be happy to accept your revising if it didn’t seem like the situation actually changed at the time of Christ’s Atonement. Outside of the three passages cited above (2nd Nephi 32, 33 & Moses 5), I don’t see anywhere where we are told directly to speak to God, the Father, prior to the 1st coming. J is right to state that the internal evidence dramatically of direct communication increases after the coming of Christ. Outside of of Nephi’s discourse on prayer, praying to the Father in the name of the Son isn’t mentioned in the Book of Mormon until Christ’s coming when He commands people to start doing it (or continue, I suppose). Even the Enoch passages that you cite show an awareness of the difference between the Father and the Son, but not an invitation to direct interaction. And Adam’s direct contact came prior to the Fall, not after (at least, as far as we know).

    Can I get away with calling the status ambiguous, or am I wresting things away here?

  5. As per Mormon 20th century. The ideas that Jehova is Jesus, didn’t really take hold until Joseph F. Smith, if I am not mistaken. Prior to that point, I believe that Jehova was considered to be the Father in both scripture and Temple worship.

    It is possible that prophets have the big picture revelation without it effecting his community. So Moses and Enoch could recieve the revelation, but that doesn’t necessarily change how the people approach God.

    I believe that calling Jesus “The God of the Old Testement” is projecting to much of our current conception of the Temple on to history. The Temple is symbollic and Jehova and Eloheim aren’t really the names of these indaviduals. Consequently, the names shouldn’t have to map perfectly to the Old Testement. I vascillate, but at this second, I tend to believe that the God of the Old Testement was the Father with the High Priest mediating the covenant.

  6. J, I agree that the identification of Christ as strictly Jehovah is a fairly new event. I am happy to go with your time-table on it, because the use of these terms is clearly more fluid for Joseph Smith, Jr (and for BoM/OT prophets, I would argue).

    However, I, obviously, tend to think that the God of the Old Testament was Christ (being called the Father), which is why Nephi is giving me such a hard time here. We don’t have a problem with people praying to Christ per se, we just know that we aren’t supposed to do it today. Ultimately, I am speculating that the nature of prayer itself changed with the advent of the Atonement and the evidence is ambiguous either way. Maybe I should tell my kids that?

  7. I don’t have a lot to contribute at the moment, but in reading the Words of Joseph Smith, I was struck at how he reads Elohim as a plural the majority of the time. The few times he doesn’t, it seems to be ambiguous, as in the phrase “the great Elohim” which could be sing. or pl.

    This is quickly moving into deep murky water…

    I wouldn’t worry too much about false doctrine being taught at BYU. It’s been done before by far more established folks, John C.

    BTW, how are you liking it? Email me, if you prefer.

  8. General comment: I think it would be interesting to attend your class, but I have this feeling I would be completely lost at least half the time. =)

  9. Ben S. very true. Joseph was emphatic:

    Twice I will shew from the Heb. Bible & the 1st. word shews a plurality of Gods—& I want the apostate & learned men to come here—& prove to the contrary an unlearned boy must give you a little Hebrew—Berosheit &c In the begin. rosheit—the head—it shod. read the heads of—to organize the Gods—Eloiheam Eloi. God in sing. heam, reanders Gods

    …The Head one of the Gods said let us make man in our image I once asked a learned Jew once—if the Heb. language compels us to render all words ending in heam in the plural—why not render the first plural—he replied it would ruin the Bible—he acknowledged I was right. I came here to investigate these things precisely as I believe it—hear & judge for yourself—& if you go away satisfied— well & good—in the very beginning there is a plurality of Gods—beyond the power of refutation—it is a great subject I am dwelling on—the word Eloiheam ought to be in the plural all the way thro — Gods—the heads of the Gods appointed one God for us (WOJS pg 379-380)

  10. Question: Has anyone heard Stephen Robinson’s take on this? He argued in my NT class that the ancients in their dispensations before Moses had the fulness of the Gospel, priesthood, etc and that the people in Moses day would have had it too but for their stubbornness. He thinks that everyone knew of Christ and the Father. So it would follow that they prayed the way we do maybe and we have no record of it?

    Two things about the Book of Mormon come to mind too. If Nephi taught it and wrote it then surely the following prophets would have taught it even if it never enters the text again because they certainly read his words and expounded on his teachings. Plus in Ether the Brother of Jared sees Christ and receives a lot of teachings that weren’t recorded that we know of. It seems to me that if they knew of the Father and Son’s relationship they must have been instructed to pray to the Father. It obviously isn’t explicit but it follows to me.

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